Session 6: Lessons in Desire
Chair: Aneeta Rajendran
Wisdom of Love: On Time, Desire and Philosophy in Plato and Irigary
The New School for Social Research, USA
In this paper, I argue that temporality and relationality are inseparable, and that an ethics based on respect for the other as irreducibly other must be intimately connected to a rethinking of temporality as such. Looking closely at the work of Luce Irigaray, in dialogue with Plato, I aim at investigating the temporality of love and desire. Time, for Irigaray, is intimately bound up with our relation to the other. The welcoming of the other, she writes in To Be Two, “permits respect and generation,” it “encourages becoming, birth and rebirth.” Love allows for renewal, in the broadest sense of the term.
Irigaray’s main criticism of Western philosophy is that it functions as a perpetual repetition of sameness, of the predictable, of the already-said, and therefore dead. This kind of discourse has lost its relation with desire, “which always requires staying in connection both with becoming and the present.” In a culture where the other has been reduced to an object—albeit an object of love—we have lost touch with proximity. “In this kind of symbolic, there is no question of becoming nearer. Furthermore, proximity is then defined through an object and not by a movement of approximation between subjects. And this object is already in the past, not in the present or in the future,” she writes in The Way of Love.
In I Love to You she again brings our attention to the temporal movement of love. In saying “I love you” I make a claim that reduces my lover to an object of possession. “I love to you” is a gesture rather than an act of ownership and appropriation. It is a constant asymptotic “towards” that respects the irreducible space between us. Plato similarly speaks of desire as a movement, but while it most often has been described in spatial terms, I will examine the temporal aspects of such movement, formulating an ethics of love based on a shift from our focus on the past to the importance of presence and futurity.
Lessons of Love: Between Irigaray and Diotima
School of Humanities, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, United kingdom
In one of the most famous of all philosophical lessons, Diotima reportedly teaches Socrates of the ways in which love and learning are bound together. Love leads the lover through the sensuous beauty of the beloved towards Beauty itself, unchanging and divine (Symposium 209-212). In her reading of Diotima’s speech, however, Luce Irigaray seeks to show that Diotima’s teaching shifts from focusing on the fecundity of the erotic encounter between lovers, to the immortality conferred by the child as the product of such an encounter. This shift, she argues, places immortality outside mortal lovers, and instantiates a metaphysical split which will also oppose body and soul. Irigaray’s reading is not without its critics – perhaps most notably Andrea Nye. However, in this paper I want to focus on the implications of Irigaray’s re-reading for the journey towards wisdom, thought not as a teaching oriented towards a product or outcome, but a generative process of learning. Crucial here is the emphasis Irigaray places on the erotic encounter itself an ‘enfantement’ – a giving birth, engendering, or generation – which realizes and perpetually renews immortality in and between the (mortal) lovers, independently of whether or not a child is produced. The significance of ‘enfantement’ for Irigaray will emerge partly by situating her exploration of eros in Diotima’s speech in relation to her re-casting of the Myth of the Cave in Speculum. Here Irigaray argues that this educative tale – perhaps the most well-known of Plato’s myths – is sustained by the image of the mother’s body, the body that births. In her transformative reading of the Cave, she draws out the significance of ‘the forgotten passage’, just as, in her reading of Diotima’s speech, she emphasizes love as the intermediary between lovers, as well as the passage between mortal and immortal. On this reading, the ‘enfantement’ that takes place between lovers becomes both a recasting of the erotic relation, and the condition and process of learning.