Diagram of Affidamento
he Milan Women's Bookstore Collective’s practice of affidamento, translated by Teresa de Lauretis as “entrustment," outlines a mode of feminist genealogy that has the potential to move beyond the essentialism/anti-essentialism debate. Italian feminism has been particularly influenced by Irigaray’s thought. Taking Irigaray’s theory directly into practice, the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective practice a politics of sexual difference. Their politics is not one that calls for equal rights, but rather works toward the development of a female symbolic. They took Irigaray’s analysis of the exclusion of the feminine from the phallogocentric symbolic as a way to rationalize a need for a specifically female symbolic order. The development of this female symbolic necessitates the development of a female genealogy, a history of female-to-female legitimation. By legitimating, I mean that entering female-to-female relations into existing power structures is an alternative mode of socio-political validation. Further, these relations, which constitute a female genealogy, are the mode with which women can obtain agency within existing power structures. This entering is neither oppositional to these power structures nor complicit with their existing modes of operation. The disparity between women is used to generate a female social structure, which operates parasitically upon phallogocentric power regimes.
Affidamento describes a relationship between two women, whereby one entrusts her symbolic to the other. This entrustment is between two women who have disparate relationships to power. Both share a goal or objective, but their differences are politically effective reasons to collectivize. The model of “sisterhood in oppression” that characterizes liberationist, rights-based feminism is redressed in affidamento as a politics of difference. Irigarayans see the saming of women as a violence that erases women from the symbolic. As phallogocentric discourse has only ever written the neuter subject, the masculinity of that subject remains hidden. The Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective argue that to position women as equal amongst themselves is as violent as to position them as equal to men: to restore a neuter subject is to restore the masculine subject. Erasing difference performs the same repudiation of the feminine to the outside of language that is always, already the operation of phallogocentric discourse. Irigaray describes the horizontal relationship between women as a repression of female genealogy, and according to Adrienne Rich this repression is what causes rivalry between them. Indeed Freud’s formulation that a woman can only resolve her Oedipus complex by identifying as similar to her mother is the perfect example of this. To make all women the same is to deny the authority of the mother, because it erases the power differentials between women. Irigaray describes the denied mother-daughter relationship as vertical: disparate. Affidamento is the practice of disparate relations between women as a public, political practice. To characterize “disparate”, the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective isolates, for example: social status, competence, and age. The female symbolic that one performs for the other in affidamento is possible because of the differences in power between the two women. Although, this was initially developed as inter-personal relations, many feminists involved in this discourse took Emily Dickinson’s writing as an example of a female genealogy. Dickinson only read other women writers and thus entrusted herself to them symbolically. This specifically textual affidamento has much contemporary potential as it accommodates the multiplicity of feminist approaches: it enables a collectivity of difference.