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“Versions of Difference”

Notes on:
Sylviane Agacinski, Parity of the Sexes.

Nature gives the two; cultures invent a multiplicity of possible variations of this duality. Humans are very imaginative in front of the sexes.

[Weininger asserted that even nature gives us the two in a vast multiplicity of variations: No two sexed individuals are sexed in quite the same way. Sex, for Weininger, was in principle a property of every cell or element in the body; and in each element the two manifested themselves in different, potentially independent, proportion: the sum total of all such elements was a complex being sexed to a certain degree in each and every one of a multitude of aspects. (A man may have very thin wrists but a very masculine temperament; delicate hands but a deep voice; an impatient, goal-oriented temperament, oblivious of social grace, yet prone to servitude before an imposing authority, etc. The two governing principles have both a physical/psychical and metaphysical aspect. The latter structuring our conceptions of the former.) And this, before cultural or social construction can get its hand into the mix. Yet, of course, out of all this bisexual complexity in most cases we have little difficulty identifying an overall dominant tone of maleness or femaleness characterizing an individual. And it is this tone, the reality and significance of which, in agreement with Weininger and Agacinski, we find, demands moral recognition—but without thereby obliging us to ignore complexity and diversity.]

Like all sexed beings, the human individual is destined to die and survives only by ‘reproduction’ itself (as we so wrongly put it, since individuals are not all identical.)…. I am speaking here of death as biological fate, the death biologists link to sexual reproduction—both of them belong to the same ‘logic of the living.’ This is why we cannot separate the meaning and value of sexual difference from the question of generation, even if expressions of difference lead us well beyond the domain of reproduction, toward politics.

Unless one of the sexes wished to and could survive without the other—which perhaps the mastery of cloning will permit—the game is programmed, inevitable.

The political nature of the male/female relation does not open up the prospect of ultimate emancipation or peace. Rather, this politicization marks the inevitability (fatalité) of eternal discord.

The continuity of the game is assured sexual difference resulting in conflicts of interest, at once alleviated and exacerbated by mutual dependence.

Agacinski no longer believes

…in the final liberation of men or women or in the lasting resolution of the conflicts between them. In this sense we are departing from the feminism that subscribed to modern theories of liberation.

She inquires into whether the historical subjection of women (that Mill addresses, for example) was viewed in its time as natural or political, whether there was something innate in women that qualified them only for secondary status or whether the invention of that status served primarily male ambitions.

Aristotle used familial hierarchy as a model for the state. There had to be one leader. It appears, according to Agacinski, that it was not fundamentally that women were incapable of assuming the role at the top.

Aristotle was so sure that male authority was not absolutely self-evident that he invoked a hierarchical principle more obvious and natural than sex difference: age difference. If the male serves as a guide for the female, it is also because the husband was traditionally older than the wife: ‘The older and fully developed being is destined to command the younger and imperfect being.’ [Politics, 1.13.1259b]

[One has to ask why this “traditional” age difference? (It is still true and widespread today.) Why aren’t most couples the same age? Or why isn’t the woman, as often, the older one? What biological exigencies are at work here? A little Weiningerian speculation: It is as much a feminine preference as a male one. She is instinctively aware that an immature male is a more chancy proposition. Men mature later than females. As her social and economic dependence on him diminishes in more developed societies, so too her concern about his maturity. She will increasingly have the luxury of enjoying the younger man’s usually more dynamic insolence. She may now more than in the past have this as an option. But an option is not an imperative…

Moreover, one would think, if concern for lifelong companionship were a real factor here, that she would nearly always opt for a younger man, who, given differential average life spans, would more likely last her a life time. But the value of his companionship perhaps is exaggerated…

In any case, the point here is that without more said the age difference may yet be rooted in a strategy closely tied to sex difference. This fact would tend to diminish the implication that Aristotle’s were only political motives.]

By contrast, for Aristotle, the master/slave relationship was more clearly grounded in nature. Agacinski credits Aristotle with having realized the woman/man relation as political.

Freud shares with Aristotle the binary logic of presence and absence. It is the woman who is seen as lacking: that is, for Freud, a penis. This perceived empirical fact colors everything thereafter in their theoretical frameworks. [Freud: a classic example of how empiricism is burdened by a guiding metaphysic, evident in the objects it singles out for remark.]

