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Fetishism in Literature and Cultural Studies

Fetishism In Feminism

According to Freud, and for obvious reasons, fetishism is a perversion restricted to men alone; however, feminist psychoanalytic and cultural theorists have also theorized the concept's broader applicability. Naomi Schor coins the term for feminism in her studies of textual instances of fetishism in the writing of Georges Sand. For Emily Apter, the combined commodity and sexual fetishism of Marx and Freud can be seen to be pastiched, parodied, and more generally deployed as a feminine phenomenon, where objects are substituted for absences and endowed with perverse, specific, "valueless" value, as illustrated in the collection of memorabilia in, for example, the artist Mary Kelly's installation Post-Partum Document (1976). Elizabeth Grosz, Teresa de Lauretis, and Judith Butler have argued the applicability of notions of fetishism and the fetish for descriptions of lesbian "perverse" desire. Grosz proposes that, for women, it is not the mother's but the daughter's castration that may be disavowed (that is to say, their own). According to Grosz, in Freudian theory there are three possibilities for female fetishism. Femininity itself can be seen to be a fetish, the substitution of material signs on the woman's own body for the "missing" phallus, thereby remaking the entire body into the phallus through narcissistic self-investment. The hysteric, by contrast, invests a part of her own body with displaced sexuality. Finally, Freud's "masculinity complex" in women most closely illustrates the disavowal proper to fetishism through the substitution of an object outside of the woman (another woman's body), rather than her own or part of her own. Butler's "lesbian phallus" illustrates the potential detachability of the phallus as an idealized signifier of desire in Freudian and Lacanian theory; thus it can be transferred to and reappropriated by other kinds of bodies and subjects. De Lauretis definitively frees fetishism from its moorings in phallocentric theories (the positing of the fetish as penis or phallus substitute, the explanation of fetishism as related to horror at the sight of female genitals) by arguing that the fetish—as Sarah Kofman noted—is not the substitution for a "real" lack but is, as it were, the fetish of a fetish, the material sign of a desiring fantasy that marks both an "object" and its absence. Thus what is fetishized in lesbian desire, de Lauretis argues, is the female body itself or something that is metonymically related to it. These revisions allow feminist theorists to theorize forms of feminine desire—and especially lesbian desire—that do not correspond to heteronormative and phallocentric theories of sexuality.

Film theorists such as Metz have used the scopic specificity of the fetish—the fact that it arises in the context of a visual moment of recognition and misrecognition—to describe the workings of cinema as a medium, while feminist film theorists such as Laura Mulvey focus particularly on the fetishization of the woman's body in film (especially classic Hollywood cinema) as a way to critique the pleasures produced by narrative film for the masculine viewing subject.

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