The London Society of the New Lacanian SchoolA cleaned up version of Anne Lysy’s text:
NLS MESSAGER 644bis
VIII NLS CONGRESS - TOWARDS GENEVA 2
TOWARDS GENEVA 2
“One is not born a woman, one becomes one”
Congress Research Director
In order to introduce the theme of the Congress, I will provide a few reminders, a few routes, a few bibliographic references. “Daughter, Mother, Woman”: this title is a crystal with multiple facets. First, let us remember that it was chosen in order to correspond to the theme of the AMP Congress, “Semblants and sinthome”. These two terms come from the last period of Lacan’s teaching which is constructed on the disjunction between meaning and jouissance. Jacques-Alain Miller has underlined the “semblantisation” of classic concepts that occurs there: the Name-of-the-Father, the phallus, the objecta, the woman, knowledge… The woman is a semblant, but women also have a special relation with semblants.
In choosing this theme, we are revisiting a great classic of psychoanalytic literature, “feminine sexuality”, while bringing it up to date. It is because we have learnt from Lacan’s advances that we don’t say “The Woman in the twenty-first century,” but distinguish three facets:“fille”, to be translated as “daughter”, (which refers to the problematic of ravage of the mother-daughter relation); mother; and woman. This series is in principle without hierarchy and in any case without the idea of development. One could certainly make a Freudian series out of them on the basis of the possible ways of “becoming a woman” (I will say a few words about this); and a Lacanian series, which establishes a different articulation between these terms. Of course, adding “in the twenty-first century” does not in itself guarantee any kind of modernity, but is an invitation to examine what, in his “Guiding Remarks” of 1958, Lacan called “images and symbols of the woman” which determine the feminine position today; or again to study the consequences of the changes in contemporary discourse. For example, what is the impact of the decline of the father or the techniques issuing from scientific discourse on feminine sexuality? However, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater by concluding that the psychoanalytic discourse is outdated. On the contrary, in the course of our preparations throughout the year we will see that, with the changes of perspective it brings, Lacan’s teaching helps us approach our present questions and the contemporary symptoms of our society, which Eric Laurent has called “the society of the not-all”.
Under the inscription of Simon de Beauvoir’s famous phrase (which is, in fact, an affirmation of Freud), I will develop my remarks on two fronts by exploring: 1) what it is that specifies the psychoanalytic approach to sexuality and thus feminine sexuality; 2) what Freud’s position is in 1932 and what new perspectives are opened up by Lacan.
1. Biological Sex and Sexuation
“One is not born a woman, one becomes one” sets itself in opposition to the phrase coined by Ernst Jones that Lacan criticised many times: “God created them man and woman”. This is a naturalistic approach to sex. What one sees from the start is thus that there is not just a single psychoanalytic approach, since in a great many “post-Freudians” one finds this ultimate reference to a biological bedrock in order to establish the difference between the sexes. Biological or anatomical sexuality must be distinguished from what Lacan called “sexuation”. Freud did not refer to it in this way, but he emphasised this distinction many times. Sexuation is synonymous with what Lacan also called “assumption”, “the assumption by man (Mensch) of his sex”, he writes in “The signification of the Phallus”. Jacques-Alain Miller has indicated that this sexual assumption underlines a division between biological sex and the consent that the subject has to give to this assured biological sexuation. To speak of an assumption implies the choice of sex; sexuation means that one chooses one’s sex. It is an unconscious choice; could one even say an “unfathomable decision of being”? There is a choice because there is a double indetermination at the start: on the one hand, the subject’s unconscious sex is not innate; and, on the other hand, the relation to the other, to the partner, is also not determined from the start and does not define a subject as man or woman. These two indeterminations were underlined by Freud and by Lacan. I will examine them briefly, while formulating the question through a point of interrogation that bears upon these three terms: man; woman; and their relation:
M <> W
? ? ?
