Irigarays Christ

In her long review article of Schussler-Fiorenza's book In Memory of Her, entitled 'Equal to Whom?', Irigaray declares that she began the book with astonishment and joy only to find she was eventually disappointed. Her joy lay in Schussler-Fiorenza's reconstruction of the women in Jesus's life: 'The way in which they are described in the text bears the hallmarks of Aphro-ditism.'24 The text here is the Gospels as Schussler-Fiorenza read them. By 'Aphroditism' Irigaray refers to a female representation of the divine love

22 See 'Reading Irigaray in the Nineties' in Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor and Margaret Whitford eds., Engaging with Irigaray (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 15. Prior to this collection of essays came Margaret Whitford ed., Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine (London: Routledge, 1991). In the 1980s Irigaray's work was substantially introduced to the Anglo-American public through Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (London: Methuen, 1985) and Elizabeth Grosz, Sexual Subversions: Three French Feminists (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1989).

23 The adjective in French is sexué or sexed, but it is usually translated 'sexuate'. Similarly Irigaray's la sexuation is usually translated 'sexualisation'.

24 'Egales à qui?' in Critique 480, May (1987), pp. 420-37, p. 424. Translations from this article throughout the essay are my own. An English translation by Robert L. Mazzola is available, 'Equal to Whom?', Differences 1 (2) (1989), pp. 59-76.

within whose tradition she believes Christ's female disciples stood. In Marine Lover she details the genealogy of the male-god, placing the 'crucified one' in the trajectory of those other representations of male divinity — Dionysos, the god of desire, and Apollo, the god of order and integrated form. Christ is significantly the one who is historically incarnate — et incarnatus est is repeated like a refrain through her chapter 'epistle to the last Christians'. Compared with Dionysos and Apollo, he is 'another nature still'25 — though she does not explore this nature any further. She refers though to a cryptic text in Hölderlin: '"he perfects that which was lacking in others, so that the presence of the Divine Ones might be total" .'26 Jesus Christ's female disciples, then, offer a gendered love that is different from yet complementary to Jesus's own. He is the god of love, and, since love must be incarnated, he has a sexuate body; they incarnate love also, a female love in a genealogy symbolically represented by Aphrodite. Irigaray rejoices, then, that Schüssler-Fiorenza's work opens up a space between Jesus Christ and the Christian Church's appropriation, interpretation and policing of this figure. Following a line of thought in Nietzsche that characterises the Church as a product of ressentiment she had written: 'Doesn't Christianity ... [r]emain the prisoner of hate? With its Distance and Difference ... Certainly, Christianity is thus. What about Christ?'27 Now Schüssler-Fiorenza has helped her towards answering her final question.

Her own portrayal of Christ maintains this space between the Church and its founder. She asks whether we might not interpret the 'Christic symbol as a consecration of love ... as a quest for some incredible nearness in life'. She is struck by his use of touch and how he 'is respectful of bodily space, of sensual space, of openings in the skin'.28 It is because of this that she asks, rhetorically, 'Was he really untouchable?' This question is part of a larger one: 'What does it really mean that the word was made flesh?'29 We will return to those questions in a moment. She is also struck by the fact that unlike Dionysos and Apollo, 'this man-god does not exist in a triumphant self-sufficiency'.30 This man who 'did not wish to enter violently into the body of the other', and who therefore maintains difference, installs it with his presence, is 'herald of an age of love'.31 She concludes her 'epistle

25 Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche, tr. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 181.

to the last Christians' with an observation again on the space within which she has reinscribed him:

But why a god of love, given the effects and the illustrations we know about? Unless exclusive love of the Father is only a partial translation of his message ... The life of Christ, perhaps, cannot be reduced to the pathein of the Father's will. It would open the way for the transcendence of the other that has always been covered over by the Father—son paradigm ... This reevaluation is possible only if he goes beyond the Father—son relationship. If he announces — beyond Christianity? — that only through difference can the incarnation unfold.32

