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Fetishism

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French: fétichisme

Definition

The term "fetish" first came into widespread use in the eighteenth century in the context of the study of "primitive religions", in which it denoted an inanimate object of worship.

In the nineteenth century, Marx borrowed the term to describe the way that, in capitalist societies, social relations assume the illusory form of relations between things ("commodity fetishism]").

Perversion

It was Krafft-Ebing who, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, first applied the term to sexual behavior.

He defined fetishism as a sexual perversion in which sexual excitement is absolute dependent on the presence of a specific object (the fetish).

The fetish is usually an inanimate object such as a shoe or piece of underwear.

Sigmund Freud

Freud argued that fetishism (seen as an almost exclusively male perversion) originates in the child's horror of female castration.

Confronted with the mother's lack of a penis, the fetishist disavows this lack and finds an object (the fetish) as a symbolic substitute for the mother's missing penis.[1]

Jacques Lacan

In Lacan's first approach to the subject of fetishism, in 1956, he argues that fetishism is a particularly important area of study and bemoans its neglect by his contemporaries.

He stresses that the equivalence between the fetish and the maternal phallus can only be understood by reference to linguistic transformations, and not by reference to "vague analogies in the visual field" such as comparisons between fur and pubic hair."[2]

He cites Freud's analysis of the phrase "Glanz auf der Nase" as support for his argument.[3]

Penis and Phallus

In the following years, as Lacan develops his distinction between the penis and phallus, he emphasises that the fetish is a substitute for the latter, not the former.

Disavowal

Lacan also extends the mechanism of disavowal, making it the operation constitutive of perversion itself, and not just of the fetishistic perversion.

Male Perversion

However, he retains Freud's view that fetishism is an exclusively male perversion,[4] or at least extremely rare among women.[5]

Phobic Object

In the seminar of 1956-7, Lacan elaborates an important distinction between the fetish object and the phobic object; whereas the fetish is a symbolic substitute for the mother's missing phallus, the phobic object is an imaginary substitute for symbolic castration.

Preoedipal Triangle

Like all perversions, fetishism is rooted in the preoedipal triangle of mother-child-phallus.[6]

However, it is unique in that it involves both identification with mother and with the imaginary phallus; indeed, in fetishism, the subject oscillates between these two identifications.[7]

Women

Lacan's statement, in 1958, that the penis "takes on the value of a fetish" for heterosexual women raises a number of interesting questions.[8]

Firstly, it reverses Freud's views on fetishism; rather than the fetish being a symbolic substitute for the real penis, the real penis may itself become a fetish by substituting the woman's absent symbolic phallus.

Secondly, it undermines the claims (made by both Freud and Lacan) that fetishism is extremely rare among women; if the penis can be considered a fetish, then fetishism is clearly far more prevalent among women than among men.

See Also

References

  1. Freud, Sigmund.. "Fetishism", 1927e. SE XXI, 149
  2. Lacan, Jacques. "Variantes de la cure-type", in Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. [1956b]. p. 267)
  3. Freud, Sigmund. "Fetishism", 1927e. SE XXI, 149
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 734
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.154
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 84-5, 194
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 86, 160
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 290