In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Private SartreJohn Sturrock
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War 1939-40 
by Jean-Paul Sartre and Quentin Hoare.
Verso, 366 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 0 86091 087 3
Show More
Show More

Sartre had a passive, self-centred war, well-suited to his deeply civilian temper, with no heroics and a great deal of free time. He was mobilised in September 1939, served in the East of France until he was captured in the collapse of June 1940, spent nine months as a prisoner of war, then sat out the Occupation in Paris. No matter where he was, he wrote, abundantly – in the field, in the prison-camp and in occupied Paris. ‘He participated in the Resistance,’ the cover-note of these War Diaries piously reassures us, but the non-combatant Sartre’s arm was the so-called ‘intellectual resistance’, his boldest moment in it a bicycle trip round the unoccupied zone in the summer of 1941 to sound out helpers. He had neither the sense of oneness with his country’s needs nor, with only one good eye, the physique to want to do more. In these Diaries he welcomes the absolute decline of the military ideal in France by 1939. His own principles when he was called up were ones of cynical insubordination, but since he does not report having any brushes with the order-givers during his service, one has to take it that he kept his principles to himself.

The nine months of the Phoney War were phonier for Sartre than for most. He spent them behind the lines in Alsace doing what he had been trained to do, by Raymond Aron no less, when both were on national service in the Twenties – which was to let up weather balloons and take sightings on them. This quaint, undemanding routine was all the Army seems to have asked of him; there is no mention of parades, drill, training, fatigues. In Sartre’s small unit the military ideal is not in decline, it is irrelevant. These are diaries written in wartime, therefore – not diaries of war, nor very much about war. Sartre is taken up with himself and his ideas, not with what is going on in Europe; he has yet to make his portentous, unfortunate, discovery of ‘historicity’. But if military life for this as yet unrepentant individualist lacks both the servitude and the grandeur it once held for Alfred de Vigny, it does offer him the rare opportunities of exile, from his familiars in Paris, from teaching philosophy, from going after women. The sudden impoverishment of his external life prompts him to look within, to enjoy a happy, voluble season of introspection which he claims is a novelty for him.

To think as much and as freely as Sartre did on active service is an act of defiance; the soldier’s mind is intended to be dulled into grumbling acquiescence. But Sartre’s meteorology was soon done and the rest of his time was for reading and writing: ten or eleven hours a day by his own count, during which he reads a great many books, covers a great many pages of his notebooks, writes long letters to Simone de Beauvoir in Paris (with pressing requests for more writing-paper built into them), and finishes what turns out to be only the first draft of L‘Age de Raison, the first, and quite the best, volume of Les Chemins de la Liberté. He reads critically: Jules Romains, whose ‘unanism’ was a strong and damaging influence on the second volume of Sartre’s trilogy; Flaubert, derided for the awkwardness of his style in an early display of Sartre’s ambiguous negativity towards the bel écrit; Gide, admired but also found wanting as a keeper of journals because he remains irredeemably religious; Jules Renard, another diarist, dismissed by Sartre for his deeply un-Sartrian short-windedness, which prefers the economy of aphorisms to the wholesale elaboration of ideas. (For Sartre, Renard’s brevity is evidence that he was incapable of thought altogether.) So even when bent on writing a journal of his own, Sartre is full of the need to measure its distinctiveness and purity against these chosen predecessors. These are competitive Diaries.

Sartre gets some hard philosophy done too, to be worked up later into his chief publication of the wartime years, L’Etre et le Néant. The ontology is already dramatic, with the ‘in-itself’ sturdily opposed to the ‘for-itself’, in intense adumbrations of his mature thought which will make little sense for those new to Sartre. By this stage he had set Heidegger above his earlier mentor, Husserl, whose idealism Sartre now condemns, and has begun to find a doubtful consolation in what to others would seem the overdone bleakness of Heidegger’s existentialism, that hymn to dire contingency. Sartre brings out, for once unwittingly, how macho Heidegger’s ideas are, a man’s philosophy designed for brave and lucid minds like Sartre’s. The contingency of war having, as Heidegger would say, ‘thrown’ Sartre into his present situation, philosophy has become less abstract, less professional – as a private soldier he no longer has a class of sixth-formers to teach. His situation is not one he has chosen or one he will collude with, and because it does not ask to be integrated with the other, free choices of his prewar life he is caught within a profitable hiatus; he can apply his time of unfreedom to thinking back over those earlier choices, and to making sense of all he has been. In the broken form of a journal he can, paradoxically, pull himself together.

