Posted by: HAT | April 30, 2009

Labor of the Negative

Reading some texts produces a kind of dazed bewilderment

Reading some texts produces a kind of dazed bewilderment

Trying to read ch. 5 of Ethics of Dissensus, which I do not understand right away, so have to go back over. I remember having a feeling a of epiphany while reading the section “labor of the negative”, but now don’t remember why.

Last night tried to work through the next section, on sexual relation as a condition of ethical becoming and obligation. I understand that becoming as an ethical standard or touchstone seems opposed to obligation in some traditions. Ziarek argues for a negotiated truce between these two positions, with sexual difference the negotiator, as theorized by Irigaray.

If I understand the first part of the argument, it goes like this: sexual difference when taken seriously — when I take this negative of sexual difference, which is internal to my own identity (I think, in a Meade-ian symbolic-interactionist or Saussurian sign-as-its-difference-from-others sense, so that whatever my position in the system, it entails that of the sexually different other) and the recognition of which responds to (? maybe I need to say constitutes?) what Lacan, in explaining narcissistic erotic attachment, identifies as an early traumatic asymmetry in sexual relation, cannot be reduced to “the opposite of the subject/ego” or “the complement of the subject/ego”.

“Consequently, the internalization of the negative does not sublate the Other into the same but, by placing ‘a limit on my horizon, on my power’ (JLI, 110), preserves her irreducible alterity. It is in this sense that the negativity of sexual difference is a condition of the ethical respect for the asymmetrical otherness.” (164)

So recognition of sexual difference is not a “negation of the negation” in the Hegelian sense, and does not dissolve sexual difference in a transcendent synthesis, but (for Irigaray, according to Ziarek) maintains “transcendence” as always and in an unbanishable sense “between” the sexually different subjects.

Ziarek also wants to avoid inscribing heterosexuality in this analysis, and thinks she has done that, but I think I was falling asleep too much to really understand that part of the argument and will need to go back.

I note here that Agamben’s focus on the irreducible alterity of the whatever being from every other whatever being, its outsideness, seems related to the negativity Irigaray/Ziarek talks about as sexual difference. So maybe it works to depict Agamben as extending Irigaray’s analysis of sexual difference to individual trait-based differences more generally or more widely, in the effort to abolish categorial identifications in the “coming community.”


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