Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bordo on Descartes, Doubt, Objectivity, and the Fortified Self

In 1987, Susan Bordo wrote a little book entitled The Flight to Objectivity - Essays on Cartesianism and Culture.  I've been a fan of Bordo ever since I read her book on "eating disorders," Unbearable Weight - Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (2004).

One of the recurrent themes in this blog is the enclosed (isolated, alienated) understanding of one's own personhood - one's "self."  That preoccupation is a Catholic one, in as much as it is based on an insight from a late Catholic scholar and priest, Ivan Illich.  Modern disembodiment, Illich says, has created an obstacle of anachronism that stands between (post)modern people and the embodied grasp of the significance of the Gospels.

God didn't become man, he became flesh.  I believe... in a God who is enfleshed, and who has given the Samaritan, as a being drowned in carnality, the possibility of creating a relationship by which an unknown, chance encounter becomes for him the reason for his existence, as he becomes the reason for the other's survival - not just in a physical sense, but a deeper sense, as a human being.  This is not a spiritual relationship.  This is not a fantasy.  This is not merely the ritual act which generates a myth.  This is an act which prolongs the Incarnation.  Just as God became flesh and in the flesh relates to each one of us, so you are capable of relating in the flesh, as one who says ego, and when he says ego, points to an experience which is entirely sensual, incarnate, and this-wordly, to that other man who has been beaten up.  Take away the fleshy, bodily, carnal, dense, humoural experience of self, and therefore of the Thou, from the story of the Samartian and you have a nice, liberal fantasy, which is something horrible.  (Rivers North of the Future, p. 207)
Illich's focus on embodiment, and consequently on the histories of perception of embodiment, is animated by his concern that modernity/postmodernity have led to the trivialization of the Gospels, of the significance of the Incarnation, and by his belief that our epoch is not secular - as in some opposite of Christianity - but the profound perversion of the Gospels' "good news."

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas notes this trivialization in a different - and distinctly American - vein, saying:
Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief.  That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US.  The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny...
One of the philosophers who gets a good deal of passing abuse by those who decry the disembodiment of the modern person is Rene Descartes (pronounced like day-KART), who is rightly associated with something that in the shorthand is called simply, "Cartesian dualism."  Given that Descartes, himself a Roman Catholic as well as a mathematician, is generally cited in conjunction with this "dualism," in works that are addressed to the philosophically initiated (accounting for the aforementioned shorthand), most of the works that I've read more than once do not take much trouble to explain the genealogy of Descartes, before or after his own work, or how exactly his ideas led to many of our current philosophical, cultural, and even psychological impasses.

In Brad Gregory's excellent book, The Unintended Reformation - How a Religious Revolution Secularized a Society, Descartes is treated primarily for his significance as a father of science:
Descartes led the way in the seventeenth century, establishing an ideal that would endure for centuries:  that of the autonomous, self-sufficient, individual philosopher who demonstrates the truth based on reason alone, without relying on anyone else.
Again, a pertinent observation, but not one that helps the comparatively less-philosophically-initiated get at the core of what Descartes did in a way that illuminates his role in modern disembodiment.

Many feminists, to their credit, have not been as cavalier about questions of the genealogy of disembodiment, in particular Evelyn Fox Keller, Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan, Sandra Harding, and Susan Bordo.

Bordo's book, The Flight to Objectivity, is all about Descartes, in fact, a long meditation on Descartes' Meditations, with an eye to that aspect of Descartes and his legacy that is till largely ignored by male writers and teachers of philosophy - and that is gender, the other preoccupation of this blog and this writer.

The book begins with a discussion of Cartesian anxiety, or Cartesian doubt.  The strength of this first essay, and of the whole book, is that Bordo does not represent philosophical ideas as if they existed in an historical vacuum.  Anxiety was not merely the starting point for Descartes definitive work, Meditations on First Philosophy.  Anxiety was characteristic of the age, the seventeenth century - during which the world was still reeling from a brutal series of wars that marked the Reformation, and during which Medieval cosmological certainties were overturned by Copernicus and Galileo.

The very way of knowing that had prevailed in Medieval Christendom was undermined by the astronomical calculations of mathematicians like Descartes and by technologies like the telescope, making this period one of deep epistemological crisis against a background of apparent political chaos.

