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Framing sexual difference: Elizabeth Grosz’s work on Deleuze, Darwin and feminism

posted on 2023-05-24, 05:40 authored by Erin Hortle, Hannah StarkHannah Stark
Elizabeth Grosz is arguably one of the most important feminist philosophers of the early twenty-first century. 1 Her exuberant work has offered a deep and sustained consideration of space, time and bodies in relation to sexuality and sexual difference. In Grosz's recent publications she has taken up the work of Charles Darwin which contains a set of philosophical tools for revitalising the topics with which she had previously been concerned. Two thinkers are foundational to Grosz's Darwinian project: Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray. These three very different thinkers - Darwin, Deleuze, Irigaray - sit in Grosz's work like the sides of a triangle, each positioned so that they hold the others in place. As a range of commentators have suggested, Grosz uses Darwin to negotiate the divide between Deleuze's ontology of pure difference and Irigaray's ethics of sexual difference (Pulkkinen 2017; Parisi 2010; Weinstein 2010). For Grosz, as for Irigaray, sexual difference is a foundational difference both philosophically and materially. Their projects are commensurate in that they both assert that thinking sexual difference is politically important for countering a neutral (masculine) model of the body with the specificity of sexually different morphologies. However, this is not to say that their theorisations of the generative capacities of embodied sexual difference are entirely the same. In Becoming Undone, Grosz writes that life 'is the elaboration of at least two lines of development, two morphologies, two types of body: a divergent development that brings with it endless variation and endless difference' (2011: 3). Bringing Deleuze and Irigaray together in a feminist evolutionary project is not a simple matter, for as Grosz herself acknowledges, Deleuze and Irigaray 'generate a tension, their concepts do not fit together well' (2008: x). For Deleuze, difference is the prior ontological condition which sits behind the appearance of any organism, identity or category. This is the pure difference that Deleuze describes as 'a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences' (2001: 50), the difference that can never be reduced to 'identity, opposition, analogy and resemblance' (29). This is difference in and of itself, and which exists as pure positivity. As Pulkkinen writes, 'if sexual difference is a difference that is irreducible, precisely on an ontological level, then the Deleuzian ontology of constant flow of differences and identities into others seems to meet a limit, a point where the foundational, irreducible difference of masculinity and femininity does not flow' (2017: 283). In emphasising the irreducible centrality of sexual difference to lrigaray's work, Pulkkinen points to its incommensurability with the flux of difference on which Deleuze's ontology is founded. With this in mind, why would Grosz turn to Deleuze as one of her major influences for a feminist evolutionary project which situates sexual difference as the primary difference for ontology and for philosophy?


Publication title

Deleuze and Evolutionary Theory


MJ Bennett and TS Posteraro






School of Humanities


Edinburgh University Press

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Copyright 2019 The Authors

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Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies

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