Conclusions

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Well, it's that time. Time to wrap up the blog. Let's start with a recap.

I began the project with the aim to look at the insufficiencies of rationality, understood to refer to the Enlightenment mode of thought/argumentation. For me, these insufficiencies are twofold: first, on an affective level, the rational does not seem capable of describing many essential aspects of our existence; second, rational discourse, framed in terms of logic and objectivity, inhabits a very particular and exclusive structure. In looking at feminist critiques of rationality, or examples of feminine non-rationality, I hope to highlight some of the workings of that structure and various ways around it. Here is an overview of my sites of inquiry:

Gertrude Stein: Here, I looked at linguistic constellations and rhythmic patterns, which highlight the associative (rather than the linear) qualities of thought.

Julia Kristeva: In Kristeva, poetic language produces an excess of meaning that is not only feminine (through references to the unnameable and the void), but also transcends the rational.

María Lugones and Gloria Anzaldúa: Both women emphasize play and spirituality as alternative modes of thinking, and both highlight the ways that rationality excludes both women and non-white people, instead advocating "curdled" or "mestiza" consciousness.

Psychoanalysis and Surrealism: In different ways, these two strains of thought both have the right ideas about non-rationality and the unconscious, but both have been used to misogynistic or otherwise problematic ends. Although they are not inherently problematic, I hesitate to use them as models because of their tendencies for misinterpretation.

Women's Ways of Knowing took a social-scientific approach to paint a picture of the ways that women understand the world. Although it didn't seem to me that the model of knowing was particularly woman-specific, it provided interesting "hard evidence" that there are many ways to knowing, not all of them what we think of as rational.

Eight Women Philosophers: What this book didn't do was to show that women think differently, on an individual, cognitive level (in my mind, a good thing); what it did, rather, was to place women's thought within persistently male-dominated systems of education and knowledge-production - a project which can and should be continued for more contemporary thought.

Other avenues for (non-rational) thought include: affect, queer thinking, children, the erotic, and the physically embodied. I am particularly interested, in the future, in thinking about the last category, and how different genres and styles of performance might access rational and non-rational centers of thought in different ways.

To wrap up, I think that what I've taken from this project is (maybe oddly) an attention to form. Rationality seems highly bound up, not in what we think, but in how we think and how we express those thoughts. Perhaps this is way rationality, as a system, is particularly vulnerable to becoming discriminatory against all those who express themselves differently from the norm, whether that manifests itself through Anzaldúa's spirituality, the girls in Women's Ways of Knowing who must learn to think "how They want you to think," or common tropes of the hyper-emotional woman.

And yet these different modes of expression are vital. To demonstrate the power of this kind of unexpected variation in tapping into different centers of the brain, I will leave you with a series of photos from a performance piece by Marina Abramovic (the same woman I cited in the last entry). In this piece from MoMA, entitled "Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present," Abramovic sits silently at a table and lets her audience stare for as long as they wish. Follow the link for photos of the results: a diversity of humans, a diversity of responses, all reacting to one woman sitting in a totally non-rational way.

"Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present": portraits on MoMA's Flickr account.

Performance and the Non-Rational

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So far, I've done a little survey of some literary attempts at the non-rational, and this makes sense for a couple of reasons. First of all, a rational argument seems to invite a written process of laying down an argument in a logical order. Secondly, the inverse: writing - the act of conveying information to an audience - requires a certain amount of comprehensibility in order to reach its audience, which often leads to a rationalist logic. Of course, this second part is arguable; we've seen that Stein's work isn't "comprehensible" in the traditional way, but it has still reached an (albeit limited) audience.

The point being, I've been focused on the written non-rational partly because it's more immediately available to me as a grad student, but also because it seems to try and beat rationality at its own game. If writing is the rational genre par excellence, then it's been valuable to look at the way writers have undermined the predictable structures of language. For this last blog or two, though, I want to look at genres where the non-rational might feel a little more at home: visual/musical/performance art.

The Erotic's Non-Rational Potential

I'm just going to cite this straight out, because Gretchen Legler (discussing Audre Lorde) says it better than I can (from Legler's book, All the Powerful Invisible Things: A Sportswoman's Notebook:

We live in a racist, patriarchal, and anti-erotic society, Lorde writes in "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power." We live in a pornographic society that insists on the separation of so many inseparable things; that insists on ways of thinking that separate the body from the world, the body from the mind, nature from culture, men from women, black from white; a society that insists on bounded categories of difference.

But we can use erotic power to resist those splitting forces. The erotic is the sensual bridge that connects the spiritual and the political. It has something to do with love. The word itself comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos and personifying creative power and harmony. Eros is a non-rational power. Eros is awareness. Eros is not about what we do but about how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing, says Lorde. Its opposite, the pornographic, emphasizes sensation without feeling. Pornographic relationships are those that are born not of human erotic feeling and desire, not of a love of life and a love of the body, but those relationships, those ideas born of a fear of bodily knowledge and a desire to silence the erotic.

Everything we have ever learned in our lives tells us to suspect feeling, to doubt the power of the erotic and to confuse it with the pornographic. But the two are at opposite ends of the world.

What can I add to that? This just goes to show that when you have your eyes out for something (anti-rationality), it just starts popping up everywhere...

