Two women have crossed my research path over the last few years. In some ways they seem radically apart, but when I read about them I feel the same spirit in each. The first is Edith Stein (1891-1942). She is, most simply, an astounding woman. She was a student under the great phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. She completed her dissertation on empathy in 1916. And, as an assistant to Husserl, developed his phenomenology notes into comprehensive writings. I like reading about Husserl, Stein and the others taking long walks each day around the outskirts of Frieburg. I like to imagine walking and talking about impossible things like the experience of consciousness. Stein left Husserl’s employ in 1918 but stayed close to the phenomenology circle writing and publishing her own work. Stein underwent a deep religious conversion and became a Carmelite at a convent in Cologne. She transferred to Eckt in 1938 but was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where, most researchers conclude, she was gassed to death. She was beatified in 1987 and canonised in 1998 in Vatican City.
The other woman that astounds me is Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861-1937). She, like Stein, found a way through to a university education. When I read about her she sounds unconventional, strong-willed and open-minded. She became a psychoanalyst, novelist and play-write. Rilke adored her. Freud took guidance from her. I love the famous photograph of her in the back of a cart, wielding a whip to Paul Ree and Friederich Nietzsche. I think this photograph was prophetic for showing us Nietzsche’s future. Like Stein, Andreas-Salomé was persecuted for Jewish heritage. Like Stein, she attended University when it was almost impossible for women to do so. And, like Stein, her research broke ground that we build on today.
Empathy, libido, care and the erotic are strange topics to draw together but for me they have a fascinating embodiment from the perspective of womanness. Both Stein and Andreas-Salome lived their lives never knowing they would have an impact on a woman in Canberra, Australia a century or so after their time. I thank them, and all the other women, from whom I take such freedoms today.