Tag Archive | Self

Pleasure and Power: Nussbaum on Butler

Edvard Munch - puberty (1895)

Martha Nussbaum in her article “The Professor of Parody” (1999) gives an explanation of contemporary American feminist discourse focused on the example of Judith Butler’s work. Nussbaum’s critique focuses on three main issues: Butler’s complicated narrative, her lack of originality on the analysed topics and the conclusions she withdraws from them, and her passivity concerning social and political changes. Due to my research topic I will focus on the former and the latter arguments.

Nussbaum infers from the obscurity found in Butler’s texts a lack of honesty which may consist in complicating simple statements and arguments in an aim to disguise them under a high intellectual value ‘since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought’ (1999: 4). Indeed, Nussbaum refers back to Socrates’ defense of clarity and simplicity in philosophical thought, claiming against sophists and rhetoricians whose ‘manipulative methods showed only disrespect [for the soul]’ (1999: 5). Therefore, Nussbaum suggests ideological purposes in Butler’s text, however, she does not consider the possibility of these texts as being an expression of an unconscious meaning, instead she stands easily for a lack of meaning, a simple reproduction of issues, mentioned by previous authors, in a confusing verbosity (1999: 4-5).

The third point of Nussbaum’s critique regarding Butler’s passivity is interesting insofar it relates to Foucault’s questioning the repeatedly use of our supposed repression in contemporary discourses. According to Nussbaum, Butler’s texts are so theoretical and symbolic that they ignore the real and material situation of women who are victims of social and political injustices being unable to help them (1999: 12). Nussbaum suggests Butler’s arguments to be ‘focus narcissistically on personal self’, while there exists other feminist scripts concerned in ‘building laws and institutions, without much concern on how a woman displays her own body and its gendered nature’ (1999: 13). But Butler, argues Nussbaum, finds pleasure living within the same structures which oppress her, belonging to them insofar they are the conditions for her being, as for its victims: ‘I cannot escape the humiliating structures without ceasing to be, so the best I can do is mock, and use the language of subordination stingingly’ (1999: 10).

However, Butler’s attitude can also be understood as a need to keep this structures alive in order to generate oppression and hence her own discourse. This conclusion may arise a polemical and ethical question concerning the academia, its economic sources, and its scope of influence outside itself which mostly refers back to sexual politics, as Nussbaum implicitly points out through her whole article. In Foucauldian terms, there would be a need either to create repression or sustain it in order to justify new discourses on the body. In this context, Nussbaum’s claims on Butler’s passivity would remain insufficient, as Butler’s discourse does not only avoid change but it stands against it as its only possible existence is within these structures in a masochistic relationship; hence, the question arises, is she constructing a masochistic body? This relationship between body, pleasure and power, may logically support patriarchal social and family organizations as a source of pleasure for women, which shows a high cynicism and contradictions in Butler’s texts. In fact, Nussbaum mentions feminist theorists’ comfortable positions ‘in safety of their campuses, remaining on the symbolic level’ instead of ‘work in changing the law, or feeding the hungry’ (1999: 13).

On the Psychic Home


Roger Kennedy develops the concept of ‘psychic home’ from a psychoanalytical perspective in his book The Psychic Home (2014) whose theory may feel complemented with that of Jung and Heidegger’s approach to dwelling, as well as providing an interesting relationship between the importance of the bourgeois interior and the emergence of psychoanalysis. Kennedy argues that it is a human need to have a sense of home: ‘We need to feel at home in the world – it makes us feel secure, it provides the base from which we can explore’ (2014: 12). This sense of home is found inside the human being, it belongs to his interiority being extremely related to the physical construction of the house. This strong relationship is expressed through a continuous interaction between the inside and the outside: the psychic house is fed trough the physical space, while the physical interior becomes yearning and expression of the psychic house.

