Indiana University Bloomington

Fall 2021: Schedule of the Reading Group

Convener: Joan Hawkins (Media School)

The reading group usually meets Fridays, 2 - 3:30 pm, in Maxwell Hall 122. You may also join remotely via Zoom.

The main text under discussion is Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage, 2011). Unless specified, page numbers refer to this edition.


September 3
Meeting with Nancy Bauer (via Zoom).
“Volume I: Introduction,” pages 1 - 17.
Background reading:
“Voll. I: Part One: Destiny,” pages 21 - 68.
Toril Moi's review of the new translation, with a letter from Nancy Bauer and responses from the translators, in the London Review of Books.

September 10
“Vol. I: Part Two: History,” pages 71 - 99.

September 17
Exceptionally in Maxwell Hall 222
Meeting with Nancy Bauer (via Zoom).
“Vol. I: Part Three: Myths,” first three paragraphs, pages 159 - 161,
Bauer, Hegel Study Guide (PDF).
G.W.F. Hegel, "Master-Slave Dialectic," from Phenomenology of Mind, translated by Peter Fuss and John Dobbins (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) (PDF).
Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lecture on the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986) (PDF).

September 24
“Vol. I: Part Three: Myths, Chapter 1," pages 163 - 191.

October 1
“Vol. II: Introduction," page 279.
"Vol. II: Chapter 1, Childhood," pages 283 - 317.

October 8
Fall Break. No meeting.

October 15
“Vol. II: Chapter 5, The Married Woman,” pages 439 - 462.

October 22
No meeting.

October 29
“Vol. II: Chapter 10, Women‘s Situation and Character,” pages 638 - 664.

November 5
“Vol. II: Chapter 12, The Woman in Love,”

683 - 708.

Thursday, November 11, 7PM
Virtual screening of For Djamila (free; register here). Followed by a panel discussion. Details -->

November 12
Simone de Beauvoir, “Preface to Djamila Boupacha.”
Recommended readings:
Lori J. Marso, “Simone de Beauvoir on Violence and Politics.”
Julien Murphy, “Beauvoir and the Algerian War: Toward a Postcolonial Ethics.”

November 19
No meeting.

November 26
Thanksgiving Break

December 3
“Vol. II: Chapter 14, “The Independent Woman,” pages 721 - 751; “Conclusion,” pages 753 - 766.


Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex


The foundational text of Second-Wave feminism, The Second Sex, was written, one might say, unintentionally. At least it was unplanned. Simone de Beauvoir had wanted to write a philosophical autobiography, and one night sitting at a Montparnasse café she took pen in hand to begin. "Je suis femme" (I am a woman), she wrote. The phrase itself struck her as extraordinary. What did it mean to be a woman, and why in the world would she claim that as the most basic thing about herself, the first sentence in an existential autobiography. Putting the autobiography aside, she set out to discover exactly why she had written that extraordinary line, to interrogate what it means to be a woman and to analyze the philosophical, historical, and social basis for the position of woman as Other. In the process of writing what is still, more than seventy years after its first publication, a startling book, she engaged the ideas of Heidegger, Hegel, Husserl, Marx, Plato, and—of course—her lover, Jean-Paul Sartre. And, to some extent, she found them all insufficient to explain what she believed was the crucial aspect of her life.

Several concepts are crucial to the argument of The Second Sex. The concept of the Other is introduced early in the text and drives the entire analysis. Beauvoir bases her idea of the Other on Hegel’s account of the master-slave dialectic, yet instead of the terms “master” and “slave,” she uses the terms “Subject” and “Other”. The Subject is the absolute. The Other is the inessential. Unlike Hegel, who universalizes this dialectic, Beauvoir distinguishes between different forms of the dialectic that apply to differently situated Subjects and Others. She borrows Heidegger's notion of a primordial Mitsein (a being-with) to discuss the unique bond between the male Subject and the female Other. Unlike the Other of the master-slave dialectic, women are not positioned to rebel. Additionally, she draws on Marx and Engels to analyze the social, economic and cultural structures that frame women’s lives. Finally, in her later political writings, Beauvoir expanded her notion of the Other to analyze the oppression of colonized, enslaved, and other exploited people, especially North African Women.

Arguably the most famous line in The Second Sex, “On ne naît pas femme: on le deviant” (“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”), is credited with helping to establish the sex-gender distinction that drives so much contemporary theory. Whether or not Beauvoir understood herself to be inaugurating this distinction, whether or not she followed this distinction to its final conclusions, are questions that are still much debated. What is not a matter of dispute is that The Second Sex gave us the vocabulary for analyzing the social constructions of femininity and a method for critiquing these constructions.

The Center reading group will focus on The Second Sex in the new translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage, 2011), with a few supplementary short pieces and some excerpts from Pour Djamila.

The reading group meets every Friday afternoon starting Jan. 29, from 2 till 3:30, in Maxwell Hall 122. Like all Center activities, the reading group is open to the public.

Graduate students may receive independent-study credit for taking part in the reading group (1 - 4 credits of CTIH-T 700). Interested students should contact the convener, Professor Joan Hawkins, to agree on a work plan and get permission to register.


The Reading Group constitutes the intellectual heart of the Center and predates the Center by many years. Here are some of the major texts the group has studied:

Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
Arendt, The Human Condition
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.
Badiou, Being and Event.
Bakhtin, Art and Answerability.
Bergson, Matter and Memory.
Blumenberg,The Legitimacy of the Modern Age.
Cavell, The Claims of Reason.
Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe.
Deleuze, Cinema I; Difference and Repetition.
Fink, Play as Symbol of the World.
Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject.
Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
Gadamer, Truth and Method.
Heidegger, Being and Time; Contriburtions to Philosophy (Of the Event).
Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences.
Lyotard, The Differend.
Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception; The Visible and the Invisible.
Plato, The Laws.
Rancière, The Names of History.
Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet.
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf.