Between Nietzsche and de beauvoir:
becoming woman

Entre Nietzsche y de Beauvoir: llegar a ser mujer

Babette Babich

Universidad de Fordhand, Nueva York

Abstract: This essay reads Simone de Beauvoir together with Friedrich Nietzsche on ‘becoming’ a woman. Drawing on mythology, quite as de Beauvoir does in The Second Sex, connections can be made with Georges Bataille but also with Sarah Kofman’s own engagement with Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo. Death and limitation are part of Nietzsche’s own reflections and correspond to what de Beauvoir highlights in terms of «mysteries, orgies, and bacchanals», in addition to ««sacred frenzy», and the conjunction of marriage and lightning strikes.

Keywords: Becoming a woman; Hölderlin; lightning; illusion; projection.

Resumen: En este ensayo se hace una lectura conjunta de Simone de Beauvoir y Friedrich Nietzsche sobre el «llegar a ser» mujer. Recurriendo a la mitología, al igual que hace de Beauvoir en El segundo sexo, se pueden establecer conexiones con Georges Bataille, pero también con el propio compromiso de Sarah Kofman con el Ecce Homo de Nietzsche. La muerte y la limitación forman parte de las reflexiones del propio Nietzsche y se corresponden con lo que de Beauvoir destaca en términos de «misterios, orgías y bacanales», además del «frenesí sagrado» y la conjunción del matrimonio y el relámpago.

Palabras clave: Hacerse mujer; Hölderlin; relámpago; ilusión; proyección.

  1. «On ne naît pas femme on le devient»

    The following undertakes a “diadochical” reading not of the various personalities of Nietzsche’s Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (Strong 2005, 239) and not of the various names that Nietzsche says might be substituted for himself (e.g., Wagner) but more comparatively in terms of a case for influence: Friedrich Nietzsche and Simone de Beauvoir. The focus I shall adopt is rare enough which is not to say that no one has ever read between Nietzsche and de Beauvoir but when one does one typically has another thematic. Thus this might correspond to the Nietzsche one supposes as having been concerned with morality. This genealogical morality is thus contrasted with de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity, itself a challenging text (see Parker 2014) or one might read The Second Sex (Bremner 2022 and see too Daigle 2011 as well as, with regard to She Came to Stay, Battersby 2020 and, via Irigaray, Verkerk 2018) and such readings may be conducted in the broader context of philosophy as such (da Silva Seus 2020 and en point, for both thinkers: Miller 2012).1 What can complicate readings, at least but not only in an Anglophone context, is the tendency to read Nietzsche alongside Sartre and de Beauvoir (usually also including Kierkegaard but not usually including Schopenhauer as part of a course in college existentialism). To this one may also add philosophical reflections on love (this is typically different from philosophical reflections on sex and sexuality) as de Beauvoir herself, writing on ‘The Woman in Love,’ cites both George Gordon, Lord Byron and Nietzsche.

    The key inspiration for the reading to follow is de Beauvoir’s own powerfully influential repetition of Nietzsche’s assertion: „Der Mann hat das Weib geschaffen“–“man” ‘invented’ or, more accurately, “created” woman.

    In an aphorism from the second book of The Gay Science rendered as ‘Volonté et soumission’ by Henri Albert in his 1901 translation, we read (and this is cited as de Beauvoir herself would surely have read):

    «Ce sont les hommes, s’écria-t-il, qui corrompent les femmes: et tout ce qui manque aux femmes doit être payé par les hommes et corrigé sur eux, –car c’est l’homme qui se crée l’image de la femme, et la femme qui se forme d’après cette image. » (Nietzsche 1901, 109)

    In English here, in Walter Kaufmann’s popular translation:

    “It is men,” said he, “that corrupt women; and all the failings of women should be atoned by and improved in men. For it is man who creates for himself the image of woman, and woman forms herself according to this image.” (GS §68; Nietzsche 1975, 126)

    The lineage, which includes the remonstration on the part of Nietzsche’s sage, “Men need to be educated better!” is yet more complex. Thus I have argued that the famous first line of the second volume (in the 1949 French edition) of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, « On ne naît pas femme on le devient» –‘one is not born, one becomes a woman’ –adapts the line Nietzsche takes over from the 7th century BCE lyric poet, Pindar: ‘Become the one you are.’

    Now Pindar himself writes this in an irritated modality, the so-called Castor song, appended to the second Pythian ode: Γένοιοἷος ἐσσὶ μαθών. And elsewhere I have taken a number of essays to argue the case that the line as such has a specifically, directedly imperative force.2 Nietzsche turns this poetic rebuke (as it is such in the original context) into philosophical gold: the project becomes that of giving oneself a ‘second nature,’ which project as Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo, can mean that one is to be or to become for oneself one’s own mother, one’s own father, “as my father I have already died, as my mother I still live and grow old.” (Nietzsche 1980 6, 264)

    Tracy Burr Strong (1943-2022) has written on occasion about this notion of giving oneself a second nature,3 as have others and indeed the project –and elsewhere writing on Nietzsche’s Ariadne, also another figure of woman in Nietzsche’s thought (Babich 2022), I seek to make the case that Ecce homo represents what would have been (had it been published as it was not published in Nietzsche’s lifetime) a chance for Nietzsche to reinvent himself, given the financial constraints he faced. Thus one might, considering Nietzsche’s collapse and years of silence, draw on Pierre Bertaux’s arguments with respect to Friedrich Hölderlin’s ‘madness’–Bertaux argues that Hölderlin had all-too-human reasons to feign his madness given the then-dangerous political epoch, a theory that had already some currency in Nietzsche’s time and which could or might thereby have influenced some part (certainly not all) of the tragic course of Nietzsche’ own ‘Umnachtung.”4 Things are complicated as even if Nietzsche had meant to feign madness he was immediately subjected to the chemical regimes of modern medical psychiatry, iatrogenic insanity, madness owing to psychopharmaceutical intervention, being just as real and just as organic as any other kind of madness, and, and we learn more about this every day, such chemical interventions being permanent and disabling. That is another topic and enormously complex especially given our scholarly preference to read Nietzsche’s madness more romantically via Bertram and Zweig. What I do argue is that it matters to call attention to Nietzsche’s penury. Thus where scholars have retrieved nearly every other personal detail it is rare that they make any effort to concider let alone to review his finances. It is as if Nietzsche is supposed to live on the most metaphysical of vapours. Yet we should ask: what were his resources, his debts, his prospects? Economic factors are key to any individual history, especially where we lack in this case as in so many others, all the minutiae of everyday life: providing the context for Nietzsche’s correspondence, his peregrinations and the constraints on his dwelling and thus his life, in addition to Nietzsche’s ‘geography’ or atmospheres. Thus, tracking Nietzsche’s so-named «Good European», we need, considering his famous collapse in Turin, to know what his resources were and promised to be.

    With respect to such mortal matters, «last things», as Nietzsche speaks of these at the outset of Human, All too Human, «Von den ersten und letzten Dingen» (1980 2, 23), it makes all the difference that Nietzsche’s Basel pension, paid in pieces and parts, i.e., from several sources, was drastically overpaid and for several years, leaving Nietzsche not only without resources but massively in the red. Curt Paul Janz tells us this pension amounted to some 1,000 francs, with supplements to a total of 3,000 per year, along with another small sum as supplement, the key detail being that this support was to expire after six years.5 Yet the pension was, seemingly accidentally (who can say why? perhaps owing to administrative inattention) extended from the originally specified six years to some ten years. In other words, Nietzsche’s Basel pension would have been, as Janz drily puts it: «weit uberschritten». (Janz 1993, 848)

    Thus quite in accord with the thought of death, writing his posthumous Ecce Homo, one may plausibly make the case that Nietzsche planed the text less as ecstatic self-celebration than as a prospective catalogue for reissuing his works (see Kofman 1992, 93, or tacking through the question of Nietzsche’s Ariadne, the conclusion to Babich 2022). The prospect or thought of death would thus have been present to Nietzsche and finances are metaphors for life resources. (And although this exceeds the present context, I would also argue that Marcel Mauss’s 1923 The Gift is similarly relevant. See for one reading between Nietzsche and Mauss, Winkler 2007 and see too, in this case also with respect to women, Shapiro 1991, obliquely with homeopathic reference to Nietzsche on Bataille and Mauss, Groys 2012, 115f as well as perhaps in the first place: Baudrillard 1973).

