Divinity and Sexual Difference Beyond Irigaray

In conclusion, what then do these economies of response with respect to the sexuate body ofJesus, the Christ, enable us to understand about divinity and sexual difference? Let me make three points that, though beginning with Irigaray's thinking, go beyond them.

First, we have observed throughout that the notion of difference parallels that of distance. This is partly because difference is always thought relatively, as distance is. There is no pure difference. Difference qua difference is an abstraction no one could recognise. Difference is relative, and distance spatialises that relativity and also suggests the possibility of a temporal dynamic. That is, because distance is relative so also actions with respect to that distance will alter it — reducing or expanding proximity. In the same way, difference now understood not as an abstraction but as an aspect of a temporal situation concerned with the relational spatialising of bodies with respect to each other, admits degrees thereof and modifications to those degrees. To associate difference with distance — that I will go on to suggest is a profoundly theological notion that the early Greek Fathers termed diastema — prevents any difference, sexual or otherwise, becoming a stable marker of a living body.

But the question now arises about the adjective 'sexual' with respect to difference. Put plainly, how does difference get sexed? From the analysis above I would suggest (and this is the second point in a developing understanding of sexual difference) that difference, to the extent that it treats the bodies of other responsive beings, is always erotic and therefore sexually charged to a greater or a lesser degree.87 This is because it is only constituted in relation, and relations between responsive bodies become increasingly eroticised through proximity. The move from seeing to touching in the encounters from John's Gospel that we examined in this and the last chapter, marks a degree of erotic charge between the bodies as well as a change in what the body knows. The body's knowledge is, I suggest (following Merleau-Ponty), profoundly related to desire. Although I would not want to draw a sharp line between the senses of sight and touch — voyeurism

87 The history of bestiality points to a longstanding awareness of erotic relations between human beings and animals that has, at times, been sexual. Hence I speak about 'responsive beings', but I am also aware others have found erotic relations between human beings and other natural forms, such as trees, water, mountains and landscapes. In the opening sequences of Minghella's adaptation of The English Patient, for example, the camera pans erotically over the undulations of the North African desert as if it were the body of a woman. In Nicolas Roeg's film Walkabout trees are given a similar erotic charge.

would warn us against doing this — certain forms of seeing can indeed be tactile. There are certain exchanges of glances that can wound or excite, that can caress or puncture the body. A look can make me feel ugly, feel aroused, feel pain. It is somewhere in the engagement between sight and touch that bodies become sexualised, somewhere in the junction between reception and response within the body's own knowing; such that desire for knowing or being with the other is simultaneously attraction to other. Is it in the moment of sexualisation, in the arrival of attraction, that bodies take on a sexual difference? What I am arguing here — and in doing so re-emphasising Irigaray's symbolics of sexuality — is that in the same way as there is no difference as such, then there is no sexual difference as such. Sexual difference is a not a given, a fundament, a starting point. It cannot be read off from a situation, from the bodies of those who encounter each other. Sexual difference is always an 'achievement', in Hegel's understanding of that term — it is produced in and through specific acts of encountering the other. To take this further with respect to Christian theology: there is no theology of sexual difference, then, only the production of sexual difference in a theological relation. The encounter with Christ installs both the difference and its erotic form, its sexuate nature.

Thirdly, the difference that arises from any encounter is sexual regardless of the physiology of the bodies involved. Of course this is not to deny the physiological or the aesthetic (the beauty, which accords with fashion, of this man or this woman). Neither would I want to deny the role having sexual organs plays in the performance of an explicit sexual encounter or the adrenalin rush that comes with stimulation. I have emphasised throughout the exegeses of Mary meeting with Christ at the tomb and Thomas meeting with Christ in the Upper Room an interplay between what the body receives and responds to and what the mind understands.88 But the bodies themselves, I suggest, become sexualised by the consciousness of being-in-relation — they are not sexualised before it. In other words, there is no pure physiological state. To return to a point I made with respect to the mytholo-gising of relations in Jesus's encounter with Mary in the garden, the erotic experience is already mythopoetic, shot through with images, fantasies and mythemes. Thus when I speak of 'consciousness' here I do not simply refer to a mental state as distinct from a physical state. The work of Irigaray, and this thinking in the wake of that work, rejects the dualism of mind and body, psyche and soma. Orientating oneself round a city, anticipating other vehicles and pedestrians while driving, reaching for and choosing a shot at tennis in

