Books Magazine

What is Literature?

By Ashleylister @ashleylister

 By Ashley ListerWhat is Literature?
 A good friend of mine presented me with a book earlier this month: What is Literature? by Jean Paul Sartre.
Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes in my company will have heard me make some scathing comment against the French. Some of my favorite jokes are targeted against the French for their lack of cleanliness or their inherent cowardice, or their general societal deviance.
I saw a genuine French army rifle for sale on eBay last week. The ad said, ‘Never fired. Dropped once.’
How can you tell if a Frenchman has been in your backyard? Your bins are empty and your dog is pregnant.
Why do the French smell so bad? So blind people can hate them too.
Yet, despite my penchant for sharing these unworthy quips, my friend entrusted me with a copy of Sartre’s What is Literature? I read a little Sartre whilst I was studying my degree. Sartre’s thoughts on existentialism had a mercurial quality where, at one moment I would think I was reading the gibberish ramblings of a lunatic, and the next I would think I’d been granted a momentary insight that rationalised all the complications of existence.
What is Literature?I haven’t yet read all of What is Literature? It accompanies me to college on days when my teaching means I’ll have an hour or two to spare between classes. It goes with me on car journeys when the only other alternative is talking to family. It’s a reminder that a good friend sufficiently recognised my tastes to select such an appropriate gift. And, to me, nothing else sounds quite so much like a good book.

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