Liz Sage

I was fortunate enough to attend the International Luce Irigaray Seminar at the University of Bristol in June 2011, just as I was entering the last year of my doctorate. I’d first encountered Luce Irigaray’s work as an undergraduate and it was her analysis of the connection between the West’s fascination with visual cultures and sexuate identity that eventually led me to pursue my doctoral research. In essence, I asked why it is a culture would need the concept of terrorism, why we would need to identify some instances of violence as something other than murder or criminal in the usual sense. In doing so, Irigaray’s particular understanding of the connection between our bodies, our sense of self and the language we use was crucial for unravelling the range of normative assumptions that underpin the various discourses that establish what ‘terrorism’ is. More importantly, Irigaray’s argument that particular forms of language and representation are privileged within Western culture in order to support a particular form of masculine identity opened up the possibility that by turning our attention to discourses that aren’t necessarily invested in sustaining this identity, we can find new ways of thinking about ‘terrorism’ – or any such concepts – that move us past the damaging logic of terror/counter-terror. In other words, Irigaray’s thought provided me with the framework for an interdisciplinary project that placed the political and social science discourses around terrorism in direct dialogue with literary and aesthetic representations of terrorism and terror.

At the seminar, I presented a condensed overview of my project, critiquing the rhetoric of ‘Terrorism Studies’ to expose its underlying assumption that to be human is in fact to be a white, straight and male, before suggesting that Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007) perhaps offered up new ways of conceiving what it is to ‘respond’ to such violence. Indeed, I argued that DeLillo’s novel suggests that if we are ever to ‘respond’ in an ethical manner, a manner that does not perpetuate the violence we have experienced, we need to learn from our embodied experience – a claim that resonates with Irigaray’s idea of the sensible transcendental.

The chance to present this work to the other seminar participants and to Professor Irigaray was invaluable for my doctoral research. Not only did our discussions deepen and enhance my understanding of Irigaray’s thinking, they also opened up possibilities in my own research that I had been unaware of until participating in the seminar. It was a tough week, emotionally and intellectually, but in the closing months of my doctorate, the ideas and revelations that emerged during our time in Bristol transformed my thesis into a nuanced and confident project.

Since the seminar, I have successfully completed my doctorate, have several publications in press and am continuing to work with Professor Irigaray on creating a network of postgraduates and researchers interested in her work – including designing and running this website! My experiences at the seminar continue to influence my work, not least of all in my approach to teaching. Part of the challenge and the joy of the seminar is Professor Irigaray’s pedagogical approach, which is unlike anything I have come across in academia to date. Having experienced for myself the power of a pedagogy that is committed to responding to the living moment, to the particularities of meaning and understanding that emerge within that moment, I strive to open up this experience to my students in my own teaching, in the hopes of giving them confidence in their own insights and abilities – and the confidence to challenge and change the world around them.

To read more about my work on terrorism and Luce Irigaray’s thought, have a look at my latest article: ‘The Impossible Terrorist: Women, Violence and the Disavowal of Female Agency in Terrorism Discourses’ in in Journal of Post-colonial Cultures and Societies, Special Issue 1: Women and Terrorism. Vol. 4, No. 1, May 2013.