One of Jane Flax's projects in Thinking Fragments
is to deconstruct or at least question some of the premises of Western metaphysics, such as the mind/body split. In reading Rene Descartes’ philosophy from a feminist perspective, Flax posits that “Descartes’ philosophy can be read as a desperate attempt to escape from the body, sexuality, and the wiles of the unconscious.” To show the erasure of the body evident in Cartesian thought Flax first quotes from Descartes’ Discourse on Method
, “so that this ‘I,’ that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, even that it is easier to know than the body, and moreover, that even if the body were not, it would not cease to be all that it is” (27).
Flax argues that Descartes’ philosophy rests on the “denial of the body,” and it therefore maintains the self is uninflected by the body and apparently “comes into the world whole and complete and, like a perpetual motion machine, clicks into operation.” Accordingly, the world is only perceptible through thought and concrete knowledge only attainable by mathematics and other exact sciences. This need for certainty, for a world governed by thought and precision, really indicates “a desire for control, control both of nature and of the body.”
For women, who have culturally/historically always been viewed as bodies, the dynamics of the mind/body split worked to exclude women from the intellectual sphere, in a way that was both insidious and tidy. excerpted in part from a prior publication