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Irigaray - A Future Horizon for Art

Irigaray - A Future Horizon for Art

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Continental Philosophy Review 36: 353–365, 2003. © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.



A future horizon for art?
LUCE IRIGARAY translated by Jennifer Matey
Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3750 USA (E-mail: jmatey@sunysb.edu)

I have already conducted, along with other researchers1 of various cultural and linguistic backgrounds, analyses concerned with the relationship between the sexe or genre of the speaking subject and the constitution of the subject’s discourse. This research consists of responses to questionnaires that bear on language and culture which were presented by investigators2 to mixed populations comprised of people of differing social backgrounds and cultures. Results from these analyses have already been published in the following books and essays: Le Temps de la difference, Je Tu Nous, J’aime à toi, “Le sexe linguistiques,” Sexes et genres à travers les langues. A trend that appears in the responses, across the mixed populations sampled but with diverse modalities, is the effacement of the mark of the female subjects’ genre; this trend appears in the discourse of both the men and the women surveyed. Another tendency discovered is for the designation of the female subject and the things which have a feminine gender to be associated with rather negative connotations. Many other characteristics mark the differences between men’s discourse [parler-homme] and women’s discourse [parler-femme], the discourse-of-the-man and the discourse-of-the-woman. I refer to such observations in the publications already cited. It occurred to me to investigate literary texts to see whether the same tendencies would be present there. I have selected four novelists3 from what I have on hand in my library. I chose: Marguerite Yourcenar’s L’oeuvre au noir. Marguerite Duras’s L’amour. Maurice Blanchot’s L’arrêt de mort. Georges Bataille’s Le bleu du ciel. First, I counted the number of pages in each novel and divided each in half. Then I selected two pages from the middle and two pages from the beginning

except for Georges Bataille’s Le bleu du ciel.06% (= il [he] or homme [man] or médecin [masculine physician]) elle [she] : 0% Second excerpt: Then for the two excerpts: il : 78. A. as if being a writer were divorced from the phenomenon of being a woman. the pages that I chose came from the middle of the text and then from three-quarters of the way through it.45% il : 95. the animate human subjects are represented: First excerpt: il: 90. or even more accentuated in the passages in these novels than in the speech of the students I previously studied. Marguerite Yourcenar and Marguerite Durashave publicly declared that they were writing as asexuate4 subjects.12% No subjects are expressed as je [I] in these excerpts.354 LUCE IRIGARAY of each novel. B.the women. etc.0% : 2 = 5% on average. I’ve included a table with the percentages of all the subjects of propositions at the end of this paper. I was surprised to find that the trends in the representations of subjects from the perspective of genre are similar. In the passages from Marguerite Duras.5% elle : 6.0% Second excerpt: il : 100% (il = il + parts of il 10%) . his voice. For Le bleu du ciel.0% (= il or parts of il : his eyes. This procedure was to verify that the pages I selected were linguistically representative of those novels. the animate human subjects5 are represented as the following: First excerpt: il [he] : 47.88% elle : 4.15% 10. In the two sections that I analyzed from Marguerite Yourcenar.) elle : 10.84% 2. but I have verified that these pages are similar in all the relevant ways to the first pages of the novel. The natural elements figure as subjects: First excerpt: Second excerpt: Together: 7. his ‘look’. These results become even more interesting if one takes into account the fact that two of the authors.

