An interview with Simone de Beauvoir

40 minutes

De artificiali perspectiva, or anamorphosis

14 minutes

Pien, queen of the bees

16 minutes

The greatest Briton?

5 minutes

The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

7 minutes

‘I’m against all forms of oppression’: Simone de Beauvoir, in her own words from 1959

The French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) was at the height of her influence after she published her landmark feminist treatise The Second Sex (1949) and her acclaimed novel The Mandarins (1954). In the wake of the the Second World War, alongside Albert Camus and her lover Jean-Paul Sartre, she had set out to usher in a new society built around ideals of freedom and justice. In doing so, the trio had also helped to ignite movements in the US and France whose adherents sought to spread Existentialist philosophy through writing and art – or, at very least, have a raucous good time. By the time this interview with de Beauvoir aired on Canadian television in 1959, Camus and Sartre had already fallen out over Communism and abandoned the Existentialist label. Still, de Beauvoir is able to make a compelling point for the value of ideology even as she distances the values of the Existentialists’ cause from, in the interviewer’s words, the ‘noisy, rowdy jazz-loving young people’ they inspired. In this wide-ranging interview, de Beauvoir also discusses her views on the intersection of philosophy and political activism, and the condition of women worldwide, offering insights into the cultural moment as well as her deeply help beliefs on philosophy and the human condition.

For more on de Beauvoir, read this Aeon Idea.

The Renaissance art illusion that proved everything is a matter of perspective

By the 16th century, European painters had become masterful at crafting illusions of perspective, giving viewers an impression of lifelike, three-dimensional depth on flat surfaces. Building on this well of Renaissance knowledge, a small handful of artists began pushing linear perspective further still, crafting works that required the viewer to occupy a single vantage point – or series of vantage points – in order to be fully understood. Today, this sort of visual illusion, known as anamorphosis, is responsible for viral internet phenomena such as the 3D street paintings of the Rome-based artist Kurt Wenner. At its inception, however, the technique was used to both provocative and whimsical effect, often adding subversive new meanings to works once revealed. In this short film, the celebrated US animation team Stephen and Timothy Quay, better known as ‘the Brothers Quay’, evoke a dark fairytale with their exploration of the technique, which combines stop-motion puppetry with some notable examples of anamorphosis from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Directors: The Brothers Quay

Producer: Keith Griffins

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In between chemotherapy, 10-year-old Pien finds kinship with the honeybees she keeps

Pien is 10 and having treatment for cancer. After learning that crop pesticides and other human activities pose a mounting threat to bees and, by extension, the many foods they pollinate – she developed a passion for the creatures and took up beekeeping. Despite occasional stings, she finds a kinship with the insects, which, like her, are small, industrious and fighting for their survival. While her doctors are hopeful that Pien will make a full recovery, her chemotherapy treatments are an unwelcome intrusion on time she’d much prefer spending with her friends and her colony. With atmospheric cinematography and an observational style, the Dutch filmmaker Ellen Vloet’s short documentary Pien, Queen of the Bees is a sweet and touching portrait of childhood – even as weighty challenges for Pien and her hive hover throughout.

Director: Ellen Vloet

Director of Production: Roel van ’t Hoff

Hero or scoundrel? An iconoclastic biography of Winston Churchill

Most mainstream portrayals of Winston Churchill, such as the critically acclaimed film The Darkest Hour (2017), focus on his role in the Second World War, standing tall in the face of potential Nazi obliteration with a combination of brilliant foresight, fighting spirit and soaring rhetoric. While this is, of course, an important part of the celebrated British prime minister’s legacy, the characterisation paints an extremely incomplete picture of his life, leaving out a great number of important, unflattering facts. This short from the UK filmmaker Steve Roberts deploys a combination of claymation and biting iconoclasm to shine a light on the failing-up nepotism, political opportunism and murderous white supremacy that are often glossed over in surface-level treatments of Churchill’s biography.

Director: Steve Roberts

The pioneering psychologist who proved that being gay isn’t a mental illness

‘What is called this year “evil” and whatever, next year may constitute the blessing of the human race.’

Throughout much of the 20th century in the United States, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the medical establishment. This view created a cruel set of circumstances for gay people, as a lack of serious research into homosexuality allowed social institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and medical institutions could subject gay people to psychologically and physically damaging therapies.

This brief video essay explores the legacy of the late US psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1907-96), whose groundbreaking studies of homosexuality would help lay the groundwork for the modern gay rights movement. Inspired by her friendship with a gay student she met while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1940s, Hooker began to study mental stability in straight and gay male populations. Ultimately, her work revealed that there was no correlation between homosexuality and psychological maladjustment. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders amid pressure from gay rights activist, who cited Hooker’s pioneering work in their arguments.

Video by University of California

Website: Fig 1

‘I’m against all forms of oppression’: Simone de Beauvoir, in her own words from 1959

The French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) was at the height of her influence after she published her landmark feminist treatise The Second Sex (1949) and her acclaimed novel The Mandarins (1954). In the wake of the the Second World War, alongside Albert Camus and her lover Jean-Paul Sartre, she had set out to usher in a new society built around ideals of freedom and justice. In doing so, the trio had also helped to ignite movements in the US and France whose adherents sought to spread Existentialist philosophy through writing and art – or, at very least, have a raucous good time. By the time this interview with de Beauvoir aired on Canadian television in 1959, Camus and Sartre had already fallen out over Communism and abandoned the Existentialist label. Still, de Beauvoir is able to make a compelling point for the value of ideology even as she distances the values of the Existentialists’ cause from, in the interviewer’s words, the ‘noisy, rowdy jazz-loving young people’ they inspired. In this wide-ranging interview, de Beauvoir also discusses her views on the intersection of philosophy and political activism, and the condition of women worldwide, offering insights into the cultural moment as well as her deeply help beliefs on philosophy and the human condition.

For more on de Beauvoir, read this Aeon Idea.

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Saint John the Evangelist Causes a Pagan Temple to Collapse (c1370) by Francescuccio Ghissi. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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