Immanence and Abjection in Simone de Beauvoir



What makes The Second Sex[1] a revolutionary work is first of all its affirmation of a specific situation that pertains to women.[2]  Simone de Beauvoir describes “woman’s situation” in terms of the social and historical subordination of women to men. Although the organization of social life has varied in different epochs of history, for Beauvoir, the situation has changed little in its essence. She argues, however, that its historical stability is not a proof of the fact that it originates in woman’s nature. The situation of being the second sex constitutes in everyday life a certain character or personality of which Beauvoir speaks in a highly critical tone.[3] She takes it, however, as a product of historical inequalities. Her famous claim “One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman” licenses us to give a social, cultural, and historical interpretation of the situation of being the second sex.[4] Hence, Beauvoir’s account sets aside the biological explanation of the male and the female sex, in order to raise the question of the social status of masculinity and femininity. Patriarchy becomes the fundamental target, precisely because it is held responsible for the constitution or the production of the meaning and the value of masculinity and femininity. In The Second Sex the situation to which women are bound and from which they have to liberate themselves is called “immanence.” There is little doubt that “immanence” is a key concept in Beauvoir’s text, but from a philosophical point of view it still preserves its enigmatic allure. Toril Moi says that in Beauvoir the notion of “immanence” is accompanied by a series of “astonishingly obsessional images such as darkness, night, passivity, inertia, abandonment, servitude, enclosure, imprisonment, degeneration, devaluation, destruction.”[5] She also notes that Beauvoir would be reluctant to make use of such terms as “rest,” “remembering,” “tranquility” which can be positive aspects of passivity in immanence. Even though this negative portrayal of immanence impresses the reader, Simone de Beauvoir holds that immanence is irreducible in human existence, which is always simultaneously immanence and transcendence (LDS vol.II p. 16; SS p. 267 and p. 443). Existence in immanence amounts to repetition, and seems to be analogous to the inertia of animal life, which only reproduces itself and does not construct a world through action. In fact Simone de Beauvoir argues that it is possible to experience both transcendence and immanence, and return from the world of action to the realm of immanence in order to enjoy “peace.” However, such enjoyment is only possible if one’s transcendence is not obstructed. In patriarchies it is men’s privilege only.  Women, on the other hand, are robbed of their transcendence by men and find themselves enclosed in the pure opaque presence of the real where they produce nothing else than “pure and identical generality” (LDS vol. II p. 16; SS p. 443). They live a contingency that they cannot justify, and thus remain the inessential beings that “cannot discover the absolute in the heart of their subjectivity” (LDS vol. II p. 377; SS p. 684). Thus, although immanence is an irreducible constituent of human existence, and the immanent and transcendent aspects of living experience are inseparable, there is a fundamental difference between female and male experiences of immanence. In this essay I argue that the difference is to be found in the fact that woman’s immanence is historically determined by abjection.

Consciousness is, in Beauvoir as it is in Sartre, essentially intentionality, negativity, and transcendence. “Being condemned to immanence” is for consciousness the experience of not being able to actualize its transcendence, being riveted to one’s corporeal being or a person’s inability to escape from being seen as one’s body. The impossibility of making one’s freedom effective in the world implies the inertia of existence in the plenitude and darkness of being in itself.  Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether the Sartrean ontological duality of “being in itself” and “being for itself” can sufficiently account for the way Beauvoir uses the term “immanence.” The term “facticity” as it is used in The Second Sex is a difficult one because, on the one hand, it is used in both a Heideggerian and a Sartrean sense, that is to say, roughly as worldly possibilities into which we are thrown, and, on the other hand, it is made to coincide with the term “immanence” that Heidegger and Sartre do not use very much at all. [6] It seems to feminist thinkers such as Eva Lundgren-Gothlin and Andrea Veltman that Beauvoir’s style of using the term “immanence” refers implicitly to her appropriation of Hegel. Indeed, Beauvoir’s philosophical reflection on the history of patriarchy draws fundamentally from Hegel’s phenomenology of self-consciousness in Phenomenology of Spirit, and particularly from the part ‘A. Independence and dependence of self-consciousness: lordship and bondage.’[7] However, she also makes a decisive use of Claude-Lévi-Strauss’ The Elementary Structures of Kinship in which what is at stake is the enigma of incest in so far as it concerns the transition from nature to culture.

By “the elementary structures of kinship” Lévi-Strauss means the structures that delineate “an immediate circle” of kin and relatives, and prescribe preferential marriage with certain relatives and prohibit with others (ESK p. xxv).[8] A system is “preferential” if, even in the absence of a clearly formulated prescription, the members of a group tend to marry a certain kind of relative and avoid marrying others. These structural phenomena exist universally even though norms may differ from one culture to another, which Lévi-Strauss assiduously documents. One society may prescribe marriage with parallel cousins (descended from two sisters or two brothers) and regard cross cousin marriage as incestuous whereas another society may just prohibit the former and consider the latter as ideal. The hypothesis of the deleterious consequences of the consanguine marriages did not exist before the sixteenth century and a biological hypothesis is not necessary to explain the prohibition of incest (ESK p. xxix). It is a riddle because if one accepts the universality of nature (instincts, biological heredity, and laws of nature) and the relativity of cultures (rules, norms, customs, techniques, and institutions), the prohibition of incest appears to be a scandalous fact for it is a universal rule; it combines “the two characteristics in which we recognize the conflicting features of two mutually exclusive orders” i.e., nature and culture (ESK p. 8). Lévi-Strauss is concerned with the ambiguity of the prohibition of incest, the fact that it is at once “pre-social” and “social,” “on the threshold of culture,” “in culture” and “culture itself.” He argues that in the transition from nature to culture “the change can and must necessarily take place in the field of sexual life above any other” (ESK p. 12). According to him, neither the observation of the natural life nor the observation of social life can account for the transition because culture is a substitute for the natural life that it uses and transforms in a way to make all regression to nature impossible (ESK p. 4).

The way Beauvoir ties Hegel and Lévi-Strauss together in the Second Part of The Second Sex entitled “History” is not sufficiently explained in feminist readings. The failure to take into account Beauvoir’s appeal to Lévi-Strauss’ work leads to serious misunderstandings of Beauvoir’s characterization of woman’s situation in relation to both the master and the slave who are, for Beauvoir, both male. It is true that woman is a kind of slave because she is a servant. However, according to Hegel, what qualifies the slave as a slave consciousness is the struggle for life and death, and the experience of absolute negativity, i.e., the fear of death. This fear makes him into a slave but renders also possible, as Hegel remarks later, his experience of the essence of self-consciousness, infinite fluidity as such. Hegel writes: “But this pure universal movement, the absolute melting away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self, which consequently is implicit in this consciousness” (PG p. 134; PS § 194, p. 117). The point is that formative activity or constructive work alone without this experience of the essence of self consciousness in fear is not sufficient to constitute an independent self-consciousness. Given these requirements of the master-slave dialectic, Beauvoir concedes that this dialectic alone cannot account for the specific nature of woman’s oppression. She attends to the specificity of woman’s exclusion from humanity. Shannon Mussett is correct in arguing that in Beauvoir’s account woman is the “intermediary between man and nature, yet endowed with the inessential and dependent object consciousness.”[9] However, I suggest that if one inquires into woman’s function of mediation between man and nature, one will clearly see that in Beauvoir’s account woman mediates man’s relation to nature not just because she serves him and satisfies his sexual needs. She in fact mediates man’s relation to immanence; the relation of transcendence to immanence within the limits of certain rules and norms determined by the elementary structures that prevail. She can fulfill that function of mediation because of her being originally posed by him as taboo.

