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Ovi Symposium; Thirty-third Meeting Ovi Symposium; Thirty-third Meeting
by Prof. Ernesto Paolozzi
2014-09-08 23:13:36
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Thirty-third Meeting: 28 August 2014

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Sub-theme: Feminism throughout time and space. A sine qua non for a new Renaissance and a new Civilization?

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Steinem, Roosevelt, Chisholm, Friedman, Morgan, Smith, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Jutta, Barbarossa, Henry II, Eleanore of Aquitaine, Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nightingale, Van Gogh, Jouker, Sontag, Morin, Gembillo, Anselmo, Goethe, Holderin.

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Table of Contents for the 33th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: Reflections on an Introduction to a Poetry Anthology entitled ‘Africa, Where are Thou?” plus some reflections on some women’s quotes regarding Feminism. A presentation by Abigail George.

Section 2: “Morin’s Pizza.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi on Mediterranean and Latin culture vis á vis feminism.

Section 3: Some observations by Paparella on George and Paolozzi’s presentations.

Section 4: “Revisiting Feminism as ‘the Ultimate F Word.’” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

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Allegorical Painting of the Dream of Feminism throughout Time

Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

First and foremost, I’d like to welcome Abigail George as a regular active participant and collaborator to the Ovi Symposium. Welcome aboard, Abigail.

Ms. George will be offering presentations on a regular basis and participate actively in the symposium’s conversations on various themes relating to feminism, human rights in Africa, and creativity vis a vis mental illness. She is already a familiar presence in Ovi. For some time now, since 2010 to be precise, she has graced the pages of Ovi magazine with her powerfully emotive, imaginative, and poignant narrations mirroring her personal African feminine experience. Indeed, I dare say that a new global humanistic civilization and renaissance cannot be envisioned, never mind implemented, without the participation of the feminine voice and the special perspective of women who comprise half of humankind, of poets as well as philosophers, of novelists as well as scientists, especially the voices of those who in the past have been colonized, marginalized and undervalued by our patriarchal imperialistic Western culture, long on theory, abstract principles, and ideals, and  short on humanitarian healing practices. As an African feminist, deeply interested in the  existential issues of humankind, Abigail George will undoubtedly enlighten us with a necessary balancing feminist perspective on the enunciated goals of the Ovi symposium. We look forward to future  invaluable contributions to the Ovi Symposium, and are grateful for the generosity with her time, and for the sharing of talents and experiences.

The first presentation by the same Abigail George is a series of poetical reflections on what it means to be an African feminist writer today, followed by sundry quotes from feminist voices. Surely the Ovi readers, who have come to enjoy the beautiful poetic prose of Ms. George, will not be disappointed and will do some needed reflections of their own about the troubled relationship between the continents of Europe and Africa. We’d like to think that  with the 14th session of the Ovi symposium and this 33rd one, we have taken a first tentative and modest step toward a much needed global dialogue between the cultures of the two continents so close geographically, and yet so distant culturally from each other. Within a global perspective, the European Union will have to come to terms with the idea of an inevitable United States of Africa and will have to carry on a genuine dialogue transcending the ugly ghosts of nationalism, colonization, and imperialism.

The second presentation is by Ernesto Paolozzi, in the form of a reprint of a short, tongue in cheek, article he wrote for  the Italian newspaper La Repubblica some ten years ago (on October 9, 2004 to be precise), as translated in English by the symposium’s coordinator. It surveys briefly Mediterranean culture and its universalism vis a vis Northern European culture. It brought me back to that gem of a movie titled Mediterraneo in the 90s; a movie that won an Oscar and touches on the theme of Southern Italian culture being older than even Roman culture. It goes back to the founding of Napoli (nea polis =new city) some 800 years before Christ, before the Roman arrived in Magna Grecia to impose their language and culture. The theme is still relevant today. Paolozzi’s presentation explores the reasons for Mediterranean culture’s attraction to the Northern Europeans; last but not least, it touches upon the sub-theme of this issue, briefly focusing on the Mediterranean world’s attitude toward women and  feminism in general.

In section three Paparella comments briefly on George and Paolozzi’s presentations, then, in section four he revisits the theme of feminism in America via a recent article by Amy Siskind where the very concept of feminism is analyzed while some misguided notions about feminism are strongly challenged. The second part of the essay is dedicated to a survey of the life of a medieval feminist: St. Hildegard of Bingen, as example of the universality and the importance of the concept of feminism for the renewal of a culture which seems to be slipping more and more into barbarism and dehumanization.

Indeed, a conscious return to origins is a sine qua non for any reformation and/or renewal of any viable culture.  In part three of the same presentation three Italian feminists who paved the way for other women’s existential journeys are examined. They are: Artemisia Gentileschi, the first great woman painter of the post-Renaissance or Baroque period; Maria Gaetani Agnesi, the first woman mathematician, philosopher of language and theologian in 18th century Italy; and Maria Montessori, a renowned educator and first female doctor in 19th and 20th century Italy, a graduate of La Sapienza’s medical school. The presentation concludes with some reflections and proposals on the issue of feminism. We hope that the ongoing dialogue, which is in the very nature of a symposium will be further expanded. To that purpose we invite frank comments from the readership which could be attached under the posting in the comment section. The readers’ views and appraisal of this issue of the symposium would be welcomed and appreciated and may even end up influencing future sessions.

