Luce Irigaray 1930-
Belgian-born French critic, philosopher, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Irigaray's career through 2000.
A noted psychoanalyst and influential linguist whose writings have been largely co-opted by feminist literary critics, Irigaray is best known for her critique of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theories in such groundbreaking works as Speculum de l'autre femme (1974; Speculum of the Other Woman) and Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un (1977; This Sex Which Is Not One). The most famous dimension of Irigaray's thought exploits the contradictions and gendered assumptions in the work of both Freud and his colleague, Jacques Lacan. Using a deconstructive approach, Irigaray has advanced psychoanalytic theory by focusing on the ways that language and culture position men and women differently during the oedipal stage of human development when subjectivity is formed and language is acquired.
Born in Belgium, Irigaray earned a postsecondary degree in philosophy and literature from the University of Louvain in 1954. She wrote her graduate thesis on the French poet Paul Valéry in preparation for a career as a secondary school teacher. Between 1956 and 1959, Irigaray taught high school in Brussels before she entered the University of Paris in 1961, earning a diploma in psychopathology. After graduating, she briefly returned to Belgium and took a position with the Fondation Nationale de la Recherce Scientifique (FNRS), a scientific research center. Irigaray worked for the FNRS until 1964 when she transferred to a similar agency in Paris, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), where she has worked since, accepting an appointment as their director of research in philosophy in 1982. During this period, Irigaray pursued a doctorate degree in linguistics at the University of Paris at Nanterre, completing her studies in 1968. Her thesis analyzed the syntactic structures of the language used by schizophrenics and other mentally unstable patients and was later published as Le Langage des déments (1973). Between 1969 and 1974, Irigaray taught at the University of Paris at Vincennes where she was affiliated with the Ecole freudienne de Paris. At the same time, she was participating in the women's liberation movement in France, as she prepared her thesis for another doctorate degree in psychoanalysis. Irigaray's thesis, which later became Speculum of the Other Woman, ignited a firestorm of controversy due to its infusion of gender politics into mainstream psychoanalytic theory. Consequently, the Ecole freudienne expelled Irigaray and terminated her teaching position. Irigaray, however, continued her own psychoanalytic practice and has since accepted a host of visiting professorships at universities in Europe and North America. In addition, Irigaray has continued to write in a variety of academic disciplines, including feminist studies, linguistics, and psychoanalysis.
Written in a complexly dense prose style that exploits her expertise in several fields, Irigaray's works can initially confuse readers unaccustomed to neologisms, theoretical constructions, and specialized metaphors and allusions. However, Irigaray's complicated methodology, derived from French feminist revisions of classical and Continental philosophy, speaks to her overarching thesis that the deconstruction of language is necessary to establish a female counterpart to conventional psychoanalytic theories. To that end, Speculum of the Other Woman critiques Freudian and Lacanian theories about identity formation in female subjects, which are predicated on masculine norms of development. Although the text subverts the typical patriarchal representations of women, Irigaray does not “privilege” the cultural signification of her “lips” metaphor with respect to female identity formation, as Freud and Lacan do with their “phallus” metaphor. Clarifying the details in and expanding upon the thesis of Speculum, This Sex Which Is Not One explores the relationship between language and sexuality, suggesting that women use unique syntactic structures, independent of phallocentric binary oppositions in the production of meaning. The essays in this collection examine such issues as power relations mediated by gendered social discourse, the difficulties feminist politics face in phallocratic society, and the connections between models of semiotic exchange and economic exchange. These topics inform much of Irigaray's subsequent work, including Éthique de la différence sexuelle (1983; An Ethics of Sexual Difference) which investigates the masculine biases of discursive rhetoric, and Parler n'est jamais neutre (1985; To Speak Is Never Neutral) which argues that gendered subjectivity and social context influence linguistic forms and usage. Sexes et parentés (1987; Sexes and Genealogies) restates the model for female subjectivity that Irigaray proposed in Speculum as a question of transference rather than of desire, particularly its effects on relations between women that results in either intolerance of other women or abject silence. Beginning with Le Temps de la différence: pour une revolution pacifique (1989; Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution) and Je, tu, nous: pour une culture de la différence (1990; Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference), Irigaray's works increasingly analyze the contingent basis between systems of representation and the hierarchical interests of the social order that construct and institute them. These works include J'aime à toi: esquisse d'une félicité dans l'histoire (1992; I Love to You: Sketch for a Happiness within History), Le souffle des femmes (1996), and Entre Orient et Occident: De la singularité à la communauté (1999).
