Sonia, Kruks. “Simone De Beauvoir: Engaging Discrepant Materialisms.” New Materialisms : Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 258–280.
The larger theoretical trend that Kruks draws our attention to is Simone de Beauvoir working in and across both phenomenology and a Marxist-inflected culturally oriented structuralist materialism. While Beauvoir is often read as phenomenology, she clearly has “early” Marxist influences. Beauvoir is a Marxist feminist. This can be seen in her work, one example being her commentary ‘‘One could not state it better, ’after quoting Marx (260). Kruks states that Beauvoir’s “self-proclaimed affinity with Marx should make us pause” because “it should remind us that volume 1 of The Second Sex (‘‘Facts and Myths’’) focuses on the ‘‘production’’ of woman as man’s inferiorized other” (260). The reason why Kruks claim that Beauvoir’s work has both phenomenology and Marxist influences is troubling is because the beginning of phenomenology is the reassertion of subjectivity while the beginning of Marxism is the attack upon subjectivity. However, Marxism and phenomenology are not completely opposed, as there are phenomenological themes in the origins of Marxism. For example, the concept of “Reification”, which is the materialization of human activity, is influenced by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and reification of consciousness. We have seen the relationship between phenomenology, Marxism and rhetoric. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object (phenomenology). The concept phenomenologyand the relationship to rhetoric can be seen through object-oriented ontology (OOO). We saw this in previous works we read, including Vealey and Layne (2018), who leverage Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) to “seek to reinstate a sense of “thingness” to many objects that litter and make up the world, particularly in a way that is not exclusively tethered to human modes of access, use or meaning” (55). Barad (2008) discusses “thingification”, which is turning relations into “things” and “entities” thereby affecting how we understand our relationship to the world (130). To answer the question, “Would rhetoric benefit from engaging this trend?” consider how Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch (2012) call on feminist rhetorics scholars to be “deliberate about developing and sustaining throughout the analytical process a more conscious and explicit habit of thinking about our work as part of, rather than disconnected from, other rhetorical enterprises around the world” (53). In this manner, feminist rhetorics could greatly benefit from both phenological and Marxist influences.
Engaging Discrepant Materialisms
Another genre of ‘‘materialist’’ theory, one broadly informed
by poststructuralism, focuses on the production
of ‘‘material’’ bodies, or their ‘‘materialization,’’ through
discourse and discursively constituted performance.
What both of these
genres have in common, however, is that they proceed (to borrow the
terms from Elizabeth Grosz) ‘‘from the outside in’’ rather than ‘‘from the
inside out.’’≥ That is, they emphasize the ways in which subjectivity arises
as the reflex or expression of social practices, or as the e√ect of discourses.
Debates about ‘‘biological essentialism’’
versus ‘‘social constructionism,’’ about ‘‘sex’’ versus ‘‘gender,’’ or about
whether to ‘‘displace’’ one of these terms by the other or to ‘‘destabilize’’
both have waxed furious. In this essay I propose, through returning to the
EBSCOhost – work of Simone de Beauvoir, that these discrepant genres of materialist
theorizing may be brought into a more fruitful relationship than their
respective proponents are apt to pursue.
Simone de Beauvoir – phenomenology,
Beauvoir does not work exclusively in this tradition. Rather,
she works in and across the interstices between phenomenology and a
Marxist-inflected and also a culturally oriented structuralist materialism
‘‘Physiological facts,’’ Beauvoir
insists, have significance only within specific social contexts so that, for
example, the relative ‘‘weakness’’ of women’s muscles ‘‘is revealed as such
only in the light of the ends man proposes, the instruments he has available,
and the laws he establishes.’’∞∫ Similarly, Beauvoir argues, menstruation
is an involuntary bodily function (an ‘‘alien vitality’’) to which most
women must attend in one way or another, but the disgust and shame that generally accompany its onset in young girls is integral to their realization
of their subordinate social status (315).
For Beauvoir, the particular problem of ‘‘becoming a woman’’ is that
one is always engaged in a project in which one’s potentialities as a free,
agentic human being can never escape the facticities of one’s organic body
and other life-attributes, including a discursive and social regime through
which one is subjected to systematically inferiorized otherness.
However, working from a perspective more inflected by Marxism than is
Moi’s, Young argues that we need to think more systematically about the
‘‘structures of constraint’’ that operate independently of the individual
intentions of either men or women (21). Without
The Second Sex is not only a
phenomenology of the lived experience of women’s oppression, for Beauvoir
is also concerned with questions about how that oppression is perpetuated
through social structures, institutions, and practices that women
must engage with as the ‘‘givens’’ of their lives. ‘‘Yes,’’ she writes, ‘‘women
on the whole are today inferior to men, that is,
In a for-profit economy
those who are no longer economically productive cease to be valued, and a
prior life of alienated labor produces old people who have no existential
resources to enjoy the enforced ‘‘leisure’’ of retirement. Indeed, with
strong echoes of Marx’s notion of the proletariat as a universal class,
Beauvoir ends Old Age by suggesting that the treatment of the aged ‘‘exposes
the failure of our entire civilization.’’ More generous pensions and
so forth—although she demands them—would not be su≈cient to make
old age meaningful for most: ‘‘It is the whole system that is at issue and
our claim cannot be otherwise than radical—change life itself ’’ (543
Beauvoir’s self-proclaimed a≈nity with Marx should make us pause.