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1

Reflections on an Introduction to a Poetry Anthology
entitled ‘Africa, where art thou?’

A Presentation by Abigail George

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It is very hard to fall in love with something and not give yourself over to it completely. Why do I write? I pay attention to what came before and then I fast forward to a time when I sense people will come after me (when I am no longer here) who will survive their own possession of a third World War inside their minds more than anywhere else. I think about their lives and what impact my writing will have on them in the future. Nothing has really seemed to change for the teenagers, the so-called phenomena of the ‘lost generation’. I write for them too (those who have not known any happiness or peace of mind in their lives, any warmth or emotional sensitivity. I feel love for them and empathy and this is the only way that I can express what I think and feel because when I speak, the words are not often there) who are growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in my neighborhood. It has made me want to claim an identity for myself that is not a bitter pill to swallow.

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Wangari Maathai—Kenia, the first African Woman
to win the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004

I am an African writer who represents a disenfranchised, marginalized, underprivileged youth who are on the whole ignored, seen as an unwanted burden because we do not seem to fit the mould of being rich and educated. Our lives are shadowed by loss, found in the translations of the warring factors of life and love, the measure of loss until we stop for death. When are the leaders on this continent going to do something about the de-motivated youth? Why don’t we have more role models in Africa who lead their lives with Christian morals and values in the very fiber of their being? I question everything. As a writer I am curious about life, our inhibitions and the secrets and lies we shelve and that we go our whole lives not divulging. I want women who work in the real world to help empower girl children who have low self-esteem, come from single-parent homes, who are dependent on grants to fill their baby’s mouth and malnourished belly to start educating themselves about the world they live in today.

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The Continent of Africa as seen from space

We, as men and women have to discover and cement the original, the sincere, the authentic and the destinies of young outstanding African men and women in time and history as beloved and cherished men and women. Without an identity, first and foremost, you will never believe that you can do anything. You will inspire nothing, you will be false, transparent, a fake, reckless and endanger yourself, and you will believe in nothing. You will have no faith in yourself to accomplish great things with humility and reach and undertake small victories with wisdom at tremendous sacrifice. In due course racism, xenophobia, prejudice, sexism, ageism, cities across South Africa where the Group Areas Act was enforced (the racism of which we never speak and pretend it is not there even though it still exists) will come to an unholy demise, a sticky end, though not soon enough for the want of trying and the scourge of all these daily challenges that we face, the chills that it comes with that run up and down our spines will resurface again and again until it is dealt with in a manner deserving of its severity.

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An Iconic African Face

Amandhla awethu! It has begun. The true Freedom Fighters, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren survived the aftermath of a reversal of what happened in South Africa and came to the fore when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1994. Whatever happened, the beginning of colonialism that became the rule, the norm, the status quo and the law of the land and with it came the first heartfelt stirrings of oppression a little over three hundred years ago has now slowly with the width of a thread become undone. It was not the struggle of one man, woman or youth alone. The Freedom Fighters who died so I could be writing these words right now in relative freedom, occupied only with the art of creative expression and artistic license, from forces that would antagonize me, spirit me away, interrogate me, those Fighters died so we could survive. So that the ghosts that haunt us to this day, concealed in the lives of generations present and past could finally come to light, rest in matters of the rhythm, beating, drumming of our collective hearts, be seriously addressed, be debated amongst great theorists and futurists and be put to rest.

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Liberia,
the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace

Our relationships with each other’s cultures and races have been tender and strained but through the penetrating intellect of our writers and poets all of these stories will be told, their beauty will be resonate within us and we will tremble and we will become weak but that is the meaning and purpose of strength, courage and determination. You only have to look at Mahatma Gandhi to see why it is so, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Vincent van Gogh, the German composers, the French writers, the Nobel Prize winners in Africa, Ingrid Jonker, Bessie Head’s life and masterpiece ‘Maru’ and Susan Sontag. Strength is not a display of something equaling Samson’s brute strength, something brutal, violent, disturbing, aggressive and insensitive and an evil crime against humanity. Strength is a miracle, probing, truly magnificent and otherworldly.

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An African Landscape

Africa, Africa, Africa you are mature, thoughtful, haunting, your energy blazes with the fury of two suns, your sons and daughters, sometimes you are paper thin, you make me run wild and free into the future. You chose me out of everyone to fall in love with you. I hope that all the children of Africa, past and present will feel that way about you. You are an infuriating but always forgivable child. You have filled my heart with so much beauty, stuffed it full with fire, exotic life and governed it with wrath. You soothed my brow with a feverish anticipation of what came after the next word. You leave me bedazzled and formidable every day. I take all your treasures with me wherever I go, secretly like a rogue. Forgive me. Africa, you are in a class of your own.

