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Women’s Studies at the Open University; Australasian Committee on Women in Philosophy




to neuro-biological or physical schemes and that in
Lacan the model, the reference, has been mainly
Zinguistia (or more recently topo~ogiaa~) does not
affect the radical particularity and separate existence of the fundamental psychoanalytical concepts
which refer to a specific experience and are created
in order to designate this experience. That this
experience is articulated and articulable – that it
is structured and can be expressed through language ‘in those figures which have a fixity of symptoms and
can be resolved if correctly deciphered’ as Lacan
says, is at the heart of the Freudian inauguration of
psychoanalysis as the ‘talking cure’.

But at this point there is a complete misunderstanding in Bird’s reading of Lacan [4]. So much so
that the accusation of a ‘linguistic reading of Freud’

in Lacan’s work (Bird, p.ll) applies rather to the
way Bird himself is understanding Lacan. Consider,
for example, the symbolic as ‘formed of the set of
conventional symbols of social systems which is
assimilated to a linguistic model, etc.’ (Bird, p.IO).

This does not correspond to the psychoanalytical
dimension of the symbolic which we find in Lacan’s
elaboration. The symbolic is no more nor less than
the order of the signifier(s) – which is not just
words or any words – and therefore it must not be
confused either with the system of the language it~
self or merely with social symbols. Lacan says that
the determination of the symbolic order over the
imaginary exists in Freud and is recalled by him
every time the mechanism of forgetting or in the
structure of the fetishism is at issue (Lacan,
Eari ts, p. 464) .

The idea of Lacan ignoring ‘the natural and
physical aspects of man – his drives and instincts’

or reducing them to symbols which will never reach
‘the real hard concrete aspects of life’ (Bird, p.12)
has nothing to do with the Lacanian conception of the
symbolic which has enough materiality to mark real
existence. As to the drives ‘they have always been
expressing their effects into language’ (Earits,
p.466) .

Again, the distinction in Bird between inner (unconscious, drives) and outer (society, rules) world
with the language as inte~ediary and the opposition
between the individual needs and the social rules
constitute a scheme very different from Lacan’s
categories of the Real, the Symbolic and the
Imaginary. For Lacan, these three fundamental
dimensions of the human experience can be tied in
the way of a borromean knot [5].

The question of the ‘metaphor of the Name of the
Father’, a signifier central for the understanding
of the problem of psychosis in Lacan’s theory, has
also been investigated in this later period through
the borromean knot.

A last misunderstanding in Bird’s article concerns
the training of the psychoanalyst in the Lacanian
theoretical perspective. Personal analysis is the
centre of this training. It should go as far as
possible, ideally to the point where the individual
signifiers are analysed and they resist any further
signification; where the analysand can ideally say
that he realises Freud’s wish concerning the aim of
psychoanalysis: ‘Wo es war solI Ich werden’, knowledge of the unconscious desire.

At the end of this analysis, or even before, in
the course of the process, some of t~le analysands
may experience the desire to continue the analytical
experience from the point of view of the object they
are leaving, i.e. the analyst. The possibility of
giving an account of this moment has constituted the
Lacanian proposition of ‘la passe’ which could provide new formulations of the question ‘how one
becomes an analyst’.

As to the ‘absence’ of analysis in training, here
is a passage from what Lacan said in a conference
‘On the experience of ‘1la passe” and its transmission’

(Lacan, 3 November 1973, Oriniaar, No.12/l3).

So here it is, what I obtain after having
proposed this experience. I obtain something
which is absolutely not of the order of the
discourse of the magister. You ought to know
how to notice the things I am not talking about
– I have never talked about analytical training
[‘formation analytique’], I have talked about
training of the unconscious [‘formations de
l’inconscient’]. There is no analytical training.

From the analysis an experience is drawn, which
is quite wrongly qualified as didactic. Experi-‘

ence is not didactic. Why do you believe that
I have tried to efface completely this term
‘didactic’ and talked of pure psychoanalysis?

Hara Pepeli




Limited to the Earits (1966), and the only English-translated seminar (196465) on ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, it ignores the
rest, and especially the later work of Lacan where new elaborations appear.

The Earits is a rather particular case by comparison with Lacan’ s other works,
because it is his first and only book and constitutes a concise account of
his ideas where the preoccupation with style is pre-eminent.

Lacan, being a psychoanalyst, developed his work as a series of questions
emerging from his own experience, which he tried to answer through his
reading of Freud, his own ideas and the critical reading of the work of
other psychoanalysts.

S. Freud, Letter 52 to Fliess, dated 6 December 1896.

He is not the only one. There is always the danger in a work of isolating
certain views and making them the key explanation of the whole. This is also
the danger of a very limited reading. Lacan himsel f had another idea of his
own progression: ‘I began with the imaginary, I consequently chewed the
story of the symbolic with this linguistic reference in which I did not find
all that could help me and I reached my goal by extracting for you this
famous real under the very form of the knot.’ (Lacan, Seminar 14 January
1975, RSI Or>niaar No.3).

The topological model of the borromean knot
and the possibilities which it offers to the
exploration of these three dimensions has
become. after 1975, Lacan’ s main theoretical
preoccupation. The elementary borromean
knot is constituted by three rings of string
which are tied in such a ‘way that if you
cut anyone of them the remaining two are
free (see diagram). The three rings correspond to the three dimensions, the Real, the
Symbolic and the Imaginary. Lacan says that
Freud had some idea of them but not the
concept. With time and patience, he affirms,
he extracted them from Freud’s discourse (L
(Lacan Seminar 14 January 1975, RSI Ornicar, No.3).