Deemed one of the most difficult of French feminists for the complexities of her prose style, Irigaray has often been compared to Hèléne Cixous, Simone de Beauvior, and Julia Kristeva for her adaptations of psychoanalytic theories to foment feminism that stresses “difference.” German and Italian feminists have embraced Irigaray's desire to establish an écriture au feminine (“woman's language”), but radical French feminists have denounced Irigaray for advocating ideas that perpetuate patriarchal oppression. These critics have argued that Irigaray's concept of “woman” originates and is constructed from an already established masculine discourse rather than prior to its constitution. In the English-speaking world, scholars have been hampered by slow translations of Irigaray's works, which have resulted in opinions based on brief texts isolated from the context of her entire oeuvre. Consequently, much Anglo-American criticism has centered on debates surrounding whether Irigaray's concept of “woman” is a “construct” (nonessential) or an a priori being (essential). While many critics have traced the influence of philosophers Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Lévinas, Jacques Derrida, and Emile Benveniste in Irigaray's writings, they also have noted Irigaray's tendency to “rewrite” their ideas to suit her own purposes. Literary scholars have favored the deconstructive approach of her early works to the progressive approach of her later works. With the increasing availability of translations of her works, full-length studies on Irigaray have begun to appear since the early 1990s. Although the debate about a feminine “essence” has continued, particularly over the psycho-symbolic implications of Irigaray's images of the female body, several critics have started to examine other aspects of Irigaray's thought, including the relation of woman to ideas of divinity, the reconstruction of gender relations to improve society, and other modes of communication outside masculine linguistic patterns.
Le Langage des déments (nonfiction) 1973
Speculum de l'autre femme [Speculum of the Other Woman] (criticism) 1974
*Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un [This Sex Which Is Not One] (criticism) 1977
Et l'une ne bouge pas sans l'autre [And the One Doesn't Stir without the Other] 1979 (nonfiction)
Amante marine de Friedrich Nietzsche [Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche] (criticism) 1980
Le Corps-à-corps avec la mère (nonfiction) 1981
Passions élémentaires [Elemental Passions] (philosophy) 1982
†Éthique de la différence sexuelle [An Ethics of Sexual Difference] (criticism) 1983
La Croyance même (criticism) 1983
L'Oubli de l'air: Chez Martin Heidegger [The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger] (philosophy) 1983
‡Parler n'est jamais neutre [To Speak Is Never Neutral] (criticism) 1985
Una probabilita de divere: Limite al concetto di neutro e universale nelle scienza e nelle tecnologie (philosophy) 1986
Sexes et parentés [Sexes and Genealogies] (criticism) 1987
Le Temps de la différence: pour une revolution pacifique [Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
SOURCE: Burke, Carolyn. “Irigaray through the Looking Glass.” Feminist Studies 7, no. 2 (summer 1981): 288-306.
[In the following essay, Burke discusses Irigaray's early works in the context of Lacanian and Derridean thought, examining how Irigaray's writing functions and whether it meets its own criteria.]
It is no longer possible to go looking for woman, or for woman's feminity or for female sexuality. At least, they can not be found by means of any familiar mode of thought or knowledge—even if it is impossible to stop looking for them.
