Text as Morphological Excess
Irigaray’s Psychoanalytical Works
Adrian Switzer

In the “Questions” chapter of This Sex Which is Not One (Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un (1977), hereafter This Sex, Irigaray is asked whether she, “work(s) within the phallocratic psychoanalytic framework-Freudian or Lacanian, it doesn’t matter which-with the intention of producing a different analysis.” Irigaray answers in dismissive fashion: “I could answer that the question of whether I situate myself ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ with respect to the institution (of psychoanalysis) does not concern me” (Je pourrais répondre que la question de savoir si, par rapport à l’institution je me situe ‘dedans’ ou ‘dehors’ ne me concerne pas) (Irigaray 1985b, 146). Here, the intent is to take Irigaray at her word. The question of her relationship to psychoanalysis demands an alternate topology; it is properly addressed without recourse to such traditional, positional ideas as “inside” (dedans) and “outside” (dehors); without recourse to positionality in general. In an effort to make sense of Irigaray’s “displacing” reply, the present work focuses on her early, psychoanalytic works. Specifically, a differently drawn topography is here sketched in an effort to “situate” Irigaray relative to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. However, to arrive at such an alternate topology, the course to be charted runs through the seemingly disparate lands of the western philosophical tradition.

In This Sex, in reply to a question concerning her “interpretive rereading” (relecture interprétante) of the texts that comprise the history of philosophy, a “rereading” carried out in her dissertation “Speculum of the Other Woman” (Speculum de l’autre femme, 1974) (hereafter “Speculum”), Irigaray explains, “it is indeed precisely philosophical discourse that we have to challenge, and disrupt, inasmuch as this discourse sets forth the law for all others” (c’est bien le discours philosophique qu’il faut questionner, et déranger, en tant qu’il fait la loi à tout autre). Continuing, Irigaray explains her efforts in terms of the necessary “derangement” of the texts of the tradition insofar as they codify the law passed down by philosophy as the “discourse on discourse” (le discours des discours, Irigaray 1985b, 74). The passage draws attention to the texts of the western philosophical tradition; indirectly, the passage directs us to attend to the texts of Irigaray: an interpretive re-reading that challenges and disrupts the texts of the tradition must itself be approached through the textuality of such disruption and derangement. Speculum considered at this level, considered, that is, in terms of its texuality, is divided between three unequal parts. The first, “The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry” (La tâche aveugle d’un vieux rêve de symétrie), is overtly an engagement of the “Femininity” section of Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; indirectly, the first section of the text serves to announce the asymmetrical character of the work that follows. Since the first section of “Speculum” is the longest of the three, the asymmetry alluded to in its title might be read as a meta-textual reference to the structure of the dissertation itself. Furthermore, because the asymmetrically long first section of the work focuses on the Freudian theory of female sexuality, the implication is that a certain asymmetry characterizes Freud’s position relative to the western philosophical tradition. Accordingly, Freud’s theory of feminine sexuality is the “blind spot” (tâche aveugle) of the tradition; given its asymmetrical, obscure position, such a blind spot may be more or less distended. [1]

The second part of “Speculum”, entitled simply “Speculum” encompasses Irigaray’s “interpretive rereading” of the discourse of the philosophical tradition. The section spans the tradition from Plato to Hegel, passing, as it proceeds, through Descartes and Kant. At the center of this central section of the text, and thus in the heart of the heart of the work, is the chapter “La Mystérique,” an extended-and uncited-mimetic engagement of Plotinus’ Enneads. At the moment of passing over into this mimetic performance, Irigaray pauses briefly to reflect on her bearings: “What is expected is neither a this nor a that, not a here any more than a there. No being, no time, no places are designated” (Ce qui est attendu n’est ni un ceci, ni un cela, pa même un ici, non plus qu’un là. Sans être, ni temps, ni lieux désignables). Finding herself utterly dislocated, neither here nor there, Irigaray concludes, “the best plan is to abstain from all discourse… (w)hile all the while keeping an attentive ear open for any hint or tremor coming back” (Mieux vaut donc se refuser à tout discours… Tendant aussi l’oreille vers tout frémissement anonçant un retour) (Irigaray 1985a, 193). What Irigaray signals the reader to “attend to by ear” (tendant aussi l’oreille) in reading the Plotinian text that follows is the faint echo of her own mimicry. Given the present concern with topological matters as they bear on reading Irigaray, such mimicry is of note in that Irgaray here pairs a mimetic methodology with the distinctly topological matter of being dislocated. The connection Irigaray here draws between a mimetic engagement of the philosophical tradition and being displaced, without a “here” (ici), or “there” (), without the designation of “places” (lieux), suggests that a mimetic methodology is tied to questions of topological placement. Read in retrospect, the opening section of “Speculum” resonates as an instance of Irigaray’s mimetic methodology; mimetically, Freud comes back to the reader in distortion, twisted in the contours of the carnival-funhouse mirror. Operating within the general Freudian milieu of the castration complex and penis envy, Irigaray notes a peculiarity: “Now the little girl, the woman, supposedly has nothing you can see. She exposes, exhibits the possibility of a nothing to see” (Or la fillete, la femme, n’aurait rien à donner à voir. Elle exposerait, exhiberait, la possibilityé d’un rien à voir) (47). This “nothing” (rien) might have acted for Freud as an “inducement to perform castration upon an age-old oculocentrism” (l’invite à une opération de castration sur un oculocentrisme séculaire) (48). After all, such a “castration” is already performed, to an extent, in the arrangement of the analytic scene: the analyst is situated behind the back, and so out of the line of sight, of the analysand. Resistant to such a theoretical exigency, “contract[ing]” and “collud[ing]” according to the Leibnizian law that identifies singularity and being, Freud instead provides for the “visual dominance” of the male organ (48): this despite the fact that it is the woman’s body that occasions the male anxiety of castration. Irigaray reproduces the passage from the New Introductory Lectures where Freud frames this insight: “In (boys) the castration complex arises after they have learned from the sight of the female genitals that the organ which they value so highly need not necessarily accompany the body” (49).

