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From Radical Representations to Corporeal Becomings: The Feminist Philosophy of Lloyd,

Grosz, and Gatens
Author(s): Claire Colebrook
Source: Hypatia, Vol. 15, No. 2, Going Australian: Reconfiguring Feminism and Philosophy
(Spring, 2000), pp. 76-93
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FromRadicalRepresentations to
CorporealBecomings:The Feminist
Philosophyof Lloyd,Grosz,andGatens

Contrastingthe workof GenevieveLloyd,ElizabethGrosz, and MoiraGatens

philosophyofJudithButler,thispaperidentifiesa distinctive
"Australian"feminism.It arguesthatwhileButlerremainstrappedby the matter/
binary,theSpinozistturnin LloydandGatens,and Grosz'sworkon
Bergsonand Deleuze, are attemptsto thinkcorporeality.


There are two ways (at least) in which we might think of introducingthe
body into feminist theory.The firstpossibilitymight be understoodby reflect-
ing upon the standardschema of the history of feminist thought. While first
wave feminismdemandedequality,and second wave feminismdemandeddif-
ference, the body emergedin the third wave as a means of deconstructingthis
sameness/differenceopposition. The appeal to equality assumesthat gender
differencesare imposedon otherwise equal beings, and therebyprecludesthe
possibility that different types of bodies might demand differentformsof po-
litical recognition. In the second wave assertionof difference and specificity,
the body is still seen as that which precedessocial construction. But for fem-
inists of the second wave, differentbodies demanddifferentformsof articula-
tion. In the third wave, both these argumentsare attacked for having an un-
problematicappeal to the pre-representationalbody.Women are neither the
same nor essentially different;to decide such an argumentone would have to
appealto a body fromwhich social representationderivesor upon which rep-
resentation is imposed.But if we were to arguethat the very notion of the pre-
representationalbody is effected through representation,we would have to

Hypatia vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 2000) by Claire Colebrook

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Claire Colebrook 77

move beyond discussionsof women'sessential samenessor difference.Broadly

speaking,the firstmode of this critique is linguistic in approach,and demon-
stratesthat any appealto a body is alwaysalreadydiscursive.The "body,"there-
fore, is an intensely political site, not a pre-representationalground, but an
effect of representationthat passesitself off as grounding.The second possibil-
ity for thinking the body beyond samenessand differencerecognizesthat no
simple appealcan be madeto the body as some ultimatefoundation;neverthe-
less,while the bodymayonly be referredto throughdiscourseor representation,
it possessesa force and being that marksthe very characterof representation.
My aim in this paperis to think throughthese two possibilities,exploring the
firstthrough the work of U.S. feminist Judith Butler and the second through
three Australian feminist philosophers:ElizabethGrosz, Moira Gatens, and
Genevieve Lloyd.
Historically,Anglo-American feminismhas its roots in liberaltheory with
a sustained attention to rights, emancipation, equality, and autonomy.The
liberaltraditionhas, accordingly,been less concerned with a given essence or
specificityof nature and has focused more on not allowing any naturalor giv-
en cause to dictate what ought to be. Philosophical concern can only, legiti-
mately,be directedto what we sayand how we representthe worldto ourselves.
Ethically, therefore, liberalismmight be aligned with a certain definition of
autonomy:in the absenceof any given or naturaldeterminationof what it is to
be human the burdenfalls upon us to legislate for ourselves.Such legislation
must take place, if it is to be rigorous,without considerationfor any putative
naturalor essential justification.This focus on justification,in the absence of
any given essence or nature, generates an ethics of autonomy, legitimation,
equality, transparency,and non-interference. It follows that if we are to rule
questionsof natureand essence out of play,then our attention will be directed
to language,legitimation, representation,and argument.Typically,feminism's
traditional argumentsoften held philosophy to task for its residualessential-
ism, for its failureto breakfree fromnaturaldetermination.It is not surprising,
then, that a sex/genderdistinction was made, a distinction that demandeda
more rigorousexclusion of any given, natural,or pre-linguisticdetermination.
An attention to gender would demand that all those questions of women's
natural limits be abandoned. If men and women are always alreadycultured
and genderedthen it makesno sense to ask about any essential or naturalbasis
for difference.
At the same time, it is also not surprisingthat feminism was subsequently
markedby the event of a second wave: an audaciousreaction against liberal
constructivismand a foregroundingof differenceand nature (Braidotti 1991,
151-73). Here, the sex/gender (or matter/representation)distinction was in-
tensified ratherthan ignored.A numberof Marxistand psychoanalyticfemi-
nists undertookan investigation into the specificand naturalgroundsof sexual
difference.In so doing, the sex/genderdistinction wasa groundfordebaterath-

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78 Hypatia

er than being thematizedas a question. As Gatens argued,feminists tended to

position themselves on either side of this presupposeddivide:eithersex was an
ahistoricaland determiningessence or sex was merelythe effect of an entirely
arbitraryand disembodiedrepresentation(Gatens 1996, 4). Lloyd also diag-
nosed a similardichotomy in theorizationsof gender:"Forone approach,the
body exists independentlyof anything social;for the other, it is itself a product
of mind and its operations with symbols"(Lloyd 1982, 19). The distinction
between sex and gender, therefore, regardsthe body from the dividing line
between materialityand representation;what is not questioned is the nature
and force of this division. In many ways the work of Butler intensifies this
matter/representationdichotomy,despite the fact that her workis ostensiblya
critique of the sex/genderdistinction.


