- Feminist philosophy (french)
- French feminist philosophy De Beauvoir, Kristeva, Irigaray, Le Doeuff, Cixous Alison Ainley INTRODUCTION Although women have been active philosophers for many centuries,1 the development of a specifically feminist viewpoint in the context of philosophy has gained credence only comparatively recently; partly as a result of more widespread debates about sexual politics in recent years, and partly as a result of social changes in the status of women. While recognizing that feminism did not spring fully formed and fully armed from the last twenty years like Athena from the brow of Zeus,2 for reasons of brevity I will discuss in this chapter only a few of the better-known contemporary contributors to feminist philosophy, and focus particularly on those feminists whose work overlaps with or draws upon continental philosophy. At the outset, it should be stressed that the strands of feminist thinking in relation to philosophy have been and continue to be diverse and do not necessarily present a unified point of view. Feminist thinking in relation to philosophy can take place at a number of levels and from different perspectives, and indeed this has been one of the strengths of its position(s). In general terms, it can take the form of a critique of philosophers’ images of women (for example, criticisms of Schopenhauer’s description of women as ‘defective, trivial, silly and shortsighted’,3 or Kant’s account of women as more sentimental and more ‘delicate in judgment’ than men).4 It can be historical research into past women philosophers whose work may have been unjustly disregarded.5 It can be a political critique of the organization of the discipline of philosophy, or a critique of the whole of philosophy as ‘male’ or ‘masculine’.6 Or it can be positive contributions to philosophy from a feminist perspective.7 Feminist philosophy may take all or some of these approaches to be important. However, as a general guide, feminist philosophy will assume the question of sexual difference to be a philosophical issue at some level and, depending on the point of departure, produce very different ways of theorizing this question. Having said this, not all women philosophers are necessarily feminist philosophers (although there may be feminist implications in their work); for example Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil are twentieth-century thinkers whose work I will not discuss here;8 and not all feminists accept the relevance of philosophy to their work. Despite these qualifications, a notable amount of feminist thinking has been greatly influenced and aided by developments in recent continental philosophy, borrowing from thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Lacan, and earlier figures such as Hegel, Freud and Heidegger.9 Such borrowings have furnished many different aspects of feminist approaches to questions of sexual difference, subjectivity and selfhood, ethics and epistemology. Because the above thinkers have been concerned to raise questions about the discipline of philosophy itself—for example, what they see as philosophy’s tendency to organize its enquiries in particular ways around notions of truth or knowledge, the use of binary oppositions or dualisms of mind/body, spirit/matter, order/chaos and hierarchical structures, and the issues of power and politics—they have been helpful in the search for ways of theorizing sexual difference for feminists. However, feminist theorists have also been highly critical of the above thinkers, sometimes finding their work reduplicating some of the problems they had already identified with the discipline of philosophy in general, i.e. the exclusion of women as philosophers, the use of such symbolic values as ‘the feminine’ to indicate chaos and plurality without considering how such values relate to women, or the tendency to speak ‘on behalf of’ women.10 In other words, feminists have been concerned about the apparent loss or lack of political agency which seems to accompany critiques of identity in recent postmodernist theory. Postmodernists such as Jean Baudrillard respond that ‘there is a strange, fierce complicity between the feminist movement and the order of truth’11 and women would do better to recognize that ‘woman is but appearance. And it is the feminine as appearance that thwarts masculine depth. Instead of rising up against such insulting counsel, women would do well to let themselves be seduced by its truth, for here lies the secret of their strength.’12 The critiques of identity which thinkers such as Derrida, Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze advance mean that women, characteristically stereotyped as lacking agency in the past, are ironically now ‘already’ in an enviable position.13 But feminists have been alarmed or suspicious of the passivity implied in such characterizations of the feminine. Such disagreements have often been placed in the context of the modernism/postmodernism debate, where feminist theorists are seen to be holding on to notions of emancipatory Enlightenment projects and ‘essentialist’ notions of identity in the face of, and in opposition to, unassimilatable heterogeneity and the feminine as ‘mere’ surface. However, the feminist thinkers I discuss below have, I believe, a subtle and complex approach to political questions and are not easily placed into this either/or debate. In addition to raising questions of sexual difference in the context of philosophy, they also raise questions about the connection (or lack of it) between theory and practice/lived experience—women are the ones (amongst others) over whose heads this discussion often seems to take place, and deserve to be able to make their own contribution. SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR Simone de Beauvoir is perhaps the best-known feminist philosopher of the twentieth century. Her lifelong association with Jean-Paul Sartre seems to have been on the whole one of mutual intellectual inspiration and companionship.14 De Beauvoir’s work on the moral implications and the social context of existentialism, for example in her 1947 work Pour une morale de l’ambiguité (translated as The Ethics of Ambiguity)15 was influential upon Sartre, an influence discernible in his shift of focus from the individual consciousness in Being and Nothingness16 to the more collective or situated concerns of his later work. The publication in 1949 of de Beauvoir’s best-known work, The Second Sex,17 continued her interest in these themes, a work which provoked reviewers to express outrage at a book which was seen to herald the breakdown of social relations. However, given that de Gaulle had granted French women the vote only five years earlier, the radical impact of this book should not be underestimated. The Second Sex is a rich and complex work which draws upon literature, myth and religion, theories of biology, accounts of social and economic development (Marxism and psychoanalysis), but also existentialist philosophy. De Beauvoir’s aim is to address the question ‘What is a woman?’18 It is because her painstaking analysis uncovers and addresses the nature of the oppression and exclusion of women that it has been significant in the history of feminist thought. But de Beauvoir is also responsible for the promotion of questions of sexual difference on to the philosophical agenda, and for probing questions about the social context of the existentially free individual. Sartre, Merleau- Ponty and other existentialist thinkers agreed that sexuality was an issue that had been largely disregarded in philosophy, but de Beauvoir’s work most insistently asks questions of the relevance of sexual difference to philosophical notions of identity, an insistence Michèle Le Doeuff has called ‘a characteristic genius for the inappropriate’.19 De Beauvoir points out that sexuality is not just ‘added on’ to human beings but plays a fundamental role in the meaning of an individual’s existence: that we are ‘embodied’. However, she rejects the accounts of sexual difference which subscribe to an ‘essential’ notion of identity, whether this is found in the biological differentiation of the sexes (male/female) or in the ‘eternal feminine’, an ideal ‘essence’ of feminine qualities.20 She rejects these accounts first because she sees individuals as dynamic, engaged in struggles towards freedom, and second because she fears that to suggest an ‘essential’ nature of woman will allow women to be imprisoned back in the problematic identity of the oppressed. This identity is unacceptable for ideals of existential freedom, and for feminist claims that women should have equal opportunities to engage freely in projects in the world. Her overwhelming historical evidence points to the fact that, in general, men possess such freedom and women do not. De Beauvoir takes up the concerns of existentialist thinking with the freedom of the individual, the capacity of the individual to make choices and the conflicts which arise between individuals in the context of social relations. She claims that The Second Sex is ‘an existentialist ethics’,21 and hence agrees with Sartre about the need for individuals ‘to engage in freely chosen projects’.22 The Sartrean individual, striving to maximize freedom, becomes aware that he or she exists as an object in the consciousness of others, a compromising objectification for an individual striving towards freedom. Individuals may become locked into opposing the determinations that others, with their own projects and their capacity to objectify an individual, present. This means that social relations are inherently conflictual, basically relations of dominance and submission. For de Beauvoir, it is important that freedom be maintained as an open horizon, since this is what gives meaning to an individual’s existence. However, she immediately questions the apparent neutrality of the individual and the equal starting point of human freedom and autonomy that existentialist individuals are supposed to possess. She points out that, rather than beginning from a neutral and autonomous point, women