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Meltzer, F. (1994). Response to Jane Flax. Ann. Psychoanal., 22:29-36.

(1994). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 22:29-36

Response to Jane Flax

Françoise Meltzer

The difficulties I have, and the reservations I am about to articulate concerning Flax's work, must be understood within a context: I wholeheartedly agree with Flax's project, and with the conclusion that her book and her essay here reach, namely, that psychoanalytic theory and practice must engage gender issues if they are to remain viable (indeed acceptable) undertakings in what Flax calls the “postmodern” world. Since I am a critical theorist and do not engage in the practice of psychoanalysis, my comments will necessarily and properly limit themselves to the theoretical aspect of Flax's rather all-encompassing triad: feminism, psychoanalysis, and postmodernism.

The first difficulty posed for me in Flax's work is the ease with which she uses such complicated and variegated terms as precisely the three that comprise her triad. There are, of course, disclaimers to such use: Flax reminds us that none of these three is a “unified discourse,” and warns us ahead of time that the inherent complexities must never be overlooked. She has a footnote which assures us that her book does a better job at defining the term “postmodernist” than does her paper. In her book we read, “By even speaking of ‘postmodernism,’ I run the risk of violating some of its central values—heterogeneity, multiplicity, and difference.” But she goes on to say that “postmodernists” claim that the fictive and nonunitary nature of concepts does not mean they cannot be useful or meaningful. “Therefore,” she concludes, “I will assume here that it is possible to speak of ‘postmodernism.’ Although internally varied, postmodernist discourses are unified in identifying certain subjects of conversation as particularly appropriate to and necessary for ‘our’ time” (1900, p. 188). So too Flax's book has a whole chapter entitled “Feminisms,” which insists upon the fact that there is no single feminism whatever, no homogeneous agenda.

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