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36 Id. at 111“13. See also id. at 181, quoting Thomas McCarthy: “[H]ow is tolerance of difference
to be combined with the requirements of living together under common norms?”; and id. at 133:
“. . . justice is the refusal to accept as valid the system™s own attempts at ˜deparadoxicalization™.”
III. The Renewal of Gender 97

all, and indeterminate to the extent that it is subject to deconstruction, with all
the consequences that determinacy and indeterminacy entail.
At the heart of Cornell™s dilemma is the dif¬culty, indeed, the impossibility, of
providing an account of the feminine that is in every respect at once determinate
and indeterminate, in the hope of avoiding, on the one hand, the limitations
imposed by determinacy and, on the other hand, the anarchy and lack of meaning
that would ¬‚ow from indeterminacy. This dif¬culty arises from the fact that the
very existence of an image of the feminine, and the understanding of language
and culture upon which it depends, presupposes that whatever that image might
come to mean in the future, at any given moment its meaning and content
are determinate in some respects “ those that the image describes, directly or
indirectly “ and indeterminate in others “ those that the image excludes. Because
Cornell accepts this presupposition, as indeed she must, she is forced to treat her
image of the feminine as determinate and indeterminate in separate dimensions,
with the consequence that the image as she describes it is determinate in all
those respects in which it is not subject to deconstruction and indeterminate
in all other respects, and so suffers from the limitations of both determinacy
and indeterminacy, rather than transcending each in some new understanding of
existence. This bare assertion requires a good deal of explanation and support,
and in order to provide that it will be necessary to review each of Cornell™s
suggested resolutions to her dilemma in somewhat more detail.
a. Self-Effacing Feminism. The ¬rst possible resolution to the dilemma that
Cornell calls the challenge of the double bind is to understand the ethical relation
as requiring us to pursue certain themes, such as the image of the feminine, the
status and content of which we simultaneously dissolve through continuous
transformation. She calls this process, after Derrida, the double gesture. Thus
deconstruction as Cornell interprets it takes place within the framework of
themes, the basic outlines of which are not themselves subject to deconstruction.
In particular, a deconstructed approach to our existence as human subjects, one
that is capable of displacing the social and psychological reality that Lacan
describes, can and must take place, Cornell argues, within the framework of
an image of the feminine. It is in this respect that she parts company with
interpretations of deconstruction and its application to feminism, such as certain
of readings of Derrida, which refuse to af¬rm a renewed image of the feminine
and opt instead for what Derrida calls a polysexual choreography of sexual
difference.37 Those readings, in her view, would be unlikely to overturn present
social reality, and if they did would lead only to anarchy.

37 The work Cornell is referring to here is Jacques Derrida and Christie McDonald,
“Choreographies”, in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, ed.
Christie McDonald, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York, 1985) 169 at 183, where Derrida invokes
“a chorus . . . a choreographic text with polysexual signatures”. Cornell argues that this must be
read in such a way as to permit the af¬rmation of the feminine: see Beyond Accommodation,
supra n. 3, at 93, 96, 100“102. The readings Cornell is rejecting include those offered by Luce
Irigaray and Jacqueline Rose, in the works cited at note 27.
98 difference

Cornell™s ¬rst answer, then, to the problem of imagining and describing a
condition of simultaneous determinacy and indeterminacy is that the ethical
relation can be given effect only by means of a gesture whose ambiguity is an
authentic re¬‚ection of the ultimate undecidability of the relationship between
subject and Other. In its ¬rst dimension, that of deconstruction, the practice
of this gesture requires that we refuse to take deconstruction as a programme
in itself, but instead pursue its implications in the context of certain themes
that are derived from the present shape of our culture.38 The determination of
those themes de¬nes an ethic that supplements and sustains the ethical relation,
and tentatively describes which forms of exclusion of the Other are legitimate
and which are not. It is the practice of this ethic that quali¬es the pursuit of
deconstruction, and so saves it from incoherence and a betrayal of the very
ethical relation that it is committed to secure.
However, this establishment of the themes within which deconstruction is
to take place must itself be deconstructable if it is not to determine the content
of those themes, and so frustrate the purpose of deconstruction. Cornell con-
tends, therefore, that the practice of the double gesture entails a search for
themes that, although established in their structure, are open to deconstruction
in their status and content. It is a gesture, in other words, that is designed to
redeem its endorsement of certain themes, and hence its apparent violation of
the ethical relation, by making that endorsement provisional, and hence de-
constructable. It follows that if deconstruction, as Cornell understands it, is to
take place in the context of the af¬rmation of certain themes, the af¬rmation of
those themes must take place in the context of their deconstruction. The double
gesture thus af¬rms even as it deconstructs, and deconstructs even as it af¬rms.
In this way, Cornell contends, it avoids the twin perils of indeterminacy and
determinacy, and so offers an entirely new, ethical understanding of existence.
In ensuring this, of course, the double gesture must also ensure that the
acknowledgment of contingency upon which it insists is neither so comprehen-
sive nor so corrosive as to dissolve the basic structure of the themes in question.
To pursue deconstruction that far would be to frustrate the whole purpose of
thematization, and so remit the philosophy of the limit to the problem of its
coherence. In attempting to af¬rm the themes in light of which deconstruction
is to take place, and yet at the same time to insist upon their contingency, the
role of the second dimension of the double gesture is simply to reveal and keep
open the possibilities for transformation that are latent within those themes, so
as to secure the realization of what Cornell sees as the utopian implications of
the ethical relation, without going so far as to overturn their basic structure and
conditions.
In this way each dimension of the double gesture is designed to imply and
anticipate the other. Only through the double gesture, Cornell maintains, can the

38 The Philosophy of the Limit, supra n. 12, at 104“6.
III. The Renewal of Gender 99

image of the feminine escape the perils of both determinacy and indeterminacy.
Only through the double gesture can the feminine be expected to ¬‚ourish as a
setting for the aspirations of all women, one that can serve as the vehicle for the
realization of all those possibilities of women™s existence that are now repressed
within the Lacanian social order, without ever becoming so established as to
exclude any of them.
Yet it is clear that Cornell™s ambition of striking a balance between determi-
nacy and indeterminacy in this way, in the hope of offering an account of the
feminine that is identi¬able as such without ever becoming ¬nally determinate,
cannot be entirely ful¬lled by the conditional af¬rmation embodied in the sec-
ond dimension of the double gesture. The fact that the af¬rmation of the themes
upon which deconstruction is to be based is conditional on their subsequent
deconstruction does nothing to vindicate the selection of those themes in the
¬rst place. It hence does nothing to redeem the status that is accorded to them
in the act of securing their structure as themes, that is, in preserving their basic
outline against deconstruction. On the contrary, the af¬rmation embodied in
the second dimension of the double gesture must be suf¬ciently unconditional
to secure at least the de¬nitive features of those themes from deconstruction.
Otherwise they would cease to be recognizable as themes and so would be inca-
pable of ful¬lling their role as constraints upon deconstruction. In other words,
without some element of unconditional af¬rmation, the presence of a theme
or set of themes in Cornell™s account of deconstruction would serve merely
to mark the path to indeterminacy rather than to act as a check against it. It
follows that the af¬rmation of certain themes required by the ¬rst dimension
of the double gesture, and the determinacy conferred upon those themes by
their selection and endorsement as a context for deconstruction rather than the
subject of it, cannot be redeemed by the fact that the status and content of
those themes is subject to deconstruction in the second dimension of the double
gesture.
Cornell™s philosophy of the limit must chart a delicate course between two
shoals here, those of determinacy and indeterminacy, a course that cannot be
established by the practice of the double gesture alone. In itself that practice,
operating as it does within the context of a set of themes only the content
of which is subject to deconstruction, is incapable of establishing a balance
between the con¬‚icting demands contained within the philosophy of the limit,
and thus is incapable of resolving Cornell™s dilemma. The double gesture cannot
be looked to as a means of ensuring that the process of thematization on which
its operation is premised does not violate the ethical relation, since it cannot
police what it presupposes.
It follows, as indicated above, that if the process of deconstruction is to
satisfy the ethical relation as Cornell has described it, the double gesture must
be supplemented by a genuinely independent ethic, whose scope of review
transcends that provided by the second dimension of the double gesture. The
100 difference

double gesture must be supplemented, in other words, by an ethic that does
not simply constrain the af¬rmation of value that thematization involves, in the
manner of the second dimension of the double gesture, but actually justi¬es that
af¬rmation, by determining which of the themes available in our culture may
legitimately be exempted from deconstruction and which must be subjected to it.
The challenge for Cornell, of course, is to answer the need for this ethic without
determining the content of the feminine and so undermining her commitment
to the ethical relation. To meet that challenge, she offers two further, quali¬ed
versions of the double gesture.
b. Skeletal Themes. Cornell™s second resolution to her dilemma is to stipu-
late that the selection and pursuit of the themes within which deconstruction is
to take place must be a function of the conditions necessary to the acknowledg-
ment of the ethical relation itself. As a threshold, she reasons that the themes
within which deconstruction is to take place must be those that constitute the
minimum conditions for the achievement of a social order without which the
practice of the philosophy of the limit would be impossible.39 She contends
in particular, in the context of a consideration of the relationship between de-
construction and justice, that a minimal theory of the good, together with the
existence of some body of legal principles and a legal system, is a necessary
condition of the practice of deconstruction and the enactment of the ethical
relation.40
Cornell further contends, within the setting of her feminist project, that the
present symbolic order, and the hegemony of the masculine subject there, can be
overturned only through a vision of deconstruction that in its positive dimension
af¬rms an image of the feminine. Because the lives of men and women cannot
be separated from the metaphors in which they are couched, we cannot simply
set aside present gender reality, and its basis in the relationship between subject
and Other, through an act of the collective imagination and will. On the contrary,
she argues, any attempt to overturn that reality can be undertaken only through
the medium of the resources that are now available to us within the symbolic
order. We can seek the trace of the Other only by working through the image
of the feminine that is given to us and exploiting the slippage that is inevitably
present in the language in which the feminine is inscribed.41 Without such an
af¬rmation, she believes, it is inevitable that we will once again repudiate the
feminine and privilege the masculine.42
Cornell explains and illustrates the need to af¬rm those themes, whose ex-
istence is necessary to maintaining the possibility of deconstruction, by using
the theme of nondiscrimination as an example. The South African antiapartheid

39 Id. at 106.
40 Id. at 104“6.
41 Beyond Accommodation, supra n. 3, at 95“96.
42 Id. at 171.
III. The Renewal of Gender 101

movement, she argues, expresses a vision of the good that is consonant with the
requirements of the ethical relation, despite the fact that the ultimate success of
that movement would necessarily entrench the exclusion of the Other that that
success, and the consequent realization of a nonracist society, would make of
the doctrine of apartheid and its embodiment in the self-image of its supporters.
As she puts it:
. . . apartheid is wrong, any time and any place. The resistance movement does not then
appeal to the cultural good of a speci¬c context, but to the universal Good. Apartheid
violates the ethical relation as evoked by Levinas. Apartheid does so now and will do
so always. If apartheid were outlawed, the normative view of the whites who enforced
their legal sentence on the ¬‚esh of blacks would indeed be silenced. And this silencing
would be violence to their “difference”. But as Derrida, amongst others, has reminded
us, it is a deserved and necessary “violence” we are called to by any version of the Good
worthy of its name.43

For Cornell, the criteria for selecting the themes within which the philosophy
of the limit is to be pursued are, or ought to be, fundamentally uncontrover-
sial, since on the one hand they constitute the conditions without which that
philosophy could not be pursued, and on the other hand the status and content
of the themes that are selected to that end are monitored and regulated by the
second dimension of the double gesture. Yet it is clear, as she herself seems
to recognize, that without further quali¬cation these criteria cannot satisfy the
requirements of the ethical relation as she has described it.
Notwithstanding the constraint, it remains the case that to acknowledge that
deconstruction requires the presence of some theme or set of themes to sustain
its coherence is not to establish anything about which themes in particular it
requires. The coherence required by deconstruction could be supplied by any
theme that is capable of securing the existence of an image or concept, and
hence capable of securing the correlative existence of the Other. It follows that
in itself the need for coherence cannot justify any particular selection of themes
within which deconstruction is to take place. It cannot explain or justify our
choice of one minimal theory of the good over another, or one body of legal
principles over another, and so cannot justify the particular exclusion of the
Other that the endorsement of such choices would entail.
By the same token, within the context of identity as a human subject and
Cornell™s vision of the feminine, it is not demonstrable that the comprehensive
image of the feminine that Cornell herself endorses has a peculiar contribution
to make to the coherence of deconstruction that could not be supplied by any
number of other, rival images of existence. On the contrary, it is clear that such
coherence could be supplied by any image of existence, as long as it is not
predicated on denial of the Other, as is the image of the masculine subject in

43 The Philosophy of the Limit, supra n. 12, at 114.
102 difference

the present symbolic order, a denial after all that the second dimension of the
double gesture is designed to forestall.
The need for coherence, therefore, cannot in itself justify Cornell™s decision
to deconstruct the present image of the human subject by af¬rming a single,
comprehensive image of the feminine rather than, for example, multiple images
of the feminine that could call into question not only our present understanding
of masculine and feminine but our binary understanding of gender itself. That
being the case, the process of thematization and the ethic that describes it would
remain highly controversial if speci¬ed solely in terms of the coherence of the
practice of deconstruction, since the necessary effect would be to determine
which values in our culture generally, and which feminisms in particular, are to
be subjected to deconstruction, and which values are to serve as its setting and
hence are to be sheltered from its consequences.
More to the point of Cornell™s argument, however, the ethic that describes
thematization continues to impart a character to the practice of deconstruction
that is impervious to the claims of the Other. The fact that some set of themes
may be necessary to the coherence of deconstruction does not alter the fact
that the endorsement of those themes, and their consequent immunity from
deconstruction, determines their content to the extent that it is not subject to the
second dimension of the double gesture, as it cannot entirely be if the themes
are to perform their function. Cornell suggests that the comprehensive vision
of the feminine she endorses is by its nature uncontroversial, as if to suggest
that absence of controversy can be equated with absence of determinacy, or
at least with absence of what she regards as the vices of determinacy. Yet in
itself, lack of controversy does not make an image any less determinate, nor
alter the consequences of its determination, namely, the suppression of all the
possibilities excluded in the act of determination.
Even were Cornell™s vision of the feminine uncontroversial, therefore, which
there is reason to doubt, its endorsement as a theme that is not subject to
deconstruction necessarily determines it to the extent of the endorsement. In
endorsing a particular vision of the feminine, Cornell treats the wrong of our
present understanding of identity as something quite different from that which
she has argued it to be. The endorsement of one determinate image of the
feminine over another, and the insulation of that image from deconstruction,
implicitly treats the question of the feminine as a question of the legitimacy of
the present exclusion of that particular image, rather than of the legitimacy of

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