File spoon-archives/french-feminism.archive/french-feminism_2000/french-feminism.0008, message 27


Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 22:58:21 -0500
Subject: Re: Forgetting of Air


Greetings!

    I'll admit from the beginning that I haven't read Irigaray's
_l'air_;
nevertheless, I find your discussion of the book lucid and
thought-provoking.
I've been mulling over your recent post for the past day or so, and
Andrea's
post below crystallized, or at least made more cogent, what had been
lurking at
the periphery of my thoughts:  in what ways, if any, do you think
Irigaray is in
direct dialogue with Lyotard, especially in her not-so-veiled references
to an
"assimilated" multiplicity, or at least "not-One" that undermines the
coherence
and order of language?  I'm referring of course to Lyotard's _Heidegger
and 'the
jews"_, which postulates that "the jew" = the feminine = the
unassimilable but
yet necessary sublime and supplementary element which founds and yet
subverts
western discourse.  In a rather labyrinthine manner, perhaps I'm asking
whether
Irigaray, as does Heidegger, positions the Other, according to your
interpretation, not only as escaping phallogocentrism and thus existing
as
implicitly feminine, but also now as an element (or its traces) which
troubles
the borders of "western" discourse.  Does Irigaray re-map a ground which
elicits
an ultimate division between   itself/herself as "eastern" or oriental,
that is,
as mystical, Indian, Tantrum, kabbalistic, the feminine/feminized
elements which
culminate in the Ein Sof (to refer to Lurianic kabbalah), but which
remain
always already multiple but yet conjoined?  Irigaray's emphasis (in your
summary) on the embodiment or corporeality of
air/womb/tomb/crypt/blood/other
maps itself into a long-standing philosophical matrix (pun intended) in
which
non-western cultures/languages/religions are posited as the feminized
body to
the "western" mind/spirit/logos.

Nancy Nield Buchwald
University of Chicago
nanield-AT-midway.uchicago.edu

Andrea Wheeler wrote:

> Hi Simone,
>
> You know this tantra thing, I must go and read all your sources, but it
> worried me abit. I know Irigaray reads the Symposium in an amazing way to
> ask where Diotima is, why couldn't she have recalled this marvellous
> teaching about Love herself to the group. So I think my question is
> something like was India then really a place where an non-dialectical
> relationship between two could be described. Do the texts really describe
> this?
>
> Andrea
> >
> >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
> >many).
> >-   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
> >predication.
> >     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,
> >Simone
> >
> >
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