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Vicki Kirby

From Inscriptions, vol. 5: 'Traveling Theories, Traveling Theorists' (1989).

[N.B. As at 12 July 2008, the original version is not on-line. This copy was made from a Google cache on 12 July 2008 by Adrian Harris]

I want to begin by conjuring the image of a man who is participating in the Hindu ritual festival of Thaipusam. What can be said about such an image? Detailing an ethnographic contextualisation will not prove helpful for its reading, at least not in terms of what focuses my own particular fascination. For even if I could presume to elaborate the cultural significance of this festival within Hinduism, as it is expressed in a specific geographical location and as it is understood by this particular man whom I have isolated, such an explanatory narrative would still not answer my curiosity. This is because I am not so much interested in the orthodox question of what this man makes of his ritual action as I am in asking what this ritual action has apparently made of him. Or to put it another way, it is not this man's cultural mind-frame upon which my prurient inquiry fastens. Rather, it is the enigma of his body that attracts my interest: his tongue, his neck, his belly and hands, and then the substance of his viscera and lungs, their surfaces and depths, his blood and the strange information that it must carry.

This particular man is part of a religious procession. He is walking a considerable distance with many others who are similarly regaled within what could be described as a type of elaborate, metal scaffolding. The infrastructural support for these constructions is the devotee's own body. Myriad metal spokes are driven into the skin and through the vital organs. The hands may also be pierced and even the tongue immobilised by long spikes thrust through the face, lips, and neck.

To be thus impaled by any one of these metal prongs would prove at least painful for most of us, if not lethal. Bleeding, scarring, and serious internal injury would be the predictable results of such self-abuse. And yet for the serious participant, none of these effects is realised. Indeed, whatever the belief system--structural frame or cultural text, call it what you will--through which this man's body is ciphered and located as "being" in the world, one can only presume that this information also informs the very matter of his body's material constitution, even at the level of data in and between cells. For this body does not show any evidence that its boundaries have been breached. Its interior and exterior surfaces, the skin and membranes that divide as they connect the complexity of its parts, have not functioned as borders which separate one thing from another. And this confounding of the inside/outside division also confounds the very notion of an essential integrity, relying as it does on a border that will secure one body as an entity separable from another.

Indeed, this image is provocative precisely because it problematises orthodox understandings of just what a body is. The body--that universal, biological stuff of human matter--that "something shared" that the social sciences assume is the common ground for all their inquiries--is somewhat qualified here. The devotee would seem to share his body's peculiarly plastic articulation with other devotees. However, this cultural/ritual incorporation is not generalisable. And yet, because medical discourse arbitrates the final truth of a body, social scientists have tended to delimit their field of investigation to the interpretation and contextualisation of bodies. In other words, they stop short of asking how it is that the cultural context that surrounds a body seems also to somehow inhabit it. Ironically perhaps, the acknowledgement that there are remarkably different cultural interpretations of the body can nevertheless still presume an essential, universal body that is just as variously explained.

This disciplinarisation of what can be asked relegates the discussion of certain curious (because difficult to interpret) observations to the safe containment of "corridor talk" or dinner party anecdote. This means that such observations are not given legitimacy by being acknowledged as curious within conventional, ethnographic representation. And here, I do not want to suggest too quickly that such omissions be taken as evidence for alterity's unrepresentableness. The announcement that Western modes of knowledge and representation have reached their explanatory limit is interrupted in this cautionary hesitation from Blanchot, who says:

There is an "I do not know" that is at the limit of knowledge but that belongs to knowledge. We always pronounce it too early, still knowing all--or too late, when I no longer know that I do not know ... [1]
I want to propose here that what counts as knowledge operates via an economy of representation that requires, as a necessity, that this lapse in the otherwise careful intellectual rigour of the ethnographer take place: that is, Knowledge itself is predicated on a strategic oversight.

