Saturday, February 25, 2017

Simone de Beauvoir: gypped

Life can be an incredible gift.  There's an essential foundation to it all, most noticeable perhaps by its absence.

Simone de Beauvoir, in the third volume of her autobiography while considering her life and its approaching end concludes she was gypped, cheated by life.
"I think with sadness of all the books I've read, all the places I've seen, all the knowledge I've amassed and that will be no more.  All the music, all the paintings, all the culture, so many places and suddenly nothing.  They made no honey, those things, they can provide no one with any nourishment.  At most, if my books are still read, the reader will think: There isn't much she didn't see.  But that unique sum of things, the experience that I live, with all its order and randomness -- the Opera of Peking, the arena of Huelva, the candomble in Bahia, the dunes of El-Oued, Wabansia Avenue, the dawns of Provence, Tiryns, Castro talking to five hundred thousand Cubans, a sulphur sky over a sea of clouds, the purple holly, the white nights of Leningrad, the bells of the Liberation, the orange moon over the Piraeus, a red sun rising over the desert, Torcello, Rome, all the things I've talked about, others I have left unspoken -- there is no place where it will all live again.  If it had at least enriched the earth; if it had given birth to ... what?  A hill?  A rocket?  But no, nothing will have taken place.  I can still see the hedge of hazel trees flurried by the wind and the promises with which I fed my beating heart while I stood gazing at the gold mine at my feet: a whole life to live.  The promises have all been kept.  And yet, turning an incredulous gaze to that young and credulous girl, I realize with stupor how much I was gypped."  

She was a well-educated writer, philosopher, activist, and social theorist credited with being a significant voice in the formation of western culture, especially feminism.  She was a focused atheist and the founder of existentialism; she lived accordingly and without restraint.  Curious what such a life might look like?

From Wikipedia ... de Beauvoir had a turbulent, often scandalous life. Although de Beauvoir had a long time relationship with Sartre, she was known to have a number of female lovers. ... these relationships, some of which she began with underage students while working as a professor, later led to a biographical controversy. A former student, Bianca Lamblin, in her book, Mémoires d'une jeune fille dérangée, wrote that, while she was a student at Lycée Molière, she had been sexually exploited by her teacher de Beauvoir, who was in her thirties at the time. In 1943, de Beauvoir was suspended from her teaching job, due to an accusation that she had, in 1939, seduced her 17-year-old lycée pupil Natalie Sorokine.   Sorokine's parents laid formal charges against de Beauvoir for debauching a minor, and as a result she had her license to teach in France permanently revoked. She and Jean-Paul Sartre developed a pattern, which they called the "trio", in which de Beauvoir would seduce her students and then pass them on to Sartre. De Beauvoir and Sartre would both take part in political campaigns to abolish the age of consent laws for sexual relationships in France.

Simone de Beauvoir was indeed cheated out of every truly good thing in life. Some of what she wrote was perhaps worth review, but the fruits thereof are troublesome; her life was one of the most unconscionable of the twentieth century. Her work is part of college curricula and persists in modern thinking.

In her autobiography she reports that she stopped believing in God at the age of fourteen.  She caught her mother giving direction to her confessor, and began to see the whole thing as a lifeless sham. Noticing the conflicted hypocrisy of her own father and others, and abandoned it all including its values and principles.

The final stroke, she reports, was reading a work of Balzac's literature forbidden by the church ... she found it, and through it the world, so fantastic and beautiful that she could only come to feel angry with the lifeless organization that would try to take it from her.  In the absence of any context greater than self, she lived a life that at the end left her feeling defrauded by it all.

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