Special Issue:
Psychoanalysis &
La Femme
January '10


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Psychoanalysis and La Femme: Special Issue Home

Feminism Beyond Hysteria:
Reading Feminine Ethics
Kristine Klement

January 2010

Psychoanalysis challenges what feminists think we know about sexual difference, how we inhabit our own sexual difference, how social norms attach to and make up the experience of sexual difference, and how we might transform the social arrangements of sexuality. The approach that psychoanalysis takes to sexual difference is unique among social, psychological and philosophical approaches. For psychoanalytic theory, sexual difference is neither a biological fact, nor is it a set of historically contingent social rules and norms. Sexual difference for Jacques Lacan is a position one takes with respect to the universal human experience of lack or loss (a loss Freud referred to as castration and which is experienced by each subject regardless of sex) and the signifier which our culture offers to make up for that lack—the phallus. The psychoanalytic model of the subject is therefore not determined by either biology or society but responds to both. What we are in our very being is a response to an ontological lack. This understanding of the subject is the foundation for the ethics of psychoanalysis because it means that the subject is ultimately responsible—quite literally the one who responds. I will argue that this understanding of the subject and responsibility has radical implications for the theory and practice of feminism. In particular, I will suggest that the theory and ethics of psychoanalysis can help feminists consider the costs of aligning ourselves with either hysterical or masculine responses to the subject’s ontological lack. I will argue that it is by taking up a feminine position beyond hysteria that feminists of any gender may finally take responsibility for ourselves and our world.

The masculine universal subject in the Western tradition has been exposed and criticized by feminist theorists from Simone de Beauvoir to Catherine MacKinnon. These feminists have asked, if all knowledge, all culture, perhaps even all language, is premised upon a masculine subject, what can be said about “woman” in her specificity? If this logic of the masculine universal is the basis of our thinking, then perhaps it is not wrong to assert, as Freud did, that phallocentrism is alive in the hearts and minds of all speaking subjects. Is there anything that we can say about women that is not defined by the masculine model? Is it possible to know anything about women or femininity in their specificity—that is, not defined as man’s other or object of masculine desire? How might we—as feminists, as women, as writers—approach the question What does a woman want? What do I want? Sigmund Freud was faced with this same question during his treatment of his women patients, many of whom were suffering from hysteria. It was also a question that he was never able to answer to his satisfaction (or the satisfaction of his women readers) until the end of his life.

The question, What Does a Woman Want? is also the title of a brilliant book by feminist literary critic Shoshana Felman. There Felman considers the stakes of Freud’s question for women writers and women readers. She suggests that because the universal “thinking” and “knowing” subject is the masculine subject, women are dispossessed of the specificity of their experience even as they attempt to write it. In a brilliant reading of Balzac’s Adieu, Felman argues that madness is one literary representation of feminine specificity—the sexual difference that confounds masculine discourse. She writes, “What the narcissistic economy of the Masculine universal equivalent tries to eliminate, under the label ‘madness,’ is nothing other than feminine difference” (35). Hysteria, I will argue, is another way of thinking about feminine difference. Hysteria was the mysterious suffering Freud was faced with by his first patients, and which led him to the discovery of the unconscious and the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Hysteria is an illness which confounds medical science for it lacks a physiological aetiology. What hysteria demonstrates is that there is more to illness than the body, and more to the mind than conscious thought. Hysteria has predominantly afflicted women, although today in the West we may be witnessing a democratization of hysteria whereby all postmodern subjects are afflicted by anxiously imagined health concerns.

In 1886 for financial reasons Freud gave up neurological research and entered private practice. To help Freud build his practice, other established doctors in the Viennese Jewish community passed over some of their patients to him. Inevitably these were some of their more “troublesome” patients—woman hysterics. Freud had studied with Charcot, the expert master and ringleader over les grands hysteries. Freud took a different position relative to his own patients, asking them to speak, first under hypnosis, and endeavouring to listen to their stories of trauma. Like many of the doctors preceding (and following) him, Freud was heir to the masculinism and paternalism of medical science, but unlike other doctors, Freud chose to listen to what his women patients had to say. As it would turn out, all of Freud’s (masculine) medical knowledge failed in the face of these women’s complaints as he was confronted by the problem of their mysterious physical symptoms and unspeakable feminine desires. This listening would yield both the content and technique of psychoanalysis.

Published in 1895, Studies in Hysteria is one of Freud’s earliest psychoanalytic works. He had yet to “discover” the unconscious, however he was learning a great deal from his hysterical patients about the “other scene” of the psyche. In the “Preliminary Statement” he co-authored with colleague Joseph Breuer in 1893, they theorized that hysterical symptoms are caused by traumatic memories and could be treated through the “cathartic method.” These doctors’ experiences with treating such hysterics as Anna O., Frau Emmy von N, Katarina, and others, demonstrated time and again that when these women spoke of the memories associated with their symptoms, the symptoms would be relieved, if only temporarily. These clinical cases lead Freud and Breuer to conclude, “hysterics suffer for the most part from reminiscences” (11). Each symptom is related to memories either directly or symbolically and can be alleviated through speech—by reactivating the memory and putting words to the trauma. Freud was starting to recognize that some memories are not available to conscious thought but can only be reactivated through hypnosis. Freud and Breuer explained that memories became repressed either because it was not possible to react to the trauma at the time of the event due to social or emotional factors, or because the experience occurred during a distressed mental state, making the event traumatic by association. While Freud and Breuer do not yet postulate an unconscious, they do suggest that there is a “splitting of consciousness” that occurs in all forms of hysteria, and that the hysterical attacks occur only in the presence of the “hypnoid state,” a state they compare to psychosis (14-15).

Freud’s “On the Psychotherapy of Hysteria” closes the Studies and presents a more fully developed theory of hysteria, one advancing on the work he had first undertaken with Breuer a few years earlier. In this work Freud more fully develops the idea of the psychical defences at work in hysteria. Freud writes, “The hysteric’s not-knowing was, therefore, a more or less conscious not-wanting-to-know, and the therapist’s task consists in overcoming this resistance to association through psychical work” (271). The patients were defending themselves against acknowledging the traumatic memory by repressing it, censoring it from conscious thought. But repression has a price, and this is the conversion symptom that would arise as an alternative expression of the traumatic memory. Freud writes, “Precisely because it is repressed, the idea then becomes the cause of pathological symptoms, that is, it becomes pathogenic” (287). And according to Freud, the only way to stop the symptom is to break through the defences, bring to mind the repressed memory and have the patient put it into words. He writes, “The patient is, as it were, clearing it away by converting it into words” (282). This revised theory enabled Freud to move away from relying on hypnosis in his treatment, discovering as he did that breaking through the resistance to remembering was part and parcel of the “talking cure.”

