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Man and Worm 29: 343-360, 1996.

(~) 1996 Luce lrigaray. Printed in the Netherlands.
T h i n k i n g l i f e as r e l at i on: a n i n t e r v i e w wi t h Lu c e I r i g a r a y 1
I Department of Philosophy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
2Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Purdue University, USA
We me t Lu c e I r i gar ay i n Pari s i n t he Spr i ng o f 1996 whi l e at t endi ng he r
semi nar , " La que s t i on de l ' aut r e" , at t he l~cole d e s Ha u t e s I~tudes en Sci ences
Soci al es . Our di s c us s i ons t her e f oc us e d on h e r r e c e nt wor k, i nc l udi ng I love
to you, Je, tu, nous and Thinking the Difference, wh i c h cons t i t ut es t he basi s
o f t hi s i nt er vi ew. Th e f ol l owi ng ques t i ons we r e pr e s e nt e d i n wr i t t en f o r m
a nd we r e r e s p o n d e d t o i n wr i t i ng. Dur i ng n u me r o u s me e t i ngs , t he ques t i ons
and r e s pons e s we r e di s c us s e d and anal yzed. I n t hi s manner , f r o m Ma y t o
Au g u s t 1996, t he f ol l owi ng i nt er vi ew c a me about . 2 I t is our wi s h t o t ha nk
Lu c e I r i gar ay f or h e r pa t i e nc e and i ns i ght t h r o u g h o u t t hi s pr oces s .
Question 1
St ephen Pl uhacek and Hei di Bostic: Your work, like the work o f certain ot her
cont emporary phi l osophers, put s the uni versal subj ect into question. But
unlike many ot her phi l osophers, you seem more able to offer, and more open
to the idea o f concrete alternatives and concrete pl ans o f action f or effecting
changes inside the space opened by the resituation o f the uni versal subject.
How is it that you are able to propose posi t i ve and concrete alternatives and
pl ans o f action ?
Lu c e Iri garay: Do I dar e say t hat pe r ha ps my way o f que s t i oni ng a uni ver -
sal s ubj ect is r i ght a nd t hat , as such, i t per mi t s , a nd e ve n d e ma n d s bot h a
t heor et i cal a nd pr act i cal r e f o u n d i n g o f cul t ur e?
So, I do not bel i eve t hat t o ques t i on t he uni ver s al s ubj ect st ar t i ng f r o m
t he mul t i pl e is suf f i ci ent , be c a us e t he mul t i pl e can al ways be equi val ent t o a
mul t i pl e or a s ub- mul t i pl e o f one. The expl i ci t or i mpl i ci t me a s ur e r emai ns
the one, mo r e or l ess real , i ma gi na r y or s i mpl y ma t he ma t i c a l . Th e cr i t i que
o f t he uni ver s al s ubj ect c a nnot be l i mi t ed t o t he s ubs t i t ut i on o f t he mul t i pl e
f or t he one be c a us e i t de c ons t r uc t s cer t ai n val ues ne c e s s a r y f or s ubj ect i ve
cons t i t ut i on wi t hout a que s t i oni ng r adi cal e n o u g h t o pe r mi t t he e me r g e n c e o f
ot her val ues. Thus , t o de c ons t r uc t all r e f e r e nc e t o uni t y, t o t he abs ol ut e, t o t he
i deal , t o t he t r ans cendent , et c. , wi t hout br i ngi ng a bout a r eor gani zat i on o f t he
e ne r gy i nves t ed i n s uch val ues r i sks t he di s i nt egr at i on o f t he s ubj ect t o t he
benef i t o f t he savage r ei gn of deat h dr i ves or o f t he c o mi n g t o p o we r o f an even
mo r e t ot al i t ar i an aut hor i t y, t hes e t wo possi bi l i t i es not be i ng i ncompat i bl e.
Th e ges t ur e t hat I ma k e is di f f er ent , pr obabl y be c a us e I st art f r o m reality,
f r om a uni ver s al real i t y: s exual di f f er ence. Th e de c ons t r uc t i on o f t he one gen-
er al l y r eal i zes i t s el f ei t her t hr ough abst r act mode l s or t hr ough non- uni ver s al
empi r i cal real i t i es, i n s pace and t i me: t he put t i ng i nt o ques t i on is t her ef or e
t oo par t i al t o r e a c h a r eal uni ver sal . Mor eover , t hi s de c ons t r uc t i on of t en is
ful fi l l ed i n an aut o- l ogi cal manner , as f or t he c ons t r uc t i on o f t he one. It is
t her ef or e t he l at t er wh i c h fi nds itself, event ual l y pa s s e d f r om t he r eal t o t he
i ma gi na r y or r e duc e d i n a s i mpl e nume r ol ogy.
I n or der t o que s t i on t he uni ver sal subj ect , it is ne c e s s a r y t o a ppr oa c h a not he r
l ogi c. Th e onl y l ogi c t hat can assur e a r at i onal and uni ver s al f ounda t i on is t hat
whi c h starts f r om t he r eal i t y o f t wo gender s , ma s c ul i ne and f emi ni ne. Suc h
a l ogi c c o mp e l s us t o r et hi nk, t heor et i cal l y and pract i cal l y, t he s ubj ect i ve
cons t i t ut i on as wel l as t he one o f t he i ndi vi dual or col l ect i ve wor l d. Th e one
no l onge r r e ma i ns her e t he viSible or i nvi si bl e, c ons c i ous or unc ons c i ous
pa r a di gm, wh i c h gover ns r at i onal or gani zat i on; t hi s or gani zat i on he nc e f or t h
t akes i nt o c ons i de r a t i on t he exi s t ence o f t wo subj ect s, i r r educi bl e one t o t he
ot her.
Cert ai nl y, t hi s r eal i t y of t he t wo has al ways exi st ed. But it was s ubmi t t ed
t o t he i mper at i ves o f a l ogi c o f t he one, t he t wo be i ng r e duc e d t hen t o a pai r
o f oppos i t es not i n d e p e n d e n t one f r om t he ot her. Mor eover , t he dual i t y was
s ubor di na t e d t o a geneal ogi cal order, a hi er ar chi cal order, i n s pace and i n
t i me, wh i c h pr e ve nt e d c ons i de r i ng t he neces s i t y o f t he pa s s a ge t o a not he r
mo d e o f t hi nki ng, and of l i vi ng.
