15 December 2009

Taking a philosophical viewpoint

I was flicking through the Guardian Review at the weekend and saw this great picture of Simone de Beauvoir. It's even better on the website, all saturated colour, so I thought I'd share it with you.


The piece it accompanies is all about women's writing: it's 50 years since de Beauvoir's famous "feminist" tome The Second Sex was published. I've not read this book, and I don't know if I ever will. I studied "women's literature" as a subsidiary course at university and, if I'm honest, it put me off the genre somewhat. I'm not much of a feminist, and I don't see why women's literature should be marked out when men's literature is not. It doesn't seem very equal or fair.

The other thing is that I've read three of de Beauvoir's works, and two I didn't like. It took me most of last summer to wade my way through The Mandarins (1954); it took part of this to decipher Une Mort Tres Douce (A Very Easy Death, 1964). Neither was all that enjoyable, although I loved Les Belles Images (1966), so you never can tell.

I can't give up on SDB just yet, as I'm constantly intrigued by her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, her position as a figurehead of French intellectualism and her importance in shaping the Existentialism movement (check this out for more on the far-reaching influences of that). Plus that is some very sharp coordination of lipstick to jacket going on there. Oh dear, what's a girl to do?

2 comments:

  1. 'I don't see why women's literature should be marked out when men's literature is not. It doesn't seem very equal or fair.' Well, hooray! I always remember an episode of The West Wing when the Republican character of Ainsley Hayes shocked Democrats like Sam Seaborne by arguing against the Equal Rights Amendment because it was already enshrined in the constitution that all American citizens were equal under the law, and she didn't need a special law to protect her. It's the same in literature - and in life: whenever we make a special case of someone because of gender/race/ethnicity/lifestyle choices, whatever, we are saying they need a little extra help. It's patronising. Readers still buy Austen & Bronte because of their writing, not their gender.

    Excellent post, if you don't mind me saying so.

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  2. I strongly disagree with both the post and its comment here. The reason why it is necessary to make a case for women's literature as much as for women's music and all the other art forms - not to mention history itself, is that for a long time there has been NO RECORD of that. This lack of record has led to the general misconception that there aren't many women writers, musicians, artists. Take any literature anthology, for example, in use in most schools and tell me if the number of men and women writers is even there. You will find it is not. But history never fell short of women writers. In literature things have changed precisely because someone has made a case for it. Alas, there are other fields, STILL (eg. so called classical music), where many assume women never took an active role. There have been so many unrecorded interesting women composers in the history of music that it is not at all "patronising" to make a case for this lack. I am really overwhelmed to read that "whenever we make a special case of someone because of gender/race/ethnicity/lifestyle choices, whatever, we are saying they need a little extra help. It's patronising". The issue - for those who can/want to see it - is clearly not one of help, but of VISIBILITY, and RIGHT. I think there is serious confusion here between what people's rights are and must be, and some empty slogan you might have come across randomly and never bothered to deconstruct and perhaps critique or comment upon effectively.
    I suggest everyone should start a bit of research in the field of DIFFERENCE (be it gender, race, sexuality and so on) before deciding what is patronising and what is not.
    If you want to start from some factual account then read Rosalind Miles' The Women's History of the World.
    If you don't want or feel no need to, then please, do not indulge in easy statements and other form of mystification on the subject. Thanks.

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