Beautiful Theology: 4/29/07 - 5/6/07 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Philosophical Investigations

I’m not even going to begin to discuss the Investigations in this post — I’ll just transcribe some of my favorite phrases. The long-dormant site where Joe Duermer and Christopher Robinson were talking through the Invesigations provides a much more productive matrix for discussion than I could on short deadline, in short compass.

§11: “What confuses us is the uniform appearance of words when we hear them spoken or meet them in script and print.”

§28: “an ostensive definition can be variously interpreted in every case.”

§34 “Neither the expression ‘to intend the definition in such-and-such a way’ not the expression ‘to intepret the definition in such-and-such a way’ stands for the process which accompanies the giving and hearing of a definition.”

Footnote on p. 18e: “It is only in a language that I can mean something by something. This shews clearly that the grammar of ‘to mean’ is not like that of the expression ‘to imagine’ and the like”

§40: “. . .the word ‘meaning’ is being used illicitly if it is used to signify the thing that ‘corresponds’ to the word.”

§78: “Compare knowing and saying:
     how many feet high Mont Blanc is—
     how the word ‘game’ is used—
     how a clarinet sounds.
If you are surprised that you can know something and not be able to say it, you are perhaps thinking of a case like the first. Certainly not of one like the third.”

§85: “A rule stands there like a sign-post.”

§88: “If I tell someone ‘Stand roughly here’—may not this explanation work perfectly? And cannot every other one fail too?” [cp. Magritte on vague images and expressions]

§90: “Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one.”

§109: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

§110: “ ‘Language (or thought) is something unique’—this proves to be a superstition (not a mistake!), itself produced by grammatical illusions.”

§115: “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat5 it to us inexorably.”

Footnote on 54e: “I see a picture; it represents an old man walking up a steep path leaning on a stick.—How? Might it not have looked just the same if he had been sliding downhill in that position? Perhaps a Martian would describe the picture so. I do not need to explain why we do not describe it so.”

§194: “When does one have the thought: the possible movements of a machine are already there in it in some mysterious way?—Well, when one is doing philosophy.”

§208: “Teaching which is not meant to apply to anything but the examples given is different from that which ‘points beyond’ them.”

§251: “What does it mean when we say: ‘I can’t imagine the opposite of this’ or ‘What would it be like, if it were otherwise?’—For example, when someone has said that my images are private, or that only I myself can know whether I am feeling pain, and similar things.”

(Class beginning)

Sexes and Genealogies, “Women, the Sacred, and Money”

In this essay, Irigaray ponders the strong association of sacrifice and gender: women as excluded from the role of the officiant at sacrifice, and as the object of sacrifice. She reades the sacrificial economy as entailing gender-asymmetry, which heightens the question of whether women and men can live in community when that community is constituted by sacrifice.

Women’s exclusion from the sarcifical economy (except occasionally as the sacrificed and this asymmetry again is not innocent, since the male sacrifical victim can be, usually is, “redeemed” by an alternate sacrifice, whereas for Jephthah’s daughter no alternative avails — but maybe that’s just a coincidence). Irigaray extends this reflection to include natural fertility, which in industrial society stands in the relatively less-valued relation to the “refined,” “developed,” processed products which industrial-commercial culture vests with greater honor (but which nonetheless depend for their existence as “produced objects” on the materials and resources and fecundity of the natural order). She imagines an inaugural sacrifice that founds industrial culture, where the (male-identified) order of domination and abstracted exchange value sacrifices the (female-identified) natural condition of fertility and abundance.

Irigaray ties the question of women’s liberation to their exclusion from both the sacrificial order and the order of exchange; women are symbolically homeless, as it were, without unfettered access to an interactive mode that befits their identity as women, they face the choice of participating in the male-dominated orders on men’s terms, or giving way to pathologies of symbolic deprivation (for which “hysteria” may serve as an emblematic cover term, not an exhaustive diagnosis). Women, on Irigaray’s account here, do not manifest “penis envy,” but they show the signs of exclusion from an imaginary economy that systemically denies their humanity. Where women cannot express themselves as women, their expressions appear to be distorted, muffled, incoherent versions of “something a man would say (or ‘do’ or ‘show.’ ”

By way of resistance, Irigaray challenges her readers to think and imagine possibilities for social organization that do not presuppose the sacrifice of some proportion of the populace, or of the environment that sustains all (her exhortation rings more clearly now, in the “Incovenient Truth” era, than when she wrote in the 90s). . .

My interst in Irigaray doesn’t depend on her being right-about-everything, but derives from her naming some truths that have not come to expression under the discursive regimens I’ve known elsewhere. That interest intensifies as she rejects both simple submission to the Christian tradition (of the “Father knows best” variety) and a reactive rejection of Christianity in the name of a feminist alternative. Irigaray takes as granted the prevalence of Christianity, and looks within it for the resources to bring to expression possibilities consonant with, but not constrained by, the churches’ understanding of the world. If at last I remain more pervasively entwined in the tradition’s account of itself, I benefit at least from her astringent analysis of what sort of world that account produces, at whose expense.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sexes and Genealogies, “Divine Women”

We’re dipping into twop essays from Irigaray, and I’ll address them pretty cursorily online; I’ve already heard some cries of vexation from the seminar about these, so I’ll concentrate my energies on talking through specific problems that arise in our discussion.

That being said, “Divine Women” raises issues that pertain very directly to the questions of representation, self-representation, imagination, expression, and beauty that we’ve been considering all along. Irigaray poses the question of how our self-understandings, shaped by agencies over which we do not exercise control, have limited our growth into the fullness of the possibilities open to us. Specifically, she asks why women cannot become divine (in the way that the Incarnation has united divinity with masculinity).
If we resist hierarchies (the man/woman hierarchy, or state/woman, or a certain kind of God/woman, or machine/woman), only to fall back into the power (pouvoir) of nature/woman, animal/woman, even matriarchs/women, women/women, we have not made much progress.
Irigaray takes her point of departure from the Feuerbachian that God’s identity amounts to the heavenward projection of human identity and aspiration — though she calls attention to the masculinity of the picture Feuerbach sketches. Man can exist, can envision his identity as a history and a project, without reference to women; men and their God define reality and their prospect. Women — without a God to call their own — derive their identity (under current circumstances) through men and men’s God, and women have no access to divinity that has not been mediated by masculinity.

Irigaray plays with God, to elicit clues to how women might have unmediated access to divinity. Adopting Feuerbach’s characterization of God as magnifying mirror for Man, Irigaray imagines the mirror as a clue to women’s emergence/fulfillment as an ideal ( non-male-mediated ideal); hence, in this essay, the mirror signifies the double-sided danger/possibility of reduction to an object of the other’pleasure (on one hand) or emergence as a self-projecting beauty (on the other, an ideal divine woman). A transcendent abstraction does not suffice for women to become; women as much as men need an Incarnation (“what he did not assume, he did not redeem” cast in gender-theological terms). . . .