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Hypatia vol. 22, no.

3 (Summer 2007) by Meryl Altman

Beauvoir, Hegel, War
The importance of Hegel to the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, both to her early
philosophical texts and to The Second Sex, is usually discussed in terms of the
master-slave dialectic and a Kojveinfuenced reading, which some see her as sharing
with Sartre, others persuasively describe as divergent from and corrective to Sartres.
Altman shows that Hegels infuence on Beauvoirs work is also wider, both in terms
of what she takes on board and what she works through and rejects, and that her read-
ing of Hegel is crucially infected by two additional circumstances that Sartre did not
entirely share: the experience of her frst serious study of Hegel as a noncombatant in
Paris during the German occupation and her earlier direct exposure to an eccentric,
idealist reading of Hegel as developed by the group Philosophies in connection with
surrealism and the artistic avant-garde. Altman also explores the afterlife of Hegels
infuence on Beauvoir on second-wave feminism in the United States and Europe,
and suggests continuing relevance to feminist theory today.
Montrer les infuences et liens philosophiques
nest important mes yeux que si cela ajoute
la comprehension dune pense.
Eva Gthlin
There is no absolute beginning in thought.
Michle Le Doeuff
People make their own Hegel. But they do not make him just as they like. The
importance of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to the philosophy of Simone
de Beauvoir, both to her early philosophical texts and to The Second Sex, has
been quite well recognized. However, her interpretation of Hegels thought has
Meryl Altman 67
mainly been discussed in terms of the master-slave dialectic and described as
infuenced by Alexandre Kojves famous 1930s lectures at the cole Pratique
des Hautes tudes. For a long time, her reading was seen (and dismissed) as
indistinguishable from Jean-Paul Sartres; more recently, Eva Lundgren-Gthlin
(1996) and Nancy Bauer (2001) have persuasively shown how she diverges from
or even corrects Sartres views. My own work with Beauvoirs texts, including
her early diaries and fragments, has shown me that Hegels infuence on her
work is also wider, both in terms of what she takes on board and what she
works through and rejects. Beauvoirs reading of Hegel is crucially infected
by two circumstances Sartre did not fully share: her experience of serious,
independent study of Hegels texts in Paris under the German occupation, and
earlier encounters during her student days with eccentric, idealist, and literary
readings of Hegel, exemplifed by the Philosophies group and by surrealists
such as Louis Aragon.
This article sets out some of this wider context, not to be obsessed with the
minutiae of Beauvoirs intellectual autobiography, but with the ultimate goal
of understanding what is puzzling about Hegels appearances in The Second Sex
and then in later feminist texts that are infuenced by Beauvoir. Despite recent
work by Kimberly Hutchings (1998), Patricia Jagentowicz Mills (2003), and
others, it must be admitted that the appropriateness of Hegel to a feminist
undertaking, in Beauvoirs day or in ours, is not the frst thing about his writing
that one notices. So, the frst question is, Why Hegel? and then the second
question is, Which Hegel?
Beauvoir studies is currently experiencing something of a renaissance, and
I must acknowledge Margaret Simons (1999), Toril Moi (1994,2000), Karen
Vintges (1996), Sonia Kruks (2005), and Michle Le Doeuff (1991), as well
as Bauer (2001) and Lundgren-Gthlin (1996), among those who have made
my work possible.
Part of the collective project over the last few decades has
been simply to establish how much Beauvoir had accomplished before she
met Sartre, and how fully she had her own independent and truly philosophi-
cal projects apart from his. (Perhaps this point may not really be necessary to
make anymore within a feminist context, although I note that mainstream
philosophical narratives, for example, standard surveys of the infuence of Hegel
on French philosophy, still havent taken much account of her existence.)
Wanting to ensure that Beauvoir would be taken seriously, we have sometimes
argued vehemently that she was a real philosopher, almost as though we were
making her tenure case in a U.S. universityand this has been made harder
because she herself sometimes said that she wasnt one.
Dare I say, however, that not to be a philosopher is perhaps not the worst
state of affairs conceivable? Also, there are many different styles of doing
philosophy. I thought of taking as my epigraph, The present writer is by no
means a philosopher, which is actually a quotation from Sren Kierkegaard
(Sara Heinmaa says this is Kierkegaards satiric response to Hegels systematic
68 Hypatia
thought [2003, 9]).
What emerges from the study of Beauvoirs early infuences
is how heterogeneous her philosophical background was with respect to genre
and style. The separation between the philosophical and the unphilosophical,
between the philosophical and the literary perhaps, isnt quite there. This has
implications for her mature work: in my view, perhaps the greatest contribution
of The Second Sex to what came to be called womens studies was an interdisci-
plinary method that accepts and weighs all sorts of evidence and levels out all
modes of authority, including the philosophical voice alongside literature, social
science, history, and (not least) the personal testimony of lived experience.
But I quote Kierkegaard also defensively here; my own training was in
literary studies, and my interest in Hegel is secondary to my commitment to
Beauvoir. As a result, I approach Hegel from the outside, taking what might
be called a genealogical approach, and remaining agnostic about which read-
ing of Hegel might be a correct one. Also, I am not concerned with whether
Hegel himself was right, but with whether, and how, he has been useful: not
with what he means but with what he does, if you will (how to do things with
Hegel). Finally, I dont at all mean to offer a deterministic account, as though
the thought of one person causes the thought of another, or as though the
infuence of sources had to be mutually exclusive. Part of my argument here is
simply that a broad-based, contextualized approach to the history of political
ideas is worth the effort.
How to Have Theory under an Occupation
In July 1940, Beauvoir returned to Parisshed fed the city as the Germans
were arriving, part of a mass exodus, but then decided to come back in case
Sartre might return or send some word. At this point, as she tells us in her
memoirs, she does not know whether he is alive or dead.
July 6. I went to the Bibliothque Nationale. I took a card and I
began to read some Hegel, The Phenomenology of the Spirit. At the
moment I understand almost nothing [quasi rien]. Ive decided to
work through Hegel every day from 2 to 5 oclock. Its the most
soothing [apaisant] thing one can fnd. (1960, 523)
July 7. Rode my bicycle across Paris with Lise. I passed a parade of
armored cars, full of Germans dressed in black, their large berets
waving in the wind; it was somewhat beautiful, and sinister. At
the Nationale I read Hegel, which I still have a lot of trouble
understanding. I found and copied out a passage which will do
marvelously as the epigraph to my novel. (1960, 524)
The passage in questionEvery consciousness pursues the death of the
does indeed stand at the opening of LInvite (1943) and we can take
Meryl Altman 69
it as her version of the idea Sartre (to whom she passed it on) would phrase
more famously as hell is other people (1945). There is something piquant in
thinking that Hegel had written the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807/1977) under
conditions of practical and psychological duress while his city was besieged
by the French, and she was reading it under the equivalent and yet opposite
condition. Beyond anecdote, context can help us understand that death was
more than just a metaphor, for both of them.
On July 11, she receives a penciled note from Sartre: hes in a prison camp,
but at least hes alive.
