The Freud Museum

Events Archive

6 December 2003

Women of Psychoanalysis

Organised in conjunction with the Psychoanalysis and History Journal.

Conference Report

Is psychoanalysis a 'woman's profession', more suited to the psychic capabilities and skills of women? Is there a particular feminine ethic at its core? These were some of the questions posed by John Forrester in his lucid introduction to the Women of Psychoanalysis conference, an event held to honour and remember some of the early female pioneers of psychoanalysis.

Certain themes resonated throughout the day - sexuality, gender, eroticism and relationships. Athol Hughes unravelled the influences underlying Joan Rivière's celebrated autobiographical essay 'Womenliness as a masquerade'. Susan Budd presented little known information about Freud's 'Psychogenesis of a case of homosexuality in a woman' and the Viennese social milieu in which it took place.

Remarkably, we are still debating the issues Freud grappled with: 'homosexuality' as a category, the relation between sexuality and gender, the relative weight of nature and nurture. Ron Britton's title 'Sex, Death and Psychoanalysis' summed up the main preoccupations of Sabina Spielrein's life and work and her barely disguised phantasy of sexual union in death. Discussing Britton's paper, Coline Covington (co-editor of a recent book on Sabina Spielrein) suggested that there may also be a benign form of this regressive pull in which the person is drawn towards temporary fusion with the mother-figure for psychic nourishment and renewal.

Themes of eroticism and sexuality were continued in the last talk of the day, 'Lou Andreas Salomé and Die Erotik', delivered by NHS psychotherapist Gary Winship. In an imaginative powerpoint presentation Winship excavated the myth that grew up around the figure of the celebrated writer and read passages from one of Lou Andreas Salomé's pre-analytic works, Die Erotik (1910).

The day ended with an evening film showing of a new Anglo-Italian feature film about Sabina Spielrein. The film was directed by Roberto Faenza and starred Iain Glenn and Amelia Fox. We would like to thank producer Charles Steel for loaning us the film, Tate Modern for screening it, and Andrea Sabbadini for introducing it with his customary aplomb. Thanks also to writer Lisa Appignanesi for chairing the whole conference with sparkling verve and intelligence.

The conference coincided with the publication of a new American edition of Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester's compendious book 'Freud's Women'.

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