Friday, September 28, 2018

More ideas inspired from and by Jill Gentile

In the main presentation of the morning “Between Psychoanalysis and Democracy: On Free Speech and Feminine Law,” Gentile says psychoanalysis is a semiotic project, a process of semiotic empowerment, because the analyst opens the space for conversation on equal footing, similar to the ideals of democracy. Gentile says that both psychoanalysis and democracy appeal to truth, rebuke tyranny and exchew censorship. Psychoanalysis, with its fundamental rule to tell the truth and throw off the chains of censorship, is akin to free speech, a treasured element of democracy. One responsibility of citizenship is to have/use one’s voice, and, just as in psychoanalysis, to participate, particularly in truth telling and in proclaiming one’s desire [through voting, for example]. Both psychoanalysis and democracy have a rule of law (which demands accountability) to honor a third ‘space’ for mediation or for checks and balances.

Psychoanalytic concepts such as ‘containment, potential space, intersubjective space’ speak to the importance of seeking metaphors for ‘space’ [the gap] which Gentile says is the search for a feminine metaphor previously adumbrated by the phallic. Democracy is about creating a level playing field and thus eschews exclusion [John Dunn, the British political theorist]. Psychoanalysis, too, strives for a democratic process but it requires a democratic theory, an ‘equal under the law’ feminine metaphor. It needs to name the gap itself, signify the unspoken, and elevate it to a level playing field. Society’s failure to do so, noted Gentile, endangers democracy when the world excludes the rights of women [President Jimmy Carter]; it leads to the degradation of Mother Earth [accelerates global warming], and attacks the reproductive and proprietal rights of women’s bodies.

The most recent post [9-25-18] mentioned the girl’s impetus to seek knowledge and bend toward truth, while the boy might, instead, deny the mystery of the ‘gap.’ Gentile noted that Freud privileged the penis at the expense of reality. Denial is a breakdown of the tension between fantasy and reality, leaving boys vulnerable to being less tethered to the truth [contrast this with Freud’s idea that the male superego is superior to the female’s]. Gentile muses about the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign with its degradation of women’s bodies as well as how our current president [many have remarked, anyway] is untethered to the truth, whereas the “Me, too” movement is about free speech, especially including the bodies of those with minority status such as women. Empowerment comes with naming, with signification. The unnamed is marginalized. Signifying [vagina, uterus, clitoris, labia, vulva] animates genitals and their usefulness and desirability. Freud was aware of the gap but seemed to ignore its significance in the material bodies of women, instead attending to what was present in the bodies of boys. Yet, psychoanalysis gives voice to what was once unspoken; ‘what would it be if it had a name?’

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Jill Gentile and the feminine 'gap'

Members of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society and attendees to its presentation were treated to Invited speaker Jill Gentile on Sept 15, 2018. In the earliest discussion of the day “Desire, Agency, and the Eternal Validity of Psychoanalysis” Gentile emphasized a change in psychoanalysis from viewing agency as the purview of an autonomous subject to that of the dialectically constituted subject, stating that agency cannot be claimed as a one person phenomenon but instead emerges within intersubjectivity. Agency is associated with initiative and intentionality and what Winnicott called the “spontaneous gesture.” 

Additionally, how we become semiotic agents, able to communicate through signs and symbols our very selves, is of great interest to Gentile. Through being held [imagistic symbols] in infancy in the mind of an other, and through naming (verbal symbols) the physical and psychological parts of ourselves (including our genitals), we are aided in the emergence of self. It made enormous sense to me when Gentile posited that the failure to freely name aloud female genitals and inner space (vagina), leaves a “void” or “gap” in discourse, and vitiates the subjectivity, therefore the agency, of women, i.e. if materiality leads to subjectivity [her interpretation of Winnicott], and material things must be named to have substance, to be substantively held in mind, then society’s inability to name and symbolize, to speak freely about the female genitalia and female inner spaces vitiates woman as substantive, vitiates her ability to participate in the conversation.

Yet, despite psychoanalysis’ “hierarchy of patriarchy,” Gentile says Freud derived the fundamental rule from his treatment of women, hysterics whose symptoms were bodily based, and as such, speaks to a feminine law based in Nature, rooted in the Lacanian Real [the feminine], not in Totem law [masculine]. She also notes that the discovery of anatomical differences does not merely lead to penis envy but, more importantly, evokes curiosity in children. The ‘gap’ [of the missing penis], she says, inspires scientific inquiry in children, leading to a quest for knowledge, truth, and a “reckoning of speech.” A child has questions and seeks answers, skeptical of parents’ inauthentic explanations. Gentile states that children seek out their own truth, [Bion’s truth telling instinct]. [My own father handled my question gracefully, filling me with pride, when he answered my curiosity at age three with ‘Girls are of modern design; They have indoor plumbing.’] When a child has something to be curious about, a desire for knowledge is kindled. She posits that this may be truer for girls who ‘get it’ and do not deny the ‘gap’ as boys do -- boys fantasize, according to Freud, that it was cut off -- foreclosing further explanation and exploration of the mystery.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

