Qu'est-ce que la littérature ? (Poche) - Jean-Paul Sartre

This 1947 essay was fun to read, written with very lively force. As for its content, it's a long argument about the nature and purposes (these two being inseparable) of prose writing, entwined with a Marxist history of French literature (and, in passing, a critique of how the Communist Party is anti-revolutionary and against socialist interests). In the second chapter, Sartre rises into very abstract philosophical realms, but it's crucial to understanding the entire book to know what he means about literature being an "appeal to the liberty of the reader". His high ideals sometimes lead him into assertions that he has to backtrack on, such as that there has never been a good novel written whose author supports slavery or oppression (he admits elsewhere that some novels written by oppressors have been at least pretty good). In any case, he asserts that if a writer is not fully committed to both political and more importantly economic liberty in the socialist sense, he is internally at war with the fundamental free nature of literature. One thing that I found interesting was the observation between the form and the social background of 19th century novels: a closed ideology and a fully-analyzed, wrapped up form whose narrator is always commenting on the characters and putting everything into the form of an understood past incident. It was worth reading the whole thing to get to the last 20 or 30 pages where he talks about the literature he intends to write; it's inspiring, I think, even for those who don't share his point of view. Mind you, he thought that literature would die if the socialist revolution didn't arrive soon. I don't think that literature is dead now; but it's a remarkable achievement that Sartre's essay is still readable.