Shoshanna Felman, “What Does A Woman Want?”


Felman wonders whether feminists can reclaim Freud’s famous question in a letter to Marie Bonaparte: “What does a woman want?” The question is always male – a bemusement in the face of women’s resistance to their place in patriarchy, but can it be reclaimed? If so, what are its affordances? In examining the male texts of Balzac and Freud, Felman sees a common fascination with female resistance – to be appropriated, interpreted, or recognized.

Felman tells the story of how Simone de Beauvoir began The Second Sex not as a feminist, but as a woman situating herself, first through the eyes of others, then through her own eyes. de Beauvoir tells Sartre that she became a feminist less through writing than through the existence of her book in a community of women around the world. This idea of becoming a woman, becoming a feminist, is vital to Johnson. It is also, as Rich says, a re-vision of the past.

Felman’s chapter on Freud begins with Juliet Mitchell’s argument that Freudian psychoanalysis is not sexist. Felman agrees that psychoanalysis has a number of useful valences for feminist reflection, but does not think Freud is immune from mistakes and oversights that can be critiqued through a feminist lens. Ultimately, she argues that femininity is “the navel of psychoanalysis: a nodal point of significant resistance in the text of the ongoing psychoanalytic dream of understanding; a navel that, though ‘unplumbable,’ is also positively… [the] ‘point of contact with the unknown’… dynamic play… with its own self-difference” 120.

In the final chapter, Felman considers Woolf, de Beauvoir, and Rich as “autobiographers.” She begins by claiming the Interpretation of Dreams as Freud’s own autobiography. Freud’s value is of “a structure of address inclusive of its otherness,” but she begins to turn in her own autobiographical consideration away from men entirely. Like Woolf, she attempts to correct this: she is speaking to women with the knowledge that she is being overheard – she wants to make room for men, too (like A Room of One’s Own). Rich first accuses Woolf of an oversight in this sense. Felman encourages us to “read autobiographically,” “giving testimony to the unsuspected, unexpected ‘feminine resistance’ in the text” 133. It is a practice of “experiencing this feminine resistance as a joint effect of interaction among literature, autobiography, and theory, insofar as all three modes resist, precisely, one another” 133. Thus we must read ourselves with theory’s tools as a resistance to theory – a similar formulation as art and autonomy for Adorno.

Felman points out that in Rich’s famous poem, “Diving Into the Wreck,” the speaker says, “I am he, I am she,” breaking down the very binary that Rich uses to resist Woolf’s address. The poetry is “autobiography and resistance to autobiography,” as Woolf’s is as well, and as Felman notes, de Beauvoir’s too. Woolf’s way to autobiography is via the detour of fiction – she cannot be named in A Room of One’s Own – she is “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please.” (This indeterminacy is also like Rich.) Thus Woolf births her own autobiographer – Mary – who allows her to look back to her mother and mother’s mother and Judith Shakespeare, and forward to the future as well. The “splitting of consicousness” she describes, also characteristic of Emily Dickinson and Doris Lessing, is genealogical as well as personal, then. The real child of Woolf’s autobiography is the “writer’s certainty” that things will be better in 100 years.

Barbara Johnson, “The Feminist Difference”


Feminism is no longer one thing, Johnson begins. It speaks multivocally and with contradictions. “Double consciousness” in W.E.B. DuBois’ terms is made into a political problem when Freud puts “race” in quotation marks. In the complex interweaving of culture, gender, race, class, and psychoanalysis, “literature is important for feminism because literature can best be understood as the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination… as a mode of cultural work” 13.

Johnson first examines Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Freud’s “Case of Hysteria” as locations of the figure (the outline or form, for Kant) and ground (the attention, or content, for de Beauvoir). The girl who is the “blank page” in Irigaray is here imagined as the “background” or “negative space” (think of Woolf’s Lily Briscoe). Psychoanalysis would like to suture subject and background neatly. In Hawthorne, the background changes, while the mark remains constant – their relation changes because the background does. In Gilman, the girl creates a form out of the texture of the background (wallpaper). The cost of achieving “definitive femininity” in Freud’s terms is the subject of both stories. What these texts engender is a coda in which the author or narrator steps back as reader to interpret the work. But the image of the body as “blank page implies that the woman’s body is white” 35. The problem of the black woman in American literature is one of Topsy having no origin and Dilsey having no end.

In “Muteness Envy,” Johnson considers Keats’ urn as a silent woman – “thou still unravished bride of quietness.” The chiasmus “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” is a cancelling silence as well. The moment of the poem is the freezing right before “ravishing” – rape or ecstasy, we cannot be sure. Women are silent about pleasure or violation, Johnson argues. She reads the silence of Campion’s film The Piano as productive precisely because it can be read as rape or pleasure – it elicits polarized opinions. Feminism disrupts not because it speaks where women should be silent, but because it introduces an interference with male self-pity, which keeps attention and interest on the subjects, rather than the objects, of patriarchy.

In “The Postmodern in Feminism,” Johnson turns to semantics. Is postmodern a ‘good’ word? If postmodernism can be described by intense wordplay, decentered subjectivity, and language as social construction, we should consider in the postmodern era how legal language constructs women. In the indeterminacy of language, how can we speak of “women” if there “is uncertainty about what the word ‘woman’ means?” For Johnson, it is this very “incoherence of woman” that is “encountered in the engagement with the heterogeneity” of real women. Indeterminacy is the result of material existence, not the occlusion of it. She reiterates Cixous’ desire to stop talking of women in a reproduction of the binary in which “women are still standing facing men” 194. We must place difference among women, rather than between the genders, as if it were a war. The difficulty of this challenge constitutes the future of feminism.


Eric Naiman, “Nabokov, Perversely”


Naiman’s book is premised on the idea that “the ‘good reader’ of Nabokov must be alert to the hidden meanings suggested by all sorts of seemingly chance or inconsequential details in the text; he must work to distort the normal meaning of language” 2. One of the most refreshing experiences of reading Naiman’s book is the feeling of being liberated from the enslaving attitude of genuflection so many critics of Nabokov have indulged in over the years. Naiman reads closely, carefully, and responsibly, but he also reads Nabokov’s instructions to us themselves as riddles and contradictions, rather than as orders we must follow blindly. Still, Naiman says that his book is about “loving Nabokov as he wanted to be loved. It is also about why it is difficult to do so” 14. 

Nabokov invites us to read perversely, but also ridicules the too-close reader, placing our anticipation in a fearful and anxious place. Nabokov naturalizes “perverse” forms of reading. Lolita, for instance, is “a perverse book, if by ‘perverse’ we mean a book that induces readers to express symbolically and vicariously impulses they normally censor and suppress,” he quotes Sarah Herbold 10. Perversion in the Freudian sense is the lingering over intermediate objects or regions of the body that are not directly involved in genital sex – this is also, however, the erotic. 

