CHAPTER THREE- THE KLEINIAN DEVELOPMENTAL SCHEMA
The Roots of Unconscious Phantasy in Early Infantile Experience.
‘ ... there is more continuity between intra-uterine life and earliest infancy than the impressive caesura of the act of birth would have us believe’ (1925, Freud, p. 138).
Following on from Freud, Klein argued that ‘the first external source of eternal anxiety can be found in the experience of birth’ ( 1952, p. 61).
According to Klein, this specific trauma is the primal source of anxiety for both sexes. The formative experience of expulsion from the safety of the womb sets the psychological pattern for all later anxiety situations and is an overarching influence on the infant’s first relations with the external world. Trauma marks the beginning of the infant’s life, a trauma experienced as ‘an attack by hostile forces’ (pp. 61-62). This experience is felt to be threat to life itself, and evokes the affective prototype which will be used to deal with all later aggressive situations: persecutory anxiety. For Klein persecutory anxiety enters the infant’s object relations from the very beginning, initially setting the tone for her or his ‘part-object’l relation to the mother’s breast in particular. Any increase in the infant’s frustrations or privations, typified by the unsatisfactory feed, will increase the infant’s experience of persecutory anxiety.
Klein also believed that she observed innate life and death instincts present in all infants from the very beginning. She says, ‘We assume that there is always an interaction, although in varying proportions, between libidinal and aggressive impulses, corresponding to the fusion between life and death instincts’( p. 62 ).
Importantly for Klein, the infant’s displays of affective ambivalence have a constitutional basis in the life and death ‘instincts’ of the human organism. It is Klein’s emphasis on the biological nature of the origins of anger, greed and envy that has repelled those who view her theory as highly conservative. Some have read Klein and found an essentialist theory of human nature that originates from primarily destructive and selfish ‘instincts’.2
I sympathise with these objections to Klein, and would not wish to support her endeavour to explain psychological phenomena by reducing them solely to the biological processes of the organism. However, I do not want to dismiss the role of biology out of hand. In this study I am working with an existential-phenomenologica1 perspective that values human experience over and above any attempt to desiccate that experience and divide it into different sorts of organismic processes.3 With this in mind it may help to consider that at the time Klein was writing, there was a keenly felt need for ‘scientific’ biological explanations for psychological phenomena. Psychoanalytic circles were dominated by medically qualified practitioners, and Klein at times felt defensive about her lack of medical training in this environment (Grosskurth, 1986). It is likely that she stressed the constitutional nature of instincts to import more ‘scientific’ value into her work. I suggest that if one reads beyond the essentialist biologism in her work and treats it instead as descriptive rather than prescriptive then her theory becomes more useful.
In her introduction to The Selected Melanie Klein, Juliet Mitchell argues, as I have said, that Klein’s work can be read as a ‘descriptive phenomenology’ of the development of the infant’s earliest interactions with their environment, rather than a biological explanation of the origins of infantile phantasy, though I would argue that biological processes obviously impinge on the development and experience of the infant. I wish to extend this reading of Klein and begin my study with such a perspective in mind.
As I mentioned above, for Klein, the infant’s entry into this world is marked by the trauma of birth, whereby the mother’s body aggressively expels her baby into an anxiety provoking strangeness and forces baby to begin to face different and new experiences carrying varying degrees of frustration. The act of birth involves both the mother’s and infant’s participation. According to Klein, this act evokes persecutory anxiety in the infant. Following on from Rozsika Parker’s (1995) recent study of maternal ambivalence Torn in Two, I suggest that one could interpret this reaction of the infant as real affective perception of mother’s frustration and/or fear at the late stages of pregnancy. At this time many women attest to the actual desire to be rid of the infant inside them. Mothers actually feel some measure of frustration with their condition, and therefore towards their baby, while she is still inside mother’s body, as well as a lot of love towards her. Parker writes,
Mother feels ambivalent about the baby inside her, who at the late stages of pregnancy, is also causing her a lot of physical discomfort at times. It may be that the mother’s ability to experience consciously negative feelings towards her unborn child is part of beginning to acknowledge its separateness and will assist mother in her psychological preparation for the highly ambivalent act of giving birth, with all its pains and joys. Yet, once mother does gives birth the infant remains as dependent on mother as she was in the womb and still perceives herself and mother as one. Parker suggests that it is at this point in ‘maternal development’ that the mother often begins to experience the conscious co-existence of love and hate towards her child for the first time. Parker writes, ‘Now in the grip of passionate absorption with another, coupled with the relentless demands of baby-care, the mother can image the baby as both " tyrant" and "love of my life"’ (p. 204).
Importantly, Klein’s descriptions of early infantile experience are also concerned with ambivalence, or the co-existence of love and hate that the infant feels towards mother, in terms of ‘part-object’ relationships. Klein locates the origins of both love and hate (persecutory anxiety) in the infant’s earliest phantasy relationship to the mother’s body and breast. She says,
It seems to me that Klein’s emphasis on the infant’s phantasy life, governed by life and death ‘instincts’, which are then projected into phantasies of both the good and bad breast and good and bad mother, may disguise mother's active role in mother-infant intrapsychic processes.
