Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought and the
Seventeenth-Century Flight from the Feminine

Susan R. Bordo

[I]f a kind of Cartesian ideal were ever completely fulfilled, i.e., if the whole of nature were only what can be explained in terms of mathematical relationships--then we would look at the world with that fearful sense of alienation, with that utter loss of reality with which a future schizophrenic child looks at his mother. A machine cannot give birth.

( Karl Stern, The Flight From Woman )


Philosophical Reconstruction, Anxiety and Flight

If the transition from Middle Ages to Renaissance can be looked on as a kind of protracted birth, from which the human being emerges as a decisively separate entity, no longer continuous with the universe with which it had once shared a soul, so the possibility of objectivity, strikingly, is conceived by Descartes as a kind of rebirth, on one's own terms, this time.

We are all familiar with the dominant Cartesian themes of starting anew, alone, without influence from the past or other people, with the guidance of reason alone. The product of our original and actual birth, childhood, being ruled by the body, is the source of all obscurity and confusion in our thinking. As Descartes says in the Discourse, "since we have all been children before being men . . . it is almost impossible that our judgments should be as pure and solid as they would have been if we had had complete use of our reason since birth and had never been guided except by it." The specific origins of obscurity in our thinking are, as we have seen, the "prejudices" of childhood, which all have a common form: the inability, due to our infantile "immersion" in the body, to distinguish properly between subject and object. The purification of the relation between knower and known requires the repudiation of childhood, a theme

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