Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part I


“Do not seek to go home.”
– Chorus, Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus

“Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there.”
 – Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”

In “Between Us, A Fabricated World,” Luce Irigaray supplements Martin Heidegger’s reading of deinos in the Choral Ode of Sophocles’s Antigone. For Irigaray, the uncanny is not just the unhomely tragedy of human being (Heidegger’s das Un-heimische) but rather the site of nature’s original gesture of violence against itself: “The uncanny is the gesture of initial domination which will always force man to tame things, in particular, those things which he produces…. Man lives in the uncanny, believing that he has tamed it. For him, the familiar is his violence become History.”[1] By way of just such a definition, Irigaray posits a necessarily artificial and constructed quality to Heidegger’s understanding of deinos—a result of the human being’s techno-scientific, productionist mode of being. Heideggerean deinos, Irigaray seems to argue, is always already enculturated. But for Irigaray, culture is a natural outgrowth of nature; that is, culture (although “fabricated”) remains fully ensconced within—and not removed from—nature. It is not as if culture, for Irigaray, were merely exterior to the natural world. Instead, nature necessarily informs culture, allowing for the possibility of culture to arise and become manifest in the first place. Whereas Heidegger (according to Irigaray) situates the uncanny within human being itself, Irigaray would rather locate the uncanny within nature. She understands that nature effects its own violence against itself specifically within the male to be.
Although Irigaray’s argument here is probably closer to Heidegger’s later reading of the choral ode (which involves a more complex notion of the uncanny as the ground of human being) found in his 1942 Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” (see especially pages 68-74), she only references his earlier (1935) Introduction to Metaphysics in her essay. Beginning with Irigaray’s statement that “man lives in the uncanny,” this project is a reading of Irigaray’s critique as a thinking toward what home as the uncanny ultimately is or could be for the human being. We will explore the possibility that the uncanny is not the/a human being per se but rather the home of the human being, the state of the human being’s to be. In Heideggerean terms, the human being, from this perspective, does not ex-ist or stand out from being; instead, nature itself performs and achieves its own standing apart from (existēre) through male being. After a critical reading of Irigaray, we will explicate the premise that just such a home is ultimately and necessarily unintelligible, an argument that Irigaray herself seems to move toward by way of the rhetorical register she employs throughout her work in conversation with Heidegger. The way we will go about this examination is by bringing two texts of Irigaray—The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger and the already mentioned “Between Us, A Fabricated World” from To Be Two—into dialog with some of the later essays by Heidegger himself.


[1] Luce Irigaray, “Between Us, A Fabricated World,” in To Be Two, trans. Monique M. Rhodes and Marco F. Cocito-Monoc (New York: Routledge 2001), 70.

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