Oct 24, 2014

Glimpses Into Existence: Simone de Beauvoir

Earlier this month, the Kingston Library hosted the tenth monthly lecture in the Glimpses into Existence series, this time focused on Simone de Beauvoir.  As with nearly all of the sessions (the main exception was the Shestov session in June), we had an excellent turnout and some quite lively discussion.  All too often, as I noted at the start (with the exception of feminist theorists, who do pay attention to her as a thinker who makes important contributions), de Beauvoir languishes in the shadow of her nearly lifelong companion, lover, and collaborator, Jean-Paul Sartre.

She really does deserve to be read and taken seriously in her own right -- she manages to provide something Sartre himself wasn't able to bring off in her Ethics Of Ambiguity, an ethics corresponding to his metaphysics of human freedom.  Another one of her treatises, The Second Sex solidly transposes existentialism, structured by what are all too often mainly male preoccupations, narratives, and experiences, into planes that one can indeed term "feminist" (a term which de Beauvoir resisted for a considerable portion of her life).



As usual, with these library presentations, a good portion of the talk focused on understanding de Beauvoir in relation to the history she lived through, the culture she inhabited, her decisions and commitments, for better and for worse.  In many respects, she embodies the sort of approach she advocates -- towards freedom and its uses, in her approach to others and the Other, stressing the importance of actual experience as grounds for reflection and decision (hence her numerous travels abroad, carried out as a kind of on-the-ground research).

Much of our discussion turned some of the implications of the Ethics of Ambiguity -- particularly her lapidary formula that ethics is the triumph of freedom over facticity (which we'll look at more closely in a follow-up post) -- but we did get to touch on some of the key themes of The Second Sex, look briefly at her early and only play"The Useless Mouths", and muse a bit about her essay "Must We Burn Sade?" (which you can find in her Political Writings volume).

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