CHAPTER TWO :
PHALLOCENTRISM, THE FEMININE, AND MIND AND BODY IN PSYCHOANALYSIS.
Freud on Fetishism and the Uncanny: A prerequisite to Klein
For Freud and the followers of Freudian psychoanalysis, the visibility of the penis dictates its value relative to the ‘invisible’ genitalia of the female, when it comes to a human being’ s capacity to distinguish between the sexes. l
In ‘Fetishism’ ( 1927) Freud writes, , ..,the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s ( the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and for reasons familiar to us - does not want to give up’ ( pp. 152-153). And '...the fetish... remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it’ (p. 154).
The fetish allows for the admission of the idea that the woman is ‘castrated’ but disavows the affect, that is, splits off the anxiety that should accompany such a recognition, Freud explains, , It seems rather that when the fetish is instituted some process occurs which reminds one of the stopping of memory in traumatic amnesia, .. the subject’ s interest comes to a halt halfway as it were; it is as though the last impression before the uncanny and traumatic one is retained as a fetish’ (p. 155).
He gives the examples of common fetishes such as shoes or underwear which he says ‘... crystallise the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could be regarded as phallic’ (p. 155).
The fetish comes to represent this moment, and is usually the last object which the eye fell upon’ .,. before the uncanny and traumatic one’ (p, 354). The uncanny traumatic object is the woman-mother’s naked, whole body. Freud is saying that the male fetish originates from a need to deny the mother’ s castration, which amounts to an affective disavowal of her specific sexual difference. The idea that the woman is castrated, does not have a penis, is admitted to consciousness, but the phantasy that she retains a penis is retained and displaced onto the object last observed before the trauma of castration anxiety threatened to overwhelm the male subject. The shoe, the underwear etc. becomes the fetish the displaced, wished for penis, In phantasy the fetish represents the phallic mother, a woman with a penis, and this wards off castration anxiety, or evocations of the , uncanny’. I want to pick up the fact that Freud calls the moment of seeing the whole naked woman without a penis an , uncanny’ one by reflecting on his essay on the subject.
The ‘uncanny’ writes Freud, relates to , ... what is frightening - to what arouses dread and horror..,’ (1919, p. 219) However the ‘uncanny’ has a special quality that is frightening says Freud, which he further defines thus : , .,. the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar. How this is possible, in what circumstances the familiar can become uncanny and frightening, I shall show in what follows’ (p, 220).
He then goes on to examine the linguistic use of the German word ‘unheimlich’ , (uncanny) which he defines as the opposite of ‘heimlich’ , (‘homely’) or ‘heimisch’ (‘native’) (p. 220) . He determines from this that one quality of what is meant by the uncanny is the unhomely, a lack of familiarity, and yet concludes that not all that is unfamiliar is uncanny.
Referring to an essay by Jentsch, Freud says that the uncanny might better be described as: ‘something one does not know one’s way about in’ (p- 221).
Freud then goes on to examine a German Dictionary for the various permutations of the meaning of the word ‘heimlich’ which he lists in full. I will list some of the translated entries here:
Freud traces the meaning of ‘heimlich’ as it gradually evolves into its opposite ‘unheimlich’. It is helpful that the translators remind us that the English equivalent , canny’ in the Oxford English Dictionary can also mean ‘cosy’ , ‘pleasant’, ‘shrewd’ and also ‘endowed with magical or occult powers’ before finally evolving into its opposite, ‘uncanny’ which can also mean, ‘association with supernatural arts or powers’.
Freud concludes that : ‘... "heimlich" is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, "unheimlich"’ (p, 226).
And indeed the English equivalent words of ‘canny’ and ‘uncanny’ partake of an exactly parallel semantic ambivalence before merging into each other. It seems that all that is ‘canny’ and ‘uncanny’ exists on a continuum which stretches from all that is most reassuring ( domestic, cosy, security in four walls) to the most mysterious (magical, secretive) to the most horrifying (gruesome, eerie, very strange). But, what is the source of the anxiety aroused by a sense of the uncanny? - For an answer to this Freud turns to literature. In a discussion of Hoffman’s The Sand-Man , Freud concludes: ‘... the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the... idea of being robbed of one’s eyes...’ (p. 230).
He goes on to psychoanalyse this fear of losing one’s eyes, of blindness. ‘A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind, is often a substitute for the dread of being castrated’ (p. 231).
He pre-empts his interlocutors, who may reasonably point out that a dread of going blind is a natural fear which protects a very precious and delicate organ, but, says Freud, ‘... this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies’ (p. 231).
The Oedipus myth is a case in point, says Freud, ‘The self-blinding of the mythical criminal Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration’ (p. 231).
Freud concludes his discussion of this relationship between the eye and the male organ in ‘The Sand-Man’, and in other myths, stories dreams and phantasies by connecting ‘... the uncanny effect of the Sand-Man to the anxiety belonging to the castration complex of early childhood’ (p. 233).
Freud further examines other common occurrences arousing a sense of the uncanny and traces their origins to an infantile source. He identifies the theme of , ‘the double’ as an uncanny one in literature, together with the ‘constant recurrence of the same thing’. He writes, ‘... the quality of uncanniness can only come from the fact of the "double" being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage, long since surmounted - stage, incidentally, at which it wore a more friendly aspect’ (p, 236). Freud is referring to an infantile stage when he says, , .., the ego had not yet marked itself off sharply from the external world and other people’ (p. 236).
The continuum which stretches between the canny and the uncanny, which traces the development of a primary ambivalence, has its earliest psychic origins says Freud, in the infant’s relation to the mother’s body and corresponding phantasies of intrauterine existence (p. 248). These ideas appear to be a direct antecedent to Klein’s recognition of the enormous power of the mother in the infant’s early life, which in her theory is the basis of the father’s later power over the child, as the central source of identification as Freud had understood it. Klein argued that a flight from the mother into an identification with the father was an attempt on the infant’s part to become separate from the mother and develop an ego, a self.
However, as Klein has demonstrated in her lucid descriptions of infantile anxieties acted out in adult neurosis and psychosis, none of us ever quite gains total freedom from the mother’s power, 2 which although repressed, continues to hold sway over us unconsciously. A sense of the uncanny amounts to a return of the repressed. Evocations of the uncanny remind us of the primary power of the mother over us all, who provides our earliest ‘ home’ inside her cosy but potent and mysterious (‘canny’) body. Despite our expulsion at the moment of birth we remain totally dependent on her and at her mercy for food, shelter and warmth. At some point we begin the struggle to attain a psychic life of our own, and with a growing sense of our own separateness, mother becomes our pivotal reference point for a sense of ourselves, our primary other. She is known and yet not known (‘uncanny’). As we become aware of our separateness, our earliest memories of being merged with her soul, psyche and soma become repressed, unconscious and estranged. A sense of the uncanny remains to remind us of our ambivalent ontological relationship with her, and evokes a primal anxiety as soon as we get a sense of something ‘other’, and unseen threatening to ‘make strange’ an otherwise familiar environment. A sense of the uncanny threatens us with the archaic mother’s return.
As Freud said ‘... the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’ (p. 220). A sense of the uncanny is achieved by an evocation of the archaic mother, who threatens to overwhelm our phantasies of mastery with the threat of ‘castration’. I suggest that Freud is describing the process whereby, in a patriarchal society, her unseen power is warded off, her psychic reality repressed, the anxiety she evokes disavowed with the phallic totem of the fetish. The fetish appears compulsively to re-assert the power of the visible world over the invisible world, and thereby dispel any anxiety caused by a potentially overwhelming, castrating awareness of the unseen.
It seems that an awareness of unseen powers implies human limitation, and since the Enlightenment this notion has been dressed down as a distastefully pessimistic one. 3 However, I suggest that the human limitation indicated by a psychic economy that admits the reality of the unseen, could also be a beneficial source of a much needed humility in an age characterised by greed, exploitation and gradual global destruction, 4 rather than merely (phallocentrically) disempowering. Heidegger said in a critique of modern nihilism, ‘...creativeness comes only to those capable of reverence’ (1968, p. 72).
However, I suggest that in modern, Western, patriarchal, secular society, the reality of the unseen arouses not reverence, but anxiety, a sense of the uncanny. Freud explains this anxiety as the result of the repression of our primary relation with, and unconscious knowledge of, the mother’s body and genitals. Our earliest relationship with her was one of total dependency, which inspired reverence, awe and terror. At the moment of differentiation between mother and infant, a process whereby a recognition of the ‘the third’ (typically the father, but any other adult would do) aids the child’s ego development, the woman-mother’s mysterious power over the infant is overthrown. A cultural imperative to repress our relation to mother and instead recognise the primacy of the epistemological supremacy of vision symbolised by the presence of ‘the third’, enables us to separate from her and begin to develop an ego. This process is desirable and necessary, but do human beings have to pay the price of forgetting the active role of mother in the process of civilisation in order to attain separation and autonomy? This is the central question of this study which I will try to answer further on.
At the present stage of Western psycho-social development, it seems that mother ‘s special connection with us and our memories of an old, intersubjectively experienced reality must become unconscious, must be repressed, and that this is achieved by most of us, albeit not totally. Her early bodily and psychic hold over us is displaced by a flight into identification with I the third’ , which in Western patriarchal society is ultimately represented by the father-phallus. For all of us entering what Lacan5 calls the ‘Symbolic Order’ of language, the old, mysterious, unseen aspects of communication grounded in physical and emotional intimacy, or , ‘semiotic order’ as Kristeva6 calls it, must be repeatedly overthrown for the culturally elected the power of the visible world, of language, and a correspondingly ‘ego-centric’, ( rather than intersubjective ) psychic economy. I suggest that Freud’s essays, ‘The Uncanny’ and ‘Fetishism’ reveal most clearly how this dominant psychic economy develops towards the recognition of one type of representational system only; that which requires visible presence enshrined in the single currency of the phallus-penis.
