The Bodily Encounter With the Mother Book Extract

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She explains that their absence could possibly be causing irrationality and madness in women, since women are hardly ever heard. She discusses the now almost clichi?? d argument that scientific and political practices are still the sole privilege of men. In my view she seems mostly irritated by the fact that men according to her “have access to the truth, we do not. Often, we scarcely have access to fiction. ” (Ibid. pp. 415) Dealing mainly with the term ‘madness’, she argues that it can be connected with desire.

However, she says that men fail to recognise madness in themselves, instead they attribute to themselves wisdom, moderation and truth, and leave the woman to bear the burden of madness. And this is where the issue of the mother in the essay comes in. Irigaray believes that the relationship with the mother is a kind of sacred relationship, and calls it ‘mad desire’, ‘dark continent’. (Ibid. pp. 415) She states that although men laboriously try to hinder any desires for the woman-mother, men can in no way do without it any more than women can.

She argues that the desire for the woman is forbidden by the laws of men, because restraining oneself from that desire corresponds to good sense and good health according to men. She adds that what is now becoming seemingly obvious in our everyday life is that such behaviour functions on the basis of a matricide. And this is perhaps what men, in her view, want to attain. She adds weight to her argument by insisting that this can be seen even through mythology, in the stories of Agamemnon and Oedipus.

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From here Irigaray goes on to explain how a child is one with his mother while still in her womb.

Before the cutting of the umbilical cord, the child is still connected to the mother she explains. The child is then given a name (that of the father), presumably as she suggests, to break this bond, but this name is always late in terms of the scar left when the cord was cut. So no matter what men do to dissociate themselves from the mother, the most irreducible trace of identity still conforms with the unity they once had with her. Throughout the years men have sought to single out themselves from the female gender, and present themselves as the sole leaders of the human race.

However, Irigaray argues, that by “denying the mother her generative power and by wanting to be the sole creator, the Father, according to our culture, superimposes upon the archaic world of the flesh a universe language [langue] and symbols which cannot take root in it except as in the form of that which makes a hole in the bellies of women and in the site of their identity. ” (Ibid. pp. 419) Man, she states “has transformed his penis [sexe] into an instrument of power so as to dominate maternal power.

” (Ibid. pp. 420). Many of Irigaray’s metaphors come from female anatomy, in contradistinction to a culture that values only the body of the male. Her distrust of emotion comes from a realisation that feelings and emotions are often a construction of the other of the same – the drawn woman. Irigaray is quite clear in emphasising that women have been cut off from their own bodies by the culture that saturates us, and that women amongst themselves must find ways to reconnect with bodily/maternal experience.

In other words, she argues that there is the kind of woman, ‘othered’ by culture (the one with all the stereotypically feminine traits), who is a drawn woman – what she calls “the other of the same”. But there is yet another woman, not drawn by men who has never emerged, because she was buried a long time ago. She has no subjectivity, no language, no voice, and no home. Irigaray insists that the woman has been exploited, accorded as different, as other, because she IS different – sexually different and materially different.

Irigaray does not criticise those who search for equality based on gendered identity, but she does think that this strategy keeps feminism tied up in the “other of the same,” allowing feminism to be plugged right back into patriarchal discourse. In the last part of her essay, she asserts “we are always mothers once we are women”(Ibid. pp. 420), and women have other attributes than just that of giving birth; they bring love, desire and art to mention a few. However, she adds that this has been forbidden us, and we must strive to take back what is ours by right.

She continues debating that the woman should be given a right for the pleasures of the world, to passion, (she uses the French word ‘jouissance’ to explain herself better), to a voice, just like men are. Irigaray touches on various subjects in her essay, and reaches several conclusions. Wanting to discover one’s own sexual identity is indeed essential to one’s own maturity and development. Wanting to discover about ourselves as much as we can is by far no offence to ourselves or anybody else, but to ponder too deeply about these issues and to come up with stretched conclusions might prove counter productive and upset one’s emotional balance.

Perhaps what Irigaray yearns for is “for women to be recognised as bodies with sexual attributes, desiring and uttering. ” Such recognition by both sexes would deconstruct the soul/body split, and as Irigaray hopes, “Then, perhaps, another history would be possible”.


  1. Luce Irigaray, The bodily encounter with the mother, (extract), Modern Criticism and Theory: a reader, 2nd Edition, ed. David Lodge and Nigel Wood (New York: Pearson Education, 2000).
  2. Alison Assiter, Enlightened Women: Modernist Feminism in a Postmodern Age, (New York: Routledge, 1996) Women’s Exile, Trans. Couze Venn, Ideology and Consciousness 1, (1977)
  3. Luce Irigaray, The bodily encounter with the mother, (extract), Modern Criticism and Theory: a reader, 2nd Edition, ed. David Lodge and Nigel Wood (New York: Pearson Education, 2000), pp414 2
  4. Women’s Exile, Trans. Couze Venn, Ideology and Consciousness 1, (1977) pp. 76 Dorianne Calleja B. A. (Hons) English 3rd Year 1.

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