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The Female Body

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This book gathers together a number of cutting edge contributions about the female body, inside and out, from a large group of psychoanalysts who are at the forefront of new thinking about issues of femininity, the female body, sex and gender. It explores the female body in art, in pregnancy and motherhood, in sexuality and in the life-cycle, and finally the female body as scene of crime. As a result this book covers aspects of female creativity in its many aspects, both productive and generative and where there are difficulties or impediments. The psychoanalysts writing for this book have made an enormous contribution in the past and this book therefore aims to stimulate, challenge and provoke further discussion and new advances in this field.

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12 Chapters

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Chapter One - The Female Body in Western Art: Adoration, Attraction and Horror

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CHAPTER ONE

The female body in Western art: adoration, attraction and horror

Laurie Wilson

Abstract

37,000 years of art history will be examined to observe the many ways women's bodies have been experienced and portrayed in Western culture. Thoughts, feelings and fantasies about women, and especially the manner in which they are divided into absolutes and opposites (e.g. good or bad; weak or powerful, seductive or innocent) will be illustrated. Themes such as nudity, relationships, birth, and fertility will be explored. The art of Picasso, Matisse, pre-historic Egypt, Hellenistic, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and nineteenth and twentieth century Western European art will all be presented. Greek art uses images of females, such as Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Demeter, Persephone and Medusa, in order to illustrate the ways women have been depicted in art for the past 2500 years. Psychoanalytic understanding of female psychology will be part of the discussion about the Greek goddesses. Idealized or ordinary depictions of women were created depending upon the civilization. The splitting of women into categories will be clearly depicted in images from more recent civilizations.

 

Chapter Two - How Deep is the Skin? Surface and Depth in Lucian Freud's Female Nudes

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CHAPTER TWO

How deep is the skin? Surface and depth in Lucian Freud's female nudes

Rotraut De Clerck

Abstract

The skin has a prominent place in Lucian Freud's work, notably in his representations of female nudes. To Freud, the skin is the principal means for expression of individuality, more important even than the face. With his pronounced presentation of the skin in his Naked Portraits he raises issues of individuality and identity in a modern society. This paper will trace the development of the skin, the rendering of surface and depth throughout Freud's work. The translucent skins in his early paintings can be seen as an expression of inner feelings on the surface—seeing through the skin. Conversely, the heavy pastoso in hog brush technique in his later years presents a different illusion, shielding the inner world of the individual from the outside—“as dressed in paint”. This paper thus links his development as an artist to psychoanalytic concepts, such as Anzieu's Skin-Ego as well as Britton's and Rosenfeld's thin—skinned and thick-skinned presentations, highlighting the importance of the skin in relation to trauma.

 

Chapter Three - Alberto Giacometti's Caress/Despite the Hands: Developing and Vanished Life as a Reversible Figure—Nucleus of an Adequate Expression of the Struggle for the Acknowledgment of Space and Time?

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CHAPTER THREE

Alberto Giacometti's Caress/Despite the Hands: Developing and vanished life as a reversible figure—nucleus of an adequate expression of the struggle for the acknowledgment of space and time?

Claudia Frank

Abstract

This Chapter will explore the possible meaning of Alberto Giacometti's 1932 sculpture Caresse/Malgré les mains. By taking the reflection of counter-transference manifestations as an approach on which a specific psychoanalytical contribution can be based, I develop my hypothesis that Giacometti—by choosing the form of a reversible figure—expressed an impasse he felt. By using this form he was able to then overcome his mental block. I then outline a few steps which in my view might have been decisive on Giacometti's way to the sculptures from 1947–1952 that made him famous.

“Because I never succeeded, I kept going”

“Ever since 1935 I have never, not for one day, done anything the way I wanted to. I always ended up with something else. Always. I wanted to make heads, ordinary figures. I never succeeded. But as I always failed, I always wanted to keep trying…. I wanted to succeed to make one head the way I saw it, you see. But because I never succeeded, I kept going. You have to have a certain stupidity about you to continue. I really should have given up when I saw that I was unable to do anything. If I had some intelligence I would have given up but as I love this work more than any other….” This is what Alberto Giacometti said in a television interview in the summer of 1964 (quoted in Hohl, 1998, p. 87).

