Remicard Sereme | Glossary on Sartre and Gramsci for Revolution 3/13

By Remicard Sereme

Les Temps Modernes

 Les Temps Modernes was a French political and literary review founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, his longtime companion, in October 1945. Its last volume was published in December 2018. Les Temps Modernes remains one of the most prestigious French reviews with an international impact.

Jean-Paul Sartre served as the first general director of the review and was accompanied by a writing committee composed of Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Leiris, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Olivier and Jean Paulhan, all of them influential philosophers and intellectuals of their time.

Several articles that Sartre published in this review were later collected in several volumes of the sprawling anthology of his essays entitled Situations.

The review aimed to critically assess the political and social situations in both France and the world. As it was published regularly, it allowed the philosophers and intellectuals contributing to it to react almost immediately to what was happening during their time.

During the first 20 years of its publication, Les Temps Modernes addressed almost every aspect of intellectual and political life in France and internationally: the anticolonial struggle, polemics against structuralism, quarrels around Marxism, support for the Polish and Hungarian revolts, reflections on the Left’s future, on the industrial society, and on what was called at the time the “Third World.” Simone de Beauvoir famously referred to the review’s contributors as “chasseurs de sens” (hunters of meaning).

This review gave them the opportunity to be “engaged” on certain issues through their texts and engage their thoughts by giving them a practical orientation. Les Temps Modernes was about contributing to the world and taking actions and positions rather than merely commenting as a passerby. It was aimed at intellectuals as a group and called for a sense of responsibility in them. Sartre wrote in the first text published in the review, Présentation des Temps Modernes:

L’écrivain est en situation dans son époque: chaque parole a des retentissements. Chaque silence aussi” (The writer is situated in his time: every word has repercussions, so does every silence).

The different contributions published in Les Temps Modernes marked thinkers, professors, journalists and politicians of Sartre’s generation but also of the following generations.




Négritude is a francophone political and literary movement focusing on Black liberation in the 20th century. The term “Négritude” was forged during the 1930’s and refers to the characteristics and cultural values of Black people, asserted as their own, as well as their belonging to the Black race. It echoes with political, aesthetic but also identity aspirations of Black intellectuals from that period.

Négritude was born as a response to the suffering endured by Black people, colonial violence, and more broadly white domination, but it’s far from being a miserabilist discourse. Négritude is about dignity, pride and the affirmation of Black people in their blackness. Senghor describes the term as the “password” for those who don’t want to suffer their “blackness” anymore. It’s an appropriation and affirmation of that blackness.

Despite its broad reach based on the analogous experience of blackness, the movement has been severely criticized and sometimes rejected by those it wished to encompass. For example, in 1962 the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, who we discussed in Revolution 1/13, affirmed that “le tigre ne proclame pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie” (the tiger does not proclaim its “tigerness”, it jumps on its prey). Frantz Fanon critiqued Négritude in Wretched of the Earth (1961, pp. 151-154), which was also discussed by Biodun Jeyifo and Bernard E. Harcourt in Revolution 1/13.

Négritude has found its most pertinent expressions through poetry and literature. Aimé Césaire and Léopold Senghor are two emblematic figures of this movement but they are not the only ones.



The Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci

The Prison Notebooks are some of Antonio Gramsci’s most famous and powerful writings. There are 33 of them in total. Journalist, head of the Italian Communist Party, and philosopher, Gramsci was arrested by Mussolini’s fascist regime on November 8th 1926 and sentenced to prison for conspiracy.  He was incarcerated for eleven years and wrote the Prison Notebooks during that time.

Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks first appeared in print in Italian in 1948. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith translated and edited Selection from the Prison Notebooks in 1971 and for a long time, all the English-speaking world had access to were these Selections.

That was the case until Joseph Buttigieg, founding member and former president of the International Gramsci Society (and father of Pete Buttigieg), endeavored to expand access to Gramsci’s work in English, thus raising the standard for Gramscian scholarship in Anglo-Saxon intellectual circles. In the early 1990’s, he decided to embark on an ambitious and carefully rendered project of making the entire set of notebooks available in English for the first time. He began translating a complete critical English edition of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks based upon the first complete and critical edition of the notebooks in Italian entitled Quaderni del Carcere edited by Valentino Gerratana in 1975.  The first volume of Buttigieg’s English edition of Gramsci’s work was published in 1992 (containing Notebooks 1 to 3), the second one in 1996 (containing Notebooks 3 to 5) and the third one in 2007 (containing Notebooks 6 to 8). Unfortunately, Joseph Buttigieg died in 2019, without having translated the full 33 Notebooks.