The Persian legend of The Thousand and One Nightsdates from the Islamic Golden Age (c.750 CE - c.1258 CE) and concerns Sheherazade, who marries a king who is known to execute his bride the morning after the wedding night.Sheherazade, however, who is educated in all the wisdom of the land, spins a tale that is so compelling that her husband postpones her execution so he can hear the next episode the following night.
Fabrice Dubosc describes Sheherazade’s language as erotic logos, that is, incorporating both logosand erosin the Jungian sense (Dubosc, 2000).If we apply the assignations of logos to men, and eros to women, then erotic logosprovides a far too facile coniunctio,or marriage of these traditionally paired opposites. However, if we imagine that this might be an eroticising of logos/languageitself, then we have a far more interesting proposition; erotic logos could then be said to occupy the same paradoxical position as Irigaray’s sensible/transcendental, that is, embodied word. Therefore I argue that these two terms are equivalent. Thus, I argue that language can carry the valence of botherosand logos, body and spirit. In erotic logos, rather than the power/logos trope of phallogocentric language, from which women have been erased, love/logoscreates a coniunctio,an embodied word.In the broadest sense, erotic logos encompasses both desire and belief,bothlibido and credo, and thus moves us towards a feminine divine.
When Luce Irigaray eroticizes traditional philosophic discourse through sensual poetic imagery, she demonstrates a marriage between eros and logos; she disrupts assumptions about both, and weaves instead a new relation between them. This is an effective way for women to “re-create alterity”, that is, they must, as Tilghman argues, “re-work from inside the language they already have” (Tilghman, 2008, p. 51) Mary Daly also commits herself to use language against language and does it “within the horizon, which necessarily must change, of existing philosophical and theological discourses” (Gray, 2000, p. 231). This is what Sheherazade does. Erotic logosis itself a refashioning of language. Russell Lockhart says we need to “revivify our relation to the word by developing an Eros relation … in words”(Lockhart, 1983, pp. 89, my emphasis). Lockhart holds that an essential aspect of Eros is “the great principle that connectsus to things beyond our ego” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 89).
I argue for erotic logosas a suitable language-form for women, which encircles their subjectivity and also performs the dialogue between two separate subjects. As Luce Irigaray says, “the becoming of consciousness, of culture, cannot be entrusted to one subject alone; it is engendered in the interaction between two subjectivities irreducible to one another: that of man and that of woman. Thus there no longer exists one sole logos” (Irigaray, 2002, p. 99). It is women’s logosthat I am attempting to articulate. In this logos, eros and narrative are intertwined (Cavarero, 2000).
Sheherazade usespoïesis in its broadest sense, in bringing forth life. Ultimately, the poetic voice uses “words that reunite differently earth and sky, the human and the divine” (Irigaray, 2004a, p. 39). Sheherazade reunites differently the human and the divine, and also transforms the relation between two. She uses a (dialogic) language against (monologic) language; that is she develops a language that includes two, which incorporates women’s subjectivity and sexuate difference. What did Sheherazade achieve in erotic logos? Dubosc utilizes this tale to discuss the masculine position, where the King is redeemed from his revenge against women by the feminine, thus seeing it as a story for men, and the traditional role of muse/saviour/inspiratrix is assigned to women. In my reading, Sheherazade moves from masculine monologic totality, to female subjectivity, to discourse between two, through which the king is changed, transformed. But the emphasis is that she does this on her own terms and creates her own subjectivity. Her language could be described as poetic, but more than that, she finds and uses “the poetic at the bottom of every word” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 97). This is because ‘the poetic’ represents a perspective or state of mind, and carries this valence. Thus poetic use of words is more than representation, and brings us close to the unconscious, rather than distancing us from it. Poetic use speaks something that has not already been said, which has heretofore been hidden from view in plain sight – that is, unconscious.
