One of the highlights of the SPEP conference last week in Montreal was the session with Jami Weinstein and Myra Hird on the work of Elizabeth Grosz on sexual difference. It was an example of interdisciplinary work at its best, creating connections among philosophy, biology, and politics. There was great mutual respect, but enough differences of perspective that the room was charged with energy.
At stake was the status of sexual difference as generator of diversity. Weinstein and Hird felt that Grosz has a tendency toward making sexual difference an irreducible ontological category. In their view, sexual difference is an important factor, but one that is human-all-too human; they think human sexual difference needs to be at least put into the context of, or even surpassed toward, a biological and / or neo-materialist plane. Weinstein’s paper argued for a post-humanist feminism of “becoming-imperceptible”; that is, for her, feminism needs to adopt a politics based on Deleuzean multiplicity and inhuman affect beyond the struggle for female visibility and identity-recognition. Hird’s paper argued that taking Lynn Margulis’s work into account enables us to see the evolution of sexual difference and in particular, its contingent relation to reproduction; we are thus able to think and act on the basis of the “abstract sex” that Luciana Parisi develops in her book of that title.
Although she did not present a paper in the session (she gave one of the keynote plenary talks), Grosz did respond during the discussion period. She strongly disagreed that she had a “fundamental ontology” of sexual difference, saying that she fully appreciated its evolved status. However, she did insist that once it was up and running, sexual difference became a profound generator of biological diversity, and that, politically thinking, sexual difference is inescapable. In other words, she resisted the attempt to drive a wedge between two of the most important thinkers of difference for her, Deleuze and Irigaray.
This short note can’t do justice to the quality of the papers, the clarity of Grosz’s response, nor the passion, intelligence, and commitment felt in the room. But I hope it will encourage people to follow up on the recent work of the people involved, in particular, Weinstein’s “A requiem for sexual difference,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (supplement) (September 2010): 165-187; Hird’s The Origins of Sociable Life (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); and Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art (Columbia, 2008).