home contents reviews events
Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire
by  Jill Gentile  (with Michael Macrone)
“Creatively bringing together the Founding fathers and the father of psychoanalysis, Jill Gentile begins with the foundational ideas of free speech in democracy and free association on the couch. She then opens up a fascinating unexplored space that illuminates the magic of language and the paradoxes, limits, and complexities at the heart of desire. This is an erudite, bravura performance that makes good on a long deferred hope, the hope that psychoanalysis can bring deeper understanding to our political confusions.” George Makari, M.D., author of Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind
and Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis
“Jill Gentile has written a passionate love letter to psychoanalysis and democracy, to free association and free speech. Both are endangered species, eroded by internal degradations as much as by external detractors. Yet both persist and manage to inspire insofar as they are able to cultivate a space of desire, of speech aimed at the Other. This space, Gentile proposes, is governed by Feminine Law. Reaching beyond the phallocentrism of earlier psychoanalytic thought, Gentile reconfigures feminine ‘lack’ as a generative space of potentiality that is indispensible for the attainment of both personal and political agency. In this manner, Gentile revolutionizes Freudian theory at the same time as she deftly pays homage to what was revolutionary—ground-breaking and forward-looking—about it in the first place. The effect of Gentile’s stunningly erudite and original interpretation is akin to what Alain Badiou calls a ‘truth-event’: it shatters conventional mythologies regarding femininity and its (lack of) social status, revealing a whole new universe of (feminine) possibility.” Mari Ruti, Ph.D., Professor of Critical Theory, University of Toronto,
and author of Between Levinas and Lacan: Self, Other, Ethics
Feminine Law is amazing in its erudition and in the ways it uses a seemingly simple analogy between Freedom of Speech and Free Association to explore vast areas of political life. The further analogy between analyst and government uncovers and illuminates the relationship between negative liberty (as free speech is often understood by courts) and the positive liberty to encourage and facilitate speech (which courts have usually resisted). Gentile gestures towards a particular theory of democracy—call it emancipatory democracy—that restates psychoanalysis’s core mission but in the public sphere. Its project would be first of all to liberate oppressed or ignored or invisible people. But it would also emancipate the ‘people’ themselves as a collective actor with an interior life (filled with desires and needs and an imperfect capacity to confront or name them).” John Ferejohn, Ph.D., Samuel Tilden Professor at New York University Law School
“This is perhaps the most unusual psychoanalytic book I have ever read. It is also the most unusual essay on the nature of democracy. And it is a striking meditation on the role of sexuality, gender and the body on the psyche and the way humans encounter and create the social world. It is moreover a particularly American book. It assumes the inherent naturalness, the ‘rights’ of human desire and it frames something essential about the American experiment in claiming our desires. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and the freedom to desire are essential elements in this ambitious discussion. That Jill Gentile has been able to accomplish this in one book, while bringing the reader into a shared fascination with what is common in these disparate ideas, is a monumental accomplishment.” Jonathan H. Slavin, Ph.D., ABPP, former president, Division of Psychoanalysis (39), American
Psychological Association; Clinical Instructor, Dept. of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
The repudiation of femininity can be nothing else than a biological fact, a part of the great riddle of sex. So stated Freud in the closing paragraph of ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable.’ Jill Gentile takes this assumption of the impassable bedrock of the psyche as instead an invitation to go beyond, in this rich and expansive exploration of the possibility of naming the feminine: Feminine Law. Ranging across semiotics, political theory, and the panoply of contemporary psychoanalysis, Gentile makes this exploration an occasion to renew both clinical theory and democratic philosophy. Playful and incisive, this work opens new spaces for contemplation.” David Lichtenstein, Ph.D., editor of DIVISION/Review