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The Irigaray Reader. Lynn Tzeng. Introduction to Section I (by Margaret Whitford). Patriarchy (defined by Irigaray)—“an exclusive respect for the genealogy of sons and fathers, and the competition between brothers” ( Sexes et parentes , p.202)

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Introduction to section i by margaret whitford l.jpg
Introduction to Section I(by Margaret Whitford)

  • Patriarchy (defined by Irigaray)—“an exclusive respect for the genealogy of sons and fathers, and the competition between brothers” (Sexes et parentes, p.202)

  • maternal genealogy absent in western thought and institutions

  • coexistence of two genealogies (patriarchy and matriarchy), not simply a reversal or a replacement (p. 23)


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  • “[W]hereas de Beauvoir emphasizes access to the world of men (equality), Irigaray is suggesting the creation of difference” (p.24).

  • develops de Beauvoir’s idea of Woman as Other (I: the ‘other of the same’, the necessary negative of the male subject, all that he has repressed and disavowed.)

  • “but a self-defined woman who would not be satisfied with sameness, but whose otherness and difference would be given social and symbolic representation. Each sex would then be ‘other’ for the other sex” (p. 24-25).


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  • Equal or Different?” (1986; 1988; 1990)

  • “The Bodily Encounter with the Mother” (conference on “Women and Madness”, Montreal, 1981)—

  • “western culture is founded not on parricide (as Freud hypothesized in Totem and Taboo, but on matricide” (p.25).

  • I’s reinterpretation of the mythology (Clytemnestra) = the installation of patriarchy, built over the sacrifice of the mother and her daughters.

  • “The major cultural taboo is on the relationship with the mother” (p.25).

  • “The stress on Oedipus, on castration, serves to conceal another severance, the cutting of the umbilical cord to the mother”


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  • hatred from men and archaic projection of male imaginary (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally

  • “This relationship with the mother needs to be brought out of silence and into representation”

  • contraception and the legalization of abortion = control women’s reproduction = women’s identity as women not as mothers (role as ‘reproducer of children, as nurse, as reproducer of labour-power’)

  • warns the daughters against repeating the murder of the mother.

  •  To move out the role of ‘guardians of the body’ for men

  • To put into words and symbolic representations the primitive relation with the mothers’ body.

  • Speaking about the relationships between women = create a new identity within the symbolic order


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  • reiterated in (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally“Women-Mothers: the Silent Substratum of the Social Order” (interview)

  • overlap the preoccupations of other English-speaking feminists:

    1. Women and madness

    2. the inadequacy or failure of the ‘sexual revolution’ from women’s point of view

    3. the importance of consciousness raising as a practice

    4. the analysis of the family as a social device for appropriating women’s labour

    5. the mother-daughter relationship

    6. the attack on psychoanalysis (a discourse which normalize patriarchy); the re-evaluation of hysteria (as the unheard voice of the woman who can only speak through somatic symptoms)

    7. Second-wave (post 1968) women (both as daughters and mothers) must liberate themselves with their mothers (p.26)


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  • ** (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturallythe end of 1970—Anglo-American feminism: began to theorize women’s difference (as a source of cultural possibility rather than simply as a source of oppression).

  • I = examining equality, mother’s function (as the infrastructure of Western civilisation), and the obliteration of women as women.

  • Speculum, 1974

  • Catholic countries (France and Italy) = the importance of attending to motherhood as an institution, sanctioned by the divine

  • “Volume with contours” (extract from Speculum)

  • male imaginary, philosophical logos and system (of discourse and representation… ) that confine/define women


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  • Dominant fantasy of the mother/Male Representation of Women (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally = a closed volume = a ‘receptacle for the (re)production of sameness’ and the ‘the support of (re)production

  • men’s desire = immobilize women (control and possession), appropriate by masculinity

  • men’s fear of the ‘open container’, the ‘incontournable volume’, the fluid, the mobile, not a solid ground/earth, or not mirror for subject

  • contemporary theory in the feminine = a fresh attempt at terrorialization of the maternal-feminine

  • I = an other woman (exterior to all these masculine metaphorizations) = shake the foundation of patriarchy


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  • I (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally = oppose an ‘other woman’, a woman ‘without common measure’ (who cannot be reduced to the qualifying measurements by which she is domesticated in male systems, who exceeds attempts to pin her down and confine her within a theoretical system, whose volume is ‘incontournable’ = against Lacanian image of woman as a hole, oppose the image of contiguity of two lips (mother-daughter, mother-father, maternal-paternal genealogies) = woman’s desire could be represented for-itself (not in male representation) (p.28)


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(woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturallyEqual or Different?” (1986; 1988; 1990)

  • most claims to equality = superficial critique of culture, and utopian as a means to women’s liberation.