The fetish as Freud points out, wards off anxiety evoked by a recognition of the uncanny. The fetish allays castration anxiety, or from a feminist perspective, the fetish wards off a recognition of the unseen interior of the mother’s body as in reality different, separate and autonomously sexed.I would like to suggest that the fetish wards off destructive phantasies about the mother’s body that ultimately amount to a wish for the mother to contain a penis, and a rejection of the reality principle in favour of a phallocentric ‘social phantasy system’ 7 (Laing, 1967). The ‘disappointing’ (Freud) realisation that a woman doesn’t have a penis, leads to all amount of destructive phantasies including Freud’s: that little girls suffer constitutionally from penis envy and the castration complex. I would like to argue that a feminist perspective on these psychic processes could enable us to comprehend how, as she develops, these phantasies may be either projected into her or introjected from, the cultural imperatives enshrined in a phallocentric psychic economy, According to Freud and his followers, these woman-with-penis phantasies are active in little boys and girls from a very early age. Perhaps these phantasies ‘colonise’ the youngest psyches, rather than result from them? I suggest that the woman- with-penis phantasy may be a necessary condition for the psychodynamicreproduction of patriarchy, which must depend upon on a phallogocentric
psychic economy (Irigaray, 1974) for its continuing survival. Such considerations may provide important clues as to how patriarchy survives, especially at a covert level, despite public concessions to women demanding social and political and economic equality.8
A recognition of the mother’ s body as different and without a penis results in a return of infantile anxieties, in a sense of the uncanny; the result of almost bringing to light ‘. . . everything that ought to have remained...secret and hidden...’(Freud, 1919, p. 225).
It seems that in Western patriarchal society we are ‘cosy, comfortable’, with the visible, we are at home with the phallus. We are at ease with the proven methods of natural science, which bring us repeatable, visible, verifiable evidence. We are uneasy with the possibility of the reality of the unseen, and a sense of unseen forces at work with no ‘scientific’ explanation arouses ambivalent emotions of excitement, fear and awe, fuelling a sense of the ‘uncanny’ in us.
I suggest that Freud’s essays on ‘Fetishism’ (1927) and ‘The Uncanny’ (1919 ) may reveal the psychodynamic sources of the ocularcentrism of Western thought. Freud himself follows the ‘common-sense’ view that ‘seeing is believing’, while positing the psychoanalytic gaze as value free. Ocularcentrism is a necessary condition of Freud’s phallocentrism, and this psychic economy informs Freud’ s theory of sexual difference which positions women as the ‘second sex’, as inferior. Female sexuality is conceived of in terms of a lack in terms of a visible absence of a penis, rather than a tangible, yet non-visible presence of difference, via our memory/ knowledge of our origins inside the mother’s body with a womb, vagina, clitoris, labia and breasts.
I want next to show how Klein explains that both terror and love are rooted in our earliest experience of powerlessness, vulnerability and intimacy with and within the mother’s body, and how a reading of her work from a feminist perspective helps explain how our debt to her is ignored by Western cultural attitudes to sexuality, reproduction and women’ s bodies in a patriarchal society. By forgetting the mother’s power patriarchy allays male castration anxiety and his horror of its being carried out. However in disavowing affect as a source intersubjective, psychic reality of evocative emotional experiences as a valid guide to our world, we pay a price. Emotions such as horror at the sight of the naked woman-mother, can be a source of knowledge. In a patriarchal society, horror or terror of women implies a deep seated belief in her power and potency, in her radical difference, in her autonomous sexuality. But as male child is acculturated into patriarchal values, he soon learns (through the introjection of a phallocentric psychic economy) that a woman’s body must be ‘seen’ as ‘castrated’ . He also learns to disavow love as a source of knowledge, and this split means that he forgets his earliest lessons in ‘how to know very well’ an other. 9 The little girl learns this lesson about the mother too, but for she who identifies with mother, the lesson also constitutes a wound at the very centre of her being. The consequences for her range from a sense of inferiority because she is a woman to self-abnegation and self-alienation. Klein explains how this disavowal of sexual difference inhibits intellectual activity by distancing us from knowledge of and intimacy with the mother (which, if female, also means ourselves), which she believed was the relationship which laid the psychic foundation for the creative origins of thought, We are acculturated into a kind of forgetting her, rather than remembering her.
In his set of lectures What is Called Thinking? (1968) Heidegger urges thinkers to return to the womb of Mnemosyne (Greek for memory, bride of Zeus), the original home of the nine muses, and ‘thank’ her by learning to think in relation to her, by recalling Memory, rather trying to ‘reason’ by ‘forgetting’ her. Forgetting her allows ‘what there is to be thought’ to ‘withdraw’. He suggests that the scourge of the modern age, technocratic nihilism, has developed because we are not ‘thinking’ in this Heideggerean sense. We forget our relation to origin, our legacy, our relation to Being, resides in the womb of Mnemosyne. Through the exercise of reason, we forget her.
Klein on Phantasy, Thinking and the Mother’s Body.
Klein’s major point of departure from Freud entailed a shift from a patrifocal to a matrifocal account of psychosexual development. I would like to suggest that this shift in emphasis may have important consequences for feminists seeking less phallocentric accounts of female psychosexual development.10 I also suggest that Klein’s work on female psychosexual development reveals the extraordinary struggle undertaken by the girl as she attempts to resolve the conflict between her intuitive existential knowledge of her sexual becoming, via her reflections upon her ontological relationship with the mother’s body, versus the compulsion to adapt to an estranging cultural imperative to become phallocentrically ‘feminine’, or a ‘normal’, i.e., heterosexual, childbearing, relationship focussed, woman.ll In other words, I suggest that a feminist re-reading of Klein’s work reveals that the little girl’s sexual becoming compels her to leave behind her intuitively apprehended, autonomously female sense of being-in- the world, in favour of a decentred and depersonalising state of being-in-the world that is the result of responding, albeit unconsciously, to all pervasive interpolations into phallocentric cultural imperatives regarding what it means to have a ‘feminine’ identity.
I suggest that the phallocentrically constructed ‘femininity’ described developmentally in Klein’s schema12 is akin in many respects to her paranoid schizoid position, in terms of a state of being-in-the-world. This position implicitly conflates femininity with phantasy, and phantasy with unreal , disintegrated or psychotic states of being-in-the-world. I also suggest that this re-reading of Klein has important consequences for feminists who are seeking subversive definitions of a ‘healthy’ or integrated feminine identity not equated with the phallocentric and heterosexist representations of female ‘normality’, which exclude all other female positions to the other-focussed and child-bearing heterosexual woman. Klein’s developmental schema reveals that the attainment of such a position is largely dependent on undergoing a process of self-estrangement commensurate with the internalisation of phallocentric definitions of appropriate femininity. Hence her implicit conflation of ‘normal’femininity with disintegrated states of being-in-the-world.
Further on in my argument I also hope to demonstrate that the dominant cultural imperative to split-off and disavow affectively charged sources of knowledge about the world, i.e., those sorts of experiences which are often deemed ‘intuitive’ or evaluative, have the hidden purpose of encouraging human beings of either gender to distrust affectively perceived truths (a useful tactic if one wishes to silence the perceived injustices and protests of the oppressed), or worse still, to split off any recognition of the inevitable affective charge involved in what is believed to be true (a useful tactic employed by those in power whose appeals to objectivity and rationality silence evaluative criticism thus sustaining inequality and oppression) . This epistemological dynamic preserves dominant perceptions of what constitutes knowledge and sustains the status quo.
However, before going on to demonstrate the efficacy of this reading of Klein’s work from a feminist perspective, I wish to clarify the Kleinian conceptual schema and also trace the development of this psychic schema through Bion’s work on thinking and Laing’s phenomenological work on social phantasy systems, which Laing posits as possible sources of ego disintegration and psychosis. By doing this I hope to introduce the reader to one of the main contentions informing my argument, that throughout these writings there is an implicit equation of a phallocentric ‘femininity’ with ‘psychotic’ states of being-in-the-world. This conflation of phallocentrically constructed femininity with disintegrated states of being-in-the-world, I shall argue, is a potent revelation of the psychic distortion, particularly the self-estrangement that a phallocentric culture demands of women, in order that they be declared ‘normal’ by such standards. I suggest that this revelation is important fuel for those arguing for an autonomous feminist agenda and epistemic framework for research conducted in the humanities and human sciences.
The Kleinian Schema :
Klein was particularly interested in the very early stage of infantile experience, when the child feels itself at one with the mother, and its later influence on adult psychic reality. During this period of development, the infant perceives the mother-infant unit as undifferentiated, at one with the wider environment, and thereby omniscient and omnipotent. However, this initial experience of ecstatic, oceanic union begins to break down when the infant experiences prolonged frustration of its desires when feeding, for example. Initially, the infant’s experiences of frustration are defended against by phantasy, such as hallucinating the mother’s breast when she is hungry and the mother is absent. However, eventually experiences of frustration due to the phantasy not fulfilling the function of the wished-for breast begin to institute a sense of differentiation, as the infant comes to recognise that her hallucination of the breast does not satisfy her hunger. It is then that she begins to experience the loss of the ideal part-object, when she realises that she is not omnipotent and is in fact separate from the mother.
Klein’s matrifocal account of psychosexual development can be summarised as follows; the infant’s original psychic unity with the mother develops from the starting point of intrapsychic and bodily unity inside the womb and at the breast, through experiences of frustration that evoke the ambivalent clashing of love and hate, eventually leading to a recognition of ontological difference from mother and psychic separation.
