Sappho's Cultural Influence

Sappho's Cultural Influence


“The decisive moment in human development is a continuous one.  For this reason the revolutionary movements which declare everything before them to be null and void are in the right, for nothing has yet happened.”


Printed as Aphorism 3 on page 237 of the English Translation, The Basic Kafka.


It might seem odd to begin a discussion of Sappho's Cultural Influence with a quote from a man talking about revolution, but not only is Kafka’s point valid and well put, quoting him is a way of emphasizing that Sappho's cultural influence has been and continues to be revolutionary and for that reason not exclusively feminist.  

Nevertheless, by far the single most important revolutionary implication of what she and those she has influenced have had to say relates to the rights of women and how they exercise them.

Furthermore, revolution, which derives from the Latin 'to turn back,' is inherently a form of goddess worship, for every person is born from a mother and turning back always ultimately means turning back to her. Poetry is the ideal form of revolutionary expression: every verse enacts a 'turning back' in how it sounds relative to the silence that precedes and follows it.


To outline briefly where this is going:


The Past Revolution: By this I am referring initially to the revolution that appears to have been cut short by developments in Athens shortly after the death of Phaenarete (mother of Socrates). But I also use the phrase to refer to other revolutions that are now in our past all of which in some sense failed to be revolutionary. For example, there is the failure of the American Revolution to be much of a revolution other than for white men.  

There is also the failure of the revolutionary implications for women of Caroline Schelling’s influence on her husband’s philosophy of human freedom (particularly his 1809 Essay on Human Freedom (the 'Essay')) fully to be realized.  The Essay uses the word 'revolution' only once (the German is identical to English) but in a manner that implies it was intended to characterize the implications of the Essay. Another 'r' word is used in the Essay that relates to that: revelation. The Essay concludes by claiming that the time for 'written revelation' is over and that it is time to heed the 'unwritten revelation': nature. To some extent Heidegger's lectures related to art or using art as a paradigm for understanding culture generally (the 'Age of the World Picture' and the 'Question Concerning Technology') are useful to consult for getting a sense of the implications of the Essay because of how they build off of the Essay (something few scholars acknowledge).

This past is the ground from which the flower of the present revolution has grown and will continue to grow but--just as a flower must stay rooted in the ground to continue to grow--so is it necessary for the present revolution to continue to draw from the ground of the Past of Revolution.  That is especially true since the Past of Revolution is not ‘dead’ and has in fact itself ‘grown’ just within the past few decades. For instance, far more is known of Sappho today (some of it as the result of discoveries and research of just the past few decades) than at any point since remote antiquity.  

All of the posts I have contributed to Feminism and Religion are relevant to understand this past: they are archived here.


The Present Revolution:  By this I am referring to everything that has been happening in my lifetime (from 1954 on).  Its most notable elements include the increasing availability of reproductive control technologies to women throughout the world and an increasing awareness of the political and economic rights that women have generally been and continue to be deprived of by men.  It relates also to the influence of the ‘philosophy’ of Plato that can be characterized as a type of psychosis the most pervasive symptom of which is the proliferation of modern technology.  In law it is manifested in the marginalization of equity in favor of conceptualization of law as a logical and necessary product of statutory interpretation and legislative procedure.  One problem with this revolution is that it has been marked by a lack of sensitivity to the need for a historical perspective (such a need is implicit in the idea that revolution is continuous).  As a consequence most women and virtually no men recognize the relationship of the Past Revolution to the Present Revolution.

The Future Revolution: By this I am referring primarily to what I can only guess may happen beyond the time I have left to live.  Some of it may happen sooner than most people expect especially given the lack of awareness of the Past and Present Revolutions.  For example, significant depopulation of the earth is going to occur over the next century as women exercise their right to limit or not have children (something that may be encouraged by the globalization of diseases).  A few years ago I wrote a short essay on two issues related to what I then thought about the future revolution: Our Masculine Past and Our Feminine Future. That already seems to me out of date, for I failed fully to appreciate the extent and pace of the changes implicated by the empowerment of women. The modern corporation is largely a creature of male drafted Western (and particularly American) law that will not survive in the feminine future. Along with its demise will be cutting back substantially the hypertrophy of technology that has come at the expense of a pathological atrophy of human values. Related to that will be an emphasis on localization rather than globalization.










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