Last Update:
09-Nov-2005 18:29

Lecture 4/11/2005:

(1) Poststructuralism - French Feminism
(2) Alice Read in the Perspective of the French Feminist Critique of the Lacanian Mirror Stage

[go to the discussion of Drawmer/dysmorphic bodies/AIW]

[go to our alternative interpretation of ATLG]

The HUMANIST model presupposed:
That there is a real world out there that we can understand with our rational minds
The SELF--also known as the "subject," since that's how we represent the idea of a self in language or the individual (or the mind or the free will) is the center of all meaning and truth

The STRUCTURALIST model claims:
that the structure of language itself produces "reality"--that we can think only through language
That language speaks us; that the source of meaning is not an individual's experience or being
Rather than seeing the individual as the center of meaning, structuralism places THE STRUCTURE at the center--it's the structure that originates or produces meaning, not the individual self. (cf. Klages, Mary)

Poststructural critics have called into question the very existence of the human "subject" or "self" posited by "humanism." The poststructural subject or self is seen to be incoherent, disunified, and in effect "decentered," so that depending upon the commentator a human being is described as or simply a "site" in which various cultural constructs and "discursive formations" created and sustained by the structures of power in a given social environment.

In POSTRUCTURALISM (major representatives Jacques DERRIDA: on deconstruction/ other: Foucault/ on power & discourse)

•  focus is still directed at systems or structures, rather than at individual concrete practices, and that all systems or structures have a CENTER, the point of origin created the system in the first place.

•  That all systems or structures are created of binary pairs or oppositions, of two terms

What is meant by Derrida's destabilisation of the structure of the logic of binary opposition with deconstructive techniques?Deconstruction is not synonymous with destruction: but means to undo.
What is undone?

The logic that binary opposition is the truth, where one is defined as presence the Other as absence, one as truth the other as non-truth. Western metaphysics is structured in terms of binary oppositions or dichotomies. Within this structure the opposed terms are not equally valued: one terms occupies the structurally dominant position and takes on the power of defining its opposite or other

The dominant and the subordinated terms are simply positive or negative - the dominant term defines the other by negation. (binary pairs: good/bad, being/non-being, presence/absence, mind/body, identity/difference, signifier/signified (the Other), man/not-man = woman

The first term is given priviledge of defining the other by all that it is not
In our discussion of Beauvoir we considered her application of Hegels master-slave dialectic in man's construction of woman as the Other. We said that woman as the Other is excluded and serves as a projection screen in being associated with everything that man denies to be (what he is not). Woman as the Other is a projection screen of man's fears and desires.

Derrida now goes a step further in his destabilisation of the binary logic when he stresses that the positive term gains its privilege only by disavowing its intimate dependence on its negative double. To recognise and acknowledge that identity of the universal subject depends on difference (rather than being totally independent ) disturbs the very structure of system (questions is independent legitimacy).

Another major achievement of Derrida which we associate with poststructuralism is that he destabilises the rational humanist subject as sustained by logocentrism, binary logic and a privileging of the masculine. A Universal Self is constituted within a power discourse that privileges reason, has its foundation in dualist hierarchical thinking and is quintessentially patriarchal.

Logocentrism is seen as implicitly patriarchal, the very structure of binary oppositions manifests itself in this structure: identity and difference, man and woman, body and mind could also be taken both as primary terms.

Deconstruction says that meaning does not reside in essence/truth but is infinitely produced by the interplay between the opposites: meaning is never fixed but always deferred and therefore multiple. To express this endless deferral of meaning Derrida coined the term DIFFERANCE (= to defer /postpone essence as true meaning; = to differ which maintains the interplay – not stasis, allows new voices to emerge otherwise repressed):

‘Against the metaphysics of presence, deconstruction brings a concept called différance . In simple terms, this means that rather than privileging commonality and simplicity and seeking unifying principles or concepts deconstruction emphasizes difference, complexity, and non-self-identity. A deconstructive reading of a text, or a deconstructive interpretation of philosophy (for deconstruction tends to elide any difference between the two), often seeks to demonstrate how a seemingly unitary idea or concept contains different or opposing meanings within itself. The elision of difference in philosophical concepts is even referred to in deconstruction as a kind of violence , the idea being that theory's willful misdescription or simplification of reality always does violence to the true richness and complexity of the world” (Klages, Mary)

He centrally focuses on terms which cover two opposed meanings and show that there are third terms which go beyond binary structures as is implied in the meaning of differance (= sameness and difference), supplement (lack and plenitude) pharmakon ( play between poison and cure), hymen ( The word hymen refers to the interplay between inside and outside. The hymen is the membrane of intersection where it becomes impossible to distinguish whether the membrane is on the inside or the outside. )

Deconstruction is a technique or reading strategy to undo dichotomy:
Derrida argues that the dichotomy must be reversed to show that the terms are not unalterable in their hierarchical relation – female could be privilege over male); and it must be shown that the second term is repressed – meaning that one has to show that it is displaced, not outside the structure but that it is positioned at the heart of the structure.
In patriarchal structures Woman is seen as deceiver, false in opposition to the rational male subject. At the same time woman is the truth but only to the extent that she is not the ultimate truth, a mediatrix to truth, thus a truth not to be trusted. (cf. Grosz)

Woman; Derrida concludes; represents and excess in the patriarchal order all it is not and at the same time a threat, a depository of all the values, concepts that are necessary for the universal subject to present itself as it does.

Source of references on methods of deconstruction:
Mary Klages : www.colorado /edu
Elisabeth Grosz . Sexual Subversions. Three French Feminists.



The work of Jacques Derrida on deconstruction and difference (repression and logocentrism) had an enormous impact on the FF poststructuralism, showing in its

  1. preoccupation with language and its relation to the body
  2. difference and feminine specificity.

Their aim is to rediscover and explore how femininity has been repressed and misrepresented by patriarchy by

a) embracing Derrida's notion that the metaphysical universal subject that has traditionally been thought as non-gendered is in fact gendered male.

b) by analysing and deconstructing patriarchal culture like a text
The idea of reading culture as text is poststructuralist – since here anything can be seen as discourse: a text, an image, a culture.

The groundbreaking argument feminist theory makes is that in this logocentric binary Western logic of the universal subject woman is needed so that her difference can be used as a category to set up the this idea of the subject, and to affirm man's superiority

In this sense woman is omnipresent in culture as a construct as Woman (what a woman is: body, nature, irrationality) but is at the same time absent as existent subject in her own right, with her own originality and authenticity.

The difference that is set up by the patriarchal logic (man-woman) is a difference constituted in opposition (positive-negative, mind-body) which leaves no room for a difference to be set outside the established system. Meaning, a difference that cannot be defined in relation to something that sets itself up as (universal, valid) standard – such as is the case in the analogy: reason-order-man

In feminist theory we find a fundamental rejection of the universality of the knowing subject and a critique of the complicity of masculinity and rationality.This critique lead to a renewed interest in the sex-specific nature of the subject and a notion that when speaking subjectivity one must begin with the idea of embodiment.


