Anway Mukhopadyay 119-125 | Eroticism | Symposium (Plato)

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ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY PhD Research Scholar and Junior Research Fellow (UGC NET-JRF), Department of English, Banaras Hindu U...

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Research Journal of English Language and Literature  (RJELAL)  A Peer Reviewed Reviewed International Journal - http://www.rjelal.com

Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

RESEARCH ARTICLE

DIOTIMA IS NOT BEATRICE: SOME REFLECTIONS ON GENDER, PEDAGOGY AND “EQUIPHONY”

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY MUKHOPADHYAY PhD Research Scholar and Junior Research Fellow (UGC NET-JRF), Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. ABSTRACT The present paper argues that Diotima, the “teacher” of Socrates whose speech is reported by him in Plato’s Symposium, is different from the figure of Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy   in that while Beatrice remains a spiritualized erotic object,

Diotima is a teacher who occupies a subject position, a position of authority. In the context of contemporary pedagogy, feminist philosophers are often marginalized and subjected to an academic museumization. The paper argues against such crypto-sexist attitudes that prevent the “female teacher” from occupying a subject position and enlightening male students, and instead push her to a Beatricean position, that of an erotically inspiring (but not instructing) woman. Article Info:

Keywords : Beatrice, Diotima, female teacher, woman philosopher, equiphony, the

Article Received:14/08/2014

erotic and the pornographic

Revised on: 22/08/2014 22/08/2014

© Copyright KY Publications

Accepted on: 24/08/2014

In literary texts, Diotima, the “teacher” of Socrates

Diotima may be argued to have taught

in the Symposium, is often presented as a Beatrice-

Socrates how men can love other women (and

like figure which “inspires” creative men and guides

men,

them as a symbolic muse. However, in the

creatively, without being aggressive. Diotima, in the

immediate context of the speech of Socrates in the

Symposium, teaches an erotics that is not manically

Symposium, Diotima was not a muse or an erotic-

destructive but rather creative: her erotics centres

spiritual guide; she was a wise woman and priestess

round an idea of love that is not compatible with

who taught Socrates the mysteries of love (Plato

the phallocentric violence of male love. Again, her

31-34). The present paper calls for an adequate

teaching is not a mere erasure of the carnal aspect

appreciation of Diotima’s status as a teacher, and -

of love; she does not bracket off the body. As

drawing on this - seeks to adumbrate the features

Miglena Nikolchina observes while discussing Julia

of the female teacher of tomorrow who would not

Kristeva’s reading of the Symposium in Tales of

be “gazed” at as an erotic object by her male

Love,

students, but who would, rather, teach her male

togetherness, and fecundity is not the result of the

students the secrets of an unaggressive Eros,

evolution, or transcendence, or replacement of

thereby ridding the young males of postmodernity

carnal (female) fecundity by sublime spiritual

of a reified manic Eros that subjects love to

(male) love. What happens, conceptually speaking,

masculinist and phallocentric aggressivism.

when Diotima takes the floor in the Symposium is

119

or,

“boys”,

“Diotima’s

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY MUKHOPADHYAY

in

a

homoerotic

emphasis

on

context )

mediation,

Research Journal of English Language and Literature  (RJELAL)  A Peer Reviewed International Journal - http://www.rjelal.com

Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

rather the introduction, within the manic and

terms, while the syllabi in the schools are

extreme dynamic of the male libido, of a different

structured so as to cautiously remove all traces of

amorous universe, a simultaneous lateral space of

the “erotic” (a la Lorde), the young male students’

an alien libidinal economy. Diotima provides a

erotic impulses find a shelter in the pornographic

maternal emphasis on unity rather than possession,

imperium of the cyberspace. So, two forms of

on mediation and synthesis rather than the master-

education go side by side for the young male

slave strife, and on procreation rather than

students  –  one

pleasure. . . Her discourse is hence concerned with

education proffered by the school curriculum, and

the transmutation of the violent and manic male

the other, the “unofficial”  pornographic education

libido” (Nikolchina 105). It is necessary to notice

that trains the students in what Zygmunt Bauman

that we, the Indians, should have an immediate

defines as “adiaphorization”, a process of making

concern with this Diotimean erotics today, as male

the human subjects morally insensitive (Marshman

libido, in our country, seems to have gone astray.