With the Freudian theory and treatment of hysteria, psychoanalysis was born. That Freud was led to discover the unconscious mind as a result of his treatment of women suffering from hysteria is significant for the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. It is also, I will argue, significant for feminism. In the expression of the hysteric’s symptoms Freud read the expression of something which confounded his medical and scientific knowledge, a psychical force which could cause illness with the malignancy of a cancer. Freud’s theory of hysteria, which became the theory of the unconscious, opened up a whole new way of thinking about the human psyche and human suffering. Indeed, the idea that repression caused by social norms and prohibitions can lead to hysterical illness has had a significant influence on feminist thought. It is psychoanalytic theory which has led some feminists to suggest that hysterical symptoms are a form of feminist rebellion or “protofeminism.” This connection between repression and oppression, social norms and suffering, has long been drawn on by feminists as evidence for and representation of women’s suffering under patriarchy. In fact it was the image of the hysterical housewife with which Betty Friedan began her 1963 feminist call to arms, The Feminine Mystique, the book widely crediting with launching the second wave of the feminist movement in America.

Feminine difference and hysteria were topics of great concern to many of the French feminist thinkers, trained in psychoanalysis, semiotics, structuralist and post-structuralist philosophy, during the 1970s and 1980s. Thinkers like Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Catherine Clément, and Hélène Cixous were seeking to elaborate a feminist theory and politics grounded in feminine difference—not the feminine defined as man’s other, but the feminine as that which is left out of the masculine universal. As philosopher turned psychoanalytic thinker, Charles Shepherdson has argued that these French feminists have historically been misunderstood by American audiences, largely because American thinkers have only just begun to understand their model of sexual difference and embodiment, which derives from Lacanian psychoanalysis and differs radically from the sex vs. gender model of North American social theory.

Sexual difference for Freud hinged upon castration. The girl and her mother are always already castrated. But castration is so much more than simply lacking, or being subject to a threat of lacking, a penis. According to Lacan’s re-reading of Freud, castration is the metaphysical limit and also cause of the subject. It points to what we cannot experience (jouissance or reunion with an original satisfaction of the drives), cannot be (the object of the other’s desire) and cannot know (What does the other want from me?). Castration is the limit of knowledge, insofar as it means that the Other lacks or desires but we cannot know what. It is part of the human condition to seek a signifier for the Other’s desire while paradoxically the Other’s desire is a limit to signification. That there is no signifier for the lack in the Other, which Lacan writes S(A), means that ultimately the symbolic is incomplete, that no system of knowledge can form a totality, that the signifier has no ultimate anchoring to the signified, and so meaning is deferred along a chain of signifiers.

The subject must somehow come to terms with the radical uncertainty at the core of his or her being, which, Lacan suggests, Freud explained through the myth of the Oedipus complex. According to Lacan, the castration complex is a universal human structure while the Oedipus complex metaphorizes one culturally specific way of dealing with castration (“Subversion” 695). What both Freud’s and Lacan’s writing on feminine desire indicate is that at the level of the social there is a conflation between the Other and the mother, or more generally, the Other and woman, which is why the term castration already implies that the phallus stands in as the signifier for the Other’s lack, S(A). Because of this, castration has gender specific outcomes. There are (at least) two ways of dealing with castration, and no speaking subject can avoid dealing with it. The subject’s (unconscious) response to castration, to the fact that the Other is lacking and so is the subject, determines their unconscious “sexuation.” In the Oedipal scenario given by Freud, sexuation depends upon the mother filling the role of the first Other, and her lack, the S(A), being represented as the phallus. The phallus gains its status, then, as signifier for the lack of the m/Other.

In other words, the subject must take a sexuated position with respect to the m/Other, and the phallus, master signifier for desire. The subject addresses the Other with the existential questions of his or her being. And the position the subject takes is an unconscious response to these questions; What am I?... What does the Other want me to be?... Am I a man or a woman? Lacan writes,

The symbolic provides a form into which the subject is inserted at the level of his being. It’s on the basis of the signifier that the subject recognizes himself as being this or that. The chain of signifiers has a fundamental explanatory value, and the very notion of causality is nothing else. (Seminar III 179)

Where a psychoanalytic understanding of sex differs from almost any other is in viewing sexuation as a structure separate from the sociologically salient matrix of sex-gender-sexuality. Yes, the subject must take her place in the symbolic field of meaning, law and culture, but driving this symbolic identification is the trembling unconscious response to the fundamental lack in being—castration, or the ontological and epistemological limits faced by the subject. And it is the after effects of castration, or more specifically the subject’s position with respect to his or her constitutive lack and the phallic signifier that offers to fill that lack, that determines the sexuation of the subject.

In the title of his twentieth seminar, Lacan gives an answer to Freud’s question “What does a woman want?” with the simple demand:  Encore (more/again). The subtitle of the seminar, On the Limits of Love and Knowledge, spells out the stakes of the path Freud was led down by first listening to, and then trying to understand, his women patients. Lacan asserts, “analytic discourse is premised solely on the statement that there is no such thing, that it is impossible to found (poser) a sexual relationship” (Seminar XX 9). He does not mean that in reality people do not have sex or fall in love, but rather that there is a failure or gap at the heart of sexuality. The stories we tell about sexual difference and love attempt to make up for this failure. In this sense they have a phallic function, to answer the question of the Other’s desire. But the sexual relationship is always a fantasy which fails due to castration—the estrangement of the speaking being from their jouissance, as well as from each other. The two sexuated positions that the subject takes with respect to castration and its signifier, the phallus, each have their own ways of ensuring that the sexual relationship will fail.

