Ethics is a Gustics: Phenomenology, Gender & Oral Sex

Assuming Gender 2 (1):18-45 (2011)
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The 'traditional philosophical prestige' of seeing and touching, as analyzed by Emmanuel Levinas, comes to dominate the qualities of the other three senses. An investigation of the roles of these prestigious senses, along with the resultant privileged sense-organs of the hand and the eye, within phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and gender- or queer-theory suggests that the part of the prestige of touch will have been related to its function in the phenomenality of feeling. Yet the sense of taste seems to be as applicable, if not more so, to the phenomenal experience of selfhood based on feeling as theorized by Edmund Husserl and Jean-Luc Marion. The tongue, rather than the hand, is reconsidered as a sense-organ of touch in order to salvage the all but lost tang of the tangible. As such, the tongue and taste not only illuminate the shortcomings of binary gender theories based on either inner feeling or outer surface anatomy (or, either interior orifices or exterior appendages), but further discover a remarkable phenomenology of the body to be found in the writings of Hélène Cixous and Monique Wittig that moves beyond certain masculine tendencies lurking about the hand and observation (as described by Freud and Butler). The phenomenal experience of the other that yields either empathy (for Husserl), love/eros (for Marion), or hearing and heeding 'Thou shall not kill' (for Levinas) has much to learn from the orality of women's writing. The third body, as written by Cixous, can experience the self as selftaste (as considered by Derrida) and experiences the other as the taste of the other. It is, thereby, opened to a love or a justice (or an erotic justice) beyond the proclamation of Levinas that 'ethics is an optics' as well as any ethics as a mere haptics to be found in Husserl or Marion, where feeling seems always determined by the hand.

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Virgil W. Brower
Charles University, Prague


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