Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Natality and the Philosophy of Two

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Natality and the Philosophy of Two

Article excerpt

The recent work of Luce Irigaray is indisputably Utopian for its elaboration of a possible becoming founded in a love that thwarts all conflict. From the publication of I Love to You in 1992 (1996), the question of love has been prominent in her writing-we find it in To be Two (2000a) and in Democracy Begins Between Two (2000b). Indeed, the title of her latest publication, The Way of Love, is indicative of her current thinking.1 But this is not a new departure as such; the significance of love as self-love and as love of the other was elaborated in An Ethics of Sexual Difference (1993). It was around the time of the publication of that text, however, that Irigaray started to stress the importance of the woman-man relation in her work. Love and a philosophy of these two sexed beings as the "two" began to take precedence as key elements in a transformation to a new era. The compulsion to progress to another culture permeates Irigaray's writing: she argues in various ways that recognition of a sexual difference to come will lead us out of our listless impasse and its wildcat violence. At a certain level, this argument may appear unconvincing. The persistence of wars suggests that conflict is indeed endemic to History, or that, for all the theoretical possibility of peace, history suggests that it is only ever partial and momentary. In fact, the contrast between the dire intractability of certain conflicts and some of her claims makes her analysis seem extremely utopian: as if simply loving the other as other will resolve the anguish of historical injustice and the brutality of material want. Any such call to love can only bring to mind the Christian inheritance, and indeed that context is not inappropriate to Irigaray's thought. She has worked with Christian groups in France, and thinkers such as Feuerbach have provided a springboard for key developments in her thought.2 Yet for many this is hardly a favorable association: how can Christian love really address the icy stillness of the dark night sky and the blinding detours of desire without displacing their negativity onto some form of other? The emphasis on love in Irigaray's more recent texts suggests that she believes it can-her current style contrasting with the irreverence and wit of her earlier critiques.3

But Irigaray's relationship to Christianity is of course not that simple. Her method always entails a process of reclaiming and reconstituting ideas while drawing upon different traditions. There is no immediacy of a kingdom of God within, no nihilistic assertion of the existence of an other world beyond the earth. Her utopianism emerges out of the bleakness of her own analysis of patriarchy, and it is from there that she wishes to develop a different horizon within the world. In common with many other political writers, her analyses are not primarily a contemplative reflection on a given state of affairs, or a questioning without end, but an intervention aimed at enhancing a process of change.

It is possible to interpret such a desire for change as a manifestation of a love for the world that Hannah Arendt described as the human condition of natality. For in her critique Irigaray presents patriarchy as a total system. Following other feminists' work on the predominance of patriarchy in human history-most notably Simone de Beauvoir's (1954) in the French context-her writings pursue with relentless rigor the exclusive dominion of the masculine. The very worldliness of the world is deemed masculine and determinant for a femininity that nevertheless acts as its indispensable silent support. Regardless of opinion over its historical veracity, the pursuance of the silent feminine in the total world of this masculinity is arguably a potentially self-annihilating task, perhaps akin to the reputed madness of following the path to the Hegelian absolute. Trapped in between the inhuman state of matter and the inhumane condition of being matter-for-men, why wouldn't the impossibility of becoming lead women to cease-to-be rather than come-to-be? …

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