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Luce Irigaray - I love to You PDF Print E-mail

given by Lisa Thatcher


A book concerning the encounter between woman and man, women and men. An encounter characterised by belonging to a sexed nature to which it is proper to be faithful; by the need for rights to incarnate the nature with respect; by the need for recognition of another who will never be mine; by the importance of an absolute silence in order to hear this other; by the quest for new words which will make this alliance possible without reducing the other to an item of property; by the reinterpretation of notable figures or events in our tradition in terms of that horizon; by turning the negative, that is the limit of one gender in relation to another, into a possibility of love and creation. The epilogue outlines the need for a new alliance between female and male genders. (P11 – Prologue)


Good evening everyone, and welcome tonight.

Tonight’s subject is The Philosopher Luce Irigaray and specifically her book, “I love to you – sketch of a possible felicity in history.” as translated from the French by Alison Martin.

The idea of the possible felicity in history, in this case loosely means a sketch of a possible human happiness.

I usually say at the start of my talks that tonight will be challenging and this subject is no exception. Luce Irigaray asks very difficult questions of philosophers and feminists alike. For my money, she is one of the most exciting thinkers today and like all exciting thinkers is deeply misunderstood and even despised in her day.

So, just briefly, who is Luce Irigaray?

Luce Irigaray is a prominent author in contemporary French feminism and Continental philosophy. She is an interdisciplinary thinker who works between philosophy, psychoanalysis, and linguistics.

Luce Irigaray specifically says she does not like to be asked personal questions. She does not want opinions about her everyday life to interfere with the interpretation of her ideas. It is no surprise that detailed biographical information about Irigaray is limited and that different accounts conflict.

What remains constant between different accounts is that Luce Irigaray was born in Belgium in 1932. She holds two doctoral degrees – one in Philosophy and the other in Linguistics. She is also a trained and practising psychoanalyst. She has held a research post at the National Centre for Scientific research in Paris since 1964. She is currently the director of research in philosophy at the centre, and also continues her private practise.

But, what Luce Irigaray would want us to do is look at her work, so let’s get right to it.

Central idea this evening.

The premise, of Luce Irigaray’s that will guide this evening’s conversation is the movement of mankind from Nature to Culture. This is a process of elevation, from animalism to thought, interaction and civilization.

I will do my best to faithfully recreate her ideas for us around Nature being Two, the problems of the Citizen and what Hegel calls man’s state of slumber.

Luce Irigaray then moves through linguistic examples to create potential possibilities for deeper communication between men and women. I don’t have time to go into them tonight, so to leave us with the strength of her examples, I will steal a little on the langue between lovers, and the process of recognition, ending with an explanation of the title of the book, “I love to you.”

In the wake of the death of communism, we appear to have only two options to us in this culture. Because we have decided to totally reject communism we are left with religion and capitalism as the only avenues to an elevated human condition.

Luce Irirgaray proposes a third option,

Constructing our Happiness.

Rather than regressing to the simple authority of a religion or blindly submitting to the rule of money, capital and methods of production that are competitive and irresponsible, we can pursue an era of justice and culture by working within the designs to create a real civil culture of persons and the subjective and objective relations between them.

We must think about constructing our happiness.

“To say that intense happiness will come from owning goods or that happiness is to be found in the beyond, this earth being just an exile, is to make two illusory promises.”

“Happiness must be built by us here and now on earth, where we live, a happiness comprising a carnal, sensible and spiritual dimension in the love between ….. woman and man, which cannot be subordinated to reproduction, to the acquisition or accumulation of property, to a hypothetical human or divine authority.

The realisation of happiness in us and between us is our primary cultural obligation. It is not an easy task to realise… Becoming happy implies liberating human subjectivity from the ignorance, oppression and the lack of culture that weighs so heavily upon this essential dimension of existence: sexual difference.”

With this lofty goal in mind, we will now look at a couple of points from this book that Irigaray uses to support these arguments.

Human Nature is Two.

