June 23, 2005

"What we have is an essential love; but it is a good idea for us also to experience contingent love affairs."

So wrote Jean Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, who agreed to the arrangement. (Via A&L Daily.) She wrote:
"We were two of a kind, and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people."
Can a deal like this work? Would it help if you were a couple of geniuses like Jean Paul and Simone? Well, even for them, it fell short:
It was he who engaged in countless affairs, to which she responded on only a few occasions with longer-lasting passions of her own. Between the lines of her fiction and what are in effect six volumes of autobiography, it is also evident that De Beauvoir suffered deeply from jealousy. She wanted to keep the image of a model life intact. There were no children. They never shared a house and their sexual relations were more or less over by the end of the war, though for much of their life and certainly at the last, they saw each other daily.

With the posthumous publication in 1988 of her letters to Sartre, a good proportion of them written during the war years when he was at the front and then a prisoner, gaps that were left out of the autobiography are filled in. What the letters express is not only De Beauvoir's overarching love for a man who is never sexually faithful to her, a man she addresses as her "dear little being" and whose work she loyally edits. They also underline the mundanity of De Beauvoir's early accommodation to his wishes, her acceptance of what many women would reject as demeaning, her dependence.

14 comments:

Dave said...

Of course a deal like this can work.

Look at Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Or Tony & Carmela Soprano.

The man gets his needs met, and, well, the woman suffers.

(This would be an attempt at sarcasm. Duh.)

LDM said...

O! That I could'st but dawdle at Sartre's feet
e'r to hear gaseous proclamations issuing from his seat
the mouth and rectum e'r to compete
Lo! t'would make'th the existential dilemma complete
verily, a tremendous a feat
the two in concurrence finally to meet
-LDM

Alcibiades said...

Yeah. The dangerous illusion of de Beauvoir's feminism based on her central denial of her lifetime situation and why it made her deeply unhappy. But, hey, let's all embrace open relationships as an ideal.

Hardly surprising that the same people were ignoring the millions dead from communism and its failure to work, while holding that as an ideal as well.

Anyway, I thought this stuff about de Beauvoir was well known. I remember reading about it years ago. I've argued with people about it, too. The standard liberal response (I've gotten it several times) seems to be, "well, even though she couldn't make it work for her personally, doesn't mean it isn't an ideal."

Um, hmm.

Meade said...

It does seem to work for bonobos, with whom we share a common ancestor. Come to think of it, as Communists, Jean Paul and Simone were sort of endangered species themselves.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Hell is some people more than others.

Mithras said...

Read a little.

Ann Althouse said...

Mithras: Your link goes to "page not found."

LDM: one of your best works!

John said...

The standard liberal response (I've gotten it several times) seems to be, "well, even though she couldn't make it work for her personally, doesn't mean it isn't an ideal."

I didn't realize polyamory was a "standard liberal" ideal!

On the other hand, the success or failure of a particular erotic arrangment between two or more people is unlikely to prove anything about the merits of that arrangement generally.

Troy said...

It' too bad there wasn't "Seinfeld" around to instruct these two intellectuals (smart, but not wise?) that such a relationship does not work. If two empty souls like Jerry and Elaine could not give it a successful go how could these two brilliant commies (an oxymoron I realize) expect to?

Alcibiades said...

[T]he success or failure of a particular erotic arrangment between two or more people is unlikely to prove anything about the merits of that arrangement generally.

OTOH, if you are espousing a sociological ideal for others which, when applied to your own life works, in the final analysis, only to make you miserable, that's the kind of data an honest theorist and insightful person might take into account while theorizing...

L. Ron Halfelven said...

You know, it wasn't so very long ago that "brilliant commie" was closer to redundancy than oxymoron. One of the bogus promises Communism made was that brilliant people would get to run everything.

Troy said...

Paul said "it wasn't so very long ago that "brilliant commie" was closer to redundancy than oxymoron. One of the bogus promises Communism made was that brilliant people would get to run everything."

aka in much of the Academy as the "good old days".

Pastor_Jeff said...

Paul said: "Hell is some people more than others."

Still laughing at that one!


How about:

Jupiter: Do you know how much that sounds like an excuse, this libido of which you claim to be the slave?

Orestes: I am neither the master nor the slave, Jupiter. I am my libido!

/French major
//Spent too much time reading existentialism

Mithras said...

Mithras: Your link goes to "page not found."

The link is to polyamory.org.

I believe your settings caused the html I inserted to misbehave.