However it is my contention that, if reread from a feminist perspective that locates her ideas within a Western patriarchal cultural context, Klein’s work offers a useful explanation of the developmental origins of the myth of self-contained individualism generated by phallocentric ideologies of sexual becoming. Klein observed that for both genders, adequate ego development depends upon the repression of the experience of psychic unity with the mother. The question I shall ask throughout my rereading of Klein, is, what are the consequences for the little girl becoming a woman? According to a feminist reading of Klein, in our phallocentric culture, a forgetting of the primal bond with the mother’s body is necessary in order to individuate. This bond is repressed and eventually replaced by the ego’s ideal sense of itself as totally separate from the other and self-contained. However, Klein revealed that this mythology of self-contained individualism, based on a radical disidentification with, and forgetting of, the primal bond with the mother, was a fragile ego position that could never in reality be attained. I will suggest in addition that this imperative to separate, which involves a radical disidentification with mother, has potent estranging consequences for the girl developing into an adult sexual woman. Instead of the girl’s sexual becoming pivoting around an identification with the mother’s autonomous sexual ontology and specifically female potency, i.e., with mother as a desiring body, the girl learns to reinterpret sexual reality via the paternal (Oedipal) ‘gaze’, a gaze charged with phallocentric interpolations that call her sexuality into being-for-an-other. She responds to this objectifying gaze by becoming not a subject, but an object of her own internalised paternal gaze, and is rewarded for her newly attained self-estrangement, with attributions that she is becoming a ‘normal’, ‘feminine’ woman, This may sound polemical but I believe a subversive rereading of Klein describes the implicitly pathological phenomenology of ‘normal , female development, particularly because she describes the developing ontological self-estrangement which seems to be the psychic cost of attaining heterosexual adult, femininity, in a phallocentric culture.
In Kleinian terms, the imperative to develop an identification with an (illusory) self-contained ego in a patriarchal society is gendered. The little boy must make a better job of repressing his archaic memories of ontological union with his mother than a little girl needs to, though it’s important that she also separates, as feminists have demonstrated (Dinnerstein, 1987; Benjamin, 1988; Chodorow, 1989; Brennan, 1992). However, it is also necessary that the little girl maintain an awareness of affectively charged intersubjective reality in order for her to successfully nurture others, that is men and children. The little boy’s need to attain a stable masculine gender identity via a primary identification with mother in a culture underpinned by a phallocentric psychic economy, necessitates a transition to heterosexual adulthood that is rather more sharply differentiated. Klein’s work explains how, as he embarks upon the journey towards adult masculine gender identity, a little boy’s culture will steer him in the direction of repudiation of all that deemed ‘feminine’ within his experience of himself and others (e.g., emotion, intuition, nurturing, passivity) and a radical disidentification with mother. This is not to say that many men do not manage to resist this radical splitting process consciously or unconsciously. However, reread from a feminist perspective, Klein’s observations reveal that becoming a man is specifically difficult in a culture driven to polarise gender identifications, because it means repudiating all those human qualities that are based on a masculinist, phallocentric interpretation of his early experiences at the hands of a woman - his mother, and his primal identification with her.
Both feminist and psychoanalytic arguments suggest that the little boy’s patriarchal cultural milieu interpolates him into a specific set of myths about masculinity, inaugurated by a dominant cultural imperative to experience himself as entirely separate and opposite to the ‘feminine’ other. This means that the more successfully he splits off any affective connection with mother, the more ‘stable’ is his sense of ‘masculine’ gender identity from then on. Importantly, Klein argues that in order for both sexes to individuate from mother, they need to transform their phantasy experience of her from that of the split and polarised good breast versus bad breast, into an integrated experience of her as ambivalent, whole and another subject in her own right. In order to negotiate such a transformative journey from phantasies of omniscience to intersubjective relations, the infant needs to develop an ego, a separate sense of self and a recognition of the difference between phantasy and reality. This is achieved via the transformation of the split perceptions of mother that idealise and denigrate her in the paranoid-schizoid position, towards the perception of mother as a whole ambivalent and separate person in the depressive position. However, before going on to analyse Klein’s schema and her psychology of knowledge in particular, I wish to explain the terms phantasy , paranoid schizoid position and depressive position in more detail, as these terms are specific to the Kleinian schema and need further definition to aid my later re-deployment of them from a feminist perspective.
In her article of 1952 ‘The Nature and Function of Phantasy’, Susan Isaacs suggested that the terms ‘fantasy’ be used to denote the conscious elaborations of the imagination, what she called ‘conscious daydreams, fictions and so on’ from unconscious phantasies or what she named the ‘primary content of unconscious mental processes’, respectively. In other words, the term ‘fantasy’ should be used to denote secondary process thinking, and the term ‘phantasy’ to denote primary process thinking. However, although Isaacs’ suggestion was taken up by the British psychoanalytic establishment, it has not been so readily embraced by other nationally based groups of the International Psychoanalytic Association. For example, Laplanche and Pontalis object to Issacs’ definitions of these terms, and explain global disparity in the use of ‘fantasy’ versus ‘phantasy’ as follows:
They manage to explain this via an examination of the use of the German word Phantasie in Freud’s writings, and to show how, for Freud, the term was used to evoke the manifestations of both primary and secondary process thinking in differing modalities of mental experience, whether these involved waking states, dreaming states or daydreaming, This had the effect of evoking in the reader a sense of how primary process and secondary process material were in dynamic relation to each other, consistently contesting and informing each other and yet invested in all mental operations.
For Kleinians however, Isaacs’ paper became a landmark statement of their approach toward an understanding of conscious fantasy rather than (unconscious) phantasy. She says that she is ‘.-. mostly concerned with the definition of "phantasy". that is to say, with describing the series of facts which the use of the term helps us to identify, to organize and to relate to other significant facts’ (1952, p. 67).
Isaacs’ position was endorsed by Melanie Klein, and was summarised as follows, Isaacs wrote,
On the views here developed :
a) Phantasies are the primary content of unconscious mental processes.
b ) Unconscious phantasies are primarily about bodies, and
represent instinctual aims towards objects.
d) Freud’s postulated "hallucinatory wish fulfillment" and his "primary identification" , "introjection" , and "projection" are the basis of the phantasy life.
e) Through external experience, phantasies become elaborated and capable of expression, but they do not depend upon such experience for their existence.
f) Phantasies are not dependent upon words, although they may under certain conditions become capable of expression in words.
q) The earliest phantasies are experienced as sensations: later they take the form of plastic images and dramatic representations.
h) Phantasies have both conversion symptoms, psychic and bodily effects, e.g., in conversion symptoms, bodily qualities, character and personality, neurotic symptoms, inhibitions and sublimations.
i) Unconscious phantasies form the operative link between instincts and mechanism. When studied in detail, every variety of ego-mechanism can be seen to arise from specific sorts of phantasy , which in the last resort have their origin in instinctual impulses. "The ego is a differentiated part of the id. " A "mechanism" is an abstract general term describing certain mental processes which are experienced by the subject as unconscious phantasies.
j) Adaptation to reality and reality-thinking requires the support of concurrent unconscious phantasies. Observation of the ways in which knowledge of the external world develops shows how the child’s phantasy contributes to his learning.13
k 1 Unconscious phantasies exert a continuous influence throughout life, both in normal and neurotic people, the differences lying in the specific character of the dominant phantasies, the desire or anxiety associated with them and their interplay with each other and with external reality (pp. 111-112)
According to this, unconscious phantasy is the primary process activity underpinning all mental operations and types of thinking. Phantasies are the psychic representations of the instincts and are invested in our everyday activities via our instinctual desires that permeate all intrapsychic and interpersonal relations.
Both Isaacs and Klein suggest that we first experience phantasy via a relationship of projective identification with our primary object mother’s body and/or breast. As we begin to acquire language we also begin to repress our ‘knowledge’ of these affective communications, although never entirely. This process of repression inaugurates the unconscious aspect of psychic experience and this enables us to separate progressively from mother as ego development takes place. It also gives rise to what Klein at various points in her writings calls ‘unconscious knowledge’. This is the evocative knowledge of the other that is the basis of transference phenomena between persons. This ‘unconscious knowledge’ is an act of what Bion calls ‘intuitive apprehension’ (rather than ‘reasoning’), in that it is comprised of pre-symbolic, feeling based, thought processes, based on affective communications that make themselves felt via the evocation of incompletely repressed, archaic psychic material. For Klein, the unconscious sources of transference phenomena are based on our forgotten, infantile pre-symbolic communications with the mother's body, and are accessed during psychoanalysis through dream-work and free-association.
I suggest the Kleinian account of this process helps explain the peculiar resonances between the language used to denote and describe the phenomenon of the unconscious, phantasy and allied experiences, and the language used to describe the ‘essence’ of woman or ‘femininity’ in Western culture. The psychoanalyst and academic Julia Kristeva (1980) draws heavily upon a Kleinian understanding of this process, and is arguably the most articulate and evocative observer of these resonances between our unconscious relation to the ‘archaic maternal’, ‘unconscious phantasy’ and the ‘feminine’. Further on I shall describe her development of key Kleinian concepts, but first I must describe what Klein herself meant by the categories she names the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.
Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions.
In her paper ‘Infantile Anxiety-Situations Reflected In A Work of Art and The Creative Impulse’ (1929) Melanie Klein first makes a connection between creative activity and very deep early anxieties. For the first time she explicitly explains the creative impulse as originating in the need to repair the damaged object. She writes, ‘In the analyses of children, when the representative of destructive wishes is succeeded by an expression of reactive tendencies, we constantly find that drawing and painting are used as means to restore people’ (1929, p. 218).
This has been described as the insight that inspired her later work on the depressive position, Importantly for Klein, anxiety is caused by the conflict of destructive and reparative impulses toward the breast, which she later understood as the original source and representative of creativity for the infant. In her paper ‘The Importance of Symbol Formation In the Development of the Ego’ (1930) she describes the effects of the infant’s inability to tolerate this ambivalence, which she believed could lead to the expulsion of its destructive impulses, and a lack of experience of anxiety. The dearth of anxiety meant an end to exploration of the environment, lack of symbol formation and the onset of childhood psychosis. In this paper, she reveals that anxiety and its resolution is the spur to development, an experience lacking in the life of her patient suffering from childhood psychosis. She begins to describe the infantile ego’s first method of defence as an expulsive mechanism, which is used to expel painful experiences of aggression and defend against the anxiety attendant upon fears of retaliation from the attacked object. This has been noted as beginning of her formulation of the paranoid schizoid position.
In ‘A Contribution to the Theory of Intellectual Inhibition’ (1931) Melanie Klein details how conflicting anxieties can inhibit intellectual functioning. She shows that the child’s destructive phantasies about the insides of the mother’s body, if phantasised as an unsafe and dangerous place, will inhibit the child’s desire to explore the outside world. Correspondingly, an early identification with a sadistic super-ego will also inhibit the child’s desire to know itself. The anxieties that she associates with inhibitions in learning and intellectual development are here wholly persecutory, but later she begins to study the interaction of love and hate rather than just one component of hate, sadism, in isolation. In the ‘Explanatory Notes’ to her works it is said that when she accepts Freud’s theory of the life and death instincts that she beqins to group anxieties into depressive and persecutory types.