  • “The exploitation of women is based upon sexual difference, and can only be resolved through sexual difference” (p. 32).

  • neutralization of sex (contemporary feminists) = end of human race (divided into two genres—ensure its production and reproduction)

  • “Trying to suppress sexual difference is to invite a genocide (destruction of women and all values) more radical than any destruction that has ever existed in History” (p. 32).

  • define the value of a sex-specific genre [genre as sexuate (p. 33)] and form a culture that respects both genres


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  • We are still in the (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturallychildhood of culture: “People constantly split into secondary but murderous rivalries without realizing that their primary and irreducible division is one between two genres” (p. 33).

  • We must give, or restore cultural values to female subjectivity (not simply procreative) e.g. The Second Sex


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(woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturallyThe Bodily Encounter with the Mother” (conference on “Women and Madness”, Montreal, 1981)

  • Men-practitioners’ absence = a sign of their psychiatric practice (self-sufficient) = madness of women: their words are not heard (p 35).

  • Scientific discourses, serious scientific practices, therapeutic decisions and diagnoses = still the privilege of men (who define women’s function, social role, and the sexual identity)

  • “Each sex relates to madness in its own way” (p 35)

  • “All desire is connected to madness” (in the relationship with the mother—a mad desire (the ‘dark continent’ par excellence)) = shadows of our culture, it is its night and its hell


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  • the infrastructure of western culture = women as (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturallymothers, the unacknowledged foundation of the social order

  • “The maternal function underpins the social order and the order of desire (satisfying the individual and collective need) e.g. in the religious dimension of need (women = mothers)

  • women’s/mothers’ own desire suppressed/forbidden by the law of the father

  • Women’s looking for their sexual identity and the meaning of motherhood: contraception, abortion…

  • “western culture is founded not on parricide (as Freud hypothesized in Totem and Taboo, but on matricide” (p.25).

  • Freud forgot a more archaic murder of the founding of a certain order in the polis (of the primal horde)


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  • Clytemnestra myth— (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally

  • forgot the tragedy of Iphigenia

  • Orestes (son) kills his mother for the establishment of a new order (commanded by the God-Father (Apollo))

  • The Furies = the ghosts of his mother = women in revolt, rising up like hysterics against the patriarchal power in the process of being established (p. 37).

  • the law of the primal horde and mythology:

  • men bury women beneath the sanctuary

  • regulation Athenas (virgin-goddess, born of the father and obedient to his law in forsaking the mother)= perfect models of femininity (always veiled and dressed from head to toe)


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  • The murder of the mother → (woman as devouring monster threatening madness and death) has made women suffer culturally

  • the non-punishment of the son (Orestes), but punishment on daughter (Electra)

  • the burial of the madness of women (e.g. Clytemnestra)

  • the burial of women in madness (e.g. Jocasta)

  • In the process of the forming of the new order (based on matricide), a symbolic murder of the father is necessary for the coming of the son’s revenge (murder of ) on the mother:


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  • e.g. p. 38 1. Oedipus’ re-enacting of the madness of Orestes (primal crime—“It was a son’s duty to kill his father’s murderer’s, a duty that came before all others. But a son who killed his mother was abhorrent to gods and to men. A most sacred obligation was bound up with a most atrocious crime” (Hamilton 256))

  • Oedipus—violates the law of the father (Oedipus Complex): ambivalence (“focused on the father, but which is retroactively projected on to the archaic relationship with the body of the mother”) towards his father


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  • The mother’s Orestes body as an object for cathecting (to invest emotional energy in (a person, object or idea)) and later decathecting (i.e., separate, detach, give up, repress)

  • After the bodily encounter with the mother, Oedipus grows up (to establish a new social symbolic order)

  • mother already torn into pieces:

  • by Oedipus’s hatred

  • torn between the sons and the fathers, between sons (p.27, 38)


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  • the mother’s body (the life of the drives) Orestes

  • Partial drives – the body (primal womb—first home, first love) which brought us whole (bound together) into the world

  •  Q: “The genital drive is said to be the drive thanks to which the phallic penis takes back from the mother the power to give birth, to nourish, to dwell, to centre. The phallus erected where once there was the umbilical cord (the first bond with the mother)?” (p.38)

  •  the father and his law: sever the over-intimate bond with the primal womb (the danger of fusion, of death, of the sleep of death)

