Yesterday I recalled the contemporary meaning of The Second Sex which, 60 years after its publication in 1949, has dramatically changed the condition of women (although few women or men have made a point of noting the date).
– Since, for Beauvoir, each “individual’s chances” are not defined in terms of happiness, but in terms of “freedom”; since “we are free to transcend all transcendence [and escape elsewhere], but this ‘elsewhere’ is still somewhere at the heart of our human condition”; since freedom itself, because of the ambiguities and risks it implies “must, in its own name, fight the very means used to attain it”; since freedom upsets the codes of community and can only be conjugated in the singular – “In order for the world to have any importance, for our endeavors to be meaningful and make sacrifices worthwhile, we need to affirm the sense of the dignity of each man, /of each woman/, taken one by one…” – writes Simone de Beauvoir;
– and although dignity, creativity and women’s rights are making progress in advanced democracies, they are still far from being accepted universal values (as is shown by the “national cause” recently proclaimed in France against “violence against women”;
– we need to acknowledge that the gage for the fight for women’s rights is now moving within developing or so-called “emerging” countries.
Conscious of this fact, which is now becoming decisive for the future of human rights on a global scale, the Jury of the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom (a 30,000 euro prize funded by Éditions Gallimard, CulturesFrance and Centre National du Livre) awarded the 2008 Prize to Taslima Nasreen and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two women sentenced to death by Muslim fundamentalists, and the 2009 Prize to the NGO “One million signatures”, which aims to obtain a million signatures in favor of women’s rights in Iran, presenting it to the great Iranian woman poet Silim Behbahani.
Chaired by Julia Kristeva and Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir (Honorary President), the jury is made up of the following members:
ELISABETH BADINTER, Philosopher
GÉRARD BONAL, Writer
ANNIE ERNAUX, Writer
CLAIRE ETCHERELLI, Writer
MADELEINE GOBEIL-NOEL, Former Arts Director at UNESCO
LILANE KANDEL, Sociologist
AYSE KIRAN, Doctor at Haceteppe University, Ankara, Turkey
CLAUDE LANZMANN, Writer, Editor of the journal Les Temps Modernes
BJORN LARSSON, Writer, Professor at the University of Lund, Sweden
LILIANE LAZAR, Simone de Beauvoir Society, USA
ANNETTE LÉVY-WILLARD, Journalist at Libération, writer
ANNE-MARIE LIZIN, Senator, Chairperson of the Women’s Council of Wallonia, Belgium
KATE MILLETT, Writer, painter and sculptor, USA
YVETTE ROUDY, French Minister for Women’s Rights from May 1981 to 1986
DANIÈLE SALLENAVE, Writer
JOSYANE SAVIGNEAU, Journalist at Le Monde
ALICE SCHWARZER, Writer, Germany
ANNIE SUGIER, President of La Ligue du Droit International des Femmes (The League of Women's International Law)
LINDA WEIL-CURIEL, Lawyer
ANNE ZELENSKY, Writer, President and Co-founder with Simone de Beauvoir of the Ligue du droit des femmes (The League of Women’s Rights)
The 2010 Prize is awarded to two Chinese women: Ai Xiaoming and Guo Jianmei.
Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and Director of the Comparative Literature Section at Sun Yat-Sen University in Canton. In addition to her own academic research on the condition of women, her teaching of the history of feminism, women’s fights for their rights, and the defense of migrant workers, Ai Xiaoming is also recognized both in China and abroad for her documentary films made outside official circles:
- White Ribbon ([Baisidai] 57 minutes, 2004), deals with violence against women and is about the murder of a female student.
This documentary also reflects her understanding of cinema as a vehicle for action as well as thought, a means for acting at the heart of the public sphere by offering the individuals filmed a site to express their views and add to information broadcast in the media.
- Taishicun, (100 minutes, 2005), tells the story of the conflict between farm workers and local government regarding elections.
- The Epic of Central Plains ([ZhongYuan JiShi] 140 minutes, 2007) and Care and Love ([Guan Ai Zhi Jia], 108 minutes, 2007), both concern AIDS virus infection in the populations of the Henan and Hebia provinces.
- Nos enfants ([我们的娃娃], 2009) deals with the experiences of parents of children who fell victim to the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
A longtime committed feminist and virulent activist for the “Rights Movement” in China particularly in rural areas, she has been making documentaries since 2004.
Director and lawyer for the Chinese NGO "Women's law studies and legal aid center" attached to Peking University.
Through the defense of individual cases and promotion of changes to the legislative system, the NGO works to improve the status of women in China (fight against domestic violence, against sexual harassment, the need for reform of the rural property laws which leave many women with no land following divorce or their husband’s death).
Guo Jianmei’s other roles include: Executive director of the law society for research in marriage and the family;
Vice-President of the Association of Women Lawyers in Beijing;
Member of the Lawyers’ Association of China, on the Constitution and Human Rights Committee.
She has been involved in the fight to protect the rights and interests of women in China and beyond since 1989, and has published numerous legal articles on these subjects (notably “Studying Law through Cases”, in Volume on Marriage Law, “Guidelines to the Law of Women's Interests and Rights”, “Guidelines to Women’s Rights and Legal Aid Cases”, “Theories and Practice of Protection of Women's Rights and Interests in Contemporary China”, “Laws in Everyday Life” in Volumes on Marriage and the Family, Labor Law and Individual Rights, “The Theory and Practice of Legal Aid in China, Domestic Violence and Legal Assistance”).
The Jury had already come to its decision when we learned that the dissident Liu Xiaobo, writer and former university professor, one of the authors of the Charter 08 for Human Rights, had just been sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. In this context, Ai Xiaoming and Guo Jianmei have had the tenacity and spirit to continue their work for women’s rights with patience and determination. In awarding them this prize, the jury hopes to rally the international community to reassert women’s rights, guarantee the protection of those women who are risking their lives today through their actions, and stand by their side to defend the ideals of equality and peace.
I would like today to recall several points in Beauvoir’s book on China: the marks it bears of the era in which it was written, but also the avenues which speak to us today. I will then very briefly sketch my own outlook on this vast continent and more precisely on the position occupied by women.
It should be remembered that Simone de Beauvoir was one of the first intellectuals from the West to visit China in September and October of 1955, prior to the publication of The Long March in 1957. An on the spot report and attempt to explain a mysterious, fast developing country praised enthusiastically by the author, was Beauvoir’s book a “voyage in Utopia”, to use the phrase of Israeli philosopher and political scientist Denis Charbit, now a member of the Simone de Beauvoir Jury, and a perceptive expert on French politics, a flight towards a new Promised Land after the disappointments of Soviet Communism or indeed of the West as a whole? Beauvoir’s pathos suggests this might be the case.
At the height of the cold war, enthused by a Marxism revised and corrected by her Existentialism, did Beauvoir discover a new chosen land in China? If so, was it a question of not letting Billancourt [heart of the French automotive industry] lose faith after the revelations on the USSR and events in Hungary? Or was it because the context of an “invitation” (from Zhou Enlai himself!) led the philosopher to an outlook of reconciliation with the Chinese leadership rather than the frank and loyal critique Beauvoir’s mind has accustomed us to expect? None of these hypotheses, all of which have been put forward, seem to my mind to fit either Beauvoir’s book or her thought.
For Beauvoir does not fail to express her doubts, uncertainties or disagreements, even if they are so cleverly refined or, at times, expanded so longwindedly throughout her travels that her “Long March” could still be taken for a pilgrimage to a new Promised Land. And commentators have not failed to bring up the multitude of intellectuals who supposedly succumbed both before and after Beauvoir to such naivety, to all appearances seduced by the immensity of the future great power: from André Malraux, the guiding light of French Sinophilia, to the pro-Chinese militants of 1968 like Maria-Antoinetta Macciochi. A closer look, however, shows that it is the specific nature of the (forever enigmatic!) culture of the Chinese continent that surprises observers and fuels both the pathetic enthusiasm of some and the blind panic of others, – for want of any foundation on a rigorous knowledge of Chinese thought or the cultural, social and political history of the country. This lack can also be leveled at Beauvoir, herself aware that The Long March was “her least good book”, without needing to deny either the value of her intellectual curiosity, or the finesse of her psychological observations as she sketches portraits and characters, or her political courage in introducing a timid West and its nigh exhausted Socialism to the promises and risks of a different humanity.
