History Philosophy Psychiatry

Speculum of the Other Woman

Speculum of the Other WomanLuce IrigarayÉditions de Minuit1974

Speculum of the Other Woman by Luce Irigaray is incontestably one of the most important works in feminist theory to have been published in this generation. For the profession of psychoanalysis, Irigaray believes, female sexuality has remained a “dark continent,” unfathomable and unapproachable; its nature can only be misunderstood by those who continue to regard women in masculine terms. In the first section of the book, “The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry,” Irigaray rereads Freud’s essay “Femininity,” and his other writings on women, bringing to the fore the masculine ideology implicit in psychoanalytic theory and in Western discourse in general: woman is defined as a disadvantaged man, a male construct with no status of her own.

In the last section, “Plato’s Hystera,” Irigaray reinterprets Plato’s myth of the cave, of the womb, in an attempt to discover the origins of that ideology, to ascertain precisely the way in which metaphors were fathered that henceforth became vehicles of meaning, to trace how woman came to be excluded from the production of discourse. Between these two sections is “Speculum”–ten meditative, widely ranging, and freely associational essays, each concerned with an aspect of the history of Western philosophy in its relation to woman, in which Irigaray explores woman’s essential difference from man.

Table of Contents


Woman, Science’s Unknown
How Can They Immediately Be So Sure?
The Anatomical Model; A Science That Still Cannot Make Up Its Mind
A Question of Method; What Is Involved in (Re) production, and How It Aids and Abets the Phallic Order
A Difference Not Taken into Account
The Labor “to Become a Woman”

The Little Girl Is (Only) a Little Boy
An Inferior Little Man
The Cards Turned Over
The Dream Interpreters Themselves
Penis Masturbation: A Necessarily Phallic Auto-eroticism
The Change of “Object” or the Crisis of a Devaluation
The Law of the Self-same

Is Her End in Her Beginning?
An Unsuspected Love
The Desire to Have a Child by the Mother
The Father’s Seduction: Law but Not Sex
The “Reasons” Why a Girl Hates Her Mother and a Boy Goes on Loving His
An Economy of Primal Desire That Cannot Be Represented
One More Child

Another “Cause”—Castration
As Might Be Expected
The Gaze, Always at Stake
Anatomy Is  “Destiny”
What the Father’s Discourse Covers Up
The Negative in Phallocentric Dialectic
Is Working Out the Death Drives Limited to Men Only?

Waiting in Vain
An Indirect Sublimation
“Envy” or “Desire” for the Penis?
Repression, or Inexorable Censorship?
Mimesis Imposed

A Painful Way to Become a Woman
And the Father, Neutral and Benevolent, Washes His Hands of the Matter
A (Female) A-Sex?
Is the Oedipus Complex Universal or Not?
Free Association on Onanism

A Very Black Sexuality?
Symptoms Almost Like Those of Melancholia
A Setback She Cannot Mourn
That Open Wound That Draws Everything to Itself
That Necessary Remainder: Hysteria

The Penis = the Father’s Child
The Primacy of Anal Erotism
Those Party to a Certain Lease
Woman Island Also Mother
Forbidden Games
The Hymen of Oedipus, Father and Son

The Deferred Action of Castration
Capitalism without Complexes
The Metaphorical Veil of the Eternal Feminine
The Other Side of History
The Submission of a Slave?
A Super-ego That Rather Despises the Female Sex

An Indispensable Wave of Passivity
A Redistribution of Partial Instincts, Especially Sadistic-anal Instincts
“There Is Only One Libido”
Idealization, What Is One’s Own
The (Re)productive Organ
Confirmation of Frigidity

Female Hom(m)osexuality
The “Constitutional Factor” Is Decisive
Homosexual Choice Clearly Expounded
A Cure Fails for Lack of Transference(s)
Female Sameness

An Impracticable Sexual Relationship
An Ideal Love; Were It Not for Her Mother?
Or Her Mother-in-law?
Squaring the Family Circle
Generation Gap, or Being Historically out of Phase?
Woman’s Enigmatic Bisexuality

