Steinunn Hreinsdóttir — Mimesis as a Transformative Philosophical Method

Luce Irigaray is one of the most original and critical thinkers of our time, and she is widely known for her work on sexuate difference in philosophy. She has been forceful in disclosing how Western philosophers and psychoanalysts have covered all over sexuate difference, implying that culture as such is monosexuate, phallogocentric, based on a masculine viewpoint, and on sameness as far as logic and objectivity. are concerned. The feminine subjectivity is then ignored, and it does not appear as an active player in the elaboration of culture, in particular of philosophy, but only as a mirror image of the masculine subject, which appears as a supposedly neutral, universal and undetermined subjectivity. In her texts and analyses Luce Irigaray brings in existence the unthought, the unspoken, and the unacknowledged – the other term of sexuate difference.

My research arises from my reading of Luce Irigaray´s conception of mimesis as a philosophical method, as an embodiend critical thinking. The philosophical background of the concept of mimesis is rich, ranging from Plato´s idea of art as mimesis (imitating reality) to Nietzsche´s idea of the woman as actor and to mimesis as a creative and transformative act (Gay Science, aphorism 361). My research is to account (see the work of my doctoral advisor on Nietzsche, woman and performance, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir, Vis creativa. Kunst und Wahrheit in der Philosophie Nietzsches, Wurzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1996. Judith Butler has taken up the notion similar to mimesis with her idea of subversive performance. J. Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, [1990]. 10th anniversary ed. New York: Routledge, 1999) for Irigaray’s method, bringing to light the unconscious, the hidden and the implicit in philosophical texts. I will illustrate her mimetic way of both deconstruction and constructing by focusing on her lyrical text “When Our Lips Speak Together”. The methodology used in this text displays how to uncover the feminine real makes space for a subjectivity that is our own, which is grounded in embodiment, self-awareness and lived experience. By applying what I perceive as a mimetic method Irigaray reveals possibilities of changing the symbolic imaginary of the subjectivity, especially the feminine one, and its undermining subordination.

Luce Irigaray implements a phenomenological approach based on live bodily experience, a perspective and a situational awareness of our being in the world. According to her a neutral standpoint does not exist, there is no neutral, abstract point of view because there is no universal neutral subjective experience. Luce Irigaray pays attention to the implicit in meaning networks, that is, to what the text does not articulate in order to interpret how the unconscious works in texts and make it conscious, searching for the unspoken, the silence, in the hesitations, in the pauses, in the prediscursive movements that precede and engender an articulate meaning. But does mimesis work as a transformative practice? In the text ‘ When our lips speak together’ mimesis looks as a process of repetition of the stereotypical negative views on the woman in order to call these views into question – and reduce them to such a mimic degree that a new positive meaning should emerge.

Luce Irigaray´s use of mimesis corresponds to a radical criticism of the exclusion of women from philosophy, in which the meaning of the feminine and the lack of a subjective feminine position derive from a culture in the masculine and are associated with the Other, with nature and unthinking matter, and the silence itself. Her text ‘When Our Lips Speak Together’ displays how she deconstructs the idea of the woman as the place of a lack and at the same time creates a positive feminine image, notably through symbolic of the lips rooted in the body. The lips then, represent the other term of sexuate difference, this which corresponds to a feminine subjectivity.

The movement of the lips expresses an internal duality, which opens up to an endless multiplicity of speeches. It also implicates a presence, based on sensing here and now, allowing us to ‘touch ourselves and be touched differently’. Irigaray promotes a culture of being with, speaking with through another logic. The opening then implies endless possibilities for us to use the words, to feel, listen and speak our bodies as active perceivers of the world. The lips can be understood as two parts of the self, even opening up to more than two, which Irigaray´s understanding of subjectivity illustrates. The subject now is never abstract but embodied and relational: I am always in relation to an other, an other thal I can never know. Subjectivity is both autonomous and constantly becoming, a dynamic ongoing process through multiple dialogues with others.

The most important point, according to me, is that the touching one another of the lips can amount to a return, a return to the self. This return does not mean going back to a knowledge based on sameness, but a return to our own self, to our nature, reaching a feminine self-affection and then the possibility of sharing affection with the other – thus a return to the possibility of being with, of speaking with. The movements of the lips illustrate also this of a communication without exclusion or dominance, one lip never excluding the other, both loving each other, one being not the original and the other, her copy. The lips also touch each other in a way which is irreducible to the active/passive or subject/object duality. They suggest an utopian intersubjectivity, a sexuate difference based on asymmetry and union. The feminine imaginary is not a static one, but a dynamic one, and it seeks to take into account the complex network of lived experiences. The point is that the sexes are biologically different and this difference is the cause of dynamic interactions and interpretations.

Irigaray’s words on the lips act as counter symbol to the Freudian theory about the feminine as a lack – a counter symbol to the feminine castration, and the consequent suffering and subordination, and to the idea that the female sex is derived from the male sex. Irigaray devalues the way of conceiving the woman as the second and the defect sex – the horror of nothing to see. By replacing the wealth of what our lips for the lack of a penis, she creates a positive female imaginary, associated with opening proximity and movement, shifting emphasis from the visible to the tactile. She operates a transformative shift from an abstract analytical distance to the body as the origin of a meaning which precedes any verbal speech – to the body as the source of a more original meaning than any articulate language can express.