The chapters of Naiman’s book exploit the Shakespearean resonance of “nothing” as female genitalia in Lolita and moves on to queerness and aggression in reading Pale Fire and the use of con and chat in Pnin, an argument that has defined my reading of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. 

Karl Marx, “Commodities & Money”


In the beginning of Capital, Marx outlines the necessary conditions for the production of commodities, or useful external objects produced for exchange on a market. Therefore, the commodity necessitates a market for exchange and a social division of labor to create specialized products. Commodities have use value (purpose) as well as exchange-value (worth). The value, Marx asserts, depends on the quantity of social labor required to produce the object. If 2 items are equatable in value, there must be a “third thing” that can be sought as well. Capitalism is unique in its pursuit of profit through the exchange of commodities – how is profit generated? For Marx, it is through labor exploitation – labor is “variable capital” because it is paid less than its worth. Commodities are more “constant capital,” contributing as they do to other, finished commodities without increasing their value. The “surplus value theory” of profit is thus that the labor of the worker exceeds what is necessary according to the value of his wages.

In this model, profit should fall with increased mechanization and industrialization, right? Indeed, this is a major flaw in Marx’s argument and we have not seen the downfall of capitalism or the shrinking of its profits. His theories are most valuable in questioning the teleological model of a stable capitalist economics (he suggests the boom & bust cycle as inevitable) and the idea that the relations between worker and capitalist are harmonious and mutually beneficial (he restages this as a class-based struggle for rights against the capitalist drive for profit).

Some excerpts from “Commodities”:

“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an ‘immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity… an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another… from two points of view of quality and quantity… an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work of history” 43.

“We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use-value… A use-value, or useful article… has value only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article” 46.

“Use-value becomes the form of manifestation, the phenomenal form of its opposite, value. The bodily form of the commodity becomes its value-form… some social relation lies at the bottom of it” 62-3.

“Every product of labor is, in all states of society, a use-value; but it is only at a definite historical epoch in a society’s development that such a product becomes a commodity, viz., at the epoch when the labor spent on the production of a useful article becomes expressed as one of the objective qualities of that article, i.e., as its value. It therefore follows that the elementary value-form is also the primitive form under which a product of labor appears historically as a commodity, and that the gradual transformation of such products into commodities, proceeds pari passu with the development of the value-form…. the elementary form of value… is a mere germ, which undergo a series of metamorphoses before it can ripen into the price-form” 67.

“Each commodity such as coat, tea, corn, iron, &c., figures in the expression of value of the linen, as an equivalent, and, consequently, as a thing that is value. The bodily form of each of these commodities figures now as a particular equivalent form, one out of many. In the same way the manifold concrete useful kinds of labor, embodied in these different commodities, rank now as so many different forms of the realization, or manifestation, of undifferentiated human labor” 69.

“Gold is now money with reference to all other commodities only because it was previously, with reference to them, a simple commodity. Like all other commodities, it was also capable or serving as an equivalent… it began to serve, within varying limits, as universal equivalent… The difficulty in forming a concept of the money-form consists in clearly comprehending the universal equivalent form, and as a necessary corollary, the general form of value, form C… deducible from form B, the expanded form of value, the essential component element of which is form A, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or x commodity A = y commodity B. The simple commodity-form is therefore the germ of the money-form” 75.

The fetishism of commodities:

“In all states of society, the labor-time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development… from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labor assumes a social form” 76.

“The equality of all sorts of human labor is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labor-power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labor; and finally, the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labor affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products” 77.

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor… social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses… the fantastic form of a relation between things [compared to the actual form of light reaching our eye in the transmission of the visibility of the object]” 77.

“Articles of utility become commodities, only because they are products of the labor of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. The sum total of the labor of all of these private individuals forms the aggregate labor of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labor does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In other words, the labor of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labor of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers… not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but… material relations between persons and social relations between things” 78.

“Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language…” (think about Freud and close/symptomatic reading here. Also Heidegger’s jar?) 79.

“Labor appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves… one ton of iron and two ounces of gold appear as naturally to be of equal value as a pound of gold and a pound of iron in spite of their different physical and chemical qualities appear to be of equal weight. The character of having value, when once impressed upon products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value. These quantitites vary continually, independently of the will, foresight and action of the producers. To them, their own social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them” 79.

“Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of these forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him… The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labor as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production” 81.

Marx’s fantasy world is one of Robinson Crusoe made into community, which would regulate the quantity of labor and the distribution of products better than capitalism:

“A community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labor-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor-power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labor are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual” 83.

“The religious world is but the reflex of the real world. And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labor to the standard of homogenous human labor – for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, &c., is the most fitting form of religion” 83.

In sum, fetishism is the social control of objects over subjects to the extent that it appears natural.

“The mode of production in which the product takes the form of a commodity, or is produced directly for exchange, is the most general and most embryonic form of bourgeois production… its Fetish character is comparatively easy to be seen through. But when we come to more concrete forms, even this appearance of simplicity vanishes” 86.

What inheres in commodities is the value, not the use, as Marx proves through a series of ventriloquizations:

“Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use-value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange-values. Now listen how those commodities speak through the mouth of the economist. ‘Value’ – (i.e. exchange-value) ‘is a property of things, riches’ – (i.e. use-value) of man. Value, in this sense, necessarily implies exchanges, riches do not.’ ‘Riches (use-value) are the attribute of men, value is the attribute of commodities. A man or a community is rich, a pearl or a diamond is valuable… as a pearl or a diamond.’ So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange-value either in a pearl or a diamond… the use-value of objects belongs to them independently of their material properties, while their value, on the other hand, forms a part of them as objects [so say economists, wrongly, for Marx]… The use-value of objects is realized without exchange, by means of a direct relation between the objects and man… their value is realized only by exchange… a social process… ‘To be a well-favored man is the gift of fortune, but reading and writing comes by Nature'” 87.

The end of this quote converts exchange-value from something relative into the absolute. The true relation is the opposite of what it seems.



Helene Cixous: “The Laugh of the Medusa”


“I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their  bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” 2039.

“There is, at this time, no general woman, no one typical woman… the infinite richness of their individual constitutions: you can’t talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogenous, classifiable into codes – any more than you can talk about one unconscious resembling another” 2040.

Cixous turns from the past to face the future, starting with the same concern as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own: why don’t women write? It is because they are discouraged and excluded from its ‘greatness’ 2041. “We have internalized this horror of the dark. Men have committed the greatest crime against women… led them… to be their own enemies… they have made for women an antinarcissism!” 2042.

“We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful” 2042.

