Thursday, July 09, 2009

Stone, Alison. Review of Luce Irigaray's CONVERSATIONS. NDPR (July 2009).

Irigaray, Luce. Conversations. London: Continuum, 2008. This book is a collection of ten interviews with Irigaray by scholars and readers of her work from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Norway. The interviews span the period from 1996 to the present. Some have been published before, but in scattered places, so it is helpful to have them assembled together. Some interviews address specific topics: architecture, building and dwelling, with Andrea Wheeler; yoga, with Michael Stone; the later Merleau-Ponty, with Helen Fielding; education, with Michael Worton; and Irigaray's re-interpretation of the Virgin Mary, with Laine Harrington and Margaret Miles. I found this a particularly interesting interview. Irigaray interprets Mary to have been a 'virgin' in the sense of having achieved integrity as a woman and autonomy with respect to her mother Anne; thus, she had a kind of spiritual perfection that enabled her to generate a divine child. Irigaray firmly rejects the interviewers' reference to Mary as a symbol, insisting on the historical reality of her virginity and of the incarnation -- although, evidently, her understanding of what these realities consist in departs considerably from theological tradition (pp. 87-88, 102). The remaining interviews, which are with Stephen Pluhácek and Heidi Bostic, Elizabeth Grosz, Gillian Howie, Birgitte Midttun and Judith Still, range over Irigaray's thought as a whole. They cover its overall development; key recent themes, particularly that of men's and women's different 'relational identities'; and problems such as Irigaray's 'essentialism' and her increasingly explicit privileging of sexual difference over other differences. Regarding this last topic, Irigaray clarifies that she considers sexual difference to be the most universal and basic difference because it is natural (although not exclusively natural). In addition, because different cultures are different ways of cultivating nature (see for example p. 54), they are therefore different ways of cultivating or failing to cultivate sexual difference. Ethnic differences thus are different modifications of sexual difference. Hence, Irigaray suggests, if we could learn to respect the sexually different other, then we could learn to respect people from different cultures to our own -- since our differences are permutations of sexual difference (p. 29). Read the rest here:

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