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Introduction

Je me suis interroge sur loubli qui scelle lorigine de notre tradition.


Luce Irigaray, tre Deux
This study was conceived as an exploration - or excavation - of this richly allusive reflection from
the 1! tre Deux
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in which "rigaray suggestively indicates several #ey aspects of her
approach to the analysis of $notre tradition. %hile "rigarays invocation of $our tradition may not
be immediately transparent& this one-line articulation of methodology is given as the first of four
points which& "rigaray states& are themselves inspired by 'un enseignement des derniers
philosophes de l(ccident.) *+,- 11./ 0ere "rigaray clearly positions herself within the
genealogy of the %estern philosophical canon and it becomes clearer that $lorigine de notre
tradition refers& in the first instance& to the origins of philosophy. 1s 2argaret %hitford observed
in her groundbrea#ing Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine *11/& the first 1nglo-
1merican study - as the title suggests - to seriously engage "rigarays pro3ect as both feminism
and philosophy-
4or "rigaray& the boundaries between philosophy and other domains are not clearly
demarcated. 5erhaps for this reason& the status of her wor# as philosophy is suspect.
0owever& " would want to claim that she is engaged in that most philosophical of
enterprises- philosophy examining its own foundations and its own presuppositions.
*11- 6/
1s %hitford here indicates& "rigaray is not inclined to observe rigidly delineated boundaries - a
methodology which& we will learn& issues from deeper philosophical conviction - and her
approach to the tradition is informed by familiarity with a number of other fields& most notably
psychoanalysis& literary hermeneutics and linguistics& and& in later years& a somewhat more
controversial involvement with +astern spiritual practice. 1s "rigaray notes in the third of the four
methodological points given in tre Deux& '3e suis retourne aux traditions qui ont prcd la
n7tre& en particulier celles de l+xtr8me (rient.) *+,- 11./
%hile the conclusions of this study will yield insights which will deepen our appreciation of why
the later "rigaray orients herself in this slightly surprising direction& this enquiry will primarily
focus on readings ta#en from the first of the three stages of "rigarays corpus as designated in a
1. interview published as $Je-9uce "rigaray. 0ere she indicated that this first stage - spanning
the decade from Speculum de lAutre Femme *1!:/ to thi!ue de la Di""erence Sexuelle
*1;:/ - was devoted to demonstrating the 'auto-mono-centrism of the western sub3ect&) that is&
she clarifies& the way in which 'the masculine sub3ect) has 'constructed<and interpreted the
world according to a single perspective.) *J9"- !/ To this end& "rigaray opened her pro3ect with
an extensive re-reading of the %estern canon& an endeavour which - she also underlines in this
1
tre Deux was initially composed and published in "talian as ssere Due in 1:. 0owever& given that 4rench is
"rigarays mother tongue we will assume that the 4rench edition is a sufficiently exact rendering of her intention and deal
with the 4rench& rather than the "talian& as the original text.
!
interview - should be approached as specifically philosophical in nature. 5hilosophy& "rigaray
suggests& occupies a privileged position within culture as 'the domain in which values are
defined) and therefore& she asserts& 'the thing most refused to a woman is to do philosophy.)
*J9"- !/
"rigarays pro3ect can thus be broadly grasped as a detailed interrogation of the tradition from
the perspective of one it has always excluded& and which is& therefore& particularly attentive to
the trope of exclusion. %hat "rigaray is interested to read in the canon is $the unsaid= - that which
has been silenced - and this then is the first sense in which her methodology can be
characterised as archaeology& as the attempt to excavate and bring into the open that which has
been occluded and interred. 4urthermore& the meticulous forensic of "rigarays archaeological
approach to the tradition has led her& as %hitford notes& to interrogate its very foundations& to
sub3ect to extensive critique its most archaic assumptions. 4oundation here suggests not only
the premises on which particular philosophical argument is based& but also& more fundamentally&
the founding of the tradition itself& its origin in the $cradle of civilisation represented by sixth
century >.?.+. 1thens. 4rom her reading of 5latos allegory of the cave in Speculum to her
analysis of 1ristotelian space in An thics o" Sexual Di""erence& "rigarays early wor# exhibits an
abiding interest in the way in which the basic assumptions of the tradition were constructed at its
birth. "n this regard "rigaray is far from unique& and& as intimated by her reference to the $latest
%estern philosophers& she largely inherited this archeo-methodology from her direct
philosophical ancestors& most notably Jacques ,errida - whose presence will loom large in this
study - and 2artin 0eidegger& whose return to& as ,errida notes& 'the great @ree# epoch&)
*A(B- C66/ inspired a generation of philosophers in 4rance to embar# on the
$Destru#tion$deconstruction of the tradition from the ground up.
