- The Philosopher Queen: Feminist Essays on War, Love, and Knowledge
The Philosopher Queen is a powerful illustration of what Cherríe Moraga calls a "theory in the flesh." That is, theorizing from a place where "physical realities of our lives—our skin color, the land or concrete we grow up on, our sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic [and, I would add, an ethics, spirituality, and epistemology] born out of necessity" (Moraga 21). Cuomo's theory in the flesh combines standard philosophical essays with personal narratives and invites us to do philosophy from this joyful and witty place. Readers are invited to reframe and reexamine war, science, gender, sexuality, race, ecology, knowledge, and politics in a voice that is fearless, funny, faithful, and feminist—one that disrupts common understandings of how philosophy ought to be done. Instead philosophy should help us to "negotiate a wild, wicked world, and to provide some understanding of being and existence. The best philosophy aims to promote good and to produce knowledge, and therefore enable flourishing" (xi). Accepted philosophical approaches alone are inadequate. Life's challenges resist formulaic solutions. Knowledge is not always produced through neat deductions: truths are partial, power divides, stomachs growl, hearts are broken, and emotions influence understanding. Starting from these basic truths, it is possible to combine critical thinking skills with humor, narrative, and self-disclosure in ways that transform pain and joy into possibility. I love this collection because its gentle passionate style communicates the joys of inquiry in a variety of philosophical subfields. It's an inviting way to introduce students to basic philosophical topics. But the beauty of this collection of joyful musings is that it will also find a good home on the bookshelves of nonacademic feminist friends and families. It's just a darn good read.
The Philosopher Queen is about war. Several essays challenge traditional characterizations of war as an isolated event to which just war principles are applied in order to excuse pending violence and assess past conflicts. "War as an Opportunity for Learning" is an invitation to learn from the events of 9/11 and to think about them in ways that don't collapse into hatred, violence, and misdirected revenge. In reality war is a presence: a "constant white noise in the background of social existence" (18). This new understanding illustrates the urgent need to unpack the connections between colonialism, gender, corporate greed, race, the global economy, sexuality, militarized cultures, and ecological destruction. When not driven by the desire for revenge, war grants our imaginations free reign and foregrounds the interdependence and fragility of life. [End Page 218]
The true lessons of 9/11 spring from insight and analysis. In "Reading Simone Weil" the author brings to light the deeply spiritual politics of a woman living under fascism whose writing is guided by her desire to respond appropriately to a world of suffering and her attempt to move theory into practice (128). Readers unfamiliar with Weil's work are introduced to her critiques of Marxism, her understanding of oppression as the humiliation of being treated as an object, and how resistance requires taking on suffering oneself. Weil's materialism, embodied epistemology, and her role as an "invisible mother of feminist thought" are also explored (139).
The Philosopher Queen is about science and morality. One of my favorite essays, "Ethics, Earth and the Secular Sacred" sketches paradigm shifting non-theistic definition of the sacred. Sacredness springs from the material world, from immovable facts about the kinds of creatures we are, and what we come to believe. Sacred things are granted a protected and respected status; and divine intervention is not necessary for that. We can adore something for deeply pragmatic reasons because it promotes flourishing, sustains life, or is valued for its own sake. What if we embraced the earth as sacred in this sense? What if science were guided by principles of human and planetary well being? What these connections reveal about the nature of Western scientific inquiry are explored. Practices of knowledge making...