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and The Second Sex, and Debra Bergoffen, The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Gendered
Phenomenologies, Erotic Generosities (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997).
4 “There is within me I know not what yearning “ maybe a monstrous lust “ ever present,

for noise, ¬ghting, savage violence, and above all for the gutter,” writes Beauvoir, who
identi¬es her passion for “violence” as extending back to her early childhood at age
three. Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, trans. James Kirkup (New York:
Harper, 1974), 13, 307. One biographer relates that in adolescence Beauvoir expressed
her religious devotion in violent terms by “locking herself in the bathroom where she
morti¬ed her ¬‚esh by scraping her thighs with a pumice stone or whipping herself with a
gold necklace until she drew blood.” See Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, Simone de
Beauvoir: A Life, a Love Story, trans. Lisa Nesselson (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1985), 42.
Such negativity toward the ¬‚esh seems to re¬‚ect Beauvoir™s mother™s strong distaste for
the physical that “pushed contempt of the body, for herself and for her daughters, to the
point of uncleanliness” (ibid., 35). Beauvoir avows she was taught “never to look at [her]
naked body” because “the body as a whole was vulgar and offensive,” her mother never
explaining the body™s true functions but instead suggesting that “little babies came out
of the anus” (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 58, 82, 87). For additional autobiographical
material, see Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life, trans. P. Green (London: Penguin,
1965); Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (London: Penguin, 1968); All Said and
Done, trans. Patrick O™Brian (London: Penguin, 1977); and her account of her mother™s
terminal illness, A Very Easy Death, trans. Patrick O™Brian (New York: Pantheon, 1985). For
further biographical information, see Francis Jeanson, Simone de Beauvoir ou l™enterprise de
vivre (Paris: Seuil, 1966); Deirdre Bair, Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography (New York: Summit,
1990); and Carol Ascher, Simon de Beauvoir: A Life of Freedom (Boston: Beacon, 1981).
Body Consciousness
80

embodiment to the ways it is molded through psychological develop-
ment and historical, social, and economic conditions, she also explores
how somatic life is both represented and reshaped by myth and litera-
ture. Though sometimes outdated by scienti¬c and social progress, her
views on analytic somaesthetics remain signi¬cant, especially in terms of
their bearing on the chapter™s main focus: pragmatic somaesthetics and
its liberational potential.
Beauvoir shrinks from advocating somatic cultivation as a key means
for liberating the subjugated subjects of difference and domination.
Recognizing that bodily strength and health can be empowering, she
nonetheless downplays the value of heightened attention to the body,
while highlighting its dangers as a distracting hindrance to real emancipa-
tory progress. Her problematic relationship to somatic cultivation will be
examined in terms of the different categories of pragmatic somaesthetics
delineated earlier: representational (primarily concerned with the body™s
surface forms or representations), experiential (principally focused on the
quality and perceptive consciousness of one™s somatic experience), and
performative (essentially devoted to building bodily power, performance,
and skill).
Beauvoir™s studies of woman and old age reveal considerable homolo-
gies in the factors that subordinate these somatically marked, socially
dominated subjects. Perceived bodily differences (whether diminished
muscle strength or the disruptions of menstruation, pregnancy, and child-
birth) are immediately seen as signi¬cant weaknesses by being grasped
through the discriminatory perspective of an entrenched sociocultural
matrix. This network of institutions, habits, beliefs, practices, and val-
ues re¬‚ects the socially subordinate status of women and the aged, while
reinforcing and justifying their domination in terms of their somatic dif-
ference of comparative weakness. One could imagine a radically alter-
native society, free from male dominance, that might conversely regard
the unruly power of high testosterone as a physiological weakness socially
marking the males as less quali¬ed for positions of power that require
tranquil composure. The Second Sex and The Coming of Age are also similar
in expositional structure, the argument beginning with biology, history,
and myth before proceeding to the situation of contemporary subjects
and the way today™s women and elderly inhabit and experience their sub-
ordinate situation. However, there are also clear differences in Beauvoir™s
treatment of women and old age, so we will consider these subjects sep-
arately, beginning with The Second Sex, surely her most in¬‚uential book
and a feminist classic.
Somatic Subjectivities and Somatic Subjugation 81


