The Divine Subject

Irigaray starts her examination of the relationship between divinity and human sexuality elsewhere, and that is why we will pursue the alternative avenues for thinking incarnation that her work opens up. Religion plays such a central role in her thinking because of its implications for the psycho-sexual development of the subject. As she writes: 'To posit a gender, a God is necessary; guaranteeing the infinite ... If women have no God, they are unable either to communicate or to commune with one another ... [A]s long as woman lacks a divine made in her image she cannot establish her subjectivity.'6 To appreciate her concern with religion and the relationship she draws here between gender, personhood and the divine, two modes of critical enquiry need to be outlined. The first belongs to Louis Althusser and his notions of subjectivity and the ideology of the Subject. The second belongs to the role God-as-Father plays in the morphology of sexuality in Freud.

Althusser expounds his understanding of subjectification in a famous essay entitled 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses'.7 Here, with explicit reference to Christianity, he describes how the state is able to maintain power over its subjects through a number of 'apparatuses'. These might be repressive (i.e. the judiciary) or creative (i.e. education), but they constitute two economies of production. As Judith Butler succinctly puts it, there is 'a power exerted on a subject' and 'a power assumed by the subject, an assumption that constitutes the instrument of that subject's becoming'.8 These apparatuses discipline individuals into viewing and valuing the world and themselves in specific ways; they operate with ideologies. It is at this point, to illustrate such an operation, that Althusser turns to Christianity. In order to create a subject there needs to be a reified Subject, an Absolute Subject who can 'interpellate' the individual. Ideology establishes this normative Subject and, through interpellation, the subject is called to recognise

6 Sexes and Genealogies, tr. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 61—3.

7 See Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, tr. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971).

8 Judith Butler in The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 11.

himself or herself. As Althusser puts it, 'ideology "acts" or "functions" ... by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most common everyday ... hailing: "Hey, you there!"' 9 As such, subjects (and their formation) become dependent upon the authoritarian Subject. In terms of Christianity, 'the interpellation of individuals as subjects presupposes the "existence" of a unique and central other Subject, in whose name the religious ideology interpellates individuals as subjects;'10 they are 'subjected to God, a subject through the Subject and subjected to the Subject'.11 Thus, returning to Irigaray, one can see that without this transcendental Subject (a divine made in her image) female subjects cannot establish their identity.

Central to sexual morphology in Freud are the famous Oedipus and castration complexes, in which the libido of the son for the mother is sublimated, following an identification with his father. Once the son recognises the 'lack' of the penis in his mother/sister, then the father embodies the threat of castration related to the son's incestuous desire for the mother. The castration complex resolves the Oedipal situation because the son now represses his incestuous desire. But the father figure, as third party in the Oedipal triangle, in now cathected into an alter ego — a symbol of omnipotence, threat and ideality. It is in the creation of the father as the other, both beneficent and tyrannical, that the son substantiates his own sexual identity. Following in the footsteps of Feuerbach, Freud understands any human relationship to 'God' as the personification of this infantile condition.12 Since for Freud libido is masculine, a daughter also comes to her sexual identity and orientation to the father through the Oedipus complex. Her passage through the complex is more difficult. The lack she sees in her mother and herself causes resentment against the deceptions of the phallic mother and thus a re-orientation of desire towards her father. She identifies with her mother as the would-be lover of the father.

In her early work — Speculum of the Other Woman and This Sex Which Is Not One — Irigaray submits Freud's analysis of the morphology of the feminine to a psychoanalytical reading. She raises the question of a sexual identity built upon 'lack', a male economy and only one libido (the masculine one). Without offering an alternative morphology (because this is impossible, given the relationship between male identification with the father and the

9 Althusser, Lenin and Philosolophy, pp. 174, 176.

12 See 'The Future of an Illusion' in Civilization, Society and Religion, The Penguin Freud Library volume 12 (London: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 179-241.

entry into the symbolic order, see below), she poses the question of how a woman can identify herself as such when '[s]ubjectivity [is] denied to the woman'.13 Hence she arrives at the observation above: '[A]s long as woman lacks a divine made in her image she cannot establish her subjectivity.'