Jacques Derrida, Spurs/Eperons
Luce Irigaray is a philosopher, psychoanalyst, and essayist whose work explores the possibility and impossibility of understanding “woman.” She has been active in the MLF (Mouvement de libération des femmes) in Paris since its early stages.1 With the publication of Speculum de l'autre femme in 1974, her critiques of psychoanalytic and philosophical discourses began to be known by a limited audience outside of France.2 Her work has been inaccessible to English-speaking feminists partly because there have been so few translations, but more importantly, because of the conceptual and stylistic difficulties that her writing presents, even for those who are fluent in French. This situation is further complicated by the fact...
(The entire section is 8324 words.)
SOURCE: Wenzel, Hélène Vivienne. “Introduction to Luce Irigaray's ‘And the One Doesn't Stir without the Other.’” Signs 7, no. 1 (autumn 1981): 56-9.
[In the following essay, Wenzel outlines Irigaray's feminist revision of psychoanalytic theories concerning the mother-daughter relationship in “And the One Doesn't Stir without the Other.”]
When I speak of the relationship to the mother, I want to say that, in our patriarchal culture, the daughter may absolutely not determine her relationship to her mother. Nor the woman her relationship to maternity, unless it is to reduce herself to it.1
With “And the One Doesn't Stir without the Other,” psychoanalyst and writer Luce Irigaray gives lyrical if anguished voice to the silenced daughter of the mother-daughter relationship.2 In particular, she envisions a pre-Oedipal relationship between daughter and mother, a relationship heretofore only sketchily charted by psychoanalytic discourse and therefore virtually nonexistent. In fact Freud himself, as Irigaray explains, saw the relationship between mother and daughter as
so whitewashed by the years, so censored-repressed, that it would be necessary to go back to a time predating Greek civilization in order to find another civilization which would permit us to decipher what there is of...
(The entire section is 1371 words.)
SOURCE: Holmlund, Christine. “The Lesbian, the Mother, the Heterosexual Lover: Irigaray's Recodings of Difference.” Feminist Studies 17, no. 2 (summer 1991): 283-308.
[In the following essay, Holmlund surveys Irigaray's oeuvre and its critical reception, identifying three central tropes that inform her criticism and the political/literary implications of these devices in the evolution of her thought.]
To North American feminists encountering Luce Irigaray for the first time, several of the themes underlying her wide-ranging theoretical and empirical investigations will seem familiar: (1) her overt, uncompromising challenge to male systems of thought; (2) her continual recognition that theoretical choices carry with them practical implications; and (3) her ongoing insistence that language usage both constitutes and perpetuates sexual inequality. Other stances may well seem alien: (1) her immersion in European philosophical debates; (2) her strategic invocations of essentialism; and (3) her apparent failure to examine concrete aspects of women's lives.
Unlike most North American feminists, Irigaray rereads and rewrites male, not female, theorists. And she urges that the roles biological factors play in the constitution of subjectivity be explored; whereas most North American feminists would prefer to emphasize social factors. Irigaray consciously places herself on the margins of, even...
(The entire section is 10453 words.)
SOURCE: Schutte, Ofelia. “Irigaray on the Problem of Subjectivity.1” Hypatia 6, no. 2 (summer 1991): 64-76.
[In the following essay, Schutte analyzes the critique of female identity formation in Speculum of the Other Woman, examining Irigaray's claims of phallocentric biases in psychoanalysis.]
“My sex is removed, at least as the property of a subject, from the predicative mechanism that assures discursive coherence,” states Luce Irigaray in defense of her unconventional critique of the logic of identity and the subject undertaken in her study Speculum of the Other Woman.2 Her defiance of the “master discourse” of philosophy and the attempt at subverting the logical order of coherence upon which such a discourse is grounded place the activity of feminist philosophizing in a difficult predicament with respect to the interpretation of this work. Insofar as philosophy relies on a notion of coherence rejected as phallocratic by Irigaray, it would seem that, if she is right, feminist principles would bar one from trying to explain her thought in a manner consistent with currently accepted tools of philosophical analysis. Yet refraining from explaining Irigaray's position as clearly and coherently as possible would only lead to the exclusion of her thoughts from philosophical attention, a circumstance that would deprive us of the opportunity to understand one of...
