Saturday, January 30, 2016

Robert Hughes on Andy Warhol

I've begun to read The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes. Hughes lived from 1938 to 2012, and these essays cover a variety of topics over a long period of time. Rather than reading it straight through, I'm going to jump around and read chapters that interest me. Perhaps because I hadn't been paying much attention to art journalism, I didn't notice Robert Hughes until recently. As he speaks in The Mona Lisa Curse documentary mentioned earlier, Hughes writes robustly and eloquently and displays a deep knowledge of his subject. He reminds me a little of Frank Rich, who used to write opinion pieces for The New York Times: he writes vigorously and reinforces each point. However, Hughes seems more interested in finding the truth than Rich, who often came across to me as a bombastic, ideological bully. I was particularly interested in reading what Hughes had to say about Andy Warhol, who was a key figure in the transition of the art world to a predominantly commercial enterprise. Hughes is worth reading for his prose alone, but he is even more valuable for his understanding and insights. I'll give you a few examples.

On the Factory, Warhol's famous studio, he writes:
Its silver-papered walls were a toy theater in which one aspect of the sixties in America, the infantile hope of imposing oneself on the world by terminal self-revelation, was played out. It had a nasty edge, which forced the paranoia of marginal souls into some semblance of style, a reminiscence of art. If Warhol's "Superstars," as he called them, had possessed talent, discipline, or stamina, they would not have needed him. But then, he would not have needed them. They gave him his ghostly aura of power. If he withdrew his gaze, his carefully allotted permissions and recognitions, they would cease to exist; the poor ones would melt back into the sludgy, undifferentiated chaos of the street, the rich ones end up in some suitable clinic.

On publicity:
Warhol was the first American artist to whose career publicity was truly intrinsic. Publicity had not been an issue in the forties and fifties. It might come as a bolt from the philistine blue, as when Life made Jackson Pollock famous; but such events were rare enough to be freakish, not merely unusual. By today's standards, the art world was virginally naive about the mass media and what they could do.

On the avant-garde:
Warhol did his best work at a time (1962-1968) when the avant-garde, as an idea and a cultural reality, still seemed to be alive, if not well. In fact it was collapsing from within, undermined by the encroaching art market and the total conversion of the middle-class audience; but few people could see it at the time. The ideal of a radical, "outsider" art of wide social effect had not yet been acknowledged as fantasy. The death of the avant-garde has since become such a commonplace that the very word has an embarrassing aura.

On Warhol's talent:
The perfunctory and industrial nature of Warhol's peculiar talent, and the robotic character of the praise awarded it, appear most baldly of all around his prints, which were recently given a retrospective at Castelli Graphics in New York and a catalog raisonné by one of his German enthusiasts. "More than any other artist of our age," it gushes, "Andy Warhol is intensely preoccupied with concepts of time"; quite the little Proust, in fact. "His prints above all reveal Andy Warhol as a universal artist whose works show him to be thoroughly aware of the great European traditions and who is a particular admirer of the glorious French Dixneuvièm, which inspired him to experience and to apply the immanent qualities of 'pure' peinture." No doubt something was lost in translation, but it is difficult to believe that the author even looked at the prints he speaks of. Nothing could be flatter or more perfunctory, or have less to do with those "immanent qualities of 'pure' peinture," than Warhol's recent graphic efforts. Their most discernible quality is their transparent cynicism and their Franklin Mint approach to subject matter. 

On the Iranian art market:
One of the odder aspects of the late Shah's regime was its wish to buy modern Western art, so as to seem "liberal" and "advanced".... Not since the death of Tamerlane had there been so much kissing Persian arse.... The main beneficiary of this was Warhol, who became the semi-official portraitist to the Peacock Throne.

