Angelica Stathopoulos — Always-silent, Already-passive, Forever-feminine: Rethinking Feminist Writing with Luce Irigaray


The text that I presented at the seminar of Luce Irigaray in 2014 brought together parts of my master’s thesis with some thoughts from my current research project. In my master’s thesis, entitled Toujours-déjà féminine – penser une subjectivité entre-femmes avec Luce Irigaray, I discussed the possibility of creating alternative feminine subjectivities. I organized my thesis in three parts. In the first part, I discussed the importance of style for understanding Irigaray’s texts; in the second part, I accounted for the reception of Irigaray’s work in France, in Italy and by Anglophone feminists, and in the third part, I conducted close readings of Irigaray’s two books Passions élémentaires and Sexes et parentés. At the seminar, I addressed some of my thoughts from the first and the third part of my master’s thesis, more precisely I talked about Passions élémentaires and the question of style and how to read.

I argue that Irigaray’s poetical work radically reconsiders the division between form and content, which philosophical writing in the Western tradition relied upon. In her poetical works such as Passions élémentaires, Irigaray elaborates a language that allows her to produce images of worlds that the phallogocentric system continually strives to erase. Form and content are collapsing because Irigaray inhabits the qualities of the subjects that she is addressing; writing (about) the female body, which for her is fluid and multiple, her writings become fluid and multiple.

For Margaret Whitford, Irigaray manages to write on femininity “without objectifying, hypostatizing, or essentializing it” (Whitford, Margaret, Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine, Routledge, London, 1991, p. 62). Irigaray acknowledges that feminine experience is impossible to describe since it is located beyond comprehension, at least according to our past logic. Feminine experience thus finds itself between silence and speech, between the said and the non-said, as Irigaray says in an interview from 1995: “I compose my books as if I were able to speak silently; that is, I always create a counterpoint between speech [la parole] and silence” (Hirsh & Olson, “Je–Luce Irigaray”: A Meeting with Luce Irigaray, Hypatia, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp. 93-114, Spring 1995, p. 101)

These words bring us into my current research project on silence and passivity. Silence, passivity, as well as femininity, always find themselves at the margins in relation to power. Following the words of Audre Lorde, that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the mater’s house” (Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider – Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, Crossing Press, New York, 2007, p. 112). I would like to elaborate a thinking that meets the activity of power with a radical passivity, a thinking that, instead of entering into a discourse already coded by past masculine language, chooses silence. For Luce Irigaray, silence and passivity are to ways of being-in-the-world that have been forgotten by masculine culture. I am interested in elaborating the possibilities of an alternative ethics of passivity, an ethics that Krzysztof Ziarek touches upon his reading of Irigaray in “A New Economy of Relations” (see Returning to Irigaray: Feminist philosophy, politics, and the question of unity, ed. Cimitile & Miller, State University of New York Press, Albany 2007). Ziarek talks about the radical possibilities of an alternative ethics grounded in energy of “letting be”. This energy allows room for that which is about to take form, as opposed to making which continually efface the other or more precisely: otherness.

I am particularly interested in thinking possible crossroads between femininity, women, passivity, silence and masochism. I want to elaborate an ethics of radical passivity that has received little attention by feminist thought, as states Jack Halberstam: “masochism is an underused way of considering the relationship between self and other, self and technology, self and power in queer feminism” (Halberstam, Jack, The Queer Art of Failure, Duke University Press, Durham, 2011, p. 135). In my current research project I am tuning in to feminine, silent and passive voices; voices that no longer turn to the Hegelian trilogy when looking for methods to conduct our revolution. Instead of thesis – antithesis – synthesis, we regroup in the darkness of our own sparkling night; always-silent, already-passive, forever-feminine.