“Woman” “does” “not exist”?

The ‘I’ does not stand apart from the prevailing matrix of ethical norms and conflicting moral frameworks. In an important sense, this matrix is also the condition for the emergence of the ‘I,’ even though the ‘I’ is not causally induced by those norms. We cannot conclude that the ‘I’ is simply the effect or the instrument of some prior ethos or some field of conflicting or discontinuous norms. When the ‘I’ seeks to give an account of itself, it can start with itself, but it will find that this self is already implicated in a social temporality that exceeds its own capacities for narration; indeed, when the ‘I’ seeks to give an account of itself, an account that must include the conditions of its own emergence, it must, as a matter of necessity, become a social theorist.

The reason for this is that the ‘I’ has no story of its own that is not also the story of a relation—or set of relations—to a set of norms. Although many contemporary critics worry that this means there is no concept of the subject that can serve as the ground for moral agency and moral accountability, that conclusion does not follow.

Judith Butler 1993 Giving an Account of Oneself


The manner in which our patients bring forward their associations during the work of analysis gives us an opportunity for making some interesting observations. ‘Now you’ll think I mean to say something insulting, but really I’ve no such intention.’ we realize that this is a rejection, by projection, of an idea that has just come up. Or: ‘You ask who this person in the dream can be. It’s not my mother.’ We emend this to: ‘So it is his mother.’

In our interpretation, we take the liberty of disregarding the negation and of picking out the subject-matter alone of the association. It is as though the patient had said: ‘It’s true that my mother came into my mind as I thought of this person, but I don’t feel inclined to let the association count.’

There is a very convenient method by which we can sometimes obtain a piece of information we want about unconscious repressed material. ‘What’, we ask, ‘would you consider the most unlikely imaginable thing in that situation? What do you think was furthest from your mind at that time?’ If the patient falls into the trap and says what he thinks is most incredible, he almost always makes the right admission. A neat counterpart to this experiment is often met with in an obsessional neurotic who has already been initiated into the meaning of his symptoms. ‘I’ve got a new obsessive idea,’ he says, ‘and it occurred to me at once that it might mean so and so. But no; that can’t be true, or it couldn’t have occurred to me.’ What he is repudiating, on grounds picked up from his treatment, is, of course, the correct meaning of the obsessive idea.

Sigmund Freud 1925 Negation

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