are already in the position of the determined and objectified, as the Other. ‘She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and he not with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other.’23 The freedom of the existential individual is immediately compro-mised by the socially constructed roles for men and women; rather than various neutral possibilities presented to equal individuals, women are unable to exercise their freedom, because they inherit a pre-given set of assumptions shaping the range of possibilities available to them. This seems to suggest that women are doomed to be inauthentic because of their sex, if inauthenticity is the failure to maximize one’s freedom. Women are in the position of being the second sex. Their existence is constantly conflated with their gender in a way that men’s is not, and they seem to be more confined to being bodies or objects. De Beauvoir accepts that biology plays an important part in one’s identity (we live our bodies), but argues that it cannot be used to determine one’s destiny. Women’s role in reproduction has caused her to be exclusively identified with this role, but with adequate social changes such as childcare and medical advances, there is no reason why reproduction should limit a woman’s capacity for freedom. The problem with a biological account of sexual difference, she argues, is that it may attribute essences to men and women, splitting human beings into two types or essential identities.24 There may be perceptible differences (in physical strength for example), but there is no intrinsic reason why strength should be given a superior value. Such values depend on social context, and are therefore open to revision. De Beauvoir may wish to dissociate herself from the ‘biology is destiny’ position, but she often seems to come close to rejecting biology altogether. If women are restrictively defined as ‘mere’ bodies or as mothers then such restrictions must be overcome, to ensure that women are able to realize their choices consciously. But de Beauvoir does not always consider the extent to which she may be echoing a misogynistic distaste for the female body in trying to overturn such determinations. ‘It has been well said that women have “infirmity in the abdomen”, and it is true that they have within them a hostile element—it is the species gnawing at their vitals.’25 These aspects of her argument are an attempt to escape from essentialism or biologism and to affirm the demand for self-determination. But de Beauvoir has also argued that women’s own experience is important and should be validated, even if such experience is of a less independent nature than men’s. After sex, she suggests, men are free to take up their individuality once again, whereas women feel themselves to be more ‘connected’ to biology and more embodied, with responsibility for reproduction within themselves—an experience of their own ‘immanence’.26 De Beauvoir’s commitment to projects of transcendence and freedom on the one hand, and her argument that women are more immanently ‘in’ their bodies on the other, seems to suggest that women are placed in the impossible position of having to transcend their own bodies. It suggests that if women do not seektranscendence they are ‘inauthentic’ or guilty of bad faith, but if they do seek transcendence it will be a project of self-defeat, an attempt to escape from the immanent realm which is ‘feminine’.27 This contradiction has led some feminists to interpret de Beauvoir either as essentialist or as suggesting that sexual identity is culturally constructed. In fact she seems to be in both positions, and the tension here can be interpreted as part of the contradictions in her existentialist framework. In keeping with her initial socialist perspective on oppression, de Beauvoir does seem to locate inequalities between the sexes in a social or cultural context. Such declarations as ‘One is not born a woman, one becomes one’28 or ‘the body is not a thing, it is a situation’29 would tend to support this interpretation. Her concern is to ensure that inequalities can be diagnosed, and so combated, at this level. She refuses to accept that any biological or essentialist reason could be given to prevent women overcoming their ‘secondary’ position. Sheer effort of will, the widespread recognition of women’s freedom and choices (which must also be recognized by men) and the fuller availability of choices will bring about greater equality of the sexes. This uncompromising stance often leads her to be stern about the efforts women must make to transcend determination for themselves, in effect to ‘stop colluding’ in becoming the other for men. Her objective is to galvanize women into asserting their autonomy and formulating projects which will allow them to develop their own identity. She has been criticized for apparently suggesting that it is only if women become more like men that equality will be attained, partly because the kinds of projects she values as important are derived from a framework which itself could still be described as masculine—emphasizing fewer domestic ties, the need for recognized (and paid) labour, perhaps specifically the work of individual creative artists. However, she does suggest that even complete equality in this sphere would not cancel out all differences between the sexes, and women would still maintain a specific understanding of their own sexuality.30 AFTER DE BEAUVOIR The increasingly complex account of otherness that feminist theory in France has developed owes a clear debt to de Beauvoir’s analysis of Woman as Other. Feminists have sought to combine the forceful political critique provided by drawing attention to sexual difference, with an analysis of identity drawn from developments in poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theory. Such an analysis draws attention to the self’s vulnerability to the displacing effects of desire, as well as to the socially and culturally constructed nature of identity, implicating systems of language and meaning in such a critique.31 Rather than situating projects for change and emancipation within existing political and cultural practices, many feminists have subjected such practices to a sustained critique, asking questions about the very constitution of meaning and the concepts of power and politics as such. Whereas de Beauvoir stressed the strong will and self-control required in struggling for equality and autonomy, subsequent theories have raised questions about the very nature of equality and the extent to which such self-control can be practised. In this respect, feminist critiques of identity as rational or masculine coincide with psychoanalytic theory regarding the displacement of consciousness by forces which call into question the epistemological privilege of the subject. Such forces are seen as allpervasive and unsettling, manifest in systems of representation and language and are understood as corresponding linguistically to the processes of desire. This theory, shaped in part by Lacan’s work in structuralism and psychoanalysis, looks at difference as a relation operating not only intersubjectively between self and other, but also as sets of relations of differences within the very systems of signification which order and create meaning. This expanded version of difference means that apparently unified or singular terms are seen to operate by processes of exclusion or suppression, occluding their relation to, or reliance upon, other terms. Discrete or autonomous identities are shown to be disrupted or undermined by ‘otherness’ and concepts such as ‘truth’ or ‘knowledge’ are put into question. Hence the maintenance of identity as rational and autonomous and the notion of truth as objective and independent are viewed as a defence of territory by the exclusion of that which is other. Anything which lies outside the ‘normal’ circuits of knowledge or identity gets classified as madness, chaos, darkness or ignorance, and the borders between the two realms are characterized as the site of constant power struggles. Many thinkers also draw attention to a symbolic equation between the excluded otherness and the feminine. Whether this connection is made explicitly or implicitly, the feminine as otherness is seen as multiple, dissembling and excluded, yet capable of disrupting limits and disturbing the status quo. Thus a connection is established between sexual difference (male/ female or masculine/feminine) and polarized oppositions such as self/ other, knowledge/ignorance, spirit/body. De Beauvoir makes it possible to draw these parallels from a feminist viewpoint, and to politicize the hierarchical arrangement of such oppositions. Apparent neutrality is thus opened up for analysis as an imbalance of power. But de Beauvoir retains her existentialist/humanist framework when discussing a possible feminist practice, whereas other feminist thinkers take up thecritique of the humanist subject as besieged and intersected by unruly forces of desire and structures of power. Thinkers such as Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous or Luce Irigaray are influenced by understandings of otherness inherited from Hegel, Sartre and Heidegger, as well as by Derrida’s account of western thinking as phallo-logo-centric, unduly centred on a particular account of truth which is infused with masculine values, and Foucault’s analyses of the connections between power and knowledge. They are also influenced by Lacanian theory concerning sexuality, language and identity.32 Psychoanalytic theory has proved useful to feminist theory, in that it can show the extent to which identity and sexuality are constructed by conflicting and quasideterministic forces, as well as indicating the penetration of such forces to psychic structures.33 At the same time there is an acknowledgement of the implicitly sexual nature of structures and economies which are ostensibly neutral. Hence on one level it provides a generalizable account of identity construction, cross-culturally and transhistorically. Despite the danger of universalizing identity