The theoretical bias in Freud toward visible anatomy, which makes of a lack of a penis an anxiety or envy rather than a desire (57), is thus founded on a more fundamental invisibility: the “nothing” (rien) of female genitalia is the very condition for recognition of the “one” (un) sexual organ of the man. Indirectly, Irigaray’s point is that Freud’s scientific pretensions of explicating human psychosexual development, and making clear the impasses, delusional states, and paranoia into which it can dead end, is underwritten by its concealment of the very condition for such explication, namely the non-visible, the nothing of what cannot be brought to light. Taking this one exchange with Freud to instance the general manner in which Irigaray conducts her forays into the space of psychoanalysis, at least in “Speculum”, taking, moreover, her direct reproductions of Freudian texts as an instance of her mimeticization, what follows is the image of a methodology with clear affinities to deconstruction, generally construed. For both methodologies, a source text is directly engaged in its own terms, so as to allow the internal tensions of the original source material to emerge. Mimesis thus conceived threatens, however, to reinstate the very paradigm of knowledge as visibility Irigaray finds central to the homology of thought in discursive representation. Read as an instance of a deconstructive mimesis, the opening section of Speculum would, in the very act of mimetically rehearsing Freud’s inconsistent biasing of the visible, succumb to the same bias in undertaking to “clarify” or “expose” what is otherwise “concealed” in a text. Furthering, as it then would, the presumed association between knowledge and visibility, such a methodology would also treat a text according to the phallo-logocentrism Irigaray elsewhere challenges on grounds of its reductive tendencies. In the phallo-logocentrism of the western philosophical tradition, and in its attendant analogizing of knowledge as visibility, the possibility of real difference, of real alterity, is foreclosed. Thus, to avoid inscribing too hastily a mimetic methodology within the very problematic it challenges, affinities between deconstruction and Irigaray’s mimetics should be bracketed; in fact, any attempt to explain Irigaraian thought analogically must be avoided for the same reason. The task Irigaray poses to psychoanalysis, which is roughly the task she poses a reader in general and an interpreter of her own works in particular, is one of overcoming the bias toward making visible the meaning contained “in” texts. Irigaray insists on a new conception of textuality; a conception free of the metaphorics of knowledge as vision and reading as disclosure. The hermeneutic strategy at question in Irigaray is one that models interpretation on seeing and meaning on the visible. Against such traditional hermeneutics, Irigaray anticipates an alternate form of reading and writing: “What other mode of reading or writing, of interpretation and affirmation” (quel mode autre de lecture, d’écriture, d’interprétation, d’affirmation), Irigaray asks at one point in This Sex, “may be mine inasmuch as I am a woman” (peut être le mien en tant que femme) (Irigaray 1985b, 159). Such an alternate hermeneutics is one that is free of the “analogical” tendencies of traditional hermeneutic practices. For example, comparing or analogizing Irigaray’s mimetic methodology to Derridean deconstruction simply reinstates, in indirect fashion, the traditional hermeneutic bias toward visibility. [2] Irigaray, in fact, explores the traditional, analogical figure of speech implicit in an hermeneutics of visibility; she does so by way of the Platonic allegory of the cave at the end of Speculum. Here too, in reference to the Platonic dependence on an analogical mode of thought and analogy as the philosophically privileged form of speech, Irigaray discerns the same problem of displacement and dislocation that haunts the discursive tradition in its efforts to address woman in her desire.

Falling-as Plato would say, no doubt-into the trap of mimicking them (dans le piège de les mimer), of claiming to find jouissance as ‘she’ does. To the point when he can no longer find himself as ‘subject’ anymore, and goes where he has no wish to follow: to his loss in that a-typical, a-topical mysteria (à sa perte dans cette atypique, atopique, mystérie). (Irigaray 1985a, 191-192)

The sentence that prefaces this passage situates the “atopique” nature of discursive, philosophical representation of woman and her desire relative to the “pains” such representation takes to sustain a metaphorical figuration (le statut de figures) (191). What this suggests is that the figure of speech employed by Plato, the allegorical relationship constructed between knowledge and visibility, is precisely the “locus” of dislocation. Thus, the philosophical, discursive tradition dislocates itself in its appeal to and dependence upon an analogical mode of thought. To put the same point in more distinctly Irigaraian terms: it is precisely in analogizing women and her pleasure through the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility that the master discourse of philosophy deranges itself; drives itself mad. In the third and final section of “Speculum”, “Plato’s Hystera” (L’ustera de Platon), Irigaray returns from the depths of the “atopique,” Plotinian space of (represented) female subjectivity and pleasure-an “atopic” space of madness in that is nowhere-to the Platonic allegory of the cave. [3] Continuing an overtly “textual” approach to Irigaray’s work, Plato’s allegorical form of philosophical representation must be re-situated at the very heart of Irigaray’s traversal of the history of philosophy. Irigaray’s traversal, after all, runs historically in one direction from Plato to Hegel, and again in reverse from Plotinus back to Plato. Further, the central positioning of Plotinus, who retrieves Platonic dialectic for the Neo-Platonic tradition, signals the central place of Plato and the dialectic in the western philosophical tradition. Thus, despite the asymmetrical placement of the chapter on Plato’s allegory of the cave to the end of “Speculum”, textually, Plato and the allegory of the cave occupy the central position in the dissertation. The significance of such textual re-arrangement is that it centralizes the allegorical form of speech, and thereby evacuates the form of its signifying force. The figure of the analogy or metaphor, when employed within a philosophical model of representation, is enervated in this way because when turned back on itself the referring syntax of a metaphor is disrupted. The very relation of difference on which the metaphor depends, e.g., an unknown or unfamiliar object (or concept) occupies one pole of the metaphor and is compared to another, familiar object (or concept) occupying the other position in the analogy; such a form of comparison of the familiar to unfamiliar is lost to philosophical discursivity. The philosophical, discursive form of representation, after all, treats all things in homologous fashion: according to the logos or, more specifically, according to the idea of making visible, and thus of comprehending, what is otherwise concealed. Consequently, the very difference on which a metaphor operates is lost in the homology of philosophical discursivity. What this means, in turn, is that in its continued employment of the analogical form of thought, philosophy as a discursive practice, simply re-presents itself back to itself: the homology of logical thought quickly becomes the tautology of self-representation. Irigaray puts this same point, obliquely, in consideration of the Platonic koré: “Does this imply that man would see himself in (the concavity of the metaphorical koré) as he sees anyone else, not as an other reflected self. Is the identification ‘as’ like or same theoretically impossible?” (L’homme s’y verrait donc comme il voit tout un chacun non comme un autre soi-même réfléchi? L’identification ‘comme’ même serait impossible) (149).

To pursue, and in so doing “clarify,” Irigaray’s point concerning the metaphorical or analogical mode in which philosophy has been traditionally conducted, it is necessary to conclude with the premiere example of philosophical discursivity: Hegelian dialectic.1 Such prominence of place is granted from a marginal reference to Hegel at the midpoint of the Freud section of Speculum. Textually, Irigaray’s strategy is to announce a point of central, theoretical significance in what would otherwise seem merely “marginal” (marginale“, or textually peripheral (Cf. Irigaray 1985b, 127).