It is this idea that incarnate transcendence, the integration of the divine and the corporeal, is only available through the establishment of difference, a sexuate difference, which contrasts Irigaray's approach to Christ with Schussler-Fiorenza's (and Daly's). For what disappoints her about Schussler-Fiorenza's account is what she observes as a reduction of the divine (with respect to the women) and a reduction of the human (with respect to Jesus Christ). Schussler-Fiorenza reduces the divine in women by examining Christ's female disciples simply as a sociological fact which the Church has effaced. She does not read these women theologically, as involved in an economy of responding to the love of Christ with their own love. She does not read their discipleship — I put words into Irigaray's mouth at this point — soteriologically. Irigaray pointedly asks whether Jesus interests himself with women because they were numbered among the poor and oppressed or because they were women. Schussler-Fiorenza, wishing to develop a feminist theology in terms of a more general hermeneutic of liberation, would say the former. But Irigaray believes this is wrong. 'Women, in fact, are not poor people among so many others. Rather, the exploitation of women, as half of humanity, represents human exploitation which makes possible all the other forms. This exploitation is fundamentally cultural and secondarily socio-economic.'33 The reality of women calls into question the governing male ontology, the hierarchical ontology, which supports such exploitation. And so Irigaray finds Mary Daly's interest in the 'cosmic dimensions of culture' more incisive34 because it is concerned with the redemption of creation, with divinity materialised. Schussler-Fiorenza, Irigaray suggests, wishes to divinise Christ but not women. Women therefore have to neuter

34 Ibid., p. 436. Concern for the cosmic dimensions illustrates the way Irigaray's thinking is profoundly influenced by her Catholic background, with its notion of the sacramentum mundi.

themselves to obtain an 'identification with a masculine gender'.35 In divinising Jesus Christ she establishes his identity beyond sexuality, thus reducing his humanity. And so Irigaray asks if Schussler-Fiorenza sufficiently tackles the question of incarnation, of sexualised divinity.

To raise and explore the question of sexualised divinity is fundamental to Irigaray's project. The corollary of this is: 'Christ is not of our sex as he is in the manner of men ... It is impossible to ask that a woman become holy, absolved of fault, if she does not recognise her mother as potentially holy. A god-made man or a Father God are not enough to sanctify woman [le genre féminin] .'36 But before we enlist Irigaray in the post-Christian camps of Mary Daly (or Daphne Hampson) — in which she certainly does not belong — we need to appreciate her objection to Daly's position. For while she sympathises with the encouragement Daly has given to an ekklesia of sisters, Irigaray questions the value of such a position for religion and women. 'Personally, I prefer to make every attempt to keep the differences [la dimension de la mixité], because sexual difference seems to me to assure the limits of being human which allows space for the divine.'37 Elsewhere, in her essay 'Belief Itself' and in her chapter 'epistle to the last Christians', Irigaray conceives the coming of the holy, its incarnation, as only possible in the space between the wings of the two angels facing each other on either side of the ark of the covenant. It is important that the wings, arching over to meet each other, do not touch. Difference is essential: the sexual difference of the couple.

Debates have raged among feminists as to the extent to which Irigaray is reinscribing a metaphysics of heterosexuality.38 Evidence for such a metaphysics does seem to become more available in her later work.39 Some have seen Irigaray as playing with essentialism as a strategy required at this point in time for the feminist agenda.40 I would wish to emphasise a more Lacan-ian (rather than Freudian) reading. Certainly, I believe such a reading of her work is more productive for theological thinking and gets us beyond the theological analyses of sexual difference in Barth and Balthasar. On this reading, Irigaray juxtaposes to the phallus the two lips of the vagina. Both the phallus and the two lips are emblematic, not biological. They are symbolic positions that do not necessarily map onto bodies possessing male

38 See footnote 20.

39 See in particular Elemental Passions, tr. Joanne Collie and Judith Still (London: Athlone Press, 1992); Je, Tu, Nous: Towards a Culture of Difference, tr. Alison Martin (London: Routledge, 1993); and I Love to You: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History, tr. Alison Martin (London: Routledge, 1996).

40 See Margaret Whitford in Engaging Irigaray, p. 15.

and female genitalia. The proximity of the phallus and the two lips gives rises to the economy of desire, but Irigaray leaves open (certainly in her work in This Sex Which Is Not One) whether the sexes involved in the attraction are opposite or the same. In doing this she blurs neat distinctions between sex, gender and sexuality, and raises questions about what it means to be identified as male or female; what it means to produce difference.

