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The Language of Man Author(s): Luce Irigaray and Erin G. Carlston Source: Cultural Critique, No.

13, The Construction of Gender and Modes of Social Division (Autumn, 1989), pp. 191-202 Published by: University of Minnesota Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/02/2011 11:44
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The Language of Man'

Luce Irigaray

he problem of the sexuation of discourse has, paradoxically, never been posed. Man, as an animal gifted with language (langage), as rational animal, has always represented the only possible subject of discourse, the only possible subject. And his language (langue) appears to be the universal itself. The mode(s) of predication, the categories of discourse, the forms of judgment, the dominion of the concept ... have never been interrogated as determined by a sexedbeing. If the relation of the subject speaking to nature, to the given or fabricated object, to God the creator, to other intraworldly existants, has been questioned in the different epochs of history, it has never seemed, still does not seem, necessary to call into question this a priori: that this is, still and always, a matter of a universe or world of man. A perpetually unrecognized (meconnue)law prescribes all realizations of lanI would like to thank Nadine Berenguier, Patricia de Castries, Brian Massumi, and Gayatri Spivak for their many helpful comments on this translation. All final decisions about, and consequent errors in, the wording are, of course, my own.-EGC 1. This article first appeared as "Le langue de l'homme" in Revue philosophique 4 (automne 1978); it is reprinted in Luce Irigary, Parler n'estjamais neutre (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1985), 281-92.
o 1990 by Cultural Critique. 0882-4371 (Fall 1989). All rights reserved.



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guage(s) (langage[s]), all production of discourse, all constitution of language (langue), according to the necessities of one perspective, one point of view, one economy: the necessities of man, supposed to represent the human race. It seems that this self-evident truth (evidence),which is at once immediate and inscribed in our entire tradition, has to remain occulted, has to function as the radicallyblind point of entry of the subject into the universe of speech (dire). To open one's eyes here amounts to extreme impudence, a folly as yet unheard of, a violence that calls for the mobilization of all kinds of argumentseven those apparently in contradiction-to maintain the established order. Such a reaction shows that this question is not innocent, that it shakes the foundations of what was given as universal, beyond the reach of empirical imperatives, of subjective or historical particularities. Such an interrogation cannot, therefore, remain local. It doesn't touch only a few of the modalities of speech (dire), the singularities of expression possible in a language (langue). It can't be formulated from within an already-existing general code. In short, it doesn't belong to the idiomatic register. The problem of the sexuation of the production of discourse can't be boiled down to the problem of an idiolect, unless we admit that the language (langue) that lays down the law is already the idiom of men, the manifestation of man as idiot. The recourse to etymology won't mute the effect of what is startling in the discovery of such a truth: the universal appears there as a particular, proper to man. Why not? Hasn't this particular proved its effectiveness? Why would a power or a will-to do or to speak-only be valuable on the condition of being universally valid, of imposing itself as unique and exclusive? Doesn't this nonlimitation-limitation of its range reduce its powers of comprehension? And doesn't there remain, in consciousness, mind, subject, and all the figures of discourse, a naivete (in the Hegelian sense of the term) masking itself under the absolute predicate: that the sexuation of discourse and, more generally, of language (langue) is forgotten? Or perhaps, the failure to recognize (meconnaissancede) a matter sexed masculine, producing its truth, affirming and denying itself in Truth, Being, Mind, Presence, etc. Or simply, Language (la Langue).

The Language of Man


Certainly, some anthropologists of distant or local peoples raise the question of the men/women difference in the mechanisms constitutive of a culture and its language or languages (son ou ses langages). But their affirmations seem always to have to be resubmitted to a "first philosophy," never to return to the anchoring point of the word (parole) in order to interpret it as andrologic and not as anthropologic. A sexed subject imposes its imperatives as universally valuable, as if they alone were capable of defining the forms of reason, of thought, of meaning, of exchanges in general. It leads us back, still and always, to the same logic, to the only logic: of the One, of the Same. Of the Sameness of the One. How do we make apparent that which reveals itself only in exiting this autological circle? That which takes place only in removing itself from its own modes of demonstration? A difficult question! To demonstrate nothing risks maintaining the status of the other as infans, endlessly providing material for the functioning of the same discourse; to enter too simply into demonstration amounts to abolishing difference again and to resubmitting oneself to the same imperatives. How do we speak the other without subordinating it again to the one? What method could even render this question perceptible? Here are indicated, tentatively, some applications and implications of the-masculine-sexuation of discourse, using some of its own methods to try to make its always-occulted presuppositions understood. 1. An eidetic structure commands the functioning of our truth. No existant, no relation to the existant, can state itself without reference to a model that determines its manifestation as an approximative miming of its ideal being. The generic dominates the appropriation of meaning. No language (langage) is capable of speaking (the) truth without submitting to the common or proper terms that mold it into adequate, that is to say essential, forms. How do we ask this question of such a logical economy: what happens to nature in this discursive functioning? Always already reduced in the subordination to ideas, it can no longer be represented except through categories that remove it from immediate sensory perception. This natural causality, however, subsists and


