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Meltzer, F. (1999). Literature, Psychoanalysis, and Gender. Ann. Psychoanal., 26:361-370.

(1999). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 26:361-370

Literature, Psychoanalysis, and Gender

Françoise Meltzer, Ph.D.

What I would like to do is to try to work through (in the intellectual sense) how, and perhaps even why, psychoanalysis keeps returning like a kind of constant itch to the feminist project in the West. I use the term “psychoanalysis” in Freud's sense. I am aware of the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists (clinical and other), and psychoanalysts, and of the “debates” between them—debates in which I am neither competent nor desirous to engage. The word “psychoanalysis” is here used in its broad theoretical sense: as the discourse formation which privileges the unconscious, the oedipal conflict, and sexuality as a major basis of identity. Let me say at the outset, in the words of an old coinage: I am not now nor have I ever been an analyst. But as a literary theorist who engages in, among other things, gender issues and the connection between philosophy and literature, I am continually confronted with the psychoanalytic project. Such a situation is true of any critical theorist today from Derrida to Foucault, Kristeva, Irigaray, Kofman, Cixous, Certeau, or any other postmodernist theorist (to name but some of the better known in French thought, for example). Psychoanalysis seems to be the unavoidable knight with whom one has to joust or to whom one can run for help in the reading of texts. Why is this the case? What is it about this idea that Freud had which makes critical theory turn to psychoanalysis consistently, even obsessively?

Such a turn, moreover, is by necessity nonclinical, and so we have an added peculiarity to this situation: The theories that Freud articulated were for the purpose of clinical treatment. When theorists turn to these same theories, it is solely for the purpose of engaging the text. Indeed, even a specific case study (for example, Schreber or Dora) is, in a theory context, approached for epistemological reasons (which includes notions of gender constructs), but never, of course, for reasons of praxis. So the first point to be made here is that the Freud of theory is disjuncted from active clinical praxis. Freudian thought in the works of what we might also call postmodernism is one that a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, or indeed analyst, will barely recognize.

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