See also: theatre
b. 1932, Belgium
Psychoanalyst and philosopher
Irigaray is a feminist working in the areas of psychoanalysis, philosophy and linguistics. Her work in general has been more warmly received in Italy, Canada, the United States and Britain than in France, although the importance of her studies in sociolinguistics is recognized in France far more than in anglophone circles.
Initially the aspects of Irigaray's work which attracted widespread attention were her critiques of Freud and Lacan, and her poetic celebrations of the female body in This Sex Which is Not One (Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un). This skewed perspective on her oeuvre led to her being associated with women such as Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva as a 'French feminist' or advocate of écriture féminine. In the course of the 1970s and 1980s, these terms came to imply an emphasis on the joys of the female body, particularly in its reproductive capacity, which appeared biologically essentialist, heterosexist and Eurocentric to many other feminists-whether materialist or reformist. They also implied esoteric and thus elitist writing, which was difficult to penetrate, both because of its technicality (the range of psychoanalytical and philosophical reference) and because of its avant-gardist literary qualities. From the late 1980s onwards, a number of works have been published by Margaret Whitford and others which have addressed Irigaray's work with the seriousness and attention to detail which it requires, helping to unpick these misconceptions or oversimplifications.
Unlike Cixous and Kristeva, Irigaray has fairly consistently presented herself as a feminist. The former have both trained as analysts of literature, have produced literary works themselves and, more unusually to an Anglo-Saxon feminist eye, have focused their celebratory analysis of linguistic transgressions and modernist or avant-garde literary practices (which Cixous has called écriture féminine) on male-authored texts (with one or two notable exceptions, such as the writings of the Brazilian modernist Clarice Lispector). Irigaray appears to have little interest in literature as such, although her amorous dialogues with philosophers such as Nietzsche-as in her Marine Lover (Amante marine)-have an undoubted poetical quality. Her mode of reading does not display Kate Millett's hostility to male authors, but it combines amorous dialogue (approaching Cixous's reading practice) with a feminist critique which would be more welcome to an Anglo-Saxon feminist audience than Cixous's readings of Joyce. While, as a practising psychoanalyst, she is not as hostile to Freud as certain radical feminists, her approach is more openly feminist than that of Kristeva, who also practises psychoanalysis (see Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman).
Irigaray's loving words about women's sexual organs and possible relations between women still provoke charges of biologism, despite hopeful pronouncements by her admirers that the debate is dead. Clearly her words are designed to help make women feel more positive about what has been denigrated and degraded in our society. Irigaray is aware that for change to occur a transformation must