Another mythologizing animal sharing a spark of intellectual passion!
Next is American Christian feminist theologian-scholar Rosemary Radford Ruether's 2005 Goddesses & the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History. Ruether's writing is clear and easy to follow as she elaborates her theorized connections between Neolithic and ancient Mediterranean goddesses, ancient and medieval masculine appropriations of women's power, and modern spiritual feminist interpretations of the goddesses. It would appear Ruether's intention is to provide a more nuanced view of some of the historical goddesses as essentially male creations supporting male interests, which are later appropriated by women for personal empowerment, and in this and other issues covered, Ruether's work nicely exemplifies many of the issues which rive the study of the Divine Feminine. Sadly, this leads to a somewhat strained scholarly objectivity on her part, as the author dedicates an unfortunate number of pages to simplifying and consequently (unwittingly?) inaccurately representing those she disagrees with, while self-justifying her own work as having a more nuanced perspective than that attributed to her. She also devotes the majority of chapters to explanation of Christian and pre-Christian exegesis: an exploration of the relationships between gender, nature, and the deities in early Judaism; a review of Gnosticism, female mysticism, and Mariology in early and medieval Christianity; the mysticism inspired by a female-figured Wisdom in Protestantism; and an analysis of the melding of Aztec goddesses and Christian female symbolism in Mexico.
It is, however, somewhat perturbing that a book subtitled "A Western Religious History" addresses a limited number of South America goddesses only as they relate to Christianity, while completely ignoring the Caribbean syncretism of Christianity and the diasporically imported African goddesses — is this not precisely the female appropriation of (in this case Christian) "goddesses" and saints created by male interests which the author earlier decries? She further completely disregards the deliberate Christian ignoring, erasure, or re-gendering of the myriad female and bi-gendered deities of the entire North American continent. I consequently find incredibly problematic her assertion that modern feminist reclaiming of the ancient Mediterranean goddesses is inappropriate due to their being shaped within patriarchal societies to male ends — while simultaneously overlooking Christianity's androcentric and bloodily misogynistic history in favor of suggesting the preeminent suitability of Christian "goddesses" for modern feminist spirituality. However, despite her unfortunate focus on minimizing the work of those she disagrees with, Ruether nevertheless closes with a strong declaration calling for a more ecofeminist version of Christianity, so that all earth-friendly spiritual believers may unite in creation of a life-giving community.
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I love being able to stack up automatic posts ahead of time! :)
Had a really fun time at the "Boogie on the Bayou" festival in Campbell: got a beautiful new Venetian-style mask (that's it to the immediate left); got to listen to some Cajun music; and got to eat crawfish etoufee, alligator kebab, and fresh hot beignets — yum! Three friends went with me, and I think they all had fun too, which made it even more of a good time. Also: I so love pretty masks! The photo on the right (or at least it's supposed to be on the right!) is of the beautiful little filigree mask I bought in New Orleans during The Great Summer Road Trip of 2012 — I'm including it just 'cause it's beautiful and I like it. ;)
I have written previously (though not well) on Australian ecofeminist activist and intellectual Val Plumwood's 1994 Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. She offers a theorizing historical examination on the subject of ecofeminism which exemplifies a startlingly brilliant feminist logic. Her brilliantly lucid critique of Western ethics is a consistently theorized and tightly-written examination of just how deeply the philosophical roots justifying Western domination of nature run, and how thoroughly the careless assumptions of mastery are woven through the resultant positivist perspective. The author initially traces this standpoint of mastery — the perspective which identifies Self through oppositional creation of a lesser Other — to Enlightenment thinking. However, she digs deeper than Descartes' simplistic separation of body and mind, pointing to Plato's body- and nature-hostile "philosophy of death" (69) as a prime initiator of the dualism which encourages the mechanistic scientific paradigm which is the direct cause of the environmental crises we currently face. Fascinatingly, Plumwood subjects dualism to a sophisticated logical analysis, establishing its characteristics as a denial by the master group of any dependence on or benefit from the other, viewing the other as merely a tool for use, and assuming members of the other are not simply utterly homogenous but also completely unlike the master group. It is this philosophical methodology which Plumwood believes allows the masculinist narrative of mastery to background, dominate, and subjugate both nature and woman — historically the Other — as well as current "others" involving race and class.
The author's intellectual and academic rigor provides an intriguingly complex examination of Western philosophy's centering and universalizing of man while simultaneously discounting both woman and nature, thereby rendering them insignificant and inferior and justifying their ensuing exploitation. As Plumwood warns, this so-called civilized master narrative "must end either with the death of the other on whom he relies, and therefore with his own death, or with the abandonment of mastery, his failure and transformation" (195). Only through abandonment of the interlocking oppressions of dualism, she writes, can we implement a socially just ethics based in empathy for the other — an ecological responsibility which both recognizes and respects the similarities and differences between human and nature, subject and object.
