“Existence precedes essence. In fashioning myself, I fashion humanity.” – Jean-Paul Sartre.
He (Sartre) had once told her that she had “a man’s intelligence,” and there is no evidence that he changed his mind about a patronizing slight that she, too, accepted as a compliment until she began to consider what it implied. It implied, she would write, that “humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself,” and by all the qualities (Colette’s strain of “virility”) she is presumed to lack. Her “twinship” with Sartre was an illusion.
She (Deirdre Bair, Beauvoir’s biographer) and Sartre’s biographer Annie Cohen-Solal had been lecturing together at Harvard. At the conclusion of their talk, she writes, “I could not help but comment to my distinguished audience that every question asked about Sartre concerned his work, while all those asked about Beauvoir concerned her personal life.” (Pg.138)
The book “The Second Sex” has provided the language and examples for me to understand and realize the many ways I am unaware of the implications in what I say. (EZM)
The category of Other is as original as consciousness itself. The duality between Self and Other can be found in the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies; this division did not always fall into the category of the division of the sexes, it was not based on any empirical given: this comes out in works like Granet’s on Chinese thought, and Dumézil’s on India and Rome. In couples such as Varuna—Mitra, Uranus—Zeus, Sun—Moon, Day—Night, no feminine element is involved at the outset; neither in Good—Evil, auspicious and inauspicious, left and right, God and Lucifer; alterity is the fundamental category of human thought. No group ever defines itself as One without immediately setting up the Other opposite itself. It only takes three travelers brought together by chance in the same train compartment for the rest of the travelers to become vaguely hostile “others.” Village people view anyone not belonging to the village as suspicious “others.” For the native of a country inhabitants of other countries are viewed as “foreigners”; Jews are the “others” for anti-Semites, blacks for racist Americans, indigenous people for colonists, proletarians for the propertied classes. After studying the diverse forms of primitive society in depth, Lévi-Strauss could conclude: “The passage from the state of Nature to the state of Culture is defined by man’s ability to think biological relations as systems of oppositions; duality, alternation, opposition, and symmetry, whether occurring in defined or less clear form, are not so much phenomena to explain as fundamental and immediate givens of social reality.”4 These phenomena could not be understood if human reality were solely a Mitsein* based on solidarity and friendship. On the contrary, they become clear if, following Hegel, a fundamental hostility to any other consciousness is found in consciousness itself; the subject posits itself only in opposition; it asserts itself as the essential and sets up the other as inessential, as the object.
But the other consciousness has an opposing reciprocal claim: traveling, a local is shocked to realize that in neighboring countries locals view him as a foreigner; between villages, clans, nations, and classes there are wars, potlatches, agreements, treaties, and struggles that remove the absolute meaning from the idea of the Other and bring out its relativity; whether one likes it or not, individuals and groups have no choice but to recognize the reciprocity of their relation.
How is it, then, that between the sexes this reciprocity has not been put forward, that one of the terms has been asserted as the only essential one, denying any relativity in regard to its correlative, defining the latter as pure alterity? Why do women not contest male sovereignty? No subject posits itself spontaneously and at once as the inessential from the outset; it is not the Other who, defining itself as Other, defines the One; the Other is posited as Other by the One positing itself as One. But in order for the Other not to turn into the One, the Other has to submit to this foreign point of view. Where does this submission in woman come from? (Pg.398)
4. I suppose Mr. Levinas is not forgetting that woman also is consciousness for herself. But it is striking that he deliberately adopts a man’s point of view, disregarding the reciprocity of the subject and the object. When he writes that woman is mystery, he assumes that she is mystery for man. So this apparently objective description is in fact an affirmation of masculine privilege.(Loc.602)
Emmanuel Lévinas, (born December 30, 1905 [January 12, 1906, Old Style], Kaunas, Lithuania—died December 25, 1995, Paris, France), Lithuanian-born French philosopher renowned for his powerful critique of the preeminence of ontology (the philosophical study of being) in the history of Western philosophy, particularly in the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976).
Jean-Paul Sartre, (born June 21, 1905, Paris, France—died April 15, 1980, Paris), French philosopher, novelist, and playwright, best known as the leading exponent of existentialism in the 20th century. In 1964 he declined the Nobel Prize for Literature, which had been awarded to him “for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age.”
WE&P by: EZorrilla.
I use this segment for educational purposes. I am grateful to the authors.