Although I think that Beauvoir’s original synthesis of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and the anthropological work of Lévi-Strauss must be given more attention, this is not my fundamental task in this paper. I am interested in the way the term “immanence” relates to the phenomenon of abjection and the intellectual relation of Bataille and Beauvoir as thinkers of that relation. Bataille himself does not use the term abjection, though he thinks it under several other terms, such as “abhorrence,” “repugnance,” “repulsion,” and “horror” whereas Beauvoir employs terms such as “fear,” “horror,” and “debasement.” Of course none of these terms can equate with abjection, as abjection would be their coincidence with desire. Not only do Bataille and Beauvoir attempt to think about the ambiguity of the object of man’s sexual desire, but they also do so with the same philosophical resources, i.e., Hegel and Lévi-Strauss.[10] Furthermore, they both aim at rethinking the relation between immanence and transcendence through sexuality, not only as the coincidence of horror and desire, but also in terms of subordination and sovereignty.

I shall first begin by raising the question concerning the sources of Beauvoir’s use of the term “immanence.” If it does not exactly mean the “in itself” of Being in the Sartrean sense, did Beauvoir get it directly from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit?  I shall argue that this cannot be the case. Secondly, I shall investigate the significance of the absence of the master-slave dialectic in woman’s relation to man and show that this non-dialectical relation complicates the question of woman’s independence and liberation. Immanence is what she falls back to in so far as she is not transcending. But what is the essence of immanence beyond such designations as “repetitive labor” or “mere repetition of life”? In my view Bataille is the fundamental thinker of Hegelian “immanence” on the French scene. I would like to raise the question whether there is a connection between Beauvoir’s and Bataille’s use of this term. As I see it, Beauvoir and Bataille think the same issue:  women, who are destined to give life and not to risk it, do not experience absolute negativity, but abjection. Woman’s function of mediation between nature and man is open to a reading in terms of “abjection.”  Even though Beauvoir does not use the very term “abjection,” she invents another term to think it, i.e., “absolute alterity”. Women according to The Second Sex are not relative others, but Others.  How can we explain the difference between the slave who is just an other and the woman as Other, if not by abjection?  In concluding, I shall briefly compare Bataille and Beauvoir and note the most significant differences in their approach.


Since Eva Lundgren-Gothlin argued in her Sex and Existence that Beauvoir’s concepts of transcendence and immanence as they appear in the anthropological description of the historical development of human society in The Second Sex are not quite Sartrean, but derive from Beauvoir’s readings of Hegel and Marx, more scholarly attention has been paid in feminist literature to Beauvoir’s use of these concepts. It is possible to argue that after a first wave of feminist interpretations of this dichotomy as “metaphysical” and glorifying “traditionally male activities,” “denigrating maternity and the labors that are seen as traditionally feminine” etc., a second wave of feminist reception of it came to the fore, which is more open to the call for rethinking it.[11] I agree with the second wave that seeing Beauvoir simply as a Sartrean would be a failure to attend to the depth structure of her text. She does not merely apply Sartre’s analyses to the situation of women, but creatively transforms the existentialist tradition by raising the question of sexual oppression. I also think that this transformation took place in Beauvoir’s own attempt to interpret Hegel’s phenomenology. What kind of impact did the second wave of interpretation have on our understanding of the terms “immanence” and “transcendence”? According to Veltman, for example, transcendence in Beauvoir’s use is not characterized by intentional consciousness, but by “creative and constructive work” and immanence is not facticity but “unproductive maintenance of labor.”[12] I hold that Beauvoir’s employment of these terms is more complicated than that. Thus an explanation of the philosophical web of relations that underlie Beauvoir’s appeal to them may help us deepen our understanding. My problem with the second wave of the feminist interpreters of the transcendence/ immanence pair is that they merely suggest a philosophical direction to follow rather than actually following it. To verify this hypothesis we need to pay some attention to Hegel’s use of the noun “immanence” or rather its adjective form “immanent” in Phenomenology of Spirit.[13] It is noteworthy that we find no use of the terms “immanence” or “transcendence” in his account of self-consciousness. This is why it is incumbent on feminist interpreters to show why Beauvoir reads Hegel’s master-slave dialectic in terms of this opposition. It is possible that these pairs of concepts are borrowed by Beauvoir from Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Indeed, Kojève makes abundant use of “transcendence” in a way that has a lot in common with Beauvoir’s use. However, he does not use the term “immanence” at all.[14]

Before revisiting Hegel’s use of the term “immanence,” let me briefly mention the fundamental controversy around the term. Broadly, rethinking immanence in a system of the unity of God, nature and spirit was the fundamental project of German idealism, common to both Schelling and Hegel. The controversy around the term is found in Schelling’s The Essence of Human Freedom, which was published in 1809, two years after the publication of The Phenomenology of Spirit, in 1807.[15] There Schelling says that immanence is the presence of all things in God. He distinguishes between the abstract and mechanistic philosophy of immanence that he finds in Spinoza and his own philosophy of identity. Although Spinoza’s pantheism is capable of accounting for the distinction of beings from God without their separation, in his system freedom does not maintain itself in opposition to God, but disappears in identity. And this is because the principle of identity is not conceived correctly, i.e., as “a unity animated by a movement of rotation within the circle of unicity.”[16] Schelling attributes to this movement not only the capacity for progress, but also sentiment and life.[17]

In the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel criticizes Schelling for both abstractness and formality, i.e., “the inability to master the absolute standpoint” (PG p. 13; PS §16, p. 9) but also for the fact that his conception of the absolute did not include negativity. Even though Hegel’s system has much in common with Schelling’s, such as a dynamic conception of nature underlying the surface phenomena of mechanism, the interpretation of being as will, the compatibility of the possibility of system with freedom etc. He also desires to take a distance from his dynamic philosophy of immanence. In the Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit he explains “immanence” in terms of the immanent movement of the Notion and the determination of the content and emphasizes that negativity belongs to it (PG p. 44; PS § 59, p. 36). He uses the term “immanent motion or self movement” in order to characterize the movement of the Notion (Begriff), the principle of life which eludes mathematical determination, and which produces essential distinctions, qualitative differences and opposites which transit from one another (PG p. 33; PS § 45, p. 26). Science is said to organize itself “by the life of the Notion” and the dialectical movement of being is described as “consisting partly in becoming other than itself, and thus becoming its own immanent content” (PG p. 39; PS § 53, p. 32). Hence the determination of the content is not external, does not come from the outside, but is self-determination (PG p. 39; PS § 53, p. 32). This immanent content returns into itself for it is the immanent self of the content, “pure self identity in otherness” (PG p. 41; PS § 54, p. 33). Hegel avoids using the term God to characterize this movement because “God” is not a concept, but a proper name, “the fixed point of rest” and contents of the speculative truths affirmed of God lack the immanent Notion (PG p. 49; PS § 66, p. 40).

