File spoon-archives/french-feminism.archive/french-feminism_2000/french-feminism.0007, message 11

Subject: Re: talking about Irigaray
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 20:42:27 GMT

Hi Phyllis,

Your paper sounds as if it could be an interesting criticism of of the talk 
I went to by John Caputo's 'For the Love of the Things Themselves' on 
Monday. I've tried to give a little synopsis although my understanding of 
Derrida isn't really that good so you could imagine what Irigaray's take on 
his talk might be. (I wanted to go to the lecture because I liked Caputo's 
'Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida'.)

Caputo explained his talk as motivated by an invitation to write a paper on 
realism, but, as he recalled, he was't a realist. Not wanting to turn down 
the opportunity, he decided to write a paper on realism but on Derrida's 
realism or, as Jack entitled it, Derrida's hyper-realism. Hyper-Realism is 
thus for Caputo a cognitive relation to reality but importantly not a need 
to make secure this understanding of that reality of traditional 
understandings of realism. Where realism has always meant a relation to what 
is present, Derrida's project reads realism differently. For Derrida the 
thing, that classical philosophy is searching for, the thing itself always 
escapes us but this doesn't mean there isn't reality. Whilst we are 
liberated to dance all our own fictions this is only half the story - we do 
have a certain sort of construction of reality. For Caputo although the 
interpretation of things, the world, him or her etc., every name is always 
provisional and inexhaustible, at the same time it can nevertheless lay 
claim to a sort of realism but not the usual understanding.  Caputo 
continued to emphasize that it would be a bad take on deconstruction to 
imagine it suggests only a nihilistic position or that one could extricate 
oneself from reality or have no ethical obligations. With this he introduced 
the idea that reality in hyper-reality is always to come. In hyper-reality, 
this inexhaustible interpretative state, this desire of deconstruction for 
the thing itself, to grasp it, know it, love it, 'contrary to what our 
desire is tempted to believe in' it slips away. And yet the 'construction' 
of this hyper reality is made by what slips away. Hyper-reality is a space 
constructed by what solicits us, calls us to love. 'I close my eyes', Caputo 
said, as an example, 'to pray and the interior space of prayer is 
constructed by the other to come.' In this case Caputo's the other(s) in the 
name of God (I think).  Obviously He never does, but this the point, perhaps 
he could, the space of hyper-reality is made both in the (im)possibility of 
fully grasping/interpret ting reality and in a faith of the (im)possibility 
of reality coming. In another example, Caputo continued, for the marriage 
ceremony, the priest says (calls), 'will you love...' the bridegroom 
promises, 'yes',  slips on the ring but he can never know whether he has 
reached love, answered this call/promise to God, it is the second yes that 
is impossible, inexhaustible, always provisional, yes, yes, yes... It keeps 
getting shattered, provisional interpretations are traumatized by the 
'wholly other' breaking into it. The idea of the wholly other is borrowed 
from Levinas, Caputo said. Where Levinas argues that no matter how much I 
get to know the one I love, and to affirm this other the formal 
inaccessibility of his consciousness is what constitutes him as other. The 
other is very definitely for Levinas and Caputo a shore I will never reach, 
however much I look into the face of the other with his deep blue eyes and 
square tutonic skull the source of his knowing evades me. So the space of 
hyper-realism is constituted by a solicitation from and promise to the 
Other(s) and this affirmation of radical alterity or the wholly other or of 
not ever knowing the Other is an act of love - this was the important point 
of his talk. Of course, as Jack said, whilst Levinas's wholly other is the 
non-erotic par excellence Derrida is not so sure about this but Caputo 
didn't draw out this argument any further only mentioning the Post-Card. So 
hyper-realism is constructed by the act of love, the promise and the gift.