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Leymah Gbowee—Liberia,
the 2011 Nobel Prize Winner for Peace

In closing, the world is not the same for women as it is for men. And so we come to reflect upon humanity from an African sensibility, the spirituality, the God, and gods, and the primitivism of the African female poet. We find that the African feminist familiarizes herself with comforting rituals in the face of engendering equality, and peace in the childhood of her children, her self-imposed exile as a writer, and a poet in the landscape of timelines, the flesh of illness, her despair, and utter desolation, isolation, suicidal depression, cosmic bloodlines, and imagination. What does she yearn for? Not to fail, not to discriminate, but to create art, but to express herself, discover the interrelation (although her psychological and cultural framework is primitive) between the memory work of the role of art, creative expression, and the equilibrium of space, the personal space of the artist, and time. The African female poet walks wounded. In all seriousness she worships her wounds. Her wisdom comes from her life experience, and her journey from spiritual poverty, to the wealth of unbalanced dissonance. From the pinnacles of childhood to adulthood she recognizes her place in the world first as a daughter, then as wife, and then as mother. Things of the spirit, of soul consciousness, consciousness-thinking will always come first. And the retrieval of all of those things comes to us whether in life, or death. In all of the roles she plays as mother, daughter, wife she is submissive (except as artist (existential phenomenologist), feminist (sage), matriarch (oracle), when she is creator, thinker, intellectual) but as I say only to a certain extent, but when in the glory of her wisdom she accommodates the psychological construct of the masculine she has already won her freedom, an identity, and a fractured psyche, a disseminated ego is no more, and so she challenges conventional wisdom. The messenger (the artist) changes the message’s (in the personality, in the growth of process, and in the progress from generation to generation) meaning, the context, the narrative, and the stream of consciousness thinking. Art serves to improve humanity. Art is a wilderness history. Art is the invention of woman. Art is the invention of man. There remains a duality between the two that needs to be acknowledged in the African Renaissance.

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An iconic Feminine African Image

 

Reflections on  some Women’s Quotes regarding Feminism

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.”

Frida Kahlo (Self-taught painter)

Nothing about youth diminishes, about dying and culture to the Outsider. It is still a shock to the system when it arrives on the scenario. The scene of the volume of the sky meeting a child caught in time. A storm is raging within my head (the drift of it an intrinsic discourse). Deep inside me I am a still life, and a figure’s reflection glittering. The dead do not speak of trivia. They can no longer bask in the orange disc of the sun, with or without their infirmities, with or without their infinitely perfect bodies, and with or without their perfect smiles. They have left the African feminist to invest in a shroud.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead (Anthropologist)

Couriered shrouds are as foreign to the inhabitant as the splitting of the atom, population dynamics, and the restoration of a refugee’s spirit on childhood dirt. Feminists are overshadowed by their male counterparts, a patriarchal system, patriarchal establishment, societies, democracies, and intelligentsia. When it comes to critical thinking men are worshiped, put on pedestals, and their art, their poetry, their literature, culture, and heritage, kingdoms, and empires are revered, while women on the other hand embrace their emotional intelligence, tokenism, progeny, values, wifedom once they leave childhood behind them, a child’s world.

“What is the purpose of writing? For me personally, it is really to explain the mystery of life, and the mystery of life includes, of course, the personal, the political, the forces that make us what we are while there's another force from inside battling to make us something else.”

Nadine Gordimer (Nobel prizewinning writer)

It is the African feminist who reflects on her soul as a being of self-importance, and she devotes her life to education, self-learning, philosophy, becoming a bibliophile formulating, always structuring intensely a blueprint from childhood, girlhood, and womanhood. She realizes that the greatest separation between the sexes is perhaps the physical act, the sexual transaction itself (that is the greatest illusive truth) where she is she is both the submissive intuitive, and the dominant subversive role-player. Emotional maturation, fixation will always be there from the onset. For the heterosexual woman, if she is not a beautiful child who grows up to become a beautiful woman growth is painful. Vulnerability, sensitivity, maturation, her whole life experience, livelihood, background, and success in her chosen career path will also be painful.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Anne Frank

“It was an alarming thought that these false selves should still have me in their power, and in my bewilderment I began wondering whether any such thing as my real self could be said to exist at all. Like a sudden revelation, then, it became clear to me that the self was always changing, always developing, only capable of evolving fully through the integration of all past semblances. I wouldn’t be my true self till I accepted and learned to know all those selves I’d disowned and deserted...As if this were something I could do consciously, there and then, the last of my inertia vanished, consumed by an ardent desire for identification with the essential ‘I’ – until this had been achieved I’d always be as I was now, wandering like a stranger, lost, frightened and confused, among the changes and contradictions of my own personality.”

Anna Kavan, Guilty (Novelist, Short story writer, Painter)

The breakthrough of equality comes when we realize our imperfections, that the male faculties, and mind-set are different philosophically, psychologically and physically from the females. Though we must realise that progress in a democracy is made by both sexes, we must realize that we are all flawed from birth, separate but equal, but in reality men and women share the same responsibilities when it comes to the workplace, and the family. Both sexes want to achieve success, for example climb the social ladder, earn enough money to acquire status, and power in a class system. They want fundamentally to build a foundation.

“What becomes of a man who acquires a beautiful woman, with her "beauty" his sole target? He sabotages himself. He has gained no friend, no ally, no mutual trust: She knows quite well why she has been chosen. He has succeeded in buying something: the esteem of other men who find such an acquisition impressive.”

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (Author, Activist)

Some want to build that foundation with arrogance, others with humility. It is wonderful that we live in a world of philosophers, and we will continue to live in a world filled with philosophers who will always be teaching us. Aren’t foundations mysterious? They rock us to the very core of the glory of our being. Our personal, and spiritual being, our most vulnerable space, the most intimate of our intimacies, our personality, our character, and illnesses.

“When I was excited about life, I didn't want to write at all. I've never written when I was happy. I didn't want to. But I've never had a long period of being happy, Do you think anyone has? I think you can be peaceful for a long time, When I think about it, if I had to choose, I'd rather be happy than write. You see, there's very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down. I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes.”