Interestingly, Hegel does not use the term “immanence” in B. Self-Consciousness, in his account of Life and Desire and he does not account for the relation of particular self-consciousness to Life in terms of “immanence.” Life is defined as a process, simple universal fluid medium which brings about differences that do not have an enduring existence but are eventually superseded. In order to understand the determinations of Life we need to appeal to the infinity of the Essence and the Notion.  The individual consciousness is just a difference that Life brings forth and belongs to “this dividedness of the undifferentiated fluid medium” (PG p. 124; PS § 171, p. 108). So what is at stake for the individual consciousness is not to transcend the immanent movement of Life, Essence or Notion, which is by definition impossible, but to become what it is as self-consciousness through desire, attain its independence in the division of substance.

As Hegel’s narrative goes, self consciousness desires recognition by another self-consciousness, and does not completely reach its truth without it.  However, mutual recognition does not take place in Hegel’s account of the master-slave dialectic. Firstly, self consciousness becomes singular universal through the experience of the unhappy consciousness by the overcoming of the separation from the Absolute. As we get to (AA.) Reason, the standpoint of consciousness that has the certainty that it is all reality is assumed. In reason’s attempt to prove the truth of its certainty by searching to find itself in the externality of nature, the term “immanence” makes its re-appearance in Hegel’s discussion of the universality of organic life. Even though the observing reason does not know it, we are told that the significance of individuality results from “the oneness immanent in life” (PG p. 200; PS § 297, p. 179) and that the genus is constituted by the immediate unity of life with the universal, a setting free of the qualitative manifestation of the Notion. The lesson that observing reason must learn is that life is an activity which is productive of itself and that the internal process cannot be accounted for by external appearances, by just observing how life appears to consciousness. Scientific classification of individual organisms under their species and genera makes use of “representations” which evade the systematic development of the oneness immanent in life.

Hegel remarks that the immanent movement of universal self consciousness implies the reciprocity of individual self-consciousnesses, and the becoming universal will of the individual consciousness. An individual will which acts and builds a world is carrying out or realizing universal freedom for “This immanent movement proclaims the absolute Being as Spirit” (PG p. 501; PS § 771; p. 465).[18] Finally in C. (DD) Absolute Knowing, he refers to Spirit as “immanent differentiation” (PG p. 525; PS § 802, p. 488).[19] The immanent movement explains the subsistence of existence on its own account as “the Notion posited in determinateness” (PG p. 528; PS § 804, p. 490). The simple substance becomes the Subject only as this negativity and movement. We rapidly went through Hegel’s use of the term, but even this brief exposition suffices to show that immanence for him is not something to be superseded or left behind; it is the living movement of the Notion, the identity of identity and difference. This is the movement of Aufhebung. It concerns Life as the unfolding of Essence and as it is determined by the Concept. It is clear that Beauvoir’s term “immanence” does not derive from Hegel’s use, at least not directly from him.

Eva Lundgren-Gothlin in her “The Master and Slave Dialectic in The Second Sex” corrects the erroneous readings of the master-slave dialectic in The Second Sex[20] and rightly questions the limits of the thesis that Beauvoir’s philosophy derives from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. Nevertheless, she does not explain how Beauvoir’s reading of Hegel can be oriented by Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel in Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit.  Kojève uses the term “natural life” as something to be surpassed with the awareness of death, labor, work and action by means of which man builds a historical world of freedom. Both Bataille and Beauvoir find that framework insufficient and rethink the question of the transition from nature to culture, from animality to humanity in terms of sexuality.[21] In both, we find the emphasis that the awareness of death and work alone are not sufficient to account for the creation of a human world. And they both rely on The Elementary Structures of Kinship for saying that. I shall return to Beauvoir’s historical account of woman’s oppression in the next section before I proceed to take up the question of the philosophical relation between Bataille and Beauvoir.


Beauvoir holds that all human beings have the existential possibility of transcendence. Nevertheless, she still finds it necessary to account for the condition under which male transcendence has become effective in history as well as the problem with transcendence in the feminine situation. I argue that both the actuality of male transcendence and the difficulty of the realization of female transcendence are related to what can be called “abjection.”[22] In order to explain my thesis, I will discuss how Beauvoir appeals to Hegel’s master-slave dialectic with respect to which she depicts woman’s situation in terms of immanence. Both the terms immanence and transcendence are tied with the riddle concerning the universal prohibition of incest. This is to say that transcendence as it is historically effective is not just self realization by creative work in the world and Mitsein that rests on recognition, for abjection is constitutive of male transcendence and woman’s captivity in immanence. In the review article “L’Etre et parenté” that she wrote in the November of 1949 concerning Lévi-Strauss’ Elementary Structures of Kinship, Beauvoir says that “being man is to choose oneself as man by defining one’s possibilities on the basis of a reciprocal relation with the other; the presence of man is nothing accidental: exogamy, far from registering it, constitutes it; man’s transcendence expresses and realizes itself by it: it is the refusal of immanence, the exigency of a surpassing.”[23] In that essay she points out that Lévi-Strauss accounts for what Hegel fails to see, a gap in his account of history, but Lévi-Strauss’ theme of the transition from nature to culture must in turn be supplemented by Hegel, for otherwise he cannot account for history. And this is what she sees as her own philosophical task in 1949.

As readers of The Second Sex know well, two universal claims sustain the project as a whole: “One is not born a woman but one becomes a woman” and the anthropological thesis that “in all societies in the world woman has always been considered as the Other.”  Let me note that the anthropological claim is not present in Lévi-Strauss, but is Beauvoir’s own formulation. In The Second Sex Beauvoir gives a historical account of what makes us women. Her argument rests on a distinction made within the notion of “alterity.” Since the beginnings of Greek philosophy “heteron” refers to relative alterity. If A is different from B, then B is different from A. Both A and B are self-same, thus same in self-sameness, nevertheless different from each other in their determinations. In The Second Sex Beauvoir constructs her argument by adopting a well-known Hegelian premise according to which, the self-relation of self-consciousness is mediated by its relation to another self-consciousness. A self consciousness can be for itself, i.e., can have an identity for itself only if it is for another, i.e., finds itself in a relation of recognition with another self-consciousness. Hegel thought that the possibility of recognition presupposes the struggle of two consciousnesses. His task is to give a dialectical account of the transformation of the asymmetrical relation of power of one consciousness over the other into a relationship of mutual recognition. He does not raise the question of sexual difference in this context, which comes into question through Beauvoir’s engagement with history in The Second Sex.