The natural is at least two: male and female. Unless you believe that men and women are identical in every way – including physically – you have to accept that the universality of “the human being” does not exist.

Before the question of the need to surpass nature arises, it has to be made apparent that nature is “two”. No one nature can claim to correspond to the whole of the natural person.

To rise above nature is not possible while one thinks that nature is “one”.

Now, no woman or man accomplishes the whole of nature or consciousness in herself or himself. Confusing a part for the whole taints the observation from the start.

This is a very important point.

“Take those two parts of humankind, men and women. It is wrong for them to be brought back to one.”

If any discipline does this and claims ‘reason’ as its justification it demonstrates by such a reduction its impotence or immaturity, and its slavery to a religious ideal: that is, ‘man is to be the head to the body, woman’.

Many of our disciplines do still call a human nature “one.”

It would seem then, that human kind has not reached the age of reason. It is still suspended between divinity and animality.

Man sets himself up as the divine, and woman is the animal nature. It is almost as if in the absence of god, man has placed himself in that place.

“Yet it is as if in wishing to be god man has lost the culture of his own body. As if he has yet to attain human status.

We would seem to be a species of living beings in search of our identity, as men and women.”

First comes adherence to a deity, then comes removal of the deity and replacement of it with us, then comes an immersion into what it is to be fully human, mind and body.

Any discipline that we adhere to that uses the notion that “human” is not two but one, is a flawed subject.

Think about the importance of that one crucial point.

Tradition does not deal with discourse as an interaction between two free subjects.

Instead, it borrows from religion, the notion of “truth” as an absolute.

But it is an absolute designed from a flawed premise and therefore not able to produce a truth. “Truth” can only come from a perfect unit – a supreme deity.

Therefore “truth” exists in the interaction between the two free subjects, female and male. It cannot come from one of them alone.

“The natural is at least two: male and female. This division is not secondary or unique to human kind. It cuts across all realms of the living, without which we would not exist. Without sexual difference there would be no life on earth. It is the manifestation of and the condition for the production and reproduction of life…. Not taking it into account would be a deadly business.”

Neither woman nor man can manifest or experience a totality. Each gender possesses or represents only one part of it.

This reality is both very simple and foreign to our way of thinking.

For woman and man to become the same is artifice.

There is, however one place where they are artificially seen as the same and that is,

The Citizen.

The only place they become the same is under the law, and only by submitting to this authoritarian law are they the same. They conform to what it is to be human and what the human being is. The citizen.

This citizen is sexless but based on a male idealised model. As such it does not address the dialogue of either woman or man, but whitewashes over both. We live in a system that attempts to unify the un-unifyable, instead of dealing with the interaction between the two.

This has also become the basis for all that we would call reason or logic.

Man slumbers intellectually.

This is why Hegel argues man is in a state of slumber rather than a state of awakening

“Since he has not pulled himself out of his intuitive natural immediacy - I represent humanity – man has not begun to think.”

That is man is still sitting in his animal nature by fantasising that he is god, and not coming to terms with who he really is.

“Man has not raised himself above a state of immediate unity with nature, so he dreams of being the whole. He dreams that he alone is nature and that it is up to him to undertake the spiritual takes of differentiating himself from his nature and from himself.”

God was the vehicle for this, but even in the absence of god, man still thinks that he can be a voice of reason alone. This immediately eliminates him from the possibility of reason.

“Man is not, in fact, absolutely free.” That is not to say he is enslaved. “He is limited. His natural completion lies in two humans.”

“It is a mistake therefore to claim to be free and sovereign over nature. As I am only half of the world, I am not free in the way that is generally conceived.”

I am free on the other hand, and as I should be, to be what or who I am which is one half of the human kind.

Sexual Difference as Universal.

Things could be thought differently. Bare with me on this point.

What we know about people rests entirely in needs. The need to eat, to sleep, be clothed, to move, to have community or sociality, for family, for a human power or a divine power in order to exist.

The emphasis upon needs enables the question of sexual difference to be shelved.

It is quite possible, reducing us to needs, to believe that woman and man have the same needs, to eat to sleep etc. These needs may appear universal.

