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Barke 103 Carolyn Burke Romancing the Philosophers: Luce Irigaray Luce Irigaray's English-speaking readers are sometimes surprised to learn that she considers her object of analysis not psychoanalysis per se but rather, philosophical discourse in general: "The one that lays down the law to the others...the discourse on discourses."1 This discovery may be unsettling in countries where philosophy shares neither the prestige nor the tradition that Irigaray attibutes to the "master discourse," and where feminist readers sometimes object to her engagement with kinds of theory that they see as either misogynistic or irrelevant, or both. Moreover, through the accidents of translation and differences in cultural context, even those who are sympathetic toward her work have tended to emphasize its critique of psychoanalysis at the expense of her philosophical project. Now that the complete texts of Speculum and This Sex Which is Not One are available in English, we are in a better position to evaluate the magnitude and daring of this project, a radical reinterpretation of Western philosophic tradition, which, in her view, includes psychoanalysis as "a possible enclave of philosophic discourse."2 Put schematically, Speculum is a massive dismantling of the "phallogocentric" mechanism of Western metaphysical tradition, which relegates the feminine to the position of the object, matter, or material against which the masculine "subject" defines itself and thereby subordinates it to an economy of exchange among such subjects. This Sex serves both as a kind of postface to Speculum, amplifying and illustrating its ideas, and as a moving call for a "speaking (as) woman" (parler-femme), a mode of expression capable of embodying feminine desire. Both in the original French and in the fragmentary translations available until recently, these books have already had a major impact on feminist theory ofvarious persuasions, literary criticism and film theory, as readers have assimilated their strangeness and massive complexity. But just as her writing began to seem readable, almost accessible, Irigaray appeared to take off in another direction. For in Amante marine, de Friedrich Nietzsche (198O)5, Passions élémentaires (1982), L'Oublie de l'air, (1982) and "Fécondité de la Caresse," (1983), Irigaray pursued her reinterpretation of philosophy in a style so unfamiliar even to those trained in its traditions that many readers wondered whether her original project had not gone astray. As if in anticipation of their bafflement, Irigaray commented on her unusual method in Speculum, 104 the minnesota review philosophical mastery...cannot simply be approached head on, nor simply within the realm of the philosophical itself. Thus it was necessary to deploy other languages ...so that something of the feminine as the limit of the philosophical might finally be heard.3 This essay discusses the deployment of those other languages in her recent attempts to initiate a "sideways" dialogue with the masters of philosophy that she tried to approach "head on" in her earlier writing. From the start, Irigaray was aware that her oblique linguistic strategies could lead to misunderstanding, given the generally accepted requirements for logical coherence and discursive clarity. In Speculum, however, she was already pushing against these forms of intelligibility, which, in her view, result in a conception of theory and method "that has always also led us away, led us astray, by fraud and artifice, from woman's path" to knowledge. She concluded that: In order to reopen woman's path, in particular in and through language, it was therefore necessary to note the way in which the method is never as simple as it purports to be, the way in which the teleological project ...the method takes on is always a project, conscious or not, of turning away, of deviation, and of reduction, in the artifice of sameness, of otherness. In other words, speaking at the greatest level of generality so far as philosophical methods are concerned: of the feminine.4 Theory itself had seduced or turned its followers away from the feminine, while taking unto itself the privilege of speaking as the universal. But how was the silenced feminine to reassert itself within a system that denied its existence? By countering one force of seduction with another: "it was necessary to destroy, but, as Rene Char wrote, with nuptial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 103-114
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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