Earth Muse: Feminism, Nature & Art // Review

Article excerpt

We all know the earth is in bad shape. We learn through the global media of the threats of nuclear catastrophes, spreading ozone holes, global warming, and the disappearance of the rainforest" (p. 190). In response to this, Carol Bigwood in Earth Muse proposes an extensive philosophical journey into the formation of Western metaphysics and the notions of Being, with particular attention given to Aristotle, Nietzsche and Heidegger. With sophisticated and in-depth analysis, she scrutinizes the phallocentrism of their metaphysics, and the foundational metaphysics of western Being. For Bigwood, the "woman problem" of western cultures, considered from numerous vantage points (ontology, women/nature constructs, culture/nature dichotomies, disembodiment), stems from an exile of the "feminine" in metaphysics. Here Bigwood is in the company of poststructuralist feminists such as Kristeva, Irigaray, and Cixous, frequently referring to their thoughts.

Bigwood categorizes her book as a "cautious, ecofeminist, postmodern, art-philosophy." The goal of Earth Muse rests on the assumption that such an investigation of the metaphysical presuppositions at work in our cultural ideals and attitudes, personal relations, and in "localized modes of bodily being" can contribute to the task of deep global change. Although such a position is held by numerous feminists involved in an ecofeminist discourse, I am uncertain as to whether Bigwood's contribution assists in this goal.

In content alone, Bigwood covers ground that only those familiar with the feminist critiques of the metaphysics of Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Heidegger would grasp. There is a chapter that deals with Nietzsche's will to power, analyzed in part through the character of Zarathustra. Critiques and conversations contained within this specific academic discourse are discussed at length, with Bigwood introducing themes of concealment, self-concealment, unconcealment, and movements between concealment and unconcealment. Although intended to clarify a reality, they leave the reader with even more complex notions to digest.

Another chapter describes at length the relations of art and nature, presented by Bigwood as techne and phusis, respectively. There is a seemingly endless meandering through the various meanings of these concepts, and how they relate to the nature/culture, and human(man)/nature division. Within this discourse one must grapple with the assorted Greek notions of logos, arche, telos, eidos, aletheia (unconcealment) and poieses (the movement from unconcealment to concealment), as well as a deliberation into the formation of the polis, its muchos (women's quarters), and andron (men's room), followed by further references to hagnos, hagios, and arrheta. The chapter continues with a trip through a discussion of the Aristotle's four causes included in aition, and how these interplay with eidos, and further that Plato and Aristotle used these ideas differently. The chapter then moves to analysis of concepts used primarily by Heidegger, such as begriffen, but more importantly his use of Gestell. One needs an extensive vocabulary in ancient Greek and German to comprehend the subtleties.

The greatest difficulty with Earth Muse is to figure out exactly what is being said. Sentences such as the following fill every paragraph and page:

Such phusical beginnings do not rest secure on unshakable origins or ground but indeterminately interinvolve with other currents and confluences of earthly existence. …