After his talk I thought that this is all really interesting for me and my 
work. I wondered how Irigaray would criticize this talk. I suppose first she 
would suggest that the radical alterity in Levinas as non-erotic par 
excellence is undermined by the sexual metaphors of his own work, perhaps. 
Or argue that the kiss that has I think some role in the Kabala constitutes 
some erotic relation to the other (I'm not sure about this). What would she 
say to Derrida I wonder? She would I expect that the other(s) in Derrida and 
Caputo were still in an economy of sameness. She I expect would use 
psychoanalysis to make her case, or at least her reading of it. Anyone else 
any ideas? Is it the possibility of a feminine divine/alterity that would 
significantly change this act of love, this space, this relation to the 

I've added to the bottom of this, really for Michael and anyone else the Le 
Soufflé des Femmes introduction that I tried, probably very badly, to 
translate a year or so ago

Irigaray, Luce
(1996) Le soufflé des femmes
Introduction, pp. 9-21


The breath of women? A respiration which goes from outside to inside, from 
the outside to the inside of a body. A spirit which links the life of the 
universe to the depths of the soul, the one who breathes does not separate 
herself from the cosmic respiration arriving carried my the wind.

A movement where nothing stagnates in stale insipid words, in habitual 
routines, or in the dusty corners of the heart of conscience.

The breath of women? It is the first sign of their birth to themselves. 
Their arrival in the spiritual world, their discovery of a personal 
incarnation. They breathe without dependence on anyone's breath, they emerge 
to an existence clothed in flesh and words. They reject dependency, the 
enclosure to be able to love. How to love without independent breathing, 
which supports itself from the resources of the universe to turn freely 
towards the other, to recognize the other, connect with him or her, while 
remaining oneself?

Breathing is the first autonomous act of the living being. And it is also a 
culture of breath which gives us access to the spiritual.

In the history of humanity that which we can name, of God or those who enjoy 
spiritual powers manifest their power through the creative power, the 
mastery of winds, the capacity to set in motion the immobile, the fixed, the 
dead. Everything with links to the devilish, by contrast, enjoys the 
confined, avoids the currents of air, is comfortable with fire but not air. 
Mimicking the living the devilish does not breath, or breathes no more. It 
pumps the air of others, from the world. It asphyxiates with its sterile 
repetition its presumptions imitations, its will to power ignorant of life. 
It depresses with its insistent.

The breath is something else. It continuously links the earth to sky, 
without any ambition except to succeed better and better. That requires one 
to move but to stay oneself, to exchange with the outside and then withdraw, 
to communicate with the soul of the world, that of others sometimes, and 
then to return to the solitude and silence of one's soul. A silence which in 
no way privation of speech but an almost tactile retouching of the spiritual 
in one's self, listening to one's breath, calm and attentive.

Often the woman's belly has been seen as a receptacle for the lover perhaps, 
for the child above all. But the place if reception which (is) the woman's 
soul, who knows that? Most often not even herself. A difficult conquest of 
one'sown innerness, a spiritual virginity, for those who for centuries have 
been placed in a passive role, a natural receptivity of the semen and the 
words of the other. Turning back to oneself to be reborn free, animated by 
(ones/his/hers/their) movements, words, breath seems to be most decisive 
conquest for women.

But everything pulls her out of herself. From the very beginning, she starts 
to measure herself against masculine performance, as though that represented 
the most noble duty. She knows for all that woman and man are not really 
two, are still two parts of a whole, but she identifies herself none the 
less with half of humanity and above that not her own half. Under the 
pretext of liberation, isn't she doubly betrayed by herself, she does not 
find herself (one) she leaves herself to search for herself where she is 
not. She effaces the traces of femininity, already so hidden, so much that 
they are no longer visible.

For a woman, undertaking the simple quest for one's self is not simple… I 
try to light the way… (I think that I must have run out of steam here 
although I know her introduction to the book continues).

If anyone has any ideas or comments about how we would criticize such a 
project as Caputo's in the fiery brilliance of Irigaray's work (I'm a fan) I 
would love to discuss.

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