Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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An Important message from the communications department

April 16, 2010

As some of you have heard me frequently complain, I feel quite unsettled in my major. Communications classes have, thus far, been almost totally devoid of interesting, new, or useful information (with the exception of 132). When I read the books, I of course learn things, but it hasn’t been anything too revolutionary or anything practical enough for me to take out into the “real world.” And I’m quite disappointed.

In addition, the people in my classes primarily come from a much different, less challenging place than I do. Which I mostly wouldn’t care about. Except that they tend to say things that I can’t help but get angry at, like that the domestic sphere is almost equally divided between men and women. Or that there’s more pressure on men to be sexually thrilling than there is on women. Or that Goucher students are just like students you’d find anywhere else, so our immediate personal experiences clearly reflect the rest of American culture. And they’re wrong. And I know they’re wrong. But I can’t seem to get anyone to agree with me. So I thought that maybe I was wrong. But I can’t honestly buy that.

So what do I do?

Well, after going to my psychoanalysis class yesterday, I think the answer is pretty clear.

We read Luce Irigaray’s ‘The Poverty of Psychoanalysis’ and discussed it, and this line, which I marked my first time reading the text, was expounded upon by Rochelle.

Most of you will therefore be unable to interpret it. And you will be prevented from listening by at least two systems of screens, of censorship or of repression.

Irigaray was addressing a group from the Lacanian school of psychoanalysis, which she had at one point been a part of. She was addressing them after her friend had committed suicide after being so disheartened and annihilated by the theory that she just couldn’t really go on. And Irigaray is mad. And she is emotional. And her theory is a part of her. And it’s beautiful.

Rochelle talked about how much Irigaray attacked the Lacanian school and its students and, well, Lacan himself. And how nobody would listen to her. She knew nobody would listen to her or even understand her. But she kept talking and attacking and refused to be quiet.

And when Rochelle was saying this, I felt so connected. And I felt so much better. And I feel more determined to not give up on speaking in my communications classes, even if everyone rolls their eyes when I do it. Even if I’m the “token feminist.” Even if no one understands me. Because I know I have something to say and because that something feels so important. Not that I’m going to be too Antiochian about it (okay, I’ll be a bit Antiochian) and just make noise about everything for the sake of making noise. But I fully intend to raise concerns and issues with the standard nonsense that is frequently espoused in these classes.

I’m no Irigaray, by any means, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up just because my opinion is unpopular.

It was a very inspirational class.

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The token feminist

February 26, 2010

I am the token feminist. I don’t try to be most of the time, and I keep a large amount of my comments and observations to myself, but I remain the token feminist in most class situations. In fact, a lot of us do.

Who’s us? The women at Goucher College who study philosophy. I’m a communications major, but I have been taking courses in philosophy since I entered college, because, well, all of my friends were using words like “simulacrum” and “transient self” and “objective Truth” and I wanted to know what all the fun was about. And I’ve found that I quite enjoy philosophy, and that we have a stellar philosophy department here.

But I find that I am always the token feminist. There maybe be a lot of us in the class, but but, really, only a few of us speak. And it really bothers me. I do not want to be the token feminist in a philosophy class at a college that has been historically a women’s college.

The current Goucher women to men ratio is 7:3. That’s right. This is a school where 70% of the students are female. But there are departments that are fairly male dominated, and philosophy is one of them. Not only are the majority of philosophy students male, but most of the professors are male. John, Bob, Steve, and Rochelle are the current line up of professors. So, it’s a bit of a boys club, but this really follows the pattern visible in history.

There is a strange divide in philosophy classes here, I have noticed. You have your history of philosophy and general “philosophy of” classes, that are attended heavily by the men in the department, usually having a more even gender (sex?) split, and then there are classes on women’s issues and race issues and sexuality issues that, really, only the ladies in philosophy take. Some boys, of course, venture into these areas, but, mostly, it’s ladies.