From left to right: (1) Helene Cixous, (2) Julia Kristeva, (3) Luce Irigaray


Where is the connection between Derrida & psychoanalysis and feminism - Why psychoanalysis and feminism?

The general aim in FF is to rethink what is understood by subjectivity, the formation of masculine and feminine identity at the level of the unconscious. The other aim is to destabilise the masculine identified construction of the rational subject.

Psychoanalysis rests on the basis of the patients story and its interpretation. Feminist psychoanalytical theory takes as its starting point the comparison of the psyche with a text and approaches patriarchal culture as a text/a psyche to be interpreted. Mental operations of psychoanalysis such as projection, repression, splitting, denial are identified in the text of Western culture at large: we can thus say that patriarchal culture represses a female subjectivity, which leads to an analysis of the unconscious fantasies of a culture (the cultural imaginary). (cf. Margaret Whitford)

a) they find deconstruction a useful the theory to analyse of repression in respect to culture

b) they find deconstruction useful to destabilise binary oppositions of male rational universal subject
as phallo-logo-centric

Kristeva's, Irigaray's, Cixous project is in different ways (we will focus especially on the differences in Irigaray's and Kristeva's projects) to demonstrate that Freud's and Lacan's conception of Oedipal structures condenses the fundamental structures of a patriarchal economy and patriarchal thinking. French feminist theory argues that Lacan's and Freud's model aptly describe the working of patriarchal cultural processes.

However they criticise that psychoanalysis in describing becomes pre-scriptive, because it refuses to recognise that it is historically determined like other disciplines and governed by a phallocentric bias which it elevates to universal value. Freud and Lacan both proclaim that they offer a objective knowledge, FF argues that while psychoanalysis claims to analyse the fantasies of others, its own discourse is goverened by and perpetuates dominant cultural phantasies. (cf. Whitford)

The pre-oedipal and oedipal, the imaginary and symbolic are conceptualised as separate, polarised realms associated with mother and father – the mother is necessary as lifegiver, nurturer, comforting place of origin but cannot participate as woman in social organisation as a speaking thinking spiritual subject who give meaning to the world, the self, the body, identity

French feminism develops its argument from Derrida who fundamentally criticises Lacan by arguing that despite his destabilisation his project is itself logocentric = his concept of the Phallus as transcendental signifier takes the position of Logos – from here derives the term phallologocentric.


The pre-oedipal and oedipal, the imaginary and symbolic are conceptualised as separate, polarised realms associated with mother and father – the mother is necessary as lifegiver, nurturer, comforting place of origin but cannot participate as woman in social organisation as a speaking thinking spiritual subject who give meaning to the world, the self, the body, identity

à feminism engages with psychoanalysis because it sees psychoanalysis as a useful tool to unveil a universal patriarchal theory of the psychic construction of gender identity based on repression (not merely on oppression)

Irigaray, Cixous, and Kristeva argue that patriarchal culture is founded on matricide – why?

They claim that all women have historically been associated with the role of "mother", whether or not a woman is a mother, to the extent that a woman's identity is always defined according to that role or she is objectified while men are identified with civilisation, rationality and culture.

The notion of matricide has to be read in context with Freud and Lacan who both associate the feminine and maternal with the imaginary, the fusional, the oceanic, wholeness, the un-individuated.

Two major consequences result from these associations:

(1) Women are EXCLUDED from the Symbolic Order

(2) Women are therefore also REPRESSED within the Symbolic Order


AD (1) Women are EXCLUDED from the Symbolic Order

because they never fully enter this order but are confined to the margins because they can never fully identify with the father – especially as psychic and bodily identification is concerned. In the phallic parameters the male body presented by the cultural IMAGO in the mirror stage confronts her with a totality which threatens rather than supports her sexual morphology.
They concentrate on Lacan's psychoanalytic paradigm, which argues that a child must separate from its mother's body in order to enter into the Symbolic. Because of this the female body/sexuality/desire (implies pleasure & life-drive !!) in general becomes unrepresentable in language

“In Freud's story of the female Oedipus complex, girls have to make a lot of switches, from clitoris to vagina, from attraction to female bodies to attraction to male bodies, and from active sexuality to passive sexuality, in order to become "normal" adults,
"Adulthood," in Lacan's terms, is the same as entering into the Symbolic and taking up a subject position. Becoming a linguistic, is not about female sexuality per se, but about male sexuality” (Klages Mary on Cixous)

Especially in regard to Lacan's mirror stage she claims, that he uses a flat mirror: flat means that she not reflected as an other, but as man's other - as his negative mirror image, an ‘inverted other' of the masculine subject (as an alter ego), which affirms his sense of fullness, independence, self-representation. And if she only appears in the negative as an object - she in fact not appears at all but remains invisible - she literally is the mirror/ a projection screen the support for representation. Massive problems result here for the female child, since the image that the father represents, that would allow her the entry into the social, confronts her with a totality to which that threatens rather than supports her. SHE Cannot enter the symbolic or at least remains ever alienated in it: while the images and representation of woman are only defined in the object case, the language is not hers. This compels her to a condition of mimesis or masquerade within pre-fabricated roles and a language that is not hers. For Irigaray women are both capitves of the symbolic order and excluded from the imaginary. This point is crucial since the imaginary informs the symbolic, that is to say the imaginary provides the preconditions of the social and sexual identity which the subject acquires in the symbolic re-organisation of the imaginary mother-child dyad.

Note that in Lacanian theory woman has no identificatory figure in the symbolic as a cultural. The female/feminine is only conceptualised as a mother and here she is only associated with the imaginary NARCISSISTIC realm where she is One with the child whose wholeness she merely confirms.

From here the feminist poststructuralist argument develops that cultural entry does not only entail a repression of desires and fears associated with the feminine, but a cultural repression of the feminine as such . Woman is constructed/represented/imagined by patriarchal discourse in a way that she cannot gain a voice. She is denied to make her own sign/representation

FF claims that the male subject itself is an essentially narcissist conception – which fundamentally attacks the conception of the imaginary maternal realm as locus of narcissism.

A good example for the narcissistic concept of the male subject is Luce Irigaray's theory that woman incarnates in the symbolic only as MAN'S NEGATIVE MIRROR IMAGE:
Irigaray claims that both Lacan's and Freud's models lack are blind-spotted in their symmetry (Speculum), because they both concentrate only on one subject which is connoted in the masculine, while the female position is defined as absence .

She claims that the neutral subject of Western cultural discourse is actually a desexualised guise for a masculine sexed being. Patriarchal Western culture and discourse are monosexual because difference is repressed - namely woman's difference: her subjectivity, her body . Woman is appropriated in this neuter where she appears as man's negative mirror image and is in this representation naturalised. For Irigaray the crux of oppression lies not so much in the very constructedness of woman, but in the fact that this construct is interpreted as woman's real condition and naturally given position.

