- Reviewed by
Mary Gossy’s Freudian Slips: Woman, Writing, the Foreign Tongue is an informative, provocative, and enjoyable reading of one of Freud’s most popular studies, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. In his text, Freud collected some two hundred anecdotes involving verbal slips in order to illustrate the presence of the unconscious in conscious discourse. Through close readings, Gossy shows that the majority of the anecdotes are written over female bodies, feminized texts, or foreign words. She argues that the men (including Freud) whose language slips [End Page 1060] in the anecdotes are actually repressing their experience of the body of a real woman, and that “the repression . . . returns to disrupt the masculine hegemony of their dialogues.”
Gossy’s first chapter catches Freud’s language slipping as he misquotes Goethe’s Faust in his epigraph for The Psychopathology, and provides the argument for a politicized interpretation of the slip: its feminization and its threat to authority and intentionality. Freud’s borrowed epigraph inaugurates a book on the unwelcome manifestation of the repressed in language, and does so, as Gossy pointedly demonstrates, while performing a slip in gender, a slip which “is concretely engendered in the text as feminine.”
Chapter 2 discusses an anecdote on another misquotation that a Jewish friend of Freud’s makes as the two men are travelling abroad. Meant to express his rage at the anti-Semitism of the times, the misquotation leads to understanding the friend’s repression of the idea that a foreign woman he met during his journey might be expecting his child. Gossy’s analysis again reveals the political implications of the slip: how it points to the friend’s cooptation with structures of domination that protect his male privileges while contradicting his conscious intent—namely, his rage at anti-Semitism.
Chapters 3 and 4 prefigure a feminist psychoanalysis of Freudian psychoanalysis and highlight how a theory of the unconscious that is based on a fictionalized idea of femininity cannot contain and control women’s bodies, specifically the women’s pregnant and raped bodies favored in the anecdotes. In chapter 3, Gossy playfully asks if it is “possible that making a Freudian slip makes a man feel pregnant with unwelcome meanings.” She answers her question through a reinterpretation of three anecdotes on screen memories involving men who are narrating childhood memories about their mothers’ pregnant bodies and about learning the alphabet. In these examples, Gossy argues that the excessiveness of the female body upsets “the order of the alphabet of castration,” disrupts the grammar of patriarchy, and becomes a defining term of both femininity and masculinity. Chapter 4 further illustrates how the Freudian theory of the unconscious slips when Freud constructs a “hair-raising” analogy between the operation of the unconscious in the case of suicide and its operation in the case of rape.
The last and fifth chapter of Freudian Slips is particularly insightful as it takes the reader back to the conditions of production of Freud’s [End Page 1061] The Psychopathology. According to Gossy, the proliferation of anecdotes with each new edition of the book emerges as compensation for what the Dora story is unable to tell. “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,” which records the famous Dora case and Freud’s failure at theorizing the meaning of her body, was written during the composition of The Psychopathology. Gossy convincingly infers that the meaning of Dora’s body, which Freud’s interpretations cannot contain, “returns as repressed content in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which is full of examples of how the bodies of women make the discourse of man slip.”
But beyond writing about Freud’s narrative of the slip, Gossy judiciously underlines the productivity of a parapractic discourse in terms of a political practice—let us say, a feminist practice—and points to a new (slippery) pedagogy that undermines absolute authority and makes multiple meanings available. In sum, Freudian Slips is as witty...