            Like gender, sexuation is not contingent upon sex, but neither should sexuation be confused with gender. All representations of sexual difference function as fantasies that promise the success of the sexual relationship. Put another way, we represent sexual difference in order to make up for the impossibility at the heart of sexuality. It is for this reason that any symbolic, cultural, linguistic, or ideological representation of sex and gender, whether it is the ideal of courtly love, the romance of cinema, the wedding vows, biological theories of the perpetuation of the species, or social constructivist feminist theories, is always a phantasmic support. Lacan writes, “what is at stake for us is to take language as that which functions in order to make up for the absence of the sole part of the real that cannot manage to be formed from being—namely, the sexual relationship” (Seminar XX 48). Language and culture do this by providing the symbolic phallus as master signifier for the m/Other’s desire. The phallus is the quintessential support for the sexual relationship, by providing the “difference” in sexual difference.

Lacan’s model of sexuation, the differentiation between masculine and feminine desire, is premised upon the different ways each one has of living with castration—that is, lack under the phallic function. What defines the masculine subject is that he is fully invested in the phallic signifier and the fantasy of sexual fulfilment promised by the sexual relationship. This includes the mistaken belief that he is not castrated. The feminine subject is not so convinced. Because women are culturally positioned as the castrated object of men’s desires, to take up the feminine position is to be not entirely convinced by the phallic signifier. Lacan explains, “when any speaking being whatsoever situates itself under the banner ‘women,’ it is on the basis of the following—that it grounds itself as being pas-toute [not-whole/all] in situating itself in the phallic function” (Seminar XX 72). The French word tout(e) means both “all” and “whole.” Lacan is playing off both meanings in this seminar, and one or the other translation does not tell the whole story. Lacan writes, “It’s not because she is not-[whole/all] in the phallic function that she is not there at all. She is not not at all there. She is there in full. But there is something more (en plus)” (Seminar XX 74). Put slightly differently, the Woman is not whole because she is open to a signifier for the desire of the Other, and of her own, that is not the phallus. In Oedipal terms she remains open to the possibility that there is a jouissance of the m/Other that is more than the phallus, and the possibility that this could be her jouissance as well. The woman does not disavow her mOther’s castration (that is the pervert’s scenario), instead she experiences the insufficiency of the phallic signifier as the Other jouissance which exceeds it. Indeed, she has an experience of her mother’s love in spite of neither being in possession of the phallus. And in addition, she has an experience of her own bodily drives which phallic sexuality does not fully do justice to.

What does a woman want? if it is something other than what masculine discourse says she wants? How can we know what she wants if our modes of knowing take the masculine as universal subject? This is what leads Lacan to make the scandalous claim, “La Femme n’existe pas” (7). “The Woman” doesn’t exist because there is no totality of women that the universal label Woman could encapsulate. Woman is an infinite set precisely because there is no master signifier for Woman that is equivalent to the phallus,  which is why nothing can be said of her as a whole. In other words, there is no positive feminine characteristic that could describe all women, no signifier for sexual difference. Without the definitional constraints of a totalizing signifier, the feminine is infinite, not whole, not totalizable. Because there is no signifier for feminine jouissance, there is no way of universalizing it in the way that masculine jouissance is universalized by the phallic function. Because it escapes the phallic function, feminine jouissance or the Other jouissance, is singular. This Other jouissance, called feminine because it is not phallic, is real, it resists signification and we cannot know anything about it. It is also beyond the bounds of pleasure and unpleasure, quite literally beyond the pleasure principle.

In 1908 Freud published a short essay entitled “Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality.” Here Freud put forth a number of seemingly contradictory statements about hysteria, painting the picture of hysteria as the result of three interrelated conflicts. Freud no longer believed that it was simply memories that hysterics suffer from, but also wishes and especially fantasies. Freud postulated that underlying hysteria are fantasies that are both unconscious and sexual, and which, by a process of repression, are tied to the sexual fantasies of childhood. He wrote, “Hysterical symptoms correspond to the return of a means of sexual satisfaction that was real in infant life and has since been repressed” (313). However, and seemingly in contradiction, Freud still maintained that hysteria is tied to past traumatic experiences, writing “Hysterical symptoms are substitutes, engendered by ‘conversion,’ for the associative return of these traumatic experiences” (312-13). Hence the first conflict, that hysterical fantasies reactivate a past experience that is both pleasurable and traumatic. The second conflict is located between the urge to express a wish and the urge to repress it. Freud wrote, “Hysterical symptoms arise as a compromise between two opposing stirrings of the affects or of the drives, one of which endeavours to express a partial drive or a component of the sexual constitution and the other to suppress it” (313). Finally, according to Freud, hysterical fantasies are always a compromise between a masculine and a feminine sexual impulse. Freud wrote “A hysterical symptom is the expression, on the one hand, of an unconscious sexual phantasy that is masculine and, on the other hand, of one that is feminine” (314).

Hysteria is therefore the product of psychical conflict, described by Freud alternatively as between pleasure and trauma, expression and repression, masculine and feminine. This is precisely the position of the Woman, caught between the traumatic real of her castration and the insufficiency of the masculine signifier to do justice to her jouissance. This, in fact, describes the quintessential position of any (neurotic) subject, but while the masculine subject is also traumatized by his castration, he represses his lack more successfully by less problematically identifying with the phallic signifier. In Does the Woman Exist, Paul Verhaeghe’s exploration of the status of the Woman in Freudian and Lacanian thought, Verhaeghe explains the development of Freud’s theory of hysteria through the Lacanian terminology of the real, symbolic and imaginary. Verhaeghe argues that Freud substituted the feminine for passivity and vice versa precisely because both were empty signifiers and therefore substitutes for the traumatic Real. Verhaeghe thus traces hysteria to the real trauma that Freud tried to represent with both passivity and femininity, the lack in the Other (A). As Verhaeghe explains, hysterical symptoms are an Imaginary attempt to deal with the conflict between the Real of her desires and the incapacity of the Symbolic to do justice to them. That is, an attempt to represent her desire through the body instead of the symbolic, which she distrusts for its phallocentrism. He writes, “The hysteric appeals to the Imaginary in order to deal with the Real. To be more specific: to work out that aspect of the Real where the Symbolic lacks a definite signifier” (41). Hysterical symptoms and fantasies are an Imaginary solution to the Real problem of her castration, a problem which is symbolically attributed to Woman due to the absence of a signifier for her desire. Considered this way, it becomes clear that hysterical symptoms are no less than attempts to imagine an answer to the question What does a woman want? The hysteric asks it with her symptoms, and Freud asked it with his theories.  

