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Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis

Buhle, Mari Jo

ISBN 10: 0674004035 / ISBN 13: 9780674004030
Published by Harvard University Press, 2000
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2000 - Paperback - Used - Acceptable - - Shows substantial shelf-wear which may include some chips and tears on dust jacket (if present) and some yellowing of the pages. May contain old price stickers or their residue, inscriptions or dedications from previous owners in first few pages and remainder marks. - .-. Bookseller Inventory # SL-12-3-0114

Bibliographic Details

Title: Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of ...

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Publication Date: 2000

Book Condition:Acceptable

About this title


With Sigmund Freud notoriously flummoxed about what women want, any encounter between psychoanalysis and feminism would seem to promise a standoff. But in this lively, often surprising history, Mari Jo Buhle reveals that the twentieth century's two great theories of liberation actually had a great deal to tell each other. Starting with Freud's 1909 speech to an audience that included the feminist and radical Emma Goldman, Buhle recounts all the twists and turns this exchange took in the United States up to the recent American vogue of Jacques Lacan. While chronicling the contributions of feminism to the development of psychoanalysis, she also makes an intriguing case for the benefits psychoanalysis brought to feminism.

From the first, American psychoanalysis became the property of freewheeling intellectuals and popularists as well as trained analysts. Thus the cultural terrain that Buhle investigates is populated by literary critics, artists and filmmakers, historians, anthropologists, and sociologists--and the resulting psychoanalysis is not so much a strictly therapeutic theory as an immensely popular form of public discourse. She charts the history of feminism from the first wave in the 1910s to the second in the 1960s and into a variety of recent expressions. Where these paths meet, we see how the ideas of Freud and his followers helped further the real-life goals of a feminism that was a widespread social movement and not just an academic phenomenon. The marriage between psychoanalysis and feminism was not pure bliss, however, and Buhle documents the trying moments; most notably the "Momism" of the 1940s and 1950s, a remarkable instance of men blaming their own failures of virility on women.

An ambitious and highly engaging history of ideas, Feminism and Its Discontents brings together far-flung intellectual tendencies rarely seen in intimate relation to each other--and shows us a new way of seeing both.


The year is 1909. The speaker is Sigmund Freud. The woman in the front row, admiringly but insistently coaxing the master of psychoanalysis to say more about women and sexuality, is anarchist and free-love advocate Emma Goldman. This symbolic moment is the ideal place to begin describing the convoluted 90-year tango that is the history of feminism's relationship with psychoanalysis.

Mari Jo Buhle, a professor of American Civilization and History at Brown University, has written an academic study which exhibits all the virtues and some of the failings of the genre. Although long, earnest, and prone to sudden squalls of mode words like "discourse" and "heuristic," Feminism and Its Discontents is also carefully researched, cautiously neutral, and lucidly written. Informative subhistories detail how "second wave" feminism transformed Freud from icon into ogre, why key male pundits such as Laing, Lasch, and the Frankfurt Schoolers were so influential, and how Nancy Chodorow and others partially rehabilitated Freud's reputation.

One depressing feature of this material--which comes out starkly but in a way that makes you wonder if the deadpan author is being deliberately ironic--is the relentless egotism, narcissism, and sanctimoniousness of most players on both sides. Buhle's own intellectual standards throw into sharp relief the taste for rhetoric and special pleading of so many of the figures for whom she accounts.

In recent years, the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition has had to work overtime just to preserve some vestiges of intellectual respectability, having been attacked from a variety of critical vantage points (see, for example, Frederick Crews's searing indictment in The Memory Wars). Since we owe the very idea of "moving beyond Freud" largely to feminist writers, Buhle's history is especially timely. --Richard Farr

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