Recherches sur la Feminite
Written by Michele Montrelay
Translated by Philippe Gendrault
Research on Femininity
“Like all women you judge with your gender, not with your thoughts.”
- A. Artaud
Why in psychoanalysis, has the theory of femininity been articulated from the
start as an alternative? What does it mean for the analyst to have to chose between two
contradictory conceptions of women, namely that of Jones and that of Freud? To ask
these questions requires recalling briefly the content of these two doctrines and what
determines their incompatibility.
According to Freud, the libido is identical for both sexes. Moreover, it is always
essentially male because the clitoris, the girl’s erotic organ, is an erectile and external
organ homologous to the penis. And when, during the Oedipal phase, the girl desires a
child from her father, this child is again invested with a phallic value: the child is nothing
other than the substitute of the penile organ of which the girl knows to have been
dispossessed. Thus, feminine sexuality is constantly elaborated in relationship to phallic
On the other hand, according to Jones and the British school (M. Klein, K.
Horney, J. Muller) there is a libido that is specifically feminine. From the start, the girl
gives privilege to her body’s inside and to her vagina. These archaic experiences of
femininity leave an indelible trace. Therefore, it is not enough to give an account of
feminine sexuality from a “phallocentric” point of view. One must also measure the
impact that the anatomy, the sex proper, exercises on the girl’s unconscious. 2
So, Jones and his school, in answer to the Viennese, point out the early character,
and even inborn character, of femininity. Freud only spoke of one libido, while Jones
distinguished two types of libidinal organization, namely male and female. Forty years
later, the problem of femininity continues to be posited in terms of this Freud-Jones
contradiction. In fact, can this contradiction be overcome?
Phallocentrism and Concentricity
The research conducted by J. Chasseguet-Smirgel and a team of analysts,
published in “Female Sexuality: New Psychoanalytic Views,” has recently shown that it
is possible to escape from this contradiction. Overcoming this contradiction is possible
only when polemical preoccupations are left behind and replaced by clinical
considerations. Without a doubt, the “New Psychoanalytic Views” unfold upon the
detailed analysis of the confrontation between the two schools. However, once the
historical review of this torrid quarrel has ended, once the lines of power have been
drawn, the authors do not take sides. Leaving the scene of the debate, they turn our
attention to the analyst, where the one who speaks is no longer a school’s emissary, but
the patient on the couch.
It is rare to get an account of large fragments of a cure, even more rare with
female cases. But here we have the leisure to follow the rhythm, the style, the meandering
of the discourses of female patients. One is taken inside the space circumscribed by this
discourse, that space of the unconscious. As stated by Freud, in this space, negation does
not exist. Consequently, contradictory terms, far from excluding each other, coexist and
even cover up one another. In fact, those trying to orient themselves in the “New
Psychoanalytic Views” will refer both to Freud and to Jones, since this book speaks of
femininity according to Freud, but it also gives femininity an immediate voice that we
cannot forget. It exudes an odor di femina which, to be carefully considered, must refer
both to English and Viennese work.
Thus, the “New Psychoanalytic Views” calls for a double reference, which
deserves to be explained further. Let us return to Freud. The essential organizational
modalities of feminine desire cannot be captured without taking again into account the
very notion of phallocentrism so disparaged by Freud’s contemporaries. The “New
Psychoanalytic Views” constantly and explicitly refers to it. But, it must be specified that
the phallus cannot be identified with the penis. According to this text, far from
representing an anatomical reality, the phallus represents the ideals and values assigned
to the penile organ. Therefore, by taking the concept of phallus out of the organic context
with which it is often confused, the authors clearly seize the nature of phallocentrism:
“That is why the penis itself- considered as a thing, an objective, biological, or
even sociocultural reality- must be left aside in this essay on penis envy.”3 (137-8)
On the contrary, what must be specified is the ideal dimension to which the male organ
refers: “Penis envy is always envy of an idealized penis.”4 (139)
Simultaneously, the models that are proposed to take into account feminine
desire, explicate clinically what this “phallocentrism” is about. The authors are not
duped, when a female patient, for instance, declares herself powerless and humiliated
under the pretext that she is only a woman. According to them, penis envy, although
latent in her remarks, is not reducible to an instinct. It is impossible to legitimize penis
envy “through accepting an alleged castration as her lot, for which phylogenesis would
bear the responsibility.”5 (136)
On the contrary, the desire for a penis can be analyzed in as much as it results
from a complex elaboration, which is established to maintain the father’s phallic power.
Only female patients, whose father found himself threatened in his prestige and symbolic
status, posit it necessary to possess the penile organ. Their suffering and their symptoms
manifest themselves to clearly show that something essential has been taken away,
namely that the penis has been imaginarily confused with the phallus. In this way, the
father’s phallic power can be fantasmatically ascertained.
