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Galen, A.F. (1979). Rethinking Freud on Female Sexuality: A Look at the New Orthodox Defense. Psychoanal. Rev., 66(2):173-186.

(1979). Psychoanalytic Review, 66(2):173-186

Rethinking Freud on Female Sexuality: A Look at the New Orthodox Defense

Amy F. Galen

In 1974 Juliet Mitchell published Psychoanalysis and Feminism, in which she returned Freudian theory to all its ambiguity and complexity by reconstituting the condensed fragments of ideas, too long mistaken, misread, and misappropriated by a generation of feminists and revisionists. Her work on Freud must be applauded for its scholarship and scrutiny. Like a curator who painstakingly restores the work of old masters, her brushstrokes reveal a profound knowledge of how the original work was accomplished.

For Mitchell the process of psychosexual development revealed by Freud reflects the contents of the unconscious mind. She makes her most cogent point about the critical work of the revisionists and feminists when she states in her opening chapter that most of their misunderstanding of Freud arises because the theories have been

taken outside the context of the mechanisms of unconscious life—the laws of the primary process (the laws that govern the workings of the unconscious) are replaced by these critics by those of the secondary processes (conscious decisions and perceptions); and as a result the whole point is missed.8a

The substance of Mitchell's argument is founded on two basic positions. With regard to revisionist theory—be it based on physiological data as in the work of Mary Jane Sherfey, on cultural data as with Karen Horney and Clara Thompson, on literature or social life as with Kate Millet and Germaine Greer, or on historical interpretation as with Eva Figes—Mitchell feels that it is all essentially a critique of the conscious, secondary implications of what Freud revealed as the unconscious, primary processes of the female psyche.

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