Translated from Russian by Eugenia Konoreva
April 2019

The original text can be found here
or here
25 August 2016

"Queer Studies and Phallic Function" by Alexander Smulyanskiy

For the most postcolonial critical studies the phallic function is tied to the genital order, which is recognized as the instrument of power and domination. A permanent fight with this dominance is a powerful source of inspiration for gender orientated activism. However, this fight is limited right from the outset, since the resentment over genital normativity, imminent to this fight, leaves out its alternative side, which is not concerned with domineering and power, but with something, acting as limitation associated with the function of loss.

Lacanian research explores this loss and all its instances in great detail; its key manifestation is the regulation policy of the access to enjoyment/jouissance. Contrary to the ideas, formulated among the groups committed to the fight with gender inequality, genital function does not entail the empowerment, but quite the opposite – it represents the end of the relations with all the objects of desire, which are positioned outside of the symbolic register. In other words, these objects were not assigned the status of the signifier. This is precisely what brings to life the limit of jouissance, which is typical for the genital stage – both for the male and for the female one.

This evokes the emancipatory temptation, which was initially introduced by the feminist movement, but expands much further by producing fluctuations and split in gender activism – a movement for a new type of subjectivity, whose goal is to abolish gender rivalry by abolishing gender fixation per se. The main difficulty in the analysis of this movement is the fact, that regardless the proclaimed fundamental disturbances, regardless its revolutionary intervention into the sphere of the sexual, it is not equipped with an instrument to measure the depth of this intervention. Quite surprisingly, it seems that sexuality as such is of no importance for the queer theory. A free choice of identity, overthrowing the binaries, eradicating the heteronormative hierarchy – this list of readymade ideals indicates that, in essence, queer theory is not studying anything, it is just making demands. The rhetoric of these demands totally overshadows the problem of position of the queer subject in something, which Lacan calls “the desire of the Other”. What is the role of queer-subjectivity, constructed by the activists, in sexual phantasm? What exactly does this subjectivity choice offer to the scene, where desire is already at work?

The analysis of these questions reveals an area, which is practically untouched by gender critical thought. The practice, deduced from the latter, presupposes an activity, which is fully centered on the procedure of public enunciation – on something, which in its broader term could be named a ‘coming out’ of sexual orientation or gender. The performative character of the latter could act as a political gesture, however it says nothing about the condition of the desire of the subject.

To shed some light on these questions, we should refer to the precedent, which could be considered prototypical of contemporary sexual and gender transgression – the case of Ida Bauer, who by virtue of Freudian psychoanalysis became known as Dora. It has been argued that Freud should have had cured Dora from her homosexual attraction to her father’s lover and from the rivalry with him, since apart of her painful symptom this girl was perfectly heterosexual. For this reason during the period of postcolonial criticism Dora was taken under the wing of feminism, who was demanding the legitimating of the homosexual nature of her desire. This protection became a platform for the proclamation of a series of political requirements: the recognition of Dora’s homosexuality not only opened up a possibility to make a stand against the big oppression by heterosexual normativity, but, as it turned out, allowed to get rid of the smaller oppression – an upsetting disregard of female homosexuality by men. In any case, if Dora’s desire turned out homosexual, then all the motley representatives of gender activism could claim their victory; whereas Freud and his analysis, as it turned out, were defeated side by side with the outdated world of male chauvinism and heterosexism. 

In point of fact, the result of Freud’s work was not an affirmation of heteronormative ideal. Notwithstanding Dora’s eagerness – even though in her Victorian manner – to throw over the notorious privileges of heterosexual genital normativity, she was yet interested, as was later demonstrated by her analysis, in a male image, whom she was dedicated to serve with her desire – the image which she recognized as limited and impotent. In other words, as formulated by Lacan, not overthrowing, but completing the results of Freudian work, Dora is vitally interested in a loss, inherent in a genital subject. Without this loss she loses the interest and attraction to her own desire. It is not a protest against the father’s power, which is at the heart of Dora’s hysterical symptom, but her desire to support her father’s desire in the field, where this power is turned into his weakness due to the limitations of his genital position. Since even in a situation of a relatively successful love relations with the lady, he is not capable of the same kind of jouissance, which Dora is able to produce and which she delicately wishes to present to her father.

This is precisely what challenges a notorious homosexuality of the relations, where Dora apparently finds herself. It is not the case of the relations, which having been originated in the love for the father, could be finally reduced to the father’s figure in a hysterical symptom. In this sense they were perfectly heterosexual, as was suspected by Freud, and which apparently opens up a way for the doctor’s normalization of the patient’s desire. Quite the opposite, Dora’s case shows, that together with her attraction to the father’s lover (which, by the way, Freud was not going to obviate) a question about desire makes its way to a new regime, where the gender of the one, who is attracted, is not decisive. Beyond doubt homosexuality is present in Dora’s phantasm, but if we approach it analytically, it becomes clear, that this homosexuality is not a female, but a male one. In fact Dora – regardless of her “orientation” – is interested in a project, where a man gains an access to jouissance. From the analytic standpoint this could only mean homosexuality of the latter, since in the rest of the cases male jouissance is limited by the frames, imposed on him by the matrimonial requirements.

