Sunday, April 8, 2007

Anderson's Post on Derrida's Politics of Sexual Difference

Derrida's Politics of Sexual Difference: Ontology and Equivocation-A matured political or theoretical commitment must be capable not only ofdefending itself from the external, but also from its own internal paradoxes.-Feminism must be aware of itself in this light; it necessarily involves limits: "To present a position, to provide a strategy, to make specific claims, is always to exclude, to deny and to problematize other, competing positions." (60)
-Derridean deconstruction (and postmodern theory generally) poses difficultchallenges to feminism: challenges to status of subversion, position ofsubordination, and possibility of transgression.
-In response to the reconceptualizations that these challenges demand many feminists have clung to humanist and enlightenment values or naturalist and essentialist commitments.
-Grosz suggests that in the light of deconstruction feminism should recognizethat the desire for clear-cut positions, answers, and unequivocal boundariesand certainties may no longer be tenable.
-Crucially, "deconstruction provides a way of rethinking our common conceptionof politics and struggle, power and resistance by insisting that no system,method, or discourse can be as all-encompassing, singular, and monolithic as itrepresents itself." (61)
-the implication of this being that not only must feminism realize its own internal conflicts and disagreement, but it must also realize that patriarchy is not an abslutely homogenized thing, and not without its own fissures, paradoxes and flexibilities.
-Deconstruction involves a double affirmation in which by affirming the worth of feminism, there is an implicit affirmation of the system it pushes itself away from, patriarchy.
-Grosz notes this involvment despite opposition with examples such as feminist discourse's dependence on male dominated institutions, feminist self help programs that must negotiate with patriarchal institutions for funding, and implications of Western feminism in neocolonialism.
*Importantly, Grosz will be careful to say that Derrida is not addressing anerror in feminism that can be corrected, and that therefore he is not voicing acritique of feminism. Rather, he is articulating a challenge that is inherent toits very existence. It is always already implicated in the Law that it aims tosubvert. This challenge speaks to the core of feminism.
-"This assertions of complicity, while it is not a claim of conscious collusion, nonetheless refuses the idea of a space beyond or outside, the fantasy of a position insulated from what it criticizes and disdains." (62)
-Grosz then begins a review of feminist critiques of Derrida's work.
-Rosi Braidotti claims that Derrida is part of a trend in contemporary theory to use woman as a metaphor to challenge the validity of truth, knowledge and subjectivity, and that this comes at a price for women's concrete social struggles.
-Grosz response is to question the implicit distinction between metaphorical or figurative woman or women from 'real' women. She states that real women are indeed the product of systems of representation and inscription, and that assertions of 'real' women somewhere before or beyond representation will slide into essentialism.
-Alice Jardine's critique is that the danger in deconstruction is that it attempts to occupy all specific positions while committing to none; it speaks as both man and woman without making real allegiances.
-Margaret Whitford on the other hand critiques Derrida for not speaking in his voice, for hiding his real position by occupying other texts and in so doing masters feminist discourse.
-Grosz responds by contesting the fixity of position implied in these critiques. She states that "his position only emerges as such within the structure of citationality or iteration, as one provisional destination of the cited text." (66)The point here is that his aim is not to occupy all fixed positions or to hide his own under blankets or reference; rather it is the mobile, citational character of his reading and his writing that lend flexibility to all the positions he considers.
*Part of Grosz's response is to question the stability and know-ability ofpositions at all. She seems to identify a certain reactivity in feminist callsfor a pure and uncontestable position for either the woman or the man. Thisresponse gets articulated in language, as she affirms that "language itself isthe endless possibility of speaking otherwise." (68)
-Following her treatment of various Feminist critiques of Derrida she moves onto consider what he actually has to say on the matter of sexual difference. Shedoes this in the way Derrida's writing facilitates, through an engagement withhis reading of other thinkers.
-The first engagement is with Heidegger and Dasein (the existential Beingparticular to human beings). Dasein is construed in Heidegger's thought as apriori and primordial, thus outside or beyond the reach of sexual difference.This gives it a neutrality through negation. It is untethered, made impartialthrough stripping away the a posteriori, the experiences of life. Derrida wantsto assert that this neutrality is in fact a potency, one in which Dasein is notasexual and negatively stripped of differentiation, but the predifferentialfont of both sexes.
*This section on Heidegger and particularly these thoughts of Dasein as carrying sexual difference from a negation or undifferentiation into a potent originary position which becomes the positive source of differentiation is, in my own opinion, the most philosophically important point in this essay.
-Grosz goes on to engage Derrida's treatment of both Levinas and Neitzsche. Themethod employed by Derrida is the same as it was in the case of Heidegger.Grosz asks a question that merits repeating: "Can there be an ethics between menand women that does not rely upon or presume a common or neutral ground that thesexes (or races) share, a ground that ethics fills?" (75)
What do you make of the implications that this essay involves for feministtheory and feminist struggle?Are the deconstructive conceptions of complicity with the system being assaileduseful? Do they help us refigure our engagements? Or do they constrain thoughtand action? What is the use of deconstruction beyond its own intellectualintegrity?


