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  • Sexual Difference in/and the Queer beyond of Ethics
  • Stephen D. Seely (bio)

In her recent book, Are the Lips a Grave? A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex, Lynne Huffer offers a daring call for a reconsideration of the rifts between feminist and queer theory in order to develop a "queer feminist ethics of eros" (Huffer 2013, 44). Arguing that sexual ethics lies at the fractured nexus between feminist and queer theory, Huffer seeks both to restore "a claim to an ethical queer feminism" and to transfigure ethics as "erotic living" (22). This project is clearly staged in the book's titular chapter, which provocatively brings together Michel Foucault's and Luce Irigaray's respective reformulations of sexual ethics with the so-called antisocial queer theory of Leo Bersani and Janet Halley. To my mind, one of the most invaluable contributions of Huffer's book is her queer reclamation of Irigaray's philosophy of sexual difference—a philosophy that many feminist and queer theorists alike have dismissed as irredeemably essentialist, conservative, heteronormative, and even homophobic, transphobic, and racist.1 For Huffer, however, "Irigaray's … absence from queer theory is evidence of a forgetting of her radical feminist practice as an always already queer method" (2013, 42). Taking off from Huffer's queer feminist rereading of Irigaray, I want to further queer ethics by exploring the relationship between ethics and sexual difference as it has been thought in European philosophy. First, I offer a critique of the conflation of queerness and "negativity" in antisocial queer theory and the abdication of ethical responsibility it ultimately entails. Following both Irigaray and Jacques Derrida, I then argue that sexual difference is wholly other (tout autre) to "the ethical" as it has been thought within phallogocentrism and, thus, I contend that justice demands a fidelity to this radical otherness of sexual difference. Queerness, I suggest, names precisely this "beyond" of the ethical—that is, sexual difference "itself"—and, thus, ironically, both queer and feminist theory must struggle for the heteros of sexual difference, beyond any distinction between she/he, hetero-/homosexual, friendship/love, or sex/eros. [End Page 163]

To think through the relationship between queerness, sexual difference, and ethics in European philosophy requires a return to one of the least queer thinkers: G. W. F. Hegel. For Hegel, the ethical order (die Sittlichkeit) is the third and highest of the "spheres of right," superseding and encompassing both abstract right (das abstrakte Recht) and morality (die Moralität). It is only in the ethical order, the order of social relations, that the subjective and objective, universal and particular dimensions of the will are brought together:

The social order [die Sittlichkeit] is the unity, and … the reconciliation also of the subjective good with the objective absolute good. Morality is the general form of the will as subjective; but the ethical order is not simply the subjective form and the self-determination of the will, but contains their conception, namely, freedom. Neither right nor morality can exist independently, but must have the ethical as its pillar and support. In right is wanting the element of subjectivity and in morality is wanting the objective, so that neither has any actuality.

(2005, 75)

In Hegel's transindividual philosophy, against modern atomistic political philosophies, the concept of freedom can be actualized only in the ethical order through relations with others. And for Hegel, sexual difference plays a pivotal role in the entry into the ethical order in the form of marriage and the family. In love, the relation in which one first feels unity with another, the "natural determinacy of the two sexes acquires intellectual and ethical significance" (2005, 87); however, because love is merely a "feeling," it must be given objective reality in marriage in order to acquire proper ethical status (2005, 83). Yet, this "legal ethical love" does not find its fullest concrete existence until the birth of a child, the physical embodiment of the unity of the sexes.2 Despite its significance, however, the family is merely the first element of the ethical order, and its unity must be dissolved and superseded to enter civil society and, ultimately, the State.

Given that, according to Hegel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. 163-171
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-14
Open Access
No
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