Simone de Beauvoir on Existentialism & God (1959)

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When I was little, I believed quite fervently in angels, baby Jesus, etc.
Then I began believing less in all that external mythology, but still believed in God.
Gradually I refined God so much that He no longer was relevant to this world.
Because God couldn’t be stupid like the people I saw, the priest I talked to.
He was different and not interested in trivialities. He ended up not corresponding to anyone or anything. I then realized God no longer existed for me. He had eventually evaporated.

Later I studied Philosophy, and everything I learned I won’t say proved but continued to support the idea that God wasn’t even a question. I realized I had no reason to believe. But the people around me also believed without reason. It was rather that some believed without any reason and I stopped believing, without any positive reason. Simone de Beauvoir

The meaning of life according to Simone de Beauvoir – Iseult Gillespie

Explore the life and works of Simone de Beauvoir, the author of “The Second Sex” and existentialist philosopher who influenced early feminist theory. — At the age of 21, Simone de Beauvoir became the youngest person to take the philosophy exams at France’s most esteemed university. But as soon as she mastered the rules of philosophy, she wanted to break them. Her desire to explore the physical world to its fullest would shape her life, and eventually, inspire radical new philosophies. Iseult Gillespie explores the life of the revolutionary thinker.

Sexuality, existentialist feminism and The Second Sex

The Second Sex, first published in 1949 in French as Le Deuxième Sexe, turns the existentialist mantra that existence precedes essence into a feminist one: “One is not born but becomes a woman” (French: “On ne naît pas femme, on le devient”).[40] With this famous phrase, Beauvoir first articulated what has come to be known as the sex-gender distinction, that is, the distinction between biological sex and the social and historical construction of gender and its attendant stereotypes.[41] Beauvoir argues that “the fundamental source of women’s oppression is its [femininity’s] historical and social construction as the quintessential” Other.[42]

Beauvoir defines women as the “second sex” because women are defined in relation to men. She pointed out that Aristotle argued women are “female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities”, while Thomas Aquinas referred to woman as “imperfect man” and the “incidental” being.[43]

Beauvoir asserted that women are as capable of choice as men, and thus can choose to elevate themselves, moving beyond the “immanence” to which they were previously resigned and reaching “transcendence“, a position in which one takes responsibility for oneself and the world, where one chooses one’s freedom.

Chapters of The Second Sex were originally published in Les Temps modernes,[44] in June 1949. The second volume came a few months after the first in France.[45] It was quickly published in America due to the quick translation by Howard Parshley, as prompted by Blanche Knopf, wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Because Parshley had only a basic familiarity with the French language, and a minimal understanding of philosophy (he was a professor of biology at Smith College), much of Beauvoir’s book was mistranslated or inappropriately cut, distorting her intended message.[46] For years, Knopf prevented the introduction of a more accurate retranslation of Beauvoir’s work, declining all proposals despite the efforts of existentialist scholars.[46]

Only in 2009 was there a second translation, to mark the 60th anniversary of the original publication. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier produced the first integral translation in 2010, reinstating a third of the original work.[47]

In the chapter “Woman: Myth and Reality” of The Second Sex,[48] Beauvoir argued that men had made women the “Other” in society by application of a false aura of “mystery” around them. She argued that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them, and that this stereotyping was always done in societies by the group higher in the hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy. She wrote that a similar kind of oppression by hierarchy also happened in other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion, but she claimed that it was nowhere more true than with gender in which men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy.

Despite her contributions to the feminist movement, especially the French women’s liberation movement, and her beliefs in women’s economic independence and equal education, Beauvoir was initially reluctant to call herself a feminist.[14] However, after observing the resurgence of the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Beauvoir stated she no longer believed a socialist revolution to be enough to bring about women’s liberation. She publicly declared herself a feminist in 1972 in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur.[49]

In 2018 the manuscript pages of Le Deuxième Sexe were published. At the time her adopted daughter, Sylvie Le Bon-Beauvoir, a philosophy professor, described her mother’s writing process: Beauvoir wrote every page of her books longhand first and only after that would hire typists.[50]

Beauvoir wrote popular travel diaries about time spent in the United States[52] and China and published essays and fiction rigorously, especially throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She published several volumes of short stories, including The Woman Destroyed, which, like some of her other later work, deals with aging.

1980 saw the publication of When Things of the Spirit Come First, a set of short stories centred around and based upon women important to her earlier years[ambiguous].[39] Though written long before the novel She Came to Stay, Beauvoir did not at the time consider the stories worth publishing, allowing some forty years to pass before doing so.[clarification needed]

Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had a longstanding feud, which led Merleau-Ponty to leave Les Temps Modernes. Beauvoir sided with Sartre and ceased to associate with Merleau-Ponty. In Beauvoir’s later years, she hosted the journal’s editorial meetings in her flat and contributed more than Sartre, whom she often had to force[clarification needed] to offer his opinions.[citation needed]

Beauvoir also wrote a four-volume autobiography, consisting of: Memoirs of a Dutiful DaughterThe Prime of LifeForce of Circumstance (sometimes published in two volumes in English translation: After the War and Hard Times); and All Said and Done.[39] In 1964 Beauvoir published a novella-length autobiography, A Very Easy Death, covering the time she spent visiting her ageing mother, who was dying of cancer. The novella brings up questions of ethical concerns with truth-telling in doctor-patient relationships.[53]

In the 1970s Beauvoir became active in France’s women’s liberation movement. She wrote and signed the Manifesto of the 343 in 1971, a manifesto that included a list of famous women who claimed to have had an abortion, then illegal in France. Some[who?] argue most of the women had not had abortions, including Beauvoir. Signatories were diverse[clarification needed] as Catherine DeneuveDelphine Seyrig, and Beauvoir’s sister Poupette. In 1974, abortion was legalised in France.

Her 1970 long essay La Vieillesse (The Coming of Age) is a rare instance of an intellectual meditation on the decline and solitude all humans experience if they do not die before about the age of 60.[54]

In an interview with Betty Friedan, Beauvoir said: “No, we don’t believe that any woman should have this choice. No woman should be authorised to stay at home to bring up her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”[55][clarification needed]

In about 1976 Beauvoir and Sylvie Le Bon made a trip to New York City in the United States to visit Kate Millett on her farm.[56][clarification needed]

In 1981 she wrote La Cérémonie Des Adieux (A Farewell to Sartre), a painful account of Sartre’s last years. In the opening of Adieux, Beauvoir notes that it is the only major published work of hers which Sartre did not read before its publication.

She contributed the piece “Feminism – alive, well, and in constant danger” to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan.[57]

After Sartre died in 1980, Beauvoir published his letters to her with edits to spare the feelings of people in their circle who were still living. After Beauvoir’s death, Sartre’s adopted daughter and literary heir Arlette Elkaïm would not let many of Sartre’s letters be published in unedited form. Most of Sartre’s letters available today have Beauvoir’s edits, which include a few omissions but mostly the use of pseudonyms. Beauvoir’s adopted daughter and literary heir Sylvie Le Bon, unlike Elkaïm, published Beauvoir’s unedited letters to both Sartre and Algren.

Beauvoir died of pneumonia on 14 April 1986 in Paris, aged 78.[58] She is buried next to Sartre at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.[59]

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