2ost significantly for the purpose of this study& the philosophical discourse birthed at the
traditions origin& was - perhaps appropriately for the neo-natal state of 1thens - also mar#ed by
its own profound interest in the question of origins. 1rguably& the notion of the origin is one of
philosophys richest& and& as we will see in the next chapter& a concern with origination extends
throughout many other fields of intellectual enquiry - linguistics and etymology& history&
anthropology& natural science& theology& and of course& archaeology and its related practices -
as well as far beyond the walls of the academy. 1s evinced by the widespread and increasingly
popular interest in tracing family genealogies& #nowledge of ancestry yields information about
identity& it tells you what someone or something is& or rather& to be slightly more technical& the
origin promises access to the ob3ective of ontology - the apprehension of essence. 0eidegger
ma#es this explicit in his 1C. essay& $,er Drsprung des Eunstwer#es-
(rigin<means that from which and by which something is what it is and as it is. %hat
something is& as it is& we call essence. The origin of something is the source of its
essence. *(%1- 1:C/
;
The ancient @ree# term for origin was $a)rxh/ - hence archaeology& archaic& archive - a term
which also denoted& importantly& differing structures of power and sovereignty in the context of
the state - hence monarchy& oligarchy& anarchy. The connection between these two deployments
of the term may seem puFFling on first inspection& but it is illuminating to note their descent from
the verb $archein& which described the action of leading troops into battle. *?f. Aonge-2Gller&
6HH6- ../ "n this context the one who leads - the first - is simultaneously the one who exerts
power over proceedings and claims conquest and dominion of the field. 1s suggested by this
example& what issues from the origin is power& the potential to decisively determine what will
come to pass and hence& to define the essential nature of what will be.
Thus& in attempting to rigorously analyse the nature or essence of their own being and the world
around them& the @ree#s of classical antiquity developed a philosophical discourse that was -
and remains - preoccupied with the thin#ing of origins. "rigaray archaeological interrogation of
the $origin of the tradition is& therefore& at least two-fold& and is directed& to a significant extent&
to a questioning of the construction of origins at the moment when the tradition originated.
"rigaray& unli#e 0eidegger& never explicitly elaborates what& to her mind& the concept of origin
deIconnotes& but& in this respect& the execution of her method spea#s for itself. 0er questioning
of archaic concepts serves to elucidate the complex potency of the term attested to by its
centrality in both philosophical and popular discourse ali#e& and& most notably& is ever attentive
to the fact that the question of origination when posed in relation to human >eing necessarily
evo#es that event which is& in some sense& most remote from the discarnate and rarefied
discourse of metaphysics - the messy materiality of unmetaphorical birth. "n this aspect of her
approach "rigarays training as a psychoanalyst is evident& as is her refusal to respect rigid
disciplinary boundaries. 1s we will see& early @ree# thought abounds with more-or-less-
figurative references to the processes of conception& gestation and parturition& but "rigaray was
the first prominent thin#er to extensively interrogate these instances with an eye to the actual& to
question how these formulations of origination were implicated in an attempt to radically
reconfigure the processes of nature in a manner which& effectively& erased the female from the
scene.
