Tal Menahem — The Interval of Desire

My research focuses on the concept of desire in Irigaray’s latest work mainly in her last book Sharing the Fire (2019). Desire is a basic source and resource for human life, as it is made more and more explicit and developed in Irigaray’s work. I will argue that the way she teaches us how to live and cultivate desire is really a theoretical and practical effective tool in her ongoing project of cultivating a relational ontology and it can be Implemented in a political and educational context.

During the seminar, I presented a chronological reading that links the developing role of desire with the evolving concept of the Interval in Irigaray’s work.

The interval, which sometimes also refers to the sensible transcendental, is a sort of threshold which allows my subjectivity, my existence and my becoming to be in relation to the other (Hill, R. “Between Her and Her” in: Thinking Life with Luce Irigaray: Language, Origin, Art, Love, p. 90). Interval is a fundamental element in her project – as the relation between two differently sexuate subjects is a basic human unit (Irigaray, Sharing the world, p. 205).

The means and strategies to construct and create the interval are evolving in Irigaray’s work – starting from the mimetic tactic to the increasing focus on love and desire as the two crucial affects between humans as relational beings.

There are thus various modalities of conceiving of the interval in Irigaray’s writings, and also various words to describe it (Hill, R., op.cit., p. 91). In my presentation I suggested ways of categorizing the different types or modalities of the intervals. I proposed three main types that correspond to three different phases in Irigaray’s work: the interval of mimetic, the interval of indirection, and the interval of desire.

I argued that the chronological use of the types of intervals indicates an opening of new possibilities of thought and highlights the contribution of the interval opened by desire to the possibility of a political action that can cultivate and even create conditions for coexistence. I showed how a new way of understanding desire is the condition of the opening of this new interval and how working with desire as a political strategy can be a continuous and effective way of using the interval, as an unoccupied space, as a window for change.

Desire in Irigarayian philosophy is understood as a relational energy: “To desire means longing for uniting a bodily conjunction with what transcends us, for uniting here and now with a beyond, within ourselves and between us” (Irigaray, To Be Born, p. 75). It is longing for life to happen and not a problem of lack as it was understood and articulated by psychoanalytic theory (Szopa, K. “From Desire to Be Born to Desire for Being Together in the Philosophy of Luce Irigaray”, In: Towards a New Human Being, pp. 51-69). Desire corresponds to an energy of becoming (Irigaray, op.cit.p. 1).

Irigaray brings to our awareness that the main inspiration of desire arises from difference and that desire disappears when we don’t cultivate it in an appropriate way (Irigaray, Sharing the world, p. 74). She criticizes our cultural tradition and its manner of erasing our relational identity, our intersubjectivity and of imposing on us an abstract order through the privilege of sameness and the confinement of desire to domination, consumption, or reproduction.

Thus, we must free desire from already existing forms and representations. If we want to cultivate desire, we must emancipate it from any object and consider its own character and economy. Irigaray offers us a phenomenological and elaborate description of desire as the most human affect. She helps us discover the real nature of desire and its relation to our linguistic and logical categories (Irigaray, I love to you, p. 82).

Desire must remain, Irigaray stresses, free and open to life experiences that do not yet exist (Irigaray, To Be Born, p. 71). Desire can never be fully accomplished; It should remain an ever-going process of becoming and longing (op.cit.,pp. 70-72). Its elusiveness and its resistance to a-priori definition, logical categories and dichotomies make desire subversive. Its ability to create new forms makes it productive in a revolutionary manner (Szopa, K. op.cit., pp. 66-8). This characterization is compatible with the role of the interval: the interval and desire are deeply connected and dependent on one another. Desire and interval allow us to be fully in the present and to be born to what we are not yet. Both can give rise to a still unknown future and they are its condition of existence.

This way of conceiving of desire enables us to rethink how to carry out a desirable feminist change. Amy Allen argues that a theory could be truly feminist only if it includes both an explanatory diagnostic and anticipatory utopian moments (Allen, A. “Emancipation without utopia: Subjection, modernity, and the normative claims of feminist critical theory”, Hypatia, p. 513). The interval of desire in Irigaray’s work takes these two requites into account.

It seems to me that the preliminary condition of any interval is desire. The content of desire is not always the same and thus the strategy that must be used to fulfill it also differs. But, anyway, desire must be present. I would like to offer an interpretation of how every evolving phase of the fulfillment of desire corresponds to a kind of deepening and development of the former desire: In the interval regarding mimetic, the desire underlying would be the desire to have a voice, in a way, a desire of emancipation; in the interval regarding indirection, the desire would be to achieve a loving relationship firstly in a civil manner, or as Irigaray puts it: the “desire to develop a culture of being in two, a culture of intersubjectivity” (Irigaray, Democracy begins between two, p. 117); and in the interval regarding desire itself the matter would be of cultivating and sharing life as such.

In Democracy Begins between Two Irigaray claims that the most useful is to “deal with things where they arise, starting from the foundation“ (p. 98). Desire as the energy of becoming, of rebirth, “resurfaces as the source which has structured the whole of our universe” (Irigaray, To Be Born, p. 72).

We fail to cultivate it. We “exhaust the resources of terrestrial life and our own human energy” (Irigaray, ‘Starting from Ourselves as Living Beings’ Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, p. 104) and that corresponds to the main challenge facing us today – the energy crisis in the world and in ourselves. That is the cause of our current human condition and represents the most crucial place from which to start in our striving for a change.