(The entire section is 6017 words.)
SOURCE: Berg, Maggie. “Luce Irigaray's ‘Contradictions’: Poststructuralism and Feminism.” Signs 17, no. 1 (autumn 1991): 50-70.
[In the following essay, Berg proposes an ironic reading of “When Our Lips Speak Together,” situating Irigaray's “lips” metaphor as a counterpart to Lacan's “phallus” metaphor.]
The work of Luce Irigaray is regarded by many feminists as riven with contradictions: she is a poststructuralist and a Lacanian insofar as she believes that the subject is a discursive construct, making identity unstable; but, in order to rescue women from what she sees as the repressive effects of phallocentrism, she apparently proposes an alternative feminine discourse modeled on the female genitals.1 Irigaray's “lips” have become the basis of debate: those critics (including Plaza, Jones, Moi, Burke) who regard her work as naive (it suggests the possibility of a prediscursive sexual identity) and dangerously essentialist (it posits an eternal essential femininity) have occasioned widespread feminist suspicion of poststructuralism as ultimately leading to a reactionary essentialism.2
Irigaray's defenders, on the other hand, regard her “lips” as having a “strategic” function: she posits a feminine essence not in order to trap women in deterministic definitions but to enable them to escape cultural definitions defined by...
(The entire section is 9210 words.)
SOURCE: Whitford, Margaret. “Irigaray's Body Symbolic.” Hypatia 6, no. 3 (fall 1991): 97-110.
[In the following essay, Whitford deals with the symbolic implications of Irigaray's images of the female body in To Speak Is Never Neutral and This Sex Which Is Not One.]
There is a real, and probably at the moment irresolvable, tension in feminist thought between the need to create positive images of women, and the arguable impossibility of producing images which are not immediately recaptured, or recapturable, by the dominant imaginary and symbolic economy in which woman figures for-man. Roszika Parker points out that:
Frequently efforts to give new meanings to women [have] been viewed through entirely traditional spectacles. For example, feminist photographs and paintings of our genitals have often been received not as the intended celebration of women's autonomous sexuality but simply as titillation, or even as obscenity. [Whereas] [m]en's bodies have never stood simply for sex, rather they have represented a wide spectrum of emotion and experience.
The tension is epitomized by Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party which, on the one hand, is a spectacular representation of women in myth and history, yet on the other hand disturbs by its apparently quite traditional equation of women with their...
(The entire section is 6136 words.)
SOURCE: Quick, James Robert. “Pronom ‘She’: Luce Irigaray's Fluid Dynamics.” Philosophy Today 36, no. 3 (fall 1992): 199-209.
[In the following essay, Quick analyzes Irigaray's philosophical construction of female subjectivity, emphasizing the “fluidity” of femininity.]
The Department of Psychoanalysis at the University of Paris (Vincennes) demands Luce Irigaray's submission to a question: “What do you propose to do in your teaching?”1 Without confining the fluid discourse within which she stages her responses—for they are not one—this essay will chart the flow of Irigaray's articulation of a “Subject” with and without the strictures of philosophy. On this “subject” Irigaray has much to teach philosophy, certainly beyond the confines of our modern Cartesian subjectivity (whether held philosophically or, more ephemeral, held within the solidity of a common-sense construct), and, as well, beyond the simplistic declaration of the death of the subject or its radical reinscription as a feminine subject over against a masculine subject.2 Instead, she invites us to think a deconstruction of the subject: its fluid displacement by an other. But then, such a project raises questions.
This scene is always already an interrogative one (whether that of the Department of Psychoanalysis or the scene of a...
(The entire section is 6814 words.)
SOURCE: Haas, Lynda. “Of Waters and Women: The Philosophy of Luce Irigaray.” Hypatia 8, no. 4 (fall 1993): 150-59.
[In the following review, Haas examines Irigaray's thought in Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche and The Irigaray Reader, focusing on her contributions to philosophy.]
