The De(con)struction of Women
One at least has to recognize that positing woman as a figure of displacement risks, in its effects, continually displacing real material women. (Fuss 1989, 14)
What I wish to suggest here, very briefly, is that post-structuralist deconstruction of the sign “woman” once more reproduces and continues the “western” (Pauline) tradition of attack on real identities, on difference. In other words, once more here I would suggest that women and Jews are analogous terms vis-à-vis the dominant discourse. The political claim about post-structuralism is not new; what is new is only the suggestion that post-structuralism here continues—as opposed to opposing—the discourse that it seeks to disrupt. For some post-structuralists, it seems, “Woman” has become a sign in almost strict analogy to the way that “jew” has become a sign for Lyotard and Nancy. Thus Diana Fuss remarks of Lacan, “Of real material women…Lacan has nothing to say, readily admits his knowing ignorance. But of ‘woman’ as sign Lacan has everything to say (especially since women, as we shall see, cannot say ‘it’ themselves)” (Fuss 1989, 11). “Woman” is, for Lacan, the being who (whether male or female in body) has ecstatically transcended—gone beyond—the phallus and attained the status of “Woman.” It seems that Lacan ultimately reinscribes here the myth of the primal androgyne, however—and this is not to be ignored—inscribing the androgyne as a female and not a male one. We still end up with no male and female in Christ—quite precisely in Christ; Saint Theresa is, after all, Lacan's ideal type of one who has gone beyond the phallus.
Fuss has thus shown how central is the distinction between penis and phallus for Lacan's system (11). I speculatively suggest that the precise source of the scandal of circumcision in western culture lies in its threat to the idealization of the phallus, to its conversion from biological organ to logos. Because of circumcision, the flesh cannot become Word. The insistence on a physical cutting interrupts the dematerialization of the penis and thus of its semiotic transformation into phallos and logos. And paradoxically we find this brought out even at the very site of the theoretical attack on this structure, Derridean post-structuralism. As Barbara Johnson has written:
The letter, says Lacan, cannot be divided: “But if it is first of all on the materiality of the signifier that we have insisted, that materiality is odd [singulière] in many ways, the first of which is not to admit partition.” This indivisibility, says Derrida, is odd indeed, but becomes comprehensible if it is seen as an idealization of the phallus, whose integrity is necessary for the edification of the entire psychoanalytical system. With the phallus safely idealized and located in the voice, the so-called signifier acquires the “unique, living, non-mutilable integrity [emphasis added, DB]” of the self-present spoken word, unequivocally pinned down to and by the signified. “Had the phallus been per(mal)-chance divisible or reduced to the status of a partial object, the whole edification would have crumbled down, and this is what has to be avoided at all cost.” (Johnson 1987, 225)
But the penis, of course, is divisible. In circumcision it is divided. It is striking to me that the penis has been so spiritualized in European tradition that even when its Lacanian idealization is being opposed by a hypothetical, Derridean mutilable, divisible phallus, the very mutilation of the penis which is at the center of the tradition of the Jewish Other is not mentioned. For Derrida, standing in antithesis to Lacan, even castration remains allegorized. “The phallus, thanks to castration, always remains in its place, in the transcendental topology…In castration, the phallus is indivisible, and therefore indestructible” (Derrida 1987, 185, 194–95). This rather invites speculation on the legend [?] of Origen's castration and on the reason why in some cultural contexts circumcision is identified with castration and in others as its very opposite. Once the signifier no longer possesses a “non-mutilable integrity,” then the “idealization of the phallus” is no longer possible. I would argue that this idealization is necessary not only for the edification of the psychoanalytic system but for any logocentric (allegoretical) system. But since it is precisely this transformation that allows for the putative de-essentialization of “Woman” in Lacan's (and ultimately even in Derrida's) thinking, we see once more the sources of this strange and persistent association of Jews and women in western culture. Women in their bodies and Jewish (males) in their altered ones keep reminding “us” that the phallus is after all (only) a penis, and the logos is after all (only) some body's utterance. According to midrash, even the Torah is given in the speech of human beings.