Much of the feminist mobilizationof poststructuralismin the United States

sustainedthe criticallinguisticismof Anglo-American philosophy.The ques-
tion of sexual essence, the body in itself, or, indeed, any ontologicalspeculation
regardingthe being and emergence of linguistic structurewas suspended in
favor of pulling apartthe system of representationfrom within.
Butler'sBodiesThatMatter(1993) recognizesthat matter is only thinkable
as matter,and hence as alreadydiscursive, effected as discourse'sother. Two
featurescharacterizeButler'stheory of matter.Firstly,she dependsheavily on
a Hegelian theory of the constitutivepower of positing. Accordingly,discourse
only worksby positing an outside, but this "outside"is always the outside of
discourse.ForButler,"[t]oposit a materialityoutside of languageis still to posit
that materiality,and that materialityso posited will retain that positing as its
constitutive condition" (1993, 67-68). The "sexed"body is only seen as sexed,
throughdiscourse.At the same time, the discourseof gender legitimates itself
by positing this sex as its ground.The logic is retroactive and is very much a
logic.To thinkof the pre-discursivedemandsthat discoursebe in place, but the
place of discourseis only securedthrough this very thought. We might argue,
then, that Butler'saccount (like Hegel's Logic)conflates the beingof a thing
with the mode in which that thing is known. The body is, it is true,only thought
afterthe event of discourse.But does this renderthe body itself an effectof that
event? According to Butler,"Ifthe body signifiedas priorto significationis an
effect of signification,then the mimetic or representationalstatusof language,
which claims that signsfollow bodies as their necessarymirrors,is not mimetic
at all. On the contrary,it is productive, constitutive, one might even argue
performative,inasmuch as this signifying act delimits and contours the body
that it then claims to find prior to any and all signification"(1993, 30).
Of course, Butler'sown account is clearly uneasy with the notion of the
body as effect. The purposeof BodiesThatMatter(1993) as a response to her

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Claire Colebrook 79

earlierGenderTrouble(1990) was precisely to addressmateriality.But Butler

sustainsher Hegelian logic: the body is not an effect of discoursebut its status
as non-discursiveis an effect of positing. Secondly, Butler'semphasison dis-
course,constitutive outsides,or the limits of discoursesustainsthe idea of dis-
courseas an idealsystemof signs or representations.That is, discourse,in being
radicallyother than the real, in being the locus of a logical positing, is defined
as an ideal power. But this idea of discourse ignores two problems or possi-
bilities. How does discourse emerge as ideal? Butler arguesthat discourse is
materialbut only perceivedas materialthroughdiscourse:"materialityis con-
stituted in and through iterability"(1993, 70). Doesn't this sustain a radical
opposition between materiality and discourse,whereby "materiality"is that
inevitable but radicallyreceding effect of the ideal positingof the material?
Butler accepts the relation between materialityand its ideal sense to be one
of discursivepositing, and then radicalizesthis logic through a theory of it-
eration, performatives,citation, mimesis,and quotation-a linguistic logic in
which discourse's"outside"is re-figuredthrough discourse itself. Secondly,
alongsidethe Hegelian logic of the constitutive powerof positing, Butler (like
so many other Anglo-American theorists of the body) sees discourseas signi-
fication, as a system of signs, conflated with a broadsense of language.
Butler'slinguistic emphasis is also evidenced in her interpretationof Mi-
chel Foucault'snotion of discourseand power.Butlerquite explicitly criticizes
Foucaulton two accounts.The firstis his failureto consideran outside of pow-
er and discourse.1The second (and connected criticism) is Foucault'sfailureto
account for the psychic origin of power (Butler 1997, 18). In order to make
these criticismsof Foucault,Butlerneeds to exclude a way of readingFoucault
that has been crucial to the work of both Groszand Gatens. ButlerreadsFou-
cault'snotion of discoursealongside the Lacaniannotion of Law and also de-
fines power as discursiveexclusion (1997, 205). There are two problemswith
such a reading.The firstis that Foucault'snotion of poweris immanent.2Power
is neither repressivenor exclusive; power does not only act as law (through
prohibition and exclusion) but also has a productive dimension.3 Power is
more than a negative act of exclusion. Poweroccurs as a multiplicityof differ-
ing forces. This is why resistance for Foucault is also a mode of power and
not (as in Butler) the destabilizationof power. For Butler,however, what is
excluded or prohibited by power is only an effectof prohibition. Butler also
explains the pre-discursive"effect"of sex according to the signifier'slogic of
reference (1993, 68). And if discourse(and power) can be identifiedwith the
system of significationthen it makes sense both to speak of what that system
excludes andto demandan explanation for the location and interalization of
that system.This is preciselywhat Butlerdemandsof Foucault:an account of
the outsideof discourse and a description of the workings of power in the
constitution of the subject.
In a similarmanner,Butlerturnsto Luce Irigarayto explain the negation or