Jean Rhys (Novelist, Short story writer, Essayist)

And so in conclusion, art is created by a hypo-manic brain. At least in my world. In my world bohemia, materialism, possessions, well, they do not cost a thing. I do not need them to escape from my reality. But I do need to wash away my sins.

“A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world."

[Speech upon being awarded the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (Peace Prize of the German Book Trade), Frankfurt Book Fair, October 12, 2003]”

Susan Sontag (Novelist, Essayist)

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2

Edgar Morin’s Pizza
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

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Edgar Morin

“Today we have in Europe a great mass of German vacationers who come down toward Mediterranean beaches, Greek islands, toward the South, toward the sun, seeking things which their culture and civilization do not provide. Why do you think that pizza has spread to Northern Europe and the whole world, for that matter? Pizza is a symbol of what the South can contribute, something not found in sauerkraut and sausage.”

The above quote in praise of pizza, comes from Edgar Morin in a conference dedicated to Latinity, held in Sao Paolo of Brazil, as published by Giuseppe Gembillo and Annamaria Anselmo (a diligent scholar of Morin) for the Publishing House Armando Siciliano in an attractive publication which reproduces the text in all the neo-Latin or Romance languages, even in the old mother language: good old Latin.

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A tipical Neapolitan Pizza: the Margherita

In some way Morin is substituting the idea of Mediterranean culture, a trendy idea nowadays in certain sectors of European culture, with the more vast and universal idea of Latinity, which for the French scholar is founded on three fundamental aspects, that of the conquering of the wild ferocious barbarians, accomplished by the Romans, which reveals itself (and this constituted the second aspect) an essential aspect of the civilizing of the whole European continent, which eventually will reach a further development with Christianity, which constitutes the third aspect.

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The Mediterranean Southern European World

But Morin asserts that Latinity does not end there, it will extend itself in new and varied forms, to the Latin American countries in an original fashion. The Brazilian mongrel type is undoubtedly an impressive example which deserves more reflection and attention. Up to this point, we may consider the descriptive part of the conference. But in the final section Morin revisits the opposition North and South which is slowly substituting the classical one of East and West, once the Berlin Wall fell. Here the above initial quote, which may at first glance appear paradoxical or banal, makes sense, within the symbolical importance of the global propagation of pizza. On one side there is the North, technologically advanced and economically prone, on the other side there is the South, which preserves certain ancient humanistic values that are still valid, as is evident from the nostalgia that, as ever, the great men of the North, from Goethe to Holderlin, have had for the dispositions and the sentiments of Mediterranean cultures.

But Morin is too intelligent to simply stop there at such neat and radical contrast, which may be interesting in itself but has precious little ethico-political value. In fact he adds this: “Let us be clear, we ought not only critique the North. It is important to also mention that the South for too long has kept certain strong inequalities, particularly in regard to women’s status. In Spain, until thirty years ago, a woman could not enter a bar by herself. The arrival of women in the work-place, in the external world outside the home, is very recent. There is no doubt that feminism, and the defense of the civil rights of women, come from the North.”

In my opinion, Latinity consists also in a high, strong and serene sense of harmony and balance, generally conquered after a long struggle not devoid of tragic setbacks. In that sense it is true that Latinity has in itself a universality which transcends geographical borders: “Homo Sum: nihil humani a me alienum puto,” I am a human being and nothing that is human is alien to me.

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3

Some Observations by Paparella on George and Paolozzi’s Presentations

Thank you Abigail and Ernesto for your insightful and inspiring presentations. They provide us with a glimpse of the nature of the problem of feminism. Of course there are biological and psychological differences between the sexes, they in turn affect how each interprets reality and arrives at its ethical decisions. That is why in ethics’ classes we now study “feminist ethics,” the kind that places emphasis not so much on abstract principles and utopian ideals worthy of the gods on Mount Olympus, but rather on determining how one’s day to day decisions and attitudes affect real people in real existential situations. Some have called it “the ethics of care” and that definition says it all.

One could wager that if more women were present in world governments, especially democratic governments, we would have fewer problems solved by war and more solved by diplomacy. And that brings us to the philosophical conundrum, and it is this question: is feminism, which is concerned with the concrete and the particular, with particular people and concrete existential situations, a universal phenomenon, or is it a relativistic one, that is to say relative only to half of humankind or perhaps relative to the development of a society? Another way of putting the question is this: can a man also adopt a feminist ethics? If the answer is yes, and I for one think it is,  it follows that ethics is or ought to be universal. What logically follows is that men, and women too, sometimes, need to change their geo-political perspective from Machiavellian power considerations, and thus adopt a politics of care dovetailed on the ethics of care. Consequently, it is not a question of women becoming more aggressive and relentless like men, as some misguidedly have affirmed, nor of men becoming more kind and compassionate like women, but rather, assuming that both man and women are endowed with a common humanity, the crucial question becomes: how do we retain and enhance our common humanity? It comes down to dealing with the age-old Socratic question: what does it mean to be human?

Carl Jung pointed to a plausible psychological answer when in his theory of individuation, he pointed out that all men have a feminine component at the core of their being and identity and, vice versa, all women have a masculine component. When a man represses the feminine element in himself he becomes a brutal rationalizing Nazi unconcerned with human feelings; when, on the other hand, a woman represses the masculine drive in herself, she becomes a clinging violet or a satellite, with no individual sense of purpose and direction.

