Tuesday, June 17, 2008


An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown e this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo ! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable.
--George Eliot, Middlemarch, 182.

Maybe what I like best about this is that it applies equally to religion as it does to science, but does not dismiss either in their essence.  Further, it cautions against all those who position themselves more moderately in the science/religion spectrum--though a linear ordering of disparate approaches replicates the same mistake against which we are warned.   We might read it as a critique of methodology, rather than ideology, though I would be reluctant to separate the two so cleanly.  Indeed, in many ways, particularly symbolism, Eliot prefigures Irigaray here, by suggesting that it is the light of reason--of the subject's gaze--that privileges certain ordered readings of the world while marginalizing others; in short, the light lets us ignore what Rorty calls "feminine messes."

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