Kennedy differentiates between the interior home and the domestic space: the first one been approached as a given entity, while the second one belongs to a particular historical context. Indeed Histoire de la Vie Privée shows a complete development of domestic space being its high moment found from the French Revolution onwards, especially during the bourgeoisie. This differentiation is important to oppose traditional feminist critique as it shows how the sense of home may be set apart from the material relationship to the house, in other words, feminism fails to differentiate the relationship between the woman and her inner home from that of the material house, and that may be due to its general materialistic approach. However, following Kennedy, the history of the inner home is that of the human being: the value of home belongs to him, as Heidegger says ‘to be is to dwell’ (147); but the historical development and expression of this interiority is subjected to change, and to the materiality of the world. Thus, bourgeois domestic space should be approached from its particular context, as expression of both human interiority and social interactions. This relationship is what can lead to a conflict which is experienced by the adulteress as a central figure in part of the bourgeois novel.

Kennedy establishes the relationship between the development of domestic space and psychoanalysis based on the idea that, in fact, psychoanalysis somehow belongs to the home’s interiority, and to the inner space both psychically and physically (2014: 20): it belongs to the subject who inhabits the house. Thus the psychic home finds a strong correlation with domestic space in the bourgeoisie which is highly concerned with the cultivation of the inner space in both metaphorical and literal meanings:

 ‘One could say that the older notion of the interior as the spiritual and inner nature of the soul became, in Freud, wedded to the emerging notion of the double nature of the interior as site of dream and material reality to create a new notion of private life and of the human subject. The psychoanalytical interior, or what I shall put forward as the notion of a psychic home, becomes a revolutionary account of the human subject, one that challenged bourgeois domesticity while providing a comfortable space for exploration of its conflicts’.                                                                                             (2014: 24)

 Indeed, psychoanalysis is the product as well as the end of the proper bourgeoisie or Victorian domesticity and its core values. Kennedy approaches the discipline as a result of the strong sense of interiority domestic space brought to the individual who was not freed from inner conflicts, but far from that, those were actually caused by the same domesticity. One can then suggest with Kennedy how psychoanalysis was born from the negative side of domesticity: its conflicts; therefore, being the new discipline a cure but nonetheless also a challenge for Victorian values; the end of the restricted and disciplined sexuality, and the beginning of new experiences of the body.

The body in the private room in Claudine


Colette (1873-1954) was a French writer belonging to Modernism and one of the most sexual liberal writers of the early 20th C. Her life and her work show her bisexuality, promiscuity and all kind of sexual experiences. Her collection of books known as Claudine – Claudine à l’école, Claudine à Paris, Claudine en ménage, Claudine s’en va – explain the life of Claudine since her adolescence until her divorce. The first of the books takes place in a boarding school where Claudine’s tendency to homosexuality is suggested through her friendship with Luce and where she observes the homoerotic relationship between two teachers of the school. The second book takes place in Paris and describes her new home and the arousing her own erotic consciousness: her body is described in detail with a strong repetitive presence of the mirror, and her room and sense of intimate space appear simultaneously being as well highly described. Claudine’s room is important because is the place where she dreams and where she describes and touches her body; living in a bourgeois house, her room has place for a bath, so all the toilet is done there conforming a very private and personal area. In Paris Claudine falls in love with her uncle, twenty years older than her whom she marries to at the end of the novel. This second book shows a certain degree of plenitude, Claudine does not feel herself alienated with her domestic space neither with her body. She experiences her desires at the same time that a sense of belonging accommodates her in her bedroom.

One of the characteristics attributed to Colette is her willingness to write about the female body and desire as she did. The description of sexual acts from the female point of view was terribly innovative in the 1900, as well homoerotic desire among women. Considering the Victorian context, Colette dared to express through some of her heroines the distasteful sensations of being with lovers or husbands showing female dissatisfaction with her intimate relationships with men and satisfaction being with women suggesting a different sexuality and different requirements among sexes: “Il m’y serre, si tendu que j’entends trembler ses muscles. Tout vetu il m’y embrace, m’y maintient – mon Dieu, qu’attend-il donc pour se déshabiller, lui aussi? – et sa bouche et ses mains m’y retiennent, sans que son corps me touche, depuis ma révolte tresaillante jusqu’à mon contentment affolé, jusqu’àu honteux gémissement de volupté que j’aurais voulu retenir par orgueil. Après, seulement auprès, il jette ses habits comme j’ai feat des miens, et il rit, impitoyable, pour vexer Claudine stupéfaite et humiliée”.

