Reality is fluid like water-it takes the shape of the container which holds it.
“Supposing that Truth is a woman–what then?”
Nietzsche asks us to consider the possibility (in his preface to Beyond Good and Evil) that “all philosophers … have failed to understand women,” and by extension, the Truth that she represents.
Maybe a feminine conception of truth will be opposed to the dogmatism of western philosophical history.
A feminist epistemology would approach the nature of truth differently. Instead of looking for one objective Truth, it would acknowledge the many relative Truths that we are able to experience.
“And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of twenty-seven.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great-that is for “great men”; and it’s “silly.”
Besides, you’ve written a little, but in secret. And it wasn’t good, because it was in secret, and because you punished yourself for writing, because you didn’t go all the way, or because you wrote, irresistibly, as when we would masturbate in secret, not to go further, but to attenuate the tension a bit, just enough to take the edge off. And then as soon as we come, we go and make ourselves feel guilty-so as to be forgiven; or to forget, to bury it until the next time.”
She is right, I have personally always felt that way. But now I’m the same age Cixous was when she started to write, and I’m finding I can’t escape it anymore. I’m encouraged by her words, urging me to finally take ownership of my body and my mind and my work.
When I was 23 years old, I took a walk by the river near my father’s house on an early summer day. While walking behind our neighbor’s yards, my eyes fell on a single red rose, the only one of its kind behind the fence. Stunned by its singular beauty, I stopped for a only moment, before I shuddered and hurried to continue on my way.
I quickly rushed away, scared my neighbor would see me and confront me. I walked away as fast as I could manage, but not because I was afraid he’d be upset at my intrusion on his land, that was only an incidental afterthought.
Without wanting to, I imagined the man would come down to where I stood, smile, and hold out to me the severed bloom, this innocent wounded beauty.
“What’s wrong with that?” I questioned myself. “You should be thinking of how fortunate you’d be instead.”
But my allegiances had spontaneously established themselves.
I now only had sympathy for the rose.
Not long afterwards, I discovered the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I accepted it as a gift, and I felt thankful that she had written what I’d been too timid to even admit to myself.
So in gratitude to her, I chose to translate a poem of hers which spoke the words I’d never even allowed to become conscious.
Proof of the Apparent Danger that, Once Possessed, Beauty is then Abandoned
Rose incarnate flaunts proudly to the meadow,
bathed in cochineal and carmine:
luscious, in lush open fields;
but no, for being beautiful
you will also be sorry.
Do you see, the first white light rushing
towards the Dawn?
So the risk becomes more imposing
as much as one’s beauty grows more impressive.
Don’t believe it makes you invincible:
If, misguided, you consent,
to be cut by an insolent hand
for the seduction of beauty and fragrance,
When guilty cheeks can no longer blush
you will also be sorry.
You see that charm which collects
assurance with his courtesies?
Then don’t esteem beauty
more potent than lust.
Run from the calculated caress;
if, imprudent and ingenuous,
you convince yourself that you are loved,
you’ll find yourself coming;
who, in coming to be possessed,
will also be sorry.
Surrender your beauty to nobody,
for it’s a crime that your perfection
should serve as conquest for his vanity.
Take pleasure in ordinary eminence,
without finding yourself the servant
of one who, once conquered,
won’t properly respect you;
you who, singularly had,
will also be sorry.
Anyway, even today, I think of the rose with compassion. I don’t believe we’re really that different, after all.
My eyes are often open, but it is rare that they see.
This morning, I saw fear. I thought I didn’t know fear, that I somehow lived bravely. The outcomes in my experience weren’t consistent with that analysis, but I brushed it off. I’m not afraid, it was just that simple.
But maybe I couldn’t see my fear because I was swimming in it. I’ve been floating through life, suspended in a scared world, held up and held back by what I thought I didn’t want.
I have rejected even the acknowledgement of my own desires because I was afraid they could never be fulfilled. I haven’t tried, or even admitted I wanted to.
But I want to live with integrity now. I want to be honest about and with myself.
So I’ll share a dream of mine with you, one that I’ve held for decades now, since I was a child.
As a young girl, my world was filled with books. Like Borges, my heaven was a library (and it still is). When people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew immediately: I wanted to be a writer.
I’ve pretended for years now that I don’t want that! Maybe it was right for others, but definitely not for me. Come on, didn’t I pretend I was an “epistemological nihilist”? What right I did I have to buy someone’s attention with counterfeit bills of “knowledge”?
Maybe there’s something to those ideas, I really don’t know. But I recognize today that the real reason was not disinterest, but fear.
And I’m still afraid, but I’m going to turn around and walk toward it.
Maybe I still don’t believe I have any Truth worth telling. But I would like to offer you a map, instead, a phenomenology of the territory inside I believe is my soul.
As I dream, images arise: a guiding star, a loving mirror, a bell that awakens. Objects of beauty and agents of change, I will keep you in mind with this first step forward.