I have been contemplating lately, as I read various philosophers (and perhaps especially Lacanian theory), how one could look at the tradition of western philosophy as an attempt to come to terms with desire by containing it within a framework of “reasoned” argument. Philosophy from this perspective becomes simply an exercise in giving a meaning to desire that appears to overrule desire’s biological functions. This framing of our instinctual motivations through ‘reasoned” argument then gives man a presumption of superiority over his biological essence allowing him an arrogance of thought that assumes for him a place next to “truth” and/or “god”. “God” and “truth” in this context are then possibilities only for those defined within this framework, separating out all else as lesser beings.
But whose desire is it that’s being contained inside this structure of “reasoned” thought? If philosophy has been virtually a male-only profession throughout its history, written by men and commented on by men for a mostly male audience, then I don’t think it would be too large a leap to assert that the desire philosophy is seeking to contain is essentially desire as it arises out of the male body. We don’t know at this point what a philosophy drawn from a proliferation of female voices (arising from a female body) would sound like or how it would change this framework of “reason”, as there is as yet no proliferation of female voices.
Given this absence of the female from the conversation also brings into question claims of universality made within the philosophical canon. Even the entry of women over the last century does little to change the situation as their voices remain sparse within the overall discourse. As well, this small scattering of female thinkers (no matter how brilliant many of them are) must do all their work in the shadow of a canon steeped in a masculine voice and masculine history. (Please see links at end of this post.) From this perspective it isn’t hard to see, or surprising to see, that the female becomes the unknown mystery – or as per Lacan, an unknowable outside the symbolic order.
So until (and if) enough females come to the table the female relationship to existing and existence remains unknowable not because she is unknowable but because she remains unheard – outside of the discussion.
Note, I am not trying to say here that I view all philosophy as just male centric babble and hence to be dismissed. I am rather trying to offer a perspective from which to look at what this lack of the female voice means to the overall philosophical (and cultural) conversation.
A few links to related articles:
A short note on way one or two female voices alone in a profusion of male voices is not enough to effect the discussion:
On the current the representation of women in the field of philosophy: