Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Literary Gossip

It seems there is no in-house policy for reviewing biographies at the Literary Review. They were very generous with Naipaul but no so with Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre:

The title, with its reference to Laclos's notorious eighteenth-century study of pimping in high society, tells it all. Sartre, for all his libertarianism, was sexually a cold fish, preferring the initiation of virgins or other exotic conquests to sex with a familiar equal. Beauvoir of course knew this, and developed a lifelong fear that their much-trumpeted union would not survive. Her solution was to provide him with girlfriends whom she could control. Several of them were young lycée pupils of hers, and on more than one occasion there were formal complaints from parents that Mlle de Beauvoir was a sinister influence and probably a lesbian. Of the half-dozen women annexed to 'the family' in this way, one later committed suicide, two became drug-addicts, and another was so permanently traumatised by betrayal and abandonment that Beauvoir, for once, felt pangs of guilt.


It also brings me to another question. Do same sophisticated theories of authorship apply to philosophers as well? Even those who concern themselves with ethics? (Kierkegaard will probably nod YES.)

3 comments:

puccinio said...

Well in defence of Sartre and de Beauvoir, neither of them pretended they were perfect and both of them were lifelong critics of conventional morality. In any case what that review forgot to mention was that Simone often bedded her students before handing them over to J-P.

As for what she really felt regarding their relationship, read her memoirs of Sartre's final days.

But then it's part of a wider, but subtle backlash against Sartre and his philosophy. Sartre was a hero in the 60's and in France, he's like the Voltaire of the 20th Century.

In any case, why is it so surprising to so many people that philosophers, artists and writers aren't perfect people. Like that James moron has an axe to grind with Brecht for his philandering, apparently. Philosophers aren't supposed to be saints. They are humans.

I mean, is it more important that Sartre had sex with so many young women or that he stood out against French colonial human rights' violations in Algeria.

Alok said...

The review hints about that too. I actually agree with what you say... I guess with creative writers it is easier to separate the author and the person. It is more difficult for thinkers, ideologues specially those who concern themselves with normative principles of individual behaviour or how our society should be ... moralists or ethical philosophers.

But yes even at a personal level there were lots of redeeming things about Sartre and Beauvoir.

Puccinio said...

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It is more difficult for thinkers, ideologues specially those who concern themselves with normative principles of individual behaviour or how our society should be ... moralists or ethical philosophers.
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Well that's true. Like I have a hard time accepting Heidegger. But then Hannah Arendt had a harder time.

Sartre in any case wasn't hypocritical about sexual morality in any case. Like he didn't see sex as something to get worked up over. He'd probably call this guy's harping about his sex life, a case of bourgeois bad faith. A being-in-itself incapable of finding authenticity and asserting the freedom he is condemned to enjoy.

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But yes even at a personal level there were lots of redeeming things about Sartre and Beauvoir.
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Indeed there are. The fact that Sartre was admired and respected enough that Charles de Gaulle, his political opponent came forward and freed him out of jail during the '68 crisis showed the level of respect he had.

Sartre was one of the few philosophers whom you could say boasted groupies. So that must make many people like this guy jealous. Sartre was a philosopher who wasn't confined within the academic establishment and was popular. He also managed to never sell out his beliefs like telling the Nobel committee to get lost.