The gray and green uniforms, the Nazi fag fying over the
Senate, had become familiar. I taught my classes at Duruy, and
I read Hegel at the Nationale which now opened in the morn-
ing as well. Hegel calmed me down a little. Just as when I was
twenty years old, my heart bleeding over my cousin Jacques, I
read Homer in order to put all of humanity in between me and
my particular suffering, I tried to melt the moment I was going
through into the course of the world. Around me, embalmed
in thousands of volumes, the past was sleeping, and the present
seemed to me like a past yet to come. I myself did not exist [Moi,
je mabolisais]. However, these reveries in no way encouraged
me to consent to fascism. If one were an optimist, one might
consider it the necessary antithesis of bourgeois liberalism, thus
a stage toward the synthesis we were hoping for: socialism. But
in order to hope to one day sublate fascism, one had to begin by
refusing it. No philosophy could have persuaded me to accept it,
it contradicted all the values upon which Id built my life and
every day brought me new reasons to detest it. How nauseated I
felt reading in Le Matin and La Victoire these virtuous apologias
for Germany, these scolding sermons our conquerors heaped
upon us. Since the end of July, placards had appeared in certain
shop windows: Jews Not Allowed. (1960, 526)
Life goes on; the school year begins, and she is asked at work to sign a statement
attesting that she is not a Jew (and does sign itwhat else could she do?). She
listens with rage to the discourses of Henri-Philippe Ptain and others who
claim to be patriots saving France, and who blame the defeat on the excesses of
the Popular Front, on Andr Gide, and so on, preaching a return to agriculture
and to what we would now call family values. There was no reason to think
Germany would be defeated; London was being bombed to pieces, the United
States had not yet entered the war. But, she says, she makes a kind of wager:
if the world continued to fall apart, thered be very little point in writing, but
in case the world should ever come to its senses, she decides to keep writing
70 Hypatia
anyhow. Every morning she goes to the Caf Dme and works on her novel;
every afternoon she returns to the library.
I continued to read Hegel, whom I was beginning to understand.
In the details, the richness of his thought overwhelmed me: but
the system overall made me dizzy. [Lensemble du systme me don-
nait le vertige.] Yes, it was tempting to cancel oneself out in favor
of the Universal, to consider ones own life from the perspective
of the End of History, with the detachment which the point of
view of death also implies: then how ridiculous would seem this
tiny moment in the course of the world, this one individual, me!
Why should I concern myself with what happened to me, what
surrounded me, right here right now? But the smallest movement
of my heart disproved these speculations. Hope, anger, waiting,
anguish affirmed themselves against all sublations; the escape
into the universal, in fact, was only an episode in my personal
adventure. I went back to Kierkegaard and started to read him
passionately; the truth he was affirming defed doubt as victori-
ously as the Cartesian proof; the System, history, couldnt do
any more than the Evil Demon.
The more I went along, the more I separated from Hegel,
without ceasing to admire him. Now I knew that I was linked
to my contemporaries, to the marrow of my bones; I discovered
the other side of the coin of this dependence, my responsibil-
ity. . . . In occupied France, one consents to oppression merely
by breathing. . . . But this situation that was imposed on me,
my remorse had taught me that I had contributed to creating it
(1960, 537).
Interestingly, quite a few people were reading or rereading Hegel about this
time. Theodor Adorno was. And Walter Benjamin had been perhaps reread-
ing, certainly rewriting him, in the theses On the Concept of History (1940),
just about the last piece of writing Benjamin completed. Its strange to realize
that if Beauvoir had tried to read Hegel in the Bibliothque Nationale even
a few months earlier, she might not have been able to get the book because
Benjamin might have had it checked out: though hed been urged to fee by
his ex-wife and his friends, and had even been interned in a camp for two
months the previous year, it was not until June 1940 that he fnally began the
months of wandering and the quest for papers that would culminate in his
suicide on September 27. Barbara Johnson says that faced by the prospect of
German invasion, Benjamin renewed his library card (Johnson 2003, 155; see
also Brodersen 1996); and in some ways that is the same gesture as Beauvoirs
decision to study Hegel, which is not (as I have discovered) a stroll in the park,
Meryl Altman 71
or a short-term project. Je crois en un aprs (I believe in after) (1960, 518).
So as long as were talking about history, and various things that can mean,
I would want us to be working toward an intellectual history that would take
into account the actualit of two people who might have been studying in
that room at the same time, but not together, and the situatedness (in a broader
sense) that meant only one of them survived.
Thus far Ive been citing Beauvoirs memoir, La force de lge (1960), which
was actually written during the Algerian crisis, at a time when Beauvoir and
Sartre were calling into question what it meant to them to be French, to be in
fact traveling the world as prominent cultural exports of the French govern-
ment, which was meanwhile pursuing repressive and repugnant policies in their
name. So, a colleague suggested to me, perhaps Beauvoir was retrospectively
reading those issues into her memories of the Occupation.
But if we look at the
two major philosophical essays Beauvoir produced in the early 1940s, Pyrrhus
et Cinas (1944) and The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), we fnd them very much
marked by this problem about history and using Hegel to work through it.
For example, in The Ethics of Ambiguity she condemns what she calls the
aesthetic attitude, which she illustrates as follows: Let us try to take the point
of view of History, people told themselves, when they learned that the Germans
had taken Paris (1944,10910).
The conclusion to that essay invokes, and
then departs from, Hegel very directly.
The Ethics of Ambiguity both reports
and enacts the same move I found in the memoirs. An optimistic view of His-
tory with a capital H is corrected by a concrete experience of life at a particular
historical moment, with a particular positionwhat wed now call a social
location, what she would call a situation,that one has not entirely chosen
but for which one is responsible. Its worth dwelling on this shift because it is the
major shift, or development, within their thinking that both she and Sartre ever
made, an extremely enabling one on which her whole ability to be a feminist
thinker joining concrete personal experience with political will depends.
Another Young Hegelian in France
In fact, however, Beauvoirs initial engagement with Hegel was closer to the
intellectual generation formed by the First World War, and had remarkably
little to do with questions of solidarity, responsibility, or political life. Most com-
mentators suggest that Hegel had not really been on Beauvoirs screen before
the 1940s. This is the impression Nancy Bauer gives in her book, Simone de
Beauvoir, Philosophy, and Feminism (2001). And Lundgren-Gthlin (1996) reads
Beauvoirs Hegel entirely through Kojves, even though Beauvoir apparently
did not attend his famous lectures of the 1930s. We do know, however, that she
read Jean Wahls book, Le Malheur de la Conscience dans la Philosophie de Hegel,
when it appeared in 1929.
In fact, the frst memoir passage I quoted above
72 Hypatia
(dated July 6) originally read in her journal, I worked through Hegel for two
hours with the Wahl [book] on Le Malheur de la Conscience dans la Philosophie
de Hegel. At the moment I understand almost nothing. (1990, 339).
Its easy to see how Wahls book might not have helped much: he does not
exactly provide a commentary. Rather, he reads selectively, and his reading
stresses Christian redemption and reconciliation with the Absolute through
suffering, as tragic, romantic, religious experiencea narrative one might
more readily associate with Kierkegaard. I fnd this especially hard to understand
since Wahl himself was a Jew: by the time Beauvoir was attempting to use him
as an approach to Hegel, he had already been excluded from the Sorbonne,
would be interned at Drancy. But as I said at the beginning, people make their
own Hegel.
Beauvoir seems to have begun making hers even before Wahls book
appeared, however. True, Hegel didnt loom large on the curriculum for the agr-
gation (the highly competitive examination French students take to qualify for
teaching careers). She notes in her memoirs, At the Sorbonne, my professors
systematically ignored Hegel and Marx; in his large tome about the progress of
consciousness in the West, Brunschvicg gave barely three pages to Marx, who
he put in parallel with a highly obscure reactionary thinker (Beauvoir 1958,
Beauvoirs general opinion of Lon Brunschvicg, the doyen of Sorbonne
philosophy at the time, who directed her thesis on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,
was from the very beginning quite low. M. Brunschvicg may be a man of merit
but for me = O (2006, 213).
Brunschvicgs contempt for Hegel is confrmed
by Alexandre Koyr, who quotes his description of Hegels philosophy as an
escape hatch [chappatoire], a means for contemporary philosophy to evade or
postpone contact with true knowledge of the real . . . anachronistic even before
it was born (1931, 150).
A story Henri Lefebvre told to Bud Burkhard around
1932 provides further confrmation. The typical frustration came when Lon
Brunschvicg turned down yet another thesis topic, this time on Hegel: You
know (Lefebvre recalled Brunschvicg saying) Hegel had the mental age of a
seven-year-old. He thinks of a concept like a cow thinks of green: because she
browses indiscriminately among grasses, leaves, hay, she has a concept of green
(quoted in Burkhard 2000, 138).