that is to say. 6.8% masculine subjects (65. and men 61.91% men. These figures are relative.95% men. on average.0% C. I get 95% of the subjects represented as il. So. Elle designates a woman with whom the man may potentially become emotionally involved with.2% feminine subjects (as elle) In absolute percentages. or.5% of the time.04% For the two excerpts that amounts to: 92.06% women and 71.53% 11.1%.22% for the first passage. In actuality.80% But: Maurice Blanchot uses je for males in his novel 65. In the passages from Maurice Blanchot.15% il : 11. and 0% women and 82.20% and il : 92.69% men for the second passage.00% je : 31. they are an estimation of the total animate human subjects.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 355 If I add together the results from the two excerpts.88% elle : 5. women represent 6. the animate human subjects are represented in the following way: First excerpt: Second excerpt: je : 100.00% and il : 95.54% 19. Marguerite Duras and Maurice Blanchot to be roughly the same: elle : 4.5% of which are represented je) 7. and 5% of them as elle.48% elle : 14. using the subset of ‘animated human subjects’ to gauge the proportion of masculine to feminine. The remaining ils are indefinite plurals. The natural elements figure at : First excerpt: Second excerpt: Together: 26.12% women and 143. we find that the distribution between the works of Marguerite Yourcenar. which are a subset of the larger group of total subjects.00% elle : 7. 3.12% and il : 95. .

96% of the subjects and the feminine tu or je is used for only 5.38% je (masculine) : 36. Xénie. Elle se baissa. mais j’avais les gencives et la langue enflammées.45% of the masculine subjects are expressed as je whereas only 7% of the feminine subjects are expressed as je. In the excerpts from Bataille. Je tenais mon verre á la main. the ratio of masculine to feminine subjects is 48. je ne pouvais pas me décider.39% and the feminine tu [you]. j’avais plus peur qu’envie de boire. Elle vit que je m’impatientais. En même temps. you] : 6. (1957.17%. l’apercevant. the animate human subjects are represented as: First excerpt: Second excerpt: il(s) [he. en se levant. Elle aurait facilement sauté par la fenêtre. Among these subjects. Si.95% In the second excerpt. 4. elle is used for 42. When there is dialogue. il is singular. mais avec une telle gaucherie qu’elle renversa. pp. they] : 4. and they designate either the current sexual protagonist or an elderly maid. Elle le déposa sur une petite table à pied.56%. A chaque minute sa présence injustifiable.80% il(s) : 1. C’etait un non-sens évident. la table et le plateau: tout s’effondra dans un bruit de vaisselle cassée. voulant boire. Elle se précipita. the elle is always described through her relationship with a man. and elle is used to designate another woman in the context of two men and one woman. But what sorts of female characters does elle refer to? In what light is the feminine subject who is represented here being portrayed? La vieille bonne entra portant sur un plateau le petit déjeuner de Xénie. elle me portait un grand verre de jus d’orange. 107–108) .356 LUCE IRIGARAY Marguerite Yourcenar doesn’t utilize je at all.51% feminine. 48. Thus proportionally.49 of the je and the tu are masculine. Le bleu du ciel. à ce moment.5% masculine in comparison to 30.52% of he subjects are elle. ramassa les morceaux épars et les disposa sur un plateau: de cette manière elle pouvait dissimuler son visage et je ne voyais pas (mais je devinais) l’angoisse qui la decomposait. Marguerite Duras doesn’t utilize je either.11% je. la pauvre fille avait disposé de la moindre réaction. Thus. D. it is still the case that 37. 40.70% Je (masculine) : 54. the feminine use of je[I] amounts to only 1.11% elle : 36. Xénie versa pour elle le lait et le café. tu [I. In spite of the more pronounced incidence of the pronoun elle. Je tenais un verre dans la main et je ne buvais pas. voulut aussitôt me débarrasser. they are singular. Elle appears most frequently in Georges Bataille’s.

