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Hysteria And Femininity

The Letter, Issue 13, Summer 1998, Pages 50 - 68


HYSTERIA AND FEMININITY*

André Michels


The Freudians appear to have been outstripped by a modernity which they contributed in fashioning, and by a femininity which up till then had not dared to be spoken or to show itself, which besides they were amongst the first to bring to light; they had even given it a prime place in setting it at the centre of their clinical and therapeutic project. They feel out of their depth to see displayed in broad daylight what constituted one of the knots of repression for them and so, some of them at least, question themselves about their responsibility in this 'return of the repressed', astonished, sometimes shaken, to meet a bisexuality for which their theoretical struggles must have paved the way, and which corresponds to their most daring hypotheses, on the first street-corner. Could it just be the most recent and the most provocative disguise/unveiling of a never- mastered hysteria? They find themselves, sometimes in spite of themselves, at the place of the elder or ancestor, a position which in a way they have always occupied and even claimed as theirs, powerlessly witnessing effects of their teaching that they had neither foreseen nor wanted, at least in that form. There's no doubt that a certain modernity is overtly inscribed on the other side of their discourse which nevertheless authorises it implicitly, even to the finest detail. This complex relation should not worry them because it constitutes an opportunity and a sort of challenge that it's up to them to rise to, like a travel invitation perhaps permitting them to make new discoveries. Nevertheless, a pure discussion of ideas is not what is called for here, rather they should go back to what constituted their point of departure, meaning the clinical research which is the hallmark of their originality.

The psychoanalytic clinic is defined according to the more or less broad range of defences against the feminine position and what this conveys and implies, that is to say, a radical difference which we associate with castration. For the Freudians as well as their adversaries, this latter term is one of the most debated and most controversial. In what follows I will try, using a clinical example, to make my own contribution to this already thick dossier. This will be my way of paying homage to that wonderful discursive opening induced and introduced by the Studies in Hysteria, published exactly a century ago. This opening attracted men and women of great quality towards psychoanalysis, but also had the effect of pushing others away who, instead of consistency and univocity, had only found metaphor slipping through their fingers like sand, so escaping their grasp (in the sense of concipere, begreifen) and their efforts to master it.

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