What do political free speech and psychoanalytic free association have in common, besides the word “free”? And what do Sigmund Freud and Justice Louis Brandeis share besides a world between two great wars? How is the female body a neglected key to understanding the conditions and contradictions of free discourse? Jill Gentile takes up these questions, and more, in her wide-ranging, often passionate exploration of the hidden legacy of Freud and the Founding Fathers. These pioneers, through their imprecise instructions to fight repression, set in motion incessant processes by which we claim power and agency. These processes come into sharp focus in the analytic clinic. The author shows that psychoanalysis is not just a method of treatment, but also a practice of “transitional democracy,” in which doctor and patient together discover the very basis of equality, as they learn how to navigate its essential flux, both in relationships and in public action.
Feminine Law illustrates these ideas through detailed portraits of political and clinical struggle—in Constitutional battles and dynamic case studies. It tells stories of victory and setback, advance and retreat. And it tells the larger story of a dialectical process that is necessary to freedom itself. This story is peopled by characters such as Freud and the post-Freudians Lacan, Bion, and Winnicott; feminist theorists such as Benjamin, Gilligan, and Kristeva; the Constitution’s framers and jurists such as Holmes and Brandeis; and modern legal scholars and contemporary critical theorists. Its thesis is illuminated by ideas from a broad range of disciplines and literatures, ranging from Athenian politics to the modern semiotics of C. S. Peirce and Walker Percy. The tale ultimately reaches a simple but rich conclusion: That both the talking cure and democratic free speech reveal the power of a feminine law: a law of space, rooted in the female body, that preconditions our (necessarily imperfect) pursuit of subjective freedom and collective agency. Feminine law opens a democratic space for the potentially disruptive but also liberating and novel flow of desire and its symbols.