Affect and Porosity: Ethics and Literature between Teresa Brennan and Hélène Cixous
2. The Transmission of Affect
… the Western individual [is] especially more concerned with securing a private fortress,8 personal boundaries, against the unsolicited emotional intrusions of the other. The fear of being ‘taken over’ is certainly in the air, although the transmission of negative affect generally is not recognized for what it is. Boundaries, paradoxically, are an issue in a period where the transmission of affect is denied.(15)
Charles Taylor’s work on early-modern sources of the self explains this in terms of a change from external to internal accounts of ethical and moral being. For Taylor, the early-modern period is accompanied by “an internalisation of moral sources” or passions, with “the sources of moral strength” no longer seen as outside the self. Taylor describes the appearance of a bounded conception of self as a move away from an external account of affect, a move that instrumentalizes and internalizes the self’s rational control over body, world, and passion (Taylor 1989, p. 151).13 Taylor’s description of the historical emergence of an internalized sense of self is helpful for explaining why Brennan’s recovery of a pre-modern externalized self appears literally out of place in the contemporary world. He writes:The Western psyche is structured in such a way as to give a person the sense that their affects and feelings are their own, and that they are energetically and emotionally contained in the most literal sense. In other words, people experience themselves as containing their own emotions.(24–5)12
“Our modern notion of the self is related to, one might say constituted by, a certain sense… of inwardness… In our languages of self-understanding, the opposition ‘inside-outside’ plays an important role. We think of our thoughts, ideas, or feelings as being ‘within us’… We are creatures of inner depths… [This] is in large part a feature of our world, the world of modern, Western people. The localization is not a universal one, which human beings recognise as a matter of course… Rather it is a function of a historically limited mode of self-interpretation… the localization is bound up with our sense of self, and thus also with our sense of moral sources… when a given constellation of self, moral causes, and localization is ours, that means it is the one from within which we experience and deliberate about our moral situation. It cannot but come to feel fixed and unchallengeable, whatever our knowledge of history and cultural variation may lead us to believe”.
3. Attention and Affect
The other I, the one who once struggled with demons, then fought the passions, and now negotiates with the ego, is less and less in evidence. This is especially apparent in the decline of religious practices and civil codes of courtesy… civil and religious codes may be remnants of a conscious knowledge of transmission. In cultures where knowledge of transmission is unconscious, these codes have less meaning and are easily displaced by arguments that one should be ‘free to express one’s feelings’. As the stoically inclined realized long since, if freedom means anything, it is freedom from possession by the negative affects.(118 emphasis added)
4. Judgment as the Projection of Affect
… when I judge the other, I simultaneously direct toward her that stream of negative affect that cuts off my feeling of kinship from her as a fellow living, suffering, joyful creature… The act of directing negative affects to the other severs my kin tie with her by objectifying her. I make her into an object by directing these affects toward her, because that act marks her with affects that I reject in myself—‘these affects do not exist in me, but in her.’ I assume that she does not feel as I do. At the personal level, the othering underpinned by judgmental projections is evident in the scapegoating that occurs in most familial or professional communities. At the cultural level, these judgmental projections feature in othering by race or sex or sexual orientation. Here, the other, collectively, becomes feminized, that is, styled untruthful by nature, too emotional, less logical, more superstitious than us reasoning beings.(119 emphasis added)22
If we conceive the moment of judgment as the moment in which we forcefully embrace or project an affect, then we can accept that the judgment itself is a deployment of energy directed toward an object, and as such, an affective force in itself. But because the stream of judgments one makes in daily life takes place in the context of affective transmission, the lessons learned from the comparison of states of feeling are constantly interrupted by waves of affect. It is not only one’s own inner states that are the objects of a meditative investigation by reflection and evaluation, as they were for Descartes and Hobbes. It is also a question of oneself and the other.(126)
5. Attention and Discernment