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In 1993 a book emerges which provocatively probes ecofeminism's epistemology during its analysis of the historical roots of the oppressive conflation of women with nature. The collection of essays titled Ecofeminism, by Maria Mies & Vandana Shiva, is a biting critique of the colonization of nature, women, and the Third World by the white male hierarchy, via their oppressive application of the scientific conceptualization of "progress." Admittedly, while Mies & Shiva's Ecofeminism is ground-breaking work for the time, it suffers somewhat from that ideological newness. The opening essays are vivid and insightful exposés of the modern conceptualization of science as "a Western, male-oriented and patriarchal projection which necessarily entailed the subjugation of both nature and women" (Shiva, 22) as well as the faulty theorizing underlying the "catch-up development path" (Mies, 55) emphatically pushed on Third World countries by First World economies. Further, despite the uneven writing style, several of the essays stand well on their own, embodying an ecofeminism which is rooted in the needs of everyday life. The authors' epistemological points are clear: it is modern patriarchal capitalism, science, and military might which is responsible for the shattering of the localized, holistic worldview common to many indigenous Third World peoples. In response, the authors suggest an axiology which is accepting of personal limits for the sake of others, rejects the commercialization and/or reification of needs, and is committed to a new and more ecofriendly ethics.
However, it is troublesome that, in a book with the ambitious title of Ecofeminism, the authors at no point actually offer their own definition of the word. In what way is their version of ecofeminism different from that of others — or from, say, post-colonialism? Further, there is disturbingly uncritical use of, for example, the word woman — such that at some points in the book woman is framed as earth's healer due to their close, shared relationship; while at others she is presented as being responsible for environmental destruction due to her irresponsible consumption patterns in the North. In a similar vein the authors call for a rejection of dichotomies in favor of a more holistic paradigm. However, if only women can heal the earth, is that not a reinforcement of the dichotomy of "man equals civilization" and "woman equals nature"? Consequently while the essays are often informative and innovative, they do not feel coherent; nor do the authors present a holistic ecofeminist methodology.
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In a brilliantly re-creative intellectual thread, in 1993 feminist lesbian poet Judy Grahn re-members and reclaims the sacrality of women and menstruation in her Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. She notes with startling clarity that, "All origin stories are true" (7), as she offers us a radical new origin myth for women, grounded in her conceptualization of metaformic consciousness and metaforms: actions or objects which are regarded as not just conceptually iconic, but also directly linked to the mental concept of menstruation. In Grahn's brave new origin story, metaformic ritual is synchronous, cyclical; a cultural "container of knowledge" embodying a conceptual ideal, with blood as one element. Ideally such metaform ritually solve cultural or spiritual issues, such as the safe separation of potentially damaging powers, so as to maintain order and civilization while simultaneously preventing chaos and destruction. Within a lyrical mix of creative non-fiction and personal remembrance, Grahn poetically locates menstruation as the foundation of human culture through these symbolic metaformic expressions via ritual, mythology, language, cosmetikos, and food.
Grahn notes it is unsurprising that, as cultural containers of knowledge, metaforms are also often hotly disputed locations of meaning. Depending on which metaform addressed, they can allow their participants to either embody personal agency, or (as women can still today attest) suffer a societally enforced lack of voice. It is the culturally contested nature of metaforms — and, indirectly, menstruating women as well — which metaphorically creates these ritual modes of control of the feared unknown or misunderstood, via the creation of categories of pollution. Despite this, Grahn's new origin story is curiously empowering for women, and has the potential to release much of the cultural angst regarding menstruation, for women.
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And now for something completely different… !
As you may not know, I am not much into housekeeping of any sort. Years ago, when I was a child, I always more enjoyed working with the animals and cleaning the barn, rather than cleaning house. Give me a muck-bucket, a pitchfork, and a tractor in the outdoors any day, as opposed to scrub brushes, rubber gloves, bleach, and other nasty cleansers! Further, at some point when I was a kid I did something stupid — I don't even recall what any more — and as punishment I had to do the ironing for a while. Dear heavens, I LOATHED ironing! -with a flaming, heated passion. I still buy only clothing that does not need ironing, in fact.
Housework was also all tangled up in my head with being a wife — and I already knew at a very young age that I was never ever getting married! From my child's perspective, being married meant girls no longer got to have fun, and were stuck for the rest of their lives submitting to some man, doing his laundry and cooking and cleaning so he could go out and have a life. Well, I reasoned, if the girl never married, then she'd never have to crush her own joie du vivre so as to be a proper helpmeet to some unappreciative guy, right?
