Sartre: An Existentialist in the Underworld

Joseph Frank

in Responses to Modernity

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823239252
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823239290 | DOI:
Sartre: An Existentialist in the Underworld

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Jean-Paul Sartre's treatise Saint Genet, comédien et martyr (1952) is one of the strangest books ever to be written by a reputable philosopher. It is about a far more outlandish figure than Immanuel Kant's Swedenborg: Jean Genet, ex-jailbird and self-confessed thief, pederast, prostitute, and stoolpigeon. Genet's sumptuously obscene celebrations of evil, in a prose whose preciosity recalls Marcel Proust and Jean Giraudoux, have made him, since the end of World War II, the rage of Parisian literary circles. And Sartre's intensely, sometimes comically serious discussion of Genet is a dazzling display of dialectic, ending with what Sartre calls “a request that Jean Genet be well treated.” The truth is that Sartre was preoccupied in those years with the problems of an Existentialist ethics; and in the figure of Genet, he found a pretext for developing certain ideas on good and evil which had not hitherto found expression in his theoretical writings. Genet's work is a gigantic glorification of vice and crime, a willful inversion of all normal ethical standards.

Keywords: Jean-Paul Sartre; Jean Genet; evil; good; ethics; vice; crime

Chapter.  1770 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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