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Women and philosophy

Women and philosophy
Michele Le Doeuf £
Let us avoid getting caught up in a mere lament
about the fact that ‘woman’, in addition to being,
from time immemorial, alienated, beaten and
deprived of political, sexual and social rights and
legal identity, last and least of all saw herself
forbidden any access to philosophy: as far as a
classification of the rights denied to women is concerned, it is clear that there is a disproportion
between the right to have one’s own salary and to
decide one’s own sexual destiny and that to philosophise, and that this disproportion can only leave
the right to philosophise foundering in the anecdotal.

Moreover, such a conception runs up against ‘facts’:

certain periods have allowed some women to
approach philosophy. Very few, you may say.

Certainly, but how many men were there? Up to
and including today, philosophy has concerned only
a fringe – a minimal, indeed evanescent, one in
certain periods – of what was itself a minority
class. Sexist segregation seems of slight importance compared with the massive exclusion that has
caused philosophy to remain the prerogative of a
handful of the learned.

And we have every reason to be suspicious of
such a lament, since it’can lead to (at least) two
so-called feminist positions with which we should
have nothing to do. One, shamelessly exploited by
the apologues of the ‘advanced liberal society’, consists in stating that the old times are changing and
that we can enter into a contract of progress which
will nullify and obliterate this long oppression.

This kind of discourse, which from obvious political
motives contrasts the past with the immediate
future (already half present), can only be maintained by playing a game of abstraction, avoiding
analysis of the concrete modalities of oppression,
in support of a so-called ‘established fact’ of
massive alienation, a fact which contrasts mystifyingly with once again abstract promises: this
simplification,plays into the hands of immediate
ideologico-electoral exploitation. The other position with which we want to have nothing to do is
dominated by a feminism of difference which is
apparently una ware of how much it owes to Auguste
Comte: ‘Women have been forbidden access to the
philosophic realm; rightly understood, this is some·
thing positive, and we do not demand access to it:

this discourse is riddled with masculine values,
and women should not be concerned with it; they
must seek their specificity, their own discourse,
instead of wanting to share masculine privileges. ‘

We need not always or completely reject a feminism of difference. But when we can see in it the
echo of a philosophy, namely Comte’s positivism,
of the discourse on women produced by a masculine
philosophy, we must recognise that this kind of
feminism may do the opposite of what it claims,
that it may be misled by schemas produced by the
very structures against which it is protesting. I
shall oppose this mystification by the paradox that
a practical application of philosophy is necessary
in order to oust and unmask the alienating schemas
yhich philosophy can produce. 1 For, whether we
1 flc(;dless tr, “ay, this thc0retical pr:tcticc, th0ugh n(,c(,~,sary, is als0
c0rt1ph,tf:!y in:;uffir-i”n t •


like it or not,we are within philosophy, surrounded
by masculine-femiiifneclivisions fhat philosophy
has helped to articulate and refine. The problem is
to know whether we want to remain there and be
dominated by them, or whether we can take up a
critical position in relation to them, a position
which will necessarily evolve through deCiphering
the basic philosophical assumptions latent in discourse about women. The worst metaphysical
positions are those which one adopts unconsciously
whilst believing or claiming that one is speaking
from a position outside philosophy. Let this be a
warning about what follows: this text probably involves certain ‘naiveties’, that is to say unconscious
adherence to ideological structures which have not
yet been completely de constructed.

In order to try and get away from abstract lamentation, which is a major obstacle to answering
the question ‘what is to be done?’, I shall begin by
recalling some women who have approached philosophy. Their very existence shows that the nonexclusion (a relative non-exclusion) of women is
nothing new, which will permit us to wonder
whether anything has really changed – whether
women are not admitted to philosophy today in
accordance with modalities which reiterate an
archaic permissiveness (and restriction).

Women philosophers in the past
Some women, then, have had acce$S to philosophical theorising; and let us add that the philosophical
was not so forbidden to them that they had to pay
for their transgression by losing their female
nature in the eyes of observers. The woman who
philosophises has not always or necessarily been
seen as a monster. Indeed this is what makes one
suspicious, permissiveness often signifying more
than brutal exclusion. For example, Diogenes
Laertius gives a portrayal of Hipparchia which
betrays some esteem for her.

Certainly, it
seemed to him quite a feat that a woman should
calmly adopt the cynic’s way of life (and so it was),
but no trace of mockery sullies his chapter on her.

He relates the gibes to which Hipparchia (like all
the Cynics) was subjected, but he dissociates
himself from them, describing them as vulgar and
stupid, and recounting with a certain admiration
the bons mots with which this ‘woman philosophiser’

replied to tasteless jokes. In the eyes of Diogenes
Laertius, it is not femininity that Hipparchia renounced (the expression ‘woman philosophiser’

prevent one thinking that), but, as indeed she said
herself, the loss of self implied in the female conditi0!l (‘I spent all the time which, in view of my
sex, I should have wasted at the spinning- wheel
to study. ‘)
Similarly, the access to the philosophical
of Heloise or Elisabeth (Descartes’ correspondent,
who is recorded in history under that one christian
name)2 has never been characterised as a loss of
the mythical advantages of femininity:the antagonism
between ‘being a woman’ and ‘being a gentleman’

seems to have come later and, I believe, it is not
2 J>ri!JC”ss 1-:1 isal;dh of Palatine, dpdicatee of Descartes’ PrinCiples of
Pldlr.·snnhv ,lI,c1 Tlu’ Passions of thl’ Soul

until Rousseau (Emile, Part 5) and Comte that
access to philosophy is described in terms of
danger, of mutilation, even of degradation. So let
us take care not to project historically specific
schemes onto the whole of history. For a woman to
approach philosophical study is not such an outrage as one might suppose from reading Les
Eemmes Savantes: in the same period Madame de
Sevigne gently teased her Cartesian daughter about
vortices, without appearing to think that reading
Descartes was leading her daughter a way from ‘her
true character’, from a ‘feminine nature’, in
danger of ‘fatal degradation’ (all these words are
from Comte). A century later Rousseau wrote:

‘Believe me, wise mother, do not make a gentleman
of your daughter. ‘

However, both Theodorus (the malicious joker
who attacked Hipparchia) and MOliere are very useful witnesses; for by suggesting a different reaction
from that of Diogenes Laertius or Descartes, they
enable one to evaluate or interpret the attitude of
these last. There seem to be two points of view,
that of the semi-clever and that of the more cunning.

