Sartre’s Existentialist Biographies: Search for a Method

Christina Howells

in Mapping Lives

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263181
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734595 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

Sartre’s Existentialist Biographies: Search for a Method

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This chapter discusses Jean Sartre's approach to writing biographies. As a biographer, Sartre embraces the paradox of an attempted, yet always impossible, totalization of the fragmentary, and acknowledges the extent to which he is implicated in the story he tells. His biographical purpose is innovatory compared to the norms of French biography in the twentieth century. Sartre's approach is epistemological, critical, and political rather than literary. His method involves historical and psychological interpretation. Although Sartre's biographies are not consistent in format and approach, they nevertheless are all examples of existentialist psychoanalysis and of the progressive–regressive method. In all cases, he is concerned to conceive human life as a totality rather than as a collection of disparate data, and to interpret attitudes, events, and projects as part of the chosen destiny rather than as accidental phenomenon. In this sense, all the biographies form part of Sartre's epistemological enquiry into the relations between man and nature, and his ethical exploration of nature and of freedom.

Keywords: Jean Sartre; writing biographies; biographical purpose; method; historical interpretation; psychological interpretation; existentialist psychoanalysis; progressive–regressive method; human life

Chapter.  6944 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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