To illustrate and clarify what I mean, I will substitute the spectacle of my original, exotic example with one that is more immediate if less dramatic: R.S.I. (Repetitive Strain Injury, or "kangaroo paw"), an Australian "disease." You will see the problem already. How can you have such a thing as an Australian disease? As this disease has incurred the largest number of compensation claims in Australia's history, it is a question whose significance has come to exceed my own personal curiosity. This affliction is purportedly a product of word processing and other repetitive work practices. Firstly and very briefly, the symptoms are usually felt as intense pain in the shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. The victim suffers varying degrees of incapacitation. The arms may have to be supported in a sling, the wrists and hands strapped in splints. This condition may last for years, and the body's restrictions become permanent. Work becomes impossible, and the personal life of R.S.I. sufferers is seriously impaired.

Understandably, employers are dubious and financially unsympathetic when they learn that R.S.I. doesn't seem to occur elsewhere in the world. This suspicion is exacerbated when many of their employees, although trussed in splints and armbraces, are nevertheless diagnosed by the medical profession as malingerers. Ergonomists argue that it's an engineering problem. They claim results from such things as the adjustment of chair and desk heights and the resetting of keyboard angles. Against this, psychologists have proven, at least to their own satisfaction, that it is an attitudinal syndrome, even offering to conduct personality tests in order to anticipate the bad-risk employee. And yet, whatever is proffered as the actual etiology of this disease, no one has been able to explain why workers experiencing what seem to be identical conditions in different industries do not also suffer from it. I should also mention here that victims of R.S.I. show a tendency to fall into significant social categories that articulate with sex and/or class (usually female and/or working class).

A battery of disciplinary regimes has seized upon this strange phenomenon to pronounce the truth of the body that manifests it. That each interpretation undercuts the claims of another is not in itself especially significant. What is of specific interest, however, is that given this fact, nowhere in the vast and competing literature on R.S.I. has any mention been made of the common assumption that underpins all of these discourses, for a strict nature/culture division organises these interpretations into the predictable either/or of the mind/body split. Consequently, only two questions are then possible: Is this disease a real (because biologically determined) phenomenon, or is it just thought (erroneously) to be so? This award of compensation will be more or less difficult depending upon which side of this division the explanation is located. It is clearly then, a politically inflected conceptual opposition.

The binary logic by which these regimes of truth have been structured is threatened by the ambiguities of R.S.I.'s symptomatology, hence the rush to explain and thereby contain the phenomenon as an expression of either body or mind. Ironically then, despite the appearance of engaged disputation between different and competing discourses, the motivating anxiety to find a singular solution could be said to derive from a shared apprehension; namely, that their apparent differences are actually the articulation of a common logic. All these discourses assume that the body is the naturalised material given of human substance, a body that mind, as culture or psychology, in this case, merely interprets.

If we could concede for a moment that the body might fruitfully be considered instead as a social site, we would have a very different horizon of possibilities to think with. For a start, the body could then be understood as the manifold expression of a generalised intertextuality in which biological discourse, another cultural discourse, is but one of myriad constituting discourses. Dangerous stuff this, given that the body is so often made to operate as the naturalised and therefore passive ground for cultural and political analysis. But why is it that so many disciplines evidence an essential necessity to organise knowledge around a mind/body split, one that would seem to uncritically refigure Marxism's base/superstructure problematic? And why, against this, is it politically significant to argue that the body is always/already culture's dynamic effect? In the rest of this paper, I will attempt to address these questions and try to explain why, although seemingly marginal, I consider them central to the concerns of this conference.

