Erla Karlsdottir – Luce Irigaray, Feminine Deities and Politics

In my doctoral thesis I will work with the relevance of Irigaray´s philosophy of sexual difference towards radical democratic theory and politics. I will do it by combining two main topics of her thought. First, I will study her thought about the feminine divine as an opportunity for opening up new possibilities of becoming that emphasize relationality ‒ to others and to social and natural environments via the body. Second, I will work out a different notion of ‘political power’ on the basis of these ideas and Irigaray´s understanding of democracy as sharing the world.

Women have tried for decades to include femininity in the holy trinity without great success. Even with regard to divinity men are one step ahead with respect to women because since the advent of monotheistic religions like Christianity the divine has manifested itself as male (Luce Irigaray, ‘Divine Women’ in French Feminists on Religion. A Reader, Morny Joy, Catherine O‘Grady and Judith L. Pollox (eds). London, Routledge, pp. 40-49). Irigaray speaks of this in her analysis of Spinoza: ‘It also seems that Man conceives himself without anyone else, except God, forming his conception. But the relation of man to God, of God to man, often seems circular: man defines God who in turn determines man’(An Ethics of Sexual Difference. New York: Cornell University Press, 1993, p. 88). Theories of the postsecular have uncovered how states that consider themselves secular are still permeated by their religious heritage. This fact should not be ignored because the patriarchal heritage is still rampant in postsecular societies and for this reason the need for reconstructing and reviving the emancipatory aspects of female religious figures and influences remains.

The balancing of focus in Irigaray’s writings about democracy and love will be discussed along the lines of these following topics: 1) sexual difference, 2) embodied being, 3) relations to embodied others and relations to nature, 4) decentralised power and love for the world.  Relationality, closeness with nature and acceptance of embodiment will be viewed in the thesis through emancipatory characteristics implicit in goddesses. It is important not to focus on these aspects in connection with women only but likewise they ought to be discussed with regard to people and cultures in accordance with their internal differences. We, humans are relational beings and we still have much to learn with regard to how we relate to one another in the way we acknowledge differences. Coexistence means sharing the world and thus respecting how each of us has our own view of this world we share. Irigaray speaks of this difference in several of her works and in I Love to You when talking about how we must respect the other and the importance of accepting the other as transcendent to us:

Recognizing you means or implies respecting you as other, accepting that I draw myself to a halt before you as before something insurmountable, a mystery, a freedom that will never be mine, a subjectivity that will never be mine, a mine that will never be mine. (Irigaray, I Love to You, New York: Routledge, 1996, p.104)

Irigaray has applied her theory in collaboration with the region of Emilia-Romagna as is described in the book Democracy Begins Between Two. In my thesis, I intend to show how this approach to citizenship is manifest in the development of a newly established political party here in Iceland. This party is composed of people who are mostly new to politics. They want to change the culture and goals by introducing different methodology and discourse in order to transform politics from within. Not only do we need to change the way we interact as human beings in politics but the language also needs to be changed. This party has already entered communal politics, and has good chances of getting representatives into the Parliament in next year’s election. This party has its roots in the “Best Party” which is led by a comedian who is presently the mayor of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. The party actually started out as a parody, but ended up gaining majority in the municipal elections. People have become increasingly frustrated with the traditional parties and their corrupt operations and are eager to support alternatives. Both politicians and citizens are eager to learn a different approach but lack the sufficient tools, a methodology that works. To me it has become apparent that we do not yet know how to break the chains of habitual political behaviour and discourses. The suggestions, ideas and theories in Democracy Begins Between Two can in my view be applied in the workings of new democratic experiments as exemplified in the kind of politics I am engaged in.

One reason Irigaray’s work has had such great influence on my work in philosophy is because when reading her texts so many of the things I have pondered over the years come to life and are given greater substance and meaning. The discussion of language is sadly still in early stages in my country, as probably in most others, likewise the discussion of change in political discourse. I believe that in order to establish a solid ground for equal rights we need to start by altering the mind-set. But to invoke change in mentality we need to change the environment, and Irigaray reminds us that civil rights for sexuate beings do not exist because the ‘existing law is better suited to men than women inasmuch as men have been the model for citizenship for centuries[…]’(op. cit., p. 21). Is this kind of change realistic? Will the legislators, the authorities one day possess the creative mind that is the premise for realizing that a change must come? I do not possess an answer but I must allow myself to dream, to believe in the potentiality of change. Therefore I want to close by quoting Irigaray once again with words that speak directly to my heart as a politician, and as a human being: ‘I am, therefore, a political militant for the impossible, which is not to say a utopian. Rather, I want what is yet to be as the only possibility of a future’ (op. cit., p. 10).