by sensing (touching, hearing, smelling, listening, seeing) and the expression of the senses, particularly in words. It works by feeling (sometimes in the dark), and it works deductively, often with insufficient information; it makes mistakes when it is rushed to conclude before its time (it is rushed by the ego, which always needs a plan) or when it is delayed by the ego (which is always anxious about doing the wrong thing). Discernment, when it doubts the ego’s judgment, registers as a feeling. Sometimes such feelings can be articulated with relative exactitude; they can be named, and reasons for their existence can be adduced. But this, precisely, requires a vocabulary; that is why we defined feelings as sensations that have found a match in words.(120)
The production of habits appropriate to discernment is a matter of personal practices involving comparison, recollection and memory, and detachment. These practices are held in common in the meditative tradition in philosophy, in psychoanalysis, and in meditation itself… Personal discernment, in summary, involves evaluations of one’s inner states and evaluations of the origin of the affects. These are effected by detaching from one’s passionate judgments and affective depressions, and by observing their sequence. One discerns these things with attention.(126, 130)30
“Extending conscious sensation, finding the words or images, means grasping the nuances of fleshly grammar and alphabets”.(155)
6. Reading Brennan with Cixous
“conscious consciousness is only possible when we invent or reinvent the words to say it. The transliteration into language from the minutia of sensory knowledge and its sifting may be processes entirely unknown to consciousness at present; the lifting of affective and projected judgments may be felt only as a sense of openness to others and a renewed ability to learn, but it marks the beginning of something more. Extending conscious sensation, finding the words or images, means grasping the nuances of fleshly grammar and alphabets. It means describing and accounting for those sensations, which entails translating them into the everyday currencies of speech and so extending the range of their visualization”.(Brennan 2004, 155 emphasis added)
“It’s this human porosity that bothers me and I can’t escape since it is the fault of my skin, the extra sense which is everywhere in my being, this lack of eyelids on the face of the soul, or perhaps this imaginary lack of imaginary lids, this excessive facility I have for catching others, I am caught by persons or things animated or unanimated that I don’t even frequent, and even the verb to catch I catch or rather I am caught by it, for, note this phrase, it’s not I who wish to change, it’s the other who gets his hooks in me for lack of armour”.
“To admit that writing is precisely working (in) the in-between, inspecting the process of the same and of the other without which nothing can live, undoing the work of death—to admit this is first to want the two, as well as both, the ensemble of the one and the other, not fixed in sequences of struggle and expulsion or some other form of death but infinitely dynamized by an incessant process of exchange from one subject to another. A process of different subjects knowing one another and beginning one another anew only from the living boundaries of the other: a multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of encounters and transformations of the same into the other and into the in-between…”.
Conflicts of Interest
- Ahmed, Sara. 2008. Sociable happiness. Emotion, Space and Society 1: 10–13. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Beauvoir, Simone de. 1984. The Second Sex. Translated by Howard M. Parshley. Harmondsworth: Penguin. [Google Scholar]
- Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Bion, Wilfred R. 1961. Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. London: Tavistock. [Google Scholar]
- Blackman, Lisa. 2008. Affect, Relationality and the ‘Problem of Personality’. Theory, Culture & Society 25: 23–47. [Google Scholar]
- Boon, Sonja. 2013. Vulnerability, Longing, and Stigma in Hélène Cixous’s: The Day I Wasn’t There. SubStance 42: 85–104. [Google Scholar]
- Boulous Walker, Michelle. 1998. Philosophy and the Maternal Body: Reading Silence. London and New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Boulous Walker, Michelle. 2017. Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution. London and New York: Bloomsbury. [Google Scholar]
- Brennan, Teresa. 1992. The Interpretation of the Flesh: Freud and Femininity. London: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Brennan, Teresa. 2000. Exhausting Modernity: Grounds for a New Economy. London and New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Brennan, Teresa. 2002. Globalization and Its Terrors: Everyday Life in the West. London: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Brennan, Teresa. 2004. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Buys, Anthea, and Stefan Polatinsky. 2009. The Provocation of Hélène Cixous: Philosophy in Poetic Overflow. Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal 42: 79–93. [Google Scholar]