I will begin with the proposition that the different corporeal ambiguities just described may be exemplary of something as yet unthought rather than anomalies to be rendered commensurate with one discourse or another. Retaining this possibility, and keeping in mind that both examples are represented as phenomena specific to particular cultures, the experience that anthropologists must labour to re-produce or evoke for their readers becomes a very difficult one to represent if it is also to embrace these peculiar cases. One of the aims of ethnography is to achieve what Clifford Geertz calls "the postcard effect of being there." However, Geertz argues that ethnographers have only recently discovered what mathematicians and poets have known for a long time, namely, "the inadequacy of words to experience and their tendency to lead off only into other words." Although he concedes that what the anthropologist faces is "a task at which no one ever does more than not utterly fail," he does make a commitment to the value of attempting "to convey in words 'what it is like' to be somewhere specific in the lifeline of the world," because "... it is above all a rendering of the actual, a vitality phrased" (103). Although many of us may want to agree with the desirability of and pragmatic necessity for Geertz's conclusion here, an understanding of just what it is that determines the task's difficulty deserves further elaboration.

Geertz is just one among a now growing number of theorists and anthropologists who directly engage with the problematic issue of ethnographic writing and cultural representation. (A convenient anthology of this type of work appeared in the pathfinding book Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus). Anthropology's credulous appeal to an empirical reality whose facts might effectively arbitrate the truth of ethnography is called into question by such writers. Indeed, for these writers the weight of the problem falls on the suffix "-graphy" in the ethnographer's craft. The ethnographer makes reference to an extra-textual world which must nevertheless be re- presented through textual practices. The battery of tropological conventions that organise a text, its coherence and narrative resolution, or the rhetorical means by which an author establishes his or her authorising presence or "writerly identity"--these writing strategies suggest that anthropology is a literary craft rather than the transparent medium of things as they are "in the field."

Against this apparent iconoclasm, defenders of the faith, such as Michael Carrithers, here specifically reproving Geertz's claims, will respond that

... whereas the canon of a fictional realist might be to achieve verisimilitude, ethnographers adhere to quite a different standard. In their writing the touchstone must be fidelity to what they experienced and learned about others, and much of what they write has to be verifiably true ... a very different matter than the plausibility or inner harmony we ask of realist fiction. Ethnographic scholarship possesses a standard to which individuals may respond with different capacities, but it possesses a standard all the same. (22)
Requisite to preserving the possibility of "a veridical or interpretive success" is the clean separation of the literary and rhetorical form from the detail of its factual, ethnographic content. For it can then be maintained that the truth resides outside the discourse that merely represents it.

But it is precisely this separation that is now being contested. The constitutive role of the author in the making of ethnographic texts confounds claims of scientific objectivity, and further to this, it undermines the political authority that motivates such claims. If the mimetic force of scientific rhetoric is found to be a textual construction, then perhaps less inhibited writing genres that strive to evoke rather than repeat the fieldwork experience can legitimately be entertained. A literary and theoretical reflexivity that is avowedly subjective can then elicit the poetic dimension of ethnography--the dialogical gaming of negotiated meanings, the experimental use of fiction and autobiographical accounts that risk self-irony, the self-conscious attempt to convey the fieldwork experience as a series of broken fragments rather than a coherent narrative, and so on. James Clifford concisely explains that such types of writing are grappling with the realization that, "Ethnographic truths are thus inherently partial--committed and incomplete" (Introduction 7).

Clifford also anticipates a possible misreading of this turn from objectivity to romantic or modernist subjectivism. He insists that "... to recognize the poetic dimension of ethnography does not require that one give up facts and accurate accounting for the supposed free play of poetry. 'Poetry' ... can be historical, precise, objective" (Introduction 26). Clifford goes on to say that although ethnography is always writing, it is not "only literature."

This valuable reconceptualisation of the ethnographic project inaugurates the possibility of thinking differently about cultural difference. By questioning the objectivity/subjectivity split through the revaluation of the negative side of this binary logic, the orthodoxy of the canon's rigid economy is challenged. The strategic rehabilitation or attempted reversal of determinate negation (here subjectivity) provides a space from which to question the necessary interrelationship between the different sides of the binary.

