Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Fluidizing the Mirror: Feminism and Identity through Kristeva's Looking-Glass

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Fluidizing the Mirror: Feminism and Identity through Kristeva's Looking-Glass

Article excerpt

Then she began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was as different as possible.

-Lewis Carroll,

Through the Looking-Glass

When Tweedledum and Tweedledee inform Alice that she is "only a sort of thing in [the Red King's] dream," she begins to cry. "I am real," Alice retorts, recovering from her emotional outburst by finding an image in the pool of her tears. She recovers her identity with the anxious assertion: "I am," "I am real," just in time to avoid the impending darkness of the "monstrous black crow"-black sun, symbolic breakdown-which frightens the twins away from the battle they had planned. ' Yet after Alice returns from her journey through the looking-glass, she realizes that she was dreaming of the Red King dreaming of her. Her lingering puzzle over "which dreamed it" throws her previous declaration of identity into uncertainty: if "I am" in a dream, am I but a dream? This time, however, the prospect of identity as dream, as fiction, does not seem so frightening.

The twins are emblematic of the logic of identity and of opposition twins negating each other (Contrariwise! Nohow!) and threatening battle-and yet they also disturb (Alice's) identity. Through the looking-glass, things happen that way. The border of identity, the boundary between self and other, inside and outside, may seem impenetrable-a mirror without depth reflecting only opposites separated by a void. But Julia Kristeva's work, moving through this mirror, opens up its border to difference, to movement and life in the seeming void. Though, as Alice notes, each side of the mirror houses only the "old and uninteresting," through the looking-glass Kristeva brings out heterogeneity. This difference emerges through the mirror, within the logic of identity and its twin opposites. Kristeva draws us into the blackness of the mirror's border, the seeming void between opposites, to bring out the heterogeneity therein.

Taking up Sides

Feminism is undergoing a crisis in identity. The identities feminists may have sought to define over the years have been steadily eroding as our conjunctions make our differences more apparent. The dangers of reified, oppressive identities are clear, yet the solidarity achieved through unity has arguably been important in propelling many feminist political successes. It seems at times as if feminists are taking up sides in battles over identity, lining up along a border between unity and multiplicity-e.g., "identity politics" and "radical difference." Yet identity is a peculiar thing over which to do battle, for it is not simply a "thing," a concept one can be either "for" or "against." While we do speak of it at times as a unity (say, a single conception of "self"), it is also, and perhaps most significantly, a border. It is a boundary that sets up both an inside and an outside, a self and an other. Thanks to Lacan, we can picture this border as a mirror whose reflected image sets up identity's first positions and negations-both "me" and "not-me," separated by a gap that forms against the mirror's tain. Both sides, both mirror images are colonized by identity, its border separating "sides" that each function according to its logic. Theorists concerned with the oppressive potential of identity are thus left with a dilemma: how to resist a logic that has already taken over both sides of the fight? How to "oppose" the logic of opposition? If both sides are colonized, it is difficult (some may say impossible) to find a strategy that does not, directly or indirectly, support the colonizer.

It seems refusing identity is not the key to difference, since attempting to go outside of identity only achieves a reflection of the same on the opposite side. But there may be another route, found in the work of Julia Kristeva: instead of refusing identity and trying to move outside of it, Kristeva suggests a move inside and through identity's border, accepting its logic and finding difference within it. …

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