In fact, the immense intellectual curiosity of the author of The Second Sex and her honesty as a writer who was forever attentive to human words and movements succeed in transforming the pathos of her essay-report in search of the best of all possible worlds into her concern to explain political errors, without condemning the faults of a totalitarian regime. This is what allows her to identify areas of promise in the interminable Chinese “long march”, the never-ending Tao, and leads the French philosopher to the following conclusion: China is “Neither paradise nor teeming hell, but a region firmly situated on earth, where men who have just broken the hopeless cycle of an animal existence are struggling to build a human world”. (insert, my translation)
The anthropological experience offered up to the writer’s intuition breaks through each page of the ill-assured (because over-assured?) political reasoning guiding her travels, so that Beauvoir seems to perform a third “long march” of her own as she follows that of China’s modernization after the Communist revolution of 1949 and Mao’s “long march” of 1934-35. Beauvoir had only just been awarded the Goncourt prize in 1954, and here she was already setting off to observe, communicate and commentate what to her were new and fascinating realities: towns, villages, family, work, culture, youth, women – human realities the meaning of which was beyond her. She perceived – that is exactly the right word – that their meaning was not the one those same realities took on within French civilization. Yet, without having the linguistic, ethnological or anthropological means to elucidate the particularities of the Chinese continent, it seems that the writer had only one goal in mind: that of leaving us with a major question mark regarding this emerging otherness, and communicating her own passionate solidarity with “those who are struggling to build a human world”. So that we too might continue to think, love and ask questions along our own “long march”. Indeed D. Charbit notes that Beauvoir writes not “as a tourist, but as a human being searching for such a different and engaging part of humanity that she came to know and love at the risk of projecting her own expectations which, repressed without pity by History, would look to other shores.” (DCh, 5, my translation).
The Long March is in no way one of those “degradations” of “mysticism into politics” to borrow Péguy’s phrase, a criticism leveled by some. Without understanding Chinese, and with only scant reference to the political, cultural and religious history of China, Simone de Beauvoir was above all enthusiastic about the “Chinese scenario of a progressive and peaceful disappearance of capitalism” (Dch, 14) as opposed to violence of the communist dictatorship in the USSR. Still today, some commentators read the same “peaceful scenario” into the progressive disappearance of Chinese socialism in favor of Neo-Capitalism. A new Utopia? Or rather, observation of a cultural diversity yet to be understood, with its contradictions, promises and dangers?
Seduced by the apparently civil behavior of the people and institutions alike, Simone de Beauvoir neglected the repressive reality and most of all the submission of individuals to an interiorized repression accepted by a culture with a long history of feudal, peasant and Confucian customs. Along her way, however, Beauvoir lacked neither “restraint”, nor “vigilance”, nor “lucidity” (DCh, 19). Particularly when her intuition as a writer led her, as a subtle observer, to insist for example on the malleable and mobile manner in which the Chinese, step by step, were bringing about their dynamic process of growth and expansion: Joseph Needham, the eminent expert on the “dialectical” twists typical of “Chinese thought” couldn’t have asked for more! Doesn’t this malleable and mobile model (coming at the cost of what constraints?) still continue today to intrigue with its public and hidden sides, and embarrass commentators who are anxious to see the greater and faster emergence of free individuals with a democracy worthy of their individual rights?
Similarly, Beauvoir’s enthusiasm for the younger generation who, released from the forced marginalization of arranged marriages and the absolute authority of their elders, fuelled the social arena with an urbane energy unknown anywhere else. Yet this, Beauvoir suggests, had nothing to do with the philosophy of emancipation she held dear: freedom to marry had not been achieved, domestic violence was still rife. Whereupon Beauvoir remarks: “When does something become a habit? How many times a week can a husband beat his wife before it is called usual? And how many blows can a wife tolerate? In fact, unless she had a broken limb or a scandal broke out in the community, there was nothing a woman could do about being ill-treated” (LM, 138, my translation). Or else, when little girls lift her skirts to see if this lady sporting nail polish is not hiding some deformity underneath, their teachers laughing as they scolded them leads to the following commentary: “With their slender waists, their plaits, their innocent faces, these young women look like big, well-behaved children themselves… they smile, their voices are gentle, they never issue commands” ( LM, 153), without suspecting that these child-women, school teachers or mothers, practiced a different sort of motherhood and education (but what sort?) which was certainly not free from violence (but what kind?). The philosopher prefers to stick to the social measures called on to protect women. Yet even while praising communist laws coming to the aid of women, she does not fail to notice that reality is slow to change: “Even in France, on this issue customs lag behind the law; there are still arranged marriages, and some are nothing more than trades” (LM, 138). The winners of our prize who are actively involved in fighting violence against women, as well as the recent “national cause” on the same issues, are following on from Simone de Beauvoir’s vigilance.
