A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about differences between and commonalities among Chinese and French postwar depictions of wartime resistance under Axis occupation. The vehicle for this discussion was Sartre’s L’Mort dans l’Ame [Death through the Soul, literally, although the translation published is, oddly, under Troubled Sleep]. Sartre’s text is the third in his trilogy of Chemins de Liberte, or Roads of Liberty, a grand depiction of France on the eve of war, and the catastrophe of defeat.
I had questioned this books’ availablility to Chinese scholars, thinking that such a pessimistic text might be anathema to PRC readers or censors, but in fact the text is indeed available in Chinese, if not widely available or prominent, in the PRC, and has been so since 1990, when it was published by Wenxue Press in Hong Kong. But has it been reprinted on the mainland since, or is it available as part of a collected works?
In spite of my diligence in attempting to find (trouve/找) this text on the internet, it is a testament to libraries and the power of physical books that I discovered it elsewhere: the Alliance Francaise in Pekin, tucked away into a clean glass library on just another Chaoyang corner where foreigners run amok, or, in this case, wander around in French-Chinese stacks. Something so beautiful about the place, like most good things you find by mistake.
(An aside on the same topic: One of my happiest moments in Berlin came when, having been ejected from the Bundesarchiv on a 4 p.m. with promises of documents on a Monday during which I would be floating 30,000 feet over Pakistan, an S-Bahn voyage to Alexanderplatz turned into something quite unexpected; I found the Center for Berlin Research library and, thanks to a little old lady who insisted I could work there without registration, passed a wonderful hour doing Word work absent any internet connection. God bless all the librarians in Europe [especially at Biblioteque nationale France, National Library of Luxembourg, and those in Berlin)! There is hope for humanity yet…)
And so Sartre: A few terms in Sartre’s work are worth examining a bit further, conceptually, because they may be worth attacking at a later date, particularly in reference to the Chinese situation under Japanese occupation.