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Yakeley, J. (2001). Feminine Sensuality. By Alcira Mariam Alizade. Karnac Books Pp. 184. £18.95.. Psychoanal. Psychother., 15(1):88-90.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 15(1):88-90

Feminine Sensuality. By Alcira Mariam Alizade. Karnac Books Pp. 184. £18.95.

Review by:
Jessica Yakeley

It is often said that theoretical discussion of the topic of female sexuality has been relatively neglected in British psychoanalysis in the last fifty years. Although this has resulted in recent attempts to correct this deficit, most notably the excellent Female Experience (Raphael-Leff & Perelberg, eds, 1997), a collection of essays by female psychoanalysts within the British Psycho-Analytic Society working with women, I also welcomed the chance to read a South American's contribution to the subject. (Alizade is Argentinean, and the foreword to the book is written by R Horacio Etchegoyan), but was disappointed not to find the enlightenment I had anticipated in what Freud famously referred to as the ‘dark continent’.

I fear English-speaking readers will be put off by Alizade's somewhat effusive style of writing, which does not seem to have been facilitated by the translation. Alizade draws on many psychoanalytic, anthropological and philosophical sources to illustrate her subject, but at times her theoretical framework appears incoherent, as if she randomly picks bits and pieces of different theories to suit her own thesis. She interweaves concepts of Freudian and Kleinian instinct theory with Lacanian theory, most notably that of the death instinct, which she elaborates in her discussion of female orgasms and excessive female enjoyment (the Lacanian notion of jouissance). At other times, she draws from the concepts of object relations theory and attachment theory, referring variously to the work of Bowlby, Spitz, Stern and Winnicott in her discussion of affects and the body in its emerging sense of self. Theoretical contradictions are not made explicit, and she is in danger of trying to embrace an all-encompassing psychoanalytic outlook that lacks intellectual rigour.

Nevertheless, on my second reading, I found the book more intellectually stimulating, and some of Alizade's ideas useful in conceptualising some of the phenomenology and phantasies I have encountered in female patients. Alizade commenced by carefully distinguishing the word ‘sensuality’ from ‘sexuality’ and ‘erogenicity’. Feminine sensuality refers to a fluid energy that not only is expressed in the erogenous zones of the orifices which are privileged areas of enjoyment of pleasure, but also expands over the surface of the body without respect to anatomical boundaries, as would define sexuality.

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