Saturday, March 15, 2008

Aristotle Needs a Uterus

Husbands think we should know where everything is: like the uterus is a tracking device.

Men can read maps better than women. Because only the male mind could conceive of one inch equaling a hundred miles.

--Roseanne Barr

Roseanne, the tv character on Roseanne’s sitcom, was just kidding. Aristotle wasn’t.

Aristotle mapped out knowledge in a serious way. He’d study a subject, decide objectively what it is or what it then can not be, and place it on the map where nature coldly needs it to be. This way, he conceived of barbarians (as non-Greeks) one inch below Greeks, of slaves (as non-free) two inches below freemen, of unschooled people as three inches below the boys in his school, and of all females (non-males) as six inches below all males.

To get away with this, Aristotle also conceived of the uterus (which he called, in Greek, hysteria) as utterly irrational (or, in translation, “hysterically hysterical”). The uterus is naturally at least two feet below the head, and the head in males supplies the sperm through the spinal column to the testicles, where it must wait, which is why the naked gymnasium is so useful for the boys and men learning to fight civilly and to map naturally in school. It’s also why, he says with objectivity, men go bald but women don’t: too much brain and stuff in it.

So Aristotle, with the help of his teacher Plato, conceives of “speakerism” as several inches below naked-male map-mapping knowledge, which they call logic or dia-logic (remember how the sperm must flow “through”). Sophists (or hysteric wise guys like Isocrates and Gorgias) and poets (hysteric fiction writers like Homer and Heraclitus) are these low speakerists. The womanly speakeristic men, although they would speak Greek, would write it and would translate it too.

The result of speakerism (or what some translate as “speakerism”? You get Obamabastic results. Tyrants like Xerxes trick weak ill-logical hysterical men into surrendering their Greek cities. Hitlers and Musolinis and Hirohitos twist nature around and make barbarians believe that men who are Aryans and Italians (once again) and Nippons stand a few inches higher than Hellenes. Ashley Youmans become Ashley Alexandra Duprés or Kristens who is quite becoming naturally to men, including state governors who make their public and their wives and their children believe.

Speakerism is unfaithful to (dia)logic as sophists and poets and barbarian tyrants and women are to men.

But not so fast. Aristotle himself has a uterus; or at least he acts with hysteria.

Look at Aristotle’s own womanly rhetoric (his own speakerism) as he translates it into his Rhetoric. The opening line is a typical Aristotelian definition for his typical hierarchical knowledge map, or so it seems! Look again:

ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῃ̂ διαλεκτικη

Speakerism is a turn taking different from the “–ism” of talked-through definition.

When Aristotle writes “ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν” (or “Speakerism is. . .”), he may really intend to define his term. But in fact he does not. Scholars debate what “ἀντίστροφος” is, and whether τῃ̂ διαλεκτικη really is “dialectic,” as if there’s any singularity at all in the use of these terms. But Sara J. Newman shows us that all of Aristotle’s “definitions” of “rhetoric” in the Rhetoric are not really logical definitions at all; they’re metaphors as don’t fit in dictionaries. The sentence just doesn’t fit on the male map. Okay, this is starting to get a little technical, but here’s your big question:

Why doesn’t Aristotle define his central terms when he writes about rhetoric (or speakerism)?

Notice how he continues by saying all people use speakerism just as much as they use logic. Now male translators through the centuries have wanted to map “all people” as “all men.” But that’s another story of men using Aristotelian dictionary knowledge mapping.

Aristotle quickly moves to something else. He complains: “In all the writings on the ‘art and science’ of communication—no one has mapped out even one thing about inner passion, which is like a logical syllogism in dialogic. And inner passion, you know, is the very body of beliefs.”

Here’s the trouble for men translating Aristotle in the past: Aristotle gets hysterical here. He forgets to define his central terms. So men mapping using Aristotle’s cartographical method have to turn them into English words like “enthymeme” and “pisteis.” And they define them. But they have to argue about the definitions because Aristotle forgot to make a dictionary and didn’t know how to edit the barbarian wikipedia.

But all women and men know that “inner passion” and “belief” are key. Which is why men around Aristotle hadn’t yet written about them, which led to his complain about them, and to his writing of the Rhetoric. My point? Aristotle had beliefs, had inner passion, and used speakerism as much as any hysterical woman with a uterus does.

Roseanne may joke about how different low class men are from their wives. Aristotle may write seriously about how high class Greeks types (all male in these superior ranks of course) are naturally different from females of all kinds. But our bodies (our penises and our uteruses) need not be blamed for our differences. My wife just this morning tells me how she hates frauds. I think she means many politicians, preachers, priestesses, prostitutes, princes and princesses. She also warns me, again, against my own tendencies to be controversial, to be arrogant, to cut others down with the knife of my critical thinking. So we need—men and women—all our intuition and all our intellect humbly together. We should watch for others pulling the wool over our naïve eyes, but we should also love.

When Motherpie asks me in a single paragraph (in comments in the last post), with her kind caring interest, if I believe the rumors and what Mary, Camille Anna Paglia, and Karen Armstrong have written, my answer is simply not a simple yes or no. She asks good questions, and so do they. You see what she’s doing? There’s nothing for Aristotle to be hysterically afraid of. Can’t I respond, with belief and with conviction and with logic, that I love Armstrong’s distinctions between “mythos” and “logos” but think she’s off her rocker with Robert Funk about their “Jesus” seminar? My inner passion, my tracking device and my map making keep me moving happily down the road.

We don’t need pure Aristotelian logic made somehow more pure without his womanly hysteria. Listen to my blogger friend Peter Kirk (in wonderful comment to another this week) to see how profound what we really need can be:

Are you suggesting [Peter asks himself straightforwardly or us rhetorically and rather parabolically] that God is analogous to an unfaithful spouse? Yes [is his answer and ours], if there are new data about how God deals with me, I take that into account and adjust my understanding of him accordingly. But no data can convince me that he does not exist. As for whether he loves me, I admit to sometimes struggling with certainty on this point, but I do know that his love is far deeper than I can ever understand, and therefore that no observation I can make, even one which might seem to show that he doesn't love me, can in fact demonstrate that.


mike said...

My father in law can't read a map for the life of him! If his wife isn't there to read the map, he'll make a wrong turn within 45 minutes of driving.

J. K. Gayle said...

Funny about your father-in-law, Mike. Sounds like my mom, who now does very well with a GPS (when dad's not driving).