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Comparison of Essays by Sartre and Blanchot

By sak244 Dec 07, 2008 875 Words
Comparison of Essays by Sartre and Blanchot
In his essay “Why Write?” Sartre focuses on the relationship between the writer and the reader. He analyses the process involved in writing and reading. He says that literature involves both the writer and the reader, for one cannot survive without the other because a writer cannot produce a piece of literature for his own pleasure and the reader cannot enjoy the benefits of reading if there is nothing for him to read. In other words, writing creates a bond between the reader and the writer. Maurice Blanchot also takes a thorough look at the true meaning of literature in his essay “Literature and the Right to Death” he views literature as a form of revolution and an expression of the true freedom of men. According to him, it is an “absolute freedom which has become an event.” The first thing that struck me after reading both essays by Sartre and Blanchot was that the main message behind both essays was that literature is an expression of ones freedom. Sartre calls the process of writing and reading an “act of generosity between two free people.”(58) This is because people are not forced to read or to write. The writer chooses weather to writer or not and the reader also chooses weather to read or not. Thus literature is an expression of the freedom of men. Thus because literature can only exist among the free, it does not seek to prevent this freedom from others. This is the message Sartre passes across when he says, “Thus, whether he is an essayist, a pamphleteer, a satirist, or a novelist, whether he speaks only of individual passions or whether he attacks the social order, the writer, a free man addressing free men, has only one subject--freedom” (68) Blanchot also arrives at this conclusion in his essay “Literature and the right to death” when he says “Revolutionary action is in every aspect analogous to action as embodied in literature: the passage from nothing to everything, the affirmation of the absolute as event and of every event as absolute.” The relation of literature to revolution is surprising because when one thinks about a revolution, one’s mind goes straight to the form of revolutions that the French and the Russians had. A revolution which involves great deal of violence, death and a massive reform of the government of a country. One understands the comparison better when he looks at the broader meaning of a revolution. A revolution is an act of freedom and exercised by the free which brings about a strong change of some sort. It therefore follows that if literature is a form of revolution, then it is an act of freedom exercised by the free. This is the message that the two essays pass across to the public. Given that both essays were written during the post World War II era, it is safe to assume that both writers were influenced by the events of the war, especially the German occupation of France. I think this is why both of the essays have a core message of freedom embedded in them. Sartre in particular goes on to say that, “One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy.” He also gives an example of the absence of literature due to the absence of freedom when he talks about Drieu la Rochelle who directed a “Nazi-inspired review”(68) but got no response from the people because they were not free to do so. I think Blanchot is also writing with respect to the German occupation when he refers to literature as a revolution and also when he talks about a person’s write to death. He says that the only choices people are faced with are freedom or nothing. In other words if a person does not have his freedom or the right to exercise his freedom, then he inadvertently has a right to death. He is saying that one cannot survive without freedom and that when one is prevented of his freedom, death is the only way of accessing that freedom of the mind and soul. Death brings about a freedom that cannot be taken away by some tyrant or despot. This freedom is one’s natural right. He passes along this message when he says, “And in the end no one has a right to his life any longer, to his actual separate and physical distinct existence. This is the meaning of the Reign of Terror. Every citizen has a right to death, so to speak: death is not a sentence passed on him, it is his most essential right” Both essays are very similar and seem to pass the same message across to readers. Sartre talks about literature as a relationship between the reader and the writer which is an expression of their true freedom. Blanchot also talks about literature as a expression of true freedom. He refers to literature as a form of revolution which is an action of the free. He also talks about the inherent right of every individual to death as a passage to permanent freedom.

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