This experimentation with new and imaginative writing styles and strategies is considered preferable because it more honestly negotiates "(t)he gap between engaging others where they are and representing them where they aren't ... " (Geertz 96). Or, to put this another way, it seems perhaps more politically and ethically able to answer Geertz's question, "What happens to reality when it is shipped abroad?" (96) However, this concern to enlist innovative writing strategies that seem better to express what was previously excluded can unwittingly operate to defer the crucial question of cultural difference. For in itself, the turn towards negation is still caught within the self-same logic that it appears to contest: the desire to re-present the fieldwork situation as mimesis is refigured in the desire to evoke something of its experiential complexity. Indeed, inhabiting the very word evocation--that suggestive calling up of what could not simply be repeated--is the seductive lure of an uncanny proximity that only sound appears to embody. It is as if we are really getting closer.

What needs to be asked here, rather than simply assumed, however, is: What are we supposed to be getting closer to? It would seem that confessing "... the inadequacy of words to experience" predicates "experience" as the unproblematic stuff of this recollected immediacy. Indeed, experience is thereby installed as a horizon of intersubjectivity, a presence now deferred. To be more precise, the supposed shared matter that has been made to naturalise such a claim continues to be the inert, passive material of the body itself--that universal tabula rasa upon which culture is thought to be inscribed. If objectivity was previously problematised as having a privileged relation to "the Real," now subjectivity, via experience, has reclaimed the same foundational ground for another, if more subtle form of universalisation.

In the economy of signification--that system through which meaning (value) is organised--a mode of thought has here been preserved by being merely reversed, just as if the face of a coin had been flipped from head to tail. The coin remains the same, and so does the economy that gives it value. It should be remembered that the problem with a binary is not that there are only two conceptualisations possible, nor simply that one side is not valued as is the other, although this provides us with a clue to the problem. Rather to describe a binary as the articulation of a selfsame logic is to acknowledge that there was only ever one term and that difference was therefore only apparent. In contrast, the attempt to think difference differently must begin by positing the possibility of (at least) two terms.

When ethnographic representation inscripts alterity/difference into this binary, even though reversing it, alterity again risks being rendered transparent. The West generously gives it voice while still conserving itself as sovereign subject. If we grant that History is always greater than our personal benevolence and intellectual perspicacity, it is important to retain a certain caution as we turn, or are made to turn, towards "otherness." Western Reason, now that it is called upon to justify an inherent phallocentrism and ethnocentrism, will unfortunately be able to manage the crises, with no fundamental changes, if alterity is so easily recuperated. Given this, the following intervention is motivated by the belief that the anxiety that this predicament generates should not be facilitated but should instead be sustained and intensified.

My initial strategy is a simple one that has been much rehearsed within conventional, contestatory political practice, namely, the attempt to radicalise the familiar. Invariably, the task is to challenge an assumption that has been naturalised and therefore neutralised in order to acknowledge the political investments that such an oversight contains. However, the task accrues a heavier burden when it poses a question that underwrites all of the previous ones; that is, when it questions the interrelationship between truth, representation and subjectivity. A Derridean interrogation of this involvement requestions and revalues just where the political takes place, and it is because of this that deconstruction has incurred the wrath of critics from both the Left and the Right. What these guardians of political orthodoxy are defending is their common assumption that a certain foundational ground must guarantee all political practice and that this "given" cannot itself be given up. In response to this oppositional coalition, Derrida has commented as follows:

It is in the interest of one side and the other to represent deconstruction as turning inward and an enclosure by the limits of language, whereas in fact deconstruction begins by deconstructing logocentrism, the linguistics of the word, and this very enclosure itself. On one side and the other, people get impatient when they see that deconstructive practices are also and first of all political and institutional practices. (Critical 168)
I want to pick up this last point and try to suggest how a deconstuctive approach might usefully further our thinking about difference and representation. At least it can begin to loosen this content/form split through which the problem is usually considered.

Focusing on representation then, the dual meanings of the word that are often conflated include its sense of "speaking for," as in the case of a political leader who is representing the interests of his or her constituents, and its sense of re-presentation or substitution. These meanings are often run together because the notion of mediation underscores them both. As a consequence, the ethical and political motivation behind questions of representation in both its senses will similarly concern the possible conflict of interests between the mediator and the mediated. This expresses an obvious political asymmetry that is considerable because unavoidable. To put this simply, because something is standing between one thing and another, the transfer of information must inevitably entail a distortion.

