Of astonishment and the necessity of exile

I was struck by these two thoughts of Anne Dufourmantelle today:

  1. Her talking about ‘the audacity that leads a philosophical utterance to make us desert those dwellings of the mind where reason lives as master, when for an instant astonishment makes reason a guest’. That’s just brilliantly put.
  2. Her insight into ‘the necessity of exile in order for “oneself as another” … to come into being’. No experience of exile – no deep transformation; that, too, makes sense to me.

Both thoughts are from Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond.

Women (according to Mary)

Women come off pretty badly in Christianity. Through Original Sin they are held responsible for everything in the world since the Garden of Eden. Women are weak, unclean, condemned to bear children in pain as punishment for the failures of Eve, they are the temptresses who turn the minds of men away from God; as if women were more responsible for men’s sexual feelings than the men themselves! Like Simone de Beauvoir says, women are always the ‘other’, the real business is between a man in the sky and the men on the ground. In fact women only exist at all as a kind of divine afterthought, put together out of a spare rib to keep men company and iron their shirts, and the biggest favour they can do Christianity is not to get dirtied up with sex, stay chaste, and if they can manage to have a baby at the same time then they’re measuring up to the Christian Church’s ideal of womanhood – the Virgin Mary.

This, it has to be said, is a pretty good summary of what has unfortunately and for far too long been a prevalent attitude within Christianity. Intriguingly, this summary is offered by Mary, one of the characters in Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Psychopolis’.

Being very careful not to say what he does not mean

No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.

Thomas Merton, Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage

Crocodiles optional?

… the only hammer in the house belongs to Tony, and for anything other than simple nail-pounding she looks in the Yellow Pages. Why risk your life? … She has never seen the point of lawns. Given the choice she’d prefer a moat, with a drawbridge, and crocodiles optional.

No deep wisdom here perhaps, but I can relate to these lines from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Robber Bride. There are days though when crocodiles are a must!

Pole-dancing and the end of universities as centres of humane critique

We are living through a point in the history of Western academia so momentous it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around it – namely, the effectual end of universities as centres of humane critique, the effectual end of an enormously rich and diverse and valuable tradition, which has always had to struggle to carve out a task for itself that is often at odds with the priorities of society. Today, in almost every country in the world, academia is capitulating, almost without a struggle, to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.

Thus Terry Eagleton in an interview published in Third Way, February 2015, who adds:

A couple of years ago, I was being shown around the biggest university in South Korea by its proud president and I made the unseemly blunder of saying: ‘There doesn’t seem to be anything critical going on here.’ He looked at me as though I had said, ‘How many PhDs in pole-dancing have you awarded?’ With the best will in the world, he had absolutely no idea what I meant.