During the 1970s, feminist students of Lacan picked up on the idea of hysteria and feminine jouissance as potential sites for feminist rebellion, as well as possible ways of asserting feminine difference to counter the universality of the masculine subject. Building upon Lacan’s emphasis on the dominance of the phallic signifier and the resulting structuring of phallic jouissance, feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Catherine Clément and Luce Irigaray sought to challenge the dominance of the phallic signifier by writing feminine difference into culture, and to challenge the domination of sexuality by phallic jouissance with the specificity of a feminine jouissance expressed through writing.

The hysteric was an important figure for these French feminists. In La Jeune Nee (The Newly Born Woman), Cixous and Clément debate whether the hysteric is ultimately the vanguard of feminism or could remain only ever the victim of the patriarchal culture, impotently suffering from her inwardly directed rage. It is Clément’s position that while the hysteric is a rebel, her protests remain inert, invested within and enclosed by the imaginary of the family romance. Cixous, on the other hand, lauds the hysteric for bearing the force of feminine jouissance and using it against the patriarchal masters. She writes, “Those wonderful hysterics, who subjected Freud to so many voluptuous moments too shameful to mention, bombarding his mosaic statue/law [statute] of Moses with their carnal, passionate body words…” (95). For Cixous, then, the hysteric’s body speaks a feminist challenge to Freud and the other agents of patriarchy. The hysteric’s symptomatic body challenges them not at the level of the signifier but on a libidinal level with a libidinal surplus, or surplus jouissance, that the patriarchal signifiers could not contain. For Irigaray as well, the hysteric’s bodily symptoms speak the challenge of the woman’s libidinal economy which is haunted by her pre-Oedipal relation to her mother. This pre-Oedipal relation is repressed through the Oedipus complex by which woman is initiated into patriarchy and by which, Irigaray argues, patriarchy suppresses women’s jouissance.

Cixous’ feminist writing brought together the insights of the burgeoning fields of French psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Following deconstruction, she located the root of the subordination of woman and the feminine in the binary opposition man/woman, wherein “woman” was defined solely in opposition to the universal “man.” For Cixous, feminism’s aim had to begin with the confirmation of woman’s absolute difference from man in order that women could begin to claim some specificity. She argued that it is feminine jouissance that differentiates woman from man in a way that does not subordinate her desire to his own. She writes, “[sexual] difference, in my opinion, becomes most clearly perceived on the level of jouissance, inasmuch as a woman’s instinctual economy cannot be identified by a man or referred to the masculine economy” (82).

Like Cixous, Irigaray’s feminist critique is centred upon the “sexual indifference” she finds at the heart of western social organization and discourse (69). Irigaray, too, is influenced by deconstruction and psychoanalysis, as well as semiotics, Marxism, and existentialism. Irigaray more directly takes critical aim at psychoanalysis, arguing that sexual indifference is masterfully elaborated in the phallocentrism of psychoanalytic theory. In response to the psychoanalytic equation of woman with lack, Irigaray’s work seeks to fill in this lack with a specifically feminine sexuality. In other words, Irigaray wants to assert the radical alterity of the feminine by recuperating women’s experience of their bodies and pleasures (31). Irigaray blames what she calls the masculine sexual imaginary for dispossessing her of her feminine pleasures. The goal of feminism, for both Irigaray and Cixous, is to make a place for feminine jouissance, rooted in the sensual experience of the body and the maternal bond, in the social scene. Both Irigaray and Cixous refer to a “feminine imaginary” as the place opened up in the social world for the expression of feminine jouissance. Where they differ is in their understanding of this feminine imaginary and the role which feminine jouissance plays therein.

Cixous argues that feminine jouissance, which has been repressed by the phallocentrism of the social order, could become the basis of the new feminine libidinal economy of a feminine imaginary. It is important to note that while Cixous understands feminine jouissance to be rooted in women’s bodies, she does not locate the difference between phallic jouissance and feminine jouissance in the different bodies of men and women, but instead in their libidinal economies—the ways in which pleasures circulate (or do not circulate) throughout the body. The masculine economy, she argues, is monosexual, centred on the penis/phallus, thus erasing the possibility of feminine difference. The feminine economy is more fluid, written across the body and not focused on a single body part or erogenous zone. Unbound with respect to either sex or otherness, Cixous defines feminine sexuality as bisexual incorporating difference and otherness as parts of the self.  Feminine sexuality is “the multiplication of the effects of desire’s inscription on every part of the body and the other body” (85).

Irigaray takes Lacan’s concept of feminine jouissance slightly differently, as indicating that women experience a jouissance that is qualitatively different from men’s phallic jouissance but that has no place in the masculine sexual economy. Unlike Cixous, Irigaray grounds feminine jouissance in the distinct morphology of the female body. According to Irigaray, feminine sexuality is autoerotic, multiple and sensual as opposed to masculine sexuality which is instrumental, unitary and specular. In the masculine sexual economy women are relegated to dependency—being a lacking receptacle for men’s pleasure. According to Irigaray, establishing a feminine imaginary would give voice to feminine jouissance and transform the phallocentric social world. Irigaray writes,

Thus what [women] desire is precisely nothing, and at the same time everything. Always something more and something else besides that one—sexual organ, for example—that you give them, attribute to them. Their desire is often interpreted, and feared, as a sort of insatiable hunger, a voracity that will swallow you whole. Whereas it really[woman’s desire] involves a different economy more than anything else, one that upsets the linearity of a project, undermines the goal-object of a desire, diffuses the polarization toward a single pleasure, disconcerts fidelity to a single discourse… (29-30)

This embodied sexuality comes through, Irigaray suggests, in the decentred and fluid nature of women’s language. Like Cixous, Irigaray attempts to enact this difference in her poetic and disruptive writing style, miming the rupturing quality of the hysteric’s symptom. Irigaray’s argument for the distinction of feminine jouissance is grounded on the morphological specificity of women.  But one of the key differences between Cixous and Irigaray is that while Cixous in certain moments grounds feminine difference in morphology, her emphasis is not so much on feminine sexuality, as the feminine libidinal economy, what we might consider to be the configuration of the partial drives not under the sway of the genital drive.