Disdain for Hegel was not new in French
academic life. In the letters of Alain-Fournier and Jacques Rivire, which Beau-
voir read and reread during the late 1920s, Rivire complains (before the First
World War) that he would have liked to write a thesis on Hegels aesthetics
but knew his professors would never accept it.
And yet, as a rebellious idea, the project was available, then and later. While
Hegel was not on the syllabus, Beauvoir would have encountered him in a
surprising number of other places, and especially in an intellectual culture that
circulated around, and in opposition to, the Sorbonne.
One could speak of the
official and the unofficial curriculum of the 1920s, and while Hegel certainly
Meryl Altman 73
wasnt part of the formerLefebvre goes so far as to say Hegel was proscrit
(banned)he was very much a part of the latter, and it was the latter that
Beauvoir found especially compelling. As she wrote in her diary in November
1926: Philosophy would be thrilling, if only there were no tests to study for,
and I could really dive into it! (2006, 179).
Those diaries also show an important, though short-lived, intellectual
friendship with a student named Barbier, who appears to be the same friend
called Nodier in the Mmoires dune jeune flle range (1958). Barbier was
part of a group called Philosophies, Marxists, but with a mystical slant, who
published a journal called LEsprit; Beauvoir seems to have been drawn toward
their approach in 1927 (long before her acquaintance with Sartre), in part
because she found Barbier attractive, and she took it seriously enough to have
wondered about her own intellectual future, NRF or lEsprit? (2006, 263).

Elsewhere she notes, A real pleasure, to chat for ffteen minutes with the
director of lEsprit. All at once I imagine everything knowing him might bring
(2006, 308) and December 2. Read lEsprit. There are two strangely beautiful
articles by someone called Morhange (2006, 198).
But who were the Philosophies, and what was LEsprit?
Apart from the now-forgotten poet Pierre Morhange, this group of young
men included Norbert Guterman, Paul Nizan, Georges Politzer and, most
interesting to me, Henri Lefebvre. Their frst review was called Philosophies;
the second, LEsprit, came out in 1926 and 1927. The same group (joined by
Georges Friedmann) later founded the La Revue Marxiste. Described as the
frst group to present a coherent Marxist-Leninism in France, their mature
work took a similar approach to the Frankfurt school. La Revue Marxiste was
the frst to translate Marxs economic and philosophical manuscripts, before
falling apart in a fairly dramatic wayin the words of Michel Trebitsch, it was
immediately crushed in grotesque circumstances by the brutal intervention
of the Party (1991, xxii).
What they were doing in the 1920s, however, was attempting to fnd, or
to found, a new mythology, a new absolute, a new mysticism, as a response to
the problems of postwar inquitude. In this context, the frst issue of LEsprit
published Hegels section on the unhappy consciousness, translated and pref-
aced by Jean Wahl: it seems possible that this was the frst writing by Hegel
Beauvoir actually read.
Morhanges writing is vague poetic yearning mush, and Lefebvres own
meandering contributions about le moi are not much better.
In retrospect,
this is more than a little embarrassing for Lefebvre, who would go on to be
known for work as a demystifer in such works as The Critique of Everyday Life
(1947/1991), which is currently enjoying something of a renaissance. The Brief
Notes at the beginning of the Critique of Everyday Life are about as complete
a repudiation of the mystical Hegel of the Philosophies as might be conceived
74 Hypatia
ofLefebvre saves a special virulence for surrealists and other practitioners of
magic realism. And Burkhard notes that by the frst sketches for La Conscience
Mystife, in the 1930s, Lefebvre and Guterman were working out a critique
of Lefebvres earlier position. La mystifcation: Notes pour une critique de la vie
quotidienne (1933)
notes that bourgeois culture appeals to an abstract esprit,
which offered unreachable Absolutes and a diversity of entertaining evasions in
place of reality, and thereby maintained order. The true roots of the unhappy
consciousness . . . lay in the projection of human desires and consciousness
into an impossible search for comfort in an unrealizable Absolute (Burkhard
2000, 14344).
Now, this is more or less the same trajectory that will be taken by Simone de
Beauvoir, away from what she calls le got de labsolu (a taste for the absolute),
through and away from the inquitude of the postwar period.
In the course of
her early essays and novels, she moves toward what might also in her case be
called a critique of everyday life, which I see in The Second Sexs analysis of
the Myth of Woman as it enters normative cultural practice through literature,
religion, the education of girls, and other ideological-material formations. (The
Second Sex is directly critical of surrealists.) Im tempted also to compare this
to the other French classic of demystifcation, Roland Barthess Mythologies
But Beauvoir will never have anything positive to say about Lefebvre
and Guterman for the quite sensible reason that they were vicious political
enemies to Sartre after the war; and Barthes does not have much good to say
about Beauvoir or Sartre, perhaps for similar reasons. At some moments, how-
ever, the similarities may be more striking than the differences, and perhaps
we are at such a moment now.
If we go back to the 1920s, we fnd that Beauvoirs notebook contains some
other interesting, though puzzling, references to Hegel. For example, in a time
of depression she copies into her notebook some lachrymose verses by Jules
LaForgue, of which it is hard to make much, except that they correspond to the
ups and downs of her relationship with her cousin Jacques and her struggles to
put together a sort of self. Nothing more! Marble Venus! Pointless corrosives /
Mad brain of Hegel! sweet consoling refrains! / Churchtowers set in order
(2006, 128).
Hegel here seems to be standing in for a myth of human col-
lective progress, for a delusion of absolute sense and order, a brief stay against
the feeling that one is merely a speck in the random, pointless universe of
adolescent yearnings.
Beauvoir also copied a more interesting citation from Louis Aragon: All
metaphysics is in the frst person singular. So is all poetry. The second person
is still the frst (2006, 227).
Ive traced this quotation to the conclusion of
Aragons early poetic effort, Le Paysan de Paris (1926/1990), a sort-of-novel
that is not really enormously readable today, but was a major inspiration for
Benjamins work on the Paris Arcades.
Meryl Altman 75
The explicit project of Le Paysan de Paris is to create a modern mythology,
including new myths of modernity, based on valuing quotidian, as well as
nonrational and contralogical, aspects of human life. Aragons opening is very
much on the side of philosophy, but not at all the classroom sort. It begins (at
least) as an opposition to Hegel, and the conclusion is a pretty thorough critique
of Hegels logic, but I think it also parallels the search for a new mystical
totality undertaken under the sign of Hegel by the Philosophies group.
the work of the Philosophies group, Aragons is an attempted solution to the
postwar problem of loss of faith. It is not religious as suchAragon is very
clear that people who believe in God are simply being lazy. Rather, it attempts
to substitute a different absolute, an absolute that he perversely locates in the
concrete, the particular, the ephemeral, the everyday. He also locates it in
women, or rather in Woman.
So, in the middle of the section called Passage de lOpra, we fnd:
The living individual, says Hegel, poses himself in his frst evolu-
tion as subject and as notion, and in this second evolution he
assimilates to himself the object, and thereby gives himself a
real determination. And he is in himself Kind, substantial uni-
versality. The relationship of one subject with another subject
of the same kind constitutes the particularization of kind, and
judgment expresses the relationship of kind to the individuals
thus determined. That is sexual difference. (70)
The reaction of the narrator to this Hegelian proposition is to test it by going for
a walk, during which he fnds that many diverse women out for a walk submit
themselves to the Hegelian judgment.
In other words he encounters women
who offer him a variety of sexual experiences, more and less feeting, including
prostitution, which Le Paysan de Paris energetically defends.
The same point from Hegel comes up in The Second Sex, in the chapter on les
donnes de la biologie.