 

Chapter Four - The Female Cauldron: Reproductive Body Schemata Fore-Grounded by Infertility

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CHAPTER FOUR

The female cauldron: reproductive body schemata fore-grounded by infertility

Joan Raphael-Leff

Abstract

We have all emerged from within it. For both sexes the female reproductive body is therefore a receptacle of unconscious fantasy and creative primary identifications as well as a “cauldron” of magical powers and malevolent projections. For today's women with access to efficient contraception and safe abortion, “generative identity” incorporates a sense of power; holding unconscious representations in check by matter-of-fact control over the life-forming female body and its preventive or death-dealing forces. However, when they contemplate creating a baby of their own, fantasies of that archaic cauldron intrude, taking on a personal material form and centripetal anxieties concerning the female body interior. That is to say the maternal intrauterine space, and its awesome “feminine mysteries” of conception, implantation, formation and sustenance; and destruction.

This chapter focuses on representations of the numinous “cauldron” fore-grounded with the desire for offspring. Infertility constitutes a severe blow, especially in a culture that cultivates an illusion of reproductive control. Diagnosis disrupts lifelong axioms of Russian-doll type lineage, with dire social consequences in some societies. Fertility treatment further unleashes unconscious oedipal anxieties as tacit belief in personal generative power, and body-management is dismantled to be relocated in potent fertility experts and their bizarre technology. Verbatim clinical material demonstrates shifting imagery with the crisis in self-perception, as failure to conceive naturally undermines long established facts of life, transferring the primal scene from bedroom to laboratory.

 

Chapter Five - The Medea Fantasy: An Evitable Burden during Prenatal Diagnostics? Psychoanalysis, Gender and Medicine in Dialogue

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CHAPTER FIVE

The Medea Fantasy: An evitable burden during prenatal diagnostics? Psychoanalysis, gender and medicine in dialogue

Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber

Abstract

Analyzing pregnant women has always been a unique opportunity to clinically investigate “The female body—inside and outside”. Pregnancy and giving birth to a baby is not only connected with obvious changes to the female body observable from the outside, but also with the stimulation of intensive unconscious (inside) fantasies which have a specific gender quality. The “Medea fantasy” presented here is one example of such an unconscious fantasy concerning the female body and mind. The “Medea fantasy” is reactivated when a woman/couple has to decide on life or death of their unborn child after a positive finding in prenatal diagnostics PND. We investigated nearly 2000 women/couples in an interdisciplinary, European-wide study: Ethical Dilemma due to prenatal and genetic diagnostics (EDIG). As will be illustrated, psychoanalysts have specific professional knowledge and skills to cope with these reactivations of archaic unconscious body fantasies. Two case examples will show that this expert knowledge can help women/couples in crises interventions to recognize the archaic state of the mind in such a situation, and to return to a more mature way of psychic functioning. As the EDIG study showed, this is very important for the short and long term consequences of such traumatic experiences. Protective and risk factors coping with possible traumatic experiences after a positive finding in PND will be discussed.

 

Chapter Six - Inside the Mother's Womb: The Mother-Embryo-Dialogue

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CHAPTER SIX

Inside the mother's womb: the Mother-Embryo-Dialogue

Ute Auhagen-Stephanos

Abstract

More and more couples are undergoing medically assisted fertilization, a procedure that contradicts our inherent genetic preconceptions of reproduction by means of the sexual act. The very public and technological primal scene in a laboratory may considerably interfere with the natural female ability to conceive. The frozen desire, the denied sexual act of procreation and the painful instruments all prevent any erotic pro-creative or bonding urges, exacerbating mental trauma often present in the female IVF recipients. Such traumata then interfere with fertility. Building on the bonding analysis therapy methods of Hidas and Raffai (Hidas and Raffai, 2006), I have developed the Mother-Embryo-Dialogue and introduced it into the field of reproductive medicine. I integrate this as a parameter according to Eissler (Eissler, 1953) into an ongoing psychoanalysis/psychotherapy at the time of assisted fertilization. The Mother-Embryo-Dialogue reveals the insufficiencies of the woman's own pre- and perinatal experiences, and her resulting concept of motherhood. The transference created through the Dialogue enables the mother-to-be to re-experience her own earliest body memories mentally and emotionally, even before an actual conception occurs. By using the human instruments of speech and language, we are able to transform the work of the medical instruments into a communication of the soul. According to Lévinas is the nature of language friendship and hospitality. The transitional space created by the Mother-Embryo-Dialogue can biologically increase the chances of pregnancy and establish primary maternal preoccupation. Several case studies are presented in my book Damit mein Baby bleibt. Zwiesprache mit dem Embryo von Anfang an (Translation: So my baby will stay. Dialogue with the embryo from the first moment) (Kösel, Munich, 2009).

 

Chapter Seven - The Female Body as Cultural Playground

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The female body as cultural playground

Marianne Springer-Kremser

Abstract

The focus of this Chapter is on the vicissitude of the disposability of the female body. After a short summary of aspects of female sexual development, the culture-specific demands and tensions arising from the interaction between cultural and psychodynamic conditions are stressed. Case vignettes from the gynecological psychosomatic outpatient's clinic will demonstrate the influence of cultural and socio-political demands on individual female suffering. Socio-political positions and regulations concerning female reproductive capacity influence pathological development, especially conflicts concerning the disposal of the female body. Finally, examples of female creativity are presented to illustrate this conflict. The process of civilisation is a modification, which the vital process experiences under the influence of a task that is set by Eros and instigated by Ananke—by the exigencies of reality; and that this task is one of uniting separate individuals into a community bound together by libidinal ties. (Freud, S.E.)

 

Chapter Eight - Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete)—or: Rage, Body and Hysteria

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete)—or: rage, body and hysteria

Thomas Ettl

Les genous sales sont le signe d'une fille honnête.”

—Brouardel, cited by Freud, 1913

Abstract

This Chapter deals with eighteen year-old Helen, protagonist of the novel Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, a 2008 bestseller. Helen seems the likely representation of a young, modern form of hysteria. With her licentious, permissive sexual life she is trying to solve her various problems. She looks for confirmation that she is desirable, tries to master her excitement resulting from her Oedipal phase and hopes to comfort her loneliness as a child of divorce. Moreover she wants to explore her body, to complete her body image and finally to restore the unity of the anatomic, visible body and the sensitive body (Leib), which was destroyed by her mother's hygiene rituals. With a very painful self-mutilation she seeks to gain control over her parents. They should re-unite as a couple, so that Helen can feel herself as a child of love, which is required for her narcissistic balance.

 

Chapter Nine - Vicissitudes of Female Revenge

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CHAPTER NINE

Vicissitudes of female revenge

Elina Reenkola

Abstract

Revenge is a reaction to insults and humiliation. In revenge, a person intends to regain narcissistic balance after damage to their self-esteem. Fueled by the death instict revenge aims at inflicting harm and damage upon an object. Freud considered revenge as an adequate psychical reflex to an insulting experience. Revenge may be manifested in fantasies or deeds, conscious or unconscious. I will discuss female revenge that has been traditionally a tabu. Women have been idealized as life-givers and mothers and a cruel avenger does not easily fit into this image. Women themselves feel shame and guilt about their aggressions. I argue that female retaliation is therefore often expressed indirectly. I will discuss how woman's separation process and Oedipal configuration are reflected in revenge. I will further consider how feminine libido and the feminine inner space shape her revenge. Spesific forms of female revenge will be addressed; indirect revenge with her suffering, revenge with her body and her children, revenge on a man. The story of Lena, who took unconscious revenge on me in the course of her psychoanalysis, will be described. The crucial role of shame and shame-rage will be also discussed.