This sets up the metaphorization of women, which is the issue at the heart of ecriture feminine. In Derrida’s terms, speech was immediacy and writing was absence or deferral. But both are structured through the difference between the signifier and the signified that make up the sign. Hegel’s binaries and dialectics, supposedly reversed by Marx, nevertheless do not account for language as something between the spiritual and the material. Male writers brought out the repressed or obscured in writing through the symbolic figure of the feminine. Cixous, on the contrary, wants to render those figures literal – as bodies. As a poststructuralist, she is also interested in what the binaries of structuralism have left to uncover in the gender dynamic.

“Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with phallocentric tradition. It is indeed that same self-admiring, self-stimulating, self-congratulatory phallocentrism” 2043.

“To write. An act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories… she has always occupied the space reserved for the guilty… she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter” 2044.

“It is by writing, from and toward women, and by taking up the challenge of speech which has been governed by the phallus, that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic, that is, in a place other than silence” 2044.

The network of giving between women is vital to Cixous’  mode. “It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing… which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But it will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system… by subjects of automatisms, by peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate” 2046. Cixous opposes to a “bisexuality” that would collapse difference and refuse to acknowledge gender the “multiplication of the effects of the inscription of desire” and both genders “over all parts of my body and the other body” 2047. We are not obligated to “deposit our lives in their banks of lack,” writes Cixous, simply because man “holds the rock” of castration’s lack over us 2048.

Ecriture feminine is the impossible paradox of the assertion of the female body in/as writing and the history and possibility of its being written by men. If man is A and woman is not-A, then one half is essentially destroyed or obscured so the other half makes sense. Therefore, Cixous does not write as “a feminist,” which would be to reproduce the structure of The One, based on a binary (Lacan says this makes One). She opposes this to heterogeneity and multiplicity instead. Though she has been accused of essentialism, she is also battling it here, in the limits of language itself.

“They riveted us between two horrifying myths: between the Medusa and the abyss” 2048. (Interesting that the Medusa myth involves a mirror… Lacanian?) “We’re going to show them our sexts!… Men say there are two unrepresentable things: death and the feminine sex… they need femininity to be associated with death; it’s the jitters taht gives them a hard-on! for themselves! They need to be afraid of us… a woman’s body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardor” 2048-9. The female body itself is diffuse, and has many centers – erotically and sensually, it is not focused genitally, as the man’s is 2052 (the rhizome).

“Begetting a child doesn’t mean that the woman or the man must fall ineluctably into patterns or must recharge the circuit of reproduction… Either you want a kid or you don’t – that’s your business… it’s up to you to break old circuits… defamilialization… Let us defetishize. Let’s get away from the dialectic which has it that the only good father is a dead one, or that the child is the death of his parents” 2053/

“Oral drive, anal drive, vocal drive – all these drives are our strengths, and among them is the gestation drive – just like the desire to write: a desire to live self from within, a desire for the swollen belly, for langauge, for blood… I want all of me with all of him… But not because [woman] is gelded; not because she’s deprived and needs to be filled out, like some wounded person who wants to console herself or seek vengeance: I don’t want a penis to decorate my body with. But I do desire the other for the other, whole and entire, male or female, because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive. Castration? Let others toy with it. What’s a desire originating from lack? A pretty meager desire” 2054.

There are few texts because few women have won back their bodies. But we are “more bodily” than men – it is how we have suffered, and we should use the body to learn a new speech – to make a new language for women that explodes and turns around phallic language 2050.

“A love that rejoices in the exchange that multiplies. Wherever history still unfolds as the history of death, she does not tread… She gives that there may be life, thought, transformation. This is an ‘economy’ that can no longer be put in economic terms… not her sum but her differences. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking” 2056.



Jacques Lacan, from Seminars XI & XX



“Today I shall continue the examination of the concept of repetition, as it is presented by Freud and the experience of psychoanalysis…. No praxis is more oriented towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psychanalysis… an essential encounter… with a real that eludes us” 53.

In Aristotelian terms, tuche (the encounter with the real), is beyond the automaton (the return to the governance of the pleasure principle). Repetition is “always veiled in analysis” for Lacan 54. This is because the tuche, or “real as encounter,” “first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma… the form of that which is unassimilable in [the real]… imposing on [repetition] an apparently accidental origin” 55.

“The encounter, forever missed, has occurred between dream and awakening, between the person who is still asleep and whose dream we will not know and the person who has dreamt merely in order not to wake up… the true formula of atheism is not God is dead… [but] God is unconscious” 59.

“The place of the real… stretches from the trauma to the phantasy… the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming” 60.

Referring to Kierkegaard’s essay on Repetition, Lacan compares its focus on the old to Freud’s approach:

“Freud is not dealing with any repetition residing in the natural, no return of need, any more than is Kierkegaard. The return of need is directed towards consumption placed at the service of appetite [Tomkins]. Repetition demands the new. It is turned towards the ludic, which finds its dimension in this new… Whatever, in repetition, is varied, modulated, is merely alienation of its meaning… the true secret of the ludic, namely, the most radical diversity constituted by repetition in itself” 61.


Lacan asks how we can “ground this repetition first of all in the very split that occurs in the subject in relation to the encounter. This split constitutes the characteristic dimension of analytic discovery and experience; it enables us to apprehend the real, in its dialectical effects, as originally unwelcome… the primal scene so traumatic” 69. Lacan describes Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception as the next step from “the regulation of form, which is governed, not only by the subject’s eye, but by his expectations, his movement, his grip, his muscular and visceral emotion… his constitutive presence… his total intentionality” 71. In The Visible & the Invisible, Lacan writes, we see that

“the eye is only the metaphor… of the preexistence of a gaze… it is no doubt this seeing, to which I am subjected in an original way, that must lead us to the aims of this work, to that ontological turning back, the bases of which are no doubt to be found in a more primitive institution of form” 72.

“The split that concerns us is not the distance that derives from the fact that there are forms imposed by the world… the limits that we encounter in the experience of the visible. The gaze is presented to us only in the form of a strange contingency… the lack that constitutes castration anxiety. The eye and the gaze – this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field… something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it – that is what we call the gaze” 73.

Essentially, the gaze is the anxiety of the loss of autonomy that occurs when a subject realizes he is also an object among objects and can be viewed. It is related to the mirror stage, where the child realizes its external appearance, but as an idealized form of itself. Though it is Sartre’s term, Foucault made it his in applying the self-regulation that results from the gaze to fields of medicine and power structures. It is related to Mulvey’s assertion that the camera’s male gaze makes both men and women see themselves through male eyes.

“That in which the consciousness may turn back upon itself – grasp itself… as seeing oneself seeing oneself – represents mere sleight of hand [Peeping Tom]. An avoidance of the function of the gaze is at work there” 74.

