Monday, July 26, 2010

commingling flesh & Irigaray's kiss

Speak, all the same. It’s our good fortune that your language isn’t formed of a single thread, a single strand or pattern. It comes from everywhere at once. You touch me all over at the same time. In all senses. Why only one song, one speech, one text at a time? To seduce, to satisfy, to fill one of my ‘holes’? With you, I don’t have any. We are not lacks, voids awaiting sustenance, plenitude, fulfillment from the other. By our lips we are women: this does not mean that we are focused on consuming, consummation, fulfillment.

Kiss me. Two lips kissing two lips: openness is ours again. Our ‘world.’ And the passage from the inside out, from the outside in, the passage between us, is limitless. Without end. No knot or loop, no mouth ever stops our exchanges… Are we unsatisfied? Yes, if that means we are never finished. If our pleasure consists in moving, being moved, endlessly. Always is motion: openness is never spent nor sated.

No surface holds. No figure, line, or point remains. No ground subsists. But no abyss, either. Depth, for us, is not a chasm. Without a solid crust, there is no precipice. Our depth is the thickness of our body, our all touching itself. Where top and bottom, inside and outside, in front and behind, above and below are not separated, remote, out of touch. Our all intermingled. Without breaks or gaps. (Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 209, 210, 213)

I'm out of my depth when it comes to the scholarly reception of Irigaray, or even the Merleau-Ponty bidness' reception of her. I know when I last read her critique of him in An Ethics Of Sexual Difference that I thought hers was a strained, strategic, unfair interpretation. But who cares?

I like these descriptions to a point. I was a little surprised that some of my language echoed hers to a degree. I'm not certain we mean the same things by it. I do think the note about being unsatisfied lines up interestingly with Barbaras' notion that flesh is always disappointed. There's a subtle difference in trajectory and tone in these accounts, and between them and mine, that I hope to work out usefully to understand what I mean better.

I like Irigaray's account of depth, thickness, and touching. It seems right to me because I believe in the "Whose leg is that?" phenomenon. Under what Marion called the "erotic reduction," that is, the setting aside of the mundane approach to the world that happens in erotic sensation, I believe we do lose track of "I" and "you," of distinct, separate identities and selves. (Obviously, this can be interrupted by the mundane; but it can also interrupt the mundane.)

In contrast with Barbaras' account, I think Irigaray is emphasizing the primacy of depth and thickness as lacking (numerical) specificity, or even differentiated subjectivity. I mean this as an emphasis, and the primacy as the originary point for intersubjectivity. Just a shade more than Barbaras, Irigaray seems to be saying that "we" (who aren't yet even differentiated as "we") are gapless flesh, flesh without holes to fill. Whereas, Barbaras' account of disappointment of desire seems to me to emphasize a movement of rejoining flesh to flesh.

I think there's something to both of these. "Who moves whom?" and "who moves in whom", questions I asked as a way to get at this before, are somewhere between these two accounts. Because I don't know if Irigaray is being entirely straightforward in her description, I don't know if she really means what seems to be undifferentiated flesh. If so, though, I think that's wrong on one level.

In those very key moments, in the advent of erotic commingling, "I" and "you" may disappear, and all the rest of the world may disappear, and there may be no "things" at all, just flesh, just depth and thickness, but depth and thickness are also scent and taste and... differentiation. There are penetrations and interpenetrations and grasps and being-grasped, and there is moving and pulsing of flesh with/on/into flesh. Not any longer exactly "my" or "your" flesh (I think that's not ultimately gonna mean anything), and not any longer exactly "leg" or "hand," but flesh intermingling with flesh is still differentiating. Above and below, in front and behind may not be separated, I agree, but they're still differentiated, and that differentiation is how erotic sensation is erotic.

In sensation, in subjection, in erotic commingling of flesh, we reach/are reached, we touch/are touched, smell/are smelled, taste/are tasted, penetrate/are penetrated by differentiating moving flesh, flesh that belongs to this intermingling first and foremost, whose advent precisely is this intermingling. Where are "you" or "me" in this? We're not yet, or not there right now. We're tied up at the moment. But that's something I have to account for yet.

Returning to our senses, we find that you're still you and I'm still me, or else, we separate our "selves" again into distinct subjectivities - as we tend to assume, in the natural attitude. For one thing, we begin again to speak of other things, and to speak as if those other things mattered. And they do, now, once again, crawling back into the "real" world of our intrinsic and imposed relevances, blinking and adjusting our eyesight, a little surprised or bemused to find an "I" there who has things to do, or a cramp. Where did this "I" come from? Why does it have to deal with these other things?

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