Linda Alcoff, this week’s Philosopher of the Stone

And dare I say, it’s the best entry in the Stone I’ve ever read, a gentle refutation of a variety of relativism, appealing to the DSK arrest as an example.  To whet your interest, I excerpt just a wee passage:

The genitals are simply unique in the role they play for reproduction and physical ecstasy, and no discourse can operate as if this is not true. A light touch on the shoulder and a light touch  on the genitals elicit distinct sensations. The body is not infinitely alterable by discourse.

Go read the rest!

5 thoughts on “Linda Alcoff, this week’s Philosopher of the Stone

  1. With all due respect, I am not impressed by the quote in this post, especially in the context of the article. The idea that ‘discourse’ is the only social force that could alter the body is a really dated, caricatured version of postmodernism and not what anyone seriously thinks – it’s a straw man, at least in philosophy. The genitals and their sensations are totally socially alterable, through surgery (voluntary and nonvoluntary), early experiences of sexuality (both positive and negative), etc. She seems to me to be battling a totally cartoonish version of ‘relativism’ that isn’t the interesting interlocutor here, and using it to conclude that there are some dimensions of bodily experience that are just essential and fixed, which I don’t buy.

    Plenty of people, for all sorts of sad reasons, don’t experience anything like ‘physical ecstasy’ from having their genitals touched. And seriously, in this day and age, plenty of reproduction doesn’t involve genitals. The idea that genitals play a ‘unique’ role in either strongly suggests that they play some unified, unalterable role. That just seems wrong and problematic, and it is sloppy to conclude it via negating the idea that ‘discourse’ can change things indefinitely.

  2. There is much empirical evidence and reports from disabled people who no longer have sensation in their “genital region“ that they experience organisms from having other parts of their bodies stimulated through touch, breath, and so on. I think there is nothing sad about this. Disability theorists argue that, generally speaking, non-disabled people would learn a great deal about the possible ways to experience sexual pleasure (and indeed what sexuality is and can be) if they attended more to the experiences, bodies, and so on of disabled people. Tobin Siebers, in his _Disability Theory_, discusses precisely this issue, other issues concerning disabled people`s sexuality, and how claims about sex and sexuality that theorists, researchers, and the public at large make are derived from non-disabled people`s bodies, experiences, biases, and so on.

  3. thanks, rebecca – you totally expressed my reservations with this piece. i really love alcoff’s work, but i never know who she is arguing with when she makes these claims. re: the body is not infinitely alterable by discourse: citation needed, please.

  4. Fair enough, Shelley – there are unsad circumstances in which people experience orgasms (which is what I assume you meant – though your typo is cool) and other kinds of intense sexual pleasure in other parts of the body. But there are also sad circumstances under which people do not experience genital touches as pleasurable – abuse, forced circumcision or ‘normalizing’ surgery, etc. My main point there was that – whatever the circumstances and their valence – the idea that genital pleasure is some socially unalterable human universal is empirically false and theoretically/politically problematic (and I take it you agree).

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