Sartre and Inauthenticity
Joy of Living Creatively
Dr. Eric Maisel

Episode 30 - Sartre and Inauthenticity

Today’s episode is part of a series called “Lessons from Paris.” In this series I’ve chosen essays from my book A Writer’s Paris that I’m betting will help you deepen your connection to your creative life and motivate you to create every day. Today’s show, the third in the series, is called “Sartre and Inauthenticity.”

The episode begins this way:

“We writers lie incessantly.  That we are bound to lie, however, is no justification for choosing to write insincerely. If we ourselves know that the point we are making is weak, it rests squarely on our shoulders to strengthen that point or abandon it entirely.  If we throw in a gratuitous scene, tossed in to make fun of this or to rail aimlessly at that, it is up to us to edit that scene out when we revise.  If we are writing in jargon so as to avoid saying what we mean or to disguise the fact that we haven’t much to say, our own voice should shout ‘No!  Don’t do that!’ There is necessary lying; and there is old-fashioned, everyday lying.”

Tune in to hear more!



Eric Maisel:  Hello everybody. Welcome to today’s episode of the “Joy of Living Creatively.” Before we begin I have a little request. I am taking an anonymous survey of my listeners and I hope that you will participate as your participation helps get me sponsors. Just drop over to and click on the listener survey ad on my show page. Thank you so much for supporting the “Joy of Living Creatively”.

Today’s show is another episode in the “Lessons from Paris” series based on my book “The Writer’s Paris”. In each episode we examine an important aspect of the creative life and set our examination against the backdrop of Paris. I hope that you enjoy today’s show and will want to follow the whole series.

Today’s episode is called Sartre and Inauthenticity. Let’s begin.

When we leave something out of a story we lie and we are always leaving something out. When we highlight something in a story we lie and we are always highlighting and underlining. It is therefore no paradox that writers are great liars and great truth tellers. So be it.

While writers may lie incessantly there is no justification for choosing to write insincerely. If we know that our argument is week it rests squarely on our shoulder to strengthen that argument or abandon it entirely.

If we throw in a gratuitous scene to make fun of this or to rail aimlessly at that we must edit out that scene when we revise. If we write in jargon  so as to avoid saying what we mean or to avoid the fact that we haven’t much to say our own voice should shout, “No! Don’t do that!”

There is necessary lying and then there is old fashioned everyday lying.

Your time in Paris offers an opportunity to take your writing and your principles seriously. Gather up your integrity before you leave. Each of us can be clever and if we only write cleverly we have sacrificed that integrity.

 Each of us is capable of making fine distinctions and if we only make fine distinctions we have acted indecently.

We can create glittery edifices, pretty pictures, false idols, none of that will do. Our job is to write for humanity or against inhumanity.

Then you can write with a microscope focusing on a couple who live in close quarters in a cramped relationship or with a telescope about wars and the people who wage them.



Many writers pick up their pen with lesser agendas in mind. Take Jean-Paul Sartre for instance. Sartre had it in mind to write for humanity but his character failed him. He might have followed up a novel like Nausea, in which he made an honorable effort to wrestling with questions of meaning, with fiction or nonfiction that further articulated the meaning struggles of our species.

 He might have attempted the fine project that he alluded to in an early essay of constructing a coherent humanistic atheistic philosophy. Instead- to use the language of the existentialist he never become- he dodged the encounter. He dodged the resistance. He acidulously skipped that hardest job of all; writing with his conscious engaged.

There is no better example of his dodging and long term bad faith than his absurd last effort; the many years he spent writing an unreadable biography of Flaubert. Years on the biography of Flaubert when you haven’t articulated the principles of existentialism yet; that really won’t do.  

Essayist John Sturrock explained in “The Word from Paris” quote, “Satre refused to give up writing his obsessive study of Flaubert the family idiot. Elitist in the extreme, though he new it to be a barely assessable work of literary criticism that would never be read by more than a few people. It was unreasonable, he complained to interviews, to expect him  to abandon this huge piece of work and he set to wondering a little pathetically whether one day by some unspecified process of mediation this sort of book might serve the masses; which for those who have attempted and been worsted by the outrageous size  and frequent obscurity of the unmediated idiot has to rank as the most utopian of all of Satre’s speculations.”

I hold Satre accountable for his character and in turn his destiny. Like you and me; he could think, he could observe, he could intuit, he could analyze, he could synthesize, he just couldn’t look in the mirror. This ubiquitous character flaw, the unwillingness to engage in self awareness, is so commonly known and understood that we must that Satre knew about it.

He might, if he had been interested, have demanded of himself am I guilty of inauthenticity for continuing my Flaubert biography. I credit him with the power to ask such questions and crediting him with such power, find him guilty.

The Greek philosophers and poets honored fate. They observed that people rarely changed an announced character’s destiny. The existentialist is not so ready to let man off the hook. We claim that man can look in the mirror and if he is brave enough to stare, catch a glimpse of his own tricks.




If you agree then you also must agree that looking in the mirror is an integral part of your preparations for Paris, you have more than your pads and pencils to bring you also have your courage and your conscious; then when you write in Paris you will write authentically.

You may fail in the execution but if your intensions are honorable you will be able to hold your head high. Is your intention to shed some light or to add to the darkness? Do you feel righteous or queasy when you begin a new piece? Do you respect your own writing motives? Ask these questions when some sunny day in June you sit in a Parisian café, your note notebook open, and wonder what should I write next?

Do you want to spend a decade on a biography of Flaubert for the masses? Watch out! A writer is last person on earth permitted to ignore the distinction between authentic and inauthentic.

That ends today’s show. I hope that you enjoyed it and I hope that you will tune in next week for another episode of “The Joy of Living Creatively”.

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