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Gentile, J. (2015). The Elusive Female Signifier: Reply to Pellegrini and Harris. Psychoanal. Perspect., 12(3):266-274.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 12(3):266-274

The Elusive Female Signifier: Reply to Pellegrini and Harris

Jill Gentile, Ph.D.

I read the discussions by Pellegrini and Harris in light of my interest in tracking associations that tell the story of the missing, unsignified female genital. Both discussants offer rich associative trails inspired by my essay’s exploration of the silences, the gaps, the “nothing,” that psychoanalytic free association and its literature reveals. Pellegrini’s telling of the story by which Freud came to project unwanted associations of a castrated Jewish male onto female sexuality further illuminates the female genital’s obscured story. But Pellegrini also shifts her gaze from it, by reminding us of a more familiar symbol, the castrated phallus; and she shifts the focus from the female genital’s obscured symbolic status to the obscuration of the Jewish female. Harris suggests lines of division in our thinking and offers cautionary notes. However, we actually share many concerns regarding the symbol’s inevitable links with female bodily materiality and with enduring cultural signifying baggage. Metaphorizing the female genital offers us a possibility of moving beyond trading in binaries by opening a symbolic space between what is material and immaterial, accessible and inaccessible.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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