88 Neither is there any need to label the 'performance of an explicit sexual encounter' the 'consummation' of sex, as if all other forms of erotically relating were inferior to explicit sexual congress.

response to a return, are all examples of the body 'thinking' and consciously moving with respect to other bodies without necessarily reasoning in these situations. The body is taught to 'think' in these ways through habituating practices. One can then 'know' one is in-relation without the physical proximity of the person. And similarly one can know of being-in-relation without necessarily being mentally attentive to the person one is in relation to. Bodies, I suggest, become sexualised through a consciousness of beingin-relation of various kinds, through attentive rationalising and responsive readings of body language. In being sexualised, bodies negotiate both difference and affinity, distance and proximity — they do not just encounter difference/distance. Attraction, key to the dynamic of desire, operates through economies of both difference and affinity, distance and proximity. It then becomes absurd, not just on anachronistic grounds, to label the erotic encounter between Mary Magdalene and Christ heterosexual or the meeting of Thomas and Christ homosexual, because both of these labels treat sexuality as a self-subsisting thing, a property that can be attributable to relations, a predicate of persons that encounter awakens. This is where a difference would open up between my own account of sexual difference and Irigaray's. For Irigaray, like Freud, understands the libido (or desire) as a substructure of selfhood. My theological analysis would suggest this is an entirely wrong way of understanding sexuality. The erotic nature of a sexual relation is intrinsic to relating itself. The relation itself, in its constitution, participates in an eros and a pathos pertaining to all relations between responsive bodies. (And I would be at a loss to say at what point an organic body is unresponsive.) Any understanding of sexual difference has to think through what are relation and embodiment as such.

Let me begin with embodiment, and a distinction as important to St Paul who distinguishes body (soma) from flesh (sarx) as it is, more recently, to Michel Henry who distinguishes flesh (chair) from the corporeal (le corps).89 The distinction is this: there is the material order of things and there is what I will term the ethical order of things. A distinction is not a division. I am not suggesting the world of genetic pools and carbon compounds is divorced from the world of values and significances. In fact, what I understand by the theological term 'incarnational' would describe the material order as already inhabiting, because only made possible by, the ethical order of things. But the distinction nevertheless remains a useful strategic tool for disrupting the empirical and positivist assumption that what is real and what is true issue from recognising only what is constituted by the basic elements

89 Incarnation: Une Philosophie de la chair (Paris: Seuil, 2000), pp. 7—9.

of carbon and a DNA blueprint. The corporeal (St Paul's sarx, Henry's le corps) is the material in itself, the pursuit of which for both thinkers is nihilistic and atheistic. The corporeal as such is, on one level, a philosophical abstraction or isolation proceeding from the complex knowledges of the body (St Paul's soma, Henry's le chair). On another level, the corporeal as such is only possible on the rejection of the theological and ethical orders that give value and significance to the body.

