Monica Obreja – Technology and Sexual Difference

In my PhD thesis, I attempt to think the relation between technology and sexual difference, by arguing that this relation is contingent but non-arbitrary. The point of my argument is a critical interrogation of the classical sex/gender distinction which presupposes that the relation between sex and gender is contingent and arbitrary insofar as no causal relation should be presupposed between them. In line with this, a large part of feminist analyses of technology maintains that technology as a gender norm is not to be thought as essentially connected to masculinity, but in a contingent relation to it: mainly as a result of men’s historical association with technology. On the contrary, in my thesis I argue for an essential relation between masculinity and technology, that is expressed as a particular mode in which men live their sexuate identity.

Our technological present is, according to Luce Irigaray, to a great extent a layered sedimentation of the gesture that foregrounded the world of the thinking subject: a matricide. A rethinking of the technological reflection of matricide would have to occur concurrently with a rethinking of sexual difference. The idea of sexuate difference we cling to nowadays is inauthentic; it amounts to a sexual indifference, is a consequence first and foremost of relegating sex to the domain of the neutral and the inert, while simultaneously devising a realm of representation, of philosophy, which is isomorphic, as Irigaray argues, with the male sex. To think technology differently requires us to rethink sexual difference in a way that necessitates starting from our sex in order to arrive at a different relation to it. In this sense, the relation between sex and gender ceases to be arbitrary. In fact, it has always only seemed to be arbitrary, whereas during this time it was only the male sex, improperly understood as the universal sex, which represented itself. Thus the presumed absence of arbitrariness only gives rise to the monosexuality of our culture. Our strategy then, as Irigaray might suggest, would be not to uphold the arbitrariness between sex and its expression, but to seek to arrive at a truly non-arbitrary, i.e. meaningful, authentic and faithful relation to our sex.

Luce Irigaray conceives of technology as an expression and symbolization of one imaginary, characterized by certain ethical patterns in the relation subject-object, subject-subject. Because of his sexuate identity, man, according to Irigaray, expresses himself through or as technique. Because he is born of a woman who is differently sexuated and becasuse of the morphology of his body, man lives his identity in a specifically technological mode, inter-mediates his relation to this sexually different origin, and, concomitantly, to his own body, through objects and tools or instruments. In this sense, the relation between the masculine and technology has never been arbitrary. What Irigaray has suggested is a kind of contingency in the manifestation of the technological in that it has blocked: 1) the expression of a feminine imaginary and its symbolization; 2) the relation between two differently sexuated subjects. The contingency is thus, for Irigaray, the absence of an adequate cultivation of both female and male bodies. In the absence of such adequate expressions, masculine phantasies have been projected onto what simultaneously became an inert female body. This latter is the phallic correspondance of the non-arbitrariness of women’s relation to their bodies. That women are said to be connected to their bodies in certain phallic ways is presumably non-arbitrary precisely because the male sex had to sustain an arbitrary relation to his own sex. Luce Irigaray’s point, I believe, is that it is misguided to deconstruct as arbitrary the relation between sex and gender, while the masculine imaginary sustains precisely this arbitrariness, the strict distinction between culture and sex, somethingthat is known as objectivity. At the same time, presumed masculine objectivity has in fact always been isomorphic with, and thus non-arbitrarily connected to, the male sex. It is this phallic isomorphism that Irigaray observes is evident in certain technological practices and it is in this way that this technological imaginary is isomorphic, and non-arbitrarily connected with the male sex. The problem for Irigaray is not isomorphism as such, but its corresponding ethics: male isomorphism has blocked the expression of other sexuate bodies, including his own, by sustaining the necessity of expressing only one imaginary, that of a sex which is presupposed as one; and by leaving unquestioned the assumption that a sex is always one. What is thus contingent could be the expression of only one kind of imaginary. But Irigaray’s point, I argue, is that this contingency need not be an argument for the arbitrariness of isomorphism, but only for consolidating the idea that this contingency needs to be replaced by a belief in the ethical necessity of at least two isomorphic imaginaries.

However, to return to technology being isomorphic and thus non-arbitrarily connected to the male sex, the question is: How can we think about a technology that would not block, but enable, sexual difference? While Martin Heidegger in The Question Concerning Technology tells us that the way to overcome the particular technological mode – or Gestell – of revealing the world in its entirety as nothing but a standing-reserve, as resources, is by pondering and thinking about it, Irigaray also asks us not to forget to breathe in this process. Otherwise thinking might remain a sexually indifferent activity and, surely, it would ultimately cease to happen. Conversely, it is precisely because a certain mode of thinking has always intended to be sexually indifferent that we are careless of our bodily processes, which were once dependent on another being. Thinking is an emergent process contingent on breathing, but whether we would soon still have available air to breathe appears to have been contingent on a certain type of thinking that, for Irigaray, is disembodied in a sexually indifferent way. A technology that is contingently, but non-arbitrarily, related to our bodies would be one that did not forestall the expression of sexual difference. For now however, we remain touched merely by the sounds of noisy machines, by their blinding shine, by the ubiquitous absence of silence, by informational discourses, while at the same time we forget how to breathe in the attempt to become as productive as our machines enable us to. In this sexually indifferent environment, we remain “spoken machines, speaking machines” (Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, p. 205).