On Warhol's embrace by the Reagans:
Great leaders, it is said, bring forth the praise of great artists. How can one doubt that Warhol was delivered by Fate to be the Rubens of this administration, to play Bernini to Reagan's Urban VIII? On the one hand, the shrewd old movie actor, void of ideas but expert at manipulation, projected into high office by the insuperable power of mass imagery and secondhand perception. On the other, the shallow painter who understood more about the mechanisms of celebrity than any of his colleagues, whose entire sense of reality was shaped like Reagan's sense of power, by the television tube. Each, in his way, coming on like Huck Finn; both obsessed with serving the interests of privilege. Together, they signify a new moment: the age of supply-side aesthetics.

As you might expect, I agree with all of the above. I knew that there was something wrong with Andy Warhol even when I was a teenager during the 1960's, but I would not have been able to articulate it as well as Hughes does here. Although Warhol didn't create pop culture all on his own, he was the central figure during its inauguration as a public norm. Hughes acknowledges that Warhol had genuine artistic talent as a commercial artist but laments his subsequent effect on the art world. The tradition of hawking dubious art to the wealthy is still healthy among the nouveaux riches in China and throughout the world. What is refreshing to me is that Hughes highlights qualitative changes for the worse and contextualizes them sociologically, unlike most commentators, who are reluctant to draw attention to the fact that an actual aesthetic decline has occurred.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Not to boast, I have two characteristics that give me advantages over some others: self-awareness and self-discipline. Addictions are not a problem for me if I just pay attention. Thus, for example, contrary to some dubious theories about weight gain, I have never been overweight, unlike the current 68.8 percent of adult Americans who are. If you watch your weight and don't overeat you'll never get fat, no matter what anyone tells you. I used to smoke Camels, but in 1976 I recognized that smoking was unhealthy, that cigarettes didn't taste good, and that they were a waste of money, so I quit and haven't smoked since, other than a cigar on rare occasions. Whenever I notice that one of my habits is affecting me adversely I try to do something about it.

Over the last two years I've spent a lot of time thinking about how the Internet disturbs me and have taken steps that seem to be working to remedy my malaise. One part of the problem is the sheer volume of information that is available, and I decided that I am better off not even attempting to stay remotely up to date. I still use it regularly for shopping, news and specific research, but I've cut out scanning for random articles that I might find interesting. This means that I hardly ever go browsing on 3 Quarks Daily or other sites that I used to peruse regularly. That part of the change deals with information overload, and I decided that even though it might be nice to have an infinite amount of knowledge, my brain simply can't handle it. The other part has to do with Internet discussion, which I've already written about. Here the problem is that websites can harbor a false sense of community; you delude yourself into thinking that you've found a group of like-minded people, but once you scratch the surface you discover – repeatedly – that there is no group cohesion and you have little in common with most of the others. As I said, I've stopped posting on sites other than this blog. I have been in a better mood since I made these changes.

I am also making headway on a different problem that has occupied me for even longer: what literary works should I read? Thinking about The Mandarins has helped me put this into perspective. I liked Middlemarch a lot, and that had made me think that novels would be my preferred form of literature. The Mandarins is ostensibly a novel, but actually it is a memoir. I remembered Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, which is an autobiography. These are three of my favorite literary works, and one thing they have in common is realism. Middlemarch is fiction, but it includes characters that contain elements of actual people. George Eliot herself appears both as Dorothea Brooke and Mary Garth. G.H. Lewes inhabits Will Ladislaw. Edward Casaubon is a composite of several scholarly men known by George Eliot. In all three of these works real people provided a basis for the text. I already knew that I preferred realism, but I've just recognized what it is beyond realism that sustains my interest. In these three works, the clincher is that I think the same way as the narrator, and this creates far more intimate communication than I am able to find in other works. There are different literary works that I enjoy, but I'm not crazy about them because I don't think quite like their authors. I enjoy D.H. Lawrence and Emily Brontë, but I don't think the same way they do. Gustave Flaubert comes closer, but there is still a difference. Marcel Proust is an excellent writer, but I'll never get past what I think of as his obtuseness.

So it appears that a crucial ingredient for me in literature is like-mindedness. It is probably no coincidence that George Eliot was inspired by Confessions and that Simone de Beauvoir was inspired by The Mill on the Floss. From this vantage point, it would be fair to say that there may not be enough literature in existence that would meet my requirements. Confessions was published in 1789, Middlemarch was published in 1874 and The Mandarins was published in 1954. On this basis you might estimate that a literary work that deeply affects me is published once every 80 to 85 years, so there may not be a new one out until about 2034 – 18 years from now! The prognosis is even worse if you include other factors. The Mandarins is not currently a popular work and probably isn't on the "to read" list of anyone who is or plans to become a writer. Technology, in my opinion, is dumbing down people so drastically that the number of potential writers alive who think, feel and express themselves in a manner that I would find agreeable is likely to be in steep decline, and any market for their work is becoming minuscule.

My current plan for finding literature to read is therefore essentially to give up. I'm going to stop complaining about what crap American fiction is and start ignoring it completely, in a disciplined way. If I had more scholarly proclivities than I actually possess, I suppose that I could look into other works by Rousseau and de Beauvoir, since I've already read all of George Eliot's fiction. However, based on my experience with George Eliot, it is probably best to stick to the masterpieces. If you get carried away with reading a writer's oeuvre, your reading soon begins to resemble biographical research, which is not the same thing as enjoying and appreciating literature.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Mandarins VI

I'll summarize the final third of the novel and then make some comments. Against the advice of Robert, Henri publishes an article in L'Espoir exposing the Gulag system, and consequently the two have a major split. Similarly, most of the intellectual community objects to the article and sees it as an endorsement of capitalism. Paula goes into a psychological tailspin that lands her in a mental hospital, where she eventually recovers, and she slowly adjusts to life without Henri. Henri's relationship with Josette ends abruptly when he discovers that she has lied to him about consorting with the Germans during the war; he puts himself at risk by assisting her accuser in order to prevent charges from being brought against Josette and her mother. Before long Henri is seeing Nadine again; she becomes pregnant, and they marry, seemingly in love with each other for the first time. Their daughter, Maria, appears at the end. By that time Henri has given up L'Espoir, Robert has given up the S.R.L. and politics in general, and the two reconcile. Anne's relationship with Lewis continues via correspondence and summer vacations in North and Central America. During the second summer vacation Lewis admits that he no longer loves Anne and confesses that he isn't cut out to love anyone. Anne is devastated, and shortly after returning to France considers suicide, but decides against it.

Throughout the book, political machinations dominate, at least in terms of page count. I had hoped that it would be more of a novel of ideas than it is, and while it does contain many ideas, the political ones often strike me as pointless, shortsighted or incorrect. Since these ideas are the ones with which the male characters are obsessed, it makes me wonder whether de Beauvoir is trying to be realistic or whether she has intentionally included a subtext about a male predisposition for stupidity and violence. Certainly, if these are supposed to be the leading French thinkers of the time, they come across as misguided and ineffectual. Looking at them from the present, they seem to have little sense of how geopolitics would play out over the next fifty years. Although it is already quite obvious to one character, Scriassine (Arthur Koestler), that Stalin is nothing more than a brutal dictator, the rest are in denial and more anti-American than the facts warrant. They seem to have bought into the inevitable triumph of communism without taking a close look at what Stalin actually represents. The lesson for me is that if intellectuals can't see a mere fifty years into the future, why should anyone pay attention to them? Framing this in the context of some of my other posts, the wisdom of contemporary intellectuals should be viewed with even greater caution. Because of enormous technological advances and increased specialization within science and academia in general, it is now harder than ever for anyone to speak authoritatively on the subjects that were once the province of a few thinkers. If Sartre and his gang weren't up to the task then, the prospects for contemporary intellectuals are even bleaker. For this reason, my own thought has evolved from a general disappointment with current intellectuals to the view that intellectuals are now mainly historical artifacts. Intellectuals are better equipped to engage in what amounts to human interest stories for the well-educated than in imponderable subjects such as the future of mankind. Especially when it comes to the humanities crowd, their purview should be restricted to the arts, where they are likely to do the least amount of damage. The increasing complexity of civilization has placed the tasks once associated with great thinkers beyond the reach of mortals, and, as I've said, the next step is inevitably going to be AI, which may turn out very well or very badly for mankind – we don't know yet. In the meantime it is appropriate to regard the words of the reigning cognoscenti with skepticism.

