A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir
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A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir

Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer, Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer

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eBook - ePub

A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir

Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer, Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer

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Winner of the 2018 Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title! The work of Simone de Beauvoir has endured and flowered in the last two decades, thanks primarily to the lasting influence of The Second Sex on the rise of academic discussions of gender, sexuality, and old age. Now, in this new Companion dedicated to her life and writings, an international assembly of prominent scholars, essayists, and leading interpreters reflect upon the range of Beauvoir's contribution to philosophy as one of the great authors, thinkers, and public intellectuals of the twentieth century.

The Companion examines Beauvoir's rich intellectual life from a variety of angles—including literary, historical, and anthropological perspectives—and situates her in relation to her forbears and contemporaries in the philosophical canon. Essays in each of four thematic sections reveal the breadth and acuity of her insight, from the significance of The Second Sex and her work on the metaphysics of gender to her plentiful contributions in ethics and political philosophy. Later chapters trace the relationship between Beauvoir's philosophical and literary work and open up her scholarship to global issues, questions of race, and the legacy of colonialism and sexism. The volume concludes by considering her impact on contemporary feminist thought writ large, and features pioneering work from a new generation of Beauvoir scholars.

Ambitious and unprecedented in scope, A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir is an accessible and interdisciplinary resource for students, teachers, and researchers across the humanities and social sciences.

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Part I
Re‐reading The Second Sex

A. Reception and Scholarship

Beauvoir’s Transdisciplinarity: From Philosophy to Gender Theory

Beauvoir’s relation to both feminist philosophy and gender theory is far from straightforward, although the intellectual traditions of both seem to spring, at least in part, from the articulation of their bases in The Second Sex. Deeply embedded in the European traditions of philosophy, especially phenomenology and existentialism, The Second Sex rests on two connected, specifically feminist, philosophical innovations: first, the gendering of phenomenological experience; and second, the positing of a novel question (albeit in a classical philosophical form) for existential ontology: What is a woman? This question prepared the ground for contemporary discussions of the status and meaning of the category “woman,” both in the French materialist and in the Anglo‐American traditions.
The first innovation inspired the tradition of feminist phenomenology, one of the richest seams of feminist philosophy in the twentieth‐ and twenty‐first century. Arguably, coupled with a Marxian influence, it also provided the model for the gender critique of an array of philosophical discourses (for example in epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics and aesthetics). In exposing the lie of the universalism of “Man” and insisting on a real, and not merely formal duality, Beauvoir seems, as well (although not uncontroversially) to have opened the question of “sexual difference” that would become so important for the psychoanalytically oriented francophone and Francophile feminist philosophy of the second half of the twentieth century. From an anglophone perspective, Beauvoir’s posing of the novel philosophical problem of “Woman” in The Second Sex also seemed to crack open the distinction between sex and gender, thus positing a non‐essentialist and non‐biological account of gendered existence that provided the feminist impetus for the gender, queer and trans theories of later decades.
In the reception of The Second Sex in feminist philosophy and gender theory (broadly understood), these various strands have never been reconciled in a single theory or a single interpretation; indeed, they have often been pitted against each other. Beyond the obvious claim, then, that The Second Sex was influential in many different directions, what is its critical place today in articulating the relation between feminist philosophy and gender theory?
Any answer to this question requires an account of Beauvoir’s relation to philosophy. After a brief survey of recent attempts to identify the specificity of Beauvoir’s philosophical contribution, I look at the transition from Beauvoir’s early, more conventionally philosophical essays to the strikingly unconventional work that is The Second Sex. I argue that the philosophical innovations of The Second Sex, upon which the gender theory of the later twentieth century depends, were themselves dependent on Beauvoir’s relations to other disciplines and other forms of intellectual production (especially anthropology, sociology and literature), such that Beauvoir’s philosophical originality had multi‐ and interdisciplinary conditions of possibility. This aligns it more obviously with the twentieth‐century tradition of critical theory rather than any “disciplinary” conception of philosophy. The trajectory from philosophy to gender theory is thus not necessarily a journey from one discipline to another but, as Beauvoir’s example demonstrates, the possibility of a critical redefinition of the conception of philosophy such that it is able to take gender theory into account.

