1. Explain Sartre’s distinction between revealing (e.g. perceiving, reading, conjecturing) and producing (e.g. creating, writing, projecting). Sartre says that a creative writer – as opposed to say “a carpenter or potter working according to traditional patterns” – can’t look at what she creates in the same way as a reader uninvolved in its creation. The difference, Sartre argues, is that the writer “produces the rules of production.” To ourselves our writing lacks the opacity and open-endedness (or “obscurity”?) that is the condition of objectivity (and likewise of reading): “without waiting, without a future, without ignorance, there is no objectivity” (50). So Sartre says the writer can never read, i.e. become an object for, himself: “if he re-reads himself, it is already too late. The sentence will never quite be a thing in his eyes. He goes to the very limit of the subjective without crossing it” (51). Hence Sartre claims that writing as a readable object is implicitly a “joint effort of author and reader which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind. There is no art except for and by others” (51-2); do you agree?
2. what does Sartre mean by the related claims i) that reading “posits the essentiality of both the subject and the object” because “the reader is conscious of disclosing in creating, of creating by disclosing” (52); and ii) that the “literary object, though realized through language, is never given in language,” but “is by nature a silence and an opponent of the word” (52)? the implication of these claims for Sartre is that the literary text is inexhaustible: “while [the reader] reads and creates, he knows that he can always go further in his read, can always create more profoundly, and thus the work seems to him as inexhaustible and opaque as things” (54).
3. Sartre says two things in one paragraph concerning all literary works, but the connection between these two claims isn’t obvious: i) that every such work is an “appeal” (54), and ii) that the appearance of every such work is “a new event which cannot be explained by anterior data” (54). What’s the relation between these two claims? what is a literary work appealing for if not an explanation?
4. what’s the difference between a “regulative function” (e.g. “playing”) and a “constitutive” one (e.g. “recomposing”)? (55) between being and having an end (56)? Sartre insists that freedom is a matter of acquiescing to an imperative (56) and that “at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative” (67): what does this mean? how does it relate to Lear’s claim that being a Crow isn’t just a matter of having certain empirical properties but of “making an ideal one’s life’s task” (43)?
5. why is reading an “exercise in generosity” (58) and art “a ceremony of the gift” (60)?
6. why does Sartre say that “with the realist we are closest to absolute creation” (62) but that our freedom is “never called forth by natural beauty” (59)? do you agree?
7. why is the bulk of this essay titled “why write?” not about writing but reading? do you find this rationale compelling?
1. What are the implications of defining a classic in terms not of intrinsic properties but of the “influence” it exerts on personal and cultural history (127-8)? For Calvino the defining effect of a classic is its surprising richness: “The classics are books which, upon reading, we find even fresher, more unexpected, and more marvelous than we had thought from hearing about them” (129). What do you think of this claim? How does it relate to Sartre’s dialectic of writing and reading?
2. Why does “no book that talks about a book say more than the book in question” (129)?
3. Calvino says that a classic must be both intensely personal–that to function as a class means to function on some level as “your” personal classic (129f)–but also that it “takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans” (130); how does the classic reconcile the radically particular/personal with the absolutely universal?
4. Calvino describes the classic in terms of its “echo effect” (130f); how does this relate to other accounts of echoing we’ve discussed in Kierkegaard, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats?
5. Why does Calvino claim that “you have to know ‘from where’ you are reading…otherwise both the book and the reader will be lost in a timeless cloud” (132)?
6. How do you interpret Canvino’s ultimate justification for reading the classics, “that to read the classics is better than not to read the classics” (134)? how does this relate to the concluding anecdote about Socrates?
1. Kundera addresses Husserl’s account of the “crisis” caused by the modern “reductive” (17) “passion to know” (3) in terms that echo those of many theorists we’ve discussed, above all Nietzsche on the will to knowledge as a will to death, and Adorno/Horkheimer on enlightenment. In turn this crisis is associated with a “forgetting of being” and an end of history akin to the end of history discussed by Lear. Kundera does not oppose the novel to knowledge–on the contrary he claims “knowledge is the novel’s only morality” (6); yet he suggests that novelistic knowledge is irreducible to any other kind of knowledge. Hence espousing novelistic knowledge amounts to an “insistence in repeating: the sole raison d’etre of the novel is to discover what only the novel can discover” (5); “the novel cannot live in peace with the spirit of our time. If it is to go on progressing as novel, it can only do so against the progress of the world” (19). What can such unworldly, novelistic progress mean? Kundera’s conclusion doesn’t explain so much as demonstrate that his answer lies in a precisely quixotic devotion, which like Nietzschean love compels not in spite but in virtue of its apparent purposelessness and indefensibility.
2. what does it mean to read a novel as an “inquiry” as opposed to “moral position” (7)? Kundera criticizes ‘the desire to judge before understanding,’ but what does nonjudgmental understanding amount to?