    A similar, if more complex, argument can be made, thus the above parallel to Bertaux, to understand the circumstances of Nietzsche’s collapse (whether deliberate or incidental is, once again, another theme) or as Claudia Crawford describes it as Nietzsche’s “script” (Crawford 1995, 174),6 borrowed as she argues no less from a prompt: Henry Maudsley’s 1874, Responsibility in Mental Disease, noting that Nietzsche “had an 1875 German translation.” (Ibid.) All of this, thus I noted our enthusiasms for romantic motifs, is bound to be ignored by today’s scholars but parts of this constellation were persuasive for Sarah Kofman who gave two seminars on this book (Kofman 1992, 1993).

    With respect to the language «become the one you are», Pindar remonstrates against the Hieron who commissioned the second Pythian (although it is hard to fault the young Hieron of Syracuse for not choosing Pindar’s ode among the two he commissioned), writing, for free, gratis, castigating Castor song with this extraordinarily provocative word to the (presumably) less than wise, younger Hieron, victorious in the games but not when it came to keeping Pindar’s lyric temper in check (the poet will compare himself in the same Castor song to Archilochus and his ultimately self-destructive ire). The reference is overdetermined as the first part of the Pindar’s Ode includes the comparison of a mortal Ixion, king of the Lapiths, who dwelt with the gods, Hölderlin for own part echoes this, and who was minded, given this proximity, to seduce Hera. To thwart this, Zeus fashioned a false Hera, Nephele, a cloud in the likeness of Hera with whom Ixion lay.7 Images and icons matter as Hera is associated with false images (of wood) as prelude to her original nuptials with Zeus.8 Mythically, the constellation «become the one you are» includes a reference to a female form created as idol or myth.

    For Nietzsche, becoming is involved in «becoming» what you are and becoming is what philosophers hate qua philosophers, in search as they are of static and fixed notions or concepts or ideas, that is: what is and is not the case.

    But where death is key to de Beauvoir’s discussion, she quotes Nietzsche on death as «festival», borrowing the quote from Georges Bataille. There is a parallel reference in Bataille’s later Nietzsche wartime diaries, where Bataille tracks transgressions of all kinds together with his own reflections on mystical transcendence (see for discussion, Babich 2021, 339-366) but the wartime diaries are not de Beauvoir’s source. The new English translation of The Second Sex has a range of regrettable deficiencies it should not have had and fails to tell us (anymore than H. M. Parshley does) that Beauvoir is citing Bataille. Even the 1992 German translation of de Beauvoir, fails to identify the locus of de Beauvoir’s Nietzsche citation.

    There are a number of reasons for this but assuredly one of more salient is that we are keen only on new readings. De Beauvoir is old news, at least when it comes to questions concerning women in philosophy and thereby when it comes to thinking of Nietzsche or any other thinker and women. Yet de Beauvoir goes deeper than many other philosophers. It is this depth which enables Luce Irigaray to be inspired at least on the leve of the title for her Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche (1991) by the antediluvian locus in de Beauvoir.

    De Beauvoir alludes to the first fragment of philosophy, Anaximander: «Thus the Woman-Mother has a face of shadows: she is the chaos whence everything all have come and whither all must one day return». (1989, 147) Here, in addition to Anaximander’s Περὶ Φύσεως, via Theophrastus, and, via Simplicius, his ἄπειρον, de Beauvoir refers to Hesiodic myth. Counterpoint to Sartrean «being», de Beauvoir writes, «she is Nothingness». (Ibid.) The reference to Nietzsche already noted above, Nietzsche quotes from Goethe’s Faust, citing the «mothers of being» in The Birth of Tragedy. Also referencing Goethe, de Beauvoir, tells us that «the Mare tenebrarum dreaded by navigators of old» corresponds to «night in the entrails of the earth». (de Beauvoir 1989, 147) This is the mystery locus of death –Thanatos–and de Beauvoir writes, «Man is frightened of this night, the reverse of fecundity, which threatens to swallow him up». (Ibid.)

    Beauvoir had explained the threat in clean language

    since the coming of the patriarchate, Life has worn in his eyes a double aspect: it is consciousness, will, transcendence, it is the spirit; and it is matter, passivity, immanence, it is the flesh. Æschylus, Aristotle, and Hippocrates proclaimed that on earth as on Olympus it is the male principle that is truly creative: from it came form, number, movement (144).

    The reference is Pythagorean but that takes one back in de Beauvoir to Bachofen and Mutterecht (1861).

    Nietzsche talks of the dream of immaculate perception and the philosopher’s hatred of becoming, defining becoming as entailing change, specifically procreation, growth, senescence, death. De Beauvoir writes:

    To have been conceived and then born an infant is the curse that hangs over his destiny, the impurity that contaminates his being. And, too, it is the announcement of his death. The cult of germination has always been associated with the cult of the dead. The Earth Mother engulfs the bones of her children. They are women–the Parcæ, the Moirai–who weave the destiny of mankind; but it is they, also, who cut the threads. In most popular representations, Death is woman and it is for women to bewail the dead because death is their work. (147)

    Beauvoir reflects on a love-death, life-death tension to the extent that women represent both things to men, and indeed because every woman has a mother, to women alike, citing Nietzsche here:

    And man at once wants to live but longs for repose and sleep and nothingness. He does not he were immortal, and so he can learn to love death. Nietzsche writes, «Inorganic matter is the maternal bosom. To be freed of life is to become true again, it is to achieve perfection. Whoever should understand that would consider it a joy to return to the unfeeling dust». (148)

    On at least a first reading the declaration: «To be freed of life is to become true again, it is to achieve perfection» does not seem to epitomize the Nietzsche of life-affirmation, as he here continues to emphasize: «Whoever should understand that would consider it a joy to return to the unfeeling dust».

    To be «freed of life», to «return to the unfeeling dust», to joyfully return to the «unfeeling dust» has little in common with the Nietzsche of «will to power» or the Übermensch –which the official Stanford English edition informs us (undoing a century of scholarship) that Zarathustra means to tell us the «Superhuman». Is the Nietzsche, as de Beauvoir cites him here speaking of inorganic matter, the celebrated philosopher of life?

    De Beauvoir herself takes the quote from Bataille, a fairly uncanny locus, as most things «Bataille», especially early Bataille, tend to be: Acephale, published January 1927, the same year Heidegger publishes Being and Time. Part of the quote, it’s an amalgam, echoes the conclusion of Nietzsche’s inaugural lecture at Basel, reminding us that the ancient Greek philosophy is the sedimented remains of a death cult. To quote Parshley’s earlier version

    «To be freed of life is to become true again, it is to achieve perfection. Whoever should understand that would consider it a joy to return to the unfeeling dust». (148)

    This is not quite what we read in Nietzsche’s Nachlaß notes:

    To be redeemed from life and to again become dead nature [todte Natur] can be regarded as a festival –for those willing-to-die. To love nature! Again to honor the dead! It is not contradiction but the mother’s womb, the rule, that possesses more sense than the exception: inasmuch as there is unreasonableness and pain merely in the so-called “purposeful” world, in the living. (Nietzsche 1980 9, 486)

    What Nietzsche means by «dead», explicates Beauvoir’s archetypical constellation. The Nietzsche who invokes «cell salts», remonstrates:

    How alien and superior we are relative to the dead, the inorganic, and all the while we are up to three-quarters of a length of water [eine Wassersäule], and have inorganic salts in us, which may do more for our well-being and our woes than the entirety of living society! (Ibid.)