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maintains the production of ideas.2 Where and how does it appear in the forms of discourse? What remnant of silence resists such formations? What is said or made of sensory immediacy by truth?The logos? And, on the other hand, what affects does that remnant allow to be articulated?To be translated into language (langue)? For are there ever ideal affects that aren't already found to be reduced insofar as they are affects? From the very beginning, then, logic would annihilate one mode of relationship-to affect for man and woman. In effect, there is only one idea for each existant and each apprehension of the existant. Now, can't this eidetic structure be interpreted as the impossibility,for man, of giving meaning to his naturalbeginning, of predicating his relationship to a matter-mother from which he comes? He comes from it, but he exists as (a) man in separating himself from it, in forgetting it, in interrupting every bond of contiguity-continuity,in suspending every sympathy (in the etymological sense of the word) with this primarymatter irreducible to his being man (son etrehomme). least as he represents it to At himself. The principle identity that lays down the law preserving of him from any relapse into a heterogeneity capable of altering the purity of his auto-affection. Would woman, women, have nothing otherto say about this relationship to the natural? Not simply in the mode of a complement or supplement to the speech (dire)already existing, but as a articulationby the animal speaking to nature, to matter, different to the body. Women don't have to distinguish themselves, like man, from the nature-mother that produced them; they can remain attached to her, indeed identify themselves with her, without losing their sexual identity. This would permit them, were not the authority of the principle of self-identity decreed by man, to enter in another into the universe of speech (dire),to elaborate way the edifice of language (langage)differently, reconnecting it to the matter in an unprecedented kind of speech (parole). primary This would interrogate-at least for women?-the hypoth-

2. Cf. the analysis of the myth of the cavern in Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

The Language of Man


of esis (hypotheque) nothingness and of nonbeing, at work in our since the very beginning-these notions of emptiness, ablogic sence, hole, abyss,nothing ... (the conception of the negative?)to which the history of thought periodically returns, and which science progressively helps it to name, though they persist-as the attractionof the still-nameless-for and in man himself. As if, the more physics strives to resolve the question of the void, the more insistently the latter comes back to man, as what he has projected into and onto nature? For lack of an answer to what is going on in and for him? If the geometric, and more generally the mathematical, model that he has applied to the deciphering of the natural existant has permitted man to elaborate a theory and display its effecover the discursive function tiveness, the dominion of this mathesis has constituted him, butjust as surely dispossessed him, as subject. In what ratio,to what degree has man subjugated himself insofar as he is corporeal, sexed matter? And the ideal that he has imposed on himself as a norm-hasn't it at once assured his power, his mastery, and mortified/annihilated his relationship to living nature? of If psychoanalysisinterprets something of this schiz (schize) the subject-man,it reintroduces certain philosophical a prioris. It describes and rearranges (man's) sexuality according to the preeminence of the death drives over the libido, the automatism of repetition as a privileged spatiotemporalscansion, the triumph of the principle of constancy,the desire for homeostasis,etc.: thelove It of of the same and the rejection difference. resubmits the unconscious to the most fundamental laws of the consciousness. Or, more exactly, it discovers the unconscious to be the wrong side or reverse of the consciousness, reclosing the circle of the constitution of the subject,but leaving it substantiallyunchanged. Psychoanalysis unmasks, at least in part, the underside of a functioning it. system, but it doesn't disturb It maintains,indeed confirms, man in his destiny, his perennial discourse. It doesn't go so far as to question the sexuation of discourse itself, of the theoretical in general. A theory of sexuality, it fails to recognize the sexual determinations of its theory. In this, it remains naively metaphysical. Submitted to the auto-logic of a subject appropriated by and