  • a proper name/forename[an extra-corporeal identity card] (language which privileges the masculine genre) replaces the most irreducible mark of birth: the navel (the irreducible trace of identity: the scar left when the cord was cut)


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  • Psychoanalysis: Orestes

  • take a dim view of the first moment (bond with the womb and the imaginary and the symbolic of intra-uterine life)—“a taboo is in the air”

  • Psychoanalysis (the social order/our culture) → “the mother must remain forbidden, excluded. The father forbids the bodily encounter with the mother” (p. 38)

  • placenta (the first house surround us- child’s security blanket):

  • men tend to go back to the primal womb [the devouring mouth (p.41)] , seeking refuge in any open body (of other women as well) [danger, threat of contagion, contamination, engulfment in illness, madness and death] but are NOT allowed.


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  • “No Jacob’s ladder for a return to the mother. Jacob’s ladder always climbs up to heaven, to the Father and his kingdom.” p. 40

  • men need to feed their libido (sexual urge or drive) p. 39 and distanced/removed from their bodies/corporeal in (sexual) production p. 49 —need wife-mother/ a woman-wife (p. 43) = need women’s guardianship of their corporeal unity (p. 49)

  • Fantasy of Mother as a devouring monster and her womb as the devouring mouth:


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  • able to give birth and life (power of procreation and creation/generative power)

  • steal the creating power or life essence from men?

  • womb/the silent and threatening belly = capture net of maternal power, the phallic mother → phallic threat, anxiety, phobia of castration fear (p. 41) [from man-father’s perspective]

  • Q: Fantasy based on Oedipus’s hatred: (still uninterrupted)


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  • makes a creation/generative power) hole in the bellies of women/identity = a stake driven into the earth (p. 41)

  • “Torn between the sons and the fathers, the stake or sacrifice in disputes between men (disputes for the ownership of the mother’s body), she is fragmented into bits and pieces, and therefore ‘unable to articulate her difference’” (p. 27)

  • “The (male) subject prefers to see her as the maternal-feminine rather than as a woman (castration and death, the unimaginable heterogamous other)” (p. 27) → “A hole in the texture of language corresponds to the forgetting of the scar of the navel” (p. 41).


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  • Q creation/generative power) : 1. phallic erection = the only sexual value? (in the patriarchal tradition)

  • 2. castration anxiety = the unconscious memory of such sacrifice?

  • The murder of the father = “a desire for one who artificially cut the link with the mother in order to take over the creative power of all worlds, especially the female world” (Wrong) →

    “signifies a desire to take his [the father’s] place, a rival and competitive desire” (p. 42)


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  • Have fathers ever been asked to renounce being men? We do not have to renounce being women in order to be women”

  • “We are always mothers once we are women” (p. 43): bring children; love, desire, language, art, the social, the political, the religious…

  • We should give our mothers a new life instead of killing her/sacrificing her to the law of the father. We must invent a new language that does not replace the bodily encounter (paternal language), but which speaks corporeal while we seek a new relationship with the body of our mother.


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  • Women should not have to renounce being women in order to be women” speak up rather than remain silent!! = outlet of their emotion

  • We should assert the genealogy/history of women = identity, subjectivity +

  • do not try to deny our mother (and her body) as our love object

  • assert love for other women [women-sisters]

  • 2 modes of women’s jouissance (enjoyment):

  • programmed in a male libidinal economy

  • with their own sexual identity (against the norms of phallocratic economy)


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Women-Mothers: the Silent Substratum of the Social Order not have to renounce being women in order to be women” (published as an interview. )

  • “The substratum is the woman who reproduces the social order, who is made this order’s infrastructure: the whole of our western culture is based upon the murder of the mother. The man-god-father killed the mother in order to take power” (p.47).

  • the hysteric—revolt and refusal, “a desire for/of the living mother who would be more than a reproductive body in the pay of the polis, a living, loving woman” (p. 47-8)


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  • not have to renounce being women in order to be women” the only path that remains open to us is madness” (p. 48)

  • We need language to define madness.

  • Women suffer in their bodies (inaudible)

  • Patriarchy discourse = discourse of men about women (objects/silence)

  • “Being guardians of their corporeal unity, we cannot be beings of desire… desire is movement.”

  • the so-called ‘sexual liberation’ lay trap

  • (Greek) relationship to mother = relationship to women


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  • Mother= function = no personal language and identity not have to renounce being women in order to be women”

  • mother/daughter, daughter/mother relationship

    → say goodbye to maternal omnipotence and establish a woman-to-woman relationship of reciprocity * mothers = daughters

  • “Liberate ourselves along with our mothers” (p. 50)

  • “We [women] lack speech”


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