I have suggested that mother’s realistic emotional responses to late pregnancy and giving birth evoke an affective ‘mirroring’ response in the infant to her ambivalence. Parker argues that it is a mother’s capacity to contain and think about these exchanges that enables her to become the source of a creative interaction between mother and infant. Following her line of argument it seems that Klein’s emphasis on the internal world of the infant may disavow the reality of a mother’s ambivalent feelings towards her baby. For Parker, mother’s hateful feelings always exist alongside loving feelings towards her baby, although these may be complicated by processes of splitting and projection, perhaps a result of an inability to experience conscious anger towards baby, for example, so as to better live up to some long-ago internalised maternal ideal. Parker calls the type of mother who is terrorised by such splits, the ‘Great Mother and Fragile Container’. Parker views these splits as a consequence of our cultural ambivalence about maternal ambivalence which encourages disavowal of negative feelings towards the baby.
Earlier on in the psychoanalytically informed feminist literature about motherhood, Dorothy Dinnerstein (1976) suggested that our cultural intolerance of maternal ambivalence, and cultural idealisations and envy of the mother both desexualise and dehumanise her. Dinnerstein argues that patriarchal child-care arrangements encourage women to take sole responsibility for child-rearing, and put mothers in a position of omnipotent control over their children. With little physical distance or psychological separation between mother and child, the child comes to view mother’s presence as the sole determining factor in whether she is going to get her needs met or not. Men and/or fathers are not looked to provide this kind of ‘servicing’. The child then tends to respond to mother as a magically powerful figure, and maintains infantile part-object relations to mother, defining her as either all-good or all-bad, idealising and denigrating her in turn. Dinnerstein believes that both men and women collude to maintain this state of affairs, which she argues dehumanises women who are unconsciously perceived as all-powerful goddesses or witches, and demystifies masculinity which is robbed of any magical significance or inspirational force for most of us. She writes,
Both Parker and Dinnerstein observe that while the archetypal unconscious phantasy of the Great Mother carries an aura of maternal mystery across cultures, the reality of maternal sexuality is largely disavowed in patriarchal cultures, except where it is related to reproduction. It has been argued by Luce Irigaray, Nancy Chodorow and Rozsika Parker, amongst others, that there is a dominant tradition of disavowal that surrounds the very active and aggressive life and death components of female sexuality involved in procreation, pregnancy and giving birth, Western patriarchal ideologies of mothering, both today and at the time of Klein’s writings in 1950’s Britain, have tended to idealise maternity, robbing mothers of the right to experience aggression, hate and ambivalence consciously towards their babies and children. This cultural ‘derealization’ (Laing) of women’s real experiences of maternity, has resulted in the fantasy that mothers are or should be all-giving, asexual and more ‘pure’ than sexually active women who are not mothers. Feminists have argued that the Madonna-with-her-infant image exemplifies and upholds Western patriarchal mythologies of motherhood. It has been suggested that in Western Christian cultures the Madonna myth continues to fuel our most deeply held phantasies of the ideal mother-infant bond (Welldon 1989).4
Feminists have also argued that patriarchal ideologies of gender construct the ‘feminine’ (especially ‘feminine’ sexuality and ‘feminine’ psychology) as predominantly passive. The dominant patriarchal phantasy of womanhood conflates femininity with maternity. To confront the actual reality of the active, aggressive, life and death potential of female sexuality and psychology, particularly in mothers, is to confront something unholy or evil (non-Madonna like), and to confront a psychosexual taboo (women’s aggression) . Yet I suggest, following Parker’s argument, that such feelings in the mother are a necessary psychological preparation for giving birth and preserving her own and her baby’s life in the process.
Mother’s aggressive expulsion of the baby, (rather than the passive image so often evoked by those references to mother ‘dropping a sprog’) lessens the mortal risks involved for both mother and baby at this time. Mother’s aggression during birth may therefore be life enhancing at the same as it is traumatic for her infant. Her aggression during the act of giving birth has ambivalent consequences for her and her child. For Klein infantile ambivalence is a consequence of the fusion of the infant’s constitutional life and death ‘instincts’, which are innate and biologically driven. I would support Parker’s view that the infant (not yet separated psychologically from mother) is evocatively experiencing5 mother’s ambivalence, rather than a fusion of its own life and death biological ‘instincts’ as such. I suggest that maternal ambivalence is constitutive of infantile ambivalence, and that the infant’s inadequately formed ego responds to mother’s mixed feelings of love and aggression (which fuse in the act of giving birth) with infantile persecutory anxiety. This, too, is life enhancing. The infant’s primitive ability to perceive danger where it is present is an important signal to carers that something is wrong. From a Kleinian perspective, infantile hate is a consequence of the infant’s own destructive ‘death instinct’, but I would support Parker’s view when she instead differentiates between manageable and unmanageable maternal ambivalence as evoking more or less manageable feelings in her infant or child. Adhering to the traditional biologism of the Kleinian distinction between infantile love and hate and life and death instincts seems to me unnecessarily to complicate mother-infant intrapsychic and intersubjective processes.