Beauvoir emphasizes that woman and man do not enter into the master-slave dialectic, for it presupposes the reciprocity of two independent consciousnesses (reciprocity of freedoms) (LDS vol. I p. 189, 190; SS p. 160). She argues that throughout history there is no relationship of recognition between the male sex and the female sex because woman is construed as “Other” in the history of patriarchy as well as in the matriarchal societies that preceded the patriarchy. Beauvoir holds that woman’s alterity is not an alterity “similar” to man’s, not a relative alterity (altérité relative), but an “absolute alterity” (altérité absolue). This is to say that, for Beauvoir, woman’s difference is constructed as a difference that does not return to the same, does not enter in the Hegelian dialectic in which it could be sublated in the movement of “the identity of identity and difference.” An asymmetrical relation between the same and its similar other can transform itself into a relation of reciprocity. The paradigmatic example of such a relationship is Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. However, a relation between the same and the Other who is irreducible to the same can never become a relation of equality, and is likely to continue being a relationship of domination, which is different than the slavery of the similar other to the same.

Now, what is the nature of this absolute alterity? Beauvoir encounters its face in the Mother Deity of matriarchy. During the time that preceded the reign of the principle of patriarchy in history, woman was seen as “Earth”, “Mother”, “Deity”, and femininity was celebrated as the creative principle of life. Men had fear, respect and reverence for her because she was constructed as “the absolute other” or “the other that is not the same.” Thus it seems that the structure that led woman to her inequality and downfall in history had been instituted in the so-called matriarchal order. Beauvoir agrees with Lévi-Strauss’ thesis that even in matriarchies the society had always been masculine for power and authority lay in the hands of the uncle from the mother’s side. Both Lévi Strauss and Beauvoir take Marcel Mauss’ “Essai sur le don” (1923) and the question of the gift seriously. They infer from it that women are not mere objects; instead, they are highly valued, luxurious objects, i.e., gifts. Beauvoir gives Lévi-Strauss his due, because he realized that the relation between the two sexes rests on an asymmetry that does not turn into reciprocity. What interests her most in The Elementary Structures of Kinship is the following thesis: “The duality that can be seen in one form or another at the heart of society pits one group of men against another; and women are part of goods men possess and a means of exchange among themselves”(LDS vol. I p. 92; SS p. 80). Beauvoir’s conceptual contribution to Lévi-Strauss’ description is found in her insight that the practice of exogamy is based on men’s relation to woman constituted not as the same but as the Other. In other words, exogamy is the gesture in which women are manifested as Others. Beauvoir argues that marriage is instituted on the prohibition of incest, because the primitive marriage achieves a symbolic break with sameness. She writes: “…depending on the types of relations recognized in different societies, the banning of incest takes on different forms, but from primitive times to our days it has remained the same: man wishes to possess that which he is not; he unites himself to what appears to him to be Other than himself.”(LDS vol. I p. 96; SS p. 83) The institution of marriage permits man not only to take possession of woman, he also acquires the social status of being an adult in it, finds his proper place in the world, and transmits his acquisitions to his inheritors etc. More significantly, and that is what Lévi-Strauss’ analysis implies in Beauvoir’s reading, it is thanks to this institution that man becomes the unique incarnation of transcendence in the world and woman remains riveted to her being in immanence, which does not let her assume her own existential possibility of free self-realization in the world. Beauvoir thinks that a being condemned to immanence has not yet attained humanity, or remains excluded from it. The lack of transcendence in radical alterity makes her a being in itself which is not a being for itself, imprisons her in being. Hence Sartrean terms do in fact come in, but they are not explanatory, they do not constitute the fundamental philosophical thread of Beauvoir’s account. The domicile, the domestic life is woman’s enclosure in being, because the essence of exogamy (despite all the differences in the practices of marriage with which Lévi-Strauss deals meticulously in The Elementary Structures of Kinship) unfolds itself in a logic of gift which presupposes and ascertains woman’s absolute alterity.

Beauvoir argues that the authority that man had over woman was somehow restricted due to his feelings of horror and anxiety at the face of her fertility and alterity. She was dependent on him, but his horror gave her some power over him, thus he was also dependent on her. Hence this relationship of mutual dependence saved her from being enslaved by him. The slave was not protected by any taboo; although he was considered to be inferior to the master, and had the social status of an animal with a human face; he was not essentially different from the master in being man (LDS vol. I  p. 102; SS p. 86). In contrast to the slave, woman was protected by the taboos that concerned her fecundity. For man the other who is similar to himself, who is essentially the same, and with whom relations of reciprocity are held has always been the man other than him, the other man.

When patriarchy takes over and establishes its historical reign,[24] the woman and her children will not be enslaved, but dominated in the sense that they will be subjected to servitude. Given that a slave’s labor brought more returns than woman’s, with the appearance of slavery (esclavage) she lost the economic power that she held in the tribe. Hence, Beauvoir does not accept the claim that women were slaves in history, even though she affirms that they were put in the service of men (asservissement). What is the specificity of this notion of servitude, which is not slavery? Man enslaved the other who was similar to himself, and found a radical affirmation of his own sovereignty in the relationship with his slave.  However, a dialectical movement that can last for centuries can bring the downfall of this relationship of domination and transform it into a relationship of mutual recognition in which the slave will be liberated from slavery. But the situation of the woman is very different from the situation of the slave. When woman was constituted as the “absolute other” by man, he had confused her with the forces of life and nature, attributed to her magic powers on the grounds of her fertility, feared her, and posed her as the “essential.” Nevertheless, even though she was posed as the essential, woman, just like Nature, was a possessed and exploited being. Given that the role of being essential was assigned to her by him, she was on the side of the inessential (LDS vol. I, p. 92; SS p. 82). The Mother Deity, no matter how much power she had, was constituted by the male consciousness. When he became self confident over against the forces of nature he would have dethroned the idol of which he feared for a long time (LDS vol. I, p. 95; SS p. 85). Even though this subjectivity has alienated itself temporarily in nature and woman, it could take itself back from this alienation. Man was still subject to the contingencies of nature, to the sun, the rain, the drought, and the flood, but he had learned how to project his possibilities and build a world. He had attained a clearer consciousness of himself, come into contact with his transcendence, his spirit and will had began to affirm themselves against the confusion and the contingency of life.