C'mon, I was a kid. It made perfect sense, then. ;)
The first movements into spiritually inspired re-embodiment which I discovered came (unsurprisingly) from men, and originated outside the United States. Morihei Ueshiba, the now-deceased creator of aikido, envisioned his martial art through the process of several spiritual awakenings: as a spirit of loving protection which is to protect and cultivate all beings in nature. Ueshiba chose the name aikido deliberately; it translates very roughly as the Art of Peace, or harmony/love (ai) spirit (ki) way (do). The dojo in martial arts is traditionally respected as sacred ground, but aikido takes this a step further: not only is the symbol of aikido the calligraphed circle which denotes the Void, or an almost Buddhist emptiness, but the circle is also enshrined within its physical practice of spiritually-inspired rhythmic motion. Thus, unlike many other martial arts, the advanced aikido practitioner does not meet force with force, but instead gently and usually non-aggressively blends with and redirects the energy of attack, causing it to flow like water to where it is guided. Further, this harmonious perspective is applicable not just in deflecting violence, but throughout all the myriad confrontations of life.
The richness and broad applicability of this spiritual/philosophical perspective is demonstrated in the collection of essays within the 1985 book Aikido and the New Warrior, edited R. Strozzi-Heckler, one of Morihei Ueshiba's students. Heckler is a 6th degree black belt as well as a psychologist and researcher on the mind-body connection in embodied leadership. The essays he chose for the book are excellent examples of how dramatically embodiment through aikido can affect one's quality of life. They range wildly across the board — from several different descriptions of how, when faced with aggressive confrontations, aikido can cause one to embody non-violence as a warrior for peace in "accord with the totality of the universe"; all the way through its applicability — as noted in several of the essays — as a method of healing both physical and emotional. Also included are many personal anecdotes of the life enrichment it offers. These vary just as broadly: from the use of aikido's spiritual and creative embodiment in sports such as baseball or basketball, through personal empowerment in refusing various forms of aggression and turning them into different types of play, to its grounding and balancing results for the practitioner dealing with situations as diverse as child-rearing or caring for a dying parent.
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SQUEEEEEEE! Got good news on my Ecofeminism Comprehensive Exam results — woohooo! ;)
This is such a relief, too. I know everyone tells me it's silly to worry, but nevertheless after turning in such a huge project there's always that little niggling doubt, that voice in the back of my head: did I use personal voice too much? Did I express my ideas well or not? Were they even good ideas? Was I too terse, too simple, too flippant? Now all that worry is gone — yay! My prof was incredibly complementary too! I'm waiting for her permission to quote her email to me, but I will note she said my work was "EXCELLENT"! Needless to say, I'm still dancing! :)
(Later edit: Got permission! Here's what she emailed me — so encouraging! :) "EXCELLENT work on your comp. You're a very gifted writer, and your scholarly writing has become ever more refined over the last couple of years that I've worked with you. You've passed with flying colors.")
I thought printing my chosen book list here might be helpful for both my scholar sisters and anyone interested in Ecofeminism — though I will note these are my preferences; there are many other wonderful books on the subject. However, here's what I read and reported on for my ecofem comps. I've included my subsection title choices, and I've included the articles amongst the book titles. They should be pretty easy to tell apart, though. I'll be posting some of the better book reviews I did (at least in my opinion ;) over the next few weeks as well — enjoy and I hope this is fun and helpful!
Yay! I've finished the ecofeminism comprehensives essay — it's coming in at 53 pages with cover page and bibliography included. Since the essay's parameters were 30 to 50 pages exclusive of the cover page and biblio, all is good. Hallelujah!
Now all I have to do is the tidying stuff, which is easy: make sure all the authors are correctly cited in the body of the paper, make sure the footnotes are all correctly organized, and do a last glance over the bibliography. This is why I always make sure I get the bibliographic entries correct as I mention and then add them — so I don't have to stress at the end. Been there, done that, lost the sleep, swore I'd never do it again. :)
Since my head is still full of the readings I've been doing, and I didn't feel like going out for breakfast — wonder why none of the restaurants I know appreciate folks turning up in their hot pink polka-dot shorty robes? ;) -we had tasty bacon & eggs here at home. Quite yummy and relaxing!
I was standing by the stove and stirring the eggs and happily nattering with one housemate about the concept of Mary as nothing more than Christian religious prop, and the lasting cultural damage that occurs when the major religious symbol system is stringently male with no female iconography, and how Islam has been tainted by Christianity such that a majority of Islam's believers no longer realize there is no concept of the Fall in the Qur'an… and the other (groggily listening) housemate started laughing.
Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.
Help yourself & me too!