My pr oc e dur e consi st s t her ef or e i n subst i t ut i ng, f or a uni ver s al cons t r uct ed
o f t aki ng a c c ount o f onl y one par t o f real i t y, a uni ver s al wh i c h r es pect s t he
t ot al i t y o f t he real . Th e uni ver s al t her ef or e is no l onge r one nor uni que, i t is
two. Thi s obl i ges us t o r e f ound our cul t ur e, our soci et i es i n or de r t o r each a
ci vi l i zat i on at t he s a me t i me mo r e real , mo r e j ust , and mo r e uni ver sal .
Quest i on 2
S.P. a n d H. B. : You have s ugges t ed t hat a cri t i que o f pat r i ar chy whi ch is not
ac c ompani e d by the def i ni t i on o f new val ues f o u n d e d on nat ural real i t y r uns
the ri sk o f bei ng ni hi l i st i c. What is this nat ur al real i t y a n d what does i t me an
f o r a cri t i que o f pat r i ar chy to be ac c ompani e d by t he def i ni t i on o f new val ues
f o u n d e d on t hi s nat ur al real i t y?
Epi s t emol ogi cal l y speaki ng, how may one gai n access to t hi s nat ur al
real i t y?
L.I.: This question rejoins the one whi ch precedes, and permits the compl et i on
of its response. A pertinent critique of patriarchy implies an interpretation of
its syst em as insufficient in order to render account of one part of the real.
Without returning to a real mor e real or mor e total, the inversion of an order
of values is nihilistic in the bad sense of the term.
For me, questioning the patriarchal world has been possible from the dis-
covery of the fabricated charact er of my femi ni ne identity. Neither my con-
sciousness nor even my body had free access to the real. I could not pass from
nature to the spiritual because I was held in a determination of the one and of
the ot her whi ch was foreign to me. The sensible as well as the intelligible were
presented to me and imposed upon me according to norms whi ch were not
proper to me. Therefore, I had to recover an i mmedi at e perception of the real
and at the same time to elaborate a symbolic universe whi ch corresponded to
Let us take an exampl e. If my body, as feminine, was reduced to a nature
for man, i ndeed for humanity, it can not at all be the nature from whi ch I
perceive the world, I percei ve myself, and I can be and become subjectively
and objectively that whi ch I really am. If my woman' s nature was considered
as living mat t er at the service of the other' s desire and of reproduction, I
coul d not experi ence it as a "for me" and assume its becomi ng spiritual
through a dialectic of in-self and for-self. It was necessary therefore to come
back to a relation with nature whi ch was not already artificially structured. It
is mor eover partially starting from a strangeness of my i mmedi at e sensible
experi ence to these values that I began to interrogate the patriarchal universe.
But I live in a cultural tradition. My relation to the world, to others, and
to mysel f is marked by it. I had to, I still have to, effect a gesture that is at
least double: deconst ruct the basic el ement s of the culture whi ch alienate me
and di scover the symbol i c norms whi ch can at the same time preserve the
singularity of my nature and permi t me to elaborate its culture.
This enterprise is not simple! It requires an aptitude to percei ve and to
anal yze perceptions, about whi ch the tradition of India, in particular that of
yoga, has taught me much. Vigilance in relations to the ot her has equally
alerted me to a necessary respect for the difference bet ween the ot her and me.
The consideration of domi nant values and their being put in perspective in the
unfolding of History has allowed me to relativize the cultural universe in whi ch
I was living. And the analysis of the discourse of philosophers has revealed to
me that t he argumentation internal to their system oft en necessitates bids for
power or j umps whi ch bear witness to the partially artificial character of the
logic whi ch is at wor k here. These are onl y some examples of epistemological
recourses used for questioning a cultural horizon.
Question 3
S.P. and H.B.: You have indicated that a cosmic or natural order exists which
could and should serve as the basis f or a terrestrial or de r - social or political.
Why and how should the terrestrial order be based upon the cosmic order?
Furthermore, i f men are less linked than women to cosmic rhythms, why
shoul d they conform to these rhythms?
L.I.: I don' t underst and what you mean by "serve as the basis." I f you signify
that it is necessary to start from the micro- and from the macro-cosm to
organize a social and political order, then I can recognize in your question a
di mensi on whi ch is important to me. A social and political order whi ch is not
f ounded upon t he real is precarious, and even dangerous. All the i magi nary
disturbances, all t he authoritarian deviations, all the cultural regressions are
possible here.
I don' t t hi nk however that it suffices to start from the cosmi c or natural
order to build a social or political order. This woul d risk falling again into the
errors of t he patriarchal world. In my opinion, a harmonious civil communi t y,
an accompl i shed democr acy can onl y be founded upon relations bet ween
citizens. But these relations must be at the same time respectful of the needs
and desires of each person, and be as non-hierarchical as possible, nevertheless
assuring the cohesi on of the soci et y. In this sense, a relation bet ween a man
and a woman both capable of transforming their i mmedi at e attraction into
civil coexi st ence seems to me a valid base for a social and political order. Of
course, it is necessary to multiply this relation bet ween two as many times as
there exists an encount er bet ween two citizens of different genders. But the
human communi t y is woven right through by such encounters. It is therefore
possible to constitute it starting from this relational place or bond.
The social order is thus constructed in the respect for nature and for its
cultural elaboration, necessary for elevating the relation bet ween t he genders
to a civil level. That woman lives in greater continuity with the cosmos does
not exempt her from elaborating this di mensi on of hersel f in order to be
capable of a civil relation with man. It is in this sense that I have spoken of a
necessary pr oof of negativity, for her, in the relation to the other. That said,
it is possible to hope that her proxi mi t y to the micro- and to t he macro-cosm
leads her to be a better guardian of the safety of nature than man has been
up until the present. Planet Earth and the worl d of the living certainly are in
need of it!