The difference between these two accounts of arriving at a subjectivity — the one by Althusser and the other by Freud — is evident in the language each uses to describe the processes. When discussing the complex (if not downright obscure) economy of the morphology of the female subject, Freud comments (albeit negatively) on work conducted on the chemistry of sexual processes.14 The libido is not aligned with these possible processes, but the grounds for its entire divorce from them is evidently difficult to maintain. This is because throughout his examination of the Oedipus and castration complexes libido is understood as a biological drive. As such there is always a slippage between the roles of the physiological penis and the psychoanalytic phallus. In Freud, the morphology of the sexed subject, and therefore an account of sexual difference — though never appealed to by either Barth or Balthasar — rehearses the same biological reasoning. Althusser, on the other hand, avoids such naturalism or essentialism by defining the economy in terms of ideologies, apparatuses and internalised symbolic identifications. He emphasises that the identities arrived at are imaginary to the extent that they are constructs of the apparatuses that mask any genuine conditions under which individuals are living.15

But Althusser does not deal explicitly with the sexed subject, although one can infer from his position that a new set of questions will emerge with respect to examining sexual difference and the divine. Put in a way that we will return to later, Althusser's thinking would suggest we ask about the production of difference (and, concomitantly, sexual difference) as such. We might list such questions as: How is difference recognised? What facilitates or requires the recognition? What is the effect of the recognition of difference? What is theologically significant about the operations of the recognition of difference?

Irigaray is able to negotiate Freud's sexual morphology with respect to Althusser's analysis of the imaginary function of ideology in constituting subjectivity through her response to the work ofJacques Lacan and the Ecole

13 Speculum of the Other Woman, tr. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 133.

14 'Female Sexuality' in On Sexuality, The Penguin Freud Library volume 7 (London: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 388.

15 There is a problem here with a residual naturalism in Althusser that issues from his Marxist understanding of ideology as distortion of the real, but that need not concern us here.

Freudienne de Paris. For Lacan developed Freud's economy of masculine desire in his exposition and examination of what he, following the work of Henri Wallon,16 described as the mirror stage in the formation of the I. Wallon had already recognised this stage, when the child confronts an image of itself in a mirror, as decisive for the move from the imaginary to the symbolic. As Lacan later saw it, in Ecrits, the mirror stage lies at the threshold between nature and culture.17 In the mirror the child first conceives both separation (a subject outside his or her own, an other) and unity (a whole subject, not fragmented parts of a body). In the imaginary phase, prior to the mirror stage, the child only glimpsed moments of being — it had no unified conception of the experience of itself. At first the mirror image is taken as reality itself, but later the child realises this unified I is not real. The child realises that it is a split subject — both unified and divided. It needs these images, these substituting representations of itself in order to identify itself as a subject at all. This stage, then, in which symbolic substitutions are understood as necessary, prepares the child for entry into the symbolic order, the order of names and languages. For Lacan, this stage begins earlier than the sexual differentiation through the castration complex in the Oedipal scenario. The castration complex completes the entry into the symbolic, for identification with the Father is understood as desiring the Phallus which is the symbol of, the signifier for, gratification. Possessing the Phallus will enable the unification of the split subject; no longer inhabiting a position in-between the imaginary and the symbolic. But the child learns that the Phallus is only a symbolic substitute — the desire for satisfaction, wholeness and gratification will endlessly be deferred. The Phallus of the Father, therefore, acts as a transcendental signifier in the symbolic order. The Name-of-the-Father maintains the separation between the mother and the child, and perpetuates the prolongation of desire. In fact, the axiom of desire is to desire itself. The cultural order, language, mediation and substitution arise in this aporia as the law of the Father is established; a law that can never be transgressed. The child will seek endless substitution, for what gratification there is lies in desiring desire. Otherwise there is only aphasia and stasis. If the child cannot be the Phallus, nor have the Phallus, it will construct its identity in and through the chains of substituting signs which are haunted by the Phallic.

