The becoming literary of the clitoral: sexual differance after Artemisia Gentileschi

Turner, Lynn. 2023. 'The becoming literary of the clitoral: sexual differance after Artemisia Gentileschi'. In: Rethinking Sexual Differance. Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France 22-24 November 2023. [Conference or Workshop Item]

Turner - Abstract.pdf - Supplemental Material
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (368kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

How do ‘we’ stand before the law? After Derrida’s dazzling response to Freud’s indictment of ‘emancipated’ literary women as the worst or best exemplars of penis envy, I take erection as my subject. Direction, moral rectitude, rights and writing are organised by Freud within the defensive formation of the fictional phallic stance, eternally erect. Rather than counter Freud in modes that would retain the same logic, through denial (there is no castration) or a false equivalence (everyone is castrated), Derrida welcomes the changes in size quietly admitted in Freud’s parenthesis. Thus, an inherent variability displaces the binary of presence or absence of penis (sexual difference reduced to sexual sameness for Luce Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Woman). The fort/da of detumescence/tumescence is our general condition. The blood that Derrida follows in the Death Penalty seminars - blood constrained to cruelty, to being made to flow and/or disappear into the concept – now pulses within the vicissitudes of erection ‘in men and in women,’ both situated as sites of sexual differences.

Leaning away from Freud’s appropriation of the bloody encounter of Judith and Holofernes, a scene more famously expressed by the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, I want to reanimate another of Gentileschi’s works: her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638). Catherine Malabou ironically forgets her own advice in Pleasure Erased since her book contains no trace of the 1998 revelation of the extent of clitoral anatomy through urologist Helen O’Donnell’s scans (bar a passing comment in the English translator’s introduction) and thus her clitoral ‘portrait’ is barely touched upon. Brush in one hand, palette held perpendicular to the viewer in the other, this paper turns towards Gentileschi’s self-portrait of herself painting herself in autoaffective anticipation of flaring clitoral structure, dismantling our binary preconceptions of scale, of visibility and sex before the law.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Keynote)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


22 November 2023Completed
1 July 2023Accepted

Event Location:

Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France

Date range:

22-24 November 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Jul 2023 08:33

Last Modified:

26 Nov 2023 15:34


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)