    For many years, I have been reading Nietzsche as philosopher of science and (simply because the only way to read Nietzsche on science is to take account of his specific ‘science’), qua scholar of ancient philology. It is to Nietzsche as classicist that de Beauvoir refers:

    man sought to overcome his solitude by ecstasy: that is the goal of mysteries, orgies, and bacchanals. In the world reconquered by the males, it was a male god, Dionysus who usurped the wild and magical power of Ishtar, of Astarte; but still they were women who revelled madly around his image: mænads, thyiades, bacchantes summoned the men to holy drunkenness, to sacred frenzy.

  2. Ranking the philosophers: reading de beauvoir

    I began above by suggesting the hermeneutic necessity of reading de Beauvoir. This is all the more important, the more one is concerned with Derrida or Deleuze or even Baudrillard. We need only think of Pierre Bourdieu’s dismissive and for all Bourdieu’s brilliance, wildly incorrect comments on de Beauvoir suggesting (and many others think so too) that de Beauvoir might be reduced to Sartre. Recent scholarly research confounds this prejudice: it was Sartre who was evidently indebted to de Beauvoir (cf. Fullbrook 2008 and Kirkpatrick 2020). The facts change little in our thinking as prejudices have nothing (almost nothing) to do ontic matters such as what is or is not the case (and for a comprehensive reading of the philosophical range of Beauvoir a thinker, see Bergoffen 1997).

    For de Beauvoir’s part, in the text she writes quite where, as I argue here, she draws on Nietzsche, the claim she makes is that woman is a reward for men –and here too there are parallels with Nietzsche’s observations, recalling his remarks on the warrior and his plaything (de Beauvoir specifies this as «the diversion of the hero» (de Beauvoir 1989, 214)–as she had earlier explained more generally that woman

    is the supreme recompense for him since, under a shape foreign to him which he can possess in her flesh, she is his own apotheosis. He embraces this «incomparable monster», himself, when he presses in his arms the being who sums up the World for him and upon whom he has imposed his values and his laws. The, uniting with this other whom he has made his own, he hopes to reach himself. Treasure, prey, sport and danger, nurse, guide, judge, mediatrix, mirror, woman is the Other in whom the subject transcends himself without being limited, who opposes him without denying him; she is the Other who lets herself be taken without ceasing to be the Other, and therein she is so necessary to man’s happiness that it can be said that if she did not exist, men would have invented her.

    They did invent her. (de Beauvoir 1989, 186)

    De Beauvoir here cites Nietzsche explicitly, citing an aphorism from Twilight of the Idols: «Man created woman –but out of what? Out of a rib of his god–of his “ideal”». [Der Mann hat das Weib geschaffen –woraus doch? Aus einer Rippe seines Gottes,–seines «Ideals».] (Nietzsche, 1980 6, 61)

    As de Beauvoir reminds us unremittingly throughout her study, things are not neutral: men who set the standards, write the laws, arrange society, define what women should be (even today’s transwomen follow these same sexist standards to an astonishingly mainstream or traditionalist degree, if not exactly at the edge of today’s fashion (this, for women, changes constantly), re hair, just so, and makeup, likewise just so or to reflect national taste, dress, seemingly de rigeur, and about all of which in the context of her own times de Beauvoir writes).

    In this sense we might read Nietzsche’s Gay Science aphorism for his observation, speaking in the voice of a sage asked to adjuge the case of a dissolute youth

    «It is men» said he, «that corrupt women; and all the failings of women should be atoned by and improved in men. For it is man who creates for himself the image of woman, and woman forms herself according to this image». (GS §68)

    Nietzsche’s sage has no influence (although it is worth that Nietzsche does not simply invoke the figure of an «old man») but still he protests: «Who could have oil and kindness enough for [Women]?» (Ibid. and again, as we shall see: GS §٧١)

    When it comes to fantasy or myth, de Beauvoir explains:

    Women do not set themselves up as Subject and have erected no myth in which their projects are reflected: they have no religion of poetry of their own: they still dream through the dreams of men. (1989, 142-143)

    If there are stories of Stoic schools that include women, if Anaxagoras, the «Preplatonic» philosopher of the tragic age Nietzsche argued as being far more than Socrates (ergo contra Plato), the «premier» philosopher of ancient Athens, as teacher of both Pericles and Aspasia would be politically repudiated for his pains (with the further difference that Anaxagoras accepted exile unlike Socrates who refused, insisting instead on a «final solution»),9 Plato’s circle did not include women as Nietzsche reminds us in an aphorism before the section of the first volume of Human, All too Human, «A Glance at the State», with respect to such «Last Things»:

    There are many kinds of hemlock, and fate usually finds an opportunity of setting a cup of this poison draught to the lips of the free spirit –so as to «punish» him, as all the world then says. What will the women around him then do? They will lament and cry out and perhaps disturb the repose of the thinkers’ sunset hours as they did in the prison of Athens. «O Crito, do tell someone to take those women away! ». (HH §٤٣٧)

    Women are not usually «there» in any case and Socrates does not tolerate the presence of at his death, although as de Beauvoir reminds us, it is the women who will be involved after his death. The philosophical adept is not a woman and the acolytes surrounding the adept are not women.

    Thus Peter Kingsley’s esoterically minded enthusiasm for Parmenides and the goddess in his 1999 esoterically minded (titled, nothing like being explicit), In the Dark Places of Wisdom, excludes women for a philosophy of the soul as ephebe, to be led by maidens but qua youth, not a maiden, not a woman, not female. This is not to say that ‘the’ feminine has no role to play but rather that that role is not that of philosopher/seeker:

    Every single figure Parmenides encounters in his poem is a woman or a girl. Even the animals are female, and he’s taught by a goddess. The universe he describes is a feminine one. (Kingsley 1999, 49)

    The soul that, in love, feels its wings stir and grow, this is also true in the extraordinary discussion Plato offers of metempsychosis in the Phaedrus, is male.10

    * * *

    Above I mentioned Strong’s reflection on playing with images and ideals to give oneself a «second nature», to form oneself as a second self, here with reference to Rousseau or to Weber or to Hobbes/Aristotle as indeed Nietzsche. (See Strong 2008. And cf. Strong 1996 as well as Strong 2005.) The question is Emersonian. The ideal that of an exemplar (or for Strong indeed, and this echoes Goethe, a genius), being for oneself and every complicated demand that poses for a human being. But it is also Strong who reminds us to raise the question of the philosopher as such. Just who is a philosopher? In a country of myriad philosophers, that would be the United States as it would also be England and every country in Europe, is a «professor of philosophy» thereby and automatically a philosopher? (Strong 2005, 235) Reading between Nietzsche and de Beauvoir the question has salience as being a «professor of philosophy» was one of the things that neither Nietzsche nor de Beauvoir could claim. But Strong reminds us, while not forgetting the relevance of Nietzsche’s «brilliant career as a philologist», we need to ask ourselves «Why did he want to become a philosopher?». (227) That there is an ontic and perfectly banal answer (teaching philosophy was a lot less onerous, work-load wise than teaching philology at both the university and high school levels as Nietzsche’s academic contract obliged him to have to do) does not obviate Strong’s further, emphatically pointed question quite as it animates a good deal of Nietzsche’s sustained writerly reflections: «what did Nietzsche think becoming a philosopher meant?». (227-228) It is among the merits of Strong’s essay that he tracks this question.

