Thursday, May 24, 2007

feministicization: hosting (not targeting) Aristotle our guest

Some feminists who are rhetoricians have been reluctant to include Aristotle and his Rhetoric in the canon of feminist rhetorics. Carol Poster, for example, insists that: “Aristotle has not, and in my opinion, should not be appropriated for feminist rhetoric”; Poster adds:

From the point of view of feminist historiography . . . we need to reposition rhetoric, with its acceptance of subjectivist epistemology and emotional discourse and its traditionally feminine connection with pedagogy closer to the center of philosophy, and reconstitute rhetoric by displacing Aristotle’s philosophical treatise [i.e., the Rhetoric] to the margins of the discipline and reasserting the value of (feminine) pedagogical rhetoric against the agonistic and dialectical Aristotelian model. ("(Re)positioning Pedagogy: A Feminist Historiography of Aristotle's Rhetorica," 327-28)

Similarly, Cheryl Glenn suggests the rhetorical question, “When considering the 'intellect' specifically, where is the historical, textual evidence of Aristotle's (rhetoric's) compatibility with feminism?” Glenn observes:

Aristotle makes no provision for the intellectual woman, except for his nod to Sappho: “Everyone honours the wise . . . . [T]he Mytilenaeans [honour] Sappho, though she was a woman” (Rhetoric 2.23.1389.b). Otherwise, Aristotle denied any philosophical or rhetorical contributions by women. (Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, 49)

Nonetheless, a few feminists who are rhetoricians are more optimistic (and wisely, helpfully realistic) about the relationships between feminist rhetorics and Aristotle's. Glenn, for instance, has a more nuanced view in collaboration with Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede. The three scholars read Aristotle as theorizing a rhetoric which is hardly “manipulative, monologic, and rationalistic” (as is usually suggested by historiography of rhetoric and by translations of Aristotle's treatise). Rather, they say the Rhetoric (presumably in a feminist manner) theorizes “an interactive means of discovering meaning through language” (Border Crossings: Intersections of Rhetoric and Feminism,” 44).

Furthermore, a few feminists who are philosophers are as optimistic (and wisely, helpfully realistic) about the relationships between feminist rhetorics and Aristotle's. Eve Browning Cole, for example, reminds us that:

Aristotle is not . . . totally silent on the subject of women's virtue.
In the
Rhetoric, Aristotle describes women's virtues as being two-fold: “. . . in body, beauty and stature; in soul. self-command and an industry that is not sordid.” “Philergia,” translated “industry” above, really means “toil of love or “delight in hard work”; it is to be dissociated from sordidness (aneleutherias; literally “unfreedom” or perhaps “servility). ("Women, Slaves, and 'Love of Toil'," 131)

Cole adds how Aristotle attributes what is "naturally" male to a woman: "Agave has appropriated the male virtue of courage, the gender-symmetric partner of the emblem-virture of "philergia," which she has abandoned (cf. the passage from Aristotle's Rhetoric quoted . . . above)" ("Women, Slaves, and 'Love of Toil'," 140).

Likewise, Cynthia A. Freeland observes that Aristotle's rhetoric shares with feminist rhetorics the qualities of subjectivity and social-collaborative interdependence. Freeland writes:

Aristotle maintains that science must begin from premises that are self-evidently true and certain. This appears to require that the scientist be a sort of perfect knower, directly intuiting universal and necessary truths. Feminists sometimes criticize such conceptions of the autonomous and impersonal scientific inquirer. But in fact Aristotle believes that dialectic and rhetoric play an important role in getting the community of scientist to such starting-points. ("Nourishing Speculation," 158)

In what we might coin as "feministicization" (for feminist scholar appropriation of first-glance non-feminist ideas), might we (re)position Aristotle as a more welcome guest?

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