In addition to applying the cultural context of Descartes' period, Bordo applies a certain social psychology.  While this is, in effect, the retrojection of a modern notion to a time before its own invention, it is done anthropologically and in a way that does not subject the ideas themselves to modern ideas in an anachronistic way.  Using the basic precepts of Mary Douglas' 1966 anthropological tour de force, Purity and Danger - An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo, Bordo studies how epistemological boundaries were first disestablished then re-established, beginning with Descartes' nightmare of a cosmic evil genius.

This malevolent force was a stand-in for Descartes' starting point in the Meditations, which is a kind of radical skepticism.  Unmoored by new knowledges, the senses themselves were just that evil genius, because they made it impossible for a human being to know for sure whether he (Descartes, like all his contemporaries, spoke of men as normative humans) was awake or dreaming, perceiving or hallucinating.  Our senses told us that the sun revolved around the earth, that the earth was bigger than the sun.  The senses - read: the body - are liars, deceivers, the very carriers of madness.
For the whole of my existence - sleeping, wakefulness, internal certitudes, prejudices, beliefs about the external world, feelings, the sense of embodiment - may be the result of a grand demonic deception which we cannot get beyond to determine the true state of things.  At each step of the first Meditation, the possible boundaries of illusion widen:  at first it is only "certain persons" - the mad - who are victims; then it is every person, but only some of the time; and finally, it is everyone, all of the time, who may be the subjects of a deception so encompassing that there is no conceivable perspective from which to judge its correspondence with reality.  The sane may have distance on the mad and the wakeful may, in retrospect, have distance on the dream, but the specter of the Evil Genius allows no distance at all.  It is a specter of complete entrapment.  (Bordo, p. 21)
I remember when I was a child that I entertained a fantasy from time to time that I was in a great dream-machine that produced my every perception - that nothing I knew was real, and that I was in the grip of a grand illusion.  I doubt I am alone in having daydreamed about such a thing.  The passing fantasy - again against the backdrop of Europe's most dislocative epistemological crisis - Descartes used as the foundation of a new idea of knowledge.

Descartes, being a practicing Catholic, of course, retracted from pure, unanchored solipsism, by finding ground in God.  God becomes a guarantor of truth for Descartes, though later philosophers - taking Descartes' starting points - will show that God can be sidelined by Descartes eventual description of method, and eventually set aside altogether.  God, for Descartes, is pulled inside the mind where he can do battle with the demon of infinite skepticism.

Prior to Descartes, in a real sense, there was no mind to be pulled inside.  And this is the crux of Descartes' oft-cited "dualism."  For Descartes, there was one faculty that could - with proper and Godly discipline - hold in check the chaotic deceptions of the body/senses:  the mind.  Descartes simple formulation, "Cogito, ergo sum," I think therefore I am, is the basic and definitive statement in his philosophy.  What is radical about this is not obvious to us today, because living Western metropolitans have grown up having already accepted and thoroughly absorbed the premise that is hidden in these three words of Latin.  The mind and the body have been separated into two realms - interior and exterior - a dual universe.  Cartesian dualism.
For all worlds before our own... it is a certainty that there is a correspondence between what is here and what is beyond.  Heaven is mirrored by earth.  The baby I saw in a woman's arms yesterday is a cosmos, a microcosmos.  When I look at this baby, I see something which appears, at first sight, utterly dysymmetric from what I see when I look up at the stars, and yet the fit at every point.  They are both complimentary and mutually constitutive, that is, the existence of one implies the other... The assumption that the world is a net of correspondences is the background... You cannot enter any of those worlds without the assumption that all existence is the result of a mutually constitutive complementarity between here and there.  (Illich, Rivers North of the Future, p. 132)
If you have an old copy of the Riverside Shakespeare, which I wish I still did, in the middle of the combined works of the Renaissance bard are a collection of pictures, reproductions of Medieval and Renaissance art.  These are not perspectival art, which begins showing up in Europe until the revival of Euclidean geometry in the fifteenth century.  These pictures show ideas, concentric rings of celestial being, great chains that connect the parts of the body to the parts of the state to the parts of the universe, blindfolded women standing on balls before a moon, alongside open-eyed men, standing on blocks before the sun, and so forth.    These images reflected that complementarity that Illich describes, the idea that all things are connected and inseparable.

Bordo herself will discuss the emergence of perspective in conjunction with the emergence of Descartes' ideas later in the book, but for now, the point is, there was no notion of a mind separated from a body.  There was Reason as the counterpoint to corruptible desire, but the idea of a mind-body split was inconceivable in a universe where there was what Illich calls proportionality - fit - correspondence - mutual constitution between all things.