In the text that adjoins the footnote, Irigaray is entertaining the Freudian “super-ego” (Über-Ich) in relation to the hysterical woman, suggesting that the hysteric’s “fragile” and “fragmented” ego is particularly susceptible to the “mortifying sadism” (le sadisme mortifère) of a super-ego constituted in her by the law-making father, and by discursivity, language, and law in general (Irigaray 1985a, 89). Freud himself occasions such “extrinsic” super-egoism in the woman by noting that without possession of the penis, there is nothing of her own under threat by castration. Consequently, the woman’s super-ego is instituted wholly from without; impressed in the psyche with full sadistic force. But, from whence does the acuteness of such sadism arise? Irigaray offers, in reply, the “anxiety, horror, disdain of woman’s castration” (angoisse, horreur, mépris de leur châtrage), which, if right, demands a reopening, a reinterpretation, of the whole psychosexual history that Freud normalizes (89-90). At just this juncture, Irigaray steps in to interrupt herself; following suit, we take notice of the Hegelian interruption of Irigaray’s mimesis of Freud. In allowing for such interruption, however, it must be noted that it occurs at precisely the moment Irigaray transitions from the hysterical woman to a “redistribution” of partial instincts situated in the body of the phallic mother (90-91). Such instincts, or drives, are crucial to Irigaray’s positive appropriation of Freudian psychoanalysis. In conclusion, there will be occasion to return to this matter to suggest a connection between matriarchal partial drives and Irigaray’s “atopical” reading lessons in female sexual morphology.

The Freudian “Oedipal triangle” (la triangulation oedipienne), Irigaray notes in her footnote to Hegel, is “like the Hegelian dialectic” (que la dialectique hégélienne) in consisting of four rather than three terms: the third term in both is doubled through what Irigaray terms a “relative negation” (négation relative). The relative negation Irigaray finds described in the Freudian oedipal scenario is the bisexual other of the boy as he passes through oedipalization. Such negation is relative because it negates the feminine other of the masculine self within a scene that excludes absolutely the female other in the form of the little girl. As wholly excluded from the boy’s oedipalization, the little girl is the negative absolute; her simulacra expunged from the bisexual origins of the little boy is thus a relative negation. Concluding, in Deleuzian fashion, Irigaray then depicts the male subject as “schizated” (schizé), that is, as constituted in reference to an other “that he too once was” (de ce quatrième qu’il était aussi).

The relative negation in Hegel to which Irigaray would compare the fourfold Freudian triangle consists in restoring, through negation, the universality that is temporarily suspended in the particularity of the dialectical differentiation of the idea into its immediate and mediate moments. Drawing as she does from a textual passage late in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik, Irigaray implicitly equates such universality with the absolute idea, which through negation of the whole of the pairings of the dialectical moments of the logic is “restored” to the universality of its “first immediacy,” i.e., the point from which its dialectical unfolding began. Enumerated in one way, the Hegelian absolute idea is then a third to the other two of (all of) the moments it passes through in coming to full realization; enumerated in another it is the fourth in being third to these moments plus the one of itself as the “first” universal immediacy that it “too once was” (90n).

Significantly, there is a remainder to Irigaray’s equation between the arithmetics of Freud and Hegel; there is a slight difference in Hegel’s calculation that three is indistinguishable from four. Consider in this regard the section of Hegel’s Logik from which Irigaray draws her unequal figures:

This negativity is the restoration of the first immediacy, of simple universality; for the other of the other, the negative of the negative, is immediately the positive, the identical, the universal. If one insists on counting, this second immediate is, in the course of the methods as a whole, the third term to the first immediate and the mediated… The third or fourth is in general the unity of the first and second moments, of the immediate and the mediated (Le troisième ou le quatrième est en général l’unité du premier et du deuxième moment, de l’immédiat et du médiatisé) (90n.)

The passage attests to Hegel’s arithmetical indifference: “the third or fourth” (le troisième ou le quatrième) is the unity of the immediate and mediated. In such indifference, more generally, Irigaray detects a remainder left over beyond the strict homology of analogical, discursive representation. [4] If in Freudian parlance the Hegelian third is the absolute otherness of the little girl excluded from the oedipal scene and the fourth is the relative negation of the bisexually female other of the boy passing through oedipalization, Hegel’s willingness to countenance third or fourth as perhaps the same in being the unity of immediate and mediated suggests that the absolutely and relatively other are indistinguishable one from another. The analytic gesture of excluding the real, female other from the oedipal scene – analytically expedient in allowing Freud to deal now with the boy’s psychosexual organization, later with the same for the girl – is impossible within the Hegelian dialectic given its indifference to three and four, absolute and relative, male and female.

If the relative and absolute come to be indistinguishable in the negativity of Hegelian dialectic, the remainder of this strange arithmetic is a distinct negation or distinct negativity. The distinctness of such negativity follows from the philosophical, discursive representation of dialectic: a distinguishable negativity made real or material, on Irigaray’s reading of the tradition, is nothing more than the basic, material textuality of philosophical representation.

Irigaray anticipates the real, textual remainder to philosophical representation in a passage early in Speculum. Here, Irigaray expressly links the real nothing of discursive representation to auto-affection as a form of “self-representation” or self-writing: “(Auto-affection) has been permitted, authorized, encouraged insofar as it has been deferred, exhibited in sublated ways. All this is endangered (caught in the act, one might say) by a nothing-that is, a nothing the same, identical, identifiable” (Et qu’un rien-de même, d’identique, d’identifiable…) “A nothing that might cause the ultimate destruction, the splintering, the break in the systems of ‘presence,’ of ‘re-presentation,’ and ‘representation'” (Rien qui risque de faire s’écrouler, se déliter, dériver indéfiniment, la cohérence de leur systématique de la ‘présence,’ de la ‘re-présentation,’ et ‘représentation’) (50).

The absolute nothing of the woman excluded from the figurings of psychosexual organization is folded into the oedipal scene through the dialectical indecision between relative and absolute. Further, such nothing, such negativity, is made real in the textual fact of philosophical, discursive self-representation. Woman as the nothing remainder left over from philosophical, discursive representation here becomes the real nothing of the basic materiality of the text: woman as text is then the real, material supplement to the machinations of phallo-logocentricism as a discursive, representational form.

