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Irigaray, Luce

 Associated with feminism and psychoanalysis, Luce Irigaray is a remarkable cultural theorist best known for her work published in France through the 1970s. Psychoanalyst, linguist, and philosopher, Irigaray is concerned, particularly in Speculum of the Other Woman (1974, trans., 1985) and This Sex Which Is Not One (1977, trans., 1987), with exposing how Western discourse has effaced woman as the specular image of man. By contrast, Irigaray carefully eschews enclosing her own ideas as "theory" to avoid an essentialism that will support patriarchalism. Accordingly, Speculum, which caused her expulsion from psychoanalytic and academic circles, "has no beginning or end . . . [and] confounds the linearity of an outline, the teleology of discourse, within which there is no possible place for the 'feminine,' except the traditional place of the repressed, the censured" (This Sex 68).
 This major text of the 1970s--which precedes her critiques of Martin Heidegger in L'Oubli, Friedrich Nietzsche in Amante marine, and Baruch Spinoza and Emmanuel Lévinas in Ethique--takes its title from the curved mirror of feminine self-examination (a mirror folded back on itself) as opposed to the flat mirror, which privileges the relation of man to other men and excludes the feminine. The book "begins" with a Deconstruction of Sigmund Freud's "Femininity" and "ends" with Plato, traversing history backwards and ending at the beginning with a decentering of male discourse in Western philosophy and a transformation of Plato's cave into the mother's womb. The substituting of the curved for the flat mirror challenges psychoanalysis's attempt to despoil woman of "all valid, valuable images of her sex/organs, her body" (Speculum 55), condemning her to psychosis or hysteria for lack "of a valid signifier for her 'first' desire and for her sex/organs" (Speculum 55).
 Speculum foregrounds Irigaray's preoccupation with the "sexual indifference that underlies the truth of any science, the logic of every discourse" (This Sex 69). Thus conceptualizing female sexuality within masculine parameters, psychoanalysis, for example, cannot say anything about woman and her pleasure and cannot account for woman, for the "dark continent," and enacts a contradiction in relation to her. Psychoanalysis denies the specificity of female sexuality, as in Freud's contention that "the little girl is therefore a little man" who envies the possession of the penis and whose attachment to the mother must end in hate. Irigaray responds to the male conception of woman by becoming a "living mirror" and by replacing the loss of specularization with an "incendiary blaze" while maintaining woman's plurality (Speculum 197).
 Irigaray returns to Freud repeatedly to reiterate the fact of psychoanalysis's blindness to female sexuality. Haunted by Freud as it elaborates important themes in Speculum, This Sex presents all the difficulties of breaking with tradition and yet enacts some of the disruptions it considers necessary to create the interstices in which woman's voice can be heard. In this way, Irigaray suggests the reading of literary texts in the manner that she writes them, as a critique of the underlying masculine economy of texts, as a critique of the male underpinning of the very idea of texts. To this end, as a reader Irigaray explores textual representations of female "fluid" mechanics--images and metaphors of plurality, polysemy, malleability, and dynamism--and of male "solid" mechanics--images and representations of unity, monologism, intractability, and fixity. These coordinates in many ways mark off her interests as a reader of texts. The title This Sex Which Is Not One even summarizes the thesis that a woman's sex is not one within the psychoanalytic framework, which only valorizes the masculine, and is not one in Irigaray's book either, where it is multiple.
 And as psychoanalysis fails to investigate its own historical determinants, so any attempt to explore female sexuality cannot inscribe itself within Western discourse, simply reflecting it as if a flat mirror, but must operate radically to reinterpret Western discourse, a reinterpretation as critique that concerns not only science and political economy but particularly language. Given that language is laid out according to masculine parameters, how does one speak (as) woman? The masculine dimension of culture has maintained mastery over discourse by producing "a syntax of . . . discursive logic" that is "always . . . a means of masculine self-affection, or masculine self-production or re-production, or self-generation or self-representation, . . . whereas the 'other' syntax, the one that would make feminine 'self-affection' possible, is [always] lacking, repressed, censured" (This Sex 132). Speculum, with its defiance of chronology and closure, and "When Our Lips Speak Together," the last section in This Sex, emphasizing plurality, proximity, and difference perceived as resemblance to another woman rather than to a masculine standard, strive to make feminine self-affection possible.
 Irigaray calls attention to psychoanalysis's effacement of the uterus, the vulva, the lips, the breasts, the unmentionable menstrual blood, and capitalizes on the plurality of female genitals to construct her idea of woman's syntax, therein fashioning her own version of Freud's notorious dictum "anatomy is destiny" to indicate that women have "sex organs more or less everywhere." Woman enjoys a more diffuse, plural pleasure, and as a result, '''she' is indefinitely other in herself" (This Sex 28), leading back once again to Speculum of the Other Woman. Female sexuality is always in excess, everywhere at once, and a language that writes the body defies closure and resists interpretive mastery. In a culture that numbers everything by units--"the one of form, of the individual, of the (male) sexual organ, of the proper name, of the proper meaning"--she is an enigma, for "she is neither one nor two"; "she has no 'proper' name, and her sexual organ, which is not one organ, is counted as none" (This Sex 26). In a woman's syntax, "there would no longer be either subject or object, 'oneness' would no longer be privileged, there would no longer be proper meaning, proper names, proper attributes" (134).
 Given the role played by hysteria in the development of psychoanalysis and the interest expressed by feminists in Freud's hysterics, Irigaray necessarily must address the presumed coincidence of the discourse of woman and the hysteric, a coincidence that Julia Kristeva accepts as a given and Hélène Cixous tends to glorify but that Irigaray casts as the failure to speak. The hysteric is caught between silence and mimicry, repressed desire and a language that belongs to the father. The hysteric's ludic mimicry is not free, as Cixous would have it, but controlled and subject to repressive interpretation. It is necessary, then, to find a continuity between "that speech of desire--which at present can only be identified in the forms of symptoms and pathology--and a language, including a verbal language" (137), while granting that the hysteric may be the victim of a patriarchal maneuver to erase and repress her relationship to a kind of origin.
 Irigaray believes that theory and practice are never separate, that they intersect in the field of analysis. Here, too, she shows her interest in deconstructing hierarchical relations such as those Cixous relies on. Arguing that male sexuality is scopophilic and questioning the privileging of the merely visible and of the "proper meaning," she is convinced of the need to strip the analyst of the screen of "benevolent neutrality" behind which he protects himself. She intends to produce a "woman-analysis" in which to listen to and interpret the unconscious in order to deconstruct hierarchical relations, both concerning sexual difference and the relationship between analyst and analysand. While the analytic scene advocated by Freud and Jacques Lacan involves a silent analyst and an analysand whose speech is ultimately silenced, Irigaray's analysis proposes a dialogue where difference is allowed to emerge and where a restaging of transferences runs parallel to the restaging of differences that she advocates for all of Western discourse. The analyst must no longer interpret the analysand but must attempt "a restaging [of] both transferences" (This Sex 148). Her ultimate goal is not isolation but rather to find a possibility of nonhierarchical articulation between the sexes, so that women will not always have to say with Antigone, "Between her and him, nothing can ever be said" (155), but, "Speaking (as) woman would, among other things, permit women to speak to men" (136).

