Il concetto di eros in Le deuxième sexe di Simone de Beauvoir

In V. Melchiorre (ed.), Amore e matrimonio nel pensiero filosofico e teologico moderno. MIlano, Italy: Vita e Pensiero. pp. 296-318. (1976)
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Abstract
1. The most original discovery in Beauvoir’s book is one more Columbus’s egg, namely that it is far from evident that a woman is a woman. That is, she discovers that a woman is the result of a process that made so that she is like she is. The paper discusses two aspects of the so-to-say ‘ideology’ inspiring the work. The first is its ideology in the proper, Marxian sense. My claim is that the work still pays a heavy price to the dominating ideology. It leaves still too much unquestionedof what was assumed at the time to be obvious, necessary, and unchanging. This ballast depends firstly on the inherited prevailing climate of opinion, corresponding to a situation of alienation, producing two distorted views of the male and female gender. On the other hand, it depends on an unquestioned legacy from the modern episteme (in Foucault’s sense of the word) carrying presupposed Cartesian dualism. The other side of the work’s ideology, that is, the positive program presented or better the utopia it formulates is less innovative than it could be, In a few passages, where she seems to make use of suggestions from Merleau-Ponty, she points at a view where the bodily and emotional dimension is rescued from its negation in the male-dominated Capitalist society. Still, these suggestions are forgotten in the bulk of the work. 2. The making of a philosophical work does not depend just on the kind of philosophical influences behind it. A book is also the product of an author with a story living in one society at a given time of social history. In this case, the book was written in the afterwar time when women were pushed back home again from the wartime labor market and when several of the goals reached by the first phase of feminist movements had gone lost in several European countries under Fascist or semi-fascist regimes and were being eroded in America by the reactionary climate of McCarthyism. It was a book written by an intellectual young woman in almost total isolation. These circumstances account for some more naïve suggestions from work: for ex., the idea that the alternative to the strategy once adopted by nineteenth-century emancipationist movements should be an individual inner process of transformation confined within the boundaries of one woman’s consciousness, or also, the idea that the goal of women’s liberation should be to bring all women to a condition similar of Simone de Beauvoir herself who, as an educated woman, earning her life by her work, and living in an allegedly equal state with an enlightened man (Jean-Paul Sartre!) in a relationship free from constraints (an unmarried couple!), was already exemplifying what a liberated woman’s life would be. 3. The reconstruction of the idea of femininity is still the most fruitful part of the work. It rejects the notion of femininity as an essence depending on biology or other factors and explores the making of this image as a result of a condition made of the social and economic state of affairs but as revived and actively mirrored through and by the consciousness of the very subjects suffering an oppressive situation. And the main novelty is the ‘discovery’ of asymmetry between the self-image of the male and the (self)-image of the woman, an asymmetry depending on the fact that the woman sees herself through the other’s eyes. 4. Later feminist writers such as Shulamit Firestone remarked that 'The Second Sex' heavily depended on several key-ideas from Sartre existential ontology. One crucial aspect is accepting the mind-body dualistic framework without any suspicion that such dualism could have been itself a projection of the basic experience of the male-female duality. I suggest that the philosophical legacy inherited from Sartre is on occasion an asset for Beauvoir’s innovative existential analysis of the feminine ‘condition,’ but on several occasions, it creates unnecessary obstacles for her project of a new comprehension of the feminine ‘situation,’ aimed at rescuing women from an 'inauthentic' self-definition. 5. The first among these poisoned gifts is Sartre’s idea of the individual as pure freedom and project. Merleau-Ponty’s criticism is well-known: Sartre draws a picture of the world as containing no more than ‘human beings and things,’ thus denying any substance to social relations, institutions, and culture. 6. The second is Sartre’s reconstruction of dialectics, understood as dialectics without synthesis. This is an enlightening tool when used to describe conflicts, in so far as it accounts for the emergence of the ‘other’ as what is excluded. But it becomes a boomerang when used to interpret any kind of relationship, leading to equate inter-subjectivity with conflict. 7. Suggestions coming from Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach of positive value of the bodily dimension as such, and hence of the feminine body, are evoked here and there but never fully spelled out. The most shocking consequence of acceptance of the Cartesian or Sartrean dualist view is an almost total de-evaluation of sexuality, understood as an activity involving just one tiny part of the human body, going with the idea that overcoming the oppression of women implies de-empathizing biological differences that are after all tiny and devoid of value. Besides, Beauvoir falls back into the trap of grounding claims of equality between men and women on the assumption that biological differences are of limited relevance. The eventual reason for such a step back is the distorting Cartesian mirror into which Beauvoir still looks in the vain hope of discovering a disembodied self as the (Cartesian) subject of an impossible kind of liberation.The first among these poisoned gifts is Sartre’s idea of the individual as pure freedom and project. Merleau-Ponty’s criticism is well-known: Sartre draws a picture of the world as containing no more than ‘human beings and things’, thus denying any substance to social relations, institutions and culture. The second is Sartre’s reconstruction of dialectics, understood as a dialectic without a synthesis. This view of dialectics is an enlightening tool when used to describe conflicts. It may account for the emergence of the ‘other’ as what is excluded. However, it becomes a boomerang when used to interpret any relationship, leading to equate inter-subjectivity with conflict. Suggestions coming from Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach would tend to admit that the bodily dimension as such has a positive value, and hence the feminine bodily dimension is not just indifferent, but instead gives women a point of view on the world different from the male point of view. These suggestions, yet, are evoked here and there but never fully spelt out. The most shocking consequence of acceptance of the Cartesian or Sartrean dualist view is an almost total de-evaluation of sexuality, understood as an activity involving just one tiny part of the human body, going with the idea that overcoming the oppression of women implies understressing biological differences that are after all tiny and devoid of value. Furthermore, Beauvoir falls back into the trap of grounding claims of equality between men and women on the assumption that physical differences are of limited relevance. The eventual reason for such step back is the distorting Cartesian mirror into which Beauvoir still looks in the vain hope of discovering a disembodied self as the (Cartesian) subject of an impossible kind of liberation.
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