An Essay Concerning Beauvoir, Cavell, Etc.


  • Nancy Bauer Tufts University


This is the story of my coming to read Le Deuxième Sexe in the rather unusual way that I do.

I was raised, as it were, in the Philosophy Department at Harvard University as part of the last generation working seriously under the tutelage of Stanley Cavell. Though Cavell’s tastes in philosophy were strikingly wide-ranging, crisscrossing the divide between analytic and continental philosophy, not to mention genres and mediums, there were limits to his tastes, as there of course are in every person’s case. He was interested in Heidegger, but not in European phenomenology more generally. (The one thing I recall him saying about Sartre was this offhand remark, perhaps something he had heard or read before, during a seminar: “Sartre thinks it’s very important that no one can die my death for me. Well, no one can take my bath for me, either.”) He was interested in the great film actresses of Hollywood’s golden period—Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman—and even thought of them as, in their own way, philosophers on screen; but he was not as interested, at least publicly, in women writers. He did engage with feminist thinkers in his own writing about film, but he was concerned in those moments mostly to worry about what he experienced as a certain theoretical rigidity in feminist film theory and what he saw as its failing to allow the objects of it criticism breathing room and to give his own way of thinking, which he saw as very much sympathetic to women’s concerns, a chance.