A Matter of Distance: Beauvoir and Irigaray 13 – 15 May 2011 Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht


Over the past decade, feminist theory has evinced an increasing commitment to the radical immanence of philosophical inquiry, as well as finding non-reductive approaches to difference. These commitments, at least in part, have incited a shift away from transcendental inquiry, including phenomenology, toward materialist philosophies. In its most incisive articulation, then, the materialist turn ostensibly calls into question the possibility for feminism to remain within the horizon of phenomenology.

This conference attempts to bring the stakes of this debate into further articulation through consideration of the work of Simone de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray. This may initially appear to be an unlikely strategy, however, given the well-known distance between Beauvoir and Irigaray. Indeed, they are two thinkers who are seldom thought together, despite the overlaps and fruitful differences existing between them. At least in part, this omission is due to their surprising though well-known mutual disinterest in pursuing a philosophical discussion. Irigaray begins Je, Tu, Nous (1990) by offering an explanation of her failed dialogue with Beauvoir. What we take to be instructive in her discussion is the question that she raises, namely: “What can we make, then, of this distance kept between two women who could, indeed should, have worked together?” By asking what can be made of this distance, Irigaray implicitly directs us toward the investigation of the matter of the distance between these two thinkers, thereby provoking two questions: In what way has this distance mattered for contemporary feminist thought? How or in what sense do questions of mat(t)er and materiality emerge as the site of this distance?

Crucially, these two questions intersect. Recent scholarship surrounding their individual projects has tended to emphasize Beauvoir’s commitments to phenomenology and Irigaray’s affinity with the materialist philosophies. Were the efforts of this scholarship to be brought into dialogue, however, it would be possible to consider whether the debate between phenomenological and materialist feminisms is itself tacitly staged in the competing projects of these two prominent feminists. Yet, only in returning to the matter of their distance could we begin to elucidate the surprising commonalities between them. Minimally, then, this conference seeks to emphasize the urgency of a return to and renewed consideration of their work in the face of this debate, a consideration that would necessarily move beyond a facile, oppositional juxtapositioning of their projects.

Plenary Speakers

Alia Al-Saji, Debra Bergoffen, Penelope Deutscher, Sara Heinamäa, Dorothea Olkowski

Conference Organizers

Emily Parker (eparker@scu.edu), Santa Clara University, Santa Clara (US), Anne van Leeuwen (vanla091@newschool.edu), Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (NL)

More information: www.janvaneyck.nl