As Parker argues, ambivalent exchanges between mother and infant are both a source of creative tension and distress. Manageable ambivalence admits of a degree of difference and separation between mother and infant, is a source of creative tension, and therefore meaningful in a positive way. In this situation mother is able to contain and think about these affective exchanges. However, as Parker argues, this is unfortunately very difficult for mothers saturated in contemporary cultural attitudes towards maternal ambivalence. Mother can only think about her ambivalence if she is not overwhelmed by anxiety, guilt and self-reproach when she becomes aware of her mixed feelings for her child. In a cultural milieu that evaluates maternal efficacy in terms of a mother’s ability to attain the Madonna ideal, any mother who deviates from this feels denigrated by the expectations of others in the external world and by her own sense of internal failing. Parker’s interviews with mothers suggest that if mothers felt able to accept their good and bad feelings without guilt and anxiety, then they would be more able to think about those feelings, rather than act them out, either in punitive self-reproaches (which often result in depression) or by abusing their infants and/or children.
What interests me about the possibility of this alternative reading of Klein’s observations of the role of ambivalence in mother-infant interpersonal processes, is why is the experience of maternal ambivalence such a taboo in Western patriarchal society? Is there something that mother communicates to her infant that we wish to disavow and why? Perhaps the dominant cultural disavowal of female aggression (women’s death drive?) is a consequence of split off persecutory anxiety, which threatens us (the phallocratic subject) with its return should we openly acknowledge maternal aggression and/or ambivalence? Also if this infantile persecutory anxiety first experienced at the hands of mothers is ‘split off’, where does it go?
Who carries it and is it gendered? If it is gendered then how is the reproduction of a phallocentric psychic economy sustained by these primitive affective responses to the archaic maternal-feminine? The psychoanalysts Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva have suggested many answers to these questions, as has the psychoanalytic theorist Teresa Brennan.6
In the light of the argument presented by Parker regarding the cultural taboo that surrounds maternal ambivalence, and using the feminist critiques of psychoanalysis mentioned above, I want to try to rethink how the primitive affective responses that Klein explains develop in our earliest infantile relations to women, might block our ability to think about alternative (non-phallocentric) epistemic models, which aim to describe and explain female development and being-in-the-world from a perspective that recognises both sexual difference and sexual autonomy. I suggest that any answer to this point, if there is one, will be tied up with our cultural attitudes to maternal ambivalence as Rozsika Parker describes them. I am going to try to consider these questions in the light of this later point during the rest of this chapter when 1 examine Klein’s work on female psychosexual development using the work of those thinkers already mentioned.
Klein’s Theory of Psychosexual Development in The Psychoanalysis of Children.
In Klein’s The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932) there is a set of essays devoted to the description of the origins and development of early anxiety situations in the infant, with two essays on the specific differences in the anxiety situations suffered by girls and boys. I will suggest that an alternative, feminist reading of Klein’s account may reveal that these differences may be a result of the baby girl’s and baby boy’s differently sexuate7 (Irigaray) relationship to the mother’s body, These different relations to mother appear to evoke different forms of anxiety in each sex which leads them each to construct different early maternal superegos with differing sets of imperatives, and different phantasy constructs of the primal scene. I suggest that Klein reveals how sexuate infantile phantasies of the primal scene compel the infant to take up its earliest Oedipal identifications, which lay the foundations for its later sublimations, sexual orientation, and propensity for neurosis or psychosis.
As I have already shown, Melanie Klein proposes that the infant’s capacity to tolerate anxiety has a constitutional basis, although she also acknowledges the impact that the outside world has on the infant’s psychological development. This latter reading of her work is my point of contention with her critics which I hope to defend later on. However, when appraising her essays in the following section of this chapter I shall do so from my own perspective on Klein’s description of early infantile experience. To summarise, in my view, the mother’s psychic reality and /or phantasy life is constitutive of her infant’s internal and external world.8 The mother in turn, I understand as a woman developing a capacity to nurture in an implicitly patriarchal culture, that is underpinned by a phallocentric psychic economy (Irigaray). I am interested in Klein’s ‘descriptive phenomenology’ (Mitchell) of infantile intrapsychic processes, and suggest that her theory of psychosexual differentiation from mother, offers up a possibility of a psychodynamic theory of sexual difference which may be more useful for a ‘feminism of autonomy’ than other more phallocentric accounts of psychosexual development.
Klein acknowledges that psychological differences exist between the sexes from a very early stage in their development, and she explains these differences in terms of specifically sexuate relationship between the (boy or girl) infant’s, and mother’s, mind and body. I suggest that mother’s specifically gendered position in Western contemporary culture, which is by no means universal, but which will vary depending on her class, race, ethnicity, physical/mental abilities, age and sexual orientation amongst other things, nevertheless involves her wherever she finds herself, in an especially primal mind-body relationship to her new born infant. Klein explains how these formative mind-body connections and communications between mother and infant inform the phantasy constructs and affective prototypes which are invested in all later thought processes, for both the developing child and adult.