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80 Hypatia

exclusion of the maternalorigin.According to Butler,"[w]henIrigaraysets out

to read the history of philosophy, she asks how its bordersare secured:what
must be excluded from the domain of philosophy for philosophy itself to pro-
ceed, and how is it that the excluded comes to constitute negatively a philo-
sophical enterprisethat takes itself to be self-groundingand self-constituting?"
(1993, 37). Irigaraycannot be construed as an essentialist if the feminine is
only the effect of the negation of corporealitythat establishes the masculine
subject. On this reading,the feminine is constituted as feminine throughdis-
avowal.The feminine cannot be appealedto as that which exceeds the system,
preciselybecausethe feminine is only an effect of systemicexclusion. ForBut-
ler, "the feminine exceeds its figuration.... [T]his unthematizabilityconsti-
tutes the feminine as the impossibleyet necessaryfoundation of what can be
thematizedand figured"(1993, 41).
The body, precisely becauseit is only experienced as a bodyand is always
alreadysignified,gives us a radicaloutside, limit, or surplusthat cannot be ex-
haustedby representationalclosure.But this excess has nothing to do with the
being of the body perse (the body'sontology).It has to do with epistemic con-
ditions in general. For it is the characterof significationas such that whatever
it refersto is given as referentonly through the act of signification itself. The
body is not a privilegedlever for the disruptionof representationalclosure,for
representation'sown logic (as re-presentation)demands that any "presence"
is never given immediatelybut only as present.Not surprisingly,then, Butler's
work on materiality begins with that specific instance of the material that
"turns"upon itself in order to generate the meaning of the material:the sig-
nifier.ForButler,the notion of an originarymaterialityis the effect of a certain
tropic or linguistic turn (1997, 68). The concept of materialitycan only be
conceptualized through the very materialformsof signification (actual linguis-
tic marksor differences).However,the materialformsof significationcan only
be seen as materialafterthe concept of materialitythat they constitute: "every
effort to referto materialitytakes place througha signifyingprocesswhich, in
its phenomenality, is alwaysalreadymaterial"(1993, 68).
The first problem with Butler'semphasis on epistemic conditions is this:
that which is known is perceived ex postfacto (after the event of knowing or
positing). But is this logicalorder to be taken as the orderof being, such that
what is known is conceived as a "constitutive outside,"as a "beyond"of the
limit or as a negated, excluded, and radicallyanterior Real of phantasmatic
projection?Is it correct to say that if "sex"is only knownex postfacto then sex
is an effect, an outside or "beyond"whose locus of negotiation can only be
those structuresthroughwhich sex is known as sex?If this is the case then the
body is, much like any other referent,only known as referentthroughthe struc-
tures of language.A corporealpolitics, on this model, would attend to those
featuresof significationand referencethat destabilizedthe referentialstructure
perse. Here, the structuresof differentiationare seen as radicallydivided from

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Claire Colebrook 81

some effected, constituted, or negated outside;this is becausethe structuresof

differentiationare conflated with the way in which a thing is known and di-
vorced from the way in which the thing is. Butler locates the body, the ma-
ternal,woman,sex, or the materialas such a limit, outsideor other of discourse.
In so doing, the logic of representationis short-circuited,for no such original
presence is ever given. But languageis still seen as re-presentation,a relation
between a meaning or sense and that which is signified.In this dualism,how-
ever, whatis signifiedremainsradicallyother than (beyond or outside) differ-
entiation. Secondly, these structuresof differentiationare located as systemic
wholes, and this is a consequence of identifying differentiationwith Lacan's
Symbolic, an orderradicallydivided from the Real. If the Real is that which
resistssymbolizationabsolutely,this is becausethe real is only perceivedas real
through positing, but this positing of the Real is alwaysalreadya negation of
(or becoming other than) the real.
But from this insight into the non-coincidence between the Real and its
Symbolic repetition, feminismmight follow two paths. The firstis to focus on
those structuresof positing as the condition for the experience of the Real.
This is the path taken by Butlerand is, as I have suggested,a focus on epistemic
conditions. The second is to ask an ontological question (or questions). What
type of being is it that symbolizes itself as being?Furthermore,rather than
accept the logic of this radicaland constitutive divide between the symbolic
and the Real, we might also ask a speculative question:how does this divide
take place, where is it drawn,and by whom?4
While JacquesLacan'swork is used by Butlerto demonstratethe constitu-
tion of sexed identity througha systemof signification,JacquesDerrida'swork
is also deployedin orderto arguefor the impossibilityof a non-textual outside.
The idea that "thereis nothing outside the text" does not demanda linguistic
monism (Derrida 1973). The pervasivenessof textuality is not an argument
for rejecting real or materialbeing. However, there are two ways in which we
can understandDerrida'semphasis on the quasi-transcendentalstatus of dif-
ferance,writing, or textuality. The first is to argue that differance,writing, or
textuality are conditions for the experience of any thing. In orderto speakof,
or know, the real, it is necessarythat I have a concept of the real.Concepts are
effects of a systemicdifferentiation,effected througha structureof differences.
That which exceeds the concept can only be figuredas a beyond, outside, or
origin; and this very processof figuringthe outside returnsthe outside to the
domain of the conceptual system.In orderforconcepts to workas conceptsthey
must be repeatable, iterable, or applicable beyond the specificity of a single
instance. ForButler,the repetition of a term is requiredif that term is to func-
tion as an identical concept, but this repetition also opens up the possibilityof
the disruptionof identity. A term is never self-presentbut functions only by
repeat performance;if this is so, however, there is alwaysthe possibilityfor a
hiatus, disruption,or destabilizationof repetition.