The semi-clever argue that there really is a prohibition. As for the clever, they have a more subtle
relationship with the prohibition, a relationship
which can be described as permissive, as long as
it is understood that permissiveness is a cunning
form of prohibition, opposed to everything that
comes under the heading transgression or

For at first an explicit prohibition does not need
to be put forward: at the moment in history where
the discourse called philosophy arises, a sexual
division in education and instruction is already well
established. ‘Girls would learn only to spin, weave
and sew, and at most to read and write a little’

(Engels, Origin of the Family. Private Property
and the State). Imposing limits on the culture of
women is quite sufficient to bar them from ttw
philosophical, and their (unspoken) exclusion'” from
philosophy is an epiphenomenon, at least at first
sight, of the distinction between what it is appropriate to teach a girl and what a cultivated man
needs to know. Similarly, the education of the
daughters of the aristocracy in the 17th century is
essentially linked to the idea of ‘social grace s’ :

what is important is to give them an attractive wit,
pleasant conversation, and to teach them Italian
and singing. And when Hegel writes that: ‘women
may have culture, ideas, taste, and elegance:but they
cannot attain to the ideal’, he is repeating on a
theoretical level a division already inscribed in
actual ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ forms of education. And at this point there arises a question that
I shall only mention: is there a historical change in
the relationship of philosophers to women towards
the middle of the 18th century? Plato had not felt
the need to theorize the sexual distinction of education in his day and he did not propose to maintain it
in the just city. Twenty centuries later Thbmas
More was equally ‘egalitarian’, not only in his
Utopia but also in the education he gave to the boys
and girls who lived in his house. On the other hand,
it seems that references to women’s incapacity to
theorise begin to flower from the 18th century onwards. The whole period establishes and reestablishes divisions and distinctions: divisions of
literature /philosophy, techniques of the attractive /
art (cf. Rousseau’ s Essay on the Origin of Languages,
for example), ideaS/ideals, culture/knowledge.

3 Th<' u<'liberate exclUSIOn of won1!'n from phtiosoplllcai work IS not
necessarily explicitly stated. This is not true of the exclusion of femini-,!!!l,
a point to whil'll we shall return.

How a sexual division (of faculties, aptitudes, and
intellectual destinies) is connected with these different separations, and why this redistribution is
emphasised at this time (today it continues as an
ideological ‘accepted fact’), is a question that deserves more attention than I can devote to it here.

So let us return to the permissiveness shown to
those few women who did (but~how, and to what
extent?) approach philosophy. First let us note
that although they lived in very different times,
these women had one thing in common: they all
experienced great paSSions, and their relationship
to philosophy passed through their love for a man,
a particular philosopher: ‘Hipparchia fell so passion.

ately in love with the doctrine and way of life of
Crates that no suitor, however rich, noble or handsome, could turn her from him. She went so far as
to tell her parents she would kill herself if she
could not have her Crates. ‘ And Heloise experienced
an analogous confusion of amorous and didactic
relationships, a confusion which can be well described by the concept of transference. The relationship of Elisabeth to Descartes, though more discreet, seems to me to be of a similar nature.

Descartes was ‘the one who knows’, the one who is
asked for knowledge (and not just any knowledge:

you who know everything, tell me how to be happy
despite all my troubles) and of whom one wants to
be a favourite disciple, an intelligent reader, a
‘good pupil’.

An unimportant psychological matter? That is
not so clear. It can already be noticed that this
erotico-theoretical transference (that is to say,
simply this transference) is equivalent to an absence of any direct relationship of women to philosophy. It is only through the mediation of a man
that women could gain access to theoretical discourse. Here we find a predicament commonto the
feminine condition, that of not being able to do
without a protector and mediator in any part of life
defined as social. Moreover, the necessity of this
mediation seems to me to be inscribed not so much
in a prohibition which would directly affect philosophy for women, but in a much simpler prohibition, and a much more radical exclusion. Until the
Third Republic women did not have access to
institutions which taught philosophy. What ‘wellbred’, ‘respectable’ Greek woman could have registered at a school, and attended the lectures of Plato
or Aristotle? Before even requesHng admiSSion,
they would have had to be able to leave the gynaeceum: access to philosophy as it was dispensed
institutionally would have meant a break with the
customarY1 material framework of the feminine
condition. Diogenes Laertius does in fact mention
a woman, Themista, in his list of Epicurus’ disciples; but she had followed her husband Leontyas
of Lampasque to Epicurus’ garden. In the Middle
Ages women left the home more, but universities
were closed to them (I am not even talking about
Moslem universities), even to those who were destined to be abb~sses. This is the starting point for
the story of Peter Abelard and Heloise: it was out
of the question for Heloise to mingle with the audience of five thousand at Abelard’ s lectures at the
Ecole du Cloitre de Notre-Dame. So Abelard gave
her private lessons in grammar and dialectic.

Such ‘private’ teaching is obviously much more
likely to go beyond the didactic sphere than is a
public lecture. Francine Descartes would not have
been able to enter her father’s college of la Fleche.

It’s quite funny to see Hegel write that ‘women are
educated – who knows how? – as it were by

breathing in ideas’ and above all to see him attribute this to the feminine nature (a plant-like,
botanical nature bathed in the spirit of the times),
whilst the ‘who knows how?’ is merely the result
of .the impossibility of entering colleges and univerSities, where” it is supposed, it is known how
knowledge is transmitted.

A school for women?

This curious form of transference seems to me to
be basically the price that women pay for the amateur position to which they are condemned. Only
an institutional relationship, wit~ a place and meaning in an organised framework, can avoid the hyper.

trophy of the personal relationship between master
and disciple. But why does philosophical didactics
have such a tendency to become erotic? Why does
it tend to adhere (overtly) to an instinctive realm,
so that only a third external factor ( call it
tthe school’), can confine it to a didactic field?

i believe that Pllilosophical didactics itself tends to
take the form of a dual transference relationship,
and that it is obviously not women who pervert this
relationship and divert it towards the instinctive
realm. For, once the special relationship of women
to philosophy is recognised, it is tempting to rule
out the peculiarity in the case of men. In fact, you
– Pierre, Paul or Sebastian, with whom I went to
the Sorbonne, prepared the aggr/gation or taught
in a suburban secondary school – have you acted
any differently than Hipparchia? With you there
have always been times when it has been possible
to detect in the knotting of tie, in a hairstyle or
some such caprice, a symbol of allegiance to some
teacher or other. And one need only listen to your
accounts of your school and academic career.

There has always been – at school, at university,
in the preparatory courses for university, most
often in the latter in fact – a teacher around whom
there has crystallised something analogous to the
theoretico-amorous admiration of women that we
are talking aoout. One thing I am sure of is that
this privileged teacher is the one who finally
seduced you to philosophy, who captured your
desire and turned it into a desire for philosophy.

But there is a considerable difference between
these studying companions and Elisabeth or Sophie
Volland: 4 in general, the ‘godfather’ relationship
has opened up the whole field of philosophy to the
disciple’s desire, whilst women’s transference
relationships to the theoretical have only opeped
up to them the field of their idol’s own philosophy.

I say ‘in general’ because there are also ‘failures’

with men, and disciples may remain philosophers
of particular schools (read ‘cliques’), and never
get beyond a repetitious discourse. This repetition,
far from being a monster come from god knows
where, is only a special form of a general situation. And the peculiar image of philosophising
women is only peculiar because certain modalities
of philosophic didactics are kept hidden and Plato’s
Phaedrus is either never understood or regularly
half-rejected: it was the Greeks, it was the peculiarity of the Platonic doctrine . .. when perhaps
one should take it seriously, as a general characteristic of the philosophic journey, without however
taking it literally or word for word. The Phaedrus
is a text which has yet to be unravelled and
deciphered, and, first of all, rescued from the
university tradition’s strategies of asepticising,
neutralising and euphemising it.