Chiara Briganti and Robert Con Davis


Notes and Bibliography

See also Feminist Theory and Criticism: 3. Poststructuralist Feminisms and French Theory and Criticism: 6. 1968 and After.


Luce Irigaray, Amante marine de Friedrich Nietzsche (1979), "And One Doesn't Stir without the Other," Signs 7 (1981), Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un (1977, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke, 1985), Le Corps-à-corps avec la mère (1981), "The Fecundity of the Caress," Face-to-Face with Levinas (ed. Ralph A. Cohen, 1986), "For Centuries We've Been Living in the Mother-Son Relation. . . ," Hecate 9 (1983), "Is the Subject of Science Sexed?" Cultural Critique 1 (1985), L'Oubli de l'air chez Martin Heidegger (1983), Speculum de l'autre femme (1974, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill, 1985), "Women's Exile: Interview with Luce Irigaray," Ideology and Consciousness 1 (1977).

Carolyn Burke, "Irigaray through the Looking Glass," Feminist Studies 7 (Summer 1981); Judith Butler, "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire," Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990); Diana Fuss, "Luce Irigaray's Language of Essence," Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference (1989); Elizabeth Gross, "Philosophy, Subjectivity, and the Body: Kristeva and Irigaray," Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory (ed. Carole Pateman and Elizabeth Gross, 1986); Elizabeth A. Grosz, "Lacan and Feminism," Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (1990); Alice Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (1985); Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985); Monique Plaza, "'Phallomorphic Power' and the Psychology of 'Woman,'" Ideology and Consciousness 4 (1978), "That Sex Which Is Not One," Language, Sexuality, and Subversion (ed. P. Foss and Meaghan Morris, 1978); Kaja Silverman, "Disembodying the Female Voice: Irigaray, Experimental Feminist Cinema, and Femininity," The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (1988); Margaret Whitford, Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine (1991), "Rereading Irigaray," Between Feminism and Psychoanalysis (ed. Teresa Brennan, 1989).

Topics Index Cross-references for this Guide entry:
anatomy, essentialism, feminism, hysteria, sexuality

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