Cixous’ most famous feminist intervention was her development of the notion of l’écriture féminine, or feminine writing, as a way of giving voice to the experience of feminine jouissance. In writing, Cixous hopes we might empower this experience of the feminine libidinal economy, bring it into being in language. She writes, “writing is the passageway, the entrance, the exit, the dwelling place of the other in me—the other that I am not, that I don’t know how to be, but that I feel passing, that makes me live—that tears me apart, disturbs me, changes me…” (86). And further “It is in writing, from woman and toward woman, and in accepting the challenge of the discourse controlled by the phallus, that woman will affirm woman somewhere other than in silence, the place reserved for her in and through the Symbolic” (93).

Thus, through feminine writing Cixous seeks to make a place for feminine jouissance in the social world, a world dominated by masculine discourse and a phallocentric libidinal economy. She recognizes that masculine language makes no place for feminine jouissance, so she looks for the other ways that this jouissance could enter the social scene. One way is through the voice—the rhythm of the breath and the voice “reverberating” in writing. And she suggests that what reverberates in the voice is the legacy of the mother’s love. She writes, “The Voice sings from a time before law, before the Symbolic took one’s breath away and reappropriated it into language under its authority of separation. The deepest, the oldest, the loveliest Visitation. Within each woman the first, nameless love is singing” (93). In this passage Cixous evokes the jouissance of a time before language and a time before separation from the m/other. In writing she hopes that woman might give voice to this experience. Cixous hopes that the revolutionary potential of giving voice to feminine jouissance will have the power to destroy the phallocracy of the masculine Law. She writes “Now, I—woman am going to blow up the Law: a possible and inescapable explosion from now on; let it happen, right now, in language” (95).

There is much to be learned from the politics of Cixous and Irigaray, grounded as their work is in the psychical effects of patriarchy. They offer necessary critiques of phallogocentrism and the universality of the masculine subject in psychoanalytic and philosophical thought. In some important ways, the work of Cixous and Irigaray parallels that of early second wave American feminist Betty Friedan and the Australian feminist Germaine Greer. Friedan and Greer were concerned with politicizing “the problem that has no name” also called “housewife’s syndrome” from which they saw white suburban housewives suffering and which they suggested needed to be “cured” not by physicians but by feminism. And in other ways their projects are profoundly different. It is significant that both the French feminists and the American feminists were listening to what women’s bodies were expressing, an Other jouissance, libidinal economy or dissatisfaction which lacked a signifier in the patriarchal social scene. They were all locating the hysterical symptom as the symptom of patriarchy and attempting to mobilize women on the basis of this other experience, as a kind of drive out of complicity and towards a cure promised by feminist political action and discourse. Where the French and American feminists differed was in the solution each offered to women. American feminists like Friedan sought the liberal program of equal access to education and employment, attempting to do away with the relevance of sexual difference. Irigaray and Cixous, by contrast, seek to speak feminine difference against the patriarchal domination of the phallic signifier and write the Woman into existence.

It is unfortunate that the translation of feminist texts by Cixous and Irigaray into English preceded the translation of Lacan’s seminars. American feminists for the most part lacked the theoretical lens through which to understand the work of the French feminists. It is Shepherdson’s contention, in his book Vital Signs, that the American feminist theoretical investment in the distinction between sex and gender, nature and culture, was responsible for the American misreading of feminists like Cixous and Irigaray as essentialist. I, too, disagree that their theories are completely essentialist; however, at times they fail to fully disaggregate feminine jouissance from feminine morphology. Perhaps this was a political move which stems from the social positioning of men and women in France during the 1970s. Today, in North America, gender roles have changed to such a degree that it is certainly not only women who can be considered to be in the feminine position with respect to the phallic signifier and the Other jouissance. As women have gained more access to phallic power, both women and men are also increasingly subject to a profound social alienation and the concomitant hysterical symptoms. The biggest problem I have with the work of both Irigaray and Cixous is that they insist upon inscribing feminine difference into the social scene, either through a feminine imaginary or a feminine libidinal economy. I would argue that this insistence on writing the Woman into existence can only reinforce existing patriarchal arrangements and the strength of the phallic signifier.

It is crucial that we do not take feminine jouissance as some positive content, as some “other” sexuality. As soon as a form of the Other jouissance becomes socially acceptable, it is reabsorbed by the patriarchal social symbolic, becoming phallic jouissance. Feminists have tried to make the diffuse, multiple, bisexual, and other directed qualities of feminine sexuality part of the social scene in women’s only spaces like women’s centres, women’s communes, and women’s festivals. But this feminine imaginary never escapes being structured by the phallic signifier. What is overlooked is that “sexuality” itself is what divides us into men and women, masculine and feminine and produces the qualities attributed to the sexes/sexualities. Sexuality is phallic, it cannot be separated from the phallic signifier, for it is the result of the phallic signifier; it is the pleasure taken in those partial drives which is made allowable by the social scene. Feminine jouissance is not some other way of being sexual. Feminine jouissance must instead be understood as an experience of jouissance that is not captured by our sex/gender/sexuality system; it is Real and escapes symbolization entirely. Sexuality is phallic; there is no separating the two. Which means that man is the subject of sexual desire and Woman is the object. The Woman is the S(A), and as a result the feminine is the bearer of the not-all of being, the jouissance that is not phallic, if it can even be said to exist.

Because of the historical fact of patriarchy, women have been more likely than men to suffer from hysteria and to have an experience of the Other jouissance as that which disrupts their ego’s day to day. Feminists therefore must address this other jouissance. But when one makes this other jouissance sexual, it comes under the sway of the phallic signifier and the pleasure principle. When one ties this jouissance to the experience of particular bodies, it becomes essentialized and particularized. Sexual jouissance is phallic jouissance is pleasure. The Other jouissance is beyond the realm of pleasure/unpleasure. It is the experience of the rupture of one’s being in the face of the insufficiency of the signifier. If there is anything that we can learn from the hysteric it is that the experience of the Other jouissance is anything but pleasant. It is a rupture in the natural logic of the organism as well as the ego’s social narrative. The question remains: can feminism take up this Other jouissance and mobilize the force of the Real towards feminist ends? If the Other jouissance cannot become the basis for an alternative feminine imaginary or an alternative feminine libidinal economy, can it nevertheless challenge the domination of the patriarchal signifier? In what follows I propose that the profound challenge of feminine difference is the challenge of the singularity of the subject against the universalism imposed by the phallic signifier.

