Monday, March 21, 2011

A (modern, female) philosopher muses

I am absolutely delighted to introduce the first guest post, from Sandrine Berges, an early supporter of this blog. Sandrine teaches philosophy in Turkey, and blogs for fun with her two sisters at http://paris-ankara.blogspot.comHere she writes about how Mary Wollstonecraft fits into her professional life. 

Four years ago, I barely knew who she was. Then a (male) colleague suggested we introduce the two Vindications to our survey course in political philosophy. It was love at first read - I found arguments and a style that I liked and that I could relate to. I sometimes wonder whether I saw in her writings what I wanted to see – I seemed to be able to extract from them most of what I wanted to say about most things – still do. Before that, I had spent years reading and writing on Plato. For a feminist, that is not always very satisfying. Also, I had been teaching for five years in a department in which I was the only woman, having graduated in a field in which there are very few of us already.

Wollstonecraft did not quite give me voice - I was already a published philosopher - she did not quite give me confidence - being a woman academic in a male department will do that for you - but she helped anchor me, become at peace with what I was: a woman philosopher, intermittently fighting for the cause of other women through my writings. 

Wollstonecraft also gave me success. The first article I wrote on her was accepted for publication in a very good journal. The second sent me to Tuscany for a conference, and of course, there is the book. The first book I wrote was a monograph: my own reflections on Plato's moral and political philosophy - very worthy, no doubt, but frankly, who reads it? The book I am writing now is an introduction. One of those you see in all university bookshops, that students buy whenever they want to find out something about someone. One of those books that people buy even if they're not philosophers, and even, sometimes, if they're not students! I shall be rich! Well, no, but I will enjoy seeing the number of copies bought when I receive my no-doubt measly royalty check.

But forget these misplaced fantasies of fame and riches. What is making me happy is the feeling that I have a chance of being useful, as Wollstonecraft herself would say. My book, when it is written, may encourage people to read the Vindications, its existence may trick some of them into thinking that Wollstonecraft is part of the canon of philosophers taught at university, and then, who knows? She might become just that.

In the meantime, I am struggling, for the first time in my life really trying to get something just right, and worrying about the consequences if I don't. Wish me luck.

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