Things to Think About

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This being a blog about non-rationality, I wanted to finish off my last couple of entries with some non-scholarly thoughts. While I'm contemplating what form that's going to take, I wanted to point out some more scholarly-type issues which I won't have time to thoroughly discuss this semester. Since they add to the whole non-rational matrix, though, I am jotting down some notes for further investigation and questioning:


  • affect: How do affective experiences contribute to our non-rational experience of the world? I cite, in the bibliography, a good paper by Margaret Olivia Little which outlines the Enlightenment compartmentalization of reason vs. affect, and the ethical possibilities of affect.

  • queer possibilities: Are there queer critiques of rationality that take a different tack from feminist critiques? They may not differ from feminist writing on the subject, since Enlightenment binaries relied more overtly on sexual difference than on sexual orientation; however, what about those who don't fit neatly into sexual binaries at all? While some of my writing here has grouped transfolk (for example) in with all that is not-male/rational, that isn't necessarily quite right either. Would a trans critique of rationality look like Anzaldua's mestiza consciousness, or could it act differently?

  • children: Are children non-rational, or pre-rational? Women and children are traditionally often lumped together as less-than-rational; if we are critiquing the teleological narrative of rationality from a feminist perspective, then does that leave us open to children's ways of thinking as well? In another post, I co-review Kathryn Bond Stockton's The Queer Child and her idea of growing sideways. To our repertoire of thinking like a cubist or thinking across borders, could we also add "thinking sideways"?

eight women philosophers.jpgWhen I checked Eight Women Philosophers, by Jane Duran, out of the library, I was hoping to find some common thread in philosophical thought by women that would support some vague non-rational thesis of this blog. Well, I didn't. But the book was interesting anyway, so this blog post will be just a short little overview of why, even if it turns out female philosophizing didn't always diverge much from the male philosophers of their time, it is still important to talk about it.

belenky_etal_bookcover.gifTaking a break from the poetic and the philosophical for a moment, I want to take a little jaunt into my sociological background to point a little spotlight on a very important book, Women's Ways of Knowing by Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule (henceforth BCG&T). Originally published in 1986 (I'm drawing from the 10th anniversary edition), this is an analysis of 135 interviews with women in different forms of formal and informal education, from prestigious colleges to programs through human service agencies. Using models of development from Carol Gilligan and William Perry as a baseline and sounding board, these interviews revealed ways in which these women's experiences and "ways of knowing" provide an alternate model of epistomological development. This book was initially so influential because it provided a new, empirically-grounded paradigm for thinking about how women think; now, I see it as required reading for anyone reflecting on their own intellectual development or concerned with the development of others (male or female).

The Unconscious (and Surrealism), Part Two

In his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, André Breton writes:

We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience... Experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense.
... It was, apparently, by pure chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer - and, in my opinion by far the most important part - has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud... The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights (9-10).

What reason, I ask, a reason so much vaster than the other, makes dreams seem so natural and allows me to welcome unreservedly a welter of episodes so strange that they would confound me now as I write? And yet I can believe my eyes, my ears; this great day has arrived, this beast has spoken (13).

With this, Breton hearkens the coming of the surreal. But is his "beast" the same as Anzaldua's "Shadow Beast"? Is his rejection of the rational as liberating as he believes?

Tackling the Unconscious

One of the threads that I would like to pick up in this post (and perhaps future posts) is the problem of the unconscious - or, backing up yet again, the question: Is the unconscious a problem?

We need to back up in order to move forward. It seems as though many of the writers I've tackled so far could be said to have called upon a certain access to the unconscious as a way around rationality - whether that unconscious aspect lies in non-syntactical constellations of meaning, as in Stein, or in a more spiritual realm of dreams, as in Anzaldúa. Personally, I am not really sure if I agree with this: there is much to be said for these meanings to be created completely consciously, just along networks or webs that could not be said to be "rational" in the "systematic and orderly" sense.

However, my illustrious psychoanalyst father keeps dropping hints about how Freud makes a strong argument for non-rational systems of thought in his theories of the unconscious (for instance, in The Interpretation of Dreams), so it may be time for me to look down over the great abyss of psychoanalytic criticism and come down on one side or the other.

Pilgrimages cover.jpg
María Lugones' Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes and Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands have a lot to say about rationality, although it is not explicitly stated as their main purpose. Both writers deal with multiple, often fragmented or "curdled" identities (to use Lugones' vivid descriptor of an impure mixture of consciousnesses). Both paint beautiful, inspiring pictures of alternate ways to think of groups and political resistance. Through images of traveling or inhabiting the border between worlds, they also - implicitly and explicitly - condemn the rational framework and suggest alternative ways of thinking as a means of political empowerment and liberation.

Doing this project has been making me think about a lot of things, and I think it's important to take a little pause here to clarify my motivations. I touched upon these ideas a little bit in my "About the Blog" post, but I would like to spell them out more explicitly.

If you do a quick Google search for "irrational woman," you will get a whole list of links to advice: how to deal with irrational women, why women are so irrational, and (my personal favorite) are all beautiful women irrational?

There are some important concepts here that I'm worried will get confused: to begin with, the identification between men and rationality.

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