A Conversation with Rosi Braidotti
Utrecht, The Netherlands, August 1995
with Kathleen O'Grady
Reprinted from Women's Education des femmes. Spring 1996 (12, 1): 35-39. This document may be distributed and copied for classroom and other educational purposes as long as the journal and author is credited. Permission must be requested from the journal for reprinting this interview in a book or another journal. Reprinted here with permission from Kathleen O'Grady firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinity College, University of Cambridge
K: You comment that "feminism is THE discourse of modernity". Is this observation generated in the understanding that the so- called "death of man" is not the beginning of a crisis but an opening that allows for dialogue on sexual difference?
B: I always sound very categorical when it comes to feminism. I may quote a long text I have co-written with Judith Butler in the last issue of differences about this where she asks me a question: do you give feminism a higher explanatory value than any other critical philosophy? After a long, elaborate answer I basically say, yes I do, I do have a tendency to. I do believe very much, obviously, in the priority of this particular framework, which is feminist theory. I always do think that the woman-question is built into the crisis of modernity, but I also know that it is not the only one. I think the woman, the machine, the ethnic other, nature as other, are all edges of this reconstitution, reconfiguration of otherness in modernity within which we are still moving and trying to find our way. It is not as if woman is alone and I think that maybe in Patterns of Dissonance I am over-emphasizing sexual difference to the detriment of other differences. But in any case, the centrality of the feminine other and the organization of our entire modern way of thinking is something that gives feminists an edge of optimism when it comes to assessing what you can do with the crisis and how you can find a way out of it. In a sense, it is not a crisis of the female subject; she was never a subject to begin with. And it is not the crisis of the black subject; he/she was never a subject to begin with. So it is the emergence of peripheral subjectivities, and in that sense, it is a fantastic and very positive moment.
K: You have commented that the "gender theorists" of the Anglo- American tradition and the "sexual difference theorists" of the French and European traditions are involved in a potentially false polemic. In what way?
B: There are really interesting, crucial differences which have to do with the way in which sexuality is positioned in the different cultures, the construction of sexuality, in the way in which identity is then conceptualized in relation to sexuality. Of course, language has a lot to do with it. The same with the famous sex and gender distinction. You may say that it is like the ideals of the French revolution. It has conquered the world, but its universal applicability is questionable: it is a distinction that makes very little sense in non-English, non- Anglo-Saxon languages and translates very badly in a great deal of romance languages. So people in other feminist, political cultures have a lot of difficulties making due with that. The way in which sexual difference in French theory was then marketed back into English, especially in the U.S., led to a tremendous amount of incompetency: Is this nature? Is this culture? Does Irigaray by sexual difference mean something innate and given? Is it essentialistic? Is it not? I mean the whole essentialism thing was really due to harried, hasty mistranslations, and we should have instead looked very carefully at the real conceptual differences that there are at stake in people working out of the French tradition and the people working out of the more Anglo-Saxon tradition. It has been hastily put.
There are some interesting questions there. For instance, how do you conceptualize sexed identity in a French context or in an Italian context as opposed to an Anglo-American context let alone in a post-colonial or "black" perspective? But it has not been dealt with. Now, after fifteen years of useless debate on essentialism we are finally coming to some interesting discussion on where to position the self vis a vis the political. Where is the edge of the political? How does fantasy life intersect with the political? But these are questions for the nineties, and for years we wasted time in false polemic. I am sick of that polemic and I would like some real confrontations with the real differences, and there are many.
K: At the conclusion of Nomadic Subjects (1995), your most recent book, you advocate a transnational and transdisciplinary methodology that, in the spirit of Irigaray, invokes "mimetic repetition" as a strategy to manipulate the philosophical canon. What is the primary agenda for a feminist post-structuralism that is framed by a nomadic subjectivity?
B: I think it is definitely a political agenda. It is definitely how to put the politics of female subjectivity, which has always been the focus of a particular sexual difference school, how to conjugate that with broader concern for a redefinition of what we would call "the human" at a time when it is being so dramatically restructured because of the global economy, the technological revolution, and the obvious emergence of multiculturalism and the social and theoretical cultural reality. So it is that kind of dialogue that I see as crucial.
In my reading, post-structuralism was always avidly political. It was never the bad poetry that its critics accused it of being. So I see a lot of potential for an emphasis on subjectivity broadening out to concern, what Donna Haraway calls the "semiotic material agency". Your constant interaction with what used to be called nature, what used to be called culture, through the mediating factor which is this universal technology that we are moving in and consequently drawing into the environmental issues, drawing on the political question of new technologies, drawing on the kind of spirituality and issues of spirituality that are so important if we are going to make sense of this real cultural upheaval we are going through. And keeping in mind, basically and almost naively, the importance to still reassert the difference that women can make. This, for me, is the central issue: to go on reasserting a sexual difference as a positive factor of dissymmetry between men and women. We have got something else to offer and that may not sound very post- structuralist, but I could care less because it is ultimately that political passion that is going to carry through.
K: And finally, Iris Murdoch once wrote that it is "always significant to ask of any philosopher, what he is afraid of." So I ask you, what is your greatest fear?
B: My greatest fear is to become petrified: to become a tree, to put out roots and not be able to move. I have a fear of immobility, of being stuck in one spatio-temporal dimension. It is a variation of a fear of death, a kind of death, of turning to stone and not being able to move again.
K: That is appropriate for someone who has written a book entitled, "Nomadic" Subjects.
B: Yes, I suppose I wrote the book because I was trying to both express and rationalize my own need to continually move....A lovely form of "being lightly".
click here for PART THREE