Sexual Difference : Joan Copjec

This argument paves the way for a response to another feminist complaint: the fact that Freud arrived at the question of feminine sexuality, and thus sexual difference, quite late in his thinking is held against him as if femininity were merely an afterthought, an add-on introduced as exception to the universal notion of the subject he himself constructed. Here’s Freud:

Throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of the nature of femininity . . . Nor will you have escaped worrying over this problem – those of you who are men; to those of you who are women this will not apply – you are yourselves the problem.19

Admittedly, this sounds as if “people throughout history,” that is, men were being placed on one side, and women, the exception, on the other, the outside, but this impression is dissipated by what follows. For, in this late lecture on “Femininity,” Freud confronts the question of femininity squarely without retracting his old position: nowhere in the essay does he claim there is a libido other than the one he has always insisted upon and nowhere is he prepared to locate anything one might call “femininity.” In fact the essay reads like a litany of places where feminine sexuality cannot be found. And yet Freud dares to name the essay after that very “thing” to whose absence he is at pains to draw our attention. Examining every possibility — genes, chromosomes, behaviors, and connotations — he fails to turn up any sure indicator of femininity and yet none of these failures is sufficient, it seems, to prevent him from writing about it – precisely as a problem that continues to elude him.

One must not lose sight of the psychoanalytic fact we tried earlier to establish: it is not only feminine but also masculine sexuality that is nowhere locatable; sexuality as such lacks a domain. The sexual is not another domain beyond being, it insures rather that man is the being whose being fails fully to be, whose being defaults. Why not leave it at that? Why insist on a double default of being? Why go further by positing another sex, one that is, moreover, shrouded in darkness, a dark continent or dark spot that insists only in the troubling of our minds?

If sexuality is a phenomenon of the subject’s displacement, its failure to coincide with itself, and this swerve is essential to the very definition of the subject we could say that it is common to all subjects, without exception. Sex is one in that sense, an inescapable dimension of every subject, without exception. But if it were simply, unproblematically one, a one or the one, one of two problems would arise. Were it a One, the possibility of another One would remain open, which would mean that sexuality was no longer be that which is common to all subjects. If it were the One, all subjects would be included in it, but this would mean that sexuality no longer split but instead contained or circumscribed the subject.

The domain of sexuality must therefore itself be divided, split from itself, or: incomplete in its givenness. And femininity must not be on the side of the exception but that which declines the exception; not on the side of the All, but of the not-All. Womanliness cannot be that which escapes or stands outside (male) sexuality, but that which in preventing male sexuality from being fully given maintains it as such. To sum it all up: sexuality has to name not just the impasse of the subject’s being, but its own impasse, its own inconsistency as well.

19. Sigmund Freud, “Femininity,” New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in The Standard Edition (vol. 22), 113.

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