    But if we turn to the de Beauvoir of The Second Sex we are confronted with another question. In a text that confounded publishers, what was this book qua book? Thus featuring as it did physiological reflections, medico-sexual, literary, mythographic, ethnographic, sociological, The Second Sex was not immediately read as a contribution to «philosophy». First translated by a very competent and academically acute biologist, H. M. Parshley, many readers found themselves bewildered. And some thought the fault lay with the translator, and this suspicion is always true enough, even with the best of translations, thus Heidegger reminds us in his reflections on Hölderlin a poet who was also a translator, as Heidegger always focuses on «the unsaid in what is said» (Heidegger 1996, 105), reflecting on the δεινόν in the context of the hearth, ἑστία, reflecting on vestal virgins παρά παρέστιος, «Tell me what you think of translation and I will tell you who you are». (Ibid., 63) We need, and thus Heidegger proceeds to reflect on the translation of δεινόν in order to ask very much against his critics, «who decides, and how does one decide, concerning the correctness of a “translation”?». (61) We will always need a hermeneutic supplement. Yet when de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was retranslated, not one of the feminist scholars, not one of the philosophers who called for its retranslation undertook the task (the book would be translated by professional translators otherwise responsible for translating cookbooks, high praise, as The Second Sex was a known best-seller and for known best sellers publishers will pay the rates professional translators require). In consequence whatever the merits of the new translation it is not a more scholarly or more philosophically nuanced translation. That must await a third translation.

    There are a range of reasons as I have just begun to indicate but the main problem is de Beauvoir’s theme: the second sex. What does this mean? How does that fit philosophy. Today it is no question in some part owing to the thematization of life philosophy more broadly but also given what Nietzsche characterizes as challenge of thinking the body: that «scandal» as he writes at the outset of his Twilight of the Idols that has the temerity to behave as if, as if, it [the body] actually existed. This reference to existence, «there being» is repeated in Ecce Homo and, in another context, one might track Nietzsche’s influence on Heidegger. Here it is also worth noting that Nietzsche’s critique of the subject this begins in The Birth of Tragedy and echoes in early critical theory (elsewhere I note Adorno and see Saar 2007).

    For her part, the influences of Heidegger and critical theory must be ranged alongside psychology, history, anthropology, In particular as we have seen, de Beauvoir cites Nietzsche on death as a «festival» taking over both the post-war era and Bataille’s express writing on the practice of joy before death, which may also read in Bataille’s «Propositions» and infuse his notebooks on Nietzsche, an intoxicating, «exalting» combination of «will to power and irony». (17) It is for this reason that one might once again reread Strong, both with respect to his attention to «first» and «second» natures as already discussed but also to with respect to the question of Nietzsche and the political. Beyond a perhaps expected allusion to Nietzsche and the fascists we may note one of the first references to left and right Nietzcheans (Judas-Foerster 1937 and Peters and Besley 2020) just where supposedly right Nietzscheans may seem easier to find, Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue identified «left» Nietzschean readings, listing Kathryn Pyne Parsons, the same Tracy Strong I began by citing above along with [James] Miller (MacIntyre 1984, 114, and, more recently, see contributions to Payne/Roberts 2020).

    If Beauvoir reads Nietzsche indirectly, tracked via Bataille, she also reads him throughout her study and if we learn from Heidegger that «Every translation is an interpretation. And all interpretating is a translating», (Heidegger 1996, 65) we learn from de Beauvoir just how key this hermeneutic turns out to be in the case of reading and that will always mean, even when we read him in German, translating Nietzsche. Earlier I noted Nietzsche’s reference in The Birth of Tragedy to Goethe’s reference to «die Mutter des Sein’s, zu dem innersten Kern der Dinge» (GT 16), the «mothers of being». Expanding this gnomic reference, de Beauvoir reminds us that in

    a world reconquered by the males, it was a male god, Dionysus, who usurped the wild and magical power of Ishtar, of Astarte; but still they were women who reveled madly around his image: mænads, thyiads, bacchantes, summoned the men to holy drunkenness to sacred frenzy (de Beauvoir 1989, 151).

    De Beauvoir’s breadth follows Nietzsche’s as he details a complicated reading of what counts as philosophy in «the tragic age» along with the Dionysian as such. Thus her own reading follows in the wake of Nietzsche’s specifically dynamic account of The Birth of Tragedy and the powerful and strange, as he argues, «folk festivals» that are a part of that, including both «holy drunkenness» and «sacred frenzy».

    If it is here plain that Nietzsche expands what other thinkers of his generation also highlighted, it is also evident that de Beauvoir is in close dialogue with the preeminent French Nietzschean and theorist of «sacred frenzy», Bataille who has his own encounter with Nietzsche and his own recalcitrant misogyny (see Babich 2021, 339ff).

    Nietzsche uses the language of becoming in a crucial constellation, arguably the most concise history of philosophy: How the «Real World at last Became a Myth»: History of an Error. (Twilight of the Idols)

    Becoming is a Leitmotif throughout and how could it not be given the antecedent section where Nietzsche explains «Reason in Philosophy» telling us that change, becoming, including «procreation and growth» corresponds to everything philosophy cannot abide and seeks to «mummify».

    Thus and, here we limit our review to the second stage in Nietzsche’s short history, we note as critical in the present context its parenthetical counterpoint becoming a woman:

    The real world, unattainable for the moment, but promised to the wise, the pious, the virtuous man (‘to the sinner who repents’).

    (Progress of the idea: it grows more refined, more enticing, more incomprehensible –it becomes a woman, it becomes Christian… (TI, ‘How the ‘Real World’ at Last Became a Myth)

  3. On «lightning strikes» or trauma: love and marriage

    Nietzsche also offers what can seem tender insights into the situation in which women can find themselves. Noting this, de Beauvoir cites the observation of the tension between societal expectations of women and sometimes harsh realities of life, which represent as de Beauvoir explores this as she traces the passage from «childhood to adolescence». The difficulty is that this is not merely a rite of passage but at times a trauma, citing Nietzsche

    To be hurled by marriage as by a frightful strike of lightening into reality and knowledge, […] to discover love and shame in contradiction, to have to feel in regard to a single object ravishment, sacrifice, duty, pity, and terror, because of the unexpected propinquity of God and the beast –here is created a confusion of soul which seeks in vain its equal. (Nietzsche cited in de Beauvoir 1989, 457)

    The above discussion of poetry and mythic figure in Pindar (referring to Ixion and Hera also included reference to Zeus, among whose epithets were Keraunios. «Of the Thunderbolt», Terpikeraunos, «Delighting in the Lightning» (Hathorn 1977, 66-67) and the crucial detail; that Hera, Zeus’s consort, would, «every year become a virgin maid again and had to be wooed once more» (Ibid., 70).

    This is archetypically crucial for Nietzsche’s text (note the ellipsis in the citation above.) If we read Nietzsche’s assessment of this «gruesome lightning bolt», the tension in question is engendered by the societal «bad faith» in which in the 19th century, a woman of a certain class would be raised, keeping her exactly in the dark about sexuality quite as a matter of her supposed chastity. This Nietzsche already explores as an orientation toward the erotic that cannot but go wrong: «The immense expectation with regard to sexual love, and the coyness in this expectation, spoils all the perspectives of women at the outset». (BGE §114) In the case of The Gay Science aphorism de Beauvoir cites, On female chastity, it is notable that she elides the prefatory reflection for Nietzsche’s discussion perhaps as it, in nuce, articulates the arguments she sets out. Nietzsche writes:

    There is something quite amazing and monstrous about the education of upper-class women. What could be more paradoxical? All the world is agreed that they are to be brought up as ignorant as possible of erotic matters, and that one has to imbue their souls with a profound sense of shame in such matters until the merest suggestion of such things triggers the most extreme impatience and flight. (GS §٧١)

    Nietzsche continues to emphasize the contradiction in practice, that would be the wedding night, the same initiation de Beauvoir analyses as this will be, and it is this emphasis she elides as we again quote Nietzsche: «precisely by the man they love and esteem most!» (Ibid.). Nietzsche’s emphasis testifies to Nietzsche’s sensitivity: “«To catch love and shame in contradiction and to be forced to experience at the same time delight, surrender, duty, pity, terror, and who knows what else, in the face of the unexpected neighborliness of god and beast!» (Ibid.). And he continues, in the understatement that arguably could undergird a certain feminism in advance of de Beauvoir and certainly in advance of Freud:

    Thus a psychic knot has been tied that may have no equal. Even the compassionate curiosity of the wisest student of humanity is inadequate for guessing how this or that woman manages to accommodate herself to this solution of the riddle, and to the riddle of a solution, and what dreadful, far-reaching suspicions must stir in her poor unhinged soul –and how the ultimate philosophy and skepsis of woman cast anchor at this point!