In Lecture XXXIII on “Femininity” (1932), where he took up, in an elaborated way, everything he had been able to develop over the preceding years along with the contribution of his students, Freud warned that “throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of femininity” and that, for its part, psychology could also give no new content to the notions of masculinity and femininity; to define the masculine in terms of activity and femininity in terms of passivity, while basing oneself on anatomical notions, is totally insufficient. And he continued: “In conformity with its peculiar nature, psycho-analysis does not try to describe what a woman is — that would be a task it could scarcely perform — but sets about enquiring how she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition .” It is this becoming woman that he articulates, laboriously, several times over, in his elaboration of the Oedipus complex, which ends with the discovery of the dissymmetry, between the two sexes, of the Oedipus complex in its relation to the castration complex. Throughout his teaching, Lacan threw light on this indetermination. InSeminar XI, for example, he affirms: “In the psyche, there is nothing by which the subject may situate himself as a male or female being. In his psyche, the subject situates only equivalents of the function of reproduction – activity and passivity, which by no means represent it in an exhaustive way.” A little before this he recalled that in the Wolf Man, Freud explains that “the polar reference activity/passivity is there in order to name, to cover, to metaphorize that which remains unfathomable [insondable] in sexual difference.” “What was first revealed by the analytic experience [is] that the ways of what one must do as man or as woman are entirely abandoned to the drama, to the scenario, which is placed in the field of the Other – which, strictly speaking, is the Oedipus complex.” There is thus no “natural” sexuality, one must go by way of the Other, the elementary structures of the signifier, of the symbolic and the imaginary, by way of semblants, in order to assume oneself as a man or as a woman. As Lacan will say in Seminar XVII and Seminar XX, “it is the signifier that makes you a man or a woman”.
Let us remark in passing that this point remains extremely topical today. One thinks of the sports body that, at the Olympic Games, refused a competitor the right to compete because her DNA test had revealed a ‘y’ chromosome. Or we could think of the transsexuals who exemplify the difference between anatomy and what Jacques-Alain Miller has called “non-biological sex”, NBS. A transsexual contests the Napoleonic proclamation that anatomy is destiny!
As for the second indetermination, concerning the partner and the relation, it is also affirmed by both Freud and Lacan.
I am going back to a passage from the “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” on object choice, in relation to inversion. Here, Freud contests the existing theories and prejudices about the so-called sexual instinct. He revolts against the crude explanation that “everyone is born with his sexual instinct attached to a particular sexual object.” In a striking note from 1915, he states that “psychoanalysis considers that a choice of an object independently of its sex (…) is the original basis from which, as a result of restriction in one direction or the other, both the normal and the inverted types develop. Thusfrom the point of view of psychoanalysis the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is also a problem that needs elucidatingand is not a self-evident fact based upon an attraction that is ultimately of a chemical nature.” And he goes on to clarify that “a person’s final sexual attitude is notdecideduntil after puberty”.
To his “In the psyche, there is nothing by which the subject may situate himself as a male or female being” Lacan adds, in Seminar XV on “The psychoanalytic act”, that “sexual identity is not given by the sexual act either”. Jacques-Alain Miller returns to this when he says that the sexual relation,coitus, is not an “ergosum” – “therefore, I am a man” or “therefore I am a woman”.
Formulated by Lacan in the seventies, “there is no sexual relation” is the axiom that serves to orient us in the approach to sexuality. “But what is this about? About the relation between men and women insofar as they would be able, by virtue of inhabiting language, to make a statement of this relation” he writes inL’étourdit.
Thus there is no possible statement, no formula which could be written, like M R W, where there would be a symbol for “man”, another for “woman” and another for the relation between them. Consequently, there is no instinct, as there is for an animal, a knowledge which would say what one must do as a male or a female. “There is an absence of knowledge in the real concerning sexuality”, as Jacques-Alain Miller says. It is the real for psychoanalysis, “what does not stop not being written”. This is what distinguishes psychoanalysis from science, where there is a knowledge in the real, that one can write with little letters. But there is certainly something which, in the place of the sexual non-rapport, does not stop being written: namely, the symptom. The symptom is like an individual law, which applies to a subject, consisting of the repetition and fixation of jouissance. It is on the basis of the non-relation that Jacques-Alain Miller introduced the notion of the partner-symptom. “The symptom comes in the place of the sexual non-relation”; it “inscribes itself in the place of what presents itself as lacking, which is the lack of a “natural” sexual partner. And “when what seems to be a relation is established, it is always a symptomatic relation.”