In other observations of both homosexual and “normal” women, a particular form
of relationship to the paternal phallus will appear. In this relationship, the goal will
always be to maintain an inaccessible element in order to maintain desire. Such a subtly
constructed relationship does not differ from that established by a man. The in depth
observation of a masculine case of perversion has shown this clearly.6
Showing that desire is only pure artifice, the “New Psychoanalytic Views” refutes
the hypothesis that desire is innate, as brought forward by the British school in regard to
femininity. The “New Psychoanalytic Views” confirms Freud’s reserve in regard to the
“natural” femininity upon which Jones insisted7. Nevertheless, the “New Psychoanalytic
Views” take into account this essential clinical work elaborated by the British school. In
particular, B. Grunberger’s article insists upon the specific, concentric organization of
feminine sexuality8. Everything we read in the “New Psychoanalytic Views” is stated as
if women, more than men, remain dependent upon the instincts. For this reason, the
authors, along with Jones, see the intricacy of archaic themes: oral, anal and vaginal. J.
“For the little girl, it is often the mouth which is symbolically equivalent to the
vagina (see E. Jones).” (91)
Further, Maria Torok reiterates and develops the British school’s theory:
“M. Klein, E. Jones, K. Horney, and J. Muller long ago pointed out the early
discovery of vaginal sensations and their repression. I myself have noticed that
the encounter with the other sex was always a reminder, or occasioned the
awakening, of one’s own sex. Clinically, penis envy and discovery of the boy’s
sex are often associated with the repressed memory of orgastic experiences.” 10
Hence, the two theoretical positions, so far considered incompatible, are found to
be verified together in the context of a clinical study. The Jones-Freud contradiction
seems to have been successfully overcome.
The Displaced Contradiction
This success remains implicit. The authors never refer to it as a consequence or
achievement of their work. Let us consider these few words in which B. Grunberger
analyzed feminine narcissism. According to him:
“There is… a concentric aspect characteristic of woman’s libidinal cathexis: she
is always at the center of it, but at the same time the center is the phallus which is
also essentially unique.”11 (76)
To affirm both the “concentric” and phallic character of feminine sexuality is to give
reason to both Freud and Jones. But then, shouldn’t we formulate a new point of view
that maintains the truth from the perspective of both schools?
The “New Psychoanalytic Views” does not formulate such a view. Everything
unravels as if the Jones-Freud contradiction lost its pertinence in regard to clinical work.
However, to verify two incompatible propositions does not suppress the contradictions
binding them. No proof is provided that phallocentrism and concentricity complete each
other harmoniously, even though they are equally constitutive of feminine sexuality. I
suggest that both coexist, not in a complementary fashion, but instead, based upon their
incompatibility. It is this very incompatibility that is specific to the feminine unconscious.
However, the authors of the “New Psychoanalytic Views” impose a displacement
upon this contradiction that is not sufficiently put into evidence. It must be said and
underscored that, although first articulated as a polemic, the Jones-Freud incompatibility
is much more than quarrels between schools. In fact, once the quarrels and passions are
put out, the contradiction reappears as a play of forces, which structure the feminine
unconscious itself. Phallocentrism and concentricity, both simultaneously constitutive of
the unconscious, confront each other following two modes. The first and most spectacular
mode is exhibited as anxiety while secondly, in sublimation, the same power struggle is
played out in reverse. As we shall see, in unconscious economy, these determining
processes play off the incompatibility of the two aspects of femininity analyzed by Jones
I. The Dark Continent
Representation of Castration.
Let us speak of anxiety in general, at least of what we know about it, as it applies
to both sexes. This general approach will allow us to better situate processes of anxiety
that are specific to femininity.
Anxiety in psychoanalysis is most often described as "castration anxiety," that is
to say the child's horror when he or she discovers the penis-less body of the mother. This
discovery would lead to the fear of undergoing a similar fate.
It is true the analyst must count in every cure on the "imprescriptible" power of
this fear of mutilation. However, this fear is not anxiety. In fact, to represent the basis of
one's fear is already to give it a reason. And anxiety precisely is without reason, meaning
that anxiety presupposes the annulment of all thinking processes. In other terms, anxiety
appears as a timely limit when conscious and unconscious representation is blocked.
How to analyze such blockage? It can be analyzed first, by specifying the nature
of the representation, which is the object of this blockage. Three positions can be
suggested, based on Lacanian theory. These positions will be used as markers.
1. The unconscious is a structure, or combination of desires, which are
articulated as representations.
2. These representations can be said to be representations of castration, in as
much as their literal articulation takes away from the subject some part of
3. This jouissance, whose loss is the price of representation, is what is at stake.
Let us clarify these three positions:
1. Unconscious representation refers to processes that are different from those
commonly designated by the term "representation." This term "representation"
ordinarily refers to consciousness. It concerns the reflective activity applied to the
reality of the subject (philosophical) as well as objects. Unconscious representation
on the contrary does not reflect nor signify either subject or its objects. Unconscious
representation is pure investment in speech (parole) as such. How does this occur? An
example will clarify this. Let's see what difference there is between conscious and
unconscious representations of castration.
