This was a short response piece that I wrote a few years back. For me, it was primarily interesting from the shifts that were going on in my thinking at that time, particularly in the way that the article hints at a rethinking of the proletariat, as well as broader questions within the historical materialist tradition. There is an obvious feminist influence, one that was particularly inflected through the reading of Freud and that tradition of an analysis of a libidinal economy. The end hints at the sort of reading that Gayle Rubin's "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex",although I'm fairly certain I hadn't read it yet. In addition, there are some resonances with the work of Sylvia Federici, although her approach is substantially more interesting. The essay is an analysis of Jane Gallop's article, "Keys to Dora."
Jane Gallop’s article introduces something new to the picture in her analysis of Freud’s book Dora. Up to now, the articles that we have been looking at have not really interrogated the circuitry of the bourgeois family, but Gallop does this, and unlocks something remarkable in doing so. What she shows is that the moment of danger within the bourgeois family comes from outside of it, in the form of the maid. This figure plays several roles within the narrative, ranging from the potential sexual threat to the abject figure that both Freud and Dora reject. It is her appearance that opens up the possibilities as that “she is “at the door” inasmuch as she is the threshold figure: existing between “within the family” and “outside the family.” (Gallop 215) This will eventually lead us into a dizzying tailspin, where class and gender overdetermine each other, identify each other, and become each other. But before entering that vortex, it would be perhaps a good idea to move back to the moment before the introduction of the “outside.”
Gallop begins the article by engaging in a close and intensive reading of what Cixous and Clement make of the notion of the hysteric. This contested reading looks at the question of the extent that hysteria is ambiguous: she both contests and conserves.” (Gallop 202) Within this ambiguity, the two authors take sides. “For Clement, Dora does not pass into “symbolic inscription, “and so Dora’s outbursts burst nothing. According to Clement: “Raising a ruckus, causing a crisis perturbing familial reactions, that is re-closable.” (Gallop ) What Clement does is to close off the possibility of hysteria as a form of contestation, because of its possibility of being folded back into the economy of the family. In a strange sense, she parallels Freud himself, when he notes, “The question whether a woman is ‘open’ or ‘shut’ can naturally not be a matter of indifference.”(Gallop 204) And as Gallop continues, “although Clement begins by defining the hysteric’s position as ambiguous, once it is tied to the question “open or shut,” that ambiguity becomes intolerable; it must be decided.” (Gallop 204) In the end, Clement must reject Dora.
In a certain sense, one can draw a parallel to this with certain debates that occur between activists. There is a certain section of activists who are looking for a “pure” form of action that cannot be brought back into the fold… that can’t be recuperated back into the system to improve it. After all, why would one want to put one’s time and energy into something that will in the end aid one’s foes? But in a sense, that is the risk that one must take in order to change anything. One must in fact to some extent acknowledge one’s position within the circuit of capital, and use those ideological tools in order to fight it
This may seem like a tangent to the topic at hand, because it is in a way, the position that Cixous takes in advocating for Dora. When Clement takes up the position, that Dora is that which is “closable”, Cixous disagrees. “And it is that very force which works in the dismantling of structures… Dora broke something.” (Gallop 204) The strategy of resistance, which Cixous builds on the ideas of “exits, outlets, escapes, holidays, outings, sallies’, also ‘outbursts, attacks, tirades.’” (Gallop 205) This strategy is one far more built upon contingencies, retreats, compromises, etc. It in effect becomes more of a strategy on the lines of Gramsci’s War of Position rather than the war of maneuver.
Besides, Cixous does something else. She begins to open up the discussion outside of the family, with the introduction of the maid. This breaks the discussion out of the closed circuit of the family that “one of psychoanalysis’s consistent errors is to reduce everything to a family paradigm.” (Gallop 213) But the maid disturbs this, becoming, as Cixous puts it, “the whole in the social cell.” (Gallop 213) This hole becomes the opening that allows for the reality of the class relations, which allow for existence of the bourgeois family to flood in. This forces the family to confront the ideological nature of its own construction.
Gallop states, “As a threatening representative of the symbolic, the economic, the extra-familial, the maid must be both seduced (assimilated) and abandoned (expelled). She must be “foutue a la porte.” (Gallop 216) She becomes the figure that acts as a link and homology between the figure of the worker and the woman. There is no compromising with her she must be destroyed completely. Just as the figure of the proletariat is what is exchanged within bourgeois exchange, women are placed in those relations of exchange as well. “As Cixous points out, the Dora case is punctuated by women declared “nothing”. Both Herr K and Dora’s father say that of their wives. What is true of the wives (mothers) is even more explicit for the two governesses. Dora “sees a massacre of women executed to make space for her. But she knows that she will be in turn massacred.” (p.282) Neither Dora, the hysteric, nor Freud, the governess can tolerate the position allotted them by the system of exchanges.” (Gallop 216) What is being offered to Dora and Freud is the logic of the assembly line. You can fill the position for right now, and we can throw you out or exchange you as we please.
But at the same time, “neither Neither Dora nor Freud can tolerate identification with the seduced and abandoned governess…. Freud and Dora’s understanding of the “barter” of women never passes through the general term “des femmes,” always remains in the imaginary. The imaginary might be characterized as the non-assumption of the mother’s castration. In the imaginary, “the mother” unlike the maid, is assumed to be still phallic; omnipotent and omniscient, she is unique. What is exposed in the Dora case that neither Dora nor Freud wanted to see that Frau K and Dora’s mother are in the same position as the maid. In feminist or symbolic or economic terms the mother/wife is in a position of substitutability and economic inferiority. For the analysis to pass out of the imaginary, it must pass through a symbolic third term—“des femmes” on the cover of Cixous’s Portrait de Dora, a term that represents a class.” (Gallop 216-217)
“Class” and “des femmes”, Gallop as taken the two terms that have been contested so often and so pedantically, and made them swirl into each other. The figure of the worker’s body is no longer a male one and the figure of the woman is no longer a bourgeois one. The proletariat is no longer an economic (and frankly masculine) figure; instead the proletariat is the figure of use value placed into the tyranny and exploitation of indifferent exchange. Perhaps, this is what Dora “breaks through.” Within this exchange of bodies that circulates unpredictably and savagely, can one talk of anything that is truly “open” or “shut”? “Like the hysteric’s role, like the governess’s role, we must learn to accept the ambiguity, learn to make “open or shut” a matter of indifference.” (Gallop 219)