Juliet Mitchell Psychoanalysis And Feminism Pdf

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Juliet Mitchell

This article will discuss psychoanalytic feminism, not feminist psychoanalysis i. Psychoanalysis develops a theory of the unconscious that links sexuality and subjectivity ineluctably together. In doing so, it discloses the ways in which our sense of self, and our political loyalties and attachments, are influenced by unconscious drives and ordered by symbolic structures that are beyond the purview of individual agency.

Many feminists have been wary both of the biases contained in Freud's oratory and of the overt content of his claims. This article will explain how and why feminist theory has, nonetheless, undertaken a serious reading of Freud and developed careful analyses of his fundamental concepts, working out their limits, impasses, and possibilities. Freud here portrays femininity as one trajectory of the Oedipal Complex and indicates that sexed identity is a fragile achievement rather than a natural given or essence.

By circumscribing the terrain on which the psychoanalytic account of sexual difference moves, and by seeing unresolved, even unresolvable, riddles where others might see the work of nature or culture, Freud problematizes any causal, seamless, or direct tie between sex, sexuality, and sexual difference.

While sex and gender are sometimes construed in feminist theory in terms of the contrast between biology and culture, or nature and nurture, Freud's theory, as discussed below, challenges these dualisms, developing an account of the sexual drive that traverses the mental and the physical, and undergoes idiosyncratic vicissitudes rather than assuming a uniform anatomical or social shape.

Whatever the hazards of Freud's writings on women, then, his work explores in new ways the meaning and possibilities of sexed identity.

Likewise, as I will argue below, psychoanalytic feminism interrupts many assumptions about what feminism is and the conceptual and material objects it theorizes, including especially the very concept of woman. In unsettling our understanding of this concept, psychoanalysis also poses questions to feminism about the value of difference and the quest for equality, and the unresolved tensions between these divergent pursuits. Any properly psychoanalytic theory must at the least offer an account of the unconscious and its bond with sexuality and, arguably, death.

Precisely this descent, however, has also provided a barrier to feminist deployment since Freud is sometimes read, at least superficially, as proffering misogynist, and perhaps Procrustean, elaborations of psychic structuration, curtailing and diminishing the diversity of individual women's experiences into a restricted and unvarying formula that will fit within its own theoretical parameters.

Nevertheless, Freud's reflections and hypotheses concerning hysteria, the Oedipal Complex, female sexuality and femininity, and women's role in civilization, among other ideas, have provided the volatile grounds, the sites of contention, for feminist re-articulation.

Before any of the multiple and divergent articulations of psychoanalytic feminism can be discussed in more detail, we must thus first establish their historical roots and the conceptual terrain on which they arise. Since a great deal of psychoanalytic feminist theory is specifically concerned with revising the Oedipal narrative of Freud, this article will devote particular attention to Freud's theories of the unconscious as they pertain to the Oedipal Complex.

Rooted in both clinical practice with patients and speculative attempts to apprehend and delineate foundational concepts, Freud's psychoanalysis aims to offer descriptions of psychical structures that underlie and account for individual experience in the variety of its empirical formations.

Freud's break-through insight, in other words, is that sexual bonds initiate us into subjectivity and civilization. Freud distinguishes human drives from instincts insofar as drives unlike instincts have no pre-given aim or object supplied by nature and follow no pre-set biological path. For those who inhabit a human world, drives might come to be attached to any number of aims or objects, and felt through any number of bodily locales.

Drives, according to Freud, become specified in these ways through the mediation of ideas or representations. Human embodiment is thus imbued with opaque meaning, and sexuality emerges from a kind of instinctual inadequacy that presents desire as a difficulty or problem, and propels its increasing complexification. The core of Freud's claim about the impact of sexuality on psychic processes can be discerned starting with Freud's early works on hysteria, although a crucial transformation in his thinking must be clarified.

In Studies in Hysteria , written in collaboration with Josef Breuer, Freud examines the phenomenon whereby a symptom might exist in the absence of an organic lesion. Hysteria is diagnosed when it is an idea or memory that makes one ill, without any physical disease being the cause.

