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Review of Krüger, Annika Charlotte. Lecture sartrienne de Racine: Visions existentielles de l'homme tragique. Tubingen: Narr Verlag, 2011. ISBN: 978-3-8233-6620-1. Pp. 275. 74€

Article Citation: 
XV, 1 (2013): 101–103
Nina Ekstein
Article Text: 

In the introduction to Lecture sartrienne de Racine, Krüger indicates that her goal is to juxtapose Sartre’s and Racine’s “conceptions de l’homme et de la condition humaine” as well as “leurs stratagèmes dramaturgico-psychologiques” (11), in order to demonstrate the modernity of Racine. More concretely, this comparatist study has two objectives. First, Krüger demonstrates the similarities between Sartre’s ideas and those emanating from Racine’s circle, primarily Pierre Nicole and Pascal. Second, the author traces in great detail the manifestation of these ideas in Racine’s Britannicus, Bajazet, and Andromaque. The ideas in question come primarily from several of Sartre’s philosophical texts (above all, L’Être et le néant) and from two of his plays, Huis clos and Les Mouches. Major points of contact between Sartre and Racine include the importance of the other/autrui for both, the close tie between Racinian amour-propre and Sartrian mauvaise foi, and the proclivity that both demonstrate for closed spaces in their plays. She works through these ideas with great care and perseverance. The notion of the regard is extremely important for both, and Krüger discusses numerous variations: “le regard d’autrui,” “le regard supérieur” (for example Amurat in Bajazet and Agrippine in Britannicus), and “le regard regardé.” Other subjects include role-playing, hatred of the other turned against the self, the urge to possess the other, and the effect of death on how one is judged. As my listing indicates, there is considerable breadth in subject matter.

While the author presents careful, thoughtful work, and shows great promise as a future scholar, the Lecture sartrienne de Racine exemplifies why a dissertation should not be published without revision. Many dissertations have been turned into books, but in order for the gap between the two to be bridged, certain important adjustments need to be made. There are four areas in this study where the absence of such modifications is problematic. The first concerns the audience for the book. Since a dissertation is above all a demonstration of one’s intellectual accomplishments, thought is given to impressing the public with one’s erudition, rather than to drawing in and engaging the reader. This 252-page book contains 1,118 footnotes and literally hundreds of quotes from Racine’s plays. It is virtually impossible to read a paragraph without the flow of the argument being repeatedly interrupted by footnotes and quotes. The second dissertation-like feature, while not as off-putting for the reader, instead compromises the value of the study as a whole: discussion is limited to only a few texts by each author. Krüger examines only three of Racine’s twelve plays and only two of Sartre’s eleven. Similar limitations are placed on Sartre’s philosophical texts. Such a strategy makes perfect sense for a dissertation, but a book that contains only two tiny mentions of Phèdre should not be entitledLecture sartrienne de Racine. It is never made clear whether the ideas expressed would function equally well in discussions of other plays by both playwrights. The author makes two half-hearted attempts to justify her choices among Racine’s plays, but one does not apply well to Andromaque (the centrality of the struggle for freedom [21]) and the other—the conception of love—is in no way limited to Britannicus, Bajazet, and Andromaque. Third, there is a decided tendency to include tangential work, so that we find all of Pascal’s mentions of flies; a lengthy and ill-fitting examination of the baroque that includes Dionysius, melancholy, the camp, and cross-dressing; and an exposition of Sartre, Calderón, and Pirandello that excludes Racine entirely. Chapter IV, in particular, reads like a grab bag of tangentially related material. The fourth problem with the book is its structure. As is typical of dissertations, the first chapter deals with the scholarly and theoretical background, but no concrete reference is made to Racine’s theater until page 100, and none to Sartre’s theater until page 129. All four of these areas should have been addressed before publishing this dissertation as a book, and all four make the book less engaging for the reader.

I would like to emphasize that whatever problems there are here, Annika Krüger shows enormous promise as a scholar. The careful manipulation of detail in conjunction with wide-ranging abstract thought is impressive. The patient intelligence and care that went into producing this study are evident on every page. In conclusion, this is a careful study by a young scholar who shows much promise for the future, but the book should have been reworked before publication.

Nina Ekstein, Trinity University

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