Women and Creativity: A Psychoanalytic Glimpse Through Art, Literature, and Social Structure

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This latest book in the Psychoanalysis and Women series includes writings from practising psychoanalysts mainly from Italy and Europe. They take a wide sweep in exploring many aspects of women's creativity with an emphasis throughout the chapters on the contribution of dreaming to creativity. It takes as its starting point creativity in clinical work in the consulting room, and puts forward new perspectives on psychoanalytic theory. The focus then turns to creativity in the life cycle, particularly when there are delays and difficulties in becoming pregnant, as well as the everyday creativity in overcoming obstacles to intimacy and coupling and being able to allow the female body in particular to be receptive to growing and nurturing an infant human being. It turns next to aspects of female creativity in the arts in the broadest sense, discussing artworks and sculpture, film and literature. Lastly, it considers aspects of creative living in society, the large, small and unseen creativity in culture, society and the structures that we live with. This book is dedicated to the memory of Mariam Alizade, who, as the second Chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association's Committee on Women and Psychoanalysis (COWAP), lived with such creativity.

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Chapter One: Creativity and Authenticity

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Irma Brenman Pick

I have chosen, in this chapter, not to address artistic creativity, rather to focus on what I think of as emotional creativity; I shall consider this, in relation to woman as mother, and also woman as psychoanalyst. The maternal creative function I think of as a part of the analyst's creative function; this capacity may be present in female or male analysts. Furthermore, I am especially interested in the authenticity (or not) of the (creative) maternal function and of analytic function.

Authenticity is based on some acceptance of external reality and some acceptance of oneself as one really is. I say “some” acceptance advisedly, for I believe this always to be partial. Whilst on the one hand we value authenticity, there is also a question of how much authenticity we want, or in fact, can bear? We might think about how much “creativity” goes into creating inauthenticity, and to what extent inauthenticity is valued.

Indeed, in Western culture those in what we might call “maternal” roles—nurses, teachers, carers generally—are paid at devalued rates. It appears there is a consensus that they are not “worth” more. Meanwhile, those involved in creating “inauthenticity” seem instead to be massively overvalued! Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel wrote in 1984: “I happen to live in a country in a town and at a time where false values aesthetic and intellectual as well as ethical seem to be gratified with admiration and success at the expense of true values” (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1984, p. 66).

 

Chapter Two: Discussion of “Creativity and Authenticity” by Irma Brenman Pick

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Jordi Sala

I wish to thank Irma Brenman Pick for her dense and thought-provoking work, which deserves to be read and reread slowly and thoughtfully. I shall limit my comments to a few aspects.

A main thesis of Brenman Pick's is that the maternal creative function must form part of the analytic function, and she is interested in exploring the authenticity/inauthenticity of both functions. From the start of the chapter she links authenticity to some kind of acceptance of internal and external reality. She immediately goes on to ask: “how much ‘creativity’ goes into creating inauthenticity?” (Brenman Pick, this volume), and asserts later that “there is a conflictual struggle between creativity in the service of authenticity and creative inauthenticity” (Brenman Pick, this volume).

Here, however, I wonder whether it is possible to make use of certain creative capacities in the service of a spurious, inauthentic result. I agree that this creative capacity is never entirely pure, as it is born within and out of a mixture of feelings. But I find it difficult to understand that nothing truly creative can ever be born out of inauthenticity.

 

Chapter Three: Listening, Technique, and all that Jazz

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Barbie Antonis

Feeling the groove

A year or so back I had a curious experience: The room was still. Everyone seemed very absorbed. It looked as though all attention was on the speaker. The talk continued. I felt free to attend and to drift so that concentration was wonderfully focused and free floating at the same time. When he spoke, the words carried immediate resonance. In fact they were “music to my ears” but why was this so disturbing as well? Why? I felt excited, also mystified and alert, alive. The experience almost bordered on the uncanny. The voice was that of a professor and head of Department of Jazz, Simon Purcell…I knew that…yet the words seemed to be those of a colleague, Michael Parsons, psychoanalyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society speaking about an entirely different subject, an independent theory of clinical technique (Parsons, 2009). Was I imagining things? What was I imagining? I remained poised in this state of unknowing until I realised the very surprising and then even delightful concordance/coincidence of these two internal experiences. They had come together. They were different and similar both at once.

