[This is a follow-up to a post on 7 October. To read it, go here.]
A few people sent me e-mails to express their intentional misunderstanding, and thus their wholly avoidable shock, at my particular choice of citations from Walt Whitman in connection with the classroom experience. So let me be clear. My previous post had much more to do with the status of philosophy within the humanities, than with the status of women in philosophy. Yet I believe these two issues are more tightly intertwined than philosophers are typically prepared to recognize.
Many poets, women and men, from Sappho to Anne Carson and Czesław Miłosz (who does not desire individual airport bar employees so much as he desires everything, and who, when he expresses this, is not, as they say, 'thinking with his dick', but thinking simpliciter), have vividly captured the idea that there is an erotic element to all significant human encounters, and that this element is central to any attempt to even begin to make sense of human existence. I believe we have something to learn from the poets.
I have a friend who teaches in an English department, and who loves poetry like I do. She recently said something to this effect:
It would be so nice if all the creepy brutish men would stop rubbing up against us on the subway, and demeaning us in a million different microagressions. For then we could move on to real contemplation of the vastly more interesting fact that we are all bubbling over with desire, all the time. Many or most of these desires are unrealizable, and indeed immoral. But our desires are ours, and they are not subject to regulation from the outside. This is not a trivial point, and it is not stubbornness. It is the basis of a philosophy of freedom.
It is my impression that the real need to stamp out the first sort of encounter (sexual harassment, lechery, masculine domination in general) has caused many to needlessly problematize the second. So my call for a Whitmanian approach to the classroom encounter (an approach I'm tempted to call 'queer universalism') has nothing to do with that tiresome pseudo-realism about 'what men are like', nothing to do with a plea to just 'let boys be boys', etc. Rather, the call is based in a concern that you cannot have anything remotely like an adequate model of the human being if you exclude from the picture all the complex, unrealizable, potentially immoral desires that propel us. In other words, you can't really be teaching the humanities. This might be fine for other philosophers, but not for me.
I strongly agree that it is a very desirable thing to make philosophy less of a men's club, but I strongly disagree with Louise Antony that the prohibition under consideration would help to make it less of a men's club. I think, much to the contrary, that a measure that might help would be to better integrate philosophy into the humanities, and to draw in people who are inspired by insights into the human condition that they first come across in poetry, for example, only then to be put off by philosophy's insistence on remaining apart, and indeed by its denial that these insights are relevant to what we as philosophers actually do.
I was attempting to speak with Terence, for whom nothing human is alien, and the nearest cultural reference points that rang any bells for fellow philosophers were rather closer to Bukowski. This makes me think it is not only the students who are in need of a humanistic education.