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The Feminine, the Drives and the Body in the Analytic Encounter

by Vaia tsolas 

March 4, 11 - April 8, 15 - Saturdays: 15h-17h (Lisbon Time) Onlie (zoom) with recordings


The trifold focus of this course is on the drives, the body, and the object as they relate to the feminine, its repudiation, and psychosexuality. It aims to pick up from where Freud left us in Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937) where he writes, “for the psychical field, the biological field does in fact play the part of the underlying bedrock. The repudiation of femininity can be nothing else than a biological fact, a part of the great riddle of sex.”  We will bring into focus the enigma of femininity, the feminine and its repudiation, which constitutes this bedrock of psychoanalysis. This exploration, both theoretical and clinical, will draw from Freud’s economic point of view: the drives, the body and libido. Similarly to Winnicott’s notion that ‘there is no baby without a mother,’ we might say that there are no object relations without the drives.

The feminine here is borrowed from Jacqueline Schaeffer's notion that the feminine is synonymous with sexual difference, distinguishing it from the purely biological as well as from purely psychological such as gender. Schaeffer also differentiates the feminine from the “pure female element” (Winnicott, 1971b, p. 76), the “primal feminine dimension” (André, 1995) or the “primary feminine dimension” (Guignard, 1997).   It is in this light that we will examine the repudiation of the feminine for women and the consequences for their sexual bodies, jouissance, and their objects. We will use clinical case vignettes to explore the connection between the repudiation of the feminine, sacrifice, and masochism in the face of a harsh early maternal superego (borrowing the name Sphinx). The notion of the Sphinx as a theoretical concept in the clinical setting is examined here through the lens of the mother-daughter relationship in its intergenerational flavor of misogyny. The psychosomatic consequences of the repudiation of the feminine are explored through the clinical material of an addicted female, a woman suffering from vaginismus, and a postmenopausal depressed patient.  The emergence of the repudiated feminine in the transference with a female analyst will present the problematics in vivo, as the ego clutching its anal defenses under the reign of the maternal archaic Sphinx serves to bring treatment to a halt.

Vaia Tsolas is a training and supervising analyst at Columbia University, Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, the co-founder and Board Chair of Pulsion: The International Institute of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychosomatics, a corresponding member of the Hellenic Psychoanalytic Society and on the faculty at Albert Einstein Medical School. She is the director and co-founder of Rose Hill Psychological Services. She is the winner of the IPA Sacerdoti Prize, the Columbia Ovesey and Klar best teacher awards. Dr Tsolas is the senior editor of “A Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Contemporary Search for Pleasure: The Turning of the Screw” upcoming in 2023 by Routledge and of “The Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Body in Today’s World” both co-edited with Christine Anzieu- Premmereur (Routledge, 2017). She the author of “Sweet little deaths of everyday life: A Psychoanalytic Study on the Feminine” (VDM Verlag, 2008) and of numerous articles on issues of otherness, body, the feminine and the drives.

Reading List

Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1964). Feminine Guilt and the Oedipus Complex. In Birksted-Breen, D., Flanders, S., and Gibeault, A. (eds.), Reading French Psychoanalysis. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 563–600. Freud, S. (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 7:123-246 Freud, S. (1931) Female Sexuality. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 21:221-244 Freud, S. (1933) Femininity. In: New Introductory Lectures On Psycho-Analysis. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 22:111-135 Freud, S. (1937) Analysis Terminable and Interminable. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 23:209-254 Grunberger, B. (1989). Introduction to the Study of the Early Superego. In Macey, D. (ed.), New Essays on Narcissism. London: Free Association Books, pp. 105–121. Kristeva, J. (2008). A Father Is Beaten to Death. In Kalinich, L., and Taylor, S. (eds.), The Dead Father. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 175–187. Schaeffer, J. (2011). The Universal Refusal: A Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Feminine Sphere and Its Repudiation. London: Karnac Books.

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