Beauvoir’s self-proclaimed a≈nity with Marx should make us pause.
It should remind us that volume 1 of The Second Sex (‘‘Facts and Myths’’)
focuses on the ‘‘production’’ of woman as man’s inferiorized other. It
explores the social production of woman’s otherness across the history of
human practices and institutions, as well as in more discursive arenas such
as myth and literature.
Beauvoir’s attention to Marx also invites a reading of The Second Sex as a precursor to the Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), the neo-Marxist
magnum opus of Sartre’s later yearsΩ—a reading I develop below.
Indeed, this is where she explicitly locates herself in The Second Sex and her project, especially in the second volume, is to present a phenomenology of the ‘‘lived experience’’ through which, as she famously puts it, ‘‘one is not born but becomes a woman.’’ Furthermore, qua existentialist, she is concerned with exploring the constraints on and possibilities for freedom that accompany such a ‘‘becoming.’’
In qualitative phenomenological research, lived experience refers to a representation of the experiences and choices of a given person, and the knowledge that they gain from these experiences and choices.
Phenomenology as a methodological framework has evolved into a process that seeks reality in individuals’ narratives of their lived experiences of phenomena
Stacy Alaimo & Susan Hekman. Material Feminisms . Indiana University Press. Kindle Edition.
Siebers (2008) discusses disability discrimination and the difficulty in overcoming these prejudices because our society is “discrimination by design”. Siebers quotes Jean-François Lyotard’s (1988) definition of différend “as a situation in which victims are denied the means to demonstrate that they have been wronged. The wronged are doubly victimized because they have both suffered injustice and been deprived of the means to argue their case” (294). The larger theoretical trend in rhetoric is on disability rhetoric studies. Jay Timothy Dolmage, author of Disabilty Rhetoric (2014) focuses on the role of the body in rhetoric and argues “that the body has never been fully or fairly understood for its role in shaping and multiplying these available means” (3). Through his work, he seeks to expand understanding of disability and the rhetorical body. Both of these works calls attention to fact that not only are those with disabilities discriminated against, but this discrimination is built into our environment. While Siebers focuses on the physical environment (such as the stairs in the court house that cause Lane to have to crawl up the steps), Dolmage speaks of the rhetorical environment (such as the dehumanization of words associated with disability, including their onomatopoetic dimension; examples include stuttering and crippled).
Coole and Frost (2010) make a distinction between old and new materiality by stating “We discern as an overriding characteristic of the new materialists their insistence on describing active processes of materialization of which embodied humans are an integral part, rather than the monotonous repetitions of dead matter from which human subjects are apart (8). It’s important for us to understand this characterization, as many of our classical assumptions about materiality are based on Descartes beliefs who defined matter as corporeal substances constituted by length, breadth and thickness. This provided the basis for Euclidian geometry and Newtonian physics. The distinction is that new materialisms goes beyond matter as a separate substance and recognizes that phenomena exist in a complex multitude of interconnecting components and invite us to consider new capacities for agency. Coole also discusses the importance of Merleau-Ponty in materiality. Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961) was a French philosopher known for his influential work on embodiment, perception, and ontology. She states, “For Merleau-Ponty it is corporeality that introduces meaning or structure into matter because the body literally incarnates material capacities for agency” (101). Merleau-Ponty had several observations that are important to the field of materiality, including pointing out that an object of color triggers an affective change (182). Colors can actually affect our behaviors, as discovered with people with specific motor disturbances react with jerky movements to the color blue vs. smooth movements with the colors red and yellow. This is similar to how people can have affective reactions to words such as stiffening at the mention of the word ‘hard’. Our perception makes the objects as we see them. In fact, to see is to experience ourselves as an object of visibility because the structure of vision incorporates itself into the projection of what it would like to be seen as. “Rizzolatti makes the point: ‘‘the sight of acts performed by others produces an immediate activation of the motor areas deputed to the organization and execution of those acts; through this activation it is possible to decipher the meaning of the ‘motor events’ observed, i.e., to understand them in terms of goal centered movements.” (183). This brings to question the value of items such as vision boards in the material act of running, as if we can envision something coming to fruition, we can achieve it. Our actions are guided by acts envisioned and performed.