Where does this situate Christ, then? And where does this leave feminist theology as it wrestles with Christological issues, particularly the issues of incarnation and redemption? Irigaray creates for Christ a space which is quite distinctive; it is a space that opens out suggestively rather than contracts towards some doctrinal prescription. And despite Irigaray's repeated insistence that although Jesus may not have been opposed to women, 'he does not furnish for them specific [certaines] representations of themselves, of their genealogy',41 the space she opens is suggestively inclusive: 'In the body of the Son of Man there appears, in the form of a wound, the place that, in women, is naturally open.'42 In other words, this 'Son of Man' bears both phallic and two lip markers. No doubt Irigaray is aware of medieval Catholic readings of the wound in the side of Christ as a vagina opening to give birth to the Church, a place where the waters break and the blood flows.43 On Christ's blessing of the fruits of the earth, wheat and grape, at the Last Supper, Irigaray observes that he is faithful 'to the very old traditions with which he re-establishes, perhaps, a bridge. These traditions are gynocratic and matriarchal. Does he appropriate them to himself or does he make himself the mediator of them?'44 Irigaray does not answer the question; the question is a methodological ploy to keep the space in which Christ's sexual identity is situated open, to keep possibilities in play. She, like Julian of Norwich on her own meditation upon the wound in the side of Christ,45

42 Marine Lover, p. 166.

43 See the work here of Caroline Walker Bynum: Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middles Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 110—69; Holy Feast and Holy Fast (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), which has a reproduction of Christ as Mother, The Saviour by Quirizio da Murano; and Fragmentation and Redemption (New York: Zone Books, 1991). Philippa Berry, in her essay 'The Burning Glass: Paradoxes of Feminist Revelation in Speculum'' (Engaging Irigaray, pp. 229—46) draws attention to Irigaray's indebtedness to the mystical writings of the High Middle Ages: Jan van Ruysbroeck, Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila and Marguerite Porete.

45 See Revelation of Divine Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe (Exeter University Press, 1993), chapters 24—26. Julian of Norwich's tenth revelation of the wound in the side of Christ leads directly to the eleventh revelation concerning his mother, Mary, and the twelfth revelation concerning the Church and its experience of mystical and ineffable love (what Irigaray would term jouissance).

moves from the wound to the womb that enfleshed and bore him. 'Mary, the mother ofJesus, represents, perhaps, a figure of Aphrodite.'46 There is, again, no incarnation of the divine, no operation of the divine, which is simply male-engendered. Difference and the economy of desire that is sexed incarnate the holy. 'It is in this sense that I have suggested that the incarnation of the divine in Jesus Christ is a part of something larger [est partielle]', she writes, and adds that this conforms to Christ's own self-presentation in John's Gospel that he needs to depart so the Paraclete may come.

We will return to John's Gospel in a moment, but this is where Irigaray leaves her Christological reflections while recognising that the spiritual understanding of sexual difference 'could be our "salvation" if we thought it through'.47 Irigaray's work has facilitated that thinking by creating a space for a contemporary redescription of the sacred and the incarnational. Her work has explored, for women, a new transcendentalism (it must therefore have implications for men also). It is a transcendentalism which is opposed to the Gnostic division between the spiritual and the bodily. She explores what she has termed a 'sensible transcendental'.48 Catholic and Orthodox Christianity has always emphasised its own sacramental and Christological understanding of an embodied divinity, but Irigaray explicitly associates her notion of the 'sensible transcendental'with the difference between sexuate bodies in relation to each other. I have elsewhere pointed to some of the difficulties for theological thinking of Irigaray's concept of transcendence;49 briefly, it is a question of the relationship between self-transcendence and an encounter with the transcendent God — a question concerning the extent to which this notion is another variation of Spinoza's pantheism. Nevertheless, the divine, operating through an economy of love and desire, is foregrounded in her work as in Christian theological enquiry, and presents new possibilities for a philosophy of religion (one not founded upon what Genevieve Lloyd has called the 'man of reason').50

47 An Ethics of Sexual Difference, tr. Gillian C. Gill and Carolyn Burke (London: Athlone Press, 1993), p. 5.

48 See An Ethics of Sexual Difference where this notion is continually explored in terms of the dynamic relationship between love and the other in dialogue with major philosophical voices of the western tradition.

49 See footnote 20.

50 Genevieve Lloyd, Man of Reason: 'Male' and 'Female' in Western Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1993). There have been several attempts by feminists to develop such an alternative mode of philosophy of religion. See Grace Jantzen, Becoming Divine, and Pamela Sue Anderson, A Feminist Philosophy of Religion.

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