Jean Paul Sartre (1905-80)

As human existence is self-conscious without being pre-defined, we, as autonomous beings are "condemned to be free": compelled to make future directed choices. These choices induce anxiety and uncertainty in to our psyches. If we, as individuals, simply follow custom or social expectations in order to escape this angst, we have escaped the responsibility of making our own choices, of creating our own essence. We have acted in bad faith.

To act authentically we must take responsibility for our future. We cannot choose what gender, class, or country we were born into, but we can choose what we make of them. We are free to create our own interpretation of ourselves in relation to the world, to create a project of possibilities, of authentic actions as the expression of freedom.

QU'EST CE QUE LA LITTÉRATURE (1947) is Sartre's best-known book of literary criticism. He grouped poetry with painting, sculpture, and music - they are not signs but things. One of the chief motifs of artistic creation is the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world. A writer is always a watchdog or a jester, but the primarly function of the writer is to act in such a way that nobody can be ignorant of the world: a novelist cannot escape engagement in political and social issues. The reader brings to life the literary object - it is not true that one writes for oneself. On the other hand Sartre saw that literature is dying and alludes to newspapers, to the radio and movies. "The goal of art is to recover this world by giving it to be seen not as it is, but as if it had its source in human freedom."

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