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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 21, 1998

Philosophy and Literature

Karin Littau
Pages 51-56

The Primal Scattering of Languages
Philosophies, Myths and Genders

In After Babel, George Steiner recounts ‘two main conjectures’ in mythology which explain ‘the mystery of many tongues on which a view of translation hinges.’ One such mythic tale is the tower of Babel, which not only Steiner, but also Jacques Derrida after him, take as their starting point to approach the question of translation; the other conjecture tells of 'some awful error [which] was committed, an accidental release of linguistic chaos, in the mode of Pandora’s Box' (Steiner). This paper will take this other conjecture, the myth of Pandora, first woman of the Greek creation myth, as its point of departure, not only to offer a feminized version of the primal scattering of languages, but to rewrite in a positive light and therefore also toreverse the negative and misogynist association of Pandora with "man’s" fall. But, rather than exposing the entrenched patriarchal bias in mythographers’ interpretations of Pandora, my foremost aim is to pose, through her figure, questions about language and woman, and, by extension, the mother tongue and female sexuality.

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