May 2010 Archives

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.

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