She is not the other, but the other of the same. Irigaray turns B's thesis on its head: she also says that man sets himself up as the universal subject, but she claims that man does NOT perceive woman as ‘the sex' but as a not as a separate sex at all, because her sexuality is only described in male parameters. Woman is not opposed to man, not his lesser version, but not perceived at all as an other sex – but just as a version of his sex.

It is not masculine-feminine, but masculine-castrated.

( so like in the Narcissus myth man is love with his own reflection while the woman, just like Echo in the myth is only heard and understood in ways that mime and repeat his own words – thus her own voice is not heard at all, neither is she seen: she is repressed in his presence – there only as absence)

Irigaray uses the term sexual morphology to refer to the ways in which the body of each sex is lived by the subject and represented in culture – so to the socio-symbolic inscription of the body. Considering Irigaray's theory of a monosexual culture and discourse, she sees a parallelism or an ISOMORPHISM between patriarchal power-relations and the structure of dominant discourses and the socially produced male body There is a logical correlation established between the male sexed body, male sexuality and patriarchal language. Irigaray argues that the logic of phallocentrism centres on discursive concepts of a primacy of unity, form of the self, the visible which actually mirror a specific male sexuality that is declared this as universal/neuter. In this isomorphic morpho-logic only bodies are tolerated that share the same shape – meaning other bodies, explicitly now the female body, are conceived as inversion of the male body – as a castrated body is declared as not representable – because the invisible, ambiguous lacks definite form. Women's oppression manifests itself for Irigaray in woman's indoctrination and internalisation of these social meanings and values attached to their bodies.


Women are therefore also REPRESSED within the Symbolic Order , because the cultural law of the father cannot be fully internalised and is thus imposed onto women which leaves them forever alienated in this order. Why?

In the Symbolic they have to come up to an idea of femininity that is only conceptualised in masculine terms (Irigaray calls this enforced MASQUERADE) – according to imaginary conceptions of the mother: silent, passive, object of desire (roles in the object case).

Women are repressed because never conceived as autonomous, desiring and speaking subject. Women are culturally repressed because they exists in this cultural system only as desired mother-object or as not-all, as absence, a void (linguistic & social castration – no longer the Freudian biologically essentialist definition which was vulnerable to critique) . Women are culturally repressed because the dualist logic of the patriarchal symbolic needs woman as the other, since her total negation would rob man of his projection screen. Woman is thus at once present in and absent from culture, ‘because her subjectivity is missing from the sign (“Woman”) into which she is translated and as which she omnipresent in culture' (Bronfen Elisabeth). Woman belongs neither to one place nor to the other: she is “alive” as dead construct-object and “dead” as living woman-subject, oscillating in a liminality of being and not being , she quintessentially exists in an “in-between”. Irigaray and Beauvoir both assert that woman is not a dead projection screen , but a ‘living mirror' , a ‘conscious being' denied access to cultural being and thus conscious ‘...of that division, that doubled vision'(De Lauretis Teresa).

Without representation she cannot emerge as speaking subject which is also intricately connected to the fact that she is denied to represent in language her body other than as man's negative. In this representation she is controlled:

What does representation mean?

Cultural representation has nothing to do with an artistic act, but refers to the ways a culture conceptualises notions of identity, world view, existence, the mind, the body. The crucial point is to understand culture on the level of language.

As regards our gender perspective this poststructuralist notion can also be applied to the gender-relation in the sense that the way we understand or give meaning to masculinity and femininity or the female and male body: is culturally produced – but this does not imply that this is the truth.

In patriarchal culture where man is privileged the meaning of woman is defined in opposition to man with the claim that this is natural order. Meaning her body and woman is represented in culture in terms created by men, while she is denied to produce her own representations.

“Women are trapped in a system of meaning which serves the auto-affection of the (masculine) subject' (122f). Here, ‘the woman neither is able to give herself some meaning by speech nor means to be able to speak in such a way that she is assigned to some concept' (SP 229). ‘Access to a signifying economy, to the coining of signifiers, is difficult or even impossible for her because she remains an outsider, subject to their norms' (71). So ‘woman does not have access to language except through recourse to ‘masculine' systems of representation which disappropriate her from her relation to herself and to other women' (SX 85).

Irigaray invokes a range of diverse pressures that have led to this impasse. As ‘historic causes', she cites ‘property systems, philosophical, mythological, or religious systems', plus ‘the theory and practice of psychoanalysis' -- all these ‘prescribe and define that destiny laid down for woman's sexuality' (SP 129). Because ‘women, signs, commodities, and currency' are all used in ‘transactions among men and men alone', ‘homosexuality' might seem to be ‘the organizing principle of social order' (SX 192). Many of her arguments and her favored images and metaphors, such as the mirror and its ‘specularity', call to mind the quest for sameness and its narcissistic self-preoccupation. The ‘syntax of discourse, of discursive logic -- more generally too, the syntax of social organization, political syntax -- is ‘always a means of masculine self-affection', ‘self-production', and ‘self-representation -- himself as the self-same, as the only standard of sameness' (SX 132). ‘Through the reign of phallus and its logic of meaning and its system of representations', ‘woman's sex is cut off from itself and woman is deprived of her ‘self-affection"‘ (SX 133). Already in childhood, ‘the girl' must inscribe.”

(Quotations for Irigaray Speculum as cited by Robert de Beaugrande “The Difficult Case of Luce Irigaray)

In Irigaray ‘s view women lack a mirror for becoming women. Her claim is that they would need a concave mirror - a speculum - that reflects their specificity and disturbs exclusive male parameters. Of course, Irigaray does address here the female sexual organs which Freud only described in terms of absence and as “hole”, as castrated. She has been accused form the feminist side of crude biologism but her argument is indeed more complex than that. Firstly she defines the body in terms of anatomy but of morphology as I argued which refers to how the body of each sex is lived by the subject and how it is represented in culture - woman in that sense is only defined as a castrated body (which is absurd in itself since she never had a penis).

Speculum, ir. emphasises over again, signifies a mirror to the world - the though of reality through a discourse. The monosexual perspective sees only one dimension (subject -object) the concave mirror would open the perspective for two subjects.

