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Sigmund Freud


(1883–1962), ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’, which asserts that there is no difference between ‘genuine womanliness and the masquerade’ (Riviere 1986). Butler goes on to suggest that sex and gender identities are structured like masquerades; our identities are not given but acted out by us everyday. However, this is not to argue that we can put on and take off our gender or sexual identity the way we put on and take off our clothes. Butler’s idea of performativity refers to a performance which, in a sense, creates the subject (rather than a performance that is accomplished by a pre-existing subject). We come into being in the process of performing our sex and gender identities. (See Butler 1990 and Sarah Salih 2002, especially chapter 2, for a fuller exposition of Butler.) We might see how this schema resembles Lacan’s ideas about taking on identities within language. Rather than simply being users of language, we are always also used by language; in other words, we only ever establish our identities within and through language; it structures the ways in which we think of ourselves and everything else. And, as we know, in Lacan’s reading of Freud, language is based on the loss of an original sense of (fantasised) oneness with the world connected with infancy. Butler’s ideas are not identical to Lacan’s or Freud’s by any means. But she does pick up on this idea of loss. Using Freud’s ideas about loss from ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Butler goes on to argue that the formation of sex and gender identity may also be a question of loss. If, as Freud suggests, as infants we find ourselves both identifying with and desiring both sexes in the form of our parents, then at some point, in order to comply with the Oedipal law (or culture’s requirements, depending upon your perspective), we must all give up on one set of these identifications and desires. As a girl, in order to become heterosexual, you must relinquish loving your mother and identifying with your father so that you can direct your desire towards men and your identification toward women. (If you are homosexual it is the other way round.) Freud’s ideas about melancholia suggested that the melancholic identifies with the lost object in such a way as to be almost haunted by that object (see pp. 87–89). Gender Trouble, inasense, suggests that we are all haunted by our repudiated identifications and desires. Performing one version of identity (and having it perform us) also means living with the aftereffects of the sexual choices we relinquished – heterosexuality or homosexuality. Our performances are, in a sense, premised on what we have lost. (See Salih 2002:52–8 for a much fuller explication of this argument.) Critics of gender and sexuality such as Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950–) read Freud closely to analyse his own blind spots (such as his tendency to fall back on the assumption that the masculine or the heterosexual is the norm, from which all other tendencies deviate), but also to tease out the hidden assumptions and implications of psychoanalytic ideas. In her book Between Men Eve Sedgwick suggests, like Freud in the Oedipus complex, that desire may be triangulated, played out between three people rather than two. In many nineteenth-century novels we find a scenario which involves two men apparently fighting over the love of a woman. Sedgwick argues that if we pay close attention to the language of these works we often find that the erotic tension is played out more forcefully between the two men. The men are really more interested in each other than either of them is in the woman (even if that interest may look at times violent or hate-filled). (See Sedgwick 1985; Edwards 2008.) Feminist critics and queer theorists have creatively used Freudian logic to show the many ways in which desire, sexuality and the realm of unconscious life may help us analyse both our literature and our lives. Freud’s reading techniques, as refined and refracted through Lacan’s insistence upon the interrelatedness of language, sexed identity and desire, has come to rest in many different areas of critical theory. Even when Freud himself is seen as participating in a historically confined sexism in his psychic placement of women as men without penises, his ideas about the constructed nature

of gender identity and the multiple identifications with, and desires for, the multiple positions of the Oedipal situation have created waves in many areas of modern literary and cultural criticism. In academia, many of us will continue to look at the world through Freud-coloured glasses, arguing virulently against his more exasperating positions, when we are not employing, and acting out, his theories of reading.

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