“[In narcissism] can we not also grasp that which has been eluded, namely, the function of the gaze?… we are beings who are looked at, in the spectacle of the world. That which makes us consciousness institutes us by the same token as speculum mundi… that gaze that circumscribes us, and which in the first instance makes us beings who are looked at, but without showing this? The spectacle of the world… appears to us as all-seeing… The world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionistic – it does not provoke our gaze [vs woman]. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins too… in the so-called waking state, there is an elision of the gaze, and an elision of the fact that not only does it look it also shows… In a dream, [a man] is a butterfly. What does this mean? It means that he ses the butterfly in his reality as gaze ” 75.

“Next time, I propose to introduce you to the essence of scopic satisfaction… In so far as the gaze, qua objet a, may come to symbolize this central lack expressed in the phenomenon of castration, and in so far as it is an objet a reduced, of its nature, to a punctiform, evanescent function, it leaves the subject in ignorance as to what there is beyond the appearance, an ignorance so characteristic of all progress in though that occurs in the way constituted by philosophical research” 77.

“Psychology… lead[s] the subject back to his signifying dependence…. the tuche is represented in visual apprehension… the stain… the level of reciprocity between the gaze and the gazed at is, for the subject, more open than any other alibi… we should try to avoid, by our interventions… allowing the subject to establish himself on this level… we should cut him off from this point of ultimate gaze, which is illusory… It is not, after all for nothing that analysis is carried out face to face. The split between gaze and vision will enable us, you will see, to add the scopic drive to the list of the drives… it is this drive that most completely eludes the term castration” 77-8.



“Law does not ignore the bed… what remains veiled in the bed… namely, what we do in that bed – squeeze each other tight” 2-3. “‘Usufruct’ brings together in one word… the difference between utility and jouissance.. you can enjoy your means, but must not waste them. When you have the usufruct of an inheritance, you can enjoy the inheritance as long as you don’t use up too much of it. That is clearly the essence of law – to divide up, distribute, or reattribute everything that counts as jouissance” 3.

“Jouissance is what serves no purpose… the superego is the imperative of jouissance – Enjoy!” 3. “Jouissance of the other… of the body of the Other who symbolizes the Other, is not the sign of love” 4. “Love, of course, constitutes a sign and is always mutual” 4. “Love demands love. It never stops demanding it. It demands it… encore. ‘Encore’ is the proper name of the gap in the Other from which the demand for love stems” 4. “L’amur is what appears in the form of bizarre signs on the body… the sexual characteristics that come from beyond” 5. “Is Eros a tension toward the One?” 5.

“Analysis demonstrates that love, in its essence, is narcissistic, and reveals that the substance of what is supposedly object-like – what a bunch of bull – is in fact that which constitutes a remainder in desire, namely, its cause, and sustains desire through its lack of satisfaction, and even its impossibility. Love is impotent, though mutual, because it is not aware that it is but the desire to be One, which leads us to the impossibility of establishing the relationship between… them-two sexes” 5.

Jouissance is essentially phallic, though there is a specifically feminine jouissance that is the jouissance of the Other, and which both men and women can experience without comprehending it. (Later Lacan will develop surplus jouissance, based on Marxist surplus, to describe pleasure without use value).

“The phallus is the conscientious objection made by one of the two sexed beings to the service to be rendered to the other. Don’t talk to me about women’s secondary sexual characteristics because, barring some sort of radical change, it is those of the mother that take precedence in her. Nothing distinguishes woman as a sexed being other than her sexual organ” 7.

“Everything revolves around phallic jouissance, in that woman is defined by a position that I have indicated as ‘not whole’ with respect to phallic jouissance… the obstacle owing to which man does not come… to enjoy woman’s body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ” 7.

“Sexual jouissance has the privilege of being specified by an impasse… The intersection… covers or poses an obstacle to the supposed sexual relationship. Only ‘supposed,’ since I state that analytic discourse is premised solely on the statement that there is no such thing…Jouissance, qua sexual, is phallic –  in other words, it is not related to the Other as such” 9.

“What is implied… by the demonstrable finity of the open spaces that can cover the space that is limited and closed in the case of sexual jouissance?… The sexed being of these not-whole women does not involve the body but what results from a logical exigency in speech… language exists and is outside the bodies that are moved by it” 10.

Women can be treated “one by one,” can be named and counted, but Lacan differentiates this from “the One of universal fusion. If woman were not not-whole – if, in her body, she were not not-whole as sexed being – none of that would hold true” 10. “The subject manifests himself in his gap, namely, in that which causes his desire… As for being that would be posited as absolute, it is never anything but the fracture, break, or interruption of the formulation ‘sexed being,’ insofar as sexed being is involved in jouissance” 11.


Lacan moves beyond Freud in that he imagines a jouissance beyond that determined by the phallus. If in the first case the phallus is the axis between the two sexes, in this case there is a One – that sexuality is one in language, and that sexuality is and is constituted by language. This is true because sex is not between subject and Other but subject and object. Masculine sex is therefore (in Freudian terms of polymorphism) always perverse – it always covers the absence of the Other. Therefore the fantasies of women are also masculine. Maternity is made masculine by its relation to the object, which Lacan uses to explain why perversion is ‘unnecessary’ to female sexuality. Femininity is not opposed to masculinity, but ‘supplementary’ to it. This is largely accomplished through Lacan’s belief in the unconscious of language – femininity can exist there outside the male.

dir. Chantal Ackerman, “Jeanne Dielman”


Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a 1975 film by director Chantal Ackerman. 3 hours and 20 minutes in length, the film shows 3 days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, a Belgian widow and housewife with one grown son, a university student, who sleeps at home and for whom Jeanne is still financially responsible. Jeanne fills her days from morning to night with the same routine she kept when her husband was alive, going to the market, making tea at a certain time, making particular meals on certain days (Ackerman said in an interview that “she didn’t need a man to go on living in that same way because she was so imprinted”). To make ends meet, she babysits for the neighbor in the morning and sleeps with men between 5 and 5:30 on weekday evenings. On the second day, Jeanne begins to “slip up” and make small mistakes in her routine (dropping a spoon, overcooking the potatoes), which rattles her. On the third day, she ends up with a span of free time because of some more slip-ups and sits in her living room in a restless panic. In the final sequence of the film, she reluctantly orgasms during sex with her client, fixes her hair in the mirror, takes a pair of scissors from the drawer, and stabs her customer to death.

The film is a little over the top in its feminist twist on Lacan (Ackerman said that her “unconscious” starts to come through when Jeanne’s schedule deteriorates and she makes her “slip-ups”), but it is a fascinating exploration of what “the female gaze” is, or what women are outside of their symbolic or exhibitionist value for men. The tiresome repetition with a difference is reminiscent of Stein, though the payoff in the ending here is much more shocking. This is certainly another ‘flat’ film in its shooting, though not in exactly the same way as some of the others. There are very few long shots or closeups in Jeanne Dielman; instead, most of the action unfolds in the mid-range shot typical of TV. The camera is conspicuous through its very lack of movement – we become aware of it because it does not follow Jeanne’s face. It is often positioned so that she is exactly at the center of a head-on meatloaf-mashing session, directly overhead during sex, or squarely off to the side of the kitchen, where she enters in and out of the frame as she continues her routine. It is this very passivity (itself a “feminine trait”) that makes us aware of how little of a woman’s world a movie actually shows, and absorbs us (again, in a yonic mode) in the non-action the film portrays.

