Simone de Beauvoir, “The Second Sex”


Existentialist Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in a little over a year. It forms the foundation of the literature of second-wave feminism. In the introduction, de Beauvoir points out that men occupy both the positive and neutral gender valences in society, while women are the negative, the limitation, and the lack 5. The tie that binds women to her oppressors is unique because she cannot leave him, because it is a relation that has always been – it is ahistorical 9. Like Woolf, she observes that men always find even the smartest women to be reflections of their most average ranks 13. “How, in the feminine condition, can a human being accomplish herself?” 17.

The book’s first section, “Destiny,” examines biology, psychoanalysis, and socialism all as modes that have insufficiently constituted women and sexual difference. Her biological approach acknowledges that women are weaker, but fails to grasp how that still matters in contemporary society, for “her body is not enough to define her” 48 and “a society is not a species: the species realizes itself in society; it transcends itself toward the world and the future; its customs cannot be deduced from biology… it is not as a body but as a body subjected to taboos and laws that the subject gains consciousness of and accomplishes himself” 47. Her review of psychoanalysis contends that Freud takes drives as givens and does not account for their origins. He even admits that he accepts the father’s sovereignty of male supremacy as a given without seeking its origin. Psychoanalysis’ ‘scientific’ divide of clitoral (male) and vaginal (female) aspects of women attempts to make psychic life a mosaic, but like Woolf, de Beauvoir contends that “it is altogether complete in every one of its moments” 54. In this system, woman struggles to “accomplish herself as transcendence” rather than immanence 60. (In Husserl’s terms, the transcendent object is real, complex, and whole, while the immanent object is aesthetic, conceptual, finite, and metonymous). Finally, her section on Marxism claims that reducing women to a “class” like the proletariat is unsuitable. Historical materialism has its limits, and gender busts them 64. Man apprehended woman as property, but we cannot “deduce woman’s oppression from private property” 65. The USSR has struggled to treat female workers equally and to allow for gestation and recovery: “it has asked woman to become an erotic object again” 67. All these theories have value, but are insufficient.

In “History,” de Beauvoir explores how men came to oppress women. She concludes, like Woolf and Freidan, that it is not female inferiority that has made them insignificant, but insignificance which has rendered them inferior. The “dependent consciousness” of Hegel’s master-slave dynamic would be better suited to man-woman, since the rule of life that defines her as immanence and man as transcendence “rivets her to her body” (an existentialist approach) 75. In history, when men are still subject to the earth, woman is vital; the struggle to be free from mother earth is imagined as a great struggle in men’s writing 88. Though she is indispensable, “by total annexation, woman will be lowered to the rank of a thing” 89. She is dethroned by private property and then becomes it. Christianity intensifies this: “in a religion where the flesh is cursed, the woman becomes the devil’s most fearsome temptation” 104. Like Foucault’s power structures, de Beauvoir contends that “so many factors converge to thwart woman’s independence that they are never all abolished simultaneously” 109. Much of this is also tied to the mythos of female evil. Though there is room in Christianity to see woman as “better,” these examples are twisted to mean the opposite. The French Revolution was bourgeois in nature and did not alter things 126. Balzac says, “The married woman is a slave who must be seated on a throne” 129. Bourgeois woman “clings to her chains because she clings to her class privileges” 130 [Friedan]. Socialism favors her liberation, but it is tied up in reproduction, which must be reconciled with production 136. Abortion is still illegal but birth control is widespread. de Beauvoir also points to the benefits of capitalism: capital flows and the individual rules, making divorce and independence more possible 140. On the flip side, pressures of appearance and elegance constrain American women 154. (Female sovereigns escape these issues by androgyny.) Like Woolf: “a great man springs from the mass and is carried by circumstances: the mass of women is at the fringes of history, and for each of them circumstances are an obstacle and not a springboard” 151. Stendahl: “all the geniuses who are born women are lost for the public good” 152.

In “Myths,” de Beauvoir considers that women must be viewed how men view her. Central to the myths of women and their fertility are horror and disgust. Women are said to spoil things, to be spoiled, to be on the edge of foul and mysterious cycles that lead men to prioritize their mystical, symbolic, and immanent value. It is almost impossible for them to “assume both their status of autonomous individual and their feminine destiny… ‘a lost sex’… it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited to the earth than the living” 274 [Friedan]. Women can only be freed by men who assume new positions appropriate to a changing situation 274 [feminism is bisexual].