“Let [people] take what they will out of my books. I don't think that my work can be better understood because I've done this or that” (Irigaray 1991, 1). Even though feminist scholars from many perspectives have discussed her work, the writing of Luce Irigaray remains somewhat elusive. Of course, in English we lack the benefit of Irigaray's full career, since the larger part of her texts are still untranslated; perhaps this is why we are, as Margaret Whitford states, just now beginning to come to grips with Irigaray. Her texts have certainly been hotly debated on many levels; she has been both respected and dismissed by feminists in many places. In Philosophy in the Feminine, Whitford writes, “the scholar or student seeking to find out more about the debates kindled by Irigaray's work has their work cut out simply trying to locate the most important articles” (Whitford 1991, 2). In her edited collection of Irigaray's work, The Irigaray Reader, Whitford includes not only important pieces from This Sex Which Is Not One and Speculum of the Other Woman but a number of essays...
(The entire section is 4061 words.)
SOURCE: Irigaray, Luce, Elizabeth Hirsch, and Gary A. Olson. “‘Je—Luce Irigaray’: A Meeting with Luce Irigaray.” Hypatia 10, no. 2 (spring 1995): 93-114.
[In the following interview, originally conducted in May 1994, Irigaray discusses the specificity of her own practice as a writer, her relationship with psychoanalytic theory, and her relationship to traditional Western philosophy.]
The authors conducted this interview with Luce Irigaray in her home in Paris in May, 1994.
Trained in linguistics, literature, and psychoanalysis, Luce Irigaray nonetheless insists that her works must be read, above all, as philosophical texts—that is, as interventions into the specific canon of thought “by means of which values are defined,” in her view.1 She thus assigns primacy to the philosophical not only as a dimension of her own multifarious writings, but within culture generally: in the historical production of knowledge, meaning, subjectivity, power. In fact, she suggests that it is because of philosophy's unique historical potency that women have been so vehemently excluded from its precincts—“the thing most refused to a woman is to do philosophy”—even as their literary impulses have been relatively indulged. Luce Irigaray inverts this arrangement, downplaying the...
(The entire section is 11137 words.)
SOURCE: Deutscher, Penelope. “‘The Only Diabolical Thing about Women …’: Luce Irigaray on Divinity.” Hypatia 9, no. 4 (fall 1994): 88-111.
[In the following essay, Deutscher analyzes the cultural and philosophical significance of Irigaray's feminist reconceptualization of divinity in Sexes and Genealogies and An Ethics of Sexual Difference.]
The only diabolical thing about women is their lack of a God and the fact that, deprived of God, they are forced to comply with models that do not match them, that exile, double, mask them, cut them off from themselves and from one another, stripping away their ability to move forward into love, art, thought, toward their ideal and divine fulfillment.
(Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies)
In this essay, I consider the importance of the theme of divinity in the work of French feminist Luce Irigaray. From her earliest to her most recent publications, Irigaray has, as Morny Joy has noticed, always shown an interest in religious themes (Joy 1990, 9). This interest has taken diverse forms. Sometimes, Irigaray asks why traditional readings of the Gospels or ancient mythology tend to ignore their more women-centered elements, for example: “the good relations between Mary and Anne, Mary and Elizabeth, etc., Mary and the other women. Even though this corner of society does form...
(The entire section is 11178 words.)
SOURCE: Schor, Naomi. “This Essentialism Which Is Not One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray.” In Engaging with Irigaray: Feminist Philosophy and Modern European Thought, edited by Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor, and Margaret Whitford, pp. 57-78. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Schor considers contemporary critiques of essentialism, comparing the opposing thought of Simone de Beauvoir and Irigaray.]
As Jacques Derrida pointed out several years ago, in the institutional model of the university elaborated in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century no provision was made, no space allocated for the discipline of women's studies: “There was no place foreseen in the structure of the classical model of Berlin for women's studies.”1 Women's studies, a field barely twenty years old today, is a belated add-on, an afterthought to the Berlin model taken over by American institutions of higher learning. For Derrida the question then becomes: What is the status of this new wing? Does it function merely as an addition, or rather as a supplement, simultaneously within and without the main building: “With women's studies, is it a question of simply filling a lack in a structure already in place, filling a gap?”2 If the answer to this question were yes, then in the very success of women's studies would lie also its failure. “As much as women's...