The reason why men (both now and in !he p_as!L.__ _
4 }<'riend 'and correspondent of Didcrot


can go beyond the initial transference, and why the
love component of their transference is sublimated
or inflected from the very beginning, so that it can
return to the theoretical, is that the institutional
framework in which the relationship is played out
provides the third factor which is always necessary
for the breaking of the personal relationship; the
women amateurs, however, have been bound to the
dual relationship because a dual relationship does
not produce the dynamiCS that enable one to leave it.

The result of imprisonment in such a relationship
is that philosophising women have not had access to
philosophy, but to a particular philosophy, which,
it seems to me; is something very different. Their
relationship to the philosophical is limited, from
outside the theoretical field, by the relationship
from which they could not possibly detach themselves. Being definitively committed to one pa:rticular form of thought seems to me to be the negation of the philosophical enterprise. ‘Woman should
have no other religion than that of her husband’ which does not prevent this religion being a religion
– quite the contrary – and Rousseau is right about
this. A woman has the philosophy of her tutorlover: but then she is no longer within the philosophical enterprise, to the extent that she avoids
(is forbidden) a certain relationship to th~ lack, the
particular lack from which, in my opinion, philosophy stems, a radical lack which the Other cannot
fill. Let us recall for example the Phaedo or the
Discourse on Method. In both cases we are given
the account of a disappointment and a frustration in
teaching: ‘I imagined I had found the man who would
teach me … but he-disappointed me. ‘ (97c-99d).

The disappointment begins the story of the ‘great
pains’ the subject then went to in trying to fill the
lack. There is nothing like this in the relationship
of women of the past to their masi-er’s philosophy:

he knows all, his philosophy has an answer to everything. It was not the philosophical lack that
Hipparchia, Heloise and Elisabeth experienced, but
the ‘ordinary’, ‘classic’, ‘psychological’ lack so to
s p eak’5 the one where the Other is seen as likely to
fulfill., No room then for ‘great pains’: these
women were not condemned to philosophise – nor to

Thus we can begin to understand the permissiveness of the really cunning, of those who understood
what philosophising means. We are beginning to
understand why these women were necessary to
their masters (although the men’s need for them
could produce some ambivalent feelings; this is
particularly true of crates). The theoretical devotion of a woman is very comforting for someone
experiencing his own lack; for it is not only the
teachings of Anaxagoras or of the Jesuits that are
objects of disappointment: the discourse of Socrates
or of Descartes reiterates the lack in knowledge.

How can it not be gratifying to be seen as a
completeness when one is caught in incompletion
and disappointment? We still smile at the court of
women who flocked round Bergson, but we systematically forget to wonder whether this court was not
in fact satisfying (or inspired by) Bergson’s own
desire. The fact that this court was compo,sed of
women who were following the College de France
lectures in an amateur capacity (without expecting
qualifications, cashable university diplomas, from
them) seems to me significant.

Hipparchia and her,great-nieces would be of no
interest to us if these women could not provide us
with a negative ~f the actual Situation, or of what
5 One should perhaps refere here to tht; concept of rnet!d’,

the actual situation might be. Looking at history
mechanically, one might think that now that women
have institutional access to philosophy the block of
transferential femininity no longer has any rationale
and that therefore it has” ceased to exist. But this is
not the case: the danger of amateurisU:and the
particular pOSition it implies is still there, the only
difference being that our female predecessors were
condemned to it, while we are merely exposed to it.

Virginia Woolf said that in order to write a woman
needed at least a room of her own and an income
of five hundred pounds. I would say that in order to
philosophise a woman needs both a room of her own
and the necessity of earning her living by philosophising (she must not have avoided this possibility). Todaya system of real constraints is needed
to counterbalance another subtle system of prohibitions and discouragements. A woman who was in
the position of not having to fit into the university
and professional constraints of the philosopher’s
job would be liable to find herself in a role which
~s ready made for her.

Your atrophy, my fullness


This system of discouragements is linked primarily to philosophical anti-feminism. It would be all
too easy to compile a large book based on the
horrors voiced by philosophers, notably from the
18th century onwards, on the subject of women.

Here I shall quote only three texts: ‘The search for
abstract and speculative truths, for principles
and axioms in the sciences, for all that tends to
wide generalisation, is beyond a woman’s grasp;
their studies should be thoroughly practical. It is
their business to apply the prinCiples discovered by
men, it is their place to make the observations
which lead men to discover those principles ….

The men will have a better philosophy of the human
heart, but she will read more accurately into the
heart of men. Woman should discover, so to speak,
an experimental morality, man should reduce it to
a system. Woman has more wit, man more genius;
woman Observes, man reasons. ‘ (Rousseau, Emile,
Everyman trans. p350). ‘Women are capable of
education, but they are not made for activities
which demand a universal faculty such as the more
advanced sciences, philosophy and certain forms of
artistic production. Women may have happy ideas,
taste, and elegance, but they cannot attain to the
ideal. The difference between men and women is
like that between animals and plants; men correspond to animals, while women correspond to plants
because their development is more placid and the
principle that underlies it is the rather vague unity
of feeling. When women hold the helm of government, the state is at once in jeopardy, because
women regulate their actions not by the demands
of universality, but by arbitrary inclinations and
opinions. Women are educated – who knows how? as it were by breathing in ideas, by living rather
than by acquiring knowledge. The status of manhood,
on the. other hand, is attained only by the stress of
thought and much technical exertion. ‘ (Hegel,
Philosophy of Right, para. 166, Zusatz, trans. Knox
p263-4). And finally Auguste Comte, whom certain
people are valiantly trying to bring into fashion
today – which is paradoxical for, whether one reads
him or “not, he is the unconscious inspiration of
numerous discourses, not only on women: ‘It is in
order to better develop her moral superiority that
woman must gratefully accept the rightful practical
domination of man. .• First as a mother, and soon
as a Sister, then above all as a wife, and finally as

a daughter, marginally as a maid-servant, in these
four natural roles woman is destined to preserve
man from the corruption inherent in his practical
and theoretical existence. Her emotional superiority
directly gives her this fundamental duty, which
social economy develops increasingly by releasing
the loving sex from all disturbing cares, active or
speculative.’ (Svsteme de politigue positive,
Tome 11)
This anti-feminism can be analysed in various
ways. If we emphasise the date of these texts, we
can see in them the affirmation of bourgeois values
against the entirely relative permissiveness of the
aristocracy with respect to feminine culture in the
18th century. It would still remain to be explained
why it was the bourgeoisie who were anxious to confine woman to the sphere of feelings (‘love is an
episode in men’s lives and the whole story of
women’s’) when the psychology of the royal age
(Racine) had not laid down any fundamental inequality between man and woman with respect to
passion (in the Traite des passions Descartes does
not refer 10 ·sexual differences). Nevertheless it
can be noted that this restriction to the emotional
is correlative to the expression of a speculative and
philosophical incapacity, in which case this pseudoanthropology goes beyond the limits of social
history and must also be interpreted in the light of
the philosophical implications of the situation. It
may be that before the 18th century it was not
necessary to develop a defence of philosophy against
women (it is not MOliere’s problem for example);
but the philosophical salons, and then someone like
Madame de Stael, perhaps went too far for the
liking of the philosophers of the time; these men
could easily have afforded to be permissive to the
point of allowing a Heloise-like relationship to.

philosophy (cf.Julie, and even she repents in
time). But because of women’s comparatively
aggressive attack on philosophy at the time, they
were forced to withdraw into a more sheltered
pOSition, clinching the truth of the malicious
Theodorus, and become idiots of prohibition; which
was very much in the interests of their successors
who, thanks to them, were able to appear liberal.

But what were they worried about? Where is the
threat to philosophy in women being capable of it?

It might be suggested that the so-called sovereignty of philosophy is at stake here. Philosophy, queen
of the sciences. .. When a respected activity admits women it loses value: this is not the result of
some rigorous scientific sociology, it is a theorem
of intuitive commonplace ‘sociology’ (look at
medicine in the USSR! Since women have been admitted to it, doctors have lost their prestige, and
are no longer respected!). It may be the great
dignity of philosophy that keeps women away from
it; conversely, for this great dignity to be maintained, women must be kept away. Bachelard’s
ectoplasm whispers to me that philosophy reigns
today merely in the fashion of the Queen of
England, and one can envisage repealing the Salic
Law. In this respect, Hegel’s comparison between
women’s incapacity to govern and their unsuitability for philosophising would be significant, in that
political power, whether exercised by a man or a
woman, remains power, because it is based on
real means of coercion, whilst the hegemony of
the philosophical is more fragile, and therefore
has to defend its ‘ascendency’ more forcefully; and
it is significant that the few women rulers of the
time – Christine of Sweden and Catherine I I – did
have access to philosophy.


It might also be suggested that the lack from
which the philosophical enterprise stems is, in a
man’s eyes, inadmissible in a woman. It must not
be forgotten that phallocentrism also contains the
theory of a phallopanacea. It is well known that all
a woman needs to fulfil her every desire is a good
husband. In fact it is woman’s desire that has always been minimized, since it is often thought that
toys are enough for them. What! a man is not
sufficient to make them feel complete? And there
is Madame de Stael regarded as a castrating bitch
and vilified by generations of critics. Look at what
Lagarde and Michard say of this “female reasoner’,
this ‘formidable schemer’ who attempted to ‘play a
prominent role’ despite her ‘superficial views’,
her ‘lack of art’ and her ‘ugliness’. On re-reading
Les Femmes Savantes one could suggest that
Clitandre makes a similar reproach to Armande
(‘But your eyes did not consider their conquest
fine enough’).

Bllt all these explanations are not enough. The
exclusion of ‘woman’ is perhaps more consubstantial with the philosophical, and less historically
definable that our quotations from the 18th and 19th
centuries might lead one to believe. The 18th century had women to exclude, real, concrete women
who had reached the limits of the permissible. But
this historically specific struggle re-awakened
much older elements which until then, could afford
to remain implicit. Plato’s Phaedrus does not say
that women must be excluded from the dialectical
enterprise. But with Zeus in love with Ganymede
serving as an example, it is clear that this is not
women’s business. Moreover, the story of the
little Thracian servant-girl in the The~tetus (a
juvenile version of Xanthippe?) shows a feminine
vulgarity which is obviously far removed from disinterested research. These older elements, reactivated at the end of the 18th century, could be
seen as an attempt to mask the nature of the philosophical, or as an effort to reinsure its always
problematic positivity. Women would be summoned
here in an illusory guise, as a purely negative
otherness, as an atrophy which, by contrast,
guarantees a philosophical completeness. I say
atrophy, and not negativity, because in the Hegelian
perspective it is, in a way, women’s lack of negativity that is in question. ‘Woman is woman
through a certain lack of qualities’ (Aristotle): the
Hegelian perspective is not far from this definition
in that it is the passage through the negative that
has become the missing quality. And woman’s
placid botanical development, falling short of
anguish, serves as a foil to the real and substantial
completeness of the philosophical, which, having
conquered work, effort, suffering and thought, is
beyond torment. Here women pay the cost of a
defence, as, elsewhere, do children, the people,
the ordinary man, or the ‘savage’ (whose image
has ‘not been entirely formed by ethnologists; it
owes a lot to what the historians of philosophy have
said about the ‘reasoning deficiency’ in ‘presocratic’ peoples). But what must one defend oneself against then? From remaining indefinitely at
the momenfat torment perhaps, from not producing
any knowledge of the level of one’s standards of
validation? ‘We have an incapacity for proof, insurmountable by all dogmatism’ (Pascal, Pensee
395). The incapacity of philosophical speculation,
the fragility of all metaphYSical constructions, the
lack, the anguish, that torment every ‘world
system’ are not radically unknown to the philosopher. The reference to women (or to any other

subject ‘unfitted’ for philosophy) allows this powerlessness to be overlooked, for there it is projected,
in a radicalised form, onto a subject who is even
,situated on this side of the search for speculative
truths. Or again, the fact that there is someone incapable of philosophising is comforting because it
shows that philosophy is capable of something. It
is perhaps this relationship of philosophy to woman
that we encounter in the transferences described
above. The theoretical devotion of a woman is the
distorting mirror which transforms bitterness into
satisfaction. But in that case prohibition and
permissiveness play the same role.

In vino veritas
So it is perhaps the distribution of roles by philosophy (which is necessary for its comfort) which
forms the first barrier to women r S effective access
to the philosophical; and if this barrier still exists,
the (only very relative) progress represented by
women’s access to the institutional teaching of
philosophy, is all for nothing. Not to mention the
imaginary portrait of ‘woman’, a power of disorder
nocturnal, a dark beauty, a black continent, sphinx
of dissolution, the depths of the unintelligible,
mouth-piece of the underworld gods, an internal enemy who corrupts and perverts without any sign of
combat, a place where all forms fade away. This
portrait is not unrelated to metaphysics. In the list
of Pythagorian oppositions (given in Hegel’ s
Lectures on the History of Philosophy Vol. I) one
finds the following:

limit and infinity
unity and multiplicity
masculine and feminine
light and dark
good and evil
This list (and the associations which it ~uggests) is
probably not out of date. There is undoubtedly in
many men an unconsciOUS, almost superstitious
feeling of repugnance at the sight of women
approaching philosophy. They could sour the wine
in the precious barrels of the Gorgias. But where
does this imagery come from? It would be much
too convenient to explain it in terms of archaic
‘direct experiences’, or of an unconscious constituted prior to metaphysics, which, like a ‘primitive
soul’ would to our regret come and express itself
where it shouldn’t. This would be absolving metaphysics of all responsibility, which hardly seems
possible to me; when one is in the presence of an
‘unconscious’ which is structured like a metaphysic, and whose schemas are congruent with this
metaphysic, it is impossible to say, first, that this
is an unconsciOUS, and then not admit that one is in
the presence of a reject of this metaphysic. There
may be a future for this reject in the collective
imagination, but this is another story. For the
moment let us be content with appreciating the idea
of a ‘black continent’, a femininity of chaos, from
metaphysics. And perhaps first of all one should,
with certain modifications, take this passage from
Hegel is Phenomenology of Mind seriously: ‘Since
the community gets itself subsistence only by
breaking in upon family happiness and dissolving
self-consciousness into the universal, it creates
its enemy for itself within its own gates, creates
it in what it suppresses, and what is at the same
time essential to it – womankind in ‘general.

Womankind – the everlasting irony in the life of the
community – changes by intrigue the universal
purpose of government into a private end … ‘

(trans. Baillie p496). I propose nothing less than
transposing this text into the field of the question
of philosophy, adding that the philosophical creates
that which it represses. In the first place, it
must be noted that the discourse which we call
‘philosophical’ produces itself through the fact
that it represses, excludes and dissolves (or
claims to dissolve) another discourse, another
form of knowledge, even though this other discourse
or form of knowledge may not have. existed before
this process. That philosophical discourse is a
discipline, that is to say a discourse obeying (or
claiming to obey) a finite number of rules, procedures or processes, and that as such it represents
a closure, a definition which denies the undefined
character and modes of thought (even if this
character is only potential), a damming up, a
limitation of the number of possible (admissible)
statements, is nothing new. The simple fact that
philosophical discourse is a discipline is sufficient
to show that something is repressed within it. But
what is repressed? The reply is either too easy or
too delicate. Too easy if one is content to quote
the list of philosophy’s historically varying exclusions: rhetoric, the seductive discourse,
inconclusive syllogisms, occultism (‘let me not be
accused of returning to occult forms’), analogical
reasoning and arguments from authority. These
are mere anecdotes. I would suggest, rather, that
this something that philosophy labours to keep at
bay cannot be properly defined. It is not and cannot
be defined, perhaps because it is precisely the undefined, or alternatively because philosophy is just
the formal idea that discourse must involve exclusion or discipline, that admissible modes of thought
cannot be undefined. It is perhaps a general form of
exclUSion, capable of receiving several components,
but not itself bound to any particular component.

This is why the object of exclusion is not properly
definable. But then this nameless, undefined object,
this indeterminate otherness, can only be described
metaphorically, I mean by making use of an available signifier, seized upon by philosophical discourse to pinpOint a difference. A signifier is, of
course, a term expressing some discrimination.

And the man/woman difference is summoned to
symbolise the general opposition between’defined/
undefined, that is to say validated/excluded, an
opposition of which the logos/mythos couple represents one form, for the mythos is ‘an old wives
tale’, or the inspiration of a Diotima. But in so
far as the activity of separation, of division, is
philosophically creative (the field is created by its
exclusions)., philosophy creates itself in what it
represses, and, this object of repression being
essential to it, is constantly separating, enclosing
and insularising. And the old wives’ tales and
nursery teaching are always ‘obscuring’ the clear
light of the concept – not because of some dynamic
belonging to the object of repression in general, but
because the finite collection of admissible procedures is not sufficient. All thought presupposes an
undefined area, a certain play of structures, a
certain liberty around the codified procedures.

Thus shadow is within the very field of light and
woman is an internal enemy. For, in defining itself
through negation, the philosophical creates its other
it engenders an opposite which, from now on, will
play the role of the hostile prinCiple, the more
hostile because there is no question of dispensing
with it. Femininity as an internal enemy? Or rather
the feminine, a support-signifier of something that,
having been engendered by philosophy whilst being

rejected by it, operates within it as an indispensible
deadweight which cannot be dialectically surpassed.

One might well say quite bluntly that wom’en (real
women) have no need to be concerned by that femininity; we are continuously compared with that image,
but we do not have to recognise ourselves in it. I
stress this in order to prevent the repetition, in
our topiC, of the ‘paradoxes’ which are current
today about 1lR dness, that reason first excludes
unreason but that it is nevertheless reason which
speaks of unreason. In the same Way it would be
too easy to say that the discourse I am presenting
is being presented from the philosophical point of
view, that it is yet another colonising discourse,
and that femininity is not allowed to express itself
here any more than in the texts of Hegel. As soon
as one considers this femininity as an illusory
reject from conflicts within the field of reason
assimilated to masculinity, it is out of the question
to try to let it express itself. We will not talk
pidgin to please the colonialists.

ltowever that is exactly what is expected of us.

Under the heading ‘the best soup is made in old
pots’, look at L’Ange for example: ‘It is time
to spotlight once more Greek frankness, to say
that in fact the slave and the woman lack reason;
that when a slave, qua slave, a woman, qua woman,
reason about the slave and the woman, they can
only talk nonsense. The bet I want to have against
Fr_~ud, that there is an autonomous discourse of the
rebel, can only be maintained if today an unheard
discourse now breaks out – even if it has always
existed – that of those who lack reason. This I know
but I can only announce it rationally. ‘ (Lardreau
p37, note 1). This is incredible: I, who am neither
slave nor woman, know however (and doubtless I
am the only one to know, slaves and women don’t)
what the nature of your discourse should be, slave
and woman. Knowledge about women has always
been masculine property (in which case L’Ange
is not announcing anything). It is time to return,
not to Greek frankness, but to elementary
historical materialism to recall that it is slave
society which says that the slave is a being without
reason; that patriarchal societies are fond of
repeating that woman is a dear being without reason; and that colonialist societies proclaim that
the negro, or the savage, is a being without reason.

And it is too much in the interest of ,power
always to attribute the privilege of reason to it just as it shows a somewhat unjustified complacency to announce ‘rationally’ something that can
only be sustained by the pleasure one finds in it.

Men are held to have a reasoned or rational discourse about woman, whilst woman qua woman
(here Monsieur Lardreau seems to have invented
the wire with which to make epistemo-ontological
cuts in the black continent so that we end up
schizoid without admitting it) whilst women can only
talk nonsense! I will content myself with contrasting this old division with the fact that it is enough
for one question concerning the feminine condition
to be at the National Assembly for all the debates
to be transformed into a psychodrama where
fantasies unfold which it never occurs to their
‘authors’ to censure. The debate on contraception
in 1967 was a prime example of this. Is it necessary
to recall it? Men talked and raved with total
assurance, without the slightest self-control or
any hint of reasoning. It is probably exactly the
same when anti-feminist men talk about women:

they project tneIr desires and anguish, and attempt

to pass off this discourse of desire and defence as
a rational theoretical discourse. Luce II’!igaray has
demonstrated this, very well in relation to Freud.

Incompleteness or tutelage
From what position is one to speak then? Not from
that other-position produced by philosophy as a
preserve of purely negative otherness. Nor from
within metaphysics since this supports the
masculine-rationality /feminine-disorder division.

But there are other possibilities. For logocentrism
is not the ineluctable presupposition (or hypothesis)
of any rational position. By this I mean (and 1 am
not the first to say it) that, up to now, logocentrism
has left its mark on the entire history of philosophy,
separating this history from what could be a
‘history of ideas’ and turning it into the reiteration
of a ‘fundamental’ thesis, that of the power of true
discourse. A discourse is philosophical if it
expresses the power of philosophy, (confused with
the possession of true knowledge). This can be
noted, for example, in the ethical and political
fields – look at the concept of wisdom or the figure
of the philosophical and providential legislator.

Even the materialists of Antiquity do ‘not escape
this defence of true knowledge, this in fact being
precisely what defined them as philosophers. Today
it is possible to think out rationality otherwise than
in the hegemonic mode. It is pOSSible, but not easy
or straightforward. It is the aim of a struggle,
not an immediately avaHable historical acquisition.

This struggle was begun by historical materialism”
in so far as this is a rationalism which renounces
the idea of the omnipotence of knowledge. From
here on one can trace a new form of philosophy, as
a fellow-traveller of conflicts whi’Ch arise outside its realm and which, similarly, will be
resolved (if at all) outside it, not by means based
on its power. Which is nevertheless to announce
not the extinction of the philosophical enterprise,
but rather a change which is quite difficult to think

The fact remains that this change is likely to
alter the interlocking of the ‘philosophical’ and the
‘feminine’, for it is now possible to stop wishing
to mask the incomplete nature of all theorization.

That knowledge is always lacking, but nevertheless
necessary (‘ignorance has never done anyone any
good’ Marx once said) permits one to understand
the economics of the logocentric-phallocratic
illusion. But this new position on knowledge is still
far from being established. Since for the last
twenty-five centuries philosophers have been c9mparing the world to a theatre and philosophy to a
tragedy, relating this metaphor to the close of the
performance that makes a well-finished whole of
the play, 1 would say that the future ofa philosophy that is no longer anti-feminist is being performed somewhere in the direction of Brechtian
9rama, which (I am not the first to say it) produces
unfinished plays which always have a missing act
and are consequently left wide open to history.

Insisting on philosophy’s lack, while making of
this lack the condition of its insertion into historical reality, allows philosophy to be moved towards
a position where the choice between a hegemonic
reason and a revolt of unreason takes on the
appearance of a metaphysical OPPOSition, . which is
to say of connivance or complicity between forms
which present themselves as opposites.

While waiting for such a stance about lrnowledge
to gain more than a marginal place in philosophical
practice, there persists the discourse, still

dominant today, of a philosophical science which is
above suspicion. And for women the game is far
from being won. The fact that archaic permissiveness continues seems to me to indicate this.

Bergson is dead, but the need for theoretical adulation has not been buried with him: the mandarins
still need to be transference objects, and, moreover, they are not the only ones. I am not telling
women who have already studied philosophy anything new: they surely remember male fellow
students trying to take us under their wing. And
the less we need this support (the more we seek to
get by without masters), the more inSistently is
this protection offered to us. Faced with a woman,
a philosophy student often attempts to adopt the
stance of ‘he who knows’, who knows what books to
read, what one should think of the reading proposed
by the critic of a certain great philosopher, what
courses are worth following etc. These protectorcandidates find it difficult to imagine a woman
relating directly to philosophy (or even to the
teaching of philosophy). Such an attitude can be seen
as the reproduction of the relationship they had with
their favourite master, or as an attempt to become
masters in their turn. As if becoming the object of
a transference were the only way of resolving one’s
own transference. In this way, many young women
definitively abdicate all conceptual self-determination in the course of their studies and allow themselves to be guided by a male fellow student who
is supposed to be more brilliant than them. I hope
1 am right when I add that this seems to happen
less today than ten years ago. Perhaps women
have got better at resisting the annexation attempts
that they are subject to. If this is true then it must
be attributed to the growth of the women’s movement. But before these dead-end transference
relationships can disappear, we must change the
very conception of philosophy – this ‘we’ referring
here not only to women, but to all those who are
ready to adopt the meaning of modernity completely
(including the loss of narcissistic satisfactions).

It may be said that I am inventing this survival
of the Heloise-like relationship to philosophy.

‘From now on I will take you in hand, ‘ he said when
he announced my success in the agregation to me. ‘

How many Jean-Pauls who never became Sartres
have said this to Simones who never became
feminists? The outrageousness of this conclusion
of the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography, Memoirs of a dutiful daughter often
goes unnoticed. It’s considered normal. To me,
this theoretical ‘taking in hand’ (and its correlative: the fact that Simone de Beauvoir was confined
to the feminine condition, that is to say accepted
a ready-made philosophy, or that, in accepting
existentialism as a constituted doctrine, she was
excluded from the philosophical enterprise), does
indeed seem ‘normal’, that is to say overdetermined
by philosophical and historical conditions. What I
find very difficult to understand is that Simone de
Beauvoir relates this episode years later without
any hint of critical hindsight, even after writing
The Second Sex.

Before leaving the problem of transference I
should like to add that it is perhaps the danger of
subjugation as the price of amateurism, which
explains why certain women take such a conformist
attitude to university sanctions. This conformity
(concern about obtaining university qualifications,
preference for recognised forms of work, such as
a doctoral thesis in place of less academic research) is perhaps conceived of as a convenient

antidote to, or as a means of resisting, the
pressures to make us into great readers or precious admirers. Investing as much as possible in
the institution can also appear as a conquest, when
an institutional relationship to philosophy has been
forbidden for so long. The irony is that today
philosophical work does not lie in the direction of
academic work. But it takes more confidence to
offer a manuscript to an editor than to submit a
thesis subject. Having been trapped in dual relationships, women are now in danger of burying
themselves fn a relationship to narrowly university-defined institutions. BeSides, the value of the
institutional relationship as an antidote is very
problematic. Is this a denial or sublimation of the
transference relationship? To examine this question we would first have to refine our categories
of ‘transference’ and of ‘dual relationship’ (and in
particular, to ask whether the transference does
not retain a disguised form when the dual relationship is repudiated or suppressed) which is materially ~mpossible here.

Anti-feminism and exams
At all events, it cannot be said that the institution
welcomes them with open arms (except in the
Heloise-role described above), that is to say,
recognises their philosophical capacities. For example, one often sees the ‘masters’ (teaching either in a preparatory class or in a university)
choosing ‘followers’, that is to say transmitting a
flattering image of themselves to some of their
pupils. This attitude is part of an important process of over-stimulations which organise the future
take-over, and which indicate, often precociously,
those who are going to feel ‘called’ (and in fact are)
to play a so- called leading role in the philosophical
enterprise. The teachers’ sexist and socio-cultural
prejudices take on a considerable importance in
this period of philosophical apprenticeship. Many
women are a ware of the unconscious injustice of
numerous teachers; young men who have been
selected ‘followers’, often, moreover, for obscure
reasons, while women constantly have to fight for
recognition. Incidentally, the personal involvement
of teachers in this search for an heir apparent
needs .to be analysed. Perhaps this too is a question
of an avatar, this time ‘from man to man’, of th~
lack which torments the master and which, in the
‘man to woman’ case leads to a search for female
admirers. This sexist distribution of favouritism
certainly has to be denounced, but the mere existence of this type of behaviour must be criticised
first. BeSides, it would be useful to investigate
the precise moment in the school or university
course at which the teachers’ sexist prejudices are
at their most effective as an instrument of selection.

My impression is that it occurs later than the
selection based on socio- cultural criteria.

However, this fundamental aspect of philosophical studies remains unofficial and the system of
exclusion which it operates in itself requires a real
effort at establishing the facts. On the other hand,
the results of the selective examinations for teaching jobs, while they too need to be subjected to
analysis, provide some extremely cruel ‘facts’:

since 1974, when the Capes and agregation in
philosophy became mixed, the number of women
who pass has been very small. The anti-feminists
have a field day proclaiming that, now that the
examinations are mixed, one can see what should
have been clear all along – namely the distinct
inferiority of women compared to their masculine


Even if one tries, as some do, to explain this
theoretical inferiority either in material. terms
(a poor female candidate has a double job, her
phallocrat of a husband or lover letting her deal
with all the domestic chores) or, (quite unacc~pt­
able) in terms of some neuro-endocrinological
fantasy, the disparity between the results of the
men and the women remains a problem. I will not
cite the evidence of teachers who prepare candidates for these examinations, teachers who never
during the year of preparation have occasion to
recognise the so-called inequality of ‘standards’,
and who are always surprised by the results; this
kind of evidence would surely not be considered
proof. I shall just refer to the report on the
agregation of 1971. That year the “exam was not
mixed, and the minister had deSignated two sets
of teaching posts, one for men, the other for
women; but the two juries had amalgamated so that
through an interchange of posts there was in fact
only one jury. To its credit, this jury noted so
great a disparity in favour of the women between
the ‘standard’ of the men and women at the bottom
of the lists, that they thought it their duty to take
some posts from the men to a ward them to the
women. That was in 1971. In 1974, for the first
time, the examination was mixed, and the proportion of women absurdly low. What hormonal (or
conjugal) change had occurred during these three
years? Has the education of girls born after 1950
been so different from that of girls born immediately after the war? I suspect that any explanation one
might seek in the candidates themselves will be
completely unsatisfactory. It would be equally implausible to try to explain the present disparity in
terms of the jury’s (more or less unconscious)
archaic anti-feminist prejudices: for it would be a
mystery how the jury of 1971 could have escaped
the effects of this phallocratic unconscious. I prefer
to say that the historical and social context has
altered slightly in three years, and that this alteration has reinforced a virilophile preference (which
in 1971 had reached exhaustion point). A jury member is first and foremost a social agent like everybody else: he fulfils historical options which may
well escape his conscious mind. It is not a question
then of making out a case of intentions against
people, but of trying to point out in what circumstances anti-feminism can reflower. So what did
happen between 1971 and 1974? Unless I am mistaken, the number of posts available followed a
rising curve until 1971. I wonder (perhaps this kind
of hypothesis will make historians smile) whether
those mini-periods which serve to instal a belief
in the positivity of the time do not create a
slight euphoria of the future which makes historical
agents relatively progressive, at least in the
domain where this belief can develop. And whether,
on the other hand, periods of regression, of threats
of dislocation, do not make social agents (in positions of power) more reactionary, more fiercely
hostile to all openings towards the new, more
anxious to protect a tradition with all the exclusivities it comprises. A strange idea perhaps, but were
there ever as many discourses against everything
philosophically or pedagogically modern as since
the teaching of philosophy has been explicitly
threatened? ‘Go back to cours magistrales
(lectures), have the courage to speak with authority, and above all do not talk of Freud. ‘ This is
the kind of conservative directive that we now increasingly receive. The gap between philosophical

work and university power did 110t exist, at least
in this form, ten years ago: Georges Canguilhem,
the general inspector and president of the
agregation jury, concretely backed the research
of Lacan and Foucault. Today, however, there is
a dream of returning to a golden age (the age of
Alain?) expressed both from a theoretical point of
view (Descartes rather than Freud) and from a
pedagogical one (be magisterial). In.such a situ~
tion anti-feminism has a twofold position: if
philosophy teachers are to have more authority
than they used to, obviously men will inspire more
confidence than women. Moreover, the papers and
orals of agregation candidates identify themselves
as masculine by their authoritative tone. This
tallies with a general desire (not peculiar to philosophy) to defeminise education. And then philosophical anti-feminism is linked, as I have tried to
show, to philosophy’s claim to present itself as a
form of knowledge which places its holder in a
position of power. So it is not surprising that the
return to philosophical dogmatism (and any anxious
return to a former position is a kind of dogmatism)
should accompany an anti-feminist wave. Certain
questions about philosophy’s status, about the gaps
in philosophy caused by a certain kind of modernity, are locked away, and at the same time, the
feminine is foreclosed in femininity. Moreover,
books like L’Ange or La Cuisiniere et le Mangeur
d’homme today help to make women cooperate
with this movement against them.

Let us be fair: these virilophile preferences do
not themselves explain the change. The 1971 candidates had taken an ‘ancien regime’ degree (licence),
a standard degree, the same for everyone. The
1974 candidates took a degree based on ‘options’

(unites de valeur). The second system leaves the
‘choice’ to the students; above all it gives free rein
to self-evaluation at the point of choosing options.

As such it constitutes an underhand form of social
and sexual selection. I should like to see statistics
on men’s and women’s chOices. I would assume
that they are different, and that the women tend to
choose the options which are considered easy,
whilst the men opt for the ‘noble’ ones, that is to
say those which are ‘difficult’ and ‘taxing’. For the
men expect to be more capable, whilst the women
underestimate their capacities.

Nonetheless we can be fair without being
taken in: it is above all in written exams
that women are eliminated. Since there are no
little pink or blue stickers stuck on the papers to
compensate for anonymity, some people might
argue that it is impossible for sexist preferences to
express themselves. But anyone who has corrected
student papers will know that it is possible to distinguish two types of philosophical writing, masculine and feminine, and that these two types usually
correspond to the sex of the candidate. Briefly, let
us say that a paper can be identified as masculine
by its authoritative tone, by the way interpretation
dominates over receptivity to the text, resulting in
a decisive and profound reading or in fantastic misinterpretation. Women, however, are all receptivity,
and their papers are characterised by a kind of
polite respect for the structure of the discourse of
the other (this is called ‘acuteness in detailed
commentary but lack of overview’), by a great
timidity (iLis as though they left it to the text to
explain itself), and also by a talent for what one
might call the ‘flattering comparison’. A particular
passage in Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of
Inequalitv may remind them of a letter in the
Nouvelie Heloise. A rather curious form of recall.


It is like a salon where a guest alludes to one of his

claims to fame: the good hostess picks up the
allusion immediately and recalls it in a few flattering terms, so offering the guest the pleasure of
feeling he is being asked about himself. Men treat
the text familiarly and knock it around happily;
women treat it with a politeness for which girls’

education has its share of responsibility. If the
timidity and the desire to flatter are not too strong,
this form of reading can, I think, produce great
successes, a distanced kind of reading which enables one to see what is implicit in the text or to
pick out the ‘gaps’ in a theorization. The question
is whether it’s because this kind of reading is-not
highly valued that the women fail, or whether it’s
not highly valued just because it’s evidently
feminine. I prefer the second hypothesis, and
would add that the feminine is excluded because it
is associated with the idea of lack of authority. In
any case if a text is immediately identifiable as
masculine or feminine, the anonymity is a mere
joke. And this identification is in danger of being
the more efficient for not always being conscious.

Vestals and after
I would have liked to consider women’s relationship
to philosophical writing, and how people respond to
philosophical books of the dozen or so women who
have succeeded in getting their work published.

But there isn’t enough space, so I will confine
myself to one point: There is one area where
women today have completely free access, that of
classic works of the history of philosophy. No-one
considers studies by Marie Delcourt, Genevieve
Rodis-Lewis, or Cornelia de Vogel as ‘women’s
books’ to be read with indulgence and condescension. Is this because these women impose on themselves ‘the austere necessity of a discipline’, so
finding the ‘third factor’ on which they depend in
order to direct the desire to philosophise towards
the theoretical field? How is one to interpret the
fact that our elders succeeded in getting themselves..

respected and recognised for commentaries or
editions, whilst none of them produced such texts
as The Phenomenology of Perception or the
Critique of Dialectical Reason? That women
should be admitted to the commemorative history
of philosophy seems to me to be primarily a reflection of what is generally held to constitute a
commentary. Who better than a woman to show
fidelity, respect, -and remembrance? A woman can
be trusted to perpetuate the words of the Great
Discourse: she will add none of her own. Everyone
knows that the more of a philosopher one is, the
more distorted one’s reading of other philosophers.

Think of Leibniz’s reading of Malebranche, or
Hegel ‘s reading of Kant! They cannot respect the
thought of the other: they are too engrossed in their
own. Quite unscrupulously, they turn everything upside down, manhandle the texts, and make them say
what they want them to say. Of course we should
not criticise them for this; their incomprehension
is a measure of their originality. If Hegel tortures
Kantianisn this is to his credit! For he is Hegel a new strength which takes hold of broken texts to
use them for his own ends. On the other hand, faithful commentary is reserved for those without any
ends or thoughts of their own. Nietzsche said that a
scientist’s objectivity indicated his lack of instinct.

How could a woman mishandle a text 1 or violate a
discourse? The vestal of a discourse which time
threatens to eClipse, the nurse of dismembered
texts, the healer of works battered by false editions,
the housewife whom one hopes will dust off the

grey film that successive readings have left on the
fine object, she takes on the upkeep of the monuments, the forms which the mind has deserted. A
god’s priestess, dedicated to a great dead man.

This phantasmagoria of the commentary has to
some extent enabled women to find a place for themselves in philosophical work. A minor one, however: as in cooking, so in commentary – the highclass works are always reserved for a Hyppolite
or a Bocuse. It is true that Hyppolite didn’t confine
himself to ‘explaining’ Hegel. But from Hipparchia
to the female historians of philosophy, there has
been little progress in emancipation. At the moment
all of us remain more or less imprisoned in this
phantasmagoria of the commentary – the commentary which is trapped between the alternatives of
violation and fidelity. When what bears the name of
‘commentary has been decoded, and the phantasmagorical representation of the activity has been
dismantled, it will perhaps be possible to stop
assigning such a ‘subordinate’ position to women in
the distribution of theoretical tasks.

Whether forbidden to enter the area of philosophising, or ‘benefitting’ from a more or less cunning
permissiveness, women have not yet won the battle
that would give them a right to philosophy. For the
moment it is important to know against whom and with whom – this struggle can be fought. We
must test out the following two propositions:

(1) Is it possible to make philosophy, or philosophical work, abandon its desire to be a theory
which leaves no room for lack of knowledge, or to
make it accept its incompleteness, and produce a
non-hegemonic rationalism, so that philosophy no
longer needs a defence mechanism involving the
exclusion of women – and children? Alain
Delorme’s account of an experiment in philosophical teaching to 12-year-olds could well be leading
in the same direction. Two developments, which
are clearly interdependent, can be identified in his
account: a proof of children’s capacity to philosophise, and an idea of an unfinished philosophical
discourse, never closed, and never concluded, and
hence the abandonment of any totalising aim. It
may be that only a form of philosophy that no longer
considers its incompleteness a tragedy would be
able to avoid projecting a theoretical incapacity
onto children, women … or the pre-socratics.

This hypothesis is certainly too schematic to be
accepted as it stands; but it is important to work
on it.

(2) Is it possible to transform the relationship
of individuals in this enterprise? For, until today,
the subject of philosophical research has presented
himself as the individual person, whether
Aristotle, Spinoza or Hegel. And philosophical
didactics also works between two personal poles,
the master ‘who knows’ and the pupil ‘who does
not yet know’. This connection between the subject
of philosophical knowledge and the individual
person (a highly complex association, for the idea
of a bearer of philosophical knowledge has contributed to the historical production of the idea of
person) has numerous theoretical and pedagogical
effects. Since at this pOint my ideas get muddled,
I open a work by Hegel or Leibniz. And 1 catch
myself thinking: ‘what a cheek all the same! You
must have an incredible nerve to claim intellectual
mastery of all that is in heaven and earth – and in
human practice. A woman would never dare. ‘ But
this nerve, if it has strongly masculine connotations,
is even more marked by a necessity: since the
subject of knowledge is the person, what ‘I know’

(or claim to know) gets confused with what ‘is known’

indeed with what it is possible to know. The metaphysical (and logocentric) nerve of such and such a
‘great philosopher’ is what supports the idea of the
existence of a form of knowledge. If the philosopher
goes a way, then there will be no one left to know,
and there will be no more knowledge. But if the subject of the enterprise is no longer a person, or,
better still, if each person involved in the enterprise
is no longer in the position of being the subject of
the enterprise but in that of being a worker, engaged
in an enterprise which is seen from the outset as
collective, it seems to me that the relationship to
knowledge – and to gaps in knowledge – can be
transformed. Here again, it is hard to describe the
revolution that would be effected by a collective form
of philosophical work and by a recognition of the fact
that, in any case, the enterprise cannot be reduced
to personal initiatives. Equally confused, 1 now open
Pascal. And 1 suddenly see why, however foreign
the religious concepts of this work are to me, 1
feel more ‘at home’ in the Pensees than in any of the
other classic texts. It is because the religious
perspective sketches this penumbra of lack of knowledge (a penumbra which has nothing to do with the
limits of reason), which metaphysics has denied.

Here is a form of writing which does not claim to
reconstruct and explain everything, which slides
along the verge of the unthought and develops only
by grafting itself onto another speech and is willing
to be its tributary. It may be said that it is scandalous to envisage ‘a different form of writing’ for the
future (one in which women will be able to be reintegrated) in a work that wraps up its meanderings
and ‘blanks’ in dogma and mystery. But replace
obedience to these dogmas (or to another discourse
already commenced) by the recognition that ‘I do
not do everything on my own’, that 1 am a tributary
to a collective discourse and knowledge, which have
done more towards producing me than I shall” cont,ibute in continuing to produce them; and replace
the mystery with a recognition of the necessarily
incomplete character of all theorisation. What will
we have then, if not today’s only correct representation of the relationship between the subject and
knowledge? – and also the only psycho-theoretical
attitude which makes collective work possible and
necessary – a ‘collectivity’ which, obviously, transcends the ‘group’ of people working together. The
refusal to lay claim to an inaugural discourse, such
as one finds in Foucault’s L’ordre du discours,
could serve to pinpoint the position that is trying to
emerge today, and if the reference to Pascal
bothers readers, let them replace it by a reference
to Foucault – though this is a more dangerous reference, since it threatens to re-organise the transference which we ought to be denouncing.

The belief which has emerged from my still very
recent experience of collective work is that the
future of women’s struggle for access to the philosophical will be played out somewhere in the field
of plural work. More especially as the work groups
are likely to acquire a structuring power (of acting
as a ‘third factor’ and as the system of restraint
needed to counteract the discouragement resulting
from negative narcissism) analogous or equivalent
to that of the institution: they enable one to avoid
both the Heloise position (probably through a transference onto a peer group) and its equally undesirable opposite, which is the over-investment of the
desire to philosophise in the ‘academic’ or the
‘institutional’. It is in this kind of practice that
1 have, to some extent, experienced a reiationship
to a new logos, a logos where one can reintroduce
a relationship to the unthought.

(translated by Debbie Pope)

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