Thursday, April 14, 2005

Persons, other and otherwise

The discussion of personhood between Brandon and Chris et al continues. I haven't much to add at this point, as the different sides are ably represented and worth reading in their entirity. I will make two recommendations for additional study:
Brain Dead Person by Masahiro Morioka, and To Be Two by Luce Irigaray (2001, trans. Rhodes and Cocito-Monoc).

The relevance of Morioka's work should be obvious. Irigaray was cited by another commenter somewhere in the maze of previously linked posts (I'm sorry I can't recall by whom). Irigary claims to be essentially and necessarily a woman, which has implications for our understanding of embodiment from the phenomenological point of view (to which she applies her critique) and more broadly I should think.

In the context of the discussion at hand, her arguments about the caress and silence strike me as particularly germaine. However, it would be a disservice to present those arguments without outlining how she arrives at them. A clear formulation comes at the end of "Daughter and Woman," in which she presents her response to Sartre's thoughts pertaining to the constitution of the We. Irigaray argues that she is protected from the transcendence of the "any body" in three ways:

I am sexuate, I am not neuter, anonymous or interchangeable;

I am animated by my intentions towards the other, in particular towards you, and not simply determined by the world which surrounds me;

I am a mystery for you, as you are for me, and our intersubjectivity is protected from the imperative originating in the exterior world and in the anonymity of its destination addressed to an "any body."

The second and third follow from the first, of course, but on the basis of certain premises that may be controversial. In the first place Irigaray maintains that the gendered body is inherently intentional. To be gendered is to have an intention pregiven in ones body, an orientation towards the other. Is this a defense of compulsory heterosexuality? Not quite, but Iriagary says "I can neither deny nor fail to take into consideration, in my becoming, the relationship with the other gender which goes with belonging to my own. To be a woman necessarily involves --as far as human essence and existence are concerned-- to be in a relationship with man, at least ontologically. Supposing that is even possible" (p.34, see pp. 32ff.). Okay, let's suppose. Either our previous thinking on the topic has been disgracefully onedimensional, or the notion of a "human being" represents something of a misnomer. For the sake of argument we will retain the notion of the human being and try to comprehend the ontological significance of our being essentially and existentially related to each other.

For Irigary this path leads to a rediscovery of mystery, a respect for the interiority of the other as essential to the becoming of the self.

The limit which derives from belonging to a gender is not only a limit to my presence: in the world, in my encounter with the other, with others; it is also a limit which delineates a horizon of interiority. Because I am not you, I can return within myself, collect myself, think. Without this limit, consciousness can be reduced to the "pursuit of an impossible future," as Sartre says; it can be placed in search of an autistic absolute, corresponding both to a singular subject and to a people, and can expand towards transcendence situated beyond the one who thinks, in the direction of an in-finite space or time. From the moment that I am not you, every instant allows me to return to myself. You are the one who helps me remain in myself, to stay in myself, to contain or keep me in myself, to remain present and not paralyzed by the past or in flight towards the future. Your irreducible alterity gives me the present, presence: the possibility of being in myself, of attempting to cultivate the in-stasy and not only the ex-stasy.


Well, I won't delve any further into Irigaray at this time. I'm symapathetic to her view, but applying it to the current discussions of brain death would require more explication and argument--more than anybody else would care to read perhaps. For me it enough to say that the performative notions of personhood to which I am partial have not been sufficient to account for my concern for the wellbeing of brain-damaged individuals. Irigaray's exploration into the intersubjective has illuminated some of the key problems to my way of thinking, so for that I recommend it wholeheartedly.

posted by Fido the Yak at 12:12 AM.


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