In honor of my sister Maud Ellmann, who celebrated a birthday this week, here’s an excerpt from her introduction to a book she edited years ago, Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (Longman 1994). Here Maud is discussing the work of another critic, Luce Irigaray. Maud explains that:
In Irigaray's Utopia, where women would enunciate their own sex, rather than deferring to the phallus, their language would defy grammatical divisions, making words as warm and slippery as lips:
"what a feminine syntax might be [Irigaray writes] is not simple nor easy to state, because in that 'syntax' there would no longer be either subject or object, 'oneness' would no longer be privileged, there would no longer be proper meanings, proper names, 'proper' attributes. . . . Instead, that syntax would invoke nearness, proximity, but in such an extreme form that it would preclude any distinction of identities, any establishment of ownership, thus any form of appropriation."
A little later Maud responds:
[I]t is troubling that Irigaray, judging by her style, can conceive of female discourse only in the form of gush, as if incontinence were the equivalent of liberation. To speak as women, it seems we are obliged to echo the unpunctuated rhapsody of Molly Bloom, in which the flow of words is ill-distinguished from the flow of bodily secretions; yet the notion that liquidity in discourse is superior to dryness is based on a bizarre confusion of the orifices. Whatever the future of women in language, it would be sad if Irigaray's ethics of 'mucosity' displaced the keener energies of women's wit, for 'brevity', as Dorothy Parker has observed, 'is the soul of lingerie'.Hurray for Maud and the "keener energies of women's wit"!