Sex On The Couch: Marcella Tarozzi Goldsmith, Vol. Granted that there is a lot in Freud that is worth reading and pondering even now, the fact remains that many of his ideas have been and are still now challenged on many fronts. What the reader finds in this book, as the title indicates, is an extensive discussion of sexuality in its different forms, both real and imaginary.
These two Lacanian categories have the merit of having enriched psychoanalytic studies and are rightly included, albeit intermittently, in the text. It is not surprising, then, to find out, in the many pages devoted to phallic symbolism, that they do not always make clear whether the symbolic, imaginary, or real dimension of sexual differences is being discussed.
Nobody, of course, denies that there are sexual differences, but to make them absolute categories and this is a tendency found in several parts of the book is a mistake that should be corrected by a somewhat different approach, the one that is also found in Freud, namely, the approach that recognizes that gender does not perfectly coincide with masculinity or femininity, with being a man or a woman.
Yet, Freud, who was not free from ambivalence on this issue, did not address the notion of gender, which is a later addition to the philosophical and psychological vocabulary. Boothby does that also by introducing in the text an imaginary critic who has the function of reminding the reader that not everything about a given topic has been said or argued thoroughly.
Rhetorically speaking, this is an ingenious gambit, but more often than not, given the way in which these imaginary controversies are developed, it leaves the impression that the truth has not been established and that more than one version of a given theory is plausible.
In Freud, there was the scientist and the ideologue; and to disentangle one from the other is certainly an arduous task. Boothby tackles this matter philosophically by appealing to the distinction between appearance, which can be deceiving, and reality. He confirms this philosophical point by reinterpreting Freud as the thinker who did not stop at the absolute distinction of the feminine and the masculine, but looked farther and discovered that sometimes the two sexes are not that sharply demarcated and that in some, perhaps many, instances, the characteristics deemed typical of one sex are also encountered in the other.
However, that does not mean that Freud or his followers in their practice did not try to align the biological sex, let us say, as an example, the female sex, with those attitudes and behaviors that are considered, at a given time, feminine.
This is certainly true, since Freud was looking for a comprehensive theory that would include the whole individual, although he did not elaborate on the concept of person, which would have given a greater relevance to his distinction between biology and psychology. One finds here, instead, two main protagonists: As mentioned, the author is at his best when he discusses cultural and social issues like the discovery and the impact of the intimate in our lives.
There has been a true reversal whereby, instead of what was considered the realm of freedom in Greece, that is, the public life, the private sphere of individuals is now considered the place where people can enjoy their freedom, being free from work.
They were the result of, and the response to, a new type of subjectivity that was emerging during his time. It follows that several social issues raised by Freud are still unresolved and demand interpretation.
This is an interesting topic and sociological fact that is contemporaneous with the crisis of paternal authority; the pater familias role is no longer what it was in the past, since civilization, with its demands on work and productivity, has diminished the importance of sexuality, and has led as a response to an emphasis on personal and domestic happiness. At the same time, sexuality has been, and still is, the object of repression precisely because society rests on the much-needed control of drives and instincts required for working and economic purposes.
According to Boothby, the epochal crisis that has brought about, if not the end, at least the diminishing of male authority, is the result of four factors: Protestantism, the Enlightenment, Capitalism, and the advances of Science. These four historical and cultural events eroded authority in general and consequently the patriarchal supremacy, since they challenged the truths taught by traditional religions.
Boothby is, then, on the right track when in his book he emphasizes the centrality of sexuality. And one of its conclusions can well be summarized in this way: This emphasis on the ego, although much criticized by Jacques Lacan, is nevertheless important to define gender identity. Because of this, many conflicts arise that can be resolved only with great effort, so we see that masculine men develop defensive attitudes, because they are fearful of losing their precarious autonomy.
As to feminine women, they will be more passive and more caring than men in that they are more attentive to the desire of the other, and will give more importance to beauty. I am not sure how many women of today will recognize themselves in this description, but there is also another consideration to make, namely, that there are many types of femininity, some of which do not include passivity as a trait and are, quite the opposite, energetic and active.
Since Freud did not develop the concept of person, his theories about sexual differences manifest a dualism that is difficult to reconcile with progressive intentions.
Here, without hesitation and with many accurate observations, he connects modern sexuality with the Freudian theory of the Oedipus complex. However, some other observations are debatable, like the statement that the Enlightenment was an Oedipal struggle because it was a struggle against authority. It is a reductive view, but fortunately Boothby completes his research by putting Freud in the historical context in which we live now, not only in the historical context in which he lived; yet, the overall scenario leads one to think that there is really no substantial difference between the beginning of the twentieth century and our present century, notwithstanding the fact that mores and customs have changed.
However, it is also true, as Boothby argues, that this may be the result of the current reaction to the progress of the past fifty years.
All considered, this book is indeed a defense of Freud with minor additional touches: Freud is acquitted of many criticisms and rescued from the worst accusations of sexism, but to complete this task one would need a less ambiguous conclusion, one that goes beyond the present crisis and is not timid about a future subjectivity.
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