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for the necessities of the male sex alone, it presents itself as indifferent to sex: Truth. 2. The Dominion of the One, of the sameness of the One, in Western logic, supports itself on a binarism that is never radically called into question. The fact that the question of this regulative model is raised locally in the sciences (including the sciences of logic), or that it has been addressed by certain philosophers since Nietzsche, still doesn't seem to have rendered it absolutely imperative that the question of this model be applied to the discursive function. Yes/no, inside/outside, good/bad, true/false, being/ nonbeing, and all consequent and subsequent dichotomies, remain the oppositions in terms of which the subject enters into language (langage),though not without their bending to language (langue),to the principle non-contradiction: or no, not yes and of yes no at the same time, at least ostensibly.... Alternatives that are then measured, tempered, temporalized, and determined in the hierarchical mode, the assumption always being that the contradiction can be resolved in the right term, can come to a proper conclusion. The substantial consistency of the one (of the subject)capable of surmounting, within itself, its own antagonisms: the rational animal . ..-is founded on this bipolar dismemberment its (cetecartelement bipolaire), denegation, and the mastery of contradictories.

Yesand no to (the) nature-mother-consumed/rejected, introjected/projected-no to this denied, unrecognized (meconnue) ambivalence: thus is affirmed the identity of a solipsistic subject, playing the same game indefinitely, secure on the firm ground of his language (langue).Inside/outside him (the) nature-mother is assimilated and rejected, too near, too much inside, mixed up with him ever to be perceived as different, too far outside not to remain an imperceptible beyond, a blind constituent of the world with its inside/outside. (The) nature-mother-the subject's initself/out-of-self, internal/external to discourse-nourishes meaning in some obscure fashion and remains expelled from all the universes of possible references. This contra-diction, always at work in the order of our reason, must never be revealed as the trace of the passage, through an original reduction, of the other into the same. It is forgotten in

The Language of Man


the determination of a natural world, of a phusis that is already a creation of man. The perceived movements of this phusis are already subjected to the imperatives of his culture, to his own spatio-temporality, he who discovers of nature only what his measuring instruments can progressively dominate. How do the denegation of a rhythm specific to (the) naturemother, this fundamental fort-da constantly re-covered and reemerging in the multiple hierarchical oppositions of/in language (langue)-how do these also signify the constitution of the world according to an alternation proper to male sexuality: erection/detumescence? Another question which that which offers itself as universal will reject, refusing the reappearance of a possible contra-diction in a place where logic no longer expects it and can't reabsorb it. A contra-diction constituted by the speech (dire) of women, which interpellates the truth of a beyond of its supposedly unlimited limit, of its measurelessness, and which necessitates a reorganization of its autarkic economy. A contra-diction that demonstrates to man that his discourse, his language (langue), are the universe and the techniques of man, marked by the imperatives particular to his sex-an intolerable interpretation, which brings about the downfall of the order of his claim to the absolute. And what if, for women, dichotomous oppositions didn't make sense as they did for men, at least not without a radical submission to the phallic, masculine world, which leaves them mute or reduces them to mimetism, the only language (langage) or silence permitted them in this discursive order? What if women didn't constitute themselves in the mode of the one (consistent, substantial, subsisting, permanent . .) and its propping-up of the contradictions that are at once active and occulted in a proper hierarchy? What if women were always "at least two," without any opposition between those two, without reduction of the other to the one, without any possible appropriation into a logic of the one, without an autologic closure of the circle of the same? Always at least two, which never boil down to a binary alternative: the logic of distancing and of the mastery of the other? What if they always spoke many at a time, without the many being reducible to the multiple of one? How would truth assimilate into its economy


