Yesterday afternoon – after having read Brandy’s post, as well as Anthony’s recent post on ontology – I followed a link on Facebook to Eigenfactor’s breakdown of the gender balance in scholarly publications between the years of 1665 and 2011. The data apparently comes from JSTOR (I didn’t know that they’d stockpiled publications from the 17th century! Do they really?!) This isn’t necessarily relevant. But I decided to check out the stats in philosophy. In a broad sense, they are – not surprisingly – pretty bad: only 9.4% of the total publications are by women, as opposed to, say, 37.3% in education. But things get a little more interesting when you link to the philosophy publications page where the data breaks down into more nuanced detail. Relevant here: only 3.6% of all publications on ontological arguments are by women. By way of contrast, 19.3% of works on moral philosophy have been published by women.
While I share Anthony’s distaste for the muscular “hard core” discourse on ontology, I have to confess that I am also pretty fixated on ontological claims and issues. I will admit to being a little geeked about the fact that new strains of “speculative thought” proclaimed an interest in ontology. I don’t need ontology to be object oriented. But I’m glad to see people toying with ontology: drawing attention to the contingency or plasticity of ontological speculation. At least, this is what I’m (perhaps wishfully, or delusionally) reading into these conversations. I suppose, at the end of the day, this is what’s so disconcerting about the ontological conversations that Anthony’s talking about: they’re not contingent or plastic, in the least. They’re trump cards, they make reference to the unquestionable ground of being, to a supreme deity who is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. Badaboom, badabing.
But I wasn’t introduced to ontological claims through this route. The first theology I ever read was feminist theology. It was Sallie McFague who first introduced me to theology as a patriarchal problem, during my master’s program. I started to read the ancient and medieval theologians through the filter of her feminist critiques. When I realized that she was pulling resources from a Whiteheadian process thought (that was itself an ontological development of a Jamesian decoupling of the divine and the absolute) it seemed to me as though the panentheistic ontological indeterminacy she was arguing for had real roots. It was an ontological shift, with its own real history, that enabled the feminist claims she made about the nature of divinity. I took her claims seriously and assumed that there was some degree of flexibility when it comes to ontological matters.
Later, when I began to teach an intro to philosophy course, I began to get more familiar with “The Ontological Argument” and its many fans. It was only then that the allegedly unidirectional, simple, fixed nature of ontology really hit me. There is one ontological argument. God is locked into one ontological position, creatures in another. This has always seemed rather silly to me, and I suppose I’m guilty of dismissing it with a scoff. I’ve been far more interested in things like Laurel Schneider’s argument for an ontology of divine multiplicity. Or Karen Barad’s ontological indetermination of the relation between matter and meaning. Feminist thinkers are doing interesting things with ontology and I’d like to see more of this… not less. Provided, I suppose, that there’s an accompanying understanding that ontology is relational… we affect/create our ontologies and they affect/create us. I suppose that’s a taller order than I’d like to believe? Or does the appearance of an argument on behalf of an “imperfect God” in the New York Times indicate that there is a broader, more mainstream, shift underway… away from the hard-core ontological dogmatism that’s shrouded the divine?
At any rate, all of this is really just a long-winded way of asking whether the “trouble with ontology” isn’t, in some sense, also gender-based? Of course, I realize that there are all kinds of deconstructive allergies to ontology, and Heideggerian bans on ontotheology. But isn’t part of what’s driving these also a reaction against the hegemonic, universalist ontology of the divine that’s been bolstering and spiritualizing partriachal forms of power and authority?