European feminist, psycholinguist, and philosopher. Critic of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud.

Irigaray was born in Belgium in 1930. She participated in Jacques Lacan's revisionist psychoanalytic seminars in the 1960s; she trained as and later became a psychoanalyst. She received her doctorate in linguistics in 1968. In 1982, while holding the chair in philosophy at Rotterdam's Erasmus University, she published her celebrated An Ethics of Sexual Difference establishing her priority on the scene of contemporary continental philosophy. Currently, Irigaray is director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.

"Sexual difference is probably the issue in our time which could be our 'salvation' if we thought it through."

Like Cixous and Kristeva, Irigaray is critical of the philosophico-psychological tradition of differentianting men from women, because it is not a differentiation at all, but a privileging of one over the other, a subsuming of one into the other, a divide between the two, whereby one is defined in the terms of the other. Freud's picture of feminine sexuality, for example, is painfully bleak. Women are in perpetual penis envy and will enact the sexual desire this envy causes by: 1) wanting a male baby who can give her a penis, 2) wanting a husband who can give her a penis, or 3) embody masculine logic (rationality, science) in order to dissimulate her own sexual 'nothingness'. Historically, it is not entirely absurd to cast feminine sexuality in terms of a desire to reproduce and have a husband (although it does tacitly exclude sexuality that is not heterosexual, marital, and 'straight'). It is the unfortunate Freudian novelty that these desires are further conditioned by the desire to gain masculinity within the woman that Irigaray finds unacceptable. That a woman could want to have a child or a husband only as a result of penis envy is the unfortunate legacy left us by phallogocentricism.

Irigaray criticizes those theories of sexual difference that conceive binary oppositions such as penis/nothing penis/multiplicity. These oppositions priveleged a masculine view of sexuality and conceived of feminine sexuality in essentially negative terms. It is the goal of Cixous and Irigaray to explode this binary opposition by turning the feminine half of the opposition from a lack into an excess and a pleasure.

In place of the phallogocentricism that characterizes modern views of sexuality and gender, Irigaray offers a positive notion of female sexuality that will liberate heterosexuality and sexuality in general from its Freudian enslavement to impossibility. Irigaray envisions a sexuality will be based on the multiplicity of female sexuality: "A women has sex organs just about everywhere." If the female body is oriented as the primary metaphor for sexuality, in the place of the figure of the solitary male organ, sexuality could become diffuse, plural, and multiple rather than concentrated and singular. A sexual act can range over a wider geography of terrain than only the male sexual organ. A female sexuality would be located everywhere, in the kiss, in the touch, in the look, in the writing, all over the body, and her body as much as his.

Select Bibliography of Book-Length Works by Luce Irigaray

  • I Love To You: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History. Trans. Alison Martin. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution. Trans. Karin Montin. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993.
  • Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference. Trans. Alison Martin. New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Sexes and Genealogies. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell Unviersity Press, 1993.
  • Elemental Passions. Trans. Joanne Collie and Judith Still. New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • The Irigaray Reader. Edited by Margaret Whitford. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
  • Marine Lover: Of Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1991.
  • Speculum: Of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985.
  • This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985.

Karen Eliot on Luce Irigaray.

In an unannounced public performance in SoHo, New York City in 1995, Karen Eliot distributed over 100 xeroxed-and-bound handmade books of Luce Irigirary's This Sex Which is Not One to spectators who had gathered around her amplified stage, where a friend was playing classical music records on an old Victrola phonograph. Eliot gave a speech on Neoism and art in general. She spoke of genius, of talent, of violation. She spoke of the phallocentrism of art, the male domination of the art world, and, above all, the masculine enslavement of art. This enslavement is typified in the male bodies of the gallery owners and art stars (she referred to the very femininity of Andy Warhol as the art world's refusal to accept a truly feminine artist: "When they want a woman's art, they still demand a man to make it!"). It is also highlighted in the masculinity of the physical economy of the galleries.

Following, she believed, Irigaray's discourse on sexuality, Eliot called for a feminine economy of art, an art that would not be single and original, but multiple and diffuse. An art that would lay men naked before women. An art whose display would not demand the penetration of the doors of a gallery, but instead a spontaneous art that would erupt in ecstacy on every street corner. Eliot closed the speech by reciting a poem, dedicating it to Luce Irigaray. The entire speech and poem was transcribed and printed in a 1995 out-of-print issue of the now-defunct mini-magazine Her Art.

Here is the closing poem:

What a woman is
is not
what a woman is

What a man is
what a man is

What a woman is
is not
what a woman is

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