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Tracing Sexual Difference: Beyond the Aporia of the Other

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Tracing Sexual Difference: Beyond the Aporia of the Other

ABSTRACT: A reading of Luce Irigaray suggests the possibility of tracing sexual difference in philosophical accounts of personal identity. In particular, I argue that Irigaray raises the possibility of moving beyond the aporia of the other which lies at the heart of Paul Ricoeur's account of self-identity. My contention is that the self conceived in Ricoeur's Oneself as Another is male insofar as it is dependent upon the patriarchal monotheism which has shaped Western culture both socially and economically. Nevertheless there remains the possibility of developing Ricoeur's reference to 'the trace of the Other' in order to give a non-essential meaning to sexual difference. Such meaning will emerge when (i) both men and women have identities as subjects, and (ii) the difference between them can be expressed. I aim to elucidate both conditions by appropriating Irigaray's 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas: On the Divinity of Love.'

I. Introduction

Here I appropriate two questions from Luce Irigaray's 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas: On the Divinity of Love' in order to disruptively refigure Paul Ricoeur's account of self-identity, without assessing Irigaray's reading of Levinas. Irigaray suggests the possibility of tracing sexual difference in philosophical accounts of personal identity. By 'tracing' I mean to follow the marks left by that which is no longer present to that which is never entirely spoken, i.e. sexual difference. I argue that Irigaray makes possible moving beyond the aporia of the Other which lies at the heart of Ricoeur's account of self-identity in Oneself as Another. This aporia is a self-engendered paradox which, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, Ricoeur is not able to go beyond: he cannot name the Other/other (whether l'Autre as a general category for the Other or l'autrui as a term for another person).

My contention is that in appropriating Irigaray's questions, we can begin to refigure Ricoeur's account of self-identity, extend his use of 'the trace of the Other' and conceive the non-essential meaning of sexual difference. As it is Ricoeur's account of self-identity seems to eclipse sexual difference in being dependent upon the patriarchal monotheism which has shaped western cultures both socially and economically. Yet according to Irigaray sexual difference will be conceiveable once (i) both men and women can gain identities as subjects, and (ii) the difference between them can be expressed. Arguably Ricoeur's notion of narrative identity, to which I will return, could express this difference and these distinct identities.
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