Beyond signaling the distinct negativity that is in excess to discursive, philosophical representation, Hegel is privileged in Speculum for related, methodological reasons. Irigaray’s performance of speculative dialectic in and through the figure of the concave, specular mirror-a performance that might, accordingly, be termed a “specular dialectic” – shows Hegel’s methods to arise from and arrives at the same point. What Irigaray’s “specular” rehearsal of Hegelian dialectic shows, further, is the real remainder of the mirror in which the homologous image of the dialectic is cast. Irigaray makes this point textually in the above passage by separating off, so as to accentuate, the prefix “re-” in “re-presentation” (re-présentation). Caught in the gaze of its own privileged image of knowledge as visibility, philosophy finds only itself staring back at itself, blind to the remainder of the glass in which it reflects itself. [5]

In the term “speculum,” a reader of Irigaray’s early works is thus pressed to detect a reference not only to the device that enables the gynecological (visual) inspection of the vagina, but also reference to the Lacanian notion of the specular/mirror stage as locus of the constitution of sexed subjectivity. The Lacanian implications of Irigaray’s specular imagery are addressed in greater detail below. Within the context of Irigaray’s Hegelian footnote, the term “speculum” is made to support a third level of resonance: the Hegelian/Platonic idea of a speculative dialectic as specularly (or mimetically) rehearsed.

Read not as the “actual” practice of dialectic, but rather as the specular performance or rehearsal of dialectic, what Hegelian speculative dialectic is shown to present is nothing other than philosophical representation itself: dialectic as the premiere instance of philosophical representation in rote repetition of itself as mode of representation. Irigaray’s choice of Hegel as the end and culmination of the modern philosophical tradition, and her choice to juxtapose Hegel with Plotinus, who undertakes to revive Platonic dialectic in the Enneads-within the very section that Irigaray mimetically enacts-suggests, however indirectly, precisely the reconstruction of the text here offered. Attending to the text of Speculum, to the texts of the history of philosophy it reproduces and in so doing disrupts and deranges, Irigaray’s mimetic rehearsal of the dialectic folding together of Hegel, Plotinus, and Plato suggests a comparable derangement of the Platonic allegory of the cave with which Irigaray ends the dissertation. Read through its “other” text of the Enneads, which in broad outline offers a holistic monism according to which ontological difference arises through “emanation” from a fundamental metaphysical unity referred to, variously, as intelligence, the good, or the one, the allegorical form of Plato’s cave unhinges, and becomes “hysterical.” Once deranged through the text of the Enneads, the allegory of the cave in its disjointed madness is unable to keep separate the coming into sight of the Platonic sun and coming to be one with the sun. Such ontological identity is, after all, the culmination of Plotnius’ dialectic; a oneness of the soul with the intelligence from which it emanates. Further, and this point should be insisted upon, such derangement of the Platonic allegorical form is necessitated by the very logic of philosophical representation practiced in the service of dialectics.

Philosophical representation practiced in the service of, or according to the logic of, speculative dialectic, reduces ontology to homology. Plato’s allegorical expression of the human ascent to knowledge is discursively indistinguishable from Plotinus’ dialectical convergence of thought and being. Accordingly, the cosmological or mystical “reinterpretation” of Plato is simply Plato read back onto himself according to the dialectical logic of his own commitments to philosophical representation. Again, what this means within the context of the Republic is that the condition reached by those who ascend from the Platonic cave is refigured by the very dialectic by which they proceed. Forced to turn from the shadowy images cast on the wall of the cave and “compelled to look at the light itself,” the cavedwellers ascend into the light of the sun by which they would “contemplate the appearances” of things (Plato 1991, 515e2-516a8): “And so, finally, I suppose, [they] would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place” (516b2-4).

Reading the end-point of Plotinian anabasis into this passage, the condition of the Platonic soul is not simply the noetic grasp of the good, where such noetic grasp is likened through analogy with the sun to “seeing” phenomena in their true light, but rather a coincidence in being with the good. Irigaray makes just this point to inaugurate her “interpretive rereading” of the texts of the history of philosophy: “To specularize and to speculate. Exiling himself ever further (toward) where the greatest power lies, he thus becomes the ‘sun’ if it is around him that things turn, a pole of attraction stronger than the ‘earth'” (Spéculariser, spéculer. S’exilant toujours plus loin (vers) là où serait le plus grand pouvoir, ainsi devient-il ‘soleil’ si c’est autour de lui que les choses tournent, pôle d’attraction plus fort que la ‘terre’) (Irigaray 1985a, 134). Analogized as it is with the sun through the figure of the allegory, the good is thus not, as Plato would have it, the condition of all further knowledge. Instead, the analogical sun becomes the blinding foreclosure of the dominant metaphorics of knowledge as visibility. To become one with the good/sun, which for Plotinus culminates the soul’s ascent back to its point of origin, is to reveal the dialectic as capable of revealing anything other than itself: a self-revelation that Irigaray reads as a disruption of all possible claims to knowledge as modes of seeing. As Irigaray puts the point later in “Speculum”, the cavedwellers finally ascend into (full view of) the sun and in so doing “sinks into a ‘dark night’ that is also fire and flame” (cette ‘nuit obscure’ mais encore ces feux et flames) (191). “Burned” (Brûler), blinded by the sun precisely in being the condition of knowledge metaphorized as sight, the philosophical tradition after Plato is unable to present anything different than itself because it represents all things as the same: representation becomes, in the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, the condition of the impossibility of presenting or knowing anything other than itself. Irigaray’s specularly dialectic reading of Plotinus and Plato by way of Hegelian speculative dialectic shows discursive, philosophical representation to be reflectively attentive to itself and thus, and here is the point of Irigaray’s rehearsal of such dialectics, positioned precisely in the space of the nothing of self-representation. This “no” place that philosophical self-representation occupies, this “nothing” position, moreover, that philosophy inaugurates through its preferred figure of the analogy or metaphor, is the residual nothing of the text that codifies its self-representation. What cannot be folded into philosophical representation is the text as tympan, screen, or mirror onto which the dialectical self-representation of discursive thought projects itself. What evades philosophical representation as representation is the genuinely different. Yet, such un-representable difference is precisely what the philosophical text becomes at the dialectic hands of Plato, Plotinus, Hegel: the un-representable “excess” to philosophical representation.