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this enigmatic speech (parole),without any known principle of self-identity, or of non-contradiction?What would become of the universal that lays down the law? 3. To continue: what sorts of unforeseen, unforeseeable acciof dents might occur in the becoming (devenir) the essential forms that discourse proposes to itself as its end? What crisis of truthor of being-would result if an existant, which had always been subjected to the laws of predication that are determined by men for alone, appropriated speech (parole) itself? How might this disturb the premises that ensure its logic? Let an existant depart from the ontological status that is imparted to it once and for all, and meaning-of truth, of being-loses its immutability,its impassibility. Discourse unravels, overflows into the infinite, rediscovering its aporias. To put it differently, how does the deprivation of a specificity of speech (langage),of language (langue),on the side of (the) woman make possible the domination of a logic of the form that necessitates botha God (transcendence marked by the male sex) and the interdiction or impossibility of a regression to primary matter?The penalty for which might be that all substance should relapse into indifferentiation? Into the loss of individuation? Of self-identity? What power finds itself thereby deprived of its own enacten ment (mise acte)?A substratumthat alwaysremains availablefor the practice of man's techniques? From this point on, is discourse anything other than the archi-technique serving to help man to come into his being? Does it not constitute, from the very beginning, a tool useful to the beof coming (devenir) man and man alone? Inaugurating itself as the space of an impossible exchange, except between man and himself. If form were no longer extrapolatablefrom matter, if matter and form should engender one another endlessly, without a limit prescribed by the domination of the one-the One-over the other-wouldn't this perspective re-open another mode of exchange? In which the one and the other-man and woman, for example-would give each other matter and form, potentialityand

The Language of Man


actuality (puissanceet acte), in a process of becoming (devenir)that is never teleologically halted, without stable transcendence or immanence. What opposition (but also complementarity) of the pair matter/form-woman/man-would thereby find itself thwarted, thus confounding both the force of binarism and the substanceorigin that it supports and maintains? References of a single agentsubject, affected by its own activity, active producer and passive recipient of the energy it would always already have appropriated for itself in a coming-and-going between the outside and its own inside that would make it turn in a circle: transfer that would no longer have its beginning, nor its end, in some other? Woman would not appear there, or at best would only be signified as notman, with no specificity except a negative one, with no difference except an aporetic one, a pole, a center, of lack that would have to try to raise itself to the only valid human-or divine-standard. The notions man/woman only form, strictly speaking, one notion, still hierarchically dichotomized, with regard to such a logic. And what if this other, speaking, nature acceded to (its) language (lalsa langue)? If this hitherto nonsubjectivable subjectum unveiled itself as the resource of another logic? How would this disturb the status of the subject and of discourse? 4. Discourse, logos, would bear witness, then, to the necessity and the modalities of man's separation from (the) nature-mother. This separation, which constitutes man as man, would require that, starting from an undifferentiated subjectum,he erect himself as a solid entity. In the pre-Socratics, we still find the exorcism-or at least the framing-of fluids by solid realities: the world-cosmos surrounds itself with a shell in Empedocles, the world-thought closes itself up in a circle with Parmenides. Western logic calls for and relies on a mechanics of solids. The fluid will always spill over reason, ratio, go beyond measure, plunge back into the undifferentiated: a universe of myths and magic, a night resisting the lucidity of the philosophers who will only approach it to re-enclose it within the shores of their thought. Forgetting that, without fluidity, their thought would have no possible unity, that fluid always subsists betweensolid substances tojoin them, to re-unite them. Without the intervention of fluids, no discourse would hold together. But the operation of


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fluids doesn't state itself as a condition of truth, of the coherence of the logos. To do that would be to reveal the instability of its edifice, the moving ground beneath it. Don't the sciences interpret, in their own manner, the fulfillment of philosophy as the end of the prevalence of a logic of solids? Aren't they discovering or rediscovering the properties of a dynamic of flow that discourse still resists, constraining us to obey a world of outdated reason, even though we actually live in a universe where the power of fluids is becoming more and more dominant? The economy of flows obliges us to re-evaluate what has been determined as subject. The latter only persists as the ashes of an ancient world, debris submerged by the forces of energies that it can no longer master. The discourse of man perpetuates itself as a language (langage) overwhelmed by the technical power of scientific formalizations, engendering themselves according to their own necessities and producing effects, which escape consciousness, of the destruction and creation of a universe. Man accompanies, is present at, participates in or annihilates such processes almost by chance.3 The chance of connections or interferences that escape him, and whose relationship to a dynamic of flows, deployed outside of the control of reason, is yet to be thought? The so-called human sciences, the methods of description and of normalization of the psukhe, often seem to be arrested at the conception of a subjectivity whose relation to the metaphysical is insufficiently questioned. Thus, when psychoanalysis supports its theory of the mechanisms of the unconscious with thermodynamics, it forces the libidinal dynamic back into a closed circuit, imprisoning the pulsional flows in solid reservoirs. The privilege of the principle of constancy needs to be correlated with the preeminence of the death drives. Psychoanalysis re-encloses desire within the framework(s) of a classical rationality, a circumscription it stumbles into but from which it hasn't yet exited. This economy repeats itself indefinitely without modifying itself radically, as if the subject had to remain immutable with regard to
3. Irigaray puns here on the French word for "chance" (hasard)and Friedrich Nietzsche's "Hazar." See his Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Alexander Tille (1883-92; New York: Macmillan, 1924), 345.-EGC

