Luce Irigaray

Last updated
Luce Irigaray
Born (1930-05-03) 3 May 1930 (age 90)
Nationality French
Alma mater Catholic University of Louvain
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
French feminism [1]
Main interests

Psychoanalysis Feminist Philosophy Feminist Theory Philosophy


Notable ideas
Phallocentrism, "Women on the market" [2]

Luce Irigaray (born 3 May 1930) is a Belgian-born French feminist, philosopher, linguist, psycholinguist, psychoanalyst and cultural theorist who examined the uses and misuses of language in relation to women. [3] Irigaray's first and most well known book, published in 1974, was Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), which analyzes the texts of Freud, Hegel, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant through the lens of phallocentrism. Irigaray is the author of works analyzing many thinkers, including This Sex Which Is Not One (1977) [4] which discusses Lacan's work as well as the political economy, Elemental Passions (1982) can be read as a response to Merleau‐Ponty's article “The Intertwining—The Chiasm” in The Visible and the Invisible [5] , and The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger (1999) in which Irigaray critiques Heidegger's emphasis on the element of earth as the ground of life and speech and his "oblivion" or forgetting of air. [6]

Irigaray is known for the employment of three different modes [7] in her investigations into the nature of gender, language, and identity: the analytic, the essayistic, and the lyrical poetic. [8] Presently, she is active in the Women's Movements in both France and Italy. [9]


Luce Irigaray received a bachelor's degree from the University of Louvain in 1954 and a master's degree from the same university in 1956 [10] and taught at a high school in Brussels from 1956 to 1959.

In 1960 she moved to Paris to pursue a master's degree in Psychology from the University of Paris, which she earned in 1961, she also received a specialist diploma in Psychopathology from the school in 1962. In 1968, she received a doctorate in Linguistics from Paris X Nanterre. Her thesis was titled Approche psycholinguistique du langage des déments.

She completed a PhD in Linguistics in 1968 from the University of Vincennes in Saint-Denis (University of Paris VIII). Her dissertation on speech patterns of subjects suffering from dementia became her first book, Le langage des déments, published in 1973. In 1974, she earned a second PhD in Philosophy.

In the 1960s, Irigaray started attending the psychoanalytic seminars of Jacques Lacan and joined the École Freudienne de Paris (Freudian School of Paris), directed by Lacan. She was expelled from this school in 1974 after the publication of her second doctoral thesis (doctorat d'État), Speculum of the Other Woman (Speculum: La fonction de la femme dans le discours philosophique, later retitled as Speculum: De l'autre femme), which received much criticism from both the Lacanian and Freudian schools of psychoanalysis. This criticism brought her recognition. But she was removed from her position as an instructor at the University of Vincennes as well as ostracized from the Lacanian community.

She held a research post at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique since 1964, where she is now a Director of Research in Philosophy. Her initial research focused on dementia patients, about whom she produced a study of the differences between the language of male and female patients.

Noted also is that in her writings, Irigaray has stated a concern that an interest in her biography would affect the interpretation of her ideas as the entrance of women into intellectual discussions has often also included the challenging of women's point of view based on biographical material. Her most extensive autobiographical statements thus far are gathered in Through Vegetal Being (co-authored with Michael Marder). Overall, she maintains the belief that biographical details pertaining to her personal life hold the possibility to be used against her within the male dominated educational establishment as a tool to discredit her work. [3]

Major works

Speculum of the Other Woman

Her first major book Speculum of the Other Woman, based on her second dissertation, was published in 1974, In Speculum, Irigaray engages in close analyses of phallocentrism in Western philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, analyzing texts by Freud, Hegel, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. The book's most cited essay, "The Blind Spot of an Old Dream," critiques Freud's lecture on femininity.

