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  • What Does It Mean to Be Living?
  • Luce Irigaray and Stephen D. Seely

Our Western culture more and more moves away from life. It is so much so that speaking about nature is generally understood as alluding to some or other concept that would be more or less adequate, but not as referring to or questioning about life. This situation is all the stranger since we are facing a real danger regarding the survival of the earth and of all the living beings that populate it. It is as if all the discourses we hear about this problem could remain abstract considerations and academic or scientific evaluations and discussions without practical concern about our own life and our living environment. This probably results from the status of our discourse in general and its current relation to the real.

There is no doubt that questions are little by little arising about the present situation of the world, and also that some of the recent philosophers have begun to inquire about the truth and their way of approaching it (as is the case, for example, with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty). But it seems that, although they speak about the necessity of overcoming our past metaphysics, they succeed in doing that with difficulty.

Could it be possible that the undertaking would be easier for a woman, because she did not actively contribute to the construction of our past metaphysics, and her identity and subjectivity have remained more in harmony with nature—which she is, furthermore, presumed to represent for the patriarchal tradition?

Anyway, it seems that Luce Irigaray—in particular her last two books, Through Vegetal Being (coauthored with Michael Marder, 2016) and To Be Born (2017)—offers elements that correspond to what is at stake in our epoch, [End Page 1] both at an empirical and a theoretical level. Hence this conversation about her approach to and treatment of issues crucial today for our life, our world, and all living beings.

Stephen D. Seely: The philosophical theme of life is central to both Through Vegetal Being and To Be Born. In Through Vegetal Being, however, you begin with what is, to date, your most detailed reflection on your own personal point of entry to your philosophical questioning of life, especially the circumstances surrounding your expulsion from academic society following the publication of Speculum in 1974. While you, in part, relate this to Antigone's expulsion from the polis, you also suggest that in your experience, such expulsion, rather than leading to your death, actually granted you the possibility of life. In the past few years, there has been a great proliferation of work in philosophy on "life itself." I wonder whether you might begin by speaking to the ways in which your experience of exclusion from the academy opened you to an original path of thinking about this theme? How has this experience helped prevent your thinking of life from falling into the abstract or the overly scientistic?

Luce Irigaray: Thinking of life was not, for me, the result of an academic work—especially one which would be fashionable. As I tell in Through Vegetal Being, it happened instead after my expulsion from the university but also my removal from all the things in which I had invested a great part of my life: regarding my work but also the circle of my colleagues and even of my friends, the psychoanalytical institution in which I had made my training and of which I was a member, the meetings, gazettes, and little by little the publishing houses to which I was a collaborator. Thus, I could only die or discover how to live in spite of all that.

It was in nature itself that I could recover life, surrounded by trees, flowers, grass, and wild animals with which I shared the same space, the same air, sun, rain, temperature, etc. I could say: with which I shared the same earthly existence and formed a community of the living. Then I rediscovered what life as such was, and perhaps so returned to what early Greek culture called cosmos, that is, to an organization of the world which does not result from...


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