(The entire section is 8963 words.)
SOURCE: Deutscher, Penelope. Review of I Love to You: Sketch for a Happiness within History, by Luce Irigaray. Hypatia 13, no. 2 (spring 1998): 170-74.
[In the following review, Deutscher contends that Irigaray's later work—including I Love to You: Sketch for a Happiness within History—is less sophisticated than her earlier efforts, which many critics preferred for its deconstructive rather than progressive perspectives.]
In her introduction to Engaging with Irigaray, Naomi Schor reminds readers of the well-known story of Irigaray and her critics, beginning with the large numbers who adopted positions resolutely pro and con based only on readings of Irigaray's early works, such as Speculum of the Other Woman (1985a) and This Sex Which Is Not One (1985b). But as Schor says, Irigaray's readers have become increasingly sophisticated (Schor 1994, 5, 11). Has there been another contemporary woman philosopher whose work has incited the same degree of diversity, intricacy, and frequently high quality of engagement from some of the most significant contemporary Anglo-American women theorists? These include many of those included in the Engaging anthology (Grosz, Butler, Schor, and Whitford), or discussed in it (Gallop, Fuss, Moi, Cornell, Spivak, Young) and the many theorists publishing new work on Irigaray, such as Tina Chanter (1995). Among the most interesting...
(The entire section is 2004 words.)
SOURCE: Dellamora, Richard. “Apocalyptic Irigaray.” Twentieth Century Literature 46, no. 4 (winter 2000): 492-512.
[In the following essay, Dellamora analyzes apocalyptic rhetoric in Irigaray, comparing her vision of gender relations with that of poststructuralists Emmanuel Lévinas and Michel Foucault.]
“The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations” (94). These sentences comprise one of Oscar Wilde's best known epigrams. The first suggests that, in the book of nature and Western culture, life originates in the male-female dyad. The second suggests that the end of life is apocalyptic in one of two ways. Topically, revelations occur in the reports of sex scandals in the late-Victorian press. More generally, “Revelations” refers to the vision of existence as the battle of the sexes, a battle that both in the book of Revelation and in general usage can characterize any struggle that is seen in globalizing terms. The following essay focuses on apocalyptic rhetoric in the writing of Luce Irigaray, a leading feminist, writer, and theorist. One might ask by what token a writer like myself, who has written primarily about desire between men, addresses Irigaray's interest in male-female relations, but if we look for a moment longer at Wilde's text, an answer may be forthcoming. The lines I cite occur in the first act of Wilde's play A Woman of No...
(The entire section is 8699 words.)
Chanter, Tina. Ethics of Eros: Irigaray's Re-writing of the Philosophers. New York, NY: Routledge, 1995, 345 p.
Chanter offers an analysis of the ways that Irigaray has been influenced by other philosophers and the methods she has used to rework their ideas regarding gender relations.
Colebrook, Claire. “Feminist Philosophy and the Philosophy of Feminism: Irigaray and the History of Western Metaphysics.” Hypatia 12, no. 1 (winter 1997): 79-98.
Colebrook examines Irigaray's assertion that metaphysics depend on the exclusion of the female body.
Fermon, Nicole. “Women on the Global Market: Irigaray and the Democratic State.” Diacritics 28, no. 1 (spring 1998): 120-37.
Fermon explores how Irigaray's theories on the differences between women and men could be extrapolated into social, political, and economic life.
Gallop, Jane. The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983, 164 p.
Gallop offers a study of the relationship between feminism and psychoanalysis, drawing particular attention to Irigaray's work.
———. Thinking through the Body. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1988, 180 p.
Gallop emphasizes Irigaray's reading of the...
(The entire section is 582 words.)