This book is about abundant, generous, other-regarding love. In the history of Western ideas of love, such a configuration has been inseparable from our ideas about divinity and the sacred, often reserved only for God and rarely thought of as a human achievement. The book is a substantial engagement with Cixous's philosophies of love, inviting the reader to reflect on the conditions of subjectivity that just might open us to something like a divine love of the other. It follows this thread in this genealogy of abundant love: the thread that connects the subject of love from fifth-century-b.c.e. Greece and Plato, to the twentieth-century protestant theology of agapic love of Anders Nygren, to the late twentieth-century poetico-philosophy of Hélène Cixous.
This study explores the relationship between Cixous's conceptions of feminine subjectivity, love and divinity. It seems to be the case that, irrespective of the critique to which religious beliefs and practices were subjected throughout the twentieth century, a certain religious consciousness is nonetheless not simply persisting, but is rapidly adapting to the needs of a decentred, deconstructed, postmodern world. Furthermore, the self that relinquishes possession of itself as the subject of experience can be understood, then, to be immersed in the phenomenal world of immediacy, and thus to become in and with the other simultaneously. There can be no space for appropriation of difference, nor for self-sacrifice, in the traditional way in which that notion has been understood, for neither self nor other pre-exists the other. Cixous's dispossessed feminine subject is, then, dispossessed of the relation to itself, on which sacrificial love has traditionally been founded: there is no ‘self’ pre-existing the moment of meeting to whom the sacrifice in love can subsequently be referred.
This chapter revolves round the concept of love. It reflects on the tension between Plato's eros, both vulgar and divine, and Christianity's divine love, and inquires into who might be the subjects of these loves. It is from the writings of the French feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous that this project principally draws its inspiration. Cixous's work suggests a conception of a generous other-regarding love that is indeed other-regarding, but which also uniquely escapes the problem of self-sacrifice that attaches to agape. For the feminist thinker Cixous, the sexual politics of how love has traditionally been understood to negotiate a subject/object relation has been a constant preoccupation of her work, which is informed by, and contributes to, contemporary philosophical reflections on difference and subjectivity. Throughout her writing, she explores the ways in which different conceptions of love have been implicated in the production of unjust and unequal relations of exchange.
This chapter focuses on the field of feminist theology, which is as diverse and plural as Feminism in general. There is a general recognition that the institutionalisation of Western religions has inscribed sexual difference in ways which have profoundly limited women's participation at the level of practice. There is a shared concern with the ways in which the theological enterprise has long promulgated a rhetoric of dehumanisation when it comes to women. In reviewing the late twentieth-century feminist theological literature regarding love, what stands out is the relative silence concerning agape, even though it is generally acknowledged that the role of agape in Christian ethics has been a major concern for twentieth century ethicists. In reviewing the work of a number of feminist theologians, who have engaged in the notion of other-regarding love through the lens of sexual difference, an attempt to draw out some of the central themes as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their respective projects, in the context of their implications for subjectivity, has been made. In reviewing the divine in the work of Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous, the text has attempted to sketch a broad context in which to place the following discussion of divinity and love, specifically in Hélène Cixous's writing.
This chapter highlights sexual difference, the history of sexual difference and how sexual difference can and might be lived in the future. The significance of Cixous's deployment of language, the terms she chooses and the metaphors she draws upon cannot be considered incidental. As Deborah Jenson suggests in ‘Coming to Reading Hélène Cixous’, ‘Cixous is inclined to resurrect terms which in contemporary theory, have largely been relegated to the “metaphysical broom closet”’. Sexual difference is the difference that makes a difference in her refiguration of antagonistic subjectivities. Through her theorisation of sexual difference, Cixous comes to explore the possibilities of a feminine economy of desire and engages with the possibility of love as a condition for a post-secular calling forth of divinity.
This chapter comprises the readings of Cixous's stories that focus on the relationship between the individual and grace. Cixous's engagement with Lispector's couple signals her interest in a grace that arises in the context of human relationships. This study turns more fully to this question of the possibility of grace, or divinity, as it appears more explicitly in Cixous's own ‘fiction’, The Book of Promethea, which is focused exclusively on an extraordinary love between two women. Here, Cixous develops her understanding of the conditions of a love that emerge in the context of a meeting between feminine subjectivities. In so doing, she returns to the overarching question of this study, that the possibility of an abundant, other-regarding love which is a humanly possible expression of divinity, one that emerges in an encounter with the other, is defined by a refusal to appropriate otherness to oneself.
Throughout ‘Grace and Innocence’, Cixous explores the relationship between effort and grace, and alerts her principal speculation that, what matters is not knowledge as such, but our way of living knowledge: ‘One has to know how not to possess what one knows’. To the extent that the problem of self-sacrifice is what marks the rejection of agapic love in much of feminist theology, the text has argued throughout that Cixous's conception of divine Promethean love addresses this issue at the level of the structure of subjectivity itself. The very notion of self-sacrifice, the study suggests, is dependent firstly upon a notion of self that is indebted largely to the Enlightenment, hence masculine ideals about what a subject is in the first place. Cixous acknowledges that, in a patriarchal world, one continues to be interpolated into the discourses of subjectivity which privilege notions such as individuality and autonomy, and which assume the subject to be a self-subsisting phenomenon. If the masculine subject is constituted against the threat of difference, Cixous inscribes in feminine flesh the possibility that this is not the only possible relation to difference. In a feminine relation to difference, one finds the possibility of living a dispossessed, rather than sacrificial, relation to self, in which otherness becomes the occasion of a generous, excessive, abundant birth into life and love.
This text highlights Cixous's notions and thought, which offer to an individual a very different picture of the subjects of divine love from that which derives from the concept of mutuality that is currently favoured in many feminist theologies. It has noted that mutuality undoubtedly challenges the underlying hierarchical power structures which have informed inter-subjective possibilities within patriarchal cultures and retains a commitment to dualism which undoes the very assertion that subjectivity itself is a relational concept. On the other hand, Cixous's attention to the epistemological conditions of subjectivity, that is, to the relationship between knowledge, self and other, and to the phenomenal conditions which open the category of knowledge to ways of living, provides an alternative foundation for rethinking the structure of self/other relations. For Cixous, as the text suggests, everything happens in the instant, and it is in a feminine approach to the instant that we find the passage to divinity which is truly paved with the love of the other as other.