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The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

Emanuela Bianchi
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 336
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    The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos
    Book Description:

    The Feminine Symptom takes as its starting point the problem of female offspring for Aristotle: If form is transmitted by the male and the female provides only matter, how is a female child produced? Aristotle answers that there must be some fault or misstep in the process. This inexplicable but necessary coincidence--sumptoma in Greek--defines the feminine symptom. Departing from the standard associations of male-activity-form and female-passivity-matter, Bianchi traces the operation of chance and spontaneity throughout Aristotle's biology, physics, cosmology, and metaphysics and argues that it is not passive but aleatory matter--unpredictable, ungovernable, and acting against nature and teleology--that he continually allies with the feminine. Aristotle's pervasive disparagement of the female as a mild form of monstrosity thus works to shore up his polemic against the aleatory and to consolidate patriarchal teleology in the face of atomism and Empedocleanism. Bianchi concludes by connecting her analysis to recent biological and materialist political thinking, and makes the case for a new, antiessentialist politics of aleatory feminism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6222-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    The notion oftelos—the end, or the “for the sake of which” things exist or happen—is a famously intractable keystone in the architecture of Western metaphysics and science. Originating in Aristotle’s philosophical system, it structures nature and human action: throughtelosthey are ultimately understood, and bytelosthey are ultimately caused. The Aristoteliantelos, the good or what is best (to beltion), therefore dominates and provides the justification for a rigorously hierarchical cosmological system encompassing the physical world, the biological world, and the human world of ethics and politics.

    Sexual difference and the phenomena of sexual reproduction...

  2. CHAPTER ONE Aristotelian Causation, Reproduction, and Accident and Chance
    (pp. 26-50)

    InGeneration of AnimalsAristotle famously states, “we should look upon the female state as being as it were a deformity [anapērian], though one which occurs in the ordinary course of nature [phusikēn].”¹ This pronouncement, extraordinary to the twenty-first-century eye, reveals in its short formulation the barest outlines of a grand scheme, at once metaphysical, physical, biological, ethical, and political. Let us sketch out its features. The first thing to note is a hierarchy in nature: some things are deformed, while others are more perfect and complete, and the female state deviates from an assuredly masculine perfection. Secondly, the word...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Necessity and Automaton: Aleatory Matter and the Feminine Symptom
    (pp. 51-84)

    Necessity,anankē—often figured as a goddess in Greek mythology and tragedy—is discussed by Aristotle in multiple contexts, including the final chapter ofPhysicsII, inParts of Animal, Generation of Animals, De Generatione et Corruptione, Posterior Analytics, and theMetaphysics.¹ Aristotle in these texts gives us various typologies of necessity, but often reduces the types to just two: teleological or hypothetical (ex hupothēseōs) necessity and simple or absolute (haplōs) necessity. At first sight, simple necessity may appear as a promising description for how an order of matterseparate from teleologymight operate in Aristotle’s physical and metaphysical universe....

  4. CHAPTER THREE The Errant Feminine in Plato’s Timaeus
    (pp. 85-113)

    The previous chapters aimed to establish that the most significant opposition through which to understand sexual difference in Aristotle’s physical and metaphysical architecture is not that of form and matter, but rather that between teleology and chance. The masculinetelos, as prime mover, is explicitly identified as source of all motion in the Aristotelian cosmos. However, the regular and cyclical motions to which it gives rise are subject, in the sublunary realm, to various diversions, disruptions, and disorderings as they encounter the obscure motions of aleatory matter, an errancy I read as both symptomatic and feminine. In later chapters I...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR The Physics of Sexual Difference in Aristotle and Irigaray
    (pp. 114-139)

    In theTimaeus, Plato’s feminine receptacle/chōraprovides the entire worldly fabric and context for the coming-to-be and passing away of the static and ideal forms, giving everything that subtends the world of becoming: extension, location, space, place, potential, materiality, change, time, and motion. Aristotle, in theMetaphysicsbut especially in thePhysics, will develop his own account of these natural phenomena, and the task of the remaining chapters is to explore their Aristotelian fate, and thus the fate of the feminine portion of the Platonic cosmos, in his systematic natural philosophy. Less a study of the transmutation of a Platonic...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE Motion and Gender in the Aristotelian Cosmos
    (pp. 140-182)

    While the ontological status of motion in Aristotle has been a matter of considerable debate, it is clear from even a cursory look at the Aristotelian corpus that the problem of motion takes center stage throughout. In Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle, the problem of motion (kinēsis) bears a profound ontological significance. Motion is after all the very way beings come to be, and therefore the investigation of motion in nature (phusis, fromphuein, “to grow”) is absolutely primary. As Heidegger puts it in his essay on Aristotelianphusis, “being-moved is explicitly questioned and understood as the fundamental mode of being.”¹...

  7. CHAPTER SIX Sexual Difference in Potentiality and Actuality
    (pp. 183-222)

    At the start ofMetaphysicsVI.2 Aristotle gives an instructive summary of the “many ways” in which being is spoken (legetai pollachos). First, there is being according to accident, second, being according to the true (and not-being in the sense of the false), third, being according to the schemata of the categories (the “what,” the “how much,” the “where” and so on), and finally, besides all these, being according todunamisandenergeia.¹ There is something of a teleological movement at work in this ordering, in which each account is surpassed by the next, and this is reflected in the...

  8. Coda: Matters Arising: From the Aleatory Feminine to Aleatory Feminism
    (pp. 223-242)

    Matter, and thus the feminine, appears in the Aristotelian cosmos in three main guises. First, and paradigmatically, matter is the substrate of a change that necessarily comes from elsewhere. It is passive, what is acted upon, it is weighty and falls to earth, it is potential insofar as it lies patiently in wait for form, and is appropriate to and for that form. Second, there is the characterization inPhysics1.9 of matter asdesiring, asstretching out towardform: here it appears as a strange kind of subject of desire, even harboring its own obscure sort of movement. One...