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Part of French Feminism

Luce Irigaray, born in 1930, is a highly influential Belgian-born French feminist who along with feminists like Helen Cixous, Julia Kristeva and many others belongs to that school of feminism referred as “French feminism.”

And just like Cixous and Kristeva, heavily engages with the theories of psychoanalysis, linguistic and post-structuralism, post-modern and other philosophical ideas to bring her own unique feminist criticism.

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Speculation of the other women

Irigaray’s most acclaimed work is titled Speculation of the other women published in 1974. Though Irigaray was herself a student of prominent psychoanalyst like Lacan, she is highly critical of the way he and Freud present quite a rigid and monolithic picture of the reality and the privilege given to phallocentric worldview.

She critiques the entire notion of western philosophy and how in this western philosophical tradition we see a lack of feminine self, either in the thoughts or as a particular individual or intellectual.

Critiques the Presence of Binaries

She argues that the entire western philosophy, from Plato to Descartes has this notion of a single, separate and rational individual as a thinking subject analysing the rest of world as objects and hence Irigaray critiques this notion of subject-object rigidity in thoughts, the presence of binaries.

And she attributes this notion and mind-set for creating the absence of feminine and the absence of any other difference that doesn’t fit in the worldview of this phallocentric and “phallocentric” structure, viewing the differences always as a lack of it.

Critiques Freud

In her work, Speculation of other women, she critiques to assumptions of Freud in work in specific and other continental philosophers in general.

  • The first assumption of a man, like Freud, observing the entire world and the reality of this world, when he himself is just a minuscule part of it.
  • The second assumptions she critiques is the idea of neutrality, that how someone can remain completely detached and neutral.

She argues that we are always as an individual, have this subjective position in this dynamic world and our ideas and perceptions about other things are always affected by the surroundings that we are associated with.

She exposes the fallacy of the entire understanding of psychoanalysts like Freud using the pleasure principles as the thing which are categorized into two categories- one with the phallus and the other without it.

Critiques Male Way of Understanding

She harshly critiques this male way of understanding and analysing the world in terms of binaries. According to Irigaray, trying to look at reality this way kills the entire possibility of the existence of the “other” like women, whose existence have always been defined as the lack of men, or lack of phallus.

The only possibility for the other being or identity other than the “ideal” and “central” in this subject-object thought process, is by completely destroying the very structure, in the similar fashion that Cixious wants feminine writing to destroy the male hegemony. 

Critiques Descartes

Similarly, Irigaray also points out the problems with Cartesian thinking. She critiques the famous saying of Descartes, “I think therefore I am” as according to Irigaray this distancing of a human from other humans and the surrounding world and associating the human “being” to a thinking subject, neglecting the materiality of our existence and how we were born out of another human being and not coming in existence in a vacuum.