The unconscious motives of the king are revealed to him through the narrative Sheherazade weaves. “Poetry”, (and poïesis) according to Cixous, “exists only by taking strength from the unconscious … where the repressed [women] survive” (Cixous & Clément, 1986, p. 98). Thus according to Cixous, women are close to poetry and the unconscious, and are therefore more than the symbolized. Women and poïesisare able to bring forth that which has not already been spoken, and in so doing they will trouble that which is already codified or understood. This access also allows Sheherazade to speak that which is repressed; this is two-fold, firstly speaking her own position, and secondly she speaks to or for the unconscious of the King, because she sees from this perspective. Being close to the unconscious is an advantage for women/Sheherazade, because they/she can be outside the jurisdiction of the Symbolic and its (mis)representations. I remind the reader that I discussed Luce Irigaray’s idea that women can take on the anima-projections of men, and transform them. The tale of Shererazade can be read as an example of this.
Sheherazade does not merely reproduce the many language-forms available to her, but weaves something unique, clever, and entertaining and reveals the unconscious of the king. I propose Sheherazade as an exemplar for women, and an archetypal feminine, “older and newer than every history, [who] stays within beginning’s awakening” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 107). My emphasis here is on Sheherazade as lover; she is lover twice over - she is lover of the other, as well as ‘amateur’ philosopher, in that she engages philosophy in a learned way, albeit outside the academy. Le Doeuff (Le Dœuff, 1989)addresses the situation of women who have been relegated an amateur relationship with philosophy by the patriarchal institutional system. Here ‘amateur’ is a pejorative term, to mean less than serious, not skilful or professional, and possibly part-time and unpaid as well! However, I defer to the Latin origins of the word amateur, meaning ‘to do for the love of’, for pleasure, to be an admirer or devotee, which then returns us to the Latin roots of philosophy, which means lover of wisdom. Emmanuel Levinas likewise suggests that philosophy should be “the wisdom of love at the service of love” (Lévinas, 1991, p. 162).
In the tale, Sheherazade’s discourse is nocturnal - she weaves her spellbinding stories till just before dawn. There is a risk in placing Sheherazade’s discourse quite literally in the night, however, because it too easily places her in a binary trope of male/day and female/night. This is an instance of Luce Irigaray’s quest to protect the language, subjectivity and divinity of women, “this there, this she there, could be called night. But to do so already would be to catch her up too much, or to invoke her too much, in a language that could not be her own” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 107). Yet Irigaray frequently uses images of the night. For example, “it is in darkness that we met with one another. Scarcely having built a rudimentary common dwelling – thanks to a few words - we entered into the night” (Irigaray, 2008b, p. 44). It is in this night, this darkness that ‘the between’ can begin to grow. Irigaray speaks of “a manner of seeing, speaking and acting that is accompanied by a nocturnal luminosity”(Irigaray, 2010a, pp. 16-17, my emphasis). Such nocturnal luminosity lends itself to the other revealing themselves to us, rather than an impatient imposition upon the other. It is in this nocturnal luminosity that Sheherazade spins her tales.
For Luce Irigaray, the woman’s voice occurs “beyond hislanguage [langue]. …She forever comes and recalls from her place of disappearance: she cries out at night” (Irigaray, 1999, pp. 49, my emphasis). It is not by chance that her disappearance and her emergence are at ‘night’. According to Marie Louise Von Franz, the soft reflected and reflective light of the moon,metaphorically speaking, does not hurt the feminine, while the harsh masculine light of day/rationality can be damaging. Many things need a dimmer form of light, lest becoming is destroyed. Plants germinate in the dark, and only when they already have a hold on life do they emerge into the light; too much light too soon will kill them. In Arabic al samar‘speaks in the darkness of the night’, at the edge of ‘normal’ discourse, where identity in the Symbolic is dimmed, and eros sweetly opens a way.This speaking in the darkness of the night is where heart, mind and body open (Calza, 2007). The whole of Sheherazade’s opus is al samar,evening stories, and erotic logos. After 1001 nights, Sheherazade and the King emerge into full daylight; the King, representing patriarchal authority, has of his own accord changed many of his attitudes, especially to women, and Sheherazade has woven a subject-place for herself, which had not been available to her before.