The substituting of the curved for the flat mirror challenges psychoanalysis's attempt to deny woman "all valid, valuable images of her sex, her organs, her body" (Speculum 55), condemning her to psychosis or hysteria for lack "of a valid signifier for her desire and for her sex" (Speculum 55).
Irigaray suggests that the acceptance of woman as subject would change the symbolic order so fundamentally that men would occupy wholly new positions too, so both would be freed from the phallocentric order

The differance context of sexual difference :
Sexual difference cannot be assimilated to either side of the sex/gender dichotomy. It cannot be assimilated to sex because this is understood in strictly biological terms. It cannot be assimilated to gender, because this is understood in strictly cultural terms. Sexual difference is neither sex nor gender, neither nature nor culture – it undoes the dualism between the body and the psyche/mind which are not regarded as opposed

We will return later to the FF revaluation of the body & its exploration of language and gender. For now let us investigate the destructive impact of the split of daughter from the mother in the transitional phase of the mirror stage and her lack of an identificatory figure in the symbolic. (according to Irigaray primarily)

--- I provide here a more elaborate explanation of the 2 major consequence for those interested in details (we will return to some issues in the course)

- here is a link to class which dealt with that issue last Wintersemester (for those who want to have a look/ this semester we will however engage with other perspective)

Consequence (1) MELANCHOLIA

Irigaray argues that the girl's or woman's sexuality is "a very black one" in patriarchal structures, since it is characterised by by symptoms which ressemble those which Freud associates with melancholia.
How does she arrive at this conclusion?
On the premise that just as the melancholic (in Freudian theory) cannot mourn the loss (of a lost loved one) since it is withdrawn from consciousness, the daughter cannot recuperate the loss of the mother via the work of mourning (i.e. she cannot separate from the mother or and enter into a new inter-subjective relation with her), since she fundamentally lacks a representation of what she has lost (in her) insofar as her ‘only relation to origin is one dictated by man's' (Speculum, 33). The patriarchal structuring of female relations in terms of fusion and substitution make an articulation of ‘original desire and desire for origin' (SP, 68) on the daughter's side impossible or intrinsically thwarted, since the invisibility and erasure of the mother's specificity deprives the daughter of the possibility to grasp the loss consciously. Loss of origin means that her history is erased through these processes which have far-reaching consequences of psychosexual developmental phases.

In the Demeter/Kore myth the daughter loses her-self due to exclusive masculine heteronomy being expropriated of her identity and veiled with another. Mother and daughter can neither find nor hear each other; they are literally caught up in different worlds.

Just as Freud's definition of melancholic identification with the lost and abandoned love-object entails ego-loss, the daughter's identification with the mother (within the oedipal symbolic) is bound to result in a general fall in self-esteem and impoverishment of the ego. The girl's ego-development is shattered into ego-loss because she not only loses in the mother, her ‘first object of love', but in addition finds her as ‘privileged identificatory reference point for her ego' (Speculum, 66) both lost and devalued.

The daughter's consequent orientation towards the father out of disappointment in the mother is doomed to another frustration, since identification with the paternal ideal fosters a sense of inadequacy in her, while the father's patriarchal definition of her is objectifying. Identificatory love thwarted as in the daughter's case, leads to a double feeling of repulsion of her want ‘for recognition of her will, of her desire, of her act' (BL,101) and as a result to an enormous wounding of her narcissism. This all happens ‘quite unconsciously, of course' (SP, 88), Irigaray stresses.

Lacking alternative affirmative relationships the daughter feels doubly abandoned and turns ‘her aspirations for independence and anger at non-recognition' ‘inward'For Irigaray, the daughter's outward painful paralysis veils an unconscious ambivalence of love and hate towards the mother, which arises due to woman's phallic inscription. In other words, the “outer” split from the mother in purely masculine terms (loss and devaluation) produces an unconscious “inner” split in the daughter's self .That between a female identified ego-loss, and a paternally identified super-ego which operates in this case self-destructively: the super-ego's demands to surrender to her “feminine destiny”, i.e. renounce herself as desiring subject.

Outwardly and consciously the daughter display a condition that is characterised by repudiation of her self, her mother, and her sex; painful depression and negative self-evaluation that concerns itself with ‘bodily infirmity, ugliness, or weakness, or with social inferiority'; and inhibition in the form of a surrender to passivity out of a suffocating ‘fear' of ‘becoming poor' (MM, 248).All these symptoms point to the (unconscious) dominance of a paternal super-ego as the moral instance which consistently weakens and empties woman's ego. This psychic pattern is generally responsible for woman's problematic individuation as an adult, and in particular makes up the overpowering core structure in the psychodynamics of guilt - self-repression - self-refusal (in hysteria and depression).

Once again, the daughter's loneliness, sadness, internal exile has also to be associated with an intense yearning that is characteristic of ‘thwarted identificatory love'. Irigaray suggests that the sadness, sicknesses, the somatisations are also reminders of the repressed remnants of woman's libidinal economy and signs of an awareness of an active but (almost) unutterable subjectivity.

Consequence (2)

Irigaray's notion of DERELICTION and the way she applies this term to describe the traumatic split of the mother and daughter in patriarchal structures (which has causes woman's fall into cultural repression and her entrapment in a melancholic, self-negating sexual identity.

Dereliction describes a state that paradoxically implies both a condition of ABANDONMENT AND FUSION

For Irigaray the daughter remains in a permanent state of dereliction once she enters the symbolic.
Dereliction in terms of abandonment means that patriarchal culture rests on the demand that the daughter must not remember the mother in a positive, affirmative way (you can see this in the ex-scription of the maternal name etc.).

How is this effected?
In the patriarchal conception of the individuation process, the mother is associated with the imaginary unity from which we have to separate – yet there exists no balancing symbolic conception of the mother as self-referential subject who expresses her own desires and is socially integrated in her own terms. This conception inevitably obstructs the daughter's individuation, because she can never wholly differentiate from the mother as an individual – she indefinitely remains between sameness and difference. Why?
The daughter is confronted with the paradoxical situation that she has to separate from the mother to individuate, but that the mother is at the same time female identificatory figure, yet one who appears only in terms of nurture and lack (Antigone cross space). For this reason the daughter cannot engage in a dialogue with her, learn from the mother, because there is no cultural discursive space where they could meet in an individual subject-to-subject relation.

The mother is restricted to the role of the nurturer who gives food and nurses (one effect of the social organisation is that if a woman asserts her autonomy she feels automatically guilty – especially if she is a mother)

This brings us to the thesis that dereliction/abandonment at the same time means fusion
Since their communicative exchange is interrupted, mother and daughter confuse their identities, because their relation remains undifferentiated: meaning the daughter sees herself as the mother's double – she can only assume a place in the symbolic by replacing the mother. This condition forces women into a perpetual condition of rivalry over the one symbolic place. On another level the fusional/undifferentiated condition blocks a female history, since women are captured in a perpetual presence, confuse their own story with the mother's.


back to Intro Course


Drawmer analyses Alice in a Lacanian feminist perspective and helps us to see gain an understanding of the rather abstract notions of sexual morphology and representation of the body/sexuality/subjectivity in language. Drawmer explicitly focuses on AIW where the constant change of Alice's shape is a central theme

Drawmer attends to the obvious theme of Alice's quest for identity and the impossibility of getting a satisfactory answer to that question: She relates this to the Lacanian mirror stage and the idea that the idea of the self is fiction:

"In Lacanian terms there is no point of origin in a ‘real' unitary self; it begins in a fantasy or mirage. Self is simply a continuous deferral of identity enacted by the displacement of desire from one social ideal to another. The Cartesian ‘I think therefore I am' has been replaced by Lacan with the notion ‘I think I am where I am not' (My italics)This concept of subjectivity defined by the dysmorphic body and the fractured ‘consciousness' of the self effectively describes the narrative of Alice in Wonderland."

