The (feminine) unconscious

  • Sellers Susan


Ever since Anglo-American feminist critics first exposed the masculine bias and misogyny of the work of Sigmund Freud to a general readership,1 it has been fashionable in Anglo—American feminist circles to reject not only Freud but the whole area of psychoanalysis. Whilst I am not suggesting that Freud and psychoanalytic theory have been universally or uncritically adopted by French feminism,2 Freud is widely taught as part of a general philosophy course in French schools, and the insights and mode of thinking of psychoanalysis imbue the work of a number of French feminist theorists and writers. As Hélène Cixous argues in Writing Differences,3 Freud’s description of human development and the unconscious offers crucial insights into the way patriarchy operates to construct us as men and women. The recent French interpreter of Freud, Jacques Lacan, has re-read Freud’s theory to highlight the role of language in self-identity, and his work thus also has a bearing on French feminism.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See, for example, Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1969) (London: Virago Press, 1977) (pp. 176–203).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Hélène Cixous, ‘Conversations’, in Writing Differences, Susan Sellers (ed.) (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988) p. 144.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    Another French feminist, journalist and writer Benoîte Groult, in her book Ainsi Soit-elle (‘Let Her Be Thus’) (Paris: Editions Grasset, 1975) similarly condemns Freud for having conceived ‘the whole of psychoanalysis in the masculine’ (p. 131), and suggests that if Freud had been equally biased and a woman s/he would have created a ‘psychoanalysis’ in which boys were disadvantaged because of their inability to have babies.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1900-), edited by James Strachey in 24 volumes (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–1974).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974) (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Roman Jakobson, Fundamentals of Language, with Moris Halle (The Hague: Mouton, 1971).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose’s Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne, translated by Jacqueline Rose (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982),offers helpful introduction to Lacan’s work for English readers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 10.
    Freudian and Lacanian theory can be usefully compared with other interpretations of human development, such as that given by Nancy Chodorow in her The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (1974), translated by Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    See, Ernest Jones, ‘The Early Development of Female Sexuality’ (1927), International Journal of Psychoanalysis 8, pp. 459–72.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Julia Kristeva, ‘Giotto’s Joy’ (1972), in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, translated by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez (Columbia University Press, 1980; and Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), pp. 221–36.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Irigaray’s attack on the masculine bias of Freud’s theory can be compared with that of Michèle Montrelay who, in an influential text L’Ombre et le nom: sur la féminité (‘The Shadow and the Name: On Femininity’) (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1977), criticises Freud’s a ccount for its expression of a single, ‘male’ desire.Google Scholar
  13. In an essay entitled ‘Recherches sur la féminité’, translated as ‘Inquiry Into Femininity’ by Parveen Adams in French Feminist Thought: A Reader, Toril Moi (ed.), (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987) pp. 227–4.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    See ‘Conversations’, in Writing Differences: Readings from the Seminar of Helene Cixous, Susan Sellers (ed.), pp. 144–5.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    Readers interested in their role in the overall development of French feminism might consult Claire Duchen’s Feminism in France: From May ‘68 to Mitterand (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    For an interesting discussion of this point, see Juliet Mitchell, Women the Longest Revolution: Essays in Feminism, Literature and Psychoanalysis, (London: Virago, 1984) pp. 290–2. The relevant extract is also printed in Mary Eagleton’s reader, Feminist Literary Theory, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986) pp. 100–102.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    Irène Schavelzon, Le Réduit (Paris: des femmes, 1984).Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    Toril Moi’s Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, (London and New York: Methuen, 1985) offers a good example of this materialist-socialist critique of French feminist reliance on psychoanalystic models as a means to women’s liberation.Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    Christiane Rochefort’s Quand tu vas chez les femmes (‘When you go to the women’s house’) (Paris: Grasset, 1972) referred to in the Introduction, also touches on the mother-child relation.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    Chantal Chawaf, L’Intérieur des heures (Paris: des femmes, 1987).Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    Emma Santos, La Malcastrée (Paris: Editions des femmes, 1976; first published Paris: Editions Maspéro, 1973).Google Scholar
  22. 41.
    Jeanne Hyvrard, Mère la mort (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1976).Google Scholar
  23. 43.
    Chantal Chawaf, Elwina, le roman fée (Paris: Flammarion, 1985).Google Scholar
  24. 44.
    Chantal Chawaf, Le Soleil et la terre (Paris: Jean Jacques Pauvert, 1977).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Susan Sellers 1991

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  • Sellers Susan

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