Calliope’s mosaic karotype: an objection to mind-body dualism
Calliope’s mosaic karotype: an objection to mind-body dualism
While many struggle to refute French Philosopher René Descartes’ dualist speculation of the mind—the mind and the body can exist as distinct substances—Calliope Stephanides Jeffrey stands as an objection to the Cartesian dualist view. Calliope’s diagnosis as a 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseuhermaphrodite makes hir body an amalgamation of both feminine and masculine qualities. Essentially, Calliope’s identity is a synthesis of hir identity as woman and hir identity as a man. Unlike Descartes who considers himself “a thinking thing,” Calliope’s existence requires an identification of hirself as a mental configuration (woman) and as a biological configuration (as a man). Despite Calliope’s masculine physique, he often, not “occasionally,” relapses into a feminine psyche. It is said multiplicity of self-identification that debunks Descartes' philosophical theory of mind and body.
When stripped down to its core, Middlesex is a personal narrative of Calliope’s renewal, reexamination, and revival of hir mind and hir body. To this, Descartes would agree that physical amendments do not have a bearing on one’s existence. However, it is the series of Calliope’s psychological, or mental, renovations that most worry Descartes; the fact that Calliope ignores hir feminine mentality and forces a sense of masculinity means that Calliope ignores hir true self. The interchangeability of man and woman persists throughout the novel, thus laminating how Calliope’s narrative disproves the mind-body separation. In order to fully understand the argument the paper signifies, knowledge of the controversial Substance Dualist theory is necessary.
Consequently, I will introduce the notable argument for separation of the mental and the physical entities in section I. Subsequently, sections III-V (excluding section II) prove that Cal’s manifold psychobiological identity invalidates substance dualism.
I. Descartes’ Argument for Substance Dualism
a. Section I serves as an introduction to Descartes’ mind-body problem.
In the Second Meditation of Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes presents the controversial mind-body problem, a problem he is largely responsible for creating and a focal point in the discussion of philosophy of mind ever since. Descartes reasons that his thoughts identify him as a person. Thus, he supposes that he exists so long as the thoughts in his mind exist. Thought, Descartes realizes, cannot be separated from him and so he considers himself a “thinking thing”: an inhabitant of his mind. The controversy of the Cartesian Dualist view arises when Descartes proposes that he does not exist because of his body— merely an extended, mechanical composition governed by the physical laws of nature. Contrarily, Descartes distinguishes the mind as a nonextended object that does not abide by the physical laws of nature. Since the two substances can clearly and distinctly be defined as separate entities, Descartes argues, we can understand the mind and the body as separate substances that can exist and survive separately. This is known as Descartes’ Separation Thesis. In the Second Meditation, the body has less value for Descartes; the mind is the heart of existence. Thus, Calliope’s quest to combine hir body and hir mind denies that these two entities exist irrespective of one another.
II. Descartes’ speculation of bodily changes
a. Section II introduces an understanding between Calliope and Descartes about the modifications to the physical body; the metamorphosis of the body is an element of Calliope’s identity that Descartes would agree with.
In the beginning of Calliope’s narration of his “impossible (302),” or (essentially) inexpressible life, he makes clear that the formation of his identity is a sort of cyclical fluidity that seeps from present to future to past. Variability in identity formation is introduced to the reader when Calliope describes the physical appearance of hirself as a baby: “an inadvertent harmony (218)”. Calliope suggests that the metamorphosis was destined from birth; Calliope reveals the idea of variable physical features in a single body as a means to foreshadow the conclusion of hirself as a hermaphrodite. Calliope refers to the masculine and feminine blend as harmonious simply as a means to reassure hir bi-gender identity. The fact that Calliope understands hir phenotype as “changeable (218)” emphasizes the acute degree of wavering that Ze, similar to Descartes, would regard with a sense of normalcy. For Descartes, a body is an extension, namely height, weight, and minor attachments (breasts, muscles, genitals et cetera) of a larger framework. In other words, Descartes would not identify a surgical removal of a genital—an ordinarily significant change in one’s physical appearance—a reconstruction of an individual, thus Descartes and Cal would agree that variance in physical appearance is negligible and that peripheral changes have no bearing on one’s ‘existence’ whether it be as a male, as a female, or a hermaphrodite. Obviously, a transformed physical structure does not make Calliope a hermaphrodite; it is the fact that Calliope conflicts between hir biological sex as a man and the performance of a woman that makes hir a hermaphrodite.
III. Descartes’ stance on Calliope’s gender disguise
a. Section III explains why Descartes believes Calliope should identify as a woman; hir mind echoes a feminine persona and so it seems a pragmatic decision to assimilate as a woman.
