, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 41-75

The feminist phenomenology of excess: Ontological multiplicity, auto-jealousy, and suicide in Beauvoir’s L’Invitée

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Abstract

In this paper, I present a new reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s first major work, L’Invitée (She Came to Stay), in order to reveal the text as a vital place of origin for feminist phenomenological philosophy. My reading of L’Invitée departs from most scholarly interpretations of the text in three notable respects: (1) it is inclusive of the “two unpublished chapters” that were excised from the original manuscript at the publisher’s request, (2) it takes seriously Beauvoir’s claim that phenomenological philosophy is often better expressed in novels than essays or treatises, and (3) it views the novel’s main characters, Françoise and Xavière, as one woman who has multiple, contradictory, excessive selves. Thus approached, L’Invitée provides us with a thick description of one woman’s embodied consciousness and thereby shows us with specificity what a consciousness whose underlying structures reflect sexual difference looks like. This consciousness not only experiences itself as being both gendered, categorized, disciplined, and defined and in excess of these genders, categories, disciplines, and definitions at the same time, but also experiences its own self-relation through the presence of multiple selves who are each simultaneously attracted to and negating of the other. As such, the defining features of this consciousness involve experiences that I have respectively labeled “ontological multiplicity” and “auto-jealousy.”