This Sex Which is Not One (Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un)

In 1977, Irigaray published This Sex Which is Not One (Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un) which was subsequently translated into English with that title and published in 1985, along with Speculum. In addition to more commentary on psychoanalysis, including discussions of Lacan's work, This Sex Which is Not One also comments on political economy, drawing on structuralist writers such as Lévi-Strauss. For example, Irigaray argues that the phallic economy places women alongside signs and currency, since all forms of exchange are conducted exclusively between men. [11]

"Women on the Market" (Chapter Eight of This Sex Which is Not One)

Irigaray draws upon Karl Marx’s theory of capital and commodities to claim that women are exchanged between men in the same way as any other commodity is. She argues that our entire society is predicated on this exchange of women. Her exchange value is determined by society, while her use value is her natural qualities. Thus, a woman’s self is divided between her use and exchange values, and she is only desired for the exchange value. This system creates three types of women: the mother, who is all use value; the virgin, who is all exchange value; and the prostitute, who embodies both use and exchange value. [11]

She further uses additional Marxist foundations to argue that women are in demand due to their perceived shortage and as a result, males seek "to have them all," or seek a surplus like the excess of commodity buying power, capital, that capitalists seek constantly. Irigaray speculates thus that perhaps, "the way women are used matter less than their number." In this further analogy of women "on the market," understood through Marxist terms, Irigaray points out that women, like commodities, are moved between men based on their exchange value rather than just their use value, and the desire will always be surplus – making women almost seem like capital, in this case, to be accumulated. "As commodities, women are thus two things at once: utilitarian objects and bearers of value." [11]

Elemental Passions

Luce Irigaray's Elemental Passions (1982) could be read as a response to Merleau‐Ponty's article “The Intertwining—The Chiasm” in The Visible and the Invisible. Like Merleau‐Ponty, Irigaray describes corporeal intertwining or vision and touch. Counteracting the narcissistic strain in Merleau‐Ponty's chiasm, she assumes that sexual difference must precede the intertwining. The subject is marked by the alterity or the “more than one” and encoded as a historically contingent gendered conflict. [5]


Some of Irigaray's books written in her lyrical mode are imaginary dialogues with significant contributors to Western philosophy, such as Nietzsche and Heidegger. However Irigaray also writes a significant body of work on Hegel, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle and Levinas, as well as Merleau-Ponty. She continued to conduct empirical studies about language in a variety of settings, researching the differences between the way men and women speak. This focus on sexual difference is the key characteristic of Irigaray's oeuvre, since she is seeking to provide a site from which a feminine language can eventuate. Since 1990, Irigaray's work has turned increasingly toward women and men together. In Between East and West, From Singularity to Community (1999) and in The Way of Love (2002), where she imagines new forms of love for a global democratic community. [12]


Some feminists criticize the perceived essentialist positions of Luce Irigaray. [13] However, there is much debate among scholars as to whether or not Irigaray's theory of sexual difference is, indeed, an essentialist one. The perception that Luce Irigaray's work is essentialist concentrates on her attention to sexual difference, taking this to constitute a rehearsal of heteronormative sexuality. As Helen Fielding states, the uneasiness among feminists about Irigaray’s discussion of masculinity and femininity does not so much reveal Irigaray’s heteronormative bias, but "arises out of an inherited cultural understanding [on the part of her critics] that posits nature as either unchanging organism or as matter that can be ordered, manipulated and inscribed upon. Hence the concern over essentialism is itself grounded in the binary thinking that preserves a hierarchy of...culture over nature." [14]

W. A. Borody has criticised Luce Irigaray's phallogocentric argument as misrepresenting the history of philosophies of "indeterminateness" in the West. Luce Irigaray's "black and white" claims that the masculine=determinateness and that the feminine=indeterminateness contain a degree of cultural and historical validity, but not when it is deployed to self-replicate a similar form of the gender-othering it originally sought to overcome. [15]

Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont consider Luce Irigaray's use of hard-science terminology in her writings to be problematic. Among the criticisms, they question the purported interest Einstein had in "accelerations without electromagnetic reequilibrations"; interchanging special relativity and general relativity; and her claim that E = mc2 is a "sexist equation" because "it favors the speed of light over other [undefined, according to the authors] speeds that are vital for us". [16]

Selected bibliography


See also

Related Research Articles

Maurice Merleau-Ponty French phenomenological philosopher

Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, and politics. He was on the editorial board of Les Temps modernes, the leftist magazine established by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945.

