It was 1983 when Diotima, the women’s philosophical community, was founded at the University of Verona, a challenge to “be women and think philosophically”, thereby breaking with the supposed and expected universality and neutrality of philosophical discourse. Some of us were part of the university, others came from outside, but we all shared a love for philosophy and strong links to the aims and thought of the women’s movement, in particular with difference feminism. The main points of reference were the philosophical reflections of Luce Irigaray and the theories and concrete experiences of the Women’s Library in Milan.
Over the years, Diotima has remained true to and even strengthened its founding beliefs, defining itself not with a proper noun denoting a “group” but with the “common noun” describing a way of relating to each other as women. In this way, many women have contributed to Diotima’s adventure: those who were there at the beginning and those who came later; young women who have joined who were just girls at the time, while others have either passed away or moved on; some have walked a little way with us before going on to other adventures; over the years many, many others have engaged in dialogue and shared ideas with Diotima and taken part in our discussion sessions, lectures, seminars, books, the magazine … we’ve done so much it’s almost impossible to remember everything. All these activities that have nourished us and brought us to this point we call collectively “acting Diotima” .
Acting Diotima means many disparate yet essential activities: above all nurturing relationships, which is the base matter of our philosophical and political practices, and always striving to put into words what we are and what we do, commit and undergo both singly and together with other women and men, the world were we are and are entangled in, marked by the sexual difference that marks us. The difference standpoint we have assumed and what it has produced has been put under the title of “the thought of sexual difference”, which is also the title of our first book; however, for those of us who have created it as we have gone along it’s more a case of “thinking sexual difference” – not a closed castle built of theories but a symbolic space where words have been found and discourses have been constructed which responded to us until they opened up the meaning of our experience of the world, not when on the contrary they tried to hem it in.
It is in this practice, which Chiara Zamboni has defined as “thinking in presence of each others”, that the words our work has been based on have gradually been selected: the symbolic order of the mother, the mother tongue, women’s authority, knowledge from experience, politics separate from power, the work of the negative, philosophy as philosophical practice and politics of the symbolic…
These words and practices begin with ourselves and from our co-thinking, but are also in continuity with the wider context of feminism and the women’s movement they have circulated along with, just like us.
Although our shared thinking has occupied a central role, we have never sat still; the circulation of words and network of relations holding us together has set us in motion, too. The past thirty years have been full of meetings, seminars, conferences, travels to meet other women and discover other philosophies, twice-yearly discussion “retreats” with guest speakers (some of whom from far-flung lands), activities related to university teaching – such as the post-graduate course and the undergraduate thesis workshop – and to teaching in other non-academic environments, setting up this website and publication of the online magazine. Our so-called annual “wide seminar” occupies a particularly important place in the list; each year a topic is chosen for a series of lessons and discussions and everyone gets involved.
This “wide seminar” has always been well attended not only by female and male students, but also women and men who come to the university specifically to receive Diotima’s teaching. Our books have generally been produced as the result of these workshops. The books have given us many more opportunities for meeting and relating to each other in the most disparate places, and in many cases have been translated leading to new initiatives and relationships. As well as the books and initiatives under the Diotima banner, other writings have been produced and other initiatives undertaken inspired by Diotima, fed by the desires of some women – whether singly or in groups – while many others are still underway, and we can foresee… dot dot dot… the challenge continues.