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'The strange ambiguity of existence made body"

Notes towards Day 14 of
Critical Feminist Studies

"The strange ambiguity of existence made body":
Nature and Culture, From
Sor Juana to Simone de Beauvoir--

I. Coursekeeping:
--summaries: Jessy re Stryker, Tamarinda re Stryker/Sor Juana, Melinda today?
--my dream that Susan Stryker kept falling asleep!
--reports back re: Susana Silverman &/or Raka Ray?
--access to on-line readings/de Beauvoir?
--3 copies of Paris is Burning in Canaday
--reminder to let me know re: funding/desire to attend Age of Arousal 12/13
--proposal from Mary Clurman that each alum choose postings/papers of one of you to compare with her own thoughts, which she'd post on-line (plus personal dialogue/conference/Skype call?)--practical, communal yet individual, contribution to the whole rather than individual essays--> what do you say?
--Ann's volunteering to be a conduit to anyone who wants to post your message, e-mail address to the trans or lgbtq group on Athena's web (alum site)

""Nothing could I see without reflecting upon it,
nothing could I hear without pondering it,
even to the most minute, material things"
(Sor Juana, Respuesta/Response).

What do you see?



How do you know what you are seeing?

What do you see?


How do you know what you are seeing?

Satre, "Existentialism and Humanism"(1948):
If one considers an article of manufacture--as, for example, a book or a paper-knife--one sees that it has been made by an artisan who had a conception of cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say then of the paper-knife that its essence...precedes its existence...

...the conception of man in the mind of God is comparable to that of the paper-knife in the mind of the artisan: God makes man according to a procedure and a conception....Man possesses a..."human nature"...the essence of man precedes that historic existence which we confront in experience.

Atheistic existentialism...declares...that...there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is...the human begin with he is nothing....then he will be what he makes of himself....there is no human nature...he is what he wills.. that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism.

De Beauvoir learned from Sartre....

" establish the reign of liberty in the midst of the world of the given"
(The Second Sex, 1949)

And she applied those principles to the particular condition of women:

"what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that...
they propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence"

"it is not a question of abolishing in woman the contingencies and miseries
of the human condition, but of giving her the means for transcending them"

...which generations of feminist scholars have then applied further.

For example, from the 1972 classic,
"Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?"
Sherry Ortner (BMC, '62):
the whole scheme is a construct of culture...the result of a (sadly) efficient feedback system....women's consciousness:--her membership... in culture--is evidenced by the very fact that she accepts her own devaluation

25 years later, Ortner recuperated the existential geneology of her argument in "So, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" (Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture, 1996):

My own way of thinking about to think of them as existential questions, even riddles, which humanity everywhere must face. Of these, one of the most central is how to think about the confrontation between humanity and nature, that is, between humanity and "what happens...without the voluntary and intentional agency, of man"...or between humanity and...those processes that proceed autonomously in the world, and "that limit the possible" of human action....the problem of the relationship between what humanity can do, and that which sets limits upon those possibilities, must be a universal problem...

And the gender relationship is always at least in part situated on one nature/culture border--the body...the two oppositions easily move into a relationship of mutual metaphorization: gender becomes a powerful language for talking about the great existential questions of nature and culture, while a language of nature and culture...can become a powerful language for talking about gender, sexuality, and reproduction, not to mention power and helplessness, activity and passivity.... (179)

See also Christine Delphy, "The Invention of French Feminism: An Essential Move"
(50 Years of Yale French Studies : A Commemorative Anthology,
Part II, 2000):

French feminism is an Anglo-American invention...a consequence of adopted an outdated epistemological framework...People do not relish having to think that it is up to them--they don't readily let go of the idea that it has all been decided for them in some part of their hormone-influenced cortext. They do not like being, as they see it, "free-floating," wiith no sound "natural" basis for their tastes, which they experience, rightly , as irresistible impulses...

...our psycholgoical being shattered by the findings of feminism about the social construction of gender...there is no human nature....There is no "beyond" (or indeed 'before") social construction...the progress of social constructionist views is...threatening...because they let us envision a future where we might not have gender to rely on as a basis for our personal identity.

So, per de Beauvoir: "What is a woman?"

-- relative to Man, not an autonomous being, the "Other"
--she was made

--the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itsel

--otherness is a fundamental category of human thought.

--no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself


jrizzo: To be the "other," means to exist as an object. An object can only occupy a state of being-in-itself, self-contained, limited, lacking in all creative desire for transcendence....the "other" does not construct her own identity....I wonder how limisted we human beings are in our ability to see the the other as being-for-itself?
YJ: we cannot even concieve of ourselves as individuals without the existence of an "other"....Who would we be if we had no "other" by which we could compare and contrast outselves with?....I suppose the larger issue is to "transcend" this process of "othering" altogether, which I'm not sure I can even concieve of. How would we self-identify then? What would be the mechanism by which we would "know" who and what we were?

following Hegel, we find in consciousness itself a fundamental hostility toward every other consciousness; the subject can be posed only in being opposed--he sets himsef up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object...

But the other consciousness, the other ego, sets up a reciprocal claim..willy-nilly, individuals ..are forced to realize the reciprociity of their relations...

Master and slave are united by a reciprocal need

to decline to be the Other, to refuse to be a party to the deal...would renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic existence.

we must discard the vague notions of superiority, inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion...just how shall we pose the question?

we have won the game..the equality of the sexes is now becoming a reality

the only public good is that which assures the private good of the citizens....But we do not confuse the idea of private interest with that of happiness..there is no possibility of measuring the happiness of others

Every subject plays his part....through projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty only through a continual reaching out...There is not justification for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence falls back into immanence, stagnation, there is a degration...of liberty into constraint and contingence. This downfall absolute evil. Every individual concerned to justify his existence undefined need to transcend himself...what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that...they propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence...I am interested in the fortunes of the individaul as terms of liberty....woman enjoys that incomparable privilege: irresponsibility.
..woman is brought up, without ever being impressed with the necessity of taking charge of her own existence.


The fact that we are human beings is infinitely more important than all the peculiarities that distinguish human beings from one another....In both sexes is played out the same drama of the flesh and the spirit, of finitude and transcendence; both are gnawed away by time and laid in wait for by death, they have the same essential need for one another; and they can gain from their liberty the same glory.

the contradictions that put the flesh in opposition to the spirit, the instant to time, the swoon of immannece to the challenge of transdencdenec, the absolute of pleasure to the nothingness of forgetting, will never be resolved...

our lack of imagination always depopulates the future...each one of us secretly deplores the absence there of the one who was himself...

institutions create uniformity...