 

Chapter Four: William, did you say, “Much Ado about Nothing”?

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Juan Eduardo Tesone

Anatomy is no longer destiny and sexual identities do not depend on any aesthetic. The notion of gender has de-reified the biological and, after a long period of gender binarism, queer theory questions it and postulates multiplicity beyond the dichotomy of genders. The intersexuality and intergender that plead against binarism and in favour of flexible sexuality not assigned from birth question psychoanalysis and create a need for us to deconstruct and reformulate several of our paradigms. In psychoanalysis it is nearly impossible to speak of a woman or a man, not only because we need to use the plural but most of all because it is impossible to consider it from a-historical or a-cultural perspectives. No naturalistic essentialism of woman or man is able to transcend the symbolic construction of its era.

Therefore, speaking about “women and creativity” is a challenge that is difficult to face in terms of psychoanalysis. I will therefore allow myself a detour, something like a tangential look; we know that a frontal gaze may “meduse” more than one of us, and looking back may turn us into a statue of salt.

 

Chapter Five: Discussion of “William, did you say: ‘Much Ado about Nothing'?” by Juan Eduardo Tesone

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Ingrid Moeslein-Teising

I very much thank Juan Tesone for being so creative in giving us such a rich text. Like in great pieces of art, everything is said and at the same time many questions are raised. I just want to add some aspects and comments.

Female core

Juan Tesone refers to classic theories on the origin of libido, penis envy and the pre-feminist debate against phallic monism. In the twenties and thirties, starting in Berlin with Karen Horney's (1923, 1924) rebellion against the view that women felt themselves constitutionally inferior, a series of contributions mostly by female authors (Helene Deutsch (1925), Melanie Klein (1928), Jeanne Lampl-de Groot (1927), Josine Müller (1931), Lillian Rotter (1932), and others), in which Jones (1927) joined in, sought to enlighten Freud's “dark continent”. The discourse went on internationally, was especially taken up in the seventies and eighties within the feminist movement, and today we are able to have more insight into these complex issues, although, interestingly, the alternative findings disappear again and again from the stage of scientific psychoanalytic debate.

 

Chapter Six: Female Elements and Functions in Creativity

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Maria Adelaide Lupinacci

As a psychoanalyst, my first thought inevitably goes to Freud (1932) when discussing femininity. I went back to read his last work on the subject, which marks the climax of his thought: lecture 33 “Femininity” in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis and Other Works.

In this lecture, Freud reaffirmed that the origin of femininity lies in castration—hence, in the absence of something—and that passivity, as one of the characteristics of being feminine, is a consequence.

Therefore, femininity appears to be organised around this “absence”.

Moreover, when speaking of libido, understood as the driving force of sexuality, he concluded saying:

There is only one libido, which serves both the masculine and the feminine sexual functions. To it itself we cannot assign any sex; if, following the conventional equation of activity and masculinity, we are inclined to describe it as masculine, we must not forget that it also covers trends with passive aim. Nevertheless the juxtaposition “feminine libido” is without any justification. Furthermore, it is our impression that more constraint has been applied to the libido when it is pressed into the service of the feminine function, and that Nature takes less careful account of its demands than in case of masculinity (italics added). (Freud, 1932, p. 131)

 

Chapter Seven: Women and Creativity

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Maria Pia Conte

Let us look at a baby girl, a baby girl of a few months, she is on the changing table, mother undresses her, they look at each other and smile. The little girl moves. What has she got between her legs? A small pink mound, two soft folds that cover a precious little button and create a fine vertical line that dips into the access to a passage. Where does it lead to? To a small chamber, empty now, but potentially vital for our species.