Heather Love: “Feeling Backward”



“The history of Western representation is littered with the corpses of gender and sexual deviants” 1. The project of the book is to look back at the painful, moving stories of queerness rather than only “affirming the legitimacy of gay and lesbian existence” 2. “The turn to the negative in queer studies was also the result of a deep intellectual engagement during this period with [Foucault, who] describes the ways that dominated groups may take advantage of the reversibility of power… discourse produces power ‘but also undermines and exposes it'” 2. For example, as homosexuality (“inversion”) was translated from religious taboo and legal violation into the discourse of illness, it became possible for it to ‘speak in its own behalf'” 2.

The contradiction of queerness as “delicious and freak… is lived out on the level of individual subjectivity; homosexuality is experienced as a stigmatizing mark as well as a from of romantic exceptionalism” 3. It also exists between celebrity gays and lesbians and the real violence and inequality of the everyday. Love is concerned with the deep emotions that painful texts (like Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 The Well of Loneliness) stir in us; even if the project of queer studies has to be to affirm, for Love, it seems it also has to be to dwell in the affects of pain and damage, to turn “attention to several late 19th and early 20th century literary texts visibly marked by queer suffering” 4. Whether vague or explicit, the texts of Pater, Cather, Hall, and Warner are all engaged in “feeling backward,” the “painful negotiation of the coming of modern homosexuality… an account of the corporeal and psychic costs of homophobia” 4.

The backward-looking image of the text is drawn from Lot’s wife, who could not but look back at the loss of the city as a consequence of sin 5. Like “trope,” which means a turn of the “word away from its literal meaning,” Love will turn characters and phrases out of context “to create an image repertoire of queer modernist melancholia in order to underline both the losses of queer modernity and the deeply ambivalent negotiation of these losses within the literature of the period” 5. Inherent in modernity’s insistence on progress are also its failures and regressions 5. Aesthetically, too, “the new” is prized alongside nostalgia, primitivism, and melancholia in modernism 6. Queerness is “a backward race,” “a past,” a confrontation with death for Love 6.

“Backwardness has been taken up as a key feature of queer culture. Camp, for instance, with its tender concern for outmoded elements of popular culture and its refusal to get over childhood pleasures and traumas, is a backward art” 7. “I also consider the backward feelings – shame, depression, and regret – that they inspire in contemporary critics” 8. If queer critics seek to “reach back and save” isolated artists, what happens when those texts “resist our advances”? 8. Horkheimer and Adorno “discuss the danger of lookng backward in The Dialectic of Enlightenment… the allure of the Sirens… [is] ‘losing oneself in the past'” 9. What saves Odysseus is that “even as he looks backward he keeps moving forward… an ideal model of the relation to the historical past: listen to it, but do not allow yourself to be destroyed by it” 9. (This also has some kinky implications – the S&M/bondage of history?)

The integration of queer life into the mainstream may come on “the condition that one breaks ties with all those who cannot make it – the nonwhite and the nonmonogamous, the poor and the genderdeviant, the fat, the disabled, the unemployed, the infected, and a host of unmentionable others… the temptation to forget is stronger than ever” 10.

For Love, Raymond Williams “offers a crucial link between cognition and affect” in Marxism and Literature in describing ‘structures of feeling’ – “the idea that feeling flows naturally from the subject and expresses the truth of that subject” 11. Since “literature accounts for experience at the juncture of the psychic and the social,” it is a privileged example for Williams 12. Love also pauses to consider Wendy Brown’s idea of “Left Melancholy,” where a “crisis of political motivation” also entails a focus on traditionally nonpolitical affects like shame and melancholia 12. Love also mentions Ngai, whose affects expressly do not inspire political action, but are rather, as Ngai herself writes, “diagnostic” 13. Critics such as Warner, Sedgwick, and Crimp have suggested the shared experience of shame and the shamed as a potential space for collectivity 14. Love wants to expand the “bad feelings” that seem apolitical and consider how they might be transformed into action regardless.

Love calls on Butler’s questioning of the term ‘queer’ in “Critically Queer,” where Butler suggests that the term queer itself will have always to be turned and queered to remain questioning, relevant, though for Love, it should also be aware of the past it is staging and overcoming 18. In other words, for Butler, we must not linger in the history of injury implied in the word. “D.A. Miller suggests a way to think about the relationship between the queer past and the queer present in terms of continuity rather than opposition or departure” that focuses on “the indelible nature of ideology’s effects” – the “before and after” of gay experience, in which “gay pride is a reverse or mirror image of gay shame,” even for those individuals who did not themselves experience events such as Stonewall 19-20.

Love, like Berlant, calls on Lacan’s description of love as failure, and in Freudian terms, “homosexuality is often seen as a result of a failure of maturation or a failure to overcome primary cathexes, and it has been associated with narcissism and infantilism as well as with incomplete or failed gendering… as selfishness… fleeting and doomed” 21-2. Here, “homosexuality and homosexuals serve as scapegoats for the failures and impossibilities of desire itself” 22. Lee Edelman, “recommends that queers embrace their association with the antisocial, while still pointing to the antisocial energies that run through all sexuality” 22. Rather than the antisocial voiding the future, Love focuses on failures of the social and ambivalence toward the future through a look at the past 23.

Love is skeptical of the systems and structures of psychological readings, and aligns herself instead with Sedgwick’s idea (in Touching Feeling) of “a swerve away from ‘paranoid’ toward ‘reparative’ reading… from exposure as a reading protocol… toward the descriptive rather than the critical” 23.

“Foucault’s legacy to queer studies is most closely allied with his critique of identity and his development of the method of genealogy…[in homosexual love] the best moment of an encounter is when you are putting the boy in the taxi… a historical real that is always receding, always already lost” 24. “Though bad feelings have been central to the history of queer experience and queer feeling, there is little room for them in the contemporary climate… While I do not argue for the political efficacy of any particular bad feeling in this book, I do argue for the importance of such feelings in general. Backward feelings serve as an index to the ruined state of the social world… It is true that the small repertoire of feelings that count as political – hope, anger, solidarity – have done a lot… not nearly enough” 26-7.