It is in ‘A Contribution To The Psychogenesis Of Manic Depressive States’(1935) that Klein begins to establish her new working theoretical ideas on the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. She observes from her analyses of children that there is a fundamental shift in their object relations at about the age of four to five months. Instead of relating to the mother in part-object terms as an ideal good breast or persecuting bad breast, the child begins to experience mixed feelings about the mother which evoke a process of mourning, guilt and the onset of depressive anxiety. Infantile ambivalence, as long as it is tolerable, paves the way for burgeoning ego development, and whole object relations.
The child’s capacity for love and mental health is totally dependent upon its ability to internalise a good whole object. However, whole object relations cannot be achieved without some pain attendant upon the loss of the ideal object (the good breast which is lost during weaning), guilt at the realisation that destructive attacks in phantasy have made the persecutory object ‘bad’ , and the subsequent urge for reparation. Defences also shift from persecutory projections to manic defences of the loved internal object, enabling greater tolerance of newly acquired guilt and despair. A growing ability to tolerate frustration develops, resulting in the overcoming of depressive anxiety, the growth of the capacity for love, and ensuing mental health. Although this description of infantile development emphasises the role of the infant’s internal world in its development, Klein did recognise that an infant’s capacity to tolerate frustration and anxiety was mediated by its emotional environment. If the primary object, usually mother or a nurse, was unable to tolerate the infant’s anxiety and frustration then this could have disastrous effects on the infant’s development and mental health. In Melanie Klein’s opinion, manic-depressive psychosis is an attempt to overcome the depressive anxiety which has not been surmounted in infancy. This may be for ‘constitutional’ reasons (destructive instincts having a greater influence on phantasy and the personality), be due to environmental deprivation, or in many cases, a mixture of both. She writes
The above statement supports my reading of Klein as a theorist of intersubjective human relations, despite the use of the term ‘object’ relations. In this paper she forcefully argues for the increased recognition of introjection as the infant’s primary means of building up an internal world full of complete internal objects, during the transitional phase from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. She writes,
Introjection is the important means of making links with the environment, especially the breast, from birth onwards. Introjection is used to build up an internal representation and relation to the external world. Before the ego has developed, very primitive processes are involved in the infant’s attempts to make sense of the information it receives. Very early on, part-object relations produced by primitive processes of splitting and polarisation of the mother into good and bad part-objects, or the good and bad breast, are the rudimentary means of mental processing that the infant has for making sense of the world. The ‘breast’ here is the only ‘object’ and represents all there is for the infant. The relation to the breast can be taken to mean the complete relation of the infant to the mother/carer as a nurturing or depriving environment . However, the primal phantasy experience of omnipotent relation to a good or bad breast becomes more integrated as development ensues and a greater awareness of reality becomes possible.
This happens at around the ages of four to five months as the infant begins to recognise itself as separate from the breast, when weaning coupled with increased psychic maturity evokes increased frustration with the breast and greater anxiety. The primary carer must be able to offer genuine reassurance to the baby during this time, and remain a consistent helpful object, in order for the infant to introject a good object successfully. In this way the infant’s persecutory phantasies and frustrations with the primary carer/object will be mitigated by its experiences of the object’s love and concern for it. Thus a more complete picture of the object in reality builds up for the infant. However should the primary carer be unable to cope with baby’s demands for constant reassurance, and instead her or himself partially regress and reflect back the infant’s anxiety in an unmitigated or inadequately mitigated form, the infant’s capacity to introject a good complete object from helpful, real experience of the other will be jeopardised. Separation will be hampered and ego development inadequate. This may lead to a variety of problems in adult life, the most severe being psychosis. However, for girl children the continuous gender-based psychosexual identification with mother is a necessary condition of her attainment of adult ‘femininity’.
Klein argues that in this way, girls full ego development is typically held in check, her expressions of aggression curtailed, her intellectual curiosity dissipates, and her power to be self-determining undermined. However, she frequently displays greater, intuitive, powers than boys, because her ability to respond to intersubjectively communicated affective states is not as stunted by the need to separate herself radically from the ‘feminine’ realm of affect associated with mother. Klein also argues that because the girl’s ego is more permeable, she is more prone to phantasmagoric beliefs in magical powers, and (in our phallocentric culture) more likely to experience a sense of phantastic alienation from her own body and its peculiar generative powers.
It is this area of Kleinian thought which I suggest deserves serious attention from feminists aiming to establish alternative psychologies or theories of knowledge that better explain women’s psychosexual development and different existential experience of being-in-the-world. I shall now turn to contemporary feminist uses of Klein before going onto describe the development of her theory of knowledge into a theory of thinking by her follower, Wilfred Bion, and the importance of Bion's theory of thinking for a feminism of autonomy.
Melanie Klein and Contemporary Feminist Thinking.
Naomi Goldenberg is a feminist Professor of Psychology of Religion who is especially critical of Western theological/philosophical traditions which separate body and soul, and like those feminists mentioned in Chapter One above, wishes to re-root knowledge in the fleshy body by healing the patriarchal splits that encourage notions of disembodied thought. She critiques the psychology of the politics of Western knowledges from a Kleinian feminist perspective. She suggests that the psychology of the separation of the soul from the body may be usefully explained in psychoanalytic, object-relations terms. She writes,
Natalie Goldenberg suggests that psychoanalysis demonstrates that all knowledge is carnal. She shows how psychoanalysis may be used to explain how all thought, all ideas, come from somatic and emotional sources. She argues that ever since Western thought has been recorded, all knowledge has been assumed to reside in the disembodied mind or soul, while the body houses all our appetites, our animality, our polluted lower, emotions and desires. Because women have been equated with bodies and flesh, irrational emotions and dangerous desires since the dawn of Western civilisation she says,
And Susan Bordo argues that contemporary culture carries over this phobia of our mortality of the expendable life of the flesh with technologies that are
If one follows Lloyd’s feminist critique of philosophy’s symbolic equation of the body with the feminine, then the resonances between the drive to dominate and control our bodies, and the social position of women in Western patriarchal society become clear. She argues, that although this equation may have been incidental to the philosophers task at hand and/or reflects the suppression and or exclusion of women from public intellectual life throughout history, it has nevertheless had an effect on the position of women within the academy. However, on more positive note she concludes,
Lloyd goes on to argue that to engage in a study of the History of Philosophy is to engage in a critique of sorts from whatever perspective. She is trying to point out that a feminist critique of ideals of Reason is another version of an old practice central to philosophy itself, and that without the received tools of philosophical analysis feminists could not have engaged in these kind of critiques in the first place. Feminist criticism reveals how Philosophy's old aspirations to exist outside history and beyond the cultural concerns and prejudices of everyday life, were in fact its pretensions. Again, she points out that such an expose of philosophy's historical contingency is a common practice within contemporary Western philosophy, particularly the critical work of the Frankfurt School. However, Lloyd does not suggest any way in which the symbolically gendered polarities between mind and body, Reason and Nature might be overcome by feminists.
Goldenberg, however, does suqgest a means of re-neqotiatinq the polarity between mind and body via a consideration of women's role in the creation and maintenance of civilisation. She believes that Kleinian theory may offer feminists a way of thinking through the body and a means of developing new ways of understanding the world that integrate, rather than split off, embodied, lived-out and felt experiences. She says,
Jacqueline Rose also calls for a ‘Return to Klein’ in her collection of essays Why War? (1993) and is interested in people’s general aversion to the facing up to the destructive capacities that Klein describes as innate in human nature. Rose believes that Klein reveals that knowledge and aggression are inextricably linked in that they both aim to break up the unity of the world... or in Kleinian language, the epistemophilic instinct is a sublimation of destructive phantasies about the the mother’s body, which the infant phantasises as in pieces. This phantasy, unless displaced away from mother results in the fear that mother will retaliate; so the pursuit of knowledge is driven by unconscious guilt and thought is driven by unconscious aggression resulting in phantasies of persecution. Rose supports Klein’s thesis that reality thinking cannot happen without concurrent support from unconscious phantasy.
In her essays on Klein, Rose is trying to uncover the psychodynamics of different forms of politics and their respective views of human nature. She argues that conservatism limits creativity in a similar way to the Oedipal father, by, on the one hand, espousing individual libertarianism,and, on the other hand, exploiting the fear of persecution, the psychotic anxieties, that Klein reveals are present in all of us. Rose believes that the most radical point of departure from the conservative agenda would be a reformation of parenting. which would, as Dinnerstein (1976) has said, encourage same gendered and cross gendered identifications combining our needs for nurturing with our need for mastery of the world and separation from others. Rose agues that, at the moment, the left is still defining itself in terms of a benevolent and supportive state, a good mother, thus maintaining the right’s long term association with the individualist libertarian Oedipal father, and enables the right to play on our fears of an engulfing, controlling left-wing mother-state. In this way Rose argues, the ideologies of the left-wing mother-state evoke the kind of ambivalence Klein describes as the psychodynamic core of the early infant-mother relationship.
However, Klein's follower, Bion, developed a theory of thinking that recognised the desirability of ambivalent relations with mother, and the creative potential of ambivalence in general as a spur to emotional and intellectual development. Though Bion recognises the conscious and unconscious experience of ambivalence as source of mental pain, the increased capacity for suffering attendant with increasingly mature object relations enable clashes between love and hate to be borne and thought about rather than avoided. It is the creative potential inherent in the facing up to the inevitability of ambivalence that interests me in Klein's work on the mother-infant bond. However. Bion develops this further into a psychology of knowledge which proposes that affective ambivalence is a necessary condition of thinking and whole object relations in general. It is to his ideas that I now wish to turn before returning to an indepth examination of Klein’s theory of psychosexual development, and what I’d like to suggest is her specifically sexuate psychology of knowledge.
Bion’s Grid - the Elements Of Psychoanalysis.