With specific regard to ethnography as cultural representation, writing is here understood to be parasitically dependent upon an originary because of prior experience or reality. Writing must therefore reconstitute and transform this moment through its very distanciation from that moment. In other words, it must mediate a complex immediacy, just as Geertz implies in his comment, "the inadequacy of words to experience." However, this understanding of writing/representation as transportation or derivation, as something that, to paraphrase Geertz, renders the actual or phrases the vital, remains within the comfortable belief that language is primarily an instrument of communication. Following from this, it makes perfect sense to assume that intending, self-present subjects exchange or negotiate meanings via the separable process of language's signifying operation. By divorcing language from the constitution of subjectivity, the pressing political consideration can be reduced to the question of who controls the instrument of representation, or who can therefore exert power over others. According to this view, the mediator and the mediated occupy subject positions that are interchangeable, at least in principle, thus assuming the possibility of eventual social justice.

Against this, a deconstructive reading refigures the subject as an effect of language. The subject does not precede language, for it is always/already articulated by a political field of signification that includes it. "Language" in this sense now exceeds its common understanding as speech or writing. The more common conceptualisations of language assume that an empirical enclosure, thematic integrity, or intelligible unity can be decided. Saussure anticipated that linguistics would one day be subsumed to a much more general science, one that he termed "semiology." And Derrida's "grammatology" tries to think this "writing in the general sense." Derrida's "Writing," or "archi-ecriture," is a catachretical marker--a metaphor without a literal referent, standing in for a concept that is the condition of conceptuality. As this notion undercuts the appeal to an extratextual signified as the final guarantee of meaning, it cannot be recruited for hermeneutics. Given this, the charge--and it is more often made than not--that Derrida's intellectual and political focus does not escape the written text is entirely misguided. As Derrida says:

... an hour's reading, beginning on any page of any one of the texts I have published over the last twenty years, should suffice for you to realize that text, as I use the word, is not the book. No more than writing or trace, it is not limited to the paper which you cover with your graphism.
(Critical 167) "Language," or "writing in this generalised sense," offers us a way to conceptualise why there can be no outside of such a text because everything is always/already the manifestation of "writing's" political articulation. Consequently, the problematic of representation can no longer be confined to its consideration as mediation, because both the subject who investigates and the object investigated are always/already confounded within a "writing" that constitutes their differences. When representation is conceptualised as an intervention between one discrete thing and another, the logical economy that underwrites and constructs these divisions cannot be radically called into question. Indeed, if reasoning is itself founded on the violence of such bipolar divisions, with an implicit negation and mastery of contradictories, it is understandable, unfortunately, why it just doesn't "make sense" to question this logic. However, if difference cannot be thought unless we broach this autologic circle, we need to learn how to "stop making sense" in quite the same way.

Faced with this impossible prospect, Luce Irigaray asks: "How do we speak the other without subordinating it again to the one? What method could even render this question perceptible?" She notes:

A perpetually unrecognized {meconnu} law prescribes all realizations of language(s) {toutes realisations de langage(s)}, all production of discourse, all constitution of language {langue}, according to the necessities of one perspective, one point of view, one economy: the necessities of man, supposed to represent the human race.... It seems that this self- evident truth {evidence}, which is at once immediate and inscribed in our entire tradition, has to remain occulted, has to function as the radically blind point of entry of the subject into the universe of speech {dire}. To open one's eyes here amounts to extreme imprudence, a folly as yet unheard of, a violence that calls for the mobilization of all kinds of arguments....
As there can be no "outside of text," Irigaray is not simply conjuring with the notion that certain unfortunate, because powerless, subjects have been denied reasonable access to language and representation. Her argument is much more profound in its implications. Through a Derridean recognition of textual materiality, subjectivity is here understood to be a function of a political economy, produced by its constitutive force and the violence of the principle of noncontradiction. As Irigaray explains this:

... yes or no, not yes and no at the same time, at least ostensibly.... Alternatives that are then measured, tempered, temporalized, and determined in the hierarchical mode: the assumption always being that the contradiction can be resolved in the right term, [can come to a proper conclusion].
The meaning of this reconceptualisation of "materiality" as textual production should not be interpreted as a more refined reworking of the notion of ideology, for ideology presumes a rationalist conception of the subject and argues that social change derives from the radicalisation of consciousness. According to this model, culture is understood to constitute a consciousness that is indifferently embodied in the uncontested ground of biology's determinations. That this view is firmly entrenched is evident in the example of Anglo-American feminism's need to carefully divide sex from gender. This behaviourist model of the passive body, socialised and conditioned in culture, erases the body as itself an active site where the process of signification must in-form a lived experience and where mind and body are not so readily separated.

Michel Foucault's valuable intervention against Marxism's base/superstructure model of materiality/ideality, especially as it specifically addresses the body as a problematic, is helpful here. Although his thesis is of course quite different from a deconstructive approach, his insistence that the body is discursively constituted enhances a different understanding of materiality. At the end of The History of Sexuality Volume 1, Foucault makes this argument quite clearly when he says:

... we must not refer a history of sexuality to the agency of sex; but rather show how "sex" is historically subordinate to sexuality. We must not place sex on the side of reality, and sexuality on that of confused ideas and illusions; sexuality is a very real historical formation; it is what gave rise to the notion of sex, as a speculative element necessary to its operation. We must not think that by saying yes to sex, one says no to power; on the contrary, one tracks along the course laid out by the general deployment of sexuality. (157)
In other words, Foucault is encouraging us not to think of a body that precedes its entanglement within discursive regimes. Rather, he invites us to try to entertain the possibility that as the body is constituted or produced within discursivity, then so is it thereby rendered as a materiality. The body in this model is, in its entirety, a materiality that is a cultural construct. The culture/materiality binary is here quite confounded.

What would it mean then, following these interventions against orthodox understandings of materiality, to bring the body back from its exile? Certainly, the humanist (Western, white, male) commitment to an a priori universal of human nature, refigured here as universal embodiment (the ground of shared experience no less), would at least have to acknowledge the limitations of its singular perspective. Sexual, cultural, class, and other differences would be understood to matter, indeed to be the very matter of entirely different subjectivities, and therefore of entirely different knowledges because they are differently embodied.

That these differences are grounded in the body does not introduce an extratextual referent, although it does insist upon a different understanding of the materiality of reference. I have not departed from a deconstructive strategy in this claim, for even Derrida himself insists that

It is totally false to suggest that deconstruction is a suspension of reference ... deconstruction tries to show that the question of reference is much more complex and problematic than traditional theories supposed.(Dialogues 123)
Any claim that presumes that reference must imply a universal is certainly being denied here: however, this need not necessarily result in a profound sense of alarm. If reference has had to shed something of its immutable stability, this means that even what was presumed to be the material "given" of cultural analysis is contestable and changeable because it, too, is a construct.

Although much post-structuralist thought provides us with an enabling critique of these more insidious, because invisible investments of humanism, it does not follow from this that essentialism is necessarily targeted in quite the same way. Certainly, essentialising discourses that claim to represent the identity of otherness, in whatever guise, must effect an allegiance with a binary and exclusionary model of power that affirms the same violent structures that generate the original asymmetry. It is inadvertently the expression of a political system that will only tolerate difference as negation. Minority and oppressed groups are thereby made to celebrate an inherited burden of meaning as if it articulates the accurate expression of their own, intrinsic reality.