which such an analysis courts, it does give a certain force to the analysis of sexual difference: the dominant structures which divide sexuality into two essential types may need to be challenged and addressed at precisely this level. However, the determinism implied by such internalized constructions is offset somewhat by the notion of the unconscious. The unconscious can act as a constant reminder of the overall failure of the internalization process: ‘a resistance to identity at the very heart of psychic life’,34 as Jacqueline Rose puts it. The splits, forcings and divisions of psychic life place pressure against the notion of coherent identity, a widespread replay of an incomplete adjustment to the norm. This moment of failure, negativity, fluidity or formlessness is symbolically bound up with the feminine. As Rose suggests, feminists may recognize certain similarities with their own projects—a ‘symbolic failure to adjust to normality’35 and the resistance this implies. Lacan suggests that the whole social and cultural context of meaning, the Symbolic Order, is premised on a suppression or repression of the symbolically feminine/maternal. Symbolically otherness stands as excessive, ex-centric and ecstatic, beyond or outside the dominant order of meanings, which allows Lacan to state ‘the woman does not exist’.36 Whether this is the pre-Oedipal mother or the quintessentially feminine, the Ideal woman or the dark absence of negativity, it is the process by which such a realm is designated as Other or otherness which allows the dominant meanings to retain their hold on truth, singularity and power, although paradoxically such otherness is the hidden ground or unacknowledged axis of such an economy. In its very construction the Lacanian framework is emphatically unfeminist. Nevertheless, Lacan accords women, or the feminine, a kind of power, the possibility of disrupting signifying systems, albeit without the agency to do anything other than constantly disrupt, efface, move on. ‘I believe in the jouissance of the woman in so far as it is something more, on condition that you screen off that something more until I have properly explained it.’37 The force of feminist theory influenced by Lacan may be understood as a kind of ‘return of the repressed’.38 The unnameable and unrepresentable feminine jouissance Lacan has proscribed is taken up as the power of disruption and destabilization, and works to unsettle fixation, particularly in the realm of sexual stereotypes. JULIA KRISTEVA The interdisciplinary nature of Julia Kristeva’s work, drawing from linguistic theory, Marxism, philosophy and psychoanalysis, makes her a versatile and wide-ranging thinker. She sees herself as a cultural critic and analyst rather than particularly as a feminist thinker, although many feminists see potentials in her work for developing critiques of western thinking and for understanding problems of identity, and she certainly deals with questions about ‘the feminine’, cultural representations of figures such as ‘the mother’, or topics such as Chinese women. Coming to Paris from Bulgaria in the mid-1960s, she brought with her a mixture of left-wing politics and an approach to literary criticism influenced by Russian formalism: in brief, a materialist approach to signification and social structures, tempered by her commitment to aesthetic and cultural practices and her desire to change oppressive conditions.39 The common themes running through her work are an interest in language, politics and sexual identity, themes initially broached in her doctoral thesis Revolution in Poetic Language (1974),40 where she attempts to develop a theory of identity formation in the context of Lacanian psychoanalysis and structuralism. Her main concern in this book is to understand the structuring effects of language without relinquishing the creative, poetic and marginal aspects. She then links her theory to a political account of marginalized but revolutionary forces, exemplified in the figure of the avant-garde poet. Through a complex intersection of theoretical perspectives, Kristeva develops her account of the material/linguistic forces which constantly disrupt identity, but are still located within the corporeal body. She suggests that identity is forged in a precarious and dynamic relation between various positionalities which can be taken up according to the social and cultural meanings in the Symbolic, and a force of negativity which is persistently engaged in undermining such positions. Her analysis has proved intriguing for many feminist theorists for a number ofreasons. First, she emphasizes the critique of identity as a fixed or essential notion. Second, she identifies the constructed nature of meaning and sexuality, and the determining or restrictive effect which existing definitions, stereotypes and cultural roles can have in shaping identity. Third, she identifies a transgressive force which, if activated, can have a disruptive or revolutionizing effect on the social/cultural context in question. Her account of ‘the subject-in-process’41 analyses the cost involved in subject formation, but it also hints at ways of subverting the dominant forms of understanding sexual difference. For feminist theorists, she seems to negotiate essentialism on the one hand by suggesting that subject ‘positions’ are being created and destroyed in the ongoing dialectic of signification, and yet she refuses to diffuse subjectivity into merely an effect of language. For Kristeva, Lacan’s ‘return to Freud’ (his reworking of Freud)42 is important in that it shifts the focus from biology to a linguistic shaping of sexuality and identity. This shift, she thinks, will allow for a different way of understanding identity. If sexual difference is implicated in the conceptual framework itself, Kristeva’s characterization of language as a shifting process of the production and decay of meaning allows her a potential for mobility on the question of identity formation. The Freudian focus on a visible/biological structure seems very limiting in the light of the fluid freeing of sexual difference into the Symbolic arena (many potential positionalities or social roles to be fulfilled). But in some ways all that has happened is a shifting of the terms of formation. Lacan’s point that a framework of cultural reference is the only place from which any account of sexual difference can be produced, is meant to negate any simplistic biological starting point. Now that difference is seen as being produced by systems of meaning, there is no direct access to a pure biological understanding of physical bodies, since it would be impossible to recognize such bodies outside of the system of meaning. This is the basis of the development of the imaginary, the realm which severs full cognisance of the body and renders its relation metaphorical or ‘morphological’. If identity is seen as structuration rather than as psycho-physical development through time, the issue shifts from questions of anatomical difference (at what point in development do differences appear?) to questions as to what such differences mean within the symbolic, and the extent to which they are open to subversion. But because Lacan denies any access to an ‘other’ realm, for him there can only be the conceptions of sexual difference which already exist, but which are inherently ‘masculine’ (because created in the Symbolic).43 For Lacan, the primary relation with the mother’s body, which he had characterized as fluid and plural, the realm of unmediated jouissance, was what had to be overcome so that identity could be established. Successfully relinquishing this realm of non-separation allows for successful entry into the Symbolic and identification with the masculine or patriarchal values of social/cultural meaning. The price to be paid for attaining linguistic competence and a place in the Symbolic is the loss of the blissful, unselfconscious pleasure before the entry into language. However, Kristeva argues that the overcoming of this ‘other’ realm can never be wholly successful, and it will continue to break through or irrupt into the Symbolic Order, where its effects will be felt bodily as pleasurable disturbances. Symbolically, such disruptions will connote the pre-Oedipal and the feminine. The focus of Kristeva’s work on femininity is governed by this understanding. If the structuration of identity is at the level of language, but this process is constantly invaded by the ‘language’ of the other realm, then its stability is called into question. Perhaps by insisting upon the disruptive rather than the constitutive elements of language, a sufficiently transgressive notion of the subject can be produced to allow it to reformulate itself, ‘more or less’ masculine or feminine? Kristeva is critical of theorists who focus on language as a homogeneous, logical system with internal coherence. It would seem she has in mind the prioritizing of communication, consensus and competence she finds in the work of Saussure and Chomsky and in Lacan’s symbolic. In contrast, Kristeva focuses on the ‘edges’ of language, the points at which language appears to break down: the ‘pathologies’ of madness and schizophrenia, the hermetic and difficult poetries of the avant-garde, and the ‘hysteria’ of women. She theorizes these aspects in a different way from other linguists, who had seen these forms of language as continuous with conventional signification, but less successful. If the formal practice of language uses is emphasized, these deviant practices are judged according to their conformity or deliberate flouting of the rules. Structuralist linguists minimized reference to ‘subjective’ elements. Kristeva seeks to identify a connection, but, as she makes clear, it is a productive and dynamic relation she is interested in, not a relation of stasis or a revival of a humanist subject. Focusing on rhythm, repetition, elision and displacement reinforces a notion of the subject-in-process, rather than an ideal enunciator, since it concerns the apparent failures rather than the successes of the struggle to maintain a coherent