Friday, July 12, 2013

12 July 2013

Jeanne Heuving [University of Washington]

from Jeanne Heuving’s Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore, 1992:

For [Jacques] Lacan, human identity is a powerful fiction in which the “I,” through the mirror of an other or an actual mirror, conceives of himself as total and complete. While the formation of identity as part of Lacan’s imaginary is constituted through the “lure of [the] spatial,” subjectivity as part of Lacan’s symbolic is constituted through language, which is underwritten by the Law of the Father or the Phallus. By acquiring language, the imaginary “I” is deflected onto the social “I.” However, for the female this deflection does not occur as completely because as a woman she is positioned differently with respect to the symbolic order or the Law of the Father. The female subject remains, at least in part, “excluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words.”

[Luce] Irigaray, then, uses and exploits Lacan’s conception of the imaginary and symbolic. For Irigaray, the formation of identity in the mirror stage is implicitly a masculine formation, especially since it can only be conceived retrospectively in language, through the symbolic order underwritten by the Law of the Father. Throughout her writing, Irigaray deliberately conflates the mirror stage with the phallic direction of that identity that occurs through the Law of the Father, emphasizing women’s resulting subordination in a specular discourse. And for Irigaray women’s position “elsewhere” than this imaginary-symbolic, this specular discourse, is problematical as well as advantageous. It is problematical in that “woman” without her own self-representation is easily absorbed into masculine representations of her — unable to establish the place of her own “self-affection.” In his discourse, she remains frozen and mute — a Mirror for him. However, while she is at least partially “excluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words,” from Lacan’s symbolic, she can experience her difference from his projections of her and from the Law of the Father.

For Irigaray, woman’s existence “elsewhere” allows her, then, an important, if partial, freedom from the proper or the symbolic. For Irigaray, women can begin to speak as women in at least two crucial ways. They can mimic the “feminine” as it is prescribed by the “masculine,” thereby revealing their difference from this projection. And they can practice a fluid and contradictory writing, a feminine écriture, in which proper meaning is transgressed and subverted. In this writing of her own “self-affection,” a woman can disrupt the specularity of discourse by privileging multiplicity over singularity, discontinuity over unity, fluidity over stasis, metonymy over metaphor, comedy over tragedy, openness over closure, and the other as other over the other as mirror.

While feminist literary critics have frequently celebrated how various women’s writings form a kind of écriture, Irigaray is far more ambivalent. Concerning women’s multiplicity and multiple writing, Irigaray poses the question:

Must this multiplicity of female desire and female language be understood as shards, scattered remnants of a violated sexuality? A sexuality denied? The question has no simple answer. The rejection, the exclusion of a female imaginary, puts woman in the position of experiencing herself only fragmentarily, in the little-structured margins of a dominant ideology, as waste, or excess, what is left of a mirror invested by the (masculine) “subject” to reflect himself, to copy himself. Moreover, the role of “femininity” is prescribed by this masculine specula(riza)tion and corresponds scarcely at all to women’s desire which may be recovered only in secret, in hiding, with anxiety and guilt.

Indeed, for Irigaray there is no final way out of masculine discourse, at best women can only begin “to return the masculine to its own language. . . . Which means that the masculine would no longer be ‘everything.’” By Irigaray’s account, the female subject is itself a contradiction, a “can’t say,” existing in an “elsewhere” that has not been absorbed by the self-reflecting, comprehensive systematicity of discourse.

The theoretical writings of Pierre Macherey and Luce Irigaray allow for an elaboration of [Marianne] Moore’s doubly paradoxical quest: to write a universal poetry that includes her perspective as a woman and to construct a universal consciousness out of a “direct treatment of the ‘thing.’” In both cases, but for different reasons, Moore is working within and against a symbolic or specular form of expression.

Luce Irigaray [Rino Bianchi]

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