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Political Writings

Political Writings

Margaret A. Simons
Marybeth Timmermann
Foreword by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Political Writings
    Book Description:

    Political Writings offers an abundance of newly translated essays by Simone de Beauvoir that demonstrate a heretofore unknown side of her political philosophy. The writings in this volume range from Beauvoir's surprising 1952 defense of the misogynistic eighteenth-century pornographer, the Marquis de Sade, to a co-written 1974 documentary film, transcribed here for the first time, which draws on Beauvoir's analysis of how socioeconomic privilege shapes the biological reality of aging. The volume traces nearly three decades of Beauvoir's leftist political engagement, from exposés of conditions in fascist Spain and Portugal in 1945 and hard-hitting attacks on right-wing French intellectuals in the 1950s, to the 1962 defense of an Algerian freedom fighter, Djamila Boupacha, and a 1975 article arguing for what is now called the "two-state solution" in Israel. Together these texts prefigure Beauvoir's later feminist activism and provide a new interpretive context for reading her multi-volume autobiography, while also shedding new light on French intellectual history during the turbulent era of decolonization.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09720-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword to the Beauvoir Series
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

    It is my pleasure to take this opportunity to honor the monumental work of research and publication that the Beauvoir Series represents, which was undertaken and brought to fruition by Margaret A. Simons and the ensemble of her team. These volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s writings, concerning literature as well as philosophy and feminism, stretch from 1926 to 1979, that is to say throughout almost her entire life. Some of them have been published before, and are known, but remain dispersed throughout time and space, in diverse editions, diverse newspapers or reviews. Others were read during conferences or radio programs...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)
    Margaret A. Simons

    A volume chronicling almost three decades of Simone de Beauvoir’s leftist political engagement may come as a surprise to readers more familiar with her multivolume autobiography, her writings in existentialist ethics, or her classic feminist essay,The Second Sex. But the texts collected here complement and enrich our understanding of Beauvoir’s better known works, providing a new interpretive context for her autobiographical writing, prefiguring her later feminist activism (the subject of a forthcoming volume in the Beauvoir Series), and shedding new light on French intellectual history during the turbulent era of decolonization.

    Among the many surprises in this volume are...

  6. 1. Political Reporting from Spain, Portugal, and the United States

      (pp. 9-15)
      Eleanore Holveck

      These reports from Spain, Portugal, and the United States from 1945 to 1947 reflect a change in Simone de Beauvoir’s view of her own role as a writer and intellectual in relation to politics. Beauvoir often described herself up to the 1930s as an apolitical, idealistic Kantian, a solitary individual content to exercise her own petty bourgeois freedom as a teacher and writer and eager to take her place among the great writers of her culture. For example, Françoise and Pierre in Beauvoir’sShe Came to Stay(1943) are devoted to an ahistorical ideal, timeless Art and Beauty even as...

      (pp. 16-21)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      By ten o’clock in the morning, we have left the dark mass of the Escurial [sic] behind us and have crossed through Paravelo, which was devastated by the civil war, and where all the houses are still in ruins.¹ Now the train is crossing a rocky plateau covered with white frost. And suddenly, with no suburbs to announce it, Madrid surges up. Looking through the door, I see the sections of a large gutted building to the left above the train station; it is the outermost University residence hall.

      “Taxi!” One single word, and instantly I’ve made a leap through...

      (pp. 22-28)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      To the traveler who, arriving in Lisbon, would like to discover an obvious and immediate image of the social situation in Portugal, I would advise going up to the Lato Oriental cemetery, perched on a hill that dominates the [river] Tage.

      Upon entering through the central gate, one finds oneself at the heart of a strange city. Not a tomb is tipped over, and all the sepulchres are stony chapels often with an extravagant architecture, decorated with allegoric sculptures and busts of the deceased; inside in neat rows are the caskets covered with lace or brocades, and the engraved letters...

      (pp. 29-36)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      I think that for a Frenchman the Far West represents, after New York, the most fascinating area of North America. Thanks to the old Westerns many of us have discovered this art—the cinema—which has taken on such importance in today’s civilization. The landscapes ofThe Gold Rush(1925), as immortalized by Chaplin, are as integral a part of our childhood memories as are Sleeping Beauty’s castle or the Park of Versailles. The fabulous adventure that drove thousands of men across deserts of stone and salt was not solely an American adventure. Citizens of every nationality were violently caught...

  7. 2. Must We Burn Sade?

      (pp. 37-43)
      Debra Bergoffen

      Published in 1951–52, five years afterThe Ethics of Ambiguity, and two years afterThe Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir’s essay “Must We Burn Sade?” may be read as a corrective sequel to The Ethics of Ambiguity and as an afterword toThe Second Sex. As a corrective toThe Ethics of Ambiguity, “Must We Burn Sade?” abandons the method of abstract analyses and imaginary examples for Beauvoir’s now preferred concrete phenomenologicalexistential approach. Here, ethical principles as lived realities are elaborated through an in-depth analysis of a specifically situated singular human being who, in his particularity, exemplifies the ambiguities...

