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Since 1945 Jean-Paul Sartre has devoted more pages to biography than to any other genre or subject. He has published three full-length biographies—including the monumental portrait of Flaubert—as well as shorter studies and an autobiography. In this perceptive and very readable book, Douglas Collins analyzes Sartre’s biographical enterprise, its place in his thought and development, and shows us much about Sartre and about biography in the twentieth century.
“What can one know about a man today?” is the question that Sartre explores in his biographical work. The protagonist of Nausea is a biographer who includes that a sure grasp of his subject is impossible. But in the life of Flaubert, Sartre displays an unrestrained optimism about the possibility of a knowledge of other selves. The author traces this evolution, examines Sartre’s sources, and locates his biographies in the history of ideas. Collins discusses the role of the biographies in Sartre’s theories of alienation and the imagination, and pays particular attention to the relation between ethics and epistemology in his thought. Sartre’s works are studied from various perspectives—psychoanalytical, literary, political—always with an awareness of the evolution of his philosophy.