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82 Hypatia

The second path that might be pursuedin thinking the Derrideannotion of

differanceis that of positive difference.Rather than seeing differentiationas a
conceptual or ideal determination of some pre-differentiatedoutside or be-
yond, we might arguefor differanceas being morethan a condition of meaning.
This possibility is alreadyindicated in Derrida'sown work. Indeed, Derrida's
writing seems to move between these two critical and speculative poles. The
criticalpossibility is to see differanceas the condition for experience, concep-
tuality, and knowledge, an understandingof differancethat can be found in
Derrida'sengagement with languagephilosophy in LimitedInc. (1988). The
speculativepossibilityis to see differanceas the mode of being as such. In "Send-
ing:On Representation,"for example, Derridaarguesthat the multiplicitiesof
differentiationthat "send"being arenot negative:"Thisdivisibilityof the envoi
has nothing negative about it, it is not a lack, it is altogether different from
subject,fromsignifier.... This divisibility or this differanceis the condition for
there being an envoi,possiblyan envoiof being, a dispensationor a gift of being
and time, of the present and of representation"(Derrida 1982, 324).
In contrastto the notion of a differentiatinglinguistic system,the idea that
writingcannot be located withinlanguage,but characterizesa generalor quasi-
transcendentaldifferance,marksnot only Derrida'sdeconstruction but many
other Continental interventions in the problemof ideality.Differenceis not to
be located within a system of representationsubsequentlyimposedas a grid or
scheme on experience. Differanceis not an epistemiccondition,but a way of
rethinkingwhatis as such. This is a radicalizationnot just of knowledge but of
ontology. It may not be that the body or materialityis only known or posited
through difference (or the linguistic structuresof difference). Corporeality
might itself be differential.If this were the case, then sex, materiality,and cor-
porealitywould be neither ex postfacto positings, nor radicaloutsides. On the
contrary,the idea of an "outside"to differentialstructuresor movements, an
outside to iteration,performativity,or discourse,need only be posited if we en-
close differencewithinsignification.Both Grosz'sattempt to think purediffer-
ence corporeallyand Gatens's and Lloyd'sSpinozismaddressthis problemof
positive difference.In so doing, the outcomes of their projectsare ontological
ratherthan epistemological. The body, thought through in the work of fem-
inists like Grosz, Gatens, and Lloyd, was always more than a value or sign
within thought: it was both the locus of thought and that which remained
(necessarily) unthought.
Butler'sdistinction between sex and gender (or the materialityof the body
and its representation), even when adoptedcritically,still works within a di-
chotomous logic of priorityand origins. According to Butler, the ground of
"sex"is posited afterthe attributionof gender;sex is effected subsequentto the
performanceof certain attributes. Butler sees the pre-discursiveground of
"sex"as an effect of the discursiverepresentationof gender:"genderproduces
the misnomerof a prediscursive'sex"'(Butler 1993, 6). This is not a linguistic

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Claire Colebrook 83

narcissism; to itsrepresentation,
butis stillknown
only pre-representational.


It ispreciselythisstrictdistinctionbetween"whatis"anditsrepresentation
that waschallengedby Gatens'sground-breaking critiqueof the sex/gender
distinction(Gatens1996).5This critiquedidnot justhave the ideaof an es-
sentialfemalenatureasitstarget.On the contrary, bythe timeGatens'sarticle
firstappearedin 1983,the appealto femalenaturehad been dismissedas a
naiveessentialism, andthe sex/genderdistinctionhadbeenintensifiedbysub-
suming the entirefeminist problematicwithinthe domainof genderor rep-
resentationalone.In so doing,thosethirdwavefeminismsthatrejectedbotha
femalenatureandthe conventionalrepresentation of thatnature(asgender)
didso in thenameof a radicalrepresentationalism. Anyessence,it wasargued,
wasthoroughly withinrepresentation andcouldnot beappealedto asa critical
leverin orderto establisha morelegitimaterepresentation. However,asGat-
ens'sarticlemadeclear,the ideaof genderas an arbitrary culturaloverlaynot
only assumedthe existence of sex as some pure thing in itself, it alsomadethe
mistakeof seeinggenderas a formof pureideality.The critiqueof the sex/gender
distinctionundertaken byGatensoughtthereforeto bedistinguished
host of similarcritiquesthatfollowedin its wake.Gatens'sargumentwas(at
least)double-edged. It wasnot only sex as somepure,meaningless,andpre-
linguisticrealthatwasexposedas criticallyuntenable.The ideaof genderas
representation,social construction, or significationpresentedthe same politi-
cal andontologicalproblemsas its naivelymaterialistcounterpart.
Politically,the sex/genderdistinctionreinforceda hierarchicalopposition
that had underpinned philosophy's sexism.The distinctionbetweena brute
materialrealityanditspurelyidealrepresentation, alongwiththe ideaof phi-
losophyas properlyconcernedonly with ideality,rehearsedandrepeatedan
oppositiontraditionally associatedwith the male/femalebinary.It shouldbe
noted, then, that any "bracketing" of sex or insistenceon sex as an effectof
representationalsopartakesin a representationalist refusalto question,orthink
of awayofquestioning,whatitisthatgenderre-presents. It isnotjustthatthere
is no sex in itself(no simpleessentialism),or that any suchpre-representa-
tionalsex woulditselfalwaysbe represented. Gatens'sargumentsuggeststhat
the representational sideof the sex/genderdivideis no lessproblematicthan
the putativebrutegivennessof sex.The ideaof a strictboundary betweenthe
real (natureor sex) and its representation or
(language gender)is precisely
whatneedsto be rethought,andnot justforpoliticalreasons.
As I will arguebelow,it is preciselythe question of the originandeffectof
sucha boundary(betweenthe realandthe representational) whichmarksthe