However Drawmer draws attention to the specific difficulties the female subject is faced with when incarnating in a social-symbolic sphere where the feminine is defined only in alienating definitions to which the girl has to come up to in order to become a woman (remember B's myths of femininity)
She concentrates on the centrality of food and drink in AIW arguing in reference to Lacan t hat food and drinks serve as instant gratification and the filling of the void or lack created by the mother/child physical and mental separation enacted through Lacan's mirror stage.

She emphasises the peculiar condition a girl is faced with in the symbolic "since for females, food and physical size become part of the discourses regulating female life, and more importantly defining what it means to be (successfully) female, where according to feminist theorists patriarchy dictates an ‘ideal' size and space for the female form to occupy. In other words, females are confronted by patriarchal prescriptions of body imagery (representation), with the imagery evoked by Carroll".

"Alice's change of size encodes her female identity as subject to external, patriarchal forces which dominate her very existence and problematise her self-perception. Alice must suppress or re-order her physical shape and size (to comply to the model of femininity), or remain marginal, or worse still, excluded from entry into the social order and achieving recognisable status as a ‘woman'. "

But let us return to Drawmer's discussion of the Lacanian mirror stage in context with woman's enforced submission to alienating shapes of her body and thus her self-perception & subjectivity (sense of self):

Drawmer argues that "the drive towards unattainable perfection women have to accept facilitates a split between mind and body. As Lacan develops in his seminar notes on ‘The Mirror Stage', the key moment of recognition in the mirror in the infant: Manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of the spatial identity, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body image to a form of its totality (1288) The mirror image, then, precipitates a split subjectivity, in which we both (mis)recognise the inverted/reflected organic unity to be ‘ourselves', but which comes at the price of the separation from the maternal body and the loss plenitude.
For women the mirror stage implies an additional difficulty since the symbolic is reigned by the law of the father (thus by representations only definined in and by the masculine: Lacan uses the term meconnaisance. The French means both ‘failure to recognise' and ‘misconstruction' For Alice, like many women with body dysmorphia, the moment of meconnaisance and its concomitant feelings of lack, fragmentation and abandonment are re-enacted through specularisation – reflected bodies, and produces this very ‘failure to recognise' or to ‘misconstruct' their body shape and size. This can be seen in both cultural terms, with the bombardment of idealised body shape images also in terms …. social spaces in which the structures around us literally reflect back to us the way in which we view ourselves. In the case of woman she experiences herself as monstrous if she does not come up to standards set up for femininity".








Elaborating Drawmer's argument, we will discuss Alice's story of TLG in the perspective of French Feminist Theory (especially Irigaray with reference to concepts established above) as the girl's encounter with symbolic phallocentric representation of identity and the body only in masculine, isomorphic terms.

Alice tries to escape the "artificial/masqueraded" identity she has to come up to in her Victorian reality (by escaping into a dream world). Still this mirror world is a farcical repetition or copy of the Victorian world where Alice is again subjected to forces beyond her control: thus to read TLG exclusively as a story of escape from socialisation is ultimately not really satisfying. Nevertheless, Alice tries to gain control of her development and tries to find an affirmative feminine identification denied to her in her in patriarchal Victorian society in her engagement with the queens and her articulated desire to become queen.

Negative aspect: that "becoming queen" might imply coming up to just another silenced ideal and might imply a process of substitution (the young woman replaces the old)

Positive aspect: that "becoming queen" might imply a rediscovery of repressed female interaction (because by dreaming she enters a realm of the unconscious/imaginary actually defined by patriarchal standards as irrational and a realm non-productive of meaning).


I would suggest that we can read Alice's transition through the looking glass as the girl's exploration and engagement with the inner mechanisms of the patriarchal system in which she otherwise merely becomes an ignorant woman trapped in its structures. The act of stepping through the looking glass, can thus be seen as an intellectual desirous process (note parallels to Eve in the Genesis: the desire to know) to confront and thus eventually break through the deindividualised silenced identity alloted to her.

Only by deciphering its inner workings, dynamics, rules of the patriarchal system, she can undermine it (FF: just as woman in the repressed and marginalized position can destabilse the patriarchal system, and the male subject - more to this later in the course!)

Thus the tale interestingly implies two interlinked dynamics of female development:
the girl's confrontation with the fact that a woman is deprived of identification and subject status in the Symbolic & has to come up to concepts of femininity which silence her and set her at odds with other women; but also illustrates that despite this oppression and repression a desire to affirm the self.



Let us start with the problem that Alice does not see herself in the mirror when she walks through the looking glass:

We can compare her transition through the looking glass with the girl child's crisis in the mirror stage where transition into the symbolic not only means a split from the mother, but a LOSS OF AND SPLIT FROM the identificatory of the same sex (in the symbolic the mother is only represented as mother and not as sexual individual subject in her own right).

What are the consequences according to FF (esp. Iriagray's) theory?
the melancholic sexual identity and a rivalrous fusional relation to the mother.
Both symptoms we find illustrated in Alice
[a] Throughout her adventures, Alice feels an inescapable sense of LONELINESS AND SADNESS from which she can find no relief. Before she enters Looking-Glass World, her only companions are her cats, to whom she attributes human qualities to keep her company. Once she enters Looking-Glass World, she seeks compassion and understanding from the individuals that she meets, but she is frequently disappointed. The flowers treat her rudely, the red queen is brusque, and the
fawn flees from her once it realizes that she is a human.

How shall we account for this loneliness and the search for interaction?

a) Woman's isolation is thus fundamentally an enforced one: incorporated in the other and denied subjectivity she is thrown, as Irigaray shows, apart from her primal dereliction into an additional cultural dereliction. Cultural dereliction implies that woman, for her part, is subjected to a destiny of exploitation, sacrifice, and exclusion. On the one hand, she is compelled to nourish the other's life and social order while being denied an access to the spiritual/the mind and to expressing a ‘consciousness of self and for self' (E, 126), a creative energy of her own. On the other hand, she is repudiated while shielding the other by sublimating his negativity and fears. As Irigaray puts it, while man usurps her as home, woman is left homeless in the symbolic order.

b) MELANCHOLIA (return to theoretical passage above)

Also Alice's when she at mercy of the forces beyond her control (as if withdrawn from her consciousness), particularly when she totally fails to remember her name (she has literally forgotten her identity = ego-loss).
However, as we noticed already, Alice is determined to find out who she is – she want to give herself a name, find a "her-story".
We can related this desire to Irigaray's argument that despite the paralysis in a melancholic sexual identitiy the daughter's desire is active but lacking a frame of reference that would support its unfolding.
Alice tries to find such a frame of reference again and again in the beginning:
!!! (from beginning to fawn scene)

--- Let us return at this point to the frame narrative of ATLG. How can we interpret this frame in the perspective of FF comment on the mirror stage?

