A Contribution to the Study of Fetishism : 7th February 1940 : William Gillespie

by Julia Evans on February 7, 1940

Read before the British Psycho-Analytical Society, 7th February 1940.

Published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 21, p401-415

Available at www.LacanianWorksExchange.net  /authors by date or authors a-z

Reference by Jacques Lacan in Seminar IV : 30th January 1957, 

Para 28 : All this can be seen, but we need analysis in order to see what is at stake a little more closely. That is, to see how it happens that each time, for whatever reason, the fetish gives way, exhausts itself, gets used up, simply gives out. What we see in romantic behaviour, and more simply in the erotic relations of the subject, comes down to a defense. You can verify this by reading, in the International Journal, the observations of Ms. Sylvia Payne, Mr. Gillespie, Ms. Greenacre, Mr. Dugmore Hunter, or in the Psychoanalytic of the Child. 

& … This was glimpsed by Freud, and it is expressed in our schema. Freud says: “Fetishism is a defense against homosexuality.” As Mr. Gillespie says: the line is incredibly thin. : Well not exactly – the nearest is :  p402 : Although Freud was the first to draw attention to the scopophilic and coprophilic components in fetishism he made it quite clear that he regarded it primarily as a method of dealing with castration anxiety and preserving a belief in the phallic mother. At the same time, he says, it saves the patient from the necessity of becoming homosexual, by endowing the woman with the character that makes her tolerable as a sexual object. He admitted that he was unable to say why the castration fear resulting from the sight of the female genital causes some to become homosexual, others fetishists, while the great majority overcome the experience. For the present, he says, we must be content to explain what occurs rather than what does not occur. But this lack of specificity in our ætiology is one of the problems of which we are becoming more and more conscious, and the time seems to have arrived when we must attempt to answer these more searching questions. 

According to Freud’s conception, then, the castration complex is the alpha and omega of fetishism. 

OR …. p406 : This modification served several purposes—it made it possible for him to bring his masturbation into the analysis, as it were; it represented at a much more unconscious level an invitation to the analyst to treat him as the figures in the drawings were treated; and it also served the purpose of a further line of defence against the anxieties connected with his destructive phantasies—the fact that it was mere drawings that he was dealing with was a reassurance that it was neither his real parents nor himself that were being treated in this way.

Reference to Sylvia Payne

See Some Observations on the Ego Development of the Fetishist : 1939 : Sylvia Payne See here : This paper also referred to by Jacques Lacan in Seminar IV : 30th January 1957

P401 of Gillespie : Freud has expressed his fundamental contributions to the subject with great lucidity, and there is no doubt to my mind that they provide us with the most important line of approach. But I feel sure that he did not mean to suggest that the last word had been said on the matter. Further additions of great value have in fact been made, notably by Sylvia Payne. I should like to thank her both for the help she gave me in the early stages of the analysis and for her very stimulating recent paper on the subject.

It will be remembered that Dr. Payne laid special emphasis on the pregenital components determining fetishism, and on the importance of introjection-projection mechanisms. She said: ‘In my opinion the fetish saves the individual from a perverse form of sexuality. The component impulse which would prevail if not placed under special control is the sadistic impulse’ (p. 169). The aim, she said, is to kill the love object. Ample confirmation of these views is to be found in the analysis of my own case. 

This brings me to what I conceive to be the crux of the problem of fetishism at the present time, and I want to present it in as lucid a manner as possible, at the risk of appearing elementary and obvious.  : 2 S. M. Payne, ‘Some Observations on the Ego Development of the Fetishist’, this JOURNAL, Vol. XX, 1939 

Some history

From Wikipedia.com : The controversial discussions were a protracted series of meetings of the British Psychoanalytical Society which took place between October 1942 and February 1944 between the Viennese school and the supporters of Melanie Klein. They led to a tripartite division of training in the society after the war with the three groups of Kleinians, Anna Freudians, and the Middle (or later Independent) Group.

In these sessions the differences between classical Freudian analysis and newer Kleinian theory were argued with considerable vehemence. The Freudian side was principally represented by Anna Freud, who was resistant to the revisions of theory and method proposed by Klein as a result of her work as an analyst of young children. The Klein Group included Susan Isaacs, Joan Riviere, Paula Heimann, and Roger Money-Kyrle. The Anna Freud Group included Kate Friedlander, and Willie Hoffer. The “Middle Group”, who tried to apply a moderating force included Ella Freeman Sharpe, James Strachey, Sylvia Payne, Donald Winnicott, William Gillespie, Marjorie Brierley, and later, Michael Balint.

In the agreement, eventually formalised in November 1946, two parallel training courses were established, one for candidates aligned to the Anna Freud school and one incorporating training from Freudian and Kleinian analysts as well as from the non-aligned analysts from the Middle or Independent Group.

From W H Gillespie’s obituary, in the Guardian, here   :

… by winning scholarships, bursaries and prizes, including the British Medical Association clinical essay prize, he made his way through Edinburgh University and medical school, winning degrees in medicine and surgery in 1929.

Two years later, he went to Vienna University on a scholarship, ostensibly to study psychiatry, but really to learn more about psychoanalysis. He relished the city’s cosmopolitan, cultivated atmosphere, and had some analysis with Edmund Hirschmann, one of Freud’s oldest adherents.

On returning to Britain, and deciding to become a psychoanalyst, Gillespie obtained a post at a London mental hospital which housed patients with senile dementia, and started his training analysis with Ella Sharpe, an analyst with considerable literary interests. Characteristically, he also used his mental hospital experience to good effect by obtaining his MD in 1934 with a thesis on the psychopathology of senile dementia, a subject that provided some of the groundwork for his later psychoanalytic papers on ageing and death.

In 1935, Gillespie joined the staff of the Maudsley hospital, in south London, the Mecca of British psychiatry. In 1936 he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians – he became a fellow in 1962 – and qualified as a psychoanalyst in 1937. Shortly afterwards, he wrote the first of a series of papers on the psychopathology of sexual perversions, refining and expanding Freud’s original contributions by further understanding of the relationship between sexuality and aggression, together with the importance of the superego.

In the early 1940s, the British Society held a series of meetings, known as its “controversial discussions”. The followers of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein presented their differing viewpoints on fundamental psychoanalytical observations and theories, with a mainly British middle grouping holding the balance between the two sides. Gillespie emerged as a fair-minded, diplomatic person trusted by all sides. In 1950, aged 45, he was elected the youngest ever president of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

He now became active in the international arena and, in 1957, was elected president of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). He chose as his honorary secretary a likeminded colleague, Pearl King, and they initiated extensive revisions of the IPA’s statutes, helping to resolve organisational problems in both France and the United States. Following Gillespie’s presidency, which ended in 1961, he was elected as IPA vice president for a further 12 years, until he declined to stand again for office.


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further posts:

Some Lacanian history here

Lacanian Transmission here 

Of the clinic here 

By William Hewitt Gillespie  here  

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here 

By Jacques Lacan here 

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

Translation Working Group here 

Use of power here    

By Julia Evans here