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Synopsis of Luce Irigaray, ‘Communications linguistique et spéculaire (Modèles génétiques et modèles pathologiques)’

[‘Linguistic and Specular Communication (Genetic Models and Pathological Models)’]

CpA 3.3:39–55

Luce Irigaray’s contribution to the Cahiers pour l'Analyse performs three tasks in its three main parts. First, she formulates a basic sequence of ‘genetic models’ for the various phases of linguistic, psychological, sexual and social development, with an emphasis on the linguistic dimension (section II). From Jacques-Alain Miller’s theory of suture and recent linguistic work on the theory of proper names, she extrapolates a series of genetic models of linguistic and social development, placing particular emphasis on the relation between the first-, second- and third-person pronouns in linguistic communication. She then complements her linguistic model with a social or intersubjective model of the genesis of desire, based around the process of specular identification (section III). The combined analysis of linguistic and specular genetic models then provides the basis for the derivation of a sequence of ‘pathological models’ that show the consequences of structural problems that may occur during the course of the formation of the subject (sections IV and V). A number of themes elaborated in Irigaray’s later work on sexual difference are foreshadowed in this piece, which is firmly situated within the problematic of the ‘logic of the signifier’ developed in the Cahiers pour l'Analyse.

The essay opens with some general remarks about the importance of language for the human being. Irigaray sets out from the Lacanian psychoanalytic conception that what distinguishes humans from animals is their status as symbol-using beings, which presupposes their capacity as individuals to negotiate a series of social and linguistic structures. The first ‘fact’ of human child development, Irigaray states at the outset, is the ‘decentering’ of the child by its encounter with language.

The reciprocal integration of the body and of language, the origin of the imaginary, decenters man in relation to himself, and marks the beginning of his errancy. The ineluctable corollary of this is the impossibility of return to the body as a secure place of self-identity. All that he is is mediated by language, and his trace can only be found through the speech of the other (CpA 3.3:39; trans. 9).

However, what survives after the child’s subjection to the signifier is fantasy, which provides a privileged window onto a ‘primary imaginary’ and reveals ‘the deep structures of human behaviour’. Fantasy survives the subjection of the child to language by appropriating its own linguistic correlate. By taking advantage of the reversibility of the verb in order to subvert stable subject positions, fantasy conspires with language to offer human beings the mirage of a ‘possibility of reversion to the original state of indifference’.1 Irigaray says the present article will attempt to shed light on what she will call (following Lacan), the ‘specular’ features of fantasy that haunt linguistic communication.

The fixed nature of fantasies can only be transcended through an encounter with the ‘speech of the other [la parole de l’autre]’, whether this speech comes from an analyst or from a lover or poet. All of these, in their own way, retain an ‘incantatory power’, and ‘share the goal of getting back as close as possible to the initial integration of the body and of language’. They achieve this not by taking ‘an endlessly retraced circular path’ (as in fantasy itself), but by pursuing ‘a spiral whose revolutions get closer and closer to the point of origin’ (ibid).

Section II gives an account of the subject’s formation in the symbolic order. Irigaray maps out and explains the linguistic and intersubjective features of the transformation produced by the entrance of a third term into the original dyad of child and Other. In his or her very first relationship with the first Other, the child starts out as a fluid entity, ‘not yet structured as “I” by the signifier’ (CpA 3.3:40; trans. 9). ‘At the introduction of the third party into the primitive relation between the child and the mother, “I” and “you” are established as disjunction, separation’ (40; trans. 10). The mere presence of a third term, however, is insufficient for a radical break with the imaginary dyad, since the third initially appears in the form of a rival. ‘This opposition of “I” and “you”, of “you” and “I” remains “one” [on], without potential for inversion or permutation - the father being only another “you” - if the mother and the father do not communicate with each other’ (40/10).