The victory of the male principle, of patriarchy in history is described by Beauvoir as follows: “Spirit prevailed over Life, transcendence over immanence, technology over magic, and reason over superstition” (LDS vol. I p. 97; SS p. 84). Thus one gets the sense that patriarchy was historically necessary in the development of humanity. However, I think that what Beauvoir argues for is the necessity by which Spirit arises from and transforms natural life in which it lacked self-consciousness. For Hegel, as it is for Schelling, nature bears the mark of the spirit, it is intelligence albeit petrified (versteinerte Intelligenz), or ossified in the rigidity of being.[25] The question whether the devaluation of women precisely through their valuation (as gifts) by matriarchies and patriarchies was necessary for the coming to consciousness of Spirit is not sufficiently discussed by Beauvoir. She simply says that the devaluation of woman is a necessary stage. What is the ground of this necessity? Is it based on the fact that woman received her value only from the fears and weaknesses of man? Is that horror a contingent fact? What does it mean to say that “the  triumph of patriarchy was neither an accident nor the result of a violent revolution” (LDS vol. I p. 101; SS p. 85)?

Beauvoir depicts men as having biological privileges or advantages that enabled them to affirm themselves as sovereign subjects (LDS vol. I p. 100; SS pp. 85-86). At times she does sound as if the history of the two sexes is originally determined by men’s biological advantages. However, like most feminist interpreters, I take her analysis as anticipating the notion of “gender.” According to this interpretation, neither men’s biological advantages nor women’s relative physical weaknesses, nor the inequality between the productive capacities of the two sexes that follows from these biological and physical differences necessarily implies that men will be in the position of the oppressors and women in that of the oppressed. Beauvoir refuses biological determinism against which feminism fights since its very beginning. Beauvoir’s thinking of the organic body and her critique of biological determinism rests on Hegel’s critique of the observing reason in Phenomenology of Spirit. For Hegel the Idea did not exist perfectly in nature, the observing reason fails when it takes the exterior as an expression of the interior. Thus there is no relationship of logical necessity between biology and history.[26] Thus Beauvoir remarks that woman could not think and work in the world like man did because she gave birth to children and took care of them. This is why she could not participate in the Mitsein of men with men. If what she calls “the biological privilege of man” does not amount to the sublimation of the male body, can Beauvoir be talking about an advantageous incapacity? The capacity of giving birth should not be construed as a disadvantage, if the inequality between the two sexes does not originate in the biological capacities or potentials that pertain to male and female bodies, but is a result of the sexual division of labor within society.

I would like to note that when Beauvoir describes the domestic life of women in marriage, and the experiences of pregnancy, child birth, and breast feeding not in terms of their positive potential as sources of pleasure and pride, but as a curse, a burden, a handicap for women, she criticizes a culture in which these experiences inevitably impede women’s spirituality, not only their intellectual life but more fundamentally their world building activity. The female body becomes a handicap not because of its biological constitution but when the possibility of its free spiritualization is impeded. And this happens as soon as the female body is historically and culturally constituted as the “Other.” In The Second Sex, the cultural formation of the female body, the process of its gendering, is explained in terms of its constitution as an alterity.  This is the very mechanism that robs women’s possibilities of existence from them, and re-institutes them as beings in immanence. But why did this happen? The subordination of women to men goes back to how man saw woman as “the confused source of the world and the troubled organic becoming” (LDS vol. I p. 206; SS p. 170 translation modified).[27] To the extent that Beauvoir fails to give a phenomenological account of this regard her proto-feminist discourse risks falling prey to abjection. Even though I argued that The Second Sex reveals the logic of abjection that underlies the history of male transcendence, I also think that Beauvoir’s own discourse on the female body suffers from that very logic. Toril Moi remarks that when she says that in The Second Sex descriptions of the female sexual experience exhibits “a visceral disgust for the female sexual organs.”[28] Thus there is a sense in which Beauvoir oscillates between an internalized abjection of female sexuality and a description in terms of the abjection of the conditions of sexual oppression.


When Bataille introduces the term “immanence” in Theory of Religion (1948), what is at stake is the immanence of the living organism to the world.[29] A living organism is tied by the relations of immanence to the outside, provided that it can nourish itself. The flow of immanence between outside and inside is called “immanence.”(TR p. 20)[30] It is clear that Bataille thinks of immanence as organic life, organic communication. His fundamental task in Theory of Religion is to explain the human exit from immanence by the invention of the tool and the construction of the discrete world of things and to account for religion in terms of our desire to relate back to where we came from,  i.e., our own immanence. In the first volume of The Accursed Share (1949)[31] the transition is not thematised in terms of the “negation of immanence” and the “transcendence of Reason” but in terms of “general economy” and “restricted economy.” Lévi-Strauss’ The Elementary Structures of Kinship had a great impact on Bataille who commented on it extensively in the early 1950s. In “History of Eroticism” which is the second volume of The Accursed Share, and in Eroticism what is at stake is human sexuality as distinct from animal sexuality, which Bataille calls “erotic experience.”[32] In these works, human sexuality as distinct from animal sexuality becomes a necessary component of the account of transition from natural life to human world. Let me note that the term “immanence” is not present in them.

Despite the lack of the term, I still think that Bataille’s main philosophical question is man’s relation to immanence. It is my contention that Bataille takes up the term “immanence” in a reconsideration of Hegel’s notion of Life and his discussion of the observing reason at the face of the organic life. Since 1943, Bataille’s project is to rethink Hegel’s “immanent movement” in terms of “inner experience.” His “inner experience” is construed in opposition to the experiences of observing reason, and more importantly, to the projects and achievements of acting reason as these two shapes of consciousness appear in Phenomenology of Spirit. Since Inner Experience, he insisted that, and we find the same thesis in Eroticism, “eroticism” is an aspect of man’s inner life (E p. 31). In Inner Experience Bataille says that Hegel gives no account of eroticism as an experience born of not-knowing (IN p. 15). But what does “inner” mean if not “immanent”? Immanence and its relations do not give themselves to a consciousness that observes them from the outside. In Eroticism, which is written on the basis of familiarity with Lévi-Strauss’ work, the erotic experience as the inner experience of eroticism is defined as an impersonal experience “conditioned by taboos and transgressions.” (E p. 35) Beauvoir would agree with Bataille as to the absence of an account for erotic experience in Hegel, but she is more concerned with the fact that Hegel has no account of sexual difference in Phenomenology of Spirit.  I tend to think that The Second Sex attempts to provide a Hegelian account of sexual difference by bringing in what Bataille would later say that Hegel left out, i.e., sexual taboos and transgressions. But why did Beauvoir’s The Second Sex make no more than two references to Bataille? I will provide an answer. Bataille writes that only the inner experience can “supply the overall view, from which they are finally justifiable” and that “inner experience is the strings of life within ourselves.”(E p. 37) and he defends the same thesis since 1943. Now Beauvoir likes to distance herself from such an “inner experience.” Let me recall here that Sartre attacked Bataille for being “a new mystic.”[33] In Eroticism Bataille says that the historian, the psychiatrist, the psychoanalyst, because they seek an objective description of taboos and transgressions, fail to capture the significance of their experiences.  As I have already said, the same emphasis can be found in the Inner Experience in so far as the erotic experience is concerned. Clearly, in The Second Sex, Beauvoir takes the attitude of a historian.