It is for this reason, finally, that Irigaray engages the history of philosophy in the way she does, namely through mimesis of its textuality. It is for this reason that Irigray’s “interpretive rereading” of the history of philosophy is the rereading of the texts of that tradition. For, it is in repeating the tradition in its textuality that Irigaray gives expression to, without exposing to the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, text as what exceeds philosophical, discursive representation. The more general conclusion Irigaray anticipates, and toward which the present work moves in close, is that without access-in excess-to the textuality of its own self-representation, philosophy as master discourse is foreclosed from the possibility of countenancing the particular fact of human, sexed subjectivity. In pursuing the more embracing implications of Irigaray’s engagement of the western, philosophical tradition, we are guided in a reading of Speculum back toward the psychoanalytic theory of sexed subjectivity with which the text begins. At the limnal edge of Speculum, passing from the blind spot of Freudian psychoanalysis into the self-blindness of speculative dialectics, Irigaray announces: “All theories of the ‘subject’ have always been appropriated to the ‘masculine'” (Toute théorie du ‘sujet’ aura toujours été appropriée au ‘masculin’) (Irigaray 1985a, 136). Despite such a pronouncement, Irigaray’s mimetic engagement of the philosophical tradition in the middle sections of Speculum, her paired performance of speculative dialectics and the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, in short, the actual text of the dissertation, all of this suggests a displacement of such subjective theorization from the center of “Speculum”. Toril Moi, for one, misreads the middle of “Speculum”, and in so doing collapses Irigaray’s two concerns into one. The project of mimicking the speculative dialectics of the philosophical tradition becomes synonymous with articulating an alternate theory of sexed, female subjectivity. Consequently, Moi puzzles over the possibility of an alternate subjectivity constituted from within a discursivity subject to the “inexorable logic of the Same”; a discursivity that characterizes the whole of the western philosophical tradition, mysticism included. If the logic of sameness is, in fact, inexorable, then “how can Luce Irigaray’s doctoral thesis escape its pernicious influence?” (Moi 1989, 138).

To read “Speculum” in this way, to expect textual strands to follow one from another, or to expect claims to appear situated within a systematic argumentative progression, is to read Speculum as a phallo-logocentric text (or in a distinctly phallo-logocentric manner). To read in such a phallo-logocentric manner is, in one sense, to assume of texts a discreteness, unity, identifiability; it assumes that a clear demarcation might be drawn between what is text and what is non-text. Further, to read phallo-logocentrically is to treat texts as linearly coherent. On the basis of this assumption, the role that a particular textual strand is to play seems to be determinable by its location within the text. Irigaray frames Speculum against such phallo-logocentric assumptions of texts and textuality. She explains in her opening reply of “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine” (Pouvoir du discours/subordination du féminine) chapter of This Sex: “Strictly speaking, “Speculum” has no beginning or end. The architectonics of the text, or texts, confounds the linearity of an outline, the teleology of discourse” (A strictement parler, il n’y a pas, dans “Speculum”, un début et une fin. L’architectonique du texte, des textes, déconcerte cette linéarité d’un projet, cette téléologie du discours) (Irigaray 1985b, 68). Continuing, Irigaray provides a first indication of what reading otherwise might comprise.

(W)e need to proceed in such a way that linear reading is no longer possible: that is, the retroactive impact of the end of each word, utterance or sentence upon its beginning must be taken into consideration in order to undo the power of its teleological effect, including its deferred action (il convient de faire en sorte aussi que la lecture linéaire ne soit plus possible: c’est-à-dire que la rétroaction de la fin du mot, de l’énoncé, de la phrase, sur son début soit prise en compte pour désamorcer la puissance de son effet téléologique, y compris dans son après-coup). (80)

Rather than pressing the textual focal point of “Speculum” into service both to unfold the excess of traditional phallo-logocentric discursivity as well as to articulate a subjectivity that is genuinely other-even if Irigaray herself seems to recommend such a reading in announcing the problem of sexed subjectivity in the Plotinus section of the Speculum-the better tack to take is to re-contextualize Irigaray’s reference to subjectivity. Employing the model of a disruptive and reconfiguring textual hermeneutics Irigaray suggests, where linguistic occurrences serve “retroactive(ly)” to defer the “teleological effect” (effet téléologique) of the act of reading, a non-phallo-logocentric reading of “Speculum” drifts backward from its center to its beginning. Accordingly, the reader is enabled with the conditions for reading its opening Freud section only once she has arrived at its center. Reading Speculum free of the presumptions of phallo-logocentric textuality, free, that is, of the coordinates of traditional hermeneutics and teleological inertia, the opening chapter on Freud appears as a mimetic, reflective engagement of Freud’s theory of female subjectivity. Such reflective mimicry, however, is deranging and deforming; Freud’ theory is cast into the fragmented, disjointed mirror of textuality. Already noted, above, is the image of Freud that results from such distortion: the visible is privileged to the exclusion of the invisible female genitalia; the visible is privileged as well as to the exclusion of the “blind” analytic setting. Yet, it is just such invisibility that makes possible Freud’s privileging of the male genitalia, and it is just such analytic “blindness” that underlies Freud’s theoretical presumptions of scientific objectivity. Having traversed, briefly, Irigaray’s central engagement of the master discourse of the western, philosophical tradition, we are able to characterize the “mirror” in which Freud is projected to such effect. Interestingly, it is the textuality of Lacanian psychoanalysis; such is the “mirror phase [le stade du miroir]” of Lacanian theory read back onto itself according to its own dialectical logic. The “asymptotic” approach Lacan identifies in the pre-discursively constituted ego’s movement toward “social determination” here becomes truly, “fictional” (fiction), and as such, “remain[s] irreducible for the individual alone” (irréductible pour le seul individu) (Lacan 2002, 4). The egoic development Lacan characterizes as a “temporal dialectic,” pushing a primitive subjectivity “precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation” (6), fails to encompass the “dialectic” constitution of the mirror in this crucial, early psychosexual stage of development. The always fantastical projection of subjectivity into a form other than it presently embodies must reflect not only the fantasy of the projector but the character of the screen onto which the film is run. Irigaray offers just this insight in mimicry of Lacan: “(We must) look into the status of the ‘exteriority’ of this form that is ‘constituent (more than constituted)’ for the subject, into the way it serves as screen to another outside (a body other than this ‘total form’)” (Il convient donc de s’interroger sur le statut de l”extériorité’ de cette forme ‘constituante’ – plus que ‘constituée’ – pour le sujet, sur ce en quoi elle fait écran à un autre dehors, un corps autre que cette ‘forme totale’) (Irigaray 1985b, 117). The uninterrogated “exteriority” of the mirror stage, the “body” that is other to the subject’s projected total form, is the “screen” (écran) as text of philosophical, phallo-logocentric representation; this, again, according to the dialectic logic Irigaray finds insisted upon in such representation. If the fantastic, or fictional, projection of the Lacanian subject results from the fragmented screen constituted in the early mirror stage, and constituted in such a way that desire reflects back to the analyst as disjointed through fantasies and fictions, the meta-theoretical point Irigaray makes is, simply, that the same can be claimed for the relationship between the Lacanian text and the Freudian theory it disursively engages and interprets. Freudian psychoanalytic theory, particularly with respect to its theorization of feminine sexuality, is thus fictionalized, fragmented, and disjointed by the Lacanian text as the preeminent instance of its representation. [6] Consistent with a mimetic methodology, Irigaray’s retrieval of resources from Freudian psychoanalysis sufficient for, or at least suggestive of, a sexed subjectivity irreducible to discursive representation is thus nothing more than a retrieval of Freud through the disrupting text(s) of Lacan. Further, and in accordance with the reading here proposed of Irigaray’s specular rehearsal of discursive, speculative dialectics, Freudian psychoanalysis retrieved through Lacan’s text(s) is an essentially dislocated, non-situated theory. This follows naturally from the fact that text has been found to be the positionless excess to discursive representation. Accordingly, a theory distilled through the basic textuality of another’s work is itself in equal standing to that text, i.e., situated in the non-space of the text. In short, insofar as it is inherited in(to) the texts of Lacan, Freudian psychoanalytic theory is situated beyond the possibility of being situated.

