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Medusa's Ear

University Foundings from Kant to Chora L

Dawne McCance

Publication Year: 2004

In traditional mythology and iconography, Medusa’s killing powers are attributed to visual means: the monster is slain for her looks and her effect is to kill men for looking at her. Challenging the familiar account of the modern era as ocularcentric, this book reads the Medusa-effect on the philosophy of the modern research university as rooted in an audiocentric fantasy. Author Dawne McCance links phonocentrism to an aural imaginary by tracking the trope—and terror—of the deaf ear and mute mouth in the discourse on the university that was inaugurated by Kant and that extends through Hegel and Heidegger to the present. She shows how, repeatedly, in founding texts on the modern research university, the philosopher’s fearful recoil from an animal-female figure that he defines as deaf and dumb has the effect—the Medusa-effect—of cutting off his own, and therefore the institution’s, ear and tongue. McCance also considers some recent efforts to shake the modern institution out of its Medusa-effect petrification.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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p. xi

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p. xiii

I wish to acknowledge the support I received for researching and writing this book from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I also want to acknowledge the Markin-Flanagan Writer-in-Residence program at the University of Calgary; the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, and the Office of the...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

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1. Mourning the Voice

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pp. 1-26

IT’S THE TERRIFYING ASPECT of the mortal Gorgon that Caravaggio captures in his Medusa’s Head, the image a reminder of just how dangerous it can be to look. In mythology, the mere sight of this snake-tressed monster would turn a man to stone; to see her face is to die. And according to Mieke Bal, Caravaggio’s painting portrays Medusa...

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2. The Architecture of Institution

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pp. 27-46

IMMANUEL KANT WAS PONDERING the idea of the university, the meaning of the terms university and responsibility, the relation of one to the other, when over two centuries ago, he wrote The Conflict of the Faculties (Der Streit der Fakultäten 1798), a text that opens with the words, “Whoever it was that first hit on the notion of the university...

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3. Passages

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pp. 47-62

SINCE WE ARE CONCERNED in this chapter with Hegel, we have to begin in the East. In the dawnlight, where the sun of world history first rises. We have to begin in the East, for as Hegel has it, “the course of History, the great Day’s work of Spirit,” follows the sun from East to West, from the Orient (“Here rises the outward physical...

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4. Who Has Ears to Hear?

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pp. 63-83

“NOT A WORD FROM HEIDEGGER,” Derrida observes (G1 66). In Being and Time, Heidegger maintains an “impressive silence” (66) on the question of sexual difference. Offering his existential analytic of Dasein not as an inquiry into this or that positive science, but as a foundational, fundamental, ontology from which alone all university...

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5. Four Ways of Reading Two Pairs: Of Shoes

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pp. 85-109

DERRIDA’S THE TRUTH IN PAINTING, with its four essays, “[f]our times, then, around painting” (TP 11), inscribes itself on (as) a frame. The question of framing occupies Derrida throughout the book, “the frame philosophy imposes when it contemplates art” (Gilmour 1988, 519). Borrowing the title of his book from the correspondence of Paul...

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6. Architecture’s (the University’s) Chora: Two Postmodern Collaborations

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pp. 111-131

MARK WIGLEY REMINDS US in The Architecture of Deconstruction that institutions “are built in and by discourse” (Wigley 1993, 51). With this in mind, I have been reading several philosophers of the university as architects of sorts. I do the same in the following chapter, which begins by positioning the philosopher as architect. The...


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pp. 133-147

Works Cited

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pp. 149-158


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pp. 159-164

E-ISBN-13: 9780791484296
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791462478
Print-ISBN-10: 0791462471

Page Count: 164
Illustrations: 14 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 62622825
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Medusa's Ear

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Subject Headings

  • Derrida, Jacques.
  • Postmodernism and higher education.
  • Philosophy, European.
  • Education, Higher -- Philosophy.
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