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Erotic logos: Scherezade and the thousand and one nights

Language - It takes My Breath Away.

This is the third chapter in my PhD thesis. The title refers to the breath, which is simultaneous physical and spititual - in other words, am I able to truly "breathe" in this culture?


(This is a soliloquy on the way I am (we all are) embodied by words, language and what we read and speak. I am particularly aware that the language that surrounds us is formulated by, and for, a patriarchal culture. Where does this leave a woman, and "the feminine?") Read on! We will see what Scherezade does with it!

As I read do I experience a homecoming or an exile? Reading is not a cool, detached thing, but something hot, sometimes almost unbearable. Reading gets right into my body, I eat it, it enters my bones.[1]I can’t tell right away if this is nourishing or perhaps poisonous, so I keep this uncomfortable thing inside myself long enough for my body to decide.[2]I am woken up, as if from a long sleep; this is the kind of writing that satisfies me, when the wheels catch firefrom their own motion, to adaptColeridge's phrase.[3]Sometimes I just can’t read one more word, or have to skip to another writer. My thoughts are trimmed or grow overnight when I read, so I hardly recognize the landscape. The landscape of my body. In palimpsest. And deeper. Deepest.Where do I house my thoughts, these new thoughts, which gained entry? I ask again, is this a homecoming or an exile? I have a Jungian residence, dignified and well known, but I only inhabit it now on weekends and special occasions. The rest of the time I’m on the road, a gypsy, itinerant, of no fixed address - as often as not, not knowing where I will spend the night. I can’t retrace my steps, they are erased, the only movement is onward.[4]So I walk… (Personal reflections on researching this thesis, Kaye Gersch, 2011).


Is it possible for a woman to speak and write as a woman? If so, what would that mean? If the structure of language itself is phallogocentric, that is to say that language is tethered to a phallic signifier, the logos, which insists on the one and only truth, and stable meaning is anchored and guaranteed by the phallus, then isn't everyone who uses language taking up a position as ‘male’ within this structure? Is there such as thing as a ‘feminine voice’? Are “women’s voice” and “the feminine voice”, the same thing? Could it be that poetry, or more correctly, poïesiscarries the feminine voice? Canpoïesis bring forth from that which is unsymbolized, a language that servesthe feminine? Or is poïesisthe feminine voice itself? Can language, via poïesis,carry libido (life energy) rather than be an exclusive vehicle for credo/Symbolic? When Lacan says, “the function of language is not to inform but to evoke” (Lacan, 1977, p. 86), can we speculate that poïesiscaries this evocative aspect of language?

In this chapter, I will attempt to answer these questions. My purpose is to break open phallogocentric discourse to explore the possibility of a feminine discourse. Through this radical rupture might women find a free dwelling rather than the prison spoken of by Simone Weil?[5]I argue for a language in which women can recover themselves, a place of liberation. This language is not ‘disembodying’ but ‘incarnating’; it does not disregard or ignore the body, but rather imbues it with spirituality, thus evoking an embodied transcendence.

I propose erotic logosas a language for women, which provides a coniunctiobetween eros and logos. I follow Irigaray, who “believes that, in academia, abstract logos rules”, and my proposition challenges the authority of this logos. A single logos “deprives writing of its life-blood and breath, which, for Irigaray, are representative of the visceral, emotional and imaginative dimensions of existence that she wishes to incorporate in her work” (Joy, 2006, p. 2). I argue that a marriage between erosand logos will enable visceral, emotional and imaginative dimensions in writing and speaking. I believe erotic logos answers the lack voiced by Drucilla Cornell, when she lamented something is missing in both the limited formal equality for women found in the United States and in the social equality provided women in the socialist states… What has been missing is the protection of each person’s imaginary domain, that psychic and moral space in which we, as sexed creatures who care deeply about matters of the heart, are allowed to evaluate and represent who we are (Cornell, 1998, p. x).

The imaginary, moral domain that includes matters of the heart is framed by erotic logos.

I take Sheherazade, in The Thousand and One Nights, as a mistress of erotic logos. This language - born from a deep encounter between erosand logos- is a child carrying the genes of both parents. I argue that such a position carries the same valence as Luce Irigaray’s sensible/transcendental, because it encompasses the body and the word, the sensible and the transcendent.

Throughout this chapter, I use the phrases ‘language in the feminine’, or feminine language, to discuss a style of language which couldbe used by men or woman, referring for instance to poetry, and to the idea of a feminine principle which I discussed in chapter one. ‘Women’s language’ I use to denote language by anatomical women, not men, referring to exclusive language-use as required by Irigaray along sexuate lines.

If we take the biological body as distinct from the culturally nuanced body as pre-discursive, and the body as a fundamental expression of sexuate identity, then it is clear we can differentiate male and female bodies. I argue, therefore, that this is a very important variable in terms of both experience and expression. In other words, the feminine body is both pre-discursively and discursively feminine. So an incarnating language is onethat which will enable women to constitute themselves as subjects, in the flesh. As such, I join in Cixous and Clement’s “dream of a transformed language/literature” (Cixous & Clément, 1986, p. xviii). My argument for a transformed language is twofold: on the one hand, a language arising from female flesh, from feminine morphology, and on the other a language arising from cultivation in the sense which Luce Irigaray proposes, which I have discussed in chapter two, and which I will attend to further on. Briefly, language can either be an every-day conveyance, or “the exceptional uses achieved by poets and religious figures” (Yuasa, 1987, p. 3). This exceptional language witnesses our coming into being, and is, “at the bottom of each word, [where] I am a spectator at my birth”, (Bosquet, cited in Bachelard, 1971, p. 27) and is thus the language through which my project speaks; the birth and becoming of ‘women’.

In what way can language be used for women and their becoming? To begin, is the category ‘woman’ an eternally compromised noun, (Riley, 1988, p. 98)or is it an eternally changing becoming? Would ‘woman’ be better represented by an adjective, which qualifies the noun/woman, or a verb, which asserts something about the subject/woman? In this way, Luce Irigaray’s claim about ‘becoming’ a ‘woman’, when becoming is used as a verb, is pertinent, in that it implies that woman is perpetually ‘on the way’, rather than arrived. I argue that language-in-the-feminine must reflect this becoming. The form of feminine enquiry must not close a question reductively. It must keep questions open, even as they are answered. Kristeva, for instance, consistently insists “upon keeping ambiguity alive in her work. … (She refuses) the simple binary logic that would settle the matter for all time” (Walker, 1998, p. 124). The binary logic which is essential to the functioning of the technical world, or that of commerce is not the specific use of language upon which I am focussing here. A number of feminist theorists have explored the idea of a feminine language, such as Daly, hooks, Cixous and Clément (Cixous, 1993; Cixous & Clément, 1986; Clément, 1994; Daly, 1973; hooks, 2008). My primary focus, however, is on Luce Irigaray's work.

I begin by engaging with Heidegger, and his notion that language is the house of 


A fundamental question, especially important for women, is whether language shapes experience or experience shapes language. How does the way we speak about human bodies shape our experience of them? If women use phallogocentirc language, that is, language relying on the phallus as a universal signifier, does this effect how they experience themselves as women? Heidegger firmly believed that "language remains the master” (Heidegger, 1971, p. 215), even while we think that we are the shapers and masters of language. For postmodernists, the problem is, “put simply, language constructs ontology: language establishes the conditions of being. … Not only does language construct ontology, but the limits of language are set by our ontological understandings and commitments. Language is a condition for the construction of ontology, which is in turn a condition for language” (Gray, 2000, p. 231). Is this a double bind and a self-referential paradox, or an attempt to understand and interpret linguistic and non-linguistic expression, and even more fundamentally, an interrogation of human life and existence as such?

Heidegger claims “language is the house of being. In its home man [sic] dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home" (Heidegger, 1977, p. 193). It follows that bringing being into manifestation through language is compromised when the language itself is inadequate. This is specifically true if the language women use is morphologically misrepresenting them. While language has the task to manifest the unmanifest at any time, this has particular importance for women: their coming into being is deficient if language is unable to speak to and from a woman’s position. When Simone Weil says that, “at the very best, a mind enclosed in language is in prison" (Weil, 2000, p. 89), is she speaking as a mystic, or as a woman constrained by phallogocentrism? Both could be true, but the point I make here is that Weil maintains that one is capable of more than language can offer. For Weil, the fetter is language.