    Afterward, the same deep silence as before. Often a silence directed at herself, too. She closes her eyes to herself.

    […]Woman easily experience their husbands as a question mark concerning their honor, and their children as an apology or atonement. They need children and wish for them in a way that is altogether different from that in which a man may wish for children.

    In sum, one cannot be too kind about women. (GS §٧١)

    The case might be made that the parallels between Nietzsche’s observations and de Beauvoir’s arguments are so patent that the wonder might be less that de Beauvoir takes as much as she does from Nietzsche but why –quite up to the level of the sensual reflection on the cat –she does not take more. Thus we can read Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil:

    The sexes deceive themselves about each other: the reason is that in reality they honour and love only themselves (or their own ideal, to express it more agreeably). Thus man wishes woman to be peaceable: but in fact woman is essentially unpeaceable, like the cat, however well she may have assumed the peaceable demeanour. (BGE §131)

    In reflecting on love, famously said to be everything to women, de Beauvoir again begins with a substantial quote from Nietzsche, citing The Gay Science, which is indeed a book written for and of love in a passage in which Nietzsche unpacks how and why love might be, as Byron says as de Beauvoir cites the poet here: «woman’s whole existence». For Nietzsche,

    The single word love in fact signifies two different things for man and woman. What woman understands by love us clear enough: it is not only devotion, it is a total gift of body and soul, without reservation, without regard for anything whatever. This unconditional nature of her love is what makes it a faith, the only one she has. As for man, if he loves a woman, what he wants is that love from her; he is in consequence far from postulating the same sentiment for himself as for woman; if there should be men who also felt that desire for complete abandonment, upon my word, they would not be men. (cited in de Beauvoir 1989, 642)

    Nietzsche traces parallel illusions but does not see these as effectively amounting to the same in men and women, quite to the contrary and thus his reminder, once again, that one cannot, no matter how one hope to, «have oil and kindness enough for them».

    The same Nietzsche who writes in Beyond Good and Evil, «The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit», (BGE §75) also adds the reflection (and these insights would inspire Wittgenstein): «A man’s maturity –consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play». (BGE §94)

    To this one must add the phenomenologically keyed meditation: «Seducing one’s neighbor to a good opinion and afterwards believing piously in this opinion –who could equal women in this art?–». (BGE §١٤٨)

    I am serious here in counselling restraint but there is also a need to find a counterbalance. Thus one may compare the reflection not merely on vanity, and one can find aphorisms of similar kind in both the famously misogynist Arthur Schopenhauer and Paul Rée who has his only little genealogy of morals to compete with Nietzsche’s including a series of cutting observations regarding women and women’s vanity (although de Beauvoir would observe that this in turn serves male conceit even if she herself also writes on this in the context of her 1960 Force de l’Age), «Women learns to hate to the extent to which her charms –decrease, (BGE §٨٤), we can add the quick punctuation of the succeeding aphorism: «The same emotions are in man and woman, but in different tempo, on that account man and woman never cease to misunderstand each other», (BGE §٨5) and the one to follow, arguably more cutting and one which also has worked contra de Beauvoir herself for certain readers: «In the background of all their personal vanity, women themselves have still their impersonal scorn –for “woman». (BGE §86.)

    Nietzsche makes the general observation, likewise in Beyond Good and Evil , there continuing his earlier observation on ‘truth and lie in an extramoral sense’ that in general we see imprecisely, that leaves are never identical one to another, even as we tend to call them by the same name, just so we rarely see a tree «precisely and completely» as he counts off: «leaves, branches, color, form» quite to the extent that it what comes to us most easily is fantasized «approximate» collage of a tree. Just so one can misunderstand others and their comprehension, projecting our fantasy of them onto them, thereby inventing the look of friendliness and insight:

    In a lively conversation I often see before me the face of the person with whom I am speaking so clearly and subtly determined by the thought he is expressing or which I believe has been called up in him that this degree of clarity goes far beyond the power of my eyesight –so that the play of the muscles and of the expression of the eyes must have been invented by me. Probably the person was making a quite different face or none whatever. (BGE §192)

    What characterizes Nietzsche’s discussions of women tends to be a certain severity with respect to men. Thus above I cited the sage’s (impotent) advice to the crowd who complained that a youth was being ‘corrupted’ by women: «It is men that corrupt women». (GS §68) Nietzsche does not merely set the sentiment in the mouth of one known to be wise, a sage, aged and thus above the fray and its contestations, but makes the case for the claim he asserts, whereby «man who creates woman» –a claim that cuts two ways, both against the account related in Genesis –in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche had already quoted Goethe’s poetic allusion to humanity as «creatures» of Prometheus– but not less, this is special pleading, presumptive male innocence in such matters, implying per contra that it is women who are innocent of the trap they are caught in. Thus again, one can scarcely «have oil and kindness enough for them» and we may need to take Nietzsche at his word.

    Nietzsche himself has his own problems, his own squeamishness. Thus he reflects that lovers, specifically those who love a woman, to the extent that they love, consequently «conceive a hatred for nature on account of all the repulsive natural functions to which every woman is subject». (GS §59) The misogyny of the sentiment has to do with the transfer between woman and nature and as in the later reflection on Will and Willingness, the aphorism entitled We artists, draws an analogy with God’s sensorium. Thus as consequence of love as this also applies in the case of deity/piety: «We artists! We ignore what is natural. We are moonstruck and God-struck». (GS §59) Reflecting on the anathema that would have been «everything said about nature by astronomers, geologists, physiologists, or physicians» is the preamble for yet another dyadically tuned reflection both on woman as image, as phantasm, coupled with, thus the metaphor is no accident: Newtonian physics: Women and their action at a distance. The aphorism is sufficiently complicated that Jacques Derrida would take a small opusculum sized essay to unpack it in Éperons/Spurs (1979).

    But Nietzsche’s text –here to vary Derrida, as one should always vary Derrida who is himself varying Nietzsche telling us that although the title for his own disquisition is «style» his «subject shall be woman»–is all about Nietzsche and his own concerns. Thus Nietzsche begins, and we need to have read all of Nietzsche to begin to understand this –thus again we may recall, as Strong reminds us, although the reference is to Wagner’s idea of cultural revolution, that «[r]ight feeling goes to the ear, not the eye, or, more accurately, as Zarathustra muses, one must learn to “listen with one’s eyes”». At issue is the necessity of learning «to hear with our eyes» (Strong 2008, 55)–and we may match this with Nietzsche as he offers a verbal shaking of his head: «Do I still have ears? Am I all ears and nothing else?» Nietzsche’s text takes us immediately to the shore and we are almost in the same Wagnerian company Strong suggests with reference to Nietzsche’s language of the «old earth-shaker» (and this is not unrelated to Zeus, god of thunder and «delighter in lightning» already cited from Hathorn above), singing «his aria in the lowest depths, deep as a bellowing bull, while pounding such an earth-shaking beat that the hearts of even those weather-beaten rocky monsters are trembling in their bodies» (GS §60) There on the horizon, the image, as we are still at the sea shore, of a «large sailboat»,–«an immense butterfly over the dark sea». And Nietzsche, still talking to himself, this being the point of «actio in distans», exclaims: «Yes! To move over existence! That’s it! That would be something!». (Ibid.)

    Now it is not clear that Nietzsche’s sentiment is not one that is common to everyone, indeed it is and thus the efficacy of the text that inspires Derrida to write on «style». Here Nietzsche adds a reflection on fantasy projection as idealization, imagining «quiet, magical beings gliding past him and to long for their happiness and seclusion: women». (GS §60) De Beauvoir carefully details the contours in history and myth of this fantasy projection. The paradox is the greatest sleight of hand in physics: actio in distans. Nietzsche’s point is that any proximity, eliminating distance, also shatters the illusion.

