Article abstract: By reexamining many of the major texts of Western philosophy, Irigaray has attempted to articulate the ways in which language, particularly the language of psychoanalysis, limits women.
Little is known of Luce Irigaray’s early life. She was born in Belgium and spent her childhood there. In 1955, she received a master’s degree in philosophy and literature from the University of Lovain, completing a thesis on the writer Paul Velery. In 1956, she became a secondary schoolteacher in Brussels, Belgium, a post she retained until 1959.
In 1959, Irigaray moved to Paris and began studying for what was to be the first of many advanced degrees she was to receive in France. In 1961, she received a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Paris, and in 1962, she was awarded a diploma in psychopathology from the Institut de Psychologie de Paris. Also in 1962, she accepted a position at the Fondation Nationale de Recherche Scientifique in Belgium, where she remained until 1964, when she returned to Paris as an assistant researcher at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. She remained attached to this organization and was named its director of research in 1986. Upon her return to Paris, she began work on more advanced degrees. In 1968, she completed a doctoral degree in linguistics at the University of Paris X at Nanterre.
In 1974, she was awarded another doctorate, this time in philosophy, from the University of Paris VIII. She also obtained psychoanalytic training at the Freudian School, where she studied with Jacques Lacan, many of whose texts she was later to examine and reinterpret in her own writing. During her time as a student, she was also an instructor at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes. Her first dissertation, which dealt with the language patterns of mentally disturbed individuals—specifically, victims of senility—was later published, and she refers to the information she gleaned in this study in other works.
Her second dissertation, however, was the cause of great controversy. The work, Speculum of the Other Woman, reexamined the basic tenets of Freudian theory, criticizing the extremely patriarchal system Sigmund Freud had created and Lacan was in many senses continuing. Irigaray went on to obtain her doctorate with highest distinction, but she was an outcast in the Freudian School after the publication of Speculum of the Other Woman. She also found considerable difficulty in finding teaching positions in the Paris universities because her views were seen as far too radical.
However, Irigaray continued to produce an astonishing corpus of work, all the while working as a private psychoanalyst and continuing her work with the Centre National de Recherche...
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Chanter, Tina. Ethics of Eros: Irigaray’s Rewriting of the Philosophers. New York: Routledge, 1995. Chanter provides an informative overview of Irigaray’s use of traditional Western philosophical texts and how these texts serve as a basis for her language analysis while she provides new insight to these well-known works.
Deutscher, Penelope. The Politics of Impossible Difference: The Later Work of Luce Irigaray. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. An overview of Irigaray’s theories on politics, language, performativity, and sexual difference.
Mortley, Raoul. French Philosophers in Conversation: Levinas, Schneider, Serres, Irigaray, LeDoeuff, Derrida. New York: Routledge, 1991. In chapter 4 of this text, Irigaray provides her answer to the author’s two questions about the importance of sexual difference in language. Her answers help illuminate many of the chief ideas found in An Ethics of Sexual Difference and give a brief overview of her ideas on language and sexuality in general.
Nordquist, Joan. French Feminist Theory (III): Luce Irigaray and Helen Cixous. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Reference and Research Services, 1996. This publication provides an exhaustive list of all material relating to Irigaray available in English as of the date of its publication, including books, essays, interviews, dissertations and theses, articles, and keyword-in-title indices.
Ross, Stephen David. Plenishment in the Earth: An Ethic of Inclusion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. This text examines several of Irigaray’s texts in detail and is interesting because it provides a male response to many of her theories, which is relatively unusual because most of the theorists and critics who study her are women. The book also attempts to place her in the context of several other important women philosophers of the twentieth century, as well as more traditional male thinkers.
Whitford, Margaret. Introduction to The Irigaray Reader, by Luce Irigaray. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1991. Whitford’s introduction gives those unfamiliar with Irigaray’s works an excellent starting point for these difficult texts, portions of which are provided in English.