Contemporary Critical Theory
The Sex Which is Not One
Associated with feminism and psychoanalysis, Luce Irigaray is a remarkable cultural theorist best known for her work published in France through the 1970s. Psychoanalyst, linguist, and philosopher, Irigaray is concerned, particularly in Speculum of the Other Woman (1974, trans., 1985) and This Sex Which Is Not One (1977,trans., 1987), with exposing how Western discourse has effaced woman as the specular image of man. By contrast,
Irigaray carefully avoids enfolding her own ideas as "theory" to avoid an essentialism that will support patriarchalism. Irigaray was convinced that identity, if not fully then at least partly, was enacted in "self positioning in language".
Thus, she began to look for differences between the regular speech of men and hat of women: "it is not a question of biology determining speech, but of identity assumed in language within a particular symbolic system known as patriarchy, and as described by Jacques Lacan, in which the only possible subject position is masculine. Within this system, the only feminine identity available to a woman is that of a "defective" or "castrated" men; women are not symbolically
self-defined." Irigaray's thesis, put together in This Sex Which Is Not One, is that there might be a possibility of a different and non-masculine discourse. The following are the arguments presented by her:
1. Men are more likely to take up a subject position in language, to designate themselves as subjects of the discourse or action; women are more likely to efface themselves, to give precedence to men or to the world.
2. The use of the first person pronoun, I, by women, does not necessarily indicate a feminine identity.
3. Women are accustomed to being the vehicles of men's self-representation; their own self-representation in language is more or less absent.
4. Women are more likely to engage in dialogue; while men privilege the relation with the world and the object, women privilege interpersonal relations.
5. Women are not, as is sometimes thought, more emotional and subjective than men when they speak; their speech is likely to efface the expression of their subjectivity.
6. Women are less abstract than men, and are more likely to take account of context, they are also more likely to collaborate with the researcher and take research seriously.
Irigaray argues that the complexity of female sexuality and eroticism does not fit into male notions of sexuality. Irigray discovered women’s autoeroticism. In her autoeroticism, a woman is not “pleasure-giving” to men but “self-embracing” (This Sex Which is Not One 24). The autoeroticism could be a clue to overcome the logic of sameness in phallogocentric understanding of sexuality and its male God. The language she uses to describe this God comes from her account of morphology of women’s continual self-touching in the carelessness of two lips. God’s identity in trinity honors both self-love and relational wonder. Irigaray’s description of women’s autoeroticism helps to expand the conceptual horizons of Trinitarian thought. This God does not need an external other in order for there to be self-knowledge, for such knowledge is eternally generated through the relations of the Trinity. Such a God can relate to that which is truly ‘other’ than God, without reducing the other to a function of divine, narcissistic desire, as is the case in phallocetric conceptions of the Divine-human relation like the caress of two lips – always touching yet half open.
· Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which is Not One. Cornell University Press, 1985. Print.
· Nair , Shyam. "The Sex Which is Not One ." 24 02 2014. Address.
[Notes of the lecture delivered on 24 February, 2014 at Christ University, prepared by Piyali Sarkar - I M.A. (ENG) -1324143]