In The Second Sex Beauvoir undertakes to make manifest the logic of oppression that sustains sexual inequality and the sexual division of labor. The dimension of radical alterity and the condition of dependency to which it gave rise did not immediately result from woman’s reproductive capacities. What I call “the logic of abjection” concerns the assimilation of woman’s fecundity, by the male consciousness, to the absolute secret of life. Due to this assimilation, man fails to recognize her as akin to him. Just like Beauvoir, Bataille raises the question why woman did not find herself in a life and death struggle with man. And he gives the answer that “prohibitions eliminate violence” (E p. 38) which is close to Beauvoir’s remark that woman was protected by taboos.

I will look briefly at the male experience of female fecundity, marriage, as a place to return to immanence, and the possibility of generosity in transcendence in order to show how Beauvoir and Bataille are in fact in dialogue. Bataille insists that the event of birth, of absolute beginning, exceeds the order of worldly significations and provokes in man a horror in the face of life itself. When he writes in the second volume of the The Accursed Share that “It is clear that we are sorry we came to life from meat, from a whole bloody mess. We might think, if need be, that living matter on the very level at which we separate ourselves from it is the privileged object of disgust[34] he could be read as responding to The Second Sex. Horror arises from the inadequacy of any representation to that which the consciousness is directed to grasp. Here the representation itself bears various confusions, is internally split and fundamentally ambiguous. The confusion here conflates the categories of animal, human and divine and even blurs the line between the living with the non-living, life and death. Given these confusions in the implicit horizons of sense giving, the female body that is capable of pushing forward from itself another body different from itself signifies itself to the male consciousness as an object of disgust and reverence at the same time. She is at the same time an uncontrollable, threatening origin of life and finitude, thus a sacred, divine being to be revered, as much as a repelling, disgusting, base, monstrous, being which is less than human. This ambivalent, ambiguous logic of abjection constitutes the ground for the exclusion of women from history, both as subservient sub-humans who do not make part of the world history and divinities which transcend the profane world and its history. What is the sense of the male experience of fecundity, by what it is mediated? Thus there is a sense in which both Beauvoir and Bataille think of the ambiguity of abjection.

Bataille inquired into abjection as the interrelation of life and death and understood it to be the condition of transcendence. As I read him, abjection is the very mechanism by means of which a profane world of hierarchical power relations comes into being by a separation from, a rupture with, or the negation of the immanence of life. Feminist readers have not so far taken abjection to be an explanatory term in interpreting The Second Sex. The sole exception to this is Tina Chanter’s essay, “Beauvoir’s Legacy: Abjection and Ambiguity.” There Chanter argues that abjection works in an oscillating movement or that it implies a double movement. Woman is reviled and reified or represented as the omnipotent castrating Other.[35] Beauvoir’s myth of the eternal feminine reflects the ambiguous logic of abjection. Its unity is hard to grasp for in it inheres several contradictions. According to this myth, woman is both an idol to worship and a maid, a sacred and repellent being, i.e. the taboo itself, both the source of life and a dark force; the primal silence of truth and superficiality, artificiality, gossip and dissimulation; healer and sorcerer; man’s prey and the catastrophe that leads man to his ruin. She is what man is not but desires to possess, “his negation and his raison d’être” (LDS vol. I p. 193; SS p. 162).[36] The Second Sex implies that the ambiguity caused by a constant passage of opposites into one another constitutes the content of the idea of woman’s radical alterity.

I would like to turn to Beauvoir’s characterization of man’s relation to immanence after he attains his transcendence in the world, because this question of the relation of transcendence to immanence is also crucial in Bataille’s thought. Beauvoir speaks as if man in his transcendence superseded the confusion and the contingencies of immanent life. It seems that in the temporality of immanence there is no future different from the past. Transcendence opens a sense of future, a time beyond the present. However, in transcendence there is in man a contradiction that cannot be resolved, a spiritual distress, an anxiety that cannot be cured. Even though he progressed to the light of reason, from the confusion of his initial consciousness, he finds himself lacking and dreaming for an opaque plenitude, that of immanence. For him, woman is the incarnation of this dream of immanence. Marriage provides man who returns home to rest from his own transcendence, a comfort that a slave cannot provide.  According to Beauvoir, woman is the mediation or the middle term between nature that resists man with a silent hostility and the other male which is too similar to him and with whom the struggle for recognition is harsh and strenuous. Despite the lack of reciprocal recognition between man and woman, she is not an enemy of man. No male consciousness can substitute for the female consciousness in her unique position in relation to man. The specificity of this position is that, while all consciousness resists possession, it is possible to possess this consciousness in the flesh to which it is riveted. If a female consciousness had not been present in man’s life, he would not have had the slightest chance to absolve himself even for a moment out of the master-slave dialectic that inevitably determines male to male encounters.  The woman who appeases male anxiety is a being of absolute alterity, opaque plenitude which is generated by the inactivity of her capacity for transcendence.   In her, the act of assuming existence is possible though not actual. That kind of absence or lack in the fullness or opacity of being enables her to fill up a lack in male consciousness, to fulfill his desire to be for itself and in itself at the same time. Thus woman who is posited as a radical alterity fills a lack at the heart of the male existence.[37] Man can actualize himself in the world, project himself to the future and go through a movement of becoming. In this way, he transcends his present being and as mediated by the woman, seeks to coincide with himself and to find the being that he lost in the world; she makes possible for him to rejoin himself (se rejoindre). The ambiguity that man experiences between existence and being, between the authentic and inauthentic selves is the ontological condition of a human being, according to The Ethics of Ambiguity.[38] However, woman’s right to this ambiguity is lost. She finds herself within the limits of marriage, as riveted to an immanence missed or dreamed by another consciousness.