Ultimately, the issue, for both men and women, seems to be this: how do we integrate and bridge the two components of human nature: the feminine and the masculine? Is it a question of achieving equality or of achieving integration? I have hazarded a few privy answers below in my own presentation; they remain tentative, for they need to be further discussed and debated. I trust that in future issues we will continue to discuss this issue initiated here. It is only via a dialogue between men and women of good will that a new civilization can begin to be envisioned.

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4

Revisiting Feminism as the Ultimate “F Word”
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Some time ago Amy Siskind wrote a provocative article on the issue of Feminism titled “How Feminism became the F Word”. It is a lucid insightful reflection on this thorny issue. The issue becomes thorny when one begins to assign gender to intelligence, the realm of the intelligible being closer to the spiritual and immaterial than the purely physical and sexual, possessing per se a trans-gender and transcendental nature, as the ancient Greeks have well taught us.

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Amy Siskind, author of “How Feminism became an F Word”

The article begins with this provocative in bold characters head-line: The current women’s rights movement, embodied by the planned “special Inaugural edition” cover of Ms. magazine, is hardly recognizable to those who are trying to advance the discourse on gender.” Siskind then describes the first cover picture which debuted way back in 1971, under the patronage of Gloria Steinem, sporting a giant figure of Wonder Woman, an emblematic symbol of the women’s movement of the time, striding across the vast landscape over a caption proclaiming “Wonder Woman for President.” She then muses as to why four decades later, when a woman finally ran for president, her photo was mysteriously absent from the cover of Ms. magazine. She then enunciates another provocative statement: “It is time that we take back the term ‘feminism’ and restore its dignity and honor. It is time that we, our daughters, and granddaughters discover our inner Wonder Woman.”

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Gloria Steinem, founder of the American Feminist Movement
with Angela Davis, the African-American Feminist Activist of the 60s

Siskind then proceeds to explain those provocative statements with a schematic narration of the feminist movement in America. The story begins with the first wave of the feminist movement in 1961, when Eleanor Roosevelt, whom Siskind calls “a true heroine” of the movement, chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She then mentions some of those heroines of the 1960s and 1970s belonging to a whole spectrum of political parties and making groundbreaking strides for women: Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Robin Morgan, who fought hard for political representation, maternity leave, equal pay, affirmative action. She also mentions Margaret Chase Smith, less well known but the one who in 1964 became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the US presidency.

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First Issue of Ms magazine in 1971

Next, Siskind narrates the second wave of the women’s rights movement which she considers central to many of the liberties that women now take for granted. But after the 1970s she detects something strange happening to the women’s movement, and indeed, to the very term “feminism.” A backlash set in, and the women’s movement retreated from the streets to the committee rooms and to academia where women’s studies were set-up, often with dubious scholarly underpinnings. Politically, national women’s organizations became increasingly tied to the Democratic Party and to mere pro-choice politics. A period of decline in interest and in the membership of national women’s organizations ensued. This retrogressive social phenomenon is due to the fact that most members of the movement were no longer welcomed in the movement; it had transformed itself into a clique of hard-core believers. That clique only allowed members with certain rites of entry: almost exclusively liberal pro-choice Democratic women.

Siskind laments that “the current women’s rights movement is hardly recognizable to those, both male and females, who are truly trying to advance the discourse on gender.” She offers as an apt example the planned “special inaugural edition” cover of Ms. magazine. There, she claims, one is presented with the current vision of feminism:  a man striking a Superman’s pose. That man is nobody else but the current president of the US: Barack Obama. The implication is clear, those who belong to the clique are out not to change anything but to imitate men and displace them. The ultimate aim is power and superiority, not genuine equality; which is to say, incessant war between the sexes.

A poll conducted in November 2008 found that just 20 percent of women are willing to use the term “feminist” about themselves and only 17 percent would welcome their daughters using that label. Here too Siskind laments that the term feminism “has been hijacked and corroded by those who formed the clique, excluded most of us from joining, and used feminism for their own purposes.” In other words, the movement has been destroyed from the inside by hard core ideologues who think that intelligence has a gender and that the ultimate goal is to achieve superiority or at the very least equality. I would hazard to say that the more hidden agenda, consciously or unconsciously adopted, is the destruction consciously intended or unconscious, of the institutions of the family, as we know it. The long term consequence may well turn out to be the degradation and even destruction of Western Civilization. Giambattista Vico, for one, is convinced that without the original foundations of language, family and religion, no civilization has much of a future.

Siskind then asks a few final challenging questions: “Meanwhile, who has been looking out for the women of this country? Where are the modern day national organizations to act as champions of women and to speak out against the issues that affect us all? Where is the outrage about the alarming escalation of domestic violence? Or the fact that women still earn 78 percent of what men do? Or the fact that our representation in politics, academia, and corporate leadership tends to hover around 16 percent? There is a pattern here—we are moving backward.” This idea that progress in not inevitable, that it is possible to move backward is of course anathema to the hard core ideologues and mindless activists above mentioned by Siskind. For them progress (often understood as a sort of shallow modernity buttressed by technology and push button gadgets), is a sort of demiurge, unstoppable and devouring in its path all those who oppose it. The final Hegelian synthesis always justifies and rationalizes any social enormity and/or monstrosity.

