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A reading of Luce Irigaray’s Elemental Passions

The recognition of a female subject is relatively recent in Western philosophy, through Western intellectual history, it has been assumed to be normatively male. This book provides the first English commentary on Luce Irigaray's poetic text, Elemental Passions, setting it within its context within continental thought. It explores Irigaray's images and intentions, developing the gender drama that takes place within her book, and draws the reader into the conversation in the text between 'I-woman' and 'you-man'. In Irigaray's philosophy of sexual difference love is of ultimate significance for the development and mutual relationship of two subjects. The book explains how the lack of a subject position for women is related to the emergence of rigid binaries, and catches a hint of how subversive attention to fluidity is to the masculinist pattern. This emphasis on desire and sexual difference obviously intersects with the psychoanalytic theories of S. Freud and J. Lacan, theories which had enormous impact on French philosophers of the time. Irigaray has used vivid imagery from the very beginning of her writings. A few of her images, in particular that of the lips, have become famous in feminist writings. The development of mutually affirming sexual subjects, different but not oppositional, and thereby the destabilizing of traditional binary categories of oppositional logic, is simultaneously highly innovative and has far-reaching consequences. The book presents a critique of Irigaray's methods and contentions to critical scrutiny, revisiting the idea of fluidity in relation to logic.

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Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on sexual difference, the difference between men and women and argues that this difference has not been sufficiently recognized or acknowledged within Western thought. It considers the centrality of binary logic for Western philosophical thinking exemplified by Parmenides, and shows how Luce Irigaray appeals to Empe-docles to destabilize the hegemony of the binary system and to introduce the idea of a fluid logic. The book also considers the same binary system with its implicitly male subject in its psychoanalytic manifestation. It revisits the rigid binary systems of philosophy and psychoanalysis and also shows how these fields of thought could be enriched by intellectual and subjective formation that is forever fluid.

in Forever fluid
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

This chapter shows how Luce Irigaray reaches back to alternative sources of philosophy as she looks for the conditions for the emergence of the female subject. It also shows the grip of rigidity on Western philosophy since its inception and points out its consequences with regard to subjectivity and power. Philosophy has operated with a rigid binary system of logic ever since its inception in ancient Greece. Everyone agrees that Parmenides had an enormous influence on the development of logic. However, there is disagreement on how this influence should be evaluated. It is the awareness of the use of power and efforts to mastery which accompany the construction of dichotomies that lie at the heart of feminist critiques of binary logic. The Pythagorean table of opposites, which was developed in the sixth century BCE, is an early articulation of a binary system.

in Forever fluid
Irigaray and psychoanalytic theory
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

This chapter discusses Luce Irigaray's uneasy relationship with the psychoanalytic theory of Freud and Jacques Lacan, an uneasiness which mirrors her relationship with the trajectory of Western philosophy, which she both appropriates and tries to destabilize. In 'Female Sexuality', first published in 1931, Freud argues that boys and girls develop along the same lines until their third year. Irigaray criticizes Freud for making woman's reproductive capacity the most central aspect in his account of female sexuality. Like Freud, Lacan distinguishes various phases in the development of subjectivity. For Lacan woman's role is to enable man to experience oneness, self-recognition. The chapter presents Irigaray's critique of both Freud's and Lacan's interpretations of the Fort!Da! game and shows how she starts her development of a female language from their accounts.

in Forever fluid
Context and style of Elemental Passions
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

Elemental Passions makes few concessions to the reader. Both in style and content it is elusive, open to various interpretations. The performative nature of the text is reinforced by elusive, poetic language which renders any interpretation even more tentative. The style of Elemental Passions reflects the fluidity and the motion of its female subject. Themes such as identity and difference in man's appropriation of woman, the philosophical categories of time and space, death and birth, and the formation of subjects through the love between man and woman occur repeatedly throughout Elemental Passions. They are revisited only partly in order to move events between man and woman or the argument about subjectivity forward; their more important function is to create awareness and understanding in the reader.

in Forever fluid
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

This chapter presents interpretive synopsis of Luce Irigaray's Elemental Passions. Elemental Passions consist of fifteen chapters. It introduces key events in the relationship between you-man and I-woman. You-man has responded to I-woman's invitation to a mutually empowering love rather than a love which controls and consumes. Elemental Passions presents a meditation on the element of fire. It is full of references to flame, the sun, the sky, the clear horizon, flashes of lightning; and their contrasts: night, darkness, shadowy enclosure. In Speculum, Irigaray gives a reading of Plato's myth of the cave which reveals its implicit gender connotations. In language reminiscent of Speculum, Irigaray suggests that even when they come out of the cave, Plato's prisoners have to impose binary categories of thought in order to cope with reality. Elemental Passions offers a meditation on the nature of time, space, infinity and movement.

in Forever fluid
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

Elemental Passions has given us an insight into a new way of thinking, using images of fluidity which reconfigure sexual difference and thereby subvert the rigidity of the binary logic of traditional philosophy and psychoanalysis. The female subject who struggles to become in Elemental Passions is not a subject in isolation. Lips are characteristic of women for Luce Irigaray from early in her writings, and continue to play a central role in the imagery of Elemental Passions. The significance of Irigarayan lips lies in the fact that although two lips are not one, neither can they be neatly separated into two; they certainly cannot be construed as binary opposites. Irigaray suggests that the flower is an image with multiple resonances for woman in relation to man. Irigaray suggests that the flower is an image with multiple resonances for woman in relation to man.

in Forever fluid
Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

This chapter presents a critique of Luce Irigaray's method and her claims regarding the development of a female subject. Irigaray argues in This Sex Which Is Not One that women are in a unique position on the borders of patriarchy. The question of difference among Irigaray's possible addressees is closely related to her choice of discussion partners. Moreover, it is not surprising that since Irigaray pays attention chiefly to male thinkers, the primary difference she sets up between herself and her dialogue partners is sexual difference. In terms of Irigaray's intentions, as evidenced both in Elemental Passions and throughout her other writings, there is little to indicate that she herself thought of 'I-woman' as a signifier for difference itself. The barriers that divide can be replaced by fluid boundaries that allow for mutuality between subjects with multiple differences.

in Forever fluid
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Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen

Luce Irigaray's project is to make the case for sexually different subjects in philosophy, in psychoanalytic theory, and in Western culture generally. The logic of fluidity is indispensable to Irigaray's project as a whole, and nowhere more so than in Elemental Passions. Irigaray's use of the Greeks as reference points must be taken seriously, even though she prefers allusions and associations of ideas rather than direct reference or quotation. Even if logical systems have often been used as technologies of control, it remains the case that most people do want to think clearly and do not want to be deceived. In particular, it would be perverse to draw the conclusion that logic is of no interest to feminists, and even more perverse to fall into the patriarchal trap of ascribing unemotional rationality to man and irrational emotions to women.

in Forever fluid