I shall now present an exposition and critique of Klein’s two essays on the sexual development of the girl and the sexual development of the boy respectively, before returning to the theme of this study, which is to consider the implications of Klein’s observations and analyses for feminist alternatives to phallocentric theories of sexual difference.
Early Anxiety-Situations and the Sexual Development of the Girl
‘Psycho-analytic investigation has thrown much less light on the psychology of women than on to that of men’ (Klein, 1932, p. 194).
In her essay ‘The Effects of Early Anxiety Situations on the Sexual Development of the Girl’ (1932), Klein argues that Freud’s discovery of castration anxiety, important though it is for treating male neurotics, is inadequate when it comes to treating the anxiety-situations specifically experienced by little girls and women. In contrast to the little boy’s fear of losing his penis she says ‘... the girl’s deepest fear is of having the inside of her body robbed and destroyed’ (p. 194, my emphasis).
This statement describes a little girl’s fear of an uninvited colonisation of her body and evokes images of rape, unwanted pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage. These are sexually specific fears, which Luce Irigaray has argued constitute the female equivalent of male castration anxiety (which I discussed in the introduction to this study). However, although Klein does acknowledge the importance for the little girl of the prospective damage to, or loss of, imaginary or real children inside her body, ‘fear of rape’ is a term never used by Klein as another related though different source of the little girl’s most fundamental anxiety. Interestingly, contemporary research finds that female rape victims testify to exactly these feelings of having had the insides of their bodies robbed, destroyed and poisoned by sexual assault, as Klein describes them.9 These feelings are also common to women who have conceived unwanted pregnancy, had abortions under duress, suffered miscarriages and had undergone hysterectomies (Ussher, 1989).10 I suggest that if one reads Klein’s essay from a feminist perspective that situates mother in a patriarchal society, and incorporates an awareness of those testimonies of many women who have had their earliest anxiety situations confirmed in reality, then a whole new set of interpretations of her work on female anxiety become possible.
When Klein is describing the little girl’s fear of uninvited bodily invasion, she could be describing the little girl’s unconscious fear of being robbed of her sexual autonomy via seduction, rape and pregnancy. Klein argues that confirmation of the infantile fear of carrying dead internal objects may follow should a woman decide to abort, or have a miscarriage, for example. Hysterectomy is the most obvious physical instance of internal robbery and/or castration, and it is being carried out with increasing frequency. Jane Ussher writes,
Ussher concludes ‘The ease with which the medical profession removes the womb is more of a reflection of misogynist attitudes towards the female body and reproduction than a reflection of the need for the operation’ (p. 114).
I’m aware that drawing on empirical evidence to evaluate Klein’s observations has the effect of concretising what Klein described as the little girl’s unconscious phantasy situation. However, this is only possible because the little girl’s phantasy situation is very different from the little boy’s phantasy situation of castration. As the evidence above shows, in contemporary Western society sexuate, ontological ‘robberies/invasions/violations’ such as rape, unwanted pregnancy, abortion (whether under duress or a free choice), miscarriage and hysterectomy are a fact of life for many women. In this sense the little girl’s earliest anxiety situation as Klein describes it differs fundamentally from the boy’s, because her greatest fear of having her insides robbed and violated is often carried out in reality, if not to her directly, then she learns of this possibility via the testimonies of the media and/or other women. By contrast, the removal of the male scrotum and/or penis, or male castration, occurs extremely rarely (the only case when this may take place that I can think of are during a voluntary sex change, or if a part of the genitalia are found to contain cancer).11
By looking toward case histories and empirical studies of the effects of sexual trauma, one can reframe the little girl’s earliest anxiety situation as perhaps a form of unconscious knowledge evoked in her by her mother’s awareness of what it means to be female in a patriarchal society. For example, the mother knows that she is living in society where sexual assault and rape are a real and continuous threat, more so perhaps in certain situations like walking alone at night. And the facts are that when Klein was writing and observing her patients, rape in marriage was not recognised as a criminal offence by the legal system. Even today in the West, the judiciary rely on ocularcentric positivist methods of gathering evidence to prove that rape has taken place rather than seduction, which means rapists can rarely be proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. My point is that mother will be aware, albeit unconsciously, that her little girl is going to grow up in a society which tolerates gender-specific crimes of violence (tolerated because they are not tackled as such in the public sphere unlike racially motivated crimes which are named as such) and knows that her own and her little girl’s vulnerability to internal bodily violation is a reality. Thus the little girl’s fundamental anxiety situation could be interpreted from a feminist perspective as a form of unconscious knowledge12 of her gendered subordination and existential marginalisation in a phallocentric patriarchal culture.
In my view, one can use Klein’s insights to explain how the little girl’s anxiety situation is acquired via mother’s projections of her sexually specific fears and phantasies which may or may not have been confirmed by her own life experience, but which she will nevertheless have confirmed indirectly by information she acquires from her environment, e.g., news reports of rape cases/ sexual crimes. Mother will be all too aware of the dangers inherent in being a female person in a patriarchal society, though she may not hold this information at the forefront of her consciousness.
Importantly, Klein describes how mothers transmit unconscious and conscious knowledge to their infants via the sexually specific actions and affective concerns they demonstrate towards their babies. It has been argued that mothers behave in a more ambivalent way towards their daughters who they love and yet understand have the same specifically sexuate vulnerabilities as they do. Feminist psychotherapists Orbach and Eichenbaum (1983) have argued that a mother identifies with her daughter in a much more direct way than she identifies with her son, and thus mother projects her unconscious knowledge and affects more forcefully into her daughter, due to her possession of the same specifically female ontology, and female infantile anxieties which live on in her own psyche. 1 would like to support this argument and suggest that Klein’ s work alerts us to the potential that such unconscious intrapsychic processes have to reproduce a phallocentric psychic economy across generations of women. To show how 1 find Klein’ s work explicative of these processes, I shall now go on to examine her essay on the earliest anxiety situation of the girl in more detail.
Klein writes, ‘As a result of the oral frustration she experiences from her mother [at the breast], the girl turns away from her and takes her father’s penis as her object of satisfaction’ (1932, p. 194).
It follows that if mother unconsciously and/or consciously communicates to her little girl her knowledge of what it means to be woman in a patriarchal society, that the little girl should feel her mother’s love, anxiety, concern and sadness for her as highly ambivalent. On the one hand mother feels joy at having her new baby, yet on the other hand knows what is in store for her in a society that treats little girls and women as in inferior human beings. Louise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach (1989, 1993) in their popular psychology texts for women based on their work at the Women’s Therapy Centre, call this the mother-daughter ‘push-pull dynamic’. Within this dynamic mother communicates to her daughter her special vulnerability as a female person, and teaches her overtly and covertly how to adapt to this situation. As the little girl becomes aware of the privileges afforded to other little boys, her brother(s), her father, and men in general, it is not surprising that in phantasy she should attribute her sense of inferiority to her ‘lack of a penis’. Unlike Freud, Klein does not believe that the little girl has an inborn appreciation of the penis’ innately superior qualities compared to the clitoris, rather that the little girl may turn to her father and/or boys as a consequence of her frustrations with her mother and vulnerable female ontology. She says,
... the frustrations she suffers from the breast [= mother] prepares the way for the feelings which her renewed frustration in regard to the penis [= father] arouses... As soon as she begins to be afraid of the ‘bad’ introjected penis she also begins to run back to her mother who, both as a real person and as an introjected figure, should give help to her (p. 207).
If the girl has a sufficient ‘good’ mother imago she will be able to shelter behind her from the ‘bad’ mother and ‘bad’ penis. Importantly Klein does discuss the possibility that the girl may not have been able to introject a ‘good’ mother either because her real mother has been unable to tolerate her child’s frustrations in reality or in phantasy. In this case mother will not be experienced by the infant as a helpful figure. Therefore, Klein says,
Klein argues that psychoanalysis demonstrates that infantile phantasy is the basis of all later psychic reality. In the infant’s phantasy, whether it is a little boy or girl, the mother is always omnipotent and is the source of both life-giving nourishment and death-dealing anxiety. Mother’s phantasied omnipotence means that the earliest infantile phantasies of the primal scene situate the whole event inside the mother’s body, as Klein describes above. Where the infant is unable to introject a ‘good’ mother imago and/or ‘good’ father imago, the primal scene is phantasised as a mutnally sadistic attack between the ‘bad’ breast/mother and ‘bad’ penis/father inside the mother’s body. The little girl identifies with her mother and introjects this phantastic scene of her origins inside her mother’s body, and this gives rise to a persecutory fear of ‘bad’ internal objects, together with a sense of guilt at her sadistic attacks both against her own bad internal objects, and her mother’s body. It seems to me that Klein is in fact describing the psychodynamics of the little girl’s development in relation to unmanageable maternal and paternal ambivalence when she has no-one who can contain her anxiety. As Parker argued, mothers may communicate unmanageable ambivalence in terms of physical acting out ( abuse ) or in terms of intrapsychic acting out (possible cause of depression) concerning her own infantile relation to the mother’s body (now her own body) in phantasy.
Psychoanalysts have observed that early in life (before six to eight months) the infant girl is unable to distinguish between herself and her mother as separate entities. The infant’s psychic reality is inseparable from external reality and from the psychic realities of others involved in her care. The infant communicates through preverbal affective exchanges with her significant others which are expressed in a mish-mash of touch, sound, smell, taste and visual signals. The dependant infant exists in a sort of emotionally charged socio-psychic soup, at the mercy of the actions and phantasies of the significant others around her. She has insufficient ego to differentiate between her own internal life, the internal life of mother and/or others, and external material reality as yet. In the previous chapter I mentioned the study Self And Others by R.D. Laing wherein he named the adult equivalent of this existential situation a social phantasy system ( Laing, 1965 ). I find this term a useful one when thinking about the construction of the ‘feminine’ psychosexual position within a phallocentric psychic economy, and will return to it further on.
In her essay on the origins of the little girl’s earliest anxiety situation, Klein is engaged in a description of the origins of the sense of inferiority and depression to which unsatisfactory formative identifications with ‘bad’ parental imagos may give rise. To a certain extent we all experience these identifications in phantasy, but for most of us these are outweighed by our identifications with good parental imagos and internal objects in phantasy and reality. By identifying with what is good for her, the little girl develops a sense of integration and wholeness, and an adequate enough ego with which to face the world. A strong ego develops from experiences that support a certain degree of splitting which will enable her to choose between good and bad objects, and which will hopefully govern her object choices in later life so that she will choose what is good, or ego syntonic, over what is bad.
However, in the course of her practice as a psychoanalyst, Klein found that many adult individuals suffered from an infantile inability to distinguish between their own internal reality and that of the other’s and/or external reality. From a psychodynamic perspective this regression characterises adult psychosis, and the psychotic anxieties underpinning neurosis. Using Klein’s insights into the development of femininity and regression to psychosis, I suggest that the formation of a patriarchal, phallocentric ‘feminine’ psychosexual identity is characterised by the retention of an unconscious infantile capacity to experience the ‘self’ via the internal lives of others. This can achieve both creative and destructive results and is, I suggest, open to both genders. Klein describes how the psychosexually ‘feminine’ subject’s own internal world is so bound up with what is going on for the other, that s/he at once contains the other’s phantasies and spills over into the other’s reality. She describes this aspect of the ‘feminine’ psyche for those with a typically female gender as follows :
In this sense, feminine reality is largely indistinguishable from feminine phantasy, and her constitutive Oedipal introjects, which comprise in part of the phantasies of her mother and father regarding their daughter’s developing sexual identity.
Klein describes the consequences of this feminine relationship to Oedipal introjects for the girl’s and later woman' s creativity as follows:
The person who occupies a ‘feminine’ position in a phallocentric psychic economy is capable of ‘great psychological understanding’, together with an ‘inclination towards deceit and intrigue’. One could argue that the success of the latter depends upon an ability for the former. Klein’s observations suggest that a ‘feminine’ psychosexual identity develops around a core intuitive (unconscious) capacity to read the internal worlds of others, by retaining the infantile capacity to communicate and observe preverbal semiotic ( Kristeva)13 constructs, via affective exchanges, touch, changing tone of voice/facial expression etc. This ability to anticipate another’s unspoken needs/ frustrations is necessary for successful nurturing, which is conflated with mothering and a ‘feminine’ psychosexual identity in a patriarchal society.
Another less useful consequence of this capacity to anticipate the contents of another’s internal world also comes capacity for confusion between oneself and the other, which Orbach and Eichenbaum have argued is particularly common to mother-daughter relationships in today’s Western patriarchal culture. This capacity for great psychological understanding for others and psychological confusion between oneself and the other are in fact the flip sides of the ‘feminine’ existential condition in a phallocentric psychic economy that disavows and/or robs both mother and daughter of their psychosexual autonomy. Both capacities described above depend upon a psychic capacity to ‘merge’ or ‘lose oneself’ in the other for good or ill. Klein’s observations suggest that this infantile capacity is reactivated in girls around the time of puberty, at the end of the latency period. When I read Klein on this matter, it seems a likely possibility that the confusion that results from the girl’s identification with the other, and the attempts she must then make to disentangle herself from the other, may be perceived as the feminine ‘inclination towards deceit and intrigue’ that Klein describes above. In my view, Klein implicitly describes ‘feminine’ development as always constructed by, and receptive to, the other at the expense of the ego or ‘self’. She explains how this makes the feminine subject more in touch with the unconscious, with phantasy, and the defence mechanisms of introjection and projection. This makes her more susceptible to a belief in the magical powers of feelings and thoughts. Klein argues that this combination of qualities makes women more intuitive than men and that this is why women are more capable than men in certain areas of achievement. She writes: ‘... her achievements... receive their specifically feminine character of intuitiveness and subjectivity from the fact that her ego is submitted to a loved internal spirit. They [her achievements] represent the birth of a spiritual child, conceived by its father; and the spiritual procreation is attributed to her super-ego’ (p. 236).
I described above how Klein understood the little girl’s early relationship to her mother. In infancy, and now in her unconscious, the little girl once phantasised that her mother was omnipotent, and that her mother’s body was both the source and container of the primal scene. In her continuing identification with her mother’s body, the now sublimated phantasy of the primal scene, the source of her creativity instead begins to take place inside her by magical means. Klein describes how the girl’s Oedipal introjects compel her to create, and that she conceives of this as a spiritual process, which is the result of an unconscious submission to her internalised ‘good’ father imago. Klein explained that if the little girl became heterosexual, she would eventually have to give up her ‘phallic phase’ characterised by an identification with the internalised penis-father . Instead, her creativity would have to become genitally focussed during what Klein called the ‘post-phallic phase’, which redirects her creative impulses towards procreation, pregnancy and childbirth. For Klein, the girl is prepared for her transition to the latter by constitutional changes (puberty, menstruation etc.) and by the ‘specifically feminine character of her sublimations’ which always revolve around the retention or expulsion of the feelings and phantasies of her internalised significant others.