In Imagine There’s no Woman, Joan Copjec takes Lacan’s dictum La Femme n’existe pas seriously, literally imagining that there is no Woman, no category under which women could be totalized. Copjec reads Lacan’s logic of sexuation as an ontology premised on the impossibility of a totalized being. Following Lacan, she refers to that which falls out of being, its internal impossibility, as the object a. She writes, “What does Lacan substitute for the vast and shareable being of the philosophers? Object a, or jouissance as that bit of nonbeing at the subject’s core” (7). The universal of human being, that which we all share, is no more and no less than an absence, lack or void. Lacan calls it the object a, the manque-à-être, the lack-in-being that characterizes being human. This is the product of the lack that I have been referring to as “castration,” and which sets all human subjects on desire’s lifelong search for satisfaction. The object a is a by-product of castration and, as such, is a universal fact of humanity that is itself missing from being. What Lacan’s theory of sexuation demonstrates is that the Woman is the keeper of the not-all of being. Just as the Woman is not-whole, exceeding the bounds of the phallic signifier, being is also not-whole, constituted as it is by a universal lack.

Thus Lacan’s feminine metaphysics redefines universality from the realm of totality to the realm of the infinite. As Copjec puts it, “Lacan does not argue that there are no universals, only particular things; rather, he maintains that universals are real” (4). As we saw in the logic of feminine being, Lacan’s logic does not lapse into a particularism, where a universal is impossible due to the particularity of all things. As Copjec puts it, “if there are only appearances in their particularity, this is due to the fact that the real, a by-product or residue of thought, detaches itself from thought to form its internal limit” (4). This is the logic of the lack-in-being, the logic of castration, and the logic of the (feminine) Lacanian subject. There is an internal limit to the human being that structures being by its absence.

I would like to also point out that this is precisely the basis and justification of Lacan’s structuralism. The psychical structures which he describes (such as the diagrams and formulas of sexuation, the three registers, the formulas and mathemes for discourse, fantasy, drive  etc.) are posited as universal, that is, they describe the structure of all human thought and action. However, they are also Real, meaning that they lack any positive content, they defy signification. So while Lacan will argue that no human can escape being positioned on one side or the other of his sexuation formulas, nevertheless the way in which any person lives this position can be nothing but utterly singular. The singularity of the subject is ensured by the universality of lack or castration, and the singularity of the response of the subject to that lack. We may refer to this as the singularity of each person’s jouissance, which can be thought of as an experience of the body beyond language, or a singular remainder of the traumatic breaking in of the mOther’s castrated desire on the homeostasis of the child. Jouissance is the being’s response. No amount of description, no precision in or proliferation of signifiers, can do justice to the experience of the jouissance of the drive. Lacan writes, “ There is…something radically unassimilable to the signifier. It’s quite simply the subject’s singular existence” (Seminar III 179). To take up a feminine position is to take up a singular position relative to a jouissance which transcends the signifier’s generalizing function.

According to Aristotelian logic, universality is opposed to particularity because universals are negated by particular cases. But according to Lacanian logic, universality and singularity go hand in hand, as both are a consequence of the Real. The Real refers to the realm of human experience that defies signification but also has a universal structure.  Which is why Lacan uses mathemes and diagrams to demonstrate the structural logic of psychoanalysis. These structures are the logic of the human subject. Because humans are endowed with a capacity for abstraction we can imagine things beyond the reality of what is. Each of us is in the first and the last instance alone with our own lack, which is why for Lacan the symbolic lack mirrors the lack in the subject. It is up to each singular subject to configure our desire out of the infinite possible combination of signifiers, to go on living after the trauma of castration. What makes us human is our capacity to imagine our own solution, just as the infant must hallucinate her first satisfactions once the breast is taken away. That an infant hallucinates is a universal, but the content of the hallucination, if it can even be thought of as “content,” is real—indescribable and utterly singular. The name that Lacan gives to the configuration of the subject’s desire around the object a, product of castration, is the fundamental fantasy ($Êa).

The problem of singularity was the problem that Freud hit his head against when he tried to theorize a content for the Woman’s desire. Without a signifier for the Woman’s desire, What does a woman want? points towards the singularity of all desire—how any subject solves the problem of castration and structures his or her life around a search for the lost object a, representative of jouissance. This is why Jacqueline Rose suggests in her reading of the Dora case that Freud was confronted by Dora’s desire not so much in its content, but in its status as an impossible question. Rose writes, “what must be seen in Freud’s work on femininity… is nothing less than the collapse of the category of sexuality as content altogether” (143). All of Freud’s attempts at narrating a content for feminine sexuality left him wanting, always taking him back to the same question, knowing that a man’s answer could never do her justice. For Freud this question was confounded by the status of woman in his thought both as object of his/masculine desire and as subject of her own desire, a desire inassimilable to the masculine universal. If we “Imagine there’s no Woman,” no symbolic definition of Woman as subject of desire, as Copjec, following Lacan, suggests we do, then the Woman is the point at which theory and knowledge must fail. When Freud asked the question, What does a woman want? it led him into the depths of his own desire and his status as object of the Other’s desire, that is, to the impossible question of his castration, What does the Other want from me? And out of this failure of knowledge and desire in the face of the subject’s singular struggle he created the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Considered this way, psychoanalysis is no less than the ethical approach to the singularity of the human subject.

Copjec gives us a way of thinking about the difference between the feminine and hysterical positions. While both are confronted by the lack in the Other, the “ungroundedness” of a world without ideals or limits, the hysteric seeks to impose imaginary limits. Copjec writes, “Confronted with the very real inadequacies of phallic jouissance… the hysteric takes the reins of the world by constructing imaginary resolutions” (123). She may even impose herself as limit by embodying the exception. Copjec writes, “the hysteric makes herself the limit of the world she brings into being—and she does so precisely by withdrawing from it” (124). Both the hysteric and the Woman are conflicted by the insufficiency of the phallic signifier to make up for their real lack, that is, the insufficiency of the symbolic to fully contain the real and to protect her from the trauma of her jouissance. The hysteric’s solution is to attempt to limit the traumatism of the Real by Imaginary means, whether through identifying with the Woman as the object of a virile man, by loudly refusing to be part of a world that cannot account for her, or by insisting upon an alternative feminine imaginary. She accomplishes this through physical bodily symptoms and/or through other patterns in her behaviour, relationships, and writing.