For the third term to genuinely rupture the imaginary dyadic relationship, there must be a dialogue between two second-person Others, the ‘you1’ and ‘you2’, as Irigaray puts it. The communication between two ‘yous’ has the necessary consequence of making the child ‘feel excluded even though he is included within the communication’. Irigaray contends that this is the first condition for the possibility of the subject’s integration into a code or language.

It is through experiencing that the ‘you’ that is for him the father - or the mother - is an ‘I’ in communication with the mother, just as the mother is an ‘I’ when she speaks to the father, and therefore that the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ are interchangeable, are relations and not terms, that the subject enters into the circuit of exchange (40/10).2

However, if the subject comes into being through its exclusion from the communication of the parents, this implies that the subject must already have been constituted as a ‘he’ [il] for the parents. It is at this point that Irigaray’s argument dovetails with the proposals being put forward by Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner on the subject of the function of the zero in the constitution of subjectivity in Lacanian psychoanalysis:

What is ‘he’ at this point, if not ‘zero’, condition of the permutation of ‘I’ and ‘you’, and in some ways empty form that guarantees the structure. Evocative of, without being similar to, that empty space in draughts or chess that allows one pawn to move into another’s space. The status of ‘he0’ is nothing like that of ‘I’ or ‘you’, despite the ambiguity that reifies it and classifies it with the latter, the personal pronouns. It is nothing and nobody, but rather the possibility of identification and of permutation of ‘I’ and ‘you’, of ‘the sender’ and ‘the receiver’, the only terms that effect communication. Implicated in this communication as its condition of possibility, this third, or, even more accurately, fourth number - ‘I’, ‘you1’, ‘you2’, ‘he0’ - is a blank, a void, the space left by an exclusion, the negation that allows a structure to exist as such (41/10).

The zero here is the ‘empty form that guarantees the structure’, analogous to a place on a chessboard, the ‘mere possibility of identification’. The child therefore enters the symbolic order as a ‘he0’. Irigaray stresses that in this position, ‘the child is excluded from communication while at the same time integrated into it’. Already to get to this position requires a ‘first death’, ‘an experience of nothingness’ (41/10).

Irigaray claims that a purely linguistic analysis of the genesis of intersubjective communication yields up the basic structure of the Oedipus complex in Freudian psychoanalysis. The problematic of castration can be reduced to its structural value. ‘The notion of castrating agent’ is in fact ‘a phantasmagoria, a misleading diachronic reification of a synchronic operation’. There is no castrating agent, only an automatic process of induction into the symbolic order. ‘The castrator, if it exists, is to be sought elsewhere, in the very conditions of the structure of communication’. This linguistic structure also has the virtue of clarifying the role of the sexes in the triadic ‘Oedipal’ structure. The father no longer appears as the exclusive agent of castration, since ‘the mother as well as the father is alternatively “I” and “you” in their exchange’ (41/10-11).

Irigaray suggests that the French impersonal third-person pronoun ‘on’ [in English, ‘one’] yields up the primary function of the linguistic subject as a ‘placeholder’. Once the child has entered language, it is at liberty to use the word ‘on’ to describe itself or its other second-person others. Irigaray remarks upon the analogy ‘between the status of the “on” and [that of] the “zero” in the functioning of the structure of the exchange. To grasp this operation is to understand that the unconscious is capable of being founded as structure and not as content’ (41/11; translation modified).

This first level of structuring is not perceived as such. There is as yet no ‘object of exchange’ at this level; rather the object has to be ‘instituted’ or ‘founded’. Following Miller, Irigaray says that the object ‘emerge[s] from the sleight of hand [ce tour de passe-passe]’ of a primary operation of suture, as in ‘the engendering of the sequence of numbers in Frege’. In Frege’s logicist construction of the series of whole natural numbers in The Foundations of Arithmetic, the ‘zero’ is counted as ‘one’ [un] (cf. Miller, ‘La Suture’, CpA 1.3), while here, in Irigaray’s terms, the he0 is counted as he1 when it is subjected to a proper name. It is because the child is simultaneously excluded from communication and named in the father’s and mother’s dialogue, and thus reduced to being ‘the object of communication’, that ‘the subject, the “zero” becomes a “he1”’ (42/11). In general, it occurs when ‘he is designated as “son”, “man”, “woman”, or “Jean” in the speech of the father, guarantor of the matrix of communication’.

Irigaray thus reformulates Miller’s account of the suture of the subject in linguistic terms in terms of the proper name: ‘The proper name best represents the paradox of the engendering of the “1” out of “zero”’. She refers to Knud Togeby’s discussion of the proper name in his Structure immanente de la langue française (1965), which gathered together theories of the proper name from John Stuart Mill, Viggo Brondal and Louis Hjelmslev.3 Irigaray says that, as ‘the pure signifier of the "zero" of the subject, the proper name constitutes it as “1” by inserting it into the open set of “1” + “1” + “1”, etc, that constitute proper names.’4 The subjects classed under first names and surnames are by definition never a ‘closed set’: ‘There is always another subject that can be inserted into it’ .

The engendering of ‘1’ out of ‘zero’ is repeated for all possible subjects. But this engendering is also the necessary condition for the ordering of the objects of communication, just as ‘zero’ is the necessary condition for the ordering of the sequence of numbers. He0  he1 is not the possibility of the inclusion of the world as object of exchange, but is also supported by being structured in organized sub-sets, always defined by reference to the ‘zero’ of the subject (42/12).

This third-personal basis of language involves the child’s reduction to the state of impersonality. It involves another ‘passage through death’, from which the subject will emerge as ‘one’. ‘Exclusion is the necessary condition for the establishment of the structure of exchange’. Nothingness and finitude are inherent to the object of exclusion, and are thus ‘already inscribed in the very premises of communication’ (43/12).

Unlike the first- and second-person pronouns, the third-personal sutured subject ‘already carries the mark of gender’ (as object of the parent’s communication, the child is either named as ‘he’ or ‘she’), and that of ‘number’ (the child is ‘he’ or ‘she’, not ‘they’ [ils/elles]), This gap between the indeterminate pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’, on the one side, and the determinate, divided he1, on the other, is the basic condition for the fundamental division between the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement. ‘The constitution of the he1 permits the disjunction of the “I” itself into (I), as subject of enunciation, and “I” as subject of the statement’ (43/13). What I say is different from how I say it, that is, the position from which I say it. The distinction between enunciation and statement leads to new possibilities for communication. The ‘I’ of enunciation may take on various disguises. It may absent itself from the statement, and appear elsewhere in speech, such as in the form ‘you’, or ‘he’, ‘or even more effectively be represented under cover of the anonymous “one” [on]’. The split between the two levels of the ‘I’ is the condition for the emergence of the ‘deceits and deceptions of discourse’. Statements can no longer be taken at face value. The possibility of movement between levels of enunciation allows he1 (our minimal third-person subject) to take up complex positions with relation to his and others’ statements. Knowing and being able to handle this distinction, says Irigaray, ‘is one of the surest trump cards of analytic practice’.

The split into subject of enunciation and statement gives rise to the possibility of a new self-relationship of the subject, and on that basis, a changed relationship to others. I can take myself, me, as my own object. I can make myself an object for the other, or make the other an object for me. At the one pole, if the subject ‘turns itself into an object’ for the other, it does so at the risk of being possessed or captured by the other. At the other pole, the subject can make use of its powers of enunciation merely to retreat into self-referentiality, evicting the second-person (the ‘you’) from discourse altogether: in that case, ‘discourse turns back on itself, forms a loop. It envelops the subject, imprisons it in its own circularity and repetitions’ (44/14). But is a middle position between these two extremes possible? Up to this point, he1 has obtained no stable and singular identity for itself, and remains at risk of dissolving back into the impersonal discourse of the ‘one’ [on]. This impersonal pronoun, the ‘one’ [on] nevertheless should also be understood as ‘the refuge of subjectivity, as close as possible to the “zero” that founds it, and to the unconscious that subtends it’ (44/14; trans. modified). In the context of the basic distinction between persons and things, living and non-living things, ‘the “id” [ça] can be understood as the inverse of the “one” [on]’ (45/14); it would thus appear to be a ‘reification’ of the unconscious. The real movement of the unconscious, nevertheless, appears at this point to be entirely structural and impersonal. In response to the imposition of the paternal proper name, the subject has merely taken on ‘the masked and fleeting appearance of personal pronouns’. Hence something other than the formal structure of linguistic communication will be required to account for the subject in its singularity, and for the emergence of something like desire: a new, distinct process Irigaray calls ‘specular identification’.

In Section III, Irigaray presents a theory of specular communication to complement the foregoing formal linguistic theory. Implicitly returning to her opening remarks about the possibility of fantasmatic integrations of body and language, she gives an initial definition of ‘specular experience’ as ‘the space of a possible reprise of the first integrations of the body and of language founding the subject’ (45/14).

Irigaray’s writing is particularly dense at this point, and the concept of specularisation is open to several levels of understanding. One way of reading her argument in this section is to take it as the unfolding of a dialectic proper to lived field of visual appearances, supervening upon the impasse depicted at the end of the previous section on linguistic identification. Specularisation involves the ‘unveiling of a second imaginary’ internal to the structure of symbolic communication. Specularisation is ‘principally the perceptual experience of linguistic communication’ in its intersubjective structure (45/15). Indicating how this should be understood, Irigaray refers at this point to two key essays by Lacan on the dialectic of the imaginary, ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ (1946), and ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’ (1949). In the article on ‘The Mirror Stage’, Lacan had described the child’s experience of the ‘jubilant assumption of his specular image’ (E, 94) when looking in the mirror or attempting to see himself ‘reflected’ in the eyes of the other. He argued that assumption of an image is nevertheless undermined by the subject’s alienation henceforth in a world of images. The child now tries to appear as it thinks the other wants it to be, which leads to its capture within a viciously circular dialectic characterised by endless rivalry with others and second-guessing of the desire of the primary Other. Lacanian psychoanalysis attempts to find a way out of such imaginary impasses by intervening at the symbolic level and attempting to change the psychic structure of the patient. For Irigaray, Lacan’s account of the assumption of the specular image can be mapped onto the Millerian schema she has developed in the preceding section. Specularisation ‘figures the engendering [figure l’engendrement] of the he1, the paradoxical springing forth of the unit from the “zero”’ (46/15). For Irigaray, the ‘unification’ provided by the visual order also amounts to a ‘disjunction’ for the subject in the process of formation, insofar as the latter risks losing itself in a world of images and self-images that lure it away from a more adequate symbolic communicative relationship with the other.

Specularisation is nevertheless founded on the unconscious, which is itself ‘non-specularisable’, while also being ‘the guardian of specularisation’ (ibid). If the enunciating subject in the field of the second imaginary is able to extract enjoyment [jouissance] from the manipulation of ‘a gaze that can open or close at will upon the spectacle - unlike the ears which cannot refuse to hear’, nevertheless ‘the primordial “one” [on], the unconscious, remains’. Alluding to Miller’s account of the movement of summoning and annulling the radical zero in the operation of suture, Irigaray situates specularisation as a repetition within the visual and libidinal field of the primordial movement of suture.

Witness to its inadequacy, it ensures the movement of return, and the ‘flickering in eclipses’ [battement en éclipses] of the subject who, at all times, wants to vanish in order to reappear as ‘one’ [un], in a repetition irreducible to all temporal continuity, or to an infinity other than a denumerable, iterative succession (46/15).

Given the ‘double aspect of identification’, as both jubilant and alienating, specular identification is always accompanied by a ‘retreat’ from its threatening aspects. For the specular image carries the same ‘cutting function’ [fonction de coupure] as the signifier. Both the signifier and the image are bearers of death, as a consequence of the ‘structuration’ they impose.5 Specular experience contains its own version of the exclusion of the subject. The ‘absence of the subject from its own image’ gives specularisation a ‘de-realizing power’ [pouvoir déréalisant] that can impact greatly on experience.

