Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Irigarayan Deinos & the Distance of Home, Part II

The I of the Storm
Reminding us that natureas opposed or exterior to (masculine) human cultureis more than just tempest and maelstrom against which the human being must rage, Irigaray advances an alternative encounter with our natural home, one that is more originary than the constructed home we find either in the Sophoclean polis or the Heideggerean Volk. In fact, she offers a two-fold alternative: a gendered feminine encounter that is somehow subsumed by or conflated with an Eastern buddhic encounter. We use the term buddhic to denote a contemplative awareness, a non-scientific knowledge (from the Sanskrit buddha enlightened, awakened, from budh to awake, know, perceive) that does not necessarily have any affiliation with “orthodox” Buddhism. The male to be and its subsequent culture are “far away indeed from a figure like Buddha, for whom reawakening takes place beginning from the contemplation of the most simple, of the most everyday, of the least extraordinary and violent: the contemplation of a flower” (71). Contemplating a flower, one comes to realize that extension and projection are fallacious modes of being: “contemplating ten flowers is no better than contemplating one; quite to the contrary” (71). For Irigaray, contemplation is a mastering of the self as opposed to a mastering of something exterior to the male to be; it is recognition of one’s interior abyss and not the projection of mastery over the exterior abysses of nature or the other.
After citing the Italian translation of Heidegger’s version of Sophocles’ choral ode from his Introduction to Metaphysics, Irigaray begins her critique by declaring, “The sea is frightening, but man is more terrible still” (69). The frightening nature of the sea as “tempestuous” and a “bottomless abyss” mirrors the abyss man “chooses to ignore” within himself. These dual abysses—the one interior and the one exterior—open up within and around man, but because he has chosen to ignore the interior abyss, he too misses the opportunity to contemplate the exterior abyss. It is as if, instead of Nietzsche’s abyss looking back at the one looking into it, man’s exterior abyss too chooses to ignore—to not look back into—the man, moving man further away from his belongingness to the abyss. In the original context of aphorism 146 from Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, one can easily conflate the abyss with the monster: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Although Irigaray does not mention Nietzsche per se, her use of the term abyss resonates with this aphorism, except in an affirmative manner: by allowing the mutual recognition of interior and exterior abyss, the human being no longer finds herself/himself estranged from being. Man’s estrangement from being further elicits his estrangement from others. Yet it is only by way of recognizing the abysmal gap between himself and others that man can be attuned to justice, to the contemplative, to the compassion of being. Ignoring this gap and perceiving it as something to be conquered and mastered projects the other into the role of mere object over which the male subject too exerts his dominance. Not seeing the abyss (as well as not being seen by the abyss) allows man to wield his power over all that he perceives to be exterior to himself: language, nature, and human beings, among others. As long as man continually reasserts himself in this privileged position of authority, as one authoring his own reality, justice, contemplation, and compassion cannot occur. Man’s imitation of nature’s original violence (that is to say, his culture), then, will always impede and hinder the buddhic mode of being that calls for withdrawal and repose.

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