Part 2: French post-structuralism and the body

So, the second point that follows from all of this is that it is philosophically incoherent to think that deconstruction is anti-materialist. As is relatively well known, one of the other main deconstructive ideas is the critique of binary hierarchies. This argument goes like this. The construction of patriarchal Western subjectivity functions through a network of metaphysical oppositions. Masculine/Feminine, Father/Mother, Rational/Emotional, Mind/Body, Immaterial/ Material, Civilized/Primitive, Home/Foreign, Universal/Particular, One/Many, Eternal/Mutable, Immortal/Mortal, Sky/Earth etc. etc. etc. The construction of meaning, and subjectivity (we can think of this as the sign/subject-nexus), has traditionally focused on privileging one half of the binary – the masculine, and everything metaphysically associated with it – and devaluing/erasing the feminine half of the binary. And here the point about the necessity of relation becomes important. Because the argument is that all the binaries are interdependent, and hence, privileging one half is both a misrepresentation of reality, and has terrible political and social consequences, because it is implicated in the oppression and othering of those peoples – the female and people of colour – who are associated with it.

What I would take from this – and this is one of the main thoughts that underpins French post-structural feminism – is that the erasure of the feminine in its relation to the maternal, the material, and the body, is an axiomatic gesture of Western patriarchal thought. Luce Irigaray will, a few years after Derrida’s central texts were published, go on to call the separation of the mind from the body, and the elevation of the immaterial and rational over the material and embodied, “the foundational act of metaphysics.” (An Ethics of Sexual Difference) This all fits very well with the general tenets of second-wave feminism. Patriarchy is a system which functions by erasing, and simultaneously appropriating, the material and maternal labour of women. That is, at base, why it exists. Western philosophical thought – and the social structures it props up – is fundamentally motivated by the intent to withhold recognition from the central role of material/maternal labour, and by men’s desire to deny their dependencies on that labour even while it creates and supports their existence.[1] And the fact that on some more-or-less conscious level they know they’re doing this, and that they’re still going to be dependent on us (and our wombs and breasts and vaginas) no matter how much they deny it, is not incidentally related to why they’re often so frickin’ violent to us.

So, to recap. 1. Deconstruction is a theory which stipulates that any privileging of one pole of a binary hierarchy is a) metaphysically unsupportable and b) politically dodgy. It’s hence a) philosophically incoherent to think that deconstruction is anti-materialist or you can use it to support your anti-materialism, and b) given that ‘materiality’ is historically associated with the oppressed/erased/appropriated feminine pole of the binary, anti-materialism is politically sketchy af.


[1] The same is true of the labour and subjectivity of peoples of colour, and also of the relationship between ‘man’ and the natural world.

Part 3 >


  1. Exactly. Deconstruction always made more sense to me as a kind of phenomenology than anything else. :*

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