Derrida and feminism
Derrida’s destabilisation of logocentrism and binary logic challenged many of the same targets as feminism. His deconstructive techniques make it clear that if feminist theory is to succeed in its challenge to phallocentric discourses it cannot do so from a position outside of phallocentrism. As Grosz (1990a: 100) notes, ‘to remain outside a (logocentric, phallocentric) system is to leave it intact; to remain only within its terms, on the other hand is to risk absorption…’ Grosz outlines a number of points where Derrida’s work is useful for feminism. She maintains that Derrida’s ‘deconstructive project’ refines and develops the feminist challenge to phallocentrism which is a subcategory of logocentrism. Grosz (1990a: 101) contends that ‘Logocentrism is implicitly patriarchal; the very structure of binary oppositions is privileged by the male/non-male (i. e. female) distinction’. Second, Derrida’s work provides a ‘politically, as well as intellectually, useful trajectory’ for the feminist researcher, as it puts stress on the material processes of reading and writing and problematises the very grounds on which various discourses are based.
Deconstructive techniques drawn from Derrida’s work have informed the work of a number of French feminist deconstructivists, including Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Derrida’s mode of deconstruction which, instead of creating new truths, aims to unveil the political commitments of various prevailing discourses, has provided Irigaray with a major interpretive technique ‘in her critical/lyrical evaluations of texts within psychoanalysis and the history of philosophy (ibid.).1 Grosz also notes that Derrida’s more substantive arguments around the issue of difference inhabiting all identity have inspired Kristeva’s analysis of the symbolic and semiotic.
Derrida’s concept of difference has come to represent a powerful critical force within feminist theory. While there have been other theorists who have dealt with the concept of difference, his work is probably the most politically motivated. As Grosz (1990a: 101-102) notes, ‘[he] adds a political dimension to Saussure’s concept of pure difference to make it more incisive in challenging metaphysical adherences to identity’. In addition, in ‘distinguishing difference from differance’ (ibid,), he opens up a range of other opportunities for feminists.
In spite of Derrida’s relevance to feminist theoretical projects, as Grosz comments, even those sympathetic to his work have expressed alarm at his use of ‘femininity’ as a deconstructive tool. Grosz (1990a:102) goes on to note that in acknowledging the usefulness of deconstruction as a strategic tool or device for feminist readings, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak suggests an ambivalent attitude may be the most appropriate one:
My attitude to deconstruction can now be summarized: first, deconstruction is illuminating as a critique of phallocentrism; second it is convincing as an argument against the founding of a hysterocentric order to counter phallocentric discourse; third as a feminist practice itself, it is caught on the other side of sexual difference.
Ultimately for feminists Derrida uses women as metaphors of a subversion of truth and order, while not recognising women as subjects and the positions from which they might speak.