Since Klein, however, some psychodynamic thinkers about the development of female sexuality toward hetero- or homosexuality have ceased to find constitutional factors significant. Also the issue of cross or same gendered identifications has been found to be both various and shifting in girls and/or women who define themselves as either heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian (0’Connor and Ryan, 1994).
I am primarily concerned here with the construction of what is deemed a ‘feminine’ identity position in a patriarchal society. Jacqueline Rose has argued that Julia Kristeva is the psychoanalyst of the ‘feminine’ who draws most upon the work of Melanie Klein. I want to explain briefly what the ‘feminine’ actually means in Kristeva’s thought. She has argued, rather controversially, as far as feminists are concerned, that any psychosexual identity which is defined or defines itself as ‘other’ to a normative, phallocentric male heterosexuality may be deemed ‘feminine’ in some respects. A feminine psychosexual identity is not, for Kristeva, a consequence of sex or gender, but a result of one’s relationship to the symbolic order. For Kristeva the ‘feminine’ is the repressed of the symbolic order of language. She says ‘Language as a symbolic function constitutes itself at the cost of repressing instinctual drives and continuous relation to the mother’ (Kristeva, 1981, p, 136). She names the presymbolic space occupied in infancy and later on in phantasy ‘the semiotic order’, She says, , ... instinctual and maternal, semiotic processes prepare the future speaker for entrance into meaning and signification’ (p. 136).
The semiotic order in Kristeva’s work refers to the infantile processing of the drives via the mother’s body. In Klein’s work this archaic form of processing is named unconscious phantasy, in Freud primary process thinking, in Lacan it is named the Imaginary. All these names refer to this formative infantile affective processing which exists anterior to language, and which psychically cements the bond between the infant and mother’s mind and body.
For Kristeva, an adult person who retains a conscious connection with the form of processing anterior to language occupies a ‘feminine’ position in relation to the symbolic order. They may sublimate this form of processing by writing music, poetry, or by becoming an artist. Failure to sublimate the ‘semiotic’ order results in psychosis. The person in such a ‘feminine’ position is not necessarily female. I find Kristeva’s explication of the feminine psychosexual position in relation to language and thinking useful. However, those deemed ‘feminine’ in a socio-cultural sense in a patriarchal society, are usually deemed so on the basis of their biological sex and/or gender. This conflation of psychosexuality with biological sex seems to be what Kristeva is aiming to avoid, and I would argue with her, that this conflation is both a consequence and necessary condition of phallocentrism.
However, I wish to use both psychosexual and more conventional bio-social definitions of the ‘feminine’, interchanging the two throughout my text. In my view these definitions necessarily overlap yet exist in tension with each other within a phallocentric psychic economy, which is dependent on the conflation of psychosexual identity with biological sex in order to reproduce itself symbolically14 In this study 1 write of a historically specific manifestation of patriarchy, that is contemporary Western patriarchy, which has necessarily shifted sociologically in order to accommodate women’s demands for economic and political equality- However, that is, in my view, where feminist demands for equality have stopped short. Patriarchal practices still prevail, for example, in the workplace, and in terms of child rearing practices and childcare responsibilities.15
Sociologically speaking, it remains the case that a ‘feminine’ identity is largely attributed to one gender only, and that heterosexual white bourgeois16 women uphold the dominant paradigm of femininity against which all other variations of the ‘feminine’ are measured- Feminists have argued that the vast majority of little girls will feel the enormous pressure that Western industrial culture exerts upon them to conform to this ‘ideal’ of womanhood, whatever their eventual sexual orientation, their ethnicity, ‘race’, or class. All little girls are in various ways, acculturated to adapt to this dominant definition of the ‘feminine’ (even if this pressure is exerted primarily by the culture outside their particular household). They will experience varying degrees of rejection and/or outright discrimination for non-conformity to this bourgeois phallocentric ideal.
I suggest if we situate Klein’s account of the development of the little girl within the context of contemporary Western industrial patriarchy, then her essay is open to a radical re-interpretation. In my view, Klein is describing how the little girl’s core ‘femininity’ is constructed, to become a ‘container’ (in Bion’s sense). As the little girl develops, it seems she is gradually ‘hollowed out’ , that is, she loses/represses a sense of her embodied integral self. This is due to her disidentification with the father, who is the only , subject’ in a culture underpinned by a phallocentric psychic economy. This process of loss, which typically begins at puberty, prepares her for womanhood so she is better able to receive, hold and empathically embody the other’s inner world. This change enables women to anticipate others’ needs for nurturing, and take responsibility for the majority of emotional processing in adult interpersonal relationships. It is when the girl begins to feel the demands of others (mother, father, teacher, etc.) that she undergoes this ‘hollowing out’ process at puberty. Klein says she often regards it as a confirmation of all her earliest anxieties regarding the robbing, poisoning and violation of the inside of her body. Should she refuse to obey the call to repress her sense of being an embodied subject, and instead maintain an identification with the father, then she may become a lover of women, and/or develop other stereotypically ‘masculine’ character traits, e.g., a liking for aggressive physical activities and intellectual pursuits. Such a woman will then avoid the threat of internal robbery or destruction by the phallus and thereby avoid , femininity , , in the same way that an ‘effeminate’ homosexual man may be interpreted as avoiding the threat of castration (Fletcher, 1989).17 Both are avoiding the patriarchal imperative to conflate one’s sense of ‘self’, rooted in one’s psychosexual identity), with phallocentric constructions of appropriate gendered behaviour/attitudes (defined according to biological sex).