 

Chapter Ten - Female Sexuality beyond Gender Dichotomy

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CHAPTER TEN

Female sexuality beyond gender dichotomy

Ilka Quindeau

Abstract

The commonplace classification of male and female sexuality is not self-evident from a psychoanalytical standpoint. If we want to define sexuality beyond the reproductive function the dichotomy of male-female sexuality needs to be transcended. The recourse to the classic concept of bisexuality enables a wider notion of a sexuality in which fantasies and unconscious memories are as important for sexual arousal as physiological functions. In lieu of a genuine female sexuality I therefore want to develop the concept of a comprehensive sexuality that is not gender-specific. In each individual the sexual experience oscillates consciously and unconsciously on many different levels between positions of femininity and masculinity.

The variation between men and women is rarely more obvious than in the area of sexuality. Initially it may appear evident that gender-specific differences in female and male sexuality exist. However, if we endeavour to describe these differences in more detail, or even define them, things immediately become more difficult. Intuitive certainty slips away.

 

Chapter Eleven - Change and Renewal in a Woman's Life

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Change and renewal in a woman's life

Mariam Alizade

Given that science and reflection leave the enigma of the concrete world intact, we are invited to explore it without any presuppositions1.

—Merleau-Ponty, 1964, p. 207

Our life is more, however—unlike that suggested in Erikson's phase model—than chronological time, more than numerical age; it contains likewise the ¨eon¨, the rhythmic, cyclical instinctive arc from birth to our conclusion, the time of contradictions.

—Schlesinger, 2003, p. 42

Introduction

The main objective of this Chapter is to deconstruct the signifier “woman” and to explore the interaction between linear time and unconscious time in the context of the life cycle of a woman. Derrida uses this term deconstruction (Abbau in German) and refers to it as an operation similar to taking apart a building to see how it is constituted or de-constituted. Deconstruction, in some way, is present in Freud's complemental series. More recently, Bleger (1963, pp. 116–134) studied the phenomena of reciprocal interactions, distinct forms of causality and determinism in the complemental series. I proposed a fourth complemental series constituted by the presence of cultural and historical factors which are internalized in distinct strata of the mind (Alizade, 2004a). This interrelates with the three series postulated by Freud in 1916. The inclusion of this fourth series highlights the principle of relativism, and is closely connected to the ideas which I will put forward in this Chapter.

 

Chapter Twelve - Menopause Dreams

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Menopause dreams

Teresa Rocha Leite Haudenschild

But all things that come to an end, much more than being beautiful, these, will stay…

—Drummond de Andrade, 1951

Abstract

The author suggests (Benedek, 1950) that facing the losses of the menopause in positive terms (Meyer, 2002) depends on the capacity constructed in preceding life for working through mourning; including primary, Oedipal, puberty and single-life mourning, and also that experienced in everyday life. This requires a constant contact with internal and external reality, and therefore contact with psychic pain and a capacity for coping with it. The mourning dreams of a fifty-five year old analysand are presented here, in which she mourns the loss of her young body and sexuality, of biological fertility, and of the children who have left home to form their own family. Among these dreams there is one of recapitulation (Guillaumin, 1979) in which she integrates various periods of her life.

Introduction

Menopause dreams may be of mourning or of a greater or lesser denial of internal and external reality (Segal, 1993), as the result of escape from psychic pain originating from the awareness that the body grows old. These are dreams which highlight the passage through this very important time in her life in which the hormonal changes are as intense as in puberty. In puberty there is a hormonal increase, whereas here we see a drop in hormonal activity. Deutsch (1944) suggested that everything that a woman gains in puberty she loses in the menopause. The psychoanalyst and endocrinologist, Benedek (1927), disagreed with this point of view, stating that a woman who has sufficiently realized her motherhood and sexual life will not experience psychic disturbance in the menopause, since here, as in puberty, there is a new edition of the Oedipal conflict; and the mature woman may confront this from a position of greater serenity and without intense ambivalence. Laci Fessler (1950), in research involving 100 women, relates that fifteen did not present physical or psychic symptoms and faced the menopause in a positive way. This was also proposed by Meyers (2002), in the sense of constituting “a new, better integrated, better functioning, whole self, invested with an increased self-esteem and capacity for new pleasures, and a sense of freedom” (ibid., p. 99). The patient I present in this Chapter belongs to this latter group and her dreams are of mourning, one of which is a “dream of recapitulation” (Guillaumin, 1981).

 

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