Hypatia 15.2 (2000) 151-159
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Blindspots and elisions, fissures and omissions: feminist thinkers have often had an eye for the gaps in the western philosophical tradition. They have focused on what has gone missing from philosophy, not as a way of refusing philosophical thought, but to draw attention to the gendering of supposedly universal theories and to generate philosophies capable of thinking specificity and difference. Each of the papers in this section is concerned with a particular absence in the history of philosophy. Each thinker is involved in seeking out that which disappears from view when seen from the perspective of the western philosophical canon--or which appears there only in a carefully reduced and circumscribed form. Yet this focus on absences is far from generating a negative project. Instead, for these three thinkers, philosophical absences function as potentialities, sites of productive displacement and transformation that reconfigure the possible subject matter of philosophy.
The nature of the transformations effected varies according to the specific lacunæ addressed by each author. Penelope Deutscher focuses on the mysterious disappearance of women from the history of modern philosophy, Zoë Sofia on the absence of containers from histories and philosophies of technology, and Barbara Bolt on the way the western enlightenment perspective both obliterates a generative materiality and is itself undone by the glare of the Australian sun. The topographical locatedness of Bolt's argument indicates the importance of the specificity of each of these projects. Their grouping does not imply that they could be subsumed under one overarching framework any more than the papers in this volume could be combined to form a single new trajectory in feminist philosophy. Nonetheless, these three papers not only share a set of overlapping concerns, but also deploy a similar philosophical strategy. Each seeks to make visible that which has functioned as one of the necessary but invisible conditions sustaining western philosophical thought--be that the improperly philosophical work excluded from the canon so as to secure philosophy's self-definition; the dark matter required by the reflections of enlightened speculation and the colonizing imagination; or the technologies [End Page 151] of sustaining and containing themselves, which silently facilitate--yet consistently fail to appear in--thinking and philosophizing about technology.
Yet these philosophical absences are not recuperated within the terms of the tradition--Deutscher is not arguing that neglected women thinkers "really were" great philosophers, for example, nor does Bolt claim that it is possible to reveal a "really pure" or "unmediated" vision of matter beyond the confines of the European gaze. And none of the papers aims simply to reverse traditional hierarchies: as Sofia emphasizes, it is not a matter of privileging "good" (feminine) container technologies over "bad" (masculine/phallic) ones. Rather, each thinker foregrounds the ways in which that which has been excluded from the western philosophical tradition simultaneously refuses to be captured by, and incorporated within, that tradition. The women who cannot really do philosophy, the unobtrusive activities of containment, the glare of a light that does not render matter visible: western thought deems each to be either lacking or excessive--or both--and in any case unworthy of prolonged philosophical attention. For these three thinkers, however, each becomes a site of active resistance that prolongs philosophy itself by holding open paths beyond dominant and exclusive philosophical norms.
Thus, while all three papers can be seen as mobilizing absences to destabilize the philosophical canon, this is instability become productive, rather than celebrated for its own sake. Indeed, Deutscher herself has argued in her previous work that the gendering of the history of philosophy is neither effected in spite of instabilities, nor weakened or mitigated by them; instead, "contradiction, tension and instability sustain phallocentric accounts of women and femininity" (Deutscher, 1997, 8). By way of subverting such masculinist accounts, in her paper for this volume Deutscher herself mobilizes the unstable status of texts by women thinkers to sustain new philosophical thought.
"Imperfect Discretion" highlights the way that women have often explored philosophical ideas in forms that have entailed their exclusion from the canon. Deutscher calls for a more inventive approach to...