Stella Sandford – ‘Sex’

Sandford considers ‘sex’ to be somewhat of a wild card in the set of concepts, the founding instance of which is in Le Deuxieme Sexe.  Afterwards this concept crosses the channel, and at this point we have to ask if ‘sexe’ translates as ‘sex’, and what do we do with the English interloper ‘gender’.

Stoller proposed a theory of ‘gender’, which was adopted by feminists because of its immediate political advantage.  This also had echoes of Wollstonecraft and Mill – the falsity of the proposition that state of woman is determined by nature.

When the English language operates, sex operates in opposition to gender.  For the French, and the different linguistic background, ‘sexe’ is not ‘sex’.  ‘Sexe’ has the connotation of la vie sexuelle, difference sexuelle, la difference des sexes; none of which exactly equate with gender.

In the Dictionary of Untranslatables, Fraise puns that ‘sexe’ is a ‘cache-sexe’ (lit., hides sex, but also a colloquial term for a g-string!)

‘Sexualité’ is to do with drives, pulsionelle, phantasmatic; neither physiological nor psychological.  There is an inability to think sex.  This may lead the philosophical concept of sex to become cut off from everyday usage.

To return to The Second Sex, Beauvoir doesn’t theorise sex so much as define it as the site of a problem.  The book deals with man and woman, more than male and female – which is to say, it is an existential problem.  Not biologically, but existentially determined (which shows that a ‘sex’ assumption operated in French thought).

‘Sexe’ has no purely descriptive function, it is empircally inadequate.  The duality of it is in fact normative, prescriptive.

Sociological concepts of sex – Delphi, social relations in groups, material and ideological; Wittig, the political concept doesn’t overwrite the natural.

Any construction of a concept of sex must acknowledge social reality.  A single, transdisciplinary concept of sex would be anamorphic; containing the popular concept and its criticism.

The failure of Butler’s Gender Trouble was its dismissal of sex.  The source of this was a mistaken belief that the natural basis couldn’t be explained coupled with an inappropriate epistemological belief sex couldn’t be ‘known’ (in the sense of a Kantian thing-in-itself).

The discourse of sex has a transcendental subreption: substituting an illusion (which doesn’t refer to anything) for a real structure.  This can be understood in the sense of a ‘regulative idea’.

The possibility of a transdisciplinary concept of sex is already a homology – not a dispute to be settled, but part of the definition (a reflexive structure).

Guillaume Collett – ‘objet a’

Collett discusses objet a in two contexts – in the notion of the ‘gaze’ (from Lacan’s Seminar XI and XIII), and in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense.

The concept of objet a has an asymmetric transdisciplinarity, in that it imports its structure to the contexts it operates in.  It connects subject to structure.

In Lacan subject is constituted by structure, whereas for Deleuze it’s a self-causing univocity.

For Lacan, objet a comes to take the place of the phallus in his earlier work.  The phallus belongs to language, whereas objet a is a subjective object.  It inject subject into structure (and this structure is not opposed to physical reality).  In fact, it makes the real into reality; phallus was a point of lack, whereas objet a injects excess.  2 objects: 1. as cause and 2. as effect (phallus).  This cycle generates spatial reality, as you are lured and then rejected into space; it extends Cartesian space.  Its topological structure causes the non-extensive to become extensive through the Other’s gaze, as an included-exclusion.

The asymmetric transdisciplinarity operates in art history, in dialogue with Foucault, in Ruger’s ideas (space is immanently unified, then self-consciousness becomes excluded as a phallic stain and acts as a Kantian schematism).

Could structure generate space without a subject?  No, only humans have this understanding of space.  For most animals, space is composed by point-to-point parallel planes, organised by ‘bijection’.  Space is structure (Seminar XIII).

There is a semi-independent space on the part of the other (even though subject is constituted by space) – the figure-plane horizon depends on perspective, but it is the big Other’s gaze that structures it.  [There were diagrams from Seminars XI and XIII to guide this part of the talk]

For Foucault, structure is a structure of representation.  For Lacan, it’s ahistorical, an ahistorical subject of a drive.  Lacan uses various strategies throughout his work to distance subject from structure – linguistics, logic and topology, maths (knots).  As he progresses, abandons structure towards a theory of the subject.

In Deleuze’s Difference and Reptition and Logic of Sense the themes are genesis and structure, and laws of displacement (replacing univocity for the Cartesian subject).  In this schema 1. cause = nonsense and 2. effect = the event.

Nonsense is word = x to object = x (Kantian transcendental object).  Nonsense is only nonsensical when it becomes unified under the notion.

Libidinal entities are singularities – Deleuze’s theory never returns to the phenomenological subject.  Phantasms suture the acts of singularities on aeonic surfaces.  Sense = jouissance (as meaning travels in one direction).   Structure is naturally generated, the language of the stoics and physics.

Peter Osborne remark:  Psychoanalysis isn’t a discipline per se, it’s the science of a subject, not an object-domain.


