Being Irrationally Troubled (big project update #2)

My turn to chime in with a big project update. I've been working on this blog, Troubling Rationality, for most of the semester, and it's raising a bunch of questions for me, both intellectual and methodological. The initial aim, I should explain, was to get at the intellectual tradition of rationalism, stemming from the Enlightenment. Traditionally (in many spheres, including philosophy, certain strains of evolutionary theory, psychology, etc) rational thought has been placed in the domain of men, and women are said to be "irrational" or "emotional" or "intuitive" or what have you. For my blog, I'm looking at feminist ways of thinking non-rationally - not as a way of playing into the stereotype of the Irrational Woman, but as a way of resisting a male-constructed/male-valorized system of thought. 

This, by the way, is probably the most coherent way I have managed to sum up this project this whole time!

So far, I've looked at works by Gertrude Stein, Julia Kristeva, María Lugones, and Gloria Anzaldúa. I've also thought about psychoanalytic and surrealist theories of the unconscious (and why they both may fall short of being feminist). I'm planning to post soon about two more books, "Women's Ways of Knowing" and "Eight Women Philosophers." But here are some problems I'm running into, and I'd really appreciate thoughts (as well as comments on the blog itself, which I'd love you all to check out if you've got a chance!):

Intellectual problem: I'm having trouble defining "rationality" across my blog posts, since it can variously include ideas like the scientific method, strains of logical argumentation, and (in Freud, for example) ideas about the conscious (vs. conscious) mind. Does it matter that there's this variation? In a blog about non-rationality, do I need a rigorous definition of terms? I feel like I'm skating a thin line of "you know it when you see it"... but the problem is, especially when you're venturing into the nonrational, you kind of do know it when you see it!

Methodological problem: I had originally planned to write five posts, each one putting two works in dialogue with each other (10 works in total). But I am having trouble keeping each post short enough, while still feeling like I'm exploring the text enough, so I've ended up writing separate posts for each of the books that I'm reading. This is more along the lines of Liz's question - but sometimes it's hard to convince myself that I'm saying something useful, when I'm restricting myself to blog-length posts! But, it's useful to me, anyway, so hopefully that counts for something. :)

Other question for the class: I'm having trouble finding books that speak directly to this issue (of rationality vs. not), and I'm wondering if, for the last few posts, you all had ideas of ways I could venture into non-written forms of expression. Can you think of visual or musical explorations of something we could call "non-rational argumentation"? I would love some class input!!


I just posted a (maybe too) lengthy comment on your first entry. I had a lot of fun engaging with your blog and it got me thinking about my own ideas concerning rationality, critical thinking, maturity, and ethics. Thanks for the inspiration!

In terms of a "non-rational argument," what about using a direct-action performance from queer activism--like the ACT-UP die-ins from the late 80s/early 90s. Here is what J Butler has to say about them in an interview:

But I also think that subversive practices have to overwhelm the capacity to read, challenge conventions of reading, and demand new possibilities of reading. For instance, when Act Up (the lesbian and gay activist group) first started performing Die-ins on the streets of New York, it was extremely dramatic. There had been street theatre, a tradition of demonstrations, and the tradition from the civil disobedience side of the civil rights movement of going limp and making policemen take you away: playing dead. Those precedents or conventions were taken up in the Die-in, where people "die" all at once. They went down on the street, all at once, and white lines were drawn around the bodies, as if they were police lines, marking the place of the dead. It was a shocking symbolisation. It was legible insofar as it was drawing on conventions that had been produced within previous protest cultures, but it was a renovation. It was a new adumbration of a certain kind of civil disobedience. And it was extremely graphic. It made people stop and have to read what was happening. There was confusion. People didn't know at first, why these people were playing dead. Were they actually dying, were they actually people with AIDS? Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Maybe they were HIV positive, maybe they weren't. There were no ready answers to those questions. The act posed a set of questions without giving you the tools to read off the answers. What I worry about are those acts that are more immediately legible. Those are the ones that I think are most readily recuperable. But the ones that challenge our practices of reading, that make us uncertain about how to read, or make us think that we have to renegotiate the way in which we read public signs, these seem really important to me.

Are these performances rational--if so, how? Or do they disrupt the rational? How do we understand them in the context of rationality?

Your blog is great, Sophie. I was engaging in similar questions for my Rhetoric of Democratic Struggle class this week when we put Seyla Benhabib and Iris Marion Young in conversation with one another (on the topic of deliberative democracy, but rationality was used throughout). They might be interesting to explore too.

In terms of non-written stuff, why not "vlog" like Angela does? Make a, stream of consciousness even, through your trouble with this. Maybe?

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