identity. It is also indicating the points at which the ‘other’ realm is discernible through its effects. Kristeva’s notions of ‘the semiotic’ and the ‘chora’ present an attempt to theorize this untheorizable, pre-discursive realm which is described in terms of ‘space’ or a locus to avoid pinning it to a stage of development. She writes of the semiotic as a kind of primordial writing or signifying of the body, although this is not strictly an accurate description, since it is concerned with ‘the body of a subject who is not yet constituted as such’.44 Still, this pre-signifying signification is a textuality of the body which is more experiential than meaningful. ‘We understand the term semiotic in its Greek sense; =distinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof engraved or written sign, imprint, trace, figuration.’45 It is an ordering of energies which initiates the inscription and conditions for representation. Hypothesized as both the material rhythms and forces underlying the possibility of textuality, and the imprinting of psychical energies to connect sensation to movement, it acts as a preparation for entry into language. This space is as yet undifferentiated but it cannot be described as homogeneous, shot through with ‘psychical marks’ and in a state of motility. Kristeva names it as ‘the chora…an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation constituted by movements and their ephemeral stases’.46 That this notion is positioned ‘prior’ to signification should not be taken to indicate a necessary chronology in time, since this realm is symbolically ‘other’ to temporal order as well as topographical space. Therefore although it is given an apparently archaic and originary status, it does not constitute a reified origin divided from the subject in the symbolic. This would replicate a duality which Kristeva is concerned to resist; the terms are not equal and the notion of origin is reconstructed only in retrospect from positions already in language. In fact, Kristeva is explicitly critical of Lacan for making the repression of the mother the condition of subjectivity. As she draws attention to the symbolic connection of the chora with feminine or maternal notions, she is taking up prefigured connections which identify the notion of an origin with a primordial mother: ‘This place which has no thesis and no position, the process by which significance is constituted. Plato himself leads us to such a process when he call this receptacle or chora nourishing or maternal.’47 However, the semiotic is in one important sense opposed to the Symbolic: it is a site of resistance and disruption against which the organization of the Symbolic is to be compared. Kristeva takes up the equation of otherness with the feminine or maternal, in order to demonstrate the sacrificial process involved in identity construction, and to suggest how the inherent violence might be made less painful or channelled in more creative ways. Despite the alignment of otherness and the feminine, for Kristeva it does not constitute an alternative identity for women, nor does it allow a specifically female or feminine language. However, there are ways of maximizing its disruptive effects in order to combat the restrictive impact of the Symbolic. The figures of the avant-garde poet and the political dissident are focal points in Kristeva’s earlier work, while later on she considers women as potential disruptive figures. What the father doesn’t say about the unconscious, what sign and time repress in their impulses, appears as their truth (if there is no absolute, what is truth, if not the unspoken of the spoken?) and this truth can be imagined only as a woman. A curious truth: outside time, with neither past nor future, neither true nor false; buried underground, it neither postulates nor judges. It refuses, displaces, breaks the symbolic order before it can re-establish itself.48 Kristeva suggests three ways in which this curious truth may be understood: ‘Jouissance, pregnancy, and marginal speech: the means by which this “truth”, cloaked and hidden by the symbolic order and its companion, time, functions through women’.49 Here Kristeva is linking ‘a vigilance, call it ethical’,50 with the figuration of the feminine and the maternal as ‘other’. It is a critical and disruptive kind of ethicality, linked to a capacity to resist the fixation of subjectivity and to remain critical, but also seeking a means to express such ‘otherness’. To refuse all roles, in order, on the contrary, to summon this timeless ‘truth’— formless, neither true nor false, echo of our jouissance, of our madness, of our pregnancies—into the order of speech and social symbolism. But how? By listening; by recognising the unspoken in speech; by calling attention at all times to whatever remains unsatisfied, repressed, new, eccentric, incomprehensible, disturbing the status quo.51 Here she seems to be suggesting that the location of ethicality is no longer adequately situated in the reformulation and attempted perfection of codes of behaviour, rules and laws. Unless the disruptive traces of the subject, constantly being rewritten in its processes, can also be accounted for, these projects are destined to keep retreading the same ground. The constant transgression and renewal of positioning in relation to the process of signification leads to the possibility of new practices, forged at the very boundaries of thinking. Kristeva finds in maternity the metaphoric expression of the above boundary location of ethicality, which is given the force of subversion but still embodied. Maternity connotes a possible irruption and interruption of the Symbolic, centrally placed, yet disruptive, a disturbance between stasis and dynamism, cyclical/monumental time and discursive/grammatical time. In her essay ‘Stabat Mater’,52 the poetic, left-hand (sinister?) ‘other’ side of the text irrupts into the historical and chronological mapping of motherhood. Textually this corresponds to a writing of the metaphoric mother, positioned as a body in signification and yet already split, separated, pleasuring; ‘the heterogeneity not subsumed under any law’. A space is opened for different subjective possibilities, yet retaining the specificity of women. This ‘heretical ethics’ (her-ethics) is based not upon avoiding the law, but upon enriching it. ‘Now, if a contemporary ethics is no longer seen as being the same as morality; if ethics amounts to not avoiding the embarrassing and inevitable problematics of the law but giving it flesh, language, jouissance—in that case its reformulation demands the contribution of women.’53 A similar position is taken in Kristeva’s analysis of the role of the Virgin Mary. In ‘Stabat Mater’ she draws heavily upon Marina Warner’s book Alone of All Her Sex; the Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary54 to indicate how the Virgin Mary becomes a symbolic axis of the conjunction between hebraic and hellenic; and as a conjunction between virginity and maternity. As a moment of undecidability, the figure presents a potential site of ambivalence, for the two traditions as well as for understandings of women. There is a potential disruption of the Greek logos and Jewish monotheism in the presence of a divine feminine figure, central to religion but neither one thing nor another. But this dangerous ambivalence is conscripted for control and synthesis, in that the virginal aspect becomes a pure and holy asceticism, and maternity becomes the continuity of the community via reproduction. The freezing of undecidability sets up an ideal, fusing with the existing ideal of virginity in courtly love and the ideal of devoted maternal love. The impossible totality of the virgin mother is not only disseminated within patriarchal cultures but becomes the prototype for western love relations. In Kristeva’s terms, the dangerous moment of rupture is contained by erasing jouissance, in virginity, and channelling it, in maternal reproduction, to sustain the deathless ideal of the masculine, whether this is the law, the community or the subject. This maternal figure, the epitome of romantic sentimentality and utterly serene icon, ideal and untroubled, functions as a sublimating vessel for various cultures. And yet Kristeva indicates that its ‘cleverly balanced architecture today appears to be crumbling’, the ‘psychotic sore of modernity’ is ‘the incapacity of contemporary codes to tame the maternal’.55 Thus it reveals that which it cannot contain even in trying to cover over this slippage. Despite Kristeva’s characterization of the subject as ‘an open system’, I don’t think she is committed to the denial of sexual difference or the ‘erasure’ of the subject. However, she does argue that the positionality which may lead to a metaphysical hypostatization of identity is to be found in feminist discourse too. This is perhaps what leads her to be unnecessarily harsh on the variety of feminist positions which do not coincide with her own; a fear of the reintroduction of the essentialist subject which has led women to ‘sacrifice or violence’. If this is a challenge to feminist theory, is it the kind of critique which feminist theory needs? Many feminist writers on Kristeva find her attacks on feminism uncomfortable, especially when they seem to emanate from an apparently powerful position as the ‘queen of theory’. But on occasion her work is compatible with feminist approaches to the body, offering a potential rethinking of corporeality in keeping with a radical perspective on difference. As Rosi Braidotti puts it: the body thus defined cannot be reduced to the biological, nor can it be confined to social conditioning. In a new form of ‘corporeal materialism’, the body is seen as an inter-face, a threshold, a field of intersection of material and symbolic forces; it is a surface where multiple codes of power and knowledge are inscribed; it is a construction that transforms and capitalises on energies of a heteronomous and discontinuous nature. The body is not an essence, and therefore not an anatomical destiny.56 LUCE IRIGARAY Like Kristeva, Irigaray