1:00 PM–2:00 PM A live virtual transatlantic event
A Panel with Judith G. Coffin, Gisèle Sapiro, Susan Pedersen, Judith Surkis, moderated by Camille Robcis and Stefanos Geroulanos
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Sex, Love, and Letters is the first study of a virtually unexplored cache of letters to Simone de Beauvoir, the brilliant, magnetic, and polarizing French feminist and philosopher from ordinary women and men around the world. This author-reader bond was fraught with misunderstanding, thwarted desire, and illusions, but also, Judith Coffin argues, emphatically reciprocal. It transformed the author and her readers. Sex, Love and Letters traces this relationship from The Second Sex (1949) through four volumes of autobiography. It is a fascinating example of letters as an historical source and of what letters can reveal about writing, philosophy, and transformations of sexuality and the self. Beauvoir’s interests and experiences prompted letters about an astonishing array of subjects: painful memories of World War Two; shame and rage at colonial violence; marital unhappiness and unwanted pregnancies; struggles with sexual desires or old age; and the dilemmas and exhilarations of gay liberation and feminism. These dramatic letters pivot from Beauvoir to the intimate and emotionally charged politics of the postwar decades. They capture the vividly-imagined relationship between readers and author that is central to cultural and intellectual history. Sex, Love, and Letters looks forward as well, to the soaring popularity of memoir and interactive reading experiences in our own time.
This panel is organized by the Columbia Maison Française and the NYC Consortium for Cultural and Intellectual History.