For women, certainly, anatomy is destiny. Not so much because of what they lack as because of what they possess, which is to say wombs, vaginas, breasts: the female reproductive system is a weakness of both the body and the mind. That, at any rate, is how men seem to have thought of it for millennia. At the beginning of this century, male educators argued that women would injure their wombs if they studied Greek or mathematics. Ancient doctors believed that the womb could move about in a woman's body, putting pressure on other organs and so causing serious illness, and even death... Tells about Egyptian beliefs of 1900 B.C.: a woman who was unwell was said to be "womby"... How could such diseases of the womb be cured? According to 4th century Hippocratic doctors, there were two viable courses of treatment. One was sexual intercourse, especially if it resulted in pregnancy. The other course of treatment involved medication... Tells about various treatments, including sweet-scented vaginal suppositories, fumigations or vapors, animal excrement, and human excrement mixed with beer froth. Greek doctors prescribed cow or goat dung or bird droppings, often in combination with fragrant wine or rose oil (Cures derived from animal excrement are used today: a form of estrogen used in hormone-replacement therapy is extracted from the urine of pregnant mares... Even today, when wombs have stopped wandering, medicine tends to pathologize the vagaries of the female reproductive system, from menarche to menopause. Women of ancient times themselves looked back with nostalgia on the carefree years of their childhood. Who could blame them for dreading, in sickness and in health, the prospect of their womb-dominated years?
Proteron is used by Irigaray to counterbalance the concept of hysteron in the equation of the originality of thought. Irigaray writes that we are destined to look forward and try to see what is about to happen, but when we are looking forward we are actually seeing something that has a history and is therefore part of an eternal circle of influence. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines proteron- as a figure of speech consisting of the reversal of a natural or rational order (as in “then came the thunder and the lightning”). This can be related to Irigaray’s direct definition, “Proteron, defined as what is in front, is also earlier, the previous” (Irigaray 244). The irrational way of thinking highlighted by Irigaray is a good description of our inability to approach the process of influence as a cycle.
Irigaray seems to argue that "the passage" from ignorance and knowing has been somehow glossed over by readers of Plato's Cave, proceeding to "explain" what this passage actually is and what its purpose is. But isn't the passage, from the veiled and illusory images seen in the cave to the knowledge of reality in the light of the sun outside the cave, isn't this the road that anyone who studies philosophy or related sciences walks? Even if we are unaware of it, is not everyone in the world somewhere between the depths of the cave and the light of the sun, on this forgotten path, with no one at either extreme?
It may be that I am misunderstanding something crucial, but I do not really get Irigaray's point on this matter.
Irigaray has an uncanny way of finding the opposite of everything that Plato says in the Allegory of the Cave, yet she somehow says exactly the same thing; a talent I should learn. She seems to have this internal yet external conflict with the fact that Plato called the edge of ignorance a cave instead of a womb. She believes that women have been taken out of the philosophical picture and that it’s all about the men (iep.com ---link below). Honestly, I believe she has just made another excellent metaphorical version of Plato’s allegory. She does bring up some interesting thoughts about the origin of knowledge or if there is an origin; I found her idea about the “forgotten path” intriguing and how there is “neither outside nor inside, that is between the way out and the way in” (246). She writes about the process of negotiation in the path to enlightenment and perhaps finding oneself out of the in-betweenness. In this whole essay, I think Irigaray is trying to get across the fact that there is truth in everything and that we need to pay more attention to “representation” “repetition” and “images” in our, what she likes to call, our womb—our chest of knowledge. She says quite articulately that the world is the cave and the cave is the world. Perception is key. Even though she has apparent, distinct opinions about her own theories she still questions the authenticity of things such as this: “what is behind, and what behind is. Invisible.” In this case, she is talking about the men who technically cannot see what is behind them, but, with this quote, she says that “behind” is a relative place. I hope this makes sense, but it might be just as confusing as Irigaray’s writing.
For those disappointed that I didn't relate the text to Pink Floyd, please accept this as my apology:
She also speaks of the cave/vagina as a place of light, of spectacular theatre, and a place of origin. I can, of course, see how the cave serves as a sort of "womb" for the child-like, innocent men inside it. These men have never seen the outside world, and they must be "born" into the light, in order to find knowledge. I'm not sure that Irigaray's ideas surrounding why the men are chained with the faces and genitals facing the front/back of the cave/vagina is dead-on, however. I thought she definitely became murky in her logic here.
Overall, I don't believe she makes any huge claim or fascinating theory. She compares Plato's cave to the vagina as if Plato himself OBVIOUSLY meant for his cave to represent the vagina. She is quite certain about about this, and leaves the reader with no room to disagree.
