Honesty and Obscurity

Beauvoir never pretended that her memoirs told the whole story. “There are many things which I firmly intend to leave in obscurity,” she warned... *

But... Three years after Beauvoir's death, her executrix, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, published Beauvoir's letters to Sartre, completely unedited, which revealed much of what Beauvoir had wished to leave in obscurity... and which, no wonder, anyone would have liked to have left burried. However, the question with which i am concerned is not what Beauvoir wanted to hide, but to what extent was she justified in keeping some portions of her life as secret, while flaunting others to the public, enjoying her status as a philosophical celebrity? Intellectual honesty is supposed to be one of the greatest virtues for a philosopher, and yet we find Sartre and Beauvoir, philosophers who preached concepts like 'bad faith' to the world, hiding facts about their lives... [though, perhaps i am being a bit too harsh. What they did reveal to the public, and which was quite a lot, was shockingly open for most people. They extensively documented their lives, and didn't hide anything just out of respect for bourgeois notions of decency. Maybe i am being a bit too strict in demanding absolute honesty?] Were they justified in keeping their secrets secret? Is it not admirable for an autobiographical accounts to be open and honest-- brutally honest, in fact? Do people not admire Rousseau and Russell for this very honesty? [Though, i am convinced, they would have had secrets of their own too!] It was primarily inspired by the frankness of Russell's Autobiography that i began working on some autobiographical accounts of my own, but then... i stopped. No matter how much i may value intellectual honesty, but their are certain things which i value even more. For example, i cannot, and will not, exert this honesty at the expense of other people's reputations. And at the moment, i am strongly convinced that there are things and events in life which should indeed remain burried, which should not be revealed just because you wish to write a frank account of your life. Some tales are better left untold...

* [From an article by Louis Menand. Brilliantly written. If you are a fan of Sartre and Beauvoir, do read it:

See also my article: The Existentialist Couple, though it gives a relatively attenuated version of the relationship, as compared to Louis Menand's article.]


Awais said…
Ahmad Arsalan commented:
'I think they were superb, the experiment they did was superb too, it was like fighting with all "Human Natures"
and i think thats enough for me, for me they were Honest, Free and Beautiful :)'

Fair enough. :)
Abdullah Shahid said…
'i cannot, and will not, exert this honesty at the expense of other people's reputations'

That reminded me of Mumtaz Mufti. He wrote a novel 'Ali pur ka Aili'. Later people found out that it is actually his own autobiography which he confirmed after much stress. The very reason of hiding the names was reputation and I think he has been very brave in admitting his sins in the book. About it he has said himself, 'Its like Ive washed my dirty clothes in the middle of a road in front of every one'. Therefore when he went on to write the second part of his autobiography 'Alakh Nagri' (now not in the form of a nove but as a true autobiography) his acquaintances discouraged him and begged him not to mention their names. :)