    In the text that follows, that is Zarathustra with its allusive sexism and general indirection –«life is a woman» we read in The Gay Science, repeated in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

    To a certain extent, these are Nietzsche’s prejudices, his «unteachables» down to the depths of his being (BGE §231) –the verticality being part of depth and sexuality, and thus incorrigible. As he continues:

    In the case of every cardinal problem there speaks an unchangeable «this is I»; about man and woman, for example, a thinker cannot relearn but only learn fully –only discover all that is «firm and settled» within him on this subject. (BGE §231)

    Perhaps the most redemptive reflection Nietzsche offers us is also his most unmistakable paralleling insight:

    That which Dante and Goethe believed of woman –the former when he sang «ella guardava suso, ed io in lei», the latter when he translated it «the eternal-womanly draws us upward»–: I do not doubt that every nobler woman will resist this belief, for that is precisely what she believes of the eternal-manly… (BGE §236)

    At issue seems a sustained diatribe but there is also consideration for woman, at least the «nobler» type, as he says, as they tend to indulge in the same deception, perhaps similarly «unteachable» with respect to men.

    For de Beauvour:

    The truth that for woman man is sex and carnality has never been proclaimed because there is no one to proclaim it. Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth. (1989, 143)

    Explicating the point that humanity is «male», citing the canonic authority of Aristotle, St. Thomas, Michelet, and her contemporary, Julien Benda’s emphasis in this authoritative tradition that «Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man” (cited xxii), de Beauvoir explains that woman

    is simply what man decrees; thus she is called «the sex», by which is meant that she appears essentially to man as a sexual being. For him she is sex–absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute –she is the Other. (Ibid.)

    Here it is important to note that talk of the «Other» here does not mean that women will henceforth be included as de Beauvoir makes plain in a footnote that this does not mean that Emmanuel Levinas, the thinker of the Other, will give woman any special distinction. Instead and to the contrary «…when he writes that woman is mystery, he implies that she is mystery for man». (Ibid.)

    This is Nietzsche’s point of departure for The Birth of Tragedy: the sexes misunderstand and as he will always insist, cannot but misunderstand one another, conflicts between them (the echo refers to Hölderlin’s Zwist des Liebenden), are perpetual, permitting only occasional reconciliations as Nietzsche writes (BT §1).

  4. The logic –and force–of misogyny

    to seduce their neighbour to a favourable opinion, and afterwards to believe implicitly in this opinion of their neighbour –who can do this conjuring trick so well as women? (Nietzsche, BGE §148)

    Despite the patent genealogical trajectory and philological,11 literary (which is still to say, literally, «classically», philological), and mythological foundations of her pathbreaking The Second Sex, especially the key Nietzschean claim that »one is not born but becomes a woman», the obstacle to reading between Nietzsche and de Beauvoir is Nietzsche’s misogyny. This is also the dimensionality of age as this goes along with misogyny and must be added to Nietzsche’s aletheological discussion of truth as a woman, and that is very specifically Baubô. This is not merely as Kofman (1988) emphasizes in her essay of the same title in the translation Tracy Strong prepared for inclusion in his collection, co-edited with Michael Gillespie, Nietzsche’s New Seas. Beyond Kofman, the collective volume as a whole might seem to echo, de Beauvoir’s dreaded «Mare tenebrarum» (de Beauvoir 1989, 147) at matter of the uncannily erotic that one may also encounter in Bataille or affirmative joy (see among many others, Tevebring 2020 as well as Owen 1993). Thus for example, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir (2012b) although citing Kofman and Irigaray and Hélène Cixous, does not cite de Beauvoir’s «dark sea» or its context as I have sought to discuss this above although she does cite conventional readings of woman (and laughter) in antiquity. Bataille glosses the same without ranging it mythologically in his wartime Nietzsche diaries, where he compares the bloodiness of the crucified Christ and woman (Bataille 1992, 148). The reference is not a neutral one and earlier Bataille had underlined the draw or undertow that attracted him to «the seamy side of things –the guillotine, the gutter, prostitutes… Evil and decline kept me bright-eyed». (Ibid.)

    At stake is the same emphasis Nietzsche foregrounds noted above when attending to the issue of «”Reason” in Philosophy» in his Twilight of the Idols, a text which can appear to read this to be more not less philologically minded, especially with respect to the notion of an «idol».

    The tyranny of reason, as Nietzsche suggests in his first section of this book can only be explained in context: «there must exist no little danger of something else playing the tyrant». (TI, The Problem of Socrates §10) Again, we need hermeneutics, often in short supply in professional philosophy, and Nietzsche claims the reasons for this paucity are endemic in academia, including his own field of classics. Foregrounding the body and the senses, Nietzsche insists that we today have science have it only to the degree that we have decided to accept the evidence of the senses. (TI, ‘Reason’ in Philosophy §3) But just this is anathema as Nietzsche argues to philosophy as it tends «to kill, to stuff», that is, as he says, «to mummify» anything that «becomes» or changes. For Nietzsche, this amounts to philosophy’s «lack» of philology (i.e., «hermeneutics», Babich 2014), which Nietzsche here calls a «lack of history».

    There is, for instance, their lack of a sense of history, their hatred for the very notion of becoming, their Egyptianism. They think they’re honoring a thing if they de-historicize it, see it sub specie aeterni –if they make a mummy out of it. (TI, «Reason» in Philosophy §1)

    As already cited above, what is problematic for philosophy is alteration and specifically bodily, physical, physiological alteration. With respect to eros and life in general, what is wanted is to stay what change, and this may be maintained on whatever side of erotic affirmation. Thus the focus on Epicurus as Nietzsche cites Schopenhauer’s Epicurean ethos: «We celebrate a holiday [den Sabbat] from the penal servitude to the will. The wheel of Ixion stands motionless.” (cited in Nietzsche GM III: 6) What is at stake with the idolization of «Reason» is life. For Nietzsche this is part of the ressentiment driving the ascetic ideal in all its instaurations, including science and it’s antagonism towards life as it is, that is not the ideal of life but real life: bodily, messy, fragile, engendering, decaying, aging, dying life:

    Everything that philosophers have handled, for thousands of years now, has been conceptual mummies; nothing real escaped their hands alive. They kill and stuff whatever they worship, these gentlemen who idolize concepts–they endanger the life of whatever they worship. For them, death, change, and age, like reproduction and growth, are objections–refutations, even. Whatever is does not become; whatever becomes is not . . . (TI, «Reason» in Philosophy §1)

    In this essay I have drawn attention, as de Beauvoir also draws attention to the collocation of objectionable qualities as accrue to Bâubo, truth herself as this includes a glance into the truth of life, the –already quoted above line from Goethe that Nietzsche cites in his first book– «mothers of being». This truth Nietzsche tells us is the truth of «death, change, and age». De Beauvoir tracks this coordinate reference. For his part, Nietzsche underlines that this goes along with sexual reproduction (recall his reflections on Buddha when he is told that a son is born to him, who names this a demon, «Rahula»), thus beyond erotic joy but with respect to «reproduction and growth».

    The focus on woman and age is what can make this just a little clearer, if it also brings in the most misogynistic elements in Nietzsche’s thought. Count off the little chain of aphorisms that Nietzsche offers us in Beyond Good and Evil as these can but disquiet readers to this day. Now these are «prejudices», as Nietzsche calls them, owning them as his own «convictions»: «footsteps to self-knowledge, signposts to the problem which we are –more correctly, to the great stupidity which we are, to our spiritual fate, to the unteachable “right down deep”–». (BGE §231) In the following aphorism, Nietzsche features a list of«“Seven Proverbs for Women» (BGE §237) and to cite Reg Hollingdale’s translation: «How the slowest tedium flees when a man comes on his knees!». Here it can be worth interrupting to recall that this is how Hannah Arendt recalls that Heidegger approached her to seduce her, a old dancing school tactic. And Nietzsche continues, already indicating the key connection with age:

    Age and scientific thought given even virtue some support.