This characterisation& however& may seem to undermine "rigarays specific instruction to read
her wor# as philosophy& and serve to position it& to less-charitable eyes& as 3ust one in a long-
recitation of grievances easily dismissed by applying the $f-word label. 0owever& as we have
noted& "rigarays reading of the canon is extensive and rigorous& and& more importantly& while the
issue of feminine identity is clearly her concern& the way in which she analyses the role of
woman as other is entirely enmeshed with and indebted to the thin#ing of alterity so central to
the body of wor# broadly designated as post-structuralism. 1s such& "rigarays intervention must
be understood as an extension and complication of the thin#ing of difference and identity& self
and other& which preoccupied the best part of late twentieth-century thought and which& as the
return to the $@ree# origin suggests& was also central to the concerns of the earliest
philosophers& most frequently in the form of $the question of the one and the many. "rigarays
oeuvre can& therefore& in no way be side-lined as relevant only to woman& and& despite the

*regrettable but fairly predictable/ fact that relatively few male commentators have consistently
engaged with her thought& it is clear that she is wor#ing on the terrain of one of the most
archaic& abiding and influential questions in the history of philosophy. 1s 2ar# ?. Taylor notes in
his introduction to the edited volume Deconstruction in %ontext& 'JpKhilosophy begins and ends
with the question of the other.) *1;L- :/
%hat "rigaray figures in her analysis of the erasure of the female-other from the processes of
material origination is& therefore& the attempt by early thought to construct a singular and
univocal origin and hence to establish the essence of >eing as (ne& as she informed us above&
the first stage of her pro3ect is devoted to demonstrating the $auto-mono-centrism of the western
sub3ect. ,eveloping a detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which the sub3ect executes
this act of exclusion will form the first chapter of this study. "n order to prepare us for our
encounter with "rigarays readings of the 5latonic Theory of 4orms in the Symposium *Aection
"M/ and the &epublic *Aection M/& ?hapter " will open with an investigation of the thin#ing of
identity and difference in the pre-cursors of the 5latonic moment& with particular reference to the
1thenian myth of origins *Aection "/& @ree# and Near +astern cosmogonic myths *Aection ""/
and 5armenides *Aection """/. %hat "rigarays reading of the thought of archaic @reece delivers&
we will discover& is an account which also employs the traditional association of origin and
essence to s#etch a defining-narrative of our history though the analysis of the normative-
structures established at the birth of our culture. The nature of "rigarays narrative is& as we have
alluded& informed by her bac#ground in psychoanalysis and literature as well as philosophy& and
thus is unusually attentive to the symbolic properties of the discourses she is interrogating. 1s
2argaret %hitford further observes& we are counselled by the translator of the 9oeb edition of
the &epublic that it is 'probably a mista#e to loo# for definite symbolism) in 'all the details) of the
simile *Bep-l- 16L I ?f. %hitford& 11- 1H.-L/& whereas "rigaray& steeped in both literary and
dream-analysis& does precisely this& encouraged& no doubt& by the fact that 5latos founding
document is& after all& allegorical.
"rigarays particular attention to symbolic detail extends not only to her method of reading texts
but also to her own textual practice and her writings are characterised by dense allusiveness
and the wide deployment of literary tropes. Ahe frequently presents her arguments and
analyses in figurative form - $the disavowal of the mirror and $the forgetting of air being 3ust two
examples we will encounter in this study - but it is notable that her symbolism often draws its
metaphoric power from the concrete circumstance of fundamental experience and relation -
from the processes of corporeal life and death - and thus resists the elision of materiality so
characteristic of the tradition. The one instance where this is mar#edly less the case concerns
the topology of the male imaginary that "rigarays patient excavation is dedicated to revealing.
The unearthing of the $circle of the same - equivalent to the demonstration of the male western
sub3ects $auto-mono-centrism - will be central to this study& but& as we will see& this
comparatively abstract symbol is not one of "rigarays own devising and is embedded in the
thin#ing of origin at the very birth of the tradition.
1H
>y contrast& the counter-narrative "rigaray inscribes around the edges of the circle - her account
of what it has excised - is anything but abstract and is& instead& graphic and bloody& figuring the
erasure of the mother from the primal scene as an act of $symbolic matricide. 1s she tells us in
an interview published in Le %orps'('corps a)ec la m*re *1;1/& 'toute notre culture occidentale
repose sur le meurtre de la mOre.) *??- ;1/ "t is in this capacity that %hitford describes "rigaray
as a 'cultural prophet) *11- CC/& a woman whose vision encompasses the breadth of our
history& presenting a compelling narrative of a culture constructed over the murdered body of the
mother& she who furnishes the material of life but is then& through the denial and erasure of this
matter& violently excluded from and by a social-symbolic
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which refuses her existence. The
disavowed body is then interred in an unmar#ed grave and $sealed within the system which& in
the absence of memorialisation& is free to $forget her& and which& moreover& requires this
$forgetting for its perpetuation. "n the form of this narrative "rigarays psychoanalytic heritage is
once again evident& and as 4reud would surely remind us& where the mechanics of the mind are
concerned& there is no such thing as a simple $forgetting. +rasure from awareness is executed
with unconscious-intent& repression being necessary to maintain the coherence of the ego& a
structure which is also& as we will see& implicated in the economy of the $circle of the same.