By definition, hysteria is ideogenic caused by an idea , as it designates the process by which a troubling but repressed idea is converted into a bodily symptom. Freud initially posits that hysterical symptoms arise as a result of violent childhood seduction what today would be called molestation , a real trauma that is then retroactively set in motion by a second, comparatively more mild, event, after a period of latency.

The repressed memory becomes somatized enacted on the body and in bodily symptoms when a later event, usually occurring in puberty, catalyzes the earlier memory traces. The talking cure is developed as a way to bring repressed memories forward and abreact or release them, re-binding the idea to its severed and dispersed affect unrepressing it and thereby dissolving the bodily symptom. In the later Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality , Freud contends, contrary to the earlier supposition that sexuality intervenes from the outside, that sexuality is a primordial and innate if also inchoate force of infantile life, arising from the bodily sensations that accompany the life processes.

In the interim between these two works, Freud had abandoned the seduction hypothesis and replaced it with the thesis of infantile sexuality and the idea that symptoms are brought about via the conflicts and repressions of unconscious fantasy.

In other words, it is no longer repressed memory that makes one ill and traumatic sexual violence no longer figures as the primary cause of symptoms.

Instead of an actual past experience, Freud posits fantasy as the determining factor of neurotic symptoms. To understand the significance of this transition in his thinking, we must grasp what Freud means by psychical reality and its distinction from material reality.

In contrast to the historical, intersubjective domain of material reality, psychical reality is the vital domain of fantasy and intra-psychic life, operating independently of objective considerations of veracity. In Freud's view, unconscious fantasies are not lies or deceptions, but reveal a truth, not about the objective world, but about the internal life of the subject, who one is and what one wants.

It might be better to say that fantasies conceal this truth, since conscious articulations of desire and identity will often lead us astray, expressing but distorting, manifesting but denying, the subject's wishes. Instead of an external event impinging upon a child's undeveloped sexuality, the idea of infantile sexuality presupposes both an energetic drive force at work from earliest childhood and an internal or intrapsychic dissension, a subject at odds with its own desires.

The thesis of infantile sexuality universalizes the event of trauma, locating its experience in the instinctual excitations that overwhelm the psychical apparatus which is prematurely affected. In discarding the seduction hypothesis, Freud not only discovers the domain of fantasy and psychical reality, but he also paves the way for considering the energetics of the libido, the intrapsychic conflict that is intrinsic to human being, and the idea of responsibility for the dissonances of desire and the skirmishes that shape a life and its patterns.

While controversy has swirled around Freud's rejection of the seduction hypothesis, without the scandalous supposition of infantile sexuality there would be no psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious.

Although some revisionists have argued that Freud abandons his principles and betrays his patients, in fact Freud never abjures the reality of sexual abuse or denies that some children are molested. Rather, the transformation in his thinking concerns the aetiology of hysteria in a diagnostic sense; neuroses are no longer said to originate in presumably rare childhood sexual violence, and thus they can be seen to pervade rather than oppose whatever might be considered normal sexual development.

In discarding the idea of a primary or ontological innocence of the psyche which is then violently imposed upon from the outside, Freud arrives at the fundamental premise of psychoanalytic thought.

The exemplar of this phantasmatic activity of the unconscious is the Oedipal Complex. Crucially, Freud maintains that femininity cannot be grasped from a biological or conventional perspective Freud [], Another way of putting this is that sexual difference is centrally concerned with psychical reality rather than material reality, with the realm of fantasy rather than nature or culture.

The Oedipal story is the story of psychic development, the story of how we become subjects and in becoming subjects, how we become sexually differentiated. The boy and the girl start off, pre-Oedipally, in the same emotional place, attached to the mother, and it is because of this shared starting point that Freud claims the little girl is a little man; they are not yet distinct or sexually differentiated. It is for this reason as well that Freud maintains the idea of a single, masculine, libido: the libido is not neutral in Freud's view since its original object is the mother and this desire for the mother is associated by Freud with masculinity and activity, just as he associates infant clitoral pleasure with phallic enjoyment.