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84 Hypatia

best workof Lloyd,Grosz,and Gatens herself.It is also the dependence on and

re-assertionof this boundarythat enables us to distinguishthe quite different
and exemplarywork of Butler.Gatens'scritique of the sex/genderdistinction
opened a new question. If gender is not an arbitrary,immaterial,representa-
tional overlay strictlydivided from some brutecorporeality,just how is it that
bodies become real and realas sexed?Grosz'sidea of a body that not only limits
but mobilizesits representationalbecomingmight enable us to question Butler's
radicalseparationof groundor origin-a separationwhich definesthe body in
oppositionto its signification.
In contrast to Butler'sunderstandingof the Real as a logical effect of pos-
iting, Grosz'sreadingof Lacan describesthe Real as an actual developmental
stage in the formation of the subject (Grosz 1990, 34). Grosz also arguesfor
the existenceof the Real as a pre-semanticdomain of sexual specificity.The
Real is not an ex postfactoeffect of symbolization,but is there to be symbolized
(and can function, therefore, as the locale for a possible re-grounding):"The
Real, where the vagina, clitoris, or vulva have the same ontological statusand
functional utility as the penis and testicles, must be displaced and recoded if
women'sbodies areto be categorizedas necessarilyincomplete. The narcissistic
imaginaryordermediatesbetween the Real, in which there is no lack, and the
symbolic,where women representfor mena lack men have disavowed"(Grosz
1990, 117).
Grosz expresses a temporal logic quite different from that of Butler; for
Groszwhat is signified is knownafter,but existsbeforesymbolization.6Setting
herselfagainstButler,Groszarguesthat sex is not a posited truth "expressed" by
gender but "is itself alwaysalreadyexpression"(1995, 212). This distinction
between her own work and that of Butler'sreinforces Grosz'ssustained in-
sistence on the positivity of morphology;the expression or style of gender is
alwaysa stylizationof some specificbody:"'Sex'refersto the domain of sexual
difference, to the question of the morphologies of bodies"(1995, 213). In con-
trastwith Butler'sattention to conditions of representation,speech, and dis-
course, Grosz'searly work attempted to think the body as that which marked
representationwith its own force, difference,and motility.Grosz'smost recent
workon Darwin and Bergsonextends this site of force and difference,not just
beyond human meaning to the body,but beyond the human altogether (Grosz
2000). Grosz'swork was alwayscritical of representationalismand construc-
tivism, the idea that the body is given through its way of being known or fig-
ured. Whereas Butler focused on the productivityof discoursein the work of
Foucault,Groszpaid more attention to Foucault'sdispersionof powerand pos-
itivity beyond the human site of knowledge and speech. Power,for Grosz, is
that eternally active and differentialbecoming from which any unified iden-
tity or law might emerge.7
In contrast with Butler'smobilizationand critique of Foucaultin The Psy-
chicLifeof Power,it could be arguedthat Foucault'sproject set itself the taskof

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Claire Colebrook 85

thinking power beyond the logic of subjectivityand in terms other than that
of prohibition, negation, and exclusion. Foucaultwas, therefore,highly criti-
cal of the structuralistattention to linguistic boundariesand conditions. For
Foucault,structuralism,the human sciences, and even attention to the "trace"
were ways in which thought recuperateditself (Foucault 1972, 121). To think
power as immanent would precludea logic of negation and exclusion (such as
Butler's),for if power were immanent it would not be the power of a certain
force (language/discourse).It is not that there arebeingswho then have power
or who are limited by power; there is the event of power, and it is from this
multiplicityof events that beings and identities areeffected. This "immanent"
way of thinking power was put forwardby Groszin her early work on corpor-
eality, where she links Foucaultwith Benedictus de Spinoza, Gottfried Leib-
niz, and FriedrichNietzsche, "who have proposed a unified or monistrather
than a dichotomized or dualistunderstandingof corporeality"(Grosz 1987,
8-9). If being is not a substance or ground but only the active becoming of
qualities, then being might be interpretedpositively as the assertionof force,
a force not in opposition to (or in negation of) some posited other, but posi-
tive force. Foucault'sattempt to rethink power might also then be tied to a
rethinkingof corporeality.If there is not a single location of power,nor a priv-
ileged site for its origin or explanation, then power will not be an imposed
system,but will be a multiplicity of effects (Grosz 1995, 215). In termsof sex-
ual difference,power might be renderedas, in Gatens'sterms,expressive:the
becoming of a certain quality,its development throughregulation,cultivation
and relation to other powers (Gatens 1996, 149).
The uptake of Irigaray'scritique of philosophy in Australianfeminismhas,
similarly,focused on that aspect of Irigaray'swork critical of the idea of an
essential sexuality which is thenre-presented.Indeed, as I have alreadysug-
gested, it is the questionof the inaugurationof the distinction between the real
body and its meaningfulsexuality that characterizesthe questionof the body.
This is seen most clearly,perhaps,in Grosz'sVolatileBodies(1994) and the the-
orization of the relationship between interiority and exteriority.While the
phenomenological paradigmof intentionality sees the subjectas an effect of a
"directedness-towards" or "going-beyond,"Grosz arguesfor a convolution of
outside-in and inside-out approaches.While Irigaray'sworksought to redefine
intentionality awayfroma subject/objectrelation to a subject/subjectrelation
of sexual difference (Irigaray1996), Grosz'sworkon corporealityrepresentsa
strongerchallenge to the paradigmof subjectivity.But in so doing, her work
does not merely locate the corporeal as a materialityor simple other of the
supposedidealityof thought. Rather,as with Gatens'semphasison bodyimage,
the corporealfor Groszis not a given or origin to which thought needs to re-
turn;the body is precisely thatpeculiargiven which is idealized,imagined,or
em-bodiedin orderfor any given as such to emerge. As such, then, the body
marksthat peculiar site of transformationwhereby the human becomes hu-

