Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Simone de Beauvoir: The Job is Never Done

Today marks a hundred years since the birth of Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher and probably the most influential feminist of the last century. Her book "The Second Sex" was indeed a seminal book: it has been banned, vilified, and heralded as the harbinger of a brave new world. The fact that so much of it seems like common sense today shows just how influential it has been.

Nowadays, reading "The Second Sex" can seem a little dated, and writers like Camille Paglia and Joanna Russ can pack a bit more punch. But, as Manuscripts Don't Burn looks around at our society today, on January 9th 2008, at the reformation of the Spice Girls sexually-oppressive "Girl Power" and the constant inculcating refrain everywhere in our society of youth, beauty, mindlessness and celebrity heralded as the One True Goal which every woman should aim for, we realise that the messages of The Second Sex still need to be repeated, loud and clear, on a daily basis.

But we live in an age where culture is defined by lowest common denominator economic figures - even philosophies have to sell well, and compete with pop music, soap opera, and the cult of mindless celebrity - where accessibility and pithy soundbites rule. Philosophies have to serve the state and conclude capitalism to be the best of all possible worlds, or be so empty, vacuous, and populist that they couldn't possibly do any harm apart from keeping philosophy students busy in our increasingly vacuous academies of business, marketing and media studies.

Paradoxically the Anglo-Saxon Empire is coming to resemble the Soviet Union in an uncanny fashion. The State has a very definite ideology, in which the media and education systems collude by excluding any alternative discourse, or at best relegating it to the lunatic fringe. Even the battleground of language is largely harnessed by the system towards reinforcing the dominant ideology, and everyone must have their state-sanctioned papers (ie be deemed "economically viable") before their work can be propagated. Living here in France, where intellectualism is not derided, and where people do not aggressively sing praises to their own ignorance to near-universal acclaim, Manuscripts Don't Burn does wonder how much further the dumbing down of the UK and US can go. "And now, Karl Marx, your starter for ten: who won the FA cup in...?"

Thank heavens, for the time being at least, for the internet, where alternative discourse remains alive and well. Small wonder the Powers That Be want to present it as such a terrible threat. One wonders what de Beauvoir would have made of it.

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