The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 14.2 (2000) v-vi
[Access article in PDF]
Guest Editor's Introduction
The Pennsylvania State University
The four essays that comprise this special issue of JSP on the work of Simone de Beauvoir were developed out of an international conference held by Penn State University's philosophy department on 19-21 November 1999. Entitled "Legacies of Simone de Beauvoir," the conference was organized by Emily Grosholz, Susan Schoenbohm, and Shannon Sullivan. The conference honored the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex with presentations on Beauvoir's work by twenty feminist scholars from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Australia.
Both the conference and this volume are testimonies to the exciting work currently being done on Beauvoir's philosophy. In the last decade, interest in Beauvoir's ideas has grown as her philosophical reputation as a mere mouthpiece for Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism has been revised. Today, as Margaret A. Simon's essay "Beauvoir's Philosophical Independence in a Dialogue with Sartre" demonstrates, the question of influence between Beauvoir and Sartre is much more complicated than was once thought. Simons argues that the recently published diaries of the two philosophers suggest both that Beauvoir's ideas often differ from those of Sartre and that Beauvoir originated some of the key concepts of her philosophy whose genesis is often mistakenly attributed to Sartre.
Bringing Beauvoir out of Sartre's shadow has allowed feminists to reassess Beauvoir's value for contemporary feminist theory. The three essays by Emily Zakin, Elaine P. Miller, and Tina Chanter variously explore, in particular, the theoretically tense relationship between Beauvoir's philosophy and what is often called "French feminism"--a field from which Beauvoir ironically has been excluded--to argue that productive connections between the two can be made. Zakin's essay, "Differences in Equality: Beauvoir's Unsettling of the Universal," examines Julia Kristeva's and Luce Irigaray's readings of Beauvoir as rejecting the feminine in order to embrace a masculine [End Page v] universal. Building on Beauvoir's idea of "differences in equality," Zakin shows that Beauvoir maintains a productive tension between difference and the feminine, on the one hand, and equality and the universal, on the other, that can benefit contemporary feminist philosophy. In "The 'Paradoxical Displacement': Beauvoir and Irigaray on Hegel's Antigone," Miller also argues for a reading of Beauvoir in which Beauvoir does not dialectically subsume the feminine to a masculine universal. Bringing Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity in conjunction with The Second Sex, Miller focuses on the figure of Antigone in G. W. F. Hegel's work to demonstrate the importance of sexual difference to Beauvoir's understanding of intersubjectivity. Chanter's "Abjection and Ambiguity: Simone de Beauvoir's Legacy" reveals how Beauvoir's work on the concept of ambiguity can be seen as anticipating Kristeva's notion of abjection. Combining critical race theory with film theory, Chanter critically explores how race was treated as abject both by interpreters of The Second Sex and by Beauvoir herself.
The issue concludes with Barbara S. Andrew's review of Margaret A. Simons's Beauvoir and "The Second Sex": Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism (1999), which gathers together twenty years of Simon's work on Beauvoir and thus chronicles debates about Beauvoir's ideas in the United States over the last two decades.
Together, the five pieces in this volume demonstrate the blossoming of feminist scholarship on Beauvoir at the turn of the twenty-first century. They also provide good reason to hope for many more decades of fruitful work on Beauvoir's ideas. While Beauvoir was reluctant to call herself a philosopher, her work clearly offers riches to philosophy that feminist scholars have only yet begun to fully explore.