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  • To speak is never neutral by Luce Irigaray
  • Chaoqun Xie
To speak is never neutral. By Luce Irigaray. Trans. from the French by Gail Schwab. New York: Routledge, 2002. Pp. 277. ISBN 0415908132. $22.95.

Paradoxically, scholars and researchers have for many years been making admirable endeavors to embrace unbiased language use with no awareness that the language they themselves are using is prejudiced. This book presents more or less chronologically nineteen original, representative, and penetrating essays by Luce Irigaray, a productive and influential French philosopher and psycholinguist, and compellingly demonstrates how serious and how prevailing this lack of awareness has been, even in the self-proclaimed objective domain of the language of science. To speak is neutral? A sheer phantasm, after all.

As is clearly stated in Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’, ‘This book is a questioning of the language of science, and an investigation into the sexualization of language, and the relation between the two’ (5). Ch. 2 discusses linguistic and specular communication with reference to genetic and pathological models. Ch. 3 investigates ‘Negation and negative transformation in the language of schizophrenics’. Ch. 4 argues for interpreting in terms of a grammar of enunciation the functional systematizations found in the singular structures of the languages of neurotics (43). Ch. 5, ‘On phantasm and the verb’, further explores the topic of enunciation, insightfully claiming that enunciation is ‘a relationship among structures—subject, code, world, co-locutor’ (55). Chs. 6 and 7 focus on schizophrenics and senile dementia patients with reference to error types committed in the manipulation of kinship structures and sentence production. Ch. 8 looks at the utterance in psychoanalysis, while Ch. 9, ‘Class language, unconscious language’, looks into the linguistic perspective on the Marr-Stalin debate as regards whether class language exists or not. Ch. 10 presents a detailed account of ‘The rape of the letter’, pointing out that ‘To read a text is to fold it into a foreign network, to expatriate, to dispossess, and disappropriate it’ (121). Ch. 11 talks about ‘Sex as sign’.

Ch. 12, ‘Idiolect or other logic’, provides a corpus-based analysis of how schizophrenics use language and linguistic forms. Ch. 13, ‘Does schizophrenic discourse exist?’, discusses the linguistic characteristics of enunciation with specific reference to the language of schizophrenics, highlighting the claim that ‘Problems in schizophrenic language are related more to the dynamics of enunciation, . . . than to any eventual symptoms or deficiencies’ (173). Ch. 14, ‘Schizophrenics, or the refusal of schiz’, delves into how the discourse of schizophrenics functions within the framework of certain dichotomies such as: language/speech, competence/performance, and signifier/signified. Ch. 15 explores ‘The setting in psychoanalysis’, and Ch. 16 shifts its focus to ‘The poverty of psychoanalysis’. Ch. 17 questions ‘The language of man’, pointing out ‘certain applications and implications of the—male—sexualization of discourse’ (228). Ch. 18 deals with the ‘Limits of transference’, drawing attention to the absence of discourse generation on the part of women; women, [End Page 806] residing in a world of virtual paternity, are not able to create words of their own and to create their own identity in the real sense. Finally, Ch. 19, ‘In science, is the subject sexed?’, extends the issue of the sexualization of discourse into the domain of science in general, arguing sharply that ‘what claims to be universal is actually the equivalent of a male idiolect, of a male imaginary, of a sexed world—and not neuter’ (250), with the conclusion that ‘What is lacking is the fecundity of the sexed word, and of a creation, beyond procreation, that is sexual’ (258). This volume closes with notes to each chapter and an index.

This is a great read in the sense that it dwells upon many fundamental issues with reference to the language of psychoanalysis and the sexualization of discourse. The author shows that neutral language is next to impossible in a world in which women are from the very beginning denied access to language and discourse. By the way, any reader unacquainted with Irigaray’s difficult style of presentation should be reminded that it calls for (and deserves, of course) careful reading to come to grips with her views and insights.

Chaoqun Xie...


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