Myths, Matricide and Maternal Subjectivity in Irigaray


This paper revisits the theme of 'matricide' in Irigaray, and argues for the importance of constructing a non-matricidal account of female subjectivity: an account which does not prescribe a primordial rejection or 'abjection' of the maternal body. I consider this important for two reasons: in order to acknowledge that our relation to our mothers – and not merely our fathers – plays a crucial role in the formation of the 'self'; and in order for a non-conflictual mother-daughter relation to be rendered possible. I show that, whilst separation from the maternal body is essential if women are to accede to subjectivity, this does not necessitate psychic 'matricide' in the strong sense: to deny the mother expression within the Symbolic economy (Jacobs 2004). I argue that what I term Irigaray's 'primary imaginary' register – the infant's encounter with the maternal body – coheres with what Alison Stone (2012) calls 'potential space': a mediating maternal 'third term' which sustains psychic links with the maternal body and prevents the infant from 'merging' with the mother. By repairing the links with the maternal origin, but at the same time allowing for separation, this model also makes female genealogy possible. However, Irigaray does not elaborate her theory in such terms. This paper therefore brings together Irigaray's writing on matricide – principally in her essay 'Body Against Body: In Relation to the Mother' (1993a) – with her attempts to evoke a 'feminine imaginary' – a maternal bodily imaginary – in her earlier texts, and argues that we might use her underdeveloped notion of a 'primary imaginary' as an anti-matricidal maternal bodily imaginary which persists after Oedipalization.

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Green, L., (2012) “Myths, Matricide and Maternal Subjectivity in Irigaray”, Studies in the Maternal 4(1), 1-22. doi:


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Laura Green



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