“Woman Is a Woman as a Result of a Certain Lack of Characteristics”
An Ex-orbitant Narcissism
The Vanity of a Commodity
The Shame That Demands Vicious Conformity
Women Have Never Invented Anything but Weaving
A Very Envious Nature
Society Holds No Interest for Women
A Fault in Sublimation
“La Femme de Trente Ans”


Any Theory of the “Subject” Has Always Been Appropriated by the “Masculine”
Kore: Young Virgin, Pupil of the Eye
On the Index of Plato’s Works: Woman How to Conceive (of) a Girl
Une Mère de Glace
“… and if, taking the eye of a man recently dead… “
La Mystérique
Paradox A Priori
The Eternal Irony of the Community

PLATO’S Hysteria

The Stage Setup
Turned Upside-down and Back-to-front
Special Status for the Side Opposite
A Fire in the Image of a Sun
The Forgotten Path
The Magic Show
A Waste of Time?
A Specular Cave

The Dialogues
One Speaks, the Others Are Silent
Like Ourselves, They Submit to a Like Principle of Identity
Provided They Have a Head, Turned in the Right Direction
What Is = What They See, and Vice Versa
The A-letheia, a Necessary Denegation among Men
Even Her Voice Is Taken Away from Echo
A Double Topographic Error, Its Consequences

The Avoidance of (Masculine) Hysteria
A Hypnotic Method
That Buries and Forbids “Madness”
A Remainder of Aphasia
The Misprison of Difference
The Unreflected Dazzle of Seduction

The “Way Out” of the Cave
The “Passage”
A Difficult Delivery
Then Whence and How Does He Get Out?
A World Peopled by Ghosts

The Time Needed to Focus and Adjust the Vision
Impossible to Turn Back (or Over)
Were It Not, Right Now, for a Sophistry Played with Doubles
A Frozen Nature
The Auto… Taken in by the A-letheia
Bastard or Legitimate Offspring?

The Father’s Vision: Engendering with No History of Problems
A Hymen of Glass/Ice
The Unbegotten Begetter
Exorcism of the Dark Night
Astrology as Thaumaturgy: A Semblance (of a) Sun
A Question of Property

A Form That Is Always the Same
The Passage Confusing Big and Little, and Vice Versa
The Standard Itself/Himself
Better to Revolve upon Oneself-But This Is Possible Only for God-the-Father
The Mother, Happily, Does Not Remember
A Source-mirror of All That Is
The Analysis of That Projection Will Never Take (or Have Taken) Place

Completion of the Paideia
The Failings of an Organ That Is Still Too Sensible
A Seminar in Good Working Order
An Immaculate Conception
The Deferred Action of an Ideal Jouissance
The End of Childhood

Life in Philosophy
Always the Same (He)
An Autistic Completeness
Love Turned Away from Inferior Species and Genera/Gender
The Privilege of the Immortals
The Science of Desire
A Kore Dilated to the Whole Field of the Gaze and Mirroring Herself

Divine Knowledge
The Back Reserved for God
The Divine Mystery
This Power Cannot Be Imitated by Mortals
How, Then, Can They Evaluate Their Potency?
Except over Someone Like Themselves?
The Father Knows the Front Side and Back Side of Everything, at Least in Theory
The Meaning of Death for a Philosopher

An Unarticulated/Inarticulate Go-Between: The Split between Sensible and Intelligible
A Failure of Relations between the Father and Mother
A One-way Passage
Compulsory Participation in the Attributes of the Type
A Misprized Incest and an Unrealizable Incest

Return to the Name of the Father
The Impossible Regression toward the Mother
A Competition the Philosopher Will Decline to Enter
Two Modes of Repetition: Property and Proximity
Better to Work the Earth on the Father’s Account Than to Return to It: Metaphor/Metonymy
The Threat of Castration

“Woman’s” Jouissance
A Dead Cave Which Puts Representation Back into Play
That Marvelously Solitary Pleasure of God
A Diagonal Helps to Temper the Excessiveness of the One
The Infinite of an Ideal Which Covers the Slit (of a) Void
Losing Sight of “the Other”
The Vengeance of Children Freed from Their Chains