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Political Writings offers an abundance of newly translated essays by Simone de Beauvoir that demonstrate a heretofore unknown side of her political philosophy.
The writings in this volume range from Beauvoir’s surprising 1952 defense of the misogynistic eighteenth-century pornographer, the Marquis de Sade, to a co-written 1974 documentary film, transcribed here for the first time, which draws on Beauvoir’s analysis of how socioeconomic privilege shapes the biological reality of aging. The volume traces nearly three decades of Beauvoir’s leftist political engagement, from exposés of conditions in fascist Spain and Portugal in 1945 and hard-hitting attacks on right-wing French intellectuals in the 1950s, to the 1962 defense of an Algerian freedom fighter, Djamila Boupacha, and a 1975 article arguing for what is now called the “two-state solution” in Israel.
Together these texts prefigure Beauvoir’s later feminist activism and provide a new interpretive context for reading her multi-volume autobiography, while also shedding new light on French intellectual history during the turbulent era of decolonization.
Rich and illuminating, this collection of essays, reportage, and prefaces by the seminal French philosopher and feminist (part of the Beauvoir series) tackles such disparate topics as the American West and the marquis de Sade, and traverses almost the entire length of de Beauvoir's (The Second Sex) writing life. Although collected as political writings, the texts prove too varied and complex to sit comfortably within that category. The essay on de Sade, for example, provocatively melds aesthetic and moral concerns, while the final text, a revelatory transcription of an obscure documentary about old age, defies easy categorization. More straightforwardly political pieces on Salazar-era Portugal, right-wing thought, Algeria, and Israel reveal de Beauvoir's stylistic range, from harshly polemic to tediously pedantic, and always wonderfully descriptive. Astutely edited by Simons (Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir) and translator Timmermann, each section begins with a series of incisive and clear-eyed introductions, of which William Wilkerson's in particular stands out, while de Beauvoir's daughter, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, provides the foreword. Though it may arguably hold more interest for the scholar than the general reader, the collection provides a fascinating chart of a brilliant mind struggling to bridge the divide between rarified abstract thinking and concrete social engagement.