This means: 1. in these four novels. Xenie wanted to relieve me of the glass. 4. but the women seldom do. but my tongue and gums were inflamed. the only ones in which the feminine speaks as je [I]. These two texts are almost. ad set them on the tray. She saw that I was getting impatient. That the masculine sex is represented as a subject much more frequently than the feminine sex. The feminine je also exists as a passive site for the reception of a man’s actions. There are some instances of the feminine use of je in ‘Anna Soror. That the masculine sex uses the first person je [I] frequently. etc. but the feminine sex is almost never expressed this way.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 357 [The elderly maid come in.in that instance being between brother and sister. She set it down on a little stand. and I dreaded drinking even more than I craved it.’ but even then with regards to incest.a palpable absurdity. The men say je vois ceci [I see this]. With every passing minute her presence at my bedside was becoming ridiculous. in the type of actions that coincide with their presence or representation.] Thus. In this way she was able to conceal her face. je rencontre tel ou telle [I encounter something or other]. but in the instances of prostitution and murder. If at that moment the poor girl had had the slightest reaction. 2. in the manner of representation. Xenie poured out her hot milk and coffee. expresses himself or herself as being the agent of the enounced action. where elle designates the partner or . picked up the scattered pieces. She leapt up but so clumsily that she upset the table and tray as she rose. je fais ceci [I do this]. wanting to drink and incapable of making up my mind to. differences between the sexes of the authors correspond to significant differences in the grammatical expression of the subjects. Elle is used more frequently in the texts of male authors. She felt that presence to be without justification. I offer ‘Marie-Madeleine’ and ‘Clytemnestre’ of Marguerite Yourcenar’s Feux as beautiful examples. unless in cases of degeneracy or corruption. Everything went down in a crash of broken dishware. differences in number. particularly in the work of Bataille but also in Blanchot. I was holding my glass in my hand and not drinking. The subject of the enunciation [l’énonciation]. As soon as she saw this. carrying a tray with Xenie’s breakfast. With it she brought a large glass of orange juice for me. She squatted down. Here men designate themselves with je [I]. Designating the subject of enunciation [l’énoncé] as je often supposes the reflexive action of discussing oneself. or the subject of the utterance. she might well have jumped out the window. and I did not see (but guessed) the anxiety that was contorting it. especially in the work of Duras. 3. if not absolutely. in qualities attributed to each of the two genre. I held my glass in my hand.

Man. There are passages in her work where the character speaks as a subject in the first person with je [I]. but the je expresses Zenon or Hadrien or Alexis. This doesn’t apply to the work of Marguerite Yourcenar. 5. il has become Il. Antigone. Sappho.6 these figures are even more ancient than Zenon and Hadrien. man). the elle is often veiled under the appearance of natural elements.” What little action the female may initiate herself. In this case. There the il is mediated. whereas speaking as a feminine subject [je-femme] has not.” but instead “il me prend. and which she represents as elle. Marie-Madeleine. The divine is no longer situ- . Man has become God (and God. [je-homme] or imagine il subjects. or even a woman (except for Marie-Madeleine and Clytemnestre. as in the text of Marguerite Duras. but that speaking as a masculine subject has been culturally valorized as part of history.between others. It is accompanied by men’s appropriation of the divine. in the work of Duras. and probably also so that the cosmic world can become subject to the social universe.” “je le desire. It is used to designate those by whom or for whom the woman is affected. whether directly. This does not necessarily signify that she is viriloïde. is ultimately perceived as determined by him. They reserve only the virgin-mother so they can signify the necessity of an incest taboo between mothers and sons. the people of men. “je l’aime. abandon the feminine dimension of the divine. the il designates the romantic or erotic partner. But she doesn’t say. For instance. The characters that Marguerite Yourcenar represents in the first person with je. it is interesting to analyze the qualities of the female characters.358 LUCE IRIGARAY the object of the action of a man who is expressed je [I]. Il.” “il a ceci. It has been much more difficult in modern cultures to empathize with a female subject [as je-femme] or to imagine elle subjects. or indirectly. That amounts to subordinating the divine to masculine society and to the mothering of sons. as she is a writer of historic novels. The il isn’t an immediate inspiration of Yourcenar’s but a cultural personality that she has recreated. elle being utilized in Antigone and Sappho). it does not express Marguerite Yourcenar herself. Il is always that which affects elle more or less in the present. than it is to imagine from the masculine perspective. Il is used frequently in the texts written by women. Sometimes she writes from the perspective of a masculine subject [un style je-homme]. In the female authors’ work. aren’t historically insignificant characters: Clytemnestre. as in the text of Marguerite Yourcenar. It is easy to trace the time in history when the masculine il [he] becomes the generic sign for the general and neuter human race [humain genre].” “il fait ceci.