2. In children, conscious representation of castration does not designate any actual
mutilation. Conscious representation of castration is an imaginary evocation. It is the
other who threatens, expressing an interdiction in the case of a boy, or else, in the
case of a girl, she imagines that, in order to explain the absence of penis, "someone
took it away from me."
Such a representation becomes unconscious at the moment when it refers to the very
words constituting the representation itself. Taken out of reality, this representation
only refers to its form. What is now invested in the forbidding enunciated speech
(enonce interdicteur) as well as in the imagination of phantasm, is the specific
articulation, that is to say the various plays on words, sounds and images, made
possible by this articulation. However, why do words become the objects of such
investment? Why do they mobilize all the unconscious resources? Leaving these
questions open and referring the reader to Freud, it can be observed that in early life,
words were the extension of the mother's body and at the same time circumscribed
the space of suspense of her desire. In words were joined in extremis, what was most
real in jouissance and what was furthest from the phallus. Maybe the power of words,
in the unconscious, remains the same as it was in these early moments of life.
3. Unconscious representation consequently is only a text. However, this text has
consequences since, as we know, sexuality organizes, not according to this instinct or
to that "tendency," but according to what has been said. Consequently, any direct or
peaceful relationship to the body, the world and pleasure is rendered impossible by
the fact of discourse. In other words, the unconscious representation of castration is
above all "castrating representation."
But at the same time, the term "representation" must be taken in a second sense.
Indeed, the discourse's sequence, which has left its mark on us, does not stop
reproducing. Thus, we can define the unconscious as the locus where these re-
presentations are placed into effect, indefinitely. The event of repetition and the
constant return of words have been sufficiently shown to be held as fact. Therefore, if
the representation does not stop from presenting itself, how can it disappear? The
analyst, nevertheless, must count on this obliteration. For the patient who
retroactively speaks his anxiety, this patient in fact speaks of a time when nothing for
him was unthinkable. The body and the world then were all confounded in the same,
overly present, overly immediate chaotic intimacy. Everything was spread in
proximity, in some unbearable fullness. What was missing was a lack, an empty
"space," somewhere. It seems that in clinical cases, the castrating dimension of
representation is not addressed. Everything occurs consequently, as if the
representation, at least its effect, was temporarily annulled.
Oedipus and the Stake
Let us consider for now the following hypothesis, namely the persistence of
representation along with its vacillation into anxiety. Let us imagine that
occasionally, representation is produced, but without castrating consequences.
Running on empty, the representation would lose the power to distract the subject
from jouissance. This process would be produced, not in relationship to facts inherent
in representation itself, but because of an intrusion, of a violence of the real. A
reading of Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus-Rex allows us to draw a model.
Oedipus, at the drama's beginning, appears as the one whose relationship to
representation is sufficiently ascertained to unravel the Sphinx's enigmas. And yet,
the tragic action will progressively unveil the ruin of this representation.
According to the elders, the Gods willed this ruin. According to the analyst,
Oedipus's ruin was consequent to his incestuous desire. One must keep in mind both
the notion of persecuting Gods and the notion of desiring subject. Indeed, the theme
of fateful betrayal, a project determined by external forces, emphasizes the essential
fact that the realization of unconscious desire is always so catastrophic that no subject
can have carried it out on his own.
It is one thing to desire and it is another to realize such desire. As we have seen, to
desire is to represent the missing object (mother), that is to say obtaining
"gratification" (jouir) from the object exclusively in the form of words. To gratify this
desire, leads on the contrary, to a divestment of words for reality's sake. In other
words, obtaining gratification (jouir) from the mother leads to getting back the stake,
which ordinarily, indefinitely postponed, insures representation.
This is why this desire must not be realized. Therefrom, there is repression,
meaning that one cannot think, cannot see or take this desired object, even and
especially if it is close by. This object must remain lost.
Thus, in Oedipus-Rex, the Gods or chance make restitution of the object of desire.
Oedipus gets gratification (jouit) from Jocasta. Repression, nevertheless, continues
simultaneously to occur in a more and more pressured fashion. The recourse to
Tiresias, to sacrifices and to the law, demonstrates the desperate attempt to not see the
plague's cause. This effort remains vain. The repression remains only a gigantic
pantomime unable to insure the revival of the desire's stakes. We know that
representation without stakes is worth naught.
Oedipus' tragedy allows us to emphasize both the economy and the failure of
representation. But as well, the tragedy points to the cause of such failure. Why does
the encounter with the sphinx occur just prior to the drama? What does this hybrid
being, thoughtful and voracious, which flails her wings while speaking refer to? Why
does this monster, this woman with the body of a beast, settle at Thebes' gates?
Is the encounter with this enigmatic figure of femininity threatening to the
subject? Is it determinant of the representation's ruin?
Wandering about feminine sexuality and measuring the weak hold of
psychoanalytic investigation upon it, Freud compared feminine sexuality to a "Dark
The "New Psychoanalytic Views" opens up by recalling this formula. How
rightfully so! Yet, it is as if the authors did not see the menacing shadow such a
remark brings up. For feminine sexuality is a dark unexplored continent. It is
unexplored not because of some provisory insufficiency in research but because it
cannot be explored.