II
Ambiguity, a key concept in Beauvoir™s philosophy, is salient in her
somatic theory. The Second Sex is pervaded by two different conceptions
of the body, whose uneasy tension seems re¬‚ected in the con¬‚ictual dis-
comforts that she argues are particularly acute in women™s experience of
embodiment. On the one hand, Beauvoir de¬nes the body in the very
positive terms of Merleau-Ponty™s existential phenomenology “ as not a
merely material thing but the positive, enabling, instrumental situation
of our grasping and having a world. “If the body is not a thing, it is a
situation,” “the instrument of our grasp upon the world” (SS, 34). Chal-
lenging the Freudian presumption that our bodies are most primally
sexual, she asserts that “the body is ¬rst of all the radiation of a sub-
jectivity, the instrument that makes possible the comprehension of the
world” (SS, 267). On the other hand, alongside this active, intentional
body subjectivity we ¬nd a more negative, Sartrian characterization of
the body that is equally pervasive and perhaps ultimately triumphant in
her book: the body as mere ¬‚esh, as an inactive material immanence, a
passive contingent object that is de¬ned and dominated by the actively
subjective gaze of others.5 Although women, because of their subjugated
5 Though Sartre recognizes an active-acting body expressing the subjectivity of transcen-
dence that could be distinguished from the body as mere passive ¬‚esh, he tends to deval-
orize the body in general as immanent facticity in contrast to transcendent consciousness,
as infected by obscurity and weakness and as the material, visible dimension of a person
that exposes that person to the gaze of the other and thus to the threat of being objec-
ti¬ed as a thing and dominated by the other™s subjectivity. As Moi and others note, the
devalorizing rhetoric and problematic views that Beauvoir expresses with respect to the
body (and especially the female body) bear the in¬‚uence of Sartre. See Toril Moi, Simone
de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 152“153,
170. Moreover, in interviews about The Second Sex, where Beauvoir af¬rmed the domi-
nant in¬‚uence of Sartre™s philosophy on her own, she also insisted that her view on the
body was basically Sartrian. See the interviews in Simons, Beauvoir and The Second Sex,
chs. 1, 4, 5. However, Simons and other feminist philosophers, such as Bergoffen and
Karen Vintges, refuse to take Beauvoir at her word and rightly insist that Beauvoir™s phi-
losophy “rede¬ned and transcended” Sartre™s ideas (Simons, Beauvoir and The Second
Sex, 2). Bergoffen and Vintges argue in particular that Beauvoir™s somatic philosophy
departs signi¬cantly from Sartre™s, even though she deployed Sartrian concepts and
rhetoric. Not only does Beauvoir go beyond Sartre™s focus on the body™s general ontol-
ogy by providing a rich physiological, historical, social, and political analysis of women™s
bodies, but she also emphasizes far more than Sartre (and more like Merleau-Ponty) the
body™s ambiguity as intentionality and ¬‚esh and the positive aspects of this ambiguity. In
other words, she was more accepting of the ¬‚esh, its vulnerability, and the emotional pos-
sibilities that such vulnerability could provide. See especially Bergoffen, The Philosophy of
Simone de Beauvoir, 11“42, 141“181; and Karen Vintges, Philosophy as Passion: The Thinking
of Simone de Beauvoir (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 25, 39“45. Beauvoir
Body Consciousness
82