Once married, Claudine starts feeling alienated in her husband’s house: “Pour rentrer! Je n’ai donc pas de demeure? Non! J’habite ici chez un monsieur, un monsieur que j’aime, soit, mais j’habite chez un monsieur! Hélas! Claudine, plante arrachée de sa terre […] Où rentrer? En moi”. The loss of her own room contributes to her feeling of no-belonging, and her husband’s possession of her body probably contributes to this strangeness. Thus Claudine’s remembrances about her friendship with Luce reappear now longing for physical and emotional fulfillment with her regretting her previous despise. It may appear clear that if Claudine does not feel her intimacy in her marital room is due to her impossibility to communicate with her husband, therefore she feels urge to seek outside.

On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck

“On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck”, Theatralia. Revista de Poética del Teatro XVI. 2014, 227-235.

With this article I aim to introduce the topic of adultery in Georg Büchner’s work with a focus on female sexuality, and the relationship between sex, murder and madness. Adultery appears as a final trigger for madness and murder, which is seen as a substitute for the sexual act between the spouses, especially from the husband’s perspective, when the wife’s adulterous relationship with her lover avoids sexual contact with her legitimate husband. Behind that, the social context where the story develops is especially important for the author’s social critique of German politics in the 1830s under the kingship of Prince Metternich.

Béatrice Didier on L’écriture-femme: Female Writers and their Texts


‘L’écriture féminine est une écriture du Dedans : l’intérieur du corps, l’intérieur de la maison’; this is a statement which very well exemplifies Didier’s thoughts on female writing in her book L’écriture-femme, a brief but very interesting selection of female writers since the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The book is lovely written and very reccomendable for its analysis of the works of a few authors. Didier approaches her analysis from that which makes singular a female writing in contrast to a male writing; in this context, she outlines writing and text characteristics usually belonging to women writers – she repeatedly warns against dangerous generalizations but insists on a set of particular details usually found in female writings. At the end of the book she calls for a mutual enrichment between male and female authors learning from what they can teach to each other being her critique directed towards the historical Western general exclusion of female approaches to the text and over-valorization of what is masculine. For female writers to be awarded there is no need to write like men but to accept how  – and what – they write.

Historically, being women more confined to their domestic spaces, they wrote about what was inside the house, about topics talked mostly among women, and issues they were concerned about, and they have done it differently than men. Yet in the 20th C. there are big differences between Virginia Woolf and Ford Madox Ford being they both recognized Modernist and cultivated writers. Henry James and Edith Wharton are another example of fellow contemporaries who read each other, and still an attentive reader can draw a line from Jane Austen to Emily Brontë finishing in Wharton, so different from James’s narrative, style and approach to reality. Didier, Cixous did, relates female writing to the female body, but also to women’s relationship with the house and maternity: ‘Le désir d’écrire, aussi fondamental peut-être que le désir d’enfanter et qui probablement répond à la même pulsion, ne pouvait être utilisé de la même façon par la société. Si l’enfantement apparaissait comme la condition même de la survie de tout groupe humain et par conséquent devait être organisé dans une structure sociale, le désir d’écrire, lui, semblait au contraire marginal, subversif, à tout le moins inutile’. Therefore, creation and pro-creation going hand by hand, and indeed, it is not till Modernism that most women wrote and wrote subversive literature. According to Didier, psychoanalysis may have pushed these women to write due to its assertion that differences on identities were important: ‘La véritable conquête de l’écriture féminine moderne aura été peut-être, aidée là encore par tout un courant de pensée issu à la foi de la psychanalyse et de l’existensialisme, d’inscrire différemment l’identité dans le texte’.