has a background in linguistics, psychoanalysis, philosophy and feminist theory, and is currently practising therapy or analysis. However, she takes a set of premises very different from Kristeva’s from these areas, and produces markedly different conclusions. Born in 1930 in Belgium, Luce Irigaray began her work with research into psycholinguistics, specifically the language of patients diagnosed schizophrenic or suffering from senile dementia (see some of the essays in Speaking/Language is Never Neutral/Neuter first published in 1986).57 Her conclusions concerning the loss or lack of identity of such patients who seem ‘overwhelmed’ by language led her to draw comparisons with the position of women in relation to language. In the process of the analytic session, understood as a dialogue between two speakers, Irigaray noted a number of factors which continue to be important throughout her work. First, the emergence of identity formulated as possible positions in such locutionary exchanges. Second, the differences (specifically sexual difference) dramatized or enacted in speech. Third, the points at which grammatical formulations of language begin to break down, and the experience of speakers caught in this position. Her focus is the vulnerability of subjectivity and the attempts to secure a place for it against the destructive technologization of communication in the present age. However, her concern is not the resurrection of a humanist subject but a critique of the language and thinking which presents itself as neutral or neuter. Irigaray combines this research with her understanding of Lacanian psychoanalysis and structuralism concerning the construction of identity, to throw light on what she sees as a sacrificial culture and the position of women in such a culture. One of her concerns, which has been extensively misinterpreted, is her attempt to develop an alternative strategy to allow ‘feminine identity’ to take (a) place. Although she has often been understood to be positing a language of the female body, the level of her intervention is markedly that of cultural and social formations. She does suggest that the dominant form of discourse has been ‘isomorphic’ with masculine sexuality, and it is this relation which has been difficult to understand or translate. It is not simply a representational model but a relation itself to be understood as metaphoric or metonymic. If this relation has dominated in the past, perhaps there could be a form of discourse which has morphological suggestions of images of the female body? It is this ‘hypothetical’ style she deploys in the essay This Sex Which is Not One’ (first published in 1977),58 and which has led to the assumption that she is ‘writing the body’. Rather, it appears that this stylistic deployment is a strategic intervention in what she feels has been a monologic or ‘phallo-logo-centric’ approach to questions of sexuality and language. In her later work it appears that she is concerned more with existing social formations and linguistic practices than with developing a completely alternative female language, and her recent empirical studies into language use and sexual difference would seem, with hindsight, to support this analysis of her early writings. However, this does not lessen her attempts to restore, or rather to create, a less damaged and damaging understanding of sexual difference. At the beginning of her book The Ethics of Sexual Difference, (first published in 1984),59 she states her belief that sexual difference is the burning issue of our age, the issue of difference which potentially could be ‘our salvation on an intellectual level…the production of a new age of thought, art, poetry and language; the creation of a new poetics’. However, she suggests that the development of this event is hampered and constrained by the systematic repetition of sameness being compulsively reiterated in the spheres of philosophy, politics, religion and science. This repetition, or reworking of the same ground, is evident in many contexts, which Irigaray lists as ‘the consumer society, the circular nature of discourse, the more or less cancerous diseases of our age, the unreliable nature of words, the end of philosophy, religious despair or the regressive return to religion, scientistic imperialism or a technique that does not take the human subject into account, and so on’.60 According to Irigaray, this repetition works to conceal or efface a possible way of articulating otherness. This articulation, she thinks, can best take place in the context of questions of sexual difference. Apart from the explicit feminist perspective, her reasons for privileging sexual difference lie in her specific appropriation of psychoanalytic discourse, particularly the work of Lacan. Despite her use of a psychoanalytic framework, her work is also a strategic departure from it, or an attempt to subvert it from within. She suggests that psychoanalysis has enabled a theoretical treatment of sexuality and identity to take place via the (generalizable) analysis of forms of patriarchal identity as constructions. Her focus on the constructed nature of such notions as identity, philosophical discourse and its concepts has a number of implications. She is able to diagnose a bias running through the history of such notions and to point to the permeation of such forces to psychic levels. She is also able to conduct a sustained critique of the damaging nature of such constructions as exclusion or suppression. She thus sees her work as ‘jamming the machinery’61 of western theory, a process of analysing and uncovering the fantasies, projections and repressions which are taken to be normal or necessary. The nature of this work is extensive and radical. For the work of sexual difference to take place, a revolution in thought and ethics is needed. We must re-interpret the whole relationship between the subject and discourse, the subject and the world, the subject and the cosmic, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic…. In order to think and live through this difference, we must reconsider the whole question of space and time.62 If such apparently foundational notions are shown to be constructions, then there is a possibility that they may be modified or changed in the future. For Irigaray, the usefulness of psychoanalytic theory rests in some part on its capacity to analyse the symbolism of masculine and feminine as a pair of terms which pervade wide and various sets of relations, such that the symbolization becomes tangled up in the very process of conceptualization. The common oppositions of the Pythagorean table of opposites become aligned with a symbolic interpretation of anatomical difference, and, significantly, the unified, non-contradictory and homogenous terms come to dominate. Across a range of systems and at different levels, exclusion and censorship operate to prioritize the masculine term at the expense of the feminine, such that the very operation itself is obscured from view. The status quo is maintained at the price of a peculiar violence—the exclusion of the feminine, or its characterization as object, matter, inferior term. As regards subjectivity, masculine/feminine forces or values may become aligned with male and female sexes, but, she suggests, the very notion of subjectivity itself has ‘already been appropriated to the masculine’, despite the way that such a notion is presented as neutral. It is because such structures are built upon repression and denial that inevitably the tension of maintaining such a territory begins to show and the cracks, failures and breakdowns indicate the spaces through which the potentiality of the feminine may begin to be built. It is through her under-standing and seizure of a certain lack of synchronization, therefore, that Irigaray situates her project. Irigaray’s engagement with philosophy has been extensive. If she sees philosophical discourse as ‘the master discourse…the discourse on discourses’63—adding, ‘the philosophical order is indeed the one that has to be questioned, and disturbed, inasmuch as it covers over sexual difference64—she has also identified philosophy’s resources as crucial in reinterpreting questions of sexual difference. She sees her focus as philosophical, but her work is a dramatic testimony to the ambivalence she feels as a woman in philosophy, and as such displays an equivocation between her critique of philosophy and her more positive reconstructions of female subjectivity. In the context of philosophy, she announces her desire to ‘have a fling with the philosophers’,65 paradoxically to indicate the seriousness of her engagement with philosophical questions. This means ‘going back through the male imaginary’, and gives rise to ‘the necessity of “reopening” the figures of philosophical discourse—idea, substance, subject, transcendental subjectivity, absolute knowledge—in order to pry out of them what they have borrowed that is feminine, from the feminine, to make them “render up” and give back what they owe the feminine.’66 She means to be as intimate and familiar with philosophical history as possible, but also to challenge it from the position of a woman; that is, one who is symbolically positioned outside or other to philosophy, one who can only ‘flirt’ with ideas, or conversely, deflate them by being too playful, refusing to take them seriously. This positioning allows Irigaray to follow through some of the main canonical texts of western philosophy; in Speculum of the Other Woman (first published in 1974), she takes on Plato, Aristotle, Meister Eckhart, Descartes, Hegel, Spinoza, Plotinus, Kant, Marx, Freud, and in The Ethics of Sexual Difference she adds Hegel, Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, while other texts deal with Nietzsche and Heidegger, for example,67 reconstructing their logic carefully in order to show how it interrupts itself. What she calls ‘the blind spot in an old dream of symmetry’,68 the hidden assumption so necessary to the symmetry and so necessarily hidden, will entail analysing philosophy’s unconscious. For Irigaray, what