Transcendence, Beauvoir and Washing Up

I have long wondered why, when I am at home full time with children, I allow mountains of mundane tasks to pile up (think piles of laundry, unpaid bills, ironing – no that’s a lie, I don’t iron…ever), whilst I sprint out of the home at a moment’s notice to undertake something on my bigger picture “to do list” (no and unfortunately that is not my ‘bucket list’), or I blog, or sit down and continue my philosophy studies. Well I now have the answer, thanks to Simone De Beauvoir…..I am simply seeking to pursue my activities of transcendence over immanence!!

As Andrea Veltman describes in her article “The Sisyphean Torture of Housework: Simone de Beauvoir and Inequitable Divisions of Domestic Work in Marriage” (Hypatia; Summer 2004, Vol 19) (I am sure that title just makes you want to sit down and get stuck into it!), Beauvoir considered that the institutions of marriage and motherhood were fundamentally oppressive towards women as they relegated women to a life of immanence whilst allowing their spouse to pursue a life of transcendence. According to Beauvoir, transcendent activities such as discovering, inventing, exploring, studying, creating, writing and so on enable human beings to surpass ourselves into an ever progressing and open future. Achieved in work and action, transcendence either (1) produces something durable, (2) enables individual self-expression, (3) transforms or annexes the world, or (4) in some fashion contributes to the constructive endeavors of the human race. Transcendent activities work to thrust humanity forward because they build, attain new heights, enlighten humankind, or in some other way “open concrete possibilities to men”.

Immanence, on the other hand produces nothing durable through which human beings move beyond ourselves but merely (1) perpetuates life, or (2) maintains the status quo. Activities of immanence are characteristically futile – immanence consumes time and labor but accomplishes nothing. Housework for instance exemplifies immanence. [S De Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity (1948), as quoted by Veltman]

Although directed at an explanation of the oppression of women through the institutions of marriage and motherhood, De Beauvoir’s account of the characteristics and meaning of transcendence and immanence gives a certain explanation to the restlessness that can plague one at home when all that is achieved are the mindless tasks of keeping the home and family going. Whilst I have certain sympathies with De Beauvoir’s criticisms of the institutions of marriage and motherhood as it regards the principles of human experience within transcendence, and immanence especially in situations where women have no choice, De Beauvoir’s comments appear to me to be equally as important as a pyschological explanation of the depression women often feel when “left at home” with the baby.

So next time you come to my house and there are piles of unfolded laundry around the lounge room, you can take comfort in the knowledge that I have instead been pursuing my transcendent activities!

About mumurings

mother, lawyer, philosopher, feminist, writer, artist
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1 Response to Transcendence, Beauvoir and Washing Up

  1. DARC Inc says:

    Yes, yes! Thank you for seeking transcendence and sharing with us the common trap of limited thought associated with immanence so that we all might feel freshly liberated when gazing upon profound laundry pile or kitchen sink squalor! Many years ago i studied & attempted to understand transcendence/immanence (pre-housework & baby days mind you) but only now do I feel i can REALLY understand and appreciate what De Beauvoir meant.
    On another thought, how does this contrast to the Buddhist idea of gratitude and humility in servitude? It’s too late for my brain to crunch those permutations…

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