Femininity

the influence of things unseen.

by Oren Gozlan

Whole cultures are organized around veiling her, castrating her desire, keeping her under close watch. She is not to be seen nor heard, as if her voice or even a glimpse of her skin might cause an irreparable disruption in the viewer. For Freud she is a dark continent, undecipherable and foreboding. For Lacan, she does not exist, because the vary nature of her existence is inverse, the un-known. Not a “no” in opposition to “yes” or “absence” in opposition to “presence”. Rather, she is the very murkiness of the zone in-between. Yes and no, pain and pleasure, life and death; a zone of impossibility.

It is hard to speak of femininity without imagining a woman. Yet it is precisely this dilemma of visibility that defines subjectivity, because it relies on an inherent invisibility and depends on genitalia as anchor of stability. It is therefore impossible to place her in gender; forcing coordinates on her non-being makes one disappear into her cave like abyss. Yet, she is gender itself because it is her invisibility that pushes for embodiment, for representation. We name her a woman because her mystery and power are hard to bear; linking her associatively to our origin and the emergence of our sexuality, to the seduction of maternal touch which turn our hunger to passion. She is the depth of the womb to which we can never return. The mystery of our beginning that, like Ali-Baba’s cave, shuts forever, setting an endless retroactive yearn to return to retrieve our lost treasures.

We are reminded of her presence within us at our weakest hour, a gash that is opened, the irreducible gap that make us receptive, helpless and passive. Our femininity, like a traumatic dream, disrupts our waking oblivion.  She shakes the balance of our sexuality and extends our field of vision, pushing and pulling at our spectator’s eye towards and a way from the void of her enigma, disclosing the void that is our otherness. Situated between our visibility and her invisibility our desire is set in constant transit in a terrain of diverse temporalities, between perceptual and conceptual. Our bodies become a gathering place of objects present and absent. We are carried in an act of fort-da that rocks us back and forth in a move that calms us into existence through its unsettling rhythm. To allow her presence would mean to invite the murkiness of infancy and its enigmatic indecipherability, where pain is mistaken for pleasure and the breast is taken for the self.  Therefore, she is only insinuated in art, in giving birth, in question. She is the incubating desire that can only create itself in an endless repetition to survive and not be consumed by her underside, the infinity of her lack.

It is the femininity that we all love to hate, that we hate in love. We prefer to see her “out there” and “no where”; to recognize her in gender that splits her in half, to be fooled by her spectacle, yet to imagine her as the unseen, the hole, the not. But she is always the “not yet”, and the “too late” of experience; the experience that precedes our experiencing; the registration that appears as experiences’ afterwordness. Her disavowed dread returns in our dreams and our angst that anticipates her unforeseen presence, and in the apprehension of her absence. She is perpetually “almost here”. We attribute her to the objects of our attraction and repudiation; femme fatale, prostitute, or the childlike innocence of passivity. We want to conquer her, to place a signifier that will forestall her permeability.

Like the mother of primal time, our femininity is a virtual “thing” that unsettles the coordinates of our existence; the unintelligibility that returns as indeterminate horror zombie-like and Frankenstein. She is the uncanny between trauma and wish, the repetition and its silent object of desire. Our masculinity becomes a necrotizing response to her, albeit it too can be dressed as to mimic her; to appear as woman.  Yet, the certainty of gender contains a wish to eradicate her phantasmic hold that like the transference love, is grounded on impossibility.  In the transference our passions bump up against the strangeness of her care that lulls us into existence. The oracle of interpretation gestures towards the impossible, always returning with a question. The transference comes as an appendage that links us to the underside of knowledge. What will emerge as an unknown when the transference loses its passionate grip may be called ‘femininity’.


Dr. Oren Gozlan, C. Psych., ABPP is a registered clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Psychoanalysis with the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is the Chair of the Committee on Sexuality of the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education. He acts as Treasurer for the American Board of Professional Psychology, Psychoanalysis in Psychology section (commencing in January 2013). Dr. Gozlan also serves as Director of Clinical Training and Professor of Psychology & Psychoanalysis at the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto and is also in private practice. Dr. Gozlan has published articles in the Psychoanalytic Review, International Forum of Psychoanalysis, European Journal of Psychoanalysis, and in Other/Wise, the on-line journal of the International Forum of Psychoanalytic Education. He is on the editorial board of Rodopi Press and is currently working on a book on transsexuality.

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