"rigarays evocation of a history of $forgetting is& however& not simply psychoanalytic in
derivation& and& as is well #nown& $forgetting is a signature feature of 0eideggers account of the
$destiny of >eing in the %est. %hile there are substantial differences between 0eidegger and
"rigarays thought& there is much formal concordance in the stories they s#etch about the
development of our culture and the way in which its unfolding was informed by the founding
texts inscribed in ancient @reece. 2oreover& as suggested& 0eidegger was one of the
progenitors *inspired himself in this respect by NietFsche/ of the archaeological method so
central to "rigarays pro3ect and the wor# of many of her generation& including ,errida and
perhaps paradigmatically& 4oucault. 0owever& while "rigarays approach to excavation is
principally symbolic and topographic& 0eideggers can best be characterised as etymological&
his intention being to interrogate terms and concepts central to the history of thought and culture
in order to display their 'birth certificate) *>T- ::IAP- 66/ and reveal their 'primordial essence.)
*9- LH/ 1s he elaborates at length-
%hen tradition<becomes master<what it $transmits is made so inaccessible<that it
<becomes concealed. Tradition<bloc#s our access to those primordial $sources
from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been<drawn. "ndeed
it ma#es us forget that they<had such an origin& and ma#es us suppose that<going
bac# to these sources is something<we do not need to understand. *>T- :CIAP- 61/
0ere the structural similarity between "rigaray and 0eideggers pro3ect - their intention to
excavate the concealed from the origin of the tradition - is demonstrated with some clarity. "t is
on this basis that our investigation of "rigarays evocation of $the forgetting which seals the origin
of the tradition will principally focus on positioning "rigaray in relation to 0eidegger& while calling
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The symbolic& 1lison Atone observes& denotes those 'patterns of meaning<and association which play an organising
role in dominant areas of culture.) *6HHL- 6./
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throughout on other of the $latest western philosophers& most notably ,errida and 9acan. The
second chapter of this study will& therefore& be largely devoted to an exploration of the
0eideggerian narrative of our history& beginning with his own reading of the allegory of the cave
*Aection "/& before moving on to his interpretation of ,escartes *Aection ""/ in order to
demonstrate the way in which #ey conceptual features of 5latonism reached their apotheosis in
the mind of the philosopher who was crucial to the foundation of the modern age. ?hapter """ will
then conclude with "rigarays reading of ,escartes and an exploration of "rigaray and
0eideggers shared conclusions on the devastating environmental impact issuing from the
+nlightenment pro3ect *Aection """/.
0aving developed an understanding of the resonances between the wor# of these two thin#ers&
?hapter """ will& by contrast& be devoted almost exclusively to a detailed reading of "rigarays
critique of 0eidegger& delivered in L+ubli de lAir %he, -artin .eidegger *1;C/& one the triad of
elemental texts - with Amante -arine *1;H/ and Passions /l0mentaires *1;6/ - that "rigaray
composed towards the end of the first stage of her pro3ect. The Forgetting o" Air is& as the title
suggests& a meditative and poetic exploration of the mechanism and more particularly& the
implications& of the gesture of material exclusion her early wor# is dedicated to exposing&
executed primarily through an interrogation of the 0eideggerian clearing. "n this text "rigaray
extends her critique of the topology of the male imaginary by expanding her attention from an
analysis of mechanism to a fuller consideration of the questions of cause and effect& elaborating
at length on both the psychological motivation and the elliptical and ultimately& self-defeating&
consequences of the operations of the $circle of the same.
