Configurations: Encountering Ancient Athenian Spaces of Rhetoric, Democracy, and Woman

By Mifsud, Mari Lee; Sutton, Jane S. et al. | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Configurations: Encountering Ancient Athenian Spaces of Rhetoric, Democracy, and Woman


Mifsud, Mari Lee, Sutton, Jane S., Fox, Lindsey, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This essay encounters configurations of "woman" in the space of rhetoric and democracy. By "configuration" we mean how a woman is postured and positioned in this space. We deal in ancient Athens recognizing that an ancient conceptual space called rhetoric, an art or techne of civic discourse, is embedded in the contemporary lived space of American civic discourse always constructing the rhetorical figure of woman and continuously under construction. We explore this conceptual space rhetorically, that is, not to articulate the feelings or meanings the space would have had for the ancient Athenians, but rather to articulate how this conceptual space still figures "woman". The articulation of conceptual and lived spaces is therefore our framework for seeing power relations and exploring communicative relations in terms of gender, sexuality, and citizenry. Drawing from such diverse fields as philosophy, rhetoric, architecture, classics, archeology, mythology, and women's studies, we theorize space, experiencing it as active, energetic, and productive, rather than as a backdrop, or a scene, or a place in which things happen(ed). Our lived experience of rhetoric and democracy is shaped by the agora, the civic space of ancient Athens. We are struck by the Temple of Hephaestus, which sits above the bouleterion, the place of civic deliberation and persuasion for the ancient Greeks. We experience the domination of "woman," both in terms of physical space and conceptual space. Our experience of this domination entails an act of seeing (ie. theorizing from the Greek theorien, to see) her capture, trade, domestication, commodification, and silencing in the space of rhetoric and democracy. Moreover, we see, hence we theorize, the ways in which this domination of "woman" is considered necessary to create civilization, hence how this domination came to be celebrated, lucrative, virtuous, ideal, and prized. Our act of seeing exposes how the space of rhetoric and democracy has traditionally dominated "woman," and in our expose, we become aware of the wares and ware of civic exchange. We experience this awareness as a limen, a space of intersection where woman can affirm woman.

Keywords: Rhetoric and Space, Women, Ancient Athens

Introduction

   ... woman will affirm woman somewhere other than in
   silence, the place reserved for her in and through the
   Symbolic. May she get out of the booby-trapped silence!
   And not have the margin or the harem foisted on her as domain!
   Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement [1975] 1986
   From The Newly Born Woman

Woman will affirm woman somewhere. But where? In the space of rhetoric? And why not? Would not that site of public speaking so often used for assertion, declaration, statement, and pronouncement get her out of the booby-trapped silence? But wait! Could not that space be a seine, yet another margin or harem foisted on her as domain?

We think about rhetoric. (1) Drawing from Henri Lefebvre, a French intellectual activist of the twentieth century whose work on space is most noteworthy, we consider rhetoric as a space, a conceptual space and a physical space, a mental space, and a lived space: it is a space conceived and lived through images and symbols whether supplied by the space or denied. (2) We engage in an act of seeing space as active, energetic, and productive, rather than as a backdrop, or a scene, or a place in which things happen (Lefebvre 190). In this space of rhetoric, we experience the domination of "woman." Our experience of this domination entails an act of seeing, ie. theorizing from the Greek theorien, to see, her capture, trade, domestication, commodification, and silencing. Moreover, we see, hence we theorize, the ways in which this domination of "woman" is considered necessary to create civilization, hence how this domination came to be celebrated, lucrative, virtuous, ideal, and prized. And we ask ourselves, but "where woman"? …

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