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“Man Divided”

Notes on:
Sylviane Agacinski, Parity of the Sexes.

The element of indeterminacy due to androgyny is the exception, sexual identity is the rule.

“Mixity” is the state of being governed by both principles. [It points to a universal bisexuality. Cf, Aristophanes (in part), Fleiss, Freud, Weininger, etc. But Agacinski’s concern is largely with mixity external to the individual body, i.e., political mixity. The Weiningerian mixity within the individual has moral implications which, of course, also impinge on the political.]

Inversion of masculine and feminine role models does not alter the fundamental division.

The transsexual merely affirms the hold that the division has on consciousness: He/she feels she/he has the soul of a woman and desires that her/his body conform. We do not hear of someone’s desire to be a non-sexed, asexual being.

[Why not?—if this were a knowable, conceivable possibility? That is, outside of the (usually momentary) frustration with the rigors of masculine or feminine compulsions: when dependency seems burdensome or impulses frustrated… Actually, Agacinski may be missing an important point here. Perhaps the impulse to sexlessness is not so unheard of as all that. Indeed, it may be so pervasive that it is guiding technological culture precisely in the direction of her fears, which will become clear later in her discussion of fabricated offspring.]

Nature supposedly defeated: sexual difference now being a matter of “history, culture, and clothes”.

Sexual difference is very real, it is a matter of natural, physical givens. To put it simply, as completely natural it is meaningless….

But man is naturally a disguised animal. He does not exist without clothing or habits, which are ways of making folds in nature. Nature, therefore, must have an aptitude for folding, a certain suppleness, a certain plasticity.

But, traditionally, sexual difference has been interpreted hierarchically, with the masculine clearly on top.

Is the masculine tendency to arrogate all of humanity to itself—leaving the feminine out of account, or in a subordinate, passive role—purely a matter of the male character or is there a more generic human compulsion toward simplification, toward reduction to one—to make of what are essentially two one by brute conceptual force, as it were?

[If the latter, it would help explain, to a degree, female complicity. And if there is deep complicity here, we may be witnessing the first stirrings of an evolutionary psychobiological event: a migration toward asexuality or even metasexuality—as a step toward post-sexuality.]

Agacinski speculates:

I am not sure. Perhaps more profoundly androcentricism obeys a metaphysical fear of division. Thought in general, and especially Western thought, experiences a nostalgia for the one. The one is thought’s resting place; this is where it can stop.

The division of the species disturbs this demand for simplicity…

[There is a metaphysical fear of division but it is not really androcentric, though there is a distinctive masculine form. The fear of division that haunts men is intellectual and abstract, Agacinski suggests something like this. The Holy Grail for them is a unifying principle—“one rule to bind them all”. But physical unification and dependency is far from his proprietary pursuit. Fostering an interrelation and dependency that intimates unification in a more material sense is classically feminine. The sundering of relationship is her bane; while physical atomization is ever his obsession.]

The “mixity of man,” as Agacinski calls it (she deliberately uses “man” in the generic sense), is the one true ubiquitous difference. The fact that we come in these two flavors, male and female, is more fundamental than any other difference among us:

…it radically transcends different human types, whether they are characterized by skin color, facial features or body morphology. These traits, which account for human beings not having all the same features and for each group valuing its own appearance above others’, are fundamentally unstable…. We can imagine that one day human beings will present more or less different appearances than those we know today, but it is highly probable that they will still be men and women.

[All our experience confirms this. Hard as it is, we can at least picture the end of racism before we can picture a world without a meaningful and divisive sexism. The possibility of miscegenation prefigures the twilight of racial difference. Androgynous beings cannot be so methodically engendered. Sex will be the last difference to go.]

…this is what has been denied to women: their equal and different humanity.

This denial results from the fact that man has wanted to incarnate the human alone, woman being situated at a slight distance in relation to man in the generic sense….

Sexual difference, I repeat, obeys the principle of the excluded third. There is no more a third sex than there is a sixth sense….

After acknowledging the role of social construction, Agacinski adds,

Nature too, for its part, transforms boys and girls, in a fairly spectacular fashion at the age puberty, into masculine and feminine beings. Social constructions are not built entirely arbitrarily or autonomously.

Woman must cease being thought of as a secondary being

…that she might experience the pride of being what she is—woman—without having to identify herself with the male to appear as fully human.

Our finitude is revealed through the fact that we are all mortal and sexed, and not through the fact that we are women….

[This is right. That we are “mortal and sexed” is the only basis for a human moral theory aspiring to universality. The absence of explicit acknowledgement of at least the second of these predicates is what has crippled conventional moral theorizing since ancient times. We cannot begin to talk about the human until we have exhausted the sexed.

“…we are all mortal and sexed…” But this finitude is exactly what galls the masculine principle. It is, to it, a challenge, even an affront, that we are not immortal and that we must be driven by biological functions.]

But if ways of acting can be modified, inflected, and regulated by habit (and thus by culture and its institutions), habit can never entirely contradict nature. You cannot habituate a stone from falling when you throw it, nor can you habituate humans to forget that they are sexed, it seems to me, or to no longer desire each other, or to no longer wish to leave behind beings who will survive them.

[The analogy to the stone that cannot be taught to fly no matter how many times it is thrown into the air is from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Bk II, with which Agacinski is no doubt familiar. It is striking to me because I also was drawn to make an allusion to the same passage in Aristotle in the course of making the same point about women and men when I had occasion to reread the Ethics a number of years ago.]

Is it even possible to imagine a uniform humanity, in harmony with itself and not dual, not in disaccord? No, and if we believe we have achieved this, we are struck with boredom and terror at imagining beings so similar they understand each other immediately. It seems that without sexual difference, differences between individuals would not suffice to render them opaque to each other. They would surely harmonize too well, and this absence of others would be a hell.

[The absence of others would be a hell. Perhaps by degrees we will become habituated to hell. Nevertheless, this hell is still a ways off…

Nevertheless, the opaqueness is the serious moral challenge. Again, we cannot begin to transcend it without recognizing its reality.]

Posted by luno in parity, philosophy and sex, sex differences, feminism (Wednesday August 9, 2006 at 12:23 pm)

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