?hapter """ will therefore open with an exegesis of 0eideggers clearing *Aection "/ followed by
"rigarays critique of the way in which material con3unction is excluded by this figuring of >eing
*Aection ""/. "t will then move on to "rigarays analysis of the consequence of this act of exclusion
in terms of its exacerbation rather than alleviation of the experience of absence *Aection """/
before considering her compelling account of the motivation behind the operation of care& the
central 0eideggerian concept which can& we will suggest& be read as a demand for security and
indemnification *Aection "M/. Aection M of this chapter will consider "rigarays evocation of air as
a mediating element which provides a pattern for thin#ing - and living - a sexual economy
resistant to the operations of identity and thus opens onto the final stage of her wor#& which& she
tells us& will be dedicated to 'the construction of an inter-sub3ectivity respecting sexual
difference.) *J9"- !/
%hile "rigarays early wor# is far from untrodden territory& this study can ma#e some claims to be
of value in the development of our understanding of the thought of this #ey figure. "n the first
instance& "rigarays wor# has not been engaged with a dedicated focus on the question of
origination& although& as such an important motif& consideration of this concept does appear in a
number of readings& such as %hitfords psychoanalytically astute study and the analysis of the
archaic thin#ing in early @reece by Migdis Aonge-2Gller *6HH6/& to which the first section of this
enquiry is heavily indebted. There are also a number of articles and chapters *2ortenson& 1:Q
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0odge& 1:Q ?hanter& 1.Q ErFysFtof& 6HHHQ 4ielding& 6HHCQ Atone& 6HHCQ ?imitile& 6HH!/ and
one study *0untington& 1;/& which examine the imbrications of 0eidegger and "rigarays
thought& but none of these is dedicated to their thin#ing of origination& although& again& it is a
motif which recurs. The reward of this selective focus is the ability to demonstrate that "rigarays
critique of the tradition is fundamentally determined by her analysis of archaic processes and&
more significantly& the capacity to clearly delineate the mechanics of origination central to the
operations of identity and to trace this archaic device - which we will come #now as the $auto-
conceit - throughout our history& from its origin in the $great @ree# epoch to its formulation in the
thought of ,escartes& 9acan& and 0eidegger himself.
2oreover this dedicated attention will enable us to underta#e a sustained exploration of the
psychological impulses behind the $auto-conceit& and to read& as "rigaray has done& the passion
which subtends such a central feature of our thought. 1s suggested& "rigaray elaborates most
fully on the drives which impel the pro-3ects of the male imaginary in the Forgetting o" Air& and&
while most engagements with this text note this aspect of "rigarays discussion *1rmour& 1!Q
4aul#ner& 6HH1Q particularly Atone& 6HHC/& we are here able to give extensive consideration to
the functioning of the circuitry of careIdesire& its demand for absolute indemnification and the
$auto-immune nature of its structure. This concentration on the origins and ob3ect of the drive
which determines the topology of the male imaginary allows us to fully appreciate "rigarays
radical suggestion for brea#ing the vicious $circle of the same and to develop an understanding
of the state of being she considers necessary to the construction of an alternative economy.
%ith the intention of developing a sustained argument and presenting a contribution to "rigaray
scholarship which has aspects of originality& this study does not give attention to many of the
debates which dominated the early reception of "rigarays oeuvre& particularly the notorious and
vexed question of $essentialism. There are a number of comprehensive discussions of this
aspect of "rigaray studies *e.g. Achor& 1:Q ?hanter& 1.Q 2artin& 6HHHQ Atone& 6HHL/ which "
will not revisit here except to note two points. 4irstly that the debate arose for fairly clear
reasons derived from the historically informed differences between 1nglo-1merican $feminism of
equality and $feminisms of difference drawn from continental post-structuralism& particularly
with regard to the sexIgender distinction as a sacrosanct tenet of $equality feminism. Aecondly
to observe that& while the sexIgender polarity is motivated by the commendable desire to
liberate women from the shac#les historically 3ustified by the $wea#ness of their bodies& it is&
nonetheless& a binomial which is predicated on the elevation of culture over nature& and thus&
from the perspective of $difference feminism is to be resisted. 1s 1lison 2artin notes& the sexI
gender distinction 'perpetuates the dichotomies<critiqued by the anti-metaphysical thought in
which "rigarays wor# is immersed) *6HHH- 6!/ and& furthermore& the assertion that sex and
gender are pure social constructs which can be 'transformed at will<feeds the decisionism<of
a humanism which assumes an imperialistic responsibility for the world.) *6HHH- 6/
This study is& therefore& to be largely distinguished by the dedicated nature of its focus and its
intention to pursue the understanding of "rigaray and 0eideggers thought& and their narratives
1C
of our history& through a meticulous excavation of the thin#ing of origins at the birth of our
tradition and an examination of the way in which these archaic concepts have been propagated
over time. 1s such& this enquiry is imbued throughout with a concern to explore the peculiar
potency of the concept of the origin& a concern which also extends to elements of style. "n
particular this study will ma#e extensive use of footnotes& as they afford the opportunity to
engage with etymologies& intellectual genealogies and archaeological and historical detail which
expands our appreciation of importance of derivation& ancestry& and provenance& but which
might detract from the central thread of the argument. 2oreover& these notes create a dialogic
aspect to the discussion which is appropriate to a study of errors of exclusion& and thus serve to
remind us that the story we are telling can only be& after all& one version of events.
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