The Beautiful Difference and Beyond

In 1980, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Freud’s Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (Civilization and its discontent) I wrote a paper titled “Some Political Consequences of the Psychical differences of the sexes”.

The paraphrase of the name of Freud’s article (1925) is clear enough. This paper was only published in Spanish, and I will be using it as a reference point to reassume my reflection upon this issue, taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity afforded by this meeting.

Since they are familiar to us all, we may skip many of the steps that were then included: the famous discussion within the psychoanalytical institution about the phallic phase, the review of the Freudian position and the impasses of the envy of the penis in the analysis of women and castration anxiety in the analysis of men.

To escape Jones’s naturalistic option “God created them man and woman”, we may say that if God created them, he did not create them man nor woman, but different, the one and the other. It is well known that for the child the difference of the genders precedes that of the sexes. We could say that the difference is there from the beginning, at the level of the signifier, in the symbolic order, from where it distributes gender emblems and attributes. These attributes will be resignified through the recognition of the sexual difference in the path of the identifications that will lead the human being to assume itself, as man or woman.

We suspect that here lies the reason for the failure of the attempts to define what is male and what is female, homologated to the opposition active/passive, according to the inappropriate biological metaphor of the sperm and the ovule. Because the meaning of masculine and feminine has no natural essence, but rather it takes on different forms according to a socially determined historicity with over imposed cultural variables.

If what appears as feminine or masculine changes through history and within the different cultures we may ask ourselves: which are the constants that have a structural role? which is the groundwork? and to answer: the groundwork is the difference of the sexes, this difference being an effect of the signifier. Thus the signifier of the phallus, the signifier of the difference, takes the center stage.

The Oedipus narrative is based upon the prohibition of incest, with its double aspect of prohibition and promise: in it’s simplest enunciation it forbids the son from laying with his mother, and to the mother to reintegrate with her product. As a promise, it offers men the delayed possibility of access to other women. And the women? What is offered to them in return for giving up the object of their desire? Is it perhaps this same son? Yes, but over the known background of having to give him away to the world of culture.

The frequent question “What does a woman want?” upon which so much has been said, should perhaps be redirected to the law itself that turns women into merchandise in a male dominated society.

Perhaps it is in this asymmetry that we find one of the reasons behind one of Freud’s well known reflections upon women’s opposition to culture, that so many, justified, reactions caused. But we must stay away from this slope that leads us to a low level sociologism. There is an defined psychoanalytic path available to us. The access to subjectivity is marked by castration; because he is castrated a man may approach a woman and make her the object of his desire. The woman too, only because she is castrated may she look for a man and, giving him a phallic attribution, expect from him a son. Her desire does not wither in the desire for a son. Maternity is anything but natural, as has always been known and has now been proved through the new reproductive technologies.

These links between castration and sexuality are the basic reason for the inexistence of the sexual relation according to Lacan. The difference of the sexes is thus rooted in castration, which sets into motion, from the beginning, the battle of the sexes. Far from the opposition of women and families to culture and society, as Freud once suggested, it is necessary to think it is castration which produces single handed both family and society. The battle of the sexes, which does exist, is within the family. It is a struggle to annihilate castration, It is the struggle for a non-existent phallus that none can aspire to be or to have. Maybe culture exists precisely because there is an unavoidable crack in sexuality.

In these developments we found a reason to say that both culture and family are phallocentric. The phallus is central as a signifier of castration. If phallocentrism is an effect of the predominance of the phallic signifier in connection to symbolic castration. Phallocracy evolves from a different, unnecessary, source altogether:it is the way in which the difference is used in the distribution of power and privileges through a hierarchical order of domination and submission. Nothing in psychoanalysis allows us to make a hierarchy out of the difference. If in the paternal metaphor, the name of the father, takes the place of the mother’s desire, we must remember that both are based upon castration. Only through castration is the mother’s desire created, and as for the father let’s remember that, in Spanish the name of the father is homophonic to the no-man of the father, that what the father is not and why he is always at fault. That cultural mark which expresses the subjection of that father to the Other’s discourse, it is a necessary signifier deletion.

Thus far we have summarized our previous position.

We should add that what we have presented seems to be written around the obliteration of a name, that of Jaques Derrida, and the absence of of a term fundamental to his conceptualization: that of différance. I must assume responsibility for this omission, due to my ignorance, at the time, of Derrida’s works. This note is not due to a quest for an intellectual godfather, but rater as a necessary reference when conceptualizing feminine jouissance, as Lacan established in the Encore seminar.

To deal with the question which is the focus of this meeting (On sexuation): What does psychoanalysis still have to tell us about the difference of the sexes? We must move on because what we have said so far is guided by Lacan’s reflection on the Directive ideas for a congress on female sexuality and the signification of the phallus, both important works, but already left behind by the continuous development of Lacan’s ideas after that distant 1960. We must go further.

We have shown Lacan’s insistence in demonstrating the character of the phallus as a signifier. However the clinic pushed him to postulate something beyond the signifier, which itself could not be reduced to a signifier. This is what we call the Real registry, for lack of a better term.

Let’s move on to the Encore seminar where the famous sexuation formulas are presented. The term “sexuation” itself attempts, with a single move, to solve contradictions and to define positions. Speaking of sexuation means to take the argument out of the field of biology and to present it in purely psychoanalytic terms. This means that men and women are not original data. They will have been men and women according to their positions towards the parternaire and their given roles. Does this mean that we are forced to follow an historicist or culturalist trend as to the assumption of sexuality? We don’t think so.