social situation, are especially inclined to feel their body as “a prey” of
“passive” ¬‚esh (SS, 377), “a carnal object” (SS, 648) or “¬‚eshly prey” (SS,
410), Beauvoir insists that “men and women all feel the shame of their
¬‚esh; in its pure, inactive presence, its unjusti¬ed immanence, the ¬‚esh
exists, under the gaze of others, in its absurd contingence, and yet it is one-
self: oh, to prevent it from existing for others, oh, to deny it!”(SS, 381).
Beauvoir thus ambiguously af¬rms that man is his body while rhetori-
cally implying that human subjectivity is something other than body and
even opposed to it, making the person seem deeply divided between car-
nality and consciousness, objecthood and subjecthood, inactive material
immanence and the active transcendence of conscious will.6 The case for
woman™s personhood is portrayed as even more problematically divided,
because woman, under patriarchy, is not merely torn between body and
consciousness but divided within her body itself. “Woman, like man, is
her body; but her body is something other than herself” (SS, 29). From
the onset of puberty and throughout the years of birth-giving, nursing,
and motherhood, Beauvoir argues, the biological demand of the human
species powerfully reasserts itself against the will of the individual female,
and her body is the site of this inexorable takeover. The monthly “curse” of
menstruation, whose hormonal reactions affect the “whole female organ-
ism,” including her nervous system and consciousness, appears as an alien
force that captures both body and mind, making the woman “more irri-
table” and more prone to “serious psychic disturbance” (SS, 27, 28, 29).
At such times especially, “she feels her body most painfully as an obscure,
alien thing; it is, indeed, the prey of a stubborn and foreign life that
each month constructs and then tears down a cradle within it” (SS, 29).


herself acknowledges, on occasion, her divergence from Sartre™s view of the body. “I crit-
icized Sartre for regarding his body as a mere bundle of striated muscles, and for having
cut it out of his emotional world. If you gave way to tears or nerves or seasickness, he said,
you were simply being weak. I, on the other hand, claimed that stomach and tear ducts,
indeed the head itself, were all subject to irresistible forces on occasion” (Beauvoir, The
Prime of Life, 129).
6 Debra Bergoffen describes this sort of tension in The Second Sex in terms of a tension

between Beauvoir™s “dominant voice” (that identi¬es subjectivity with transcendence) and
her “muted voice” that “challenges the equation subjectivity equals transcendence” and
instead sees subjectivity in terms of “the ambiguity of the body” that is both transcendence
and immanence. This tension has further repercussions. “The dominant voice of The
Second Sex urges women to pursue economic independence. The muted voice urges us
all to retrieve the erotics of generosity.” The dominant voice privileges violence and the
transcendent “project ethic of liberation,” the muted voice expresses “her erotic ethic of
generosity” that highlights the concern for our bodily “bond” with others. See Bergoffen,
The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, 12, 36, 160, 173.
Somatic Subjectivities and Somatic Subjugation 83

Conception is no escape, only a more extreme alienation in which the
woman™s body is no longer fully her own but instead inhabited by another
living creature, a parasite who feeds on her bodily resources, and whose
presence results in various bodily ailments, hardships, and risks of dis-
ease that range from the trivial to the very serious.7 “Childbirth itself is
painful and dangerous,” and “nursing is also a tiring service” (the orig-
inal French word is the far more negative “servitude,” which connotes
slavery) that further depletes the nutrients the mother needs to restore
her own somatic health, while limiting the foods she can enjoy to rebuild
her strength (SS, 30). Only at the late age of menopause, can woman
¬nally escape her “bondage . . . to the species” (SS, 35).
Beauvoir, however, shrewdly resists the temptations of a crude biolog-
ical determinism.8 The biological facts are “insuf¬cient for setting up
a hierarchy of the sexes; they fail to explain why woman is the Other;
they do not condemn her to remain in this subordinate role forever”
(SS, 32“33). “It is not nature that de¬nes woman; it is she who de¬nes
herself by dealing with nature on her own account in her emotional life”
(SS, 38). “In human history grasp upon the world has never been de¬ned
by the naked body” (SS, 53); so “the facts of biology [must be seen] in
the light of an ontological, economic, social, and psychological context”
(SS, 36). The human body, she argues, is the malleable expression of a
creature not entirely ¬xed or purely natural but signi¬cantly shaped by


7 Describing pregnancy™s ailments as expressing the “revolt of the organism against the
invading species” (SS, 29“30), Beauvoir portrays the fetus as alien to the pregnant woman,
“a growth arising from her ¬‚esh but foreign to it” (SS, 498) and notes how it can seem
“rather horrible that a parasitic body should proliferate within her [own] body” (SS,
299).
8 Whether she adequately resists the temptations of biological positivism is more debatable.

