Of course we all read far less than we wish or should or would if we could.
And we pick up the gist of things from reviews and notes and
commentaries and so on.  But the trivialization of THE SECOND SEX,
which I consider one of the most foundational texts of the 20th C (I cannot
imagine the second wave of feminism without it, and the feminist
movement of the 20th century has utterly altered not only much of society
but the way we think on any topic), the trivialization of that text by calling
Simone de Beauvoir "Sarte's girlfriend" or "Sarte's woman" is beyond
belief.  It is also simply not something one can ignore without complicity.
It is outrageous really.  And my point was not that everyone should have
read it but that one cannot critique feminism if one has not.

Date sent:              Sat, 30 Nov 2002 15:14:42 -0600
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Satre's Woman
To:                     [log in to unmask]

Nancy Gish wrote:
> Of course if you can summarize 800 pages by a brilliant philosopher
> without reading it, one can only note that in speechless awe.
Troy of course is hopeless, and I guess "speechless awe" sort of catches
it. But there is a real difficulty here, which Milton (I believe) first
dramatized in the Temptation of Athens in PR -- there's just too damned
much good and essential stuff out there for anyone to read; in fact there
are even too damned many first-rate _summaries_ of the first-rate and
essential material to read. And that's not even counting the vastly
influential junk of each period: how many on this list, I wonder, have
read Count Alfred Korzybski's _Science and Sanity_ ? Probably a good
of the intellectual life of the U.S. 1930-1950 is not fully intelligible
without _some_ knowledge of Korzybski. In (say) 1600 it was still
reasonably possible for the "educated man" to have read practically
everything that was or was considered worthwhile or essential to read. By
1660 that was becoming no longer the case: scientific works (natural
philosophy), travel, political theory, new philosophy, abstruse
theological texts aimed not only at fellow theologians but the general
public -- all piled on top of a classic learning still not "devalued."

Most of us can avoid the tinkling arrogance of Troy's dismissal of De
Beauvoir. But to think at all we do have to pretend to ourselves that we
know a good deal about books (or whole genres of books) that we have never
more than peeked at. I do know the _Republic_ fairly well. I have read a
few extracts from Mencius. I've read a couple books that in passing link
the core political perspectives of both Plato & Mencius, & link that
shared perspective to an understanding of certain trends in or features of
political and social thought of the 20th century (and the 21st). And that
precipitant of mostly second and third hand knowledge enters into my
thinking in a number of different and important ways. This, I think, is
true of almost everyone. Troy, it seems, has the same sort of divinely
inspired assurance that her selection is adequate that the Son in Milton's
PR has, but all of us if we are honest with ourselves must, willy nilly,
proceed somewhat bumptuously on a very little knowledge relative to what
we should know.

I was launched on this theme several decades ago when I discovered I had
been inaccurately remembering a phrase from Martinus Scriblerus on the
Poem (from the prefatory matter of the _Dunciad_. I had remembered a
phrase as "a deluge of bad writers," but the actual phrase was a "Paper
also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a deluge of authors
cover'd the land." Not just bad writers -- also too many good writers.

And now we have these lines from Brooke:

        I strayed about the deck, an hour, to-night
        Under a cloudy moonless sky; and peeped
        In at the windows, watched my friends at table,
        Or playing cards, or standing in the doorway,
        Or coming out into the darkness.     Still
        No one could see me.
                                     Only, always,
        I could but see them—against the lamplight—pass
        Like coloured shadows, thinner than filmy glass,
        Slight bubbles fainter than the wave's faint light,
        That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
        Perishing things and strange ghosts—soon to die
        To other ghosts—this one, or that, or I.

"[T]he wave's faint light. . ." When such lines from Brooke are thrown at
us, is anything certain anymore?