The new edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is out; it’s a new translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. And one could get worked up over what the New York Times has done about it. But I am not sure whether we should. See below.
The story so far:
In the US The Second Sex was released by Random House on April 13 of this year. Reviews are just starting to come in; perhaps because of an earlier release, the British are ahead: the Time’s Higher Ed suppl has a short piece; a fuller piece can be found in the Independent. These do not undertake the task of full scholarly assessment. Toril Moi does provide such an assessment in the London Review of Books, and it is decidedly a hatchet job. (The comments are worth reading.)
In contrast, the reviews haven’t started to appear yet in comparable US intellectual magazines, such as the New York Reivew of Books or the NY Times Sunday Book Review. Or the New Yorker. Salon does report on the Moi review, and Slate has a bit by Katie Roiphe, which pronounces it an improved translation of a classic work by an ambiguous feminist heroine. (Roiphe, we should point out, is an expert on ambiguous feminism, at least as a practice.) The ambiguity is due to features of her life, her scandalous life, which includes the presence of pictures of her bum!!
Here’s where it starts to get, well, dialectical. Can we really as feminists approve of talking about de Beauvoir’s fashion style and body bits?
Enter the New York Times. Not its more serious review sections, but its Style Magazine, T, which must be the only part of the Times I never read. Too, too depressing unless one wants to be 21 and a size 0. Or at least could reasonably hope to pass oneself off as something similar.
And Style does pick up on such things as the bum and the hotness issue. I mean, it is Style. To be fair to them, they do see it’s a bit odd and remark that they’ve done such style assessements of a dictator and a literary lion. And they have.
jezebel.com takes them to task for this, saying, I think incorrectly, that they sidestep the question of whether a male philosophy would get the same treatment. Nonetheless, there are very serious general concerns, ones familiar to feminists, and Monkey raised them here with regard to the bum controversy. Can’t we discuss a female philosopher without these reductive comments taking over?
jezebel.com says that it would be nice if we could evaluate Beauvoir the intellectual without also talking about her naked ass. That seems exactly right. And the British publications do that. However, is it a fair criticism of Style that it does not?
Thanks to SG, who alerted us to the issues!