When it occurred to me to begin this paper describing a little girl's genitals I thought I would never dare.

But as I was reading all I could to prepare for writing this chapter I came across Nancy Kulish and Deanna Holtzman's (2007) paper, “Baubo: rediscovering woman's pleasures”. Who is Baubo? She is an old woman in Demeter and Persephone's myth. Demeter bereft and grief-stricken, has caused drought and famine to plague the world until her daughter is found. She is so full of grief she refuses food and drink. An older woman, called Baubo or Iambe, jests and pulls up her skirt, showing her genitals; Demeter begins to laugh and lifts the coat of depression that had fallen on her and on the world. The sexual jesting, the intimate communication between the two women allude to female sexuality and a woman's pleasure in her sexed body.

 

Chapter Eight: When Creativity Restarts: Distorted and Adaptive Forms

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Frances Thomson-Salo

I want to explore an idea that when creativity has been stifled for a long time it may first start again in a distorted form like a blade of grass in a desert at first growing sideways, and in analysis this needs not to be disparaged; and to consider this in conjunction with the independent tradition of being the analyst whom the patient needs rather than always interpreting with a focus on the negative transference. I will illustrate with vignettes from child, adolescent, and adult patients all deidentified or composited, describing how female patients made a creative use of creativity and how creativity is sometimes cocreated as a female analyst with a male patient. James Grotstein (1997) suggested that the development of ontological courage—to accept one's life as a life to live and to create—is related to Klein's epistemophilic and sadistic propensities, and to Winnicott's creative ones.

I will begin with an artist's thirty year struggle against depression with an early image of Joan Rodriquez, whose work is in the Cunningham Dax collection of artworks by people with an experience of mental illness and/or psychological trauma for which I am the honorary psychoanalyst. Joan now in her seventies remembers from the age of four using any crayons she could find to make drawings. Decades later she painted Figure 1. The pain in the face of the mutilated person who gazes at the trapped one, Vinegar Woman, is palpable. Rodriquez wrote at the time, “I've got her contained! But she is cut off! which paralyses her—I was battling with the ‘conflict of opposites’”.

 

Chapter Nine: A Little Girl's Analysis

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Tonia Cancrini and Luisa Cerqua

Introduction—Tonia Cancrini, supervisor

For several years, I supervised the case of Silvia, a ten-year-old girl in treatment with my colleague, Luisa Cerqua. Luisa handled the treatment with great passion and competence. It was a work of great interest for both of us as it enabled us to understand in depth the huge potential of a psychoanalytic intervention during childhood, if managed in a systematic and competent way. We were able to see clearly how a lively and profound creativity could develop both within the child and inside the analytic couple. This allowed the child to overcome very primitive anxieties and achieve adequate maturational growth. At the same time, we were able to come face-to-face with all the difficulties and enthusiasms that belong to the treatment of children, a treatment that is always rich in surprises and where the analyst is frequently extremely involved. We will try to share the experience of the first year that we hope you will find as enriching as it has been for us.

 

Chapter Ten: A Psychoanalyst in the Labour Room: The Birth of Emotions

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Laura Tognoli Pasquali

Some time ago I was invited to a gynaecology congress to talk about birth. I very much wanted to accept the invitation but I was afraid of feeling out of place.

With slight hesitation and needing to find courage, I found a theme that fascinates me greatly and that involves a particular aspect of birth: the birth of emotions. Feeling more at ease in my territory, I managed to enter the theatre of birth, where life begins: the labour room.

When you step onto the crowded stage of birth with your own knowledge and tools but also anxiety, admiration, desire to participate and astounded curiosity, you feel a kind of reverential fear that becomes bewilderment, commotion, astonishment.

The body dominates the birth scene and you have to be extremely careful not to disturb those who dedicate themselves to controlling the heart beat, driving away the ghost of death, helping a head overcome the painful journey through the channel of birth, embracing a baby who comes from another world, helping gasping newborns fill their lungs with their first breath.

 

Chapter Eleven: Generativity and Creativity: Dialogue between an Obstetrician and a Psychoanalyst

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Sandra Morano and Anna Maria Risso

SANDRA: For some time now, my experience in obstetrics has led me to reflect on female creativity and generativity. Can creativity in women be identified with generativity? For women, giving birth has always meant being responsible for separating from the child they have conceived and given birth to, whilst, at the same time, not abandoning them, but nourishing and staying with them, sharing and promoting their development and carrying them forever in their minds. This would surely be the easiest portrayal and the most immediate creativity of women, since it is inherent to female expertise. Women, though, and regardless of their ability to procreate, have always claimed a creativity which has nothing to do with reproduction. Many of them, whether or not they have experienced childbirth, have expressed creative talent, producing both literary and pictorial works of art, and participating in projects or in battles which enhance their ability to formulate and achieve the most varied objectives.

 

Chapter Twelve: Dreaming about Pregnancy when it is not there: Two Clinical Cases

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Anna Barlocco

Very often, creativity and procreation are compared, like a sort of psychic pregnancy of the creator. Famous women writers have compared their creative experience to the perception of their own mortality and transience. Margaret Atwood (2002) has spoken about writing as a negotiating with shadows; Flannery O'Connor (1961, 1969) considered writing as getting into the devil's territory without the fear of getting dusty.

But in procreation as in analysis and, generally, in the creative process, when some purpose becomes compelling—be it a baby, symptom disappearance, an artistic production—something gets stuck and stops flowing.

The yearning and concrete need is put forward and disturbs the mysterious process dealing with the threshold between life and death, as with what happens in a couple between a man and a woman, or in an analytic couple: something needing to be lived and enjoyed before one may even worry about producing it. If this does not happen, the couple is paradoxically robbed of its specific creative capacity.

 

Chapter Thirteen: A Particular Kind of Sterility

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Jones De Luca

Mental sterility” may be viewed as generated by obsessive and violent symptoms which arise as a horde of primitive (wild) thoughts preventing fertilisation. In the presence of a desire to have a child, analytic work highlights how the obsessive ideas serve the “task” of exploring different aspects of the equipment required for motherhood.

Most children are born by chance. It is not easy to make the decision to bring someone into the world, so chance helps us (Sergio Bordi, personal communication). Fifty years have passed since Marie Langer stated, in her Maternidad y sexo, that the social changes in progress would lead women to encounter increasingly greater difficulties in what is considered women's first creativity: menstruation, conception, fertility, and breastfeeding (Langer, 1951, p. 28). Increasingly we have the opportunity to closely investigate these issues in a clinical setting. In the case I present here I focus on one specific aspect: the anguish caused by the possibility of conceiving a child, and its consequences.

 

Chapter Fourteen: Discussion of “A Particular Kind of Sterility” by Jones de Luca

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Ester Palerm Mari

Jones de Lucas presents us with a case in which the problem of physical sterility in a patient with intense obsessive symptoms is paramount. In an effort to understand what underlies the symptomatology she also shows us the moments in the treatment when the symptoms become more prominent. I will concentrate my reflections on some aspects related to the patient's request for help such as the parental figures, identity, ego weakness, and some technical considerations; I will then comment on the extended family, the nuclear family and the importance of unconscious phantasy and conclude with some additional considerations.

The request for help

The patient's request for help is motivated by her feelings of hatred for her friend who is pregnant, as well as by her desire to discontinue the medication she was taking, as she blames it for her lack of fertility. Consequently, I wonder if her request for help is really guided by her wish to understand her internal world better, or rather only to become pregnant.