is repressed is ‘the feminine’, that which allows philosophy to get off the ground, but must remain essentially unspoken, as the ground. The negativity of symbolically occupying this groundless ground constantly places women in an impossible position. As primal matter or ‘mother-matter’, the feminine or maternal acts an archaic past, the ‘nature’ placed in opposition to culture. ‘The mother-woman remains the place separated from its “own place”, a place deprived of a place of its own. She is, or ceaselessly becomes, the place of the other who cannot separate himself from it.’69 One of Irigaray’s concerns is to explore the suppressed or superseded nature of this element or ‘the elemental’ space, partly to remind philosophy of its debt to this unexplored ‘prerational’ world-view and partly to try to develop a vocabulary which could articulate this otherness. Irigaray writes: ‘I wanted to go back to this natural material which makes up our bodies, in which our lives and our environment are grounded; the flesh of our passions.’70 Her ‘elemental’ texts deal with air, earth, water and fire, her ‘re-invention’ of the material origins of philosophical thinking and its elision with maternal or feminine symbolism (for example in Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche (first published in 1980) she shows a certain aversion in Nietzsche’s writing to water, which is symbolically feminine). In trying to imagine this ‘other region’ she employs a strategic syntactical style, an interplay of weaving in the writing of the body as she had expressed it— multiplicity and plurality, with frequent changes of tense, and questions disurpting her work and interrupting whichever position she was speaking from. Speaking (as) woman is a tactical means of restoring specificity to a non-specific discourse, and also corresponds to her aim to put the philosophical subject back into a material context—the body and the materiality of its surroundings. Irigaray’s strategy in reading these canonical texts is to imitate their movements, a mimicry which is, in its very exaggerated miming, in excess of the limits and definitions which had been set. There is in an initial phase, perhaps only one ‘path’, the one historically assigned to the feminine: that of mimicry. One must assume the feminine role deliberately. Which means already to convert a form of subordination into an affirmation and thus to begin to thwart it…. To play with mimesis is thus, for a woman, to try to recover the place of her exploitation by discourse, without allowing herself to be simply reduced to it.71 Her strategy of mimicry is directly related to the notion of ‘mirroring’ which runs throughout her texts. This notion is part of a complex set of interwoven strands which explore the preoccupation of western thinking with accurate ‘reflection’, illumination, and clarity. Not only do metaphors of the ‘ocular’ and ‘specular’ seem to dominate, but, she suggests, they are essential for the establishing of the self-reflexive subject, and the apparent autonomy of the philosopher. The narcissism of the subject that results is, for Irigaray, part of the logic of ‘the same’. However, she also suggests that the speculations which privilege this version of the epistemological subject are based upon a (hidden) reliance upon women or the feminine to act as a mirror for such a subject, at the expense of their own identity. Women are either frozeninto static representations dictated by the logic of the same, or they are positioned wholly outside the system as a conceptual ‘black hole’; the elsewhere and otherwise without a status of its own. In Speculum Irigaray suggests equivalencies with Freud’s dark continent or Plato’s cave, the exploration of which is deemed essential and yet produces, according to Irigaray, theory still caught within its own expectations, more of the same. In order to broach the question of sexual difference, Irigaray produces a critique of the ‘flat mirror’ of ‘the processes of specula (riza)tion that subtend our social and cultural organisations’72 and suggests, through such a critique, another mode of approach which will allow for feminine subjectivity: ‘a curved mirror, but also one that is folded back on itself, with its impossible appropriation “on the inside” of the mind, of thought, of subjectivity. Whence the intervention of the speculum and the concave mirror, which disturb the staging of representation.’73 If mimesis is no longer direct and accurate ‘reflection’, then the distorting mirror in which women have been confined can throw back ‘disturbed’ and disturbing reflections, thereby beginning the process of allowing the feminine to take (a) place. This is a mimicry which not only twists and parodies, but effects a change in the process. Irigaray proposes a particular conception of psychic health to counteract the crisis and fragmentation of the present age, which would involve the adequate conceptualization of both masculine and feminine elements in a non-hierarchical exchange and process. However, we are far from this stage. The feminine is still inadequately conceptualized. It is only by intervening on the destructive circuit that another age of difference might be broached, an intervention which Irigaray describes as ethical. The revaluation of ‘passion’ and ‘wonder’ (admiration)74 could lead to relations which, while retaining the radical otherness of the other, allow for an ethical encounter to take place. Irigaray’s more explicitly political proposals include interventions in the legal, civil and representional status of women75 and her own work with various women’s groups in Italy for example. But she has also explored more ‘mystical’ approaches; lyrical poetic expressions of love between women, between mothers and daughters and lovers, and her work on ‘the divine’, which is an attempt to explore the forms of sacred meaning which have also acted to exclude women, and to revalue divisions between sacred/profane, carnal/celestial, matter/spirit.76 Irigaray’s equivocations may strike her critics as contradictory or difficult to place. How are we to understand what seem to be utopic projections of ‘amatory exchanges’ and a new fertile dialogue of sexual difference in the light of her sustained critique of subjectivity and philosophy, the ‘sacrificial culture’? Is she writing for all women? From where? However, at present she is perceived to be a thinker who manages to negotiate the minefields and sustain the tensions with acuity, a position which itself invites further responses and engagements with her writings.77 MICHÈLE LE DOEUFF Michèle Le Doeuff was born in 1948, taught philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and is currently doing research at the CRNS. Her focus on the apparently innocuous illustrative devices used in philosophy (and she shows that ‘the feminine’ is a constantly recurring item) uncovers a tension at the heart of such texts which has repercussions for women’s relation to philosophy. Although metaphors and images may appear to be harmless, especially when they are explicitly given a secondary status, one of Le Doeuff’s concerns is to expose such an assumption. Her reading of the history of philosophy shows how philosophy draws upon a very specific set of such devices which function in quite particular ways in the texts, even as ‘philosophical discourse…labels itself as philosophical by means of a deviation from the mythic, the poetic and all that is image making’.78 For Le Doeuff, these images point to tensions or stress lines in the organization of the philosophical enterprise, the ‘sensitive nerve endings’ which say more about philosophical discourse than it would prefer to speak. For not only do they provide continuity markers in the history of philosophy, but they also indicate the ‘obsessions, neuroses and dangers’, or the more uncontrollable elements intrinsically bound up in the progress of reason. In her book The Philosophical Imaginary (first published in 1986) she analyses such images and figures in Kant, Rousseau, Plato, Moore, Bacon and Descartes. She argues that philosophy sets up the feminine as an internal enemy: ‘a hostile principle, all the more hostile because there is no question of dispensing with it…the feminine, a support and signifier of something that, having been engendered by philosophy whilst being rejected by it, operates within as an indispensable deadweight’.79 Despite the psychoanalytic tones of this analysis, Le Doeuff rejects any notion of the unconscious at work. For her, the metaphors of ‘the feminine’ are expressed as part of the philosophical imaginary (which at times seems to resemble a bestiary), but she uses this term more in the sense of ‘a collection of images’ than in the sense which Lacan, or Irigaray, employ it. She argues that greater awareness of this process will have certain implications for changes in the practice of philosophy, but she rejects overarching frameworks such as Marxism or psychoanalysis, partly because of her concern that women in philosophy will exchange one set of orthodoxies for another, sitting at the feet of ‘new masters’ (Lacan and Derrick, amongst others), a process which sets up new forms of political correctness. This is why she is careful to examine the specific relation of student and teacher in her more recent book Hipparchia’s Choice (first published in 1989).80 She conducts an analysis of the way an apprenticeship is served in philosophy, considering what techniques of assessment, training and control are used. Seeing this relation in terms of influence and power or lack of it, she locates it within a wider set of relations, the relation of the academic institution to the particular social setting and historical inheritance, with connections between knowledge and power being made in a manner reminiscent of Foucault. Her ‘case study’ for this analysis is the relationship between Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, a complex site of tensions between male/female, teacher/ disciple (de Beauvoir’s own description), philosophy/feminism. Rather than concentrate upon the exclusion of women from philosophy, Le Doeuff emphasizes their incorporation into the very centre. Far from them appearing as victims of rigid expulsion, she points out, women have been philosophers all along, learning, corresponding, discussing and writing. However, the terms of their admission into philosophy have been, she suggests, quite strictly controlled, presenting a more complex and subtle picture of philosophy’s process of self-legitimation. Despite the cheerful optimism which Le Doeuff seems to display about the possibility of ‘retraining’ philosophy to be more open and tolerant, she doesn’t underestimate the difficulties which such a demand presents. Rather, I would see her strategy as ‘entrism’, borrowing scholarly techniques in order to gain a legitimate foothold in philosophy, and from there developing the feminist challenges and provoking the changes which she believes the discipline must address. She wishes to redeem, restore and rehabilitate philosophy, arguing for a pluralistic ‘contest of faculties’, or ‘constrained disagreement’ in academia, which could allow for uncertainty and resisting closure, and prevent domination of any one viewpoint at the expense of other, more hesitant viewpoints. This approach, which Rosi Braidotti calls ‘a reasoned critique of reason’,81 comparing it with the work of Lorraine Code or Genevieve Lloyd,82 means that her work does not indict the whole of western philosophy for ‘masculinism’. Her work is not really compatible with that of, for example, Irigaray’s, because Le Doeuff does not subscribe to the discourse of radicality or revolution. Her ‘commonsense’ approach contrasts with the ‘poetic-hysteric’ style of other French feminists, but some critics find her occasionally too cautious. HÉLÈNE CIXOUS Hélène Cixous was born in Algeria in 1937, and has been professor of English literature at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes, located in Saint-Denis, since 1968. It is with Cixous that the notion of écriture féminine (feminine, or female, writing) is most readily associated. Through her explorations of the relationship between sexuality and writing, mostly in her texts of the 1970s (which deliberately defy classification as poetry or theory), she tries to encourage the scripting of Lacan’s forbidden feminine jouissance. While she seems to pay even less heed to the theoretical demands of philosophical rigour and clarity than Kristeva and Irigaray, she elaborates on the construction and uncovering of feminine sexual pleasure as it might be given shape in a subversive practice of writing, but the implicit background is Derrida’s analysis of différance and the poststructuralist problematizing of logos, power and knowledge. Cixous takes up the notion of the feminine as symbolically other, plural and multivocal, positioned as such by the classical oppositions which classify and divide values. Her texts may be said to work at the knots which tie such an economy in place, loosening the rigidity of dualisms to free the expression of heterogeneity. Through the exploration of this more open and fluid form of difference, from the strategic standpoint of a woman ‘lost’ in her corporeal sexuality, her dreams of her marginalized, inessential nature, Cixous believes that the fixity of our present conceptual schema will be shaken. Her work initiates and celebrates the experiential dimensions of feminine desire. She raids classical literature to uncover ‘lost voices’ through reinvesting in powerful figures—mothers, mythical heroines, goddesses and the ecstatic and excessive aspects of a sexual ‘dark continent’. It is also an attempt to enrich a particular vocabulary coextensive with ‘the feminine’; poetic and allusive, metaphorical and ‘incandescent’. Rather than merely replicating the static, fragmented or silenced position she has diagnosed women as occupying, her texts attempt to transgress these positions by ‘overloading’ them, and lyrically exploding them. The notions of ‘spending’ and ‘the gift’ are significant in her piece ‘Sorties’:83 showing up an economy of exchange to be one of exploitation by miming its carefully monitored limits to the point of parody is for Cixous a political and transgressive activity. There are many problematic aspects of Cixous’ work—she may seem to lapse into the versions of women’s bodies she was critical of, or into a fascination with her own fabulous textual labyrinths at the expense of more explicit political engagement. She does extricate herself from any collective feminism which she believes to be a quest for recognition and legitimation in an inadequately interrogated patriarchal economy and so a ‘reactionary ideology’. It is also unclear whether Cixous is celebrating and uncovering the quintessential ‘feminine’ in her work, or if she is demonstrating a strategy which all women are invited to explore for themselves. The use of ‘we’ for women in her texts is an ambivalent point in this regard. However, the celebratory tone of her texts is inspirational and creative: ‘a laughter that breaks out, overflows, a humour no one would expect to find in a woman… she who laughs last. And her first laugh is at herself.’84 CONCLUSION The philosophical paradox of scepticism bears, I think, many similarities to feminist work in philosophy. ‘Scepticism may be understood as an expression of an extreme form of dissatisfaction with the logos in its philosophical form. Scepticism tries to evade philosophy; but is there any logos-free space where it could settle to enjoy a human life?’85 If thinking is continually involved in movements of imprisonment, encompassing and repulsing, ‘Which experiences, adventures of the mind, or events of history do not permit the gathering of logos to enclose them within its horizons?’86 How are we to find a strategy of critique which is not merely repetition of the same, but manages to avoid the infinite regress of a scepticism forced to be sceptical of its own position? This is the problematic which faces those thinkers who seek to reproach philosophy for what it has repressed or left out, and to reproach it in the name of a legitimate cause, and yet this reproach contaminates the basis of an appeal to legitimation in reproaching philosophy. How to dodge philosophical containment while at the same time utilizing its resources to articulate otherness? Engaging in this ‘impossible’ enterprise is to offer an ethical reproach to philosophy, the conditions of this reproach being a determination to avoid quietism. The questioning of identity belongs to an immense volume of work which aims to uncover the conflation of singularity, ontology and presence, and the connection to the power structures which not only create such formations but maintain them as the most successful means of sustaining the status quo. The totalitarian thinking which occludes difference in the name of a more coherent theorization of unity is not confined to those political regimes more immediately identifiable as repressive, but also to the liberal framework which argues for equality at the expense of celebrating difference. If feminist theory has been concerned to question identity in the context of postmodernist thinking, it is in order to analyse the alignment of presence and power. But the recent ‘return to the subject’ in philosophical theory, which is heralded as the chance to reconsider questions of ethics and political responsibility now that subjectivity has been unsettled from its complacent fixity, is not really new to feminist theory, in that feminism is in general seeking an effective version of agency to be able to conduct a struggle, whether reformist or revolutionary. NOTES 1 See M.E.Waite (ed.) [12.87]. 2 In [12.85], 169, G.Spivak suggests that the professional woman philosopher may be comparable to Athena: ‘Women armed with deconstruction must be aware of becoming Athenas, uncontaminated by the womb, sprung in armour from the father’s forehead’. 3 A.Schopenhauer, ‘On Women’, in [12.84], 102–13. 4 I.Kant [12.69]. 5 See some of the contributors to [12.87]. 6 Many feminists have drawn attention to masculine traits in philosophy (see [12.73, 12–80] for examples) although this does not often extend so far as to see philosophy as all and irredeemably ‘male’. 7 I have tried to include a representative sample of feminist philosophers in the Bibliography. 8 See E.Young-Bruehl [12.93], and C.Herman, ‘Women in Space and Time’, in E.Marks and I.de Courtivron (eds), New French Feminisms, an Anthology (Brighton: Harvester, 1980), pp. 168–74, for just two examples of feminist readings of Arendt and Weil. 9 See A.Jardine [12.68], R.Braidotti [12.50] or E.Grosz [12.65] for a mapping of the influence of such thinkers on contemporary feminist theory. 10 The works cited in note 9 also give examples of critiques of these thinkers. See also A.Nye [12.79]. 11 J.Baudrillard [12.46], 8. 12 Ibid., p. 9. 13 See J.Derrida [12.57], J.-F.Lyotard, ‘One of the Things at Stake in Women’s Struggles’, in A.Benjamin (ed.), The Lyotard Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 111–21, or G.Deleuze [12.57] for examples of the fragmentation and dispersal of identity being linked to the feminine. 14 Texts dealing with Sartre’s and de Beauvoir’s relationship are extensive: see for example M.Le Doeuff’s discussion in Hipparchia’s Choice [12.43]. Many of the themes discussed above are given shape in de Beauvoir’s novels, for example in The Woman Destroyed, or in her short stories, When the Things of the Spirit Come First. Portraits of women struggling with social contradictions and moral dilemmas and attempting, succeeding or failing to assert their freedom, complement her more theoretical work on this topic. Such themes are also given poignant expression in her autobiography, from ‘dutiful daughter’ to ‘old age’. 15 S.de Beauvoir [12.27]. 16 J.-P.Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. H.Barnes (London: Methuen, 1968). 17 S.de Beauvoir The Second Sex [12.28]. 18 Ibid., p. 13. 19 M.Le Doeuff, Hipparchia’s Choice [12.43], 58. 20 De Beauvoir, The Second Sex [12.28], 15. 21 Ibid., p. 28. 22 Ibid., p. 29. 23 Ibid., p. 16. 