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Naomi Greene SARTRE, SEXUALITY, AND THE SECOND SEX Few would deny that Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of female sexuality plays a very important role in her book The Second Sex, widely regarded as one of the key works of modern feminist thought. At the same time, it is precisely her view of sexuality, and many of the conclusions it gives rise to concerning female behavior, which constitute some of the most problematical areas in this vast and complex work. Margaret Walters echoes the concerns of many feminists when she remarks that de Beauvoir "attacks the mystique of femininity—by accepting a masculine mystique. In the end, it is she who equates the human with the male sex, who idealizes male values, sees life from a masculine perspective." So far, however, little attention has been paid to the ways in which de Beauvoir's view of female sexuality and behavior reveals the unmistakable influence of her life-long friend and companion, Jean-Paul Sartre. It is not difficult to discern in some of Sartre's central metaphysical ideas—ideas which de Beauvoir uses to create the theoretical framework of The Second Sex—a world view which is deeply anti-sexual (perhaps even anti-life, but then life itself appears symbolized by sex) and anti-female. Sartre's anti-sexual bias is more readily apparent in the metaphors of Nausea (1938), his philosophical novel, than in his strictly philosophical work, Being and Nothingness (1943). Nausea is, in fact, alive with metaphors since it seeks to render accessible, even tangible, some of the fundamental abstractions of Being and Nothingness. The feeling of nausea itself, for example, is essentially a metaphor for man's basic experience of Being: the nausea comes when man realizes that all the distinctions and orders (in particular, language itself) he has imposed upon the world are arbitrary (there is, for example, no necessary connection between words and things) and the real nature of Being unfolds itself as a vegetal, ever-changing, viscous, engulfing matter. Deprived of a "reason" for being, man is "de trop," part of the world of matter, and his unjustified existence is contrasted both with lifeless 199 200Philosophy and Literature and unchanging forms, such as minerals and stones, and with the abstract realms of mathematics and music, realms governed by inexorable laws. Unlike these lifeless or abstract realms, the world of matter, of Being, is in perpetual movement and metamorphosis. And it is when Sartre discusses these infinite, arbitrary metamorphoses, the revelation of which provokes the nausea, that his imagery betrays a distaste for sexuality. In one famous passage, for example, we are told that when the nausea takes over, a man may well awaken in a "forest of murmuring cocks, rising red and white towards the sky like the chimneys of Jouxtebouville, with great balls half out of the earth, shaggy and bulbous like onions. And birds will fly around those cocks and peck them with their beaks and make them bleed. Sperm will flow slowly, gently, from these wounds, sperm mixed with blood, vitreous and lukewarm with small bubbles." This implied link between unpleasant sexuality and a basic fear of engulfing Being is made even clearer in one of his early philosophical tales, "The Room" (1939), in which madness, like nausea, seems to stand for what we will experience when we become aware of the nature of Being. But it can hardly be arbitrary or coincidental that the form taken by this madness is that of a pathological, sexual nature. And in still another early tale, "Intimacy," a wife actually enjoys the relationship she shares with her impotent, disturbed husband. The distaste for sexuality suggested in Sartre's early works declares itself openly in the portrait of women found in his later fiction, indicating that the sexual metaphors of Nausea, far from being chosen at random, were inspired by deep and persistent feelings. In the trilogy The Roads to Freedom (1945-49), a historical fresco of France during the crucial years preceding World War II, women seem to incarnate all the attributes which disgust Sartre in matter or unjustified Being: they embody the viscous, passive, heavy world of the en-soi ("being-in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 199-211
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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