Male and female were understood this way, even if in a hierarchical manner.  Heaven and earth are mutually constitutive, with earth being a mother and heaven a father.  This genderedness will come back in Bordo's conclusions, but the important thing to remember for now is that there was no decisive separation between complimentary realms.

Descartes separates mind from body in just such a decisive way.  He calls the two realms res cogitans, the mind, and res externa, the external.  In his time, this is a tectonic discontinuity.

For the first time, the self - that is, the mind - is seen as something separate from the world, even one's own body.  For the first time, we are conceived of as in a permanent state of voyeurism - peering out the window at what is going on outside.  We became watchers instead of participants.

The mind became the subject.  All else became objects.  We are ghosts in a machine.

Descartes writes in Meditation V:
For although I am of such a nature that as long as I understand anything very clearly and distinctly, I am naturally impelled to believe it to be true [with God's guarantee, of course -SG], yet because I am also of such a nature that I cannot have my mind constantly fixed on the same object in order to perceive it clearly, and as I often recollect having formed a past judgement without at the same time properly recollecting the reasons that led me to make it, it may happen meanwhile that other reasons present themselves to me, which would easily cause me to change my opinion, if I were ignorant of the facts of the existence of God, and thus I should have no true and certain knowledge, but only vague and vacillating opinion.
This state of anxiety, of doubt, is so powerful that objects require our laser-like focus and constant attention.  Now you see it.  Now you don't.  Bordo calls this "epistemological instability."

This epistemological instability reflected the political and epistemological instability of post-Reformation Europe in the seventeenth century.  Descartes was reflecting philosophically the anxieties of his time and place.
When [the] world had itself been transformed by Galileo and his colleagues, what had seemed so simple and natural took on the aspect of a mystery.  In the new world their renderings of knowledge appeared no longer as statements of a fact, but as posing of a problem.  Fresh knowledge made knowledge itself seem impossible in the world it purported to describe.  (from The Career of Philosophy, John Herman Randall)
Perceptions were always understood to have the capacity for fallibility, even among the ancient Greeks.  But this was something new.  A no-man's-land has been established between sense and reality, where there was intercourse before.  The self has been driven into a kind of fortification, with all things outside understood as suspicious.

This is where Mary Douglas' anthropological insights are helpful.  Another hat tip to Angela Rayner for putting me onto Douglas, for I have my own copy here now in front of me.

Douglas describes various cultural norms associated with purity and taboos, and she concludes that all societies have such ideas and demarcations - nay, no society can be effectively constituted without some notion of outside and inside, of where there is order and what might threaten chaos.  This is important to avoid a purely psychological critique of Descartes, because while anxiety is associated in the (post)modern mind with a therapeutic issue - something that happens in an already effectively Cartesianized self - cultural fears are the object (pun intended) of anthropological and sociological study.

This seventeenth century epistemological crisis was characterized by the terrifying absence of these boundaries (which Descartes so dramatically represented as the Evil Genius); and Descartes was re-inscribing a new internal-external, purity-pollution paradigm that might conceivably recapture order from chaos.

Descartes felt that he needed to re-ground conviction, but to do so he had to invent "the mind" as something that is "inner."  Bordo's chapter describing this invention is called "The Emergence of Inwardness."  The fact that we now find this idea of the inward mind so unremarkable is a testament to the success of Descartes' re-orientations.

In this schema, the problem became "subjectivity," a notion heretofore nonexistent.
"Subjectivity" is what stands, for Descartes and Galileo, between the knower and an accurate perception of the world.  It is the barrier that casts the shadow of Cartesian anxiety, the possibility that our human capabilities may be such that we may never be able to reach the ordinary, changing world  unless... "the mind were protected against itself."  What it needs to be protected from is "subjectivity."
With this pall of interiority comes another form of vertigo:  locatedness.  Prior to these developments people understood where they belonged, again they perceived proportionality, a way of fitting.  Aristotelian Thomist philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre still describes personhood as a form of belonging.

Practices, narrative orders, and community traditions, as well as intra-community relations and kinship, were determinative of who one was, and how one understood him- or herself.  One's actual point of location was a shifting reality secured within this state of belonging.  One knew who one was.