Some of the characteristics Didier attributes to female writing are its orality: being women the ones who repeated tales inside the house, they transmitted oral particularities to the written text: ‘une écriture telle que le flux de la parole s’y retrouve, avec ses soubresauts, ses ruptures et ses cris’. Another characteristic is the temporal perception strongly marked by women’s biological cycles: ‘Il est possible aussi que la femme ressente le temps autrement que ne le fait l’homme, puisque son rythme biologique est spécifique. Temps cyclique, toujours recommencé, mais, avec ses ruptures, sa monotonie et ses discontinuités’. And finally the body makes another big difference: ‘‘La présence de la personne et du sujet impose immanquablement la présence du corps dans le texte. Et il est bien évident que c’est peut-être le seul point sur lequel la spécificité soit absolument incontestable, absolue. Si l’écriture féminine apparaît comme neuve et révolutionnaire, c’est dans la mesure où elle est écriture du corps féminin’.

The body is undeniable, and marks a very visible difference and one may say it makes physical the two previous points: voice and biological temporality. But the female also feels different from the male one, and experiences sexuality in another way – being of course, at the same time, different for every single person – so that it may affect the writing. It explains again the boom of female writers, so to say, after Freud, writing not only in a very particular way but of their bodies: the female body, so under control during the 19th C., is put into paper by women- men did it before – at the turn of the century: ‘Monde de sensations jusque-là inexplorées et qui supposeraient, pour etre exprimées, une autre langue’.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis II


Ricoeur argues how the dream is a kind of discourse which needs to be translated into another discourse to find out the latent meaning the dream-image encloses; the dream is here understood as ‘désir en images’, hence the Ricoeur’s choice ‘semantics of desire’ for a psychoanalytical hermeneutics.  So two different discourses are working together to interpret a whole hide meaning, a process called ‘travail de rêve’: the dream belongs to the meaning discourse, while the act of suppression to that of power, that is, in a psychoanalytical interpretation there is always a dialectics of manifested image meaning and the will to suppressed it; to put it into speech is to overcome the discourse of power -understood as resistance to be pronounced. The dream image contains in itself this dialectic as the image is indeed a revelation and a disguise of the same meaning. The mask is what better symbolizes the dream: it reveals and conceals simultaneously, and, I think, this revealing and concealing is an essential part of the erotic -in opposition to the porno-, so the link between the dream and desire may be found in this mode of appearance, something which is revealed and concealed.

‘Le rapport du caché à montrer dans le déguisement requiert donc une déformation, ou une défiguration, qui ne peut être énoncée que comme un compromis de forces’. It follows the role played by censure to which Ricoeur gives its importance. Censure is what causes this distortion, this will to disguise, to show it in other words, in this case through another discourse, that of the image: ‘d’une part, la censure se manifeste au niveau d’un texte auquel elle inflige des blancs, des substitutions de mots, des expressions atténuées, des allusions, des artifices de mise en pages, les nouvelles suspectes ou subversives se déplaçant et se cachant dans des entrefilets anodins ; d’autre part, la censure est l’espressione d’un pouvoir, plus précisément d’un pouvoir politique, lequel s’exerce contre l’opposition en la frappant dans son droit d’expression ; dans l’idée de censure les deux systèmes de langage sont si étroitement mêlés qu’il faut dire tour à tour que la censure n’altère un texte que lorsqu’elle réprime une force et qu’elle ne réprime un force interdite qu’en perturbant son expression’. Ricoeur goes on affirming that Freud’s originality resides in the fact of seeing the unconscious as the place where both sense and suppression take place. That is what makes possible to translate the unconscious into the conscious through their common structure which is the capacity of representation.