The primary inquiry made in this book has to do with what strategy a middle-aged woman looking ahead to her physical deterioration ought to adopt for the remainder of her life. Specifically, Anne is in a relationship in which she feels appreciated but not loved. Robert and Anne live well together, but she sees that he could live perfectly well without her, happily occupying himself with his work. During her first trip to America she is seeking a new relationship before she even meets Lewis. While on the East Coast she makes herself available to another man she's met, Philip, but he turns her down. As a reader, I found Anne's relationship with Lewis completely unsustainable from the start. Lewis is a classic brash, anti-intellectual American, and his variety of socialism is the Depression-era socialism of Woody Guthrie, not the refined socialism of a French intellectual like Sartre. Lewis has a cantankerous personality and does poorly in his relations with others. Furthermore, the cultural backgrounds of Anne and Lewis could not be more dissimilar. As the relationship declines, Anne asks Lewis, "Why are all your best friends pickpockets, or drug addicts, or pimps?" When you add to this the fact that Lewis has no desire to live in France and she has no desire to leave Robert, the exercise looks completely futile. The Anne-Lewis relationship may have appealed to French readers who were curious about life in America, but, to me, the affair may just as well have occurred in Texas instead of Chicago and the outcome would have been the same: she was Lookin' for Love in all the wrong places.

Within the narrative, the collapse of Paula's relationship with Henri echoes Anne's romantic travails with Lewis. However, Paula really goes off the deep end, and, despite an apparent recovery, Anne remains doubtful about the quality of Paula's mental state:
"Have you seen him again, I [Anne] asked."
"Oh, no! And I won't see him again," she [Paula] said spiritedly. "He took unfair advantage of the situation."
I kept silent. I was quite familiar with the kind of explanations Mardrus [Paula's psychoanalyst] had used; on occasion, I myself made use of similar ones, and I valued them for what they were worth. Yes, to release Paula it was necessary to reach back into the past in order to destroy her love. But I thought of those microbes which can't be exterminated except by destroying the organism they are devouring; Henri was dead for Paula, but she, too, was dead. I didn't know that fat woman with the sweaty face and the bovine eyes who was swilling Scotch beside me.
To my taste, de Beauvoir's highest skill as a writer resides in passages such as this one: they are the heart of the novel.

More generally, I would say that the book has strengths and weakness, while on the whole it is very good. I felt that it didn't have to be as long as it was and might have been strengthened with some judicious editing. I suspect that there must be some overlap between The Mandarins and The Second Sex, but I'm not curious enough to explore them further. In some ways it seemed to me as if Nadine was an invented character who combined the girl of de Beauvoir's youth with an imagined version of herself in a slightly more emancipated state.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Mandarins V

The novel continues to recount actual historical events. While on an idyllic bicycle holiday in the French countryside, Paula, Robert and Henri are shocked to learn of Hiroshima, and they come across a small village just as its inhabitants are commemorating the local deaths that had followed a German parachute invasion. Information leaks out for the first time about Stalin's Gulag system of forced labor camps and causes disagreement within Robert's group regarding whether they ought to publicize it or not. That thread of the text, which covers the calculation that goes on in the French political background, still fails to capture my interest. Meanwhile, Nadine continues to provide plenty of comic relief, and Henri's play proves to be a great success, at least among the Parisian glitterati of the day. The story of Henri's breakup with Paula is gradually playing out.

A major theme in the novel doesn't commence until the second half. Anne is invited to the U.S. to speak at various psychoanalytic venues and flies to LaGuardia on a trip lasting several months. This corresponds with de Beauvoir's actual trip to the U.S. with Sartre in 1947. Anne sees the trip as possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about America, and she assiduously explores the locales to which she has been invited. She is not interested in typical sightseeing and prefers to observe ordinary people in their own neighborhoods. To this end, when she visits Chicago, a mutual acquaintance sets up contact with Lewis Brogan, an emerging writer who is well-versed on Chicago and lives in a slum, in order to have him show her around. Both Lewis and Anne are socialists, which makes Lewis a good fit for her. In the novel, Lewis is a fictionalized version of Nelson Algren, who, like de Beauvoir, was not well known at the time, but went on to win the National Book Award for Fiction in 1950. This novel is dedicated to Algren.