1. Beauvoir’s Philosophy

Clearly, The Second Sex is not a conventionally philosophical work, and nor has it ever been received as such. But it was primarily in relation to studies of The Second Sex that the question of Beauvoir’s philosophy – and Beauvoir’s status as a philosopher – first arose. This was, of course, in the context of a discipline that was and remains – in both the continental and analytical traditions – defensive about its own definition and intellectual boundaries and, historically, inhospitable to women and “masculinist” (Le Dœuff 1991, 42). When explicitly feminist work in philosophy began to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s, the mainstream reaction was largely hostile and the legitimacy of this work, qua philosophy, was denied. Feminist philosophers responded, in part, by criticizing the narrowness of the definition of philosophy that this involved. This criticism was just and right; but it does not mean that anything should now count as philosophy, or that philosophy is just whatever we want it to be. If, for example, we are to make claims about the philosophical significance or legacy of Beauvoir’s work, we still need to be able to say something about the specificity of the discipline of philosophy to make those claims intelligible.
What is philosophy? This question is difficult to answer because there is no empirical unity of practice or of self‐understanding among the diverse array of practices and texts that are gathered today under its name. Philosophy exists in the form of particular intellectual and institutional regimes of discourse, in particular, social and political and indeed geopolitical contexts. Recognizing this, we do not necessarily identify our own context and regime, exclusively, with philosophy. The diversity of these regimes means that the unity of philosophy (which makes the use of the word meaningful) lies not in any method, nor even in any common themes or questions; on the contrary, these precisely constitute its internal plurality. So where is it?
One answer is that the unity of philosophy is in its relation to its history. This does not contradict its de facto internal plurality, nor does it imply that there can be no contestation in our understanding of that history, or even in what constitutes it. Indeed, philosophy’s critical relation to its own history, its self‐renewal through interpretations of its history, is partly what gives rise to its internal plurality and to disagreements. At the same time there is a paradoxical unity‐in‐disunity of philosophy in relation to what we might loosely call its practice of abstraction. Within this, the scope of its field is unlimited (hence its quasi meta‐disciplinary aspirations). Philosophy continually extends itself beyond its own historically defined areas to philosophize about new objects or about established objects in new ways. Any “unity” of philosophy is thus more than the empirical totality of its disciplinary practices in the present and certainly more than the hegemony of any particular form of practice.
The signal importance for philosophy of its own history accounts for the fact that many of the attempts to explain Beauvoir’s philosophical significance have taken the form of accounts of her relations to her philosophical predecessors and contemporaries and her divergences from them. So, for example, central concepts in The Second Sex are said to be indebted to the late seventeenth‐century French philosophy of the passions represented by Malebranche and Descartes (James 2003), to Rousseau (Scholz 2012), Hegel (Lundgren‐Gothlin 1996; Bauer 2001; Sandford 2006), Heidegger (Gothlin 2003), Sartre (Vintges 1996) and Merleau‐Ponty (Langer 2003; Weiss 2012). Beauvoir is said to be indebted to Descartes’ methodological skepticism (Bauer 2001), Sartre’s ontology (Arp 2001), and to the phenomenological tradition inaugurated by Husserl more generally (Vintges 1995, 1996; Bergoffen 1997; Heinämaa 2003). These accounts situate Beauvoir in the history of philosophy, explaining something of what one needs to know in order to appreciate the originality or interest of Beauvoir’s use or understanding of specific concepts in relation to that tradition. In other words, they account for Beauvoir as a philosopher in terms of her critical, transformative relation to the history of philosophy.1
On this basis, there have also been some attempts to construct “Beauvoir’s philosophy,” a distinctive philosophical oeuvre. In the philosophical monographs on Beauvoir in the last twenty years or so, these attempts have mainly focused on her development of an existentialist ethics, via readings of some of her early essays. Some of these accounts are based on claims about Beauvoir’s peculiar philosophical method in relation to the history of philosophy (Bauer 2001, 4).2 In a slightly different vein, Michel Kail (2006) argues that any attempt to understand Beauvoir’s philosophy must begin from the recognition of her anti‐naturalist or anaturalist phenomenological‐existential concept of world. Justifying his reading, Kail contends that reading Beauvoir philosophically is a task of reconstruction, making explicit the founding concepts and problems in the absence of any programmatic statements about “her philosophy” from Beauvoir herself. This means that any claim about what constitutes “Beauvoir’s philosophy” must be based on a strong interpretative, even speculative, reading. This helps explain why there is no consensus as to what constitutes Beauvoir’s philosophy and as to which should be considered its main source texts. Some locate the most important moves firmly in the early essays on ethics (Arp 1995; Vintges 1996) or even earlier, in She Came to Stay and in Beauvoir’s juvenilia (Simons 1999), while for others The Second Sex is the first decisive text (Bauer 2001).

2. The Shock of the New

Revisiting the question of Beauvoir’s philosophy and her relation to philosophy from the p...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Table of Contents
  4. Notes on Contributors
  5. Acknowledgements
  6. Introduction
  7. Part I: Re‐reading The Second Sex
  8. Part II: Beauvoir’s Intellectual Engagements
  9. Part III: Beyond The Second Sex
  10. Part IV: Beauvoir and Contemporary Feminism
  11. Index
  12. End User License Agreement
Stili delle citazioni per A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir

APA 6 Citation

Bauer, N., & Hengehold, L. (2017). A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/991209/a-companion-to-simone-de-beauvoir-pdf (Original work published 2017)

Chicago Citation

Bauer, Nancy, and Laura Hengehold. (2017) 2017. A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. 1st ed. Wiley. https://www.perlego.com/book/991209/a-companion-to-simone-de-beauvoir-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Bauer, N. and Hengehold, L. (2017) A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/991209/a-companion-to-simone-de-beauvoir-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Bauer, Nancy, and Laura Hengehold. A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. 1st ed. Wiley, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.