Regarding sublimation, Ricoeur critiques the fact that the work of art is the expression of a sexual energy which may express the author’s conflicts; he instead argues that sublimation is of a dialectic character as well, allowing thus to observe a return to a primitive area, which may correspond to the unconscious conflict, and a going forward in the production of meaning of the work itself, hence resolving the conflict: ‘l’œuvre d’art est en avance sur l’artiste lui-même : c’est un symbole prospectif de la synthèse personnelle et de l’avenir de l’homme, plutôt qu’un symptôme régressif de ses conflits non résolus […] Le sens véritable de la sublimation ne serait-il pas de promouvoir des significations nouvelles en mobilisant des énergies anciennes d’abord investies dans des figures archaïques ?’ This production of new meaning remains Ricoeur’s theory in The Rule of Metaphor, where metaphor displays a new world of significance, and very well relates to the need for resolution through a creative act.

Why does Freud matter?

freud1938Freud has been highly criticised by both conservatives and liberals either for being too explicit in his discoveries or too critique in his conclusions. Nowadays it is mainly criticised to be ‘politically incorrect’ whatever it may be. Indeed his ‘sexual theories’ to say so are not precisely in agreement with what is today widely accepted: homosexuality, ‘sexual liberation’, and so on. For example, to argue that a promiscuous man is more likely to become a pedophile, or that to be homosexual is to be a narcissistic are two things one cannot openly say in the street. If we look now at the most conservative part of society, it is possible to note how neglected female hysteria is as a consequence of sexual dissatisfaction within marriage. These two ideological visions of Freud’s theories are at least high unfair.

Whatever Freud said and whatever one thinks of, Europe owes a great deal to Freud. His investigations meant a completely new world to both science and humanities, and they show the root of an important number of psychological issues; not to mention that he is the father of psychoanalysis, and of a deeper understanding of sexuality. Freud was a great observer of the human mind and behaviour, and a brave man who was not afraid of his contemporaries. He faced lots of child-abuse cases within a bourgeois society and dared to dive into the human soul.

Literary studies are as well in debt with him. I would like to synthesise how can be Freud’s theories used into the literary field:

1. Aesthetics: Psychoanalysis opened the world of dreams and, particularly, its own logic. 20th century is full of artistic examples of a dream aesthetic (Kafka, Schnitzler, Dalí, Hitchcock, Welles, Brecth, among others). Freud’s influence cannot be mislead for those who approached especially the first part of the century.

2. Characters: Psychoanalysis has enhanced the understanding of literary characters and their relationships beyond the limits of the 20th century. Specially important are the familiar relationships to be approach, in many cases, from a Freudian perspective.

3. Art: The relationship between art and the artist acquires a more existential and sexual perspective; as well as the relations between sexuality, beauty and desire.

4. Sexuality: Explorations in the field of literary representations of sexual issues are facilitate by Freud’s studies on sexual behaviour which were pioneer. A quite complete analysis of all kind of sexual experiences was openly explore by Freud.

5. Unconscious: Terms such as ‘conscious’, ‘unconscious’, ‘sub-conscious’, ‘repression’ are properly born through Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis. These concepts complete the understanding of human behaviour especially in unhealthy cases.

6. Body: Literary representations of the body can be approach metaphorically, that is, as a physical representation of the mind or illness. Freud advances further postmodern theories of the body and its relationship to the illness and the text such as those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.

7. Childhood: The importance of early experiences in life has result to be a key point in general psychology until now.

I think the seven points above are the most important. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis has brought a deeper understanding of the relationship body-mind, and it is not at all surpassed by any other posterior theory, it is perfectly complementary to a kind of more scientific studies. Freud deserves, as any important thinker, a high consideration.

Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture

“Contemplating the Male Body: From Aesthetics to Sexual Pleasure in Homosexual Literature”. Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, 6 June 2013.

