Iam very grateful to Nancy Chodorow and Eli Zaretsky (nlr 96) and to the Lacan Study Group for their interesting discussions of my review of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism (nlr 93). If in my reply I leave some of the points they raise unconsidered, this is only because I wish to limit myself to those disagreements between us which are amenable to fruitful exchange. In consequence I shall try to avoid, on the one hand, raising issues of very real interest but of quite unmanageable proportions and, on the other hand, niggling away at what are to me evident but nevertheless must be comparatively insignificant misrepresentations of my own position.

So, for instance, in the Lacan Study Group letter it is as though a somewhat inept translator had interposed himself between us, for not only did I find some of my arguments hard to recognize, but in the sixth and seventh paragraphs of their letter, their argument largely eludes me. One peculiarity in their text, to which I might draw attention, is their seeming misunderstanding of the phrase ‘phallic monism’, which is normally used to refer to Freud’s doctrine that for one libidinal phase (the phallic phase) the clitoris plays for the little girl the same role as the penis does for the little boy. I find it hard to square the Group’s use of this phrase with the normal meaning, and my difficulties were only reinforced by their attributing to me the extraordinary view that for Freud all four, and not just the first three, libidinal phases are not gender-specific.

At the other end of the spectrum it is clear to me that neither group of critics is best pleased that I reject the model of a social science offered by Marxism. In writing my review I thought it only right that I should make my position on this issue quite clear, but I did not think it also right that I should argue in the course of my review for my position—any more than Mitchell thought it right that in her book she should argue for hers. Whether or not I am correct in believing that more nlr readers would agree with me in this judgment than with Chodorow and Zaretsky who criticize me for it, it is not a judgment that at this late stage I would wish to reverse. And I am sure that there remain, short of Marxism itself, outstanding issues between the critics and myself about the nature of explanation in psychoanalysis that could benefit from reformulation.

My strategy in reviewing Psychoanalysis and Feminism was first to lay out Freud’s account of feminine psychology with special emphasis on its explanatory character, so that when I came to Mitchell’s account I could at once demonstrate how it fell short of Freud’s account in explanatory force and suggest that it did so partly because she had not fully appreciated the explanatory character of that account. It should be apparent that my criticism of Mitchell is not at all on substantive points, except in so far as explanatory and substantive points converge, and it should be an inestimable advantage that in discussing such issues with someone committed to Marxism this kind of convergence can be taken for granted. It was only to be expected that, my strategy being what it was, most criticism should be directed against my reconstruction of the Freudian account and in particular against the explanatory character I assign to it. (If here and there my critics do not always discriminate accurately between my reconstruction of Freud’s views and my own views, part of the fault must lie with me.)

In substantiating what I take to be the explanatory character of Freud’s account of feminine psychology, I shall now make use of two distinctions, neither of which I made explicit in my review, though both are there. The first distinction is that between Freud’s general developmental theory, which in effect lays down a norm of development, and various particular theories of his, which account for either deviations from or ramifications within the norm. The distinction is highly important because it is only on behalf of the general theory that it could possibly be claimed (as, for instance, it is by me in my review) that explanation under it does not appeal to social factors. The claim could not conceivably be made for psychoanalytic theory as a whole; but in the context of Mitchell’s book this limitation upon the claim did not seem relevant. For it is plausible to assume, as Mitchell herself does and as I did up to the closing section of my review where I brought other considerations to bear, that it is the general developmental theory—which tells us among other things what men and women essentially are—that is most likely to throw light on the historical topics of patriarchy and male dominance.

However, to both groups of critics the claim that I make is suspect, though for diametrically opposed reasons. To the Lacan Study Group, the claim would ‘reduce’ psychoanalytic theory (or, to bring their criticism into line with what I have just said, the appropriate part of it) to ‘biologism’. If they are intent on pressing this criticism—and my doubts about their single-mindedness stem only from the fact that they also refer, in their last paragraph, to this very same claim as ‘idealist’—they would seem not to take seriously what I put forward as Freud’s alternative to explanation in terms of social factors: that is, explanation in terms of biology and its internal representations. On the face of it, a far more likely line of criticism would be that I have ‘psychologized’ biological explanation. Indeed it is from such a starting-point as this that Chodorow and Zaretsky criticize the claim. For they in effect contend that any explanation that appeals not just to biology but to represented biology is already a form of social explanation. For how we represent our biology—what we ‘make of’ it, in their phrase—is determined by social experience.

To this criticism two responses seem in order. The first is that I do not believe that Freud thought like this. On the contrary, there seems to me to be an implicit commitment in Freud just as there is an explicit commitment in Melanie Klein to an innate conceptual scheme through which experience in the gross is filtered. (It should be apparent from recent discussions in perceptual psychology and, above all, in linguistic theory that a commitment to innatism is perfectly compatible with allowing experience a significant role in development.) But the second response is this: even if what Chodorow and Zaretsky say about represented biology were true, it would not help the general cause in which they urge it. Here I need to introduce the other distinction to which I made reference, namely the one between a weak and a strong form of social explanation: the difference here being whether the factors to which the explanation appeals are general across all societies (weak) or whether they are specific to this or that particular social form (strong). When Freud, for instance, said that all psychology—meaning any comprehensive psychological theory—was at the same time social psychology, footnote1 what he clearly had in mind was that it must invoke social explanation in its weak form. But what Chodorow and Zaretsky need to establish, if they are to come to the rescue of Mitchell, is that a theory which appeals to represented biology thereby invokes social explanation in a strong sense. Can they do this ? At one point they seem to write as though it is sufficient to point out that all social factors are factors in a society which has this or that particular social form. But this suffices to prove nothing. For precisely what is at stake is whether the social factors that are invoked in explanation, society-specific though they may be in themselves, are invoked in virtue of their society-specific characteristics or in virtue of their general or transsocial characteristics: a point that is very neatly illustrated in the postscript to Melanie Klein’s ‘Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy’, where she manoeuvres to defend her ‘assumption of a general foundation for character development’ against a relativistically-minded anthropologist. footnote2