My project for the Irigaray Seminar intended to interrogate and explore the continuity within Irigaray’s oeuvre of an attention to nature. Many commentators claim that Irigaray’s “critical” early period is neither primarily preoccupied with nor does it draw material for its thought from an engagement with nature. Others, who might disagree with the strong distinction between the critical and later constructive periods in Irigaray’s thought made by some commentators, would still direct readers of her work to the later constructive works – as exemplified by 1987’s Sexes et parentés and much more recent works like To Be Born and Through Vegetal Being – to truly see Irigaray’s thinking about nature in its mature expression. The problem with these readings, however, is that that they are questioned by the content of Irigaray’s work itself. Indeed, the exemplary text in the latter period which I have just alluded to, Through Vegetal Being, reconstructs in an explicitly autobiographic key, a move quite rare in the thought of Irigaray, the role which engagement with and reflection on the role nature had in engendering her thought in its nascent stages and throughout its development.
In reality, this crucial text in the Irigaray corpus continues and deepens five fundamental and inseparable aspects of Irigaray’s own philosophical trajectory: (1) her critique of Western metaphysics and the philosophical tradition’s burial, sacrifice, and omission of sexual difference; (2) her critique of Western metaphysics with its exclusion of nature and our (human) natural belonging; (3) her effort to think about and provide a positive elaboration of a thought of sexual difference which breaks radically with this tradition while going beyond mere critique; (4) the project of a new way of thinking, which entails a new way of acting, in particular a cultivation of our human “natural energy,” the cultivation of which is crucially and necessarily linked with our sexuate nature – indeed, our “essence” as natural human beings is not simple, but “hybrid”, because we are not only born of the union between two differently sexuate human beings but we are also ourselves “embodied” as sexuate beings. Thus, Through Vegetal Being amounts to a kind of summation and culmination of a project which has been developing organically since Irigaray’s earliest writings, and which seeks nothing less than the elaboration of a thought, a language, a culture, in short, a world which can allow us to cultivate our “living” energy, which is always a sexuate energy, a culture and a logos of which we have been deprived hitherto. Thus, what we have been denied by our philosophical tradition and our culture, as Irigaray puts it, is the possibility of a relationship with the world in which we exist, breathe, and become, and a “source of life” for ourselves, an opportunity to grow in a “specifically human way” and a “communion with another human different from ourselves” (Through Vegetal Being, Ch. 13-15). Thanks to the appraisal that Irigaray herself provides of her own work, as well as our own integration of Through Vegetal Being into a wider network of texts and ideas, we can locate this later work of Irigaray, the larger positive philosophical stage of construction into which it situates itself, and even the earlier critical works which preceded it, as part of a naturally developing, self-generating thinking which seeks nothing less than overcoming the nihilism which imperils us at the level of our thinking, of our human existence, and of our relationship with each other and our planet – a nihilism that the logic of the same- Same and the erasure of sexual difference have advanced.
Though I have sought to highlight the continuity in Irigaray’s thought especially through the role of nature and the persistent concern for nature against the composite threat to life posed by the joint menace of a monosexuate culture and a logic of the Same-same, my project has sought to do more than merely establishing this continuity. Indeed, when, as part of this project, I turned to earlier moments of Irigaray’s critical period, especially to certain critical instances in This Sex Which Is Not One, I did so drawing inspiration and conceptual resources from the constructive period of Irigaray’s thought – the one which has been more explicitly “realist” and affirming in its approach to nature as well as to the latter’s link with sexual difference and the cultivation of sexuate identity. This made it possible for me to see how texts like the “Mechanics of Fluids” not only criticize the phallocentric, objectiving, and petrifying understanding of embodied sexuate identity but also, and consequently, how this understanding objectives nature itself and stifles and subordinates feminine subjectivity – all that, for Irigaray, forming one continuous common object of criticism throughout her work, from Speculum to To Be Born. Moreover, it has allowed me to note that the critical gestures in these earlier texts remain essential in the elaboration of an alternative to our past logic and therefore can be, when considered with respect to the wider unfolding of Irigaray’s philosophy, representative of the strong link in her thought between the expression of nature as such and that of real (that is to say, non-specularized) sexual difference and steps in the elaboration of a thinking and a culture which overcomes contemporary nihilism and seeks to cultivate life, including our natural belonging.