The Age of Breath by Luce Irigaray

‘The Age of the Breath.’ Translated by Staci Boeckman, Katja van de Rakt & Luce Irigaray . Chap. 14 In Luce Irigaray: Key Writings, edited by Luce Irigaray (London, New York: Continuum, 2004:165-70)

Luce Irigaray

In the last decade, Luce Irigaray has started to draw together insights from her philosophical and psycho-linguistic scholarship with her personal experiences of spiritual practice, primarily through the Yoga tradition, but undoubtedly influenced by her infant Catholicism.  Not everyone is a fan of this move of course, the idea that there are different types of knowledge that might share an egalitarian platform is strongly resisted in academia, but I think that this move is entirely consistent with Irigaray’s development as a radical feminist thinker.  To embrace spiritual ways of knowing is, for her, to embrace the particularity of her Self as a person and as a woman.  The objectified, empirical knowledge privileged by the Academy, and by public political discourse in general, is one that privileges a male perspective; hence, her investigation into body ways of knowing and the feminine divine are a natural extension of her earlier work conceptualising gender.

For Irigaray, ‘god’ has no independent reality outside of the human psyche, so although I will not follow her into that territory, she is an interesting and instructive traveling companion on my journey towards a love epistemology.  If the human psyche comes in two forms, again as Irigaray asserts, then there will be two distinct projections of the divine: masculine and feminine.  Therefore, women must recover their own unique conception of the divine as part of the process of discovering their own uniqueness as women.  Irigaray argues this centres around the body; specifically the breath of the body.

‘The divine appropriate to women, the feminine divine, is first of all related to the breath.  To cultivate the divine in herself, the woman, in my opinion, has to attend to her own breathing, her own breath, more even than to love.  Breathing, in fact, corresponds to the first autonomous gesture of a human living, and it is not possible to be divine without being autonomous with respect to the mother and the father, to the lover, to the child, to the others in general, women and men.’ p.165

If we take care to step around the reductionist tendencies in Irigaray’s work, there is an insight here worth paying some attention to.  Unless we know ourselves, we cannot know what we are projecting on to others; unless we take the time to listen to all of our amazing capacity for knowledge – body, soul, mind and strength – we limit our natural human resources for engaging with life, the divine and the universe.  This need not exclude the operation of other, non-subjective sources of knowledge that originate outside of us as human persons, which is what the Christian doctrine of ‘revelation’ is all about.  Rather, human subjectivity and revelation work hand in hand.

Integrating the body in the process of intellectual discernment increases the pathways of spiritual enlightenment, one human being at a time.

‘If the gesture of God shows in the myth of Genesis – the necessity of making matter divine through the breath, this gesture cannot take the place of the woman-mother’s breath.  If it were so, God would have to create all the humans one by one.  This cannot be the meaning of the creative gesture in Genesis.  Nor can it be that of the incarnation of Jesus, in which God entrusts his spirit to the woman twice: the first time as woman-daughter, spiritually virginal, the second time as woman-mother of a divine son.’ p.169

You can access this fascinating chapter of Irigaray’s on line through google books.

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