Sheherazade is not seized by the king and incorporated into his phallogocentrism; instead, she keeps a space open, a threshold. And according to Irigaray’s discussion of the role of the woman, ‘she’ “remains threshold. In what comes to pass in-between - that’s where she stays. … In this world of in-between: light and dark, highest and lowest, this world of threshold where the whole entwines” (Irigaray, 1999, pp. 109-110, my emphasis). Sheherazade is a threshold dweller; she maintains her own subjectivity simultaneously with an awareness of his. To continue night-metaphors, her task is to ‘awaken’ the king; “she still draws him out of sleep: an interruption of present absence that rends his language” (ibid., p. 51). That which rends the language of the king/symbolic is erotic logos; Sheherazade acts as the not-duped one and thus straddles the real and the Symbolic, and undoes the rule of the sky-Father, through a discourse of love, based upon exchange between two different subjects, rather than the monologue of a single subject under which all her predecessors were killed. The exchange is one of love and respect, through words that convey this, and have meaning to both. I argue that contemporary women can apply this understanding as follows: by keeping open a ‘threshold’ (to the real) women can remain in the symbolic, as does Sheherazade, and not be ‘killed’ by it, because one crafts one’s own subjectivity and insists upon it.Through this opening an exchange between two is possible, which is, or becomes, the place of love, through flesh, gesture and word. Cavarero argues, in relation to this tale, that “narration and conjugal love go together step by step … the tale not only stops death” but weaves a bond of love and respect on both sides (Cavarero, 2000, p. 123).
Sheherazade’s simultaneous acceptance and tactical transgression of the Law is akin to Kristeva's technique of double writing in 'Stabat Mater', where she expresses her own subject-position at the same time as expounding the Law/Symbolic. Sheherazade practices a subtle form of double writing, in that her intriguing tales, all of which are taken from the lexicons of the time, also undermine the patriarchal structure from which they are taken. For instance, one of the tales Sheherazade tells is of "Hasib and the Queen of Snakes". It describes the difficulties a young man experiences in his psychological separation from his mother and is full of insights into the difficult confrontation between men and women. The tale shows how Hasib moves from a collective masculine attitude to being able to make up his own mind, and not behave according to the conventions. So Sheherazade has introduced a feminine subject-position, and the ethics toward this subject. Her introduction of these positions simultaneously enables the king/Symbolic to change through his introjection of them.
Sheherazade avoids execution. By keeping her stories going, she engages the masculine symbolic on her terms, that is by creating a subject-position for herself. And so she lives to see another day, another exposure to the blinding light of the symbolic. The night provides renewal, through her discourse. She ends each narrative with suspense; we must turn the page, must come again tomorrow night.The masculine has survived another night too. She avoids the foreclosure of a system, which has excluded her and in which is inscribed her death. Sheherazade has created a “world that language ceaselessly would construct and reconstruct” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 124). Unlike phallogocentric language, this renewal is continuous – there is never a time when it is absolutely achieved. However, after 1001 nights the king officially acknowledges what he has been gradually accepting, that is, he acknowledges her separate existence and no longer seeks to kill her.
In chapter one I introduced the idea of multiple archetypes of the feminine, and pause to consider the archetype which Sheherazademight represent. Is it a virginal archetype, such as Hestia? Or a relational archetype such as Aphrodite? What might this tale, and the Handless Maiden in chapters five and six, say to women who identify as lesbian, or who have no relations with men? I argue that the whole phallogocentric culture to which both men and women, (Sheherazade, the handless maiden) are ‘wed’, is the problem, not individual men, marriage per se, or relations with men. Because Luce Irigaray posits sexuate difference as the first and fundamental difference, it enables women to separate from phallogocentrism, and to achieve subjectivity regardless of their sexual preferences. I argue, therefore, that sexuate difference is primary, and the (other) feminine archetypes are secondary. Luce Irigaray, because of her insistence on sexuate difference, has been accused of creating a feminine stereotype, by Amy Hollywood, for instance, who asks, “does Irigaray fetishize women and sexual difference?” (Hollywood, 2002, p. 340). Morny Joy, too, wonders if Irigaray’s insistence on “sexual difference becomes reified in a way that privileges women and their ‘feminine’ spirituality and identifies them with an affirmative ontological ideal” (Joy, 2006, p. 141). Is Luce Irigaray proposing a new feminine stereotype, which is heterosexual and conservative, notwithstanding her earlier concerns for elaborating a multiplicity in the expression of female forms? On the one hand, Irigaray’s multiplicity of singular feminine experiences as genealogy contributes to the feminine imaginary, where an individual woman can see her own life as one of the many possibilities of female embodiment. On the other, I contend that Irigaray’s project of establishing sexuate difference doesrun the risk of being prescriptive (proscriptive?) and definitive, in the following particular way.
As Morny Joy says, “Denial [of any pairing that is not heterosexual] only serves to restrict the diverse ways in which a divine can become manifest in a world that respects differences, and that does not attempt to exclude them, because they threaten one’s own circumscribed worldview” (ibid., p. 160). To imagine that her sexuate difference is heterosexual at all, limits Irigaray’s own definition of sexuate. As Luce Irigaray states, sexuate difference “represents the most basic and universal place of otherness, and it has to be respected in order to respect the other kinds of otherness becoming possible” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 19). If, as Irigaray claims, ‘sexuate’ is articulated through spiritual, bodily, social, linguistic, aesthetic, erotic, and political forms, it is describing women, (and men), not the sexual intercourse in which they may or may not be engaging. Irreducible difference betweenthe sexes, does not equate to lack of differencewithin each sex.I conclude then, that Luce Irigaray has so reinforced sexuate difference that she appears to cultivate it by privileged heterosexuality. However, a divine which is only, or preferably, modelled on the heterosexual couple risks being as exclusive of difference as a patriarchal, androcentric male God. I argue that a truly feminine subjectivity and divinity is inclusive of all difference. I believe, however, that Irigaray is not as categorical as she appears, (or has been interpreted) but in her concern to develop sexuate difference as a necessary cornerstone to her work, other aspects of her work, which would qualify or modify this position, can be too easily overlooked or diminished. For instance, Irigaray argues for “at least two, male and female”, in regard to the sexes (Irigaray, 1996, pp. 37, my emphasis). This “at least two” is open to conjecture, articulation and development, outside of (or within) sexuate difference. This opens the possibility for fluid multiplicity in femininesexuality, which is not merely the opposite of a man’s (Luce Irigaray, 1985, p. 139).
Although my project centres around the feminine, in this chapter focusing on feminine language, and intentionally and inevitably privileges women, I argue that the renewal of language for women will inevitably free men as well, because it frees untapped resources of communication. In the speaking between two, erotic logos will inevitably“develop the relations with oneself and with the other rather than to master the world, especially the living world, through words” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 13). The King was open to Sheherazade’s speaking, his world-view was “questioned by the existence of other words, which open[ed] again the house of language in which [h]e dwells” (ibid., p. 12)My view is that it is in the opening of sexuate difference (and then to all other difference, as emphasized by Luce Irigaray), that psychic growth, flexibility and lovecan actually arise.Furthermore, Sheherazade is finally seen as subject - the King sees her for and as herself, and in this subjectivity she is no longer objectified. He no longer sees her as representing all women who (might) betray him, but as this particular women who he is now able to love.
I have based this analysis on two different sexuate identities, so we can view Sheherazade as a feminine mode or style, which simultaneously undoes and exists parallel to, the masculine symbolic. Although the symbolic serves a masculine purpose, men suffer various foreclosures of their own which must be undone so they are available for the encounter between two. As I have already articulated, each must “keep on hold one’s own becoming in order to lend assistance to the other’s becoming. …We have not yet reached such a coexistence with the other, or we have already forgotten it” (Irigaray, 2008b, pp. 128-129). In chapter six I argue fully for Luce Irigaray’s ideas on self-affection, (one’s own becoming) as taking precedence; both parties need to attend to their own becoming, as well as being aware of the needs of the other.