The Work of Sartre, by István Mészáros. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013. Paper, $28.95. Pp. 380.
Reviewed by George Snedeker
István Mészáros had been a friend and student of Georg Lukács in Hungary. He continues to be an important Marxist philosopher. The Work of Sartre is a carefully argued analysis of Sartre’s writings and political commitments, from the 1930s to his death in 1980. Mészáros’ position on Sartre is balanced and carefully thought through. He analyzes Sartre’s novels, plays, political essays, and biographies as well as his major philosophical works. He also treats Sartre’s political activities during the Cold War.
Mészáros clarifies the conflict between Lukács and Sartre. Sartre’s criticism of Lukács’ role during the Hungarian revolt was based on misinformation Sartre had received about what Lukács did after the Soviet invasion. His position while being held in a prison in Romania and interrogated there was principled. While serving in Imre Nagi’s government, he had opposed the decision to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, since this would give the Soviet Union a justification for their invasion. Lukács defended Nagy, who was executed by the Russians.
Mészáros discusses Sartre’s several unfinished writing projects. Sartre stopped writing plays after The Prisoner of Altuna. He stopped writing novels after the third volume of the Roads to Freedom trilogy, when he realized that he had nothing more to say about the French resistance. For Sartre, during the war the moral choices were clear; either collaborate with the Germans or resist fascism. He often said that his biography of Flaubert was a novel. Sartre left the Flaubert biography unfinished, after working on it for 15 years, as a result of his failing vision. Hemorrhages in his retinas in 1973 left Sartre virtually blind and no longer able to write in longhand — the way he wrote all of his books…