Ciara Merrick — Breathing Shared Worlds: Creating Peace with Respect for Difference

Based on everyday encounters in post-conflict societies, my PhD project refers to the philosophical thinking of Luce Irigaray to elaborate an alternative conception of peace from a micro-political level. I argue that Irigaray’s work provides three concepts for not only thinking about, but also moving in, the encounter: difference, breathing and sharing. At the heart of Irigaray’s philosophical thinking is the question of sexuate difference. The creation of the new and the invention of an otherwise require us to resort to new ontological foundations. Without facing an ontological challenge, without moving beyond a mere criticism of the violence of the planned appropriation structuring Western cultures, nothing new can happen. Rather, Western culture will confine itself to a process of fatal repetition (Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous, 1993), and reaching peace will remain an empty rhetoric rather than a living reality. An alternative horizon must be created, and sexuate difference is that which can bring thought and energy for such a creation.

Sexuate difference is ontologically able to give birth to new worlds, new bodies, new relations, a new politics and ethics, a new space-time and a new way of breathing in two: two who are irreducibly different and whose radical difference results in embodied meetings from their incommensurability. Sexuate difference can reconfigure traditional materialism and re-orientate the debates about difference towards an emergence of a specific, living, bodily presence, where Irigaray (Through Vegetal Being, 2016: 76) places ‘an original potential from which we must start and develop.’ This potential, as Irigaray explains in To Be Born (2017: 3), lies first in the breathing of the newborn: ‘through its autonomous breathing and its sexuation, the little human gives birth to itself, it brings into the world a singular living being of which it will have to cultivate life, a life irreducible to any other, towards its achievement for itself and for the world into which it takes place.’ It is in breathing, a breathing regulated by the structure of sexuate difference, that the newborn becomes an autonomous (sexuate) subject irreducible to any other.

To give birth to oneself through an autonomous breathing, is also to give birth to the potential of an encounter with the other as other. It is only when we are an autonomous breathing subject that we can encounter the other as other, that we can approach the other towards being in two. To give birth to the living, sexuate body entails taking on the negative of difference, it is to take into account the embodied irreducibility of the two. The negative can be maintained through the silence of breathing, a silence which is necessary for an encounter with the other. In the active passivity of such a silence each experiences a threshold: each perceives the limits of its self, and listens to the enchanting surprise of the presence of other’s body to which it can never give voice by itself. To meet the other with respect for sexuate difference, then, is to recognize the transcendence of the other as other, whilst also transcending the continuity of becoming oneself, animating a new stage of this becoming through a continual return to a living natural belonging. The enchantment of the encounter never fades or ceases to be, it is always becoming, always touching upon the self and the other, a relation that is experienced but never really known, a proximity affecting the body whilst remaining at a distance. An encounter structured through sexuate difference, is the incarnation of a living, bodily difference between two. It is a difference existing on a groundless cultural ground, the advent of an ethical relation between us and with ontological forces in continual movement inventing the self, the other, and their worlds ever more.

Sexuate difference is thus a force towards building the future, towards a duration always to be invented and elaborated: a time continually differing from itself, which cannot be predicted or foreseen. To share the in-between, to encounter the other in a third world belonging neither to the self nor to the other, requires us to enter an alternative temporality, a temporality opening up to the otherwise: a non-linear moving forward which overflows the present and seeps into impossible futures. Encounters, then, build thresholds between the past, the present and the future, within which the two are affected by their own specificity whilst holding a dialogue of sharing across duration. To create a temporal being in relation is to challenge the institutional silence of peace, a silence which subjects time to a binary narrative and a violent, conflictual repetition. To hold a dialogue across duration needs the cultivation of a dynamic, nuanced and contradictory remembering. Remembering, then, is no longer the representation of a static time but an active remembering moving in-between the past, present and future to embody the continual difference of the self, of the other, of space and of time. It amounts to continually building shared worlds and shared futures by actualizing the potentialities of the past in order to invent a space-time always in becoming.

Moving with Irigaray’s philosophy is to think and, little by little, promote the becoming of a true and living coexistence embodied in the present. The becoming of such a world cannot result from a construction by a language which uses words as a tool for appropriating and naming everything and everyone in advance of their becoming: such a construction will always fall back into violence and conflict. Peace cannot arise from a world ruled by sameness. Rather, we must structure living presences and embodied relations through differences, beginning with sexuate difference. Sexuate difference allows us to become in two: it is the becoming of the two who are constructed as inherently conflictual through predetermined binary identities and categories, which operate in a hierarchy ruled by sameness. Peace cannot merely reside with the promotion of tolerance for what is. Rather, to animate the new that will be the freeing from fatal repetitions desire and respect for sexuate difference must be cultivated. This respect opens a space-time for silence, for assuming the negative, contrary to the totalizing noise of political discourses and neutralized identities of citizens. This requires us to give up our inherently conflictual need for cultural roots and to ground the becoming of peace with encounters in difference, in which the transcendence of the self and of the other interact towards a peaceful and dynamic being in two. The micro-political events of everyday encounters, faithful to the structure of sexuate difference, end in an alternative spatialization of the political sphere and are a possible process of extant peace through weaving worlds already shared by two.