At this moment in his philosophical evolution there is still something boyish about Sartre, a levity and wildness which were later to expire, once the success of L‘Etre et le Néant had given him prestige and a cumbrous vocabulary to go with it. ‘I’m sufficient unto myself, in the nihilating solitude of the for-itself ... I’m not at ease except in freedom, escaping objects, escaping myself; I’m not at ease except in nothingness – I’m a true nothingness, drunk with pride and translucid.’ Lyrical flights of self-analysis like this in the Diaries, where he is trying to decide why he has no need or liking for physical possessions, are the dying flourishes of the pre-war Sartre, who defends himself and his friends from the accusation that they were degenerate by an assertion of their ‘intellectual power and gaiety’. In its larval form Sartre’s philosophy is the language-game of an exuberant metropolitan clique, the conspiratorial expression of a milieu. As monstrously expanded in L’Etre et le Néant, its power is diffused and its gaiety stifled. In the War Diaries Sartre is still the happily rampaging egoist, though with dismal premonitions that egoism won’t do, that he must try harder to be, in the guiltily sentimental final words of Les Mots, ‘tout un homme, fait de tous les hommes et qui les vaut tous et que vaut n’importe qui’.

Sartre would have it throughout the Diaries that he is not a serious figure. The urge and the gift for moralising which he brought with him into the Army are fluently exercised on the hypocrisies endemic among his unloved fellow-soldiers. But he presents himself as a ‘moral clown’ performing for others, and though we are left mostly to guess what those others thought of the devastatingly clever Sartre, a superior being slumming in the ranks, he gives hints of their complicity in the role he took on their behalf. ‘Hey Sartre you’re a philosopher, do you think I should ...’ a soldier asks, as if the obsessively independent thinker had finally been allotted a pastoral responsibility in the barrack-room. But Sartre the philosophical clown is a serious enough figure once incorporated into the system of Sartre the philosophical diarist. To others he is an actor, to himself an agent.

What he must escape is the most shameful of social handicaps, inauthenticity, that pervasive ailment of bad faith from which the genuinely unserious man is exempt. Wartime, according to Sartre, makes it easier for people to be ‘decent and authentic’, though he is sparing in the examples he seems to have found of authentic behaviour among soldiers, presumably because their circumstances were too safe and bucolic to test them. But then authenticity was a very arbitrary virtue since Sartre alone could decide who possessed it. Simone de Beauvoir is said to be ‘naturally’ authentic, which might seem to rob her of the credit she could have earned had she been forced to make herself so. Another of his women, less favoured, is denied the sufficient grace of authenticity, natural or acquired: ‘I see, for example, how L.’s desire for authenticity is poisoned by inauthenticity. She’d like to be authentic, from affection for us, from trust in us, in order to join us – and also from an idea of merit. She suffers at seeing a supreme value posited that is alien to her.’ L., who had already been dropped as a lover, is now blackballed from the Authentics club, more in a spirit of triumphant ostracism than of psychological insight. L. is an example of how savagely and quickly Sartre fictionalises those around him; he alone determines whether or not they are genuine, they are his own inventions.

His fellow soldiers suffer in similar fashion. Paul, the NCO, says to Sartre, ‘Me, a soldier? I consider myself a civilian in military disguise’ – which is to trespass on Sartre’s own proud self-definition. Paul comes under the lash: ‘That would be all very fine if he weren’t making himself a soldier – whatever he may say to the contrary – through his volitions, his perceptions, his emotions ... He thus stubbornly continues to flee what he’s making of himself – which plunges him into a state of wretched, diffuse anguish’ (Sartre’s italics). Sartre is not observing this fellow human being, but adapting him, making of him an instant philosophical villain. Paul is in authority, authority is false, therefore Paul must be explained to himself as a living falsehood. His anguish is the imposition of Sartre’s casual logic.

The other ‘character’ Sartre introduces, Pieter, is more sympathetic because he is urban and faintly criminal, the emanation of a working-class quarter of Paris Sartre can identify with. But Pieter is exultantly turned into an exhibit from La Nausée, a paragon of viscosity: ‘While he masturbates his lip, he utters a thousand slurping smacks – reminiscent of the greedy suckings and lappings and “yum-yums” of a nursing infant, or the pantings of a male on the job, or the consenting groans of a woman satisfied – and then the lip re-emerges, obscene and slack, glistening with saliva, and hangs down a bit, enormous and female, spent with bliss.’ As a psychopathological caricature this is brilliantly unpleasant, but it was written in a diary, in the communality of army life, perhaps in the presence of the uncouth Pieter himself. The distance that other writers achieve by seclusion and with time Sartre achieves instantly. He is like Stendhal, who wrote that all his life reality had escaped him because for him to see was to think and reality inescapably an idea.