The Language of Man


all becoming (devenir),physical or historical. Its permanence would lay down the law for all nature or history, without ever letting itself be determined by them. An interpretive model for what is already past, psychoanalysisrefuses to listen to that which, in this past, was not yet speaking. It renews the censures and repressions of the dominant order. Thus, in its theorizationof women'sdesire, it would continue to exhibit and practice an allegiance without fundamental reservations to a logic sexed "male."And yet . . women's speech (dire) would differ from the formal discontinuum-continuumthat scans the meter of such a logic: a continuum-discontinuum whose movement would no longer be ordained to any assignable endneither to ek-sistence nor to ek-stasy,punctual or definitive-but which would engender itself by degrees with quantitative and qualitative heterogeneities, with physical modifications or alterations, a dynamic not entirely foreseeable according to the laws governing the displacement of bodies, a dynamic also stemming from a real void between two infinitely neighboring ones. A speech (dire)where infinity would be physicallyand really at work in the dynamic of flows, where it would no longer represent the risk of an aporia to be enclosed in some kind of ideal reality, but a power whose energy can never be shut up, enclosed, in one act: the potential and the actual engendering each other there, reciprocally, endlessly. of But this language (langage) woman/women is still censored today, repressed, unrecognized, a language held (back)in latency, awaiting attention, to be deciphered in the so-called hysterical symptomatology,even though the science of the dynamic of fluids already provides a partial interpretation of it. It seems that the science of the subjectresists fulfilling its "Copernicanrevolution." That which it established as normative truth, it refuses to interrogate in its mono-sexual causality.Any contribution from another of sex is only acceptable to it as an addition stylisticfigures whose a role is to complete (accomplir) logical function that remains unshakable. The reality of the dynamic of fluids is supposed to resolve itself into a few flowers of rhetoric in a discourse that is fundamentally unchanged, a prescription that fails to recognize that the logosrepresents a rhetoric of solids . .. Thus psychoanalystsobject that it's only a matter of meta-


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phors when the definition of the mechanisms of the unconscious finds itself interrogated from the standpoint of an economy of real flows. They haven't seen that the principle of constancy, homeostasis, and the whole Freudian libidinal theory amount to a system of metaphors. They listen, interpret, and norm (norment) the psyche (psychisme) according to a thermodynamic metaphoricity whose effectiveness, though not non-existent, is restricted.

The artificialist perspective, from which natural becoming (devenir) can be approached, consistently falls into the trap of the seriousness of a universal and eternal truth, even though this is never anything more than a hypothesis, valid in certain places and at certain times. The subject and its discourse are correlates or counterweights, indispensable and complementary, to the extent to which the natural-material universe is subjugated at each moment of history. The subject is only an effect or a residue or a reserve constituting itself in accordance with the incomplete technique that man utilizes to build himself a world, a sort of metastable reality, pre- and postdiscursive, which, more than ever, is overwhelmed by the techniques being developed without his knowing. What subject today still believes in the discourse that it holds to be true, unique and definitive? In the name of what God does the subject still arrange, order, its Truth? For psychoanalysts the answer is relatively clear: the Phallus. If we admit that this "God" also dies, will the space thus left empty bring about a disintegration of all language (langage)? Will language fall to dust, crumble into atoms, will all worlds (tout monde) be reduced to finer and finer and more and more innumerable units-a decomposition, to infinity, of all universes (tout univers)? Or will this death make room for that which perhaps He has always taken the place of: something in excess of the economy of solids, which, in the end, would no longer be thought of as a transcendent entity shielded from all becoming (devenir), but as the extrapolation, to infinity, of a dynamic of real fluids. Translated by Erin G. Carlston