Beauvoirs reaction there is rather different, as you
might expect. Most philosophers, she says, have not had too much to say about
sexual difference: the myth in Platos Symposium explains love, not sexual dif-
ference (which it presupposes); Thomas Aquinas says women are occasional
beings, which is just a masculine perspective on the accidental character of
Hegel, however, would have been unfaithful to his rationalist
delirium [son dlire rationaliste] if had had not tried to found
it [sexual difference] logically. According to him, sexuality
76 Hypatia
represents the mediation by means of which the subject attains
itself concretely as kind. Kind [genre] produces itself in him
as an effect against this disproportion in his individual reality,
as a desire to fnd again in another individual of his species
the feeling of himself in uniting himself to it, of completing
himself and thus enveloping kind in his nature and bringing it
to existence. This is sexual intercourse [laccouplement]. And
a little further on: the process consists in this, to know what
they are in themselves, that is to say one single kind, one single
and same subjective life, they posit it as such. And Hegel then
declares that for the process of coming together to occur, there
must frst be differentiation of two sexes. But his demonstration
is not convincing: one feels too much in it the parti pris of locat-
ing the three moments of the syllogism in every operation. The
sublation [dpassement] of the individual towards the species, by
which individual and species accomplish themselves in their
truth, could come about without a third term in the simple rela-
tion of the parent to the child: reproduction could be asexual.
Or else the relation of the one to the other could be the relation
of two likenesses [semblables], with differentiation residing in
the singularity of a single type, as happens in hermaphroditic
species. Hegels description pulls out a very important meaning
of sexuality; but his error is always to turn a meaning into a
reason [son erreur est toujours de faire de signifcation raison]. It is
in exercising sexual activity that men defne the sexes and their
relations, just as they create the meaning and the value of all
the functions that they fulfll; but it is not necessarily implied
in the nature of the human being. (1949, 39)
Then she moves on to Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. Later,
she suggests that sexual difference is not all that crucial: one cant imagine
people who dont die and are still people, but people could reproduce partheno-
genetically and still be human.
Beauvoirs (perhaps coincidental) rewriting of Aragon parallels a key move
in her introduction to The Second Sex:
One must understand the implications of the verb to be: bad
faith consists in giving it a substantive value when it should
have the dynamic Hegelian meaning: to be is to have become,
to have been made the way one manifests oneself. (Beauvoir
1949, 25)
Meryl Altman 77
One of Beauvoirs characteristic moves was to turn a prescriptive or neces-
sary account into a descriptive, historically contingent one (Hutchings 2003,
72). Sometimes, as in my frst example, she makes an antifoundationalist
appropriation of Hegel (against his own grain, perhaps); sometimes, as in my
second example, she put that appropriated Hegel to use in an antideterminist
reading of something else. She needs Hegel to account for oppression and also
to hold out the possibility that things really can change, that is does not imply
ought. We need to bear in mind the basic methodological point that slipping
from a meaning to a reason, like slipping from a fact to a right, is in her view
a mistake. Not noticing this has led otherwise intelligent people to some fairly
spectacular misreadings of The Second Sex.
Aragons conclusion returns to Hegel, and also uses Hegel against himself, in
attempting to synthesize philosophy and eroticism.
Synthesizing philosophy
and eroticism is something Beauvoir will also try to do: as Ive argued elsewhere,
the radical core of The Second Sex is an argument about the centrality and
authenticity of womens sexual pleasure and desire, although this is accom-
plished mainly by a sort of via negativa (or perhaps a way of despair), through
the minute investigation of female unpleasure, discomfort, pain, and frigidity
(Altman 2002). Perhaps the main thing she got from Aragon was the tendency
to apply Hegel to sex in a very concrete way; the sense that such juxtapositions
were not incongruous; or perhaps the sense that such incongruous juxtapositions
might be intellectually productive. At least, I hope Ive shown that Hegel was
part of the ordinary language of the avant-garde, so that it was in a sense normal
for Beauvoir to turn to Hegel, even in thinking through problems where what
Hegel actually had to say was quite problematic.
But there are also some things about Aragon that will not be assimilable
to a feminist appropriation. For him, the concrete is the sexual, or at least
sexualized, experience of Woman (by a man). Beauvoir works through this
in her sections about Mythes, where she is liquidating her own intellectual
past through literary criticism and critique of many of her own earliest literary
infuences (surrealists, but also Paul Claudel). Much of the literary criticism
in The Second Sex (and there is a great deal of it) is of this demystifying or
anti-myth type.
A huge amount remains to be said about Hegels presence in, and infuence
on, The Second Sex. Here are a few general remarks that might guide futher.
First, Beauvoirs knowledge of Hegel was comprehensive, including Logic,
Philosophy of Nature, Philosophy of Right, as well as Phenomenology of the
Spirit, and (unlike many of her contemporaries) she did not confne herself
to following out a single thread or theme in his work but tried instead to
come to terms with his texts in their entire, strange complexity, without
ever becoming a prisoner of his system;
78 Hypatia
Second, her reading of Hegel was her own (and reading her only through
Kojve, or only alongside Sartre, is insufficient);
Third, her reading is itself dialectic, in very local ways, which means that
any summary will be falsifable and problematic;
Fourth, she needs to be located in a broader context, including cre-
ative writing, and the split between philosophers and poets must be set
Fifth, her use of Hegel is not accidental or decorative. Hegel mattered to
her, and through her, to the next generation of feminists and scholars.
To take up this last point: Beauvoirs demystifying appropriation of Hegel had
an enormously signifcant, but not unproblematic, legacy for 1970s feminisms.

It is central, for instance, to Sherry Ortners groundbreaking article, Is Female
to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1972), one of the most infuential pieces
of the new feminist anthropology.
It was also an important infuence on the
feminist critique of science, for example on Sandra Harding, who brings up the
master-slave struggle in a founding moment for feminist epistemologythe
slave has to know more about the master than the master knows about the slave
(1986, 26).
The most Hegelian text of 1970s radical feminism is Shulamith
Firestones The Dialectic of Sex (1971), which even includes several diagrams
purporting to capture the essence of World History.
And then we might think about the way of despair, or doubt: in Jean Hyppo-
lites formulation, what consciousness takes to be truth is revealed to be illusory,
consciousness must abandon its frst belief and move on to another (1979,
12). Could we see the crucial second-wave feminist practice of consciousness-
raising implied in that idea of the unhappy consciousness, refecting upon itself
in ways that lead to collective recognition and then to collective action? Of
course, the practice had other points of origin, for example the Maoist practice
of speaking bitterness, but the term itself is suggestive.
There are also suggestive parallels with a very interesting Italian radical
feminist text of the 1970s, Carla Lonzis Sputiamo su Hegel.
The title means
lets spit on Hegel or we spit on Hegel, and the message is hardly ambigu-
ous. For instance, The master-slave dialectic is a settling of scores between
groups of men: it does not point a way toward the liberation of woman, the
great Oppressed of patriarchal culture (1974, 17).
And yet, why spit on him rather than simply turning away? I see Lonzi as
performing an appropriation similar to Beauvoirs in attacking both the male
Left in Italy and its deeper philosophical roots, through a point-by-point refu-
tation of the boldest sort. Lonzi doesnt mention Beauvoir, but I hear echoes
of Beauvoirs point when Lonzi says, for example, Womans condition, which
is the result of her oppression, is viewed by Hegel as its cause (1974, 25).

And Lonzi, like Beauvoir, talks a great deal about womens sexual pleasure and
unpleasure as the root of their oppression.
Meryl Altman 79
Against all odds, feminisms engagement with Hegels views of sexuality
appears to persist, perhaps most recognizably in the work of Judith Butler (1999,
2000). Couldnt we do without him by now? Probably. But knowledges are
situated, and political knowledges perhaps doubly so; continued engagement
with Hegel may point to also continued, though not always acknowledged,
engagement with Beauvoir, which in my view is all to the good. The best reason
to continue to engage with Hegel may be that feminism needs some dynamic
account of the shape of change, both internal and external, and how these
connect; the best reason to continue to spit, that feminism has to be, frst and
foremost, a ruthless work of demystifcation.