    Sober garb and total muteness dress a woman with –astuteness.

    Who has brought me luck today? God! –and my courturier.

    Young: a cavern decked about. Old: a dragon sallies out. (BGE §237)

    Here the tension with sensuality and woman’s genitalia, quite as Kofman argues along with Irigaray, is disturbing. Nietzsche is thus «no friend» to woman (see Bergoffen 1994). This he emphasizes, once again, «When we love a woman, we easily conceive a hatred for nature on account of all the repulsive natural functions to which every woman is subject». (GS §59) And here as noted above, referring to the divine sensorium, complicating his reflections on nature and «natural law» has everything to do with physiology: «The human being under the skin; is for all lovers a horror and unthinkable, a blasphemy against God and love».

    It is old women, and Nietzsche if he is not fond of them, likes to put his words in their mouths (he is not citing them):

    I am afraid that old women are more sceptical in their most secret heart of hearts than any man: they consider the superficiality of existence its essence, and all virtue and profundity is to them merely a veil over this «truth», a very welcome veil over a pudendum–in other words, a matter of decency and shame and no more than that. (GS §64)

    This is what Nietzsche adds in his 1886 preface to the second edition of The Gay Science, written after his Thus Spoke Zarathustra a book literally sandwiched between the first and second editions of The Gay Science, as Nietzsche there undertakes to explicate the riddle at the outset of Beyond Good and Evil «Assuming [Vorausgesetzt] Truth is a Woman –what then?» writing at the conclusion to his new preface:

    One should have more respect for the bashfulness with which nature has hidden behind riddles and iridescent uncertainties. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not letter us see her reaons? Perhaps her name is –to speak Greek–Baubo?” (GS §iv)

    Everything we may read of the «fold» in Irigaray and of superficiality in de Beauvoir seems on offer here in Nietzsche, if this also betrays the durability of Nietzsche’s original formation as Hellenist, as philologist as what he writes takes us back, or should to his very first reflections on «aesthetic science» in The Birth of Tragedy:

    Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is tro stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial out of profundity. (GS §iv)

    The analytic philosopher, Kate Manne has influentially explored the «logic» of misogyny and has recently turned attention to the body, perhaps she will turn, as de Beauvoir did, to the «coming of age». Two things to say by way of bracketing advance given pop culture’s «trigger warnings» and social media’s #metoo. First, as author, I also written and lectured on this as the object of all-too-ordinary academic violence (colleagues get angry or as one can also say, but it misses the point and the violence, «men explain things to me», in this case about feminism).12

    Writing on beauty and woman (and her relation to the mirror), de Beauvoir offers a phenomenology of self-recognition as a matter of memory retention and projection (pretension). This leads her to distinguish female and male beauty as in case of the male, beauty is constitutionally different from feminine beauty: male beauty «is a sign of transcendence» (de Beauvoir 1989, 631). Here again we recall Nietzsche’s reflections on the ideal in philosophy in his Twilight of the Idols. De Beauvoir emphasizes (I write about this in The Hallelujah Effect), that although men are able to recognize themselves in the mirror they do not, as she claims, find the object appealing, as such an object of desire, because «the man’s body does not appear to him as an object of desire». (Ibid.) If this may seem to be changing today that may involve a rethinking but it may also need specifically trans-thinking and de Beauvoir’s point continue to hold where, just by contrast she argues,

    woman, knowing she is and making herself object, really believes she is seeing herself in the mirror: passive and given, the reflection is a thing like herself; and as she covets feminine flesh, her flesh, she enlivens the inert qualities she sees with her admiration and desire. feels and wants himself to be activity and subjectivity does not (631)

    Here, as a second point, it should be emphasized that this relation to one’s image in the mirror, gendered or otherwise, also corresponds to and this is at issue where it comes to recognition (one recalls one’s image from previous encounters with mirrors rather than via proprioceptive identification with the image as such). Thus already in The Second Sex de Beauvoir points out that men and women experience aging differently. It is not her claim that men mind aging less and she also does not claim (and it is not true) that they age more slowly, save in terms of value and regard for their «aged» appearance. Thus men as de Beauvoir argues continue to be valued in age that is given their age and the look of their faces and their bodies along with all the other aspects of aging that go along with that. By contrast as de Beauvoir repeats throughout her study, matters are different for women:

    she is still relatively young when she loses the erotic attractiveness and the fertility which, in the view of society and in her own, provide the justification of her existence and her opportunity for happiness. With no future, she still has about one half of her adult life to live. (575)

    De Beauvoir’s observations remain relevant especially in the case of her contrast with men as they face the same problems of age given that «in him the passive qualities of an object are not called for, the changes in his face and body do not destroy his attractiveness” whereas, well before she is in any sense old, “woman is haunted by the horror of growing old». (575)

    In de Beauvoir’s book on aging, written scarcely more than a decade after The Second Sex, she explores the differences and dissonances across the board when it come to age while retaining the force of her original analogy between women and blacks here adding the aged to the societally disenfranchised. In The Coming of Age, de Beauvoir details the revulsion expressed in literature and convention specifically against old women (as we cited Nietzsche’s contributions above), in her reading of Villon’s painful verse on the decay of age, pointing out that for all its lurid language: «This is not an allegory; it is a precise individual portrait, yet it is one that has reference to all of us. The whole human condition, the whole of man’s estate, is called into question in the person of this decayed old woman». (de Beauvoir 1973, 219)

  5. Being towards death

    The Bataille de Beauvoir cites reading Nietzsche is also concerned with death and dying and this is related to Heidegger on authenticity which is in all about death.

    Thrown and falling, Dasein is «proximally and for the most part» lost its everyday concerns, concerns it shares with everyone else, the they, and this they-self, as Heidegger argues is for the most part the way Dasein finds itself, mostly not the «I myself». In this lostness in the they, which Heidegger also characterizes as Dasein’s fleeing in the face of its properly or ownmost, «authentic» existence which he also characterizes as «anticipatory resoluteness», has already made itself known by negation: this is a fleeing which covers up. This absorbed and very single-minded or dedicated flight into the concerns of the they-world is expressly a fleeing in the face of death –a looking-away from the end of Being-in-the world. This looking-away is in itself a mode of that Being-towards-the-end which is, in Heidegger’s terms, ecstatically futural. The inauthentic temporality of everyday Dasein as it falls, must, as such a looking-away from finitude, fail to recognize authentic futurity and therewith temporality in general.

    Heidegger goes on to explain

    And if indeed the way in which Dasein is ordinarily understood is guided by the “they”, only so can the self-forgetful representation of the infinity of public time be strengthened. The “they” never dies because it cannot die; for death is in each case mine, and only in anticipatory resoluteness does it get authentically understood in an existential manner. (SZ 477)

    When de Beauvoir writes her book on age, a memoir which should be read as an extended pendant to The Second Sex, she does not begin with reflections of a Heideggerian kind on death. Instead, she begins as Nietzsche begins his reflections on the death of God in The Gay Science, musing on the cave shadow of the dead Buddha. De Beauvoir recounts the anguish of the young Siddhartha who cried out upon his first encounter departing his sheltered palace existence with not a sage but an exactly ordinary old man: «What is the use of pleasures and delights since I myself am the future dwelling place of old age». (de Beauvoir 1973, 7) A parallel was for de Beauvoir to be heard in the confusion or perhaps better said anhedonic disaffection of the old woman (comparing the only superficially similar perspective, differently oriented in time, with the desultory diffidence of the adolescent male): «What’s the use?». (de Beauvoir 1989, 595)

    De Beauvoir’s conclusion to The Second Sex is almost triumphant, in a French way, calling for fraternity, a revolutionary but liberating and idealistic ideal (a call both urgent and unlikely). In The Coming of Age her motivation is inspired by the criminality, this is the word she uses, of our societal treatment of the aged. Part of this is the lack of solicitude as Heidegger would say, or as she and Sartre would say bad faith, and part of this is as basically economic as the financial constraints on women, often unnoted (and this oblivion continues to be true) as we may underline the elegance of her argument, it is assumed that «one has done one’s duty by them [by granting them] a small pittance» from which so de Beauvoir unpacks the implicit logic, it has to follow, simply given the rates afforded most elderly in retirement via pensions and social security, «then they have neither the same needs nor the same feelings as other men». (de Beauvoir 1973, 10)

    The issue continues and at the time of this writing it is still the case that «Old-age poverty has a woman’s face». (Roig and Maruichi 2022) To Manne’s analysis of what she calls the Logic of Misogyny will have to be added a reflection on what age compounds as it does not ameliorate, let us call this the «Tiresias effect» –as antiquity had already anticipated the lesser social capital of being a woman in old age, as opposed, thus Tiresias’ witness, to being an old man.

