April 2010 Archives

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).

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