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The Politics of 'Originality": Women and the Class System of the Intellect Berenice A. Carroll The concept of "originality," though essentiaUy empty of substantive meaning, is used today to justify and rationalize a dass system based upon claims of property in ideas. This system assigns most men and almost aU women to positions in the lower classes and preserves for a smaU group of seU-reouiting males both hegemony over received knowledge and control of a variety of rewards and privileges. Among the various techniques of depredation and dismissal of the work of women as inteUectuals and scholars, one of the most prevalent has been denial of its "originality." To open the way for a serious reassessment of women's inteUectual contributions , we need a critical understanding of this term and alternative conceptions of aeativity and value in works of art, sdence, and inteUect. The Class System of the Intellect That there exists a class system of the inteUect is a fad rather generaUy understood yet seldom examined diredly. The phrase "the dass system of the inteUecf ' seems intuitivdy easy to accept, almost familiar, yet not readüy identifiable as assodated with any particular author or school of thought.1 Moreover, its meaning is not entirely clear. For example, what constitutes a "class" in this context? A somewhat irreverent answer to this question springs easüy to mind: "WeU, obviously, the class system of the inteUed is composed of the foUowing ranks: First Rate, Second Rate, Third Rate, and Dumb." This © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Fall)____________________ Portions of this paper were first written as lectures or papers that I presented at various conferences or universities between 1978 and 1984. One of these papers, presented at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, held at Vassar CoUege in June 1981, was dted and discussed in Dale Spender, Women of Ideas, And What Men Have Done to Them (1982), 20-21,25,110, but not otherwise pubUshed. Ashorter paper on the relevance of these issues to current feminist scholarship is scheduled to appear in The Knowledge Explosion: Disciplines and Debates, eds. Chéris Kramarae and Dale Spender, forthcoming, Pergamon Press. The ideas expressed here undoubtedly came to me "by wireless," as Mary Parker Follett said, and in part by the various processes of "mental innovation" analyzed so cogently by H. G. Barnett (see below). I do wish to acknowledge the assistance of Clinton Fink, Charlotte Gustafsson, Roberta Owen, Paula Treichler, Patricia Cramer, Ann Russo, and Marcia Baron in locating or suggesting pertinent materials and discussing various aspects of the subject with me. Clinton Fink has also read and provided helpful suggestions on the manuscript. 1990 Berenice A. Carroll 137 answer may appear to be flippant and crude. It might seem wise to discard it, yet something about it seems to ring true. It calls to mind the memorable passage in To the Lighthouse in which Virginia Woolf describes Charles Tansley and Mr. Ramsay: They knew what he [Charles Tansley] liked best—to be forever walking up and down, up and down, with Mr. Ramsay, and saying who had won this, who had won that, who was a "first-rate man" at Latin verses, who was "briUiant but I think fundamentaUy unsound," who was undoubtedly the "ablest feUow in BaIUoI___ It also recaUs the imagery of giants and dwarfs in Robert K. Merton's On the Shoulders of Giants.3 This imagery appears on the whole benign, or even egaUtarian, since it remains disputed and ambiguous whether the giants alone could ever have seen as far as the dwarfs, or vice-versa, and "together" seems to be the winning combination. But Merton betrays himself (or his dass) here and there, for example in his remarks on Godfrey Goodman. Goodman, though he rose to be Bishop of Gloucester, was certainly not acknowledged to be a titan of inteUed. Merton, noting a point in which Goodman had antidpated him (Merton himself), declares with chagrin: Now, it is one thing to find belatedly that one has been scooped by such a giant as Newton; it is, in fact, a rather edifying experience. But it is quite another thing to find...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 136-163
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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