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Common Knowledge 10.1 (2004) 158-159
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Luce Irigaray, Between East and West: From Singularity to Community (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 148 pp.
We Westerners, and some Easterners, appropriate inappropriately. Irigaray's thesis is that we regard the sexual other, and if a reader begins with the final two chapters, other others, as property—thinking it the highest compliment payable that we might want to own each other. Rather, a new beginning (and are we not due?) might come from reappropriating our selves, men and women, Americans and French, Westerners and those in fear of Western imperialism, from the traditions that reduce us to functions, utility, means to our own hegemonic ends. Instead, let us begin with our own human, mundane, mystical simplicity, with a respect for breath, the sign of signs that we live. The possibility of community, of connection without absorption, between the West and the East begins in singularity. A community, like a sexual couple, cannot be formed by a self and a half-self called other. [End Page 158] In this book, Irigaray explains, in the clearest style yet, the influences of Hindu and Tantric philosophy on her theory of an ethics and culture of sexual difference. Reading this book makes reading her books on ethics, on Heidegger, on Hegel and the crystalline To Be Two all the more profitable work. Clarified here is the project of denying hegemonies with the torque of positively valued difference, respect for the negative or the interval between us, and the possible project of a future in which sexes, subjects, selves, nations, civilizations, might remember that there is a gap between us that leaves us on our own and to ourselves and that protects our singularity while making the community between us possible.
In the end, between us is the air we both have to breathe.
Simone Roberts, a poet, writes on poststructuralist theory and French feminist philosophy.