1947, Simone de Beauvoir in America
In January of 1947, the French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) landed in New York’s La Guardia Airport, beginning a four-month journey across America. She traveled from East to the West coast by trains, cars and even Greyhound buses. She has recounted her travels in her personal diary and recorded every experience with minute detail. She stayed 116 days, traveling through 19 states and 56 cities.
« 1947, Simone de Beauvoir in America » is a photographic journey and exhibition currently on view at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery in New York and inspired by this diary titled « America Day by Day », which published in France in 1948. This book was released in the United States in 1999 after its first translation to English in Great Britain in 1952. The show aims to illustrate the depiction of De Beauvoir’s encounter with America at the time. It is the first time that this book becomes the subject of an exhibition.
“The Second Sex”, published in 1949, became a reference in the feminist movement but has certainly masked the talent of diarist of Simone de Beauvoir. Careful observer, endowed with a chiseled and precise writing style, traveling was a central guidance of the existential experience of de Beauvoir: a woman with an infinite curiosity, a thirst for experiencing and discovering everything. In 1929, she made her first trips to Spain, Italy and England with her lifelong partner, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1947, she made, this time alone, her first trip to the United States, a trip that would have changed her life: “Usually, traveling is an attempt to annex a new object to my universe; this in itself is an undertaking: but today it’s different. I feel I’m leaving my life behind. I don’t know if it will be through anger or hope, but something is going to be revealed – a world so full, so rich and so unexpected that I have the extraordinary adventure of becoming a different of me.”
After WWII, in 1947, and in the context of the Cold War, the United States took the lead of the “free world”, while Europe was just beginning to recover from its wounds. Invited by the cultural services of the French Embassy, Simone de Beauvoir conducted a series of conferences on existentialism in American universities. “America Day by Day is at the same time a book of travel, of politics and sociology on this time period,” explained Corinne Tapia, director of the gallery. In fact, De Beauvoir decorticates everything she sees, immersing herself in the New World. She seems completely open and delighted to explore the vertigo of New York, to enjoy the beauty of the landscape of Arizona, to examine the segregation in the South, to be seduced by Chicago and to be intrigued by the College girls.
It is also most certainly a very photographic book. As you read it, you can easily imagine the footsteps of Simone de Beauvoir in places she discovers for the first time, the atmosphere of the night, of the cabarets and their music of this period, impressed by the American way of life that begins to take effect. “I wanted the viewer to be as close to her reality at that time, so most of the photographs exhibited are in the year of 1947,” said Corinne Tapia.