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  • Queering Freud in Freiburg
  • Tamise Van Pelt
The Twelfth Annual Conference in Literature and Psychology. June 21–24, 1995, Freiburg, Germany.

queer v. 1. To bring out the difference that is forced to pass under the sign of the same. 2. To require to speak from the position of the Other.

Postcards mailed from Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany’s Black Forest during the week of June 18, 1995 bore the apt cancellation: FREIBURG HAT WAS ALLE SUCHEN (Freiburg has what everyone is looking for). Appropriately, then, eighty desiring subjects from four continents came to Freiburg to map the territory of Freudian and post-Freudian studies at the Twelfth Annual Conference in Literature and Psychology. The four-day conference was sponsored by Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat (once home to Erasmus, Husserl, and Heidegger), the Universities of Paris X (Nanterre) and VII (Jussieu), the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie litteraire (Paris), and the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada (Lisbon). United States sponsor was The Institute for Psychological Study of the Arts at the University of Florida, conference coordinated by Andrew Gordon. Papers in English and French were delivered at the conference location, the Kolpinghaus, while papers in German were delivered at the nearby Akademie. Several clear themes emerged from the collective theoretical effort; gender binary as the foundational construct of psychological analysis proves inadequate to the demands of contemporary theorizing; psychological theories reveal their limits and internal contradictions when read against literary implications; and the postmodern’s dystopian and utopian impulses push psychoanalysis for a response.

Linguistic constructions and gender issues were quite literally on the table when a translation of the first day’s menu announced that lunch was to be “bird in estrogen sauce.” At this point, conference participants had already hear Bernard Paris’s (Florida) plenary address on Karen Horney’s “one great love” — not for the men in her life but rather for her actress/daughter Brigitte. Later, they would gaze at the martial codpieced statuary women adorning Freiburg’s Kaufhaus. Consequently, the bird positioned itself amid a chain of signifiers of gender slippage, a slippage thematically relevant to several conference panels. William Spurlin (Columbia) reviewed the work done by heterosexuality in traditional Freudian theory, interrogating Freudianism’s insufficient critical attention to it’s own position vis-à-vis the heteronormative thinking of the social and cultural institutions of which it is a part, but also interrogating queer theory’s tendency to “[reduce] Freud’s theories of homosexuality to the homophobic ideologies of his time.” Another alternative view of psychoanalytic gender — a view of gender as space — was provided by Virginia Blum (Kentucky) who drew on feminist geography to critique Lacan’s “parable of the train station where gender is ‘entered’ via the doors marked ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’,” reading Lacan’s story in connetion with Klein’s case study of Little Dick’s train therapy and Freud’s writings on Hans’s traumatic childhood train ride.

A unique human gargoyle clings to the first-story gutter of Freiburg’s Munster U L Frau. With its head and hands gripping the cathedral facade and its fanny facing the cobblestone street, a strategically placed drainpipe seems to invite the most literal of anal readings. In fact, the irreverent aperture points from the cathedral toward Freiburg’s government offices, a perptual Gothic mooning of secular authority. Similar obeisance to Freudian authority was continually evidenced by conference participants seeking to honor Freud as much in the breech as in the observance. Kathleen Woodward (Center for Twentieth Century Studies, Wisconsin-Milwaukee) initiated the reevaluations with her critique of Freud’s developmental notion that mature guilt replaces immature shame, shame being merely a primitive emotional response to the disapproving gaze of another. Shame takes on a performative dimension in recent gay and lesbian theory, Woodward argued, and shame takes on differing “temporal dimensions” relative to cultural locations themselves inseparable from gender, race, and sexual preference. In the spirit of Woodward’s critique, Claire Kahane (SUNY, Buffalo) paid similar respects to Freud’s construction of mourning as an obsessional involvement with the lost object. Kahane posed the difficult questions that pushed Freud’s object-dependent definition beyond its ability to answer: “What if the mourned object was missing...

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