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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 Four Towards a Feminist Imagination


Could we not say by anticipation that imagination is the emergence of conceptual meaning through the interplay between sameness and difference?

– Paul Ricoeur1

One of my foundational propositions is this: if the insights of feminism related to subjectivity, language and divinity are to mould a practice radical enough to change our world, imagination is the key. Imagination is the faculty which enables us to see the world in a new way; it is also the faculty which motivates us to act for the promise of the possible.

So it is time we asked – what is imagination? How can we articulate an integrated philosophy of its nature and activity? At the same time we must consider – how is our understanding of this faculty of the human person affected by the insights of feminism? In order to answer these questions, I examine first how imagination has been understood in the past. I argue that it is important to start by pointing to the reality of the ‘pre-historic’ imagination. There are significant clues during this period for our contemporary concerns. Second, I offer a feminist analysis of the philosophical history of imagination. I show how the philosophy of imagination – even as developed within a patriarchal framework of reality – contains elements that can be retrieved and brought forward in reshaping what imagination could be, namely, an imagination that shapes our being as well as our knowing. Third, I turn to the unfolding of the female imaginaire, as developed...

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