Finally, to gesture (at least) back toward my title: the need for and the dif-
ficulty of demystifcation will be precisely and particularly evident in the special
case of military propaganda. It would be stretching a point to see Beauvoirs
engagement with Hegel as caused, or even exhaustively explained, by the double
European experience of the lies of war in the frst half of the twentieth century.
One may say, though, that the need for a form of cultural demystifcation that
can if necessary stand outside the academy and apart from the state has never
been more obvious than it is right now.
A preliminary version of this paper was delivered at the Australasian Society for Conti-
nental Philosophy annual conference 2005, The Politics of Being, School of Philoso-
phy at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, June 1517, 2005. Many
thanks to all who commented there, particularly Robert Bernasconi, Simon Lundgren,
and Marguerite La Caze; to my colleagues Andrea Sununu and Neal Abraham for help
with languages and text; and to Keith Nightenhelser for indispensable assistance at all
stages of this project.
For Anglo-Americans, another important step is the ambitious translation 1.
project of which the frst volume has now appeared (Simons 2004).
The quotation is from Kierkegaard 1983. Heinmaa sees Kierkegaard as leading 2.
Beauvoir to reject systematic philosophy in favor of the phenomenological approach
of Merleau-Ponty. See Heinmaa 2003, 611.
1940 6 juillet. Jai t la Nationale. Jai pris une carte et jai commenc lire du 3.
Hegel, la Phnomenologie de lEsprit. Pour linstant, je comprends quasi rien. Jai dcid
de travailler Hegel tous les jours de 2 heures 5 heures. Cest ce quon peut trouver de
plus apaisant. The passage published in her Journal de guerre (1990, 339) is virtually
identical, adding only that she is using Jean Wahls book alongside Hegels.
7 Juillet. Promenade bicyclette, dans Paris, avec Lise. Jai crois un dfl dautos 4.
blindes, charges dAllemands vtus de noir dont les grands brets fottaient au vent;
ctait assez beau et sinistre. A la Nationale, jai lu Hegel que jai encore bien du mal
comprendre. Jai trouv un passage que jai copi et qui servirait merveilleusement
depigraphe mon roman.
80 Hypatia
Chaque conscience poursuit la mort de lautre. 5.
De nouveau mon journal sarrte. Je navais plus rien noter. Les uniformes verts 6.
et gris, la croix gamme fottant sur le Senat mtaient devenus familiers. Je faisais mes
cours Duruy et je lisais Hegel la Nationale qui, present, ouvrait ds le matin. Hegel
me calmait un peu. De mme qu vingt ans, le coeur saignant cause de mon cousin
Jacques, javais lu Homre pour mettre toute lhumanit entre moi et ma douleur par-
ticulire, jessayais de fondre dans le cours du monde le moment que jtais en train de
traverser. Autour de moi, embaum dans des milliers de volumes, le pass sommeillait et
le prsent mapparaissait comme un pass venir. Moi, je mabolisais. Daucune manire,
cependent, ces rveries ne mincitrent consentir au fascisme; on pouvait, si on tait
optimiste, le considrer comme la ncessaire antithse du liberalisme bourgeois, donc
une tape vers la synthse laquelle nous aspirions: le socialisme; mais pour esprer un
jour le dpasser, il fallait commencer par le rfuser. Aucune philosophie naurait pu me
convaincre de laccepter, il contredisait toutes les valeurs sur lesquelles stait btie ma
vie. Et chaque jour mapportait de fraches raisons pour le dtester. Quelle nause, le
matin, lorsque je lisais dans le Matin, dans la Victoire ces vertueuses apologies de lAlle-
magne, ces sermons grondeurs dont nos vainqueurs nous accablaient! Ds la fn de juillet,
des pancartes apparurent la vitrine de certains magasins: Interdit aux juifs.
Another passage in the Journal de guerre (362) that is not picked up in the
memoir reads: 21 janvier [1941] Hegel ou Heidegger? Pourquoi si la conscience peut se
transcender mon destin individuel aurait-il tant de prix? Je narrive pas decider. Tantt
il me semble que le point de vue universel Hegel-Marx te tout sens la vie. Tantt
que peut-tre lindividualit comme tel na pas de sens, que cest un leurre de vouloir
en donner un. Ide de salut personnelmais pourquoi cette ide (Kierkegaard, Jacques,
Kafka, etc.) aurait-elle un sens? u est le vrai? u est le leurre? Avons-nous seulement
un besoin de penser que cela a un sens? Mais comment luniversel en aurait-il si lindi-
vidu nen a pas? (January 21. Hegel or Heidegger? If consciousness can transcend itself,
why should my individual fate have such value? I cant manage to decide. Sometimes it
seems to me that the Hegel-Marx universal point of view takes all the meaning out of
life; sometimes I think maybe individuality as such has no meaning, that its a trick to
try and give it one. Idea of personal salvationbut why should this idea [Kierkegaard,
Jacques, Kafka, etc.] have meaning? Which is the truth? Which is the trick? Is it just
that we need to think it has meaning? But how could the universal have any meaning if
the individual doesnt?)
See Heinmaa (2003, 611) for a discussion of Kierkegaards mockery of Hegels 7.
system in the Concluding Unscientifc Postscript (1846/1960).
Je continuai lire Hegel que je commenais mieux comprendre; dans le dtail, 8.
sa richesse mblouissait; lensemble du systme me donnait la vertige. Oui, il tait
tentant de sabolir au proft de luniversel, de considrer sa propre vie dans la perspec-
tive de la fn de lHistoire, avec le dtachement quimplique aussi le point de vue de la
mort: alors, comme cela paraissait drisoire cet infme moment du cours du monde, un
individu, moi! Pourquoi me soucier de ce qui marrivait, de ce qui mentourait, juste ici,
maintenant? Mais le moindre mouvement de mon coeur dmentait ces spculations:
lespoir, la colre, lattente, langoisse saffrmaient contre tous les dpassements; la fuite
dans luniversel ntait en fait quun pisode de mon aventure personnelle. Je revenais
Meryl Altman 81
Kierkegaard que je mtais mis lire avec passion; la vrit quil revendicait dfait
la doute aussi victorieusement que lvidence cartsienne; le Systme, lHistoire ne
pouvaient pas plus que le Malin Gnie faire chec la certitude vcue: Je suis, jexiste,
en ce moment, cet endroit, moi.
Plus jallai, plussans cesser de ladmirerje me sparai de Hegel. Je savais
prsent que, jusque dans la moelle de mes os, jtais lie mes contemporains; je dcou-
vris lenvers de cette dpendance: ma responsabilit. . . . Dans cette France occupe,
il sufft de respirer pour consentir loppression. . . . Mais cette situation qui mtait
impose, mes remords mavait dcouvert que javais contribu la crer.
Kruks (2005) observes that until the Algerian crisis Beauvoir spoke about the 9.
privileged as though she herself were not among them, but that subsequently she was
able to acknowledge and then use this privilege in politically progressive and effective
ways. It may also be relevant to note that before seriously taking up the study of Hegel,
Beauvoir had already read Marxshe had worked her way through Das Kapital (1857)
and says retrospectively that there was a great deal she didnt really grasp in this frst
encounter (though she had had the impression of deciphering it easily); but she recalls
being blown away by the labor theory of surplus value, as much as by her frst encounter
with Descartes cogito.
Essayons de prendre le point de vue de lhistoire, se disait-on en apprenant 10.
lentre des Allemands Paris.