Love advocates for the term queer because “rather than disavowing the history of marginalization and abjection, I suggest that we embrace it… Modern homosexual identity is formed out of and in relation to the experience of social damage… it also makes visible the damage that we live with in the present” 29. “It is this disposition toward the past – embracing loss, risking abjection – that I mean to evoke with the phrase ‘feeling backward… It may in fact seem shaming to hold onto an identity that cannot be uncoupled from violence, suffering, and loss. I insist on the importance of clinging to ruined identities and to histories of injury. Resisting the call of gay normalization means refusing to write off the most vulnerable, the least presentable, and all the dead'” 30.

Sigmund Freud, “3 Contributions to the Theory of Sex”

transl. 1910

The Sexual Aberrations: 

Freud defines libido as sexual desire, the sexual object as the person from whom the sexual attraction emanates (a fascinatingly passive orientation), and sexual aim as the aim towards which the instinct strives in order to begin discussing deviations 553. Homosexuals are “contrary sexuals, or inverts,” though they can be “absolutely inverted… amphigenously inverted… occassionally inverted” – all components of what we would think of as a spectrum of sexuality from “straight” to “bisexual” to “gay” 554. While some see their sexuality as “a morbid compulsion,” some demand to be treated normally (this seems interesting given that Freud never claims that hysterics demand the same treatment – they want to be cured, for the most part) 554. Freud is especially interested in those he believes have become “inverted” after a painful experience with the normal sexual object” 555.

Freud thinks inversion should not be called degenerative because it occurs in people who are otherwise not deviant, whose mental capacities are undisturbed (even “especially high intellectual development and ethical culture… some of the most prominent men known have been inverts and perhaps absolute inverts”), and was common among ancient and is still in “primitive” cultures 556. Freud also questions naming it as congenital, since though some people “know” their sexuality from youth, it is usually tied to “early affective sexual impressions,” “external influences” such as the army or prison, and hypnosis’ potential as a cure 556. At the same time, some people turn out “normal” despite these things, so Freud wonders if it is neither purely congenital nor acquired, and suggests hermaphroditism as a case of “blurred” sexual characteristics that could help explain this 557. This elucidates the normal for Freud because all humans keep certain traits of the other sex, and “there is an original predisposition to bisexuality” – by which he means physical traits – that ultimately yields to “monosexuality” 558. Ultimately he rejects physical and psychic hermaphroditism and concludes that inversion must be related in some way to development.

Inverts are attracted both to virile and feminine men – Freud mentions the attraction to male prostitutes in drag and to young boys with a “physical resemblance to woman as well as feminine psychic qualities, such as shyness, demureness and the need of instruction and help” 560. The sexual aim likewise is not uniform – whether sex “per anum” or masturbation (or oral sex in women) 562. For Freud, the issue is that “we have assumed a too close connection between the sexual instinct and the sexual object” 562. Freud cites pedophilia and bestiality as examples of people fulfilling their desires insufficiently because of a lack of available options: “we find with gruesome frequency sexual abuse of children by teachers and servants merely because they have the best opportunity for it” 563. For Freud, the causal relation is chance, not pursuit of those professions, and he finds such individuals otherwise mentally normal, in accordance with his ideas about homosexuals as well 563. The mentally ill are always sexually abnormal, but the mentally well are not always sexually normal.

If the normal sexual aim is “the union of the genitals” in temporary satisfaction akin to eating, almost everyone indulges in perversions along the way – acts that delay the ultimate aim 563-4. These include “touching and looking” 564 (recall how Crary links sight and touch as senses!)  The kiss, too, is then a perversion. “The perversions represent either anatomical transgressions of the bodily regions destined for sexual union, or a lingering at the intermediary relations to the sexual object which should normally be rapidly passed” 564. This is because we “overvalue” the sexual object (essentially making metonymy the whole – here again, the opposition to the classical Greek logos, where the part articulates the whole, this approach is suspicious). In the male “alone the sexual life is accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly because of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and insincerity of women” 565.

Why do mouths appall us in oral sex or toothbrushes, but not in kissing? Loathing stands in the way of the libido, though not in the case of hysterics, who all loathe the penis and can’t get over it 565. The anus, likewise, appalls because it excretes (though girls feel this for the penis and this act is not more common among inverts) 565. These other parts of the body “lay claim to be considered and treated as genitals” 566. In fetishism, a nonsexual part of the body, like feet or hair, stands in for the sexual object (like the totem or idol of “the primitive”). We all pass through this in delayed attainments of the object, but in some, it becomes pathological and replaces the normal sexual aim 567. Feet and hair are appropriate fetishes in fairy tales because the slipper is yonic and hair is pubic for Freud.

Touching and looking both supply anticipation and excitement (heightened by the barriers of social convntion and clothing). The sexual aim is either active or passive, and is characterized and regulated by shame. Pathologically, activity is sadism (masculine) and passivity is masochism (feminine) 569. The latter is further from the sexual aim and may be conditioned by the experience of the former (in combination with castration complex or guilt) 570. S&M desires often both occur in the same individual: “we thus see that certain perverted tendencies regularly appear in contrasting pairs” 571. “In no normal person does the normal sexual aim lack some addenda which could be designated as perverse” 571. Some are “morbid,” however: “those in which the sexual instinct, in overcoming the resistances (shame, loathing, fear, and pain)… lic[k] feces and violat[e] cadavers” 571. The perversion is not “in the content of the new sexual aim, but in its relation to the normal” (another extrapolation) 572. Shame and loathing, which the libido must overcome, precede the sexual instinct.

Sexuality is at the center of all neuroses for Freud, seemingly as both disease and symptom 573. “The hysterical character shows a fragment of sexual repression, which reaches beyond the normal limits… an exaggeration of the resistances against the sexual instinct which became known to us as shame and loathing… an instinctive flight… a complete sexual ignorance” 574. It is coupled with an immense sexual desire, befitting the “pair” theory Freud has already discussed. The hysteric “transform[s] the libidinal strivings into symptoms” so that sex is at the root of seemingly unrelated issues 574. All neurotics are sexual inverts, obsessed with oral and anal sex, and characterized by the odd pairings of loathing and desire, S&M, and looking & exhibiting, and there are usually multiple perversions present.

“Every active perversion is here accompanied by its passive counterpart. He who in the unconscious is an exhibitionist is at the same time a voyeur, he who suffers from sadistic feelings as a result of repression will also show another reinforcement of the symptoms from the source of masochistic tendencies” 575-6.

Freud mentions that the oral & anal fixations are somewhat justified in that they mimic the genitals as “erogenous zones” 577. The eye (from looking) and skin (from touching) can be extrapolated as erogenous zones as well. In perversion, sexuality is like a dammed river – the water finds a way out by other means if normal attainment is impossible 577. The greatest perverts are the result of both congenital and experiential factors – “if constitution and experience cooperate in the same direction” 578.

“By demonstrating perverted feelings as symptom-formations in psychoneurotics, we have enormously increased the number of persons who can be added to the classification or group of perverts… neurotics represent a very large portion of humanity… neuroses in all their gradations run in an uninterrupted series to the normal state… we are all somewhat hysterical” 578.

“There is indeed something congenital at the basis of perversions, but it is something which is congenital in all persons, which as a predisposition may fluctuate in intensity, and that is brought into prominence by influences of life” 578.

(This is like Foucault’s assertion that psychoanalysis pathologizes all of sexuality.) Between the poles of perversion and repression is the normal sexual life 579. If all stems from sexuality, we must attend to the sexuality of the child.

Infantile Sexuality

Children are not asexual until puberty, and we focus too much on heredity over childhood in studying sexuality, Freud explains 580. We find instances of sexuality in children described as aberrations, but no one has “recognized the normality of the sexual instinct in childhood” 580. This is in part due to the amnesia we experience as adults about the first 6-8 years of our own lives, left with “a few incomprehensible memory fragments,” despite knowing from others that “we have vividly reacted to impressions” 581. Why does our memory lag as our experience and judgment blossom? Like neurotics, we repress childhood, as if it were a trauma 582. But if it were not for infantile amnesia, hysterical amnesia could not exist. The sexual life of the child, in fact, is usually visible by age 3 or 4 583.

Education and organically determined forces both bring shame and loathing to the initially uninhibited child over time 583. Though educators pathologize sexuality in the child as “evil,” there are multiple common “interruptions of the latency period” 584. Thumbsucking, based on breastfeeding, often leads to touching and even orgasm, acting as a gateway to masturbation. Autoerotism is striking because it acts out the attempted repetition of this pleasure on the child’s own body 586.

The Transformation of Puberty

Sigmund Freud, “The Interpretation of Dreams”

transl. 1913

Freud begins, “in the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state” 183. (This is aligned with what Best & Marcus, in “Surface Reading,” identify as Freud’s influence on symptomatic reading – looking for surprising meaning and extrapolating it to larger concepts – like Jameson & the Marxists, too.) He speaks briefly of Aristotle and “the ancients,” who saw the dream, like other aspects of the psyche, as aspects of an external reality or demonic influence 185.

The Method of Dream-Interpretation: Freud’s desire is to “specify [the dream’s] meaning, to replace it by something which takes its position in the concatenation of our psychic activities as a link of definite importance and value” 188. (This is interesting for criticism – the idea of “replacement.”) Dream-content is not a whole, however, and “symbolic interpretation” thus “goes to pieces” in dreams that are “not only unintelligible but confused” 188-9. He mentions Artemidorus, who accounts not just for symbols, but class and personality 190. This leads to great uncertainty and instability: “the work of interpretation is not applied to the entirety of the dream, but to each portion of the dream-content severally, as though the dream were a conglomerate in which each fragment calls for special treatment” 190. Freud’s key difference is to “impose upon the dreamer himself the work of interpretation… instead of taking into  account whatever may occur to the dream-interpreter” 190.

This may proceed by a “psychic concatenation, which may be followed backwards from a pathological idea into the patient’s memory… to treat the dream itself as a symptom, and to apply to it the method of interpretation which had been worked out for such symptoms” 192. (Thus the interest in the solution is less a focus than the detection of the narrative symptoms!) The patient must be made “attentive” and less critical of “such thoughts as come to the surface,” dismissing nothing and relating everything 192. (Again, this suggests that surface observation is blinkered and dismissive. It also feeds into the “confessional” mode Foucault identifies.) Freud distinguishes between reflection and observation of one’s own psychic process, with reflection showing “a greater play of psychic activity… critical… tension [vs] tranquillity” 192. The latter is superior in that it imitates phases before sleep and hypnosis 192. “Undesired ideas are thus changed into desired ones” 193. Freud actually compares this to Schiller, in an idea like Kantian disinterestedness, where the mind allows ideas to rush in before judging or dismissng them 193.

Because “the theme to which these dreams [of neurotics] point is, of course, always the history of the malady that is responsible for the neurosis,” Freud will analyze his own dreams first to demonstrate the method on a “normal” person 194. His first example is a dream in the summer of 1895 after writing the case of a mostly-cured Irma and feeling judged by her brother Otto, who perhaps believed his sister was not fully cured or had been promised a too full recovery 196. In the dream, he examines Irma’s throat, as she complains of pain, and finds a number of white scabs all over the interior of her mouth, probably stemming from an injection of propyls with what Freud and other doctors fear must have been a dirty syringe 197. As he analyzes it, Freud determines that he perhaps wishes he has misdiagnosed her so as not to be to blame for her partial recovery 198. He also wonders if he has replaced her with her dear friend, who suffers from hysterical choking, and whom Freud has wanted a chance to cure 197. He respects this woman more and her mouth opens easily, so it must be that she would yield more easily. (Interestingly, Freud is close reading specific syntactic structures of his own verbal rendering of the situation, as if they were foretold!) He reads the supposition of dysentery as his belief of the other doctor’s foolish prognoses 202. In blaming Irma and jesting at the doctor, he sees that he has “revenged himself on two persons” already 202. Freud connects the mention of propyls to an ill-smelling liquer and trimethylamin to “the products of sexual metabolism” studied by a friend of his 203.

“This substance thus leads me to sexuality, the factor to which I attribute the greatest significance in respect of the origin of these nervous affections which I am trying to cure. My patient Irma is a young widow… in what a singular fashion such a dream is fitted together! The friend [of Irma’s] who in my dream becomes my patient in Irma’s place is likewise a young widow” 203.

The turbinal bones, according to Freud’s friend, has also noted “several highly remarkable relations betweent the turbinal bones and the female sexual organs” 204. The syringe fear is another way of blaming Otto, since Freud prides himself on clean utensils 204. Now he extrapolates a meaning of this dream: its content and its motive are the fulfillment of the wish that Otto, and not he, is to blame for Irma’s incomplete recovery 205. (Interesting that content and motive are the same, though form is not!) He also replaces his patient with “a more sensible and a more docile one” 205 (ew, misogyny). This is “a plea” for “professional conscientiousness” in Freud’s mind 206. “The material is apparently impartial, but the connection between this broader material, on which the dream is based, and the more limited theme from which emerges the wish to be innocent of Irma’s illness, is, nevertheless, unmistakeable… dreams do really possess a meaning, and are by no means the expression of a disintegrated cerebral activity, as the writers on the subject would have us believe. When the work of interpretation has been completed the dream can be recognized as a wish-fulfillment” 206.

The Dream as Wish-Fulfillment: Freud gives the example of a drink about thirst as “a dream of convenience,” where he suggests not that the dream is designed functionally to wake the dreamer and to satisfy the thirst, but instead “if I succeed in appeasing my thirst by means of the dream that I am drinking, I need not wake up in order to satisfy this” 209. (This is a perfect example of symptomatic reading – where the dream is actually capable of sufficing for the real!) He addresses the cliche “in my wildest dreams” to suggest that dreams are an act of anticipation and wishing 216.

Distortion in Dreams: “Wish fulfillment is the meaning of every dream” 217. (And here we see the grounds of the paradigm that will lead to such things as the death drive; if we die in our dreams, it must be a wish.) “Let us compare the manifest and the latent dream-content” 218. “That the dream actually has a secret meaning, which proves to be a wish-fulfillment, must be proved afresh in every case by analysis” 225. Freud notes that almost all his patients try to stump him with dreams that run contrary to wish-fulfillment, such as an “intelligent lady patient” who wishes to give a dinner but has nothing available but salmon, and must give up the dinner because the market is not open on Sunday 225. He asks her for the stimulus from the preceding day that led to this dream. He presses beyond the teasing relationship she has with her husband and the latter’s idea that he is getting fat and shouldn’t go to any more dinners 226. Freud finds that she has a thin friend (lucky for her, her husband prefers plumper women) who wishes to be plumper and wants to come to dinner for the patient’s good food 226. Now Freud is able to read this as the wish-fulfillment of preventing her friend from getting rounder and thus more attractive to the patient’s husband, and she has learned that one gains weight this way through her husband’s refusal of more invitations 227. The friend’s favorite food is salmon, so this is also a “hysterical identification” on the patient’s part with her friend 227.

“In hysteria identification is most frequently employed to express a sexual community. The hysterical woman identifies herself by her symptoms most readily – though not exclusively – with persons with whom she has had sexual relations, or who have had sexual intercourse with the same persons as herself. Language takes cognizance of this tendency: two lovers are said to be ‘one.’ In hysterical phantasy, as well as in dreams, identification may ensue if one simply thinks of sexual relations; they need not necessarily become actual… she expresses her jealousy of her friend… by putting herself in her friend’s place in her dream, and identifying herself with her by fabricating a symptom (the denied wish)… she would like to take her friend’s place in her husband’s esteem” 228.

The Material and Sources of Dreams: “in every dream we may find some reference to the experiences of the preceding day”  – “the experiences on which one has not yet slept” 239-40. (Think narrative, Genette.) Freud considers a) The Embarrassment-Dream of Nakedness, b) Dreams of the Beloved’s Death, and c) Dreams of Examination for source material. In the first case, he wonders why we are embarrassed if our dream-spectators are indifferent 293. Here, “the impostor is the dream, the Emperor is the dreamer himself, and the moralizing tendency betrays a hazy knowledge of… the latent dream-content, of forbidden wishes” 294. Freud claims that children love to expose themselves, and that exhibitionism makes a large part of the history of neurotics and paranoids. The “strangers” are “the counter-wish” to the one person who remains absent, the “objects of our sexual interest in childhood” who never appear in the dream, though paranoids remain “fanatically xonvinced of their presence” 295.

In b), if “a painful affect is felt,” it means that at some point, the dreamer wished that person to die, thought maybe not at present (competition with family members, like siblings or the same-sex parent, may engender this) 297. According to Freud, all women have this dream 301. (Groan. Although it’s interesting that the sense of injustice, competition, and the anguish of being replaced would be more pronounced in women at this point in history.)  This is of course related to “the sexual wishes of the child… in their nascent state,” where “the earliest affection of the girl-child is lavished on the father, while the earliest infantile desires of the boy are directed upon the mother,” making the same-sex parent a sexual rival 304. He goes into the analysis of Oedipus, unable to avoid his fate, which he of course reads as the wish-fulfillment and subsequent castration (eyes) of the ‘hero’ 308. He mentions the sex-dream with one’s mother (as does Artemidorus, who details all the different positions and possibilities), and then moves on to Hamlet 309. In Freud’s reading, Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius shows that his uncle has actually fulfilled his wish, and his aversion to Ophelia is furnished as proof of his desire for his own mother 310. This becomes symptomatic of “the poet’s own psychology” 310. In sum, our affects of concern and sympathy often conceal egotistical concerns and desires 313.

In c), we simply fear the burden of responsibility suggested by exams, usually by someone who has already passed a similar trial, so that it serves to allay our fears by fulfilling the wish that it will be as ridiculous to be afraid as the last time 317. For Freud, somehow, it also has to do with sexual maturity, though he doesnt explain how.

The Dream-Work: “the dream-thoughts and the dream-content present themselves as two descriptions of the same content in two different languages… the dream-content appears to us as a translation of the dream-thoughts into another mode of expression, whose symbols and laws of composition we must learn by comparing the origin with the translation. The dream-thoughts we can understand… the dream-content is, as it were, presented in hieroglyphics, whose symbols must be translated, one by one, into the language of the dream-thoughts” 319. (Recall Pynchon in Lot 49 – Oedipa’s hierophany a critique of this?) The dream is “a work of condensation” – dream-content is laconic, dream-thought is prolix 320. (Again, poetry?)

“The psychic activity in dream-formation resolves itself into two achievements: the production of the dream-thoughts and the transformation of these into the dream-content. The dream-thoughts are perfectly accurate, and are formed with all the psychic profusion of which we are capable; they belong to the thoughts which have not become conscious… on the other hand we have the process which changes the unconscious thoughts into the dream-content, which is peculiar to dream-life and characteristic of it… much farther removed from the pattern of waking thought than has been supposed” 466-7.

“the dream has above all to be withdrawn from the censorship, and to this end the dream-work makes use of the displacement of psychic intensities… the regard of the dream-work for representability… condensation… the logical relations of the thought-material… ultimately find a veiled representation in the formal peculiarities of the dream. The affects of the dream-thoughts undergo slighter alterations than their conceptual content… they are suppressed” 467.

The Psychology of the Dream-Processes: “Is the ethical significance of the suppressed wishes to be lightly disregarded, since, just as they now create dreams, they may some day create other things? … I believe that the Roman Emperor was in the wrong in ordering one of his subjects to be executed because the latter had dreamt that he killed the Emperor. He should first of all have endeavored to discover the significance of the man’s dream; most probably it was not what it seemed to be. And if a dream of a different content ahd actually had this treasonable meaning, it would still have been well to recall the words of Plato – that the virtuous man contents himself with dreaming of that which the wicked man does in actual life” 548. (vs. ancient idea of prophecy, also vs. idea of control of thoughts, conscious or otherwise.) “Psychic reality is a special form of resistance which must not be confounded with material reality” 548.  For Freud, we should accept the immorality of our dream lives because when we understand how the psychic apparatus works, it abolishes us of much that is offensive – in Sachs’ words, “the monster in the magnifying glass… is a tiny little infusorian” 548. Rather than predicting the future, dreams for Freud are projections of fulfilled wishes that are nevertheless always based on information from the past 549.