      (pp. 44-102)
      Simone de Beauvoir and LAUREN GUILMETTE

      “Imperious, wrathful, headstrong, extreme in all things, with an unbridled imagination on behavior unparalleled in this lifetime, an atheist to the point of fanaticism. In a few words this is what I am, so kill me with another blow or take me as I am because I will not change.”¹

      They chose to kill him, at first in the slow fire of tedium in the dungeon, and later with calumny and omission; indeed, this was the death he had hoped for: “Once covered over, the grave will be sown with acorns so that eventually . . . the traces of...

  8. 3. Right-Wing Thought Today

      (pp. 103-112)
      Sonia Kruks

      In the late 1940s, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and other members of the team that edited the journal,Les temps modernes, advocated what they called a “third way” in politics: they sought to develop a democratic socialist path, to delineate a middle way between capitalism and Soviet-style communism. Given this project, the journal was anti-American but also kept a certain distance from the Communists, offering them only what it described as “critical support.” However, with the hardening of the lines of the Cold War, notably after the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950 (which brought growing...

      (pp. 113-194)

      We know that today’s bourgeois is frightened. This panic is immediately obvious in all the books, articles, and speeches that reflect his thinking. According to a formula dear to Malraux, “Europe has ceased to think of itself in terms of freedom in order to think of itself in terms of destiny.”² However, the destiny of the West, like that of all civilizations, according to Spengler, whose terminology is borrowed here, is its death: the death of Europe, the waning of the West, the end of a world, the end of the world. The bourgeoisie lives with the imminence of the...

  9. 4. Merleau-Ponty and Pseudo-Sartreanism

      (pp. 195-205)
      William Wilkerson

      Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty had a long and complex history together. All three met as students in the late 1920s. Beauvoir’s initial descriptions in her diary of “Ponti”—as she refers to him—were laudatory, happy, and show an affection bordering on love: “Ponti, for whom my sympathy has become profound affection.”¹ The friendship between Merleau-Ponty and Sartre was initially cooler, as he (along with Beauvoir) rejected the Catholicism to which the young Merleau-Ponty clung. Merleau-Ponty would eventually court Beauvoir’s friend Elizabeth Mabille, her beloved Zaza, but the courtship fell apart when the girl’s parents intervened,...

      (pp. 206-258)
      Simone de Beauvoir and VÉRONIQUE ZAYTZEFF

      When Merleau-Ponty discovered in the light of the Korean War that up until then he had confused Marx and Kant, he realized that he had to give up the Hegelian idea of the end of history and decided on the need to liquidate the Marxist dialectic. I do not intend to examine here the value of the logical process which slowly developed “in conjunction with events” and led him to writeAdventures of the Dialectic. But Merleau-Ponty involves Sartre in his own enterprise. He claims to find inThe Communists and Peacean acknowledgment of the failure of dialectic; he...

  10. 5. Preface to Djamila Boupacha

      (pp. 259-271)
      Julien S. Murphy

      During the final two years of the Algerian War, Simone de Beauvoir demonstrated her commitment to the Algerian rebels by advocating for Djamila Boupacha. Boupacha, a twenty-three-year-old middle-class Algerian educated in France, was a member of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), and was arrested on the night of February 10, 1960.¹ She was accused of having planted a bomb five months earlier in the University restaurant in Algiers, a capital offense. The bomb was diffused preventing any injury. There were no witnesses or other evidence to support her arrest. The night of her arrest, fifty police stormed her parents’...

      (pp. 272-282)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      A twenty-three-year-old Algerian woman and liaison agent for the FLN was imprisoned, tortured, raped with a bottle by French military men, and it’s considered ordinary.¹ Since 1954, in the name of suppressing rebellion, then of pacification, we are all accomplices of a genocide that has claimed over a million victims; men, women, old folks and children have been slaughtered: gunned down during search-raids, burned alive in their villages, throats slit or bellies ripped open, many tortured to death. Entire tribes have been left to starve and freeze, at the mercy of beatings and epidemics in the “relocation camps” which are...

  11. 6. In France Today, Killing Goes Unpunished

      (pp. 283-286)
      Karen L. Shelby

      In this article, published in 1971, we find themes of responsibility and solidarity that resonate throughout Simone de Beauvoir’s lifetime of writing and thought. Beginning with the polemic of the title of the essay, which also stands as its final emphatic statement, she is intent on exposing an injustice that results from what she calls “bourgeois justice” and on issuing a call to knowledge and action on the part of her readers. She takes the kind of situation that all of us would regard with proper sentiments of horror when we hear of it—a factory fire in which fifty-seven...