 

Chapter Fifteen: “With you I can Bleat my Heart Out”—Older Women in Psychoanalytic Practice

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Christiane Schrader

The chapter's title came from one of my female patients. She belongs to the generation of those women described by Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen (1987 [1985]), with a hint of irony that was frequently misunderstood, as “peaceable”. She depicted women eager to keep the peace, having grown up in a patriarchal society, intimidated and drilled for subservience or suffering from traumatisation. They were inhibited in their self-assertion and strength of aggression, often with massive repercussions on their creativity. Her concept of the “peaceable woman” was based on her psychoanalytic work with women who today constitute old and elderly patients. Her psychodynamic findings provide the starting point of a case study that exemplifies the steps that a sixty-nine-year-old patient took out of a restrictive peaceable position that is still possible at this age. Before discussing Mitscherlich-Nielsen's contributions to understanding my female patients and in particular Mrs F. (whose details have been de-identified) I will comment on ageing in women today and the role of creativity for resisting and coping with ageing.

 

Chapter Sixteen: Using Contents from a Sewing Box: Some Aspects of the Artwork of Sonia Delaunay and Louise Bourgeois

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Maria Grazia Vassallo Torrigiani

There is a bias that for centuries has weighed women down. The professor of English and Women's Studies, Susan Stanford Friedman, incisively formulated it in these terms: creation is the act of the mind that brings something new into existence, procreation is the act of the body that reproduces the species: a man conceives an idea in his brain, while a woman conceives a baby in her womb (Stanford Friedman, 1987). Culturally, physical and mental creativity have long been defined in terms of gender: procreation was considered the sole legitimate, satisfactory creative experience for women; mental, artistic, and intellectual creativity was instead the stuff of men.

Women who challenged this centuries-old bias were met with a whole series of internal and external obstacles: guilty feelings, rejection, contempt, and insinuations regarding their morality, mental health, and (even) womanhood. Venturing into circles reserved to men was viewed not only as a transgression, but also as an assumption or expression of masculine characteristics, such as self-confidence, ambition, determination, aggressiveness, and competitiveness that in a woman were perversions of-or at least counter to-the intimate essence of womanhood.

 

Chapter Seventeen: Commentary on Brodeuses

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Maria Teresa Palladino

The possibility for a woman to think of herself as a mother represents the end of a growth path and implies she has achieved a separation from her own mother with whom she can now identify without fear of being incorporated but remain sure of her individuality (Argentieri, 1982, 1985). This path seems to encounter obstacles whose various forms we see in our clinical work. One of these is pregnancies in underage girls which, as we know, are generally only apparent expressions of mature creativity. The aim of this paper is to highlight the difficulties that young girls sometimes encounter in dealing with their creativity, and the close relationship that seems to exist between this and the problems that have characterised relationships with their mothers. In this paper I will refer to the film “A Common Thread” (Brodeuses) to illustrate how complex the journey can be to being able to become mothers. Rarely has a film managed to explore this dimension with both delicacy and versatile depth.

 

Chapter Eighteen: The Voice of the Mother in to the Lighthouse

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Nadia Fusini

I have an idea that I will invent a new name for my books to supplant ‘novel’. A new…by Virginia Woolf. But what? Elegy?”. (The Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. by A. Olivier Bell & A. McNeillie, 1980, vol. III, p. 34).

It is 27 June 1925, and the writer is ready for her new book. She already knows its proper name, but she does not know its genre, its kin, its kind. She has no idea under which genre, or gender, or name to register it in the Literary Registry. But she anticipates its tone: it is going to be an elegy—to the Lighthouse. She has no doubts as to whom the elegy will be dedicated. That “to” is a preposition which does not indicate here movement towards a destination; it is not just the vector of movement from one place to another, concluding in a possible or impossible arrival at the Lighthouse. It is a dative case: the recipient of an offering, a gift.

Thus, Virginia Woolf writes for the Lighthouse: facing towards that light, and thanks to that light. What she writes for that light is also a gift. The Lighthouse is at the centre of the novel, as a place with which contact—if not the gaze turned towards it—is denied. Standing tall, it is the fire that directs the eye, a vertical structure that rises up like an exclamation point, a signpost in the flat and horizontal landscape of the sea mass, and of memory.

 

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