Copula: The Logic of the Sexual Relation

Hypatia 15 (2):100-114 (2000)
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This paper argues that the slogans “A Woman's Right to Choose” and “The Personal is the Political” typify different traditions within feminist thinking; one emphasizing rights and equality, the other the unconscious and the personal. The author responds to both traditions by bringing together mind and body, and reason and emotion, via the figure of the copula. The copula expresses an alternative model of identity which indicates that value can be produced only in relation.Let us say that the problem is violence. At its most naive: how can the sexual relation, which is supposedly full of love, be violent?I mean the sexual relation in its resonances and ambiguity—to indicate the relation between the sexes, and the relation between lovers. In no way can the relation be confined to love, either heterosexual or homosexual, since it is often a contest. It cannot be reduced solely to a social relation, because in one of its aspects it addresses the most intimate subjectivity.In a certain feminist lifestyle advocacy, those women who are in same sex relations avoid sexual violence by avoiding men, and those who are in heterosexual relationships strive to find the “right kind”—that is, relationships of respectful and supportive love—rejecting all signs of aggression, from sexist disparagement and emotional cruelty to sexual humiliation and physical assault, as “abuse.”Strangely, this dichotomy does not explain the proximity of passion and aggression, whether in love between men and women or in same-sex relationships between feminist women. As rational counsel, it resists the important sense in which the erotic is, and is even valued as, the excess of the rational. And as an analysis of the oppression of women it defeats itself, for to insist on masculinity as violence itself, and/or on the sexual relation as properly governed by reason, seems to miss the point of both love and feminism.Stranger still, feminisms, which set out to address and redress the oppression of women, have become rivalrous themselves. Are these aggressions a legacy of the intellectual world they must take place in. Have we overlooked an aspect of the relation between sisters? Feminism has not addressed the question of aggression in feminism as anything more than contamination.Perhaps, after all, the thing that feminism has not yet successfully addressed is love. The “battle between the sexes” has not rendered the ambivalence of the heterosexual relation. As a species of theory, feminism has relished the rigor of distinction and has not found it easy to tolerate the proximity of opposites.And yet, in evoking the body, some feminisms approach closer to this difficulty. It remains to take up the relation between the body and the concept more thoroughly, in order to find out whether sexual difference could ever be philosophical.



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