Although Irigaray drew attention to what she termed, punning, the 'hom(m)osexuality' of this Lacanian account of sexual differentiation and

16 See Elizabeth Rudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co.: A History of Psychoanalysis in France 1925—1985, tr. Jeffery Mehlman (London: Free Association Books, 1990), pp. 142—5.

17 Écrits, tr. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock Publications, 1977), p. 7.

the law of the symbolic, emphasising that this makes all culture, forms of mediation and representation a product of the male imaginary,18 she nevertheless accepted the need for a move from the imaginary to the symbolic. She may suggest that women, like the tain at the back of the mirror, are never visible in themselves; or that it is the mother who stands behind the child as it faces the mirror and therefore supports all male specularisation. She may draw attention to the flatness of the mirror,19 which would accentuate the women's sexual organs only as a hole; never, therefore, reflecting the woman as a sexed person in her own right, only a subject who lacks what the male possesses. But Irigaray throughout explores the possibility of a female imaginary and a female desire, pushing towards an account of parler femme, a 'speaking [as] woman'within a psychoanalytical framework.20 In an interview in the early 1990s, Irigaray emphasises that 'Women are committed to two gigantic tasks: assuming consciousness of the order of language and of one's tongue as sexualised, and also of creating a new symbolic morphology in which she can say: I, sexual being, woman, assert such and such.21 Changing both the imaginary and the symbolic order is, for Irigaray, working within Lacanian thinking. The task for women is to re-envisage Lacan's Name-of-the-Father in terms of a Name-of-the-Mother. Hence, when Irigaray calls for a God guaranteeing the infinite in order to 'posit a gender' and enable women 'to communicate or commune with each other', the God who interpellates and constitutes that subject is the deferred other, the psychoanalytical understanding of God. Then the mother as transcendental signifier will govern the morphology of personhood and sexual differentiation, and the entry into the symbolic. Without appreciating the relationship between sexuality, symbolism and the need for an Absolute Subject for the morphology of the sexed subject, the declaration that

18 See 'The Poverty of Psychoanalysis' in The Irigaray Reader, ed. Margaret Whitford (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 79-104.

19 Speculum of the Other Woman, p. 89.

20 See my essay 'In the Name of the Father and of the Mother' in Literature and Theology 8 (3), September (1994), pp. 311-27. A number of critics have noted the problems for feminist thinking raised by Irigaray's appeals to this framework. For example, to what extent by critiquing Lacan is she reinforcing sexual difference on male terms - women becoming again the silent ones, the ones without a voice? Some feminist critics have commented on the essentialism that still seems to pertain to Irigaray's understanding of male and female because of the psychoanalytic framework. Some feminists like Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose have fought to show how Lacan is emphasising much more the symbolic nature of both maleness and femaleness. For a detailed discussion of Irigaray's movements between the poles of biological essentialism and social constructivism see Tina Chanter, Ethics of Eros: Irigaray's Rewriting of the Philosophers (London: Routledge, 1994), chapter one.

21 See Raoul Mortley, French Philosophers in Conversation (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 72.

women need to have a God of their own to speak would be open to being dismissed as counterfactual to the social experience of most women.

All this by way of prolegomenon. For in this essay I do not wish to justify or criticise the legitimacy of Irigaray's claims. Throughout the last twenty years of the twentieth century, among Anglo-American feminists in particular, Irigaray's work has been prosecuted, defended and used to open up investigations into questions of gender. It is the way she opens up new possibilities for understanding Christology and sexual difference that her thinking becomes important for this exploration. Battles over Irigaray's work, as Margaret Whitford has pointed out, can operate a restrictive closure. Now, she suggests, is a time to 'engage with Irigaray and open up the possibility of using her work as a feminist resource'.22 First, then, I will examine Irigaray's own portrait ofJesus Christ, particularly with reference to her remarks on the feminist theologians Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza and Mary Daly. I will relate this embryonic Christology to what, following the feminist deconstruction of her early work, has become the constructive direction of her project as a whole — the advancement of a sexuate23 culture. Secondly, I will develop theologically Irigaray's ideas, on Christ, sexual difference and the metaphysics of desire, drawing out their implications for Christology.

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