However, inasmuch as essentialism does provide us with axiomatic categories for more conventional forms of political action--forms that must retain some sort of referential commitment to the experience of a collectivity--it is not simply wrong. Subjects are incorporated within the violence of these representational systems and do experience their restraints and empowerments. I want to argue that the experience of a collectivity is a form of reference that is realised in the shared embodiment of signification. Against this, although not in opposition to it, each subject should be understood to occupy a particular location between myriad competing and contradictory discourses in the larger web of sociality's text. Consequently, the peculiar, constitutive contradictions that articulate a single, specific subject must necessarily be different from that collectivity even as they include the meanings that identify it. This entails the embodiment of a difference that defies the principle of noncontradiction because essentialism does not exclude antiessentialism: They are mutually implicated because lived at one and the same time.

In a recent article, "Ethnic Identity and Post-Structuralist Difference," R. Radhakrishnan searches for an "axial connection" between members of minority and oppressed groups and what locates their differences from each other. Referring specifically to the constituency of "the ethnic," Radhakrishnan describes ethnicity as occupying

... quite literally a "pre-post" -erous space where it has to actualise, enfranchize, and empower its own "identity" and coextensively engage in the deconstruction of the very logic of "identity ..." (199)
I want to argue that the body is that "pre-post-erous space," the site of a corporeography that conjoins the dynamic political economy of signification--its written surface and writing instrument.

Clearly, the notion of embodiment and experience that I am trying to think here cannot be capitalised for consciousness within the colloquial notion of "subjectivity" as unmediated self- affection. In other words, it can't be mastered and normalised for Truth or Knowledge. Rather, it is a way to begin to think the complexity of the political field, to grant the possibility that different truths and knowledges can obtain at the same time. It offers a reconceptualisation of what we might understand as the politics of location, as the co-location of differences lived in embodiment, and how we might resist refiguring the other in our own image because there is much that is simply no longer comprehensible.

Of course, we cannot identify and interpret difference in order to master it. This was the point of Blanchot's earlier admonition. Indeed, our complicity with totalising regimes of truth that universalise and therefore deny difference is one of the things that many post-structuralist theories have insisted is an irreducible fact. If we can sustain the anxiety that comes from the recognition that we violate whenever we interpret and identify, and if we do not move too quickly into the space of a general equivalence, then a horizon of different because previously "unthinkable" possibilities begins to emerge. For example, rather than attempting to penetrate the a-nomalous bodies that I described in the beginning of this talk in order to enlist them into a binary logic that they clearly defy, why not acknowledge this resistance and interrogate how an oppositional logic cannot accommodate their peculiarities.

Finally, although we are all forced to universalise and to deny difference, the violation that this entails will not be forgotten if it is understood as a necessity to be acknowledged rather than as a paralysing predicament to be solved.


This paper was written with the assistance of a fellowship from the American Association of University Women. I would like to acknowledge the encouraging conversations with Ros Diprose that helped me collect my thoughts.


1. M. Blanchot, cited in Deconstruction in Context: Literature and Philosophy, ed. M. C. Taylor (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986) 1.


Carrithers, M. "The Anthropologist as Author: Geertz's 'Works and Lives.'" Anthropology Today 4 (August 1988).

Clifford, J., and G. E. Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetic and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986.

---. Introduction. Writing Culture. By Clifford.

Derrida, J. "But Beyond ... (Open Letter to Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon)." Trans. P. Kamuf. Critical Inquiry 13.1 (1986).

---. "Deconstruction and the Other: An Interview with Richard Kearney." Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage. Ed. R. Kearney. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984.

Foucault, M. The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. R. Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.

Geertz, C. "Being Here: Whose Life Is It Anyway." ZYZZYYA III.4 (1987).

Irigaray, L. "The Language of Man." Trans. E. G. Carlston. Cultural Critique 13 (forthcoming 1989).

Radhakrishnan, R. "Ethnic Identity and Post-Structuralist Difference." Cultural Critique 6 (1987).

Modified: Dec 7, 1998 by Megan O'Patry.
This copy taken from Google cache on 12 July 2008 by Adrian Harris