Still Freud acknowledges that in the libido's most primordial stages, there can be no sexual distinction. It is not until children pass through the Oedipal Complex that they can properly be said to have a genital organization since this is acquired through a relation to castration and is the last stage in sexual development following oral, anal, and phallic stages.

Freud seems genuinely puzzled by how femininity comes about: given the girl's prehistory of love and attachment to the mother, why would she switch allegiances to the father? And since, prior to genital organization, she too goes through a phallic masturbatory stage, why would she switch the site of bodily pleasure from the clitoris to the vagina?

These are among the mysteries he means to designate when referring to the riddle of femininity. That he understands it to be a riddle also intimates that he understands sexual identity not as a natural pre-given essence, rooted in anatomy, but rather as a form of individuation and differentiation realized through complex interaction between the bodily drives and familial others. The boy's story is more seamless and continuous since he retains his phallic pleasure and, although he must displace the immediate object of his desire no longer the mother, but someone like her , can look forward to substitute objects.

The boy's Oedipal attachment to the mother follows uninterruptedly from a pre-Oedipal attachment and it is brought to an end by the threat of castration emanating from the father. At the conclusion of the Oedipal Complex the boy identifies with the father, establishes a super-ego within, and abandons the immediate object of desire with the promise that he too will one day possess a similar object modeled on the mother. But the girl's Oedipal Complex is necessarily more complicated since it can only be instigated by a break from the pre-Oedipal relation to the mother and is therefore a secondary formation.

Freud postulates that it is the realization that the beloved mother is castrated that prompts the little girl to turn her love toward her father. For the girl, in other words, castration does not resolve the Oedipal Complex but leads her to enter it, and for this reason Freud claims that it is never wholly brought to a conclusion or demolished, thus accounting, in his view, for girls' weaker super-egos and lesser capacity for sublimation.

The girl turns from her mother not in fear but in contempt and because of envy for what the mother does not possess. The father represents for her neither a threat she finds herself already castrated nor the prospect of a fulfilled desire in the future the only replacement for the missing penis is a child of her own , as he does for the boy who can identify with him and hope to eventually have what he has.

The father's only promise is thus as a refuge from loss, represented by the mother who bears this loss and who is at fault for the girl's own. In the girl's Oedipal scenario, the father, unlike the castrated mother, stands for the virile capacity of desire itself, which she herself lacks but might reclaim through another man's provision of the opportunity to have a child. In the trajectory of the girl's Oedipal Complex, femininity is realized as the desire to be the object of masculine desire.

Freud's theories of sexuality and the unconscious implicate not only individual psychology but also the constitution of social life. Formed in ambivalent relation to others, sexuality and sexual identity permeate the bonds of civilization and ramify throughout all social relations. In turning his attention to broader cultural questions, Freud offers a story or myth of the origin of political structures that parallels and echoes his understanding of the individual psyche.

To understand the political import of the Oedipal Complex, it will be helpful to place it more generally within the scope of Freud's understanding of group psychology.

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego , Freud contests any clear-cut opposition between group and individual psychology and alleges that human infancy is from the beginning immersed in a world of others.

Even in ostensibly individual psychology, there is always another involved, as model or object, as site of identification or as object of love. It is thus mistaken to sever individual from group psychology as though they were not by nature intermingled or to suppose that there is some kind of special social instinct separate from the drives that energize the individual.

Put another way, the individual subject is neither formed wholly independently in a kind of solitary interiority nor formed as merely an effect of exterior social forces. Totem and Taboo is Freud's attempt to explain the origin of social life, the bonds that, on his account, hold men together, on the basis of psychic phenomena. Freud envisages a primitive pre-political sociality in which a primal horde of brothers is oppressed by a powerful father who claims for himself all the women, all the enjoyment, available in the community.

