Interview with Fanny Söderbäck

We are very happy to relaunch our Interview Series with an interview with Fanny Söderbäck! 

fanny-söderbäck.pngFanny Söderbäck is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University. She holds a PhD in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research, and taught philosophy for several years at Siena College. Her book Revolutionary Time: On Time and Difference in Kristeva and Irigaray, which treats the role of time as it appears in the work of French feminist thinkers Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, is forthcoming with SUNY Press. Fanny has edited Feminist Readings of Antigone (SUNY Press, 2010) and is a co-editor of the volume Undutiful Daughters: New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). She is also the editor of a special issue of philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminism on the topic of birth. Her work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Journal of French and Francophone PhilosophyJournal of Speculative Philosophy, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Current research projects include a monograph on the Italian feminist thinker Adriana Cavarero, and a project that puts into conversation Julia Kristeva and Gloria Anzaldúa around issues of foreignness and strangeness. Fanny is the co-founder and co-director of the Kristeva Circle. 

ADWarmack: What role do you think the philosophy of sex and love play in your work on motherhood, Irigaray, and Kristeva?  How do you understand the operation of intimacy or the intimate in your work?  What do you understand the role of the erotic to be in your work and your interests? 

FS: You speak here of sex, love, intimacy, the intimate, and the erotic. For me, these all have registers of their own, and play different roles in my work. As a feminist, sex and sexuality have always been central fields of inquiry, although more so in my teaching than in what I write. Right now, I teach a course called “Issues in Sex and Gender,” and I told students on the first day of class that this would be a course on the relationship between sex and gender more so than a course on sexuality. But of course, this distinction collapses upon itself, and despite my initial remark, we have touched on issues having to do with sex and sexuality all along. How could we not? What would it mean to consider gender identity without reflecting on the myriad ways in which that’s always wrapped up in social norms and expectations having to do with desire, pleasure, sexual relations, and so on? How speak of masculinity without an analysis of heteronormativity and homophobia? How broach the current medical practice of “correctional surgeries” on intersex infants without naming the telos of hetero-penetration as that which, literally, shapes our views about what counts as a “normal” or “functional” penis or vagina (at the expense, for example, of clitoral pleasure)? 

Love, more broadly construed, plays a central role in my scholarly work, and as you put it, also has a role to play specifically in my work on motherhood, Irigaray, and Kristeva. I recently finished a piece on motherhood in Kristeva that reads her as attending very carefully to the paradoxes and ambiguities of so-called maternal love, such that it comes to include feelings of disgust and repulsion as integral to maternal passion. I have another article forthcoming that explores Irigaray’s attempts to develop a non-appropriating erotic model that moves beyond the all-too-common trope of a lover-subject who desires their beloved-object in a manner that reproduces all kinds of problematic and binary assumptions about activity and passivity, which in turn serve to reproduce binary gender roles and structures of subordination and submission. My reading of Irigaray takes place in conversation with Plato, and ultimately seeks to develop an intersubjective, non-appropriating ethics of irreducibility, grounded in love.  

As for intimacy, or the intimate, I think my work has always in some sense been concerned with our capacity – or incapacity – to establish proximity across difference, in non-reductive ways. This can manifest in the ways in which we make sense of pregnant embodiment as an experience that involves unique ways of navigating proximity and difference, in a way that fundamentally complicates and challenges commonly held views about identity, selfhood, relationality, and otherness. Or it can manifest in our attempts to build political coalitions across geographical distance and sexual, racial, and colonial difference. But I also think about this a lot from a pedagogical perspective, in terms of classroom dynamics. Intersubjectively as well as in relation to the texts we read, there is always a question of intimacy and trust – not of an erotic kind of course but in terms of making proximity across differences take place. How offer a close reading of a text that was written 2,000 years ago, in a culture different from our own? How create a space where students will have the trust (in me, in each other) to bring deeply personal experiences to bear on the texts that we are engaging? In my mind philosophical dialogue is best – as in most profound and most radical – when it comes from a place of intimacy. 

ADWarmack: What projects are you working on now?  How might time play a role in philosophies of sex and love (or the philosophy of sex and love)? 

FS: In my forthcoming book on revolutionary time – which examines the role of temporality in the works of Kristeva and Irigaray – I offer an analysis of the present that frames Irigaray’s critique of the metaphysics of presence through an appeal to love understood as co-presence. As much as concepts such as “Being” and “Presence” are fraught in a host of ways – and especially so for marginalized folks in cisheteropatriarchal culture – I am still interested in the question of what it means to be-with in a manner that allows for being-present-with. Especially erotic relations are so burdened with appropriative logics that end up objectifying the other. That’s why, for Irigaray, even a seemingly affirmative expression such as “I love you” in fact runs the risk of repeating sexist-capitalist-colonial tendencies to reduce the other to an object; and that’s also why desire so easily gets confused with ownership. To suggest, like Irigaray does, that we instead say “I love to you” is an attempt to seek out the possibility for erotic relations between subjects, whose co-presence or becoming-with are marked by indeterminacy, proximity in difference, and attention to the irreducible mystery of those we love (that they must remain strangers). In praxis, this is extremely hard, because we are so habituated to seek identification through appropriation, to eliminate the distance or difference between us and devouring what we desire. I struggle a lot with this in relation to the people I love. How to carve out an asymptotic path of approximation rather than a teleological project of identification? Those are questions that keep me up at night… 

Moving forward, I am articulating a project that seeks to read Kristeva and Anzaldúa together around issues of foreignness and strangeness. And I am just starting a new book project on Cavarero’s philosophy of singularity. Both the strange and the singular are, for me, conditions of possibility for intimacy. So, while neither of these projects are explicitly or primarily about love or sex, I guess in some sense they might be construed as such. 

ADWarmack: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

FS: I have the word LOVE in Hebrew (AHAVA) tattooed on my shoulder. It’s been with me since I was fourteen. And I am currently engaging in a very peculiar form of loving relation, namely pregnancy. There is something intensely strange about feeling so much love towards and intimacy with someone who you have yet to actually meet. 

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