Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Constacne Penley – "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" – summary and review

Constacne Penley's "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" deals with the relations between feminism, psychoanalysis and popular culture by focusing on questions regarding the production of subjectivity and identity. Penley examines these questions by observing a group of female "Star Trek" fans who produce a type of literature that builds on "Star Trek" characters in a genre that combines fiction, pornography and utopian science fiction.
At the opening of "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture" Penley criticizes the feminist tendency to almost exclusively adopt Nancy Chodorow's model of feminine subjectivity in order to describe the manner in which women consume popular culture products. This model emphasizes a regression to pre-oedipal fantasies as a specific form of feminine identification. Penley argues that this model is too narrow and offers instead a psychoanalytic model of fantasy which enables an account of how the subject shapes a "script" through which he can manage critical questions regarding desire, knowledge and identity, and in which the subject can simultaneously sustain several positions of identification.    
Penley follows French psychoanalysis Laplanche and Pontalis who explain that fantasy for the subject is a story that attempts to answer basic questions regarding the origin of the individual, sexuality, gender differences etc. fantasy for them is not the object of desire, but rather the environment which sustains them. Though the subject is always present in the fantasy, he or she can assume several positions which are not necessarily subjective. Laplanche and Pontalis add a Lacanian flavor by pointing to the lack of mutuality between subject and object or the manner in which the subjects is constructed by what is absent in him.
Penley hold that the model of fantasy presented by Freud and Lacan allows the explanation of a number of, even contradicting, subject positions as well as the relation between desire and law – the subject of the symbolic order as well as of the imaginary order. Penley holds that only a detailed account of identification and gender differences can assist in describing what happens in the writing and reading of fanzines, given the multiple options of identification a pleasure presented by them and that do not seem to originate in the pre-oedipal stage.
suggested reading:
The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (Popular Fictions Series)Psychoanalysis and Culture: Contemporary States of Mind