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social sciences

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Another seminal author exploring the relation between psychoanalysis and feminism is Julia Kristeva (born 1941), a practicing psychoanalyst and cultural theorist, who, like Lacan, has approached the Freudian theories of the unconscious and sexual difference with the aid of a semiological theory originating in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure.

A key conceptual opposition in her work is the distinction between the Symbolic (which includes the articulations of the psychic and social dimensions indispensable for the maintenance of life) and what she terms "the Semiotic" (which encompasses the undifferentiated, nearly unstructured drives and impulses underlying pre-Oedipal sexuality). In Kristeva's account, the Semiotic is not only transformed into the Symbolic through repression and sublimation, but remains a permanent source of the transgressions that disrupt the closures of the Symbolic.

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Having correlated the Semiotic with the regimes of maternal relatedness and instinctual corporeality, Kristeva focuses on how these regimes initiate a destabilization process that affects the Symbolic overlay in the signifying systems of literature, visual arts, and music. In this context, Kristeva attempts a reevaluation of religion as one of the few cultural sites in which a sense of pre-Oedipal, unrestrained relish ("jouissance") may still be perceived. Kristeva's analysis of the cultural overcoming of patriarchal Law by the Semiotic potential of religion implies a fundamental revision of the Freudian deprecatory verdict on religion as wishful thinking.

Guy Hocquenghem: The Freudian Text and Gay Liberation

Guy Hocquenghem's (1946-1988) radical theory of gay liberation constitutes a landmark in the brief history of gender and queer studies. Like Reich and Marcuse before him, Hocquenghem attempted, in his approach to human sexuality, a philosophical reconciliation of Marxist thought and Freudian psychoanalytical doctrine. Differing from most interpreters of Freud, however, Hocquenghem sought theoretical support for his emancipatory endeavors within discursive levels of the Freudian texts that seem to disrupt the overall design in which they are contextualized.

In his study Le désir homosexuel (Homosexual Desire, 1972), Hocquenghem makes clear that his philosophical debunking of Western phallogocentrism is linked to the deconstruction of Freudian normative heterosexuality and the resulting Oedipal family. This notwithstanding, Hocquenghem proceeds to an empathic reading of Freud's theory of pre-Oedipal with the intention of incorporating this theory within the libertarian project of Le désir homosexuel.

In this context, Hocquenghem seeks to articulate the idea of a "perverse" sexual continuum that contradicts the "interruptions" of binomial categories ("male," "female"). Since the internalization of the sexual binomium leads to the exclusion of sexual alternatives once present in the psyche and then repressed in the process of genital organization, the recovery of "perverse" possibilities within the polymorphous range of the sexual continuum demands the reversal of Oedipal teleology and of the dimorphic sexual construction on which it is grounded.

In the last resort, Hocquenghem's move from the final phase of sexual organization back to its richer "perverse" antecedent occurs along the lines of a subversive reading of the Freudian text aiming at explicating and reinforcing the text's own emancipatory potential.

Psychoanalysis and Cultural Critique

The numerous dissidences, schisms, and interpretive conflicts in the history of psychoanalysis created, from its very beginnings, a critical and self-critical atmosphere, which, on the whole, fostered its vitality. The new theoretical perspectives that psychoanalysis developed seem to be prefigured in Freud's own propensity to revise and revisit his own standpoints and texts.

Unfortunately, psychoanalysis has also been deeply marked by Freud's authoritarian style of leadership and by the rigid policies of legitimacy conducted by the institutional frameworks he created. The exclusionary strategies deployed by Freud and his followers, however, proved to be an indispensable requisite for granting the movement as a whole clear theoretical and organizational contours.

From a historical perspective, the advancement of psychoanalysis is greatly indebted to the theoretical pursuits accomplished outside its official frameworks. The worldwide diffusion and acceptance of psychoanalysis was dependent, to a large extent, on its capacity to overcome the narrow limits of a therapeutic procedure in order to become one of the most powerful methods of cultural analysis and critique of the twentieth century.

In this respect, psychoanalysis played a decisive role in the emergence of women's, gender, and queer studies, and they, in their turn, evinced the continuing relevancy of the psychoanalytical approach for post-modern discourse. Because of the critical work accomplished in these domains, psychoanalysis is not merely re-examining its own Freudian "pillars" and re-inscribing its new insights in broader interdisciplinary and intercultural contexts, it is also helping create the conditions for conceptualizing the human beyond gender dichotomization and for examining the societal consequences of inexhaustible sexual diversity.

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