The conference is set, appropriately enough, in the ruins of the Institut Francais (currently undergoing a refurbishment to commemorate their centenary). I must begin with a criticism, I’m afraid – no coffee was allowed in the auditorium. What kind of philosophy conference does not allow coffee in the auditorium?!
Peter Osborne opened the conference with an explanation of the more mysterious half of the conference title, ‘Transdisciplinarity in French Thought 1945-Present’. The key references were noted to be post-’68 French thought (for Eric Alliez) and the German critical tradition (for Osborne himself), and these references have a twofold structure: the ‘bad’ concept of transdisciplinarity (in its policy-bureaucratic incarnation) and the ‘good’ concept of anti-disciplinarity, the political-theoretical, engagement. So far, still quite mysterious, but it’s interesting to track how the different speakers incorporate the concept into their papers.
The first speaker is Etienne Balibar on Structure. His understanding of the threads between structuralism and transdisciplinarity is that they are a result of the undermining, delegitimizing impulse of structuralism and transdisciplinarity (and that, in some way, structuralism is always already post-strcutural). As transgender deconstructs the gender, so transdisciplinarity deconstructs the discipline. His talk is to be organized around what he terms ‘points of heresy’, to borrow Foucault’s terminology from Mots et Choses. He tips his hat to Jean-Claude Milner’s Le Structuraliste Methode et Subversion des Sciences Sociale for proposing this subversive, autodestructive conception of structuralism.
Structuralism is considered historically as the concept that allowed a ‘third way’ out of dichotomies, e.g. reductionism vs hermeneutics, or subjectivism vs objectivism. This stems from a primacy of object over method, of formations always-already considered as relational, allowing for an immanent theorizing. Structure is, then, the formal structure of a concrete system (functioning if not entirely functional).
The background to the development of structuralism were advances in mathematics (Hilbert) as can be seen in the heir to structuralism’s ontological and epistemological problems, Alain Badiou. The mode of inheritance of these problems revolves around whether the terms (or individuals) can be considered as concretion of structures, or should they be considered with a residual element (Badiou) or a line of escape (Deleuze) taken into account as disruptive element.
This anti-reductionism is inspired by previous epistemological breaks – for instance natural/human; a species of thought that can cross these boundaries. Galileo is the classic example of a theory. It also includes a ‘literalisation’ – primacy of the letter. The typical program of structuralism is to find a necessary explanation, in the form of an enlarged calculus.
Balibar insists that none of these characteristics could be carried on harmoniously – permanent splitting, dilemmas. It recognizes that there are at least two competing ways of realizing, and endless internal division.
Regading structures and subjectivation, the fundamental shift is from a constitutive to a constituted subject, and from there from subjection to subjectivation (a relative autonomy).
Is this movement disruptive? In Deleuze’s 1967 essay, How Do We Recognise Structuralism? we are urged us to look at the lack or defect of structures rather than looking on them as complete. They are both real and inconsistent, and no longer to be associated with the Kantian empirical-transcendental schematization. The key point of break is in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, where the subject ceases to be inhabited by the universal.
Two forms of structuralism were Althusser, with his epistemological break, and Levi-Strauss with his view from afar – both a distantiation from the obvious and a disruption of the hermeneutic circle. Alterity becomes a prerequisite of knowing (in the mode of conflict from Althusser, and decentring of the observer for Levi-Strauss). Structuralism deals with how to speak from the place of the other (and the symbolic violence this entails). Balibar at this point tips his hat to Patrice Maniglier’s writing in Les Temps Modernes about Levi-Strauss.
Balibar understands structuralism as (1) a movement, in the sense of an adventure – deconstructing its own prerequisites, and (2) a new ‘French’ episode in controvery of content of philosophical anthropology, and in this a move away from the Kantian background of Heidegger and Cassirer.
In being a philosophy it is an anti-philosophy, which is to say it considers its problems immanently (the plane of immanence, consciousness appearing as a surface effect); ‘there’s no such thing as a meta-language’ and ‘theory will disappear in its effects’.
Balibar’s next contention is that there’s no such thing as poststructuralism, as structuralism always-already contained a post-structural move, and the structuralist question continues under other names. Structuralism is concerned with the limit idea of what deconstructs it – the line of flight, the point of impossibility, points where it becomes a disjunction rather than a conjunction, oscillating between lack and excess.
Levi-Strauss and Althusser are named by Balibar as the key figures of two kinds of structuralism (L-S as formalisation, Althusser as a heroic attempt of crossing border into a scientific but not quite positivist nondialectical theory of production).
Balibar considers the events of ’68 to be evidence of a ‘death drive’ of structuralism, pushing the subjectivities of the protagonists of structuralism towards the abyss. This is evident in Lacan’s descent into strings of puns towards his final collapse.
Structuralism contains a latent ontology which makes language (as sign) into the ultimate fabric of the real.
To return to Milner, certain constitution of disciplines is a given. This is because certain academic structures are the only possible structures for the development of science. Against this, Balibar insists that tendencies and countertendencies which are intrinsically division demonstrated hyperbolic extension always already implied in arbitrary disciplinary boundaries. The only discipline that corresponds to the structuralist view is critical anthropology.
[in response to a question] Structure is, precisely, not a representation. Structure is real (and thus incomplete).

I am studying the artwork as commodity at university at the moment as part of a module on ‘Commodification and Subjectivation’, but maddeningly I forgot about this one: ‘A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter’ by Caleb Larsen, which is fairly interesting to contemplate with regard to commodity and subject. It’s a work which constantly attempts to sell itself.

It’s interesting to try to identify a subject at work here (artist-creator? the capitalist system? the object itself?) but strictly it’s all of the above, putting me in mind of Deleuze on structuralism: “Structuralism is not at all a form of thought that suppresses the subject, but one that breaks it up and distributes it systematically, that contests the identity of the subject, that dissipates it and makes it shift from place to place, and always nomad subject, made of individuations, but impersonal ones, or of singularities, but pre-individual ones. This is the sense in which Foucalt speaks of “dispersion”; and Levi-Strauss can only define a subjective agency depending on the Object conditions under which the system of truth become convertible and, thus, “simultaneously receivable to several different subjects.”” (How Do We Recognise Structuralism?, 1967)