The hysteric’s solution resembles the masculine solution in so far as both look outside themselves for a limit to their own lack. The hysterical subject refutes the law because she knows it is empty; instead, she looks to her others to limit her lack or identifies herself as the castrating lack in the other. The masculine subject, on the other hand, identifies himself with the symbolic law and so is caught up in fantasies of prohibition and transgression. In fact, the masculine logic of the exception is the logic of the juridical law. Any law is based upon the possibility of its transgression; there is no other justification for it. The masculine position is one which is fully invested in the laws of the social world, whose investment comes on the condition that the law may always be transgressed. Just as the masculine subject accedes to castration only on the condition that there is one who proves that jouissance is possible. The masculine investment in the law is simultaneously an investment in the fantasy of transgressing it. Whether enjoyment comes from following the law or violating it (in reality or in fantasy), the masculine subject does not challenge the power of the law. 

The feminine logic of the infinite universal, the not-all of being, the fact that she is the exception to the universal masculine law, means that she “knows” that the law is incomplete, it lacks grounding. If, as Copjec suggests, woman is the keeper of the not-all of being, we don’t see this any clearer than in the psychoanalytic emphasis on the mother’s castration. The Woman is the keeper of castration, she bears the lack. But in truth this lack is the only universal quality of being, that is, all of us lack, masculine or feminine. The feminine subject is the one closest to the truth of being—the universality of lack and the singularity of desire. Without a prefab signifier by which to “know” what she wants, the feminine subject is left alone to determine her own signifier which will put a limit on her jouissance. It is no wonder that many take the hysteric’s route, looking to the imaginary, often another person, to provide such a signifier or calling out the whole system for its inability to account for her.

What the absence of a signifier for woman’s jouissance means for women is something completely different than it means for men. For men, Woman’s lack functions as a support for the fantasy of the sexual relationship, that she wants him for what he has that she lacks. For women it means that there is a gap in the symbolic order, an invalidity to the law, an insincerity to every social scene. She “knows” that there is more to it than meets the eye. She “knows” that there is a hole in the symbolic order because she is not-whole in herself. She is offered fantasies by our culture just like man is— “She is there in full” —but still she is not convinced. Because the symbolic does not provide a signifier for women’s sexuality, exactly what woman wants, if it is not the phallus, is an unknown, a gap— “something more [encore]”. Many hysterics looked to Freud to help limit the work of an unmediated jouissance in their bodies. When Freud offered them his (masculine) interpretation of their desires like the one he offered Dora, the treatment was doomed to failure.

Second wave feminism offered women another sort of cure, a new ideology by which to explain their experiences and their suffering, another way of expressing “the problem that has no name.” But so far feminists have not been able to displace the phallic signifier, reliant as we are on the social meanings of sex, gender and sexuality which it structures. Feminist thinkers have often taken either the masculine position, relying on a messianic fantasy of phallic power to come, or the hysteric’s position, blaming others for what they lack. However, what feminism needs to contend with is that the question What does a woman want? has no universal answer because the Woman does not exist. Without a signifier for woman’s desire, each woman is alone to produce her own signifier for herself. She can take the route of the hysteric by looking for an external limit, or she can take this responsibility on herself. Which is why Copjec claims that the ethical act is feminine, because to act ethically is to take responsibility for limiting one’s own jouissance in the face of the absent Other, that is, without the fantasies of love and sex offered by the social world. Acting ethically is not transgressing an oppressive law, or following some kind of morality—that is the masculine logic. It is this feminine ethics that I think may offer feminists a new way of approaching feminine difference and a new politics of women’s suffering.

The unsymbolized nature of women’s sex should not be mistaken for unsymbolizablity. It is important to recognize that (sexed) being is necessarily singular. Each one of us has a singular position with respect to our jouissance. The masculine position takes solace in the fantasies of the social scene, in which the romance of cinema, courtly love, the marriage vows (including gay marriage vows), or feminist ideology all function to make an Other responsible for being that which we lack, and support the insistence of the phallic signifier in the social scene. This can include feminist fantasies which are invested in the possibility that if only woman were free and equal, she would have unbridled enjoyment. The insistence of the phallic signifier, and the concomitant reliance on fantasy, have a symptom—the Other jouissance—that the social symbolic cannot account for. Those who are disillusioned with the social scene and phallic jouissance, regardless of gender, are in the feminine position. To inhabit the feminine position is to have an experience of the Other jouissance that ruptures both the fantasies of the social scene and the homeostasis of the organism. This experience takes one form in the hysteric’s symptoms, but what if the Other jouissance could find other modes of expression? What if Irigaray and Cixous were right, and the force of the Other jouissance could be turned against the social scene, not as a way of introducing an alternative feminine libidinal economy, but as a way of inciting each of us to find an idiosyncratic expression of our singularity? One which might serve for other women as a provocation to seek the truth of the Other jouissance that is at work in their bodies and in their lives but which is somehow stifled or subdued by the promises of pleasure and fulfillment offered on the social scene.

In many ways, Shoshana Felman’s What does a Woman Want? Reading and Sexual Difference takes off from the work of the French feminists. While Felman does not explicitly reference Cixous, I cannot help but read Felman’s beautiful book as a response to Cixous’ notion of l’écriture feminine.  Only in place of a revolutionary writing practice, Felman suggests a revolutionary reading practice. This shift from writing to reading is, I will argue, nothing less than an ethical intervention—a way of approaching feminine difference as a rupture within the narratives of other women which mirrors the reader’s own internal difference. While Felman places the emphasis on reading, we cannot forget that this reading practice requires women writers to first write their lives.

As I already described, the thrust behind Cixous’ écriture feminine is that writing can enable women to become the metaphysical subjects of a new feminine discourse. For Felman too, feminine writing, whether literature, autobiography, theory, or all three, is vital for women and the feminist struggle; however, it is also fraught. Felman points out that patriarchal domination means not only that women have not had the time and space to write, but that women are fully inculcated into a masculine symbolic and, thereby, as Felman puts it, “possessed by the male mind” (5). Women cannot write as “Woman” because, in Lacan’s terms, “the Woman does not exist,” she is the gap in the phallic symbolic, signifier for humanity’s lack. Felman recognizes and deliberately resists the trap of a hysterical identification with the missing signifier Woman. She resists the dogmatic and legislating by-products of feminism’s attempts to define the Woman into existence by finding some substance through which to represent sexual difference. Instead, the Woman functions in Felman’s discourse as missing, displaced by the masculinization of thought and knowledge, but also as “the very insecurity of a differential movement, which no ideology can fix and of which no institutional affiliation can redeem the radical anxiety…” (10).

