Interview of Gisele Chaboudez by Marie Françoise Dubois-Sacrispeyre

Marie-Françoise Dubois-Sacrispeyre: Gisèle Chaboudez, you are a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst in Paris, vice-president of Espace analytique, editor in chief of Figures de la psychanalyse. You have notably published Que pouvons-nous savoir sur le sexe? (Hermann, 2017), Ce qui noue le corps au langage (Hermann, 2019), L'équation des rêves (Denoël, 2000; reissued in pocket érès 2019), Féminité singulière (érès, 2020).

You are continuing your reflection on this theme, with a new essay to be published in October, Féminismes et féminités, le tout et le pas tout. Can you tell us how you came to become interested in the feminine long before it became a prevalent issue?

Gisèle Chaboudez : The path of my work can be heard in the titles that you quote. I stated the Lacanian theory of the "sexual relation", and its absence in the speaking being. It questioned this common expression by pointing out that contrary to what it says, the sexual relation does not found a relation as such between two sexes. One observes well a relation between them which is registered in the speeches and the laws, but it is not first sexual, it is what one calls today a relation of domination, where one of the sexes is posed as the one who disposes of the other, which evolves massively at the present time. And feminist currents have understood, notably on the basis of psychoanalytical discourse, that the conceptual tool that organizes this grammar of discourse is the phallus. My work began by deciphering to the letter the deconstruction that Lacan carried out throughout his work of this concept of the phallus that patriarchal societies have constructed, defining it as the attribute of the mythical Father, both religious and societal. Supposed to be a mediator between the sexes, where the Man is said to have it and to have what is it, the female object (some even say: to give it to her), this phallus turns out to be rather an obstacle to the "sexual relation", to a relation of two sexes, observed Lacan because it founds a relation of the One and its object, not that of two.

Once this articulation had been deciphered, it remained to establish what could be enunciated of the feminine when it was admitted that it could not be summarized in the object of discourse. Lacan's radical study of this Oedipal logic, established as an entirely phallic logic, with its keystone of the Name of the Father, sheds light on the spring of this law universally applied to the masculine, as a fantasy, "a simple fiction", that each subject adopts or not, whatever his sex. It allows to enlighten besides a number of logics of the whole beyond that of the Man, as those of the neurosis or those of the totalitarianisms. While the feminine does not totally fit in, which does not mean not at all, because many women only lend themselves to it while elaborating, one by one, in supplement, the other part of their being. The new logic that Lacan has defined to account for it, has not yet completely passed into experience, even if its description is fifty years old. This singular logic, called not all, does not depend totally on sex either, it erodes the logic of all wherever it comes into play, including in the political field, and particularly in the elaboration of the sexual couple, managing in certain cases to overcome the obstacle that the universal phallus represents in order to found a relationship of two.

With Féminité singulière, two years ago, I first noticed how the feminine religious myths of the West consisted precisely in trying to make the woman enter totally into this phallic function of the discourse, with the corollary that they created women who could not exist, like Eve born of a man or Mary fertilizing without sexual intercourse. From there it became clearer that most real women do not belong to this phallic all. We do not see this logic of the not-all directly, we understand it better by passing through that of the all. This enlightening opposition is at work in psychoanalysis itself, where the logic of the not-all, which is closer to the real, erodes that of the all, which is essentially symbolic, and which tries to restore itself violently, notably by the fantasy, and so on.

MFDS : In your clinic, do you notice today new forms of questioning about sex and gender in connection with the social and cultural current events on these subjects? Psychoanalysis is often qualified as reactionary or at least conservative by feminist movements, young people who refuse to be assigned by their birth sex, new families... Yet you maintain that the analytical discourse, by continuing and developing the path opened by Freud and completed by Lacan in the last century, sheds light on today's feminist discourse, which, in return, fertilizes certain areas of the analytical logic. How do you explain these misunderstandings?

GC: The function of sexuation in the psyche does not consist, in our analytical conception, in identifying oneself with a man or a woman. When we commonly speak of identifying with a man or a woman, it is an imaginary identification, because these notions are not referenced in the unconscious. It is certainly based on the reality of the anatomical sexes, but language and its laws largely subvert them, by substituting a phallic logic like an oedipal initiation from which a psychoanalysis precisely helps to get rid of, as an anti-initiation to the phallus, said Lacan in last term.