In the classes where there’s a decent sampling of men, feminist issues are not usually discussed all that much. I do not think that everything should be about feminism, but I do think that we are at the point in our social and philosophical lives that we should be good at being aware of the silences in both history and philosophy. A friend of mine took a class of philosophy and art. You know what they didn’t discuss even a little? Women. The female in art. Hello? i feel like this is such a no brainer in terms of “things a liberal arts college should talk about when discussing art and thought” that I was quite literally stunned when my friend told me this. (In addition, there wasn’t anything about race, but that shouldn’t surprise you. If women didn’t make the cut for topics to be discussed, race most certainly wouldn’t. After all, we’re all white kids here. No reason to talk about anything crazy like race issues. Save it for an African Studies class)

Women in philosophy have been silent players forever. Can you identify Socrates? How about Hypatia? If you can identify both, do you know one theory from each? probably not. We’ve remained silent players and, even today when amazing theories are being published and put forth by women, we skip over them when talking about “non-women’s” issues. How difficult would it be to throw in a week or two near the end of term acknowledging these silences? I don’t expect every course to suddenly become rooted in feminism, but I think that, especially at a historically women’s institution, it should be something that is at least mentioned in each class. And it should not be up to the students alone to mention it.

That being said, why the fuck aren’t students mentioning it? Why do I, the woman, have to be the one to bring it up? Not just in philosophy, now, but in any class. And why are the reactions when I bring these issues up more of a collective groan than a thoughtful “hmm?” I mean, it seems to go back to issues of privilege to me. The boys don’t have to seem the women’s silences in the course, because they are boys. They dont’ have to be aware of it in their everyday lives, so they don’t have to be aware of it in class. Like I said, some guys are exceptions to this. Not that they have managed to relinquish their privilege, but that they try and stay aware. But the majority don’t. There is still a distinct separation between what real philosophy is and women’s philosophy. The silences in this field have to be relegated to their own field, which enables them to continue being ignored.

There’s a strange pressure being a woman and a feminist in a philosophy class. There is the thought that I must always really know what I am talking about before I speak (even before I ask a question about what I’m seeking to understand) and that I am expected to bring up being a woman, which is typically irrelevant.

In my feminst philosophy class last year, there were 4 or 5 boys and about 12 girls. For my communications class, I counted for two weeks how many times men spoke versus how many times women spoke. On every day, the number of male comments were at least double (usually more) than the female comments. In a feminist philosophy class. What? We women aren’t even speaking in a class that is about “our issues?” If you ask the silent women why, usually they say that they don’t feel qualified to speak, regardless if they have done every page of their reading or not. Why don’t we feel worthy of speaking in class, when there is always that one guy who never really reads anything but spouts of useless bits of information anyway? (Note: I’d rather be the token feminist than that guy.) 

I think it’s time we take our classes. I think it’s time we female philosophers speak up (out) in class. We have the questions and we have the analysis. We have the background and we have the drive. There is no reason for us, especially here at Goucher, to feel so silenced. There is no reason for us to be the only ones noticing the silences. There is no reason for us to feel like all we can speak about is “women’s philosophy.” Come on, Goucher. Let’s figure this out.

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International defect

November 8, 2009

I’ve been wanting to blog about my strange experience with being American abroad for a while now. But every time I start forming the sentences, they stop working together to form coherent thoughts, and my privilege shows really, really badly. I don’t want to make myself out to be the victim, because, well, I’m not. My friends here don’t hold my American-ness against me, which is very nice of them, and most of the time it’s not something that’s on my mind. But when I go and meet new people, and I tell them I’m from the States, they usually get that “oh, crap. I don’t want to be stuck talking to one of those” looks on their face. Sometimes they outright say “No offense, but I’ve never met an American I like,” and I laugh and say, “I’m sorry. If it makes you feel better, I live kinda close to Canada.” Sometimes they just stare really intently at me and say “Oh, wow! I’ve never met one before! What’s it like?” And this is all stuff that makes me uncomfortable. This is because, well, in America, I’m just a white person, and get don’t have to be aware of my race or nationality, because it’s dominant and the norm and gets to be invisible to me. It’s very strange to be somewhat on the other side of the fence.

I’ve never been good at race discourse, because I know that I live my life without noticing my race. And I guess I have nothing revolutionary to say about it now, because I’m still better off that most everyone else in the world. It’s just very new to identify myself with a nationality now (maybe not a race, but it kind of feels like one?), especially when I don’t feel a strong connection to it. How can I feel strongly connected to something that lays invisible in my privileged sight? I feel silly trying to discuss this. I feel like a silly little Antioch first year who feel guilty about existing in a position of power and guiltier for feeling offended when people treat me like a walking international defect, because I know it’s so much worse for others and I won’t have to deal with this for much longer. And then I get mad at myself again for feeling like that little first year and having an attitude which is so obviously not helpful.