Bion was a Kleinian psychoanalyst whuse theory of thinking was based on the explanatory models which deploy the concepts of container<-> contained , and PS<->D (paranoid schizoid<->depressive positions) which he proposed enabled dynamic relations both between and within the analyst and analysand, leading to transformations of psychoanalytic ‘elements’ of thought. He aimed to illustrate these ‘elements of psychoanalysis’ systematically via his ‘grid’ (Appendix 1). Though initially this may appear obscure, I find his explanations of thinking especially useful when considering the role of the ‘feminine’ in relation to phallocentric theories of emotional and cognitive development proposed by conventional Freudian psychoanalysis, and the dominance of so-called ‘detached’, ‘objective’ conceptions of Reason over the more ‘involved’, ‘subjective’ passions during the history of Western thought. Bion himself remarked upon the tendency of Western philosophy to prioritise certain kinds of thoughts over others as ‘a matter of epistemological convenience’. From Bion’s perspective, the dominant model of ‘reasoning’ in Western philosophy in fact reflects upon a particular type of thinking that psychoanalysis reveals depends upon other thought forms for its volition and meaning.
Bion is especially attentive to the role of ambivalence and frustration in the development of a capacity for thinking in the infant and adult. The earliest capacity for thinking is dependent upon the infant finding a ‘container’ for their frustrations that is able to feed back the detoxified frustrations to the infant in a more tolerable form. The experiential prototype of containment originates within the infant’s relation to the mother’s breast, or even earlier perhaps, within the mother’s body. Bion made a distinction between the type of ‘primitive’ thinking necessary for any kind of relationship between mother and infant, and later, more developed thought forms that enabled one to make use of a capacity for thinking. He said,
In other words, ‘being reasonable’ is desirable because it ends with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment rather than frustration and anguish. This means that a course of action/ argument may be considered, reasonable, because it satisfies the dominant passions rather than subordinates them. This has important connotations for feminists involved in the critique of phallocentric theories of knowledge. It actually supports the view taken by Grosz and others that phallocentrism satisfies the masculinist desire for separation from and repudiation of the mother’s role in the development of ‘civilised’cognition or thinking. It also provides important insights into the psychodynamics underpinning the dominant Western philosophical compulsion to distance the higher meditations of the symbolically masculine mind from the lower bodily mediations of the symbolically feminine flesh. as demonstrated by Bordo, Lloyd, Irigaray and others.
I suggested above that a feminist re-reading of Klein’s work reveals that the little girl’s sexual becoming compels her to leave behind her intuitively apprehended. autonomously female sense of being-in-the-world, in favour of a decentred and depersonalising state of being-in-the-world that is the result of responding, albeit unconsciously, to all pervasive interpolations into phallocentric cultural imperatives regarding what it means to have a ‘feminine’ identity.
I also hope to demonstrate that Bion’s work on thinking reveals that the dominant cultural imperative to split-off and disavow affectively charged sources of knowledge about the world, which he calls ‘intuitive apprehensions’encourages human beings of either gender to distrust affectively perceived truths and split off any recoqnition of the inevitable affective charge involved in what is believed to be true. For Bion, thinking originates in the earliest affectively charged relationship that the infant sustains with the mother’s breast. At this stage there is no distinction between inner and outer realities, thought or feeling. All objects, whether material objects or affects, are commonly apprehended intuitively. Later, after differentiation begins to take place between inner and outer worlds, self and other, awareness of the affective charge invested in all psychically perceived objects is repressed along with the archaic memory of the primal bond with the mother’s body. This process inaugnrates the unconscious, and lays the foundations for intrapsychic activity we come consciously to recognise as ‘thinking’, that is a product of inner reflection upon objects presented to consciousness from both our inner and outer worlds. In contrast to this contained intrapsychic activity is the uncontained process of ‘acting out’ 14, which involves the projection or expulsion of phantasy material into the outer object relational world.
Bion’s conception of the development of thinking via the relational vehicle of container and contained, draws heavily upon the Kleinian conception of projective identification. The symbols he uses to depict container and contained are also universally recognised as the symbols used to depict female and male respectively. The feminine symbol & is the container, the masculine % contained. These symbols are depicted as in dynamic relation to each other, with the feminine containing the masculine contained via a relation of projective identification. It is important however not to read Bion’s feminine and masculine psychosexual symbolism as a fixed gendered schema of interpersonal relating. The relational vehicle of container and contained is intrapsychic primarily, and also interpersonal when engaged in relationships based upon projective identification. This is a psychodynamic mechanism which operates at the most ‘primitive’ level of relationship between container and contained. He says,
It is important here to detail Bion's particular conception of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions in relation to his theory of thinking. He writes,
For Bion, the most primitive elements of thought are beta-elements, denoted by column 'A' on his grid. He writes: ‘Beta-elements are objects compounded of things-in-themselves, feelings of depression-persecution and guilt, and therefore aspects of personality linked by a sense of catastrophe’ (p. 40).
In other words, beta-elements are the primary or infantile, phantastic elements of thought initially experienced at the breast, which are the result of the infant's inevitable experiences of frustration (catastrophe) with the primary object. These experiences are communicated pre-verbally before an ego, or sense of separation with the breast, has been established. They may be apparent in adult mental operations when regression takes place, for example, during psychoanalysis, when defensive manoeuvres are deployed that manipulate infantile phantasy material in a manner characteristic of psychosis.
Also, he observes a certain resonance between the ‘mechanisms’ of container« contained and PS« D. In their most ‘primitive’ forms, Bion says that PS «D can be annotated as fragmentation«integration, and container«contained as expulsion«ingestion. He says,
‘ ... the two mechanisms can each operate in its characteristic manner or in a manner typical or reminiscent of the manner of the other’ ( p. 43) .
For Bion both PS and D positions are capable of functioning as kinds of container. PS can function as a loosely arranged container when the mechanism PS «D has become arrested at PS, or the paranoid schizoid stage, so that although an individual is stuck in the paranoid schizoid position, ‘ ... in order to maintain its vital function, (PS) assumes the mechanical operative quality of container«contained and so retains its dynamic quality’ (p. 43, my brackets).
The dynamic relation of PS«D is also analogous to the dynamic relation between container and contained, where D is a container for the dispersed,fragmented beta or alpha elements, or pre-conceptions, projected or expelled by PS. Alpha elements are represented on axis B of the grid and are comprised of a more evolved stage of thinking than the beta-element. He writes, ‘...alpha elements, the products of alpha function... that function by which sense impressions are transformed into elements capable of storage for use in dream and other thoughts’ (p. 4).
While beta elements are elements based upon the contingent nature of contemporary sense impressions allowing for no differentiation between internal and external worlds, alpha elements have been transformed into elements capable of storage. They are the building blocks of dream thoughts, and the primitive foundation of memory.
Axis C represents dream thoughts, dreams and myths. For Bion myth functions as a kind of narrative container for the sense of catastrophe induced by humanity turning its primitive curiosity ( regarding our origins in the mother's body, our archaic desires and eventual fate) in upon itself. He examines the Oedipus myth in this light, together with the story of the
Garden of Eden, the Babel myth, and the riddle of the Sphinx (pp. 48-97). In this sense, psychoanalytic inquiry can be seen to have its roots in antiquity, and the anxiety/ controversy evoked in contemporary Western culture by the very existence of psychoanalysis can be seen to have its roots in our most archaic anxieties about our origins and fate, which include phantasies of engulfment, persecution and/or death. These archaic anxieties are represented in narrative mythologies that serve as a container for our most primitive curiosities. Bion argues that all myths represent our primitive curiosity about the mother’s body in relation to our origins and fate as a sin to be punished by death, exile or persecution. They thus have the function of containing cultural anxieties about containment by working them through in a narrative form, rather than expelling, denying or leaving them otherwise uncontained and open to the possibility of being acted out. Dreams have a similar function to myths, and both dream and myth have much in common with the processing function of psychonalysis.
He lists some characteristics of public myths in terms of their psychoanalytic elements represented by his grid as follows:
The myth whether personal (a dream) or public (ancient narrative) represents those elements of thought that are pictorial, unsophisticated yet vital to the ‘primitive apparatus in the individual’s armoury of learning’ (p. 66).
These elements evolve along Bion's axes, as psychic growth ensues during analysis, from dream elements to pre-conceptions, which may be described as the stage of transition from the individuals private knowledge toward publication or conscious recognition. However, dreams and myths are also comprised of alpha elements, and private or personal myths that lead to pre-conceptions constitute the initial internal, phantasy version of external events. The marriaqe of the pre-conception with actual reality gives birth to the conception, or conscious thought form which may be represented in language. Bion describes an infantile private (individual) mythology about the parents in terms of the public (or ‘racial’ as hesometimes puts it) Oedipus myth, and then describes the transformation of the mythical pre-conception into a conception as follows.
Conceptions are a form of public or conscious knowledge. They involve linguistic representations and may evolve eventually toward the higher levels of conceptual thinking represented by scientific deductive systems and algebraic calculus.
The purpose of the grid is to aid psychoanalysts in their art of interpretation, particularly if they feel they are dealing with something from a session that has left them confused. They may use the grid to plot their own interpretations in conjunction with plotting their patients’ associations or utterances and in this way perhaps pinpoint the nature of the disintegration in communication or ‘contact barrier’ as Bion called it.
Bion depicted the relational vehicle of containe«contained between mother and infant as analoqous to the psychoanalytic encounter and processing used to detoxify the mental pain comprised of the degenerate psychoanalytic elements, or (disordered) thoughts of his patients. During psychoanalysis, primitive material surfaces as a consequence of the regression of the analysand, who must unearth the shaky foundations of their processing/ thinking in order to rebuild a more adequate means of coping with pain. Bion himself said that the point of analysis was not to alleviate suffering but, to increase the patient 's capacity for coping witb pain which he understood to be an inevitable consequence of being human. The transformative processing of primitive material via the relational vehicle of container«contained enables psychic growth to take place.
Bion’s Theory of Thinking Second Thoughts.
For Bion ‘thinking is a development forced on the psyche by the pressure of thoughts and not the other way around’ (p. 111) .
