Has Psychoanalysis ever thought of the body?

Esther Hutfless

As philosopher and queer-theorist I have been dealing with bodies for a long time now. I am concerned with their construction and deconstruction, with the way they are embedded in discourses, with their sex and gender; I am aware that bodies are also matter and have, as such, their own obstinacy and resistance; I am encountering bodies which interact with other bodies, with objects and other matter and in doing so shape those other bodies and objects and are shaped by them,[1] I am encountering bodies and their abilities, bodies as organs of perception, which situate us in the world. This situatedness is never arbitrary. Societal conditions place black, white, female, male, disabled or queer bodies differently, control and direct their abilities in different ways, distribute them differently in space.
Bodies matter in different ways.
Referring to Sigmund Freud the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy writes: “Psyche ist ausgedehnt: weiss nichts davon. ‘The psyche’s extended: knows nothing about it.’ The ‘psyche,’ in other words, is body, and this is precisely what escapes it, and its escape (we may suppose), or its process of escape, constitutes it as ‘psyche,’ in a dimension of not (being able/wanting)-to-know-itself.” [2]
What escapes psyche, also seems to escape psychoanalysis. Speaking as psychoanalyst dealing with issues of identity, sex, gender, sexualities, desire, it seems the body in psychoanalysis exists only as something left out – a void, a gap. For that reason it is difficult to relate philosophical approaches and perceptions of queer theory to psychoanalysis. Although the drive is conceived as bodily, as a crossing of nature and culture, it seems that the psychoanalytic discourse on the drive ultimately fails the body. In addition, within psychoanalysis bodies are viewed as that which nothing can be said about, they escape language. Nevertheless the body is granted the position of a lack which, in turn, is crucial for the constitution of the psyche. And it is furthermore made significant, via the acting out of the unconscious while at the same time denying this signifying potential, thereby misjudging the body’s obstinacy, the body’s very own type of meaning [Eigensinn]. The absence of an informed debate of bodies within psychoanalysis makes it difficult to address and discuss the interrelated constitution of bodies and psyche. But exactly this debate would be necessary to understand the complex interaction of identities and bodies in analyzing, for example, the desire of queers and trans_people to transform their body instead of just adapting the psyche to the body when solving an unconscious conflict. Furthermore, we should keep in mind, that modifications and transformations of bodies are not specific to trans_; rather, bodies are always in the process of transformation and modification and in complex relations to the constitution of psychic identities.
Arguing for a rethinking of bodies and their importance does not mean that bodies should be assessed, secured, fixed, or determined … This would be a return to essentialism. Rethinking the body and letting the body appear means to take seriously its extension but also its deprivation. Extension and deprivation thereof implies tension, pressure, touch and contact on an elementary, material level which matters! Because the world we are born into is first and foremost a world of bodies.[3]

[1] Cf. Sara Ahmed: Queer Phenomenology. Objects, Orientations, Others. Duke University Press, London 2006, p. 52.
[2] Jean-Luc Nancy: Corpus. Fordham University Press, New York 2008, p. 21. Nancy cites Freud: GW XVII, Schriften aus dem Nachlass 1892-1938, Fischer, Frankfurt/M. 1999, p. 152.
[3] Cf. ibid. p. 31.