Simone de Beauvoir

Engagements, Contexts, Reconsiderations

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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  • 1 Harvard University

At one hundred, we are told, a book becomes a classic; at one hundred Simone de Beauvoir has surely become a legend. And yet, like all legends, she remains something of an enigma, yet to be discovered. To be discovered, perhaps, in a way similar to her own attempt at self-discovery in Hard Times (the second volume of The Force of Circumstance), which results in a moving encounter with symptoms, repressions, and defenses that reveal those darker unrepentant forces―dreams and nightmares―that haunt her life. To discover is also to uncover the pages of a partly-written life that recurs in a succession of dreams and nightmares. As Beauvoir puts it: “In my dreams … there are objects that have always recurred” as “receptacles of suffering … the hands of a watch that begin to race [moved] by a secret and appalling organic disorder; a piece of wood bleeds beneath the blow of an ax … I feel the terror of these nightmares in my waking hours, if I call to mind the walking skeletons of Calcutta orthose little gourds with human faces―children suffering from malnutrition.”

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