Hypatia 16.3 (2001) 161-163
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Identity Without Selfhood: Bisexuality and Simone de Beauvoir
In the introduction to Identity Without Selfhood: Bisexuality and Simone de Beauvoir, Mariam Fraser writes that "In the modern era, sexuality is perceived to lie at the heart of the self, such that to 'come to terms' with the truth of sexuality is to come to terms with the truth of the self" (1999, 1). Fraser argues that representations of anyone's selfhood rarely show a bisexual self and that representations of Simone de Beauvoir in biographies, newspaper accounts, and feminist theory mark Beauvoir's bisexuality as incidental if they remark on it at all. Following a Deleuzian interpretation of Michel Foucault, Fraser sees subjects as those who have been subjected to a practice that leads to producing individuality. The self is "the result of the processes which attempt to explore and/or describe it" (1999, 10). Thus, there is a teleological demand that a self or an identity be produced. The knowledges and practices of bisexuality, like other identities, produce bisexual identity. Fraser emphasizes that she is not looking for the "truth" of Simone de Beauvoir, but rather using her as a case study through which to understand the production of bisexuality and selfhood and asking "whether it is possible for an identity without selfhood to be produced through discourse" (1999, 46; italics in original).
In the first two chapters, Fraser deftly sifts through an impressive array of philosophers to develop her theoretical framework. In the following chapters, she uses her framework to look at both how individuality is attributed to Beauvoir and how bisexual identity is incidental or erased. Biographies, newspaper accounts, and feminist philosophy are used as evidence. Fraser argues that biographies represent Beauvoir as not choosing her relationships with women, as being responsible only for relationships with men, or as participating in a voyeuristic heterosexuality with Jean-Paul Sartre in which her relationships with women were just escapades that she later would recount to him. All of these accounts draw her relationships with women back into a heterosexual narrative. Newspaper accounts, according to Fraser, claim that Beauvoir's affairs lacked pleasure, that she only had affairs to act out existential theories or bohemian ideas, or that she and Sartre are two halves of one whole. A third vehicle of representation are 1985 articles on lesbian politics and Beauvoir written by Ann Ferguson, Claudia Card, and Marilyn Frye. Again, bisexuality [End Page 161] is not absent but, Fraser argues, Ferguson, Card, and Frye see it as a necessarily inauthentic choice.
Fraser concludes by turning to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "Body without Organs" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), which does not emphasize representation, but historical or conceptual connections. A body without organs is in relation with but not dependent on other identities, and it curbs the violence of teleological demands on identity. The body without organs of bisexuality, Fraser argues, destabilizes the idea of selfhood. Fraser writes, "I have argued that it is precisely the production of de Beauvoir as an individual which precludes bisexuality from being produced as a property of the self" (1999, 164; italics in original). The anticipated effect in thinking of Beauvoir as a body without organs is to disrupt the line between sexuality and selfhood and to offer an alternative to contemporary notions of the self.
The project of finding new ways of discussing, understanding, and representing bisexuality and selfhood is an important one. I find some of Fraser's criticisms to be right on target and I think that her project is very timely. However, I had three concerns about Identity Without Selfhood. The first is that I found Fraser's commentary on Beauvoir scholarship to be often ungenerous. Much of the current philosophical scholarship on Beauvoir rejects turning Beauvoir into a feminist icon, and so is centered on interpreting Beauvoir's philosophical contributions and is not interested in Beauvoir as a person (or a personality). Proving this claim on...