In this post, we continue our discussion of Simone de Beauvoir's typologies, as presented in Part II of The Ethics of Ambiguity. Our focus is on the Passionate Human, a type connected to the Serious Human, and on the Adventurous Human, connected to the Nihilist. Both passionate and adventurous humans fail to express the goal of genuine living, and in what follows we illustrate how these failures emerge. Read on!
Passionate Man - Jackie Treehorn; the Big Lebowski
Simone de Beauvoir describes the passionate man in a variety of comparisons that most effectively relate to the Treehorn character. She plays with the previously explained adventurer as being everything the passionate man is not. “The passionate man is, in a way, the antithesis of the adventurer. In him too there is a sketch of the synthesis of freedom and its content” (68). Jackie Treehorn presents himself as a successful entrepreneur in the adult film industry. He describes his work in eloquent terms and devotes himself to his work in the most passionate of ways. When The Dude asks, “How’s the smut business, Jackie?” Treehorn is quick to respond defensively, “I wouldn’t know, Dude. I deal in publishing, entertainment, political advocacy, and--.” Among scantily clad beach parties and promiscuous doodles we are exposed to the pure and full devotion that Jackie Treehorn has in his entrepreneurial pursuits. He sees his work as an art and a business in which the purpose of said work has no limits. Treehorn describes his work in ways that would make one think that the man is more of a renaissance-type well-versed in the arts, up-to-date with politics, and perhaps known well across the world, rather than an adult film producer.
When contrasting the passionate man with the serious man, de Beauvoir provides some keen insight to the Treehorn character. “[H]e sets up the object as an absolute, not, like the serious man, as a thing detached from himself, but as a thing disclosed by his subjectivity” (68-69). Jackie Treehorn’s view of his work, the production of adult films as transcendent of the image the genre is usually contained in, seems to be a construct of his self-image. He embodies his work, no doubt, and speaks of his work in the most profound terms and references future possibilities. “Interactive erotic software. The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic!” However, the lack of authenticity in these beliefs and actions lead him down a road of material success only to be tormented by the inevitable recoil of sex, drugs, money, and power.
Adventurer - Bunny Lebowski
In describing the adventurer, de Beauvoir writes, “The man we call an adventurer...is one who remains indifferent to the content, that is, to the human meaning of his action” (65). Bunny Lebowski is one of the characters we know the least about, but what little we know about her seems to perfectly fit this description. Bunny is the kind of woman who wants to have as much fun as she possibly can, and is completely untroubled by the way her actions impact the people around her. We know that she ran away from home, starred in a porno film, and married a very old, very rich man. When we first encounter Bunny, she is lounging in the sun in a green bikini with matching green scrunchy and dark green nail polish. She’s an attractive woman who uses her looks to her advantage in order to live the luxurious life she craves. Bunny is motivated by her desire for money, which will allow her to have more fun, and live in greater luxury. She also isn’t bothered by the opinions of other people in these pursuits. The kind of judgement one might get for marrying into wealth would not affect her, neither does she have a problem with propositioning the Dude for the sum of a thousand dollars. The impact her actions have on others is of no concern for Bunny. Brandt describes this indifference to others as Bunny being “very free spirited,” which is, of course, a delicate way of saying that she does whatever she pleases, as de Beauvoir’s adventurer does.
The Adventurer - Maude Lebowski
Maude Lebowski, played by Julianne Moore, is the estranged daughter of the Big Lebowski. She enters the story in connection with the replacement rug; though it was gifted to the Dude as replacement for the original rug that ties the room together, we learn that the replacement is actually not the Big Lebowski’s to give. It was actually Maude’s mother’s, and she seems to recognize a strict line between what's rightfully hers (which is the inheritance, her mother’s money that made the Big Lebowski big in the first place) and not hers. She is keen to involve herself only with that which is hers.
Maude is an artist, and we meet her for the first time racing through her loft on a trapeze-style contraption, which allows her to splash paint on a canvas from a height. She is naked, her loft is spare, and her disposition toward the dude is matter-of-fact and cold. Maude operates as a kind of sensible and rigid foil to the Dude’s lackadaisical way of being in the world, pointing out clearly Bunny Lebowski’s misdeeds and connection to the infamous Jackie Treehorn.
We might mistake Maude for a genuine human; she seems terrifyingly in control of herself and her creative process, but Maude is better understood as an adventurous human. De Beauvoir explains that the adventurous human “is one who remains indifferent to the content, that is, to the human meaning of his action” (65). The adventurous human prosecutes her life according to her own whims and desires - de Beauvoir compares the adventurous human to Don Juan, who in his activities “was unaffected by Elvira’s tears” (66). Conquest, in other words, has no consequence.
Maude leaves the story after having had relations with the Dude in service of her own goal of being a mother; she assures the Dude that his donation is sufficient because she has no expectation of his participation in raising the child, and purposely selected him because there is no danger of the two of them running in the same social circles. This is characteristic of the adventurer, insofar as de Beauvoir’s character seeks their own satisfaction and the fullest expression of their freedom, irrespective of its effects on other human beings.
There is another valence of understanding Maude, however, and it is in the context of the artist detached from the conditions in which their work arises. De Beauvoir cautions her reader against developing an “aesthetic attitude” toward the world. The person adopting the aesthetic attitude
...claims to have no other relation with the world than that of detached contemplation; outside of time and far from me, he faces history, which he thinks he does not belong to, like a pure beholding; this impersonal version equalizes all situations; it apprehend them only in the indifference of their differences; it excludes any preference. (80)
The aesthetic attitude allows a person to situate themselves outside the flow of action and responsibility, and simply to contemplate this flow from a detached vantage. Action and responsibility are small matters, to be treated with impartiality and no human investment. The person evincing the aesthetic attitude ‘does not belong’ to the world unfolding before them.
As evidence for Maude’s status as expressing the aesthetic attitude, consider the way she treats Lebowski family drama. She can describe the escapades of her stepmother (Bunny) with detachment and disdain; she has little time for the Dude and his problem-solving quest. She ‘decamps’ from these (small) human struggles playing out before her to elevated discourse and snobbery with the non-Dude guests in her loft. We see Maude acting in her interests, but these interests have only incidental intersection with the drama that engulfs the Dude.