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86 Hypatia

man, the body becomes sexed, and the subjectemergesas its own. But this be-
coming is neithera manifestation of an alreadypresent sexuality nor an arbi-
traryoverlay.The body "becomes"in orderfor becoming in general to emerge.
The body is the very passagefrom being to becoming. Cashed out in psycho-
analytic terms, termswhich are both crucial and problematicfor this project,
we might say that the human is nothingotherthanan interpretationof its own
body (a becoming-otherthan the body);at the same time this becoming-other
is also alwaysa becoming-otherof thebody.The human is a becoming other of
the body and a becoming other thanthe body.The body is, if you like, the type
of being that, being essentially dispossessedof an essence, essentializesitself.
It is the very characterof the human body to render itself meaningful,or
other than corporeal.The body is that materialbeing which transformsitself
immaterially,throughits significanceas a subject(Gatens 1996, 13). It wasthis
corporealdialectic in Lacan'swork, the passageto the imaginary,which moti-
vated much of the early work of Groszand Gatens. But the thinking through
of the becoming-corporealin Australianfeminism also led to a move beyond
Lacan and Irigaray.Grosz'swork typically sees sense not as a bounded system
of signification or as a representationalnetwork, but locates sense and the
emergenceof meaning at the level of the corporeal.The body is not that which
resistsmeaning, nor is it a constitutive outsideto the structuresof meaning;the
body is a becoming meaningful. Similarly,for Gatens the body is neither a
mental representationof some pre-semanticmatter,nor is the body a sexual
realbelied by subsequentimagesor stereotypes.Using the workof Spinozaand
modalities, Gatens arguesthat the body is not a materialitythat is then ren-
dered meaningful. A Spinozist ontology thinks being as becoming.The body
is in its modes of practice, self-representation,and engagement.The body is a
becoming-meaningful.But meaning, here, is not a systemof signs or significa-
tion, not a symbolicoverlay,but "animmanentpowerof active nature"(1996,
Once the notion of the subject is refiguredin this way, new openings are
possible for political theory and ethics. Gatens sees the Deleuzian-Spinozist
emphasis on thought as the realizationof the bodyas enabling the reformula-
tion of society'spredominantlymasculinebody-image.Gatens'sfocus on body-
imagesets itself againstthe idea that genderis merelyan effect of culturalcon-
structionor representation(1996, 41). She sees the sexual subjectas an effect
of doubling,wherebythe subjectoccursas a relation to its image (1996, 35). But
this doubling is neither material nor ideal; it is the doubling of the material
body as an ideal body. It is the materialbecoming other than itself; and this
becoming also occurs in relation to an other body (1996, 37). Lloyd also uses
the Spinozist idea of the mind as an idea of the body to argueboth for sexual
specificity and for the dynamic characterof the body'ssense:
The body is not the underlyingcause of the mind'sawareness
and knowledge, but rather the mind'sobject-what it knows.

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Claire Colebrook 87

And the mindknowsitselfonlythroughreflectionon its ideas

ofbody.Itsnatureisto bethe ideaofaparticularbody.... [T]his
wayof thinkingof mindsandbodiesimpliesthat mindsshare
the sexualdifferentiation
of bodies.... As ideasof differently
sexedbodies,mindsmustbe sexuallydifferentiated. Ideasof
maleandfemalebodieswill differin waysthat reflectthe dif-
ferencesof the bodiesof which they are ideas.(Lloyd1982,
The ideaof the bodyis an extensionorbecomingof a body'sbeing.Thiscre-
atesa quitespecificroleforthe bodyin ethicsandpoliticaltheory.The body
is neithera bruteand determiningpre-politicalgiven, nor is it an effectof
politicalor ideologicalrepresentation. Rather,as an ideathe bodywouldbe
the politicalitself;the bodyis a relationto whatis not itself,a movementor
activityfroma pointof differenceto otherpointsof difference.And so differ-
ence is neitheran imposedschemeon an otherwiseuniformsubstance,noris
differencethe relationbetweenalreadydifferentiated self-identicalentities.
Whatsomethingis is giventhroughits activityof differentiation.
Thisunderstanding of differenceaspositiveis mostclearlyindicatedin the
Deleuzian-Spinozist ontologyputforward byGatensandLloyd.Here,it is not
that thereis a ground,identity,being,or substancewhichthenbecomesde-
terminedanddifferentiated throughthe ascriptionof certainattributes.On
the contrary,beingitselfis a modalityanddynamismof attribution.As ex-
plainedby Lloyd:"Spinoza's attributesaremirrors,eachexpressingin its own
waythe essenceof substance.Butwhatis 'expressed' is alsoenvelopedin the
expression,likethe treein the seed.Thisisno passivereflection,butanactive,
dynamicarticulation" (1996,31).
In the caseof genderandembodimentwe mightsay,asGatenssuggestsin
hercritiqueof sex/genderdistinctions,that sexualdifferenceis neitheran ar-
bitraryoverlaynora self-identicalessence.Thereis not a biologicalsex that
takeson the attributesof culturalgender;sexedembodimentis nothingother
than its becoming.We mightthen putforwarddifferentmodesof becoming.
but at the sametimetheycannotbe appealedto as self-presentsubstancesor
essencesgivenonceandforall through certainattributesandqualities.Rather,
we mightreferto differentandspecificmodesof dynamicembodiment.The
bodyis not an anteriorgroundorpositedoriginbutan eventof its owndoub-
ling, a "becoming-woman" (Grosz1994, 176). Furthermore, this "doubling,"
orbecoming,is not addedon to an inertorpre-representational body,forit is
in the verycharacterof the bodyto doubleorrepresentitself.It wasthisinsight
into the body'spositivebecomingthatGroszidentifiedas the projectof "cor-
While the Spinozistontologyof modalitiesalreadyindicatesthatbeingis
never in-itself but is alwaysa becoming of specificqualities,the body has as its