His paper, 'A Theory of Thinking' (1962, reprinted in Second Thoughts, 1967) , attempts to state in theoretical terms the ‘observed facts’ of psychoanalysis on this matter as Bion sees them. Early on, Bion’s position on the nature of the infant’s tie to the (mother’s) breast is made clear. He believes that the baby is born with an inbuilt expectation, or pre-conception of a breast. Bion proposes that the mating of the pre-conceptionof a breast with a breast in reality leads to the conception of a breast and satisfaction. However the development of a capacity for thinking, rather than thought involves the infant in inevitable experiences of frustration. He writes,
In order to develop a capacity for thinking a capacity for tolerating frustration must be present. Thinking involves the ‘juxtaposition of pre-conception with negative realisation’. A mature enough personality modifies frustration by thinking, rather than evades frustration by the primitive adherence to certain types of thought. Thinking involves an engagement with the ‘reality principle’ as Freud called it, whereas evasion of frustration involves a deviation from the reality principle, achieved by making excessive use of the evacuative process involved in the mechanism of projective identification. Bion writes,
The avoidance of frustration, or an arrest of thinking, becomes synonymous with satisfaction. The non-recognition of the bad-breast, the evacuation of experiences of frustration, have a detrimental effect on the development of object relations, which are then geared up to evade any substantive engagement with difference. Instead, omnipotent phantasy occludes any encounter with the ‘reality principle’ and phantasy sets out to dominate reality by denial. Hallucination and delusion are the most primitive means of containing an unbearable level of frustration via the process of projective identification, which involves the substitution of the frustrations of reality with the satisfactions of phantasy. These projections of phantasy deny any object relation to the the real mother, who is ambivalent, and instead constitute a series of destructive attacks against her, which is the result of confusion between the phantasy of self and the external object. Bion writes, ‘This contributes to the absence of any perception of two-ness since such an awareness depends on the recognition of a distinction between subject and object’ (p. 113).
Bion demarcates the subtle variations on this theme of evasion, describing psychosis, or suicide, as the ultimate evasion of reality, and different degrees of defence against reality as developments in thinking from then on. If the capacity to bear frustration is not so fragile as to engender psychosis, but nonetheless too fragile to tolerate reality, then omnipotence substitutes for the unsatisfactory mating of a conception with a negative realization. He writes of this development as:
Here Bion seems to be linking the exercise of moral self-righteousness over another with psychotic components of the personality. The need to be able to designate an absolute moral status to this or that person or event derives from an infantile phantasy of omniscience. The indignant, morally righteous person ‘sees all’, and other people or reality are reduced to two dimensions, as diminished facets of his or her own reflected better self. This narcissistic inflation of self (and evasion of self) and one’s perceptive powers always involves a projection of self as yet not psychically separate from the all-powerful phantasy breast. Such a sensibility is a product of evasion, but a partial evasion of reality, with a partial recognition of the separateness of self and other, thereby furnishing ‘reality’ with characteristic part-object relationships. Such a person is unable to tolerate the frustration engendered by a mature acceptance of psychic limitations, and so reverts to omniscience as a defence against the pain attendant with unbearable frustration.
However, projective identification can be realistic, and the successful, benign management of this mechanism between carer/mother and infant is essential for developing a capacity for thinking. Bion writes,
If benign management of this feedback loop between the mother and infant is not possible then the consequences for thinking are serious. The infant will project and re-introject with increased force and frequency in a frantic attempt to sustain itself. Bion writes,
The failure to establish the normal feedback loop of benign projective identification between mother and infant results in the developing infant’s incapacity to distinguish between conscious and unconscious elements of psychic reality. In this case, writes Bion, ‘All impressions of the self are of equal value all are conscious’ (p. 116).
This results in what Bion calls a ‘precocious consciousness’ by which he means the precocious development of the ‘sensory organ for the perception of psychic qualities’ (p. 115). Should the infant’s intolerable projections be repelled by the mother rather than detoxified, then the infant ‘reintrojects not a feeling of dying made tolerable, but nameless dread’ (p. 116). He writes,
This results in an inability to distinguish truth from falsehood and phantasy from reality. The self and other are all enmeshed in a malignant feedback loop dependent on the infant's capacity for continued omnipotent phantasy. The adult who displays a regression to this kind of psychic activity may rely on the imposition of a rigid moral code as Bion argued above, in order to effect some rudimentary powers of discrimination between objects. I would suggest that this provides many clues about how ideologies ascend to the status of ‘truth’ in human group consciousness during periods of social change and/or crisis. Bion also provides important clues about how ideologies posing as truths serve to defend us against the conflicts engendered by our inevitable experiences of ambivalence.
Bion, Feminism and the ‘Crisis of Rationality’.
I would like to argue that Bion’s ideas have important consequences for feminists seeking substantive and autonomous representations of the ‘feminine’ in cultural practices currently dependent upon phallocentric systems of thought and representation. In Chapter One I used the work of Grosz to describe how these typically define the feminine as either ‘other’ to the masculine, which alone is defined in positive and substantive terms; or, as Irigaray has argued, in terms that subsume it to a maternal matrix of meaning.
However, Bion reveals the desirability of the reality of the ambivalent mother, because he reveals the creative possibilities that evolve from both the mother’s and infant’s growing capacity to tolerate their differences from each other, and how our inevitable experiences of frustration in our dealings with our primary carer (who is usually a woman) evoke the development of thought and thinking. The infant’s experiences of the ambivalent breast, and its own ambivalent responses to these experiences, are a necessary condition for the development of a capacity for thinking and creativity in general.
Edna O' Shaughnessy reflects on Bion’s ideas in her paper ‘The Absent Object’ (1964, pp. 34-43) She writes,
I would also like to suggest that Bion’s theory of thinking adds an interesting dimension to the so-called ‘crisis of rationality’ which some critics have argued has been partly engendered by the problematising of the ‘rational’and the ‘feminine’ as philosophical/ theoretical categories. Feminists have argued that Western Rationality has been founded upon a covert series of distinctions that are implicitly gendered, with ‘femininity’ coming to represent all that is other to Rationality and Reason. Therefore the desirability of rational thinking and so-called rational distinctions have been called into question. The dominance of Western Rationality as the standard by which all else is measured, it has been argued. supports the continued dominance of imperialist powers over the developing world, of men over women. and the continuing reproduction of phallocentric systems of thought and representation that define the ‘feminine’ subject as implicitly irrational. The fact that a contestation of gender categories has been blamed for evoking a ‘crisis’ in theory building reveals how deeply our cultural anxieties and difficulty in thinking about difference is entrenched. It also reveals the extreme fragility of the universalist, omniscient claims of phallocentric thought. I suggest that this fragility is the result of theoretical and the philosophical claims based in large part on a social phantasy system (Laing). This is dependent on the theoretical /philosophical category of the ‘feminine’as an intellectual and affective container (in Bion's sense), for the repudiated aspects of the ‘masculine’ experience; which are symbolised by the maim trajectories of the project of Western ‘Rationality’.
A crisis, or sense of catastrophe is evoked when a container either refuses to contain, and instead instigates a process of separation and differentiation (such as that intellectual process with which many feminists are currently engaged), or demands recognition of their function as a container for the split-off projected aspects of the contained’s psychic experience of themselves-in-the-world, which is then revealed to be irrational . The latter would evoke fears of disintegration in the contained somewhat akin to dying. I shall explain what I mean by this.
Phallocentric theories and categorisations of the feminine emerge within a developmental process that object relations theorists reveal is dependent upon a pivotal relationship to the breast. The recognition of this relationship of dependency is particularly difficult for the infant to negotiate. Edna O'Shaughnessy writes of the critical leap that a child must take in realising that their felt experience of the bad breast present is, most often, the good breast absent when needed. She draws upon her clinical work with children to describe how this critical leap is effected in therapy. Initially, the child will feel that the absent breast has left them to die. She writes,
I suggest that this basic anxiety has been evoked by the challenges posed by feminist contestations of the covert psychosexual symbolism that underpins Western Rationality and concomittant dominant theories of knowledge. Bion's ideas may reveal why and how contestations of dominant notions of rationality have been perceived as evoking a 'crisis' in philosophy and related theory. Why a crisis? Why not an expansive and creative resolution? In her article ‘Feminism and the Crisis of Rationality’ (1994) Sabina Loviband describes Braidotti’s and Grosz’s ‘diagnosis’ of this crisis as follows:
If this diagnosis is correct, then the masculine psychic experience is effectively contained by femininity. Should the feminine other refuse this role, a sense of catastrophe will ensue in the masculine subject akin to psychosis. What the masculine subject needs to learn is how to contain himself intrapsychically rather than continuing to depend upon the (m)other to do this job for him. In order to do this he must give up idealised/denigrating phantasies of the ‘feminine’ (m)other, and be able to tolerate the tension that arises from a real intersubjective relationship and its dialectic of ambivalence.
As I mentioned above, Keats called the capacity to think amidst contradictions ‘negative capability’. This demands creative, poetic evocative exercise of thought largely antithetical to the ordered deliberations of Western Reason that supposedly dominate ‘masculine’ consciousness. A tolerance of contradiction and frustration would be akin to achieving the Kleinian depressive position. This is the position of adult emotional maturity.
Klein and Bion reveal that the psychological roots of our incapacity for negative capability (Keats) as a strategy for coping with change (whether intellectual or social, or otherwise), reside in our very earliest frustrated attempts at negotiating our difference from our primary other = a woman’s body (for the majority of us), in reality. The dominance of phallocentric categories of the ‘feminine’ in the collective cultural psyche of the West, reveals that phantasy and repression forms the large part of our psychic means to achieving differentiation from mother. Most of us remain unconsciously enmeshed with her in a way that enables malignant phantasy about the ‘feminine’ subject to thrive, estranging us from women’s bodies which remain objectified, and mystifying her otherness in a way thatevokes phantasies about women’s secret powers (Dinnerstein, 1976).
