Hypatia 16.2 (2001) 100-103
[Access article in PDF]
Ecstatic Subjects, Utopia, and Recognition: Kristeva, Heidegger, Irigaray
Ecstatic Subjects, Utopia, and Recognition: Kristeva, Heidegger, Irigaray. By Patricia J. Huntington. New York: SUNY Press, 1998.
There has never been a natural alliance between Martin Heidegger and feminism, especially given what Patricia Huntington calls Heidegger's "powerful embrace of the masculine ethos" of National Socialism (xvii). So Huntington's book, Ecstatic Subjects, Utopia, and Recognition: Kristeva, Heidegger, Irigaray, may seem to make unnatural allies of feminist concerns and this most manly philosopher. But as soon as one recognizes that, for Huntington, the main concern of feminism is to develop a liberationist social theory that requires a self-aware agent, one can begin to see the feminist uses of Heidegger's theory.
There are fundamentally two parties in Ecstatic Subjects: (1) the feminist, poststructuralist theorists of twentieth century continental philosophy and (2) Martin Heidegger. The first party runs aground, Huntington argues, with its tendency to dally with nominalism, essentialism, and biologism. The danger of nominalism arises to the extent that subjectivity is seen as purely linguistically constructed and thus groundless, decentered, and non-self-identical; nominalism abandons any hopes of feminist agency. Poststructuralist feminists risk becoming biological essentialists, Huntington claims, to the extent that they draw on Freudian drive theory (which she takes to be biologically based) rather than on an understanding of social and material relations. In Huntington's view, the danger with biologism and essentialism, to put it simply, is that these mindsets are deterministic and offer no way to imagine social transformation. Huntington's book is, in part, an effort to offer a philosophy that can make way for social change.
The second party, that is, Heidegger, runs into trouble with his forays into Nazi politics and his later philosophical abstractions. Huntington wants to save Heidegger's philosophy from these dangers and to find in it a way for feminist theory to "ground" feminist political agency without falling into essentialism or universalism. Huntington successfully locates in Heidegger's work an ontological theory of how there can be a community among people who appreciate each other's differences without seeing each other as radically strange. Heidegger, along with what Huntington takes to be Luce Irigaray's neo-Heideggerianism, "develops the ontological basis for letting another reveal to me that her world situation differs from and even conflicts with mine as a locus from which to interpret reality. Cognizance of this phenomenon forms a central precondition of ethical recognition, namely, an ability not to absolutize my perspective" (xxviii). This willingness to let the other be, in all her otherness, allows for what Hannah Arendt, Seyla Benhabib, and now Patricia Huntington refer to as enlarged mentality. It allows for what Iris Young and now Huntington [End Page 100] call "asymmetrical reciprocity," a kind of relating among people that doesn't require the pretense that I can substitute myself for the other, that the other can be completely transparent to me. Ultimately, Huntington's discussion of asymmetrical reciprocity adds little to what Iris Young has written. What Huntington does add, though, is a genealogy that traces this theory of reciprocity from Young's reading of Irigaray back to Irigaray's apparent appropriation of Heidegger's ontology. Heidegger got us here first, Huntington seems to be saying, in spite of all his other downfalls, and perhaps he merits a rereading (often against himself) by feminists for feminism.
Unfortunately, though, relatively few readers will be able to follow her to this end, for the book's language is extremely demanding. It seems to be written only for the likes of those (including this reviewer) schooled in the intricacies of Julia Kristeva's, Irigaray's, and Heidegger's quite difficult texts. Moreover, Huntington's own writing introduces new difficulties. For example, in one of her introductory remarks, she writes: "My argument is that when Heidegger treats authenticity as the praxis of negating everyday forms of social involvement, he bases the process of reconstituting my identity on a unidirectional and rarifed leap out of convention rather than a dialectical distancing from...