Read It and Weep
September 9, 2021 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Margaret Atwood on the Intimidating, Haunting Intellect of Simone de Beauvoir and her untimely lost friend Zaza (NYT link).

Beauvoir wrote this book [Inseparable] in 1954, five years after publishing The Second Sex, and made the mistake of showing it to Sartre. He judged most works by political standards and could not grasp its significance; for a materialist Marxist, this was odd, as the book is intensely descriptive of the physical and social conditions of its two young female characters. At that time the only means of production taken seriously had to do with factories and agriculture, not the unpaid and undervalued labor of women. Sartre dismissed this work as inconsequential. Beauvoir wrote of it in her memoir that it “seemed to have no inner necessity and failed to hold the reader’s interest.” This appears to have been a quote from Sartre, one with which Beauvoir appears to have agreed at the time.

Well, Dear Reader, Mr. “Hell is other people” Sartre was wrong, at least from this Dear Reader’s perspective.
posted by hat_eater (4 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I will always be delighted with the mental image of Margaret Atwood reading The Second Sex in the bathroom.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:20 AM on September 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

I always get to these too slow to really participate in the thread so just popping by to say I am very interested to read this, will try to make it back once I get a chance to do so.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:45 AM on September 9, 2021

He judged most works by political standards and could not grasp its significance

I wonder if de Beauvoir's A Very Easy Death got the same reaction: a short text in spare prose describing her mother's last days, it's much more compelling as a view on how people actually live with/toward death than the definitional/philosophical picture Sartre cribbed from Heidegger. I suspect it's also aimed a little in the direction of Camus ("Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I can't be sure," etc.)--at least, her evocation of happenstance and Stoic apatheia in connection with death feel similar, but way, way more realistic. As a prolific memoirist, maybe it's just another chapter in her life, but it's so focused and relevant that I'd take it as pretty specifically aimed at a favorite topic of 'existentialism.' I hadn't thought of Atwood in connection with this before, but her story "Death by Landscape" makes sense as part of the same conversation.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:03 AM on September 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

From the NYT review linked:

And one wonders, at a time when the Taliban are forcing Afghan women back into their homes, how many Andrées/Zazas still exist around the world, their lives stunted or even snuffed out by organized misogyny. Who, in telling their stories, will bring them to life for us?

This is something I have been thinking more of now; as the whole world seems hell bent on taking back rights of women and minorities. When looking at societies; I have started to look at whether they are good or bad just by looking at two questions. How do they treat their women, and how do they treat the minority populations? From Afghanistan to India to China to Poland to Hungary to the US; the retrograde march makes me despair.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:50 PM on September 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

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