Without a doubt, feminine sexuality can be described and taken into account
clinically or theoretically. But elsewhere, in the context of the analytic cure, feminine
sexuality heavily resists the process of analysis. On the couch, a discourse is enunciated.
It is a discourse analogous to that which is so well presented in the "New Psychoanalytic
Views." It is a discourse "live," which, because of its immediacy, appears to express life
itself. And yet, it is this immediacy, this "life" that creates an obstacle to the analysis.
The spoken word can only be heard as an extension of the body, a body lying there, and a
speaking body. The spoken word seems to hide nothing. Nothing is latent, all is manifest.
Femininity leads to a failure of interpretation in that femininity ignores repression.
Femininity - and not woman, is liable to take on such a status. Let us clarify the three
terms, woman, femininity and repression:
The term "woman" (like the term "man") will refer to the subject who is the
consequence of unconscious representation.
Femininity will be defined as the group of "feminine" drives (oral, anal, and vaginal)
in that they resist the processes of repression.
And finally, repression will be distinguished from censorship. While one undergoes
censorship, repression, on the contrary, has the value of an act. Consequently, the
obstacles imposed upon libidinal development by censorship appear to be resulting from
the conundrum of the Other's desire. Regressions or fixations may have hindered the
father or mother from symbolizing such and such key-event of the child's sexuality. As a
consequence, this "omission," this un-said, functions as a dam. The censorship is
established as the consequence of the absence of representation. Censorship cannot be
represented and thereby cannot be interpreted. Repression, on the contrary, presupposes
symbolization. As we have seen, repression allows for representation to become invested
as such while the real satisfaction, now abandoned, becomes the stake. Repression is
always an economically structuring process.
As we shall see, feminine eroticism is more censored and less repressed than that
of man. As the stake of unconscious representation, feminine eroticism does not lend
itself easily to a "loss of oneself." The drives, of which the British school has shown the
exuberant force, circumscribe a locus, a "continent." This "continent" can be said to be
"dark" in the sense that it remains outside the circuit of symbolic economy (foreclosed).
Let us see now what processes maintain femininity "outside repression," in the
raw so to speak.
The first of these processes, which is social, concerns the absence of interdictions.
The girl does not submit as much as the boy to the threats and defenses, which sanction
masturbation. The girl's masturbation is often silenced out in that it is more discreet.
Francoise Dolto has shown that in the refuge of intimacy, the girl as well as woman can
live on a "protected" sexuality. Anxiety surrounding notions of rape and penetration can
be evoked without having to notice that, in reality on the contrary, the girl is somewhat
not at risk. In opposition to this, the boy's anatomy exposes him very early to grasp that
he is master neither of the expression of his desire nor of the intensity of his pleasure. He
experiences, by chance might we say, but also he experiences with the law, with his sex.
His own body comes to be at stake.
In regard to castration, man's position differs from that of woman, whose
sexuality is liable to remain outside the process of repression. When such an eventuality
occurs, for women, the stake of castration is displaced. The stake then consists in
sexuality and the desire for the other sex, most commonly the father's, then that of the
male partner. This is why Perrier and Granoff were able to show "women's extreme
sensibility to the misadventures of man's castration."
Yet again, other processes, no longer social but instinctual, maintain feminine
sexuality outside of the economy of representation. These address the intricate
relationship between oral-anal drives and vaginal pleasure. Jones, M. Klein and Dolto
have insisted on the fact that pre-established oral and anal schemas determine the archaic
experiences the little girl has of her vagina. We could say that early sexuality organizes
around one orifice, one organ, which is both digestive and vaginal and, which tends to
indefinitely absorb, take in and devour. We find here the theme of concentricity discussed
by the authors of the "New Psychoanalytic Views."
If this insatiable hole-organ is at the core of early sexuality, if it orients every
psychic movement toward closed and circular schemas, then it compromises woman's
relationship to castration and to the law. To absorb, to take in, to grasp is to reduce the
world to the most archaic instinctual "laws." This movement as such is opposed to that
other movement presupposed by castration, in which the body's jouissance is lost "for" a
discourse, which is Other.
The validity of clinical observations provided by the British school is not here put
into question. Every experience of child analysis confirms the early "knowledge" of the
vagina. In more general terms, it is true that the little girl experiences her femininity very
early. But at the same time, it must be emphasized that precociousness, far from favoring
some possible "maturation," instead becomes an obstacle, since it maintains eroticism
outside the representation of castration.
Anxiety and the Relationship to the Body
A third series of processes create another obstacle to repression. These processes
concern woman's relationship to her own body, a relationship which is simultaneously
narcissistic and erotic. This occurs because woman obtains gratification [jouit] from her
own body as she would obtain satisfaction from an other woman. Every event of a sexual
order (puberty, erotic experiences, maternity, etc.) happens to her as if coming from
another woman. The body is the fascinating actualization of Women's Femininity but also
and especially, of the mother's femininity. Everything occurs as if "becoming woman,"
"being woman" opened access to the body's jouissance, as feminine and/or maternal. In
the "self-esteem" she holds for herself, woman cannot differentiate between her own
body and the body that was the "first object."
