Rowman and Littlefield International

Heidegger’s Gods: An Ecofeminist Perspective by Susanne Claxton


Published on Wednesday 24 May 2017 by Susanne Claxton, author of Heidegger’s Gods: An Ecofeminist Perspective

Excerpt from Chapter 5, Section 3 of Heidegger’s Gods: An Ecofeminist Perspective, a highly original new book that highlights the importance and significance of Heidegger's engagement with the Greeks, the ways in which his views are commensurate with ecofeminism, and the insights that a study of that intersection provides for both the diagnoses of our world’s ills and possible curative prescriptions.

“[F]or Agamben, homo sacer is a state of exception due to the rule’s suspension of itself in regards to him, due to the withdrawal of protection by the sovereign, due to being abandoned by the ruling power.  Homo sacer thus can neither be sacrificed nor murdered, but he may be killed with impunity.  The establishing of these distinctions is the founding of sovereign power for Agamben . . .

So extreme is the powerlessness of the position of the homo sacer that any and every man acts as sovereign in relation to him.  In terms of the application of these ideas to Lilith, she is undoubtedly the homo sacer. Lilith is exiled, under ban, abandoned, and cast out.  The sovereign masculine first establishes itself as the rule, as a sovereign power, by excluding Lilith, by excluding what she represents.  But, as Agamben would stress, she is included in his exercise of power by being excluded.  Having thus established Lilith as a  state of exception, the sovereign masculine, from within this “zone of indistinction,” makes the further distinction between the two realms in which masculine sovereign power rules, the two realms included in his domain: the realm represented by Eve (nature/zoē ) and the realm represented by Adam (culture/bios).  The masculine is to Lilith as the sovereign is to homo sacer.  And while Adam represents in embodied form the masculine itself, it is the ultimate masculine, God, who is behind it all, the supreme sovereign masculine.  God, it may be argued, is nothing more than the projection of sovereign masculine power onto a supposed transcendent reality.  Of course, this ties in with ecofeminism’s concern regarding the rise of patriarchal religion and its rejection of immanent divinity in favor of a merely transcendent divinity understood as masculine.  However, because there is a need for and the necessity of a woman, of the feminine, the realm of zoē is established and the aspect of the feminine as represented by Eve is consigned thereto . . .

Lilith, in all her non-rationality, is wild sexuality, untamed, like nature itself, unpredictable, and therefore threatening. The aspect of the feminine represented by Lilith is, in its essence, and has been described as, beyond comprehension or subordination to reason. Such is the very essence of the affects of desire and lust. They defy reason, do not submit to it, and as such, they are attributed to Lilith. This, it may be argued, is precisely why she is perceived as so dangerous. Thus, the masculine establishes itself as sovereign in relation to the feminine as represented by Eve by abandoning, casting out, and rendering as a state of exception that aspect of the feminine represented by Lilith. My own contention, however, is that Lilith, as an aspect of the feminine, is more correctly understood as actually representative not of woman alone, but of that aspect of embodied human existence that is  non-rational human sexuality. The masculine seeks not only to distance itself from nature without, but from nature within . . .

For Agamben, homo sacer is the hinge on which each of the two spheres are articulated; it is the threshold at which the two spheres are joined. Likewise, the aspect of the feminine that is represented by Lilith, which I contend is best understood simply as the non-rational nature of human sexuality, indeed does serve that same function. Lilith, like homo sacer, is the hinge on which the two distinct spheres understood as represented by Adam and Eve are articulated. Eve, like zoē, represents reproductive or biological life, that which is necessary to the continuation of the species. Eve represents the realm of “nature,” the irrational aspect of life of the species whose purpose and place is to be distinguished from, but nonetheless made subject to, Adam, Adam being he who represents and exemplifies bios or life in the polis or the realm of “culture,” that is, rational life with a telos more fitting his superior nature and power. Lilith, in being abandoned and rendered a state of exception, acts as the hinge from which each of the other two is articulated via the rule of sovereign masculine power . . .

Lilith, as the aspect of the feminine that represents human sexuality in all its non- rationality, is abandoned to the (non)status of the “nonrelational.” However, a relationship of power is maintained with Lilith by the sovereign masculine in all its rationality, as represented by Adam, by delivering Lilith over to her own separateness. Lilith is consigned to the mercy of the one who abandons her. Like Agamben's homo sacer and the sovereign, the simultaneous attraction and repulsion ties together this aspect of the feminine represented by Lilith and the sovereign masculine as represented by Adam. The contemporary phenomenon of slut-shaming is a perfect example of “the ban” in action. While patriarchal capitalist culture has created and maintains the sexual objectification and commodification of women’s flesh and sexuality, exploiting and profiting from them at every turn, that same culture puts under “ban” any woman who dares to express her sexuality in a way that is not sanctioned by sovereign masculine power, that is, either as a “proper” woman operating in the realm of Eve in ways sanctioned by the sovereign masculine or as a sexual object operating as such in the realm of Adam in ways also sanctioned by the sovereign masculine. And here is insight into the virgin/whore dichotomy that pervades too much of the thinking regarding women within the paradigm that is patriarchy. That other realm that would be woman as neither or both, the realm that would be woman freely expressing her own non-rational sexual nature in ways she herself deems fitting, is precisely what has been abandoned and rendered the state of exception by the sovereign masculine.”