‘Women’s Studies at the Open University
In 1976, some members of the women’s group on campus
suggested that the Open University should put on a
women’s studies course for undergraduates. In
February this year, the first students taking The
Changing Experienae of Women came to an introductory
meeting. In between came two lengthy processes;
first, persuading the university that this would be
a coherent (that’s to say, an academically respectable) subject to study, even though we acknowledged
that women’s studies courses got their political
impetus from the women’s movement. Secondly, trying
to write the course so that, while we acknowledged
that the course is an ‘academic’ one, it remains
relevant to women’s lives, experiences, and to the
debates through which feminism has articulated
politicai discontent about these, especially over the
past decade.


Writing Open University courses for unknown generations of future students is always a peculiar
business. There is always a separation – of distance,
and of time – between course writers and students
such that courses aren’t put on in direct response
to student demand, as may be possible in other
educational situations. This separation, and the
mainly individualised way that Open University
students have to study, seemed particularly acute
problems for a women’s studies course. What would
the students know or think about feminism? Nothing
much could be assumed about this, since the course
didn’t arise out of direct student demand. Nor could
we know even how many students would be women or men.

Again, some of the students would want to take the
course as a single commitment. But how many of these
would there be, and how would they – possibly
committed feminists already quite knowledgeable about
the debates – get along with Open University undergraduates, some taking the course for a variety of
other reasons?

The course which finally emerged begins with
examinations of various characterizations of the
biology and sexuality of women. We move on to look
at presentations of women in literary and autobiographical writing by women in popular magazines.

The course then considers women’s and men’s lives in
relation to the family and in relation to work
inside and outside the home both now and historically.

We consider women’s experience in relation to various
aspects of the state and social services such as
their tax and social security positions, education,
health, and roles in the health service. The course
ends with a consideration of violence against women.

Now that some students are enrolled on the course,
answers to some of the questions have started to
emerge, though it will be some time before we really
know what the responses of students, the university,
and the outside world in general to the course
actually are. We do not know if or how the ideas in
it will seem to link persuasively with changes
students have experienced in their lives, or not;
whether it will be seen as different from other
Open University courses in this respect, or not.

But in one or two ways, it is already obvious that
the existence of this course does push against the
constraints of the university system. For instance,
some students have wanted to take the course as a
(women’s) group, and although this is to some extent
possible in the Open University system, it does push
against the individualised study that prevails.

Secondly, because the course has a summer school,
we have started arguing for a cr~che or at least
for arrangements for chi1dcare at summer school to
be taken seriously.

It remains to be seen what links will be made
between studying women’s position and changing it,
whether in the university or in the rest of the
world. But meanwhile, if you want to get a flavour
of the course yourself, you can watch it on the
television … Wednesdays at 5.10 pm, Saturdays at
9.45 am, once a month – see Radio Times.

In August 1981 the Australasian Association of
Philosophy set up a Committee to report on the
special problems concerning women in the philosophy
profession in Australia and New Zealand, and to
formulate policy proposals. The Committee’s report,
issued in August 1982, deals with: the poor representation of women in full-time and, especially, tenured
posts; questions of the ‘maleness’ of academic
philosophy – its effects on female students and on
the employment prospects of female philosophers; the
concentration of female philosophers in areas regarded
as peripheral and expendable; sexism and sexual
harassment in philosophy departments; responses to
courses on feminism taught within Australian
philosophy departments.

The Committee found that the representation of
women in tenured positions – currently about 8% had improved only marginally in the last decade,
despite a marked increase in the number of suitably
qualified female graduates in the same period.

Although this situation is partly due to the contraction of universities in recent years, submissions
to the Committee indicated that it is exacerbated by
a number of factors which make the atmosphere of
philosophy departments uncongenia1 to female presence,
and also make women appear implausible candidates for
what positions do become available. The report
elaborates the ways in which these styles and stereotypes operating in academic philosophy reflect its
domination by men, to the disadvantage of women.

The Committee’s policy proposals were adopted at
the annual general meeting of the AAP in August 1982.

The proposals are intended to improve the ‘visibility’

of female candidates, and are designed to implement
at departmental level an Affirmative Action POlicy
formulated by the Federation of Australian lmiversity
Staff Associations. In accordance with the proposals,
departments have been requested to actively seek
applications from suitably qualified female candidates for vacant positions, to take up references
and seek written work from all female applicants,
and to make available, on request, to unsuccessful
applicants the reasons for their lack of success.

The policy is not intended as a ‘preferential hiring’

programme. Some of the issues at stake in the choice
between ‘affirmative action’ and ‘preferential
hiring’ are discussed in the report.

The AAP has established a further Committee to
monitor the implementation of the affirmative action
programme and to facilitate contact between female
philosophers. A session for Women in Philosophy was
held at the annual conference of the AAP in
Helbourne in August 1982; a second session is
planned for the next Conference in Adelaide in
August 1983.

Copies of the report are available from
Genevieve L1oyd, Philosophy Department, The
Faculties, Australian National University, P 0 Box 4,
Canberra, A.C.T. 2600, Australia.

Sonja Rueh1

Genevieve Lloyd


Australasian Committee on Women in Philosophy

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