79-82).

Indian’s growing ill-repute as a land of rapists is

necessary for a capitalist society that seeks to

something that the “sane”  males, the non-rapist

produce technocrats and human automatons, while

Indian men, should be seriously concerned about.

silencing

While much importance is being attached to the

otherwise have jeopardized the social smugness

laws that can usher in stricter punishments for the

which fosters adiaphorization. Hence, in such a

men engaged in “violence against women”, no

society, the unenunciated rule is that young males

genuine concern is seen, as far as the “erotic”

must not be officially taught about love, and that

education of young males is concerned. Diotima’s

they should not be sensitized to the necessity to

teaching is important for men to this day, and

undermine the myth that the male body is

erotics is something one should not confuse with

essentially aggressive and that the male libido’s

pornography, as Audre Lorde, the black lesbian

aggressive dimension is something “natural”. The

poet, has emphasized again and again. I will now

sexual epistemology of the late capitalist society

move to the points of difference between the erotic

demands that the young men must not be

and the pornographic, as Lorde dichotomizes them.

educated about the creative dimensions of love, or

For

patriarchal

of

moral

official,

desexualized

adiaphorization

discontents

is

that

also

might

instructed in the mysteries of the non-possessive

empowering

erotic impulse that does not take a destructive

potentials of the “erotic” which is deliberately

turn. Rather, they should be hypocritically lectured

reduced by the male-centric episteme to the

on the importance of “loving all human beings

“pornographic”  to

objectify

equally”  (a cliched prescription of universal agape)

women. Hence, Lorde urges women to recognize

and such other abstract lifeless ideas, while the

the erotic potentials within them which can

status

empower them, and strongly underlines the fact

continue to secretly indulge in the boys’ unofficial

that the pornographization of the erotic is a

pornographic education.

has

the

the

kind

the

Western

civilization

Lorde,

This

is

suppressed

the

disempower

and

quoist

socio-political

mechanism

will

masculinist mechanism of subordinating women

As opposed to this scenario, is it at all

and nullifying the positive aspects of Eros (Lorde

possible to envisage a different mode of pedagogy

53-59). Unfortunately, in India today, the same

that would instruct the adolescent males in the

patriarchal device of suppressing the erotic by

Diotimean erotics, an erotics that can creatively

pornographizing it as Lorde focuses on is being

transmute the violent and manic male libido and

perpetuated in the peculiar cultural juncture of

train young men in a non-violent erotic ethics,

postcoloniality

the

making them understand that a non-manic libidinal

conventional pedagogy in the educational sectors

economy is not a “repression” of the sexual urge

of India still remains orthodox and conservative,

but rather its elevation into something better and

the young males’  (whether adolescents or those in

greater, that a creative eros  is not the negation of

their early youth) erotic education is not conducted

pleasure but rather its enhancement? Again, we

in a positive, creative way. To put it in simpler

need to understand that Diotima does not bracket

120

and

postmodernity.

As

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY

Research Journal of English Language and Literature  (RJELAL)  A Peer Reviewed International Journal - http://www.rjelal.com

Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

off the body; she does not uphold a merely ascetic

devotee of Aphrodite (Bell 27). If that is the case,

principle. She just shows us what Iris Murdoch

her

would identify as the true sun of the “Good”

Apollonian illumination nor a Dionysian catharsis. It

(Murdoch 97-98), and urges us to warm our souls

is, rather, an appreciation of the erotic, and it

under it. Diotima, through her discourse on love

provides us with the outline of a pedagogical model

delivered to Socrates, builds a bridge between the

that is oriented towards the Aphroditean wisdom.

