“What is Literature?” remains the most significant critical landmark of French literature since World War II. Neither abstract nor abstruse, it is a brilliant, provocative performance by a writer more inspired than cautious.
“What is Literature?” challenges anyone who writes as if literature could be extricated from history or society. But Jean-Paul Sartre does more than indict. He offers a definitive statement about the phenomenology of reading, and he goes on to provide a dashing example of how to write a history of literature that takes ideology and institutions into account.
This new edition of “What is Literature?” also collects three other crucial essays of Sartre’s for the first time. The essays presenting Sartre’s monthly, Les Temps modernes, and on the peculiarly French manner of nationalizing literature do much to create a context for Sartre’s treatise. “Black Orpheus” has been for many years a key text for the study of black and third-world literatures.