Écriture féminine, or "women's writing", is a term coined by French feminist and literary theorist Hélène Cixous in her 1975 essay "The Laugh of the Medusa". Cixous aimed to establish a genre of literary writing that deviates from traditional masculine styles of writing, one which examines the relationship between the cultural and psychological inscription of the female body and female difference in language and text. This strand of feminist literary theory originated in France in the early 1970s through the works of Cixous and other theorists including Luce Irigaray, Chantal Chawaf, Catherine Clément, and Julia Kristeva and has subsequently been expanded upon by writers such as psychoanalytic theorist Bracha Ettinger. who emerged in this field in the early 1990s,

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, fictional, or philosophical discourse. It aims to understand the nature of gender inequality. It examines women's and men's social roles, experiences, interests, chores, and feminist politics in a variety of fields, such as anthropology and sociology, communication, media studies, psychoanalysis, home economics, literature, education, and philosophy.

Existential humanism is humanism that validates the human subject as struggling for self-knowledge and self-responsibility.

Existential phenomenology encompasses a wide range of thinkers who take up the view that philosophy must begin from experience like phenomenology, but argues for the inability of philosophers to themselves exit existence in order to view the human condition universally.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Existentialism is a philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together are not sufficient for understanding all of human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. This philosophy analyzes relationships between the individual and things, or other human beings, and how they limit or condition choice.

Postmodern feminism is a mix of post structuralism, postmodernism, and French feminism. The goal of postmodern feminism is to destabilize the patriarchal norms entrenched in society that have led to gender inequality. Postmodern feminists seek to accomplish this goal through rejecting essentialism, philosophy, and universal truths in favor of embracing the differences that exist amongst women to demonstrate that not all women are the same. These ideologies are rejected by postmodern feminists because they believe if a universal truth is applied to all woman of society, it minimizes individual experience, hence they warn women to be aware of ideas displayed as the norm in society since it may stem from masculine notions of how women should be portrayed.

Elizabeth A. Grosz is an Australian philosopher, feminist theorist, and professor working in the U.S. She is Jean Fox O'Barr Women's Studies Professor at Duke University. She has written on 20th-century French philosophers Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray and Gilles Deleuze, as well as on gender, sexuality, temporality, and Darwinian evolutionary theory.

20th-century French philosophy is a strand of contemporary philosophy generally associated with post-World War II French thinkers, although it is directly influenced by previous philosophical movements.

Feminist views on the Oedipus complex

Feminists have long struggled with Sigmund Freud's classical model of gender and identity development and reality, which centers around the Oedipus complex. Freud's model, which became integral to orthodox psychoanalysis, suggests that because women lack the visible genitals of the male, they feel they are "missing" the most central characteristic necessary for gaining narcissistic value—therefore developing feelings of gender inequality and penis envy. In his late theory on the feminine, Freud recognized the early and long lasting libidinal attachment of the daughter to the mother during the pre-oedipal stages. Feminist psychoanalysts have confronted these ideas and reached different conclusions. Some generally agree with Freud's major outlines, modifying it through observations of the pre-Oedipal phase. Others reformulate Freud's theories more completely.

French post-structuralist feminism takes post-structuralism and combines it with feminist views and looks to see if a literary work has successfully used the process of mimesis on the image of the female. If successful, then a new image of a woman has been created by a woman for a woman, therefore it is not a biased opinion created by men. Along with Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous is considered one of the mothers of post-structuralist feminist theory. Since the 1990s, these three together with Bracha Ettinger have considerably influenced French feminism and feminist psychoanalysis.

