Sartre at Seventy: An Interview


Michel Contat: For the past year there has been much concern over the rumors that have been circulating about the state of your health. You will be seventy years old this month. Tell us, Sartre, how are you feeling?

Jean-Paul Sartre: It is difficult to say that I am feeling well, but I can’t say that I’m feeling bad either. During the last two years, I’ve had several mishaps. My legs begin to hurt as soon as I walk more than one kilometer, and I’ve had serious problems with blood pressure, but recently, and quite suddenly, these have disappeared.

Worst of all, I had hemorrhages behind my left eye—the only one of my two eyes that can see, since I lost almost all vision in my right eye when I was three years old—and now I can still see forms vaguely, I can see light, colors, but I do not see objects or faces distinctly, and, as a consequence, I can neither read nor write. More exactly, I can write, that is to say, form the words with my hand, and I can do this more or less comfortably now, but I cannot see what I write. And reading is absolutely out of the question. I can see the lines, the spaces between the words, but I can no longer distinguish the words themselves. Without the ability to read or write, I no longer have even the slightest possibility of being actively engaged as a writer: my occupation as a writer is completely destroyed.

However, I can still speak. That is why, if television manages to find the money, my next work will be a series of broadcasts in which I will try to speak about the seventy-five years of this century. I am working on this with Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Victor, and Philippe Gavi, who have their own ideas and will do the editing, which I am incapable of doing myself.

This is my situation at the moment. Apart from that, I am in fine shape. I sleep extremely well. My mind is probably just as sharp as it was ten years ago—no more sharp, but no less—and my sensibility has remained the same. Most of the time my memory is good, except for names, which I recall only with great effort and which sometimes escape me. I can use objects when I know where they are in advance. In the street, I can get along by myself without too much difficulty.

Even so, not being able to write any more must be a considerable blow. You speak about it with serenity….

In one sense, it robs me of all reason for existing; I was, and I am no longer, if you wish. I should feel very defeated, but for some unknown reason I feel quite good: I am never sad, nor do I have any moments of melancholy in thinking of what I have lost.

No feelings of rebellion?

Who, or what, should I be rebelling…

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