Stated above questions the philosophical and artistic projects of the feminist movement, which struggled to open up the way for the female homosexuality. These attempts were varyingly successful, but here the humanistic endeavor, which they pursued, confronts the concerns of the psychoanalytic research. For the latter the problem of homosexuality does not have a culturally-political meaning, which is crucial for the intellectual environment, but represents an instrument for researching and specifying phantasm boundaries. No matter how it challenges the universally implanted refined tolerance, in purely analytical terms there could be found no female homosexuality in the desire of the subject; which surely does not mean that we do not meet it in reality. Meanwhile preliminary Freudian interpretations along reveal that there is no any direct access to female sexuality from the phantasm – as such it does not leave any traces in the field, where the symbolic foundations of desire are located. If this specific feature was used by the best feminist minds in order to make an attempt of liberating it from the patriarchy’s power and modify it into a rightful phenomenon, it was merely a gesture of tactic separation. A program, embodied in this gesture, left untouched the most rigid foundations of subject’s desire, which confronts the feminist movement with the challenges, which cannot be reduced along with its successes, but on the contrary tend to manifest themselves today even more actively.

The presence of these challenges is attested by a number of cultural events of modernity, where the disregard of female position and the tendency for depreciation is largely concentrated and originates, as has been noted by clinicians and feminist representatives, not from men, but from contemporary women, especially those, who are prone to a certain transgression in their object choice.  The more signs we see, that the female desire is actively relying on phantasm, - in a form of literary or play creativity, identity experiments etc. -  the more vigorous is the imperative to betray the female desire in order to obtain jouissance or enter into a relationship.

This paradoxical moment causes deep misunderstanding among the radical representatives of the women rights movement, whose initial goal was definitely something opposite. But if the intransigence of the radical feminism today finds no sympathies neither on the side of the conservative audience, nor on the side of the queer-movement, the reason behind it is not the fact, that the female phantasm is repressed and cannot become a foundation of desire beyond the patriarchal regime, but the fact, that the radical feminist position itself basically lacks phantasm – it is not possible to desire in its framework. 

A female subject’s desire, as long as any desire, do not coincide with the intentions of feminism, though the reason behind it is not the patriarchy’s omnipotence, but the fact, that what interests  the female subject (as well as the male one) in any initiative phantasm is that part of the masculine structure, which is presumably situated outside of the genital regime, however not outside of masculinity, since the latter, as was shown by Dora’s case, is comprised of this impossible jouissance, which a man is deprived of and whose lack makes his image so tempting for both genders.

Thus, the notorious masculinity is regarded by the intellectual environment as a power construct, whereas within the psychoanalytic discourse everything happens on a different scene – a place, where subject’s jouissance is made possible due to that impossible, which is implicated in male homosexuality. Female homosexuality, in this case, is not oppressed by the male one, but is realized with its help.

The same happens in queer-theory, where every subject chooses his gender identity or even its absence according to his taste under the apparently equal conditions. It is impossible to overlook that the part of the Imaginary, which is responsible for the presentation of male attraction realized via lack, is of crucial importance to the queer movement. The louder the queer thought renounces what it mistakenly defines as a rigid gender binary opposition, the more explicitly it reveals what Lacan names ‘minus phi’, the function of balancing on a shaky edge of genital order. This borderline in any event, regardless of the established gender identification, is the one, where the choice in the formation of the queer identity takes place. Being not a classical hysteric Penisnaid – jealousy of the male organ in a simplified manner, which was introduced by Freud – the relation to the male lack in the formation of the queer subjectivity passes, nonetheless, through all the stages, corresponding to the hysteric discovery of the knowledge of Master’s castration, which is elevated to the status of the ideal in queer-ideology.

In this way, queer-motivation, does not fight genital order and heteronormativity, but exploits the very same ideal of jouissance stemming from the male lack, which gives rise to heteronormativity per se. The emphasis on the male function, defined in negative terms, penetrates postcolonial gender phantasm, and in this respect it paradoxically manages something, which for quite a long time paralyzed literary modernism, also highly concerned about the function of male lack. That sort of self-proclaimed funfiction literature, which could often be found next to the social sources of queer subjectivity, especially the female one, and which is based on jouissance, obtained from the imaginary love between heterosexual men – the protagonists of great modern literature or cinematograph, – testifies the direction, which is taken by the desire of the modern subject. This desire, disguising oneself under the mask of declarative freedom in the questions of sexual orientation and gender identity, encloses an aporetic element, a difficulty, insoluble within its logic, which could not be overcome with the concept of “the right for alternative choice”, and is reproduced in it.