      (pp. 287-292)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      “One year suspended sentence and a 20,000 franc fine.” The accused, Mr. Bérion, bursts into tears. For what is he blamed? He has very simply set fiftyseven of his female workers on fire. Three are dead; the others are mutilated or disfigured forever. Such is bourgeois justice. The court found Mr. Bérion responsible for this tragedy by finding him guilty of “gross negligence” [faute inexcusable]. Yet it only gave him a one year suspended sentence! What’s more, Mr. Bérion benefited from an amnesty. He directs a new, prosperous business. When one speaks of Méru to him, he responds, “It was...

  12. 7. Essays on Israel and the Holocaust

      (pp. 293-304)
      Susan Rubin Suleiman

      These four short essays, written over a twenty-year period, arepièces de circonstance, each one linked to a specific occasion: the publication of a book by a young author, an op-ed piece for a daily newspaper, a symposium on Israel organized by left-wing Jewish intellectuals, the appearance of a film that would become revered around the world. Beauvoir’s essays here are modest efforts, in two cases simply brief prefaces to a much longer work; but read consecutively, they offer an excellent glimpse into the evolution of French public discourse about the Holocaust and about Israel. They also show Beauvoir’s own...

      (pp. 305-310)

      “Why did the Jews allow themselves to be led to the slaughter like sheep?” the youngsabrasof Israel asked each other indignantly at the time of the Eichmann trial.¹ In Europe also, many Jews of the younger generation, not having known Nazism, wonder about this. The fact is that, in the world of concentration camps, all peoples had the same comportment: a conditioning process carefully designed by the SS assured the submission of the condemned. In 1947, inLes jours de notre mort[The Days of Our Death], Rousset wrote, “The triumph of the SS requires that the tortured...

      (pp. 311-313)
      Simone de Beauvoir and MICHAEL ARTIME

      There is war, and then there is peace, or at least a respite, a truce. Weapons are silenced. The two sides bury their dead, care for their wounded, and the prisoners return home. Beyond the bloody confrontations, peoples reestablish a human reciprocity between themselves. This ancient tradition was established as international law by the Geneva Convention.¹ Israel immediately decided to conform to it, and, after rather long delays, Egypt consented to the exchange of prisoners, but Syria refuses to do the same. Israel gave the list of its prisoners to the Red Cross and allows the Red Cross to visit...

    • SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAEL: A Critical Support
      (pp. 314-323)
      Simone de Beauvoir and MICHAEL ARTIME

      The reason I am here and the reason I was in Israel has basically already been explained to you with the words exile, encirclement and solitude. I was deeply affected, outraged and even greatly distressed by the ostracism of which Israel was the victim in the latest UNESCO resolutions.¹ Several intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre and myself, have signed a protest against these measures which attempt nothing less than to drive Israel from this earth, since Israel belonged to no continent, whereas Canada, for example, used to belong to Europe. Therein lies a deliberate will to symbolically do away with Israel,...

      (pp. 324-328)
      Simone de Beauvoir and MICHAEL ARTIME

      Shoahis not an easy film to talk about.¹ There is magic in this film, and magic can not be explained. After the war, we read so many testimonies about the ghettos and the extermination camps, and were shaken by them. But today, when we watch this extraordinary film by Claude Lanzmann, we see that we have understood nothing.² In spite of all our knowledge, the awful experience remained at a distance from us. For the first time, we live it in our minds, our hearts, and our flesh. It becomes ours. Neither fiction nor documentary,Shoahsucceeds in re-creating...

  13. 8. A Walk Through the Land of Old Age

      (pp. 329-338)
      Oliver Davis

      Beauvoir is not renowned for her work with film. Aside from appearing in biopics of her and Sartre she had little active involvement in this medium.¹ In 1974, however, she collaborated extensively on a film about old age,Promenade au pays de la vieillesse(orA Walk through the Land of Old Age). This introduction explains how this forgotten work was made and received before proceeding to analyze it in the wider literary, philosophical, and political context of Beauvoir’s work.²

      Promenadewas shot in France in 1974 under the direction of Marianne Ahrne, a Swedish filmmaker and writer, then near...

    • A WALK THROUGH THE LAND OF OLD AGE: A Documentary Film
      (pp. 339-364)
      Marianne Ahrne, Simone de Beauvoir, Pépo Angel, Bertrand Hurault, JUSTINE SARROT and OLIVER DAVIS

      [Old man tries to lift himself out of the bath. Young people run past old.]

      MIDDLE-AGED MAN: Old age: couldn’t you have found something more amusing?

      OLD WOMAN: No, I don’t like old people.

      OLD MAN: Why?

      OLD WOMAN: Well, because they’re always talking about their problems and I don’t like that.

      TEENAGER: No, because each time I run into one of them, they always say “let the old folks through” . . . They’re always against us kids . . .

      SECOND TEENAGER: . . .“ back in my day” . . .

      FIRST TEENAGER: That’s the first thing...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 365-370)
  15. Index
    (pp. 371-394)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-396)