Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960
Dualism and French Feminist Thought
Metaphysical dualism, often fallaciously forwarded by postmodern theorists as having been originated in Platonism actually precedes Platonic philosophy; in fact, dualistic thought in Western discourse dates back at least to sixth century BCE, and the Pythagorean "Table of Opposites," recorded in Aristotleís Metaphysics I.989a23f, firmly establishes a hierarchy between the following polarized attributes:
Regarding this Pythagorean formulation, Judith Genova writes that "the first pair of opposites, that between the Limited and the Unlimited, named the fundamental principle of all things," the Greek term peiros, ëlimited,í and apeiros, "unlimited," being crucial in much of pre-Socratic thought. The "Table of Opposites" is also unquestionably axiological, "the members on the one side are 'good,' on the other 'bad.' And the good members are in the main characterized by definiteness of nature and structure, while the bad are indefinite, sprawling, patternless, inchoate." This moral valorization of male-defined over ostensibly female-based elements persisted in the popular and intellectual imaginations of the West for centuries.
However, Derrida has quite convincingly demonstrated through his poststructuralist theory of "deconstruction" that all binarisms, being structured in opposition, fail to establish a positive epistemology, but rather, operate negatively: the valued term is defined exclusively through negation and contradistinction to the subordinate term; thus, the definitions proffered are relative and privative. Although deconstructive strategies are ultimately deleterious and subversive to Metaphysical categories founded through binaristic thought, poststructuralist de-constructive readings hold great potential for feminists, and other subordinate groups, relegated to the lower end of the dualism. Moreover, de-constructive readings render visible the discursive violence executed in the construction of discourse: constructs such as gender, race, sexuality being foremost of concern to scholars interrogating identity-politics. Hélène Cixous has also been tremendously influenced by poststructuralist, Derridean thought. In essay entitled "Sorties," from The Newly Born Woman, a book written with Catherine Clément, Cixous draws on dualistic, Metaphysical categories in order to reveal the ëplaceí of woman. "Where is she?," Cixous implores, before enumerating a list of binarismsó
Form, convex, step, advance, seed, progress.
Matter, concave, ground -- which supports the step, receptacle.
Cixous relentlessly illustrates that 'she' is there, "wherever an ordering intervenes" and a "law organizes the thinkable by (dual, irreconcilable; or mitigable, dialectical) oppositions. As Irigaray highlights most of these binarisms in Speculum of the Other Woman, first published as Speculum De líautre femme in 1974 by Minuit Press in Paris, Cixous's essay owes a great deal to Irigaray.
However, both Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray are deeply indebted to the pioneering feminist work of Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex. Beauvoir painstakingly details the cultural constructions of "Woman" as the Other within patriarchal discourse, meticulously providing myriad examples from multifarious sources throughout the centuries of Western civilization. Simone de Beauvoir asks in the "Introduction" to The Second Sex, 'what is a woman?,' and she decisively concludes and irrefragably demonstrates that 'Woman' is the inessential Other of 'Man.' In the most frequently quoted line of her text, Beauvoir proclaims, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman," further asserting that " it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature." Beauvoir also suggests that male perception of the female body, specifically as deficient and privative in relation to the male body, is ovular (not seminal!) to this patriarchal production of 'Woman' :
A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong. It amounts to this: just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique was , so there is an absolute human type, the masculine. Woman has ovaries, a uterus; these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity; circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes that he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it. "The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities," said Aristotle; "we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness."
Beauvoir isolates biologistic constructions of 'gender' as the aetiology for "Woman's" difference from "Man" as the Other. From this assumed biological difference, patriarchy has presumed other psychological, emotional and mental differences between "Man" and "Woman"; for this reason, Beauvoir will remain a staunch nemesis to all feminist positions grounded in "sexual difference," and herein lies the most salient divergence of Luce Irigaray from the early feminist work of Simone de Beauvoir. Whereas Beauvoir locates "Woman" within the dualistic patriarchal economy, Irigarary insists that she must exist elsewhere, outside of the binarism, otherwise she cannot exist. Thus, Irigaray contends that the purportedly "dualistic economy" is in all verity an insidious monologism masked as dialogism: both poles reflect one value, one sex, that of the One: monosexualité, hom(m)osexualité. "Woman," for Irigaray (as she so aptly, if not always lucidly, phrases her own position), is the "Sex Which is not One." Irigaray, however, believes that a renunciation of "sexual difference" merely serves to reinforce the monosexualité of phallogo-centrism, a reduction of sexuality to the "Sameness" of the male ideal.
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