But we are only dealing with needs.

In all probability our culture has still not gone beyond, or has reverted to the stage of “need”.

Language itself is generally restricted to the level of needs, including the need to master nature, objects, and others especially by naming them.

Language in this culture is reduced to the communication of information. “Pass me the salt,” This Park is green,” or expressing personal feelings “I hate this or that,” “the weather is awful,” “It’s a beautiful night.”

“This is not language specifically adapted to communication, except for communicating information. What we have is words used to express the reality required by needs, including the need to unburden oneself of an excess of feeling.”

Life for the citizen under patriarchy is a function of a civilisation constructed by man, a between –men society.

“This is a civilization without any female philosophy or linguistics, any female religion or politics. All of these disciplines have been set up in accordance with a male subject.”

All under the assumption that a human being is only a man, or that men and women are identical in every way.

“..women need a culture compatible with their nature… human kind cannot develop a civilisation without taking care to represent with validity the two genders in reality, and without assuring communication between them, not merely in the form of information transfers but in intersubjective exchanges.”

That is the exchange between two realised subjects.

The whole of Western philosophy is the mastery of the direction of will and thought by the subject – historically man.

Nothing has changed by the fact that now day’s women have access to this.

But what would it mean to alter philosophy’s intention? To move it from being direction of will and thought? What would it mean to communicate between the two subjects?

Luce Irigaray says:

”Yet isn’t it time for us to become communicating subjects? Have we not exhausted our other possibilities indeed our other desires? Isn’t it time for us to become capable not only of speech but also of speaking to one another. Which is not the same thing at all.”

“There is a difference in subjective economy between the hierarchical transmission of an already established discourse and language, order and law, and the exchange of a meaning between us here and now.”

What she is saying here is there is a difference between having information passed down to you from above in an already established discourse, and the exchange of meaning between us here and now.

“The first model of transmission or instruction is more parental…. more hierarchical, the second more horizontal and intersubjective. The first model risks enslavement to the past, the second opens up a present in order to construct a future.”

This relation can only come about if men renounce the domination of nature and move more toward their own personal nature and if woman has the ability to govern her nature and become subjectivity that is a whole realised person including all aspects of her physical being. And not just the ones associated with reproduction and nurturing. Women need to realise themselves, not merely become mothers or equals with men.

This means emphasis on a culture that includes woman as subjects and moves man away from an appropriation to the universal. Historically women have been deprived of female identity; it is imposed on her from outside. To paraphrase Goethe, we love women for who they are and men for who they become. We need to get away from this kind of thinking and love men for being the real men they become and women for being the real women they become.

Without doubt the most appropriate content for the universal is sexual difference. The whole of human kind is made up of men and women and nothing else. The problem of race is in fact a secondary problem, and the same goes for other cultural diversities – religious, economic and political ones.

“Sexual difference probably represents the most universal question we can address. Our era is faced with dealing with this issue because across the whole world there are only men and women.”

So what does Luce Irigaray suggest then for an alteration in the communication between women and men?


As soon as we decide that we want to communicate between the two, we come up against the problem of the limits of our language.

“We only have to talk about the concrete existence of living men and women for us to falter over the question of who is this ‘I’ and who is this ‘you’.

Let’s take a look at lovers as an example.

Do you love me? The woman says to the man. I wonder if I am loved, he replies. The language is mismatched. The answers and even the questions do not match the original inquiry of the subject.

Out of this, how can ‘we’ be formed then?

Women and men will have to be granted a real identity, a natural and spiritual one and not the hobble along, one foot in pure nature (reproduction), the other in an abstract culture if ‘we’ is to be formed.

The need is more pressing and imperative for women but it does exist for men too.”

Being granted a real identity lies in recognition. Then we must recognise the other.

You who will never be mine.

How are we to outline the process of recognition?

I recognise you, thus you are not the whole or I would have been engulfed by you.

