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In the Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein compares the act of explaining to someone the meaning of a word to the act of explaining to someone the use of a chess piece in the game of chess. “ ‘This is the king’ (or ‘this is called the  “king” ’) are explanations of a word only if the learner already knows ‘what a piece in the game is’.” Further down, he continues, “We may say: it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name [my italics]” (Wittgenstein p. 19). We can take from this proposition that in order for a person to name an object or ask for the name of an object, she or he must be aware not only of the structure of which the name is a part, but also how the name is used in that structure (a structure that Wittgenstein would refer to as a “language game.”)

This concept takes on relevance to gender theory to the extent that we can synthesize it with Wittig’s conception of language as structurally gendered and patriarchal. In Gender Troubles, Butler explains Wittig’s concept of domination of gender in language: “Domination occurs through a language, which in its plastic social action, creates a second order, artificial ontology, an illusion of difference, disparity, and consequently, hierarchy that becomes social reality” (Butler p. 150). Therefore, if Wittiq’s conception of language is overlaid across Wittgenstein’s, then it is possible to say this: the fundamental structure of language is patriarchal and any act of naming, or any act of name comprehension, can only be understood in terms directly relational to the patriarchy implicit in the language.

From this premise, how female sexuality is discursively formulated may be elucidated. Simply put, female sexuality must be marked by the phallus somehow in order to gain entry into the patriarchally formulated discourse; it must become a piece in the patriarchal language game. Let us now turn to Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One to further discuss this idea.

At the beginning of her essay, Irigaray states, “Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between ‘masculine’ clitoral activity and feminine vaginal passivity.” In this description of female genitalia, each description functions in relation to the phallus, the clitoris as its mimetic image, and the vaginal canal as its complementary. Irigaray argues that this phallusiation of female sexuality does not account for the wholeness of female sexuality. She states that, “the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle that is commonly imagined.”  Hence female sexuality is a gestalt and in order for it to enter the language it must be parceled into pieces in relation to the phallus.

Female sexuality, in its entirety, must always then be situated on the other side of sexual discourse; it may never fully enter without fragmentation occurring. Thus a woman in society is put “in the position of experiencing herself only fragmentarily, in the the little structured margins of a dominant ideology, as waste, or excess, what is left of a mirror invested by the (masculine) subject to reflect himself, to copy himself” (FT p. 320).

In the closing of her essay, Irigaray gives her ideas a Marxist tinge: if it were possible for women to recover herself to her original wholeness, it would be a thread to the established order, and in particular to capitalist economics. If an entity cannot be sectioned into pieces, if it cannot be commodified, then it cannot be traded or exchanged, and thus it cannot participate in commerce. In other words, an ideology that allows for complete wholeness is antithetical to capitalism, for capitalism is founded upon division.

Works Cited (Outside of Course Documents)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, and Joachim Schulte. Philosophical Investigations. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2009. Print.


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