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Beinecke acquires recorded interviews with Sartre and associates

Yale Bulletin & Calendar February 1-8, 1999 Volume 27, Number 19

A large library of tape recordings featuring interviews with Existentialist philosopher, playwright and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as several of his unpublished manuscripts, have recently been acquired by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The recordings were amassed by John Gerassi, who wrote the 1989 biography "Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century" and was Sartre's godson. Sartre was a friend to Gerassi's father, a Loyalist Spanish painter who was close to the philosopher before and during the Spanish Civil War. Gerassi's mother was a friend of Sartre's lifelong companion Simone de Beauvoir. John Gerassi became a political activist with a particular interest in revolutionary movements in Latin America and the Caribbean. Because they shared similar political commitments and interests in the late 1960s and 1970s, Sartre asked Gerassi to write the biography.

The recordings acquired by the Beinecke include tapes of 36 interviews (approximately 200 hours) with Sartre prior to the writing of the biography. It also features about 100 hours of recordings of interviews with Sartre's entourage and contemporaries, including the sociologist and historian Raymond Aron; Claude Lanzmann, the author of the Holocaust narrative "Shoah"; Henri Jeanson, who was associated with Sartre at the time of the Algerian war; Sartre's adopted daughter, Arlette El Kaim; his protégé and disciple Benny Lévy; and de Beauvoir, a writer and feminist whose books include "The Second Sex," about the socialization of women. Simone de Beauvoir was Sartre's companion for some five decades.

Because traditional tape recordings are subject to rapid physical deterioration, the Beinecke Library will digitize the Gerassi/Sartre tapes in order to permanently preserve them. In time, the digitized files will be made available remotely over the internet.

The unpublished manuscripts were given by Sartre to Gerassi. They include a four-hour lecture on ethics presented by Sartre in 1964 at the Gramsci Institute in Rome; 800 pages of notes for lectures on ethics that Sartre intended to give at Cornell University (he canceled his visit to protest the American bombing of North Vietnam); the uncorrected typescript of a volume on ethics that differs from the published text; and four pages of notes in Sartre's hand identifying the books he read during various periods of his life.

The Gerassi recordings and manuscripts join a small but distinguished collection of Sartre materials at the Beinecke Library, which includes two incomplete holograph drafts for an unpublished book on Tintoretto; several scenes from the 1955 play "Nekrasov"; a partial draft of the play "Les Séquestrés d'Altona" ("The Condemned of Altona," 1959); and the complete manuscript of "Le Sursis," the second of three novels published in the 1940s under the title "Les Chemins de la liberté ("The Roads to Freedom").

Born in Paris in 1905, Sartre is also the author of the novel "Nausea," the philosophical work "Being and Nothingness" and the drama "No Exit." He was chosen for, but refused to accept, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964. Sartre died in 1980.


  Jean Paul Sartre. A french philosopher of the 20th century.
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