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The Impossibility Of Female Desire In Pygmalion And The Awakening

2062 words - 8 pages

In “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine,” Luce Irigaray argues that, because society uses a patriarchal language that privileges male-gendered logic over female-gender emotion, there is no adequate language to represent female desire. She writes that “feminine pleasure has to remain inarticulate in language, in its own language, if it is not to threaten the underpinnings of logical operations” and, because of this, “what is most strictly forbidden to women today is that they should attempt to express their own pleasure” (796). This inability to articulate female desire means that female desire becomes unutterable, something that cannot be expressed. According to Irigaray, this unutterable-ness of female desire in patriarchal language leaves only one option for women to attempt to express their desire and that is the act of mimicry or mimesis. Mimesis is not an attempt to represent female desire in patriarchal language; instead, mimesis is in attempt through the use of patriarchal language to reveal that female desire cannot be presented, a way to “make ‘visible,’ by an effect of playful repetition, what was supposed to remain invisible – the cover-up of a possible operation of the feminine in language” (795). Mimesis exposes how patriarchal language disallows or denies female desire by circling around the absence of that female desire, by making its absence perfectly clear in a patriarchal discourse.
The concept of a patriarchal discourse, necessary to Irigaray’s argument, is an example of a shared interpretive community, a term coined by Stanley Fish that refers to a discursively-created set of ideas, beliefs, and interpretations that belong to a community or multiple communities. The most important aspect of a shared interpretive community is that it names and interprets the objects and events in a person’s life. Fish argues that no object has an innate meaning because human interaction with any object necessitates language and interpretation and so every object is culturally-constructed through the language and interpretations of the person who encounters it. In the same way, humans are also culturally-constructed. Fish writes:
“No one of us wakes up in the morning and (in French fashion) reinvents poetry or thinks up a new educational system or decides to reject seriality in favor of some other, wholly original, form of organization. We do not do these things because we could not do them, because the mental operations we can perform are limited by the institutions in which we are already embedded. These institutions precede us, and it is only by inhabiting them, or being inhabited by them, that we have access to the public and conventional senses they make. Thus while it is true to say that we create poetry (and assignments and lists), we create it through interpretive strategies that are finally not our own but have their source in a publicly available system of intelligibility. Insofar as the system (in this case...

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