All structure presupposes an exclusion, an empty set, its negation, as the very condition of its functioning. From out of imaginary formalization always falls a non-structured real. The signifier is always inadequate to the signified; the continuous is irreducible to the discontinuous. Faced with its image, the subject experiences itself as situated in the place of this exclusion, non-specularisable in its tripartition - ‘I’, ‘zero’ and ‘one’ [‘on’] - and yet constituted as such by specularisation. Thus the specular experience is reminiscent of the passage through nothingness required by the introduction of the subject into the order of the signifier, best represented by the imposition of the proper name (46/15, trans. modified).

Because the structural key to the ‘paradoxical engendering of its identity remains concealed from it’, the subject appears now to be abandoned to nothing more than a ‘parade of captures’ in social and sexual relationships. The others encountered never appear to have any power, or only have it insofar as they have ‘conformed to the established order’. The other always appears to be no more than a ‘representative of the law to which he submits’ (47/16). Attempts to transcend this seems to be impossible, as ‘the alienation is inscribed in the very principle of the synchronic functioning of the structure of linguistic exchange’.

In describing specularisation as a process of alienation, Irigaray also makes explicit appeal to Lacan’s suggestions about the paranoiac and delusional aspects of imaginary identification in ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’. In his early case history ‘Aimée’, to which he returns in ‘Presentation’, Lacan argues that imaginary identification with a rival is what leads his patient to harbour paranoiac delusions that the rival has in fact stolen the patient’s own rightful place.6 In a ‘fertile moment’ (E, 169), the patient, an out-of-work actress, attacks her rival, a glamorous and successful actress, and the former’s delusion is exposed. Lacan says that if imaginary identification occurs in an ‘unmediated’ manner (E, 171-2), it tips over into delusion and madness. Lacan’s framework for this dialectic is avowedly Hegelian: specifically, he bases himself on the section ‘The Law of the Heart and the Madness [Wahnsinn] of Self-Conceit’ in the Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel shows how having a merely ‘immediate’ grasp of universality leads quickly from ‘the heart-throb for the welfare of humanity ... into the ravings of an insane self-conceit’.7 Lacan suggests that such dialectical crises always appear ‘as a moment of stasis’, where ‘being succumbs to stasis in an ideal identification’ (E, 172). Unless the subject is able to recognise the extent of their split from the world, they risk staying caught in this stasis for ever.

The specular field would therefore appear to be intrinsically unstable, and liable to collapse. Irigaray nevertheless espies one key escape route for the newly embattled he1: a specific transformation within the specular structure, involving a specific use of a special kind of ‘mirror’. ‘The mirror seems to offer an escape from social subjection’ (47/16). By obtaining this particular kind of mirror, ‘man’ will be able ‘to confer the signifier himself’, become ‘master of his own identity, liberated from his dependence on the speech of the other’. The advantage of the mirror relationship in ontogenesis is that it offers a possible escape from the impersonality of social subjection for the minimal third person placeholder, he1. What is this mirror? It is, says Irigaray, the route through which he1 assumes his gendered status, and enters into a new relationship with ‘woman’. Irigaray suggests a ‘new version’ of the Biblical myth of the Fall. ‘Man recognises his own image in woman and thinks himself master of the universe. The day when Adam took a companion, not really other, but drawn from himself, is the day that he separated himself from God, and denied his subjection to the Word’ (47; 16). The reader now retrospectively sees the importance of the gendered form Irigaray gives to her minimal subject, he1 [il1], and is reminded that so far Irigaray has only been telling the story of male subjectivity in particular. At this point, a specific function is taken up by ‘woman’ [la femme], who appears to offer a response to the impasse, by taking up the structural role of a mirror. Thus, in adult relationships at least, female subjects find themselves having to occupy a position as a mirroring, specular other, the provider of a fantasmatic complement that compensates for the male subject’s failure to find a secure identity within linguistic and social structures.

