The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

By Emanuela Bianchi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Aristotelian Causation, Reproduction,
and Accident and Chance

In Generation of Animals Aristotle famously states, “we should look upon the female state as being as it were a deformity [anapērian], though one which occurs in the ordinary course of nature [phusikēn].”1 This pronouncement, extraordinary to the twenty-first–century eye, reveals in its short formulation the barest outlines of a grand scheme, at once metaphysical, physical, biological, ethical, and political. Let us sketch out its features. The first thing to note is a hierarchy in nature: some things are deformed, while others are more perfect and complete, and the female state deviates from an assuredly masculine perfection. Secondly, the word anapēros, a deformity, signifies a being that is maimed or incapacitated, and is derived from the verb pēroō (to maim, to mutilate, to castrate)—indeed the Aristotelian author of History of Animals X uses the word frequently in the latter sense.2 So the female is, as it were, a mutilated, castrated male. Something is certainly missing—in Lacanian parlance, she is defined by lack. This deformity and deviation from perfection, however, is not a detraction from nature. It is a part of nature, occurring by nature (phusikēn). Nature therefore admits deformity, lack, nonbeing within being, and here its name and mark is female. Nature is thus characterized by a hierarchy of value in which the more perfect, the more complete, the masculine is better, and the less than complete, the deviant or deformed, is necessarily something less than good, of less worth, if not outright malign. In Aristotle’s medieval legacy, the Christian God, God the Father, stands at the metaphysical center of the cosmos, embodying all that is good, perfect, eternal, and complete while

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