Siskind’s punch line is that indeed these issues do not affect just liberal, Democratic, pro-choice women, the present ideological core of the former feminist movement, but also “all women, our children, and grandchildren” not excluding the men who are fathers, husbands, and sons and are generally not included in the clique, and no longer “understand what the clique is fighting for. The clique has become a like a cocoon that, despite its good intentions, has by now lost sight of the big picture and, as a result, has inadvertently sold out the women of this country.” Wow! That’s a mouthful.

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Meryl Streep playing the role of Margaret Thatcher
in the film “Iron Lady.” Is it a misguided image of Feminism?

However, the article ends not with doom and gloom but with a silver lining of sort. Siskind detects on the cultural horizon the beginning of a fourth wave or rebirth, if you will, of the women’s rights movement; a big tent movement that invites women, and like-minded men, of all political parties and all views on reproductive rights and many other rights, particularly those which are inalienable; one that does not erect this large tent on the basis of a rite of passage or ideology, a litmus test if you will. What Siskind seems to be saying is that it is shortsighted and ultimately counter-productive to conceive of the women’s movement as a mere war against male chauvinism, or even worse, as a war against men. That kind of movement will eventually defeat itself by eroding the very foundation of any viable society or civilization, the family. She ends the article with this advice: “It is time that we take back the term ‘feminism’ and restore its dignity and honor. It is time that we, our daughters, and granddaughters discover our inner Wonder Woman. And, for those of us who dream, maybe Ms. and the former national women’s movement will return in the sequel as Superwomen once again.” (emphasis mine).

 Jung would probably agree wholeheartedly, for he postulated, even for men, an anima or a feminine inner principle without which men, as well as women who imitate their brutal tactics to compete with them and beat them at their own game, brutalize and dehumanize themselves ending up rationalizing actions which ought never be rationalized. Ultimately, the issue is one of dehumanization: if women beat men at their own game and grab power and hold on to it, are they still able to offer a valid alternative? Should the slogan be “if you cannot beat them, join them” or should it be “we have an alternative vision of what it means to be human and civilized”? If the latter is in fact the case, what exactly is that alternative?

II

In the second part of this essay I’d like to focus on feminism as a perennial age-old issue of humankind. Indeed, it cannot be otherwise, given that women constitute half of humankind. The issue has always been there, beginning with cave man dragging his trophy—a woman-- by her hair into the cave with a club in his hand, all the way to our super-sophisticated times where women’s wages are one third less than those of men. I’d like to go back to a special woman of Medieval times who can perhaps be thought of as the patron saint of world-wide feminists. Her name is Hildegard of Bingen and she is literally a saint, having been proclaimed one such by Benedict XVI on May 10, 2012 and then a doctor of the Church a few months later; the fourth woman in Church history to be so honored; the others being Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux. She lived at the beginnings of the High Medieval era (1098-1179).

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St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Before her canonization Hildegard of Bingen was known as a medieval mystic, prophet and visionary, a composer of music, writer of books on spirituality, apocalyptic visions, prophecy, medicine, health and nutrition, and nature. This was clearly a woman ahead of her times by at least four centuries. But more than a mystic she was a visionary prophetically revealing knowledge that she claimed she got from God, similar to Catherine of Siena. She was also a fierce critic of many secular and religious leaders of the times, most of them men. And that is what makes her so interesting. She has been identified as an early feminist because her thought and vision suggest a feminist perspective. One could envision such a woman in modern times, but astonishingly this one lived at the height of Medieval times and powerfully influenced them. It is enough to make us scratch our head in perplexity or perhaps reconsider our taken for granted assumptions on medieval times, the Catholic Church, Christianity in general, and, last but not least, feminism.

But before presenting this extraordinary woman it is worth clarifying from the outset that while the interpretations and the comments are mine, the historical facts and documentation were researched and publicized by Jane Johnson and were not invented either by her or by me. Facts are facts. With that premise in mind, let us look at the historical facts: Hildegard was Born in Bemersheim (Böckelheim), West Franconia (now Germany), she was the tenth child of a well-to-do family. In 1106 her parents sent her to a 400-year-old Benedictine monastery which had only recently added a section for women. The Benedictines were the order of the Church which carried on a tradition of learning and education even in the darkest times of the Dark Ages (500 to 800 AD).

Jutta, the abbess, whom Hildegard later referred to later on as an “unlearned woman,” taught Hildegard to read and to write. In that time, convents were often places of learning, a welcome home to women who had intellectual gifts. Universities had not sprung up yet with the possible exception of the University of Bologna. Hildegard, as was true of many other women in convents at the time, learned Latin, read the scriptures, and had access to many other books of religious and philosophical nature. Those who have traced the influences of ideas in her writings find that Hildegard must have read quite extensively and voraciously.

When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was elected unanimously as the new abbess. Later on she proceeded with what may be considered her first feminist act of defiance: rather than continue as part of a double house – a monastery with units for men and for women – Hildegard in 1148 decided to move the convent to Rupertsberg, where it was on its own, not directly under the supervision of a male house. This gave Hildegard considerable freedom as an administrator, and she traveled frequently in Germany and France. She claimed that she was following God’s order in making this move, firmly opposing her abbot’s opposition. Literally firmly: she assumed a rigid position, like a rock, until he gave his permission for the move. The move was completed in 1150.