flesh and the soul, and shows us the means of

It can de-adiaphorize the pornographized human

1

passionate

enlightenment

hand, is a radical devaluation of the carnal

disciplined

dimension of the human existence; it does not

capitalism. A  pornographic body is a “docile body”

eroticize the carnal but rather produces in us a

(Foucault 179-181): an erotic  body is oriented

radical hatred of the body, and seeks to convince us

towards “skylike freedom”. It is this journey

that the body can be objectified  –  made into a

towards skylike freedom that Diotima underscores

2

momentarily useful thing. Thus, pornography is an

in her erotic teaching. She presents us with a model

animalization of human  sexual acts. In this way,

of erotic-spiritual ascent which begins with the

pornography produces what might be called second

beauty embodied in particular fleshly frames but

order animals, the human animals that are neither

gradually

humans nor natural animals. The viewers of

manifestations of beauty, finally reaching the wide

pornography also turn into such automatistically

sea of beauty-in-itself (Plato 34-42). This sea can be

operating human animals, the embodiments of

figured as the “sky” too: it i s an atopia of liberation.

economy

towards

the

of

late

larger

Of course, all of this sounds very abstract

animals, who are automatons and slaves in the

and cold, and the “young generation” is supposed

empire of late capitalism, are the products of a

to be obsessively fond of “hot” things. But are they

pornographic culture that is not only oriented

intrinsically fond of these hot things, or are these

towards a vulgarization of sex but rather leans

hot things imposed on them from above, from the

towards a total   vulgarization of the “human

ultra-canny designers and discipliners of late

condition” itself. A Diotimean pedagogy is needed

capitalist desires? What Diotima offers is neither

today to defy the anathema of adiaphorization, to

hot nor cold: it is a warm erotics that can nullify

back

the

full

adiaphorized

journeys

cultural

automatistically

human

bring

These

the

is

an

mind-body

in

that

neither

spiritualizing the flesh.   Pornography, on the other

adiaphorization.

complex

is

human

3

being ,

and

to

both the aggressive heat of male libido and the

rehumanize the dehumanized male who is a happy

cold, hypocritically desexualized worldviews that

slave and automaton in the hands of his late

trade in ideological cliches.

capitalist masters. A significant way of bringing back

Nevertheless, at this point, we must

the full human being is to eroticize education, to

dwell on the difference between Diotima and

clear a space for Aphrodite within pedagogy which

Beatrice. Dante’s Beatrice is primarily an erotic

we take to be a wholly Apollonian terrain.

object, and then elevated into the figural aura of a

Aphrodite can be seen as the third   deity

symbolic spiritual mentor (Williams 17-22, 175-

who defies the Nietzschean dichotomization of the

186). She is actually not a woman occupying a

Dionysian and the Apollonian. She can show us a

subject position (Spivak 20-31). On the other hand,

different way towards enlightenment. It goes

Diotima is a priestess and a teacher, she is not

without saying that the Aphroditean enlightenment

erotically eyed by Socrates but operates as the

is totally different from the enlightenment we have

latter’s instructor in erotics. She is not a ghostly

been trained to celebrate. Rather, it would be akin

guide like Dante’s Beatrice, she has authority   in her

to what Miranda Shaw calls the “passionate

tone (Nye, “The Hidden Host”   84). The difference

enlightenment”, an enlightenment that opens up

between these two celebrated female figures from

the horizons of a “skylike freedom”, involving, a nd

Western culture must be appreciated. In many

not negating, erotic passion (Shaw 3-19). Diotima is

literary texts produced by male authors, Diotima is

the proponent of such a passionate enlightenment.

often presented as a Breatrice-like spectral muse,

Shannon Bell argues that Diotima was probably a

an erotic guide, who is just a slightly altered form of

121

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY

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Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

an erotic object. Thus, in a Bengali poem by

phenomenon, but the dynamics of the objectifying

Sibnarayan Ray, Diotima becomes a Beatricean

male gaze are pampered in the mainstream Indian

guide in the male subje ct’s journey to love and

society without any ethical scruple about “women’s

wisdom (Ray 81-82). And, in the celebrated

honour”. Actually, honouring women is not a

figurations

becomes

solution, either. This honour has its own mythology

Hyperion’s beloved, just like Dante’s Beatrice

which stinks of patriarchal ideologies. What is

(Grange 161; del Caro 86). She is no more the

rather needed is an ethics of listening to women’s

majestic teacher who speaks with pedagogical

voices, an appreciation of the woman teacher as a

authority, but an erotic object. The same thing

subject .