With her intuition as a writer who tunes in to concrete reality, to objects that encapsulate an issue, Beauvoir perceives more than she explains the striking difference between Chinese bodies and our own (those of the European delegation): this perception pertaining (although the author does not say so) to the difference between male-female relations in Chinese culture on the one hand, and the male-female relationship we have inherited from the ancestral memory of patriarchal and particularly monotheistic societies on the other: “I asked the woman I was speaking with if there was any rivalry at the university between boys and girls: the question surprised her […] A woman does not appear to a man as competition.”(LM, 153) If so, why such violence within the couple? Silence on the writer’s part.
It is clear that Simone de Beauvoir does not take her “anthropological” inquiry as far as the contemporary reader, male or female, would like her to do. Yet at the very moment that we are about to ask more from her, she takes us by surprise with her striking sensibility, reacting, for example, to the suppleness and cheerful gravity of Chinese bodies, for which– like most Western observers who are sensitive to this cultural shock – she only finds words like “childhood”, “nonchalance”, “freshness”. “Everybody was smiling. In Beijing, there is happiness in the air” (LM, 49); “On the construction sites, the rhythm of their work is not at all frenzied, it even seems nonchalant, although a whole crowd is at work” (LM, 27); or else “… eight thousand actors and dancers: the street theatre of Surrealist dreams” (LM, 415). “When you see that, you don’t want to be cynical any more.” “Impossible to imagine anything like it in Rome or Paris, our souls are far too lacking in freshness. Yes, perhaps that is what is most moving in China: the freshness that at times lends human life the glow of a newly washed sky” (LM, 15).
We are aware today of the active role of Chinese women in the intimacy of the couple, starting with sexuality. Encoded since ancient times by the secret influence of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, then that of the Christian missions, this central role of the Chinese woman whose feet needed binding to hold her back was modeled and oriented towards a social participation or even promotion of women by what should be called the history of Chinese feminism since the late nineteenth century, in which the Protestant missions played a major role. Finally, the use of the “second half of the sky” (as President Mao would say) in the ideology of the Communist Party bestowed a central position in social life on women beyond comparison with other emerging countries. Over the last few decades Chinese women – via their intellectual and political elites – are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and the fact that the latter are based on a new philosophy of emancipation inspired by the work of Simone de Beauvoir and the diversity of the global feminist movement. And they are rallying forces against all the violence done them: the murder of female offspring, wife beating, discrimination in the areas of salary, professional promotion, divorce, retirement, etc.: our two prizewinners are evidence of this. Chinese women: a complex development which is just as intrinsic to the history of China as to the mutations of national communism in the context of globalization, and which joins but often races ahead of the essential struggles of women throughout the world.
You will understand then that the 2010 Simone de Beauvoir Prize awarded to Ai Xiaoming and Guo Jianmei is recognition of the achievements and creativity of Chinese women, as well as a signal to those men and women outside of China who follow their combat for women’s and men’s rights with great solidarity. The 2010 Simone de Beauvoir prize is also a message to the rest of us, intellectuals, political scientists, men and women of the globalized world whom it invites to better understand and interpret the specific characteristics of Chinese civilization which remain enigmatic to our metaphysical reasoning. We also still have a “long march” to complete, one undertaken by the generation after Simone de Beauvoir at their own risk, of which I shall try to provide an account alongside others during the Lecture-Debate to be held at the University Denis-Diderot on January 12 at 5 pm. So that we can avoid seeing the particular characteristics of China as a Promised Land, or brandishing them as ready-made excuses and abdicating responsibility for crimes against fundamental liberties. Without ignoring the diversity of China either, like those who attempt to impose our conceptions of democracy and the rights of men and women from the outside. But working together, instead, with the men and women of this great power of the future and already of today, such as Ai Xiaomin and Guo Jianmei, to better promote these universal rights which are never more accessible to all than when they take into account each civilization, each individual and the precise moment of their concrete history.
