File spoon-archives/french-feminism.archive/french-feminism_2000/french-feminism.0008, message 22

Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2000 15:02:58 EDT
Subject: Forgetting of Air

Dear All,

First, I thank you for all the excellent work you've put into this 
discussion, and apologize for having bowed out for a while.  I had to go read 
Air, and then midterms in my quarter hit, and well…  But, now I've read Air, 
and the midterms are returned.  

I would like to offer some context for reading what all I'm about to 
contribute to the list.  My Heidegger is rusty, but I have the general 
outlines of his ontological work, more or less.  Also, Irigaray mentions 'a 
certain yoga I know' and 'yogic practices' in several of her texts.  I got to 
wondering about this and have traced what I think is the influence of Tantric 
yoga on her work.  I gave a paper on this recently, and if posting it to the 
list would be helpful in any way, I'll be happy to.  It's submitted for 
publication to the Female Principle book that Luanne Frank is making from the 
proceedings of the conference, so I'm not totally sure that I can post it - 
but hey, it's my paper.  

Tantra insists that the feminine and masculine principles and beings are 
different from each other, mutually dependent on each other for their 
'transcendence,'  that the body is a spiritual instrument, and that respect 
of the highest levels must be accorded to women tantrists by men tantrists 
because men can't 'transcend' without women. Shaw's Passionate Enlightenment, 
recommended to me by someone on this list (thanks bunches again!), is a 
fabulous source on these issues.  (This philosophy developed between 800-1200 
AD in India, and while it did place women on a par with men, as many of the 
Sutras of Tantra were written by women and women were mostly the Tantrist 
teachers - a great advance over the sexism of both Hindu and Mahayana 
Buddhism (which Tantra incorporates and differentiates itself from)  as they 
were practiced then in India - it did not address issues of homosexuality and 
bias against it.  There are new developments in Tantric practice for 
homosexuals, that from what I know, seem to work just as well.)  Tantra is 
the practice of the sensible transcendental, of spiritual incarnation, as it 
is through various exercises, mediations, and sexual practices (the body, 
that is) that one attains enlightenment.  So, that sort of back ground is 
where much of my reading of Irigaray now comes from.  Just getting the cards 
on the table. 

Also, I write the following without much in the way of qualification in my 
rhetoric, so let me say here that I'm offering this reading of Irigaray and 
of the list discussion as a bunch of stuff to think about and critique, not 
as an authoritative sort of Grand Standing.

So, on the point about multiplicity.  Catherine wrote:
It's of course true that Irigaray underlines the plurality of Being, its 
non-totalizablity.  But she rejects the multiple and multiplicity as well, 
seeing in this notion but another avatar for the one (in the guise of the 
-   nicely offered quote from Cheah and Grosz with which I agree -

My response to this is complicated.  There's this move to the One made in 
most religious and philosophical texts and doctrines, the Kabbalah of 
Judaism, in some of the creation stories of Hindu, in some of the myths in 
Buddhism, in the Koran, in Socrates, and in Heidegger that all this fabulous 
difference of beings is part of, and expression of, or in someway linked to 
the One which either is supposedly neuter or is clearly male.  In the Hindu, 
Islam, Juadism and Christianity this One is male, God.  In Buddhism, even 
though the 10,000 things are all illusion distracting us from the All, the 
Emptiness of Being, and that All is neuter, males get privilege and 
reincarnation as a woman is considered a punishment, and so women can't be 
enlightened.  This is an entirely political move which aligns the All with 
masculinity and covers over the importance of women in the making of the 
world, and of sexual difference generally. (I'm saying things we all know, 
but I'm going somewhere with this, so please pardon the rehearsal.)
    OK, this response to multiplicity is a bad sort of essentializing, ending 
in the Male and Masculine as model of all good things.  It's sneaky.  It's 
the flip side of the bad-Pomo version in which there is nothing but 
difference and relativity, which amounts to the same thing, really, and has 
the same effect of covering over sexual difference as important, affective, 
etc.  I think Irigaray is responding to both of these moves.  BUT, Tantra 
does not work like this.  In Tantra there is an insistence on the two-ness of 
Being.  Tantra does not start with the story of the world in which Brahma 
spoke/sang the gods and elements into existence.  Tantra starts with the 
story in which Shiva and Shakti (the names vary) created the world through 
sexual intercourse.  The Ganges River is thought to be the still running 
waters of Shakti's womb.  So, the world is a place of multiplicity that does 
not unify into a male-One.  

In Tantra, as in Hindu and Buddhism, one's physical body contains chakras 
that correspond to various energies, but ALSO to various gods and goddesses 
and aspects of self and spiritual development.  There is a recognition of the 
multiplicity and complexity of self and of subjectivity in this because men 
and women are considered literal embodiments of those gods and goddesses, and 
they are expected to behave in the 'modes' of these gods and goddesses as 
well as to sensually transcend them into an enlightenment that is not 
gendered and is available to both sexes.  Part of Irigaray's objection to 
multiplicity is that it can also dissolve into the vapid infinity of 
bad-postmodern multiplicity.  I think her recourse to Tantra allows her, or 
rather allows me to work out the implication that one can have a kind of 
multiplicity, but one which does not unify into One or dissolve into the 
everything, but which is limited by sexual difference to the two.  It allows 
for complexity without the sexist move to erase difference for the benefit of 
either sex over the other.
You, Catherine, and Grosz and Cheng are correct with reference to the One and 
the everything of Pomo, but in the context of sexual difference as I 
understand with reference to Tantra, Irigaray is maintaining multiplicity, in 
the sense of complexity, and I would add that the 'remainder', or in Mader's 
much subtler translation the 'reserve', the other always harbors, that is 
beyond the grasp and control of the Self or Subject, is another indicator of 
multiplicity.  The other is always more, and more complex than the view of a 
subject can gather or name or control.

