Luce Irigaray (1932- ) is a famous French feminist theorist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher. She has had a significant impact on the feminist theory since the early 1970s. She is one of the few academics who are referred to as “French feminists” despite the fact that many of them were not born in France. The others are Hélène Cixous, Michèle Le Doeuff, and Julia Kristeva.
Irigaray, who was born in Belgium, earned her Master of Philosophy degree in 1955 from the University of Leuven. After that, she worked as a high school teacher in Brussels until the end of the ten years before moving to Paris, where she started her psychology studies. She earned a Diploma in psychopathology and a Master’s degree in psychology from the University of Paris in 1961. She also went to Jacques Lacan’s seminars and trained as a psychoanalyst during this time. However, she taught at Vincennes from 1970 to 1974, and her first doctorate was in linguistics. Her dismissal from Vincennes was caused by her second doctoral dissertation, Speculum de l’autre femme (1974), also known as Speculum of the Other Woman (1985), which marked a radical departure from Lacan. Since 1980 Irigaray has been ensconced at the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique in Paris.
Irigaray describes her work as having gone through three distinct phases in interviews, which rarely touch on the personal. She began by criticizing the western subject’s formation in the image of the white male and perception of the world as a whole through that lens; After that, she began to consider the means by which female subjectivity could be expressed; Lastly, she began to consider alternative models for gendered relationships that were not based on dominance and submission.
Irigaray used deconstructive reading strategies in the first phase to show how the subject is conceived in a narrow way. Irigaray advocates a strategic essentialism of the feminine because she is aware that it is impossible, at least from a deconstructive perspective, to create a position that is completely pure, or devoid of the phallogocentrism she wishes to escape. Irigaray used body morphology as a rhetorical weapon against anatomy in the second phase with the intention of reimagining the body—particularly the female body—as a positive rather than a negative entity. She famously proposed the image of the lips—which she meant to include both the mouth and the genitalia—as a sex that is neither singular nor plural during this phase (Ce Sexe qui n’en est pas un, 1977; This Sex Which is Not One, 1985). She has been accused of biological essentialism for making this move, but such a criticism misses the point that what’s at stake is the creation of a female imaginary—in Lacan’s sense—that does not reduce the female sex to either a weaker version of the phallus (the clitoris) or one that completes the phallus (the vagina). The third and ongoing phase is marked by an attempt to mobilize the polymorphically perverse body of the pre-oedipal subject in order to consider the inherently destabilizing Other to the white male standard around which western subjectivity is conceived to use the famous description provided by Sigmund Freud. Irigaray views the pre-oedipal as the constant potential of all subjects rather than in a nostalgic way. Rethinking the relationship between mother and daughter, which is also central to Kristeva’s work, is also involved.
In addition, Irigaray has attempted to construct an ethics of sexual difference by utilizing Emmanuel Levinas’s writings. Irigaray shows how different languages subordinate women in their very structure in J’aime à toi (1992), translated as I love to you (1996), not forgetting her training in linguistics. She finds the root of the problem posed by ethics in language itself. In her more recent work, such as Democracy Begins between Two (2000), Irigaray has (in collaboration with the Commission for Equal Opportunities for the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna) tried to give her ethical thinking a practical twist. Irigaray is a prolific writer, with sometimes difficult or elusive style, who engages the western philosophical canon in a debate about the place for and of women in thought, politics, and indeed love.