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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 Two The Social Analysis of Language: Imagining a New Symbolic


That it is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but the images of the past embodied in language.

Brian Friel1

Imagination is the hinge which opens the possibility for the critical recomposition of women’s individual and shared experiences. However, as women delve to explore the caverns of their different experiences, a common problem surfaces, namely, the failure of male language to encode and express female subjectivity. It becomes quickly evident that if the metamorphosis of consciousness which occurs through the acceptance of sexual difference is to be fully realised, then we must undertake a systematic and intentional social analysis, especially in relation to language. The acknowledgement of sexual difference has the potential to alter radically the social order. This is only possible, however, if the social structure of language breaks from its monoreality of the male imagination and encompasses the words born of the experience of femaleness and difference. This requires an analysis undertaken from a feminist perspective that will open the way for systemic change by exposing the interlacing of structures and institutions which continue to oppress women. In other words, individual awareness of monologic and monolanguage must deliberately move from the private to the public sphere and confront the different structures, systems, policies and issues ←29 | 30→which continue to keep women bound. Systematic social analysis will heighten awareness about the social context of our lives and will blatantly demonstrate the need for radical social change.


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