Draft Translation of the “Introduction” to Malabou’s Changer de la différence.

Below is a contribution from Nicola Rubczak of the University of Dundee, who has translated the “Introduction” to Catherine Malabou’s Changer de la différence. Le féminin et la question philosophique as part of her MA dissertation in philosophy. I asked her if we could make her translation of the introduction available to our readers given our past engagement with Malabou and discussions around the continuing problem of the male-dominated atmosphere of the blog and possibly our thought in general (see this excellent post by Scu).

Draft of 30 July 2010. This translation is provided for academic use (personal study and classroom use) only; it is not for commercial purposes, nor for citation in any publication. A full translation forthcoming from Polity (by another translator). Think of this as an encouragement to buy the translation when it appears and a taste of the continuing relevance of feminist philosophy to our contemporary philosophical situation. – APS

Today there exist two types of feminism. The first, the traditional type, rests on the evidence of sexual difference understood as the duality of masculine and feminine. It analyses the relations between the two sexes in terms of power and domination without ever questioning, at the heart of its imperatives of equality, parity, mutuality, this duality itself. A more recent feminism, also called “post-feminism”, arising from American Gender Studies and Queer Theory, questions precisely the binary sharing of “genders”. There are a multitude of possible sexual identities and the man-woman duality is based on a cultural construction. The questioning of this construction reveals that the heterosexual matrix is thus not a natural given, but an ideological norm whose function is to regulate and to control behaviour and codes of identity.

Not until the present has the question of sexual difference and the passage from one feminism to the other been investigated from a philosophical point of view. The notion of “gender” had never been taken back to its ontological roots. Queer Theory had never been confronted with deconstruction. The two traditions of thought, American and Continental, had never been put into perspective. It is to this dialogue that the present work seeks to devote itself.

From my experience as a “woman philosopher”, I investigate a new resistance of woman to the constant violence – theoretical and political – of which she is the daily object all over the world. Beyond the argument of “essentialism” and “anti essentialism” that has been raging for years in post-feminism (is there or is there not a “specificity” or an “essence” of woman?) and most of the time sparks a sterile terrorism in what must remain a debate, I look to acknowledge/make known [faire reconnaître] a certain space of the feminine which it seems impossible and very dangerous to deny. Woman is perhaps only negatively defined, with regard to the violence that is done to her, to the blows struck against her essence, but this negative definition nonetheless constitutes the resistant root which distinguishes the feminine from all other types of fragility, of overexposure to exploitation and brutality.

It is without a doubt necessary to insist, more than on sexual difference itself, but on the difference of women among themselves. I acknowledge that looking to impose a single [seul et même] model upon the diverse political and social situations gathered under the term “feminine” is abusive and unproductive. This is why I begin from a concrete situation, which is mine, that of the “woman philosopher”, French moreover, who here explores, in four texts which respond to it, the “sense of the feminine” [le sens du féminin] as well as the impossibility, for woman, to accede to philosophy without being immediately occulted as subject.

These four texts each contain, in their own ways, an address to Jacques Derrida, who accompanied me for so long and first showed me the type of difficulty awaiting a “woman” when she intends to become a “philosopher”. Another difficulty being precisely how to manage to distance myself from him, Jacques Derrida, in order to be able to remain both, “woman” and “philosopher”. To be able, too, as the last text shows, to be neither one nor the other, in taking a decision not incumbent on anyone but me and which presents itself as a pure, radical affirmation, without a single concession, of my freedom [liberté].

It is in effect freedom that is the issue here, a freedom that I throw onto the paper as one tosses back one’s coattails over one’s shoulder [nb, this isn’t a mistranslated idiom,  just a strange metaphor]. Freedom dearly won, which has demanded nothing less of me than to try to displace the concept of writing, to reorientate the course of deconstruction, to explode/render plastic [plastiquer – dual meaning in Malabou] difference and différance, to the best of my ability, of course, but in the most determined, obstinate and solitary manner possible. Today, I can say that my fidelity to Derrida’s thought is, for me, all the more worthwhile [a plus de prix] as it achieves a real autonomy, whose complex birth is traced in the two texts, “Grammatology and Plasticity” and “The Phoenix, the Spider and the Salamander”. Speaking about the feminine in terms of “philosopher” necessitates the revisiting of ontology and biology, which are used to compose these two texts, before the two others, “The Sense of the “Feminine” and “Possibility of Woman, Impossibility of Philosophy”, measure the consequences at the level of gender and of sex.

If it seemed more honest not to speak here of “women in general” but to start with my personal situation, I hope that many women will follow the course [tracé] sketched in this book and will echo in themselves, in their own ways but in complicity and benevolence, the questions that I pose and which revolve around a resistance of the feminine to deconstruction.

I also anticipate objections, to seeing a real enmity. I confess in passing not to have much confidence in feminine solidarity, knowing very well that there exist as many bitches as bastards. It does not matter. I am also writing for them. But above all, of course, I write for the women I love, those whom I do not know and who are mistreated, humiliated. Those whom I know and who keep, in their way of being, something like an unseen [non vécu] memory of those aforementioned women, a fragility which does not look to hide itself. Those women who are, for this same reason, my friends.

8 thoughts on “Draft Translation of the “Introduction” to Malabou’s Changer de la différence.

  1. I very much resonate with this, and appreciate what Malabou has gone through. I went to graduate school with someone, a woman who was/is smarter than I am, and I watched her get torn apart in many ways. She struggled partly because she wanted to do serious philosophy of religion, and not just “women and religion” or feminist theology in any conventional sense. She has accomplished a lot, and is a tenure-track professor, but she bears the scars of this struggle. That is not even to mention all the people I have watched drop out or give up because of the unrelentingly sexist nature of the profession/academy.

  2. i just wanted to point out every time i view this blog post google ads throws some dating website at me.

    but in seriousness, thanks to you & nicola for sharing this. it sounds like a great book. hopefully i’ll remember to get the translation.

  3. I am glad to say I’ve not really experienced this sort of “violence” in the academic sphere; but then, Dundee is officially a “women-friendly” department. I do feel a certain amount of trepidation about moving elsewhere to continue studying, but Anthony assures me that America might be more friendly to me in my PhD studies (right?!).

    I am looking at this text mainly with regards to the idea of the ontological side of this violence for my dissertation, and specifically how freeing “the feminine” from being an object for ontology, and freeing “woman” from being a subject-matter for philosophy, could go to develop “feminine” forms (plural and plastic) of subjectivity, from which to do philosophy without the “occulting” Malabou mentions here, as the question I have pursued throughout my MLitt has basically been “(how) can I do philosophy as a woman?”. Meta-feminism?

    Also if google deems this suitable dating website fodder, I might set up a match.com profile and watch the offers roll in. Oh baby, the newly reconfigured ontic nature of your plastic subjectivity really does it for me.


  4. Thanks for the translation :)

    This seems like a really interesting move by Malabou. Looking at differences between women neatly sidesteps a lot of the positivist baggage of Anglo-American feminisms.

    Me, I like pina coladas and the possible experience of the impossible.

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