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88 Hypatia

peculiarmode of becoming the capacityto mis-recognizeits becoming and see

itself as being or identity. It is in this fictive mis-recognition that the human
"subject"is constituted. Preciselybecause the becoming of bodies takes place
within a single totality of substance,expressedin a varietyof modes, the body
is alwaysa dynamicrelationto a totality,a totality it can only know in part,and
can only relate to throughimaginationor "fictions"(Lloyd 1996, 61). But this
constitutive illusion of bodily identity is not a lamentable error;it is the posi-
tive way in which human being becomes human. This leadsto an understand-
ing of ethics, not as the telos of some universallaw,but as the responsibilityand
recognitionof the self-formationof the body.This self-formationdoes not take
the formof a transparentwill thoroughlydeterminingitself. As Gatens argues,
the becoming of the human is sexually embodied, historically located, and
politically related (Gatens 1996, 136). There is no "beyond"to the illusion of
the human preciselybecause"the human condition is a condition of illusion"
(Gatens 1996, 136).
Using Spinoza'sontology, wherebysubstanceis nothing other than various
modes of becoming, we might see the becoming of human understandingand
the "feigning"that marksthe incompletenessof humanknowledgeas the posi-
tive capacitiesof a finitebeing (Lloyd 1996, 61). It is becausewe must relate to
others, within a world,that we are never at one with that world.We therefore
have to think our identity as a mode of relation, and this will mean "doubling,"
"feigning,"or "becoming,"for as a finite being the human is placed in relation.
The human is essentiallymore than any static essence. Sexual identity and its
determinationthrough imaginarydoubling are not limits to be overcome but
positive waysin which ethics takesplace as a specificand decisive activity.Such
an understandingof sexual identity is critical both of an essentialist under-
standing, whereby identity is a determined presence, and a negative under-
standingwherebyidentity is definedin oppositionto some radicallyanteriordif-
ference or differentialcondition. Identity is definedpositively,as the particular
and finite expressionof a dynamicsubstance,and as an expressionthat affirms
becoming in general.This leads to an ethics of desire;affirmingone's own be-
coming is maximizedin the affirmationof the becoming of others. Whereas
Butlerarguesthat the "fiction"of identity is constituted through an originary
violence that turns the will against itself in a mode of subjection(1997, 27),
Lloyd'sSpinozist "ethicsof joy"sees the desirefor self-preservationas an affir-
mation of one'sbecoming, an affirmationstrengthenedby desirefor others and
the desire of others.
In her readingof the traditionof westernreason,Lloydthereforearguesthat
although femaleness has been constituted through a structureof exclusion
and opposition, with definitive normsof reasonbeing constituted as male, this
need not be the case (Lloyd 1984, 104). In Man of ReasonLloyd alreadysug-
gested that the affirmationof femalenesswithin our present conceptual appa-
ratuswas "liableto be caught up in a deeper,older structureof male normsand

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Claire Colebrook 89

female complementation"(1984, 105). Ratherthan adopt a criticalattitude to

these conceptual structuresthat negate the feminine, Lloyd'sSpinozism en-
ables a new way of thinking identity, concepts, and the possibilityof feminist
philosophy.Rather than seeing identity as defined through the imposition of
representation,or the subjection to a Symbolic order,Spinoza'sethics of joy
sees the expressionof identity as an activity of a particularbeing'sbecoming.
The body, here, is neither ground (immediate given) nor limit (radical
beyond). The body is the site of the distributionwherebyit becomes as a body.
It is this suggestionof modalities of becoming and positing which is explored
in the recent turn to Spinozaby Gatens and Lloyd,and in Grosz'smobilization
of Deleuze. Gatens suggeststhat "[w]eneed to understandand rememberhow
we becamewhat we are,not in orderto live what we have become as our 'truth'
but rather as our conditions of possibility for that which we may become"
(1996, 77).
Sexual difference, therefore, emerges as more than a question of feminist
politics and as more than a strategicuse of essentialism.The sexual specificity
of bodies presents itself as a problem,a way of dislodging thought from its
Cartesianhomeliness. If thought is an active becoming of that which cannot
be reduced to thought, then we cannot put forwardthe idea of thought (or
mind) in general.Rather,there will be multiple modalitiesof becoming. Grosz
redefinesthe body neitheras a biological presence nor as a purely differential
writing, but as an "open materiality":
It is an open materiality,a set of (possibly infinite) tendencies
and potentialities which may be developed, yet whose devel-
opment will necessarilyhinder or induce other developments
and other trajectories.These arenot individuallyor conscious-
ly chosen, nor are they amenableto will or intentionality; they
are more like bodily styles, habits,practices,whose logic entails
that one preference,one modality excludes or makes difficult
other possibilities.The kind of model I have in mind here is not
simply then a model of an imposition of inscriptionon a blank
slate, a page with no "texture"and no resistanceof its own. As
any calligrapherknows, the kind of texts produceddependsnot
only on the messageto be inscribed... but also on the quali-
ty and distinctiveness of the paperwritten upon. (Grosz 1994,


What I have identifiedas a tendency in the Australiancorporealfeminism

of Gatens, Grosz,and Lloyd is the addition of a speculativequestion:what are
the specific ways in which the real becomes meaningful?This type of ques-