Irigaray takes up Heidegger’s notion of dwelling[6]when she argues that as mortals abiding on earth, we already dwell, that “dwelling is the fundamental trait of Being” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 67)and therefore prior to, or independent of language. Thus, for Irigaray, we do not need language in order to dwell. She explains Heidegger’s associating of language with dwelling as maternal by saying that “language would exist as a substitute for the mother, or rather as a substitute for the relation with the mother. Hence, the fact of comparing it to a shelter, a house” (Irigaray, 2008b, p. 122). If Irigaray is situating “the relation with the mother” in the semiotic, then she is placing language as pre-discursive, and this converges with Kristeva’s view.

In regard to his idea of language as dwelling-place, Heidegger goes on to say that “guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of Being insofar as they bring the manifestation to language and maintain it in language in their speech” (Heidegger, 1977, p. 193). According to this argument, women are their own guardians and create their own dwelling. The establishment of an ethics of sexuate difference is prerequisite to a woman’s access to her own language. This language in turn challenges all structures of the Symbolic, including binary oppositions. A move from logos to poiesis might well be part of this changed structure, in our task of renovating language. The work of Irigaray’s angels intersects here; Tilghman claims that their “gestures herald the embodiment of a multiplicity of ideas and figures that will never be contained by ordinary language or orthodox representation” (Tilghman, 2008, p. 47), thus proposing a renovation of language.

For Irigaray, the current structure of language “is phallogocentric to the point where there can be no feminine subject in language at all, and ‘this sex which is not one’ is also a (grammatical) subject which is not one” (Threadgold, 1997, p. 86). Irigaray believes that the gendered nature of language reveals sexuate difference. For her, to speak is never neutral (Irigaray, 2002). Her recourse is linguistics ”when she argues that the patterns of speech favoured by men and women bear witness” to sexual difference in our culture (Deutscher, 2002, p. 142).[7]

Rather than accept a phallogocentric language-house built without consultation to its suitability, which “consists of an intertwining of meanings which constitute a sort of prison,” Luce Irigaray proposes a “world that each of us could consciously build for oneself and the world … while respecting our respective otherness. ‘Together’, then, no longer means participating in a common world that is already there and imposed on the two” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 9). So Irigaray calls for a discursive system in which women could ‘dwell’ within their bodies, which would not alienate them from themselves. Irigaray’s proposal achieves two aims; first, it allows for sexuate difference which extends to a use of language specific to women, and second, it enables the future not to be a replication of the past, although Irigaray admits that this new house “is not yet built” (Irigaray, 2008b, p. 7). She writes us examples of parler femme, women’s language, in a number of her books, specifically Elemental Passions, where she uses grammar and syntax not conventionally used, intentionally to disrupt and to evoke a feminine voice (Irigaray, 1992).


Arguably, phallogocentric language creates a certain permanence of existence, but is it an aid in becoming? Because “outside of his language there is nothing” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 39), must women choosethat nothing, and take the risk that they will then be able to “translate fluid realities into discursivity” (ibid., p. 3)? Must women evade, again and again, the “single language, the one he has already appropriated, and that he reappropriates for himself endlessly” (ibid., p. 37), as Luce Irigaray says of the masculine nature of language? Even the “uncontrolled exploitation of air by language and by systems of representations” (ibid., p. 10)in philosophy itself, must make way for a breathable future, where air is freely available. In order to create a breathable future, the notion of a universal signifier, the phallus, must be challenged.

For Saussure, language is understood as a system of signifier and signified, which gain meaning from their relation with each other; that is, there is no universal signifier that is more important than the rest. He explains: “In a sign, what matters more than any idea or sound associated with it, is what other signs surround it” (Saussure, 1962, p. 118). While Lacan agrees with Saussure that all signifiers in language are related, he holds that the signifier that quilts them all together is the phallus: “The phallus is the privileged signifier of that mark in which the role of the logos is joined with the advent of desire. It can be said that this signifier is chosen because it is the most tangible element in the real of sexual copulation” (Lacan, 1977, p. 287). However, it is clear that this desire is expressed from the point of view of male desire. Thus the conclusion that language is phallogocentric. I agree that, if we take sexuate difference as a starting point, the phallus as the universal signifier represents only the masculine. What woman would propose this? How, then, can women find a place in language? One way is to bypass Lacan and return to Saussure, who argues against any universal signifier. We can then allow that phallus is a dominant signifier in our culture, but not a universal one, as Grace Jantzen argues. “A dominant signifier can be resisted and perhaps dislodged; whereas if the Phallus really were a universal signifier, there would be no hope” (Jantzen, 1998, p. 52). When the position for women is not foreclosed by the phallus, movement in language is possible. Indeed Luce Irigaray speaks of a chain of signifiers, rather than language being constructed around a universal ‘male’ signifier thus: “A world that language ceaselessly would construct and reconstruct, of an architecture incapable of completion” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 124).

Irigaray argues that women’s language is crucial because, “women have no language sexed as female, they are used in the elaboration of so-called neuter language where in fact they are deprived of speech” (Irigaray, 1993a, p. 107), and thus their place - or displacement - in language is a sign of their dereliction and lack of subjectivity. Further, according to Irigaray, the “essence of language [langage] should thus be understood as a shelter for man’s essence” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 91), but it does not shelter a woman, it is not her house of being. Instead, “she is like a still-living tissue connected to the production of his language [sa langue]… and feeding this language, but herself being used in line with a project of his own, and, by passing through his technology, losing the movement of breath and life” (ibid., p. 92)Irigaray asks: “What if he who gives you air…gives you death? …The vacuum that they create by using up the air for telling without ever telling of air itself”(ibid., p. 7). For Irigaray, then, women need a language that does not take our breath away, but which fosters breath and life.

I have already referred several times to Luce Irigaray’s use of the word air. For Irigaray, air is “this unthinkable that exceeds all declaration, all saying. No wonder philosophy dies - without air. Did Being, at least, keep some in reserve?

Hence: the clearing of the opening. This field, or open space, where air would still give itself” (ibid., pp. 5-6). In her terms, the challenge to philosophy is not to kill being, especially the feminine being, by forgetting air and by disappearing into metaphysics, thus neglecting the elements that constitute our flesh. She asks, “what if he who gives you air…gives you death? …The vacuum that they create by using up the air for telling without ever telling of air itself” (ibid., p. 7). Language in the feminine, including in feminine philosophy, requires air and spaciousness, in order to “say differently”. “This saying cannot be already said or foreseen by a previous discourse” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 12), as Irigaray clearly states, and demands another way of speaking, which is “without the screen of a language foreign to dialogue” (Irigaray, 2008b, pp. 14-15). Irigaray plays with language, syntax, grammar and style in order to rework meaning, or retrieve meaning, to more adequately represent a feminine subject.[8]

Irigaray is unequivocal, as Anderson puts it, “that sexually specific discourses on female desire are expressed strictly by women” (P. S. Anderson, 1998, p. 109). Like Kristeva, Anderson imagines that this discourse might emerge “from the pre-oedipal position. Problematically, this position may only break through the symbolic in holiness or hysteria, mysticism or madness, in the form of what ‘returns’ but should be repressed” (ibid.). We can also see that it is problematic, if we try to establish a connection between a discourse arising from the semiotic and women, that this ‘breaking through’ is as likely achieved by men as women - women do not have a monopoly on madness, for instance.

One use of language that concerns Irigaray is metaphor. Clearly, both men and women use metaphors, butsome feminist thinkers distrust the use of metaphor, because it takes language away from the subject at hand, in ever-increasing distance ”through all sorts of comparisons and images supposedly able to do better than life itself and which turn into poison for body and soul” (Irigaray, 2004a, p. 49). Thus, for Irigaray, metaphor refers back to the symbolic, to the interpretation rather than the source. It is preferable, she says ”to receive words from nature itself, listening to what it really says” (ibid., p. 35). With respect to nature,which she advocates as the source of metaphor, “it would be better to avoid metaphors and allegories which assimilate it to our world” (ibid.).[9] Towards this end she recommends the use of words that are “closest to the real. Words that respect sensibility, movement, and that work to espouse it without distortion” (ibid., p. 43).[10] Irigaray prefers metonymic rather than metaphoric terms; both figures involve the substitution of one term for another, but in metaphor a substituted term is based on similarity, whereas, in metonymy, the substitution is based on contiguity (Kruse, 1991, p. 457).