Question 4
s.P. and H.B.: In Je, tu, nous, you write that the rapport between biology
and culture has not been sufficiently examined, and that despite the f act that
biology has been used to exploit women, they should not avoid (re)thinking
this relation between biology and culture. Given the possibility that this
(re)thinking of the biology~culture relation could lead to a new and greater
exploitation of women, what are your suggestions about how to (re)think this
relation? ("La culture de la differOnce"p. 52; "The Culture of Difference"
p. 46).
L.I.: Obviously, I do not agree with the expression used by Freud in reference
to the femi ni ne condition, "Anat omy is destiny." The use made of it is at once
authoritarian, final and devalorizing for woman.
But what has served to exploit women is a biology interpreted in terms
mor e mascul i ne than feminine. In the chapter "On the maternal order," whi ch
precedes t he passage to whi ch you allude, a woman biologist objects to the
patriarchal argument concerni ng the necessity of the paternal law in order
to break of f the mother-infant fusion since, in the very womb of the mother,
nature has pl anned a third, the placenta, bet ween the mot her and the fetus.
This revelation can only contribute to the awareness of women in view of
their liberation from laws imposed upon t hem from the outside. It invites them,
on the ot her hand, to respect that much better a distance and a difference with
the ot her that nature, in her, respects already. No male biologist has expressed
in these terms, to my knowledge, the role of the placenta as regulating third.
Why? Would it not be, among other reasons, because it is a question there
of a bi ol ogy of the relation bet ween two living beings? Whi ch corresponds
little to a mascul i ne anatomic science usually thought starting from cadavers
or from animal experimentation.
This same t endency is found moreover in other scientific processes realized
by men. Whet her it is a matter of biology, physics, mathematics, linguistics,
logic, psychol ogy, etc., generally the closed, the finite, the "dead, " the isolated
is preferred to the open, the in-finite, the living, the relation. Somet i mes
there exists a pl ay of oppositions bet ween extremes but it is only belatedly,
marginally and not without resistances that science has become interested in
"t he part l y-opened, " in the "permeability of membranes, " in the t heory of
"fields, " in the "dynami c of fluids," in the current programmi ng of discourse,
in the "dialogic, " etc. Now these objectives have more affinity with the
femi ni ne universe.
It cannot be harmful to a woman to discover the reality of her biologi-
cal economy. What harms her is to be subjected to a science whi ch is not
appropriate for her, or to be reduced to a simple nature. To be opposed to a
knowl edge of nature in order that this not be used to harm women, woul d
not be an homage to them. On the other hand, it is useful to incite women to
vigilance about what does or does not correspond to them. It is also important
that t hey not accept being reduced to a pure body, a pure nature, whet her it be
by inertia or by submission to the other. As I said in "Your Health: What, or
Who, Is It ?, " wha t al l ows wo me n t o es cape di ver s e f or ms o f i l l ness, phys i cal
and ment al , is t hei r o wn desi r e, t hei r o wn wi l l , t hei r o wn access t o t he spi ri t ual
wor l d, t hei r br eat h, t hei r " s oul " .
Question 5
S.P. and H.B.: To what degree does the effort to rethink the relation between
biology and culture remain insufficient in so f ar as it fails to take into consid-
eration other species? That is to say, is maternity limited to the production
of children within one species? Whereas the relation mother~placenta~child
plays a more or less important role in a social imaginary, are there not similar
and perhaps more important relations which are established not only among
organisms of the same species, but also among different species, as is the
case with microorganisms (for example, certain types of bacteria) on which
human life depends and who also depend upon humans f or survival? In this
direction, could you imagine a motherhood which is open to men as well as
to women?
L. I. : I do not have e n o u g h k n o wl e d g e t o r epl y exhaus t i vel y t o t hi s ques t i on.
I t hi nk I ha ve par t i al l y a ns we r e d i t i n t he pr e c e di ng and f oi l owi ng r es pons es .
It s e e ms t o me t hat t he que s t i oni ng t ur ns on an ant ecedent , or pe r ha ps a
f ut ur e, o f t he l i fe a ni ma t e d by c ons c i ous ne s s . It is t hus t hat I wo u l d des i gnat e
a ppr oxi ma t e l y t he h u ma n chi l d: capabl e o f a u t o n o my be c a us e capabl e o f
c ons c i ous ne s s . I am not i n a pos i t i on t o el uci dat e s uch pr os pect i ves , wh i c h
are par t i al l y i magi nar y.
Shi f t i ng t he que s t i on a l i t t l e - not so mu c h r eal l y - I c oul d say t hat , t o l i ve
mat er ni t y, me n s houl d a c c o mp l i s h t wo cul t ur al r evol ut i ons : t o pr ef er l i fe ove r
deat h, t o be capabl e o f a r adi cal r e s pe c t o f t he ot her ' s alterity. Wi t hout t hes e
t wo mut at i ons , I t hi nk t hat me n are not capabl e o f e n g e n d e r i n g t he l i vi ng
e n d o we d wi t h a u t o n o mo u s exi s t ence wi t h r e s pe c t t o t hem. Is it not t hus t hat
ma t e r ni t y can be des cr i bed?
I woul d al so ask: wh y t he wi l l t o be a " mo t h e r " r at her t han t o a s s ume
an i dent i t y o f ma n, o f f at her i n t he r es pect of o n e ' s l i mi t s? It is t ha nks t o
g e n d e r di f f er ence t hat a not he r h u ma n is e nge nde r e d. Wh a t wi l l r es ul t f r o m
t he bl ur r i ng o f i dent i t i es? Wh o m and wha t does t hi s ser ve t oday? To sur pass a
st i l l u n a c c o mp l i s h e d h u ma n des t i ny? Wh y t hi s i mmo d e r a t i o n ? Is it not , onc e
agai n, a ve hi c l e o f de a t h mo r e so t han o f l i fe?