2. “About Chinese Women”
In February 2009, I returned to China: thirty-five years after my first trip in May 1974 with Philippe Sollers and what our hosts of the time called “the group of comrades from Tel Quel” (Roland Barthes, François Whal and Marcelin Pleynet). We were the first delegation of Western intellectuals, I believe, that China under President Mao received after joining the United Nations.
Contrary to what may have been said about it, the visit was not, in my case, an unconditional allegiance to the ideology in force at the time, and I think this was true for my friends too, although differently for each one. I was deeply intrigued by Chinese civilization as well as the political upheavals that were taking place there, and had been studying for a diploma in Chinese for four years at the University of Paris 7, which is still my university today; a fervent reader of the Englishman Joseph Needham’s famous encyclopedia Science and Civilization in China, I was curious to find an answer to two questions (at least!) which I will formulate as follows, and which still seem relevant to me today:
1. If Chinese communism is different from Western communism and socialism, how have their cultural tradition and national history contributed toward shaping this enigmatic “Chinese road”?
2. Is it true that the traditional Chinese understandings of causality, divinity, male and female, language and writing contribute toward forming a specific human subjectivity which is different from the one formed within the Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition? If so, how can these subjective experiences agree with, oppose or coexist with the other protagonists of our both universal and diverse humanity?
You can imagine that these questions, for a young woman thirty years of age, were as enthusing as they were insoluble. Nevertheless, the reality of the China which I encountered, which was dominated by the phase known as the “Cultural Revolution” during which women and the younger generation were led in onslaught against the former apparatus of the Communist Party, attracted me because of the attention paid to women’s liberation in the present and in the past, to the extent that I returned from the trip with a book which I wrote as a tribute to Chinese women – a book which, by the way, will soon be available translated into Chinese. However, at the same time, the persistence of the Soviet model and the stereotypes of an official discourse which spurned individual and collective freedom of thought would not only make any more thorough investigation of my inquiry practically impossible, but discourage me to the extent of making me give up traveling any further along the path of the apprentice sinologist which I had at first chosen to follow.
On my return to Paris, I devoted myself to semiology and particularly to psychoanalysis, as well as motherhood, without in the least forgetting the questions I formulated earlier. Huge questions, which Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had raised in their own fashion, under the sway of Catholic universalism, the exploration of which humanities and sinology have not neglected pursuing in the meticulous and technical manner that still fascinates me today.
A lot has changed since my first trip, and it was a new China that greeted me in February 2009, with the giant skyscrapers in its cities that have sprung up in the place of old rustic houses in picturesque alleys, or Soviet-style social housing; and instead of the energized masses in blue uniforms of the time, there is now a colorful, enterprising population ready, when it is not frightening it, to defy the globalised world. If my questions remain nevertheless, it is because they stem from an essential inquiry which current affairs render more controversial than ever: does the meeting of such different civilizations (note that I say “meeting”, not “shock”), which globalization now enables, entail major risks? Or beneficial transformations due to mutual loans and unprecedented exchanges?
Allow me to briefly and schematically go over some elements of this “Chinese thought” (to quote the title of famous work by the great French scholar Marcel Granet), which for my part I prefer to call “Chinese experience”, which I sketched roughly in About Chinese Women, and which today attracts worldwide attention along, in the background and in addition, with the “economic miracle” of your growth and its hazards.
When the missionary Longobardi questioned what he called “the religion of the Chinese” (Treaty, 1701) he considered that the Chinese did not know “our God” (by which he meant the God of Catholics: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost), since the Celestial Emperor, Shangdi, is only an attribute, quality or phenomenal reality of Li 理: matter endowed, in an immanent fashion, with “operation”, “order”, “rules”, “action”, “government”, in other words “causality”. The Jesuit scholar is not unaware that this sort of law – Li – might lead the writers who share it to atheism, whereas the various related “spirits” and “deities” are only intended as a sort of religion for the people, and are limited to a role as guardians of the social order.