Irigaray can thus answer inquiries into her relationship with psychoanalysis by replying that such questions are malformed: there is no inside or outside of such a theory; no positional standing is possible relative to what is itself non-situated. Positively, what this implies is that Freudian psychoanalytic theory refracted through the Lacanian text becomes for Irigaray the non-localizable site of the possibility of articulating sexed (female) subjectivity: “It is thus a matter of examining the texts of psychoanalytic discourse in order to read what they express – and how? – of female sexuality, and even more of sexual difference” (Il s’agit donc d’interroger les textes du discours psychanalytique pour lire ce qu’ils énoncent – et comment? – de la sexualité féminine, et plus encore de la différence sexuelle) (168). Note Irigaray’s focus in this programmatic remark: it is “the texts of psychoanalytic discourse” (les textes du discours psychanalytique) that must be attended to in order to “read” (lire) female sexuality and sexual difference. The emphasis Irigaray puts on textuality, accounts too for the distorted mimicry in the opening section of Speculum. If mimesis serves Irigaray in reflecting the contours of a theory, any distortions in the original insofar as it is textually inherited will simply be expressed in her mimeticization: the long, disfigured image Freud casts through the filter of the Lacanian text is mottled, and fragmented; Irigaraian mimicry does little more, as a mode of textuality, than reflect the distortion of one discursive representation in another. The promise Lacan’s textual inheritance of Freud carries for the Freudian theorization of sexed subjectivity is not, however, realizable within the non-space of “Speculum”. After all, in operating within the topological pull of philosophical discursivity and psychoanalytic theory, the text occupies a position too close to this problematic to realize another; this despite the fact that the problem of a differentiated, female sexed subjectivity is conditioned by the very success of navigating these discursive spaces. Irigaray attests, in the This Sex, to the insufficiencies of “Speculum”, making explicit the topological concerns pressed in the present essay: “But it is a reversal (“Speculum”‘s reversal of the philosophical tradition) ‘within’ which the question of the woman still cannot be articulated, so this reversal does not suffice” (Renversement ‘à l’intérieur’ duquel la question de la femme ne peut encore s’articuler, auquel on ne peut donc simplement se tenir) (Irigaray 1985b, 68). Trained as the reader and interpreter of Speculum is to approach a text turned inside out, from its center backward, so a reader and interpreter is prepared to read different texts into one another; the opening section of one text aptly serves as the preface to another. And so, This Sex, inaugurated under the lesson learned that if a differently sexed subjectivity is articulable, or at least sketched in outline, it must be articulated “within” the non-positional space of the text. In the “Pouvoir du discours” chapter of This Sex, Irigaray voices this lesson in terms of “systematicity” (systématicité) and the need for her to avoid its lure. Here she explains that the “interpretive rereading” of the western philosophical tradition undertaken in “Speculum” is an “interrogat[ion of] the conditions under which systematicity itself is possible” (interrogeant les conditions de possibilité de la systématicité elle-même) (74). Because, as Irigaray argues, the systematicity manifest in the philosophical phallo-logocentric tradition depends upon reduction of “all others to the economy of the Same” (réduire tout autre dans l’économie du même) (74), a systematic account of differenced subjectivity would risk reducing that difference to the sameness inherent in traditional philosophical discourse.

Framing This Sex against the Lacanian inheritance of Freudian sexed subjectivity-announced in the reference of this sex “which is not one” (qui n’en est pas un) to the phrase “there is such a thing as one” (il y a de l’un) from Lacan’s Seminar XIX Encore – such textual framing allows Irigaray to essentially displace or decontextualize the work. Framing This Sex against the text of Lacan, after all, is a relative positioning of her work against what itself is without positionality; this follows from the reading lessons, and the attention to textuality, offered in “Speculum”.

Freudian psychoanalysis as a resource for articulating a positive conception of the materiality of sexed subjectivity makes sense only on condition of its Lacanian textual inheritance. Irigaray as theorist is finally able to realize this possibility only once she is freed from the homologous, discursive practices of traditional representation. What is carried forward, positively, out of the non-space of the philosophical tradition, and carried forward out of the atopique place of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, is the materiality of text. In close, it will suffice to note, briefly, the inheritance of this insight into Irigaray’s early psycho-linguistic attempts at articulating a female, sexed subjectivity. Against generalized, encompassing theories of subjectivity and sexuality, Irigaray insists on the distinctly particular; a theoretical “specificity” (spécificité), to employ the language Irigaray invokes in This Sex (69). Irigaray succeeds in such specificity, and in accord with her specular insight into the excessive materiality of the text, by introducing the idea of morphology, a term borrowed from formal structural linguistics to reference the basic materiality of terms. It is in the figure of the morpheme, and in its peculiar operations within language, that Irigaray finds a textual artifact capable of directing a specific theorization of sexed subjectivity. Moreover, in the linguistic figure of the morpheme Irigaray is able to tie such theory to the materiality of text she recovers from the phallo-logocentric tendencies of discursive thought and representation.

Morphology as treated in structural linguistics subsumes those characteristics of a language, symbolic system, or discursive practice generally, that resist formalization. Such resistance stems from the insignificance of these figures apart from their particular instantiations. As a morpheme, the suffix “-ate,” for example, is semantically diverse; in Freudian terms, we might say that the semantics of the morpheme is marked by meaning and its “vicissitudes (Schicksale).” Thus, the appearance of “-ate” in suffix to “associate” and “situate” allows a language user to pair the terms by their basic materiality, leaving considerations of meaning aside. The reappearance of the “same” suffix now in the context of “concatenate” and “duplicate” functions in the same way to allow a language user to pair the terms solely along the lines of their material composition. Nested as morphemes are within the general language field, semantically and syntactically defined, while also resistant to full incorporation into such a field in being irreducibly material, the expectation is that Irigaray’s appeal to morphology will resonate through both the Lacanian symbolic register as well as with the Lacanian real as symptomatic of the basic material fact of sexed subjectivity. There is an indication of this first resonance in the 1977 essay “Women’s exile.” Here, Irigaray writes of a “feminine language” that would “undo the unique meaning, the proper meaning of words, of nouns: which still regulates all discourse” (Irigaray 1977, 65). [7]