This line of thought in Beauvoir is significant for my account because Bataille’s whole concern in The Accursed Share is the economical relation between transcendence and immanence and the erotic experience, including sexuality in marriage which is relevant for a discussion of a general economy to a restricted one. By “eroticism” Bataille refers to the sexual activity of man in contrast to that of animals (AS vol. II, p. 27). The Accursed Share insists on the idea that “in its initial movement, marriage is the gift that takes us out of animal life. It is essentially ambiguous because it “combines self-interest and purity, sensuality and the prohibition of sensuality, generosity and avarice” (AS vol. II, p. 56). And according to Bataille’s discussion of sexual intimacy in marriage, the “sexual act performed in marriage would have been at its origin, the object of a prohibition: the prohibition would be the rule and marriage the violation” (AS vol. II, p. 124-125). Thus, transgression of taboo in marriage would be “an existence outside the rule by right” (AS vol. II, p. 125). It is the Aufhebung of sexual taboos, for it preserves them as valid while violating them. In general, Bataille would agree that there can be no transcendence without relation to immanence, for we still need to relate to the totality of life in its continuum, which is only thinkable in terms of general economy. His argument rests on the claim that without taking into account the laws of general economy we cannot come to terms with the prohibition of incest, the institution of marriage, and the patriarchal order of subordination of women to men. If this is right, it seems to me that the question of the liberation of women cannot just be a question of transcendence, but must also be a question of the possibility of generosity between women and men. And Beauvoir takes that ethical direction and inquires into an ethics of general economy.

According to Beauvoir, the virtues such as friendship and generosity are not easy to practice precisely because they require the mutual recognition of two free beings. These virtues are the highest accomplishments of a human being for they make possible a life lived in the truth of its being. A life lived in the truth of being is what Beauvoir calls “a conversion.” Here it seems we are at the core of Beauvoir’s rethinking of authenticity because conversion implies the overcoming of the alienation to one’s self, to one’s own transcendence and the entering into the movement of assuming one’s own existence. Generosity is the critical virtue for such a life, because the things we own manifest our quest for being. In a relationship with the other, the effort to possess him or her is also part of our quest for being. We know that the male subject attains self-consciousness in his relation with the other males. Mutual recognition, conversion and generosity are thus possible in the relation between two men. If mutual recognition is the precondition for the possibility of generosity and friendship between woman and man, in the case of its absence the relation between the two sexes is at best a one sided relation of immanence, in which generosity and friendship are out of question. Let us note that generosity in Beauvoir does not lead back to immanence but accompanies transcendence whereas for Bataille it leads us back to immanence, if it is indeed “sovereign expenditure” without return.



Even though Beauvoir remains, after all, within the horizon of an “anthropological reading of Hegel”, she also departs from it in two respects: Firstly, she raises the question of the specific nature of sexual oppression and secondly, she reads Hegel’s problem of recognition by tying it with what I describe as “abjection.” Leaving aside the difficult question of the event of mutual recognition in Hegel, we can say that for Beauvoir, the drama of the master and the slave will be overcome at the end of a movement in which two consciousnesses set themselves and each other forth as both objects and subjects for each other, i.e., with the self recognition of the one in the other. Mutual recognition is possible only if both consciousnesses recognize themselves as well as the other consciousness as worthy of recognition without losing themselves in the other. The question of recognition is tied to that of abjection because a mutual recognition between man and woman is difficult because of historical reasons. Woman and man do not enter in the master-slave dialectic for woman does not experience absolute negativity but abjection, constitution as absolute alterity. Women remain in immanence as excluded from the history of transcendence which they make possible.

I gave an account of the Beauvoirian notion of “immanence” in terms of “abjection,” in an attempt to show that Beauvoir’s philosophical legacy is more complicated than an uncritical employment of both Sartrean and Hegelian categories. Beauvoir is making an original synthesis of Hegel and Lévi-Strauss, which is worth comparing to Bataille’s synthesis of these two thinkers. I see more Bataille than Kojève in Beauvoir’s reworking of the woman’s situation in terms of Lévi-Strauss’ anthropology, in The Elementary Structures of Kinship, and Hegel’s master- slave dialectic. According to the narrative of The Second Sex, woman has been considered as a sacred and horrifying object of desire by man due to her fecundity and maternity. In The Accursed Share Bataille writes: “I think that the feeling of horror (I am not talking about fear) does not correspond, as most people believe, to what is bad for us, to what jeopardizes their interests. On the contrary, if they horrify us, objects that otherwise would have no meaning take on the highest present value in our eyes” (AS vol. II, p. 104). The radical alterity of the taboo implied a non-dialectical Other. The relation between transcendence and abjection becomes manifest as soon as we inquire into the relation between the building of a profane world and the construction of the woman as the radical other. The control of life’s forces and the control over women’s bodies mutually imply each other and are made possible by one and the same process of abjection. The repetition, the internalization, and the forgetting of abjection make worldly transcendence possible.

For Bataille the movement of valuation and devaluation of women or abjection is an event whose necessity would be thinkable in economical terms. He argues “The prohibition of incest is less a rule prohibiting marriage with the mother, sister or daughter than obliging the mother, sister or daughter to be given to others” (AS vol. II, p. 44). Both Beauvoir and Bataille look out for the possibility of a generosity to interrupt the founding logic of gift. In general, we can construe the main difference between them as follows: Bataille and Beauvoir questioned the meaning of our sexed being or existence. However, while Bataille privileged the term “inner experience” and understood history in terms of his political economy, Beauvoir takes an objective historical, cultural, psychological approach. Although they share a great deal, there is a significant difference: Bataille revalues immanence over against transcendence understood as work and the accumulation of surplus, whereas Beauvoir does not take this path.

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe, vol. I, (Paris: Gallimard, Collection Idées, 1970); Le deuxième sexe, vol. II, (Paris: Gallimard, Collection Idées, 1969); Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans., Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, ed. Alfred A. Knopf, (New York: Random House Inc, 2010). I will refer to the French version as LDS and the English translation as SS.

[2] I acknowledge that there is a great philosophical complexity to the term “woman” given all kinds of differences among women. Contemporary feminism raises the question how race, sexuality, class, education, age differences constitute our gender identity.  How does the category of woman stand in relation to transgender identities? Given that in this essay I am taking up the concepts of immanence and abjection  more in the genre of history of philosophy, I shall not be able discuss Beauvoir’s problematic use of it. I simply note here that Judith Butler offers a powerful critique of Beauvoir’s use of this category in Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990).

[3] She “wallows in immanence, she is argumentative, she is cautious and petty, she does not have the sense either of truth or of accuracy, she lacks morality, she is vulgarly self serving, selfish, she is a liar and an actress.”(LDS vol.II  pp. 306-7; SS p. 638).

[4] This claim anticipates the concept that feminists later called “gender.” Woman is not a creature of nature but of culture. We are all born with specific corporeal features, capacities and tendencies, though their presentation, the decisions as to what they mean, and the value they are given in their corporeal manifestations depend on the pre-existing social and historical practices.

[5] Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir: The making of an intellectual woman(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), 174.

[6] As Andrea Veltman notes, “there is only one relevant use of “immanence” in Being and Nothingness and the term is used to deny the equation of being-in-itself with “immanence.” See, Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, lxv. Andrea Veltman, “Transcendence and Immanence in Beauvoir’s Ethics”, in Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Critical Essays, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 129.

[7] G.W.F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1988); G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans., A.V.Miller, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). From now on PG and PS respectively.