- Cavarero, Adriana. 2011. Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence. New York: Columbia University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1976. The Laugh of the Medusa. Translated by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. Signs 1: 875–93. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1981. Castration or Decapitation? Translated by Annette Kuhn. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7: 41–55. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1986. The Newly Born Woman. With Cathérine Clément. Translated by Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1987. Reaching the Point of Wheat, or A Portrait of the Artist as a Maturing Woman. New Literary History 19: 1–21. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1991. “Coming to Writing” and Other Essays. Edited by Deborah Jenson. Translated by Sarah Cornell, and Deborah Jenson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1992. Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist, Lispector, and Tsvetayeva. Translated by Verena Andermatt Conley. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène. 1998. Stigmata: Escaping Texts. Abingdon: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène. 2006. The Day I Wasn’t There. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Cixous, Hélène, and Mireille Calle-Gruber. 1997. Hélène Cixous, Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. London and New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Drichel, Simone. 2013. Reframing Vulnerability: “So obviously the problem…”? SubStance 132: 3–27. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Elias, Nobert. 1991. The Society of Individuals. Edited by Michael Schroter. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. [Google Scholar]
- Figlerowicz, Marta. 2012. Affect Theory Dossier: An Introduction. Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 20: 3–18. [Google Scholar]
- Gilson, Erinn. 2011. Vulnerability, Ignorance, and Oppression. Hypatia 26: 308–32. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Gorton, Kristyn. 2007. Theorizing Emotion and affect: Feminist engagements. Feminist Theory 8: 333–48. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. 2010. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. 2012. Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature. Translated by Erik Butler. Stanford: Stanford University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Gunew, Sneja. 2009. Subaltern Empathy: Beyond European Categories in Affect Theory. Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 35: 11–30. [Google Scholar]
- Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Translated by Michael Chase. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. [Google Scholar]
- Hadot, Pierre. 2002. What Is Ancient Philosophy? Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Harari, Fiona. 2011. A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld and Teresa Brennan. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Holding, Cory. 2007. Review: “Affecting Rhetoric”. College Composition and Communication 59: 317–29. [Google Scholar]
- Irigaray, Luce. 1985. The Power of discourse and the subordination of the feminine. In This Sex Which Is Not One. Translated by Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 68–85. [Google Scholar]
- James, Susan. 2006. Perspectives on Teresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect. Women: A Cultural Review 17: 103–6. [Google Scholar]
- Jardine, Alice, Lundeen Shannon, and Oliver Kelly. 2007. Living Attention: On Teresa Brennan. Albany: State University of New York Press. [Google Scholar]
- Jonas, Hans. 1953. The Nobility of Sight. In The Phenomenon of Life. New York: Harpers Row, pp. 135–55. [Google Scholar]
- Klein, Melanie. 1957. Notes on some Schizoid Mechanisms (1946). In Envy and Gratitude: And Other Works, 1946–63. London: Tavistock. [Google Scholar]
- Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University. [Google Scholar]
- Labanyi, Jo. 2011. Doing Things: Emotion, Affect, and Materiality. Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 11: 223–33. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Lacan, Jacques. 1977. The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience. In Écrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton, pp. 1–7. [Google Scholar]
- Levinas, Emmanuel. 1989. Ethics as First Philosophy. In The Levinas Reader. Edited by Seán Hand. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 75–87. [Google Scholar]
- Levinas, Emmanuel. 1998. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Lyotard, Jean-François. 1988. The Différend: Phrases in Dispute. Translated by Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Google Scholar]
- Massumi, Brian. 1995. The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique 31: 83–109. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. The Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by C. Smith. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. [Google Scholar]
- Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Muñoz, José Esteban. 2007. ‘Chico, what does it feel like to be a problem?’ The Transmission of Brownness. In A Companion to Latina/o Studies. Edited by Juan Flores and Renato Rosaldo. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 441–51. [Google Scholar]
- Nagle, Angela. 2017. A Tragedy of Manners: Trump and the new age of anti-PC transgression. The Baffler 36. Available online: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/a-tragedy-of-manners-nagle (accessed on 30 July 2019).
