Preface and Acknowledgments
Here there is a kind of question, let us call it historical,
whose conception, formation, gestation and labor we are only
catching a glimpse of today.
—JAcqueS derridA, Writing and Difference
Every theorist is the child of a mother, but few have acknowledged
this fact as theoretically significant. And why should they? Mothers,
after all, may have helped to bring the philosopher into existence but
not his or her philosophy. Mothers give birth and raise children but
theorists think—a division of labor as old as the division of labor.
That mothers work to make it possible for their philosopher- children
to think never seems to affect what philosophers think, even if the
language of philosophy leans heavily on maternity’s imagery. We
speak regularly of the birth of tragedy, say, or of the clinic, despite
knowing that tragedies and clinics are neither born nor give birth.
Indeed, our conception of generation “is so instinctive to us that the
etymology of ‘concept’ goes largely unremarked.”1 We tell ourselves
meanwhile that mothers, like the poor, are much too busy for theory.2
Though both mothers and philosophers are educators, mothers do
their work at home and not in public, teach by example rather than
by argument, and are never made to stand for examinations or fulfill
competency requirements of the sort that, since the nineteenth cen-
tury, have made philosophy an academic profession. While women
may now be philosophers, mothers qua mothers may not. And yet we
theorists persist in describing our books as our children, perhaps the
only time we do not derogate procreation as inferior to thought: “For
anyone who looked at Homer and Hesiod and all the other great poets
would envy them because of the kind of offspring they left behind
them,” says Diotima in Plato’s Symposium. “They would rather be the
parent of children like these, who have conferred on their progeni-
tors immortal glory and fame, than of ordinary human children.”3
Although in many ways Plato still defines how we think about
thinking and mothers, the relationship between these terms has
grown especially vexed during the past one hundred and fifty- odd
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