Bordo's chapter on "locatedness" begins with a quote from Blaise Pascal:
When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into an eternity which comes before and after... the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there:  there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then.
The telescope and Copernicus' assertion that the earth was no longer the center of this vastly expanded universe (now conceived of as the "gaping jaws of infinity") had decentered human beings, and made their actual, physical location at any given time a source of consummate dread.
The sense of personal boundedness and locatedness, of "me-here-now" (and only here-now) is acute.  Its association with a loss of "meaning" is undeniable... [A] similar anxiety... is at the heart of Descartes's need for a God to sustain both his existence and his inner life from moment to moment, to provide reassurance of permanence and connection between self and world.  (Bordo, p. 61)
As we will see, with the reassertion of a new form of masculinity, post-Descartes, this need for God begins to fade into the background.  Bordo asserts a correspondence between this scandal of particularity and the emergence of perspectival space over perceptual space in art.  Art now assumes an imaginary (and located) viewer - again, the interiorized voyeur.

Not altogether surprisingly, as a mathematician, Descartes resolves these dilemmas with mathematics.
The fantasy of absolute understanding... motivated Descartes... To comprehend - to contain the whole within the grasp of the mind - is simply not possible for a finite intelligence... Rather, what seizes the Cartesian imagination is the possibility of pure thought, of pure perception [I direct the reader here back to Douglas' work on purity-pollution, the conceptual boundaries against chaos -SG].  Such perception, far from embracing the whole, demands the disentangling of the various objects of knowledge from the whole of things, and beaming a light on the essential separateness of each - its own pure and discrete nature, revealed as it is, free of the "distortions" of subjectivity.  Arithmetic and geometry are natural models for the science that will result...  (Bordo, pp. 75-76)
This attention to discrete and exteriorized objects, mediated by the purity of numbers, will become the new basis of "knowledge," understood now as "objective."

The ground is now prepared for a new, and totalizing truth claim at the center of a new episteme - empiricism as the purifier of understanding.  It now begins to be clear why Bordo entitles her book The Flight to Objectivity, emphasis on TO.  Objectivity was a refuge for the lonesome and de-centered self.

And here is where Descartes unwittingly opened the door to the now "uninteresting" atheism of the modern world.
What we are enabled to see... is a historical movement away from a transcendent God as the only legitimate object of worship to the establishing of the human intellect as godly, and as appropriately to be revered and submitted to - once "purified" of all that stands in the way of its godliness.  Shortly, for modern science, God will indeed become downright superfluous... The godly intellect is on the way to becoming the true deity of the modern era.  (Bordo, p. 81)
Postmodernism has divorced itself from the claim of objectivity, though often in a way so agonal that objectivity remains central to its definition; and it has been largely unsuccessful at liberating the fortified self.  (More on that another day)

Descartes opened the door to modernity; but it was others who walked through.  His was a conceptual revolution, not a methodology.  When that methodology was conceptualized, it would be conceptualized as masculine.

Bordo's last chapter is called "The Cartesian Masculinization."

Susan Bordo is not using the term masculine independent of its various social constructions.  Bordo is doing a history of ideas here, and at this point, we will see that her history of the Cartesian pivot is also a step-change in the way masculinity is constructed, even though male social dominance is a constant before, during, and after this transition into modernity.  The basis of that dominance undergoes a dramatic transformation, one that has also been mapped by Carolyn Merchant in The Death of Nature - Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (1980), and after Bordo, Maria Mies' excellent book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale - Women in the International Division of Labor (1998).

Prior to Cartesianism, male and female were understood hierarchically - without a doubt - but they were understood complementarily, and the masculine and feminine were understood - as all things - as proportionalities, mutually constitutive, fitted, in a world that had not yet been externalized by the fortified self.  Masculinity was conceived as an active agent, and femininity as a passive agent - but female passivity was understood sexually, as a kind of essential and fertile receptivity.  God was understood as masculine, and the world - the earth - as feminine.  The earth was understood as a maternal presence, as a great mother of all things - living and not, and as such was given reverence.  This was true of all premodern cultures, including Western Christendom.

Merchant points out in her book that ancient mining was considered a kind of midwifing of minerals, which required great spiritual preparation.
Minerals and metals ripened in the uterus of the Earth Mother, mines were compared to her vagina, and metallurgy was the human hastening of the living metal in the artificial womb of the furnace... Miners offered propitiation to the deities of the soil, performed ceremonial sacrifices... sexual abstinence, fasting, before violating the sacredness of the living earth by sinking a mine.  (Merchant, p. 4)
Even in the complex cosmology of Medieval Christendom, every particle in the universe was seen as animated by God, pregnant with potentiality.  Objectivity changed all that.