Caroline Walker Bynum comments on the use of metaphor in the second century as being close to nature. “Their metaphors were naturalist images of return or repetition: the cycles of the seasons, the flowering of trees and shrubs, the fertility of seed” (Bynum, 1994, p. 219). Since then, much metaphor which has become imbedded in language is associated with mechanics and science, or even war, and not suited to Irigaray’s intent of staying close to nature. For Luce Irigaray, woman’s place in language is a sign of her dereliction, and must be replaced “through a language and an ethics that is ours” (Irigaray, 1993a, pp. 129, my emphasis).

Parler Femme

How would language embody women's subjectivity and spirituality? I argue for ways that include the body, which “incarnate the body and the flesh”, as Irigaray requires (Irigaray, 2004c, p. 15).In this way discourse can incarnate, rather than annihilate, women. In arguing for embodying, incarnating discourse for women, I make several points. First, as Luce Irigaray’s sensible/transcendentalis foundational, the connection between word and the flesh must be maintained, and Word/logosas exclusively metaphysical must be challenged. Second, Logos as fixed certainty – logocentricity – must be questioned. Third, that parler femme and ecriture feminine be developed as practices of speaking and writing as women, in defiance of the patriarchal logos that harnesses and suppresses for its own conceptual and theoretical purposes (Martin, 2000, p. 13).[11]

My concern here is a specific use of language that can carry women’s subjectivity and spirituality. Luce Irigaray proposes a way open to women and men, of remaining alive in the symbolic by finding air, “the still silent space of speech. Where the voice of things can be heard” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 73), the space where life has not been already codified, as I have discussed above. Luce Irigaray puts it this way: “But the word is also what can incarnate the body and the flesh that one wants to say to the other. …Not a part of the body but a flesh that goes beyond the body without destroying it, amputating it” (Irigaray, 2004c, p. 15).

We see that Irigaray advocates the freeing of language for both men and women; she has specific concerns that women’s language be related to their bodies. Irigaray tells us“as a woman, I ought to discover and cultivate a language of my own, and to create bridges between this language and my body. I do not believe that passively receiving the word(s) of the other will suffice to incarnate myself”(Irigaray, 2004b, p. 145). It is a birth, in which no one can substitute for one’s self, for one’s body, and I demonstrate this through “The Handless Maiden” fairy tale in chapters five and six. In speaking of incarnating ones-self, Irigaray addresses the personal, rather than collective action of language, used not to convey culture, commerce and community, but the incontrovertible singularity of individual being.[12] In order to refashion language, Luce Irigaray’s parler femme, based on female morphology, will undermine the patriarchal assumptions of western thought.[13]So what might parler femme, speaking as woman, actually be? How can women display themselves in linguistic forms, which demonstrate the experience of a woman’s body? What identifies women’s language, and “how is the gendered and differentiated body implicated in the relation between text and context?” (Threadgold, 1997, pp. 97-98).

In chapter two, I argued for continuity between word and body. For Luce Irigaray, there is a wedding between words and the body, which is fruitful if the words are appropriate for the body. Women must cultivatethe right language; to take care of the tone of voice, and the choice of words that will aid the becoming of the self and the other. She advocates choosing language which is non-judgemental and non-hierarchical (Irigaray, 2010b).

Following Irigaray, we could argue that the kind of language that she requires for transcendence or feminine spirituality occurs “before or beyond any word” (Irigaray, 2004b, pp. 15, my emphasis). Irigaray claims that ‘she’ ”cries out from where there are yet no names” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 50), that is from the pre-symbolic, pre-discursive. Sonia Kruks is also searching for “an account of the subject which acknowledges that it exceeds the boundaries of the discursive”, in modalities of experience that elude speech, which we come to ‘know’ “through non-intellectual, embodied, cognition. For we not only experience what is unspoken but even unspeakable” (Kruks, 2001, pp. 13-14). In this sense, much of mystical experience is ‘unspeakable’, as I will maintain in chapter four. Hildegard of Bingen, for instance, “insists on bringing art or symbolic expression into all that she did and wrote. … She is aware that words cannot bear the weight of the treasure of her deep experience. Thus she turns to symbols - music, paintings, poetry – to express her truest self” (Fox, 1987, p. xviii), cultural forms which are not discursive.[14]However, these forms are non-discursive, rather thanpre-symbolic, that is, while they do not rely on logos, they have meaning.

Are there, then, modalities of experience and expression that elude speech, which nevertheless we know through non-intellectual, embodied cognition? Can there be an account of the female subject that acknowledges that it exceeds the boundaries of the discursive? Merleau-Ponty, for instance, says that “bodily expressions do not forma linguistic system but rather give the basis for all such systems” (Merleau-Ponty, 1968a, p. 203). So for Merleau-Ponty, the body is being posited as the prediscursive zone. Catherine Keller, toosays that the “nondiscursive zone of sentience, sensation, and sentiment presents itself at any given moment as the prediscursive zone of human consciousness” (C. Keller, 1997, p. 74).

One speaks with one’s body before one opens one’s mouth. Male and female bodies constitute a prediscursive (but nevertheless embodied) difference, which results in a difference in the discourse by and between them. In Irigaray’s later work, she emphasizes that speaking as a woman is not as important as speaking betweensubjects. I argue that the two projects are complementary however; as we shall see with Sheherazade, for there to be a dialogue between, there must be two subjects, and for there to be two subjects there must be sexuate difference, and for sexuate difference to be achieved, women must be able to speak as themselves, rather than in the monologue of patriarchy. The challenge of Irigaray’s model is that the two sexes must share love and language to enable exchange between them, but love and language must take different forms for each sex if absolute otherness is to be recognized and respected. For Irigaray language is central because she sees it as the medium through which subjectivity and identity are achieved.

I will now approach language through the notion of feminine jouissance, which has been taken up as ‘coming’ to writing and speech, by Irigaray and others (Cixous & Clément, 1986). To do this I interrogate Lacan and his ideas 

around foreclosure and jouissance.

Foreclosure and Jouissance

For Lacan, femininity is a position that can be taken bymen as well as women, so this does not serve Luce Irigaray’s project of sexuate identity as extending to linguistic use. Indeed, Lacan postulates the feminine position, including jouissance,as existing outsidelanguage (Moi, 2004, p. 844). Lacan’s feminineposition, related to feminine desire, is “the attempt to once again become unviolated and complete within ourselves by merging back into the real” (Schroeder, 1998, p. 292). Lacan frames the ‘not all’, the ‘not-yet’, the ‘something-more’ - that is the real - as that which “might be briefly glimpsed by taking on the positionof the Feminine” (Schroeder, 1998, p. 289). One may infer, then, that the feminine position can be both accessed and recovered in or through the real. However, Lacan argues that, through the mechanism of foreclosure, we all repudiate, reject and preclude the very possibility of the existence of certain things, by way of the absence of the signifiers, which would enable us to say ‘not that.’ Through his notion of foreclosure, I raise a problem that is central to both psychoanalysis and philosophy. As language is masculinised, or is designed for - and situates - a masculine subject, and feminine signifiers are missing, where can a woman find herself? Would this mean, then, that she is excluded from, or (doubly) negated by, the very language she uses, or cannot use? But what of the feminine position that Lacan places outsidelanguage?

The famous case of Schreber will help us here. Schreber, a High Court judge, fantasized that he was becoming a woman, psychologically and bodily.[15] In his psychosis he believed that only by doing this would he be able to hear God’s word directly, and even to become a conduit for God’s word, and thus redeemed. That which was foreclosed (for Schreber and the Symbolic), according to Lacan, was the feminine position, which would enable direct access to the divine, through jouissance,[16]or specifically feminine enjoyment. Thus Schreber, through his fantasy, was attempting to access, or ‘to come’ to meaning outside of the phallus. Jouissancemay be thought of as the fulfillment of desire in the sense of the breakdown of the (phallogocentric) subject/object distinction. “Jouissanceis the experience of the feminine object for herself, as opposed to the feminine object as the object of exchange of masculine subjectivity” (ibid., p. 288).

