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The Feminine Symptom

Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

Emanuela Bianchi

Publication Year: 2014

The Feminine Symptom takes as its starting point the problem of female offspring for Aristotle: if form is transmitted by the male and the female provides only matter, how is a female child produced? Aristotle answers that there must be some fault or misstep in the process. _x000B__x000B_This inexplicable but necessary coincidence—sumpt ma in Greek—defines the feminine symptom. Departing from the standard associations of male-activity-form and female-passivity-matter, Bianchi traces the operation of chance and spontaneity throughout Aristotle’s biology, physics, cosmology, and metaphysics and argues that it is not passive but aleatory matter—unpredictable, ungovernable, and acting against nature and teleology—that he continually allies with the feminine. _x000B__x000B_Aristotle’s pervasive disparagement of the female as a mild form of monstrosity thus works to shore up his polemic against the aleatory and to consolidate patriarchal teleology in the face of atomism and Empedocleanism. _x000B__x000B_Bianchi concludes by connecting her analysis to recent biological and materialist political thinking, and makes the case for a new, antiessentialist politics of aleatory feminism._x000B_

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xii

This project has had such a long gestation that it is impossible to acknowledge adequately all those who have contributed one way or another to its genesis. At the very least, I should say that I am profoundly grateful to a bevy of brilliant and generous interlocutors...

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pp. 1-25

The notion of telos—the end, or the “for the sake of which” things exist or happen—is a famously intractable keystone in the architecture of Western metaphysics and science. Originating in Aristotle’s philosophical system, it structures nature and human action: through...

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1. Aristotelian Causation, Reproduction,and Accident and Chance

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pp. 26-50

In Generation of Animals Aristotle famously states, “we should look upon the female state as being as it were a deformity [anapērian], though one which occurs in the ordinary course of nature [phusikēn].”1 This pronouncement, extraordinary to the twenty-first–century eye...

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2. Necessity and Automaton

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pp. 51-84

Necessity, anankē—often figured as a goddess in Greek mythology and tragedy—is discussed by Aristotle in multiple contexts, including the final chapter of Physics II, in Parts of Animal, Generation of Animals, De Generatione et Corruptione, Posterior Analytics, and the...

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3. The Errant Femininein Plato’s Timaeus

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pp. 85-113

The previous chapters aimed to establish that the most significant opposition through which to understand sexual difference in Aristotle’s physical and metaphysical architecture is not that of form and matter, but rather that between teleology and chance. The masculine...

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4. The Physics of Sexual Differencein Aristotle and Irigaray

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pp. 114-139

In the Timaeus, Plato’s feminine receptacle/chōra provides the entire worldly fabric and context for the coming-to-be and passing away of the static and ideal forms, giving everything that subtends the world of becoming: extension, location, space, place, potential, materiality...

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5. Motion and Gender inthe Aristotelian Cosmos

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pp. 140-182

While the ontological status of motion in Aristotle has been a matter of considerable debate, it is clear from even a cursory look at the Aristotelian corpus that the problem of motion takes center stage throughout. In Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle, the problem of...

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6. Sexual Difference in Potentialityand Actuality

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pp. 183-222

At the start of Metaphysics VI.2 Aristotle gives an instructive summary of the “many ways” in which being is spoken (legetai pollachos). First, there is being according to accident, second, being according to the true (and not-being in the sense of the false), third, being according...

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Coda: Matters Arising

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pp. 223-242

Matter, and thus the feminine, appears in the Aristotelian cosmos in three main guises. First, and paradigmatically, matter is the substrate of a change that necessarily comes from elsewhere. It is passive, what is acted upon, it is weighty and falls to earth, it is potential...


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pp. 243-290


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pp. 291-308


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pp. 309-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780823262229
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823262182

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 1 b/w illustration
Publication Year: 2014