Men and Women in the Garden of Delight
Political theorizations of the female other have emphasized the construction of sexual difference in terms of power relations. To inhabit the role of the feminine is, politically speaking, to inhabit the lesser, the inferior role. A rethinking of the other in the ethical terms outlined in the preceding chapter makes it possible to see difference in “other” ways. When the question is not power over the other but response to the other, when the goal is not individual achievement but social bond, when the ultimate aim is transcendence rather than immanent eminence, the other becomes a privileged position from the point of view of the same-not absorbable into the identity of the same. The other awakens one to awareness of obligation. Response is an opening to the other’s demand for recognition of the very difference that defines otherness. To respond to the other is not to transfer power, to capitulate, to lose some sort of contest. It cannot be thus because the response is momentary, transient, and equivocal. The same returns to himself or herself, different for the encounter, but not fully possessed of or by the other. The physical union between lovers who retain their separate identities in the act of love is a privileged version of this ethical relation. Heterosexual lovers who embody difference biologically are in some ways the best representatives of the ethical relationship. Cultural differences that have been grafted onto the biological beings of men and women, of course, make discussing heterosexual lovers in ethical terms fraught with problems. Yet, as these are just more acute versions of the same difficulty we encounter in separating the notion of power politics from ethical relation in any encounter between two beings, the heterosexual couple remains an important site for the exploration of ethical questions.