In a July 1947 article, Beauvoir points to another important influence on her conception of the philosophical novel: the American “realist” novelists. For writers such as John Steinbeck and Richard Wright, Beauvoir argues, “reality is invested with the concreteness of an experience in which an individual consciousness and an individual liberty have been staked.” For Beauvoir the appropriation of American literary techniques and the rejection of the “abstract objectivity” of French literary realism makes possible the reconciliation of literature and philosophy: “Neither philosophy nor psychology has anything to lose here; on the contrary: it is thanks to precisely this technical tool borrowed from America that we could undertake to give to philosophy itself a novelistic form.”
SOURCE: Beauvoir, Simone de. “Literature and Metaphysics” (1946), introduction by Margaret A. Simons, translation by Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick M. Morrison, notes by Tricia Wall, in Philosophical Writings by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Margaret A. Simons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), pp. 263-277. From “Littérature et métaphysique,” Les temps modernes 1, no. 7 (1946). The above quote is from Simons’ introduction, pp. 264-5.
Now, the merit of the great American novelists consists in the fact that they were able to deal with life in its dramatic aspect. In a sense, one can call Steinbeck and Richard Wright “realists”: but the distinctive trait of French realism is its refusal to take a position: the world is described with a wholly abstract objectivity, and the author does not adopt any point of view toward it. In Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle,” as in Richard Wright’s “Black Boy,” reality is invested with the concreteness of an experience in which an individual consciousness and an individual liberty have been staked; the struggle of a man against the resistances of the world is depicted.
SOURCE: Beauvoir, Simone de. “An American Renaissance in France,” New York Times, June 22, 1947, pp. 7, 29. This quote, p. 29.
SEE ALSO: Doran, Robert. Existentialism as World Literature: De Beauvoir, Heidegger, and Tolstoy, in Philosophy as World Literature, edited by Jeffrey R. Di Leo (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), pp. 233-246.
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