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Benjamin, J. (1992). Reply to Schwartz. Psychoanal. Dial., 2(3):417-424.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 2(3):417-424

Reply to Schwartz Related Papers

Jessica Benjamin, Ph.D.

Schwartz's comments suggest that my paper uncritically adopts the central tenets of Freud's psychosexual theory and is thus inadequate to feminism. Since I consider my work to constitute a critique of that theory, I am led to suppose that we disagree not only about the substantive concepts involved but also about how to go about the process of theoretical revision. From my standpoint, informed by the German tradition of critical social theory, the purpose of critique is to recognize precisely what phenomenon or problem the old theory was trying to explain and to show how that problem can be understood better with a different analysis. The purpose is also to unfold, from within, the contradictions or inadequacies within that theory. The latter process, called immanent critique, reveals contradictions internal to the theory, for instance, the fact that the father's importance is granted for the boy but not the girl. The former, transcendent critique, challenges the very assumptions at the theory's roots and shows how they lead to some of those problems, in this case, the assumptions about anatomy and drive that lead to the conclusion that the penis is a thing in itself, rather than the symbolic means of expressing relational wishes.

According to this approach, however, the erroneous assumption is also the result of the way social relations appear as given rather than constructed. Marx, for instance, showed how ideology is not merely the result of illusion or bias but is based on the “real appearance” created by social relations, behind which is concealed a deeper, hidden structure. The appearance often presents itself as a thing, when it is actually a relational construction—“thingified” (the literal meaning of reification).

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