I will present textual support for the transformation from Calliope to Cal. Cal’s forced “[adolescent] swagger” (449) and “comical opinion of [a penis] (452)” reinforce the superficiality of Calliope’s masculine gender identity. Descartes would view the description of Cal’s “adolescent” walk as an image of abnormality and ineptness. The robust adjective (“adolescent”) bolsters Descartes to reiterate the fact that Calliope’s authentic self is a woman. A “real” man would not giggle at the sight of a penis; the coyness that exudes from Cal’s “comical opinion” clarifies hir femininity. Calliope’s definition of self infuriates Descartes, especially since Calliope’s self includes mental and physical entities whereas Descartes’ self includes mental. Here exists an incongruity between Descartes and Calliope. While gender identification is matter-of-fact for Descartes, Calliope remains conflicted. Although Ze makes conscious efforts to assimilate hirself, Calliope says “gender does not matter (520)”. It is clear that mind and body play a resilient tension within Calliope and in saying this, in saying that “gender does not matter,” Calliope ultimately surrenders her decision to assimilate with either gender type.
IV. Descartes on the interaction between Calliope’s mind and body
a. Section IV indicates Descartes’ theory that mind triumphs, regardless of an interface with the physical body.
To reinforce said hypothetical quarrel between a dualist and a hermaphrodite, I would like to present a selection from Middlesex that further examines the predicament of mind and body:
…every time I went into a men’s room a shout rang out in my head: You’re in the men’s...Nobody objected to my presence. And so I searched for a stall that looked halfway clean. I had to sit to urinate. Still do (452).
In this case, the femininity that persists in Calliope’s mind triumphs Calliope’s bodily masculinity. Descartes would take this occurrence to show that the predominance of the mind ensures Calliope’s “womanliness”. Calliope’s quest for a “halfway clean” suggests a gradation of cleanliness that is, according to gender stereotypes, an essence of femininity. Additionally, the fact that Calliope’s biological structure did not defy hir decision to sit down and urinate provides evidence to Descartes of a prominent female gender. It is absolutely clear to Descartes that Calliope is a woman. Calliope, however, struggles to let go her of masculine identity. Calliope relishes the fact that people do not “object” her presence in the men’s room. It is this sense of assurance of hir identity that Calliope has been in search for. In other words, Calliope appreciates that Ze is no longer a “monster (431),”or a thrilling medical experiment, but someone who other people regard as a man. At this point, in front of the men’s room, Calliope seems to “pass”. The relief for Calliope is bliss. It is this estatic feeling that Calliope refuses to lose; although Calliope knows hir mind that Ze is more like a woman the thought of "passing" as a man urges Calliope to hold on to hir male identity.
V. Descartes’ on societal pressures
b. Section V indicates Descartes’ idea that Calliope protests against hir mind due only to the societal pressure to “pass.”
I would like to end with how Descartes would interpret Calliope’s tension to assimilate within a binary gender. It is clear by Calliope’s difficulty to articulate hir identity crisis that the decision to be male, female, or stay in-between is one of immeasurable agony. Calliope would contest that hir biological structure is too much like a man and hir mental faculties too much like a woman to identify with one side of narrow gender spectrum (forced upon by society’s categorizing disposition). Yet, Calliope also yearns to be identifiable to others (we see this yearning when she expresses great relief that hir identity is no longer “objected”). Descartes would simplify this decision for Calliope—the decision to identify as male or as female— by pronouncing it a pragmatic, prima facie choice. Thus, Descartes would recommend that Calliope persist as the woman she tailored hirself as: the woman Ze was before prior to reading Dr. Luce’s medical report. The pressure Calliope faces in Middlesex, Descartes would think, is an unnecessary anxiety that emerges due to the pressure to “pass.” Why “pass?” If “pass” means biding by bodily standards of society, than we must not abide by societal standards. Instead, Calliope should listen to the femininity that resonates in her mind; this is the only way to curtail Calliope’s psychosomatic mess. After all, the mind is the only thing we know for certain.
 In this paper, I deliberately abstain from referring to Calliope as “Cal” or “Callie” because I believe Ze abstains from completely identifying as male or female.
 In an effort to emphasize the complexity of Calliope’s gender and to adhere to Calliope’s supposition that “gender does not matter (520),” I will use Leslie Fenburg’s gender-neutral pronouns throughout this paper.
 In the post, “Sex and Gender, Biology and Literature, anorton writes: “…female inclinations [surface] only occasionally…” (Serendip Exchange, 9/10/2008).
 Laminate (v). 4. To manufacture by placing layer upon layer of material. (Oxford English Dictionary).
 Kessler, Suzanne J. and Wendy McKenna. “Toward a Theory of Gender.” Page 177.
 Kessler, Suzanne J. and Wendy McKenna. “Toward a Theory of Gender.” Page 176.
 “Prima facie” is a term often used in philosophy to mean “at first thought.”