MICHELE Le Doeuff:

Discretion is obligatory when one slips into the room where a doctoral viva is being held. Indeed Sorbford University has inherited from its British past the conviction that such thing should not be public at all. Its French past, on the other hand, has instilled into it the certainty that only silent witnesses lacking the faculty of memory may legitimately be present at this delicate moment in someone’s life. Their role will be to give a friendly pat on the back afterwards to this small woman who is presently perched on a chair like a nervous bird and defending a thesis on Kant weighing several kilos. Opposite her on the platform is a long desk covered with a heavy-looking material, like brocade. Behind this desk sit five gentlemen all in a row; these are the panel of examiners. One of them is speaking at this moment and, indisputably, he can see her. Can she see him? Is she allowing herself to observe the shape of his chin, of his ears and hands? Has she even noticed the slightly odd tone of his voice, which is saying, ‘Madame, in your bibliography you have omitted to cite Nabert. How, Madame, could you have forgotten to cite Nabert? Nabert whose fine Kantian beard everyoen remembers. And when I speak of Nabert’s Kantian beard (pause), I do not mean ‘a fine beard like Kant’s’ (pause), for like everyone else I know that Kant was cleanshaven. I simply mean that all the great commentators on Kant have always worn fine patriarchal beards like Nabert’s.’

Addressed to all, this book is particularly dedicated to those young women preparing to enter a world where it will be held against them that they do not belong to the side of the Almighty, and thus that they believe and spread the belief that intelligence lies elsewhere. (Hipparchia’s Choice, xi)

I don’t doubt that this kind of insult is this unsubtle these days; nonetheless, the point, I think, stands, as Haslanger [pdf] reminds us. Actually, Le Doeuff’s humour and wit are a pleasure to come back to:

Since we are moving towards Europe in any case, intellectually as in other ways, it would be most unwise to leave our new-born community with nothing but godfathers who are more than happy to be all men together. Imagining what these heirs of Hegel (who describes women as the enemy within), of Tocqueville (who thinks it is not such a bad thing for them to be sad), of Vives (who approves of those who deprive women of shoes so that they have to stay at home) and of Samuel Johnson (who compares women who speak in public to dancing poodles) might be capable of doing with all of us, men and women, if we leave all the decision making to them is definitely a cause for serious anxiety. (xii)

and in the latter, ‘acknowledgement’-y part of her Preface she says:

As for those men and women whom I should like to thank, ‘there are so many of you that it is impossible to name you all individually, and it would be shameful to leave anyone out’, as Cicero said to those who brought him back from exile. I hope that in this book you will see the love of life with which you inspire me. A debt greater than words can say is sweet indeed. And then I could not write here what one so often reads elsewhere: ‘Lastly, I should like to thank my wife, who typed the seven successive versions of my manuscript; who so graciously agreed that I should spend a great deal fo my time abroad for my research; who helped me by reading a great number of general works for me, including some in the Bibliotheque Nationale; my dear wife, whose good humour has been my constant support; occasionally bringing me back to the level of daily life as not the least of her virtues and contributions to my work.’

As Virginia Woolf said, the truer the facts the better the fiction: I beg the reader to note that no similarity between the fruits of my imagination and real situations is accidental. (xiii)

Ah, razor sharp and generous… what more can I say? I love it!

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