Federica Doria — From Mother to Woman: Revisiting Parts of Luce Irgaray’s Works about the Maternal  

My presentation for the seminar «Working with Luce Irigaray 2021» is an analysis of three main works written by this author related to the notion of the maternaland to the mother-daughter relationship. In particular, I studied Body against Body: in Relation to the Mother (1981), Je, tu, nous. Toward a Culture of Difference (1990), and To be Two (1992), because these three contributions are linked to the reflection on the feminine writings as my research at the University. In fact, my thesis focusses on three feminine authors: the American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), the Italian feminist writer Carla Lonzi (1931-1982), and the French feminist writer Hélène Cixous (1937) who attempt to construct their feminine identity through literary writing. Drawing from a feminist approach, my research also explores the role of the mothers of these three authors and their influences on their daughters’ writings. It starts from an analysis of the concept of the maternal and expands on the mother-daughter relationship. For my research the entire work of Luce Irigaray is fundamental, particularly because of the theme of the “original matricide” (Body against Body, p. 11) and of the importance of the mother-daughter relationship for the construction of a feminine identity.

As a contribution to the seminar 2021, I have first analyzed what Irigaray defines as an “original matricide” in Body against Body in order to situate this concept in her thought and its influence on the reflections of other feminist authors. Then, I have discussed the importance of the feminine genealogies and, more precisely, of the role played by the mother-daughter relationship in the development of the feminine sexuate identity (Je, tu, nous, “The Neglect of Female Genealogies”, p. 15, and To be Two, “Daughter and Woman”, p. 30). My contribution has been presented as a literaryanalysis of these three works of Luce Irigaray and as a theoretical investigation starting from Irigaray’s texts in order to reflect on the evolution of her thought about the maternal and the mother-daughter relationship.

First of all, in Body against Body, one of her first works about the symbolization of the mother in the foundation of Western society, Luce Irigaray tries to explain the link between desire, language and the mother. In fact, revisiting theFreudian theory of the primitive parricide and the Greek myth of Oedipus, Irigaray reconsiders the foundation of Western society in which she observes an “original matricide” or, in other words, a disappearance of the mother and her body from the symbolic and the social order. More precisely, Irigaray revisits the construction of Freudian Oedipus complex as a founding element  of the society. Indeed, according to Irigaray, the parricide of Oedipus, considered by Freud to be the founding myth of the Western society, substitutes for a more ancient myth: the matricide of Orestes. Thus, the myth of Orestes has an ambiguous significance: not only it testifies to an ancient matricide, but also to the permanent love of the mother. The original crime of Western culture appears to be the result of a contradictory affect of man towards the mother which ends in  loving and killing, at the same time, the mother. But the Irigaray’s text culminates in a political incitement addressing women to find a new “maternal creative dimension” (Body against Body, p. 18) thanks to which they can develop their sexuate identity, far from the patriarchal cultural representations and practical impositions. Thus, Luce Irigaray offers a new perspective on the relationship with the mother, which can be considered to be a different possibility to re-create an order in which women could express and live their love, their desire, their language, their sexuality, etc., and attempt to acquire a feminine identity. For this purpose, women also need to re-establish a connection with their female genealogies, especially with their mothers.

Then, Luce Irigaray continues her reflection about the feminine relationships in the nineties, in particular in her two books Je, tu, nous and To be Two. In these two works, Irigaray puts forward the importance of cultureand education in  order that women could take their position in society. According to the author, women have to create a “sexed culture”(Je, tu, nous, p. 16), a new way of communicating and being in relation, and they have to conceive of themselves as sexuate subjects. Irigaray stresses the role of the recognition of the female genealogies for the construction of a “sexed identity” (Je, tu, nous, p. 15). The philosopher explains the main consequences of the neglect of the female genealogies in Western society by studying in particular their effect on the mother-daughter relationship, the first crucial relationship between two feminine subjects. Firstly, this relationship is a microcosmic representation of the feminine intergenerational relationship. Secondly, this relationship attests to the lack of the representation of the maternal and of the mother-daughter relationship in patriarchal societies. Thus, in Je, tu, nous and To be Two, Irigaray underlines the importance of the sexedgenealogies and sustains the idea that every subject has to be considered sexuate. In that way, Irigaray rethinks the political dimension of women’s position in the city and proposes a new original manner to conceive of the sexual, or better sexuate, difference.

In conclusion, the contribution of Luce Irigaray to the debate on the maternal includes different perspectives – philosophical, psychoanalytical and mythological – and crosses her entire work, starting from her first book Speculum (1974) and developing in Body against Body (1981). Jointly, it focuses on the crucial role of the female genealogies, especially on the mother-daughter relationship, for women’s development, history and thought (Je, tu, nous, 1990, and To be Two, 1992). This relationship is essential to the construction of a sexed and sexuate identity by women and it alsorepresents a viewpoint from which it is possible to rethink  sexuate difference and the functioning and the culture of the entire society.

Undoubtedly, the perspective of Luce Irigaray on the maternal and her conception of the sexuate identity of every subject have evolved. In her last works as In the Beginning, She Was, (2013) Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosophical Perspectives (2016) and To Be Born: Genesis of a New Human Being (2017), Irigaray emphasizes the importance of recognizing and cultivating the sexuate difference between the masculine and the feminine subjects and the need to begin with the relationship between two subjects which are different by nature. Nevertheless, her conception of the female genealogies, from her first works to the more recent ones, remains fundamental to the construction of a feminine subjectivity and to the development of a feminist approach to the sexuate difference.