Carnal Ethics


Richard Marshall interviews Ann Cahill in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You say: “Intersubjectivity says the relation is first and constitutes the being of the parties involved in it, and the parties involved constitute the relationship… As humans we can not come into existence without someone caring for us. Our very being as existence is being with another. … Existence is intersubjective.” Does all your work rely on a notion of intersubjectivity? Is this connected to notions of postmodernity in that it decentres identity: are you a postmodernist philosopher?

AC: Yes, intersubjectivity is a strong thread that runs through virtually all of my work. It’s absolutely connected to postmodern theories that challenge the modern notion of the self as autonomous, self-contained, and ideally free from the demands of the other. I do identify as a postmodernist philosopher, and tend to work from and with postmodern thinkers such as Foucault, Butler, Irigaray, etc. But I don’t think the concept of intersubjectivity is contrary to identity, unless you understand identity as necessarily innate and stable. Focusing on intersubjectivity has led me to understand identity more as location. Just as one can’t have a location without reference to other entities, one can’t have an identity exception in relation to other beings. Which is not to say that one’s identity is reducible to those relations, or that one could predict aspects of a person’s identity simply by extrapolating from those relations; such assumptions would deny the dynamism of intersubjectivity. Identity and relations are co-constituting: who I am (at this moment, at this place, keeping in mind that identity is always a process) affects the kind and quality of relations I engage in, just as those relations simultaneously affect my identity. I should emphasise that I’m thinking here of the location of a being who can move, not the location of a static or fixed object (if such a thing even exists).

3:AM: You say that intersubjectivity is a ‘big word’, and by that you don’t just mean they are large but that they are unfamiliar. You defend them don’t you?

AC: Ah, I do defend them. I love big words. I understand the critique of accessibility, that is, that big words can serve to alienate and intimidate readers, and I certainly believe that philosophy (especially feminist philosophy) has a responsibility to be accountable and relevant to the real lives of human and other-than-human beings. When using big words gets in the way of that responsibility, we need to be careful. But big words also have the capacity to break through the fog of dominant assumptions, to do the hard work of substantially reframing familiar problems or questions so that we can gain new and better leverage.