As my reader may have already noted, the quotation marks in my title are somewhat perplexing. But they are there for a reason, and since their story is bound up with this essay's inception, I would like to begin by recounting it. A version of this paper was presented at a special session that Gillian Brown and I organized, under the title of Ends and Beginnings: Feminist-Nuclear Criticism," at the 1986 MLA convention. The title of my paper bears the traces of its institutional origin. I did not know that the MLA Program Committee reviews and may disallow the title of each paper, and was shocked when Epigraphs and Epitaphs: The End(s) of Man (originally with no added quotation marks) was returned with "Man" circled and the following comment: "Organizer--We must change to avoid sexist language. Alternatives might be life, or human life. Please let us know which you prefer or provide another word." I was not willing to change it. The word "man" had been chosen not only to illustrate my paper's subject, but the issues at stake in the entire session; indeed, the MLA's objection itself presented an example of the kind of question I wanted to explore: in the context of nuclear catastrophe, is "man" really equivalent to "human life"? I wrote in response that the title referred to Derrida's essay The Ends of Man,"1 and suggested that putting single quotation marks around it might solve the problem. Fortunately the committee accepted the compromise and let the amended title stand. But I have retained the punctuation thereby necessitated because the story of how it comes to be there raises an important issue regarding sexual difference, sexism, and deterrence.
Why, for example, was my (or Derrida's) use of the word "man" considered an instance of sexist language? Perhaps because it employs the name of one sex to refer to both men and women, thereby denying sexual difference by implying that femininity is identical to or the same thing as masculinity. But although the title might appear sexist in that it gives to all of human life the name of only one gender, it was formulated to engage the following questions: