Phenomenology of the Female Spirit: Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex

Round Table

It has been fifty years since Simone de Beauvoir, a well-known French intellectual and Sartre's "life companion", decided to write a book on woman. This book with the telling title of The Second Sex, raised a lot of dust at the very first publication of some fragments in the journal Les temps modernes; later, it become one of the most controversial books of the century. If a catalogue of the ten most influential books of the century were compiled, the book would figure rather high on the list. The position of Beauvoir could be perhaps best characterised by the metaphor of externality, exclusion, misrecognition: Beauvoir – la onzieme ... That is, the path-breaking work of Simone de Beauvoir has yet to become a legitimate part of  knowledge, yet to be included in study, research, and educational programmes, and is still subjected to criticism ad hominem. Last, but not least: the Slovene translation "is late" by half of a century.
The reason for this can be found in the book itself. If I begin to write, and am a woman, Simone de Beauvoir develops her argument, then I first have to study the special situation and to analyze what that might be: a woman. Between the man, who writes, and the woman, who writes, there is no symmetry, no reciprocity, and also no equality. A man is first of all a man, i.e. in the medium of the universal, the woman is first of all a woman, to be differentiated from a man. Man is the norm, the ?law, the model; woman is the deviation from the norm, the novella of the law, a copy of a model. The special situation of woman is inscribed in the very beginning, the introductory statement, the hypotheses. The woman is the Other: "She is defined and differentiated with reference to man, and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute; she is the Other."
Simone the Beauvoir is considered one of the most controversial figures of the intellectual life of our time. Her work and her life show, at the end of the twentieth century, how difficult the position of the female intellectual was. Even at the time of her death one could hear voices of denunciation and relief: when this "phallic" figure of womanhood finally disappeared, the real emancipation would be possible. On the other hand, soon after the publication of the book and of its English translation, it was generally acknowledged that for thousands and thousands of women The Second Sex drove them out of their "dogmatic dream", and that (their) image of the universe was turned upside down.
The Second Sex
is interesting also from the point of view of somewhat peculiar editorial tendencies: more than once the book has been abridged. Could one come across the idea of shortening Aristotle or Heidegger, or, in Slovenia, Cankar or Prešeren? Could such exploits be meant as a helpful tool for  female audiences unused to reading? The unmutilated The Second Sex, including nearly one thousand pages, has been translated into Slovene by only one female translator. What we are now confronted with is the great task of close reading and thorough interpretation of probably the most revolutionary book of the modern age.
Eva Bahovec

Participants: Eva D. Bahovec, Zalka Drglin, Tatjana Greif, Majda Hrženjak, Karmen Klavžar, Suzana Koncut, Marta Verginella.

In cooperation with : Revija Delta.

Date and time of event: 
Oct 12th 15:00
Place of event: 
Cankarjev dom