So I guess the summation of this is that I need more time to think about my American-ness before I can properly deal with it. Also that American conceptions of racism are a lot different than Australian and European conceptions of racism. America really is a special little rock.

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phio-fail

October 28, 2009

Well, I have come to realize something. And this might get me smacked when I go back to Goucher, but there’s no use denying it any longer. Here we go:

I do not want to be a philosophy major.

There! I said it! I’ve decided not to add a philosophy major (and probably not a minor either) to my Communications degree for several reasons. The final straw was that today, when methodically planning out my courses for next semester–because we all know that planning out schedules always goes according to plan–I discovered that I have enough space in my academic year and a half left to graduate on time if I stay very focused on fulfilling my requirement. This means that all art and most philosophy courses will have to be audited or forgone, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice to not put further stress on my mother’s or my financial situation. I mean, really, I cost a lot of money, and it’s about damn time I buckle down and focus on getting out of this leeching stage of my life. Thus, not studying philosophy will give me a chance to get out of under-grad school and either into the big wreck that is the job market or into the bi headache that is grad school.

But there’s another reason that I’ve really only discovered since I’ve been here: I just don’t care that much. That’s not true.  do care, but I just have a lot of trouble throwing myself into something that will really never satisfy me in any way. I am still going to study philosophy and continue to read theorists and attend classes, but I just don’t care enough to sit around burying myself under heaps of material so tall that I lose sight of why the hell I’m doing all this in the first place. I want to help people. Not just the intellectually motivated, but people in general. I know that i can’t save everyone, and that really just reaching one person is going to be a challenge, but that’s my goal. And if I get lost in theory, it just won’t happen. I don’t want to be a thinker who is only talked about after she’s dead. I want to see some fucking results, because if I cross the river Styx and can’t look back on the success of my labor and toil, then there doesn’t seem to be much in it for me. Yeah, it’s selfish, but I want to be able to feel some pride in my work and in my life’s ambitions before I kick the bucket. And if people keep on being inspired or changed or helped after I die, then kudos, I’m even more awesome than I thought.

There are really two reasons I got into philosophy in the first place. One is because I wanted to be able to keep up with my friends and frienemies at Antioch, because they’re all pretty smart and decently well read, and I don’t like having to ask them to slow down and explain things to me (I might have a small issue with being proud). The other reason is that I wanted to have a strong theoretical argument for my goals and for trying to change the world in the way I feel it should be changed. I wanted to be sure that when people disagree with me, I can tell them why I’m right. I also wanted to be sure to keep on learning and adopting new thoughts and theories, because, well, like I was taught through my martial arts years, everything needs to be constantly evolving. Things that become stagnant are typically harmful and useless. I don’t want that to be me.

Well, now I don’t mind asking Andy to explain things to me. And I can read philosophy and comprehend it much better than before, so I can keep learning. And it seems to me that a lot of philosophy kids don’t really know what they want to do. And that’s fine. But I do know what i want to do, and doing things doesn’t happen in theory or in books. It happens in actions, and to perform these actions, I need skills, and to aquire these skills, I need to sometimes think less and do more. There is some fault in being pragmatic, but I think there is more fault in being–well, I don’t know the academic term for it, but in being all talk and no action.

The problems I’ve been having with philosophy are some of the same that I’ve been having with photography. It feels too much like sitting, watching, observing, choosing not to partake, and not enough like experiencing, exploring, risking. I want to hav a solid foundation, but I’m the type of person who has a lot of trouble knowing when to stop laying the cement and start building the house. I know myself and I know that if I stay too in my head, then I’ll miss out on a lot of chances to actually do. I mean, experience can explainably or unexpectedly contradict theory. it does so all the time. How many times have you heard “Well, communism works on paper…”?

I guess it comes down to feeling too passive in a society that has, frankly, become almost completely passive. Great movements maybe inspired by thinkers, but they are sparked by doers, and I want to help usher in a great movement. So maybe I need to stop getting bogged down in all the little intracit arugments of this scholar and that scholar and this branch of theory and why that branch doesn’t work and how this feminist varies incredibly slightly from that feminist and why and just fucking move.