What has only been suggested must now be demonstrated. Namely that, taking
shape at puberty, loading itself in intensity, in weight and in presence, as the object of a
lover's desire, the real of the body re-actualizes, reincarnates the real of another body.
This other body is that which in early life was the substance of words, the organizing
desire. It is that body which became the material of archaic repression. Locating herself
as maternal body (as well as phallus), woman cannot repress, "lose" so to speak, the
original stake of representation. As in the Greek tragedy, she finds herself threatened by
ruin. However, in the principle of such a threat, different processes are at work. For
Oedipus, the restitution of the stake occurred by chance or from the Gods. This restitution
occurred despite an interdiction. For woman, on the contrary, nothing is forbidden. There
are no enunciations, no laws that prohibit the recuperation of the stake. This is because
for woman, the real that imposes itself and takes the place of repression and desire, is the
real of the body proper.
The anxiety bound to this body's presence can only be persistent and permanent.
This body, which is so close and which must be inhabited, is one object too many. This
object must be "lost", i.e. repressed, in order to be symbolized. Consequently, symptoms
will tend often to simulate this loss. "There is no longer anything, it is a hole, it is the
void…" Such is the leitmotiv of any feminine cure, which mistakenly could be heard as
the expression of some "castration." When in fact, this is on the contrary, a defense
produced to face up to the conundrum and shortcomings of symbolic castration.
The analyst will often speak, regarding feminine anxiety, of "the fright of
femininity," particularly in adolescent girls. This fear, as we have seen, does not only
result from rape fantasies or fantasies of transgression. There is a more profound fear. It
is the fear of the feminine body as a non-repressed, un-representable object. In other
terms, femininity, "according to Jones," that is to say femininity experienced on an
immediate and real mode, acts as a blind spot in those symbolic processes analyzed by
Freud. Two heterogeneous, incompatible territories co-exist within the feminine
unconscious, namely that of representation and that which remains "a Dark Continent."
Defenses of the Masquerade
It is rare in analysis for anxiety to manifest itself as such. Most often, anxiety
hides under the defenses it provokes. One must now organize a representation of
castration, which is no longer symbolic but instead imaginary. A lack will be simulated
and thereby simulating the loss of some stake. This enterprise will be fortuitously easy
since feminine anatomy itself provides a lack to be seen, that of the penis. While
remaining her own phallus, woman will transvest this lack, bringing forth in trompe-l'oeil
the dimension of castration. These play-acting modes are many. One can play out the
absence of penis through silence as well as through loud vanity. The absence of penis can
be the model of either erotic, mystical or neurotic experiences The anorexic refusal of
food shows quite well the desire to reduce, to annihilate one's own flesh, to holds one's
body for nothing. Masochism as well, per its passive position, its powerlessness, its
inactivity, mimics the lack. We could in that sense, reiterate Helene Deutch's
observations and those of the "New Psychoanalytic Views." The same transvestism of
castration can be found in the register of erotic fiction, in which O, the feminine orifice,
is "falsely" represented in its successive metamorphoses.
Because the frame of our study does not allow for enough space to spend on
clinical cases, we can turn more willingly towards the poets, towards all those who have
transformed the feminine "act" into a work of fiction or into a movie.
Let us recall Fellini, the author of "Juliette of the Spirits," a movie, which
disturbed so much because it grasped only too well the presence of some "dark
continent." A dimension of femininity is revealed in the midst of follies, feathers, hats,
baroque and bizarre constructions rising in some silent insignia. Taking the term from
Joan Riviere, Lacan identified this dimension as masquerade. Yet, we must observe that
such a masquerade purports to say nothing, absolutely nothing. And in order to produce
this "nothing," woman shall transvestite herself of her own body.
Novels by Marguerite Duras deploy the same world of stupor and silence. One
could show that this silence, this un-said exhibits, always, the fascinating dimension of
feminine lack. It appears that Marguerite Duras wants to make this silence speak as a
scream (moderato cantabile) or as "music." As is mentioned in "The Rapture of Lol V.
Stein," "One would need an absence-word, a hole-word (…) it would not be said, it
Thus, a woman's sex, this vagino-oral organ, which is an obstacle to castration, at
the very same time "falsely" represents this castration. The consequence of this deception
leads to anxiety. This is why, since the dawn of time, man has described as evil those
defenses and the feminine masquerade.
Consequently, woman will not be accused of thinking nor of committing this evil.
Instead, woman will be accused of incarnating such evil. It is scandalous every time she
plays off her sex to turn words and law around. It is scandalous every time she subverts a
law or words that find support in the rather masculine organization of the gaze. Evil is
felt as such, says Freud, when anxiety seizes the child facing the unveiled body of his
mother. "Is this hole in the flesh all there is, all for which his desire longed?" In that
moment, the symbolic is crushed in the real, of which woman, in her relationship to
nothingness - that is to say the Thing - provides a glimpse. Freud also says that the
pervert cannot see the castrated body of his mother. In that sense, all men are perverts.
