Marina Chistodoulou — Self-affection as a Means to Cultivate our Natural Energy

My thesis is entitled ‘Life is a habit or better said an obsession, or rather an addiction’. This research falls into the fields of philosophy of sciences, ontology, metaphysics, psychoanalysis and psychiatry. What follows corresponds to a blended overview of my presentation during the seminar and my discussion with Luce Irigaray concerning this presentation.

First, it is worth to mention that Luce Irigaray proposed to define the addiction to life I am theorizing about in connection with a “natural energy”, a way of conceiving of addiction that would fit Irigaray’s work. Desire for her has to do with “natural energy” and “spiritual energy”. Desire is that which can transform a material belonging into a spiritual belonging. If desire takes into account the natural difference of the other, it can be from the beginning spiritual. Spiritual then means not staying at the immediate stage of instincts or drives, but that the relation respects the transcendence of the other as other, that is the fact that the other is irreducible to me and my own. It is a way of overcoming the scission or the divide between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. By respecting the insurmountable difference of the other I respect myself, too, and give skin to myself and the other. Sight encloses all the beings within an image, but is not capable of providing beings with their living form, only with an additional form. Our culture encloses all beings within a denomination and a representation, in a defined form, not letting them to their life, their breath. The aim is not to go beyond form but to reach a new relationship with form. So when touching you I can bring you back to your own living form(s). At the level of History that could correspond to a trans-formation, instead of a destruc(tura)tion, of the forms prevalent in a previous epoch in order to move from n epoch to another. Sight runs the risk to submit everything and everyone to a power, while touch can bring you back to your own living forms. To take a natural care implies respect for life, letting “natural energy” (what I call addiction) develop and evolve, without going round in circles and becoming obsessive. We do not grow as plants, and thus desire must help us to continue growing as humans by relating to/with one another − which needs a return to our natural belonging.

The other very important remark that Irigaray made was about my mention of Merleau-Ponty’s “Chiasm”, and the way in which Merleau-Ponty uses it as a possibility of seizing something of his immersion in the world, whereas she conceives of it as self affection. What she means by self-affection − which is different from Heidegger’s care, or Foucault’s care of the self, etc. − is what happens when the borders of our body: our lips, our eyelids, the palms of our hands, and even of our feet touch each other. It is what happens when skin and mucous unite with one another as borders of our body, allowing us to experience sensitively, and even sensuously, our own self without being enclosed within it. Derrida and Merleau-Ponty, as she said, seem to be incapable of self-affection, as most masculine philosophers and men in general. This probably explains why men are violent in making love; because they don’t know how to share the intimacy of self-affection. Traditionally man is the “teacher” in eroticism, but perhaps woman could be more able to lead to the sharing of intimacy. If desire respects the transcendence of the other it is regulated in terms of energy, and it does not need to resort to violence. Being faithful to our flesh exempts us from aiming at power, because power prevents us from returning to the intimacy of the mucous, to our most fleshy self. Violence in/of a group results from a lack of cultivation of desire between its differently sexuated members. The problem of our culture, which makes problematic our development as beings, is that we belong to groups (e.g. family, races, ideologies, etc.) instead of to ourselves. And this belonging to ourselves, this giving birth to ourselves is what Irigaray explores, especially in her To Be Born.

Heterosexuality is not only a question of sexual attraction (attirance) to the different sex, but a particular way of relating and touching one another as two naturally different beings. In the public space, what we meet in patriarchal society is neutral or castrated individuals. “Man” and “woman” represent not only a problem in terms of sexuality, but also of identity, which is what Irigaray calls “sexuation” − a term to be distinguished from “sexualization”. Sexuate identity comes before sexual roles and decisions. It means that we can never be or become the other. Creative energy, that is energy that can evolve and let the human beings cultivate themselves according to their “natural energy”, asks for the mutual respect of a sexuate difference. Sexuate difference is the most basic and universal difference. The new human being as Irigaray imagines it, or rather announces it, could be reached by the mutual relation of two different sexuate beings. Her stress is first on identity and not sexuality: we can experience a desire for a different being regardless of sexuality strictly speaking, and that can return us to our own natural identity: return us to our sexuation. This sexuation can act as a “Gestell”. Sexuation has a share in ourselves as soon as we are living beings and so we can return to our own sexuation.

Thus to “be born”, as Irigaray explores in her book of the same title − which she considers one of her most important works given its potential to change the world towards the emergence of a new human being − is not only giving birth at a natural level, but to give to each other our achieved being. Being remains an “event” to which we can give birth.