Skip to content

Simone de Beauvoir (2) vs. Raymond Carver

Yesterday‘s match is the closest call we’ve had yet. The funniest comment was the very first, from Anonymous:

Yoko. I’d go up to her after the seminar and give her a list of all the bands I hate, and ask her if she could break them up too.

Similarly from Daniel:

Alan Turing broke the Enigma code. Yoko Ono broke-up the Beatles. Both impressive, historic accomplishments, but Turning had a whole team of cryptography bosses working alongside him, while Yoko was going it alone.

But Jameson and other commenters pointed out that the whole blame-Yoko thing is a bit unfair. It could well be that Paul McCartney finally realized he was a genius and didn’t feel like playing second-banana to someone with less talent than he had.

Ultimately, I’ll have to go for Turing, based on Ethan’s comment, “I wonder what he’d make of Stan.”


And now for something completely different. The Second Sex vs. the author who has a quasi-official association with Alcoholics Anonymous.

What we talk about when we talk about feminism.

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Xi'an says:

    I remember reading Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée, mostly because my high school headmaster had advised me against it: “It is a lower kind of Sartre” (or, in the vernacular, “C’est du Sartre mais en pire”.) And being unimpressed by the shallow story. So I do not think Simone could keep an audience enthralled for a whole hour! While Raymond could deliver four (short) talks in one hour and have the audience wondering during and forever after the talk whether or not they were somewhat related. Somewhat.

  2. Marc Levy says:

    “Alcoholics Anonymous” was written the 1930s; Carver joined AA in the 1970s according to the Wikipedia page I just looked up. I’m not sure how he gets credited as an author. Or did you just mean he was an author associated with the organization?

    I’m not sure why you repeat that so-called Venn diagram — it doesn’t make any sense. Moreover, the serenity prayer posits a set of non-overlapping conditions — seeing the world this way is a key source of serenity — once you jumble things up serenity becomes more elusive. You could argue that Niebuhr’s view of the world is wrong, but you can’t model his view with overlapping sets.

    This isn’t a fair fight. Short-story writers know how to grab an audience’s attention quickly and engross them for 45 minutes. French intellectuals, not so much.

  3. Anonymous says:

    OK so we have two theories on why the Beatles broke up. One is that Paul got tired of playing second fiddle. The other is the devil asked Yoko to break them up. Occam’s razor clearly favors the latter explanation.

    This might be a good classroom example illustrating the utility of Occam’s Razer for model building.

  4. numeric says:

    Yoko actually approach Paul first for a romantic liaison, but Paul wasn’t interested and impishly suggested she approach John. It’s interesting to note that Mick Jaggar ( had this to say:

    I can hazard a guess that they were both rather strong personalities, and both felt they were totally independent. They seemed to be very competitive over leadership of the band. The thing in leadership is, you can have times when one person is more at the center than the other, but there can’t be too much arguing about it all the time. Because if you’re always at loggerheads, you just have to go, “Ok, if I can’t have a say in this and this, then fuck it. What am I doing here?”

  5. Anonymous says:

    I vote against Raymond Carver. Trying to cure Alcoholism is like trying to “cure” antibiotics.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is a great one from Wikipedia:

    “In an interview with Betty Friedan, de Beauvoir said: No, we don’t believe that any woman should have this choice. No woman should be authorised to stay at home to bring up her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”

    “no women should be authorized to stay at home”. Mull that over for a while. Who knew such things required “authorization” from anyone? After living in Europe for over a decade it became clear that Freedom was just a thin veneer (courtesy of the US Army) covering totalitarian instincts. Their instinct isn’t to let people wear whatever they want and let people debate whatever they want. Rather their instinct is to ban Burkas while simultaneously banning anyone drawing any connections between Islam and fundamentalist assassins who yell “Allah Akbar” and “death to jews/infidels”. It’s like they just never quite got the hang of this whole freedom thing.

  7. jrc says:

    Simone – #SmarterThanSartre

    “Deirdre Bair, in her 1990 biography of Beauvoir, reported that the jury for the agrégation, in 1929, debated whether to award first place in the competition to Sartre or Beauvoir. They gave it to Sartre—he was, after all, a man, and it was his second try—but they agreed that Beauvoir was the real philosopher. She was the youngest agrégée in French history.”

    Plus, Sartre would show up, and sit in the back and flirt with all the pretty girls (“pretty girls” being a technical phrase in French). So that’s a two-fer.

    But here’s the real thing for me: that whole generation of French thinkers were really an incredible eruption of new thought and energy and style and ways of being in the world, and she was there for all of it. Sartre, for all his populist appeal, is completely opaque in his philosophy and often reads to me as oddly populist or just plain uninteresting in his fiction (Sorry – ¡you are great JP!); BHL is a second-round hack; the generation before were dead and buried by the time things got really interesting; oh, and Foucault didn’t make the bracket, because the NCAA (National Colloquium Allocation Administration) has been neglecting the Western Conference with its East Coast bias.

    So that leaves Simone as a witness to an incredible progression of French thought that began with the engagement with Nietzsche and Heidegger and the questioning of more traditional epistemologies; through the Occupation (and how French is it that the defining characteristics of their greatest generation was that it began to flourish under German occupation); through the fascination with and then rejection of Marxism (and the incredibly odd moments of love/hate for the Soviet Union, all in one big, messy, self-contradictory breath); 1968; and up through the rise of “post-modernism”, punk rock, and the re-defining of the Academy and the intellectual as counter-cultural figures of resistance aligned with “the people” and not above or outside of them (ha! so hypocrisy remains at the heart, but that seems nearly universal in academics).

    Hmmm… that wasn’t very funny. Is this Raymond Carver guy funny?

  8. Daniel Gotthardt says:

    I can’t offer any funny reasons, but I’d be glad to have the option to attend a talk by de Beauvoir and I’d be very interested what she’d think about recent developments in feminism.

    • Anonymous says:

      Humor for feminist (as for Germans) is no laughing matter, so don’t sweat it. As for what de Beauvoir would have to say, that’s pretty clear. In a 1976 interview with Betty Friedan, she stated plainly that she’d be unhappy with any society that allowed women to make choices other than the ones de Beauvoir wanted them to make. Since women seem hell bent on making choices they want to make, de Beauvoir would not be amused.

  9. JL FOULLEY says:

    Beyond the feminism militant and her related writings (le deuxième sexe), I especially appreciated her correspondence with the US writer Nelson Agren: more than 300 letters written by her in English but unfortunately Algren’s agents did not give permission to publish his replies.

  10. Martha says:

    De Beauvoir.
    Carver may have been gifted as a short story writer, but he is essentially a tragic figure who had trouble getting his life together; I doubt that he would be engaging or interesting, but would just stumble along as best he could.

    De Beauvoir, on the other hand, would be very interesting and engaging. She was clearly a very intelligent person, able to interact with and influence some of the strongest intellectuals of her time. She was able to question “received wisdom”. She was also one of the few who thought and wrote carefully about gender issues at the time between the first and second “waves” of feminism. She also was able to admit her mistakes (for example, her regret at seducing young students and then sharing them with Sartre). I wouldn’t be surprised if she could give some new and interesting perspectives on current issues.

  11. Roy says:

    I know this doesn’t really fit in the “rules”, but read some of the recent reconsiderations of the roles Beauvoir (and Sartre and many others) played in Vichy France. Worse, it appears that many of them rewrote accounts of their actions after the war. As look up the probable reasons she was dismissed from teaching at the Sorbonne.

    Sorry, I vote for Carver sort of by default.

    • Martha says:

      The possible Vichy collaboration is new to me. I’ve looked a little on the web to see if I can find anything credible to confirm or refute it, but haven’t been able to find anything definitive either way — and similarly regarding her purported regret at earlier seduction of students (the reason for her dismissal from the Sorbonne).
      So she might be a less appealing speaker than I earlier thought, but still interesting (which is Andrew’s criterion) — possibly even more so because of the controversies.

    • Joe says:

      “The population of France in 1946 was 60 million. 30 million in the Resistance and 30 million collaborators.” – Coluche

  12. Jeff Miller says:

    OK, I know I have no right to complain seeing that this is your blog and you can write about whatever you damn well please, but just out of idle curiosity, am I the only one out here who doesn’t find this topic in the least bit interesting?

    • Andrew says:


      I think this must already be clear to you but . . . we blog on many things here, and you should feel free to just read the things you find interesting. I’m interested in Raymond Carver and you’re not; you’re interested in golf (for example) and I’m not. The world would be boring if we all had the same interests, no? It’s just like the newspaper: you can pick up the sports page or the style section or the local news, or whatever. So feel free to scroll through to the posts that interest you.

      To answer your question: I’m sure that many many many of our readers don’t find this topic in the least bit interesting. I just think most of them skip the entries they don’t find interesting, and go to read the ones they want!

      Wow—I can’t believe I just wrote this long response. I must really really be procrastinating.

Leave a Reply