Irigaray suggests that ‘specular identification’ has a ‘seductive’ power for both men and women; a woman may choose to take on her role of being a specular image. Nevertheless it always involves a fundamental alienation. ‘In an initial moment, the mirror takes the place of the other, the first place of identification, all the more redoubtable for being mute’. But this situation will not last long, as it rests on an ‘immediate mediation’ that is incapable of entering into any dialectic. ‘It is freedom, but also the possibility of madness’ (47/16). Irigaray here takes up Lacan’s suggestions about the relation between specular dialectic and madness. Footnoting Lacan in ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’, Irigaray says that specularisation is fundamentally an alienation in a mute, ‘immediate mediation’, and it can only have a ‘non-dialectisable’ outcome (47; 16).

For the specular relation to maintain itself, it must be founded on second-person relations (between two ‘yous’). The presence of a ‘you’ in a specular relationship makes possible an ‘exclusion of the world’. But the specular relation blocks the possibility of symbolic communication between the partners. The field of the gaze is a site for deceit in communication. The gaze is ‘constituted simultaneously as sender and receiver of the message’, and so is an unstable element in communication. Both parties are reduced to ‘feign[ing] possession’ of their image. Unlike in ‘the signifying chain of discourse, specular communication involves no possibility of mediation or escape’. Specular discourse ‘does not function on the basis of the relative inadequacy of the signifier to the signified’, but suppresses the ‘triangulation’ of linguistic communication. In the signification, an exchange is possible, insofar as every signifier implicitly refers ‘two signifieds’ (50/19). Specular discourse, is restricted to a play of permutations of ‘two signifiers to one signified’. The body of the specular woman must be both for the male third person, but also somehow for itself. But wherever the subject attempts to ‘appropriate its own image’, it has ‘no assurance of ever really grasping itself there’ (49/18).8 Subjects caught in the atemporal field of specular relationships are doomed never to find any way to ‘carry out their own creation’.

In section IV, Irigaray gives an account of psychopathology on the bases of the two genetic models just sketched out. She provides a series of structural accounts of the variations of psychosis and neurosis. Psychopathology is a product of the ‘avatars of specularisation’ on the one hand, and the ‘distortions of language’ on the other (49/18). At their most primitive level, all pathological figures of subjectivity are ‘expressions of a primordial absence, or at least of the precariousness of the empty set, of the “zero” that underlies the structure of exchange and guarantees its functioning’.

If it has not been situated at the site of the ‘zero’, and if therefore it has not been able to assume non-identity to itself, the very condition of its identification, the subject, if it even exists at that point, cannot recognise the mirror image as the same and as other than the self, and cannot come into, even as it necessarily remains excluded from, the chain of discourse (49/18).

Once the subject has entered language, it cannot assume its stable identification with any particular name or set of signifiers. Its identifications may be ‘too close’ or ‘too distant’. If the subject wants to ‘benefit [en jouir] from the signifier while eluding its law’ it must avoid these traps and distortions.

There are three main pathologies of specularisation: psychosis, hysteria and obsessional neurosis.

Psychosis has its origin in the denial by the parent of their own unconscious, which results in the child understanding itself as a mere ‘partial object’ of the parents, as a ‘signifying medium’ for their ‘signifieds’. The psychotogenic mother treats her child from the beginning as a ‘reifying projection of her unconscious. Not having assumed her own non-identity to herself, she cannot consent to the status of alterity for her child’ (50/19). The psychotic is left to live in an ‘unsustainable contradiction’: searching for his identity, he only ever finds himself as a mere signifying medium for others. The psychotic ‘comes face to face with the metaphoric layering of life and death rather than living their metonymic succession, which alone is bearable’. Hence the anxiety of the psychotic occurs at a different level to the anxiety of the neurotic. Irigaray’s account of schizophrenia further on, which is classed as a ‘distortion of language’ indicates that, with Freud and Lacan, she regards paranoia as the basic type of psychosis.