Question 6
s.P. and H.B.: In your work, you often refer to a natural reality said to be
living. Could you indicate how and where the line is established between the
living and the non-living? Additionally, how is the establishment of this line
linked to gender?
L.I.: I have much reflected on this question. I think that it is close to the
one on the possible engenderi ng of the living by man in himself, on the
mat ernal model. I am not sure that I have finished my meditations on the
problem! Today, I woul d say that the living is that whi ch continues to grow,
to become. This growt h cannot be reduced, in any way, to a proliferation
of t he same, to its multiplication nor to its simple repetition as happens in
certain physi cal or mental illnesses. It implies a constant relation bet ween the
same and the different, in whi ch is assimilated from the different only that
whi ch does not dest roy the organism of the same nor that of the other. Willing
onl y t he same or onl y the different destroys life. Frequenting only the same
or onl y the different represents a danger for the metabolism of life. To these
considerations, it of course is fitting to add the problems relative to belonging
to a species - human, for exampl e - to a ki ngdom - vegetable, for example.
The exi st ence of gender within the human species is certainly a factor
protective of the living because it maintains a necessary economy in the
relations bet ween the same and the different. It is interesting to note that the
manifestation of gender is assured by particular chromosomes, different in
women and in men, whose effect is not exclusively somatic. The safeguarding
of life woul d be in some way dependent on chromosomes not reducible to a
purel y corporeal genetics. Whi ch can incite us to meditate on our desires for
immortality, for eternity, for incorporeal divinities!
Quest i on 7
S.P. a n d H. B. : We wi l l t urn now t owards l i ngui st i cs. You are a phi l os ophe r
who al s o empl oys l i ngui st i c tools. Accor di ng to you, what is t he rel at i on
bet ween p h i l o s o p h y a n d l i ngui st i cs? What can each di sci pl i ne of f er to t he
ot her?
L.I.: No one will deny that philosophy is constructed with language. In the
West, this discipline has often been called metaphysics, that is to say a
sci ence capable of organizing material or i mmedi at el y sensible realities with
logical instruments whi ch r emoved t hem from their first nature. The birth of
Western phi l osophy is accompani ed by the constitution of a l ogos, a language
obeyi ng rules such as those of self-identity, of non-contradiction, etc., whi ch
distinguish it from a simple empirical language. These logical rules have been
defi ned in order to ensnare the totality of the real in the nets of language, and
thus to r emove it from sensible experience, from the ever in-finite contiguity
of daily life.
Phi l osophy thus represents an artificially constructed language in com-
parison to what is called natural language. But the latter is i t sel f already
const ruct ed and there is an interaction bet ween philosophical discourse and
ever yday discourse.
The experi ence of linguistics taught me to reflect on the production of
l anguage more than most other philosophers do. This led me to question
the linguistic instrument supposed capable of discovering, articulating and
transmitting the truth. I realized at least two things whi ch seem decisive to me.
First, the l anguage that philosophy uses is not, in itself, neuter: it is marked
by a gender, notably grammatical, in a way whi ch does not correspond to
reality. Phi l osophy cannot therefore claim universal truth i f it uses such a
l anguage without interpreting it; philosophy appears as a partial truth and, in
some way, as dogmat i c because it imposes as true that whi ch corresponds to
the truth of a certain subject blind to its singularities. A single gender marks
philosophical discourse in its form, its content, the definition of the subject,
the relation to the world, the limits of the horizon.
Now, t here exist two subjects, irreducible one to the other. My linguistic
training enabl ed me to veri fy it scientifically. Man and woman do not speak
in t he same way, do not structure the relation bet ween matter or nature
and mi nd in a similar manner. The reflection on discourse, on language, to
whi ch I was l ed by an education in linguistics, enabled me to interpret the
history of Western philosophy, to interrogate the particularities of its truth
and its lacks. One of these is particularly evident: the small number of logical
means that the subject has devel oped for communi cat i ng in the present with
anot her subject different from him, in particular with a subject of another
gender. Analysis of femi ni ne discourse shows that the woman is much more
attentive to this than the man. But she lacks logical rules in order to be able
to realize this t endency in the respect of sel f and of the other. Reflection on
l anguage produced by the two genders can aid a reflection on the subjective
and objective transformations necessary for a philosophy appropriate to the
femi ni ne subject and for intercommunication bet ween the genders.
Question 8
S.P. and H. B. : Your work often seems phenomenol ogi cal and dialectical at
the same time. How do you characterize your met hod?
L.I.: I don' t t hi nk it is possible to speak of one single method. Criticizing
and constructing necessitate different procedures. Moreover, my manner of
criticizing is new because it has recourse to interpretation more than to simple
j udgment . And, in order to interpret, I use several ways, such as discourse
analysis, putting into historical perspective, inversion, etc. But, I often use
t hese procedures differently than in the past. Thus, with regard to inversion,
as I expl ai ned it in I love to you, I "i nverse" mysel f as much i f not more
than I "i nverse" others, the t heory of others. To leave the patriarchal horizon
required, on my part, a certain turning over of my subjectivity, the access
to an aut onomous perspective, an autonomous look, beginning from whi ch
I was able to percei ve from an outside the cultural world whi ch surrounded
me .
This radical turning over of an immediate point of view, including on the
intellectual level, required nevertheless some dialectical articulations with the
past and t he future of t he History in whi ch I am situated. It also demanded a
faithfulness to experience and rigor in its phenomenol ogi cal elaboration. A
certain recourse, or ret um, to the phenomenol ogi cal met hod seems necessary
in order to make enter into the universe of the rational some natural, corporeal,
sensible realities whi ch until now had been removed from it. It is true for me.
In considering the unfolding of the history of philosophy, it seems that it is
the same way for ot her philosophers.