Penis envy in Freudian psychoanalysis, the female psychosexual developmental stage when young girls experience anxiety upon realizing that they lack a penis; begins the transition from attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the father

Penis envy is a stage theorized by Sigmund Freud regarding female psychosexual development, in which young girls experience anxiety upon realization that they do not have a penis. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in a series of transitions toward a mature female sexuality and gender identity. In Freudian theory, the penis envy stage begins the transition from an attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the attention, recognition and affection of the father. The parallel reaction of a boy's realization that women do not have a penis is castration anxiety.

Naomi Schor American academic

Naomi Schor was a noted literary critic and theorist. A pioneer of feminist theory for her generation, she is regarded as one of the foremost scholars of French literature and critical theory of her time. Naomi's younger sister is the artist and writer Mira Schor.

Kelly Oliver is an American philosopher specializing in feminism, political philosophy and ethics. She is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also a founder of the feminist philosophy journal philoSOPHIA.

This is a list of articles in continental philosophy.

Fred Evans is an American philosopher. He is a Professor of philosophy at Duquesne University and Director of the Center for Interpretative and Qualitative Research. His research and teaching interests are in contemporary continental philosophy, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of language, psychology and technology.

Gillian Catherine Gill is a Welsh-American writer and academic who specializes in biography. She is the author of Agatha Christie (1990), Mary Baker Eddy (1998), Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale (2004), and We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals (2009).

Penelope Deutscher is a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University whose work focuses on French philosophy from the 20th and 21st centuries and gender theory. She has written four books dealing with subjects ranging from gender and feminism to the works of Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, and Simone de Beauvoir. In 2002-3, Deutscher also served as the Lane Professor for the Humanities at the Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities at Northwestern University.

Alison Stone is a Professor of European Philosophy in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, UK.

Wilhelmina Johanna Canters, known as Hanneke Canters, was a Dutch feminist philosopher and academic.


  1. Kelly Ives, Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva: The Jouissance of French Feminism, Crescent Moon Publishing, 2016.
  2. Luce Irigaray, "Women on the Market", in: This Sex Which Is Not One, Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 170.
  3. 1 2 "Luce Irigaray | French linguist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  4. Gerstner, ed. (2006). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture. New York: Routledge. pp.  309. ISBN   0-415-30651-5.
  5. 1 2 Sjöholm, Cecilia (2000). "Crossing Lovers: Luce Irigaray's Elemental Passions". Hypatia. 15 (3): 92–112. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2000.tb00332.x. ISSN   1527-2001.
  6. Irigaray, Luce (1999). The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger. University of Texas Press.
  7. Ives, Kelly (2016). Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva: The Jouissance of French Feminism (European Writers). Maidstone, Kent: Crescent Moon Publishing. p. 28. ISBN   978-1861715470.
  8. Irigaray, Luce. (1992). Elemental passions. New York: Routledge. ISBN   0415906911. OCLC   27376081.
  10. Commire, Anne; Klezmer, Deborah (2007). Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages(Vol. 1. ). Yorkin Publications.
  11. 1 2 3 Irigaray, L. (1985) "Women on the Market." in Rivkin, J.; Ryan, M. (eds) (1998). Literary theory, an anthology. Malden, Mass: Blackwell. pp. 799–811. ISBN   9780631200291.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. Merriman, John; Winter, Jay (2006). Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction(Vol. 3. ). Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  13. Christine Delphy, L'Ennemi principal, tome 2 : Penser le genre (2001)
  14. Fielding, H. (2003). "Questioning nature: Irigaray, Heidegger and the potentiality of matter". Continental Philosophy Review. 36: 1–26. doi:10.1023/A:1025144306606.
  15. Wayne A. Borody (1998) pp. 3, 5 Figuring the Phallogocentric Argument with Respect to the Classical Greek Philosophical Tradition Nebula: A Netzine of the Arts and Science, Vol. 13 (pp. 1–27) <>.
  16. Sokal, Alan D., 1955-. Fashionable nonsense : postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science . Bricmont, J. (Jean). New York. ISBN   0-312-19545-1. OCLC   39605994.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading