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Hypatia 15.2 (2000) 94-99

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Provocations *

Catherine Constable


The papers in Section Two explore different models of relationality. They address the paradigm of the oppositional relation between self and other and challenge it in different ways. The first paper, by Robyn Ferrell, offers a relational model of identity construction using the figure of the copula to stress the intimate proximity of self and other. Ferrell engages with the psychoanalytic tradition but her emphasis on proximity and interdependence clearly undermines the antagonism that characterizes the Freudian and Lacanian models. The last two papers in this section challenge the definition of the other as the opposite of the self by presenting the other in terms of alterity. Rosalyn Diprose argues that it is the unsettling, disruptive aspect of the other that provokes thought. This provocation is presented in terms of physical affect; the other gets under the skin, causing the subject to think again. Diprose therefore rejects the model of the autonomous self who thinks in isolation, arguing that the other is the precondition of philosophical thought. In the third paper, Linnell Secomb argues for a new model of community based on fracture and miscommunication. She rejects previous models that have been based on commonality because they display an appropriative relation to others, obliterating difference in order to create a community of equal and identical citizens. The final paper can be seen to offer the most extreme version of self/other relations in that alterity is constructed as a series of irreducible differences which are expressed through miscommunication.

The papers in this section can therefore be seen to offer differing configurations of the self/other relation. Ferrell's paper, "Copula: The Logic of the Sexual Relation," has been positioned first because she is concerned to create a new model of subjectivity and therefore engages with the prevalent definitions of otherness that have been generated and sustained by psychoanalysis. Ferrell's conception of "identity in relation" is clearly a challenge to traditional psychoanalytic models in which identity is created through a clear separation from the other. For Freud, the little boy becomes a full subject when the psychical configuration of the Oedipus complex is shattered by the castration [End Page 94] complex. In this way, the boy's initial love for the maternal figure is ended by the so-called discovery of female castration (Freud 1991, 158). On the Lacanian model, the boy's initial relation to the mother is constructed as a symbiotic dyad in which mother and son merge. This blissful state of union is shattered by the arrival of a third term, the Name of the Father, which represents the paternal law and constitutes the basis of the Symbolic order (Rose 1982, 36-37). The boy's acquisition of language marks his entry into the Symbolic and simultaneously creates desire for the blissful state of union that has been irretrievably lost. For both Freud and Lacan, attaining subjectivity requires the rejection of the maternal figure. The self is constructed by breaking away from the other, the mother.

Irigaray's famous critique of traditional psychoanalysis presents a forceful argument for the necessity of re/thinking the space of the other. She demonstrates that the Freudian and Lacanian models take the male subject as standard. As a result these models are seen to generate and sustain a series of gendered oppositions such as: "be/become, have/not have sex (organ), phallic/non-phallic, . . . plus/minus, clearly representable/dark continent, logos/silence or idle chatter" (Irigaray 1985, 22). Woman's construction as "lack," both sexually and linguistically, serves to sustain the value of the phallic paradigm. Woman can therefore be seen to function as "the mirror charged with sending man's image back to him--albeit inverted" (Irigaray 1985, 51). As an inverse mirror, woman is said to function within the service of the same, and so her difference is always represented as the opposite of the male standard. "What a mockery of generation, parody of copulation and genealogy, drawing its strength from the same model, from the model of the same: the subject. In whose sight everything outside remains forever...