In this paper I analyse the representations of male bodies in André Gide’s The Immoralist (1902), Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), with a particular focus on the perception with which the perceiving subject beholds the body. The male body is often turned into a voyeuristic spectacle when it is described in elaborate detail and perceived by an attentive subject whose gaze enjoys the contemplation of the object-body. On the one hand, the bodies that are objectified in that manner become objects of aesthetic contemplation. On the other hand, however, they also become potential sources for sexual pleasure. This article investigates the ways in which perceptions of male bodies are aestheticized and/or eroticised in these texts.

Soul and Body in the Adulteress

1-anna-karenina-ludmila-kalmaeva“For this violation of natural law, she must die”, that’s the statement of Edwina Cruise in her article Women, sexuality, and the family in Tolstoy. Is Anna Karenina a fact of laws? I don’t think so. It could be dangerous to pack such a great topic as is Anna Karenina in itself in these kind of reductive judgements. The whole article gave me an impression of judgement which fails in its attempt to approach Tolstoy from a feminist perspective. I’d say such a perspective is too poor to cover a writer who is always trying to go beyond materialism. It’s just at the end of the article where there’s a reference to Anna’s spiritual struggle, which I guess is the main point of the novel. Who cares about society or ideologies reading hundreds of pages about illusion, hope, remorse and desperation? The story of Anna Karenina is emblematic for itself, it needs nothing else than Anna herself, it’s a defence of individuality and conscience. The evolution of Anna from the very beginning to the end shows in accurate detail every step which leads her to kill herself. It’s a human work of art.

Anna is so well constructed as a character that in fact the novel it’s not just a matter of soul, it’s also concerned with the body and the affects. Anna is a woman clearly with soul and conscience but also with an unsatisfied sensuality and frustrated emotions. She doesn’t fulfil all her personal spheres: her husband isn’t aware of her sexual desire, she’s a mother of just one child which limits her emotional fulfilment. Moreover, boredom is an easy consequence of such a panorama if a woman is supposed to spent all her energies within the domestic realm.

These characteristics are also found in other literary adulteress such as Madame Bovary or the female character in The Kreutzer Sonata. But Anna Karenina especially represents a woman as a whole human being with spiritual, emotional and physical realities being interconnected with each other. Anna mustn’t die because she has been a bad wife and mother, she dies because of her personal dilemma, her individuality finds no place as a whole. Her death isn’t a punishment, is a consequence of the negation of herself as a whole woman.

“The Awakening”, a feminine metaphor

woman-in-a-mirror-theo-van-rysselbergheThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) has been seen as a novel of adultery, as for example, Madame Bovary, but I don’t really think that the main problem of Edna- The Awakening‘s main character- is a matter of love. Edna is much more than a problem of  satisfactory marriage, she incarnates the history of women in the Western society. Edna is introduced to the reader reflecting a problem of identity, her unhappy marriage is just a parcel of such problem. Edna doesn’t know neither who she is nor where’s her place in the world. At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Edna as a wife concerned  about her husband, trying to do her best to get a peaceful home. However, something is awoke within herself while listening a piano concert; here music plays a significant role. I’m currently working on this topic in my research, that’s the influence of music in the souls, and especially in the novel of adultery. By now, I’ll go on  with the idea that music, and later, her relation with Robert, make her conscious of herself, of her inward. I’d say the sea plays a role here as well, but that’s another topic for another moment. Thus, adultery is just a tool through which she becomes aware of her whole life, and it’s from this point she decides to change. The next step is painting, so art. She loves painting but she had never before taken it seriously. Painting is the first expression of her awareness. I find it a very interesting point; she becomes more and more herself through her artistic expression, I think that’s another point to analyse: how art is related to self-consciousness. Finally, she becomes independent, she earns her own money and buys an apartment. At this point, her love relations aren’t so important, that’s the reason I think adultery isn’t the main point in the novel. Instead, we can se how Edna acquires consciousness of herself as a woman in society (the title itself refers to an awakening) which corresponds to the history of the independence of women. I guess the important point in such a history isn’t sex or money but consciousness, and through it, inner-freedom.