of

Holderlin,

Diotima

happens in the case of the female teachers today,

But how can a woman teacher of today

whether in India or abroad. They are secretly

instruct the young male students in a creative

figured as erotic objects by their adolescent male

erotics? We all know the objections that are going

students, and thus, a woman teacher who could

to be raised. The Indian society is not still so

have functioned as a Diotima de nos jours turns into

intellectually matured; the inauguration of Eros into

an erotic object which must be subjected to (young)

the

male gaze (Frueh 192-195).

destabilize the teacher-student relationship, and so

epistemology

of

school

pedagogy

will

When in college, I was often asked by my

on and so forth. But we need to understand that a

male friends whether I had ever fallen in love with a

teacher instructing her students in erotics need not

woman teacher in school. When I answered in the

necessarily be involved in an erotic relationship

negative, I used to be deemed to be an incorrigibly

with the student(s) instructed. A teacher can

unromantic person.

Today, the adolescent male

maintain a distance between what she teaches and

students in Indian schools often find it adventurous

what comes out of that teaching in the lives of the

to “fall in love  with”  (read sexually objectify) their

students. As Andrea Nye, the noted feminist

female

such

philosopher, has observed, the situation really

experiences (God knows whether real or imaginary)

becomes problematic when a teacher falls in love

on the TV channels; young college students discuss

with a young student (Nye, “At the Feet of Mrs

this among themselves; popular TV shows telecast

Ramsay” 109-118). And yet, this too is a human

programmes dwelling on such themes; the literary

possibility. Such things keep happening. But

market produces popular fiction emphasizing this

Diotima’s teaching, we should remember again, is

topic.

show,

not confined to personal erotic experiences alone;

Superstud, School of Flirt , that parodies the

it is oriented towards the articulation of an erotic

Diotimean erotics and purports to groom young

community that can channelize erotic creativity

men erotically so that they can become males

into a collective creative impetus (Nye, “The Hidden

desired by every woman, is a gross denial of all

Host” 86-88). Diotima’s Eros is not just a means of 

possible models of a substantial erotic instruction

reaching the wide sea of beauty, it is also oriented

targeted at the goal of foregrounding the  full 

towards the “teleopoietic” (a la Derrida) collectivity

human being. Such shows end up underpinning all

of divinized humans who have bathed in that sea of

the gender stereotypes of a phallocratic society

beauty. And all teachers are meant to envision their

that is obsessed with the teratology of the macho

students in terms of a future collectivity as well as

man. And such shows are also grounded in a (soft-

present individuals. Teaching, in this way, is also a

)pornographization of the erotic. Young men

mode of teleopoiesis, as Derrida interprets the

receive their unofficial erotic education from such

term.

teachers.

Celebrities

Interestingly,

the

talk

UTV

about

Bindass

4

shows, and these shows, just like the pornographic

Diotima’s theory of beauty can be analysed

audio-visual narratives easily available on the

thus: beauty is a path towards the Good; the

internet, shape the Indian young man’s concepts of

beautiful being should not be sought to be

love, women, and masculinity. All these are

possessed, but be seen as the embodiment of a

indirectly related to the sexual malaise that plagues

flame of the sun of the Beauty-in-itself. In this

our society today. Rape may be an extreme

unique erotic epistemology, beauty ultimately

122

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY

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Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

melts into the aura of goodness. Diotima weds

Santa Cruz, equiphony is “equ al access to public

aesthetics to ethics, and thus she articulates a

discourse” (Amoros 344). This is what is often

theory of the love of beauty that is not centred on

denied to women thinkers. They are exoticized,

possession (Plato 35-42).This is exactly what is

museumized and seen as curio items. But do the

bracketed off by today’s essentially pornographic

male philosophers seriously listen to the feminist

indoctrination of young men’s aesthetic -sexual

thinkers? Will the Socrates of today agree to be

epistemology. What can be seen can be possessed

instructed by a “wise woman”?