On the one hand, man gets gratified [jouit] without saying so, without getting too close -
for he would have to assume either a terrible anxiety or else hatred. Man gets gratified by
proxy of that which is glimpsed on woman's side. On the other hand, he pretends not
understanding that her relationship to the Thing is sublimated. Such evil must be
The film "Dies Irae" uncovers all the masculine "defenses" organized to face
femininity and the direct relationship woman entertains with jouissance. Man is terrorized
by the threat that woman brings upon "his" own repression. In order to reassure him, to
convince him, woman forges ahead on her path, namely, she explains herself. She means
to tell the truth yet does not understand that her discourse will never be grasped. The fact
of saying it all, which is to say of bypassing the law of repression, contaminates the most
precious truth, rendering it suspicious, odious and condemnable. Hence emerges
masculine censorship: frustration, interdiction, and disdain. Although absurd and
arbitrary, this censorship has weighted upon woman for centuries. Nevertheless, what
matters does not lie there, instead, it lies upon the fact that the abandonment of jouissance
is definitely imposed upon woman. Then and only then can the scandal cease. The
feminine gender becomes witness to symbolic castration.
The analyst cannot define feminine castration as the direct effect of the constraints
that he or she imposes. If the kind of woman, said to be neurotic or hysteric is that woman
who does not stop wanting to be her own sex (gender), then can't it be said that the
"adult" woman is the one who reconstructs sexuality in a territory beyond sex? The
principle of masculine libido as affirmed by Freud could be clarified in light of such
II Jouissance and Sublimation
1. Feminine Castration: Hypothesis
Let us borrow another example from literature. Portraits of women drawn by
Pierre Klossowski lend themselves easily to a clinical commentary. It may be surprising
to notice the virile attributes (both anatomical and psychological) of which this author
endows his female heroes, evoking some kind of perversion. One can also see in this
accoutrement, the materials of an apologue, in which an accomplished type of femininity
would be drawn. This accomplished femininity, the "true" woman, the "woman" woman,
would be painted as one who has "forgotten" her femininity, who would entrust its
jouissance and its representation to another. For this reason, Klossowski's main character,
Roberte cannot in any way speak of herself, of her body, and of the Word [parole] her
body encloses. It falls upon another to create the discourse of femininity in love and/or
Under the sign of this "forgetfulness," a second economy of desire can be
described, in which the stake is no longer the same. It no longer concerns the penis or
masculine sexuality. It is concerned instead with early femininity that becomes the
material of repression. One or more phases of latency correspond to this decathexis of
sexuality "according to Jones." During these phases, the little girl, as well as woman, let
go of her own body and of the pleasure associated with it. For this reason, in analysis,
periods of frigidity can often be considered as an index of movement. These periods
represent the moment where the analysand decathects vagino-oral schemas, which until
then were alone capable of opening access to erotic pleasure.
The decisive jump through which the feminine unconscious is modified is not so
much related to a change in the love object as much as it is related to changes in
unconscious representatives. New masculine, phallic representatives substitute for the
first "concentric" representatives. The law, the ideals of the father, which now enter her
discourse, constitute the new representatives susceptible to supplement the models of
archaic representation (feminine oedipus).
It must be noticed that this substitution does not mutilate woman from the penis
she never had. This substitution deprives her of her sense of early sexuality. There is
forgetfulness, or else repression of femininity. And this forgetfulness constitutes the
symbolic castration of woman.
For the sake of clarity, let's schematize the hypothesis formulated about feminine
Stake Representative Relationship
Economy I Masculine Sexuality Vagino-oral Orifice
(According to Jones) (Phallocentrism) (Concentricity) Anxiety
Economy II Early Femininity Signifying Order Sublimation
(According to Freud) (Concentricity) (Phallocentrism)
Three remarks must be made:
1. One can see that the vectors of feminine economy, phallocentrism and
concentricity always refer to Jones and Freud but in a reversed fashion.
2. Clinically, the distinction between the two is not as easily observed. Both forms
of economy co-exist with the predominance of one over the other (provisory or
3. The notion of sublimation is now introduced.
If we can demonstrate that in type II economy, all relationships to jouissance, including
sexual pleasure, are organized per sublimation, then not only will a specific dimension of
femininity come to light but we will also be able to avoid the misunderstanding, namely
that sublimation is mistakenly considered as the passage of the sexual realm to the non-
2. Sublimation and Metaphor
Occasionally, the dimension of pleasure arises in the cure or more precisely in the
transference (meaning all of the unconscious modifications arising in the enunciation of a
discourse by the patient on the couch).
M. Torok in the "New Psychoanalytic Views," evokes the manifestation of this
dimension of pleasure. She explains that when one of her patients "understands" an
interpretation, an inhibition is lifted. This frequently indicates that something has been
traversed. Namely, the patient dreams and in the dream she has an orgasm (the dream's
description follows in the text).
