The Hysterical Organization

By Poupart, Florent | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, December 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Hysterical Organization


Poupart, Florent, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively unpleasurable; and I should do so whether or not the person were capable of producing somatic symptoms.

(Freud, 1905, p. 28)

"When we attempt to reduce them further," Sigmund Freud wrote in 1920, "we find masculinity vanishing into activity and femininity into passivity, and that does not tell us enough" (1920, p. 171). The masculine/ feminine pair is seen to be the ultimate degree of elaboration of another pair, considered to be more elementary: activity/passivity. What is there to say about Freud's remark "that does not tell us enough"? Where does the gap between passivity and the feminine lie? The feminine is to be understood here, I suggest, not in terms of gender identity, but as an expression of what Freud calls "the feminine nature"2 (1924, p. 161) - that is to say, the feminine identificatory position, one of the terms of the masculine/feminine pair that characterizes psychic bisexuality in both men and women.

Elsewhere (Poupart and Pirlot, 2014), I have suggested that vaginality should be defined as the primal erotic appetency for taking the other passively into oneself. The passive aim of a woman's desire, that is, of abandoning her own body to invasion by the body of the object in genital sexual relations, is simply its most accomplished form. It is preformed, in the infant of both sexes, by early experiences in which the internal space is occupied by diverse foreign bodies: breast, milk, faeces, sensoriality, unconscious in the adult, drive tension. I think that this concavity, this experience of one's own body and the subjective space as receptacles for the object, is transmuted into a vaginal dynamism (or vaginality) - under the influence of primary masochism (owing to the erotization of the breach or violent intrusion), and of the paroxistic anxieties of loss associated with Hilflosigkeit, the primal state of distress (taking into oneself the person whose loss one wants to avoid) - before being elaborated as feminine.

The essence of the feminine, in both men and women, may be said to he, then, in a vaginal sexual component, in other words, a concavity that has acquired the characteristics of the drive. This 'primary femininity' (Kulish, 2000) is based on the orifices and internal spaces, which are not unique to the female body. What we are concerned with, then, is not a specifically feminine psychosexual stage which would be the counterpart of a phallic stage that is supposedly only found in boys (Glover and Mendell, 1982); and its development does not imply the existence of early vaginal sensations (Roiphe and Galenson, 1981), for it can perfectly well be based on internal spaces that are not genital. I think of vaginality more as a drive component that is constituted transversally, starting from archaic oral and anal experiences and culminating in the genital 'feminine' dimension - 'feminine nature' - in both sexes (from this point of view the phallic position may be considered as a defence against the vaginal insofar as the accent is placed there on a member, the penis, whether present or absent, rather than on an orifice: by neutralizing the orifices, the phallic is in the service of the refusal or repudiation of the vaginal and protects against penetration anxieties). However, it is evident that the properties of the female body, and particularly the existence of a vaginal cavity (and of a uterine cavity), by placing the accent on the concavity, are suited for projecting vaginality, then femininity (and maternity), into the foreground of the psychosexual scene in women.

My reflections are situated, to a large extent, within the context of a debate that particularly concerns the French psychoanalytic community. The school of Jacques Lacan defends the phallocentric position of femininity understood as a reaction to the castration complex: the little girl envies the boy's penis and displaces the phallic value of the missing penis onto that of the sexual partner, and also onto the baby that she is capable of bearing. …

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