since overcoming the maternal meant separating and distinguishing themselves from it. This is the paradigm of their elle. the time of others.something which the woman enabled by affirming the value of virginity for herself and among all women. All of these historic decisions. the place of their transcendence. Unfortunately. and specifically. by caring for the culture. by caring for the social ethic. In doing this. and for the truth not subjected to sectarian belief. of their transcendence.and still is. The will or necessity for the population of men to manage society necessitated a system of symbols appropriate to their needs and desires. a need distinguish himself as separate from the maternal body and from the cosmic universe with which he had associated the worship of maternal bodies. that it would be prudent to respect. the generic of the species. The association of the divine with an incest taboo corresponds to one stage. 5. The privilege of il–Il [it] is correlated with the fact that the man had had. have asserted.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 359 ated in the female lover [l’amante]7 of the man as it is in some more feminine cultures. chaos. he has imposed his identity as the sole possibility. women’s time has a history. and still assert themselves to be the paradigm of the human race.so difficult. for the aesthetic. These are the cultural matrices of their Il. perhaps necessary for the population of men.that corporeal and cosmic universe that he assimilates with the maternal. 4. and the woman to be a simple reproductive servant or a sheer mimetic slave. the population of men. he has destroyed all traces of feminine culture and has named history his-time. not the whole of History. 3. laws. a valuable writing. in particularly mothers and daughters. 2. that the man. at one period in his history. an art. Prehistory. However. The operation was. This her-story has. have brought about a progressive impoverishment of our cultures and have .even though it was historically determined for the sake of the following necessities: 1. disorder. Men willed or needed to assert their gods as the true gods. and it weighs heavily on the representation of sexuate subjectivity and on the justification for using the masculine form as the universal neuter. The man desired to impose an individual and collective identity. been established today as the absolute truth concerning natural and cultural reality. from which he needed to separate himself. Man needed to create an incest taboo. This association obviously doesn’t correspond to an arbitrary and universal code. through ignorance and forgetting. Man had the will to create a second nature more perfect than the first.

are celebrated as the perpetual genesis of the cosmic universe and of spiritual time. whether cultivated or fabricated. Their discourse concerned concrete and immediate things. Most women are not accepting when other women do so. divinities. and of the couple.8 . For example. necessitates symbolic laws. but not of themselves. at school. The assignment of reproduction and caring for the domestic hearth to women didn’t demand a very elaborate linguistic code. the habits of discourse. and whose fertility is still manifest in certain cultures. heads of state and culture. They feel that women should remain empirical subjects. to believe that it has always been this way. Thus the feminine subject’s language was diminished. women concerned themselves with dressing to be seductive and issues dealing with childbirth and childrearing. bi-logical. with masculine perspectives. which traverse the results. etc. This is nothing astonishing.360 LUCE IRIGARAY made it possible. To take the woman’s place as money earner. For us. . and that it ought to be this way. men and children. In relationships with each other. ideas. have even made it necessary. To exchange products. These dimensions of language are still evident in women’s discourse. This has destroyed all culture of the sexuate [of sexuality]. the laws have naturally been appropriated by them. plans. But these facets of language also explain the difficulty that women have with: a) representing themselves b) establishing a dialectic involving themselves as empirical subjects c) respecting their mothers and other women as independent from themselves and autonomous d) giving models. in Indian culture the divinity of the feminine. In effect. As the men have traditionally been in charge of these tasks. which is necessarily bipolar. Women were encouraged to speak of others. or that women should develop masculine perspectives. . the men are practically the only subjects and the only interlocutors of verbal exchange. pose serious ethical dilemmas. and to govern citizens. we]. is to be accompanied by an appropriation of their needs and desires through the rules and norms of discourse. unless we stick to an undifferentiated and impersonal on [one. especially since children began to be educated outside the home. and they cannot be ignored in a culture where most conversations are no longer rooted in reality because of their repetitions of the past and their abstractions which lose sight of the subject matter and the interlocutor alike. it concerned the preparation of meals and the upkeep of the household for example.