Positivism assumes the opacity of objects; it assumes objects are as they appear. Appearance is the starting place for understanding and thinking about them. Ontology is epistemology. It is exactly this assumption that I wish to 'queer' with respect to human bodies and how we reflect theologically upon them. To a certain extent phenomenology has already begun to think this disruption of appearance, by asking not about appearance as such but about the how of an appearance, the intentionality of the gaze. Phenomenology asks a prior question about the object of scientific enquiry. How does it give itself to appear as such? Understanding is not the discovery of what is the state of affairs but an 'achievement' in and through relating to that which gives itself. Phenomenology distinguishes between an object's appearance and its manner of appearing — for Henry there is 'l'apparence' and there is 'l'apparaître'.90 As such, phenomenology does not ask questions about the material composition or contents of the object, it asks about how it gives itself to be understood. The phenomenological investigation, as Heidegger realised, gives way to an ontological enquiry that is distinct while remaining inseparable from that which makes it appearance. The ontologi-cal question is then secondary and dependent; the mystery of what gives itself, the mystery that invests what is with its values and significances, the mystery of donation,91 remains primary.92

Now let us take this one step further with respect to embodiment. For what I am suggesting here is that the meaning and significance of bodies are ultimately ungraspable. Their givenness cannot be accounted for — except mythopoetically or theologically — and they cannot account for themselves (as empiricists would like us to believe). If Jesus the Christ can be understood as the second Adam, then incarnation does not just characterise his body but, in some sense, all bodies. This incarnational nature is the mark of

91 'There is a difference between calling something a gift, and calling it a donation; it can be a gift even before it is given, but it cannot be called in any way a donation unless it has been given.' Augustine, De Trinitate, tr. Edmund Hill (New York: New City Press, 1991), Book V15.

92 Lévinas, following Plato — and evidently the Christian tradition has been indebted to Plato — would concur: the ethical (or the Good) is beyond being and prior to the ontological.

the mystery of the body's donation, or what Rowan Williams has called 'the body's grace'.93 Of course, Christ as the second Adam does not repeat identically the first Adam since Adam was made 'in the image of God'; he was not God. And so when I say all bodies are 'in some sense' incarnational they are not identical repetitions of Christ's body, but nevertheless participate in that incarnation in their own creaturely way. Embodiment therefore is analogically related to incarnation, and it is, as such, that Paul's soma can refer both to (a) the historical and physical body each possesses, even Christ and (b) the transhistorical, spiritual body that is Christ's alone but which is made of several members constituting the Church. This rich, analogical understanding of corpus is detailed in Henri de Lubac's study of medieval sacramentality, Corpus Mysticum.94 Embodiment maintains its mystery, rendering the particularity of its thereness continually open to a transcorporeal operation.

This transcorporeal operation is not beyond the body or supra-corporeal. The body's transcorporeality is constituted in and through its relations to other bodies. This brings us to the second of the two categories that, from my exegesis, will determine a different, theological account of sexual difference: relation. A body is, if you like, always in transit, always exceeding its significance or transgressing the limits of what appears. The body is constantly in movement and in a movement. It is these complex movements in and upon the body that the economies of response attempt to sketch. Put differently, the body exists fluidly in a number of operations between reception and response, between degrees of desire/repulsion, recognition/ misrecognition, and passivity/activity. These operations maintain the body's mystery by causing it always to be in transit. As such a body can only be reduced to a set of identifiable properties of its appearance (such as identifications of sex as 'male' or 'female') by being isolated from these processes and operations; by being atomised. Embodiment maintains its excess, maintains its transcorporeality in and through its congress with the mysteries of other bodies. It is with respect to other bodies that the operations of reception and response, reading and re-reading, acting and withdrawing are not only conducted but also constituted. These operations bring into being systems of dependences and interdependences, which any singular body can always resist but from which no singular body can ever finally extract itself. I suggest it is from within these systems, with respect to these operations, that the sexuality (and therefore sexual differences) of embodiment emerge. The

93 'The Body's Grace', in Charles Hefling (ed.), Our Selves and Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1996).

94 Corpus Mysticum,: deuxième edition (Paris: Aubier, 1949).

encounter with Christ, then, that opens up a Christological operation with respect to bodies and relations, will install an eroticism that determines the nature of a manifold difference — a theological difference (Trinitarian), an ontological difference (between the Uncreated and Creation) and a sexual difference (between the symbolics of the phallus and the two lips).

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