 –  this seems to be the motto of the present

Now, let us conclude the reflections on the

generation nourished on a culture oversaturated

alternative pedagogical paradigm we have been

with images. There are desires for images, and

outlining so far. In most of the contemporary

there are also innumerable images of desire

coeducational pedagogical systems, the “woman

(Jameson 297-300). These two bleed into each

teacher”, just like the “woman philosopher”,

other. Finally, one forgets whether the desire

occupies an object position and is not appreciated

creates the image or the image creates the desire.

in terms of her subjectivity. If we are really to seek

Eros creates what Umberto Eco, following 5

a solution to the sexual malaise plaguing our

James Joyce, would call a “chaosmos” , and to

society in India, we have to prescribe “erotic” (a la

appreciate this structure, to be happy within the

Diotima)

chaosmic  universe of the head and the heart, one

conducted by women who would try to motivate

needs a training which perhaps only female

young males to come out of the closets of the

philosophers can provide us with.

phallocratic

Maria

Zambrano,

the

noted

Spanish

teaching

disciplining

for

the

epistemology. of

the

adolescent

The

adolescent

boys,

pornographic males’

sexo -

philosopher, strongly argues for an order of love

psychological makeup is not only dangerous for

which can heal some of the deep maladies of

their psychic development but also pernicious for

modern humans. As she repeatedly points out, an

the society at large, because, one cannot maintain

order of the heart is as important as the rationalist

social health by perpetuating the objectification of

order of thought (Zambrano 62-69). Drawing on

women. And that is why, if the pornographically

Zambrano’s thesis we may say that a Diotimean

adiaphorized young males of today’s generation are

pedagogy

the

to be rehumanized, a Diotima must descend from

logocentrism of the modern epistemology and the

the erotic heavens of the “Good”, from the realms

pornographic objectification of the human body

of

would

steer

clear

of

both

that enshrines the “heart”. The focus on the heart

6

skylike

freedom,

to

usher

in

an

erotic

enlightenment, to install Aphrodite at the heart of

at once defies the rationalistic and pornographic

pedagogical

modes of adiaphorization, and the heart, though

pornographization of the erotic which can empower

conceived of as something abstract, needs to be

women (as Lorde argues) and which can offer true

brought back to the pedagogical practices today.

human freedom to the men who are made into

Finally, we have to deal with the vexing

“docile

praxis,

bodies”

and

to

through

resist

the

the

pornographic

question: do we really respond sincerely to the

adiaphorization set in motion by the postmodern

voices of women philosophers? Just as the young

patriarchy.

male students erotically objectify their female

Notes :

teachers, do we not, in the larger sphere of

1.

See Adriana Cavarero 112.

philosophical pedagogy, neglect  –  or at best

2.

See Mielke 27-28.

museumize - the feminist philosophers, especially

3.

Nye

argues

that,

for

Diotima,

love

the theorists of sexual difference who seek to

permeates the whole of human activity.

establish a productive intellectual, spiritual, and

See “The Hidden Host”  87.

also erotic dialogue between the sexes (Alcoff 1-

4.

For the elucidation of this, see Spivak,

13)? And that is why we need to reformulate the

Death of a Discipline  31. Spivak writes,

idea of gender equality into a concept of

“Derrida

equiphony , as presented by Isabel Santa Cruz. For

teleopoiesis —teleopoietic

123

ANWAY MUKHOPADHYAY

brings

the

rich

notion

rather

of than

Research Journal of English Language and Literature  (RJELAL)  A Peer Reviewed International Journal - http://www.rjelal.com

Vol.2.Issue.3.;2014

legitimizing reversal—into play many times

Eco, Umberto. The Aesthetics of Chaosmos: the

in his book. That is indeed one of the

Middle Ages of James Joyce. Trans. Ellen

shocks to the idea of belonging, to affect

Esrock. Harvard UP, 1989. Print.

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Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” The Foucault

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Reader . Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York:

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mechanical

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Literature to 1945.   Lanham, Maryland:

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