The brothers are deprived or exiled, and they are motivated to bond together to overthrow the father; they aim, that is, to kill the father and take for themselves his women, offenses that mirror, at a collective level, the Oedipal desires of male children. In Freud's story, the father's murder results not in lawless freedom and unlimited access to sexual objects a fraternal civil war , but rather in the creation of totems and taboos—the primal father becomes a totemic figure, a revered ancestral object, and the brother's actions in killing him and claiming his women are reconceived as the prohibited transgressions of murder and incest.

The two blood taboos that are instituted as law, the prohibitions on incest and murder, thus have a common origin and emerge simultaneously, and together they mandate the social processes of exogamy marriage outside one's own kin and totemism communal bonds of affiliation established through the medium of a common ancestor. Freud thereby allies political formation with the two primal wishes of children and the two crimes of Oedipus, predicating exogamy on the incest taboo, and fraternal bonds on the sacralization of life and the prohibition on murder.

Totemism and exogamy also entail fraternal equality: in order that no one take the place of the father and assume his singular power, the brothers are equally constrained and equally respected, the distribution of women equally allotted. Depicting the creation of a stable society grounded in law though founded in violence , Freud's tale serves as a paradigm for not only rudimentary, but also enduring and contemporary, political relations, which he views as rooted in unconscious drives but oriented toward achieving a stabilization or equilibrium of those drives at the communal level.

This lineage founds political order in murderous fraternity, with women as objects of exchange not citizen-subjects. Moreover, in explaining the advent of lawful existence, Freud identifies something recalcitrant, intractable in social arrangements—a kind of self-assault the super-ego that links pleasure with aggression, and thus that carries a potentially destabilizing force.

The sons' attitude toward the father is one of ambivalence, hatred qualified by admiration, murder followed by guilt and remorse. The brothers commemorate this loss and maintain their bond with one another in the public ceremony of the totem meal where together they consume a common substance the father's body transubstantiated into the sacrificed totem , and thereby affirm their fellowship and mutual obligation.

This confirmation of shared paternal substance and kinship, and the collective affect of love, loss, guilt, and mourning, maintains ties of identity. The law that emerges from the father's murder ritualizes and enforces his edicts, forbidding murder and incest in the public realm, and takes hold internally in the superegoic 'no' of prohibition, producing a permanent sense of guilt that drives civilization and renders it a perpetual source of discontent.

Women, however, appear not as subjects of the law but as objects of its exchange; moreover, given the indefinite prolongation of their Oedipal Complex, women will be more likely to be hostile to the edicts of civilization insofar as these infringe upon family life.

The relation between father and son is also contained, if concealed, in the account Freud offers in The Ego and the Id of how the ego emerges. The subsequent and recurring retreat from object-cathexis investment of instinctual energy in an object to identification withdrawal of that energy into the self , is the primary mechanism of ego-formation, taking the lost object into oneself.

Just as the father retains dominance in political life after his death, so he dominates psychic life even prior to the ego's formation. In Freudian theory, the father's reign is pervasive, his sovereignty extended in every domain. Freud's privileging of paternal and fraternal relations provides the impetus for much of psychoanalytic feminism, as will be discussed below. Even in Freud's circle, not all analysts agreed with Freud's assessment and there were debates concerning women's sexuality and the roles of castration and penis envy therein, notably among Karl Abraham, Ernest Jones, Helene Deutsch, and Karen Horney.

Horney in particular argued for an inherent feminine disposition that is not merely a secondary formation premised on castration and she took issue with the ostensible effects of penis envy and women's supposed feelings of inferiority. As with some later feminist criticisms of Freud, Horney attempted to retrieve female sexuality, and by extension a valid form of feminine existence, by appealing to a genuinely independent nature and holding culture culpable for women's subordinate status.

By thus reasserting the primacy of biological and social forces, however, Horney disputes precisely the idea that is central to Freud's hypothesis and that marks psychoanalysis as a unique field of inquiry, that of a distinctive psychical realm of representation that is unconscious.

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According to Mitchell, the construction of sexual difference is characterized by a certain degree of conservatism in that, despite efforts to effect social change, certain normative ways of organizing sexuality manage to persist and to be conveyed across generations. She stresses that this transmission, if it is in fact one, is not necessarily a conscious operation. The trajectory of psychic contents is not unwavering, and what is relayed into the present is only communicated with translations, transpositions, and deviations that leave what is passed on changed and never fully predictable. Sign In or Create an Account. Advanced Search.

This article will discuss psychoanalytic feminism, not feminist psychoanalysis i. Psychoanalysis develops a theory of the unconscious that links sexuality and subjectivity ineluctably together. In doing so, it discloses the ways in which our sense of self, and our political loyalties and attachments, are influenced by unconscious drives and ordered by symbolic structures that are beyond the purview of individual agency. Many feminists have been wary both of the biases contained in Freud's oratory and of the overt content of his claims. This article will explain how and why feminist theory has, nonetheless, undertaken a serious reading of Freud and developed careful analyses of his fundamental concepts, working out their limits, impasses, and possibilities. Freud here portrays femininity as one trajectory of the Oedipal Complex and indicates that sexed identity is a fragile achievement rather than a natural given or essence.

This feature is useful for finding the most important articles on a specific topic. You can also change the sort order of results by selecting rank at the top of the search results pane after you perform a search. Note that rank order after a search only ranks up to maximum results that were returned; specifying rank in the search dialog ranks all possibilities before choosing the final or less to return. Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Juliet Mitchell. New York: Pantheon Books.


PDF | On Jun 19, , Wendy Hollway and others published Interview with Juliet Mitchell - Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Then and now.


Juliet Mitchell

Juliet Mitchell trained as a psychoanalyst in the s and worked full time in private practice in London and then in Cambridge where, in she combined this with an academic post. Since her retirement from Cambridge in she continues to write and teach on psychoanalysis worldwide. This famous and ground breaking text reclaimed aspects of the intellectual and therapeutic thrust of Freudian psychoanalysis within academia and the Clinic. Later in her extensive writing on sexuality and psychoanalysis, she asserted again that psychoanalysis is not prescribing how men and women do or should live their lives but instead it analyses how they come to be such beings in the first place , p3. And she is equally at home in the writings of Donald Winnicott.

Psychoanalysis and Feminism

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Juliet Mitchell FBA born is a British psychoanalyst , socialist feminist , research professor and author. Mitchell was born in Christchurch , New Zealand, in , and then moved to England in , where she stayed with her grandparents in the midlands. She attended St Anne's College, Oxford , where she received a degree in English in , as well as doing postgraduate work.

Ah, penis envy! Is it on its way to becoming a topic for nostalgia, baking its place in the museum along with chastity belts and corsets? Will it fade away along with Viennese hysteria and Victorian pornography as we become freer to be you and me? Or will it still lurk in the timeless unconscious, too deep to be reached by social reforms and fashionably liberated attitudes?

This singular failure of development may seem all the more remarkable when one reflects that precisely what 20th-century feminism lacks is what 20th-century thought has peculiarly to offer: a psychological dimension. But the situation is, notoriously, not so simple. We are not considering an omission that has only to be identified for it to be put right. On the contrary: if it is psychoanalytic theory that is looked to as that from which the necessary supplementation will come, it is hostility and not mere negligence that has first to be surmounted. It is, however, one thing to think of a book in terms of a particular outcome that one might expect of or hope from it, and quite another thing for the book to have been written—that is, for it to have been conceived, constructed and executed—with this outcome as its explicit and overriding aim. Particularly when the issues are highly charged and readily distorted, a book can easily suffer, both as vehicle of truth and as machine for change, from setting out to ensure what it might otherwise be anticipated to achieve.


PDF | Feminism and psychoanalysis have been in constant dialogue over the last four decades, and Juliet Mitchell has played a critical role in.


Psychoanalytic Feminism

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