Karl Stern, a late Jewish convert to Catholicism under the influence of Dorothy Day, born in German and naturalized as a Canadian citizen after the Nazi takeover, was a psychiatrist and a neurologist as well as an author.  In his book, The Flight from Woman, he notes how modernity's "flight to objectivity" was an attempt to escape the feminine altogether in his book, The Flight from Woman, which Bordo echoed in her own book title.

Bordo quotes Stern at the beginning of her last chapter.
[I]f a kind of Cartesian ideal were ever fulfilled, i.e., if the whole of nature were only what can be explained in terms of mathematical relationships - then we would look at the world with a fearful sense of alienation, with that utter loss of reality with which a future schizophrenic child looks at his mother.  A machine cannot give birth.
This became the metaphor for the objectified universe after the scientific revolution - the machine.  The female world was understood figuratively as feminine - as is apparent from the writings of Bacon and the other "fathers" of modernity; but that female world was not merely subdued.  As Merchant notes, it was killed.  The pure res extensa was now seen as a machine, a clock, a collection of matter and energy that was essentially inert.

The feminine principle or force was understood prior to and after Descartes as that of sympathy, relationality, nurturing, and a yielding affection.  With Descartes, the universe was placed under the control of a definition and stripped of its divinity.  The purity of Descartes was discrete mathematics, that disaggregated the parts of the universe to hold them under scrutiny, the kind of anatomical study that required a corpse.

What had to be purged from the mind to achieve this purity - what was dangerous, as Mary Douglas would say - was sympathy, relationality, an attitude of care or yielding affection.

If Cartesian anxiety was a "crisis of parturition," then the Cartesian resolution was matricide.
"She" becomes "it" - and "it" can be understood and controlled.  Not through "sympathy," of course, but by virtue of the very object-ivity of the "it."  At the same time, the "wound" of separateness is healed through the denial that there ever was any union:  For the mechanists... the female world-soul did not die; rather the world is dead.  There is nothing to mourn, nothing to lament... The "otherness" of nature is now what allows it to be known.  (Bordo, p. 108)
Bordo, who dips into psychoanalytic categories for parts of her critique, calls this de-animation of nature a "reaction-formation."  A component of this reaction-formation, or "flight from woman," is the fear of fusion, as described by another feminist critic, Nancy C.M. Hartsock, author of Money, Sex, and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism (Northeastern University Press, 1986).  Fusion is an emotional blending, a transcendence of self, the effacement of boundaries between two people.  While Hartsock's treatment of fusion is more complex that we can cover here, the basic idea is that this erasure of boundaries - seen as a feminine characteristic (women make new people inside their own bodies, after all) - is perceived as a threat by the Cartesian subject - the mind purified by mathematics.

Hartsock discusses objectification, a term that has grown so familiar in discussions of sex that it is not routinely associated with its philosophical antecedents philosophy, i.e., subject-object dualism and the notion of object-ivity as antagonist to a hazardous subject-ivity... all finding their source in Descartes.  Objectification, in sexual discussions, is reducing another person to a sexual object.  Here again, we encounter Descartes at the fountainhead, where the pure mind is only possible after anatomical dissection - reducing the attentive focus to the discrete parts.

Cartesianism is - above all - reductive objectification.  The popular television comedy program, Big Bang Theory, features the character Sheldon - a brilliant and socially inept physicist - humorously embodying the pure Cartesian who obsessively analyzes every feature of daily life using objectivist reduction.  The program itself is very much a post-modern comedy that pokes fun at the limits of objectivism in the same way that post-modern intellectuals have.

Bordo's book takes a substantial excursion into psychoanalytics as well as Piaget's theories of child development as descriptive of the Cartesian revolution, but I want to reach back into Medieval and ancient descriptions of the "female" to show how they were smuggled into the formation of modernity as anti-feminine.

That begins with the early belief in pre-modern patriarchal society that women are inherently dangerous - that is, bearers of chaos - which corresponds to descriptions of nature as capricious or hostile.  The Greek deity, Chaos, initially genderless, later being portrayed as female, was the god of a "formless void," a kind of pre-existence similar to that described in Genesis.  When these ancient ideas were merged with early European Christianity, women were portrayed as requiring the headship of men - who bore a rational essence - to keep them under control.

