Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Laughing Seriously

But the most general articulation of the problem of the relation of women to the law has been set out by Luce Irigaray. In Irigaray's view, women start in an impossible position. "Women are in a position of exclusion... Man's discourse, inasmuch as it sets forth the law... [knows] what there is to know about that exclusion." The exclusion of women is "internal to an order from which nothing escapes: the order of (man's) discourse." it is futile to imagine that, from a pocket within man's discourse -- for instance, from within the legal system -- women can substitute feminine power for masculine power: while seeming to be a reversal, this "phallic 'seizure of power" would leave women still "caught up in the economy of the same." "There is no simple manageable way to leap to the outside of phallogocentrism, nor any possible way to situate oneself there [on the outside], that would result from the simple fact of being a woman." Man's discourse can be taken over only via the path of "mimicry." Unless the woman's utterances are to remain "unintelligible" according to the code in force," they must be "borrowed from a model that leaves [her] sex aside."

All of which does not mean, however, that the law, as part of the discourse of the masculine imaginary, has to remain a closed and forbidden book. On the contrary, once a women has reconnoitered it and demarcated its "outside," she can situate herself with respect to it as a woman, "implicated in it and at the same time exceeding its limits." But her implication in it cannot be taken with unequivocal seriousness. To inhabit the male imaginary seriously is to commit herself to a simple reversal of power, to fall back into "the economy of the same."

To Irigaray, feminism and jurisprudence are thus not incompatible. But a feminist jurisprudence that is not ludic, that in return for access to the law concedes the claim of the law to its dignity and respects that dignity, by that concession gives up its independence. "Isn't laughter the first form of liberation from a secular oppression? Isn't the phallic tantamount to the seriousness of meaning?" "To escape from a pure and simple reversal of the masculine position means... not to forget to laugh."
Quoted from: J.M Coetzee, Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship, (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996) pp. 27 - 8.

All quotes and references from: Luce Irigaray, This Sex which is not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Caroline Burke (Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1985).

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