A “feminine language” resists the paradigm of univocal language to which phallo-logocentric discourse is committed. As such, a “feminine language” is pluravocal; it leaves open the meaning of terms and sentences and makes no claims to universalism or essentialism. After all, Irigaray asks rhetorically, “(a) language which presents itself as universal, and which is in fact produced by men only, is this not what maintains the alienation and exploitation of women in and by society?” (67). If Irigaray’s “feminine language” were to be discursively univocal and universal, it would perpetuate the “alienation and exploitation of women.” The pluravocity of a “female language” (la langue du femme), with the French “language” (langue) allowed its play on both “language” and “tongue,” is an echo of the basic, material morphemes that circulate within it; slipping in significance, as they do, from particular instance to particular instance. Hegelian negative dialectics as marginally retrieved in the text of Speculum is here instructive. Recall from above that in Hegel the relative negation of the absolute idea is only probably separated from the absolute negation that it itself is in its inaugural universality. Above, the little arithmetics of three equaling four were identified with the irreducible remainder of the text of philosophical representation. Now, in the figure of the morpheme, such textual remainder is given a more specific character. Further, the implications of a real, negative textuality can be traced in the morpheme through the material parts of words, sentences, and phrases. A morpheme, in being semantically particular, is always open to alternate meanings: any one suffix might have been prefixed otherwise, leading thus to a different word and different meaning. In generating a representational body that cannot itself be represented, namely the text, but in insisting on its completeness in being able to fold everything into its representational scheme, the philosophical tradition of speculative dialectics leads the reader always on from the propositional content of its expression to the textual form in which that expression is recorded. Hegelian dialectic, in short, drives the reader from the phenomenology of spirit to the textuality of the Phänomenologie des Geistes. The morpheme as basic, irreducibly material unit of textuality, reduplicates this dialectical progression from expression to form, but with this difference: the morpheme in its particular materiality resists formalization; it exemplifies intra-textually what the text exemplifies relative to its discursive, representational content. In signaling the empty spaces, or the nothing, between terms – and, moreover, the nothing within terms – texts read morphologically show themselves to be productive, or generative. The materiality of texts, now construed morphologically, are capable of producing what is genuinely other in being irreducible to the homology of philosophical representation. Irigaray summarizes this whole argumentative trajectory, the whole topological study here conducted, in the following passage from “Speculum”:

Overthrow syntax by suspending its eternally teleological order, by snipping the wires, cutting the current, breaking the circuits, switching the connections, by modifying continuity, alternation, frequency, intensity. Make it impossible for a while to predict whence, whither, when, how, why… something goes by or goes on (Bouleverser la syntaxe, en suspendant son ordre toujours téléologique, par des rupture de fils, des coupures de courant, des pannes de conjoncteurs ou disjoncteurs, des inversions de couplages, des modifications de continuityé, d’alternance, de fréquence, d’intensité. Que, pour longtemps, on ne puisse plus prévoir d’où, vers où, quand, comment, pourquoi… ça passe ou ça se passé). (Irigaray 1985a, 142)

If only “for a while” (pour longtemps), for the space, to be exact, of the morpheme, syntax is broken, economies of exchange short-circuited, and texts are deranged. Further, for a morphological moment, texts become productive; partial terms intimate other fragments that could possibly adjoin them and in so doing resist complete signification through their present form. In this regard, one is reminded in the moment of another reading lesson, the one Joyce offers in the person of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses. The unpunctuated, unspaced, and unsparing, torrent of text, as in Irigaray’s central specular mimesis of Plotinus, is a space within which terms slip one into the other, resist, and succumb to one another, a space in which words allow for recombination, and recreation: “I wouldnt mind feeling it neither would he Id say by the bullneck in his horsecollar I wonder did he know me in the box I could see his face he couldnt see mine…” (Joyce 1986, 610). The touch of a “nice fat hand the palm moist,” Molly imagines on “the leg behind high up was it yes rather high up and was it where you sit down yes O Lord”: out with it, on her “bottom,” her ass (610); text as morphological compendium, allowing for the full expression of the basic materiality of language, the basic fact of the body, its sexuality. As Irigaray announces in the “Women’s exile” essay, “[w]e must go back to the question not of the anatomy but of the morphology of the female sex” (64). Here Irigaray echoes the Freudian insight offered in “Instincts and their Vicissitudes”: “If we now apply ourselves to considering mental life from a biological point of view, an ‘instinct’ appears to us as a concept on the frontier between the mental and the somatic” (Freud 1957b, 121-122).

Freud is right to situate the “drives” (Treiben) at the threshold between the mental and somatic, he is right, that is, to dislocate drives from easy positioning within either of the two, dominant topographies. He is wrong, though, to suggest that the limnally situated drives are thereby addressed only from a biological vantage. Irigaray’s insistence on the discursive yet also material significance of morphemes acts as corrective to Freud’s reductive gesture, succumbing as it does to the homogenizing logic of phallo-logocentric discursivity and its blindness to the positionless effect of its own mode of representation. We need, though, to keep live the double resonance Irigaray intends through the appeal to morphology. A morpheme acts for Irigaray in much the same way as does a Lacanian matheme; the latter occupying a dislocated position between the materiality of the real and the general discursive practices of the symbolic. Accordingly, a morpheme must direct us both to the basic materiality of words, their component, fragmentary segments and particles, as well as to the particularities of sexed subjectivity. Further, Irigaray must treat morphemes in just this double sense so that her theorization of sexed subjectivity and discursivity can be approached, sidelong, through the single linguistic structure of the morpheme. Without collapsing sexed subjectivity into the discursive practices through which it is constituted-or in terms of which it is theorized-while yet leaving open passage between the two registers, Irigaray turns in the “Women’s exile” essay to the relation of isomorphism.