Ds quon considre abstraitement et thoriquement un systme, on se situe en 11.
effet sur le plan de luniversel, donc de linfni. Cest pourquoi la lecture du systme hg-
lien est si consolante: je me souviens davoir prouv un grand apaisement lire Hegel
dans le cadre impersonnel de la Bibliothque Nationale, en aot 1940. Mais ds que je
me retrouvai dans la rue, dans ma vie, hors du systme, sous un vrai ciel, le systme ne
me servait plus de rien: ctait, sous couleur de linfni, les consolations de la mort quil
mavait offertes; et je souhaitais encore vivre au milieu des hommes vivants (As soon as
one considers a system arbitrarily and theoretically, one situates oneself on the plane of
the universal, thus the plane of the infnite. Thats why reading the Hegelian system is
so consoling: I remember having felt very much soothed reading Hegel in the impersonal
setting of the Bibliothque Nationale, in August 1940. But once I found myself outside
in the street, in my life, outside the system, under a real sky, the system was no more use
to me. The consolations he had offered me, painted with the colors of the infnite, were
the consolations of death, and I wanted to go on living, among living men).
The passage continues: Lexistentialisme ne propose aucune evasion. . . . Et en
fait tout homme qui a eu de vraies amours, de vraies rvoltes, de vrais dsirs, de vraies
volonts, sait bien quil na besoin daucune garantie trangre pour tre sur de ses buts;
leur certitude vient de son propre lan (Existentialism [in implied contrast] proposes no
escape. . . . And in fact, every man who has had real loves, real rebellions, real desires,
real acts of will, knows very well that he needs no external guarantee to be sure of his
goals; their certainty comes from his own rush forward).
Ive given a fuller account of Hegels presence in Beauvoirs early philosophical 12.
essays, and also in The Second Sex, in Feminists Reading Beauvoir Reading Hegel,
paper delivered at the conference on Hegelian Politics of Gender: Spirit, Nature, Law,
December 1213, 2003, University of Jyvskyl, Finland.
82 Hypatia
Parmi les ouvrages non romanesques qui comptrent pour nous pendant ces deux 13.
ans, je ne vois que Ma vie de Trotsky, une nouvelle traduction dEmpedocle dHolderlin,
et Le Malheur de la conscience de Jean Wahl qui nous donna quelques aperus dHegel
(1960, 59). (Aside from novels, the only works I remember which counted for us during
those two years [19291930] were Trotskys My Life, a new translation of Holderlins
Empedocles, and Jean Wahls The Unhappy Consciousness, which gave us some glimpses
of Hegel.)
Jai travaill 2 h 14. . Hegel avec le Wahl sur la conscience malheureuse et la phnomenologie
de lesprit, pour linstant je ne comprends quasi rien.
Baugh (2003) foregrounds the formative importance of Wahls Hegel, rather than 15.
Kojves, to such thinkers as Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, and Sartre, and very
helpfully explains Wahls reading as a reaction against earlier attempts to co-opt Hegel
for an empiricist philosophy of science. I am indebted to Simon Lumsden for steering me
toward this lucid and indispensable book. But Baugh minimizes, to the point of obscur-
ing, the religiously specifc dimension of Wahls own focus on redemption. Sometimes it
does seem possible to view this metaphorically, or at least ecumenically, as when Wahl
explains Hegels method in his Prface (1929, 9): lorigine de cette doctrine qui se
prsente comme un enchanement de concepts, il y a une sorte dintuition mystique et de
chaleur affective. (At the origin of this doctrine, which presents itself as a development
of concepts, there lies a sort of mystical intuition and warmth of feeling.)
But see such passages as
On voit alors comme il est injuste de dire que Hegel a manqu le sense
du pch. On pourrait le croire en lisant certaines affrmations dog-
matiques sur la rationalit de lunivers; mais si on suit les chemins par
lesquels passe Hegel pour arriver ces affrmations, on se rend compte
quau centre de sa philosophie est lide de conscience malheureuse,
lide du pch. . . . Le pch est rachet par la mort dun Dieu (Wahl
1929, 99). (Thus we see how unfair it is to claim that Hegel lacked a
sense of sin. One might believe this from reading certain dogmatic affr-
mations about the rationality of the universe; but if we follow the roads
by which Hegel travels to arrive at these affrmations, we realize that at
the center of his philosophy is the idea of the unhappy consciousness,
the idea of sin. . . . Sin is redeemed by the death of a God.)
This feels closer to Claudel, or to the Thomism of Beauvoirs teachers at the Cours Dsir
(the very Catholic girls school she attended while her competitors were preparing for
the ENS at elite lyces), than to the genealogy Baugh (2003) traces as far as Derrida
and Gilles Deleuze.
Attempts to reconcile Hegelianism with orthodox Christianity persisted; for
instance, Heckman (1974) notes that the offcial Hegel congresses of the 1940s were
controlled by the Jesuits. There is more to chew on here than I can possibly bite off.
A la Sorbonne, mes professeurs ignoraient systmatiquement Hegel et Marx; 16.
dans son gros livre sur le progrs de la conscience en Occident, cest peine si Bruns-
chvicg avait consacr trois pages Marx, quil mettait en parallle avec un penseur
ractionnaire des plus obscures. See Simons (1999, 198). Simons, who is working on
Meryl Altman 83
Beauvoirs very early infuences (especially Bergson) has located the textbook Beauvoir
used at the Cours Dsir. Simons found Hegel in that text, obviously in a very reduced
and simplifed form.
There is also the possible indirect infuence of Alain (mile Chartier, [1868
1951]), whose presentation of Hegel in a section of Ides (1939) Michael Kelly described
as sniping (1981, 45).
M. Brunschvicg est peut-tre un homme de valeur mais pour moi = 0. I was 17.
fortunate to consult Beauvoirs early diaries in a manuscript transcription, thanks to the
generous help of Peg Simons. An English translation is now available (Beauvoir 2006),
so I have cited that edition.
Un moyen pour la philosophie contemporaine dluder ou dajourner le contact 18.
avec lintelligence veritable du reel . . . anachronique avant mme de natre. Koyr
attributed the relative poverty of French work on Hegel to a variety of causes, including
the dominance of la pense mathmatique, World War I prejudice against all things
German, and the unavailability of accurate French translations.
See also Lefebvre (1973, 372): Brunschvicg ne parlait de rien dactuel, de rien 19.
de vivant . . . rien ne rpondait aux questions que se posait un jeune homme, aprs la
guerre, dans leffondrement des valeurs et des ides reues (Brunschvicg never spoke of
anything current, anything living . . . he had no answers to the questions a young man
was asking himself, after the war, as values and received ideas were crumbling around
him). Baugh (2003) provides a fuller and more sympathetic explanation of Brunschvicgs
distaste for Hegel.
Again, Lefebvre (1973, 373): Les salles de cours de la Sorbonne, o enseignait 20.
Brunschvicg, offraient aux jeunes philosophes des oasis de calme rudit, intellectua-
lit sereine, que je ne pouvais mempcher de trouverspontanmentdouillette et
stagnante. Autour de la Sorbonne, dans les directions les plus diffrentes, ctait une
immense fermentation, une immense renaissance; du moins on le croyait. Tout scrou-
lait, tout allait recommencer (The classrooms of the Sorbonne, where Brunschvicg
taught, offered young philosophers an oasis of erudite calm, serene intellectuality, which
I couldnt help fnding suddenly stagnant and namby-pamby. All around the Sorbonne,
on all different sides, there was a tremendous ferment, a tremendous rebirth; or at least
we thought so. Everything was falling apart, everything was about to start over). And:
De cette priode date un fait assez important: la philosophie (vivante, pour autant quelle
vive) commenait se chercher et se faire en grande partie hors de lUniversit. Cette
scission ne devait entrainer ses consquences que dix vingt ans plus tard (A pretty
important fact dates from that time: living philosophy [insofar as philosophy can live]
began to be pursued to a great extent outside the University. The consequences of this
split would not be felt for ten or twenty years) (376).