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90 Hypatia

tion is exploredthroughthe projectof an ontology adequateto thinking of the

bodyneitheras a pre-representationalsurplusnoras a determiningessence. The
question is not one of how the sexesare differentiated, but rather:are theredif-
ferentmodalitiesof sexualdifferentiation due to the specificityof differentbodies?
(Grosz 1994, 189). This type of question is in many wayssimilarto the Irigar-
ayanprojectof an ethics of sexual autonomyand the general"French"feminist
orientation towardsdifference.It is possible,however,to discerna specificway
in which the question of differencehas been taken up in the Australianproject
of corporeality.Gatens'swork on the body politic served, early on, to extend
the question of the body beyond the formationof the individualsubject to the
domain of social power and political constitution. The question of ethics in
Irigaray'sworkwas, of course, alwayspolitical, but Gatens'sspecific attention
to the formationof a body politic did more than renderthe personalpolitical;
it also indicated the corporealand erotically invested nature of the political
ideal. And this means that we have to rethink the very being of theory.If it is
the very characterof corporealityto become through images, and if this be-
coming is alwaysa relation to others, then theory will have to acknowledgeits
own statusas an event of becoming and as a productionof images.This means
that feministtheory will no longer be the cause of theory (in general) for fem-
inist politics and identity.Sexual differenceis not a questionwithintheory.For
it is only becausethere is sexualdifference,the becoming or imagingof specific
bodies, that theory as such is possible.
It is not surprising,then, that Groszhas recently turned to Bergson,a phi-
losopherintent on returningtheory and the intellect to the event of existence.
ForBergson,as for Spinoza beforehim and Deleuze afterhim, being is not an
inert presence that is passively doubled in images. Life itself is an infinite
becoming of images, with one particularimage, the body, taking itself as the
center of all images (Grosz 2000). Like Gatens's and Lloyd'suse of Spinoza,
Grosz'sre-readingof Bergsonredefinesthe very possibilityof feminist philoso-
phy. If thought and theory are activities of imaging bodies, then philosophy
will be better understoodnot as a diagnosis of the past or present, but as an
anticipation of the future.
The becomingof feminismcan be understoodin two senses:as less than the
real or as more than the given. Butler'semphasison instabilityas the motor of
political change, her attention to the positing power of identity alongside its
failuresat full realization,stressesthe disruptivepower of feminist becoming.
By contrast, the Spinozismof Gatens and Lloyd affirmsbecoming as an actu-
alization and enhancement or enrichment of being. Identity is not static and
self-present,but not because it necessarilyfails (Butler) but becauseit is noth-
ing other than affirmation.Similarly,Groszuses Deleuze and Bergsonto dif-
ferentiate between a futurethat is a playing out of the past'spossibilitiesor, as
in Butler'scase, instabilities,and a futurethat creates:"WhatBergson,through
Deleuze, shows is that life and duration,and this historyand politics, arenever

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Claire Colebrook 91

either a matter of unfolding an alreadyworked out blueprint, or the gradual

accretion of qualities which progressstage by stage or piecemeal over time.
Duration proceedsnot through the accumulationof informationand the ac-
quisition of knowledge, but through division, bifurcation, dissociation-by
difference,throughsuddenand unpredictablechange, which overtakesus with
surprise"(Grosz2000, 230).
Feminism is not then a position that would justify itself philosophically;
feminism would be a specific modality of philosophical becoming. And once
we see philosophy as creation and becoming, and as an alwaysspecificbecom-
ing, we would open the way for other becomings. Initially, askingthe feminist
question of sexual differenceopens the possibilityfor feminist autonomy.But
from this carving out of a new mode of self-definition, the "theory"of sexual
specificity inauguratesa new way of negotiating theory as such. Theory is no
longer that distanced point of observation on the real, but the real'sway of
folding back upon itself through a multiplicity of becomings.


1. Butler addresses the following question to the theory of discourse: "Does

Foucault's effortto workthe notionsof discourseandmateriality
throughone another
fail to accountfornot only whatis excluded fromthe economiesof discursiveintel-
ligibilitythathe describes,butwhathastobeexcluded forthoseeconomiesto function
as self-sustainingsystems?"(1993,35).
2. Thismeansthat Butler'squestionof an "outside"to power,or an attentionto
exclusion, wouldhaveto see poweras a closedsystemor as an imposed
theorizationof discourseand poweras immanent,on the otherhand,aimedto see
poweras a univocalfieldwithoutan anteriorgroundandwithouta positedoutside:
[M]ydiscourse,farfromdeterminingthe locusin whichit speaks,is
avoidingthe groundon whichit couldfindsupport.It is a discourse
aboutdiscourses: but it is not tryingto findin thema hiddenlaw,a
concealedoriginthat it only remainsto free;nor is it tryingto es-
tablishby itself,takingitselfasa starting-point, the generaltheoryof
whichtheywouldbe the concretemodels.It is tryingto deploya dis-
persionthatcan neverbe reducedto a singlesystemof differences,a
scatteringthat is not relatedto absoluteaxesof reference;it is trying
to operatea decenteringthatleavesno privilegeto anycenter.(Fou-
3. ButlerclearlyacceptsFoucault's criticismof the ideaof repression.It is not as
thoughtherearedesireswhichthen cometo be repressed. Rather,it is only through
orprohibition,thatdesiresthencometo beseenasoriginalornatural.How-
ever,Foucault'srejectionof the ideaof repressionemphasizes the positivityof desire.
Unlike Butler,who regardsthe negationof desireas originary(suchthat desireis the

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92 Hypatia

effectof the prohibitive characterof power), Foucault sees desire as irreducibleto its
intersections with power.
4. According to Gatens, "The question that needs to be asked concerns not the
referent(the male body or the female body) but the conditions of referentialityfor the
utterance of meaningful statements about sexual relations (in their broadestsense)"
(1996, 85).
5. See: "A Critique of the Sex/Gender Distinction" (Gatens 1996). An earlier
version of this article was first published in "Beyond Marxism?Interventions after
Marx,"Intervention,no. 17 (1983).
6. This point is emphasizedin Space,TimeandPerversion,where Groszassertsthat
female sexuality cannot be reduced to representationand that the unrepresentableis
more than an effect of the referentiallogic of discourse:"Femalesexuality,lesbian de-
sire, is that which eludes and escapes, that which functions as an excess, a remainder
uncontained by and unrepresentablewithin the terms provided by a sexuality that
takes itself as straightforwardlybeing what it is" (Grosz 1995, 222).
7. In Grosz'srecent work on Bergsonthis idea of positive and infinite difference
is fleshed out in a theory of becoming. The future is not some ideal point addedon to
the being of the present;the present is just that active anticipation of a future, and so
the future is alwaysan event of quite specific becomings (Grosz 1999).


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