Jouissance, then, is breaking out from the symbolic and of achieving direct, unmediated contact with the real.[17]Although anatomical men are capable of jouissance, jouissancerequires one to take on the positionof the feminine, that is it requires them to give up their (implied) place in the Symbolic, and become (temporarily/impossibly) unsymbolized (Lacan, 1982, pp. 144-145). Thus jouissance- the experience of the real - is by definition not symbolic and therefore is outside language (Schroeder, 1998, p. 288)

So, what relevance does the case of Schreber have for a vivifying language for women? Schreber, prior to his psychosis, was an enforcer of the Law and jurist, and ensconced in a multifaceted phallic position, where he operated exclusively through the masculine/Symbolic where access to the real was denied, as it is for everyone in this position. His access to logos was unquestioned, but his access to eros was problematically foreclosed. His feminized body was a radical way of undoing the foreclosed access to eros/jouissance. Women, in their own feminine bodies, can likewise claim a radical access/excess. My emphasis here is the recovery of a feminine position for women, not via psychosis or hysteria - which are both ways of trying to claim legitimacy in an economy which proclaims them as illegitimate (the Symbolic) – but by ‘redeeming’ or lifting the foreclosure. My issue with Lacan is that he posits this as possible only through madness. Kristeva, in her critique of Lacan, and development and of his ideas, extends this to mysticism and poetry, via eruptions from the semiotic.

Lacan viewed the repudiation of signifiers as the cause of psychosis, and this is the feminine position. This would seem problematic. However, Schreber’s repudiation of signifiers gave him access to the real, through eros/jouissance. I maintain that Lacan’s theory can be applied to Schreber’s delusions as access to a necessary (eros)-speech for women; that is, the Lacanian ”Name of the Father” (the Phallus) as chief signifier can be seen as the patriarchy which women (must) refuse in order to claim a subjectivity not predicated upon masculine desire. Schreber achieved this, albeit in a delusional way. Anything that is outside the Symbolic will tend to be seen by those within it as delusional and those without it as freedom. Such is the paradox for someone outside the Symbolic - the ‘not-dupter’ of Lacan. Much remains to be explored at another occasion on the fertile subject of foreclosure and the feminine position. Relevant to my exploration of language is that for Lacan, psychotics have a different relation to language (and the symbolic) in that they speak more than they say, because their speech has the same relation to the unconscious as a dream. My point is that woman’s language requires such valence for their embodiment, for their own legitimacy. In other words, while remaining in the phallic/Symbolic, although not acknowledged by it, women (and those who take up the feminine position, like Schreber) also intrinsically have access to the real, which then informs their relation to the Symbolic. It enables them to see through it, because they are not quilted within it. How might language convey the position of the ‘not-dupter’, of those taking the feminine position, if language itself is already presumed to foreclose that very position?

Poïesis as Revelation of Self

In this section I argue that the feminine position is evoked through poïesis. Poïesisfrom the ancient Greekterm ποιέω, means ‘to make’, and infers an action that transforms and continues the world beyond the temporal. Heidegger used poïesisin the sense of ‘bringing forth’ in its widest sense; (Heidegger, 1977)in all begetting and bringing forth upon the beautiful there is a kind of making/creating or poïesis. He explained poïesisas the blooming of the blossom, the emerging of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall.

Mary Daly stresses that language is “potentially alive with meaning”, (Gray, 2000, p. 232)but I argue that language in the feminine is alive with potential meaning. Once meaning is attributed, hasn’t it lost its potential now it is fixed in the Symbolic?[18] I argue that it is necessary to retrieve and open language to potential once again, to remove foreclosure, to retrieve the real at the bottom of the word. There is a place for the mutable in language, so that language can change in our mouths, between our lips (Irigaray) and speak itself ever new. Then we can speak ourselves into becoming. This sort of speech “would flower because it flowers”, and would have no care to ensure consistency, or “upright conduct in a permanent posture”, but speaks for “all growth and flowering that is still in silence” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 143).

While Ralph Waldo Emerson considered that “every thought is a prison; every heaven also is a prison”, he also maintained that “therefore we love the poet … who unlocks our chains, and admits us to a new scene“ (Emerson, 2010, p. 76). Emerson is alluding to a universal, rather than sexuate condition, which operates as a foreclosure from which we need to be unlocked. It is the poet, and the poetic voice, which opens language - and undoes the foreclosure - so that it actually says something, clears and loosens something “in language itself in order to allow the appearance of that which prevents language letting loose in new utterances. To let rise the yet unspoken. The yet to be revealed” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 132). Thus every ideal needs to be open-ended in order to access renewal, to create a radical rupture in which a new form of discourse for women might emerge, and continue to emerge.

Poetry was for Heidegger more important than the other arts. He was especially fascinated by the works of Hölderlin. "Poetry proper is never merely a higher mode (melos) of everyday language," Heidegger wrote in his essay 'Language', dealing with Georg Trakl's poem 'A Winter Evening'. "It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer” (Heideggger, 1971, p. 208). If everyday language is a mere dried husk, then our house of being is indeed impoverished. Irigaray emphasizes the discovery of hidden meanings in the equivocal terms (or symbols) of ordinary language. Lockhart suggests that it is not the language which has lost is vitality, but “it is we who have failed the word, we who have lost contact with the imaginal realm beneath and beyond the exterior of the word” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 89). Poiesis and erotic logos bring us to the interior, to the imaginal world.

I now argue that poetry is an expression of the unconscious, which therefore evades castration by the symbolic, and is thus suited to a woman’s voice - and the voice of "the feminine".

When Luce Irigaray asks if “the philosopher [has] become the poet he has always disdained?“ (Irigaray, 1999, p. 9), she is undoubtedly speaking of herself, especially in her later work, which includes Everyday Prayers(Irigaray, 2004a), a collection of poetry. It is through this poetic language that she seeks to speak the spirit as flesh and the flesh as transcendental, through retrieving the neglected flesh in philosophy and marrying it with spirit. Thus the poet keeps open the threshold, she “lives in the between-the-two” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 114), not only the two lovers, but between the sensible and transcendental, which returns us to ponder the notion of poïesis as that which transformsand continues the world beyond the temporal.

Irigaray describes poetic language as capable of expressing “the most real of the real” (Irigaray, 2004a, p. 37), and therefore of the pre-Symbolic. It “becomes a medium that seeks to be available to everything that there is to say” (ibid., p. 30). She claims that the “beginnings – the real foundation? - of a culture are poetic, or at least artistic” (ibid., p. 29). Luce Irigaray’s poetic language is a revelation of a feminine way of perceiving and thinking, (ibid., p. 31)a foundation of women’s culture. She further defines a consistent difference in form between masculine and feminine poets and poetics: the masculine is filled with suffering and tragedy, the feminine she expresses “prepare[s] a love more loving and happy” (ibid.), that does not dwell on suffering. She “calls on the poetic voice to speak the revival of nature, of meeting, in words that reunite differently earth and sky, the human and the divine” (ibid., p. 39).[19]The reuniting “differently” of “the human and the divine” suggests the awakening of a feminine voice, a feminine logos, which Luce Irigaray recognizes in “the pre-Socratics, but in the feminine, a feminine which expresses itself at that time more than today” (ibid., p. 47). Of the pre-Socratics, one of her favoured thinkers is Sophocles, for his account of Antigone. For Irigaray, “Antigone’s example is always worth reflecting upon as a historical figure and as an identity or identification for many girls and women living today “(Irigaray, 1994, p. 70). In my use of erotic logos, I argue that it is a retrieval of a feminine that is prior to being subsumed within the folds of the masculine symbolic.