The positioning of the subjects in either side of the sexuation formulas comes from an unconscious determination. The presence of the phallus as a signifier of what is lacking is what establishes the asymmetrical nexus between both positions. Castration affects men and women but in different ways. The phallus, responsible of all of the signification’s effects, draws the line upon which the phantasmatic relationship of the sexes is built. A relationship that will include both the real and imaginary aspects. On the masculine side, its partenaire will place itself as the phantom’s object. On the feminine side we will encounter a partition: on the one hand she will relate to her partenaire investing him with a phallic value, on the other, she will direct towards the place of what is lacking in the Other.

Here Lacan places his problematic concept of feminine jouissance.

I want to focus on the feminine jouissance to continue with a long debate. It is well known the confrontation between Lacan and Derrida about the transcendental place of the phallus in psychoanalytic theory. Even if it is recognized as a signifier of what is lacking, it still holds a privileged position. (Cf., J. Derrida: Posiciones). The insistence with which we psychoanalysts seek to establish that the difference does not imply a hierarchy has the characteristics of a denial.

The postulation of a feminine jouissance sets something beyond the phallic signifier. We are faced with an issue of limits, borders and origins. We know well that the origin can never be original. It always finds something beyond itself, even if this something may only be reached by crossing the phallic mark.

The fact that Lacan describes this other jouissance as supplementary does not appear to be the result of a mere coincidence.

It is impossible to turn to the term of the supplement without taking into account Derrida’s work in De la grammatologie where, after analyzing Rousseau’s Essay on the origin of the Languages, he proposes a new logic of the supplement (this paper dealt with the secondary and supplementary role of the written word in relation to the spoken one).

“…the supplement, which is not only the signifier nor the representative…the supplement takes the place of a fading, of a non-signified or non-represented, of a non-presence. There is no present before it, therefore it is not preceded by anything but itself, that is to say, by another supplement… one wants to go from the supplement to the source: it must be recognized that there is a supplement in the source” (p.382/3)

and later:

“…the strange essence of the supplement is that of having no essence; it can always have no place… it has no place, it is never present, here and now… The supplement is not presence nor absence. No ontology can think its workings”

If we have stopped in these quotes it is only to underscore that this definitions of the supplement fit perfectly when dealing with the conceptualization of feminine jouissance, which is also supplementary. It is supplementary in a Derridean sense

We believe that in Lacan’s reflection about feminine sexuality there is a silent exchange with Derrida’s critical observations. Lacan never stopped criticizing the “phallogocentrical” pretensions, but none the less he took seriously his objections and introduced them into his own works attempting to give them an answer. Lacan had numerous followers and repeaters but few interlocutors; to our understanding, Derrida was one of them.

The proposition of feminine jouissance as supplementary to the phallic one has an indirect effect over our proposal of the political consequences.

Here it becomes necessary to clearly establish that psychoanalysis does not support, nor rejects, any political position in so far as the difference of the sexes, because there is nothing here, within its own field, to defend. Nonetheless it can help explain certain phenomena. The deconstruction of the phallicism, which introduces feminine jouissance, indicates that all difference implies a hierarchy, but also that no hierarchy can support itself without the supplement on which it is founded. Nothing founds itself and all origin permits its own beyond.

The sexuation formulas present us with several interesting questions. It is apparent that they have a logical part, that of the superior half which uses symbolic logic, and a descriptive part, the inferior half, where the mathemas, relatively known from Lacan’s own teachings, are written.

Many psychoanalytic elements are present in this graphic. The castration, that instaurates a subjective division for all subjects, creates the phantasmatic possibility with the imaginary overflows that are present in all relationships. The phantasmatic structure can only support itself upon the missing object.

One of the greatest achievements of this scheme is to get rid of the biological burden, to place sexuality in that beyond where the phallus, as a signifier, sets into motion the game of fictions, allowing the imaginarization and the phantasmatization of desire. In this parade of love no one is. No signifier could possibly account for the being. Because there is something we can not reach. We must assume the appearance (parêtre). In this game of fictions; passion, desire and hate come into being.

The differentiation of the jouissances reshapes and gives a new meaning to the battle of the sexes. The missing jouissance in its imaginary dimension presides over the neurotic in any relationship:does the other have a jouissance or is he the enemy of my jouissance?

What is this jouissance that fulfills her? What is the fantasy of the permanent erection demanded of the phallus? Not one nor the other have it, they deceive each other and, because they deceive each other, they play, desire, love and hate… this charade is perhaps the essence of sexuality, thus those who do not allow themselves to be deceived fail, as the Nibelungs who thought they could escape love.

But also in this difference of the jouissances we encounter the model for the irrationality present in all confrontations. The fanatism of the small differences linked with the specularity, but also to what the other represents in the imaginary what has been taken of my jouissance. This is perhaps the source of all fundamentalism and may be the reason why all confrontation is a sexual one, reaffirming the sexual reality of the unconscious.

But it is not only The woman who does not exist, perhaps neither does The man, and luckily so. If they did she would be president Schreber, the pure incarnation of the woman, and he, the man, would be the dreadful father of the primitive horde.

Frida Saal

April 1997



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