Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Ethics of Air: Technology and the Question of Sexual Difference

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Ethics of Air: Technology and the Question of Sexual Difference

Article excerpt

For Luce Irigaray, the emergence of the scientific-technological-industrial worldview in late modern society is marked by an ever-pressing need to address the possibility of an ethics, specifically an ethics of sexual difference. For Irigaray, the articulation of this ethics must begin via reflection on the fluidity of the elemental and the challenges it poses to thinking. Such reflections are not new to The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, the text with which this essay is concerned. In "An Ethics of Sexual Difference" Irigaray claims that the calculative, leveling mode of technological thinking has led us to deny our fundamental relation to air.1 Technological thinking denies "that primary home" of materiality that is the original milieu of the self, the world, language, and social relations. Such a denial has led to an "ethics" of science and technology that fails to recognize the material ity/mortality of the human subject: "The fundamental dereliction of our time may be interpreted as our failure to remember or prize the element that is indispensable to life in all its manifestations. . . . Science and technology are reminding men of their careless neglect by forcing them to consider the most frightening question possible, the question of a radical polemic: the destruction of the universe and the human race through the splitting of the atom and its exploitation to achieve goals that are beyond our capacities as mortals" (ESD, 128; E, 124).

Irigaray's diagnosis of "the fundamental dereliction"2 of late modern society is Heideggerean in scope. She fundamentally agrees with the Heideggerean analysis of the culmination of Western metaphysics in a technological worldview. Thus, early on she utilized Heideggerean philosophy to understand the context in which a contemporary ethics must take place. Indeed, her very formulation of the question of sexual difference is indebted to the Heideggerean formulation of the question of Being.3 Nevertheless, though her long-standing relationship to Heidegger is clearly exemplified in The Forgetting of Air, it is also revealed as highly ambivalent. On the one hand, she finds his work indispensable for thinking the elemental, discovering a new relationship to Western metaphysics, and raising the question of sexual difference; on the other hand, she finds the Heideggerean text to be steeped in some of the same alleged self-evident certainties of Western philosophy's monosubjective discourse, which she finds hostile to questions of difference. For Irigaray, the possibility of ethics is to be sought in certain "forgotten traces" discoverable through a post-- phenomenological reading of Heidegger's diagnosis of the technological worldview of late modern society.

Nevertheless, Irigaray appropriates the Heideggerean diagnosis of the prevalence of the technological worldview as exercising dominance over our understanding of ourselves, social relations, and subjectivity. For both Irigaray and Heidegger, with the culmination of metaphysics in a technological-scientific-industrial worldview, the task of thinking is elaborated under the sign of memory; more specifically, a certain need to remember inhabits modern technology.4 For Heidegger, remembrance (Erinnerung) is marked by the incapacity to remember by any pure human initiative, which is why he insists that one must wait for the appearance of new words that can elaborate what is forgotten, i.e., Being. Irigaray claims that Heidegger's remembrance of Being in words such as "the clearing" signal another forgetting, i.e. the forgetting of air.5 Drawing on Heidegger's analysis of the essence of technology as an enframing (das Gestell) that "challenges forth" nature as "standing reserve" (Bestand), Irigaray charges these other words for Being with the forgetting of air. Under her lens Heideggerean Being is another word for Gestell insofar as Heidegger forgets that to be is to be in/of air. For her, Heidegger's diagnosis of technology does not go far enough since he does not grasp what one might say is the fundamental insight of her critique: that "to breathe also means to be" (FA, 62; OA, 59); that "to forget being is to forget the air" (ESD, 127; E, 124). …

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