De Beauvoir has cleaned up events a little in the story. She has Anne meet Lewis in Chicago, return to New York, and then go back to Chicago for a second visit expressly to see him again. They do not become intimate until the second visit. In reality, within hours of meeting for the first time they became intensely attracted to each other and slept together. That was when she experienced her first orgasm, at age 39. This may seem odd if you look at de Beauvoir's background, but the fact is that her relationship with Sartre, who was four foot eleven, had been platonic for several years by then. Unlike Robert and Anne in the story, they were unmarried and lived in separate apartments. I expect that the remaining third of the novel will include the ultimate demise of de Beauvoir's relationship with Algren.

The sudden shift from the preoccupations of an intellectual woman in a rarefied Parisian atmosphere to a head-over-heels romance in a humble Chicago neighborhood is quite a surprise. It's almost as strange as it would be if, say, Iris Murdoch had fallen in love with Studs Terkel. De Beauvoir humanizes herself by eliminating every trace of the abstract in this episode. Although he is reasonably well-educated and intelligent, it is Lewis's spontaneity, warmth and body that excite Anne. She misses him when she returns to France and hopes to continue their relationship. It seems to me that de Beauvoir mixes the abstract with the concrete to make a powerful potion that accentuates both.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Mandarins IV

I hope I don't end up boring you by spending too much time on a book that you probably haven't read, but I prefer to proceed slowly. The novel is definitely worth reading, and there is much for me to mull over in it, because de Beauvoir certainly does open a window to the intellectuals of her milieu.

As far as I've read – I'm only halfway through – the male characters are still not very compelling. They seem like automatons running on obscure programs that don't necessarily make much sense. Some are obsessed with punishing Nazi sympathizers and some are obsessed with ensuring that the political future of France turns out precisely the way they envision it. The theoretical basis for most of their thinking looks shaky to me. Although Marxism was popular in Europe at the time, I think much of it looks obsolete now. In a post-industrial society, the purported schism between the so-called bourgeoisie and the so-called proletariat seems contrived. The U.S. today looks more like one class, the bourgeoisie, which could be subdivided into the 1% and the 99%. The 1% are the winners and the 99% are the losers, as Donald Trump might say. Leona Helmsley liked to refer to the 99% as "the little people." In American thinking, just about everyone wants an opulent lifestyle, and it is hard to make out any real cultural distinction between your local plumber and a billionaire; both of them want a big house and prefer pizza to gourmet food. It is easy to imagine hiring someone like Donald Trump to install a new boiler in your house, because class distinctions here are minuscule compared to those in Europe.

Henri (Camus) is still looking better than most of the men. In his work, he seems to place a lot of emphasis on honesty and integrity, and, more than the others, he seems like a pure artist in need of self-expression. However, he is hell on women, and for that matter he might just as well have been a Houellebecq character. After a ten-year relationship with Paula, he's ready to dump her. To be fair, she is partly to blame. She has dreamed up a ridiculous fantasy about their undying love for each other just as he has started to see her as intrusive and out of touch with his feelings. To make matters worse, he has agreed to take on a beautiful young actress, Josette, as the lead character in his new play in order for her mother to guarantee its production. Henri immediately falls in love with Josette, who is 26, making poor Paula an undesirable old hag at 36. To be sure, Henri would rather not hurt Paula, but to his way of thinking he has a duty to pursue his personal freedom and does not feel bound to her.

I had hoped that this group of intellectuals would come out looking better than the ones I'm familiar with in the U.S. Unfortunately they don't. The only difference I can see is that, as public intellectuals, they are far more engaged with the population than American public intellectuals are now. They write articles that are read by thousands of factory workers, unlike, say, an article in the NYRB, which might be read by fifty retired college professors and quickly forgotten. It is also disappointing to me that in both cases the majority of the intellectuals are mere journalists. They are simply well-read people who write for a living, and the absence of interest in science and technical subjects is conspicuous. I don't think the writings of either group will have much long-term significance. As thinkers, these kinds of intellectuals seem to me to be of limited value, and if they are remembered at all in a few hundred years it will be only for their literary productions.

I am beginning to see similarities between Simone de Beauvoir and George Eliot. As a child, de Beauvoir was inspired by The Mill on the Floss, and she seems to have made a conscious effort to place herself at the center of the intellectual currents of her time, like George Eliot. During her life, George Eliot was overshadowed by the fame of her one-time boyfriend, Herbert Spencer. Spencer is now considered a minor thinker and is associated with the discredited concept of Social Darwinism, while George Eliot's prominence as a major novelist hasn't faded much. Perhaps a similar pattern will emerge leaving Simone de Beauvoir as a greater cultural and intellectual influence than Jean-Paul Sartre. For example, besides her fiction, de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was a seminal text of the women's movement, whereas I doubt many people have ever bothered to read Sartre's Being and Nothingness.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Mandarins III

I thought I should provide an example of the writing that I appreciate in this novel. Anne, who is a psychotherapist, is invited to a gathering at the home of her wealthy friend, Claudie. Here is a highly abridged version of the text:

We had declined at least three of her invitations; among the people I recognized in that mob, there were very few to whom I felt obligated. They believed us to be haughty, misanthropic, or poseurs. The idea that we simply didn't enjoy going out in society I don't suppose ever dawned on those people who eagerly came here to bore themselves. Boredom was a scourge that had terrorized me ever since my childhood, and it was above all to escape it that I had wanted to grow up; I had in fact built my whole life around that avoidance. But perhaps those whose hands I was now shaking were so used to boredom that they didn't even feel it; perhaps they didn't even know that the very atmosphere could have a different tang....

There was a moment at Claudie's when she announced that the bores had left, although the order of departure varied from one time to the next. 
"I'm terribly sorry," I said, "but I'm afraid I have to leave with them." 
"What! But you must stay for supper," Claudie insisted. "We're going to set up small tables; it'll be very nice. And I want you to meet some people who are coming later." She took me aside. "I've decided to take you under my wing," she said eagerly. "It's ridiculous to live like a savage; no one knows you – I mean in the milieu where there's money to pick up. Let me launch you. I'll take you to the best dressmakers, I'll show you off, and in a year you'll have the plushest practice in Paris."
"I've got more patients than I can handle right now."
"Half of whom pay poorly, and the other half not at all."
"That isn't the question."
"It is the question. With a patient who pays ten times as much, you can work ten times less. You'll have time to go out, to dress up."
"We'll talk about it again."

I was astonished at how little she understood me, but as a matter of fact I didn't understand her very well either. She believed that, for us, work was nothing but a means to achieving fortune and success, and I was vaguely convinced that all those snobs would have gladly traded their social position for intellectual talents and accomplishments. When I was a child, a teacher seemed to me a much greater person than a duchess or a millionaire, and through the years that hierarchy had not changed appreciably. Claudie, however, believed that the supreme reward for an Einstein would be to be received in her salon. We could hardly reach any real understanding.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Mandarins II

I'm a third of the way through the novel and will probably have comments to make all the way up to the end. The politics, unsurprisingly, are a little tedious, but that is made up for by engaging dialogue, usually between the women, and particularly when their private thoughts are included. One of the most entertaining characters is Nadine, whom de Beauvoir has invented as the daughter of Anne (de Beauvoir herself) and Robert Dubreuilh (Sartre). In reality de Beauvoir and Sartre never married or had children, so perhaps this was an amusing exercise for de Beauvoir. Nadine is, in turn, unusually precocious for an eighteen-year-old and childishly impetuous in her daily life. Some of her moodiness can be attributed to the fact that her boyfriend, Diego, who was the son of a Spanish Jew, had been captured and presumably executed during the war. Even by contemporary standards Nadine is quite a libertine. Besides generally sleeping around, she takes up with Henri Perron (Camus), who is in his mid-thirties and a colleague of her father. This is obviously not a Puritan society, as no one, including her parents, bats an eye. Henri himself isn't even attracted to Nadine and only goes along with her to humor her. It interests me that what was considered passé in Paris seventy years ago might still cause an uproar in the U.S. today: Henri might be denounced as a pedophile, Nadine's parents might consider legal action against him, etc. At least in this group of intellectuals, sex is a private matter between individuals and carries no implications about a relationship beyond that. In this case, even Henri's live-in girlfriend, Paula Mareuil, doesn't mind. As you might expect, the relationship between Nadine and Henri quickly disintegrates, and in hindsight anyone who had made a fuss about it would look foolish. To me, it is far more civilized to live this way than to bow to the rigid and generally idiotic dictates of political correctness. At times Nadine seems implausible as a character, but I think she acquits herself well in the context of the novel.

I gather that de Beauvoir is seen by some as too cool, too detached and too serious to write good fiction, and while this may be an inescapable matter of personal taste, I find that I often think exactly as she does. My impression is that most people don't spend a lot of time examining their relationships with others and are simply guided by the social norms that they have been immersed in for all of their lives. Thus, the model for many people is to fall in love, get married, have children and continue their spousal romantic love until death. I appreciate de Beauvoir because she goes a step further than the many novelists who simply lament the development of problems in relationships between men and women and stupidly ignore the question of whether the expectations that people held were ever realistic. De Beauvoir actually thinks these things through both in her novel and in her personal life and arrives at reasoned conclusions that permit her characters and herself to live without depending on questionable concepts of someone else's making. Like de Beauvoir, I favor the realistic adjustment to facts over sentimental lamentations when delusional thinking doesn't produce the outcomes I expect.

As for the politics, there is little to theorize about here. Robert (Sartre) backs the socialist S.R.L. party, which is in a power struggle with the other party of the left, the Communist Party. On the right there is the same conservative party as today, the National Front. At heart most of the leftists are communists, but because of geopolitics they don't consider communism a viable solution for France. The Cold War is only beginning, and clearly either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. is going to become the dominant power in the world. While he may not yet have been fully cognizant of the crimes of Stalin, Robert thinks France must stick with the U.S. even though he dislikes and mistrusts American imperialism. To this end he encourages Henri to commit his small, intellectual newspaper, L'Espoir, to the S.R.L. The communists are also courting L'Espoir, and Henri, who would prefer to remain independent, is put in a predicament. As far as I've read, it appears that he goes with the S.R.L., which pleases Robert and perhaps will improve L'Espoir's financial situation.

I had hoped to encounter some deeper discussion of political thought in the book, and perhaps I will later on. Thinking about some of these issues myself, I can see why communism would have been appealing to the characters. In the end I think something resembling communism may well become the preferred form of government. If you look at world history over the last three hundred years, the dominant forces have been economic, not political. The idea of a classless society may never have come into existence if there hadn't been centuries of inequality caused mainly by the growth of capitalism. To a certain extent the evils of communism as expressed in American propaganda represent a straw man that discredited communism before any attempt was made to understand it. The early failure of communism in China and the later disintegration of the U.S.S.R. had more to do with economic mistakes than anything else. The combination of economic failure in one part of the world and economic success in another part of the world is almost enough to topple the political regimes that preside over the weakest economies. Moreover, a strong economy is necessary for a strong military defense. In my view, China under Mao, the Soviet Union under Stalin and Cuba under Castro were simply early experiments that failed. However, in China since Deng Xaioping, communism has changed course and China may soon have the largest economy in the world. Russia is a different story, and because it still depends on oil rather than a diversified economy for economic growth, it has fallen far down in rank as a world power. As I've said repeatedly, if you were able to remove corrupt or incompetent politicians from power and replaced them with competent leaders or, ideally for me, AI, the world's future might look a lot brighter than it currently does.