Harry Bregazzi — Difference, Encounter, and Possibilities for Peace

If an ethical relation with difference requires each to realize the limits of their own subjectivity, Luce Irigaray argues in Sharing the World that this can be achieved through encounters with the other. Such encounters can create an opening ‘in the horizon of a personal or collective world, which puts the limits of such a world into perspective’ (Sharing the World, 2008: 46). What is meant here by ‘horizon’? The horizon could be conceived as that which we inherit from the world into which we are born. Each human inherits some commonly accepted truths about the way things are, dependent on the culture in which they are brought up. To this extent, certain points of view and choices are predetermined. Whilst one might believe that they hold such perspectives freely, they do not realize the extent to which they have been shaped by the horizon they inherited. Irigaray has called this ‘standardization from below’ (Sharing the World, 2008: 65).

It can be shown how this understanding of a horizon can be applied to situations of intractable conflicts. In such cases, a part of the horizon that one inherits, part of the predetermined point of view, involves the notion of an enemy. A judgement has already been made about the person from the ‘other side’ – they are a priori an enemy, and this status is attributed to them as all the various stereotypes that might go along with it. This is an example of how a standardization from below manifests itself as a refusal of difference, even as a desire to violently deny the difference of the other.

There exists, therefore, a hope in the suggestion that our horizon can be modified, or ‘opened’, through an encounter. The productive energy of the encounter lies partly in its potential to alter the ‘truth’ of the world as we currently imagine it. If this can also bring about a change regarding the ‘truth’ of a real enemy, then it seems to me that the occurrence of peace might have something to do with such encounters. It is important to add that we are not suggesting here that all encounters can produce better relations across intersubjective difference. But, without falling into such naivety, if it is admitted that the development of peaceful relations is a genuine possibility, then it is valid to work on understanding how and where more substantial and transformative encounters may occur.

A key point to emphasize here is that this hypothesis locates peace first at the level of intersubjective relationships – peace is not here the outcome of a formal treaty, or instituted by a foreign power. Rather, it emerges through the relations between people in their everyday experiences. Local contexts and everyday life are ignored by liberal or so-called realist models of peace. Yet it is arguable to sustain that the level of concrete and embodied experiences is the most productive place to think of peace as a realisable phenomenon. Taking this into account, it is possible to extend such consideration to three assertions regarding a conception of peace that is in accordance with Luce Irigaray’s ethics.

First, peace requires meeting together, and meeting together with a certain attitude: one of respect. The two undesirable attitudes towards the other that Irigaray highlights are either rejection, or integration into the same. Avoiding them requires that the different parties in a conflict are at least at a stage where an attitude of respect is conceivable. In Between East and West, Irigaray writes that, more often than not, the other is at best ‘respected in the name of tolerance, loved in God, or recognized as an equal or a fellow human’ (Between East and West, 2002: 125). It is important to acknowledge, when we consider the question of the resolution of conflicts, that getting to a point of mutual tolerance already corresponds to a problem. It is perhaps at this level that the value of ceasefire agreements can be appreciated, even if they only testify to a minimum of respect for the life of the other. Yet it must also be stressed that, whilst mutual tolerance may be a first step, it is not enough in itself to express the meaning of a positive peace. In an analysis of what constitutes peace, it is useful to distinguish between these two. However, we must maintain, with Irigaray, that a relationship worthy of being named peace must allow for the transformation of the subjective horizons and take into account the possibility of constructing a new world.

Second, because peace is here understood as resulting from a process of meeting between embodied subjects, it can emerge in ways that are unexpected and not anticipated beforehand. In the relation between two, ‘I cannot foresee… how the other will modify my existence… the development of my life’ (Sharing the World, 2008: 93). This understanding of peace assumes that there will be new associations created between people. Thus, peace cannot be something that is instituted through pre-existing understandings and models of what is required to reach it. Conceiving of peace with respect for a relational process worked out through encounters between embodied subjects, means being attentive to how reconciliation, healing, friendship, and all manner of enabling relationships in difference can emerge in ways that could not be known in advance.

Finally, adopting Irigaray’s ethics of difference for a conceiving of peace provides us with an alternative to the agonist social theories that are prevalent in critical enquiries into conflicts and their resolution. Difference can be, and is, a source of violence, but it is not inherently so. Creating a new culture of coexistence requires that difference is used as a productive force that can alter and enrich our lives. Failing to acknowledge difference means that other subjectivities are ignored, and so the benefit of sharing different values and aptitudes are not considered to shape public life towards the collective good. Acknowledging and cultivating the difference between two can lead to life enhancing and developing qualities that do not belong exclusively to either one or the other. Furthermore, some qualities ‘must be perceived as resulting from the two, and thus cannot be considered as personal property’ (Sharing the World, 2002: 57). Even in situations of social conflict it could be possible for such relations to exist. Once this is accepted, the task is to pursue an understanding and support a practice of these processes. What type of encounters, and where, are enabling of enriched relations and concord, as opposed to disabling relations and conflict? This would lead the study of peace from a theoretical level to an empirical level.