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American Imago 57.3 (2000) 261-279

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"[I]n the New House She Hallucinated Her Old Room":
Hysterical Topology and the Phantasy of Gender

Donna Cox

This paper employs Freudian and Lacanian theory in its consideration of questions of psychical and bodily topology. It also seeks to examine the idea of gender as a phantasy, an extended metaphor we inhabit and live through via the configurations of ego constitution. It does so by considering notions of the imaginary and its relation to the '"the real" as it is encountered by the inhabited space of the subject. This is then related to textuality via the working of metaphoric structure through and in the flesh. It thereby questions the relation between text and gender, text and bodily inhabitation.

The quotation in the title is from Josef Breuer's case history of "Fräulein Anna O." and it is to this famous first case of psychoanalysis that the paper refers in order to examine the relation of the space of metaphor to the space of the body. It will consider that there is a direct correlation here with the operative dynamic of the two scenes of the hysteric. I then go on to relate this to ideas of gender and argue that it is not so easily separable from biology, that somehow the biological body is a constantly reiterating sphere of metaphor by physical means.

The separation of sex from gender, biology from culture, has become standard in feminist thought, yet this separation raises problems because it does not question the parameters within which its careful manipution of terminology takes place. In this separation of terms designed to escape determinist or essentialist accounts of en-gendering lies another determinism as our accounts within this framework are written through by a new vocabulary, made to fit a scheme of its own making. [End Page 261]


Biology is truly a land of endless possibilities.

(Freud Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920)

Body and sexuality, biology and gender are implicitly related in the psychoanalytic scheme. In a sense, biology is destiny, to borrow Freud's famous dictum, but it is an unstable and unfixed destiny which is constantly shifting and rewritten, as fluid as bodily secretions. For there is no pre-given body, no originary biology, no flesh which has not been trained. For the speaking subject all is subject to the trace of the signifier. This is not to say that the flesh is written upon which would represent a passive body in discursive production, the tabula rasa. To the contrary, it is the locus of the activation of flesh and simultaneously a locus of activating flesh: the space of the body is a space of writing itself, an intertextual incorporation by which we image ourselves. Space becomes a seduction.

Body Image: The seduction of space

Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews.

(Job X: 11)

All there is for the flesh-habitation called "I" is the body-image by which we relate to our corporeal frame. This body-image is itself subject to continual shift according to our internal and external experience. Bodily space is labile, continually reassembling itself in an orthopaedic display of inhabitation and dis-inhabitation. In The Image and Appearance of the Human Body, Paul Schilder states that

The image of the body is not a static phenomenon from the physiological point of view. It is acquired, built up, and gets its structure by a continual contact with the world. It is not a structure but a structuralization in which continual changes take place. (Schilder 1935, 173-4)

Following on from the work of Schilder, Lacan presents a scheme where body image is implicit in the constitution of the [End Page 262] ego. "The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I" (1949) presents the dispersed biology of a fragmented body assembled before the reflective surface of the other. This constitutive transitive relation between self and other had also been noted by Schilder...


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