“Order sexuel du discours” in Sexes et genres á travers les langues) M. religion. 704–706 (total subjects: 102) 2. but as susceptible to change. and the fragments of works of art analyzed regarding the representation of the sexuate subject. which isn’t a true sublimation. To direct the evolution of language. This has been proven by the results of the linguistic tests. civil laws. seems to me a goal necessary of a more cultivated world. not universal or arbitrary. Percentages of all the subjects of the propositions The subjects are calculated after reduction of transformations (cf.5% .with qualities.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 361 A change or raise in consciousness could lead us today to analyze linguistic systems. pp. this mark of self-determination. in particular. they] Parts of ils 44% 4% – – 2) 11%    41% 47. They both show that women are at best capable of referring to themselves as je [I].06% 7% 11% 2%    78. This tendency then. This sublimation of genitality. Acknowledgements The translator would like to thank Hélène Volat for her valuable research expertise. both voluntary and forced. requires changes in all the symbolic systems: language in the strictest sense. Women’s mark of self-determination. ideals. qui. living both historically and divinely. pp. a sublimation of genitality. is outside the reach of women. and more generally. the stage of the third person “elle”. of objectivity of genre. but at the present. This subjective change demands a culture of sexuality. and not only the content of our discourse. as historically defined norms. is hardly enough to allow an ethic or aesthetic to be freely chosen. of sexuality. whom. through a neuter identity. art that are appropriate for them. over the feminine. in view to becoming more subjective. art and images. rather than reproduction. ils [one. is accompanied by an implicit preference of others and their possessions. 559–561 (total subjects: 93) 1) Proper names Il Common nouns On. YOURCENAR – Oeuvre au noir (Pléiade Edition) 1.

voyageur 48. pp.98% 6. DURAS. ceux.12% 26.45% – – 1. ils [persons.64% 6.69% 82.96% . these/they(masculine)] Celui qui [those. 7–8 (total subjects: 53) 2. the ones] 11. c’ [that.84% .362 Elle Abstract inanimates Concrete inanimates Natural elements Animal Tout [All] Cela.96% 1.45% 2.95% 1. whom](masculine) On [one. 71–72 (total subjects: 52) 1) Homme. pp.12% – 2) 75%    7. people.92% 1.98% 1.24% 6.15% 6. il.69% 0% 11. 7–8 (total subjects: 49) 1. on.56% Qui [who.07% M.22%  12.98% [man.30% 2. we] Parts of him Femme [woman] Natural elements Concrete objects or elements Abstract elements   61. one. pp.92% M. 73–75 (total subjects: 61) 1) Je [I] (masculine) 62. il. gens.53% 6.49% 12.91% .15% 4.L’amour (Gallimard Edition) 1. 26% 2) 22. BLANCHOT. masculine passenger] Qui.48% 3.L’arret de mort (Gallimard Editions) 1.54% 1. nous (masculine) [whom.28%    45. we] (masculine) Personnes. this] Il (impersonal) LUCE IRIGARAY 0% 25. pp.15% 7.

58% 9. . prénoms. For Irigaray’s critique of the masculine/gendered use of occupational designators. Luce.39% Translation from the French original: Irigaray.5% 6. and “Linguistic Sexes and Genders” and “The Cost of Words. names] Commons (feminine) Concrete inanimates Abstract inanimates Indefinites Impersonals Notes 4. “Un horizon futur pour l’art?” Compar(a)ison 1 (1993): 107–116.49% 12.%    48.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 363 6. tu. pp.78% 6. 107–108 (total subjects: 72) 1) Je (masculine) 54.62% 2. first names. c’ [this.94% 4. noms [I. you.66% G.11% 13. see Thinking the Difference.64% La personne qui: elle [the person who: she] Animal Concrete inanimates Abstract inanimates Impersonals Indefinites Cela. 1.17% 1.11% 9. BATAILLE.” in Je Tu Nous.7%    2) 36. 172–173 (total subjects: 64) 2.11% 37. Irigaray uses both the masculine and feminine chercheuses and chercheurs.95% 14.11% 59.% 14.84% 1.8% Autres [Others](masculine) Elle Je.Le bleu du ciel (Pauvert Edition) 1.5%   1. pp.56% 13. that] 5.38%  36.