Poetry recalls the elements, and is therefore closer to nature and our material foundations. Luce Irigaray contrasts this with “our day-to-day speech”, which steers “clear of the elements, moving through and forward with a language that forgets the matter it names and by means of which it speaks” (Irigaray, 1993b, p. 58). Poetic language, by contrast, is where “I find the words which will allow a new stage in my thinking” (Irigaray, 2004a, p. 29). The poetic writing of Luce Irigaray seeks to preserve and promote a “becoming, which does not divide itself from nature. Form does not claim to dominate matter; it serves its blossoming, its growth. …The body becomes spirit and the spirit body, or, rather, they both become flesh, and each by the other” (ibid., p. 30). The “flesh” makes it clear that we are not talking about a disembodied notion of body, but a body which lives and breathes as living flesh. Thus, the feminine language, which she advocates for women, is not only poetic, but also a vehicle of the sensible/transcendental.

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei speaks of an elusive aspect, accessed through poetics, which ruptures an “epistemological appropriative horizon” (Gosetti-Ferencei, 2004, p. 238). The glimpsing of this elusive aspect requires a dwelling in uncertainty, unknowing, and doubt because it is outside symbolic representation. As Rimbaud noted of himself, “the poet makes himself a visionary through a long, prodigious and rational disordering of allthe senses … he will need all his faith…For he arrives at the unknown!” (Rimbaud, 1957, p. xxx). It is the arrival at the unknown/unconscious, where new thoughts (outside the Symbolic) are possible, and where a new framing of the feminine is possible.[20]These are the “new forms that inventions of the unknown demand” (ibid., p. xxv), which allow new thinking for Luce Irigaray. Rimbaud also anticipates her intention with his remark that “poetry will no longer accompany action, but will lead it” (ibid., p. xxxii). This possibility of being led by poetry, suggests a locus outside the symbolic. Lockhart uses poesis to convey dreams into words, ”letting the dream go into poetic speech” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 105). Luce Irigaray also speaks of the still onieric quality of words, which allows language itself to dream, to be a dream that is not framed in the Symbolic.

Scientific discourse engages the symbolic, and via rationality, represses the semiotic. Conversely, “poetic textis one of the privileged sites of the semiotic…Poetry…will privilege and highlight the semiotic to the point of sometimes erasing any discernible symbolic framework” (Walker, 1998, p. 106). Kristeva claims that poetic language is “the only language that uses up transcendence and theology to sustain itself” and that it is “therefore knowingly the enemy of [patriarchal] religion” (Kristeva, 2000, p. 71). Unlike Kristeva, I argue that poetic language both revitalizes and situates itself in the crevice/interstices that then later becomereligion, or are appropriated by religion. This is seen in Peguy’s famous statement that ‘what begins in mysticism ends in politics’ - or religion.[21] However, can poetic language really be subsumed into religion, or does it resist being subsumed into theology, like ducks that live in water but are water-resistant? Moi takes up the theme of poetic language being profoundly a-theological, when she says that it “may appear as an argument complicitous with dogma” because religion makes frequent use of poetry, “but [it] may also set in motion what [patriarchal] religion represses. In so doing [it] no longer acts as instinctual floodgates within the enclosure of the sacred and becomes instead protestor against its posturing” (Moi, 1986, p. 112). We could say that poetics, then, continually introduces the repressed (feminine) into (phallogocentric) language, including the language of religion, whereas logoswould prefer to posture, and remain exclusively masculine/Symbolic.

In defining what language in or for the feminine might be, I conclude that the poetic voice is suitable because of its approach to the unknown, that which is outside the ‘kingdom’ of the symbolic. However, the notion of erotic logosenables all language to be touched by (Irigaray’s) angel’s wings and thus undoes language to speak again for each separate subject and the between.

Erotic Logos

The Persian legend of The Thousand and One Nightsdates from the Islamic Golden Age (c.750 CE - c.1258 CE) and concerns Sheherazade, who marries a king who is known to execute his bride the morning after the wedding night.[22]Sheherazade, however, who is educated in all the wisdom of the land, spins a tale that is so compelling that her husband postpones her execution so he can hear the next episode the following night.

Fabrice Dubosc describes Sheherazade’s language as erotic logos, that is, incorporating both logosand erosin the Jungian sense (Dubosc, 2000).If we apply the assignations of logos to men, and eros to women, then erotic logosprovides a far too facile coniunctio,or marriage of these traditionally paired opposites. However, if we imagine that this might be an eroticising of logos/languageitself, then we have a far more interesting proposition; erotic logos could then be said to occupy the same paradoxical position as Irigaray’s sensible/transcendental, that is, embodied word. Therefore I argue that these two terms are equivalent. Thus, I argue that language can carry the valence of botherosand logos, body and spirit. In erotic logos, rather than the power/logos trope of phallogocentric language, from which women have been erased, love/logoscreates a coniunctio,[23]an embodied word.[24]In the broadest sense, erotic logos encompasses both desire and belief,bothlibido and credo, and thus moves us towards a feminine divine.[25]

When Luce Irigaray eroticizes traditional philosophic discourse through sensual poetic imagery, she demonstrates a marriage between eros and logos; she disrupts assumptions about both, and weaves instead a new relation between them. This is an effective way for women to “re-create alterity”, that is, they must, as Tilghman argues, “re-work from inside the language they already have” (Tilghman, 2008, p. 51) Mary Daly also commits herself to use language against language and does it “within the horizon, which necessarily must change, of existing philosophical and theological discourses” (Gray, 2000, p. 231). This is what Sheherazade does. Erotic logosis itself a refashioning of language. Russell Lockhart says we need to “revivify our relation to the word by developing an Eros relation … in words”(Lockhart, 1983, pp. 89, my emphasis). Lockhart holds that an essential aspect of Eros is “the great principle that connectsus to things beyond our ego” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 89).

I argue for erotic logosas a suitable language-form for women, which encircles their subjectivity and also performs the dialogue between two separate subjects. As Luce Irigaray says, “the becoming of consciousness, of culture, cannot be entrusted to one subject alone; it is engendered in the interaction between two subjectivities irreducible to one another: that of man and that of woman. Thus there no longer exists one sole logos” (Irigaray, 2002, p. 99). It is women’s logosthat I am attempting to articulate. In this logos, eros and narrative are intertwined (Cavarero, 2000).[26]

Sheherazade usespoïesis in its broadest sense, in bringing forth life. Ultimately, the poetic voice uses “words that reunite differently earth and sky, the human and the divine” (Irigaray, 2004a, p. 39). Sheherazade reunites differently the human and the divine, and also transforms the relation between two. She uses a (dialogic) language against (monologic) language; that is she develops a language that includes two, which incorporates women’s subjectivity and sexuate difference. What did Sheherazade achieve in erotic logos? Dubosc utilizes this tale to discuss the masculine position, where the King is redeemed from his revenge against women by the feminine, thus seeing it as a story for men, and the traditional role of muse/saviour/inspiratrix is assigned to women. In my reading, Sheherazade moves from masculine monologic totality, to female subjectivity, to discourse between two, through which the king is changed, transformed. But the emphasis is that she does this on her own terms and creates her own subjectivity. Her language could be described as poetic, but more than that, she finds and uses “the poetic at the bottom of every word” (Lockhart, 1983, p. 97). This is because ‘the poetic’ represents a perspective or state of mind, and carries this valence. Thus poetic use of words is more than representation, and brings us close to the unconscious, rather than distancing us from it. Poetic use speaks something that has not already been said, which has heretofore been hidden from view in plain sight – that is, unconscious.

The unconscious motives of the king are revealed to him through the narrative Sheherazade weaves. “Poetry”, (and poïesis) according to Cixous, “exists only by taking strength from the unconscious … where the repressed [women] survive” (Cixous & Clément, 1986, p. 98). Thus according to Cixous, women are close to poetry and the unconscious, and are therefore more than the symbolized. Women and poïesisare able to bring forth that which has not already been spoken, and in so doing they will trouble that which is already codified or understood. This access also allows Sheherazade to speak that which is repressed; this is two-fold, firstly speaking her own position, and secondly she speaks to or for the unconscious of the King, because she sees from this perspective. Being close to the unconscious is an advantage for women/Sheherazade, because they/she can be outside the jurisdiction of the Symbolic and its (mis)representations. I remind the reader that I discussed Luce Irigaray’s idea that women can take on the anima-projections of men, and transform them. The tale of Shererazade can be read as an example of this.