Usi ng phenomenol ogy without dialectic woul d risk nevertheless a recon-
struction of a solipsistic world, including a feminine world unconcerned with
the mascul i ne worl d or whi ch accepts remaining parallel to the latter. The
dialectical met hod, such as I use it, is not at the service of the reassumption
(AuJhebung) of all singularity into an absolute objectivity to be shared by any
subject. My way uses the negative as a path whi ch permits, at each moment ,
dialogue bet ween subjects in the respect of singularities, in particular of gen-
der. Here, t he negative is therefore insurmountable and the absolute can never
be uni que nor universally shared. The negative maintains real and living the
dialegomai bet ween subjectivities which, beyond appearing to sel f and to
the other, must speak to one another in order to be and to become self, in
order to elaborate a culture resulting from the spiritual fecundity of subjective
Question 9
S.P. and H.B.: In a woman, how can one separate the characteristics resulting
f rom her sociocultural oppression, and the characteristics which reflect, so
to speak, her "being"?
L.I.: It is important to distinguish characteristics of the oppression already
codi fi ed in the culture and those that the woman continues to create hersel f
each day. Both suppose a hi erarchy bet ween the genders. For example, the
linguistic practices whi ch unequally valorize that whi ch is related to the
mascul i ne gender and to the feminine gender are a mark of oppression; t hey
can appear at the level of gender properly speaking, of connotations of words
or of representations. It is the same for religious values and, more generally,
symbol i c values whi ch are already instituted. Social inequalities take place
in a cultural cont ext whi ch makes t hem possible thanks to an ideology.
The sociocultural worl d is not, in itself, non-egalitarian, but a sexist world-
vision permits it to be that way. Now such a view is still ver y much alive, both
in cultural stereotypes and in the way in whi ch women perpetuate t hem each
day t h r o u g h t hei r behavi or . Eve r yda y exper i ences demons t r at e t hat wo me n
ha ve mo r e r e s pe c t f or t he s pe e c h o f me n, t hat t he y l i st en bet t er t o t he m, and
mo r e wi l l i ngl y ha ve c onf i de nc e i n t hem. Al r eady, t he mo t h e r at t ends t o t he
wi l l o f t he little b o y mor e t han t hat o f t he little girl. Eve n i f he r be ha vi or
is i ns pi r ed by desi r e, it is i mpor t a nt t o mo d i f y it i n or der t o not ma i nt a i n a
de va l or i z i ng i de ol ogy t owa r ds t he f e mi ni ne subj ect .
I n a ddi t i on t o t he va l ue s and behavi or s t o be modi f i ed, t her e are ot her s, little
k n o wn , still t o be di s c ove r e d and cul t i vat ed i n or der t o affi rm t he exi s t ence
o f f e mi n i n e i dent i t y. Thus , e xpe r i e nc e s i n mi x e d gr oups o f di f f er ent cul t ur es,
l a ngua ge s , ages, s oci ocul t ur al me mb e r s h i p s how t hat wo me n pr i vi l ege i n
t hei r s pe a ki ng i nt er subj ect i vi t y, t he r el at i on t o t he ot her gender , t he r el at i on
b e t we e n t wo, me n pr ef er r i ng t he s ubj ect - obj ect rel at i on, t he r el at i on t o t he
s a me gender , a nd t hat b e t we e n t he one and a l i t t l e- di f f er ent i at ed many: t he
pe opl e , t he soci et y, t he ci t i zens. It d o e s n ' t appear desi r abl e t o a ba ndon t he
s p o n t a n e o u s c hoi c e s o f wo me n . Th e y have an obvi ous val ue and c a nnot be
c o n s i d e r e d as i nf er i or t o t he c hoi c e s o f men. But , it is ne c e s s a r y t o cul t i vat e
t he m. So, t he pr e f e r e nc e f or t he r el at i on wi t h t he ot her gender , pr ope r t o
t he e xi s t e nc e a nd t o t he be i ng o f t he woma n, mu s t be pr act i ced nei t her as a
s ubj e c t i on n o r t o t he de t r i me nt o f t he di al ogue wi t h o n e ' s o wn gender .
Question 10
S.P. and H.B.: In An Et hi cs o f Sexual Di f f er ence, one f i nds the description
o f two sorts of f emi ni ne relationships. The one, horizontal is linked to the
relation between women and between sisters. The other, vertical is linked to
the relation between daughter and mother, mother and daughter. What can
we do to ensure that a vertical relation does not become hierarchical?
L. I. : Th e ver t i cal i t y o f t he r el at i on be t we e n da ught e r and mo t h e r is l i nke d t o
nat ur e. It i mpl i es a c ompl i c i t y i n be l ongi ng t o t he s ame nat ur e and al so t he
pos s i bi l i t y o f doing as: be ge t t i ng i n onesel f , nur t ur i ng . . . . The ver t i cal i t y o f
t he r el at i on t o t he mo t h e r c a nnot be t hought , a c c or di ng t o me, l i ke t he r el at i on
t o t he fat her, af ort i ori t o t he Go d as Fat her. It is i ns cr i pt i on i n geneal ogy, i n
t he u n f o l d i n g o f t he hi s t or y o f t he h u ma n speci es as life. Cer t ai nl y it is fi t t i ng
t o r ai se t he mot he r - da ught e r r el at i on t o a cul t ur al di me ns i on. Thi s r equi r es
t a ki ng up a nd d e v e l o p i n g e l e me nt s o f ci vi l i zat i on t hat we fi nd, f or i nst ance,
i n ar chai c Gr eece, i n Mi ddl e - and Far - East er n t r adi t i ons. Th e cul t ur e o f t he
f i l i at i on wi t h t he mo t h e r wi l l r e ma i n mu c h mor e t i ed t o nat ur e t han t hat o f
f i l i at i on wi t h t he father. Ev e n on t he spi ri t ual l evel , it pr es er ves a r el at i on t o
ma c r o- or mi c r o - c o s mi c reality, it r e ma i ns i n cont i nui t y wi t h mat t er.
