In her concluding analysis of ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir reasserts the requirement for the genuine person to avoid positing the end of action as an absolute, and explains the uncertain outcome that attends any action or creative effort.
To the first point, resisting the tendency to set up the end of action as an absolute, de Beauvoir gives a gloss of the lesson emerging from Pierrefeu’s Plutarch Lied (a text concerned with the First World War). De Beauvoir says, “Pierrefeu rightly says that in war there is no victory which can not be regarded as unsuccessful, for the objective which one aims at is the total annihilation of of the enemy and this result is never attained; yet there are wars which are won and wars which are lost” (139). That work of ‘total annihilation’ – the absolute goal of any war – cannot be accomplished; when it is posited, it passes over the smaller movements and actual activities engaged toward the goal. While de Beauvoir is not sanctioning war, she is indicating that rather than set up an end goal as an absolute, the existentialist recognizes that the smaller movements and actual activities that win or lose the war are the content on which any analysis should focus. She argues convincingly in Part III of The Ethics of Ambiguity that existentialism is a doctrine that rejects absolute ends, but affirms absolute existence; I am, I act, and this action has a trajectory that is not defined in advance.
To the second point, de Beauvoir carries the existentialist resistance to absolute ends forward to “any activity.” She says, “failure and success are two aspects of reality which at the start are not perceptible” (139). In other words, the evaluation of my action cannot guide my acting, since I cannot know how it will be received or interpreted in advance. As such, the only reliable guide for the genuine person is to act in such a way that both agency (the expression of my individual freedom) and responsibility (the limit of my freedom demonstrated by the presence of others) are affirmed. Put another way, the existentialist praises the fact of action, rather than the action’s result.
De Beauvoir illustrates this second point with the tension holding between artist and critic, noting the “imperceptibility” of success or failure at the outset distinguishes one from the other. She says,
That is what makes criticism so easy and art so difficult: the critic is always in a good position to show the limits that every artist gives himself in choosing himself; painting is not given completely either in Giotto or Titian or Cezanne; it is sought through the centuries and is never finished; a painting in which all pictorial problems are resolved is really inconceivable; painting itself is this movement toward its own reality; it is not the vain displacement of a millstone turning in the void; it concretizes itself on each canvas as an absolute existence. (139-140)
The artist, as de Beauvoir points out, paints or creates for the sake of painting or creating, rather than for the purpose of resolution. We cannot deny the paint strokes in Cezanne’s still life painting, or the presence of overripe fruit these paint strokes express; while this expression is ‘concretized,’ its sense or meaning is not. Indeed, the paint strokes signal to the viewer more looking, getting as close to the canvas as possible without setting off the museum’s alarms, turning one’s head in order to get a better view. Art becomes conversation between viewer and painter, mediated by the presence of the painting, and only in this way – qua conversation – is art ‘resolved.’
Criticism, by contrast, aims to interrupt this conversation by situating itself on the ‘far side’ of the painting or work of art. When de Beauvoir claims that the critic “is always in a good position to show the limits that every artist gives himself in choosing himself,” the critic points out the panoply of could-haves or didn’t-dos, all the choices the artist could have made other than the one he did. While this is perhaps a radical oversimplification of criticism (on my part, anyway), de Beauvoir’s point is to demonstrate the interruption the critic creates, and the implied anxiety that trails the critic’s presence.
This tension is beautifully – and quite literally – illustrated in the scene in Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance when the main character, Riggan Thompson (played by Michael Keaton), confronts the theatre critic for the New York Times. Sauntering up to her in the bar adjacent to the theater in which his play is about to premiere, Riggan approaches her first with a desire to explain himself to Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan). She rebuffs him, though, insisting that “I’m going to destroy your play.” Riggan insists this is unfair, since she hasn’t even seen it, but Tabitha responds:
That’s true. I haven’t read a word of it, or even seen a preview, but after the opening tomorrow I’m going to turn in the worst review anybody has ever read. And I’m going to close your play. Would you like to know why? Because I hate you. And everyone you represent. Entitled. Spoiled. Selfish. Children. Blissfully untrained, unversed and unprepared to even attempt real art. Handing each other more awards for cartoons and p**nography. Measuring your worth in weekends. Well, this is the theater, and you don’t get to come in here and pretend you can write, direct, and act in your own propaganda piece without going through me first. So, break a leg.
Tabitha sees herself as gatekeeper, the arbiter of the artistic, though not an artist herself. Riggan Thompson’s adaptation of Raymond Carver is an exercise in vanity, which she is convinced has no place in the theatre. Understandably, Riggan becomes incensed; he yanks Tabitha’s notebook away and flips angrily through the pages. He says:
“Nothin’ about intention, structure, technique. Just crappy opinions backed up by crappy comparisons. You’re incapable of writing more than a couple of paragraphs, and you risk nothing of yourself. (He tears out the page and tosses the notebook.) Well, I’m an actor and this play has cost me everything. So you can take your cowardly, malicious, [poorly] written reviews and shove them up your … (showing her the wrinkled page) … wrinkly, tight a**.”
Riggan’s response here has the ‘flavor’ of de Beauvoir’s affirmation of the artist. The critic does not understand the risk in asserting oneself absolutely, in staking one’s claim as an expression of freedom and with the knowledge that its reception is uncertain. The Carver adaptation “has cost (him) everything.” He storms out of the theater, where he is greeted by someone on the street reciting a monologue from MacBeth; theatrical greatness can come from anywhere, and Riggan drinks himself into a stupor on a neighborhood porch.
This scene is brutal to watch. The critic seems omnipotent, able to crush the artist with knowledge and pre-formed expectation. In Inárritu’s film, the critic is able to summon the very forces with which Riggan Thompson is at war; however, the the critic has merely conjured these performances – she has not offered them herself. She risks nothing, and is so free to contemplate the merits or faults of the risks others take. In this example, the critic forecloses against the any resonance the artist hopes to make possible through assertion of their existence; the play, the sentence, the performance, the paint.
 Alejandro G. Inárritu, et als. Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014): 91-92, available online: http://d97a3ad6c1b09e180027-5c35be6f174b10f62347680d094e609a.r46.cf2.rackcdn.com/film_scripts/FSP3823_BiRDMAN_MINI_SCRIPT_BOOK_C5.pdf
 Ibid., 93-94