Sheherazade does not merely reproduce the many language-forms available to her, but weaves something unique, clever, and entertaining and reveals the unconscious of the king. I propose Sheherazade as an exemplar for women[27], and an archetypal feminine, “older and newer than every history, [who] stays within beginning’s awakening” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 107). My emphasis here is on Sheherazade as lover; she is lover twice over - she is lover of the other, as well as ‘amateur’ philosopher, in that she engages philosophy in a learned way, albeit outside the academy. Le Doeuff (Le Dœuff, 1989)addresses the situation of women who have been relegated an amateur relationship with philosophy by the patriarchal institutional system.[28] Here ‘amateur’ is a pejorative term, to mean less than serious, not skilful or professional, and possibly part-time and unpaid as well! However, I defer to the Latin origins of the word amateur, meaning ‘to do for the love of’, for pleasure, to be an admirer or devotee, which then returns us to the Latin roots of philosophy, which means lover of wisdom. Emmanuel Levinas likewise suggests that philosophy should be “the wisdom of love at the service of love” (Lévinas, 1991, p. 162).

In the tale, Sheherazade’s discourse is nocturnal - she weaves her spellbinding stories till just before dawn. There is a risk in placing Sheherazade’s discourse quite literally in the night, however, because it too easily places her in a binary trope of male/day and female/night. This is an instance of Luce Irigaray’s quest to protect the language, subjectivity and divinity of women, “this there, this she there, could be called night. But to do so already would be to catch her up too much, or to invoke her too much, in a language that could not be her own” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 107). Yet Irigaray frequently uses images of the night. For example, “it is in darkness that we met with one another. Scarcely having built a rudimentary common dwelling – thanks to a few words - we entered into the night” (Irigaray, 2008b, p. 44). It is in this night, this darkness that ‘the between’ can begin to grow. Irigaray speaks of “a manner of seeing, speaking and acting that is accompanied by a nocturnal luminosity”(Irigaray, 2010a, pp. 16-17, my emphasis). Such nocturnal luminosity lends itself to the other revealing themselves to us, rather than an impatient imposition upon the other. It is in this nocturnal luminosity that Sheherazade spins her tales.

For Luce Irigaray, the woman’s voice occurs “beyond hislanguage [langue]. …She forever comes and recalls from her place of disappearance: she cries out at night” (Irigaray, 1999, pp. 49, my emphasis). It is not by chance that her disappearance and her emergence are at ‘night’. According to Marie Louise Von Franz, the soft reflected and reflective light of the moon,[29]metaphorically speaking, does not hurt the feminine, while the harsh masculine light of day/rationality can be damaging.[30] Many things need a dimmer form of light, lest becoming is destroyed. Plants germinate in the dark, and only when they already have a hold on life do they emerge into the light; too much light too soon will kill them. In Arabic al samar‘speaks in the darkness of the night’, at the edge of ‘normal’ discourse, where identity in the Symbolic is dimmed, and eros sweetly opens a way.This speaking in the darkness of the night is where heart, mind and body open (Calza, 2007). The whole of Sheherazade’s opus is al samar,evening stories, and erotic logos.[31] After 1001 nights, Sheherazade and the King emerge into full daylight; the King, representing patriarchal authority, has of his own accord changed many of his attitudes, especially to women, and Sheherazade has woven a subject-place for herself, which had not been available to her before.

Sheherazade is not seized by the king and incorporated into his phallogocentrism; instead, she keeps a space open, a threshold. And according to Irigaray’s discussion of the role of the woman, ‘she’ “remains threshold. In what comes to pass in-between - that’s where she stays. … In this world of in-between: light and dark, highest and lowest, this world of threshold where the whole entwines” (Irigaray, 1999, pp. 109-110, my emphasis). Sheherazade is a threshold dweller; she maintains her own subjectivity simultaneously with an awareness of his. To continue night-metaphors, her task is to ‘awaken’ the king; “she still draws him out of sleep: an interruption of present absence that rends his language” (ibid., p. 51). That which rends the language of the king/symbolic is erotic logos; Sheherazade acts as the not-duped one and thus straddles the real and the Symbolic, and undoes the rule of the sky-Father, through a discourse of love, based upon exchange between two different subjects, rather than the monologue of a single subject under which all her predecessors were killed. The exchange is one of love and respect, through words that convey this, and have meaning to both. I argue that contemporary women can apply this understanding as follows: by keeping open a ‘threshold’ (to the real) women can remain in the symbolic, as does Sheherazade, and not be ‘killed’ by it, because one crafts one’s own subjectivity and insists upon it.[32]Through this opening an exchange between two is possible, which is, or becomes, the place of love, through flesh, gesture and word. Cavarero argues, in relation to this tale, that “narration and conjugal love go together step by step … the tale not only stops death” but weaves a bond of love and respect on both sides (Cavarero, 2000, p. 123).

Sheherazade’s simultaneous acceptance and tactical transgression of the Law is akin to Kristeva's technique of double writing in 'Stabat Mater', where she expresses her own subject-position at the same time as expounding the Law/Symbolic. Sheherazade practices a subtle form of double writing, in that her intriguing tales, all of which are taken from the lexicons of the time, also undermine the patriarchal structure from which they are taken. For instance, one of the tales Sheherazade tells is of "Hasib and the Queen of Snakes". It describes the difficulties a young man experiences in his psychological separation from his mother and is full of insights into the difficult confrontation between men and women. The tale shows how Hasib moves from a collective masculine attitude to being able to make up his own mind, and not behave according to the conventions. So Sheherazade has introduced a feminine subject-position, and the ethics toward this subject. Her introduction of these positions simultaneously enables the king/Symbolic to change through his introjection of them.[33]

Sheherazade avoids execution. By keeping her stories going, she engages the masculine symbolic on her terms, that is by creating a subject-position for herself. And so she lives to see another day, another exposure to the blinding light of the symbolic. The night provides renewal, through her discourse. She ends each narrative with suspense; we must turn the page, must come again tomorrow night.[34]The masculine has survived another night too. She avoids the foreclosure of a system, which has excluded her and in which is inscribed her death. Sheherazade has created a “world that language ceaselessly would construct and reconstruct” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 124). Unlike phallogocentric language, this renewal is continuous – there is never a time when it is absolutely achieved. However, after 1001 nights the king officially acknowledges what he has been gradually accepting, that is, he acknowledges her separate existence and no longer seeks to kill her.

In chapter one I introduced the idea of multiple archetypes of the feminine, and pause to consider the archetype which Sheherazademight represent. Is it a virginal archetype, such as Hestia? Or a relational archetype such as Aphrodite? What might this tale, and the Handless Maiden in chapters five and six, say to women who identify as lesbian, or who have no relations with men? I argue that the whole phallogocentric culture to which both men and women, (Sheherazade, the handless maiden) are ‘wed’, is the problem, not individual men, marriage per se, or relations with men. Because Luce Irigaray posits sexuate difference as the first and fundamental difference, it enables women to separate from phallogocentrism, and to achieve subjectivity regardless of their sexual preferences. I argue, therefore, that sexuate difference is primary, and the (other) feminine archetypes are secondary. Luce Irigaray, because of her insistence on sexuate difference, has been accused of creating a feminine stereotype, by Amy Hollywood, for instance, who asks, “does Irigaray fetishize women and sexual difference?” (Hollywood, 2002, p. 340). Morny Joy, too, wonders if Irigaray’s insistence on “sexual difference becomes reified in a way that privileges women and their ‘feminine’ spirituality and identifies them with an affirmative ontological ideal” (Joy, 2006, p. 141). Is Luce Irigaray proposing a new feminine stereotype, which is heterosexual and conservative, notwithstanding her earlier concerns for elaborating a multiplicity in the expression of female forms? On the one hand, Irigaray’s multiplicity of singular feminine experiences as genealogy contributes to the feminine imaginary, where an individual woman can see her own life as one of the many possibilities of female embodiment. On the other, I contend that Irigaray’s project of establishing sexuate difference doesrun the risk of being prescriptive (proscriptive?) and definitive, in the following particular way.

