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Reclaiming the Secret of Love

Feminism, Imagination and Sexual Difference

Katherine Zappone and Anne Louise Gilligan

This book presents a bold hypothesis: the social transformation at the heart of feminist theory will be concretised only when women, and men, use their imaginations to empower new ways of being in and understanding our world. Feminist theory and the history of the philosophy of the imagination are used as resources to outline how the practice of «sexual difference» as an ontological vocation, and its application to religious language, can be a call to live love and mutual relations in a new way. Poetry, art, cultural and literary works are key resources too.

Gilligan invites the reader to apply this theory, history and art to their own unfolding gender identities through an imagination no longer hindered by patriarchal characteristics and restrictions. She offers a special focus on the becoming of female subjectivity. She knew that if people, especially, though not only, women, image the possible for themselves and our world, through doing the hard work of becoming subject, not object of any other, such agency would necessarily change even the most intransigent social, economic and cultural problems to shift violence towards peace, lies towards truth, poverty and inequality towards the flourishing of every one. She bore witness to this in her own life, with others.

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Chapter One Imagining Female Difference


As each new wave of feminism washes in over the shores of time, the critical question remains: whose image and naming of reality will prevail? Will this present wave simply return to the sea of patriarchy, leaving little changed, or will it alter the coastline of history forever, finally corroding patriarchal representation? The hoped-for permanent transformation from a reality that subjugates women, to a social and cultural order that hails women’s different and inherent value, rests with the feminist imagination: an imagination which opens up entirely novel ways of imaging humanity and divinity.

There are two critical and urgent tasks for the feminist imagination with regard to an understanding of being human. First, it must expose the false imagery of the past. Towards this end, I demonstrate in this chapter how the mainstay of male domination is simply a construct of the male imagination. I outline how the ‘cultural givens’ of male superiority, male normativity and male subjectivity, are not preordained truths but rather gender constructs rooted in an imagination which has been preoccupied with sameness, oneness and fixity. It is essential for the feminist imagination to prise open cultural values in which the assertion of some humans is dependent on the subordination and suppression of others. The time is ripe to break with ‘the economy of the same’ and allow difference, especially women’s difference, to shimmer forth.

The second, and far more difficult undertaking, is to explore the question of how women can move from...

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