Despite the efforts of feminists to reform parenting practices, it remains true for most of us that the first person we encounter is a woman, the first body a woman’s. However, a female body is meaningful within an apriori cultural context, steeped in the symbolism of phallocentric discourse that serves as the arbiter of truth and Reason. The universalism of Western phallocentric systems of thought and representation serve as a barrier to the recognition of difference, and we develop as human beings in a close relation to a woman’s body in a context that perpetuates various masculinist mythologies about what it means to be female. Also, within this cultural context, from our earliest communications onwards we are learning how to redefine our experiences of a woman’s body as other to our own experiences of subjectivity, rather than learning the intrinsic value of the recognition of her body as different, of intersubjectivity and the intrinsic mutual dependency of human relationships. We must all separate from our ‘primary object’, but contemporary Western culture acculturates us into a process of separation by repudiation, repression and polarisation of human relations into masculine subject«feminine object cathexes, rather than by inviting us to recognise an intersubjective mutuality mediated by differences.
I believe, despite the unfortunate term ‘object’ relations theory, that Klein, Bion and other object-relations theorists offer an alternative model of development suggesting a more desirable means of achieving separation, via the benign management of an intersubjective recognition of differences. In order to do this we need to recognise the importance of those aspects of communication carried by transferences of thought and phantasy that exist anterior to the spoken word. We need to take responsibility for our own affective responses and those we evoke in others by word or deed. The neglect of these aspects of communication reveals an entrenched cultural anxiety about affectively communicated truths, which remain enmeshed with phantasy, and then risk developing unchecked.
Psychoanalysis reveals that to turn and face the conflicts that inform our most personal and public mythologies, rather than ignore or repudiate them, evokes anxieties with archaic roots. These primitive anxieties were first experienced for most of us, when we were frustrated at the hands of a woman. Perhaps that’s why feminism has evoked so much controversy, aggression and hatred in the academy. I suggest that Bion’s work reveals how dominant, phallocentric thinking about sexual difference in terms of a dichotomy depends on our most formative means of making qualitative distinctions. For example, phallocentric systems of representation invest the meaning of the term ‘feminine’ as a container for a whole set of human qualities repudiated by those occupying ‘stable’ masculine gender identity positions. These include lpenis} envy, dependency, irrationality, vulnerability, emotionality, purity, humility, selflessness etc. which Klein, Bion etc. reveal were our first impressions in infancy of our phantastic exchanges with our primary object - a woman. I suggest, from an object relations perspectivef that the rudimentary means of defining femininity as the denigrated or idealised other to masculinity reveals how primitive material becomes invested in distinctions based upon polarisations dependent upon a covert, phallocentric, moral code relating to sexual difference and women’s bodies.
However, there is a way out of this seemingly intractable sexual dichotomy, which Bion points towards when he indicates the desirability of contained, consciously available ambivalence, for creative thinking. His ideas suggest that, if we can achieve the creativity born of the benign management of ambivalence that is prototypical to the successful parent-infant bond in ordinary person to person encounters, then we may be able to begin to recognise different rationalities rather than one Rationality, different reasons rather than a universal Reason, a plurality of differences rather than an overarching polarised indication of difference.
However, the demands of those in other’ positions (to those of white heterosexual male middle class European origin) to be recognised as autonomously different, risk inspiring a mixture of dread, a terror of engulfment, and fears of persecution in those enjoying the privileges sfforded them by sexism, racism, heterosexism, xenophobia and poverty. As the critique of Western Reason rises, the return of archaic feelings of dread in the socially dominant arbiters of Reason, are an inevitable result of the projective-identification rejecting object (women, homosexuals, black people, the disabled, the ‘underclass’), refusing the socially marginal role of the ‘containing other’.
Bion’s and Klein’s ideas may also reveal the archaic, psychodynamic origins of these responses to conflict and change. However, first I wish to turn to a psychodynamic account of how we are all subject to cultural imperatives which are contained in our particular cultural phantasies regarding our relations with others. The mediation of our recognition of each other as similar, but also different beings, is I suggest, greatly illuminated by the controversial work of Bion’s pupil, R.D.Laing.
R.D. Laing- On the Psychodynamics of Social Phantasy Systems.
Laing begins his theoretical text Self and Others (1961) with a critical examination of Susan Issacs’ paper ‘On the Nature and Function of Phantasy’ (1952). The point of this exercise is to determine just what the terms unconscious and phantasy actually mean, particularly in terms of communicative strategies between self and other.
Laing problematises what he sees as the inherent dualism of psychoanalytic theory, as a system that perpetuates the very ontological splits it sets out to ‘heal’ during the process of psychoanalytic treatment. He details the set of contradistinctions he detects in Issacs’ paper (and most psychoanalytic theory in general) as follows:
(Laing, 1961, pp. 23-24).
Laing argues that the meaning of Issac’s term phantasy implies that this is a realm of experience which begins in the left hand column and then somehow crosses over to the right. This is achieved by various mental operations which also serve to reinforce the fundamental ontological split which is, at the same time, deemed undesirable by most psychoanalysts. He writes,
Laing is keen to bring a phenomenological perspective into human relations, a perspective that has no need of these fundamental ontological distinctions but instead distinguishes between qualities and modes of experience. He gives the examples of waking perception, day dreaming or imagination, and dream life, as different modes of experience which all contain the quality of ‘reality’ at different times. He writes ‘Reality in the second sense... may be a quality attached at times to any of these modalities’ (p. 25).
Laing suggests that knowledge of other by self is largely based upon a process of inference, which is based upon attention to communications that provide us with clues about the other that enable us to establish meaningful interpersonal relations. Meaningful relations derive from the self’s interpretations of the other person’s thoughts, feelings, revealed by interpersonal communications (verbal and non-verbal), which are then re-constructed by self into an inference of the other person’s experience. This inference may or may not be checked out with the other person’s perception of their own thoughts and feelings, motivations etc.
Laing’s earlier work in The Divided Self (1960) and Sanity, Hadness and the Family (1964, with Aaron Esterton) throws light upon how rigid inferences that rampage unchecked by the other’s experience may have the effect of driving the other person crazy. This is a risk that those undertaking classical psychoanalysis run when they agree to allow their analyst to interpret their unconscious phantasies, i.e., inferred aspects of their experience of which they remain ‘unaware’. For Laing, inferred psychoanalytic knowledge is problematic because it locates the origins of unconscious phantasy firmly within the ‘unconscious’, or psyche of the phantasising person. Laing also finds the term ‘unconscious experience’ problematic in that one cannot experience that of which one remains unconscious. In an attempt to resolve what he views as an inherent contradiction in the term he redefines the ‘unconscious’ as follows.
‘The unconscious is what we do not comnunicate to ourselves or one another. We may convey something to another, without communicating it to ourselves. Something about Peter is evident to Paul that is not evident to Peter. This is one sense of the phrase "Peter is unconscious of..."’ (p. 32, emphasis in original).
In his next chapter ‘Phantasy and Comnunication’, Laing places the ontological categories mind and body in the existential minefield represented by Western dualist contra-distinctions, in order to demonstrate the inaccuracy of its description of interpersonal experience. Laing describes how both mind and body can be experienced as inner and outer, in imagination and in reality, privately and publicly, by people in different modalities of experience. However, he writes,
Laing is arguing that one’s own body-for-self can be experienced as encroached upon by the other’s phantasy, and one can encroach upon the other’s body-for-self in one’s own phantasy. This however goes unrecognized in a culture which refuses such experiences validity (reality-status) or recognition. Laing is pointing out that it is possible to physically and psychically experience the effects of the other's phantasy inside one, and to effect the other physically and psychically with one’s own phantasy ‘projected into’ them. Thus it is possible for the typically inner-world experience of phantasy to affect and be affected by the physical world out there (reality) including the physical and psychic world of the other out there (to stimulate the other’s phantasy and actions). However the dualist polarisation of the experiential categories of phantasy versus reality, inner versus outer, psychical versus physical, implicitly invalidates such experiences, and as such fails to describe the full range of available existential experiences of self and other accurately. Laing has called this widespread cultural disavowal of non-dualistic psychic experiences ‘transpersonal invalidation’ which is in turn ‘psychophobic’. This transpersonal invalidation is a result of our fear of the various inter-experiential pre-formative levels of communication which take place between human minds. One of the modalities of such experience is called ‘phantasy’ by psychoanalysts. In The Politics Of Experience (1967), Laing writes:
For Laing, when used within a social phenomenological context, the term phantasy serves to describe a modality of relational inter-experience which, if neither party in the interaction is dissociated from it, is meaningful in a valid way. Phantasy then is not conceived of in terms of its opposition to reality, but rather as a modality of inter-experiential reality.
I wish to employ the term phantasy throughout the remainder of this text in just such a way. 1 understand phantasy as the pre-formative modality of inter-experience from which, as Bion describes, thoughts and thinking emerge. The presence of phantasy as a valid modality of inter-experience is revealed by those aspects of communication which are pre-linguistic or anterior to language, via the gaps, tonality, rhythm and musicality of the vocal exchange or written word, and by the visceral bodily inter-experience (affective exchanges and primitive processes) that cathect each intercolutor with sufficient affective significance for the necessary construction of meaning. Laing writes,
One of the modalities of our experience of the preformation that is expressed through the gaps and musicality of language is phantasy. However, as a culture we are used to understanding phantasy and reality as polarised aspects of experience, not as interdependent existentially. Those experiences that do not conform to the ‘real’ and ‘public’ side of the rigid ontological orthodoxy of Western dualisms are traditionally thought of as in some way ‘not real’, ‘mere fancy/imagination’, or at worst ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’.
However, Laing writes,
The above is taken for granted by many psychoanalysts on one level, yet disavowed by the semantic polarisations inherent in psychoanalytic discourse on another. Those analytic events in which phantasy is understood to be the evocative force which fuels exchanges between the analysand and psychoanalyst (thus stimulating future events between them), are named transference and countertransference phenomena. To demonstrate how the experience of transference phenomena problematises dualist ontological splits between inner and outer, mind and body, phantasy and reality. Laing quotes from Bion as follows:
It is here that Laing identifies such an experience within relationships as an ‘alienating’ effect of being ‘drawn into social phantasy systems’. I suggest that this phrase is a useful one for feminists seeking to describe the experience of estrangement from self which is a necessary condition of becoming a woman in a culture underpinned by a phallocentric psychic economy. I would also suggest that Laing’s later work provides a set of valuable perspective for feminists seeking to shift discursively marginalised experiences into the centre of political critiques of phallocentric theories of knowledge.
