My personal history as it relates to philosophy can be charted thusly:
From Catholicism in my youth: Try to do good, fail, beg forgiveness, hope to live forever. Existentialism in young adulthood: Have a good time even though you’re gonna die. Marxism: Shit’s like, totally, totally unfair and you’re gonna die. Hedonism in my mid twenties: Have a good time and try to forget you’re gonna die. To present day Socialist-Anarchism: Have a good time, do good, fail, shit’s totally, totally unfair, you’re gonna die.
Plato hardly came into it at all except for one brief period while I was flunking out of Memorial and I was like, “This shit’s the same as Christianity,” except, of course, it’s not really, but whatever. What really pissed me off about philosophy courses back in the day is that it felt like it was just a bunch of dudes (the philosophers themselves, the profs, my fellow students) going around trying to tell everybody what to do—if I wanted that I could have just stayed at Gonzaga High School and have the Jesuits plan my life for me. (The Society of Jesus crowd were not my biggest fans, however—because I played Dungeons & Dragons and loved Metal, I was once seriously asked if I dabbled in the occult, or was a cult member, by my principal (even though, at its heart, the hard time I got from the Powers That Be prolly had more to do with my economic class)).
Anyway, the point of this is to say that I totally understand Kathy Oke’s annoyance with Old School philosophers like Plato with their talking about purity and the Good and all that shit—particularly when those Ideals are used to keep women in a particular role—a role, of course, that, whatever its initial intention, benefits the Great Satan: straight white men. That is—me.
Kathy Oke’s Cave is an installation at Eastern Edge’s Rogue Gallery that consists of the projection of the primary colours which constitute white onto the gallery wall, with the rug-hooked phrase GOOD LITTLE GIRL thereupon attached. You step in front of one of the projectors and what appeared to be a “pure” white rectangle of light on the wall is fragmented into its constituent hues: red, blue, and yellow. Plato’s conception of the Good, a kind of Ideal described as the sun in his analogy, is hereby demonstrated as false, materially and otherwise. It’s elegantly done, and Oke displays a wonderful understanding of the formal concerns that have to do with creating a compelling installation.
However, she’s telling only half the story.
The notion of women as “good little girls” certainly has plenty of historical precedent: from Fairy Tales to the Victorian Era’s “Angel In The House,” to the 1950s house-wife, yet, in more recent times, especially in light of the mainstreaming of pornography, sexual liberation et cetera, the patriarchy has come to require women to be, yes—virginal in some respects—but also, at the same time—a whore.
This is more Cartesean than Platonic (if the Good exists, so then therefore must Evil), but my point is that if the idea of the “good little girl” is dehumanizing to women, so is the idea of the “bad girl” or any of the other myriad and equally pernicious shortcuts to thought which seem to require women to be anything other than what they are—that is, human beings. We can’t substitute one cliché for another, regardless of whether they’re “good” or “bad.”
Kathy Oke’s Cave runs until April 1st. Check it out.
Article by Craig Francis Power