The formulas of sexuation, which Lacan elaborated from Seminar XVIII onwards, do not write the relation either. They give the formulae of two separate sexual positions, not the formula of the couple. They are not specific forms of complementary jouissance; for Lacan, feminine jouissance is “supplementary”. But it is also not a question of positions founded upon antinomy or biology, the “man’s side” and the “woman’s side” do not coincide with biological sex; “it happens that” a man can install himself on the woman’s side, for example; or a woman can situate herself on the man’s side: “One ultimately situates oneself there by choice – women are free to situate themselves there if it gives them pleasure to do so.” Finally, with the barring of the “Woman”, which in the table ofEncorewrites “the woman does not exist”, the different consequences of which Lacan develops, through logic, we rediscover theVerwerfungof the woman’s being  that had already been evoked in previous seminars. “A woman can but be excluded by the nature of things, which is the nature of words”, says Lacan inEncore, because “being not-whole, she has a supplementary jouissance compared to what the phallic function designates by way of jouissance.”
2. Becoming a woman for Freud
The “becoming woman”, evoked by Freud in his thirty-third lecture cited above, is not of the order of development but, it seems to me, of psychogenesis, a structural genesis, in the sense that Jacques-Alain Miller gives the term in relation to the “psychogenesis” of the case of the young homosexual woman. It is a “thoroughly discontinuous development”, which “translates changes in terms of permutation”, where “elements substitute themselves for others in the same place at different times in the genesis”.
To become a woman is in a way the subjective treatment of what, at the start, is observed in terms of a “not having”, which, with Lacan, we call a lack or privation. It concerns the phallus, which acts as a reference point for both sexes. Freud’s elaboration of the Oedipus complex, in his report on the castration complex, is founded on the 1923 thesis of the “primacy of the phallus”: “for both sexes,onesolegenital organ, the male organ, plays a role. There is thus not a genital primacy but a primacy of the phallus. The phallus is thus the unique signifier with which to account for sexual difference in the unconscious, Lacan will say in “The signification of the Phallus”. Freud articulates the two sexes as having or not having, with the subjective consequences that follow: for the boy, the threat, the fear of losing it; for the girl, the wish to acquire it – which is one of the meanings ofPenisneid, “wish for the penis” which, in Freud’s texts becomes the name of the feminine castration complex. “She makes her judgment and her decision in a flash. She has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it”.
The “development of a little girl into a normal woman is more difficult and more complicated, since it includes two extra tasks, to which there is nothing corresponding in the development of a man”, wrote Freud in 1932: she has to change zone, abandoning her “masculine”, phallic sexuality, linked to the clitoris, and privilege the vagina; and she must change object – passing from the attachment to the mother to the attachment to the father, which is the feminine Oedipus properly speaking. The novelty brought by the conferences of 1931 and 1932 is the accent that Freud put on the fact that the change of object is complicated and does not occur only once and for all. As Eric Laurent has noted, there is a remainder of this transference from the mother to the father, of this metaphoric operation; “it involves more than a simple change of object”, Freud notices,it ends with a hatred toward the mother (who was the first love object), a hatred which persists for a long time and manifests itself through multiple grievances and complaints, which it is necessary to account for.
It is here that Freud affirms that “we cannot understand women unless we appreciate (…) their pre-Oedipus attachment to their mother” and what provokes the disappearance of this attachment. He finds a specific grievance in the girl through the fact that “the girl’s mother is (…) held responsible for her lack of a penis and does not forgive her.” It is only with the discovery that the mother is castrated that she can let her drop as a love object, but the hatred can last a long time. What she was unable to get from her mother, she now demands from her father: the desire for a penis is replaced by a desire for a child, “in accordance with an ancient symbolic equivalence”. In this way she enters the Oedipus, which is a place to rest after a long and difficult development: “she enters the Oedipal situation as though into a haven”, says Freud. We can see the dissymmetry: the boy abandons the Oedipus complex under the threat of the castration complex (there is the succession Oedipus – castration – superego), while for the girl, the castration complex comes first and prepares the way for the Oedipus instead of destroying it; this only gets abolished slowly, even never completely.
It is thus the castration complex that is determining for the becoming woman. Freud indicates that there are three possible directions open to the girl on discovering her castration. The first leads to sexual inhibition or neurosis: she completely renounces her phallic sexuality, represses her sexual aspirations and rejects her love for her mother. The second entails an exaggerated affirmation of her masculinity which can lead towards homosexuality; I translate “no, I have it”. The third is the way of femininity, says Freud in 1932: “normal femininity”. It supposes that the phallic activity is set aside and the orientation towards the father is accomplished “with the help of passive instinctual impulses.” Nevertheless the passage seems a delicate one: “If too much is not lost in the course of it through repression, this femininity may turn out to be normal.” The girl transfers her phallic demand onto the father and the child comes as an equivalent to the phallus. Freud underlines that the feminine position is only truly in place if this equivalence is produced between the child and the phallus. He makes a very interesting remark on the replacement of the desire for the penis by a desire for the child, on the basis of the little girl’s playing with dolls. She had already desired a child before, but this did not have the same value, it was not a child from the father. She played at being the mother and the doll was herself; it was not an expression of her femininity, but an attempt to replace her passivity in relation to the mother with activity. “Not until the emergence of a wish for a penis does the doll-baby become a baby from the girl's father, and thereafter the aim of the most powerful feminine wish.”
It is here that Freud arrives at a paradox: this “most powerful feminine wish” is in fact the continuation of the former masculine desire, which “still faintly visible through the femininity now achieved”. “But perhaps we should recognise this wish for a penis as being par excellence a feminine one.” It is “the enigma of femininity.” Does one ever finally become a woman? Eric Laurent has remarked, that this paradoxical wish “is a foreshadow [pierre d’attente] on the basis of which Lacan gave a writing of the feminine subjective position, marking The Woman with the bar, which situates her in a particular relation toF.” InEncore, this barred “the” is the signifier of “the woman does not exist”.
Thus what characterises so-called normal femininity, which must be put in inverted commas, and its manifestations in the psychopathology of everyday life, “a few traits” of which Freud wrote about with great subtlety at the end of his thirty-third lecture, is on the one hand this paradox and the persistence ofPenisneidas the desire for the child from the father - which determines the choice of object, the reaction to a son as opposed to a daughter, etc. - and on the other hand, the return of hostility in relation to the mother - this remainder which “gains a new object”, namely the husband. For Freud, the triad daughter, mother, woman is considered entirely from the angle of castration and the phallus – even if we can see him stumbling over something that escapes him. For his part, Lacan asked from 1958, in his “Guiding remarks”, “whether phallic mediation exhaustively accounts for everything drive-related that can manifest itself in women, especially the whole current of maternal instinct.” By affirming that a woman “is not-wholly in the phallic function”, even if “she is there in full”, he allows us to articulate the terms of the triad in a completely different way and, amongst other things, to “disentangle” the woman from the mother. This is what remains for us to explore in our future work.
Translated by Philip Dravers
 This text was written on the basis of an introductory exposition given at a “Knotting” seminar of the NLS in Lausanne on 3 October 2009.
 Miller, J.-A.; “Of Semblants in the Relation Between the Sexes”, Psychoanalytical Notebooks, Review of the London Society of the NLS, No.3, ed: B. Wolf, London, 1999.
 Laurent, E., “La société du symptôme”,QuartoNo 79.
 Miller, J.-A., Cours d’orientation lacanienne, “De la nature des semblants », 17 June 1992, unpublished.
 Miller, J.-A. Cours d’orientation lacanienne, “Les divins details”, 15 March 1989, unpublished.
 Lacan, J., “Presentation on Psychical Causality”,Ecrits, transl. Bruce Fink, New York-London, Norton, p. 145.
 Freud, S., “Femininity” SE XXII, p. 113.
 Freud, S., “Femininity” SE XXII., p.116.
 Lacan, J.,The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 204.
 Brodsky, G. “Le choix du sexe”,Quarto,77, 2002, pp. 36-39.
 Miller, J.-A., Cours d’orientation lacanienne, “Les divins details”, 15 March 1989.
 Freud, S., “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” SE VII, p.26.
Ibid., p.57, my emphasis.
 Miller, J.-A., Cours d’orientation lacanienne, “De la nature des semblants”, 17 June 1992, unpublished.
 Lacan, J., “L’étourdit”,Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 455.
 Miller, J.-A., “La théorie du partenaire”,Quarto, 77, 2002, p. 7.
Ibid., p. 15.
 Miller, J-A., “Of Distribution Between the Sexes”,Psychoanalytical Notebooks11 (2008), pp. 9-28.
 Lacan, J.,Encore, The Seminar Book XX,transl. Bruce Fink, New York-London, Norton, p. 80 & 71.
 Lacan, J.,Le Séminaire Livre V, Les formations de l’inconscient,Paris, Seuil, 1998, p. 350.
 Miller, J.-A., Cours d’orientation lacanienne, “De la nature des semblants”, 3 June 1992, unpublished.
 The infantile genital organization. SE 19: p.142.
 Freud, S., “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Difference Between the Sexes”, SE 19: p.252.
 Laurent, E., “Après la répétition”,La Cause freudienne, 40, pp. 29-30.