Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of History

Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of History

Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of History

Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of History


The essays in this groundbreaking collection stage conversations between the thought of the controversial feminist philosopher, linguist and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray and premodern writers, ranging from Empedocles and Homer, to Shakespeare, Spenser and Donne. They explore both the pre-Enlightenment roots of Luce Irigaray's thought, and the impact that her writings have had on our understanding of ancient, medieval and Renaissance culture.Luce Irigaray has been a major figure in Anglo-American literary theory, philosophy and gender studies ever since her germinal works, Speculum of the Other Woman and This Sex Which Is Not One , were published in English translation in 1985. This collection is the first sustained examination of Irigaray's crucial relationship to premodern discourses underpinning Western culture, and of the transformative effect she has had on scholars working in pre-Enlightenment periods. Like Irigaray herself, the essays work at the intersections of gender, theory, historicism and language.This collection offers powerful ways of understanding premodern texts through Irigaray's theories that allow us to imagine our past and present relationship to economics, science, psychoanalysis, gender, ethics and social communities in new ways.


Luce Irigaray's transmutation of the past

Elizabeth D. Harvey and Theresa Krier

What is realized in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.

Jacques Lacan (1977b: 86)

Luce Irigaray has been called a philosopher of change (Whitford 1991:15), and the essays in this collection demonstrate the metamorphic power of her work in general and its applicability to classical, medieval, and early modern literature and culture in particular. To suggest that her writings have the capacity to illuminate premodern culture might seem on the face of it to be a counter-intuitive claim because Irigaray does not appear to be overtly interested in the specificities of history. Yet it is precisely her training as a philosopher, linguist, and psychoanalyst that has given her the variety of resources necessary to challenge the fundamental structures that shape our sense of who we are in relation to the present and the past. Her interrogations of language, her critiques of rational and philosophical thought, and her use of the explosive potential of a psychoanalysis turned on the disciplines that subtend our inherited cultural realities allow us to see the past through the lens of a powerfully gendered ethical theory. She scrutinizes the nature of knowledge, our sensory faculties (especially the hegemony of the visual), what it means to be embodied, and what the nature of divinity is. She is a subversive philosopher, a term that calls up not only her ability to overthrow or fundamentally disrupt philosophy, but, in its root sense, to turn to its underneath, what it suppresses in order to function. If philosophy, especially metaphysics, employs a language shorn of affect, gender, and historical specificity, as Irigaray charges, her project is to re-embody this neutral discourse, to resituate it within a world attentive to sexual difference and material origins.

The title of her book on Heidegger (The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger) is symptomatic of a tactic that informs her work generally: her sustained engagements with philosophy seek to activate memory, to recover a past or substratum that has been lost or forgotten. Her rereading of such philosophers as Plato, Plotinus, Descartes, and Spinoza opens their texts to the historical and cultural

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