Insisting on the fact that pleasure arises when a new interpretation is elaborated,
M. Torok states the essential about pleasure. Contrary to what is believed, this pleasure
does not result from the lifting up of the inhibition, that is to say in the freeing of a
tension contained for too long a period of time. Far from being understood in the cliché
of "repression," pleasure, on the contrary, arises because new representations are being
implemented. The other, the analyst, we should add, was the first to enunciate these new
representations. Thus, the analyst, when interpreting, articulates verbally something
belonging to a sexuality, which until then was maintained in a wild state, in the "dark."
Here, pleasure is the consequence of another's spoken word [parole]. More
precisely, pleasure results from the elaboration of a structuring discourse. Indeed, in the
cure of a female analysand, it is not essential to make sexuality more "conscious." It is
not fundamental to interpret it in the common sense given to the term "interpret." The
analyst's word [parole] takes on an all-together different function. The analyst's words no
longer explain but instead structure, by the fact alone of being articulated. Bringing forth
verbally a representation of castration, the analyst's words allow sexuality to pass into a
discourse. In fact, this type of interpretation does repress, at least in the way this term is
Understood as such, interpretation allows us to perhaps better grasp the cultural
and social function of psychoanalysis. Understanding the Freudian theory of sexuality
about women and femininity as it was elaborated, one could wonder if psychoanalysis
had not been, in fact, articulated to precisely repress (in the sense of allowing symbolic
representation) femininity. We could then better understand Freud's reserves about Jones
whose attempt at making femininity "speak" could have compromised the repression
carried on by Freud so successfully.
Let us return to our example. How can pleasure be, when at the time of
interpretation, repression is produced? We should emphasize again that the purpose of
interpretation, as it is understood here, does not lie so much in explaining or in
commenting but rather in articulating. The emphasis, again, must be placed on the form
of words. In this form, a certain number of signifiers enunciated by the analyst - and
therefore necessarily relative to his/her desire, his/her listening - are enunciated about the
analysand's phantasm. These words are other. The analyst's discourse is not reflexive but
different. As such, the analyst is not "mirror" but metaphor of the patient's discourse. And
precisely, it is that metaphor, which is susceptible to engender pleasure.
First Freud then Lacan have analyzed the motives of this pleasure in regard to wit.
One laughs when it is realized that words say a text other than what was believed in the
first place. And this pleasure becomes even greater when the other laughs as well, when
the original misunderstanding plays in one more register. What, then, is the function of
this other text, this other ear? Its function is to create a substitution of text, of what was
originally heard. Its function is to engender a metaphor. Pleasure arises at the same time
as the production of the metaphor. This pleasure, says Lacan, identifies itself with the
sense proper of this metaphor.
Although void of meaning, what does this sense consist of? We can define it as a
measure of the empty "space" caused by repression. The metaphor, posing as not being
what has been said, at the same time digs and designates this space. The pleasure of wit,
according to Freud, stems from a return of the repressed. But could we say that this
pleasure of wit consists in having the dimension of repression played out in the text itself?
The pleasure of wit can be evoked regarding all sublimation processes. This
operation consists in opening new divisions and new spaces in the very material, which it
transforms. Thus, in the patient's dream mentioned above, her orgasm became the
enactment of an interpretation in the transference. Shouldn't we, then, represent this
orgasm as a need for fresh air between two signifiers, suddenly allowed by the metaphor?
Like a burst of laughing, the orgasm is witness to the sense, albeit meaningless, of
the analyst's word [parole].
4. Pleasure and Jouissance
Feminine amorous pleasure varies considerably in its nature and consequences. There
is much variety in regard to the invested body areas, its intensity, its outcome (orgasm or
not) and its consequences. Indeed, a "successful" sexual relationship can provoke either
appeasement or anxiety. Let us recall as well, that one cannot necessarily conclude that
there is a neurosis simply because a patient reports being frigid. For, reciprocally, even
psychotic or severely retarded individuals can have intense vaginal orgasms. How can we
then organize ourselves in the exuberance, the bizarreness, and the paradoxes of these
pleasures? In order to do this, we will have to pay less attention to variations of form and
intensity and instead pay more attention to their functions from an economical standpoint.
Once again, it is possible to distinguish two types of sexual pleasure. One type will be
defined as "early [precocious] pleasure" while the other type will be defined as
As was mentioned above, early sexual pleasure results from experiences of
archaic sexuality. Although this pleasure can be played out in an adult couple or may
even exhibit the characteristics of adult sexuality, this pleasure only re-actualizes and in
the orgasm pushes to the limit the jouissance woman has of herself. In this type of
pleasure, the other's gaze, the other's desire reinforces further the erotic relationship to
one's own sex, to sex proper. This may explain the anxiety arising both before and after
the sexual act.
