Authors: Luce Irigaray

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French psychoanalyst and critic

Author Works


Le Langage des déments, 1973

Speculum de l’autre femme, 1974 (Speculum of the Other Woman, 1985)

Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un, 1977 (This Sex Which Is Not One, 1985)

Et l’une bouge pas sans l’autre, 1979

Amante Marine: De Friedrich Nietzsche, 1980 (Marine Lover of Fredrich Nietzsche, 1991)

Le Corps-à-corps avec la mère, 1981

Passions élémentaires, 1982 (Elementary Passions, 1992)

La Croyance même, 1983

L’Oubli de l’air: Chez Martin Heidegger, 1983 (The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, 1999)

Ethique de la différence sexuelle, 1984; (An Ethics of Sexual Difference, 1993)

Parler n’est jamais neutre, 1985 (To Speak Is Never Neutral, 2000)

Sexes et parentés, 1987 (Sexes and Genealogies, 1992)

Le Temps de la différence: Pour une révolution pacifique, 1989 (Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution, 1994)

Je, tu, nous: Pour une culture de la différence, 1990 (Je, Tu, Nous: Towards a Culture of Difference, 1992)

The Irigaray Reader, 1991 (Margaret Whitford, editor)

J’aime à toi: Esquisse d’une félicité dans l’histoire, 1992 (I Love to You: Sketch for a Possible Felicity Within History, 1996)

La democrazia comincia a due, 1994 (Democracy Begins Between Two, 2000)

Essere due, 1994 (To Be Two, 2000)

Entre Orient et Occident: De la singularité à la communauté, 1999 (Between East and West: From Singularity to Community, 2002)

Why Different? A Culture of Two Subjects: Interviews with Luce Irigaray, 2000

Le Partage de la parole, 2001

The Way of Love, 2002

Edited Text:

Le Souffle des femmes, 1996


Luce Irigaray (ee-ree-gah-ray), a Parisian psychoanalyst, was a founding member of the earliest French feminist group, called Politique et Psychanalyse (Psych et Po), established in 1968. She was born and grew up in Belgium and taught high school in Brussels until 1959, when she moved to Paris to continue a university career. For fifteen years she worked on degrees in philosophy, linguistics, and psychoanalysis, later becoming director of research at the prestigious Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). From 1970 to 1974 she taught at the University of Paris VIII, but she was dismissed because of the controversial nature of her doctoral dissertation, which took issue with Freudian theories in vogue at the time.{$I[AN]9810001865}{$I[A]Irigaray, Luce}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Irigaray, Luce}{$I[geo]BELGIUM;Irigaray, Luce}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Irigaray, Luce}{$I[tim]1930;Irigaray, Luce}

Irigaray became active in the women’s liberation movement of the 1970’s in France and fought for the legalization of contraceptives and abortion. She traveled widely, speaking at conferences in Europe, the United States, and Canada in support of women’s rights. She has taught in universities in Holland, Italy, and Canada. In her writing, Irigaray, along with fellow psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, has insisted that women cannot be described or identified, and cannot attain equality, without a complete break with the “phallocentric” or patriarchal discourse that has dominated Western thought. Insisting on the importance of such a written revolution, she and other members of Psych et Po founded the influential Paris publishing house Des Femmes and a journal, Des Femmes en mouvement.

Psych et Po represents a theoretical and intellectual approach to sexual difference, and Irigaray, as a principal spokeswoman, insists that the new understanding must lie somewhere outside male-dominated discourse. Many of her books, which posit a new female sexuality and a resulting change in male-female relations, have been translated into English. In her earliest work, Speculum of the Other Woman, she sets forth a new female corporeality, described not as an envelope for the male penis, but rather as two lips, “strangers to dichotomy . . . a half-open threshold . . . which does not absorb the world into itself.” Woman should not be obliged to see herself only as a flat reflection in the narcissistic male mirror, which can reflect only himself, but instead may find a truer reflection of herself on the curved speculum. Another image of reciprocity on a more ethereal plane is her image of angels preparing a divine communion of two equal sexes.

Irigaray sees women as having been described as complementary to men. If man is strong and aggressive, woman is yielding and supportive; she is identified by what he is not. In an attempt to go beyond this description by binary contrasts, she proposes new metaphors of female difference. These are not offered as an exact picture but as an invitation to rethink the male assessment. She insists that a radical break with accepted discourse can be accomplished by conceiving of female sexuality in new ways. Rather than reaching back into history to find forgotten women to praise, it is necessary to rethink an entire civilization based on the ethics and discourse of a patriarchal society.

Since writing is Irigaray’s chosen weapon in the struggle for sexual equality, it is language and its implications which interest her most; it is in these areas, she believes, that sexual repression is best exposed. As a psychologist, she takes issue with accepted patriarchal representation of the male as constructing for himself a solid identity through the Oedipus complex (which appears in early childhood). Instead, the real key to the nature of sexuality lies in the unorganized and fluid pre-Oedipal stage, which needs to be described in completely new terms. For too long a woman’s identity has been limited to maternity in the patriarchal description, and this identity is incomplete. To limit a woman in this way results in her overnurturing and smothering her children, especially her daughters. Irigaray concedes that there is truth in the Freudian model but argues that it is limited and should be enlarged to admit a reinvented female. Language needs to be enriched so that it can express woman’s multiplicity. In the unexplored region between opposites, woman may be able to achieve a complete “otherness,” creating an equality of exchange between men and women–an exchange of new kinds of meaning and new symbols eventually leading to a new equality and a more creative relationship between men and women.

BibliographyChanter, Tina. Ethics of Eros: Irigaray’s Rewriting of the Philosophers. New York: Routledge, 1995. Chanter provides an informative overview of Irigaray’s use of traditional Western philosophical texts and how these texts serve as a basis for her language analysis while she provides new insight to these well-known works.Deutscher, Penelope. The Politics of Impossible Difference: The Later Work of Luce Irigaray. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. An overview of Irigaray’s theories on politics, language, performativity, and sexual difference.Mortley, Raoul. French Philosophers in Conversation: Levinas, Schneider, Serres, Irigaray, LeDoeuff, Derrida. New York: Routledge, 1991. In chapter 4 of this text, Irigaray provides her answer to the author’s two questions about the importance of sexual difference in language. Her answers help illuminate many of the chief ideas found in An Ethics of Sexual Difference and give a brief overview of her ideas on language and sexuality in general.Nordquist, Joan. French Feminist Theory (III): Luce Irigaray and Helen Cixous. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Reference and Research Services, 1996. This publication provides an exhaustive list of all material relating to Irigaray available in English as of the date of its publication, including books, essays, interviews, dissertations and theses, articles, and keyword-in-title indices.Ross, Stephen David. Plenishment in the Earth: An Ethic of Inclusion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. This text examines several of Irigaray’s texts in detail and is interesting because it provides a male response to many of her theories, which is relatively unusual because most of the theorists and critics who study her are women. The book also attempts to place her in the context of several other important women philosophers of the twentieth century, as well as more traditional male thinkers.Whitford, Margaret. Introduction to The Irigaray Reader, by Luce Irigaray. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1991. Whitford’s introduction gives those unfamiliar with Irigaray’s works an excellent starting point for these difficult texts, portions of which are provided in English.
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