The Examined Life

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Monday, November 08, 2010

What Women Really Want [from men]

Not all the great existentialist philosophers were men. During much of their lives Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir were lovers in an ongoing “open” relationship. Beauvoir was a prolific writer in her own right producing many novels that revealed her humanitarianism, feminism and willingness to live out the existential philosophy she espoused.

Now do I know what women really want in a relationship with a man? I would not make that claim but when I read the excerpt below from Beauvoir’s autobiographical novel The Mandarins I felt I had been provided at least some insight.

…His arms laden with spotlessly clean washing, he looked at me, questioningly. 'I wanted to change the sheets.'

'It's not necessary.'

He remained in the doorway, embarrassed by his magnificent burden.

'I'm quite happy like this', I said, pulling the warm sheet in which he had slept the night before up to my chin. He moved away; he came back.

'Anne!' He had thrown himself on me, and his voice shook me through and through. For the first time I spoke his name: 'Lewis!' 'Anne! I'm so happy!' He was naked, I was naked, and yet I felt not the slightest embarrassment; his gaze could not hurt me; he did not judge me, he would not put anything before me. From my head to my toes his hands were learning me by heart. Again I said: 'I love your hands.'

'You love them?'

'All evening I've been wondering if I would feel them on my body.' 'You will - all night', he said.

Suddenly he was no longer either awkward or modest. His desire transfigured me. I, who had been for so long without taste, without form, once again had breasts, belly, sex, flesh; I was as nourishing as bread, as fragrant as the earth.

It was so miraculous that I did not think to measure the time or my pleasure; I only know that the faint chirping of dawn could be heard as we fell asleep. (The Mandarins), pp.38-9.

The Eternal Return

Are you living the kind of life that you would be willing to live over again and again? This is the question Frederic Nietzsche poses for us to ask ourselves. Certainly not everything about our lives has occurs as pleasant but when we look back do we see the purpose of everything that has happened and see that life had to be that way it was in order for us to become who we have become? Do we feel grateful for having lived the lives we got?

There are a number of insights in the challenge Nietzsche puts out for us. One is to realize that we are creating our lives and we are not victims. If we aren’t living the kind of life that is sufficiently rewarding and exciting that we would want to live it again it is up to us to address that.

We can rise to Nietzsche’s challenge either by finding the courage to change something in our lives or coming to understand that our life is perfect just the way it is because there is something valuable in every experience we have. Either way, our experience is that our life is worth living and even living over again.

But Nietzsche’s Eternal Return is not simply a philosophy to live by it is also an affirmation of the souls desire to have every experience that is possible to have. This explains all the joy and all the pain that being a human being affords. Thereby the soul will move “Beyond Good and Evil”, the tile of a book by Nietzsche, to return to an experience over and over until it has experienced it fully before it will move on to another experience.

Nietzsche invites us to embrace all that is available, every opportunity that is provided, expressing “the eternal Yes to all things”, to jump “Into every abyss…” This is how the soul strives for victory over limitation. This is how the universe is created. Without this striving the universe could not have been created. The soul seeks to make every possibility actual.

Nietzsche’s challenge to us then is to be ever willing to examine our lives and both embrace the experiences that our soul needs to become complete and  also to be willing to recognize when our soul needs to move on to experience something new.