What Is Literature? An Open Letter To Jean-Paul Sartre

What Is Literature? An Open Letter To Jean-Paul Sartre

Dear Sartre:

May I take public issue with you for the claims you make in What is Literature? You claim literary importance, even preeminence, for socially committed, or “responsible” writing; you claim also that anyone who happens to be unprejudiced must necessarily support such writing with you. And in line with this, your second contention, you hold the question of what one should be for in literature to be fundamentally an intellectual question, answerable by the disclosure of the essence of literature, the unveiling of what literature is. Now here is the nub of my disagreement with—or misunderstanding of—your way of thinking.

It strikes me that whatever the essence of literature may be, the disclosure of this essence can hardly persuade us to side with one school or trend or style of writing against other schools or trends or styles. Surely romanticism is no more in conflict—or, for that matter, in accord—with the essence of literature ...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: