Tag Archives: Simone de Beauvoir

Existentialism and Romantic Love


Existentialism and Romantic Love
By Skye Cleary
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

Other people are a fact of life.
                                          David Cooper.

Love is a passion to be chosen and mastered, not sacrificed to.
                                          Skye Cleary.

I’d highly recommend this most excellent of books, just on the strength of its final chapter ‘Simone de Beauvoir and Loving Authentically’ alone. Reason being, there’s so much to be gleaned, so much to be inspired by, so much to go and away and think about.

And perhaps act upon.

It is because Existentialism and Romantic Love traverses the most complex and complicated of emotions we oft refer to as love – in a most self-defining manner, profoundly more reflective than an array of dreadful Hello and Cosmopolitan magazines combined – that fundamentally accounts for its validity. That it does so from an existentialist perspective which is resoundingly thought provoking throughout all of its seven chapters (Introduction and Conclusion included), propels the book in its entirety unto a literary place that is simply more commendable than commendable.

Authoress Skye Cleary already reminds us in the book’s Introduction that: ”not all mirrors can provide accurate reflections.”

Such pronouncement in itself, is enough to trigger colossal bouts of pensive persuasion amid love’s fraternity of analysis and assessment. Be it of the self. Or one’s relationship with another. As more often than not, we instinctively think we know about these things – but in truth, we don’t

In a world where capitalism and its grotesque ugly sister, advertising, have become inherently more instrumental within modern day relationships than that of love itself – which, lest it be said, absolutely isn’t tangible – it’s no surprise that mutual conflict can sometimes supersede the initial kernel of romance.

Or, dare one actually say it, love.

For want of a perhaps more definitive description, said miasmic maze of psychological undoing is coherently addressed in this book’s aforementioned final chapter: ”Beauvoir agreed with Sartre that conflict is a fundamental part of life because we clash with other freedoms. Nevertheless, embracing the conflict is a necessary part of life because transcending (pour-soi) is not easy, and giving it up means giving up existing. Transcendence is necessary to being a sovereign subject, which Beauvoir defines as actively, assertively, ambitiously, creatively, and courageously pushing oneself forward in the world, overcoming oneself, going beyond the given in life to be an agent in one’s life, and engaging in projects that one creates for oneself.”

Suffice to say, it is of vital importance to actually know and comprehend the above to begin with.

But again, due to economic demands and the smokescreen, diversionary importance of having to keep up with the myopic folly of such complete and utter bollocks as that of what other people may be wearing and driving, ”going beyond the given in life to be an agent in one’s life,” isn’t always as easy as it may sound. Reason being, such distraction as that promoted by the ideology of Hello Magazine et al, goes a long way in diluting and perhaps ultimately confusing what is truly important in life: ”Beauvoir did not mean that the need for others should be taken in the Machiavellian sense of using each other as means to ends. Rather, each individual acts in the context of society […]. The important thing for Beauvoir is acknowledging that the world is shared with other people and that one way or another individuals depend on the community for survival, self-definition, and meaning.”

”Each individual” acting ” in the context of society,” is a most potent force to be reckoned with. Perhaps one of the most important. This partially explains why so much of British society, and American society even more so, has been crumbling away in recent years.

After all, both places could all so readily be defined by what former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, once described as there being ”no such thing as society.”

As such, never has love, existentialist or otherwise, been in such short supply. All the more reason that one should truly investigate this most authentic, fascinating and quintessentially timely of books.

David Marx

Age of Discovery


Age of Discovery –
Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance
By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
Bloomsbury – £18.99

If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all (Michelangelo).

To compare the current era to that of the Renaissance might well be a welcome yet debauched conversation piece amid the bars of France as the 2016 European Football Championship kicks off; but to seriously consider such a travesty of history (for that is what it surely is) is way, way off the mark of remote plausibility.

In Age of Discovery – Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New RenaissanceIan Goldin (who is a Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University) and Chris Kutarna (who has a Doctorate in Politics at the same University) attempts to show how western society can ”draw courage, wisdom and inspiration” from the bygone age of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Whether seized by Gutenberg or Zuckerberg, their thesis has essentially been written ”in order to fashion our own age,” wherein ”this Renaissance moment dares humanity to give its best just when the stakes are at their highest.”

Renaissance moment? Surely this is complete and utter bollocks?

In the opening of chapter one’s ‘To Flounder or Flourish,’ the authors write: ”If Michelangelo were reborn today, amidst all the turmoil that marks our present age, would he flounder, or flourish again? Every year, millions of people file into the Sistine Chapel to stare up in wonder at Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Creation of Adam. Millions more pay homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Through five centuries, we have carefully preserved such Renaissance masterpieces, and cherished them, as objects of beauty and inspiration. But they also challenge us.”

Too right they do.

What, amid the current, bankrupt euphoria of celebrity culture, is even going to come anywhere near close to the above paintings? Or indeed, the actual Renaissance? Katie Price and her annual, squalid wedding? The Islamic State’s ideology of crass and pointless murder?

In the same chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The Past is prologue,’ they continue with: The present age is a contest: between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement and human development; between forces of inclusion and exclusion; between flourishing genius and flourishing risks. Whether we each flourish or flounder, and whether the twenty-first century goes down in the history books as one of humanity’s best or worst, depends on what we all do to promote the possibilities and dampen the dangers that this contest brings.”

Admittedly, Messrs. Goldin and Kutarana are right about one thing: ”The stakes could not be higher. We each have the perilous fortune to have been born into a historic moment – a decisive moment – when events and choices in our own lifetime will dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”

Indeed, the stakes could absolutely not be higher. And we do all have the perilous (mis)fortune to have been born during a time of nigh catastrophic change – where events and choices in our own lifetime will indeed dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.

One need look no further than June 23rd, the day the nation votes on the European Referendum; where many millions of people will no doubt vote to turn the clock back to the dark ages. Or perhaps back to the actual Renaissance itself. Who knows? The frightening trajectory of which will invariably ”dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”

Alas, by the time one has reached the ninth chapter, simply entitled ‘David,’ bucolic bravado has finally subsided and an assortment of clear-cut-telling enters the fray: ”In the developing world, an estimated $1 – 2 trillion per year is siphoned away from public treasures by corrupt officials and cosy monopolists, facilitated by global investors and financial firms in the developed world. In advanced economies, scandals like the five-year diesel emissions fraud uncovered at Volkswagon in 2015, or the twenty-year Libor rate-fixing swindle conducted by London banks until 2012, remind us that people everywhere may cheat when given the incentive and opportunity.”

Key words in the above quote are ”developing world,” which to all intents and preposterous purposes, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Renaissance. Niente. Niks. Nada.

In fact, to compare today’s world with that of the Renaissance, is akin to comparing cement with Simone de Beauvoir.

David Marx

Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction

Experimental Fiction –
An Introduction for Readers and Writers
By Julie Armstrong
Bloomsbury – £17.99

If you don’t feel compelled to write reams of stuff by the end of reading and (hopefully) fully digesting this sheer ambidextrous explanation of what great literature has to offer, then writing’s probably not for you in you anyway. For such is the altogether, colourful gambit of Experimental Fiction – An Introduction for Readers and Writers, that upon reaching its more than measured conclusion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a vast number of inspired ants in pants make a cathartic calamity of themselves.

Reason being, Julie Armstrong’s concise, chronological investigation bequeaths the reader with over a thousand ways in which to approach writing. Or not approach writing – as is more often than not the case.

From ‘Form and Fiction’ to ‘Gender Crisis,’ ‘Spirituality and the Beats’ to ‘Sexuality, Drug Culture and Fiction;’ from ‘Identity in Flux’ to ‘Giving Voice to Other,’ ‘Changing Perception of Reality’ to ‘Electronic/Hyper/Interactive Fiction,’ the authoress traverses an exceedingly wide terrain of literal potentiality.

And with having done so within the parameters of a mere 196 pages, it’s no surprise she cuts to the chase in next to no time.

Already in Section One, (‘When Was/What Was Modernity(ism)?’), Armstrong immediately discusses the profound impact that modernism has had upon fiction: ”Fiction became self-reflexive, that is, the work was not a representation of reality a realist art was, but a representation of the processes of representation; a work that explored its own structure. So the way the story was told became as important as the story itself. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway treats narrative and dialogue as self-conscious exercises by which the author himself recognizes to be exercises […]. And so, new forms and writing techniques came into being […], symbols, motifs, fragmentation dislocation, juxtaposition, collage, ambiguity, montage, stream of consciousness and multiple narratives, as the focus came to be on a character’s conscious and subconscious mind, as opposed to character development and plot.”

Needless to say, the further one delves into the book (which, given the subject mater, can on occasion, border on the scientific if not the seemingly dense), the more on stumbles upon the many varied offshoots of totally different writing styles.

One such instance is that of identity, where, at the outset of ‘Identity in Flux,’ Armstrong reminds us of the long lasting trajectory of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: ”Even as far back as 1949 […] gender, as distinct from biological sex, is a construct, something made by society, that is, one is not born a woman. If gender, then, is a construct and can be changed, manipulated and even performed, it can be viewed as a facet of a multiple, contradictory, fluid identity, one, that is, in flux.” While a little further into Experimental Fiction, Armstrong tackles the continuing influence of scientific theory upon literature; and she does so by way of addressing Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry: ”Winterson is making the claim that time and space can only be represented through language and since language is arbitrary to the extent that different languages have conflicting systems of representation, how can we ever begin to suggest that words have any direct link to the concept which they are trying to evoke?”

In and of themselves, there’s much to ponder within the above quotes; just as there indeed is throughout much of this contemplative, and very worthwhile book. The mere fact that so many writers are touched upon and discussed (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Gibson Italo Calvino to name but a few), exemplifies as much.

An inspired way to start the year, especially so far as both the understanding and the fulfilment of challenging writing is concerned.

David Marx

French Literature – A Very Short Introduction


French Literature – A Very Short Introduction
By John D. Lyons
Oxford University Press – £7.99

I have to say, I’m becoming quite a fan of the Oxford University Press collection
of A Very Short Introduction.

This is my third review in the series, and what I particularly like about them, is their short, concise overview of the subject matter at hand. There’s no unnecessary, elongated padding nor flim-flam; but rather, an informative revelation of the most relevant information one essentially needs. And with most Introductions clocking in at around 120 to 130 pages, one can decide whether or
not to investigate further, which is all the more aided and assisted by way of the ‘Further Reading’ section(s) at the back of each book.

French Literature – A Very Short Introduction by John D. Lyons appears to cover nigh all aspects of French literature – not that I know all aspects of course – beginning with a chapter called ‘Introduction: meeting French literature,’ in which the author interestingly writes: ”Protagonists necessarily have problems.
If they did not, there would be no story, no quest, no obstacle to overcome, no mysteries to solve, no desire to satisfy, no enemy to defeat. In the French literary tradition, moreover, the central figures often have problems of such a unique type as to warrant being called ‘problematic heroes’ – heroes and heroines whose very status and place in society is at stake […].”

By immediately reinforcing within the reader a considerable chasm of literary food for thought, I found the above sentiment remained with me for the next eight chapters, concluding with ‘French-speaking heroes without borders?,’ where Lyons wholeheartedly invites us to embrace the French-Mauritian writer Le Clezio: ”There is no better representative of the movement for a ‘world literature’ in French than J. M. G. (Jean-Marie Gustave) Le Clezio, whose novel Ritournelle de la faim (The refrain of hunger) appeared in October 2008 just as the author became the latest French-language writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature […]. Le Clezio’s work ‘belongs to the tradition of the critique of civilisation. which on French ground can be traced back to Chateaubriand, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Diderot, and […] Montaigne.’ In this respect, Le Clezio is highly representative both of his own time, a period of post-colonial criticism and debates about national and linguistic identity. His work is therefore a good place to enter into French literature, both in its origins and in its persistent variations.”

So there you have it, a full-on, up-to-date endorsement of where to perhaps start.

That said, as is surely well known, French literature covers an exceedingly wide terrain. From any of the aforementioned writers to the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (both of whom would chastise me for mentioning their names in the same sentence, due to having fallen out to the point of not speaking to one another for years), to the likes of such brilliant female writers as Simone de Beauvoir and Helene Cixous.

Indeed, where to even start with French literature is anyone’s guess.

All the more reason, that if you’re relatively new to the genre, or would simply like to recommend or promote it to a family member or friend, then I’d highly recommend this stimulating (and at times), provocative A Very Short Introduction. After all: ”In a world threatened by sameness, we have never had a greater need for the French difference.’

David Marx