Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Eclipse of Gender: Simone De Beauvoir and the Differance of Translation

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Eclipse of Gender: Simone De Beauvoir and the Differance of Translation

Article excerpt

In a critical passage of the introduction to his The Birth of a Clinic, Michel Foucault suggests that we belong to "an age of criticism whose lack of a primary philosophy" keeps us "at a distance from an original language" (Foucault 1973, xv) and dooms us "to the patient construction of discourses about discourses" (xvi). Thus for Foucault to comment is "to admit by definition an excess of the signifier over the signified; a necessary, unformulated remainder of thought that language has left in the shade-a remainder that is the very essence of that thought, driven outside its secret-but to comment also presupposes that this unspoken element also slumbers within speech, and that by a superabundance proper to the signifier, one may, in questioning it, give voice to a content that was not explicitly signified" (ibid.).

It will be my contention that in thebirth of modern feminism we find a nuanced discourse about gender that has for far too long been left in the shade.

The Eclipse of Simone de Beauvoir For those of us who have followed the history of modern feminism from its inception, the contribution of Simone de Beauvoir to the philo

sophical question of gender is "an unformulated remainder" that is yet to be explicitly signified. For while Simone de Beauvoir explicitly sought to give body and substance (materiality) to Sartre's existential philosophy of the Other by way of the instance of gender (Le Doeuff, 1989, 52; Le Doeuff 1981), that substance has become so deeply buried in the fabric of contemporary discourses about discourses that we do not even talk about it anymore. Indeed Simone de Beauvoir, sole heir to a philosophical tradition that seems to have "died" with Jean-Paul Sartre,' has been buried along with him. The difficulty of course is that she has, to all intents and purposes, been buried alive. It is in this that the case of Simone de Beauvoir presents us with a hermeneutical puzzle in its own right. On the one hand she is hailed as "prophetess extraordinaire" (O'Brien 1981, 65) and "Mother of Us All" (Ascher 1987; qtd. in Dietz 1992, 74), "the emblematic intellectual woman of the twentieth century" (Moi 1994, 1), "the greatest feminist theorist of our century" (Moi 1994, 2), author of "the definitive analysis of sexism" (Firestone qtd. in Dietz 1992, 74), "the classic manifesto of the liberated woman" (Dietz 1992.74), on the other, we have dismissed her (work) even before we have encountered it. As Mary Dietz has recently pointed out: "The Bible of contemporary American feminism The Second Sex seems to have been worshipped, often quoted, and little read" (Dietz 1992, 78).

Even with the re-situation of academic feminist theorizing,2 the break with what Rosi Braidotti calls "a crusade against Beauvoir-style feminism" (Braidotti 1991, 168), we have not seen an end to the feminist neglect of her thought as some suggest we have (Dietz 1992, 81). For those of us still locked into looking for Simone de Beauvoir in the first stage of feminism, the leap into recuperation is less than clear; particularly as it depends on a prior appreciation of her workthe allegedly "Beauvoir-style feminism"-that still remains enigmatic, if only because it is so fundamentally untheorized and undivulged. For she is equally absent from the pages of the Sartrean existentialism and phenomenology that, at the very least, she is (by feminists) given to belong3 and the faithful follower eventually bumps up against what Margaret Simons describes as "the nearly universal failure of contemporary American phenomenologists to acknowledge the contribution of Beauvoir in The Second Sex to a phenomenological analysis of the social world" (Simons 1983, 563).

Whatever happened to Simone de Beauvoir? How did she slip so unmentionably past us? In the short discussion that follows, I propose to do some digging to unearth some of that life that vibrates today more than ever before in what Michele Le Doeuff calls a "tremendously well-hidden philosopher" June philosophe formidablement cachee] (qtd. …

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