When the depredations and dislocations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries threw the world as it was perceived by dominant men into apparent chaos, women and effeminacy became the cultural scapegoats.
[T]he years between 1550 and 1650 [were] a particularly gynophobic century.  What has been especially brought to light is what now appears as a virtual obsession with the untamed natural power of female generativity, and a dedication to bringing it under forceful cultural control.
Nightmare fantasies of female power over reproduction and birth run throughout the era.  Kramer and Sprenger's Malleus Malefecarum, the official witch-hunter's handbook, accused "witches" of every imaginable natural and supernatural crime involving conception and birth.  The failure of crops and miscarriages were attributed to witches, and they are accused both of "inclining men to passion" and of causing impotence, of obstructing fertility in both men and women, of removing the penises of men, or procuring abortion, and of offering newborns to the devil.
Such fantasies were not limited to a fanatic fringe.  Among the scientific set, we find the image of the witch, the willful, wanton virago, projected onto generative nature, whose scientific exploration, as Merchant points out, is metaphorically linked to a witch trial.  The "secrets" of nature are imagined as deliberately and slyly "concealed" from the scientist.  Matter, which in the Timeaus is passively receptive to the ordering and shaping masculine forms, now becomes, for Bacon, a "common harlot" with "an appetite and inclination to dissolve the world and fall back into the old chaos" and who must therefore be "restrained and kept in order."  The womb of nature, too, is no longer the beneficent mother but rather the hoarder of precious metals and minerals, which must be "searched" and "spied out."  (Bordo, p. 109)
Here is a link to this blog's examination of witch trials, also linking them not to Medieval Christendom, but a Christendom alongside the emerging nation-state, and directly to the rise of liberal modernity.
I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave.  (Sir Francis Bacon, from The Masculine Birth of Time, 1605)
Submission for Bacon and Descartes were still masculine virtues, but only submission to (masculinized) objectivity, which serves in their cosmos almost like a military superior, giving them guidance in their war against nature (and women).  Bacon's language is not far removed from that of Columbus, who in 1492, writing about his first encounter with indigenous Tainos in the "new" world, said that "with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them."

The scientific revolution, the witch trials, the extreme gynophobia of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the rise of the nation-state (prefiguring the liberal nation-state), and colonialism, were all aspects of the same period.  This correspondence was brilliantly analyzed by Maria Mies in Patriarchy and Accumulation, where she noted the metaphorical similarities between women, nature, and colonies, all marked for domination by the ascendant, monied, European male.  Women were compared to a turbulent and dangerous nature, and nature compared to voracious women, and colonies described as effeminate and requiring white, male headship - the danger of the absence of male headship being social chaos.

Objectivity, control, domination, the suppression of sympathy, and the conquest of the female body (actual or metaphorical) are even today seen as aspects of masculinity, though we treat the Cartesian separations that still dominate our own ideas as if they were un-gendered.  The story of the origins of modern male normativity is lost.

The Flight to Objectivity is still a relevant work, and not merely a relevant feminist work.  It is long past time that anything written about constructions of gender be modified as feminist scholarship.  It is scholarship.
The significance of Bordo's book for this writer - as I work through a few themes that associate war, masculinity, modernity, and Christianity - is her focus on Descartes' actual work, and the genealogy she constructs with it.  Her book is a big piece of this puzzle; and the Cartesian dualism that she describes so well is still saddling the world with consequences - many of them seemingly beneficent technologies that have begun to show their malevolent undersides in a world that has been declared dead, and therefore infinitely exploitable.
In Cartesian modernity... the inclination to distinguish the self from its material surroundings is conducive to the inclination to treat even people as objects devoid of deeper significance.  (Alf Hornborg, from The Power of the Machine)
How far is this from the teachings and exemplary actions of Christ?  How far from this "masculinity" was the Human One?

So what did these prophets has to say to the Church... I think they had to announce a mystery, which was that the final evil that would bring the world to an end was already present.  This evil was called the anti-Christ, and the Church was identified as the milieu in which it would nest.  The Church had gone pregnant with an evil which could have found no nesting place in the Old Testament... the mysterium iniquitatus, the mystery of evil...
The more I try to examine the present as an historical entity, the more it seems confusing, unbelievable, and incomprehensible.  It forces me to accept a set of axioms for which I find no parallels in past societies and displays a puzzling kind of horror, cruelty, and degradation with no precedent in other historical epochs.  (Ivan Illich, from Rivers North of the Future)