All Western discourse presents a certain isomorphism with the masculine sex; the privilege of unity, form of the self, of the visible, of the specularisable, of the erection (which is the becoming in a form). Now this morpho-logic does not correspond to the female sex: there is no ‘a’ sex. The ‘no sex’ that has been assigned to the woman can mean that she does not have ‘a’ sex and that her sex is not visible nor identifiable or representable in a definite form. (Irigaray 1977, 64)

The isomorphism referenced in the passage is that between masculine morphology and phallo-logocentric philosophical discourse. And yet, by characterizing the relationship as “isomorphic,” Irigaray disrupts its seeming confluence: morphology reduces to discourse only once its isomorphism with the latter is obscured through its discursive, i.e., philosophical, representation. “Self-representation” is for Irigaray a signal phrase for exposing, and thus insisting upon, the relationship between morphology and discourse, a relationship not of identity as discursive representation would have it but of isomorphism. Somewhat obscurely, Irigaray frames this matter wholly within the context of a sexed morphology in an effort, seemingly, to avoid the reduction of that context to mere anatomy. Reading Irigaray somewhat against herself at this point, it seems viable to hear in her concern with the traditional grounding of morphology in naturalist anatomy an implicit concern with the naturalist tendency in linguistics to presume that the significance of a term is given by the object to which the term refers. Understood as an anti-naturalist argumentative strategy against the discursive reduction of morphology (to, for example, anatomy), self-representation becomes for Irigaray a wedge between the discursive representation of subjectivity and the basic morphological fact of sexuality. While there are implications for the one component in the other-and here it is only possible to suggest that Irigaray’s terminological pairing of the logos of morphos with the iso-morphism between sexed subjectivity and discourse situates her efforts relative to the Lacanian real insofar as it is diversified through the figure of the morpheme-what must be insisted upon is that Irigaray’s critical engagement of western philosophy’s phallo-logocentric model of knowledge is a matter of distinct concern apart from her constructive efforts to articulate a female morphology. If this is the case, and here is the main hermeneutic point of the present essay said at a slightly higher level of theorization, then the above question of Irigaray’s engagement of psychoanalytic theory can be answered only within the context of the latter, morphological, problematic rather than in the former, discursive one. To put the point slightly differently: what Irigaray realizes at this early juncture in her theorization of female, sexed subjectiviy, is that the very possibility of answering questions about theoretical positioning forecloses the further possibility of theorizing sexed subjectivity. It does not suffice to simply eschew the topological question of one’s theoretical position: the question must be rendered incoherent through a morphologically disfigured language. From here on, the task that remains to a reader and interpreter of Irigaray is to learn to hear and read differently; the reading lessons of “Speculum” and This Sex will carry us only so far into such a refiguring of text-/sex-uality.


[1] The French phrase tâche aveugle contains a pun that eludes the English translation “blindspot”: tâche connotes a spot in the sense of a stain or blot as in the expression tâche de sang, a “spot (or) stain” of blood. Granting the play on words their full significance, Freud’s theory on feminine sexuality is thus the blind spot of the western philosophical tradition in theorizing the corporeal, fluid fact of embodied female sexuality, which comes to visualization in the stain of menstrual blood: Freud’s theory of feminine sexuality is, or at least contains, the unseen mark of what the tradition excludes. A particular passage from the Hegel chapter of “Speculum” suggests a connection, at precisely this point, between Freud and Hegel: a connection it is the task of the present essay to pursue. Irigaray writes of the Hegelian dialectic, “[a]t the heart of the dialectic is hypochondria, melancholy. It can be linked to a clot of blood, cruor” (Irigaray 1985a, 222).

[2] Toral Moi argues that Irigaray’s mimeticization in “Speculum” is, in fact, a multiple gesture involving a “theatrical staging of the mime,” in other words, “miming the miming imposed on woman” by patriarchal phallo/logocentric discourse (Moi 1989, 140). This kind of double mimesis, Moi argues, effects an overdetermination of the dominant discourse through which its univocity (or logocentrism) is vitiated. This reading of Irigaray’s mimeticization thus moves the strategy of “Speculum” close to Derrida’s deconstructive undermining of the tradition’s belief in the possibility of distinguishing univocity from equivocity.

[3] In the Greek “hysteria” under which Irigaray inscribes this section of “Speculum” we should here implicit recourse to, at once, the womb and its associations with the koré Irigaray treats earlier in the text as well as to Freud’s theory of hysteria as a distinctly womb-oriented, and thus female, psychosis. The English translator of “Speculum” shares the related insight that throughout the section Irigaray puns, homonymously, on the French “antre” (cave, den), ventre (womb), and entre (Irigaray 1985a, 243n.).

[4] The present insistence on the importance of Hegel to the argument of “Speculum” is supported by Irigaray’s discussion of Antigone in the second section of the work. Insofar as Hegel’s reading of the Antigone tragedy in the Phenomenology is perhaps the best known (and most contentious) appropriation of the Euripidean text, Irigaray’s appeal to Antigone, as an exemplar of embodied female subjectivity, in the context of the philosophical tradition, should be taken as an indication of the significance of Hegel in this early work. “Speculum” is, in this respect, consonant with Irigaray’s later explicit turn to Hegelian thought (Cf. Irigaray 1993).

[5] Reading Irigaray through, or against, Hegel is increasingly common in the secondary literature (Cf. Elaine P. Miller, “Freedom and the Ethics of the Couple: Irigaray, Hegel and Schelling” Philosophy Today 2004 48(2), 128-147; Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death, Columbia University Press, 2002; Stephanie Jenkins, “Listening to Antigone: Rewriting Sexual Difference in Hegel” Dialogue 2002 45(1), 1-10; Alison Stone, “Sexing the State: Familial and Political Form in Irigaray and Hegel,” Radical Philosophy 2002 113, 24-36; Tina Chanter, “Looking at Hegel’s Antigone through Irigaray’s ‘Speculum’,” Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries, Ed. Dorota Glowacka. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002, 29-48). However, rather than framing Irigaray’s engagement of Hegelian thought through the particulars of his treatment of Antigone in the Phenomenology, the present effort is to frame such an engagement more broadly in methodological terms: How, we might ask, is mimesis related to dialectic? Taking up the question of the relation between Irigaray and Hegel at this general, methodological level serves indirectly to preserve the proximate distance between Irigaray and Lacan without collapsing that proximity into a definite positioning.

[6] Irigaray is close at this point to Derrida’s argument in “White Mythologies.” In the course of his argument, Derrida reveals the sun, which has served the western philosophical tradition as the figure through which its favored mode of analogical thought is mediated, to be itself resistant to analogical thought. Put differently, as the traditional condition of the possibility of metaphorics in general, the sun as non-metaphorizable, undermines the force of metaphor. In the language of the present essay, the metaphysical tradition is sun blind to alterity because the favored metaphorical trope of the sun can refer to nothing other than itself. We might, accordingly, read Irigaray as concurring with Derrida as far as he goes, but extending the import of his conclusion to an ontology of real, material textuality (a textual ontology that anticipates and prepares the way for her theory of real, sexed subjectivity.

[7] It is necessary to phrase Irigaray’s conception of “feminine language” in hypothetical terms since presenting a theory of language would be antithetical to the pluravocity and openness of this alternate form of discourse. While Irigaray is clearly employing this alternative form of discourse in her early texts, the result of that practice is in no way a formalized theory of “feminine language.”

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