Monday, 15 January 2007

The woman in love and the mystic

…Beauvoir’s portraits of the woman in love and the mystic have particular bite, perhaps because they so closely bear the traces of her own experience. She begins her chapter on the woman in love by pointing out the different weight men and women attach to love. For man, the active sovereign subject, woman is one value amongst many. For woman, man is the absolute through whom she believes she achieves her transcendence. Love may be the most attractive path for woman to embark on: it is also her greatest trap. From childhood on everything in society conspires to make woman believe that her salvation lies in love. And indeed, for a while, the woman in love is endowed with a high and undeniable value (The Second Sex p. 656). Yet, in time, the chosen idol is revealed not to be God. Searing disappointment ensues and the man in question tumbles from the heights of the superhuman to the inhuman. A woman in love judges her judge with utmost severity and ends by denying him his liberty so that he may deserve to remain her master. Since her devotion and service is absolute, so must his superiority and his attention to her be. And yet if he spends all his time with her, focuses only on her, he is robbed of his freedom and is no longer the god she wishes to serve. In this paradox lie the many pitfalls of the woma n in love, for whom jealousy is a constant stalking partner. There are few crimes that entail worse punishment than the generous fault of putting oneself entirely in another’s hands (TSS p 677).

It is a brief step from adoring the god in man to adoring God Himself. The psychological and sexual constellation which shapes the woman in love is parallel to that of the mystic. The loved one, man or God, is always more or less absent. She gives herself to him through an act of faith....

Simone de Beauvoir: Lisa Appignanesi

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