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"The unconscious is the last activist"


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The LA Review of Books has an interview with Patricia Gherovici, a writer and Lacanian psychoanalyst based in Philadelphia who writes about the unconscious and transgender identity. In a radical departure from orthodox Lacanian analysis, she argues that the unconscious doesn’t recognize binary sexual difference. Her forthcoming book is entitled Psychoanalysis Needs a Sex Change: Lacanian Approaches to Sexual and Social Difference (Routledge). Check out an excerpt from the interview below, or the full text here.

Can the unconscious be commodified?

What is more American than choosing your gender at will? But that’s an illusion. It’s sold to us, but not everyone has the same access. Medicare very recently started covering sex realignment surgery. The unconscious is the last activist. The unconscious is there, and that is why it tends to be forgotten so much. Now I am working on a follow-up project to Please Select Your Gender, under the title “Psychoanalysis Needs a Sex Change.” Indeed, psychoanalysis has to catch up. The sooner the better. Often, trans tendencies are presented as if there’s something wired in the brain that determines gender identity, and I wonder why that biological explanation — which hasn’t been confirmed, which is just as speculative — is more acceptable? Perhaps because it is more easily commodified. The unconscious is this bothersome reminder that not everything is a commodity. Happily, we have an unconscious that resists. It’s an interesting internal advocate. When Lacan puts forth his notion of jouissance, of a surplus of enjoyment, he does this from the standpoint of a political economy of the unconscious.

The unconscious is not beyond political economy, but it is also not commodifiable. What produces surplus, enjoyment, is a symptom of capitalism. I want to reinstate the idea of a symptom. There are trans symptoms that emerge in different structures. You can have a psychotic structure with a trans symptom, as with the case of Schreber, or you can have a neurotic person with a trans symptom. I actually use this word, “symptom,” exactly not to pathologize. Even the idea of choice can be read as a symptom. We choose things, and these choices give us a sense of identity. They’re presented as consumers’ choices, but we don’t know why we chose them. There is something in the unconscious that happily resists.