I love Simone de Beauvoir – so much that I tend to think of Sartre as her sidekick, rather than the other way around. Prior to Geoff saying he wanted her in this arc, I had only read The Second Sex (which is a fabulous book even in the old, hacked to pieces translation by a person with a shaky grasp of the French language) and some of her novels. If you managed to not read TSS during your undergraduate life, or even if it’s been a while and your library has a copy of the newer translation, you really should give it a spin – I think it’s aged really quite well, and still has many things to say that haven’t necessarily been entirely overturned by the subsequent waves of feminist theory. At the very least, I think that the central arguments, that the attempt to cast an entire gender as Other has historically been a way of idealizing it into powerlessness, that progress can’t be made by expecting women to twist themselves to the norm of humanity laid out by “phallocentric” male philosophy, are still very much issues on the table. Especially with the startling new discoveries made yearly in the branch of comparative neuroembryology, de Beauvoir’s approach has never been more timely, really.
So, I liked her before, but after Geoff brought her into the arc I decided to finally sit down with her memoirs, and they are astonishing things. The Prime of Life covers her early years as a teacher, amateur hiker, author, and general youngster, and is so wonderful in its candid analysis of the flaws of her and Sartre’s joint early philosophical efforts – frankly admitting the shortcomings of the shades of idealism, materialism, and dualism they experimented with, the plain absurdities of some of the views they felt they should uphold. A lot of times, you get intellectual history as just a chain of unbroken airtight reasoning – de Beauvoir spells out the messiness of it all, and as such is invaluable to anyone interested in intellectual history. And it’s just fun.
– Count Dolby von Luckner