The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos


The Feminine Symptom takes as its starting point the problem of female offspring for Aristotle: If form is transmitted by the male and the female provides only matter, how is a female child produced? Aristotle answers that there must be some fault or misstep in the process.This inexplicable but necessary coincidence - sumptoma in Greek - defines the feminine symptom. Departing from the standard associations of male-activity-form and female-passivity-matter, Bianchi traces the operation of chance and spontaneity throughout Aristotle's biology, physics, cosmology, andmetaphysics and argues that it is not passive but aleatory matter - unpredictable, ungovernable, and acting against nature and teleology - that he continually allies with the feminine.Aristotle's pervasive disparagement of the female as a mild form of monstrosity thus works to shore up his polemic against the aleatory and to consolidate patriarchal teleology in the face of atomism and Empedocleanism.Bianchi concludes by connecting her analysis to recent biological and materialist political thinking, and makes the case for a new, antiessentialist politics of aleatory feminism.


Nature’s aim, then, is to measure the generations and endings [teleutas] of
things by the measure of these [heavenly] bodies, but she cannot bring this
about exactly on account of the indeterminateness [aoristian] of matter
and the existence of a plurality of principles which impede the processes of
generation in nature and destruction, and so often are the causes of things
occurring contrary to Nature [para phusin sumpiptontōn].

ARISTOTLE, Generation of Animals

And revolutions also come into being from a coincidence [sumptōmatos].


By exhibiting this “symptom,” this crisis point in metaphysics where we
find exposed that sexual “indifference” that had assured metaphysical
coherence and “closure,” Freud offers it up for our analysis.

LUCE IRIGARAY, Speculum of the Other Woman

The notion of telos—the end, or the “for the sake of which” things exist or happen—is a famously intractable keystone in the architecture of Western metaphysics and science. Originating in Aristotle’s philosophical system, it structures nature and human action: through telos they are ultimately understood, and by telos they are ultimately caused. The Aristotelian telos, the good or what is best (to beltion), therefore dominates and provides the justification for a rigorously hierarchical cosmological system encompassing the physical world, the biological world, and the human world of ethics and politics.

Sexual difference and the phenomena of sexual reproduction turn out to be decisive matters for Aristotelian teleology. Teleological processes are, after all, most self-evidently given in biological phenomena, and are found at the level of organs and behaviors, as well as in organisms as a whole, which are readily understood functionally as aiming toward certain ends. And Aristotle’s biological investigations . . .

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