The women who joined the convent were of wealthy backgrounds, and the convent did not discourage them from maintaining something of their lifestyle. Hildegard of Bingen withstood criticism of this practice, claiming that wearing jewelry to worship God was honoring God, not practicing selfishness. She spent the early years at Rupertsberg in illustrating (“illuminating”) manuscripts. She lived at a time when, within the Benedictine movement, there was stress on the inner experience, personal meditation, an immediate relationship with God, and visions. It was also a time in Germany characterized by the striving between papal authority and the authority of the German (Holy Roman) emperor, and by a papal schism. Through her many letters she took to task both the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the archbishop of Mainz. She also wrote to such luminaries as King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

A final famous incident happened near the end of Hildegard’s life, when she was in her eighties. She allowed a nobleman who had been excommunicated to be buried at the convent, and saw to it that he had last rites. She claimed she’d received word from God allowing the burial. But her ecclesiastical superiors intervened, and ordered the body exhumed. Hildegard defied the authorities by hiding the grave, and the authorities excommunicated the entire convent community. Most insultingly to Hildegard, the interdict prohibited the community from singing. She complied with the interdict, avoiding singing and communion, but did not comply with the command to exhume the corpse. Hildegard appealed the decision to yet higher church authorities, and finally had the interdict lifted.

The best-known writing of Hildegard of Bingen is a trilogy (1141–52) including SciviasLiber Vitae Meritorum, (Book of the Life of Merits), and Liber Divinorum Operum (Book of the Divine Works). These include records of her visions – many are apocalyptic – and her explanations of scripture and salvation history. She also wrote plays, poetry, and music, and many of her hymns and song cycles are recorded today. She even wrote on medicine and nature – and it’s important to note that for Hildegard of Bingen, as for many in medieval times, theology, medicine, music, and similar topics were unitary, not separate spheres of knowledge. This unitary stance toward knowledge is later carried on into the Italian Renaissance which rediscovers Greco-Roman civilization and synthesizes it to Christianity.

At this point of our exploration the reader may ask: how does all this make Hildegard a feminist? Well, for one, she was a feminist not only because she was not afraid to challenge male-dominated authority but because she exercised considerably more authority than most women of her time, and she celebrated feminine community and beauty in her spiritual writings. She frequently used the metaphor of marriage to God, though this was not her invention nor a new metaphor and can be found in The Song of Songs of Solomon in the Old Testament. Her visions have female figures in them: Ecclesia, Caritas (heavenly love), Sapientia, and others. In her texts on medicine, she included topics which male writers usually did not, writing a whole text on what we’d today call gynecology. Clearly, she was a more prolific writer than most women of her era; more to the point, she was more prolific than most of the men of the time.

In the light of all this, perhaps we ought to reconsider once again our taken for granted premise that feminism is a purely modern phenomenon and what comes at the end is always better than what preceded it, a culminating triumphant rebellion, so to speak of women against a male-dominated view of the world. But if we, enlightened modern people, can find one such feminist in so-called “obscurantist” medieval times, perhaps the movement is not so novel as we’d like to believe and it may be worth to reconsider that view at the risk of reinventing the wheel.

I would suggest four urgent reconsiderations: 1) perhaps the medieval Church was not so retrograde and obscurantist as the conventional wisdom and the current politically correct stance would suggest. She may be in fact the one that actually saved ancient learning from barbarian destruction as I have previously argued in Ovi magazine, 2) Perhaps a Church which honors and venerates a woman such as Mary and elevates her to the position of “mother of God,” and then elevates four women not only to sainthood but to the title of “doctors of the Church” cannot be so completely anti-feminist as she is often unfairly portrayed. 3) Perhaps a Church that promotes the relationship to God as a sort of marriage on an interpersonal level, (see the Song of Songs), cannot be considered so anti-sex and Puritanical as it is usually asserted. 4) Perhaps it is time for the enlightenment to enlighten itself?  

III

 One would never know it from the gaffes and the distasteful jokes on women enunciated by the former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, dubbed the “clown of Europe,” only a few years ago, but in three different centuries spanning the 17th, 18th , 19th , as well as the first half of the 20th century there lived eminent Italian women, that could be identified as “superwomen,” who convincingly disprove the erroneous chauvinistic assumption that there are certain fields of human endeavor which are best left to men. These admirable women include two Nobel prize winners: Grazia Deledda (1926 in Literature) and Rita Levi-Montalicini (1986 in Medicine).

 

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Grazia Deledda (1871-1936): Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926

The others, in chronological order, are Artemisia Gentileschi, a notwowrthy painter (1593–1653), Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) a mathematician, philosopher and theologian, and Maria Montessori (1870-1952), a well known educator who devised the Montessori method of child education. They all achieved an impressive international reputation in their respective fields. A brief overview of those women’s extraordinary achievements leads to some unavoidable reflections which will be enunciated throughout and at the end of this article. I should mention that the historical data and documentation were mostly gathered from the Wikipedia on-line encyclopedia.

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Rita Levi-Montalicini (1909-2012): Medicine Nobel Award in 1986

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian early Baroque painter, today considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation influenced by Caravaggio. In an era when women painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community, she was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. She was one of the first female artists to paint historical and religious paintings, at a time when such heroic themes were considered beyond a woman's reach. A research paper of Roberto Longhi, an important Italian critic, dated 1916, named Gentileschi padre e figlia (Gentileschi father and daughter) described Artemisia as "the only woman in Italy who ever knew about painting, coloring, and other fundamentals". That’s quite a tribute, coming from a man to boot.