Heidegger's Being, I think Irigaray is saying, makes the same sexist move.  
For now my reading of Air turns on the word 'reserve' which means not only 
something kept in store, or left over after various calculations, but also a 
truth or revelation held back because the laity might not be able to handle 
it. In this case that in forgetting air, Heidegger's metaphors of throwness 
and of Being and of the unheimlich cover over the condition of man (and 
woman) as thrown out of the womb - she's implying that the truth of Being 
kept in reserve is that Heidegger is not, once again, acknowledging the play 
of sex in his thinking, that Being, from which we are thrown and ontic 
beings, 'is' a feminine sort of entity or condition (even a feminine divine). 
 That ontology, or truth, or whatever, is still in reserve in his thinking as 
it does not think its way toward the sexual other, in which he literally 
originates - that easy place of giving without expectation of reciprocity in 
which air is given him through the blood, without there being any awareness 
of difference: the womb (associated in Air with the envelope, the interval).  

She is disallowing him the trick of making Being on the side of Man, or 
understood only from the point of view Man.  Her standard argument that 
language and predication functions by suppressing, by basing itself on the 
feminine without ever acknowledging that debt comes into play here.  Page 80+ 
of Air:

Being is nothing but the possibility of predication. Of the dimension of 
    If Being can make itself into a circle, it does so within the suspension 
of predication.  The subject-object axis has not yet been put forth there. 
The horizon line of understanding has yet to be drawn from that point. If its 
path has already been marked out, it is in the form of the encirclement, or 
the rolling-up into a spiral, of a mystery: the mystery of the beginning of 
Being's taking place. Of its springing forth from nothingness.

    Whence does Being proceed?  And whence proceeds its strange power? How, 
and in what, can it unify? What is the secret of the constitution of 
sameness? And of the permanence of its site? Why does the line of the spoken 
word revolve around this crypt? Returning to it and shutting up with one and 
the same move? What sort of forgetting of the other within (it) make the 
unthinkablity of sameness's origin the exclusive place of thinking? What 
fundamental assimilation ensures the unfolding of Being as the region of 
sameness?  And what kind of magic provides for the participation of the whole 
in the subsistence of this singular site?
    Mustn't Being give back what it has taken from the other? Having 
assimilated the other so as to begin to be, and to unfold on this basis the 
singular power of sameness, Being gives participation back to the other.
    Appropriation is founded in this double operation: an assimilation and a 
participation. These do not take place on the same slope of Being's 
constitution, but they are to be found, joined together inseparably, under 
its dominion. Man and world are reunited in the sorcery of this circle.
    When he does not remember himself and is unable to think that nature - 
vanishing within him so that he might be - nourished him first, he repays 
nature with this oblivion: it is only through him that she is.

Let me pause here to point out that 'it is only through him that she is' 
harks back to Being consisting in predication, naming, and ties Heidegger's 
thought back to the tradition that has named woman and the feminine for its 
own purposes.  The circle of sameness is that same old trick of unifying into 
the One.  Man and world may be united in this sorcery, but woman is the side 
of the world, here, and soon to become that over-against which man feels 
himself thrown.  Being springs forth from nothingness = she is nothingness, 
and the usual comments about 'lack' and absence and 'phallus' begin to apply 
here.  Back to Irigaray for a second:

Between the two of them (he and she), an operation of inversion and repayment 
is forgotten in the difference it neutralizes [me: for: how can you pay a 
debt to nothingness?]  A projection has taken place, upheld by the power of 
love and hatred: love the same, which indefinitely seeks the dimension for 
its appropriated being, and hatred, which divides, separates, and marks out 
boundaries, differences. [Earlier, Irigaray links the act of forgetting air, 
consigning the feminine to nothingness, with a hatred, hating that origin in 
the feminine].
    Love of the same is the first love of the other: she who gave herself, 
first, for assimilation to him [when he was in the womb, his being was 
literally assimilating its sustenance from her being].  But, when this love 
is repeated with no difference [once he's outside the womb and in regard to 
the world or women] it brings about the elimination of the other.  Always 
wanting to have the same from her, he abolishes her to the singularity of his 
fate: compelling her to remain the one and only.
    Wouldn't asking the question of Being be to undo one of these slopes so 
as to confront him not with what supports him in the safety and serenity of 
re-adhesion of the whole within sameness, through the other's participation 
and assimilation, but with that which - repeating from the outside of 
sameness the operation that originally constitutes him - re-opens the 
question of his relation to the other?

Wouldn't really asking the question of Being be to ask the question of sexual 
difference, which Heidegger does not do?  

Ok, this is really long, and I've hit on a nice cliff-hanger, so I'm going to 
stop now.  More to come.

peace on your hearts,

     --- from list ---


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