In the beginning, Alice rests at home in an armchair, talking drowsily to herself as her black kitten, Kitty, plays with a ball of string at her feet. Alice scolds the kitten for unraveling the ball of string that she had been winding up. She goes on to scold Kitty's mother, Dinah, who is busy bathing the white kitten Snowdrop. Alice begins an imaginative conversation with Kitty, pretending that her pet talks back, and asks her to pretend that she is the Red Queen in a chess game. Alice attempts to arrange Kitty's forelegs to better resemble the chess piece. When Kitty does not comply, Alice holds her up to the mirror above the mantle and threatens to put Kitty into the world on the other side of the mirror, which she calls “Looking-Glass House.” Alice thinks about what Looking-Glass House must be like, wondering aloud to Kitty if there might be a way to break through to the other side of the mirror . All of a sudden, Alice finds herself on the mantle, staring into the mirror. She magically steps through the mirror into Looking-Glass House.

Right from the beginning Alice is involved in a mother-daughter situation: many commented that she takes an active position in mothering the cats.
However, the situation also prefigures Alice's involvement in a reverse situation:
a) In the frame-narrative : cat mother and 2 daughter kittens;
b) In dream: 2 mothers and one daughter Lily merging with Alice

The frame narrative thus serves an illuistration that girl-child is immediately confronted with polarised structures when entering patriarchy: represented by black and white kittens (angel and monster iconography) which transform into black and white mothers (RQ and WQ)

Alice especially engages with the black kitten which once again can be seen as link to her black melancholic identity inscribed in lack in the symbolic.
She also asks the kitten to play pretend.
Playing pretend is a condition Irigaray very much sees women subjected to in the symbolic - she associates this with the notion of MIMICRY & Masquerade:
Irigaray writes that if woman finds herself stripped of her specificity and ‘...cannot make use of the envelop that she is [she] must create artificial ones' (E, 11) to protect herself ( Irigaray refers her to clothes, make-up, jewels also but to other forms of veiling e.g. social prestige (E, 11) Problematically, the artificial envelop never provides a place from which something positive can be elaborated since it lacks a self-relating dimension. Irigaray sees in what is known as traditional female narcissism woman's attempt to create envelops for herself by veiling and wrapping herself up in the masquerade of the most immediately available pre-fabricated envelop of femininity, which provides the only possibility for woman to “appear” (TS, 134) in culture at all. Such patriarchal ‘value-wrapping[s]' (ML, 113) only contribute to self-alienation, since a negative self love [amour propre] that leads to a dependence on the judgement of others is generated instead of a positive self love [amour de soi] that entails self-esteem and -respect (Whitford, fn.23, 215). The former kind fosters in “female narcissism” the final conversion of woman's active desire to a passive pleasure in being desired by the “owner” of autonomy, the man/father, to gain a self.

Compare: Alice also creates the looking glass world because she craves to be in control of her surroundings ( which a girl is not in patriarchal symbolic structures regulated by the law of the father where she only emerges as passive, negative, without a self)


Note that in our association of Alice's stepping through the mirror with the girl's entry into the patirarchal symbolic (law of the father), Alice not only looks around and finds that the room she is standing in resembles the mirror image of the room in her own house: the mantle clock has the face of a grinning little man
We can analogise this with the FF argument that in the Symbolic the law of the father reigns which shapes woman's entry in restrictive and limiting ways (as we shall see where she is appropriated as place, which is dominated by his time).

The restriction also shows in Alice's relation to the 2 mother-figures whom she encounters:
- note that Alice actually identifies with the daughter Lily right from the beginning

Out of the fireplace charges the White Queen , who knocks over the White King in her haste, rushing to grab her child. Alice helpfully lifts the White Queen onto the table, and the White Queen gasps in surprise as Alice grabs the Queen's child Lily

The robbing of the daughter by a male-patriarchal force (archtypally illustrated in the myth of Kore & Persephone) is analogised in Irigaray's theory with radical interruption of the bond by the law of the father.
Torn out of closeness to the mother, the split from the mother in the mirror phase has a distinctively different emotional and physical impact on the daughter than on the son, since in her case the separation entails not only a cutting of ties but a total breakdown of contact to an identificatory figure of the same sex in affirmative terms. the prohibition of a desire and love for a female or of ‘identificatory love' between women as the core obstacle, since finding recognition through identification with a self-same provides the psychological foundation for a love of self, which is the ‘matrix of crucial psychic structures' in ego-development.

Indeed, however, Alice's act of grasping the child Lily is also an act of active identification (see below)

Other signs of the domination of the law the father:
time: as grinning man
representation (symbolic/linguistic): the White King he pulls out a pencil and begins jotting his experience down, but Alice snatches the pencil from him and writes something down in his book
comp: FF claiming that once entering the symbolic woman's identity is inscribed in phallocentric terms –as man's object and negative mirror image.

Many of you noted that male characters appear as rulers.
White King writes; Red King dreams; Red Knight demands that she should check her interrogation; White Knight steers her path to become a Queen

Alice's picking up of the White King establishes the idea of the chessboard as a plane of existence upon which individuals are positioned like chess pieces and moved around according to predetermined rules.
Inside the house, Alice's invisibility allows her to be an unseen hand, but the image of the chessboard gains its full significance in the next chapter when she joins the chess game outside. Alice becomes a chess piece herself, manipulated by an unseen hand (authorial hand).

The house somehow still emerges as a liminal space, bearing -as house - a maternal symbolism which is however already determined by signs of patriarchal inscription (clock, pen). Alice's leaving of the house could be analogised with the girls full initiation into the symbolic where woman becomes an object – a chess piece, a pawn.

Note also Alice is INVISIBLE is at first which could be interpreted that she maintains a godlike power over the chessmen of Looking-Glass World, which stems from the fact that the whole universe exists as part of her imagination. Still we could also see it as illustrating woman's invisibility in her own terms in the phallocentric symbolic, where her identity is defined only according to male parameters.

Alice's identification with Lily is affirmed by the fact The Red Queen tells Alice that she may stand in for the Tiger-lily as a White Pawn. Tiger-Lily implies a shift from the passive to the active position (or rather a desire for emancipation; in the sense that she transforms the passively robbed Lilly into a Tiger-Lily into an active player)
Interestingly Alice's joining the game both suggests an assumption of an active position (she plays) and reduction to a passive position (she is pawn with no great mobility) or: she starts to play the game even though she is a restricted position.
Note however that Alice soon afterwards finds herself riding inside a carriage, and she explains to the Guard that she doesn't have a ticket. She hears various voices in the carriage badgering her, as the Guard examines her with a telescope, a microscope, and opera glasses. The other passengers in the carriage begin to discuss Alice.
In the perspective of FF theory we could say: If Alice's determination to join the game represents woman's desire to participate in the cultural social organisation, then the fact that Alice has no ticket vividly illustrates that even the desire to participate is rigidly undercut by patrarchal imperatives which only tolerate silenced femininity.
A femininity that is subjected to and specularised according to male parameters – vividly illustrated in the Guard's examination of her with optical instruments – his mirrors (see: Irigraray negative mirror image)


Ad. Flowers:
Significantly Alice asks the flowers whether they feel vulnerable which we can again see as analogy to woman's experience of vulnerability within patriarchal cultural definition.
Note also that the Tiger-lily (as self-identificatory figure or rather reflector of a possible affirmative identity) is the only flower not reprimanding her.
The flowers share a lot of chararcteristics with the oppositional mother-figures.