Still, I cannot completely identify you, even less identify with you. I recognise you means I cannot know you in thought or in flesh. There is a negative at work between us. We cannot be substituted for one another. I will never be you in body or in thought.

“Recognising you means or implies respecting you as other, accepting that I draw myself to a halt before you as before something insurmountable, a mystery, a freedom that will never be mine, a subjectivity that will never be mine, a mine that will never be mine.

‘I recognise you’ is the one condition for the existence of I, you and we.”

Spiritual and cultural progress then can be seen as the development of a communication between us, in the form of individual and collective dialogue. Speech between replaces instinctual attraction and the appeal of one similar.

“I recognise you signifies that you are different from me, that I cannot identify myself (with) nor master your becoming. I will never be your master. And it is this negative that enables me to go toward you.”

I can’t see all of you, but what I do see attracts me to you provided you hold your own, and provided your energy allows me to hold my own and raise mine with you. I move toward that which allows me to become while remaining true to myself.

The other of sexual difference is he – or she – towards whom it is possible to go towards as transcendence, while remaining in the self.

I will never reach this other, and for that reason he forces me to remain in myself in order to be faithful to him and us, retaining our difference.

I recognise you signifies that you are, that you exist, that you become. With this recognition I mark you, I mark myself with incompleteness, with the negative.

Neither you nor I are the whole. And our difference can’t be reduced to more or less. That would be to lose it altogether.

Women and men must be recognised as representatives of a specific gender. They have to be seen for their becoming of the sexed “I”. In this way, their interactions cannot always be reduced to reproduction or an occasion for degeneracy. They must be motivated by the desire for an individual and collective spiritual becoming realised by each woman and man, women and men. This is the transition from animalism to culture.

There has to be a language that can help us engage at this higher level and address each other as recognised beings.

The “to” in I love to you, is an attempt at this. It takes the notion of love and offers it out of the “I” in order to side step this inertia that occurs in conversations between men and women and paralyses them.

I love to you.

“I love to you means I maintain a relation of indirection to you. I do not subjugate or consume you. I respect you.”

The to maintains the distance of the full realised and recognised other. I speak to you, I ask of you, I give to you – and never I give you to another.

The to is the site of non-reduction of the person to object. “I love you, I desire you, I take you, I seduce you, I order you, I instruct you, and so on, always risk annihilating the freedom of the other, of transforming him/her into my property, my object, of reducing him/her to what is mine, into mine, meaning what is already a part of my field of existential or material properties.

The to is also a barrier against alienating the other’s freedom in my subjectivity, my world, my language.

I love to you, thus means: I do not take you for a direct object, nor for an indirect by revolving around you. It is rather around myself that I have to revolve in order to maintain the to you thanks to the return to me.

Not with my prey – you become mine – but with the intention of respecting my nature, my history, my intentionality, while also respecting yours. Hence I do not return to me by way of: I wonder if I am loved. That would result form an introverted intentionality, going toward the other so as to return ruminating, sadly, endlessly over solipsistic (the belief that I am all that exists) questions in a sort of cultural cannibalism.

The language creates a listening in that you are focussing on your recognition of the other.

The to is the guarantor of two intentionality’s: mine and yours. In you I love that which can correspond to my own intentionality and to yours.

All too often sacramental or juridical commitment and the obligation to reproduce have compensated for this problem. How to construct a we? How to unite to I’s, two subjects in a lasting way.

While the other is not object, there is less chance of us slipping back into the idea that they can be replaced by any other object.

“Man and woman, faithful to their identity do not have the same intentionality, as they are not of the same gender, and do not occupy the same genealogical position. But they can make committtments to act together according to terms of agreement that render their intentionality’s compatible: to build a culture of sexuality together, for example, or to construct a politics of difference.

And so you do not know me, but you know something of my appearance. You can also perceive the directions and dimensions of my intentionality. You cannot know who I am but you can help me to be by perceiving that in me which escapes me, my fidelity or infidelity to myself. In this way you can help me get away from inertia, tautology, repetition, or even from errancy (travelling in search of an adventure), and from error. You can help me become while remaining myself.”

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