Your question concerns the singular history of the psychoanalytical movement in its successive stages. It is impressive to note that this discipline, in sum revolutionary in its principle, has nevertheless included and deployed, in its discourses, some elements that supported the symbolic system that it deciphered and shook. It is true, for example, that staying with Freud's phallic logic could not suffice for a long time on the question of the feminine, since it was limited to spelling out the grammar of its alienation. And this led to contestations from the very beginning within psychoanalysis itself, laying the foundations for later feminisms. Beauvoir in France, in 1949, began the first great articulated critique of the Freudian theory of the feminine, while reserving her remarks about Lacan, who had barely begun his elaboration on this point at the time, and from whom she took up some concepts concerning the mirror stage. When, twenty years later, he went ahead his elaboration on the feminine, it was in a certain implicit dialogue with The Second Sex, sometimes criticizing it, but having taken up some of its objections, such as the rejection of the notion of penis-neid, which was in vogue in international psychoanalysis. This objection to the penis-neid in feminist discourse was elementary, since this notion amounted to considering that castration anxiety, central in the male psyche, was due to the fact that the woman does not have a penis, an organ that there was never any question of her having. To consider this fact as largely explanatory was indeed a matter of a  theoretical poverty, as Beauvoir remarked, and Lacan was to point out that it that we were being too much told about it and that it was a denial. The power of fakes in the reaction of the logics of the all is sometimes impressive, but we still don't know it enough.

Lacan, on the other hand, has taken up another biological fact, much more enlightening, to help account for castration anxiety. He took up the Freudian challenge to find out what the "biological rock of castration" consisted of, and he found it in the sexual relationship of man and woman. (Que peut-on savoir sur le sexe? Un rapport sans univers, in 2017, deciphered the whole of this thesis; it is coming out as What can we know about sex, A lacanian study about sex and gender, in October, in London and New York). His study of the sexual relation and its biological incidences, ciphered by the sexual laws in phallic terms, brings a lot to grasp the unconscious spring of these universal laws which have elaborated the relation of the sexes on this mode of the One who has the other. They consist in reducing for speaking beings the two of sex to the One and its object: 1 and “a” are substituted for 2. These decisive elements of the Lacanian elaboration are not yet really known, so much he has ciphered them and made them enigmatic, so that we can only interpret them. Added to the logic not all, difficult to use, these discoveries remain undeveloped at the present time.

If we take them into account, we correct the statement of your question. It is not "by pursuing and developing the path opened by Freud and completed by Lacan" that we sustain our approach in psychoanalysis, it is that many Lacanians, of which I am a part, would never have adopted psychoanalytic practice and thought if they had not seen, without yet fully measuring it, that Lacan was making a massive, reasoned correction, a major critique of some of the bases and extensions of Freudian thought, and in particular about the feminine. This is why it has been necessary for me to decipher his text for many years as one would do with a text of the unconscious, and to extract from it what, of the feminine in particular, is conceived of. I must say that what I have found there exceeded all that I could have imagined, in audacity, in accuracy, in power. And today, I am examining what these reorganizations shed light on a logical reading of feminist discourses, which is the subject of Féminismes et féminités, Le tout et le pas tout, which you will publish in October 2022.

When we measure in what way the still unknown elements of some of Lacan's contributions allow us, by extending them, to think the present in a satisfactory way, notably according to this logic not all, and according to the backlashes of the logics of the whole that it provokes well beyond the "male norm" that they animate, we can welcome the present discourses, whether on the feminine, on trans people, on the new families, on the evolution of the sex relations, according to an open and attentive reading of this evolution, by perceiving its possible excesses and by keeping away from a following like some discourses that consider that it would hold the future of the analytical thought. This must be judged concept by concept, case by case. In short, we are in charge of the unconscious, at a time when the dominant discourses reject it, which does not preserve us from possible aberrations, as we know, but gives us an additional responsibility to advance in the knowledge of what it consists of and of our possible incidence on it.

You are one of the psychoanalysts who have ensured the development of the association Espace analytique whose review we have been publishing since 2001 and which you direct. The next issue of Figures de la psychanalyse, coordinated by Marie Pesenti-Irmann, is also about "Feminine/Masculine". Can you remind us of the birth of this association and how it has developed over time? It has become one of the most open psychoanalytical places for the plurality of approaches. On what basis does it operate? Can this next issue be considered emblematic?

GC: I joined Espace analytique in 1995. I had worked alone for a few years, teaching at the university, after having participated in the ECF until 1989. Each step of this journey was a precious contribution to me and, when I arrived at Espace, which had just been founded by a group of psychoanalysts with Maud Mannoni, I had published Le concept du phallus dans ses articulations lacaniennes, a first overall deciphering of this deconstruction. I was welcomed there by Joël Dor, whose books I appreciated as an introduction to Lacan, which opened up a possible use of his concepts in experience, and who unfortunately disappeared very early. I was also welcomed by Maud Mannoni, whose hospitality was charming, and a first team of collaborators, some of whom are still my friends, and with whom we have built a review, an association, a spirit over the years. The principle of openness to several theoretical references was the basis of the association, advocated by M. and O. Mannoni, and shared by the others. It has the advantage of not relying on the One of thought and operation, and it obviously sometimes takes on the appearance of a lack of seriousness. But this principle of work pushes us to measure Lacan's contribution to that of the others, favoring the discovery of what remained latent in him, and it continues to bear fruit. If the audience of psychoanalysis is decreasing in the West at the moment, because of the massive criticism of which it is the object and its own difficulty in appropriating and prolonging the theoretical reworking that Lacan's contribution and social evolution require, the therapeutic expectation that it arouses remains stable, or even increases.