Colleagues and postgraduates are warmly invited to an extended masterclass on Simone de Beauvoir which will take the format of three short papers by Prof Sonia Kruks (Robert S. Danforth Professor of Politics, Oberlin College, USA), Dr Stella Sandford (Reader in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University) and Dr Ursula Tidd (Senior Lecturer in French Studies, University of Manchester).
Sonia Kruks (Oberlin College, USA)
‘Simone de Beauvoir and the question of revenge’
In her 1946 essay, “An Eye for an Eye,” Simone de Beauvoir investigates the overwhelming desire that she and others felt for revenge against those who had collaborated during the Nazi Occupation of France. Revenge, she shows, is not a natural instinct, as is so often assumed. But neither is it a rational demand for requital, since no adequate restitution can be made following atrocities such as those inflicted during the Occupation. How then, she asks, may one make sense of the desire for revenge in such situations? This question is as pressing now, in our era of mass political atrocities, as it was when Beauvoir wrote. The desire for revenge, she shows, may best be understood as an expression of the intersubjective and embodied character of human existence. For revenge, in its paradigm form, is above all a demand for intersubjective recognition. Victims of atrocity do not simply desire the reciprocal suffering of perpetrators; they are also demanding the recognition of their own humanity which the perpetrators have previously denied. This desire for recognition will rarely be satisfied, but it should be acknowledged and respected as a profoundly human desire.
Stella Sandford, (Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University)
‘The Philosophical Unconscious of The Second Sex’
The question of Beauvoir’s relation to the discipline of philosophy has always been vexed, but scholars can agree that we are helped in our attempts to understand some of her work if we know something of her critical relation to various major figures in the history of Western philosophy (particularly Descartes, Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and to the phenomenological tradition inaugurated by Husserl more generally). Accordingly, philosophical interpretations of Beauvoir (and especially of The Second Sex) tend to excavate these relations, presupposing (quite legitimately) a more or less conscious relation of influence as Beauvoir critically ‘receives’ this history.
In this workshop I would like to propose another sort of philosophical interpretation, one that presupposes no relation of influence and no conscious reception, but confronts the Introduction to The Second Sex with what we could call its philosophical unconscious: Plato’s Republic. Exploring the latent associations between aspects of The Second Sex and the Republic, I will attempt to show, not what Beauvoir drew from philosophy, but what philosophy can take to her, and how this might enrich our understanding of one of the best-known parts of Beauvoir’s work.
Ursula Tidd (University of Manchester)
‘Beauvoir as a Philosopher of Alterity’
In this short paper I will offer a reading of Beauvoir as a philosopher of alterity, taking as my point of departure some key notions that she establishes in the ‘Introduction’ to The Second Sex. Across Beauvoir’s theoretical writings, alterity is a key theme, explored in the context of race, gender and sexuality in The Second Sex (1949, France) and in the context of ageing in Old Age (1970, France) as well as in her ethical and political essays. Moreover, the ‘lived experience’ and consequences of living as an other are illustrated in much of her fictional writings. In sum, Beauvoir explores a variety of ways in which alterity is staged and concretised and for a variety of political, psychological and affective purposes. Post-Levinas, to the extent that the epistemological project of the other is doomed from the outset insofar as we cannot know the other, to what extent is Beauvoir’s exploration of alterity, as a form of situated ethics, still useful, framed as it is within the structures and language of western metaphysics and political engagement?
Required readings are:
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, ‘Introduction’ (Borde and Malovany-Chevallier trans. pp. 3–17).
Simone de Beauvoir, 'An Eye for an Eye' reprinted in Margaret A Simons (ed.), Philosophical Writings, pp.239-260
Both readings are available here: http://bit.ly/1klwYr9