Th e r upt ur e wi t h t he nat ur al uni ver s e i nt er venes, f or woma n, mor e i n t he
hor i zont al r el at i on. Be i ng capabl e o f h u ma n r el at i ons wi t h ot her wo me n ,
wi t h si st ers, d e ma n d s , f r o m her, be i ng abl e t o o v e r c o me he r i nst i nct s, he r
submission to nature, her fusion with or adherence to another body. Spiritual
conquest, for the femi ni ne gender, goes through what I call "virginity," that
is to say the openi ng of a transcendental space in the relation to sel f and
to t he other. This meani ng of the word "virgin" is to be distinguished then
from the assimilation of virginity to the conservation or non-conservation
of a corporeal hymen. It is a question of a becomi ng spiritual aiming at the
mai nt enance of the integrity of the sel f and of the other in becomi ng proper
(le devenir propre) and in becomi ng common (le devenir commun).
Question 11
S.P. and H.B.: In realizing a critique o f the traditional concept o f identity, you
speak o f "relational identity. "Coul dyou explain what this relational identity
is, and how it differs f rom the traditional concept o f identity?
L.I.: Accordi ng to the traditional logic, identity refers to self-identity, to
identity to the same. It designates a reality whi ch is i f possible fixed, not
subject to change, not modifiable by the event nor by the other. In this way it
has somet hi ng in common with the Platonic idea.
Relational identity goes counter to this solipsistic, neuter, auto-logical ideal.
It contests the cleavages sensible/intelligible, concrete/abstract, matter/form,
living/dead. It also refuses the opposition bet ween being and becoming, and
the fact that the plural of the one woul d be the multiple before being the
two. Relational identity considers the concrete identity whi ch is always iden-
tity in relation. As such, it is always metastable, becoming. What I try to
t hi nk is the articulation bet ween the constant transformation required by a
living connect i on to nature and a return to self whi ch permits a being- and
a remai ni ng-sel f in the process of becoming. I find this place of articulation
in the bel ongi ng to a gender and in the faithfulness to the fulfillment of this
gender. The fact of being a woman, and of having to always realize my own
gender more perfectly, provides me with an anchoring in an identity whi ch
must not for all that be fixed and unchanged. The specificity of this identity
is furthermore linked to a particular relational universe. The girl' s relation to
she who engendered her is other than that of the boy: the girl is born of one
the same as she, she can beget like her mother, whi ch is not the case for the
Woman' s corporeal identity is also accompani ed by relational characters
different than those of man: to make love and to engender inside onesel f do
not put one into relation with the other in the same way as maki ng love and
engenderi ng outside the self.
When I speak of relational identity, I designate that economy of relations
to the self, to the world and to the other specific to woman or to man.
This identity is structured bet ween natural given and cultural construction.
Cultivating one' s natural identity woul d signify becomi ng more and more
able to elaborate a universe of relations both faithful to the sel f and capable of
communi cat i on with the other, in particular with the different other, belonging
to a gender ot her than mine.
Question 12
S. P and H. B. : What is the status o f the intersubjective relation proposed in
I love to you? Do women establish such a relation more easily than men? Is
this a type a relation than you often experience in your own life?
L.I.: In I love to you, I try to define the possibility of the intersubjective
relationship itself. In the Western tradition, this question is almost absent. But
it represents an important di mensi on i n the constitution of the subject. The
mascul i ne subject attends less to this than the feminine subject. This probabl y
explains why it was the task of a woman to begin treating philosophically the
relation bet ween subjects.
The fact that I approached the probl em beginning with the political level is
not an accident. It is on this level that masculine philosophers have at times
spoken of t he relations bet ween individuals. But it was a question t hen of
relations bet ween individuals defined in the sociocultural organization of the
worl d of bet ween-men: the city, the nation, even the religious group. It was
never a que s t i on- except in an abstract ma n n e r ? - of the relation bet ween two
individuals here and now present one to the other, even, in fact, in the cont ext
of marriage. Speaking of the intersubjective relation in connection with a
political encount er allowed me to reveal the difference bet ween a femi ni ne
concept i on and a mascul i ne concept i on of the civil relation. Personally, I
consi der that t he civil relation must be founded upon a real rapport bet ween
t wo concret e individuals. I do not therefore submit the citizens to models,
represent ed by ideas or authorities, but I invite t hem to a conviviality whi ch
permits the construction of a peaceful and harmonious community. Let us
say that I start of f from the base and not from the summit, as our tradition
general l y does. It is interesting to note that, furthermore, this brings me to
approach as a priority the question of coexistence in the respect of differences,
whereas a soci et y elaborated according to an "i dea" is elaborated with t he
hypot hesi s of equal citizens.
Moreover, I wrot e I love to you because of necessities whi ch present ed
t hemsel ves to me: how to engage in politics with a man in respecting our
differences, of gender first of all, then of culture, of language, of education,
etc. I love to you corresponds to a small treatise of political philosophy that
aims t oward a democrat i c organization of civil community. It is amusing to
find that whi l e theorists of the same probl em claim to found the communi t y
on money, on goods, on the army, etc., I start from love bet ween a man
and a woman capable of surmounting instinct, or immediate attraction, in
order to cement, by their desire, a living civil community. I think that this
gesture is indispensable today, including against the death drives whi ch risk
disintegrating any society.
Question 13
s.P. and H. B. : Given that the relational identity o f a woman is very different
than that o f a man, how can these differences be negotiated in order to create
a satisfying intersubjectivity between women and men ? Is it necessary, f or
example, f o r men to modi f y their relational identity?
L.I.: Men and women must modi f y their relational identity. Certainly, women
"spont aneousl y" privilege the relation bet ween subjects and men the relation
to objects. The femi ni ne subject constructs itself through a relation to the
other, t he mascul i ne subject through the manufact ure of objects and worlds
starting from whi ch it is possible for hi m to exchange with the other. Let us
say that woman must l eam to put some objectivity susceptible to being shared
bet ween I and you: this relation must not remain, for her, at the level of need
and of subjective immediacy, otherwise the you risks disappearing as you.
The man, on t he ot her hand, needs to rediscover the other as subject beyond
his uni verse of objects. What the one and the other lack in order to realize
t hei r relation is a dialectic bet ween subjectivity and objectivity, at the same
t i me proper to each and common.
The di mensi on of gender can supply the existence of such a dialectic.
