The idea of the subject as an open system, a subject-in-process, is a central aspect of what I’ll call a model of relational subjectivity. By this I do not just mean Nancy Chodorow’s notion that we have the capacity to relate to and nurture others. I mean something much deeper: our very subjectivity is constituted relationally, in the relation between conscious and unconscious, semiotic and symbolic, self and other; also in the various political identities that we hold simultaneously. All these relations involve tension, yet at the same time they are productive. As relational subjectivities we are always “under construction,” always producing ourselves and each other. Relational subjects are always deeply indebted to each other.
Yet at first glance this debt seems to come in the form of a threat— of a negation of, and from, the other. A tenet of both poststructuralism and psychoanalytic theory is that our own self-identity is founded on our difference from others. Simply put, I realize myself only when I differentiate myself from others. Yet, though alterity occurs at the interpersonal level, certainly, more fundamentally it occurs intrapersonally. From a psychoanalytic point of view, someone’s identity is formed by the repression or rejection of many desires and drives. As these drives are driven underground, so to speak, into the unconscious, a conscious identity is born. Thus, alterity—differentiation of oneself from another—is the very basis for subjectivity.
So it is difficult at first to see how relationships could occur between subjects who at some level are always separating themselves