What is Literature? by Jean-Paul Sartre, A book review.

A translated work of the classic by Bernard Frechtman.

French title: Qu’est ce que la littérature?

Plot and Style:

The book deals with some fundamental questions of why read and write in an economically and politically divided world. The choice of whom does one write for as in who his/her audience is. The historical context of any work as to the time period one is writing in. It all began as Sartre wanted to answer his critics by examining the very essence of writing. This work is said to be an important piece in existential movement.

I found the philosophical overtones reaching beyond the existential meaning but not as Sartre’s critics commenting on the fact that he contradicts himself by writing metaphysical arguments. But, this very marginalizing him into one school of philosophy is a crime. Also, Sartre himself have called all writers metaphysical writers, quoting him

“For metaphysics is not a  sterile discussion about abstract notions which have nothing to do with experience. It is a living effort to embrace from within the human condition in its totality.”

He in the course of the seminal work explores art, the political divide as in bourgeois and proletariat, the tricks a writer needs to employ to engage the reader at the mean time being true to himself. The writer-reader connection is explored a lot in the first section (The book is divided in three sections). The importance of writer is emphasized in a idealistic manner which shouldn’t be of much surprise.


Verdict: 5/5. A phenomenal piece of work, which must be read by anyone who writes and should be read by anyone who reads.


Quotable Quote: “The work of literature is evidently gratuitous. .. This gratuitousness, far from grieving us, is our pride, and we know that it is the image of freedom.”