La philo serait passionante sil ny avait pas dexamens prparer et quon pt 21.
sy livrer fond!
NRF is the 22. Nouvelle Revue Francaise, the prestigious and urbane literary and
critical journal founded by Andr Gide and friends in 1909. What Beauvoir means
particularly here may be seen in the diarys critical comment about her errant cousin
Jacques, penned after she had dedicated herself seriously to her philosophy: Oh! cette
frivolit, ce manque de srieux; comme il est NRF avec ses histoires de bar, de bridge,
84 Hypatia
dargent! (Oh the frivolousness, the lack of serious commitment; hes so NRF with his
stories about going to the bar, playing bridge, spending money!)
Un vrai plaisir pour un quart dheure de bavardage avec le directeur de lEsprit. 23.
Tout de suite jimagine tout ce quil pourrait mapporter. . . . 2 decembre. Lu lEsprit. Il
y a dun certain Morhange deux articles trangement beaux. See also Beauvoir 1958,
See Trebitsch (1987a, 1987b) and also especially Burkhard (2000), whose 24.
indispensable book is devoted to tracing the history of the group.
Wahls brief translators note to the selection published in 25. LEsprit (1926, 195)
reads: Ces pages contiennent une description du ddoublement de la conscience et de
son effort vers lunit tels quon le voit dans la religion. Ainsi, le christianisme, dont
lapparition a t prpare par le scepticisme dune part, en tant que conscience de la
dualit humaine, par le judaisme de lautre, en tant que conscience contradictoire de
la dualit absolue de lhomme et de Dieu et de leur unit immdiate, est le sentiment
auquel lme parvient dans son malheur, de limmuable en tant que particulier et du
particulier en tant que limmuable. A lopposition de la gnerale et du particulier
(judaisme) succde grace lui la religion du Dieu incarne (These pages contain a
description of the doubling of consciousness and its effort towards unity, such as is seen
in religion. Thus Christianity, whose appearance was prepared for, on the one hand by
the Skeptics, in the form of consciousness of human duality, on the other hand by the
Jews, in the form of contradictory consciousness of the absolute duality of man and God
and of their immediate unity, is the feeling which the soul attains in its unhappiness,
of the immutable in the form of the particular and the particular in the form of the
immutable. From the opposition of general to particular [Judaism], and by means of it,
follows the religion of God incarnate).
To my ears, very little distinguishes this from simple Christian triumphalism, of
the sort Beauvoir had heard quite enough of at the Cours Dsir. The continued political
power of the Catholic faction within French academic and literary life, the seriousness
with which questions of faith were taken, the central signifcance of loss of faith in
intellectual autobiography, and the continued psychological pressure to reconvert, con-
fess, take communion, and so on to which Beauvoir and her fellow students and fellow
writers continued to be subjected throughout their lives, deserves greater attention than
it usually receives from secular-minded scholars.
But to balance this religious solemnity, the editors of lEsprit added to Wahls
note the following even briefer preface:
Nous ne publions pas cet important fragment de Hegel pour manifester
une coordination avec ce philosophe, mais pour le reconnaitre, puis cer-
tainement, le repousser [signed N.D.L.R.] (We publish this important
fragment of Hegel, not to display our solidarity with this philosopher,
but to recognize him, then, certainly, to push him away). (1926, 195)
This both is, and isnt, a joke, I think.
The book series associated with Philosophies published Wahls (1926) work on 26.
Platos Parmenides, as well as the works of William Blake (1926), another builder of
mystical systems.
Meryl Altman 85
Mystifcation: notes for a critique of everyday life. 27.
Baugh (2003, 59) points out that the title, 28. La conscience mystife, is a direct
riposte to La conscience malheureuse: unhappiness now seen as a result of alienation.
Lefebvre has also been recognized for his direct infuence on Guy DeBord, the
Situationists, and the protests of 1968. Whether that legacy was truly a demystifcation
of French culture or simply created new mythologies through a romanticization of youth
(or both) is an open question.
In the specifc case of her interest in the Philosophies group, Enlightenment 29.
common sense kicked in very quickly. In a fragment of Beauvoirs writing given to me
by Peg Simons, who holds the manuscript privately, Beauvoir wrote a highly ambitious
to-do list on July 19, 1927, for the following school year. This list includes the phrase,
Essentiellement: relire lEsprit et tudier le mysticisme (Essentially: reread lEsprit and
study mysticism) (76) at the head of a long list of philosophers she intends to get to the
bottom of; but a mere ten days later, she has seen a diffculty, at least of method. Je ne
vois rien, rien; non seulement pas une rponse mais aucune manire sortable de poser la
question. Le scepticisme, lindifference sont impossibles, une religion est impossible pour
linstantle mysticisme est tentant; mais comment connatrai-je la valeur dune pense
qui ne laisse pas place la pense? sur quoi mappuyer pour le rejeter ou laccepter? (I see
nothing, nothing; not only no answer, but no presentable way to ask the question. Skep-
ticism, indifference are impossible; a religion is impossible for the momentmysticism
is tempting; but how would I be able to evaluate a way of thinking that leaves no place
for thinking? what could I lean on to reject it or accept it?) (85). The general taste, or
perhaps one should say nostalgia, for an Absolute lasted much longer.
Derrida, too, has been at pains in a 1986 interview to distance himself from U.S. 30.
interpretations of his thought as a mysticism. Unfortunately or fortunately, as you
like it, I am not mystical and there is nothing mystical in my work. In fact my work is a
deconstruction of values which found mysticism, i.e. of presence, view, of the absence
of a marque, of the unspeakable. I originally viewed the translation at http://www.lake.
de/sonst/homepages/s2442/reb.html#eng, but the page has since been taken down. For
another translation of this interview, see The PreText Conversations held a Re/In/View
with Victor Vitanza, beginning September 1997. The Guest Moderator is/was Steven
Mailloux, UC-Irvine. File 6 (, accessed
April 15, 2007). On this blog site, the reader is referred to the original transcription,
which was published in Rtzer 1986, 6787, quotation on 74.
See Baugh, especially Derrida and Sartre: Filiation/ Parricide (2003), 14044); 31.
see Fox 2003 and recent work by Foucault biographer Eribon (1999).
Oh! la vie est trop triste, incurablement triste! 32.
O Bien-Aim! Il nest plus temps, mon coeur se crve
Et trop pour ten vouloir, mais jai tant sanglot,
Vois-tu, que seul mest doux le spleen des nuits dt,
Des nuits longues o tout est frais comme un grand rve.
. . .
Astres! je ne veux pas mourir! Jai du gnie!
. . .
Et plus rien! Venus de marbre! eaux fortes vaines!
86 Hypatia
Cerveau fou de Hegel! doux refrains consolants!
Clochers brodes jour et consumes dlans,
Livres o lhomme mit dinutiles victoires!
Tout ce qu la fureur de tes fls enfant,
Tout ce qui fait ta fange et ta splendeur si brve,
O Terre, est maintenant comme un rve, un grand rve.
Va dors, cest bien fni, dors pour lternit.
See Rubio 2003. The question of mystifcation or mythifcation comes up also 33.
with reference to the Arcades project: briefy, Benjamin saw his work as demystifying
Aragons, Adorno worried (not without reason) that Benjamins account wasnt suf-
fciently free of its own phantasmagoria. To complicate matters further, Le Paysan de
Paris itself wavers (or, if you like, unfolds a dialectic) between building myths and tearing
them down. See Limat-Letellier 2003.
Toute mtaphysique est la premire personne du singulier. Toute posie aussi. 34.
La seconde personne, cest encore la premire.