become feminine” (Je Tu Nous. “The Fecundity of the Caress. Paris: Grasset. Georges. Paris: Grasset. 1957. Some translators (e. Marguerite. 1987. Luce.] Irigaray. 1948.” in Face to Face with Levinas. 7. 1986. References Bataille.” in Thinking the Difference. Cf. and “Questions to Emmanuel Levinas.A. 1990. Karin Montin.” in Sexes and Genealogies. Blanchot. C. trans. 119–137. Paris: Minuit.g. Elsewhere Irigaray refers to the ‘woman lover’ l’amante where she specifically intends to indicate. 1992. [Je Tu Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference. Luce. Burke.” trans. New York: Routledge. L’arrêt de mort. 1993. 1994. Le Temps de la diffèrence: pour une révolution pacifique.] . Sappho was a poetess from Lesbos. See. Routledge. Re-Reading Levinas. [“The Fecundity of the Caress. “Fécondité de la caresse: lecture de Levinas. although. 70). the animate and cultured. New York: Urizen Books. L’amour. J’aime à toi: Esquisse d’une félicité dan l’histoire. Luce. In “Linguistic Sexes and Genders.364 2. 1989.] Irigaray. Luce. trans. New York: Routledge. Alison Martin. Paris: Gallimard.” and “The Female Gender. . Romancières et Romanciers. Paris: Gallimard. Luce. become masculine. Georges. Alison Martin. trans.. Columbia University Press.). Paris: Livre de Poche. Harry Mathews. Le bleu du ciel. Maurice. Blue of noon. not merely a female object of a man’s affection. 8. Paris: Pauvert. the inanimate and uncultured. because the boundaries between these two concepts are heavily contested it is preferable not to force a stance on Irigaray which she has not explicitly taken. [I Love to You: Sketch of a Felicity within History. Duras. “Civil Rights and Responsibilities for the Two Sexes. Je Tu Nous. Irigaray. Cohen (Ed. Sexuée suggests approximately either sexed or gendered.” in Re-Reading Levinas. 1978. trans. I have consulted Karin Montin’s translation. Sexes et parentés. Irigaray. Luce. Gill. Irigaray uses both masculine and feminine forms: Enquêteurs-rices. 1996. Again..” in Le Temps de la diffèrence: Pour une révolution pacifique. Gillian C. Marie-Madeleine was a woman who was close to Jesus. The myths of both Clytemnestra and Antigone have significant value for Irigaray in terms of the institution of patriarchy and women’s obedience to feminine or masculine symbolic orders. trans. 1971. [Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution.). . Face to Face with Levinas. Bataille. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. LUCE IRIGARAY 5. beginning from “The assignment of reproduction. 3. and “The Bodily Encounter with the Mother.”Irigaray observes that “Living beings. in R. Albany: State University of New York Press. Questions to Emmanuel Levinas: On the Divinity of Love. pp. New York.” Exercices de la patience 5 (1983). p. 1993. [Sexes and Genealogies. but an equally active subject in love that cannot be reduced to an immediate object of desire. objects that are lifeless. In Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley (Eds. Irigaray. Irigaray has also published this section. 6.] Irigaray. David Macey) use sexuate. (1991). as I have here. 4.” “The Necessity for Sexuate Rights.

Marguerite. (1990). . Special issue of Languages 85 (March). Paris: Grasset. ed. L’oeuvre au noir. (1987). (1968). Irigaray.A FUTURE HORIZON FOR ART? 365 Irigaray. Yourcenar. Luce. Paris: Gallimard. Sexes et genres à travers les langues: éléments de communication sexuée. Le sexe linguistiques. ed. Luce.


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