- Oliver, Kelly. 1993. Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Pedwell, Carolyn. 2014. Affective Relations: The Transnational Politics of Empathy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. [Google Scholar]
- Rice, Jenny Edbauer. 2008. The New “New”: Making a Case for Critical Affect Studies. Quarterly Journal of Speech 94: 200–12. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, and Adam Frank. 1995. Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins. In Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Edited by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 1–28. [Google Scholar]
- Sellers, Susan. 1996. Hélène Cixous: Authorship, Autobiography and Love. Oxford: Polity Press. [Google Scholar]
- Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Cambridhe: Cambridge University Press. [Google Scholar]
- Weil, Simone. 1951. Waiting on God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. [Google Scholar]
- Weil, Simone. 1995. Gravity and Grace. Translated by Emma Craufurd. London: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Weil, Simone. 2002. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Toward Mankind. Translated by Arthur Willis. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
This includes significant feminist engagement, though not exclusively: Jardine et al. (2007); James (2006); Ahmed (2008); Gorton (2007); Figlerowicz (2012); Gunew (2009); Blackman (2008); Labanyi (2011); Rice (2008); Muñoz (2007); Holding (2007); and the philoSOPHIA 2017 Annual Conference, the theme of which, “Affect and Social Justice”, honored Brennan’s legacy in the field. http://www.philosophiafeministsociety.com/conference-2017-1 For a discussion of the events surrounding Brennan’s death, see Harari (2011).
For notable contributions to the “affective turn” or the “turn to affect”, see Massumi (1995); Sedgwick and Frank (1995); Gregg and Seigworth (2010); Berlant (2011); and Pedwell (2014).
The entre deux involves a staging of otherness, a passage between the self and the strangeness of the other, an event “which evicts us from ourselves” (Cixous and Calle-Gruber 1997, pp. 8–9).
Bion (1961) and Klein (1957). See also Boulous Walker (1998, pp. 141–44).
Brennan’s statement here can be read alongside Julia Kristeva’s work on misdirected abjection, i.e., the manner in which all women (not only the mother) stand in for the abject as targets of a degraded and dangerous corporeality. See Kristeva (1982) and Oliver (1993, pp. 48–68).
“Have boundaries come to matter because self-definition by projection is less available than it was during the last few sexist and colonial centuries—there are now too few willing receptacles—or because of an accumulation of environmental-inflected affects. Either way, boundaries may matter now because there is too much affective stuff to dispose of, too much that is directed away from the self with no place to go” (Brennan 2004, p. 15).
Brennan’s work linking self with the State parallels an aspect of Norbert Elias’s early sociological work, where he couples a bounded (or self-contained) sense of the self with an equally bounded sense of society. See (Elias 1991). Thanks to Matthew Lamb for suggesting this link.
Susan James challenges this, suggesting that “many eighteenth-century writers [e.g., David Hume and Adam Smith] acknowledge the existence and significance of passionate transmission” (James 2006, p. 104). James notes, though, that there is a significant change in understanding (around this time) relating to the mechanisms that move the affects. Rather than entering or disturbing our bodies, the affects of others work on our imagination. Accordingly: “a broadly physical interpretation of transmission gives way to a broadly psychic one, which is compatible with, and may provide evidence for, a comparatively resilient conception of the boundary around the self. Ultimately, it could be argued that accounts (such as Smith’s) “analyses sympathetic transmission as taking place mainly in thought, and as only minimally dependent on the body” (105).