Bel ongi ng to a gender implies determinations at the same time subjective
and objective. In respecting them, in and for themselves and bet ween them,
the femi ni ne subject and the mascul i ne subject can communi cat e beyond
their bel ongi ng to a specific relational identity: the woman renounci ng a
sensible, affective immediacy, in the relation to the other, and man renounci ng
a privileging of t he object whi ch often leads him to consider the other as object.
In such a perspective, there no longer exists a subject in some way neut er and
interchangeable. Each subject is indexed to a gender and addresses another
subject whi ch is equally so: I~he address youhe, for example. This calls for
t he construction of new t ypes of mediations allowing an inter-communication
bet ween the genders whi ch is not reducible to need, nor to instinct, nor to
natural fecundity, etc.
Question 14
s.P. and H. B. : How can one encouragepeopl e to recognize, in their own lives,
the pot ent i al f o r intersubjeetive relations like the one you describe in I love
to you? That is to say, how can one encourage peopl e to rethink their way o f
underst andi ng identity and relation ?
L.I.: A first means or way woul d be perhaps to bring women and men to reflect
on the rapport that exists bet ween the extent of their attraction for one another
and the extent of their disappointment in the face of the short duration of this
attraction. It woul d be possi bl e then to understand that this wi despread reality
results from a non-respect ed difference of identity. This realization can take
place, in a mi xed group, through the composi t i on of sentences integrating one
or more wor ds of relational si gni f i cance- with, together, to share, 1 . . . you,
etc. - and by the compari son of sentences produced by men and by women.
I have al ready verified, on numerous occasions, how such a simple exercise
aids the sel f-awareness of proper identity and of the difference linked to
gender. It is desirable, in the same encounter, to invite, alternately, a woman
and a man to speak to a man and a woman proposi ng to him or her a proj ect
to be shared, whi ch takes into consideration the t wo identities. This learning
is not onl y wel comed but even desired as much by adults as by children. I
have pract i ced this many times, particularly in Italy worki ng on "Educat i on
t oward citizenship in the respect of difference(s). "
Anot her way is to point out that a democratic politics is impossible without
respect for the identity of each person. It is important therefore to cultivate
a real relation bet ween citizens. For lack of doing this, the subjection and
oppressi on of some by others exists, as well as the growt h of an abstract
energy whi ch serves authoritarian, totalitarian regimes much more than it
serves democrat i c politics.
Question 15
s.P. and H.B.: In your phenomenology of the caress, you speak of the impor-
tance of the negative, of mystery and of the invisible between two subjects in
relation. Could you comment on these concepts, on their place in your theory,
and on the implications which proceed f rom the inclusion of such notions in
a philosophical theory of relational identity?
L.I.: The caress seems to me an exempl ary gesture at the crossroads of civil
exchange and private exchange. It marks the passage of the relation from a link
o f citizenship to a more carnal, more intimate link: the link bet ween lovers,
the one also bet ween parents and children, natural or otherwise. It is about the
caress bet ween l overs that I have tried to outline a phenomenol ogy. In part
in order to distinguish what I have said about the caress in the perspect i ve of
a phi l osophy o f t wo sexual l y different subjects from what philosophers such
as Sartre, Merl eau-Pont y, Levi nas have said about it. For these philosophers,
the caress is not a reciprocal gesture capable of bringing about an awakeni ng
to another level of intersubjectivity; it is a gesture of seduction, of capture, of
appropriation pract i ced by lovers not identified sexually (neuter?) one t oward
the other, or by man t oward woman. In order to go out of this absence of
humani t y in the carnal rapport, it is necessary to make sexual difference
pass from the level of simple naturalness, of instinct, to that of a sexuated
subjectivity, respectful of the sel f and the other. This implies a recognition of
the ot her as the representative of a part of nature and spirituality irreducible
to t he part that I represent. Encountering the other, I must affirm and repeat:
you, who wi l l ne v e r be I, nor me, nor mi ne. Which supposes, on my part,
the consci ousness and acceptance that I cannot be the whol e of nature nor
of spirit: I wi l l ne v e r be you, nor your s . My subjectivity is constituted in
t he relation to the ot her starting from a not, from a negativity unassumabl e
(without possible Auf he bung) in an absolute, what ever it may be. No one
absolute can abolish the difference bet ween the man-subject and the woman-
subject. Sexual difference compels us to a radical refounding of dialectic,
of ontology, of theology. The negative, the myst ery of the unknowable, are
unsurpassable in the sexuated relation, without abolishing one of the subjects
and blinding onesel f by such a gesture. Each represents for the other a beyond
of t he visible, of the perceptible, by the senses and consciousness, whi ch is a
source of desire and of humani t y and whi ch can in no way be reduced.
These di mensi ons of the negative, of the mystery, of the invisible are funda-
ment al in the phi l osophy of subjectivity that I try to construct. They represent
a questioning of the foundations of what we call intelligible, epist6m6, rea-
son, idea, concept, etc. But t hey si gni ~ one more step in the becomi ng of
human consciousness, liberty, ethics, a stage where ethics is not separated
from ont ol ogy but remains linked to it as access to the world of another light
where the "myst er y of the other illuminates" on the path of a new rationality.
Ques t i on 16
s. P. and H. B. : I n I love to y o u y o u wri t e:
Without doubt, the most appropriate content f or the universal is sexual difference.
Indeed, this content is both real and universal Sexual difference is an immediate
natural given and it is ar eal and irreducible component o f the universal The
whole o f human ki nd is composed o f women and men and of nothing else. The
problem o f race is, in fact, a secondary problem - except f rom a geographical
poi nt o f view? - which means we cannot see the wood f or the trees, and the same
goes f or other cultural diversities - religious, economiO and political ones.
Sexual difference probably represents the most universal question we can
address. Our era is f aced with the task of dealing with this issue, because, across
the whole world, there are, there are only, men and women (47).
