Friday, October 15, 2004

Alphabets and Goddesses Again

Okay, so it's hard to know where to begin. I have now read up through chapter 20 in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. What is bothering me most now is the a priori argument Shlain has built on top of his essentialist assumptions. He breaks everything into either/or masculine or feminine. But masculine and feminine traits are only designated as such because we say they are. They do not exist on their own, they are created by culture and most cultures being patriarchal assign the traits that are deemed positive and admirable to the masculine and everything else to the feminine. It is the way it is but it is not written in stone (ha! a little pun for you there). So on top of this unstable foundation Shlain makes his argument that the alphabet did in the Goddess. What he does to make his proof is work his way through a history of theology and then say things like "Those few women who did become literate surrendered a considerable portion of what power they had because they were now using a method of perception that reinforced their masculine side at the expense of their feminine. And instead of becoming more aggressive, they became disoriented, cut off from the true roots of their strength, and they deferred to the male element in the society. They became passive spectators of events and decisions that intimately affected them." He offers no evidence, no proof, only speculation and conjecture and coincidence. Shlain insists and assumes that writing and reading was something everybody was doing, especially the Jews after they got the ten commandments. They apparently spent a lot of their time while they were wandering around for 40 years writing. Now it's possible the Hebrews took some papyrus with them when they left Egypt but enough for 40 years worth of writing in the desert? And why would anyone want to carry around all those scrolls? And then there is the matzah, or unleavened bread. Shlain claims that "the symbolism of unleavened bread subtly devalues an important female contribution to culture, and indirectly demotes the role of the Goddess." Okay, so you're living a nomadic life for 40 years, hauling around the library of scrolls and now ovens too so the women can back bread with yeast? And then there is the assumption that underlies the entire book, that there once was some kind of monolithic matriarchal Goddess culture that was followed by all humanity. There is no certain evidence that this was so. Yes, there are lots of little statues of women with big breasts and big hips and yes they are probably goddesses of some kind but it does not follow that women had power or that the society was matriarchal or matrilineal or even held women in high regard. Someone from another planet could say that with all the imagery of naked and scantily clad women permeating our culture that we must be a people who love women and hold them in the highest esteem, that women must be very powerful since their images are everywhere. I could go on but I feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. I will continue with more tomorrow. I have to go think calm thoughts for awhile.