Biography 23.2 (2000) 379-384
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Simone de Beauvoir is the twentieth century author of five novels, one play, numerous volumes of autobiography and a wide variety of political and philosophical works. She is best known for the revolutionary sociopolitical [End Page 379] essay Le Deuxième Sexe [The Second Sex] which concerns the mythical and real relationships existing between men and women in society, and which laid the foundation for twentieth-century discourses concerning sexuality, gender relations, and feminism after 1949. In spite of these numerous accomplishments, it was commonly believed during her life, and for some time after her death in 1986, that Beauvoir imitated Jean-Paul Sartre in all of her writings and was not worth studying as a philosopher in her own right. During the last two decades, it has slowly become popular to challenge this assumption. Jo-Ann Pilardi's Simone de Beauvoir Writing the Self: Philosophy Becomes Autobiography thus joins the ranks of others who, in reconstructing the intellectual relationship between Beauvoir and Sartre, demonstrate Beauvoir's importance as an independent thinker. Pilardi provides a wealth of information on the development of Beauvoir's notion of the self throughout the philosophical and fictional works published during her lifetime. Her study proposes first to isolate a Beauvoirian theory by examining the ways in which Beauvoir's philosophical essays agree and disagree with Sartrean existentialism. Then it plans on using this theory to identify the self crafted for her readers and herself.
Of appeal to those with little background in philosophy or in Beauvoir studies, as well as to a seasoned scholar, the introduction establishes the tradition in which Beauvoir wrote as existentialism (otherwise known as "existential philosophy"), and explains that this means that the self consists of an interaction between consciousness and its "by-product," the ego. Beauvoir's point of departure was thus Sartre's interpretation of Husserlian phenomenology, which establishes two types of being: "the intentional" and "the nonintentional," to use Pilardi's nomenclature. It was the intentional self, first discussed as a problem of existential phenomenology by Sartre, that Beauvoir developed into what Pilardi calls "the gendered self." Pilardi stresses that Beauvoir's gendered self is also clearly an intentional self: Beau-voir's conclusion to The Second Sex is that "woman was a transcendence forced to be an immanence by patriarchal society" (2). Pilardi also comments on Beauvoir's theory that such oppression could never be totally effective but would remain the central conflict of a women's life. To bridge the gap between European and Anglo-American audiences, Pilardi provides an overview of the differences between the Anglo-American and the Conti-nental philosophical traditions. Anglo-Americans have a greater tendency to believe that the self has a specific unity and identity and to discuss that self in terms of epistemology and perception. Europeans, versed in existentialist philosophy, more often view the self as actions and choices grounded in intentionality. [End Page 380]
Chapter 2 is perhaps one of the most fascinating chapters for those who debate Sartre's influence on Beauvoir and her originality in writing The Second Sex. Pilardi stresses that Beauvoir produced The Second Sex for what were initially private reasons: she wanted to write about her own life. This intent to talk about herself in detail apparently led her to scrutinize and describe the lives of other historical and fictional women and female figures. Beauvoir's philosophical analysis steeped in literary and real-life history differed greatly from Sartre's almost exclusively theoretical method in comparable works. To those who argue, for example, that Beauvoir imitates Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew, published in 1946, Pilardi details the dramatic differences between the two studies. Sartre studies the mind, the personality of the oppressor, the anti-Semite. He remains on the speculative level. Although he mentions the importance of situation for the oppressed, the...