Sartre’s cherished ‘freedom’, his Nothingness, is not an unequivocally heroic quality when it is also protective, keeping him from absorption by those he is living amongst. He recognises that he is ‘thin blooded’, ‘cold’ even, without going on to recognise that the warmth absent from his daily involvements with others returns in his writing, as an aggression. The War Diaries show other people existing for Sartre only to be written about. His projet, the unifying force in his life by reference to which everything he does is to be rationalised, is the will-to-write. ‘Even in war I fall on my feet, because I think at once of writing what I feel and see. If I question myself, it’s in order to write down the results of my examination; and it’s clear to me I only dream of questioning my desire to write, because if I really tried even for an hour to hold it in abeyance, place it in parenthesis, all reasons for questioning anything whatsoever would collapse.’ Which makes it less extraordinary that in early June 1940, when the French Army was in chaos and the nation foundering, Private Sartre was working at the revision of L’Age de Raison as attentively as ever.

With slower-witted diarists we can assume a reduced quotient of self-consciousness; the diary is as ingenuous a form of writing as there is. With Sartre’s diaries it is otherwise, because however copiously he was writing – and one day’s entry here runs to about eight thousand words – he is writing self-consciously. The diary form suited him, he believed, because its gratuity symbolises the gratuity of thought itself, gratuity being the writer’s translation of the contingent into words. Has anyone ever been quicker or more compulsive in thus thinking his life? In Les Mots he describes how, when he was a boy, he and his mother would sometimes give a running commentary on whatever they were doing as they did it. No wonder he became trapped in the question of authenticity, if everything he ever spoke or did came immediately before him for inspection. True authenticity is not for those who boast like Sartre of their hyper-lucidity. He is pure mind: he cannot hope to be Nature as well. Writing is as close as he can come to being and doing in one, because it is reflexive, and all his life Sartre struggled to believe that writing was as effective a way of being-in-the-world as other, more spontaneous ones.

Reading these Diaries, one sees just how personal his philosophy was, at this stage, before its idiosyncrasy became masked by verbiage and by its spectacular adoption by the young in the Fifties. Its toughness, exemplified by Sartre’s insistence that we at all times ‘assume’ whatever we do, and judge others on the supposition that they, too, have assumed their actions, looks disagreeably like malevolence in the War Diaries, which leave one feeling that Sartre thrived on the supposed hypocrisies of those around him, so acquiring over them the authority which, as an ‘anarchist’, he claimed to find an abomination.

The War Diaries as published are only a part of those that he kept in the winter of 1939-40. The others were lost, in one of those notorious pieces of negligence towards his own writing which are very much part of Sartre’s myth and which bear out that it was writing that counted for him not the having written. He was bound to the activity, not to the product. We can be glad that the Diaries are not complete, since the volumes that have survived are as full an indication of the state of Sartre’s mind and thoughts at this time as all but a fanatical Sartrian could want to read. Their intermittent form is a mercy, when one knows what prolixity he was capable of, since even the longest day comes to an end and with the end of a day there is generally a change of subject.

The War Diaries are not for beginners in Sartre; much in them would be mysterious or random or simply tedious were it not illustrative and premonitory of his later work. They are interesting for being transitional. Self-examination, with Sartre, could not but lead to change, because change was what our freedom in respect of things is for. When he writes explicitly about himself, as here, or as later in Les Mots, it is in the necessary expectation that a different Sartre will emerge at the end, more lucid than ever. Certainly by 1945 Sartre had changed, from the dilettantism he looks back on in these Diaries to the recklessly ideological, topical thinker he never ceased to be thereafter. The War Diaries catch him at a cardinal moment.

I would quarrel with the English translation only in some of the philosophical parts: the Sartrian concept of the visqueux will make few new converts in its guise here of ‘gluey sliminess’ – it would have been better to leave that, and some other items of Sartre’s peculiar idiom, in French, so strongly do they resist the alienation of another language. The translator, Quentin Hoare, has also written an introduction to the book, and footnoted Sartre’s many references to people, places, ideas. This loyal apparatus ensures that we experience these casual writings as a document, finally demystifying the diarist’s own case that he is not serious.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 7 No. 4 · 7 March 1985

