Wayward Methods for Unsettling Archives: Sexual Difference, Race and the History of Modern Western Philosophy

Rachel Jones (George Mason University)
As Luce Irigaray has painstakingly revealed, the archives of western philosophy have been constitutively dependent on the dereliction of sexual difference. Irigaray’s texts track the multiple and contradictory appearances of woman, the feminine and the female as the ‘Other’ of a male subject in order to generate possibilities for thinking sexual difference otherwise. By foregrounding the work of women writers and artists who explore these possibilities, Christine Battersby opens up more heterogenous feminist and philosophical archives while also attending to the absences and exclusions produced by racialisation. Led by Irigaray’s own wayward method of reading for constitutive absences, as well as by Battersby and those who have noted the relative lack of attention to race in Irigaray’s texts (Tina Chanter, Ewa Ziarek, Penelope Deutscher), I would like to return to the archive of Irigaray’s work through the lens of race and colonialism, asking how this might unsettle and reframe the question of sexual difference, reveal the extent of its implicit whiteness, and reanimate Irigaray’s generative troubling of the history of philosophy. How might C. Riley Snorton’s analysis of the malleability of captive black flesh and, following Hortense Spillers, its role in producing/undoing the categories of sex/gender transform how we read Irigaray’s analyses of matter, gendered hylomorphism, and the forgetting of sexuate difference? How might Irigaray’s lexicon of incalculable difference and her attentiveness to maternal-material relations be re-inflected by and allied with the work of Katherine McKittrick, Christina Sharpe and Saidiya Hartman, as they reckon with the ledgers of anti-black violence and insist on the fugitive resistance of black women’s labors? What lessons might be learned from these thinkers’ journeyings through the archives of black diaspora for feminist approaches to the history of philosophy? How would the archives of philosophy be transformed if they included the young black women living in early 20th-century New York and Philadelphia who Hartman reclaims as “radical thinkers who tirelessly imagined other ways to live and never failed to consider how the world might be otherwise” (Wayward Lives, xv)?
Target paper by Rachel Jones
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Invited Comments from Romy Opperman (New School for Social Research)- View Document
Invited Comments from Emanuela Bianchi (New York University) – View Document

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