This thesis is a reclaiming of woman for herself, beyond the other of man to examine women’s lives affecting the world. I trace the feminine through history, re-embodying women in history to place life as the central experience of reality for women. I argue that women have subverted masculine histories and discourses through the centrality of their bodies and their unique lives in the world. I conclude that women’s voices in song, poetry, visions, and love, is an integral relationality to the other, a poiesis of life that re-inscribes woman as natural, spiritual and cultural, linking women through time as they transform the life of their worlds. A woman’s thinking, reflection, desires and sensate perception of herself in the world and in relation to others characterises an intersubjective being/becoming that reveals meaning far beyond the explanations of objective science or philosophical traditions.
From classical phenomenology I undertake a philosophical journey through various fields, notably existential phenomenology, hermeneutics that extends to a broad range of classical and theological studies, critical feminisms of philosophical traditions, and critiques and applications of psychoanalysis. Empirical studies are invoked at the service of philosophy to inform a hermeneutic of transcendental inquiry tracing meaning for women in history. Women philosophers provide the philosophical framework for my argument that begins with a phenomenology of embodiment and culminates with a phenomenology of intersubjectivity, as I look toward a new ontology of life. Simone de Beauvoir’s analysis of the female-sexed body provides the foundation for how a woman lives in, and relates to the world. Luce Irigaray’s elucidation of the natural world of the senses to redress an ethics of feminine being/becoming is crucial to my analysis of a woman’s living body. Julia Kristeva’s subversion and reclaiming of the maternal realm, together with Irigaray, opens the space in recognition of the mother to all human life. Adriana Cavarero’s conception of unique narratable lives is central to my theorising and re-embodying women in history; as unique human beings whose life stories have changed their worlds. Likewise Hannah Arendt’s unique philosophy and political theory is transformed to address the centrality of women to the life of the world. I argue that these theorists reveal the ethical importance of the feminine to all human life. In discussions that extend from the Greek classical world to postmodern critiques I examine interpretations of their work from theorists such as Sara Heinämaa, Moira Gatens, Margaret Whitford, Kelly Oliver, Ewa Ziarek, Amy Hollywood, Andrea Nye and Seyla Benhabib. My interpretation of their work reclaims real women in history beyond the anonymity of the post-structural subject; women who give birth, and live life, whose bodies are spiritual and whose lives are linked by love. I apply the work of many feminists concerned with the story of women in history, such as Penelope Deutscher, Karen Green, Val Plumwood, Genevieve Lloyd, Carolyn Merchant and Grace Jantzen, and new theorising of the maternal from Lisa Guenther, Frances Gray and Jane Lymer.
I commence my argument with Simone de Beauvoir’s phenomenological analysis of a woman’s body as a site of difference and unique experience. I explore the application and critiques of philosophy and psychoanalysis from Irigaray and Kristeva. Their reinscription of the maternal realm lays the philosophical groundwork for new theorising of maternal importance to the development of all human life. I examine Irigaray and Cavarero’s analysis of the ‘original matricide’ of female genealogies and thus return to ancient Greece to explore the appropriation of the birth of life. Through an exploration of feminist critiques of Plato, I invoke classical studies to re-embody Diotima beyond the service of masculine philosophy. I develop the theoretical nous of Cavarero to reclaim female figures from western traditions, returning them to their literal significance. Thus I restore ancient women as the keepers of knowledge of the great mysteries of life. I trace the transformation of the spiritual female body and the loss of ecstatic eros exemplified through an ancient figure such as the Sibyl. I apply Irigaray’s concept of the sensible transcendental and explore the mystical female body. Through an exploration of the modern French fascination with mysticism from Beauvoir, Irigaray and Georges Bataille, I re-vision the mystical body in Christianity as an eruption within logos and consider the transformation of spiritual women. At the intersection of religion and philosophy I problematise the persistent philosophical dichotomy of woman as nature and man as culture. I demonstrate the importance of female relationality and the uniqueness of women’s lives as the foundation for human co-existence and cultural development in the life of the world. I argue that feminine poiesis of love and friendship links women through time and stands at the intersection of all human life in the world.