Speaking at the Limit: The Ontology of Luce Irigaray's Ethics, in Dialogue With Lacan and Heidegger
Jones, Emma Reed, 1985-
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Jones, Emma Reed, 1985-
This dissertation presents a reading of the work of French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, with a particular focus on her most recent texts, which explicitly concern the question of ethics. Responding to concerns that Irigaray's work displays a discontinuity, and that this "later" work is perhaps no longer useful for feminists, I argue that there is in fact a rigorous philosophical continuity to Irigaray's work. In particular, I claim that Irigaray's central philosophical contribution is a transformation of the concept of human subjectivity by way of the thinking of sexuate difference as what I call a "relational limitation." This concept is at once ontological and ethical, and it describes the way in which Irigaray's oeuvre, taken as a continuous whole, transforms philosophical understandings of language, being, and ethics by way of thinking them relationally, combining all of these terms together into a new understanding of human subjectivity that involves a new way of thinking about language and meaning as constitutively shared. I discuss the way in which Irigaray elaborates this new understanding in dialogue with male thinkers, in particular with Lacan and Heidegger. I identify an interest in the issue of relation in Irigaray's earlier work, notably through her engagement with Lacan, in whom she identifies what I call a "non-relational" limit, or a conception of human subjectivity and language that refuses the priority of relation. Through her dialogue with Heidegger, I argue, Irigaray comes closer to articulating her own vision of subjectivity as inherently structured by "relational limitation," but she must surpass both Lacanian and Heideggerian paradigms in order to articulate her own unique vision of sexuate difference as two different, yet interrelated, manners of the unfolding of language and of human subjectivity itself. Thus, my tracing of this continuity of Irigaray's project shows how her most recent work is extremely important for feminist theory, insofar as it elaborates a philosophical and ethical vision of how to improve the (often impoverished and/or violent) relations between men and women. In particular, the concept of a "non-relational" limitation versus a "relational limitation" provides a helpful way of understanding the underlying causes and dynamics of the distorted relationship between the sexes under patriarchy--a point that I illustrate with the example of domestic violence.