The Second Sex

Finished it last night, or rather this morning. Exhaustive, but never exhausting. Some may complain that Simone De Beauvoir takes aaages getting to the point, and when she gets there, spends aaages going over and over it. Some may complain that there isn't enough structure to her argument -- too little linear unfolding, too much exploratory circling. But actually, I liked that approach. For me, The Second Sex isn't just valuable as theory, it's brilliant literature as well. Its real treasures are its characters, hundreds of them, used to illustrate personal and inter-personal problems ranging from the most intimate to the most public: sex, love, family, work. The breadth of human experience explored in the second part of the book actually has the effect of challenging, warping, even undermining the central philosophical position set out in the first. Beauvoir spends a lot of her time trying to bend her theory around her characters, to the point where I started asking myself: can theory really capture life in its entirety?

There is breadth, but there is also depth, to her characterization. People's ideas and emotions are analyzed with great focus and detail, frustrations and neuroses are revealed and explained. For me, the conclusions arrived at are not as important as the method. This endless questing into the bowels of your psyche will dredge up interesting aspects of yourself. Things you may not like, perhaps, but being confronted with them is the first step towards acceptance and self-control, perhaps even transformation -- that transcendence that Beauvoir is so facinated by. We shouldn't run from ourselves, but instead appraise our personalities honestly, and find answers to questions like: why do I feel this way, why am I unhappy, what makes me happy, how do I do that thing that makes me happy. Marx wanted to change the world, but first he needed to understand it. Same goes for the individual.

No comments:

Post a Comment