1 : a canal in a female mammal that leads from the uterus to the external orifice of the genital canal 2 : a canal that is similar in function or location to the vagina and occurs in various animals other than mammals
Well, there you have it. Irigaray attempts to represent the cave in Plato's allegory of the cave as one of these. Men are invisibly chained to this canal and they orient themselves in only one direction, or aim, which is towards the back of the cave, thus continuously plunging into darkness and ignorance. The fire inside the vagina-cave gives the ever-ignorant men a false sense of reality and awareness, and they are too far inside to realize their light, the fire, is only a man-made representation of the sun, truth, and beauty, so they stay in the vagina all their lives.
This reading was gibberish to me. I apologize for my lack of academic contribution.
On the other hand, and most importantly, she describes the cave as being compared to a woman's womb. Irigaray describes it as the "original/matrix womb" (244) which also lends itself back to the idea of an artificial world. In essance, she describes the cave where the men are chained womb-like, and only barely separated from the neck of the cave (a phallic image) by a thin curtain (hymann) inwhich the light (a fake sun represented by fire) can produce shadow images against the back side of the wall. This interpretation of the cave is a very interesting, not to mention very fruedian way of expanding on Plato's Hystera.
OED: "The scientific study of caves."
Irigaray uses several scientificly-rooted words to describe and indeed support several of her claims that she admits are "impossible" to reconcile with the text that Plato gives us (243). Science--the "state or fact of knowing"--seems to be a far cry from "metaphorical projects" .... and theatrics, and fantasies, and fiction, etc. (243-257). Science seems more concerned with the truth of things--their origin--which is clearly one aspect, if not one of the central aspects, of Irigaray's work.
The cave, however (obviously), does not literally exist--at least, we cannot be in a "state or fact of knowing" that it does or does not exist, so it's not really science (maybe). But using scientific words is certainly convincing. I chose Speleology because I wasn't sure what it meant--but Irigaray uses other familiar words like topography (the "science of describing a particular place"), supposition, deduction, fission, "proofs of objectivity"--and even Speculum is defined as "a mirror or reflector used for some scientific purpose" (oed.com). I kept having to remind myself that this is a fictional place--it's "a place like a womb" that doesn't exist. While I'm not sure how much of this I comprehended, I still found myself convinced by the scientific words that I must trust for some naive and disappointing reason.
Kalmar, Gyorgy. "The Gendered Other of Metaphysics." Central and Eastern European Online Library. 2002. University of Debrecen. 17 Sept. 2008 <www.ceeol.com>.
With regard to "the myth of the cave," Irigaray presents an important point about the artificial nature of the light that is present in the cave. When considered within the view that we are in fact the inhabitants of the cave, there are immense implications with regard to the way in which we view our own world. To assume that the description of the cave is intended to mirror our own world, it is crucial to ask, from what angle is our light shining? From what perspective is our world manipulated to represent? At the end of this particular section (A Fire in the Image of A Sun), Irigaray addresses some of these concerns by stating: “For if the cave is made in the image of the world, the world […] is equally made in the image of the cave.” Thus, it is not an individual perspective that shapes our environment, but one that is collective and reoccurring. As a result, to understand our world is to understand it as a construction, one that is both an original and a duplicate, altered by the light we chose to shine on it.
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
..."For even now, with each of them in charge of his own kingdom, and their blasts controlled, they scarcely can be kept from shattering the world, such is the discord between brothers." - Proem, "The Creation
The story, or rather the question, of creation is an often exanined question. The story set forth by Proem here takes on the question in the form of story-telling. This story is filled with elements of the formation of the land, sea, and sky, followed by the creation of man, followed finally by the presentation of evil, malice, greed, and all things bad into the world as a result. What insight into the true natures of humanity are present in this age old story. The world was once a place where the earth knew no plow, where humans knew no war, but alas, humans can "scarcely keep from shattering the world. Such is the discord between brothers."
This curse, placed upon our dear main character of Narcissus, is, of course, a foreshadowing of the calamity soon to hit the vain young man. With the gods involved, he really has no chance of escaping such an interesting and (what they would have considered) entertaining fate, thought up by a mere mortal admirer. The phrase obviously is a cry to the gods from one of Narcissus' spurned, want-to-be lovers for Narcissus to suffer the pain of unrequited love, as he has made all of his admirers, both male and female, suffer. To "love as I have loved him" suggests that there will be an insatiable passion and depth to this love that Narcissus' admirer wants him to have to feel.
