Alienation and Affectivity

Beauvoir, Sartre and Levinas on the Ageing Body

in Sartre Studies International
Kathleen Lennon University of Hull

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Anthony Wilde University of Hull

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In this article, we explore Beauvoir's account of what she claims is an alienated relation to our ageing bodies. This body can inhibit an active engagement with the world, which marks our humanity. Her claims rest on the binary between the body-for-itself and the body-in-itself. She shares this binary with Sartre, but a perceptive phenomenology of the affective body can also be found, which works against this binary and allows her thought to be brought into conversation with Levinas. For Levinas, the susceptibility of the body is constitutive of our subjectivity, rather than a source of alienation. If we develop Beauvoir's thought in the direction of his, an ontological structure is suggested, distinct from Sartre – a structure which makes room for her pervasive attention to affectivity.

Contributor Notes

Kathleen Lennon is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hull. Recent work includes the monograph Imagination and the Imaginary (Routledge, 2015) and the co-authored Gender Theory for Troubled Times (Polity, 2019). Email:

Anthony Wilde is Honorary Research Associate in Philosophy at the University of Hull. His doctoral thesis is entitled ‘Levinas: Subjectivity, Affectivity and Desire’ (2013). He is author of the chapter ‘Levinas's Criticism of Heidegger’ in Subjectivity and the Social World (Cambridge Scholars, 2014). Email:

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Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture


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