More importantly, this immanent causality of matter called Li relies on a radical dichotomy between two terms (full/empty, life/death, heaven/earth, etc.) whose harmony it ensures without there being the slightest connection between the two elements, the combinatorial relations of which themselves ensure their dissociation. This raises a problem: without unity, what truth can arise? Can this sort of “causal matter” reveal any truth?
The commentary by Leibniz (1646-1716), on the contrary, makes this immanent causality evolve into an innovative rationalism. Li, in his view, would be a “subtle substance accompanied by perception”: “They (the Chinese) say the truth in creatures”, “for perhaps these terms life, knowledge, authority in Chinese, are taken anthropopatos” (“God” being given human qualities). Did Leibniz foresee a Chinese brand of humanism?
The heterogeneity of Li (matter and/with ordering) and its dichotomy (full/empty, heaven/earth, man/woman), tended, in the view of the philosopher, mathematician and inventor of infinitesimal calculus, to be reduced to what he discovered, using information from the Jesuits, as a pure Reason, which, far from being Cartesian, struck him because of something which today seems to us to be specific to the Chinese experience: concreteness, permanent concern for the logic of the living and the social, undistinguished from an ontological concern for the self.
Another form of being in the world is glimpsed here, to which Leibniz himself came close in his philosophical-mathematical thought: all unity (including that of man and woman) is a point of impact in which an infinite combinatorial series of forces and logics is actualized.
I will return, now, to the questions with which I went to China in 1974, which concern, philosophically, the problem of human – and women’s – rights in that country. Is Chinese experience and/or thought intrinsically defiant towards the concept of an individuality which would be free and open to truth which has come into being through the complex history of Greek/Jewish/Christian interrelations, including their Muslim offshoot?
Chinese history does not fail to confirm this fear. Yet doesn’t the same “ontology of self inseparable from the logic of the living and the social” which defines the individual according to the Chinese experience, also seem likely to harbor “human rights” of another kind: in greater harmony with the laws of the cosmos and social conflicts? As long as the complexity of the desires and significant acts which constitute the inner depths of such an “individual”, who has always already been open to the desires and significant acts of her (or his) surroundings, are unraveled?
For it was the enigma of the “individual” (in quotation marks because it is infinitely divisible and plural) that created an obstacle in the first meetings between the West and China. Foiled in their attempt to interpret the particularities of Chinese thought/experience, philosophers, anthropologists and other specialists had to wait until the epistemological, social and sensualist revolution of the eighteenth century, as well as progress in the human sciences and, in particular, Freudian psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to attempt to see a little more clearly. For the “enigmas” of Chinese experience could only be apprehended if the interpretative discourse itself became capable of approaching two continents which escape Western metaphysics. Which ones? I am referring to the specific role of woman and of the mother on the one hand and to the indissociable relation between the meaning of language to music (tonal language) and to movement (of the body) on the other hand. In other words, if Western metaphysics has trouble with the Chinese individual, it is because there is no individual, but a complementarity between male and female in each entity; and because the truth of a meaning or of a language is never dissociable from its journey through a sexual body. The long domination of a matrilineal and matrilocal line of descent would necessarily give Chinese men and women the assurance of their psycho-sexual duality (equally important dependence in relation to both mother and father), or let’s say their “psychic bisexuality”, and this with greater force than is the case in other cultures, particularly the Christian West dominated by the patrilinear model. A significant characteristic if ever there were one , even though Yin and Yang are combined in both sexes on both side of the difference between the sexes, this internal cohabitation does not efface the external difference between men and women. On the contrary it promotes the procreating couple while granting women’s pleasure [jouissance] a central place and an inexhaustible “Yin essence”.
Tonal language, which confers meaning giving precedence to intonations over the syntactic curve, preserves the early imprint of the mother/child relation within the social pact par excellence of verbal communication (because all human children acquire melody before grammar, but Chinese children fill these archaic melodic traces with socializable meaning). The Chinese language, thanks to its tones, thus preserves a register which is pre-syntactic, pre-symbolic (sign and syntax being concomitant) and pre-Oedipal (even if the tonal system if only fully realized within the syntax). Writing itself, originally made up of images which became increasingly stylized, abstract and ideogrammatic, has preserved its evocative, visual and gestural character (a memory of movement is necessary as well as memory of meaning in order to write in Chinese). Since these ingredients pertain to more archaic levels of the psyche than those of syntactico-logical meaning, Chinese writing can be considered as an unconscious sensorial depositary from which subjects thinking in Chinese are never definitively separated, and which becomes the primary laboratory for their evolutions, innovations and resurrections.