The importance of this passage lies not only in its foreshadowing, but also in its abstract quality. Although, at first glance, the phrase seems to perfectly explain what will happen - especially to one who is familiar with the story - the details are actually unclear. The phrase does not call for a curse of Narcissus loving himself. In fact, the phrase could actually call for Narcissus falling in love with some fair maiden with no reciprocal feelings for him. The curse even leaves Narcissus' love-sickness open to creatures or objects. Picture Narcissus in love with the hind end of a donkey...perhaps fitting for him. The point is that the phrase does not clarify what Narcissus is supposed to fall in love with - only that his affections won't be returned. A question to ask, therefore, is whether the decision to have him fall in love with his own reflection is wittily made by the gods, the fates, or a clearer statement that was perhaps made by the angry speaker of the curse.
If one studies the end of the phrase: "obtaining his beloved," the key word "obtaining" might stand out. To obtain something typically is used in reference to a non-living object of some sort, which could be one explanation for why Narcissus falls for his non-living reflection, rather than another person, deity, flora, or fauna. "Obtaining" something means to be in possession of it, so this word choice could also be seen as very odd. Since Narcissus is basically in love with himself, does this mean that he is never truly in possession of himself? If he cannot give of himself to someone who would love him, then it is possible that his true punishment is not simply to not be able to obtain his reflection, but to never obtain his identity. If identity could, in Narcissus' case, only be found by seeing how he could love and be loved by others, then his identity - the very meaning of himself - would never lie within his possession.
In the beginning there was chaos, only to be described as a tangled web of disorder. Slowly the Gods detangled the mess that is chaos by division and responsibility allowing the settling of the beginning of Earth. However, once man took his first steps, the new world begun to steadily turn back unto itself. Slowly but surely through the four ages man went from innocence to corruption and Chaos makes a full circle and the Gods deserted man to a bloodstained Earth.
lean forward and look down to the ground,
he gave to man a face that is uplifted,
and ordered him to stand erect and look
directly up into the vaulted heavens
and turn his countenance to meet the stars;"
(The Ovid, 118-123, p18)
The phrase "a face that is uplifted" could be taken one of two ways, one positive, one negative. The positive spin on the idea of an uplifted face is one that deals with aspiration. Man is meant to rise above the other creatures of the earth, who "look down to the ground." This superiority is enforced by the idea of man's unique order to look to the stars. Man is meant to aspire to great things that will put him on level with the stars, and perhaps the gods themselves.
The more negative side of this phrase could be construed as a bit more subservient. In many Greek/Roman myths that deal with the early life of man, humans were looked down upon, denied even the boon of fire. Man's only use to the gods was worship and tribute. Because of this, the phrase "a face that is uplifted" could mean that man, being more intelligent than the other creatures of the earth, is meant to look primarily to the heavens and think primarily of the gods. In a manner of speaking, man is meant not to think what the gods can do for them, but what they can do for the gods.
This creation story differs from the one found in Genesis in several ways. One interesting difference is that the God in Genesis calls the elements into existence, by saying, for instance, "Let there be light" (1:3). In the Metamorphoses the elements are already in existence and only need to be separated and properly ordered. This calling into existence, along with Adam's naming of the animals, puts an emphasis on language which is not present in the Metamorphoses. Language is given divine power in Genesis, as it is the means of calling things into existence. In Ovid's creation story separation seems to have divine power, as it is how harmony is achieved among the elements.
Which is more impressive, creating the universe by calling things into existence or putting a mass of chaos into order and harmony?
no plowshare had yet wronged her; untaxed she gave
of herself freely, providing all essentials.” (Ovid Book I 141-43)
In the beginning, all was simple and peaceful. The earth provided what was needed, and man exerted very little effort in attaining what they needed. However, as the seasons changed and man was forced to apply itself to finding and building shelter, it also began to understand the value in using the earth for production. As time progressed, man shed its earlier traits of “modesty, fidelity, and truth” for “fraud, guile, deceit, ...violence, and shameful lusting.” (175-77) Ovid illustrates for the reader the humble, but serene beginnings of the world and how mankind has destroyed that simplicity in its quest for more. The reader is left to ponder what existence may be missing as mankind is left to fend for itself on the earth, abandoned for its disregard of the earth’s love and dedication.
Ovid (30 CE). Metamorphoses. Tr. Charles Martin. New York: Norton, 2004.
In Book X of Metamorphosis, Ovid tells the tale of Pygmalion who is disgusted by the “sordid indecency” of the feminine spirit. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Sordid as, “Of a coarse, gross, or inferior character or nature; befitting or appertaining to a mean person or thing; menial.” What seems inconsistent to Pygmalion’s moral stand is his acceptance of a piece of marble as the replacement for a real woman. Pygmalion worships the idea of woman but as a result ends up worshiping the superficial. The OED also defines Sordid as, “Of persons, their character, etc.: Inclined to what is low, mean, or ignoble; esp. moved by selfish or mercenary motives; influenced only by material considerations.”