As Morny Joy says, “Denial [of any pairing that is not heterosexual] only serves to restrict the diverse ways in which a divine can become manifest in a world that respects differences, and that does not attempt to exclude them, because they threaten one’s own circumscribed worldview” (ibid., p. 160). To imagine that her sexuate difference is heterosexual at all, limits Irigaray’s own definition of sexuate. As Luce Irigaray states, sexuate difference “represents the most basic and universal place of otherness, and it has to be respected in order to respect the other kinds of otherness becoming possible” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 19). If, as Irigaray claims, ‘sexuate’ is articulated through spiritual, bodily, social, linguistic, aesthetic, erotic, and political forms, it is describing women, (and men), not the sexual intercourse in which they may or may not be engaging. Irreducible difference betweenthe sexes, does not equate to lack of differencewithin each sex.I conclude then, that Luce Irigaray has so reinforced sexuate difference that she appears to cultivate it by privileged heterosexuality. However, a divine which is only, or preferably, modelled on the heterosexual couple risks being as exclusive of difference as a patriarchal, androcentric male God. I argue that a truly feminine subjectivity and divinity is inclusive of all difference. I believe, however, that Irigaray is not as categorical as she appears, (or has been interpreted) but in her concern to develop sexuate difference as a necessary cornerstone to her work, other aspects of her work, which would qualify or modify this position, can be too easily overlooked or diminished. For instance, Irigaray argues for “at least two, male and female”, in regard to the sexes (Irigaray, 1996, pp. 37, my emphasis). This “at least two” is open to conjecture, articulation and development, outside of (or within) sexuate difference. This opens the possibility for fluid multiplicity in femininesexuality, which is not merely the opposite of a man’s (Luce Irigaray, 1985, p. 139).

Although my project centres around the feminine, in this chapter focusing on feminine language, and intentionally and inevitably privileges women, I argue that the renewal of language for women will inevitably free men as well, because it frees untapped resources of communication. In the speaking between two, erotic logos will inevitably“develop the relations with oneself and with the other rather than to master the world, especially the living world, through words” (Irigaray, 2010a, p. 13). The King was open to Sheherazade’s speaking, his world-view was “questioned by the existence of other words, which open[ed] again the house of language in which [h]e dwells” (ibid., p. 12)My view is that it is in the opening of sexuate difference (and then to all other difference, as emphasized by Luce Irigaray), that psychic growth, flexibility and lovecan actually arise.[35]Furthermore, Sheherazade is finally seen as subject - the King sees her for and as herself, and in this subjectivity she is no longer objectified. He no longer sees her as representing all women who (might) betray him, but as this particular women who he is now able to love.

I have based this analysis on two different sexuate identities, so we can view Sheherazade as a feminine mode or style, which simultaneously undoes and exists parallel to, the masculine symbolic. Although the symbolic serves a masculine purpose, men suffer various foreclosures of their own which must be undone so they are available for the encounter between two. As I have already articulated, each must “keep on hold one’s own becoming in order to lend assistance to the other’s becoming. …We have not yet reached such a coexistence with the other, or we have already forgotten it” (Irigaray, 2008b, pp. 128-129). In chapter six I argue fully for Luce Irigaray’s ideas on self-affection, (one’s own becoming) as taking precedence; both parties need to attend to their own becoming, as well as being aware of the needs of the other.


This chapter evokes that which shimmers beneath language or that which constitutes the nativity of language.[36] Without this discussion, the subjects I cover in the other chapters lack an anchor. Yet a paradox remains; that while one is more than one’s words, in that much of experience is pre-linguistic, or non-discursive, one is reliant on words to express or evoke. Simultaneously, words can become the Gods, the fixed idols spoken of by Jung, which can only betray becoming.[37]

For Luce Irigaray ambiguity is necessary, so that the saying never gets completely said, so that both language and one’s self are ever coming into being, becoming. This I place as the essence of feminine language. Erotic logos communicates (between two), and does not merely transmit information in the manner of the language required and disseminated by science and technology.

Is a radical departure from phallogocentric images of the divine possible, toward something specifically suited to women? In the next chapter, “Mysticism as the Feminine Divine”I return to the notion that men and women have different spiritual paths, and suggest that feminine spirituality must be founded on experiences, and framed by theories, that provide a container for the specific imaginary, language, interiority and psychology of women.

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age (c.750 CE - c.1258 CE).

The story concerns a Persian king, Shahryar, who marries a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonour him. Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Sheherazade, the vizier's daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees.

On the night of their marriage, Sheherazadebegins to tell the king an intriguing tale, but does not end it. The king is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion.

The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. So it goes on for 1,001 nights.

Her language is innovative and includes rich poetry and poetic speeches, chants, songs, lamentations, hymns, beseeching, praising, pleading, riddles and annotations. Notable is her knowledge and exposition of abstract philosophical principles or complex points of Islamic philosophy. (This synopsis is compiled from various internet sources, including:, and


[1]Terry Threadgold is referring to Barthes when she says that “to read is to make our body work (psychoanalysis has taught us that this body greatly exceeds our memory and our consciousness) at the invitation of the text’s signs, of all the languages which traverse it and form something like the shimmering depth of the sentence” (Threadgold, 1997, p. 31).

Luce Irigaray, contemporary feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst.

[2]Luce Irigaray says,“we need to discover a language that is not a substitute for the experience of corps-a-corpsas the paternal language seeks to be, but which accompanies that bodily experience, clothing it in words that do not erase the body but speak the body” (Irigaray, 1993b, p. 91).

[3]“The wheels take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion” (Coleridge, 1983, p. 72). He is attributing power to the wordsof the poets, rather than the incidents described.

Julia Kristen, Bulgarian-French philosopher and psychoanalyst.By Harp1980 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

[4]Julia Kristeva, in Stabat Mater, laments the loss of a position in the Law, which is the price of jouissancethus: “I yearn for the Law…. In sensual rapture, I am distraught. Nothing reassures, for only the law sets anything down. Who calls such a suffering jouissance? It is the pleasure of the damned” (Kristeva, 1987, p. 250).

[5]“At the very best, a mind enclosed in language is in prison" (Weil, 2000, p. 89).

[6]“To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell” (quoted in Wisnewsk, 2013, p. 156).

[7]However, the question remains as to whether girls and women are acculturated to use language differently, or naturally use language differently. With her insistence on sexuate difference extending to language use, is Irigaray suggesting that men and women shoulduse language differently?

[8]“The question of language arises for Irigaray because of the central significance she attributes to language as a cultural medium for the constitution of the subject and of identity” (Martin, 2000, p. 15).

[9]Carolyn Merchant says that “a society’s symbols and images of nature express its collective consciousness”(Merchant, 2010, p. 19). Even to construe nature as a commodity, rather than as the source of life in which we are embedded, demonstrates a very different world-view.

[10]In her earlier work, Luce Irigaray referred to the Lacanian Real, but later, her use of the real is, as here, referring to the natural world, in contradistinction to the constructed world.

[11]Notwithstanding the above, I acknowledge that in western intellectual and theological history, the incarnatingWord has already been pivotal; for example, Yahweh speaks existence into being. The tradition of incarnated word/discourse also emerges in the Annunciation when Mary says “may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), and further, in reference to Christ, “the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John1:14). My emphasis does nothing to diminish these traditions of the Word as embodying.

[12]Kristeva also says that “ethical values will be resolved in smaller and smaller groups”, and “it may be the individual discourse which will acquire greater importance” (Kristeva, 1984, p. 85), emphasising the individual and personal importance of language over the collective uses (and abuses) of language.

