chapter  3
20 Pages

Sociology and Philosophy: An American Dilemma and the Making of The Second Sex

Imagine that an explorer arrives in a little-known region where his interest is aroused by an expanse of ruins, with remains of walls, fragments of columns, and tablets with half-effaced and unreadable inscriptions. He may content himself with inspecting what lies exposed ro view, with questioning the inhabitants-perhaps semi-barbaric people-who live in the vicinity, about what tradition tells them of the history and meaning of these archaeological remains, and with noting down what they tell him-and he may then proceed on his journey. But he may act differently. He may have brought picks, shovels and spades with him, and he may set the inhabitants to work with these implements. Together with them he may start upon the ruins, clear away the rubbish, and, beginning from the visible remains, uncover what is buried. If his work is crowned with success, the discoveries are self-explanatory: the ruined walls are part of the ramparts of a palace or a treasure-house; the fragments of columns can be filled our into a temple; and numerous inscriptions, which, by good luck, may be bilingual, reveal an alphabet and a language, and, when they have been deciphered and translated, yield undreamed-of information about the events of the remote past, to commemorate which the monuments were built. Saxa loquuntur! ("Aetiology of Hysteria'' 3: 192)

In this elaborate metaphor, Freud equates the unconscious with archaeological ruins encountered by a European explorer. Since the traditions of "semibarbaric" natives cannot, Freud assumes, be trusted to reveal the past that the ruins commemorate or the purpose for which they were built, the explorer must decipher the language of the stones themselves-saxa loquuntur! Freud argues that the psychoanalyst must approach symptoms in a similar way, for they commemorate a personal past whose meaning and history must be excavated from the unconscious and deciphered-sexus loquitur! In the development of psychoanalysis, such structures of knowledge were used to

formulate what were then termed the repressed wishes of women and others defined as neurotic-the casualties of European modernity. Given such gaudy anthropological images, it is no wonder that French surrealists identified the unconscious with Africans as well as women and children. For example, Leiris and Georges Bataille, as editors of the journal Documents from 1929 to 1931, used images of Africa and fart negre to shock conventional taste. Leiris included photographs of black leather masks, documenting the voodoo beliefs of Haiti, as illustrations for an essay on sexual violence, fetishism, disguise, and the masking of the self 3

One of our contradictions was our denial of the unconscious; yet Gide, the surrealists, and, despite our resistance, Freud himself had convinced us that in every being there exists what Andre Breton called un infracassable noyau de nuit, an indestructible kernel of darkness, something that cannot break through [percer] social routines or the commonplaces of language, but does, now and then, burst scandalously forth. Some truth is always revealed in these explosions, and we were deeply moved by those that brought about an access of freedom [delivrent une liberte]. We set particular store by any upheaval that exposed the defects and hypocrisies of the bourgeoisie. (I 07-08, TM; FA 150).