Time, Money, and Race: Simone de Beauvoir on American Abstraction

Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy 28 (2) (2020)
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Abstract

In 1947, Simone de Beauvoir traveled to the United States for a four-month stay, during which she toured the country extensively. Her copious notes taken during this time eventually became the travelogue, America Day by Day as well as a piece written for the May 25, 1947 edition of the New York Times Magazine, “An Existentialist Looks at Americans.” In both of these writings, Beauvoir offers an astute criticism of American culture from a foreign perspective. This paper explores Beauvoir’s treatment of American abstraction and race with three goals in mind: first, to understand the American relationship to time and money as abstractions. Ignoring the past and projecting an idealistic future, leads to a strange kind of fatalism and lack of passion that profoundly impacts White and Black Americans but in distinctively different ways. The second part of the paper explores these differences through an analysis of how White Americans attempt to live with “good” consciences through the positing of and attachment to abstract values and things. This attitude, in turn, produces a largely instrumental and racist treatment of many populations, in particular, Black Americans. The final section focuses on how Beauvoir confronts the fact of her own whiteness, and in so doing undergoes the movement of race as an abstract theoretical category to one of lived embodiment.

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Shannon Mussett
Utah Valley University

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