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A Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi

Here is how Wikipedia Encyclopedia records Artemisia’s enduring fame and legacy: “Although there were other female painters in the Baroque, there is something in the art and the biography of Artemisia Gentileschi that makes her especially fascinating, which explains the continued interest in her life and work. The first writer who produced a novel around the figure of Artemisia was Anna Banti, wife of Roberto Longhi. Her first draft of the manuscript, dated 1944, was lost during the war. Three years later she started again with the book, to be called Artemisia, writing in a much different form. Banti's book is written in an ‘open diary’ form, in which she maintains a dialogue with Artemisia, trying to understand why she finds her so fascinating. More than 50 years later, in 1999, the French writer Alexandra Lapierre became fascinated by Artemisia and wrote a novel about her, derived from scrupulous study of the painter and the historical context of her work. The novel seeks to understand the relation between Artemisia the woman and Artemisia the painter, and ends with describing as “leitmotiv” the relation between her and her father, composed of both love insufficiently expressed, and a latent professional rivalry. The 1997 film Artemisia, directed by Agnes Merlet and starring Valentina Cervi, was loosely based on this painter's life, but inaccurately portrayed the relationship between Tassi and Artemisia as a passionate affair rather than as rape. The novel The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, published in 2002, positions itself in the wave of the popularity of the feminist account of Artemisia Gentileschi.”

Maria Gaetani Agnesi was a distinguished 18th century mathematician, philosopher of language and theologian, the author of a widely read treatise on calculus which appeared in Milan in 1748. Agnesi is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna. According to Dirk Jan Struik, Agnesi is "the first important woman mathematician since Hypatia in the fifth century A.D. Her most valuable work in mathematics was the Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana, a work of great merit, which was published at Milan in 1748 and is regarded as the best introduction extant to the works of Euler. The first volume treats of the analysis of finite quantities and the second of the analysis of infinitesimals. In 1750, on the illness of her father, she was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to the chair of mathematics and natural theology at Bologna. She was the second woman to be appointed professor at a university. After the death of her father in 1752 she carried out a long-cherished purpose by giving herself to the study of theology, and especially of the Fathers and devoted herself to the poor, homeless, and sick. After holding for some years the office of directress of the Hospice Trivulzio for Blue Nuns at Milan, she herself joined the sisterhood, and in this austere order ended her days.

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Maria Gaetana Agnesi

What remains intriguing about Agnesi is that the scientific and Catholic dimensions of Agnesi’s life were not incompatible in her life and in fact makes one suspect that the supposed incompatibility is only in the mind of the Church’s secular detractors who continue insisting that religion per se is a sign of backwardness. To the contrary, all the way back in the 18th century we find space in Italy not only for a Catholic intellectual but for a woman too. That phenomenon ought to give some pause to the so called “enlightened” intellectuals of Europe who think that religion and science are mutually exclusive.

Agnesi’s Cielo Mistico (Mystical Sky) offers a clue to the solution of this alleged puzzle of her personality. She declares there that for her mystical contemplation did not in any way imply a rejection of the power of the intellect. The latter was for her merely the first stage of a process. She declares that “enlightening clarity” must give way to “burning clarity” as cognition gives way to love. In other words, between those two faculties there is cooperation rather than opposition. Indeed, that is certainly in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. As strange as it may seem to the modern enlightened mind-set, modern scientific insights can be promoted within rather than in opposition to the Catholic system of knowledge. Thus it is possible that mathematical analysis can become a tool, rather than an impediment, to the spiritual life of a believing Catholic.

Maria Montessori (August 1870–1952) was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. At the age of thirteen she attended an all-boy technical school in preparation for her dreams of becoming an engineer. She was the first woman in Italy to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, becoming the first female doctor in Italy. She was a member of the University's Psychiatric Clinic and became intrigued with trying to educate the mentally challenged which society considered "uneducatable."

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Maria Montessori

Montessori was convinced that “Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”

Because of her success with children, she was asked to start a school for children in a housing project in Rome, which opened on January 6, 1907, and which she called "Casa dei Bambini" or Children's House. Children's House was a child care center in an apartment building in the poor neighborhood of Rome. She was focused on teaching the students ways to develop their own skills at a pace they set, which was a principle Montessori called "spontaneous self-development". A wide variety of special equipment of increasing complexity is used to help direct the interests of the child and hasten development. When a child is ready to learn new and more difficult tasks, the teacher guides the child’s first endeavors in order to avoid wasted effort and the learning of wrong habits; otherwise the child learns alone. The Montessori method of teaching has enabled children to learn to read and write much more quickly and with greater facility than has otherwise been possible. The method concentrates on quality rather than quantity. The success of this school sparked the opening of many more, and a worldwide interest in Montessori's methods of education.

Montessori, like Agnesi, was a pious Catholic. Her life too, as an Italian, a European and a Catholic, confirms that to be a believer is not ipso facto incompatible with being at the edge of the latest and most modern methods of education. This brings us back to Habermas’ insights into the re-emergence of religion in public life in Europe. That phenomenon was not anticipated. But then again, we live in very interesting times when few events can be fully anticipated and those who think of themselves as living at the edge of modernity may suddenly discover that they are already behind the curve.

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 END  OF 33rd SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (28/08/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

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