by Pamela Sue Anderson
Essay, Photo, Guidance Qs (t.b.w.)
Pamela wrote this paper for our International Women’s Day Conference 2016 [link], Resounding Voices: Women, Silence and the Production of Knowledge. It is with her permission that we publish the full script here. Tragically, Pamela passed away in March 2017. Her beautiful paper offers a way of conceptualising what we are, or should conceive ourselves as, (collectively) doing as philosophers: cultivating reciprocal relations to the unknown.
The French feminist philosopher, Michèle Le Doeuff, has taught us something about ‘the collectivity’, which she discovers in women’s struggle for access to the philosophical, but also about ‘the unknown’ and ‘the unthought’ (Le Doeuff 1989, 128). It is the unthought, which will matter most to what I intend to say today about a fundamental ignorance, on which speaker vulnerability is built. On International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to speak about – or, at least, to evoke – the silencing which has been imposed on women by an oppressive form of ignorance. My question is: how do our resounding voices as women – on 8 March 2016 – avoid what feminist philosophers have distinguished as wilful forms of silencing? Silencing exploits vulnerability; and speaker vulnerability is an exposure to either violence or affection, in its dependence on an audience. My response seeks to undo the silencing of women by transforming an ignorance of vulnerability into a distinctively ethical avowal. To see the significance of this undoing, we will consider how our contemporary global world reduces vulnerability to an openness to violence, ignoring what has been unthought: an openness to affection. A wilful ignorance of vulnerability develops not as a lack of knowledge, but its disavowal – on which various forms of oppression are built. An active disavowal of thinking (the unthought) is the other side of a striving for invulnerability; and this striving is encouraged by a social world which remains ignorant of its own wounding, as well as its own potential for ethical relations in vulnerability. Like la mauvaise foi of the French existentialist, invulnerability is a form of self-deception; and those who claim it embrace ignorance of their own and others’s vulnerability, too.