Despite their differences, one picking out anatomical, the other “more hidden things,” Freud and Aristotle “both fail to question the choice of differential elements. Everything takes place as if the elements were obvious, immediate givens.” The presence of a uterus, of functional mammaries, or the capacity to give birth as easily might have been noted, and the positive burden shifted, if, indeed, lack was, in itself, of significance.

But neither difference nor dissymmetry need necessarily be interpreted as a logic of lack. In its substitution of one for two (l’un aux deux), this logic is metaphysical. In its placement of the masculine at the center, it is political….

If the sexual alternative places us well within a binary logic (either masculine or feminine), this logic is not necessarily a logic of lack, opposing one term to its absence. To the contrary, the binary structure formulated via the disjunction ‘a’ or ‘not-a,’ or again, ‘one’ or ‘zero,’ poses a hierarchy between positive and negative, presence and absence…. This logic of lack must be replaced with a logic of difference, but a difference without hierarchy that I will term a logic of the mixed.

[See Iaia’s comment on this passage in “Weininger’s Misogyny…”]

The logic of the mixed posits that the human is necessarily masculine or feminine, that there is a double version of ‘man,’ without one version being inferior to the other.

If one is to assert “lack” it would seem right to place it where this excluded middle is denied:

The neuter subject, in some sense angelic and beyond sex, a prelapsarian being, this figure attests to a dream of ‘purity,’ philosophical as much as religious.

The notion of purity is born of the “anguish of mixity.”

[This is right—or almost right… But I suspect the meaning of mixity suggested here is material, i.e., biological, which is true as far as it goes but fails to capture the enormity of the problem. The anguish arises not just from the fact that we perceive ourselves as mixed, male and female, but mixed in metaphysical orientation: men at heart simply do not see themselves as having any but a transient business here. (The sexual act itself is in fact a microcosm of this, the notion writ small.) True, his morality is and ought to be centered in large part on carrying out that business responsibly. The same might be said for her… But the driving imperative for him derives its significance from something he feels is not transient, not of this world, utterly transcendent and forever a reminder that all could go well here below and he still fail to complete his destiny as long as his focus all along was not oriented toward the heterocosmic. This is the meaning of anguish peculiar to him. The mixity for him is not just that of male- and femaleness but between finding the world as field for ambitions in principle sufficient (the feminine element) and finding it not (the masculine). I venture to say that she imagines fulfillment always possible in a single lifetime. She is less haunted by the impossibility of her predicament. This difference in tonality has repercussions for all attempts at cross-gender understanding.

The anguish for him is often enough externalized in destructiveness. It becomes too often his excuse for opting out of his impossible mandate and either poorly imitating feminine adiaphorousness or succumbing to outright criminality.]

It is not from one that we must describe the other, or we privilege one of the two terms; we immediately hierarchize difference and remain within the logic of lack.

The inversion of the logic of lack: the exclusion of men from the act of giving birth, the gynocentric position.

This is neither sufficient nor satisfactory philosophically. Binary logic and the hierarchies it institutes cannot be truly overcome unless we renounce the center in general, the desire for the center, and the desire that there be the one before the two, the single before the double.

The two never derives from the one but, rather, the one always derives from the two of those who engendered the individual.

Nostalgia for the one is

…expressed through an anguish with regard to division and consequently an anguish with regard to mixity. Because if humanity is mixed, and not single, all individuals are confronted with their own insufficiency and cannot fully claim to be full human beings.

[There are thus two notions of mixity in play: the one Agacinski speaks of, involving the whole of humanity or the concept of the human, and another, important to Weininger, that of the mixture of principles in each individual. The former more abstract, the latter concrete and biological, at least in its basis. But the two reflect each other.]

There is indeed a lack essential to every human being, which is neither a lack of a penis nor some other attribute of men, or women, but stems from being only male or only female.

[Weininger: But one is never only male or only female. Perhaps a logic “of lack” is not the best way to characterize the problem, rather one of complicating surfeit or excess? The pure one or the other are theoretical entities like the perfect circle. Any given individual is a mix where one or the other principle predominates but the subordinate is never wholly absent.

One might suppose that the presence of the minority interest makes possible what cross gender understanding exists. It may be because we are never wholly one that we can relate to the other—always, of course, with varying degrees of imperfection. And we seem to vacillate between suppressing and exaggerating this understanding.]

Posted by luno in parity, Heterocosmos, sex differences, feminism (Tuesday August 8, 2006 at 12:40 pm)

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