Abraham Adams said...

It seemed to me that dasein could not be "predifferential", because generics and remidialities are tacitly masculine (the default undetermined pronoun is historically masculine (referenced pg 75); we watch both The World Cup and The Women's World Cup). This seems very problematic for any kind of ontological ultimate precedent, which as I understand it is fundamental to Levinas's non-relativist project (I imagine I am stepping on some toes I cannot see). I see potential in deconstruction's lack of will toward any particular end, which suggests in my mind that some philosophical event could be apoltical, and maybe then not secretly relativistic.

Carolynn O'Donnell said...

Anderson wrote: What do you make of the implications that this essay involves for
feminist theory and feminist struggle?
- I agree that various feminist positions must be
able to criticize and deconstruct their positions, especially when this means how they
are situated within the patriarchal system (for example through self-help groups, etc.).
However, I am having trouble understanding what comes after the deconstructive part,
i.e., how to reconstruct a position after it has been thoroughly criticized. If all
political positions and theories somehow have flaws, how do we reconstruct their truths
and possibilities? Perhaps it is merely a matter of continual re-evaluation and constant
shifting -after all, material conditions and political events change history, so theories
must be readjusted every so often. Does Derrida offer any suggestions of how this works?

Jenny Strandberg said...

What do you make of the implications that this essay involves for feminist theory/struggle?

I think this essay is groundbreaking for feminist theory and struggle because it poses the eternal question of “what comes first, sexed bodies or the social markers of sexual difference?” in an ontological framework. But I’m not so sure I like the prospect of ending up with the conclusion that the one side is necessarily implicated in the other, or that a No is implicitly also a Yes… Anderson asked if this deconstructive conception of complicity is useful. I think it is, but I don’t think the opening up of positions for retranscription and rewriting is the answer (masked as the non-answer). Rather, I think of deconstruction as a method of clearing the way for new thinking which may Not be deconstructive. Deconstructivism shows the need for new thinking it doesn’t think new – in my opinion. This might sound wierd, but I want to use deconstructivism to make way for a feminist ontological investigation of sexual difference that isn’t really feminist... (and therefore not patriarchal either). I don’t want to say an investigation beyond the feminist/patriarchy opposition, which would only connect my thinking further with that opposition (I agree with that). But an investigation in the heart of that opposition, where both patriarchy risks its presupposed male supremacy and feminism risks its right to contest it. This is where I think Heidegger’s thinking is important. His thinking of neutrality as the potency of origin, and neutral Dasein as the primal source of intrinsic possibility, doesn’t seem to operate beyond and in complicity with oppositions, but rather within them or before them. Such perspective, I believe is a more honest point of departure for the investigation the ontological status of sexual difference. It isn’t in response to a patriarchal understanding of sex and sexuality, and therefore not forced to claim equality and similarity with patriarchy/masculinity, or autonomy and difference from patriarchy/masculinity. It would investigate! sexual difference without claiming in advance what will be the outcome of such investigation.

Beck said...

Can feminisim, does feminism exist outside of patriarchal sociality? I think Grosz strikes a very important point in this article that echos and reinforces what other feminist theorists have laid down as the foundation; that we are operating in a self-generating patriarchal understading of socio-cultural interaction and epistimology. In order to speak other - to speak woman - we must deconstruct the modes of understanding, the epitomology and the interaction itself. Grosz has a critical point in using the tools of the system against the system. It's hard to make change or even an argument if you don't use the same language (and why mimicry is such an effective philosophical tool). Let's talk about using the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, and new, different, 'other' tools (if you will) to build a new one.