Three Hours in the Morning

In Talking with Sartre, U.S. professor John Gerassi explores a fascinating range of subjects with the French intellectual, writer, and activist.  At the book’s conclusion, Gerassi writes, “What we must do instead, he said, is commit ourselves over and over again. No act is pure. All acts are choices, which alienate some. No one can live without dirty hands. To be simply opposed is also to be responsible for not being in favor, for not advocating change. To fall back on the proposition that human actions are predetermined is to renounce mankind. No writer can accept the totalitarianism implied by ‘human nature.’ If he writes, he wants to change the world—and himself. Writing is an act. It is commitment.”   Throughout,  I became particularly intrigued by Sartre’s musings and reflections on the writing life…

Projects don’t exclude death—projects are the antithesis of death. That’s an important difference. The project is an act. Writing is an act. My projects right now: the next part of CDR. Then I think I want to write my political testament.  16

I never changed in my being: I am what I am and write. 30

Once one decides to be a writer, one’s conception of life, one’s whole being changes. … travel, experience as many different circumstances as possible. Go into every world. Go see how the pimps live in Constantinople. Why Constantinople? There are pimps right here, around the corner. Because travel, experience, give a richness to the writing. All adventures help, including sexual adventures, love, et cetera….A writer has to choose the false against the true. When you decided to be a writer, you couldn’t make that choice because you wanted a revolution, you worked for a revolution. I was nothing but what I wrote. You had a goal. I was my goal. 34

But I learned from [Flaubert’s books] that anyone can write. That writing is having the patience to write. The will. The stamina. That’s the basis. The rest comes from reading, reading, and reading.  60

I never wanted to be a philosopher, but I knew that to be seriously committed to write novels, I would have to understand as much as possible, and philosophy would serve me in that. 64

I did that by writing The Words, by rereading Marx, by approaching the Communist Party, and by realizing that I had been simply protecting myself, telling me that the miseries of others were not my affairs, except of course as I might write about them, but as outside me. 81

During the Phony War, I got obsessed, writing as fast as my hand would move.  86

Actually I often had no idea what I was going to write until I started writing it, so it became fun, exciting. 87

Today, the writer writes to change his society, to help his readers—and himself—liberate themselves within, not without absurdity. And that means commitment. That is, politically conscious that the ruling classes dominate and want to dominate the poor, the helpless, and the lost. 141

To write is simply a profession. Somebody makes shoes, somebody becomes a soldier, somebody writes. Today I write three hours every morning, except Fridays when I talk to you, and write three hours after lunch. The rest of the time I do what they want me to do. 148

I always felt I had to stay in contact with the world, with my world. Ever since Marx, philosophy must lead to action. Otherwise it is irrelevant. So a philosopher does what he has to do, then sits down at his desk, wherever it is, and “retakes the thread of his anger,” as Valéry once said. The distractions don’t matter as long as I could retake the thread of my anger, angers against this system, against all those who believe that they have a right to be greedy, who feel they are superior to others, like the French in Algeria, in Madagascar, the Americans in Haiti, in Puerto Rico, the whites in black New York, the Dulleses in Guatemala or Egypt. Philosophers must be angry, and in this world, stay angry. 178

I oppose any writer getting a prize from an elite, because as we agree, the value system of that elite, as much in Sweden as in America, is based on values we oppose, values which must be destroyed. 219

Cold inside, hot outside. Meaning that one must know well and calmly what one is going to say, then express it with the full vigor it demands. 22

I have to write longhand. 258

What I hope defines my journey on this planet has been my commitment to freedom, that everything I have written or every action I have partaken has always been in my drive to stress the impotence of freedom, real freedom, not the superficial kind that your government and mine, your commentators and mine, claim we have—that is, the freedom of the rich to say and so anything they like in the media they buy, or of the vote, which is limited to a rigged system they set up, or the equivalent under central committees, in sum, the kind of phony freedom that limits, or indeed eliminates us as free agents. Such free agents, if we can create a collective in which they flourish, would be totally unalienated. 265

–John Gerassi, Talking with Sartre: Conversations and Debates, Yale University Press, 2009.


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