    Thus de Beauvoir goes on to say and her reflections remain useful given today’s era of the blatantly cruel and politicized meaning normalized rhetoric of «useless eaters», as from time immemorial this has characterized social views of the aged, especially but not only women:

    Economists and legislators endorse this convenient fallacy when they deplore the burden that the «non-active» lay upon the shoulders of the active population, just as though the latter were not potential non-actives and as though they were not insuring their own future by seeing to it that the aged are taken care of. (de Beauvoir 1973, 10)

    The problem for de Beauvoir, contra Heidegger, is that we have less trouble thinking of our death –Heidegger argues that we never think of it –than of thinking of ourselves as «old».

    Death comes, whenever it comes, «outside the frame», as I now quote Tracy Strong as emphasizing, it is also the case that age comes as a surprise, a surprise that begins happening as Nietzsche even when one is quite young and even when that too, as he says is part of youth: thus younger persons react with shock to early manifestations of age as these are always there. Thus Nietzsche reminds us of his conversations with the shadow. For her part, de Beauvoir varies the standard philosophical syllogism, All men are mortal, logically concluding, as not everyone gets to get old, that «a great many of them become old: almost none ever foresees this state before it is upon them. Nothing should be more expected than old age: nothing is more unforeseen». (de Beauvoir 1973, 12)

    At issue is a certain collimation of time, Heidegger would call it inauthentic:

    unlike Buddha, when we are young or in our prime we do not think of ourselves as already being the dwelling-place of our own future old age. Age is removed from us by an extent of time so great that such a remote future seems unreal. Then again the dead are nothing. This nothingness can bring about a metaphysical vertigo, but in a way it is comforting, it raises no problems. «I shall no longer exist». In a disappearance of this kind I retain my identity. Thinking of myself when I am twenty or forty, means thinking of myself as someone else, as another than myself. (Ibid., 12-13)

    Above I ctied de Beauvoir’s critique of Levinas and his «Other’ in The Second Sex. The critique is also evident (and we should not forget the thoroughly Hegelian context of France at the time of her writing) as de Beauvoir explicates her title, which so I have argued she takes from Nietzsche’s declaration of woman as a male «creation». Thus woman:

    is simply what man decrees; thus she is called «the sex», by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him, she is sex –absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute–she is the Other.” (de Beauvoir 1989, xxii)

    Carefully considering the eclipse of woman (inessential from the outset she is then less than nothing, 575f), de Beauvoir uses the example of the contrast between a young and an old woman, even the image of the same person, young and old «wounds one’s heart», (13) as she says, and the response to which is decided embrace of inauthenticity: «Until it is upon us old age is something that only affects other people». (Ibid.)

    Above we noted that de Beauvoir concurs with Heidegger’s reflections on inauthenticity:

    If we do not know what we are going to be, we cannot know what we are: let us recognize ourselves in this old man or in that old woman. It must be done if we are to take upon ourselves the entirety of our human state. (14)

    As de Beauvoir later puts the point writing on age and aging:

    Die early or grow old: there is no other alternative. And yet, as Goethe said, ‘Age takes hold of us by surprise.’ For himself each man is the sole, unique subject, and we are often astonished when the common fate becomes our own-when we are struck by sickness, a shattered relationship, or bereavement. (1973, 418)

    The flight in the face of that Heidegger names inauthenticity can only leave us shocked precisely because there is no tension of the ordinary kind that Sartre (and de Beauvoir) would analyse as «bad faith». Thus de Beauvoir explains:

    Old age is more apparent to others than to the subject himself: it is a new state of biological equilibrium, and if the ageing individual adapts himself to it smoothly he does not notice the change. Habit and compensatory attitudes mean that psychomotor shortcomings can be alleviated for a long while. (421)

    Thus de Beauvoir’s analysis explains the drag towards inauthenticity: «They cling to the idea that “this only happens to other people” and that for them, who are not “other people” it is “not the same thing”». (437)

    If we still need to think the question of woman as «other», we also need to think age and this was a challenge for Nietzsche both physically in his collapse and his reflection on the very impossibility of aging or dying at the right time. The remonstration that few know, as he writes ostensibly in a reflection on Portofino, «the art of ending», is matched with the caution that one can outlive one’s own victories, becoming «too old» for these, must be matched with a reflection that many apprehensions of age and mortality are also failure to note one’s youth (that too, those sentiments of age, he tells us, is «still» youth) and one’s living, just to the extent that Nietzsche never forgets the physiological constraints of self-knowledge and misprision, that is all about the simultaneity of death in life (see also for a reflection on Lucian and Hume on death and physiology as ‘«aesthetic science», Babich 2019, especially 229f). If youth is still a part of age, or what we take to be age, Nietzsche cautions us against «saying that death is opposed to life». As he reminds us, this is related the locus de Beauvoir borrows from Bataille, «The living is merely a species, of what is dead, and a very rare species». (GS §109)

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1 There are others to be sure and such as Thorgeirsdottir 2012 who traces influences as well as, in a broad discussion of de Beauvoir, the political philosopher, Schoenherr-Mann 2007 as well as, popularly, Mussett 2019.

2 Babich 2009 but also 2003.

3 I am indebted to conversations with Tracy Burr Strong (1943-2022) on the complex of habits as Nietzsche understood these and what it takes to give oneself an expressly «second nature», thus becoming what one is.

4 See, Bertaux 1936 as well as, in English, 1993 and see for a critique from the standard view, Beck 1981.

5 See Janz’s 1993 three volume account of Nietzsche’s life, including his departure from Basel, including a brief account of his pension, Friedrich Nietzsche. Biographie. Kindheit, Jugend, Die Basler Jahre.

6 Claudia Crawford 1995 who does not mention finances, does cite the complex underpinning that would have surrounded him via Alphonso Lingis’s «medical/psychiatric discourse» (93), albeit without in this context highlighting the cocktail of psychopharmaceuticals prescribed to him, seriatim, in just that context.

7 See, Hathorn 1977, 52f.

8 See, Hathorn 1977, 70f.

9 See for a discussion of Nietzsche on Anaxagoras, Babich 2020.

10 I discuss some of this in a different context in an essay reading Gadamer’s The Relevance of the Beautiful with respect to music. Babich 2023.

11 There is very little literature on this and see for a start the online editorial webpost by Yung In Chae 2016, largely dedicated to the task(s) of disambiguation and disciplinary boundary lines. Chai notes Nietzsche in her essay but only to advert to his misogyny and not foregrounding his own perfectly patent philological genealogy (Nietzsche is cited for what he says about the philologists of his day). At issue is the possibility, as such much to be desire, of a «feminist» classics. And see on literature and myth, Scheu 2015 and on myth(ology) in general, Le Doeuff and Dow 2010.

12 See for the lecture, which also includes a contribution to film aesthetics, «Love Actually: Logic & Misogyny & Analytic Anger or the Other Side of #MeToo»

ESTUDIOS NIETZSCHE, 23 (23), pp. 15-45. ISSN: 1578-6676.

© Sociedad Española de Estudios sobre Friedrich Nietzsche (SEDEN)

Recibido: 14/02/2023 Aceptado: 23/03/2023