Three weeks have past since I finished Luce Irigaray’s book, i love to you: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History. I started reading this book as a Sophomore in college, a graduate professor had suggested it for a paper I was writing on language and gender issues. Ashamedly, I took bits and pieces from the book then, without taking the time to read it. The book is entirely philosophical and definitely written that way. The words tire your eyes and patience is a necessity. During that time I did not have this patience. Since then, I have picked up and put down this book at least five times. On this last occasion, however, I devoured it in one sitting. It was just as awe inspiring and remarkable as the individual lines I had read a few years ago. Irigaray’s views on feminism profoundly impacted me. The words on the page spoke to me in a way that much of the feminist philosophy today cannot do.
One of the more alarming aspects of this philosophy is that I do not believe it considered “acceptable” today. This philosophy is grounded in the reality of two sexes; man and woman, women and men. The current convictions, this new wave of third or fourth feminism, involves the varying different genders that have surmounted beyond the realm of science. This is the primary reason for which I think her ideas would be snuffed today. Perhaps this is exactly why it spoke to me. Before delving into her poignant philosophy, I will provide some background of her life.
Luce Irigaray is a philosopher, feminist, psychoanalyst, and linguist among other disciplinary interests. She was born in Belgium in 1930 and during her lifetime has written numerous books regarding feminism and language. As a woman, as well as a lover of languages, I was able to genuinely connect with Irigaray. She spoke of the importance of finding yourself within your sex, of valuing who you were as an engendered person, refuting the ever popular calls for equality. (See quote below.) Her beliefs are supported by research and conducted interviews with people of all ages and sexes. She conducted numerous studies in regards to linguistics, carrying out various forms of tests and interviews to better understand the ways in which we use language and how our use of language is profoundly impacted by our sex. For example, what she found is men often use sentences and language for stating the objective reality, one of her experiments entailed the use of the word “with”, in which men and women were asked to write sentences using this word. I took my book with me to class. I am having drinks with friends after work. I love spending time with my boyfriend. Irigaray discovered that men were more likely to describe his daily activities whereas women were more likely to create a sentence that involved her relationship to another or simply relations to another subject. I tried this experiment out on my own boyfriend, unfortunately after I sent him the video (linked below) but he still provided me the sentence that first came to mind: “I’m going to get drinks with my buddies after work.” Which really is quite interesting, because it is more uncommon to see men create sentences that involve a relationship to others. Of course, mine was “I love spending time with Philip.”
Irigaray’s book was an emphatic vocalization of woman’s need to define for herself a culture of her sex as well as the need to create a syntax for what it means to be woman. There are so many of her ideas that I wish I could write wholly of, alas, I would be here until after the new year if I attempted. Here are some of the passages that spoke so loudly to me as I read, my favorite, happens to be the last:
“…[women] lack a positive definition of their gender and the objective qualities which give it an individual and collective content…” (Irigaray 2)
“For such a development to come about.. it is, rather, a question of awakening her to an identity and to rights and responsibilities corresponding to her gender.” (Irigaray 4)
“To return to ourselves as living beings who are engendered and fabricated is a vital and ethical need of paramount importance.” (Irigaray 14)
“… claiming to be equal to a man is a serious ethical mistake because by so doing woman contributes to the erasure of natural and spiritual reality in an abstract universal that serves only one master: death. Aside from her own suicide, she thus deprives man of the possibility of defining himself as man, that is as a naturally and spiritually sexed person.” (Irigaray 27)
Perhaps I have peaked your interest, perhaps you think I am on my way to being impressively non-PC, however, her words are specific and her sentences beautiful. If even to read for its style, Irigaray touches on some great aspects of feminism that would not even be acknowledged today in mainstream society.
A video below represents an interview held with Irigaray in early 2013.