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paris review interview with sdb, then awp interview with… me

with 5 comments

Ouch, I find the following, which I’ve liften in-full from the blog Daily Routines (which you really should go look at – it’s a very interesting site), a little bit painful to read. It’s a fragment from a Paris Review interview of 1965 in which Simone de Beauvoir discusses her work habits.

INTERVIEWER
People say that you have great self-discipline and that you never let a day go by without working. At what time do you start?

DE BEAUVOIR
I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.

INTERVIEWER
When do you see Sartre?

DE BEAUVOIR
Every evening and often at lunchtime. I generally work at his place in the afternoon.

INTERVIEWER
Doesn’t it bother you to go from one apartment to another?

DE BEAUVOIR
No. Since I don’t write scholarly books, I take all my papers with me and it works out very well.

INTERVIEWER
Do you plunge in immediately?

DE BEAUVOIR
It depends to some extent on what I’m writing. If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.

INTERVIEWER
Do your writer friends have the same habits as you?

DE BEAUVOIR
No, it’s quite a personal matter. Genet, for example, works quite differently. He puts in about twelve hours a day for six months when he’s working on something and when he has finished he can let six months go by without doing anything. As I said, I work every day except for two or three months of vacation when I travel and generally don’t work at all. I read very little during the year, and when I go away I take a big valise full of books, books that I don’t have time to read. But if the trip lasts a month or six weeks, I do feel uncomfortable, particularly if I’m between two books. I get bored if I don’t work.

I quite literally, a week or so ago, made a promise to myself and those directly affected by my demeanor, that I would never again complain about not having enough time to work. A few things had dawned on me at once:

  1. It might well be true, that I “don’t have enough time to work,”  it isn’t likely to change any time soon so I might as well get used to the situation.
  2. I don’t have time to work because the academic term is on and I will be able to work properly during the summer.
  3. I spend, at some points, as much time complaining about work time as I do actually working.
  4. The time when I am working is negatively affected by a general and pervading frustration about worktime, leading me to, say, have an hour to work and not use it appropriately because “I won’t get anything done during a single hour and besides, there’s no real work time anyway so I might as well not start.”

So, I’m definitely not complaining right now, as that would be breaking an important promise. But still, SDB’s routine does sound rather utopian, doesn’t it? How about the four hour break in the middle of the day for friend seeing? And the “two to three months” of vacation when, since she’s gotten so much written during the intervening period, she doesn’t write all all but reads “a big valise” worth of books?

Mmm… Anyway, I know I shouldn’t complain. I’m going to spend tomorrow writing a book review, as Wednesday is “research day,” when it can be (i.e. when I’m not teaching graduate seminars or undergoing grueling administrative endurance tests….) as there’s no undergraduate teaching on those days. But that stuff from SDB is something – I’ve changed my mind, it’d be incredibly nice not to work in a job sort of way.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 24, 2009 at 10:35 pm

5 Responses

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  1. geeze thats a little ridiculous. should have paid closer attention to the first line of your post. amazing site though, no?

    Micah

    February 25, 2009 at 10:45 am

  2. I wouldn’t trust anything SDB says about herself.

    Candice

    February 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm

  3. Yeah I like the site, Micah. Though sometimes – this time – it makes me feel a little jealous/bad/useless. Thus Candice’s comment is appropriate and helpful…

    Ads

    February 25, 2009 at 9:45 pm

  4. Where did she get, you know, money? That’s what’s screwing us all up, I suspect.

    Adam Kotsko

    February 27, 2009 at 2:54 am


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