“… nineteenth-century romanticism is the place where transmission retreated to, and like most retreatants, lost touch with social reality, for ill as well as good. The idea that the emotional connections between beings have an energetic force of their own, by dint of magnestism and romantic association, became less scientifically respectable” (18). For a discussion of the “nobility” of sight and its complex links with objectivity in the Western imaginary, see Jonas (1953) and Boulous Walker (2017, pp. 104–8).
Self-containment coheres with self-absorption and Brennan argues that the foundational fantasy disposes the self to perceive “activity as mindless when it is not directed from the standpoint of self-interest” (136). While constructing a self-contained barrier against the other, the foundational fantasy is also involved in promoting an inertia that slows the subject energetically (147).
See James (2006, pp. 103–4) for a brief comparison of Brennan’s and Taylor’s accounts.
Indeed, a discussion of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s early work on the body-subject, embodied consciousness, and his reworking of intentionality is also appropriate here. Surprisingly, there is only one brief mention of Merleau-Ponty’s work in Brennan’s text (Brennan 2004, p. 108) and this is in reference to his account of subjectivity as subject to a spatial operation. See Merleau-Ponty (1962, 1968).
Brennan’s work is structured through a series of interconnecting binaries, though terms such as attention and discernment are meant to undo or deconstruct any simple opposition between, for example, mind and body, i.e., to demonstrate the embodied nature of consciousness. Brennan states that her thinking in binaries approximates “the palpable experience of being pulled in two directions” in relation to the other, e.g., to be angry and to criticise, while simultaneously being drawn to listen to and communicate with the other (120).
Brennan links the senses with feeling, distinguishing them thus: “By ‘sensing,’ I mean the deployment of smell and hearing as well as open vision, while by ‘feeling,’… I mean the accurate and rapid interpretation of this information via language. Feelings are sensations that have found a match in words” (19). Elsewhere, she refers to the “educated feelings” (122).
Brennan claims that “the place of self-interest, or the subject-centred standpoint, is at the bottom of the prejudice against the intelligence of the flesh” (140).
And further: “In political as well as personal cases, changing the disposition of the affects (from passivity-inducing and raging judgments of the other to love or affection) requires practice and knowledge. The understanding and deployment of feelings is critical in both endeavours as the means for discerning affects and reconnecting with the original knowledge of the senses” (139).
The question of the other being willing to carry the affect is a complex one. What does the term “willing” convey here, a fully conscious awareness, or something less than this? If we consider that Brennan’s account focuses on women and “feminine beings” as those most often the recipients of projected affect, then Simone de Beauvoir’s account in The Second Sex could be helpful. Recall that Beauvoir inquires into the nature of woman’s willingness to be other to man’s absolute subject. From here, she questions whether this amounts to an act of moral fault on the part of woman, or whether the category of oppression can help us to see this in another light: “our perspective is that of existentialist ethics… There is no justification for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence falls back onto immanence, stagnation, there is a degradation of existence into the en-soi—the brutish life of subjection to given conditions—and of liberty into constraint and contingence [object-being]. This down fall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In both cases it is an absolute evil. Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely chosen projects” (Beauvoir 1984, pp. 28–29, emphasis added).
And further: “When Rousseau in Émile, or On Education demands that Sophie be educated to lie, while Émile only speaks the truth, he is doing no more than putting the realities of modern affective projections into words. By encouraging attitudes of suspicion, or (worse) encouraging the idea that a privileged class, sex, race, or caste is free of dissembling, emotionality, or stupidity, one comes to overvalue one’s own capacities” (119). We can think of Brennan’s “feminized other” as those recipients of the feminine side of the “symbolic distribution” that Luce Irigaray explores throughout her work. In this sense, the “symbolic distribution” that separates reality out (hierarchically) into mind/matter, culture/nature, and masculine/feminine can be understood as a judgmental projection of a patriarchal worldview. See Irigaray (1985).
