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difference that emerges

November 3, 2013

The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces “woman to man’s opposite, his other, the negative of the positive.” No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman’s immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her [as Julia Kristeva points out]: “Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on.” Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy.
Nancy Mairs

Every so often, (women) writers in the blogosphere demonstrate a rather different way of engaging in discourse than the same old, ho-hum, binary structured writing. I like to highlight such communication and did so some time back (at another blog), to try to illustrate some of what my BLT co-blogger Suzanne (then also writing at even another blog) was writing, and how. Likewise, Rachel Barenblat was writing up some very interesting observations about languages that emerges (from roots), and so I tried to demonstrate that a bit with the same post. Probably it’s good just to quote the two directly (again):

But you might ask me whether or not the Herbrew really says “fathers.” It does, and it does not. In Hebrew, as in Greek, the common word for “parents” is the plural of the word for “father.” But it is clear from its constant use for parents of both genders that this is its meaning – parents. In the English of today, the word “fathers” cannot refer to parents of both genders.
Suzanne McCarthy


[Notice the difference that emerges from a Bible translator] like Everett Fox, whose translation of the Torah plays a lot with word-roots and etymology…. To me as a poet, the word roots do say something meaningful because they offer a place for wordplay and poetic resonance. I think of a book like Rabbi Marcia Prager’s The Path of Blessing — reviewed here — and of how much I’ve learned from her teachings about how word-roots can allow connotations to echo. But Prager’s techniques are poetic and devotional ones, and … [s]he’s also talking about liturgy, … which makes a difference.
Rachel Barenblat

Last week there were two other blogposts that use language with a difference (from the binary), language that even gets at the mother/womb metaphors that Kristeva and Mairs have noted. Here they are:

By surviving the operation, I grew up believing that I had cheated death.  By living, I was thumbing my nose at the Creator.  God had wanted me to die, and I had disobeyed.

You birthed me,” I remember blaming my mother when I was a teenager after had criticized my dirty room.

“Yes, I did, didn’t I?” she reflected, pausing in her vacuuming, holding the attachment perfectly still in the air between us, and tilting her head inquiringly as she contemplated this fact.  She smiled mischievously, delighted with her discovery.   “It certainly is my fault, yes.  I can’t deny it – I birthed you.”  We both laughed, but underneath my accusation, I was searching for the answer to an unasked question.  I remember her once saying, “Even though you had a stomach problem, I felt lucky to have a girl.”  Even though.
— Wendy Patrice Williams (as quoted by Julia Marks)


Lately I have been contemplating my ‘source of being’. I had always assumed it was my connection to the earth. It is this of course, but my revelation came when I realised it was the connection to my mother, and my connection to her mother – me as mother, and not just my birth mother, but all mothers. The earth as mother, the universal mother, cosmic mother. All of them, my source of being.

My memories of growing up start from a very young age. In fact, so young, I have vivid memories of being born. I remember being breastfed and the smell of my Mum’s skin which was such a source of comfort. Thinking about my source and having these early memories re-surface has come at quite a pertinent time of the year, considering that it is Beltane in the Southern Hemisphere, and Samhain in the North. At Beltane we celebrate the coming summer with fire and blessings of fertility, life and abundance. While at Samhain we are remembering our ancestors, those who have passed and loved ones who are still with us. Yesterday, the 31st, I flew from Australia to the USA and I have been able to experience both transitions. This following poem and accompanying artwork represents these polar opposites; birth and death. More importantly, it is an ode to Mum.
Jassy Watson

These (women) writers “speak” with voices that go beyond the binary. As Mairs writes it, and says it:

[Such is characteristic of] women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it. Some theorists would claim that all subjects function thus. But as Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2013 1:01 pm

    One of the best ways I, as a female, can “break the code” is to encourage men that just as women can learn to think and write linearly and according to binaries, men can also learn to think and write polymorphically and in terms of connections, in terms of “the root and the fruit,” as I’ve heard it said. Not even this need be an either-or thing.

  2. November 6, 2013 7:10 am

    Amen and Awomen 🙂
    Kristen, To reduce the world to a dimorphic place is to make it dull indeed. And it does privilege the one who uses the binary method, separating out the Other and pushing her down, under, silent, and away. To your point, there are men who write and who speak and translate and theorize language much more in various polymorphic ways: Jesus in the gospels; Everett Fox, as Rachel Barenblat points out; Montaigne, as Nancy Mairs points out; my colleague in literary and rhetoric studies, the late Jim Corder, as Keith D. Miller points out; one of my mentors in linguistics and composition studies, the late Kenneth Pike, as I point out in various places; just to name a few for now.

  3. krwordgazer permalink
    November 6, 2013 1:41 pm

    Kurk, I agree that the world should not be reduced to a dimorphic place. But I do think that linear thinking, putting things in categories and even sometimes binaries, can be a helpful way to organize and simplify concepts for our minds’ use– as long as we don’t then limit our thinking to those categories and binaries. In short, I will not say, “Masculine way = always bad; feminine way = always good.” I think the two ways of thinking are best used in a complementary fashion. And, of course, that neither “masculine” nor “feminine” social constructs are exclusive to one sex or the other.

    I think Aristotle’s problem was not that he used the masculine way of thinking, that he limited his thinking to the masculine way, and in doing so, pushed down and silenced the feminine way which he might have benefited from. And taught generations after him to do the same.

    I also think that the feminine way of thinking, being more organic, close to the earth and its patterns of root and fruit, birth and death, might be more familiar to agrarian minds vs. industrial ones, and thus not strictly simply “feminine” anyway…

  4. November 6, 2013 2:04 pm

    Kristen, I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s nothing wrong with (and nothing purely “male” about) the binary, unless it’s all one has. The binary is, Nancy Mairs asserts, the fundamental structure of the patriarchy. It’s the sole tool of phallogocentricism, as Helene Cixous and Clarice Lispector might explicate it. (Aristotle developed this sort of logic or, as he coined it, λογική, his repair of the vexed Greek λόγος. And I’m certainly not advocating that women in general or that any of us in particular, woman or man, ignore or fail to use Aristotelian logic or rhetoric. This is, unfortunately, the sort of logic that feminist Carol Poster would use – when she would have us separate all of Aristotle’s work on rhetoric from the corpus of [“women’s”] rhetorics. In that sense, then, Poster is using a purely masculinist move albeit against a sexist male.)


  1. When your mother isn’t your teachers | BLT

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