Politique, poétique, philosophique: le récit de voyage de Simone de Beauvoir aux États-Unis
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Writer, philosopher and social activist, Simone de Beauvoir was also an avid traveller. While most of her travel accounts are encapsulated in her memoirs, two of them were published as stand alones. My dissertation looks at America Day by Day, the account of her 1947 travels through the United States, and focuses on three key aspects of the narrative: the political, poetic and philosophical. In the first part of my dissertation, I analyze Beauvoir’s encounter with the American “Other”, by specifically concentrating on three social groups: intellectuals, African-Americans, and women. This leads me to an investigation of the concept of “Americanism”, that is, the social and political system in which Americans evolve. In the second part of my dissertation, I examine how the writing of the American space serves as catalyst to a beauvoirian poetics of space. Focusing my analysis on three key places, New York City, the American West and the South, I show that Beauvoir’s writing of space anticipates notions developed later in the 20th century, such as the practice of space (Michel de Certeau) and the notion of simulacra (Jean Baudrillard); lastly, I analyze how the Southern Gothic pervades Beauvoir’s writing of the South. In the third part of my work, I question how Beauvoir inscribes herself in the narrative. I show that travel, by creating discontinuity from habitual life, allows Beauvoir to present her encounter with the world through a phenomenological perspective. I examine key instances in the narrative (her arrival in the United States, her experience of the Grand Canyon and her experience of racial segregation) when, as situated subject, Beauvoir applies hers and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to concrete life. This process allows me to investigate the philosophical impact of the travel narrative. My research suggest that the travel narrative, beyond its documentary and autobiographic purposes, offered Beauvoir the opportunity to veer from habitual modes of writings, such as the novel, the play and the philosophical essay. It gave her license to investigate a social structure other than her own, to create a poetics of space and to apply a phenomenological mode of being in the world.