The being of Woman, that which women can be said to share, becomes for Felman, the trauma of sexual difference. And Felman locates this trauma at the heart of every woman’s story. She writes, “Indeed, I will suggest… that every woman’s life contains, explicitly or in implicit ways, the story of a trauma” and further, “Insofar as any feminine existence is in fact a traumatized existence, feminine autobiography cannot be a confession. It can only be a testimony: to survival” (Felman 16). While many women’s stories, if not most, tell the story of the survival of traumatic events such as abuse, neglect or assault, I do not read Felman as referring in particular to these kinds of narratives. Instead Felman is suggesting that the trauma which all feminine autobiography testifies to is the experience of not being accounted for in the social world or by the written word. The experience of this trauma is what Lacan referred to as the Other jouissance, that traumatic remnant of castration which fails to be accounted for by the phallic signifier. This trauma is the effect of approaching language in the feminine position, and is a trauma which when written becomes easily co-opted by masculine patriarchal discourse, as madness, or as the alluring enigma of femininity and the feminine body. Often feminist discourse falls into the same trap of co-opting this difference into feminist narratives—narratives, for example, of the victimization of women at the hands of virile men or narratives of women’s maternal sexuality—which also happen to be structured by the phallic signifier and so do not end up looking that much different from the misogynist narratives they attempt to challenge.

This is precisely the bind which feminists—as women writers who address other women—find ourselves in. While fully knowing that particular women transcend the phallic definition of “Woman” (passive, nurturing, emotional, etc.), feminists also have not been able to come up with any description of femininity that does not draw upon those very same qualities. Feminist writers, women writers, either find ourselves trapped in a critical address towards patriarchal discourses, or else we attempt to use those same discourses to say something about women; both strategies remain invested in the phallic signifier. Felman suggests a direction for feminism out of this bind between hysteria and the masculine position, and that is for feminism to become an ethical reading practice rather than an ideology or a set of theories. Feminist knowledge becomes, for Felman, the “enabling inspiration” for an ethics centred on the practice of reading, reading our own stories through the stories of others (8). This “ethics of interpretation” involves reading in the texts of others that which exceeds the narrative, the sexual difference which is only present as rupture, as what Lacan calls the Real. Felman writes,

Trained to see ourselves as objects and to be positioned as the Other, estranged to ourselves, we have a story that by definition cannot be self-present to us, a story that, in other words, is not a story, but must become a story. And it cannot become a story except through the bond of reading, that is, through the story of the Other (the story read by other women, the story of women told by others), insofar as this story of the Other, as our own autobiography, has as yet precisely to be owned. (14)

What is so important for me about Felman’s intervention is that feminism becomes not only a practice, but an ethical practice, one which engenders a new kind of social bond. Felman calls this bond the “bond of reading,” which she compares to “bearing witness” —allowing oneself to be surprised by what one discovers about oneself through an encounter with a text written by another (133). The bond of reading is a connection between the subject and herself, but it is social to the extent that it enables an experience of herself as an effect of the social world. Through reading, the feminine subject finds a place for an experience of the singularity of the Other jouissance in the social scene. What the woman, or feminine reader encounters in the text is the singular experience of being. The sexed being of the psychoanalytic subject always eludes signification but is paradoxically also an effect of signification, and so can be experienced through the encounter with the enigmatic rupture of the other. The feminine reader encounters herself in the enigma of another feminine desire, never quite elaborated in the writing of other women, yet always present. Reading enables a social bond to form between the subject and her world, which creates a feminist bond not premised upon an investment in a certain patriarchal definition of woman. Felman’s ethical reading practice would not be possible without what I might suggest is a love for women’s writing and the feminist project more generally—which she refers to as her “enabling inspiration.”

Psychoanalysis since Freud has opened up the possibility of an entirely different relationship to the question of women’s desire and women’s suffering. Freud developed the theory of the unconscious as a way of thinking about that aspect of human experience which eludes human knowledge. In Freud’s patriarchal culture, the feminine—woman’s own desire—was one way of naming this limit. Feminine desire is the limit of masculinist knowledge as well as the limit of masculine desire. The “feminine” and the “unconscious” are both signifiers for that which cannot be represented. Though we all suffer from the impossibility of the signifiers of the social scene to do justice to our experiences, the hysteric manifests this injustice in her bodily symptoms, her mode of relating to others, and her modes of writing. Felman’s ethical reading practice suggests that in the revolutionary shift from writing to reading, feminists may escape the deadlocks of the hysterical or masculine positions and take responsibility for the being they are as a result of their ontological lack. By occupying the feminine position, the subject may take her place fully implicated in her social world.



Works Cited

Cixous, Hélène, and Catherine Clément. The Newly Born Woman. La jeune née. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Copjec, Joan. Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Felman, Shoshana. What Does a Woman Want? Reading and Sexual Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Freud, Sigmund, and Joseph Breuer. Studies in Hysteria. Trans. Nicola Luckhurst. London: Penguin, 2004.

Freud, Sigmund. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” Penguin Freud Library Vol 7: On Sexuality. Trans. James Strachey. London: Penguin, 1991, 31-169.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell, 1984.

Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. London: Flamingo, 1993.

Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2004.

---. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1981.                

---. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses, 1955-1956. Trans. Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 1993.

---. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1998.

Rose, Jacqueline. “Dora: Fragment of an Analysis.” Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane.  Dora’s Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. 128-48.

Shepherdson, Charles. Vital Signs: Nature, Culture, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Verhaeghe, Paul. Does the Woman Exist? From Freud's Hysteric to Lacan's Feminine. Trans. Marc du Ry. New York: Other, 1999.


Kristine Klement is ABD in the Social and Political Thought Programme at York University.  She is currently completing her dissertation, entitled What Does a Feminist Want?  Hysteria, Psychoanalysis, Feminism and is also the author of a number of articles, including “Dangerous Desires: Hysteria, Sexuality and Discourse in Todd Haynes’ film Safe” in Anything But Safe: Sex, Sexuality and Gender.


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