If I have dwelled on these elementary and fairly schematic reminders, it is not only because I have acquired the conviction that my Chinese students in Paris or Chicago are not aware of them, through not having received the necessary introduction to their traditional national culture, and often experience great pleasure in discovering them in French at American universities, to the point where some of them who had come to study French or American literature or philosophy change courses in order to start studying classical Chinese culture (calligraphy, painting, clan systems in Ancient China, etc.). Neither do I wish to suggest any hierarchy whatsoever of values between civilizations. For it is impossible to identify the advantages or limits of the models of psychic structuring for which I have provided the schema.
However, I think it necessary to insist on this point: under the pressure brought to bear by techniques of production and reproduction and their virtual boom, the complexity of the Chinese model is runs the risk of stabilizing as automation, a mechanical combinatorial series erroneously adapted to fit a fashionable “pattern”, unaware of the sense of unease in our thinking that Greek philosophy and its subsequent Judeo-Christian re-composition have inscribed in the psychic interiority to which the European speaking subject lays claim. On the other side and reflecting it symmetrically, the egotism, a-pragmatism and fundamentalism which surrounds the love unto death of believers of all kinds threatens institutions as well as the mystical margins of what might be called the “animosexuality” (the soul and sexuality [l’âmosexualité]) of the West, which the inconsistent froth of American “soap operas” broadcasts in such profusion.
I had ended my book About Chinese Women in a spirit of inconclusive questioning, while wagering on the promises that Chinese civilization freed from totalitarian communism would offer humanity. On writing as a continuation of prayer by other means, and on women inventing or creating a political, social and symbolic realization of the psychosexual duality capable of putting the old Europe of God and Man (with capital letters) to the test. This was the conclusion to my book, and the least that can be said is that such a test is now underway.
The recent developments of globalization have, however, made me go back on the optimistic tone of the wager, without necessarily discounting its possibility. In my metaphysical thriller Murder in Byzantium (Fayard, 2004), I created the character of a Chinese dissident, Xiao Chang, alias Wuxian or Infinity. In rebellion against the rampant corruption of the global village, with its sects, mafias and manipulations of all kinds, Xiao Chang not only refuses to adapt to such chasms but, in wanting to take on the role of purifier, ends up being beaten by his own fragility and, in the grip of psychosis, becoming a serial killer in a West that is approaching the end of the road. The end of the novel – which I won’t spoil for you – is less pessimistic. For as you know, it is not easy to assassinate an age-old culture, be it Western or Eastern.
And today, at the beginning of 2010, with its fireworks of banks and bombs? Never before has society been so deprived of a future, and never before has humanity been so incapable of thought. Yet swarms of research on modern and ancient China is being carried out in France and all over the world, while a few, in Europe, persist in believing that we can come to a mutual understanding.
The Chinese are looking toward Europe because the riches of the European psyche are attractive, thanks to its myths and its ability to sublimate through the art of living and thinking, as well as its aesthetic and social experiences. A desire for France and for the French language exists, I notice it here today, and however much it is in the minority, its intensity is very real.
The French and the Europeans for their part, despite their clumsiness, their tactlessness and their blunders, take the enigma of Chinese experience seriously and work at deciphering it. Perhaps it is less of a closed book to them because the Enlightenment, humanism and the new knowledge brought by the exact sciences and the sciences of the mind have succeeded in steeping us in the diversity of others. Instead of drowning in the mystique of ideology, which left not even such an incisive mind as that of Beauvoir herself unscathed…
And it is with this concern for reciprocal loans and mutual benefits that I pay tribute to our two prizewinners, that I thank the Simone de Beauvoir Jury who chose them, and express my heartfelt solidarity with our LCAO colleagues who have welcomed us today and whose research is opening new avenues for working together with our colleagues from China both male and, today, female.
Julia Kristeva, translated by Susan Nicholls
Jumat, 16 Juli 2010
Yesterday I recalled the contemporary meaning of The Second Sex which, 60 years after its publication in 1949, has dramatically changed the condition of women (although few women or men have made a point of noting the date).