24 Ibid., pp. 35–69. 25 Ibid., p. 62. 26 Ibid., p. 57. 27 See G.Lloyd [12.73], 102, for a discussion of this paradox in relation to de Beauvoir. 28 De Beauvoir, The Second Sex [12.28], 249. 29 Ibid., p. 66. De Beauvoir also considers a Marxist analysis of sexual difference, which attributes inequalities to economic conditions and the historical development and transmission of such conditions. The division of labour which leads to the unequal distribution of property and wealth still does not explain why women should be seen as secondary, confined to the home and themselves valued as part of property. Sexual difference cuts across all class distinctions, yet in each class women are seen as subordinate. Although she agrees that at some indeterminate moment in history women became the other for men, and, once occupying a secondary role, continued to perpetuate such conditions through the centuries, she rejects the idea that the abolition of the family will resolve women’s subordination, since without a fuller account of interpersonal relations (how dominant and subordinate roles between individuals come about), she argues, the inequalities may continue to exist. 30 See J.Pilardi, ‘Female Eroticism in the Works of Simone de Beauvoir’, in J. Allen and I.M.Young (eds) [12.44], 18–34. Another aspect of sexuality which de Beauvoir explores is the psycho-physical development of an individual in the context of the family. She agrees with Freud that women’s positioning as subordinate is a consequence of her own emotional and sexual development, as a woman she identifies with or reacts against certain models of sexuality and incorporates such attitudes into her own self-understanding. But she also questions the universality of the Freudian scheme, being suspicious of the apparent inevitability with which men and women achieve their sexual identity in Freud’s view, motivated by drives and prohibitions into particular socially determined roles, mainly because it represents an encroachment on her valorization of freedom. 31 See C.Duchen [12.61] for a clear historical perspective on the shifts in thinking. 32 See E.Grosz [12.66]. 33 See J.Mitchell and J.Rose (eds) [12.76], or J.Gallop [12.63], for discussions of this influence. Feminist theory influenced by ego-psychology and object relations psychoanalysis, such as the work of Jessica Benjamin or Nancy Chodorow ([12.48], [12.54]) differs, in that it tends to analyse patterns of identification and difference or relations of dominance and submission between individuals, rather than the fragmented individual of Lacanian theory. 34 J.Rose, cited in G.C.Spivak, ‘Feminism and Deconstruction, Again: Negotiating Unacknowledged Maculinism’, in T.Brennan (ed.) [12.51], 206–24. 35 Ibid. 36 J.Mitchell and J.Rose (eds) [12.76], 166. 37 Ibid., p. 147. 38 Although this is Freud’s phrase, it is often used to describe feminist theory influenced by psychoanalysis. 39 See J.Lechte [12.72] for an account of Kristeva’s work and influences upon her. 40 J.Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language [12.35], Only the first part is translated. The poets she discusses in the later section are Lautréamont and Mallarmé. 41 Ibid., p. 22. 42 See Lechte [12.72], 32, where he writes: ‘On 7 November 1955, Jacques Lacan—doctor of medicine, psychoanalyst, friend of surrealism—“officially” announced his famous “return to Freud” in a paper given at a neuro-psychiatric clinic in Vienna.’ See J.Lacan, The Freudian Thing, or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis’ in [12.71], 114–45. 43 Lacan writes: ‘It is the name-of-the-father that we must recognize as the support of the symbolic function, which from the dawn of history has identified his person with the figure of the law’ [12.71], 67. 44 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language [12.35], 25. 45 Ibid. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid., p. 26. 48 Kristeva, About Chinese Women [12.36], 35. 49 Ibid., p. 36. 50 Ibid., p. 16. 51 Ibid., p. 35. 52 Kristeva ‘Stabat Mater’ in Tales of Love [12.40], and in The Kristeva Reader [12.41]. Quotations from The Kristeva Reader. 53 Ibid., p. 185. 54 M.Warner [12.88]. 55 Kristeva ‘Stabat Mater’, in [12.40], 162. 56 R.Braidotti [12.50], 219. In contrast to the so-called ‘feminists of difference’ stand those thinkers who see all identity as social construction, and as a consequence see the notion of sexual difference as constructed. Such thinkers as Monique Plaza and Christine Delphy return to the ground of materialist/ humanist thinking because they see the adoption of sexual difference and ‘the language of the female body’ as too hasty or naive, in the face of the material and social oppression which women face. While it may be timely to remind philosophy of such concerns, overall the rejection of difference may lead once again to the marginalization or postponement of issues about sexual difference, or to very specific or localized areas of concern. Monique Wittig is perhaps an example of this approach. She rejects all binarisms of male/female or masculine/ feminine, and opts for a ‘third’ category, the lesbian, which, in her terms, involves advancing a strategic utopia and utilizing guerrillatype tactics of subversion. Opting out or refusing any given terms may ultimately render this tactic less than effective. 57 L.Irigaray, Parler n’est jamais neutre [12.12]. 58 L.Irigaray ‘This Sex Which is Not One’, in This Sex Which is Not One [12.34], 23–33. Reprinted from Marks and de Courtivron (eds) (note 8), pp. 99–106. 59 L.Irigaray, Ethique de la différence sexuelle [12.11]. First part translated in T. Moi (ed) [12.78] as ‘Sexual difference’, pp. 118–32. Quotes from translation. 60 Ibid., p. 118. 61 Irigaray, This Sex [12.34], 78. 62 Irigaray, ‘Sexual difference’ (note 59), p. 119. 63 Irigaray, This Sex [12.34], 149. 64 Ibid., p. 159. 65 Ibid., p. 150. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Primary texts by de Beauvoir, Kristeva, Irigaray, Le Doeuff, Cixous 12.1 Cixous, H. ‘Le Rire de la Méduse’, L’Arc (Simone de Beauvoir), 61 (1975): 39–54. 12.2 Cixous, H. ‘Le Sexe ou la tête?’ Cahiers du GRIF, 13 (1976):5–15. 12.3 Cixous, H. La Jeune Née (en collaboration avec C.Clément), Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 10/18, 1975. 12.4 de Beauvoir, S. Pour une morale de l’ambiguité, Paris: Gallimard, 1948. 12.5 de Beauvoir, S. Le Deuxième sexe, Paris: Gallimard, 1949. 12.6 Irigaray, L. Speculum de l’autre femme, Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1974. 66 Ibid., p. 74. 67 L.Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman [12.33]. See also Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche [12.31] and L’oubli de l’air chez Martin Heidegger [12.10]. 68 The title of the first section of Speculum of the Other Woman. 69 Irigaray, ‘Sexual difference’ (note 59), p. 122. 70 L.Irigaray, ‘Divine Women’, Sydney: Local Consumption Occasional Papers 8, trans. S.Muecke, from Sexes et parentés [12.13]. 71 Irigaray, This Sex [12.34], 76. 72 Ibid., p. 154. 73 Ibid., p. 155. 74 Irigaray takes this notion from Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, article 53 in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol I, trans. J.Cottingham et al., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 350. 75 See L.Irigaray, Sexes et parentés [12.13], Je, Tu, Nous, pour une culture de la différence [12.15] and Le Temps de la différence: pour une révolution pacifique [12.14] for examples of Irigaray’s recent concerns. See The Irigaray Reader [12.32] for representative translations, particularly pp. 157–218. 76 See Ethique de la difference sexuelle [12.11] or Elemental Passions [12.29] for examples. 77 See M.Whitford’s excellent and comprehensive study [12.90] and her introduction to The Irigaray Reader [12.32] where she writes: ‘Holding the tension here, walking this particular tightrope, is what makes her work so challenging and so insistent’ (p. 13). See also R.Braidotti [12.50], 262–3. 78 M.Le Doeuff, ‘Women and Philosophy’ in T.Moi (ed.) [12.78], 195, revised from version printed in Radical Philosophy, 17 (summer 1977):2–11. Originally from The Philosophical Imaginary [12.42]. 79 Ibid., p. 196. 80 M.Le Doeuff, Hipparchia’s Choice [12.43]. 81 R.Braidotti [12.50], 197. 82 See G.Lloyd [12.73] and L.Code, ‘Experience, Knowledge and Responsibility’, in M.Griffiths and M.Whitford (eds) [12.64], 187–204. 83 H.Cixous, ‘Sorties’ in Marks and de Courtivron (eds) (note 8), pp. 90–8. 84 H.Cixous, ‘Castration or Decapitation?’ [12.24], 55. 85 A.Peperzak, ‘Presentation’, in R.Bernasconi and S.Critchley (eds) [12.49], 51–66 (p. 54). 86 Ibid., p. 53. 12.7 Irigaray, L. Ce Sexe qui n’en est pas un, Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1977. 12.8 Irigaray, L. Amante marine, de Friedrich Nietzsche, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1980. 12.9 Irigaray, L. Passions élémentaires, Paris: Editions de minuit, 1982. 12.10 Irigaray, L. L’oubli de l’air chez Martin Heidegger, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1983. 12.11 Irigaray, L. Ethique de la différence sexuelle, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1984. 12.12 Irigaray, L. Parler n’est jamais neutre, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1986. 12.13 Irigaray, L. Sexes et parentés, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1987. 12.14 Irigaray, L. Le Temps de la différence: pour une révolution pacifique, Paris: Librairie Générale Française/Livre de Poche, 1989. 12.15 Irigaray, L. Je, Tu, Nous, pour une culture de la différence, Paris: Grasset, 1990. 12.16 Kristeva, J. La révolution du langage poétique; l’avant-garde à la fin du XIXe siècle, Lautréamont et Mallarmé, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1974. 12.17 Kristeva, J. Des chinoises, Paris: Editions des Femmes, 1974. 12.18 Kristeva, J. Polylogue, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1977. 12.19 Kristeva, J. ‘Le Temps des femmes’, 33/44, Cahiers de recherche des sciences textes et documents, 5 (winter 1979):5–19. 12.20 Kristeva, J. 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