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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

TURNING THE GAZE ON SARTRE Ronald Hayman, Writing Against: a biography of Sartre (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) £14.95

'On entre dans un mort comme dans un moulin', said Sartre: the dead lie open to the winds - you just walk in. Easier said than done, however, and the task which Ronald Hayman has set himself is a forbidding one. Not only is the range of Sartre's autobiographical text substantial - in addition to the War Diaries and Words it incorporates a number of significant prefaces, articles, interviews, obituaries and letters - it also stands in a symbiotic relation to the chronicles of Simone de Beauvoir and to the writings of other contemporaries, notably Michel Leiris and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In Sartre's view, moreover, the autobiographical project could never explicate without at the same time problematizing, could never arrest its totalization without entering an interminable spiral of progressive self-examination. For Sartre the autobiographer, this volatility was perceived variously as cyclothymic and as liberating, and from the tension between the two perceptions derived both the desirability and the necessity of an ethic. For the autobiographer's would-be biographer, on the other hand, this shifting corpus of assertions and interrogations becomes a proliferation of texts and tenses that require consolidation into a narrative sanctioned by the genre.

But what of the state of the genre? As Hayman recognizes, the days are gone when a stately Bildungsroman could renavigate the hero's epic course from youthful folly into the sagacity of senescence. Hayman's Sartre, in any case, with his 'boundless willingness to be wrong', could never be circumscribed by such a fiction. ...

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