Lindividu vivant, dit Hegel, se pose dans sa premire evolution comme sujet et 35.
comme notion, et dans ce second il sassimile lobjet, et par l il se donne une dtermi-
nation relle. Et il est en soi le genre, luniversalit substantielle. Le rapport dun sujet
avec un autre sujet du mme genre constitute la particularisation du genre, et la jugement
exprime le rapport du genre aux individus ainsi dtermins. Cest l la difference des sexes.
According to Rubio (2003), this comes from Hegels Logic, which Aragon read in Veras
1859 French translation.
Tants de promeneuses diverses se soumettent au jugement Hgelien. 36.
Dans le passage tant de promeneuses diverses se soumettent au jugement hg- 37.
lien, dge et de beaut variables, tant de promeneuses dans ces galeries, leurs complices,
se contentent uniquement dtre femmes, que lhomme encore indcis et solitaire avec
son ide de lamour, lhomme qui ne croit pas encore la pluralit des femmes, lenfant
qui cherche une image de labsolu pour ses nuits, na rien faire dans ces parages (In the
passage so many women, of varying age and beauty, out for a walk, submit to Hegelian
judgement, so many women out for a walk in these corridors which are their accomplices,
happy just because they are womenso many that the man, still indecisive and lonely
with his idea of love, the man who does not yet believe that women are many [and not
One], the child who seeks an image of the absolute to comfort his nights, has nothing
to do in this neighborhood).
Parshley translates this as the data of biology, but the biological givens is 38.
another possible meaning.
Hegel cependant et t infdle son dlire rationaliste sil net tent de la 39.
fonder logiquement. La sexualit represente selon lui la mdiation travers laquelle
le sujet satteint concrtement comme genre. Le genre se produit en lui comme un
effet contre cette disproportion de sa ralite individuelle, comme un dsir de retrouver
dans un autre individu de son espce le sentiment de lui-mme en sunissant lui, de
se complter et senvelopper par l le genre dans sa nature et de lamener lexistence.
Cest laccouplement [Philosophie de la Nature, 3e partie, 369]. Et un peu plus loin: Le
processus consiste en ceci, savoir: ce quils sont en soi, cest dire un seul genre, une
seule et mme vie subjective, ils le posent comme tel. Et Hegel declare ensuite que, pour
Meryl Altman 87
que le processus de rapprochement seffectue, il faut dabord quil y ait diffrentiation
des deux sexes. Mais sa dmonstration nest pas convaincante: on y sent trop le parti
pris de retrouver en toute opration les trois moments du syllogisme. Le dpassement de
lindividu vers lespce, par lequel individu et espce saccomplissent dans leur verit,
pourrait seffectuer sans troisime terme dans le simple rapport du gnerateur lenfant:
la reproduction pourrait tre asexue. Ou encore le rapport de lun lautre pourrait tre
le rapport de deux semblables, la diffrentiation rsidant dans la singularit dun mme
type, comme il arrive dans les espces hermaphrodites. La description de Hegel dgage
un trs important signifcation de la sexualit; mais son erreur est toujours de faire de
signifcation raison. Cest en exerant lactivit sexuelle que les hommes dfnissent les
sexes et leur relations comme ils crent le sens et la valeur de toutes les fonctions quils
accomplissent: mais elle nest pas ncessairement implique dans la nature de ltre
human (Beauvoir 1949, 1: 3839).
Cest sur la porte du mot tre quil faudrait sentendre; la mauvaise foi consiste 40.
lui donner une valeur substantielle alors quelle a le sens dynamique hglien; tre
cest tre devenue, cest avoir t fait tel quon se manifeste.
As Rubio (2003) puts it, Le parcours amoureux mime parfaitement le dvelop- 41.
pement dialectique de la connaissance propre la philosophie hglienne (the course of
love perfectly imitates the dialectical way knowledge develops in Hegels philosophy).
The legacy for second-wave academic U.S. feminist literary criticism, fltered 42.
at frst through Kate Millett (1970) and Betty Friedan (1963), deserves to be better
acknowledged and further discussed.
Thinking outside disciplinary boundaries would also be helpful in coming to 43.
terms with Bataille, Benjamin, and others.
Heckmans (1974) failure to include Beauvoir in his mapping of the intellectual 44.
terrain of French versions of Hegel is regrettable, and also leaves out a major interna-
tional infuence that Hegel actually (through her) had. Unfortunately, the same must
be said of Baugh (2003), who does not even include Beauvoirs reading of Hegel in his
chapter on Sartre, where it would be quite relevant.
The debate between Sherry Ortners view and Gayle Rubins The Traffc in 45.
Women (1975), so foundational to feminist anthropology in the 1970s and since, can
be seen as a debate between two versions of Beauvoir, where each anthropologist draws
on different sections of her chapter on Mythes.
The view is suffciently problematic that I am of two minds about claiming 46.
it as a legacy of Beauvoirs. See Bauer (2001, 267): [Karen] Vintges and I agree that
the standard reading of Beauvoirs relation to Hegel, on which she just maps relations
between men and women onto the master/slave dialectic is untenable. . . . Vintges fur-
ther observes, quite astutely, that the feminist standpoint theory that developed in the
wake of The Second Sex has been driven in many of its incarnations by exactly the sort
of clichd Hegelian picture that she and I fail to fnd in Beauvoirs work.
A slightly different way to approach this: standpoint theory is either a terrible
idea, or a very good one, depending on whether the standpoint is understood in a static
way (as identity), or a dynamic way (as situation). A limiting case of the former might
be the nineteenth-century understanding of women as more moral than men, which
has unfortunate avatars even today in the womens ways of knowing school of feminist
88 Hypatia
epistemology and in some approaches to the question of women and war. For a related
critique, see Le Doeuff 1998. See also Ehrenreich 2004.
Beauvoir herself, Id argue, is closer to the more dynamic view, which understands
the ways in which situations are complex, relative, and can change as a function of
historical realities and also through acts of conscious choice and will. So, for example,
a woman may be epistemologically advantaged with respect to her husband but episte-
mologically disadvantaged with respect to the woman who cleans her house; or a woman
scientist may be epistemologically one step ahead of those who run her university or
biotech corporation, but one step behind the human subjects who are the objects of
her scientifc work. She will still, and always, have choices to make about how to live
this situation, in complicity with power relations as she fnds them, or in resistance to
them. It is always possible to open ones eyes, or to close them, to what is going on in
ones life and work.
Were not so far, now, from Donna Haraways concept of situated knowledges,
which might help us appreciate the inputs of existentialism to that strand of feminist
work. Epistemological and ethical advantages are not pre-given, nor are they entirely
made. They must be actively worked for, worked toward, and reworked as conditions
change (this last point a particularly salient one for second-wave feminists in the twenty-
frst century).
Another trap can arise from thinking too rigidly about masters and slaves:
considering oneself to be the slave, when one is actually the master (or neither, or in
between) is a form of bad faith in itself, especially when coupled with the idea that the
victim is epistemologically privileged. See Brown 1995. And fnallyas I think Beau-
voir sawepistemological privilege need not imply ethical privilege, and may not lead to
ethical behavior: all sorts of accommodation, complicity, and bad faith remain equally
See especially chap. 9. Like many of her generation, Firestone owes more to 47.
Beauvoir than she signals directly.
Two translations of Lonzis text into English are available. For an abridged cross- 48.
cultural translation by Giovanna Bellesia and Elaine Maclachlan see Mills 1998; for a
differently abridged translation by Victoria Newman see Bono and Kemp 1991. I have
consulted both, and tinkered. Lonzis manifesto, comparable in wit and tone to Robin
Morgans (1970), deserves to be much better known outside Italy, and would be well
served by a full translation that acknowledged its original activist context.
La dialletica servo-padrone una regolazione di conti tra colletivi di uomini: essa 49.
non prevede la liberazione della donna, il grande oppresso della civilt patriarcale.
Quelle condizione femminile che il frutto delloppressione indicata da Hegel 50.
come il movente delloppressione stessa.
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