[13]Irigaray unveils these patriarchal assumptions (Irigaray, 1999). She “criticizes Heidegger’s interpretation of the principle of identity as instantiating the same neglect of sexual difference that has been inscribed throughout the history of Western metaphysics” (Leeuwen, 2010, p. 111). Irigaray’s critique of Heidegger is that he has conflated human identity with the identity of a single, neutral and thus univocal being. From this univocity, discursivity is conflated with a mono-logical or homo-logous understanding of language: a potentially dia-logical exchange is reduced to a tautology, ‘‘a monologue in two voices’’ (Irigaray, 2004c, p. 8). As Irigaray tells us, “the two beings and Beings of the human species have become the two poles of a single human being who, in fact, does not exist. Invented by a masculine thinking and according to its necessities, this more or less ghostly being presents rather the characteristics of a masculine subject” (Irigaray, 2004c, p. 107). It is against this background that she proposes parler femme. As Leeuwen argues, “Being is always already stripped of its carnal vestiges, then the possibility of interrogating the meaning of Being in terms of carnality or materiality has been disallowed from the outset” (Leeuwen, 2010, p. 120). Thus follows the necessity for Irigaray to insist upon sexuate difference, a difference which is not specified in Heidegger’s notion of dwelling.

[14]Foucault argues that discourse does not underlie all cultural forms. For him, forms such as art and music are not discursive(Foucault, 1967, p. 284).

[15]Michelle Walker comments that“the contradictions of the symbolic are inscribed on the body, but whose body?” (Walker, 1998, p. 110). I argue that Schreber exhibited these contradictions. While the body that exhibits them is usually the feminine body, the feminized body of Schreber did the same.

Helene Cixous By Claude Truong-Ngoc, CC BY-SA 3.0,

[16]Etymologically, jouissanceis related to the French verbjouir, which translates into English as “to enjoy, to revel”. Contemporary French idiom uses jouissanceas a common term for orgasm. Its connotations have been developed by various French theorists to explore the relationship between meaning, pleasure and language (Graybeal, 1990, p. 15). This includes Cixous’ emphasis on women “coming” to/in writing (Cixous & Clément, 1986).

[17]I employ jouissanceas access to a feminine divine in the next chapter.

[18]Language use and development is necessarily a continuously evolving process. What I am arguing for here is a vivifying language, which counters Irigaray’s lament, that “nothing is able to be seen through language any longer” (Irigaray, 1999, p. 131).

[19]Although unacknowledged by her, Irigaray is again clearly paraphrasing Heidegger’s fourfold, that is the earth, sky, human and divine, which is his concept of dwelling. See also footnote 133.

[20]Throughout this work, I use the terms unconscious and conscious in a Jungian sense, unless otherwise stated. So the unconscious contains repressed material, but also all that which has not yet come into being, that has not been made conscious.

[21]Although often quoted, I have been unable to discover the original source of this quote.edit text

[22] Fabrice Dubosc makes an important point when he compares Islamic and Christian traditions in relation to the body. He observes that “in Islam …theophanic manifestations, revelations of the divine nature … express a radical divine awakening in the reality of bodily experience” (Dubosc, 2000, pp. 79, emphasis mine). He compares this with the central theme in Christianity, where the dimensions of the body are heroically transcended, and that this begins with “the control and denial of the senses” (Dubosc, 2000, p. 83).

[23]Jung borrowed the term coniunctio from the alchemists and applied it to the process of individuation, where traditionally paired opposites are harmonized, so that either/or categories become neither/both.

[24]Judith Still takes up Luce Irigaray’s term, poetic nuptials, where Irigaray engages philosophy without entering into traditional philosophical critique. As Still says, “poetic nuptials are an alternative to ways of reading such as critique which demand a particular distance between what become subject and object” (Still, 2002, p. 7). Irigaray’s work consists of many different styles, with poetic expression, and multiple layers. Likewise, Sheherazade’s erotic logos is ambiguous and varied. More importantly, for Still, poeticnuptials “is a term for a different thinking of relationality, not an oppositional one which claims no encounter is possible” (Still, 2002, p. 7)This relationality is not just between two ‘others’, but between the text and the reader, and between different aspects of the text. As Still says of Irigaray’s writing, “sections, even words or expressions, (such as that of poeticnuptials) can be lingered over at length so that layer upon layer of connotation becomes apparent and it is the relationship between these connotations which is crucial”. She further suggests that poetic nuptials“can take place between elements of the text; they can be a mode of intertextual relationship” (Still, 2002, p. 7). Thus for me, erotic logos andpoetic nuptials are parallel terms describing parallel situations.

[25]I take the Jungian meaning of libido as life-energy rather than sexuality exclusively.

[26]Adriana Cavarero also interrogates this story of the Arabian Nights to discover subjectivity. She says that “narration and conjugal love go together step by step … the tale not only stops death” but weaves a bond of love and respect on both sides (Cavarero, 2000, p. 123).

[27]Some contemporary Muslim women claim the story of “Scheherazade demonstrates that women need not ‘Westernize’ to expand their rights and roles within their societies, and that Islamic history and literature may provide the most effective tools against Muslim zealots. … To look at Scheherazade anew is to see Muslim women's life before male-centred customs and interpretations of the Koran consigned girls and women to second-class citizenship”

[28]However, she also claims that we can use philosophy to undo or rethink the very same “masculine-feminine divisions that philosophy has helped to articulate and define” (Le Dœuff, 1989, p. 101). This is important to my premise that transformation can and must occur from both within and without (language itself, philosophy as a practice, the institution, etc.).

[29]In chapter five I will engage with the motif of reflectivity, as a necessary activity for women in order to achieve subjectivity. I associate this with the moon and silver, as does the fairy tale, which I analyse in that chapter.

[30]In conversation with von Franz’s archivist and translator, Dr Barbara Davies, Zurich 2006.

[31]This is reflected in the Arabic poem in relation to El Samar: “You are the dark of the night, and the hope of my imagination.” August 6th, 2013.

[32]Cixous, following Lacan, notes that women and men enter into the Symbolic Order, into language as structure, in different ways, or through different doors, and therefore the subject positions open to either sex within the Symbolic are also different. Sheherazade illustrates the way the subject sexed as female does so.

[33]One of Luce Irigaray’s strategies to break open phallogocentric language to include feminine discourse is that of mimesis. This inevitably alters the discourse - and the relationship - between men and women, which she intends as therapeutic. As Jean Byrne puts it, “her idea is that by receiving and interpreting the male unconscious women/Irigaray can help man to know himself and break free from his narcissistic imaginary” (Byrne, 2008, p. 59). In such a way, then, Sheherazadereceives, interprets and enables the King to know himself and break free from his narcissistic imaginary.

[34]“Narrative is a seductive mode of discourse, persuading by an enticing invitation to take up the perspective of the narrator, which excites one's imagination and feeling. Its operations are more like love than war, and thereby follows a mode of persuasion considered to be more suitable for women. These phenomena raise numerous epistemological questions: does the quest for ‘masculine’ prestige by using ‘masculine’ methods distort practices of knowledge acquisition? (Addelson 1983; Moulton, 1983) Are some kinds of sound research unfairly ignored because of their association with “feminine” cognitive styles (E. F. Keller, 1985)? Do ‘feminine cognitive styles yield knowledge that is inaccessible or harder to achieve by ’masculine’ means? (E. Anderson, 2011; Duran, 1991)While there are undoubtedly different ways of acquiring knowledge - I am relying on different styles in this chapter for instance - I nevertheless believe that to construct these styles along gender lines is problematic; although sexuate difference could indeed account for such difference, (indeed Irigaray would prefer it so) I argue that such knowledge-acquisition is available to both sexes. Furthermore, when certain such knowledge acquisition styles are privileged, such as ‘pure reason’, and others such as narrative, myth and fairy tale are denigrated, and the denigrated styles are associated with women, this is problematic.

[35]In “Belief Itself”, Luce Irigaray’s positions angels as mediators of love, in the ‘between’ (Irigaray, 1993b, pp. 23-53).

[36]A specific conflict arose while writing this chapter: the academy privileges objectivity, where the subjectivity of the writer disappears. Yet the task of Sheherezade was to insert her subjectivity, so she would not disappear within the Symbolic that excluded her. Is it the case, then, that as a woman describes the experience of jouissanceby speaking it, she re-enter the symbolic order and loses her jouissance? Is it “impossible to sing the dream of the Feminine within the inadequate masculine speech” (Schroeder, 1998, p. 290)?

[37]Jung sees the Word as a “pathologizing deity because religious literalism and historicism have severed the Word from the abyss which precedes it and so reduced it to an empty rationalism” (Dourley, 2006, p. 175).

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