In what s e ns e is s e x ual di f f erence t he mos t appropri at e cont ent f o r t he uni -
versal ? Ho w do y o u r es pond to t hose who see in t hi s pr i vi l egi ng o f s e x ual
di f f er ence a l uxur y due to a cl ass, raci al or cul t ural pr i vi l ege? That is to say,
even though sexual difference is or seems to be the most appropriate con-
tent f or the universal from the point of view of a white bourgeois European
intellectual woman, is it possible that this privileging of sexual difference is
nothing but a prfi, ileging of the most classic sort?
L.I.: Sexual di fference is a given of reality. It bel ongs universally to all
humans. Bei ng interested in it cannot, in any case, result from any privilege,
but forget t i ng its i mport ance can. Because the way in whi ch sexual relations
are organi zed in a society, in a culture, can creat e privileges. It is t herefore
decisive, for a democrat i c management of the communi t y, to define relations
bet ween the genders whi ch avoid all hierarchy. This requires a rearticulation
of the passages bet ween nature and culture while considering the concret e
reality of man and woman and the manner in whi ch this concret e reality
can be structured at the symbol i c level. Rul es of exchange must then be
est abl i shed whi ch allow communi cat i on bet ween the worl ds specific to each
gender, whi l e recognizing an equi val ent val ue in each one of t hese worlds.
This change of social organization can permi t us to approach the pr obl ems
of multiculturalism and of globalization whi ch appear as a given of Hi st ory to
resolve. In the entire world, there exists onl y men and women. To succeed in
treating democrat i cal l y this universal reality is a way to accompl i sh the t ask
that the devel opment of civilizations constrains us to carry out. It is interesting
to note, related to this, that certain di fferences bet ween cultures come from
mor e or less hierarchical treatments of the relations bet ween the genders, at
the horizontal or geneal ogi cal level. Abol i shi ng the rights and privileges of
one gender over another signifies t herefore worki ng for the possi bi l i t y of a
worl d culture. But this can happen onl y in the respect of differences, in order
to avoid this culture bei ng abstract and not real.
For any use of this article, please contact Luce Irigaray at the following address: 15 Rue
Lakanal, 75015 Paris, France, Fax: 3314045 7338.
2 The text of this interview was translated from the French by Stephen Pluhacek, Heidi Bostic
and Luce Irigaray.
Question 1
Speculum. De l' autre femme. Paris: Minuit, 1974. Trans. Gillian C. Gill Speculum of the Other
Woman. Ithaca: Comell UP, 1985.
~thique de la diffdrence sexuelle. Paris: Minuit, 1984. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C.
Gill. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. London: Athlone, 1993.
J' aime d toi. Paris: Grasset, 1992. Trans. Alison Martin. I love to you: sketch for a felicity
within history. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Essere due. Turin, Italy: Bollati Boringhieri, 1994, (in process of translation).
La democrazia comincia a due. Turin, Italy: 1994. (in process of translation).
Question 2
Speculum, J' aime d toi
Sexes et parent, s. Paris: Minuit, 1987. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Sexes and genealogies. New
York: Columbia UP, 1993.
Question 3
Amant e marine. De Friedrich Nietzsche. Paris: Minuit, 1980. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Marine
Lover of Fri edri ch Nietzsche. New York: Columbia UP, 1991.
L' oubli de l' air chez Martin Heidegger. Paris: Minuit, 1983.
Passions s163 Paris: Minuit, 1982. Trans. Joanne Collie and Judith Still. Elemental
Passions. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Le Temps de la difference: pour une r~volution pacifique. Paris: Librairie g6n6rale frangaise
(livre de poche), 1989. Trans. Carin Montin. Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful
Revolution. New York: Roufledge, 1994.
Question 4
Je, tu, nous: pour une culture de la difference. Paris: Grasset, 1990. Trans. Alison Martin. Je,
tu, nous: toward a culture of difference. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Parler n' est j amai s neutre. Paris: Minuit, 1985. (particularly "Le sujet de la science est-il
Question 5
Ce sexe qui n' en es t pas un. Paris: Minuit, 1977. Trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke.
This Sex Which is not One. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985 ("The Mechanics of Fluids"). J' ai me
toi, Essere due
Question 6
Sexes et parent~s, J' aime d toi
Question 7
Speculum, Ce sexe qui n' en est pas un
Sexes et genres ?t travers les langues. Paris: Grasset, 1990., Je, tu, nous, J' ai me d toi
Langages 85 (1987) "Le sexe linguistique" ed. Luce Irigaray.
Langages 111 (1993) "Genres culturels et interculturels" ed. Luce Irigaray.
Question 8
Speculum, L'lEthique de la difference sexuelle, J' ai me ~ toi, Parler n' est j amai s neutre
Question 9
Speculum, Ce sexe qui n' en est pas un, Amant e marine, L' Ethique de la difference sexuelle,
J' ai me ~ toi, Essere due, plus all additional texts on sexed language
Question 10
L' Ethique de la difference sexuelle, J' ai me d toi, Essere due
"La redemption des femmes" in Le souffle desf emmes, ed. Luce Irigaray. Paris: ACGF, 1996.
Question 11
See in particular J' aime d toi, Essere due
"Hommes et femmes, une identit6 relationnelle et diff6rente" in La pl ace des f emmes. Paris:
La d6couverte, coll. Recherches, 1995.
Question 12
See in particular J' aime d toi, Essere due
La democrazia comincia a due. Turin, Italy: Bollati Boringhieri, 1994.
Question 13
See above-mentioned works, plus
"Importance du genre dans la constitution de la subjectivit6 et de l'intersubjectivit6" in Lan-
gages 111.
"Hommes et femmes, une identit6 relationnelle diff6rente" in La pl ace desf emmes.
Question 14
See texts on the analysis of sexuated language: Sexes et genres, Langages 11 l, J' ai me d toi
Question 15
L' Et hi que de la difference sexuelle "F6cundit6 de la caresse", "Transcendants l' un ~ l'autre"
and "Les noces entre le verbe et le chair" in Hommes et f emmes, l' insaisissable difference.
Paris: Cerf. Ed. Xavier Lacroix, 1993. (slightly modified version printed in Essere due),
9 Essere due
Question 16
J' aime ~ toi, La democrazia comincia a due.