Inversely in its consequences, pleasure can be structuring. Thus, the kind of
"enlightenment," of inspiration that woman experiences after making love means that an
unconscious event was produced .And this event allows her to somewhat distance herself
from the Dark Continent.
We will call "sublimated pleasure" that pleasure which, although similar in form
to incestuous pleasure, nevertheless supposes and confirms woman's access to the
symbolic. This pleasure no longer refers to femininity as such, but instead refers to the
signifier and more precisely to the repression produced by the signifier. For this reason,
this pleasure comes to identify itself with the pleasure of wit.
This transformation of pleasure occurs along the line of the transmutation of a
type I economy to a type II economy, as schematized above. A type II economy would
presuppose on the one hand, forgetting early sexuality, and on the other hand, the
implementation of a new representative or signifier of castration. In this light, couldn't we
say that for woman, the sublimated sexual act constitutes the implementation of a type I
economy in which,
1) The signifier would be actualized within the rhythm, the periodical return of the
2) The stake would consist in the repression of the feminine drives, themselves
inseparable from the penis per se, and
3) Pleasure would be characterized by the metaphorical sense by which the penis would
"repress" the body and feminine sexuality.
Let us clarify this. We can say that the penis' regular beat, the penis's rhythm and
gestures of love produce the most elementary form, the purest signifying articulation. A
series of beats, which acts as bar. It opens up greater and greater rhythm, intensity, acute
and grave jouissance, so much that the object - its instrument, the penis - amounts to
Yet, paradoxically, the penis provides jouissance because it imposes limits.
Sublimation always implies a de-idealization. The phallic signifier, detached from the
terrifying superegoic representations gravitating around some imaginary phallus, must be
brought to the fore as an object of "little sense."
Although most often left in suspense during childhood, the crossing of this threshold
comes into operation during adulthood following the first sexual experiences.
Must we then speak of unconscious processes? Although some of the groundwork may
have been performed, it is life, and with it a certain ethic, that will carry on this task. As
the mourning of amorous idealization takes place, as the dimension of the gift comes to
the forefront, the penis can then, in its insignificance, objectify some couple's "difficulty
in being" through which some jouissance will be lost. Thus, in its consistency, the penis
cannot be separated from the cloth of this archaic feminine jouissance, which has been
renounced. The penis comes to embody this jouissance, returning it suddenly without
bound. For the penis deploys this jouissance proportionally to the measure of this
"forgetfulness," which is infinite.
Ethics then cannot be dissociated from a "certain" relationship to jouissance. Only
the implied de-idealization makes possible the coincidental occurrence and occasional
knotting of two perfectly distinct and heterogeneous spaces. The voluptuous sensation
involving the aspiration of the whole body to enter a space absolutely Other and infinite,
cannot be explained as consequent to the mere perception of the vaginal cavity. Such
sensation implies that this cavity be carved out of repression, that is to say of a symbolic
Pleasure therefore, far from being reduced to an organ's excitation, on the contrary
carries woman over into the register of the signifier. Like dreams, hypnosis, and the
poetic act, sublimated pleasure points to a moment when unconscious representation
takes on an absolute value. At that moment, the act of articulating per se, single-handedly
composes the discourse's sense, which is a sense of nothingness [rien]. Casting away all
signification, the discourse's sense overtakes woman and harnesses her in her advance
Except in some instances, man's transposition into the signifying order cannot
occur so violently and radically. Indeed, how can man abandon that which he masters and
which he uses to obtain jouissance? Moreover, this game supposes a risk, a risk that is
characterized by the tumescence along with the vertigo and the anxiety, brought up by the
absolute dimension of feminine demand. Woman waits for it all and receives all of it
from the penis at the time of love.
In order to take into account, not pleasure proper, but the orgasmic pleasure so
often described by the analyst as "jouissance," another distinction must be made between
jouissance in a type I economy and the orgasm produced in a sublimated economy (type
II). In type I economy, because woman was unable to maintain an unconscious economy,
the consequences of pleasure hit an impasse. This kind of orgasm, confining the
insignificance of pleasure, barred access to the symbolic. On the contrary, sublimation
carries not only pleasure but the orgasm as well into the metaphor. This metaphor,
initiated again and again, heated up, at the time of pleasure, explodes. It bursts out in the
double meaning we can confer to this term, namely that of deflagration or revelation.
There is continuity between the rise of pleasure and its apogee in the orgasm. Pleasure
carries the signifier to the maximum of its radiance while the orgasm points to the
moment when, exploding under the effect of its own power, the discourse comes to break
down, to be disjointed. The discourse comes to no longer be anything. Breaking down,
becoming disjointed, the discourse articulates itself in a meaning constantly escaping.
The orgasm in discourse brings us to the point where feminine jouissance becomes
determined as the written word. At this point, it appears that this jouissance and the
literary text (text also written as an orgasm produced within a discourse) are both
consequent to the murder of the same signifier.
Isn't it for this very reason that for Batailles, Jarry and Jabes, the written word is
told like a woman's jouissance? And isn't it for this reason that what is written by woman
is the Name?