Luce Irigaray and Psychoanalytic Feminism

In her works like Speculum of the Other Woman (translated 1985) and This Sex Which is Not One (1987), Luce Irigaray has argued that the woman has been constructed as the specular Other of man in all Western discourses. Combining Psychoanalysis, philosophy and linguistics, Irigaray’s work has been enormously influential in poststructuralist feminist thought. Irigaray’s rejection of the male symbolic order in order to highlight difference has been regarded a the “radical feminist” phase of the feminist movement.

LUCE IRIGARAY( (I) The speculum is the curved mirror (one turned hack on itself) of feminine self-examination. This is opposed to the flat mirror, which privileges the relation of man with other men but excludes the feminine. Psychoanalysis has always inscribed masculine ideology. Irigaray seeks to uncover a feminine order of meaning so that the sexual identity of the woman may be constructed.

(2)She therefore argues against the “logic of sameness” operating within all discourse. This logic means that two specificites—of man and woman—are consistently merged into one: “man is the measure of all things.” Turning to Freud, lrigaray shows how Freud’s theory of sexuality is basically premised on one sex—the male. There is the male and there is the absence or lack—the female. The male is the paradigm of all sexuality— physical changes (Freud, Irigaray points out speaks of the “lack” in the females, but never speaks of the degeneration of breasts in the males, which should also be construed a “lack”) and sexual pleasure —and sexuality is a priori male for Freud. Irigaray notes: “female sexuality has always been conceptualised on the basis of masculine parameters.”

(3) Irigaray traces the logic of sameness right back to Plato. She argues that the logic of sameness collapses the two specificities as follows: into one and its negative-man and not-man, A and not A (or A-minus). This means that instead of two separate autonomous entities A, B we have one positive (A) and its negative. The second term/identity is only what the first is not. All difference between the sexes is eradicated through this means. This is why Irigaray suggests that the flat mirror reflects back to the male, indicates only the fullness of male identity. This also means that it becomes impossible for the woman to represent herself. She is always, writes Irigaray, “off-stage, off-side, beyond representation, beyond selfhood.” This logic is also indicative of the privileging (a) of the male organ and (b) of the unitary notion of truth, where the patriarchal truth is the only truth. Irigaray has set the stage for the articulation of the autonomous feminine subject, the thus-far effaced B of discourse.

(4) Irigaray suggests a specifically feminine writing practice. Proceeding from the assumption that a different order of meaning is necessary to construct a positive representation of the feminine, Ingaray searches out new linguistic modes of expressing the feminine self. The Lacanian idea that language is phallic, Irigaray argues, implies a dangerous situation. For the woman to speak, she must speak like a man, or else to break away from the social/symbolic. If women are to have their own identity, they must subvert the phallic version of the symbolic. She sees writing as going through the looking glass into a world of woman’s self-representation.

(5) Irigaray therefore adopts a slippery kind of writing herself. Puns, word plays, syntactic experiments and new arrangements, fragmentation become the modes of feminine writing that breaks the stranglehold of masculine rigidified and rule bound language. Reading and writing then must favour the images and metaphors of fluidity, dynamism, polysemy and plurality (all feminine) rather than those of unity, monologism, stability and fixity.

(6) She associates the metaphor of the specular mirror with this feminine representation. The curved surface of the speculum produces a deformed image which reverses the reflections of masculine discourse. Irigaray writes: then “the specular surface [will be] found not the void of nothingness but the dazzle of multifaceted speleology. A scintillating and incandescent concavity.” This curved surface represents the inner specificity of the female body. Women need to first represent themselves to themselves in order to constitute themselves as social beings who can form positive relationships with one another.

(7) Rejecting the primacy of sight in psychoanalysis, Irigaray returns to the pre-Oedipal stage where the sense of touch rules the mother-child relation. In addition, Irigaray rejects the focus on genitals as the erogenous zone in classical psychoanalysis. Arguing that the woman’s body is multiplicity itself, Irigaray suggests that female sexuality is also multiple in its erogenous zones. It is now necessary to see female sexuality as not a lack but as “two lips” which are evidently different from the unitariness of the male organ. The lips are “continually interchanging and touching, they are “neither identifiable nor separable from one another . . . these two are always joined in an embrace:” Fluidity, multiplicity and the primacy of touch inform Irigaray s writing. Lacanian psychoanalysis which privileges metaphor (considered semi-solid) over metonymy (considered fluid) has resulted in the neglect of the feminine sexuality. Feminine sexuality which is fluid is always ignored in favour of the solidity of the phallus.

(8) Foregrounding the mother-daughter relationship, Irigaray argues that the woman’s inability to represent herself is due to the undermining of the mother-daughter bond by and in the Symbolic Order.Motherhood is allowed only a small space, denied economic or social status and separated from the very aspect of sexuality. Creativity is a male domain, motherhood is restricted to the nurture and care of the child. The daughter in the patriarchal system must separate from the mother in order to gain her own identity. The daughter is thus “exiled” from her first identity and history.

(9) Irigaray argues that this condition must be rectified by the invention of a new language that redefines motherhood in explicitly sexual terms. Such a language will allow the mother and daughter separate identities but retain their bond. In her search for the equivalent of the mother-daughter bond, Irigaray has resurrected those aspects of Western culture that symbolise specifically feminine conditions: witchcraft, sorcery and the divine feminine. These have been repressed in the masculine symbolic order, argues Irigaray. There is not even a feminine god, she points out. The feminine god has to be the god of becoming, the god of fluidity, of porous boundaries, and of the very elements (air, fire, water and earth). The quest for such a feminine god is thus the search for an alternative point of reference other than the patriarchal one.

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