In an instructive article that examines Beauvoir™s treatment of biology in the light of recent
feminist science and philosophy of science, Charlene Haddock Seigfried objects that
“Beauvoir recognized only the distortive use of biological facts by various interpreters [to
justify woman™s subjugation] and did not consider whether the research programs from
which the biological facts emerged were also distorted by these same cultural prejudices”
of patriarchy. Beauvoir™s account of the biological facts thus, for Seigfried, too uncritically
absorbs their patriarchal bias and consequently “suffers from the same distortions,” for
example, in the so-called facts of maternity as an enslaving, alienating, cause of weakness.
Considered from the perspective of evolutionary biology, where success is measured by the
transmission of genes to a new generation through the production of viable offspring,
women “ by being “so much more responsible for reproductive success than men” “
should be considered biologically “more favored.” See Charlene Haddock Seigfried,
“Second Sex: Second Thoughts,” in Hypatia Reborn: Essays in Feminist Philosophy, ed. Azizah
Al-Hibri and Margaret Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 305“322;
citations 307“308, 312.
Body Consciousness
84

historical situations and societal conditions. If woman™s bodily difference
and suffering were not reinforced by social and economic structures that
exploit that difference and suffering while marking them with meanings
of inferiority and exclusion from the dominant centers of action, then
these distinguishing biological features would not in themselves con¬ne
woman to her oppression. Drawing on existentialist themes from Niet-
zsche and Merleau-Ponty, she claims that “man is de¬ned as a being who
is not ¬xed, who makes himself what he is”; “man is not a natural species:
he is a historical idea”(SS, 34).9 In the same way, “woman is not a com-
pleted reality, but rather a becoming” (ibid.). A creature whose life and
bodily experience are shaped not merely by biology but by the chang-
ing historical situations in which she exists, woman is also an “existent”
who can act to transcend and transform her initial situation. So the most
important question about woman and her body is not what she historically
or biologically is but what she can become; “that is to say, her possibilities
should be de¬ned,” and they should be de¬ned in ways that expand those
possibilities and powers in the future (ibid.).
Beauvoir™s future-looking, activist, meliorist approach to our open, mal-
leable human nature (itself shaped by a malleable world that is partly the
product of human interventions) is an existentialist orientation conver-
gent with the pragmatist tradition that motivates somaesthetics.10 Can
pragmatic somaesthetics, then, usefully treat the problematic limitations
that Beauvoir identi¬es as hampering women™s self-realization while also
enhancing some of the distinctive capacities she attributes to women?
To make a case for such value, we need to examine Beauvoir™s analysis
of women™s distinctive problems of subjugational embodiment together
with the somaesthetic means to address them, some of which she notices
but ¬rmly criticizes. Since The Second Sex persistently assimilates perfor-
mative forms of somaesthetics into representational ones, my discussion


9 Compare the remark from Maurice Merleau-Ponty™s chapter on “The Body in its Sexual
Being,” from his Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1986,
170): “Man is a historical idea and not a natural species.” Rejecting any sort of biological
determinism with respect to human existence, Beauvoir elsewhere remarks that “nothing
that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question.”
Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death, 106.
10 Beauvoir™s existentialism also converges with pragmatism on other points. Like prag-

matist aesthetics, she criticizes “the aesthetic attitude” of “detached contemplation” as
“a position of withdrawal” from the world, noting how the artist creates “not in the
name of pure contemplation, but of a de¬nite project,” relating to his active situation
in the world; “man never contemplates; he does.” See Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity,
74“77.
Somatic Subjectivities and Somatic Subjugation 85

of her arguments will be divided into two sections, respectively relating
to representational and experiential issues.


III
Representations, in their most basic philosophical sense, are objects of
perception as grasped by subjects. To the extent that Beauvoir accepts a
radical dualism between subject and object, the very idea of viewing a per-
son in terms of representational properties would seem a way of negating
that person™s subjectivity by reducing that person to the status of a per-

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