Brennan borrows the phrase “evenly suspended attention” from Freud’s use of the term, referring to a state in which we attend lightly and non-deliberately by refraining from “confirming what one already knows” in order to remain open to new ideas about the other. (Brennan 2004, p. 197, n. 20).
Brennan writes: “… reason and love are both names for aspects of living attention; living attention is the condition of reasoning and the embodiment of its connective ability as well as the gift from the mother to the child or the lover to the beloved” (41).
This point requires a paper in its own right. See Lyotard’s The Differend (Lyotard 1988) and my discussion of it in Boulous Walker (1998, pp. 68–84).
Brennan notes: “That optimism also effects a biochemical shift (where different hormonal directions take over from others) is now a matter of record” (129).
“One lets go of the affect by examining its course or by allowing the course of other, calmer, feeling to assert itself. This examination means exercising attention, which is literally an aid to growth, whether given to oneself in the process of liberating reflection (antithetical to narcissistic fantasy) or to those who need it” (128).
We can think of Simone Weil’s work on attention and grace alongside Brennan’s work on attention and discernment (Weil 1951, 1995, 2002). See my discussion of their relation in Slow Philosophy (Boulous Walker 2017, pp. 180–82).
Brennan refers to the “resurrection of the body” and by this she means attention to the senses in order to extend conscious understanding (159).
“Then we will know how the form-giving capacity inheres in the very nature of energetic matter, now as it always has done. We will feel it and know in a united body and soul that the matrix was never, and is never, passive; it is simultaneously active and receptive, intelligent and substantial, as giver of life” (163).
Cixous’s relations with both philosophy and “writing” are complex. Throughout her work, she “moves between philosophy and poetry, while remaining unfaithful to both” so as to draw our attention to the limitations of a strictly bordered and conceptual discourse reduced to the functions of naming and concluding (Buys and Polatinsky 2009, pp. 79–80).
Cixous claims that the Hegelian other is simultaneously both hostile and distant, threatening the self with loss—the loss of property, prestige, freedom and, potentially, life (Cixous 1981, pp. 48–50).
Sonja Boon charts the importance of longing and intimacy alongside the “threatening encounter with a horrifying Other” throughout Cixous’s work (Boon 2013, p. 85). Boon’s analysis provides an insightful perspective on the significance of vulnerability and wounding in both the structure and meaning of Cixous’s works. She notes that “while vulnerability may well be an opening, a wound, a stigma, Cixous’s interest lies in our response to this wounding: do we close it up, sewing it tightly together to avoid any possibility of contagion? Or do we allow the wound to blossom, opening ourselves to new encounters and new possibilities, however joyous or painful they might be? In this way, Cixous suggests the necessity of considering vulnerability—as porosity—as both a point of horror and a promise of regeneration” (Boon 2013, p. 86). In this regard, Boon explores the “haunted” porosity of Cixous’s book, The Day I Wasn’t There , in terms of “the longing that must remain eternally unassuaged” (Boon 2013, p. 87).
Adriana Cavarero (2011, pp. 30–31) rejects the equation of vulnerability with helplessness, arguing that while we can move beyond helplessness, our vulnerability remains with us throughout our lives. For a discussion of Cavarero’s distinction, see Drichel (2013, pp. 3–4).
While the entre deux entails the play between opening and foreclosing, Boon observes that in The Day I Wasn’t There it becomes, at times, “a space of undoing rather than foreclosure” (Boon 2013, p. 94).
© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Share and Cite
Walker, M.B. Affect and Porosity: Ethics and Literature between Teresa Brennan and Hélène Cixous. Humanities 2019, 8, 160. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040160
Walker MB. Affect and Porosity: Ethics and Literature between Teresa Brennan and Hélène Cixous. Humanities. 2019; 8(4):160. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040160Chicago/Turabian Style
Walker, Michelle Boulous. 2019. "Affect and Porosity: Ethics and Literature between Teresa Brennan and Hélène Cixous" Humanities 8, no. 4: 160. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040160