SIR: A less generous review of Sartre’s War Diaries could scarcely have been written, without actually exposing itself to charges of prejudice and hostility, than that of John Sturrock (LRB, 7 February). Generosity may be no part of a reviewer’s moral baggage, but Sturrock stamps on a chance to invite readers to reach a richer understanding of the relation or Sartre’s thought to his experience. Sturrock implies throughout that the limbo in which Sartre found himself in Alsace was, if not quite of Sartre’s choosing (although he quite peculiarly intimates that Sartre’s partial blindness made him reluctant to ‘want to do more’), at least a pretext for gross self-indulgence. This hardly accords with Sartre’s own reflection on the dislocation in his existence that the ‘phoney war’ had effected, nor with the sense of impotence and the suffering that the Diaries manifest. And it hardly fits with Sartre’s later activity in the Resistance, which Sturrock prefers to deride. Nor was Sartre indifferent to ‘what is going on in Europe’: ‘A decree published in the Journal Officiel discreetly establishes concentration camps in France … what in the world am I supposed to defend, if it’s no longer even freedom?’ (page 22).

Sartre’s descriptions of his fellow soldiers are not, it is agreed, eulogies. But nor are they ‘malicious’ and defamatory in the way that Sturrock, taking them as if they were ‘character studies’ of an ordinary kind, chooses to suppose. Anyone who has read Sartre’s discussions of the elusiveness of the concept of character in Being and Nothingness, or paid any attention to Sartre’s way of understanding personality in his novels, should recognise that the descriptions are intended as appraisals in unorthodox and distinctive moral dimension. The War Diaries are not engaged in portraiture, and the subtle moral vision is far more consonant with a respect for others as free ends-in-themselves than is Sturrock’s characterisation of Sartre. Sartre is quite certainly not guilty of ‘savagely and quickly fictionalising those around him’.

This simplification is consistent with Sturrock’s snap dismissal of the concern for authenticity – presumably an issue that Sturrock’s theoretical affiliations have magically made redundant. It is also consistent with Sturrock’s underlying failing, which is to assume that biographical understanding can proceed by such facile reductions as that of Being and Nothingness to the Diaries, the former a ‘monstrous expansion’ of the latter, and then to reduce the Diaries to an unhappy marriage of egotism and an irresponsible ‘metropolitan clique’. It is a shame that Sartre’s other diaries were lost, for quite banal reasons. And a shame that Sturrock thinks one must be a fanatic to regret their loss.

Sebastian Gardner
London SW17

Vol. 7 No. 5 · 21 March 1985

SIR: It is careless of Mr Gardner to have left out from his letter (Letters, 7 March) the evidence on which he bases his rosy view of Sartre. I wrote that Sartre was ‘self-centred’, not ‘self-indulgent’, and so, judging by the War Diaries, he was, I would like to know what, in these fluent and cocky entries, Mr Gardner sees as the expression of Sartre’s ‘impotence’ or ‘suffering’. I find nothing of the kind. Nor does Mr Gardner’s lonely quotation from page 22 serve too well the purpose he introduces it for: it shows Sartre as alert to certain discreditable things that were going on in France, but not to what might be going on in Germany, a subject scarcely raised in the Diaries. The comment of Sartre’s which Mr Gardner uses is in any case ironic: the sham anxiety of a self-confessed ‘moral clown’. To Sartre ‘freedom’ was an item in his philosophy, not a political virtue worth fighting for. In the Diaries he lights with pleasure on the evidence that France is divided within itself and not united as it should be against an enemy country – witness his ruminations on the difficulties faced by those refugees from the eastern part of the country who had resettled further west.

What was Sartre’s ‘later activity in the Resistance’ which I am said to have derided? Sartre himself never that I know of claimed to have done anything much or to have been a member of the Resistance. I was objecting to the blurb of the book, which duly enrolled him in it as if it were unthinkable that this post-war hero of the Left could have kept his head well down during the war.

I do not know what Mr Gardner means when he says that Sartre’s descriptions of fellow-soldiers are ‘intended as appraisals in an unorthodox and distinctive moral dimension’. Moral dimensions I find more acceptable when they are orthodox and not strenuously ‘distinctive’. Sartre’s descriptions are contemptuous and the idea that they somehow embody ‘respect for others’ is absurd. His victims are not ‘ends in themselves’ but ‘ends-for-Sartre’. Mr Gardner should consider the paradox which Sartre can’t avoid: if he presents us with examples of human freedom of action and responsibility he does so for his own ends and thereby cancels out their freedom.

I do not regard authenticity as a serious question, or as a serious moral category by which one might discriminate between one kind of behaviour and another. It may be fun to decide who around us is authentic and who is not but to try and extend that into an ethical system is disreputable.

John Sturrock
Lindfield, Sussex

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.