The Politics of Experience.
In The Politics of Experience (1967) Laing describes the interaction of experience and behaviour as follows: ‘Persons are related to one another through their experience and through their behaviour. Theories can be seen in terms of the emphasis they put on experience or behaviour, and in terms of their ability to articulate the relationship between experience and behaviour’ (Laing, 1967, p. 42).
He then goes on to criticise behaviourism for its reduction of human beings to it-being relations, like amoeba or chemical agents, and talks of the dessication of human experience commensurate with such a view. Psychotherapy is an act of re-search he says, a re-search for a sense of personal unity, for the recovery of the full range of human experience, the denial of which leaves human beings in pieces. He writes,
For Laing, the Western social phantasy system that strips human beings of certain types of experience and defines them as unreal is dominated by the dogma of neo-positivist natural scientism. This treats the study of the field of the inter-experience of persons as if such a field is unreal or insignificant, and reduces humans to the level of the objects of natural science who are functions of a set of inhuman objectively real processes.
He writes a parody of this position as follows: ‘As a whole generation of men [sic], we are so estranged from the inner world that there are many arguing that it does not exist; and even if it does exist, it does not matter. Even if it has some significance, it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let’s make it hard. Let it be measured and counted’ (p. 46).
As a feminist I find juxtaposition of ‘hard’ science with other ‘soft’ forms of intellectual investigation so psychosexually poignant in their ‘gendering’ of different types of knowledge and experience that I believe the matter needs no further explanation. Laing is impervious to phallocentric symbolism of scientific discourse despite his parodic send up of the scientistic world view. ‘Hard’ science, he reveals, is the most prized type of rigorous penetration into the unknown that is intellectually possible.
I also find the term ‘social phantasy system’ a poignant one for describing an existential system that implicitly defines, determines and represents the attitudes, behaviour and mores of those deemed ‘feminine’ (or , soft ) in our society from a ‘hard’ phallocentric position that is in reality distinctly different and ‘other’ to the ‘feminine’ experience. However, in phantasy, the phallocratic, scientistic intellectual assumes a right to refuse to recognise the existential or intellectual significance of sexual difference/gender, and it seems beyond him that such a denial of the significance of sex and gender insidiously informs the politics of the knowledge he avows ( i.e., defines what is real as against what is unreal, true or untrue). The question must always be unreal for whom? True for whom? The denial of the significance of another person’s experience constitutes an act of psychological violence aqainst them. Paradoxically, the academy's denial of the gendered politics of knowledges perpetrates the very politic of domination that it is trying to deny silences other positions, that challenge heterosexist, phallocentric and Eurocentric bias.
The Psychosexual Psychology of Knowledge in Freud, Klein, Bion and Laing: A Summary of Their Significance for a Feminism of Autonomy.
Freud’s theoretical work on the psychology of femininity reveals an aspect of the epistemic and existential dynamic described above by Laing at its most extreme ( Irigaray). He argues that particular kinds of experience of the ‘feminine other’ evoke affects that are deemed ‘uncanny’, and that the anxiety this produces may be warded off by the fetishisation of some aspect of the encounter, that manages to incorporate female sexuality within the phallocentric symbol ( the shoe, the fur, the underwear etc.), which serves as a penis stand-in. The fetish subverts evocations of the ‘uncanny’ by investing female sexual otherness with a phallic significance. Female sexual ontology thereby becomes existentially colonised and is ontologically and symbolically overthrown by a culturally dominant masculinist psychosexual ontology and phallocentric psychic economy.
I have also suggested that Klein’s work on female psychosexual development reveals the extraordinary struggle undertaken by the girl during the process of her sexual becoming, which in a phallocentric psychic economy compels her to leave behind her intuitively apprehended, autonomously female sense of being-in-the-world, in favour of a decentred and depersonalising state of being-in-the-world. One of the ways a young woman may avoid this sacrifice of self is to retain, what in a phallocentric culture are deemed her 'masculine' characteristics. Examples of this would include a continuing predilection for intellectual and creative pursuits, a disinterest in her appearance, and lesbian sexuality. O'Connor and Ryan (1994) have argued that such lesbianism may be a healthy act of resistance to omnipresent cultural imperatives that call the girl into becoming a self-estranged ‘self-for-other’. This process of sexual becoming that involves a loss of self needn’t necessarily be circumvented by lesbian object choice however, which has diverse connotations and consequences for each woman who desires another woman. Rather, this loss of self that typifies the sexual becoming of girls into womanhood, that Klein describes in The Psychoanalysis of Children, in terms that indicate the level of psychological pain and violence involved, I have argued, is a consequence of each adolescent girl responding, albeit unconsciously, to omnipresent interpolations into phallocentric cultural imperatives regarding what it means to have a ‘feminine’ identity. Lesbian desire may be one way of resisting this call to relinquish one’s sexual/ontological psychic autonomy, and sense of agency as a desiring subject, because such desire positively cathects the female body as desirable and desiring.
However, I have also suggested that the dominant cultural imperative to split-off and disavow affectively charged sources of knowledge about the world, i.e., those sorts of experiences which are often deemed ‘intuitive’ or evaluative, have the hidden purpose of encouraging human beings of either gender to distrust affectively perceived truths. Following Laing’s critique of polarised conceptions of sane and insane inter-experience, I suggested above that this epistemic dynamic serves to preserve dominant perceptions of what constitutes knowledge, truth and reality, and thereby sustains the status quo’s disavowal of the psychosexual psychology of knowledge. In a culture that both explicitly and implicitly polarises gendered sexual difference in terms of relations of power, a disavowal of those modalities of interexperience whose psychosexual origins are deemed ‘feminine’ and/or ‘phantastic’ (which Laing describes as a prodoct of a culturally dominant neo-positivist scientism that dessicates human interexperience), results in the politically corrupt epistemic consequences described by feminist philosophers such as Irigaray and Grosz.
I have suggested, using the work of O’Shaugnessy, that Bion’s work on thinking describes how ‘feminine’ psychosexual experience functions as a container15 for ‘masculine’ psychosexual experience; preformatively, interpersonally and transpersonally - that is to say in the entire field of human inter-experience.
I would also suggest that R.D. Laing's work on intersubjective relations reveals how social phantasy systems form the very fabric of interpersonal experience, such that few are consciously aware that this is the case. As he demonstrates, those that are aware of this may be termed eccentric, unhinged, revolutionaries or just plain mad. Indeed he has earned himself this whole set of reputations for his controversial discussions of the politics of human experience. Either way such persons are concerned with turning the very fabric of culturally dominant models of our experience inside out. The feminist philosupher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray has also earned herself such a dual reputation.
She pointed out that in academic life, the phallocentric social phantasy system in which we all live and breathe is perhaps represented at its most conscious by the characteristic denial of the intellectual significance of sex and gender (which always begs the question insignificant for whom?), and those aspects of experience deemed ‘feminine’ such as emotion, intuition,etc. These aspects of experience may be deemed ‘feminine’ either in the realms of unconscious phantasy or conscious reality, or whatever. In the '70's there was an intellectual and institutional invalidation of Irigaray's feminist analysis of the lack of intellectual, ontological and sexual autonomy afforded women in the West. This invalidation of a range of experiences that other women shared with Irigaray, however, led to an increasing number of feminist critiques of dominant notions of Rationality, Reason and Knowledge.
Like Irigaray, I am trying to describe how the ‘normal’ path of psychosexual development of a female person in a phallocentric culture immerses her being, her body-for-self in a social phantasy system that at the same time denies her the right to define her desires, sexuality and sense of reality autonomously. In Laingian, phenomenological terms, her experience of body-for-self is gradually eroded and she becomes instead a body-for-the-other. I suggest that Bion’s term of container & also describes this ‘feminine’ position, as the obverse of the masculine experience of contained %. These descriptions of female psychosexual development are not new, but the suggestion that Kleinian and the post-Kleinian work reveals most sensitively how this process takes place is relatively recent (Goldenberg,1990). I suggest that Klein’s developmental schema should be re-read by feminists as descriptive phenomenology of psychosexual development in a phallocentric culture.
Klein’s work describes how this process leads to the alienation from, and requisite pathologising of ‘feminine’ psychosexual interexperience (and all those aspects of experience deemed implicitly feminine in a phallocentric culture like phantasy, enchantment, mystery, imagination, emotion, intuition etc.) in the mind of the woman herself, as well as in the unconscious phantasies and conscious fantasies about feminine sexual ontology (and connoted ‘feminine’ interexperience), in a phallocentric culture. I suggest that a phallocentric psychic economy determines our responses to feminine/phantastic interexperience as ‘uncanny’ because such interexperience evokes the repressed archaic underside of our Western phallocratic, and epistemologically fetishistic, culture.
In my view Klein’s expose of the primitive social phantasy system that is the bedrock of a phallocentric culture, based on repression of our ‘unconscious knowledge’ of our maternal origins of being-in-the-world, suggests a way out of a psychosexually, interpersonally and socially iniquitous situation which has hitherto had de-humanising consequences for both sexes. We are stripped currently, as Irigaray said, of the right to be consciously and autonomously female, and as Laing said of the right to validate the full range of the different modalities of human interexperience, from the ecstasy and violence of phantasy, to the numbing and alienating sense of reality, and back again. This needn’t be the case. I suggest that a psychosexual psychology of knowledge rooted in a feminism of autonomy would serve as a discursive framework that would validate our full range of human interexperience, which is unavailable to us because of the transpersonal invalidation of connoted ‘feminine’ interexperience. This realm of ‘feminine’ interexperience, which is conflated with ‘phantasy’ experience in psychoanalysis, is the ‘preformation’ that Laing writes of as anterior to language. This preformation constitutes that repressed aspect of being-in-the-world necessary to a phallocentric psychic economy reliant on fetishistic epistemologies. I shall now turn to a more detailed analysis of Klein’s developmental schema as a way of substantiating these suggestions.
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM