- Philosophische Geschlechtertheorien: Ausgewählte Texte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart
"What began as research into women's issues (Frauenforschung) has since transformed itself into research into gender (Geschlechterforschung)."1 This is actually the first line of the preface by Marion Heinz and Friederike Kuster to an earlier book they edited, consisting of a set of essays presented at a colloquium entitled Geschlechtertheorie—Geschlechterforschung [Gender Theory—Gender Research] (1998). But the shift they point to there also forms the backdrop for their latest intervention: a volume entitled Philosophische Geschlechtertheorien [Philosophical Gender Theories], edited together with Sabine Doyé and published by Reclam, whose Universal-Bibliothek series is famous in German-speaking countries for its trademark bright yellow covers, smaller-than-pocket size, and budget-friendly prices. The book is rather humbly subtitled, "selected texts from antiquity to the present." This is in fact highly deceptive. For one thing, the excerpts account for only about three hundred of the book's five hundred pages. For another, the sheer quality of the writing and research contained in the other two hundred pages of "commentary" leaves one with the distinct impression that they could quite easily stand up on their own in the shape of a book on the history of the concept of gender.
The book consists of a sixty-page jointly written introduction followed by selections from different philosophers, each of which is preceded by a mini-introduction (often actually a mini-essay), written by one of the three editors. A quick survey of the table of contents confirms the historical stamp of the book—the first selections are from Plato and Aristotle—as well as the naturally surprising fact that only three of the eighteen philosophers considered are women (Beauvoir, Irigaray, and Butler). This in fact represents the quiet admission of an unspoken element of the simple thesis that forms the leitmotif running throughout the entire book, namely, that the philosophical concept of gender is an ideological construct, which also happens to have been constructed by male philosophers. As the editors explain in the Introduction, "The purpose of this work is to demonstrate in an exemplary way both the conditions of emergence of this ideology as well as the various concrete forms it assumes in the history of European philosophy" (7). [End Page 188]
The very uniqueness of this critical anthology deserves to be highlighted. No equivalent book exists in English, although one did appear in France in 2000. The latter is entitled Les Femmes de Platon à Derrida [Women from Plato to Derrida] and, as an interesting parallel, is edited by three French women (Collin, Pisier, and Varikas 2000). This too is an anthology of selections from philosophers in history, complete with introductions to each, but the similarity ends there. The French anthology, running to over eight hundred pages, has a broad compass both conceptually and in terms of the philosophers treated—fifty-nine in total. Its objective, according to its three editors, is primarily to render visible in largely canonical texts what the interpretative tradition in France has rendered invisible with respect to the difference of the sexes. The informed and thoughtful introductions to each selection, they acknowledge, are not motivated by any collective thesis but rather represent particular ways into the texts (multiple in each case) and bear the mark of the intellectual style and field of the individual editor who wrote it. This is a very worthwhile project in its own right. The volume by Doyé, Heinz, and Kuster, however, differs strikingly in its conception and range.
The more modest array of philosophers selected from is the least of the differences. First and foremost, the reader cannot help but sense that although this is an anthology, it also reads like a tightly argued treatise. There is indeed a "collective thesis" which the three editors are seeking to explore and defend in both the sweeping historical narrative of the Introduction and across all the mini-introductions to the selections: the concept of gender underlying the practical philosophies of...