RQ & WQ we said remind of the angel- monster dichotomy -
we also considered a new term: that they might be approached as representing together the phantasma of the OMNIPOTENT MOTHER
Such a phantasma results out of the repression of the maternal in the imaginary (an image of the maternal as unindividuated wholly put in the service of the child). this has the effect that the mother CULTURALLY appears as a figure of fear (fear of absorption) and figure of desire (to return).
Women's struggle with that cultural phanatsy shows in ideas of the mother who gives too much, and the mother who gives too little (both hamper individuation processes).

At the same time the RQ and the WQ are also challenging figures: e.g.
-- The Red Queen takes Alice to the hill, where she notices that the surrounding countryside resembles a giant chessboard. Alice spots a game of chess happening on the chessboard and expresses her desire to join the game. The Red Queen tells Alice that she may stand in for the Tiger-lily as a White Pawn. Alice becomes a pawn in the game of chess and discovers that Looking-Glass World closely follows the strict rules of chess. Alice can only move forward one “square” at a time, despite the fact that she seems to wield a degree of imaginative control over Looking-Glass World. The two begin a brisk run but remain in the same place. Once finished with their run, the Red Queen explains the chess game to Alice. Alice starts at the second square and must travel through the other squares. A different character owns each square, and once Alice reaches the eighth square she will become a queen herself. With a few final words of advice, the Red Queen bids Alice goodbye and disappears. Though Alice's position as pawn is a restricted one, the advice of the queen can also be seen as an inner determination to decipher instead of complying to the patriarchal rules ultimately to emancipate from the oppressive system.

--- An untidy, disorderly mess of a woman. The White Queen explains the properties of Looking-Glass World, including the reversal of time and the need to believe in the impossible. She does so in an episode where she first priocks her finger: again the scene has a double connotation of indicating vulnerability and the encouragement to take up a challenge despite frustration and against all odds (... woman's is faced with in phallocentric structures by being defined as the not-all)
Note that this advice is given to here in a chapter that is located in-between the stories of T&T and HD - both incarnating an arrogant universalism which characterises the universal male subject. (see below)
In this chapter we also find the figure of the sheep knitting: which in fact is again a positive, subversive sign (the weaving of a new affirmative story - related to the becoming queen plot) -- WE WILL RETURN TO THIS FIGURE WHEN TALIKING OF THE WEB

Transition to T&T and HD is the encounter with two other significant figures interrogating language and constitution of
--- Alice and the Gnat discuss in detail how one's name should relate to one's identity or physical characteristics. As they discuss the names of different insects in their respective worlds, the Gnat asks Alice about the purpose of names if the insects do not respond to the names when called by them. Alice explains that names help those with powers of language to label, classify, and organize what they experience
In the context of FF theory we can say that she learns that the system in power organises her experience by labelling her as feminine and non-individuated, as negative mirror image which silences her despite protest (since would need a female subjective position

--- the encounter with the Fawn in the wood of forgotten names is somehow a logical consequence
Alice's interactions with the Fawn are initially friendly, but it bolts upon learning that it is a Fawn and she is a human child. Alice discovers that names do not simply label, but convey information about how something operates in the world in relation to other things.
This scene in fact symbolically highlights woman's cultural exile – the deprival of a space of cultural memory (see above)



T&T are an identical pain of heavy set men =
in FF terms we could say that this is the point where Alice is confronted with the key-process on which the symbolic is founded: the process of doubling (ultimately to produce opposites which are however lock in a logic of the self same: such as in masculine/castrated instead of feminine = woman as negative double)
Indeed in this episode we also find the claim re-articulated that she is dreamt by the king - so the treat of being imagined & the consequences (as is the case for woman who suffers the consequences of being dreamnt in a blind spotted symmtery)
Note that T&T follow Alice's identity crisis in the woods - they deepen her former anxiety, while Alice's determination despite her crisis should be understood - in our reading - as a determination to confront and decipher the inner logic of the patriarchal system.

Humpty Dumpty:
then is in consequence a full representative of the illusion of male universalism (the incorporation of doubles) and the illusion of self-creation (as egg/narcissism and as master of language). As an egg he is a striking representative of the second paternal birth into language.

Lion and Unicorn again symbols of power and oneness ultimatelydeclare Alice as monstrous, in fact because she interrogates and questions (which we can set in analogy with the FF claim that patriarchal structures essentially seek to silence woman)

Of special interest to us here isthe function of the NURSERY RYMES
Racklin only interprets THE NURSERY RHYMES as defining the un-individuated stage of the creatures
Indeed we could say that Alice's repetition is a sign of woman's lockage in patriarchal language where she is more or less condemned to echo its system of signification.

Kristeva brings the speaking body back to language is by maintaining that bodily drives make their way into language. . The semiotic elements within the signifying process are the drives as they discharge within language. This drive discharge is associated with rhythm and tone. The semiotic is this subterranean element of meaning within signification that does not signify (it is only patrtially repressed) Shows through rhythm, repetition and alliteration; and also through that which disrupts language and sense: dissonance, fragmentation, contradiction, meaninglessness, silence and absence
The symbolic, is associated with syntax or grammar and with the ability to take a position or make a judgment that syntax engenders. The threshold of the symbolic is what Kristeva calls the "thetic" phase, which emerges out of the mirror stage ( Revolution 49). There is a breaking, a rejection, already within the body that becomes, at a certain threshold, the thetic break. The thetic break is the point at which the subject takes up a position, an identification.
The semiotic gives rise to, and challenges, the symbolic. Kristeva describes the relation between the semiotic and the symbolic as a dialectic oscillation . Without the symbolic we have only delirium or nature, while without the semiotic, language would be completely empty, if not impossible. We would have no reason to speak if it were not for the semiotic drive force. So this oscillation between the semiotic and the symbolic is productive and necessary. It is the oscillation between rejection and stasis, found already within the material body, that produces the speaking subject. The symbolic mode of signification is only meaningful because of the way the semiotic energises it. It is through bodily energy that language is brought into being. She sees no polarity between modes of symbolic and semiotic: what we say can be unsettled by semiotic modes how we say it (differAnce)

Note that there is disruptive potential in woman's voice: In Through the Looking-Glass , language has the capacity to anticipate and even cause events to happen. Alice recites nursery rhymes on several occasions, which causes Tweedledum and Tweedledee , Humpty Dumpty , and the Lion and the Unicorn to perform the actions that she describes in her rhymes. Rather than recording and describing events that have already happened, words give rise to actions simply by being spoken. Tweedledum and Tweedledee's quarrel begins only after Alice recites the rhyme about the broken rattle. Similarly, Humpty Dumpty's fall does not happen until Alice describes the events in the classic nursery rhyme.

We can relate this to female positive development in integration of the semiotic/Kristeva: nursery and mother as productive quality. indeed the point when Alice as Queen cannot remember a lullaby her final emancipation is triggered by the Queens' snoring which sounds like bewitching music.
FF perspective: By falling asleep they quit to conform to the questioning mothers, and a new voice emerges
Alice seems unsure of herself at the start of the game, but once she exerts her power as a queen, she exposes the façade and liberates herself from the confines of the chessboard. The Red and White Queens' relentless questioning represents an attempt to flatten Alice into submission so that she becomes part of their two-dimensional lives in Looking-Glass World. Alice resists this flattening, which manifests itself literally when the guests at the table become stuck to their plates. Alice rises to give thanks and in doing so becomes three-dimensional, setting off the chaos that allows her to seize the Red Queen and end the chess match.

We can also connect Alice capacity to produce new situation through recitation of nursery rhymes to Irigaray's notion of mimicry

While Mimesis/Mimicry in a negative sense means that you re-produce a discourse without having your own voice, you only repeat what is imposed onto you.(like Echo)

Irigaray sees another positive Meaning of Mimcry:
Significantly, for Iriagray, mimicry is also a strategy for dealing as a woman with the symbolic realm and discourse where the speaking subject is positioned as masculine. In this strategy woman deliberately assumes the posture assigned to her in this discourse in order to expose the mechanism that exploits her. Apart from reproduce an imposed discourse it means to subvert and distort the original content of concept by repeating it (to ironies and caricature and thereby criticise it), For example, Irigaray quotes for long stretches Freud on femininity and suddenly starts to interrupt the text with questions that subvert the theory. This way of argumentation is an example for a deconstructive reading If women are postulated as silenced then the repetition of the discourse that silences them gives them a new voice when the ironise it critically by repeating)

--- THE WHITE KNIGHT (merging of male authorship/desire for monocreation & nostalgia for return)

Drawmer argues that in a departure from the dominant Victorian paradigms of empirically reinforced concepts of rational order and logical reason, Carroll expresses concerns with the transitory and arbitrary nature of the ‘self'. The focus on a pre-adolescent child marks a nostalgia for a golden past, where, from a Lacanian perspective, gender difference, adult sexuality and the conventions of language/culture of the symbolic order do not yet exist as concrete conditions.

She sees the tale as motivated by regression which means a going or coming back and argues that Carroll's regression is both radical and conservative: radical in rejecting the present; conservative in holding on to time past
--we can apply this to the FF argument that the male subject constitutes itself in repressing woman in the realm of the imaginary and only allowing her a postion in the symbolic as mother or object of desire.

Already Racklin emphasises that the knight is characterised by nostalgia and relates to Alice in a desirous, romantic way:the nostalgia of the White Knight will be related to the meaning of the term in Iriagrayan theory:
The destructiveness of the male economy for women, which lies in man's illusion of universality, grows out of his ‘nostalgia' to return to ‘one whole' (E, 100) - the matrix, however, by reversing the ‘anguish of being imprisoned in the other, of being placed inside the other' (SP, 137) - in short, by denying dependence. In the sense of having been „imprisoned“ in the mother's womb, in his system he then incorporates woman, thus appears to himself universal and self-created. His nostalgia raises the desire to control woman by immobilising her in a death-like stasis within the rigidly stable boundaries of a self-shaped closed system which houses man like the primal dwelling place). In other words, man constructs dwellings which provide for him the basis to re-construct a way that leads back to the matrix and to strive for a wholeness that lies beyond the ties of nature, of woman - (forgetting, that it was woman who in the first place gave him life). This usurpation on the one hand, and the denial of dependency to the extent that he appears ‘self-created' (Grosz, 120)

The nostalgia of the white knight can thus be seen in a different perspective: he reflects Lewis Carroll and the patriarchal male desire to capture woman in the triple role of the mother (as Alice acts in text) – the child (the woman who can be thaught and controlled) – the desired object/the wife (who is sexualised, passive object of desire)
Drawmer asserts that for Carroll the character of Alice serves as a repository for male anxieties about female sexuality and latent desire actually inscribed upon the transforming body. Carroll's fascination with young girls and abhorrence of sexually mature women (the Duchess, and the Queen) reveal complex responses to contemporary gender constructions which converge in a narrative framework of pastoral nostalgia .

THE KNIGHT affirms over and again: ITS MY OWN INVENTION foreshadowing that infact Alice gets ever more muted once she has the crown.

OTHER VIEW: she also gains destabilising potential since the story ends in Chaos


Alice gets crown and shakes the queen
Some critics see the moment when Alice wins the chess game to be the moment of her sexual awakening . In this reading, Alice's standing up represents a moment of orgasmic realization. The rising candle flames imply erection imagery, while the repetition of the word “moment” in the scene underscores the fleeting sensory intensity that causes Alice to tear away the tablecloth and attack the Red Queen

However – we will see her real awakening in her question: which dreamt it all – here she actively interrogates her male creator. Having nowhere to go in her dream she wakes up and interrogates her domination – she asks whether it was she or the Red King who had the dream´.

We will relate this question to the FF re-valuation of the imaginary and the question whether it is not a product of the symbolic (of male phanatsy to erect the symbolic in patriarchal ways):

Within Irigaray's theoretical framework the only possibility for mother and daughter to emerge out of the fusion as sexual subjects would be a fundamental transformation of spatio-temporal structures, which centrally involves a re-consideration of the pre-oedipal/the imaginary. Irigaray suggests that to trace a female libidinal and representational economy (Spurensuche) we have to ‘... try to go back through the masculine imaginary, to interpret the way it reduced us to silence ... and at the same time re-discover a possible space for the feminine imaginary' (TS, 164). That is to say, the focal point should not merely rest on how patriarchal exclusionary practices obstruct representations of the female/feminine and social relationships between women, but on how the masculine imaginary or cultural unconscious has “imagined” woman , since this imaginary construct not only informs the symbolic/social law, but also guarantees the perpetuation of this economy. Psychoanalytically viewed, Irigaray's argument puts not only the Oedipal polarised system and the privileging of the father into question, but especially the conception of the pre-oedipal - the mother-child bond. In both Freud's theory and Lacan's structural elaborations the pre-oedipal and the imaginary are described as the undifferentiated mother-child symbiosis, as an archaic oneness of fluid (polymorphous) identification, which must forcefully be broken by the intervention of a third - the father - and must be left by the child to accede to speaking subject status. Now both Irigaray and Benjamin claim that this idea(l) of the maternal oneness associated with the imaginary does not describe a pre-symbolic “reality” prior to phallic/patriarchal definition which can be recovered, but has to be ‘ demystified ' as a ‘ product ' - a ‘ fantasy ' (LS) or ‘ fantasma ' (TS) - of the Oedipal/symbolic (LS, 98) which can only operate in terms of loss and splitthe focal point should not merely rest on how patriarchal exclusionary practices obstruct representations of the female/feminine and social relationships between women, but on how the masculine imaginary or cultural unconscious has “imagined” woman , since this imaginary construct not only informs the symbolic/social law, but also guarantees the perpetuation of this economy.




© Melanie Feratova-Loidolt, 2005