An interesting supervision (Continuing Clinical Case course)

A thirty year-old professional woman, married to her colleague, suffers from severe postpartum depression. “Help me! I want to get better!’ is her obsessive lament to the therapist. She cries and wails to her exhausted therapist about her inability to be there as a mother to her infant and about how she only wants to die. She has, in fact, recently attempted suicide by taking a full bottle of sleeping medication. The patient threatens repeatedly to quit treatment. While her patient, like a distressed and flailing infant, sobs and screams on the couch, the therapist, too, feels helpless and incompetent. The therapist recognizes she must first soothe (regulate) this patient but continual attempts leave the therapist tired, so tired. ‘The patient is “haunting” the therapist, appearing in the therapist’s dreams. Is all this projective identification?,’ the therapist wonders.

The supervisor suggests using a soothing tone like one would use with an infant. The therapist worries the patient would respond to that with anger. Sometimes the therapist cannot stand this patient but is mostly sad for the patient and the patient’s baby. A classmate suggests that the therapist let the patient know the therapist’s limits and frustration. Yes, let her know she has an impact on you. ‘Help me find a way to soothe you.’ The patient’s own mother was devoid of affect, cutting off all feeling after devastating childhood losses of her own. Only death can make the patient’s mother feel (cry). Perhaps the patient gifts her mother an invitation to feel again should the patient effect death once again in her mother’s life. Perhaps the patient’s screaming and wailing is the only way her mother might hear her.

Winnicott noted that the perinatal time of maternal preoccupation is very risky for the new mother, requiring the maternal grandmother, husband, and/or others to protect the mother’s bonding time with the baby from impingement by real world demands. Perhaps this patient is screaming for protection, screaming for her life. Screaming to be heard. But the baby is so demanding, a bottomless pit. There is no soothing the baby just as the therapist cannot soothe the patient. Perhaps the therapist could share with the patient that the therapist’s helplessness parallels the patient’s own helplessness vis a vis her own baby’s helplessness, and, moreover, how helpless the patient herself felt as an infant to soothe her own troubled mother. A classmate soothes the therapist, reassuring the therapist that the therapist has the right to be tired, to take a break, and to recognize that the therapist is actually good-enough.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Women's Voices

Mitski --the indie rock, Japanese-American, singer-songwriter-- explained the title of her latest [fifth] album ‘Be the Cowboy’ on The Daily Show [9/11/18]. Starkly truthful and poignant, she revealed that she feels she has to “apologize for existing” when as an Asian woman she walks into a room. She longs for the “arrogance” and “freedom” of the Clint Eastwood/ Marlboro Man [who owns the room]. Mitski sees the reception by critics of her music as “gendered” for they imagine her “as a vessel for emotion and a vehicle for music,” downplaying that she is actually “the creator” of these, autonomous and in control of her own artistic creations. Still, in writing songs for other performers, Mitski feels some songs she writes she “can’t serve with [her] own voice,” songs, she says, where her different personalities can be better expressed by others.

Jill Gentile --a feminist writer and psychoanalyst-- is interested in semiotics, the study of symbols and signs in making meaning and in communication. Gentile links subjectivity with materiality. [1] Since naming gives substance to materiality [can be grappled with and communicated], society’s and traditional psychoanalysis’ inability or unwillingness to name, speak, and allow speech regarding the female genital and inner space [vagina and uterus] vitiates a woman’s place in the discourse [and hobbles men’s experience as well].  She sees commonality between free association and the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and with the ability to name what has remained unnamed. Further, The ‘gap’ or ‘space’ in free association obscures and points to the unsignified female genital.” [2]

I recall how my younger daughter in her three year-old preschool class had corrected her male classmate: He had noticed another child’s mother nearing the end of her term of pregnancy and pointed out to all, “She has a baby in her tummy!”  My daughter hastily informed him, “It’s not in her tummy. It’s in her uterus!” I received that very day a phone call -- perhaps because it was a preschool based in a church -- about ‘the word’ my daughter had used in class. My reply was, “isn’t it wonderful!” [That was decades ago but to this day some parents fail to teach their children that only girls and women have a special muscle the uterus for growing a baby. I wonder, had that little boy been imagining that he, too -- if babies are grown in ‘tummies’ -- could one day be so generative?]

[1] Gentile, J. (2007). Wrestling With Matter: Origins of Intersubjectivity. Psychoanal Q., 76(2):547-582.
[2] Gentile, J. (2015). On Having No Thoughts: Freedom and Feminine Space. Psychoanal. Perspect., 12(3):227-251.