In “Childhood” and “The Girl,” de Beauvoir rejects Freud’s theory of penis envy. This is the chapter that begins, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman” 283. The girl does not experience herself as lack, but plenitude 287. She is aware of her differences from boys in social treatment, and may envy the boy for standing urination. The penis is metonymous and animated; the doll with which the girl is compensated is whole and passive 293. Even if the girl does not envy the penis, she sees that it gains something for the boy. The girl begins to learn that the father’s authority is large and is not wasted on trivial matters 299. She understands her body as lack, wound, shame, illness, and crime 340. Older girls cope with the shock of menstruation and the disgust of understanding sex in a variety of ways. These experiences remain with her throughout life. In “The Girl,” the girl learns to model herself on the dreams of others – to negate the self for man, leading to dissatisfaction and narcissism [she cites Katherine Mansfield’s “Prelude”] 352. Woman desires male attention and fears it, is disgusted by it 364. She also addresses the “curse” of lesbian desire, which she argues is neither deliberate nor perversion.

“The Married Woman” focuses on the “absurdity” of asking two people to satisfy one another sexually forever. Marriage almost always “destroys a woman” with dullness and labor. In “The Mother,” she advocates for abortions as safe and offers socialist childrearing communities as an alternative to the nuclear family.  In “Social Life” and “Woman’s Situation and Character,” de Beauvoir claims the distractions of amusement and labor that keep women from fulfilling intellectual life. She also considers their transition into menopause, which may cause homosexual desire and depression.

“Justifications,” consisting of “The Narcissist,” “The Woman in Love,” and “The Mystic,” are musings on women outside these norms. Towards the end of the 750-page book are “The Independent Woman” and a “Conclusion.” The first suggests artists, dancers, and Bronte and Woolf as women able to escape the sadism and masochism of culture, approaching the “inhuman freedom” of nature. In the conclusion, de Beauvoir imagines a utopia the USSR promised but did not deliver:

“Women raised and educated exactly like men would work under the same conditions and for the same salaries; erotic freedom would be accepted by custom, but the sexual act would no longer be considered a remunerable “service”; women would be obliged to provide another livelihood for themselves; marriage would be based on a free engagement that the spouses could break when they wanted to; motherhood would be freely chosen—that is, birth control and abortion would be allowed—and in return all mothers and their children would be given the same rights; maternity leave would be paid for by the society that would have responsibility for the children, which does not mean that they would betaken from their parents but that they would not be abandoned to them” 759.

This failure, in the USSR as much as in France or the US, is why “woman is torn between the past and the present; most often, she appears as a ‘real woman’ disguised as a man, and she feels as awkward in her woman’s body as in her masculine garb” 761. To reconcile this, both men and women must sacrifice. In economic terms, woman must sacrifice her sense of self as “priceless” [Friedan’s ‘feminine mystique’], while man must share experience, power, and domestic work. “Men and women must, among other things and beyond their natural differentiations, unequivocally affirm their brotherhood” 766. [not in love with this as the last word, haha!]



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.


D.A. Miller, “Anal Rope”


Criticism of Hitchcock’s Rope, D.A. Miller points out, always strives to make Hitchcock’s irregular approach (shots ranging from 3 to 9 minutes) into a string of identical 10 minute shots – the fantasy of the film done in one take, as it were 145. Nevertheless, this is also often considered a gimmick, even by Truffaut and Hitchcock himself, who said it was a “stunt” that violated his own interest in montage. At the same time, Hitchcock insisted later that he “maintained the rule of varying the size of the image in relation to its emotional importance within a given episode” 146. All of his explanations, however, continue to circle around the film’s technique.

In Truffaut’s short plot summary, Miller argues, the word “homosexual” stands out – it is not “furnished on the direct evidence of what we hear or see in the film,” unlike the other facts, so that “in an account that is attempting to reduce the story to its most abbreviated articulation, their homosexuality must seem at once a remarkable and a remarkably pointless piece of information” 147. Truffaut “constructs it into a homosexuality of no importance” 148. But in this culture, “a truly offhand reference to male homosexuality must hardly be credible… The heavy silence surrounding homosezuality requires explanation no less than the featherweight fussing over technique” 148.

“The reason that both questions have been unconsciously but definitively crossed with one another, so that technique acquires all the transgressive fascination of homosexuality, while homosexuality is consigned to the status of a dry technical detail…” 148.

“How do we think we know?” 149. It could not be named or shown because of the code, but the “post-coital nuances of the dialogue between Brandon and Philip after the murder” would be a place to start 149. “How did you feel – during it?” “I don’t remember feeling much of anything – until his body went limp, and I knew it was over, then I felt tremendously exhilarated,” etc. 149. “Connotation will always manifest a certain semiotic insufficiency,” Miller continues 150. “Connotation enjoys, or suffers from, an abiding deniability” 150. In this way, “Rope  exploits the particular aptitude of connotation for allowing homosexual meaning to be elided even as it is also being elaborated” 150.

“Until recently, homosexuality offered not just the most prominent – it offered the only subject matter whose representation in American mass culture appertained exclusively to the shadow kingdom of connotation, where insinuations could be at once developed and denied, where… one couldn’t be sure whether [it] was being meant at all… the silence necessary to keep about [the codes] deploy[ing it]” 151.

This engages an accumulative hunt for verification – “a redundancy of notations” 151. If Philip and Brandon are gay, why not the Michaelangelesque David, his friend Kenneth who is often mistaken for him, or their teacher Rupert as well? Hysterical and frigid Janet is there to “grant all three men an ostensible homosexuality” (everyone but Philip has dated her), “it does so by making suspiciously intense the homosocial bond between boyfriends” 152. Rupert’s excuse at the end, that the boys had no right to twist his words into action, restores the male heterosexual subject, and his gunshot is a sort of cathartic ejaculation 153. But the tension never clears in the film.

As the camera holds on them sitting in a triangle to await the police, “the moment… is eerie not just in the sense that one doesn’t know what to make of it, but also in the sense that one rather does… homosexuality provides the marking term, whose presence or absence is wholly determining for what lies on both sides of the virgule” 154.

“At Rope’s end… it is precisely the developed heterosexual subject who is most definitively implicated in a structure of homosexual fixation, a notion that accordingly proves to have perhaps as little to do with gay men as penis envy does with women” 155.

“Connotation, we said, excites the desire for proof, a desire that, so long as it develops within the connotative register, tends to draft every signifier into what nonetheless remains a hopeless task… the dream (impossible to realize, but impossible not to entertain) that connotation would quit its dusky existence for fluorescent literality, would become denotation” 155.

Thus a gay subtext always gives on to the imagined or desired spectacle of gay sex. It is less on the level of language than the image that this occurs in Rope: “able to suggest that Brandon and Philip are actually touching, holding, or leaning against one another, when they are only occupying parallel spatial planes’ 156. They are often “too close,” and their arguments and wrestlings involve hand-holding and visual tropes of the Hollywood embrace 156. Part of the suspense of the film, then, is the almost-painfully prolonged desire for the gay spectacle 157.

As the straight [male] viewer looks to see if the looks of the two men are too lingering, he himself becomes involved in a potentially homosexual gaze. “How might a desire to see what one is afraid to look at ever be gratified?” In the closet, Miller answers. We never see the body in the trunk – we are not forced to look in. (Isn’t it also interesting that the clue is the hat in the closet?) Of the 5 blackouts that do link rolls of film, 4 are of men’s backsides and one is of the trunk lid. “The blackouts come as proof positive that there is nothing to see, unless of course what is laid bare, through the imperfections of the joins, is the structure of the join itself, hence the very operation of the closet” 159.

But what is the gay sex the viewer anticipates? “The cavital darkness” of the anus, and “the cut,” both and one represented by the man’s backside, as Miller has it 160. One “hides the cut” because “it is imagined to be a penetrable hole in the celluloid film body,” but the anus is “hidden here as what remains and reminds of a cut” 160. The binarism of the male body fears castration because the anus reminds the man of the fear projected onto the vagina – the fear of being on the bottom 161. Straight men “need” gay men, Miller argues, to “imagine [themselves] covered front and back” 161. Hence Hitchcock’s relegation of the techniques to normality, rather than perversity. In fact, we see the cuts at Janet, Mrs. Wilson, and Rupert, we see them as blacked-out backsides with the “gay” characters: “Only to the extent that they are seen can the cuts at a man’s backside promote a heterosexualizing castration anxiety” 163.

The fifth and final blackout on the trunk, then, focuses on David’s body as somehow “obscene – and so to be kept offscreen” (literally, re: on/scene and obscene, Linda Williams says) 163. Perhaps the stiff has a stiff or has been abused, Miller suggests: “Far more disconcerting than the evidence of a penetrated anus or an erect penis is the prospect of their copresence on the same male body” 164.  The rope itself “now dangles and tautens like a penis and now encircles and tightens like a sphincter” 164. Ultimately, the film is both afraid of castration and its negation, Miller contends. Rupert’s last moment is to look behind him and sit down – to cover his ass, literally 164.

Luce Irigaray, “This Sex Which Is Not One”


“Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the option between ‘masculine’ clitoral activity and ‘feminine’ vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud – and many others – saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of a sexually ‘normal’ woman, seems rather too clearly required by the practice of male sexuality. For the clitoris is conceived as a little penis pleasant to masturbate so long as castration anxiety does not exist (for the boy child), and the vagina is valued for the ‘lodging’ it offers the male organ when the forbidden hadn has to gind a replacement for pleasure-giving” 23.

“In these terms, woman’s erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris-sex that is not comparable to the noble phallic organ, or a hole-envelope that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse: a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing” 23.

Irigaray points out that the supposed female penis-envy has nothing to do with her pleasures. Whereas man requires an instrument (hand) to touch himself, “Woman ‘touches herself’ all the time, and moreover no one can forbid her to do so, for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself, she is already two – but not divisible into one(s) that caress each other” 24. The anxiety of “interruption” by the penis causes Irigiray to ask, “Will woman not be left with the impossible alternative between a defensive virginity, fiercely turned in upon itself, and a body open to penetration that no longer knows, in its ‘hole’ that constitutes its sex, the pleasure of its own touch?” 24.

“Woman in this sexual imaginary [of the conquesting erection] is only a more or less obliging prop for the enactment of man’s fantasies… [her] pleasure is above all a masochistic prostitution of her body to a desire that is not her own, and it leaves her in a familiar dependency upon man” 25.

Woman does not even know what she wants, so sublimated is her desire in discourse – Freud calls it “obscure… faded with time” 25.

“Within this logic, the predominance of the visual, and of the discrimination and individualization of form, is particularly foreign to female eroticism. Woman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking, and her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies, again, her consignment to passivity: she is to be the beautiful object of contemplation” 25-6.

This places the body in “a double movement of exhibition and of chaste retreat in order to stimulate the drives of the ‘subject,'” while “her sexual organ represents the horror of nothing to see” 26. Thus in art, it is rejected as opening: “sewn back up inside” its ‘crack’ 26. This is opposed to “that contact of at least two (lips) which keeps woman in touch with herself, but without any possibility of distinguishing what is touching from what is touched” 26. She is not one or two, and her sexual organ is none – she cannot be numbered. “Maternity [touch] fills the gaps in a repressed female sexuality” 27.

Like Cixous, Irigaray emphasizes a diffuse sensuality: “her sexuality… is plural… woman has sex organs more or less everywhere… the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified… in an imaginary rather too narrowly focused on sameness” 28. “Ready-made grids” cannot account for her: “she steps ever so slightly aside from herself with a murmur… [women] do not have the interiority that you have… within themselves means within the intimacy of that silent, multiple, diffuse touch” 29. Their desire is a paradox: nothing and everything.

“Must this multiplicity of female desire and female language be understood as shards, scattered remnants of a violated sexuality? …experiencing herself only fragmentarily… what is left of a mirror invested by the (masculine) ‘subject’ to reflect himself… [her] desire… may be recovered only in secret, in hiding, with anxiety and guilt” 30.

“If the female imaginary were to deploy itself… otherwise than as scraps, uncollected debris, would it represent itself, even so, in the form of one universe? Would it even be volume instead of surface? No. Not unless it were understood, yet again, as a privileging of the maternal over the feminine. Of a phallic material, at that. Closed in upon the jealous possession of its valued product. Rivalling man in his esteem for productive excess… By closing herself off as volume, she renounces the pleasure that she gets from the nonsuture of her lips” 30.

Thus self-rediscovery for woman is “never simply being one” 31. Pleasure is not in itself a solution because it serves male enjoyment:

“Woman is traditionally a use-value for man, an exchange value among men; in other words, a commodity. As such, she remains the guardian of material substance… Woman is never anything but the locus of a more or less competitive exchange between two men, including the competition for the possession of mother earth” 32.

“How can this object of transaction claim a right to pleasure without removing her/itself from established commerce?” 31. Women do not constitute a class, but are dispersed across classes. Like Cixous, Irigaray does not advocate a reversal of the order, since it would simply reverse again, but a proliferation of language available for women and their sexuality.

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.

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.