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Heidegger’s Unthought: The Question of the Body and Sexual Difference

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posted on 2023-11-16, 01:31 authored by Annie SandrussiAnnie Sandrussi

This thesis responds to the question of the body in Heidegger’s oeuvre from the perspective of sexual difference. There have been many important contributions from scholars to account for the initial omission of an explicit hermeneutic of the body in Heidegger’s early thought, and the development of a broadly ‘Heideggerian’ hermeneutic derived largely from the Zollikon Seminars (1987/2001). The publication presents what appears to be Heidegger’s most exhaustive and deliberate effort towards a phenomenological hermeneutic of the body, and is therefore regarded as a significant defence against the common criticism of Heidegger that he has neglected the body in his existential analytic of Dasein. In these cases, however, I observe that the critique of Heidegger’s neglect has not been examined with respect to the Western tradition’s association of the body with the feminine. Starting from this observation, this thesis examines the ways in which the erasure of sexual difference in Heidegger’s thinking sustains his ongoing, self-professed, difficulties in articulating a notion of Dasein’s bodily being (Leibliche Sein).

Using Heidegger’s notion of ‘the unthought,’ from What Is Called Thinking? (1954/1968), I reassert what has been called “Heidegger’s neglect” in terms of Heidegger’s “unthought.” After mapping the way that the Western tradition’s aversion to the body transpires according to the erasure of sexual difference, I demonstrate that Heidegger’s thinking is undergirded by patrimonial motifs of the erasure of feminine figures, and of heritage. I next examine Luce Irigaray’s charge against Heidegger’s commitment to ‘the Same,’ to argue that Heidegger’s account of Dasein’s relation to Being in Identity and Difference (1957/1969) involves a commitment to an ontologically irreducible alterity. This complicates any straightforward analysis of Heidegger’s thinking as hostile towards sexual difference. I then examine Heidegger’s commitment to ontological neutrality. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s Geschlecht essays, I argue that Heidegger indeed pursues a notion of sexuality beyond the sexual duality of masculine and feminine, but that his concept of neutrality nevertheless explicitly effects the absorption of the feminine into the masculine. Finally, in a close reading of Heidegger’s questioning of the body in his encounter with the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, I argue that the trajectory of Heidegger’s thought demonstrates a sustained pursuit of Dasein’s bodily being (Leibliche Sein); this counters the (mis)representation of Heidegger’s thinking as ‘neglecting’ the body. I argue that Heidegger’s account of the chaos of nature as phusis in relation to his v notion of bodying-forth (Leiben) is a promising resource for overcoming challenges for sexual difference feminism for the retrieval of the body in philosophical thought. In so doing, the thesis provides a unique vantage point for reassessing the value of Heidegger’s thought to contemporary philosophical questions of the body, materialism, and sexual difference. It importantly contributes to existing accounts of Heidegger’s hermeneutic of the body because a sustained reading of the notion of bodying-forth in Heidegger’s Nietzsche tends to have been eclipsed by the focus by recent scholarship on the Zollikon Seminars.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Neglect of Sexual Difference Perspectives and Heidegger’s Masculine -- Chapter 2. Sexual difference, ontological difference: Rereading Irigaray’s Critique of Heidegger’s Commitment to the Same (das Selbe) -- Chapter 3. Neutrality, Natality, Gender, Geschlecht: Rereading Sexual Difference Against Gender with Heidegger and Derrida -- Chapter 4. The Critique of Biologism and the Captivation of Lebensphilosophie -- Chapter 5. The Chaos of Bodying-Forth: Heidegger’s Reading of Nietzsche -- Concluding Remarks -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Robert Sinnerbrink


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260 pages

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