David Gross's Reviews > The Blood of Others

The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir
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Oct 04, 11

bookshelves: fiction, direct-action, ethics
Read from October 02 to 04, 2011

I’ve lately been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Blood of Others. In general I seem to be able to get a better feel for French existentialists from their fiction than their essays and lectures — at least where Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are concerned. De Beauvoir is considerably less coy than they were, in their novels, about making her fiction primarily a way of illustrating existentialist philosophy.

For example, this scene, in which Hélène ponders with her lover the question “why do we live?”:
“When I was small, I believed in God, and it was wonderful; at every moment of the day something was required of me; then it seemed to me that I must exist. It was an absolute necessity.”

I smiled sympathetically at her. “I think that where you go wrong is that you imagine that your reasons for living ought to fall on you ready-made from heaven, whereas we have to find them for ourselves.”

“But when we know that we’ve found them ourselves, we can’t believe in them. It’s only a way of deceiving ourselves.”

“Why? You don’t find them just like that — out of thin air. We discover them through the strength of a love or a desire, and then what we have found rises before us, solid and real.”

or this argument:
“People are free,” I said, “but only so far as they themselves are concerned; we can neither touch, foresee, nor insist on them using their liberty. That is what I find so painful; the intrinsic worth of an individual exists only for him, not for me; I can only get as far as his outward actions, and to him I am nothing more than an outer appearance, an absurd set of premises; premises that I do not even choose to be…”

“Then don’t get excited,” said Marcel; “if you don’t even make the choice, why punish yourself?”

“I don’t choose to exist, but I am. An absurdity that is responsible for itself, that’s exactly what I am.”

“Well, there must be something.”

“But there might be something else…”

or this steamy existentialist love scene:
“I need you because I love you,” I said.

You were in my arms, and my heart was heavy on account of those cowardly festive echoes and because I was lying to you. Crushed by all those things which existed in spite of me and from which I was separated only by my own anguish. There is nothing left. Nobody on that bed; before me lies a gaping void. And the anguish comes into its own, alone in the void, beyond the vanished things. I am alone. I am that anguish which exists alone, in spite of me; I am merged with that blind existence. In spite of me and yet issuing only from myself. Refuse to exist; I exist. Decide to exist; I exist. Refuse. Decide. I exist. There will be a dawn.

So, yeah… it gets a little heavy-handed at times. But sometimes a lay-it-on-thick melodrama is the best way of getting a philosophy across.

The major theme seems to be about the squeamishness conscientious people have about making choices that involve the sorts of risks to other people that would make them feel guilty if their choices turn out to have bad consequences. One “bad faith” way of dealing with this is to remain passive and to pretend that by not making a particular choice, you are not making any choice at all and therefore are not responsible for the consequences of your decision. Another way is to attach yourself to an organization or ideology that makes your decisions for you. But neither of these things really works; the decisions and their consequences are still yours, and you would have been better off just admitting this from the get go and acting accordingly.
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10/04/2011 page 222
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message 1: by Larry (new)

Larry Bassett Simone and Albert and Jean-Paul, oh my! At one point or another in my life I have tried all three and found them a flavor that I did not like. But I am impressed by anyone who reads and understands and enjoys any of the three. I smile when you say Simone makes "her fiction primarily a way of illustrating existentialist philosophy." I need an Existentialism for Dummies!


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