[8] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans., James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969). From now on ESK.

[9] Shannon M. Mussett, “Conditions of Servitude: Woman’s Peculiar Role in the Master-Slave Dialectic in Beauvoir’s Second Sex”, in Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Critical Essays, ed. Margaret. A. Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 283.

[10] In The Second Sex there are only two references to Bataille, however her confessional writing shows us that Beauvoir was in intellectual and personal contact with him during the 1940s. Bataille publishes The Inner Experience in 1943, Theory of Religion in 1948 and the first volume of The Accursed Share in 1949. His fictional works, Le coupable, L’impossible, Madame Edwarda, Le petit, L’archangélique, also date from 1940s.

[11] For example, Andrea Veltman reads transcendence/immanence dichotomy as normative and thinks that feminists should not reject straightforwardly “an ethics structured around the dichotomy between transcendence and immanence.” Andrea Veltman, “Transcendence and Immanence in Beauvoir’s Ethics,” Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Critical Essays, ed. Margaret A. Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 127.

[12] Ibid., 124.

[13] In Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel does not use the term “immanence” but he uses the adjective “immanent” eleven times. See., Joseph Gauvin, Wortindex zu Hegels “Phänomenologie des Geistes,” Hegel Studien, Beiheft 14 (Bonn: Bouvier Grundmann, 1984).

[14] Alexandre Kojève,  Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, assembled by Raymond Queneau, ed. Allan Bloom, trans., James H. Nichols, Jr, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[15] F.W.J. Schelling, Über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1997), 9-21; F.W.J. Schelling, Of Human Freedom, trans., James Gutmann (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1936), 9-24.

[16] Ibid, 18.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Let us note here that the term “immanent” is not found  in the original text, but is an addition of the translator.

[19] Here too the translator is adding the term “immanent.” I am not implying that these additions distort the meaning of the original text. On the contrary, they make it more explicit. But Hegel himself is not using the term.

[20] See Eva Lundgren-Gothlin, “The Master and Slave Dialectic in The Second Sex,Simone de Beauvoir: A Critical Reader, ed. Elizabeth Fallaize, (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 93-94.

[21] See Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Volume II and III trans., Robert Hurley, (New York: Zone Books, 1993), 53; and Simone de Beauvoir, “L’Être et la parenté,” Magazine Littéraire, Lévi-Strauss/Hors Série No:5, (2006): 60-63.

[22] This insight belongs originally to Tina Chanter.  See Tina Chanter, “Abjection and Ambiguity: Simone de Beauvoir’s Legacy, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 14, No:2 (2000).

[23] Simone de Beauvoir, “L’Être et la parenté,” Magazine Littéraire, Lévi-Strauss/Hors Série No:5 (2006), 63. The English translation is mine: “…être homme, c’est se choisir comme homme en définissant ses possibilités sur la base d’une relation réciproque avec l’autre; la présence de l’autre n’a rien d’un accident: l’exogamie, bien loin de se borner à  l’enregister, au contraire la constitue; par elle s’exprime et se réalize la transcendance de l’homme: elle est le refus de l’immanence, l’exigence d’un dépassement…”

[24] What makes possible the passage from the matriarch to patriarchy?  According to Lévi-Strauss, the passage can be accounted by the fact that man felt a stronger attachment for his sons rather than his nephews, and at a critical moment, chose to affirm himself as father rather than uncle. On the other hand, Beauvoir prefers to explain the passage from matriarchy to patriarchy by appealing to a moment of rupture or transformation in agricultural culture. This is the moment of the invention of the instrument, of the coming into being of the homo faber, of man’s overcoming of the horror and the confusion he had at the face of nature and womanhood, of his return to himself from alienation and the consequent change in his relation to the world. The birth of rationality and of mathematics on one hand and the enslavement of men on the other hand take place simultaneously (LDS vol. I p. 97-98; SS p. 84).

[25] G.W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopaedia Logic :  Part I of the Encylopaedia of Philosophical Sciences with the Zusätze, trans., T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, H.S. Harris (Indianapolis, Cambridge : Hackett Publishing Company,1991) § 24 A.

[26] See G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans., A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977) § 277-280. Body’s appearance in the world cannot be explained in terms of determinism. This is why the question of transcendence in Beauvoir’s account is decisive.

[27] The expression is awkward in French: “…elle est la source confuse du monde et trouble devenir organique.”

[28] Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir: The making of an intellectual woman, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), 196. See also p. 193: “…there can be no doubt that Beauvoir’s visceral disgust at the female sexual organs reveals an unconscious horror of more than just patriarchy: here, surely, lurks the threatening image of the mother, so central to the melodramatic imagination of L’invitée.”

[29] Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion, trans., Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1992), 19. From now on TR.

[30] Jean Hyppolite in Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (originally published in 1946) makes use of the term “immanence.” What is at stake in his use of the term is precisely the immanent finality in the organic, the immanence of the concept in organic nature. See, Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans., Samuel Cherniak and John Heckman (Evanston: Northwestern UniversityPress, 1974), 242, 243 and 249.

[31] The first volume of The Accursed Share is published in 1949, the same year as The Second Sex, but Bataille was working on it since 1946. From now on AS.

[32] Georges Bataille, Erotism, translated by Mary Dalwood, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1986. In order not to risk a confusion that can arise by the two different translations of the same french term “érotisme” as “erotism” and “eroticism,” I shall refer to this work as Eroticism. From now on E.

[33] Jean Paul Sartre, “Un nouveau mystique”, Critiques littéraires (Situations I). (Paris: Gallimard (Idées), 1975) 174-229.

[34] See., The Accursed Share, Volume II and III trans., Robert Hurley (New York:  Zone Books, 1993), 63.

[35] Tina Chanter, “Abjection and Ambiguity: Simone de Beauvoir’s Legacy,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol.14, No:2 (2000): 151-2.

[36] Beauvoir cites Kierkegaard when she enumerates the contradictory attributes that this myth inheres in itself: “‘To be a woman’ says Kierkegaard in Stages on the Road of Life, ‘is something so strange, so confused, so complicated, that no one predicate comes near expressing it and that the multiple predicates that one would like to use are so contradictory that only a woman could put up with it.’” (LDS vol. I p. 193; SS p. 162)

[37] The logic of exclusion works by way of the ambiguity of abjection. We could show that the analysis that Derrida has carried out in Of grammatology, within the project of the deconstruction of metaphysics, to the effect that a logic of the supplement (la logique du supplément) underlies the metaphysical opposition between man and woman implies even more fundamentally a logic of abjection. Woman can be taken to supplement man who is in fact a complete being, only if she is at first constituted and excluded as a being of abjection.

[38] Simone de Beauvoir, Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, Collection Idées , 1947); Simone de Beauvoir , The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans., Bernard Fretchtman, (Kensington, New York: Citadel Press, 1976).

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