In neurosis, ‘the problem lies not in the formation of the system of exchange, but in the dynamic of its functioning’. The structure of communication has a tendency to jam up, produce ‘stases’ in its economy. Once again, this can be understood by referring back to the ‘primordial experience’ of being a ‘loved object’. The two classical forms of neurosis, hysteria and obsessional neurosis, result from the vicissitudes of this relation.

The ‘fundamental fantasy’ of the hysteric is that they ‘did not get enough love’. With regard to his or her mother’s desire, he or she experiences themselves as marked by the sign of incompleteness and rejection, ‘unable to sustain the comparison with the phallic signifier’. For the male hysteric, ‘the confrontation with the mirror is like the test of his insignificance’ (51/20).

The obsessional neurotic, on the other hand, suffers from an early excess of love. ‘His mother found him too appropriate a signifier for her desire’ (51/22). The phallic reference is attributed to some absent hero, an all-powerful figure, whose death (as with the death of the father of the primal horde in Freud’s Totem and Taboo) would only in any case guarantee the subject’s ongoing acquiescence. The neurotic’s problem comes down to the adequacy of his signified to his signifier; he remains ‘riveted to what he has been’, unable to become. He is trapped in an empty ‘metonymy’, unable to metaphorise, and thus enter a ‘true temporal succession’.

With regard to the ‘distortions of language’, there are three main kinds: the schizophrenic, the delusional and the dementia patient. (1) The schizophrenic ‘lacks the back-and-forth [va-et-vient] from the mirror to his body’, and invents a ‘new language of substitutions’ without fixed meaning. Language itself, ‘having become a free activity of generations and transformations, here holds the place of the subject of the enunciation’ (53/22); the schizophrenic is thus ‘spoken’, rather than speaking. (2) By foreclosing the specular image, the delusional ends up elaborates a closed system, where ‘words no longer serve as a means of exchange’. (3) Like the schizophrenic, the patient with dementia is also ‘spoken’, but no longer by language, but rather ‘by speech, or usage, hardened into a system of uncontrolled utterances’. Irigaray ends by remarking on the existence of language distortions in the hysteric and obsessive, contending that in these cases they refer back to underlying problems with specular identification.

Irigaray develops her account of specularisation at much greater length in Speculum: Of the Other Woman, her doctoral thesis in psychology, published as a book in 1974. Speculum is a product of her break with Lacanian psychoanalysis and develops a new framework for thinking about ‘woman’ that goes beyond the representation of woman as specular other, superseding the Lacanian framework taken in ‘Linguistic and Specular Communication’ by appealing to an archaeology of the male-centred assumptions of philosophy, from Plato to Freud. After criticising Lacan’s controversial presentation of ideas about female sexuality in Seminar XX (Encore, 1972-73) - which she holds to privilege the model of the phallus and retain a specular conception of woman - Irigaray goes on to develop an alternative conception of female sexual enjoyment to the versions permitted by Lacanian psychoanalysis.9 This work became influential within the context of the new feminist theory emerging in Paris in the 1970s and after.

References to this text in other articles in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse:


English translation:

  • ‘Linguistic and Specular Communication: Genetic Models and Pathological Models’. Translated by Gail Schwab in Luce Irigaray, To Speak is Never Neutral. London: Continuum, 2002.

Primary bibliography:

  • Frege, Gottlob. The Foundations of Arithmetic [1884], trans. J.L. Austin, 2nd edition. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1980.
  • Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Lacan, Jacques. De la Psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité [1932]. Paris: Seuil, 1975.
  • ---. ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’. in Écrits, trans. B. Fink. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
  • ---. ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’, in Écrits.
  • Miller, Jacques-Alain, ‘>La Suture: Éléments de la logique du signifiant’, CpA 1.3. ‘Suture: Elements for a Logic of the Signifier’, trans. Jacqueline Rose, Screen, 18.4 (Winter 1977-78).
  • Togeby, Knud. Structure immanente de la langue française. Paris: Larousse, 1965.

Selected secondary literature:

  • Dosse, François. History of Structuralism [1991], vol. 1, trans. Deborah Glassman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • Irigaray, Luce. Contribution to Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 24 March 1965; trans. Cormac Gallagher (unpublished manuscript).
  • ---. Contribution to Lacan, Seminar XIV, The Logic of Phantasy, 1 February 1967 (question to Roman Jakobson); trans. Cormac Gallagher (unpublished manuscript).
  • ---. ‘Approche d’une grammaire d’énonciation de l’hystérique et de l’obsessionnel’, Langages 5 (mars 1967). ‘Toward a Grammar of Enunciation for Hysterics and Obsessives’ trans. Gail Schwab, To Speak is Never Neutral. London: Continuum, 2002.
  • ---. ‘Du fantasme au verbe’, L'Arc, 34 (premier trimestre, 1968). ‘On Phantasm and the Verb’, trans. Schwab in To Speak is Never Neutral.
  • ---. ‘Cosi Fan Tutti’, in This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter. London: Athlone, 1985.
  • ---. Speculum: Of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill. London: Athlone, 1985.
  • Lacan, Jacques. Seminar XX: Encore, 1972-1973: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.


1. Irigaray here sets the scene for her thesis in her 1968 paper ‘Sur le fantasme et le verbe’ [‘On Fantasy and the Verb’] that the linguistic vehicle of fantasy is the verb, taken in its infinitive and impersonal form.

2. In a footnote added to the 1985 republication of the essay in To Speak is Never Neutral, Irigaray wrote that today she would not write this statement, as ‘the father and the mother are not permutable unless they are sexually undifferentiated. We are dealing with a more complex operation: a sexually marked triangulation which engenders a sexed subject in its relation to language.’ But since they are sexually differentiated, the structural transformation postulated in the 1966 essay would therefore longer hold. She concluded ‘I leave the text as it is, as the trace of theoretical distance covered, and of a question about the constitution of the subject of discourse’ (To Speak is Never Neutral, 259n).

3. Togeby was a professor of linguistics at Copenhagen and a disciple of Louis Hjelmslev (François Dosse, History of Structuralism [1991], vol. 1, 198-9).

4. In a response to a paper read by Serge Leclaire in Lacan’s Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis on 24 March 1965, Irigaray ventured that Leclaire had not sufficiently taken note of the distinction between two types of proper name, the surname and forename (Seminar XII, trans. Cormac Gallagher, 8th session, 9). The forename, the name used by the parents for the child, has a different relation to the acquisition of symbolic identity from the assumption of a surname. The forename, including ‘pet names’, enters into unconscious signifying chains in a different manner to the surname, which is strictly related to the Name of the Father or ‘paternal function’.

5. In a metaphysical and poetic passage, Irigaray then depicts the structuration as operating on an informal ‘life’: ‘For life is informal outpouring [jaillissement informel], an expansion without limits nor ruptures. And this definite form of the self, of the specular alter ego (or of the proper name), fixes the real in determining it, in cutting it out [découpent]. To the informal continuity of the first imaginary, nocturnal, guardian of life, is therefore opposed the discriminating formalization of the second, diurnal imaginary, which is tied up with death’ (46/15; translation modified).

6. Cf. Lacan’s early case history, ‘Le cas “Aimée”, ou la paranoia d’auto-punition’, in De la Psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité, 152-207.

7. G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 222, 226.

8. Irigaray adds that writing does not escape this state of incompletion, because it ‘permits the specular duplication of the word’. In a footnote from 1985, she adds ‘I leave in abeyance here the question of the creation of writing that is not duplication of the word’ (To Speak is Never Neutral, 260n).

9. Irigaray’s 1975 critique of Lacan’s Seminar XX, ‘Cosi Fan Tutti’, is published alongside other key articles in Ce Sexe qui n’en est pas un [This Sex which is Not One].