The “New” democratic woman of modernity: Georgia O’Keeffe and Melanie Klein
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O’Keeffe put into visual language the psychic splitting that had occurred between the sexes in the United States, attempting to integrate what had formerly been separated as feminine and masculine into the female psyche. In her most important contribution, she explored presence rather than absence and opened up possibilities for thinking about openings. The concept of the female opening in particular had heretofore been assigned a negative meaning, signifying more often than not a gaping wound rather than a space and place of possibilities.
Klein’s complex and evocative understanding of some of the earliest mental processes of life enabled researchers to delve into the meanings made of the presence of the mother and father and baby, in the context of the baby’s body-mind. Klein’s female or male baby desires to know from the beginning. She discovered splitting and projective identification, the development of anxiety and guilt under the aegis of these mental processes, the multiple meanings of aggression, and, significantly, she permitted the female baby’s body to have its own language.
The answers provided by O’Keeffe and Klein bequeathed new possibilities for women’s self-invention and remain pivot points for female identity throughout the century, to be confronted again by the second wave of feminism beginning in the late 1960s, by ‘postfeminist’ debates, and by a challenged psychoanalysis. A more careful probing of these issues may help us to better understand our past so as to have greater resources for a more comprehensive reading of our present.
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