Klein goes on to describe the developmental impact of menstruation on this psychosexual process of ‘hollowing out’ in the pubescent girl. Firstly, Klein argues that the girl frequently unconsciously fears that she is being punished for her sadistic phantasies regarding her bad parental imagos (bad internal objects). As up until now, she has only equated bleeding with injury, she fears that her own body has been damaged in retaliation. Next, says Klein,
In this way the pubescent girl’s encounter with menstruation encourages her to redirect her creative energies away from am engagement with external reality and toward a phantastic preoccupation with her body, her insides, her feelings, aches and pains. She does this in order to cope with a resurgence of internal infantile anxiety. That such anxieties should be evoked at the onset of an event that signals the attainment of ordinary everyday female sexual maturity, in my view indicates the pathological cultural context within which ordinary womanhood develops. Reading Klein’s account from a feminist perspective reveals how the girl has a lack of information or knowledge about her development, her insides, her reproductive organs and the emergence of womanly sexual desire. Instead such matters are left to the free play of her anxiety-laden phantasy.
In this way the girl’s energies are re-directed inwardly, as she struggles to think about the unknown interior of her own body, and the phantastic imaginings to which the possession of an ‘uncanny’, known yet not known, ‘castrated’ body gives rise in a phallocentric culture. As she struggles with the misrecognition of her own body as other, Klein describes how she paradoxically becomes more and more pre-occupied with it, both her inside feelings whether affects or sensations, and her body’s outside appearance. It is during puberty that girls typically turn away from the rigorous ‘tomboyish’ activities that they previously found so satisfying. Their energy becomes engaged elsewhere. As Teresa Brennan (1992) has argued very powerfully, the girl’s developing ‘femininity’ compels her to turn her energy inwards. As she tries to solve the mystery/ mystification of her body and her self, she is becomes less interested in outside pursuits. She becomes passive.
Firstly, she becomes inwardly focussed on the mystery of her vaginal canal, its excretions, and the ‘unknowable’ insides of her body. Next, if following a heterosexual path, she will work towards attracting a man and becoming a receptacle for a man’s desire in coitus, so that later, she can become a holding environment for a child. One can argue, following Freud, that a woman is thus made not born. This perspective would also beg the question whether men are also made not born in a patriarchal society. I suggest that a gendered psychosexual identity both sexes but in different ways. However, to take this argument a step further, I want to argue following Teresa Brennan’s work), construction of ‘femininity’ as a container (Bion) for the ‘paranoid-schizoid’ psychic economy of phallocentrism, which is the necessary condition for the reproduction of patriarchy at a psychodynamic level. Brennan (1992,1993) has suggested that ‘femininity’ is constructed as non-aggressive/passive in order to become a better container for the split off denigrations and idealisations of maternity, reproduced within a phallocentric culture in denial of the real physical effects of unconscious phantasy structures about women. I suggest that such a psychic economy can be usefully described as a social phantasy system in the Laingian sense. When reading Klein from a perspective incorporating the insights of both Brennan’s (1993) and Parker’s (1995) work on motherhood and femininity, I would like to consider how a paranoid-schizoid phallocentric psychic economy contributes to the disavowal of maternal aggression and maternal ambivalence. In my view, Klein’s work, in particular, provides many clues about the disavowal of maternal sexuality and its intimate relation to life and death, and may be able to indicate why expressed female anger per-se is such a taboo in Western patriarchal culture.
The acceptance of the unavoidable reality of ambivalence is for Klein a condition of the depressive position. In my view, a disavowal of maternal ambivalence, which I have argued is constitutive of infantile ambivalence (which Klein describes as the source of human creativity), characterises contemporary psychodynamic foundations of Western patriarchal culture. I have also suggested above, using the work of Irigaray and Grosz, that ocularcentric, neo- positivist theories of truth and knowledge disavow the reality of the unseen. They have both argued that phallocentric thought is characterised by a particular mind-set involving unconscious phantasies regarding the reality/unreality of the seen/unseen, presence and absence, which conflates what is not visible with absence or non-being/ non-existence, The result is that the ‘hidden’ genitalia and enclosed space at the centre of female sexuality is thought about and represented in terms of lack and absence.
With this in mind I would like to argue that the epistemological supremacy of vision which characterises phallocentric thought and culture, contributes to a pathologising of the ordinary reproductive processes of the female life-cycle, and thus accentuates the pubescent girl’s malign feelings about her own body, resulting in increased psychotic anxieties regarding her femininity. In a culture largely unconcerned with what is not visible, the girl has no benign epistemic models at hand which she may use to understand the ‘hidden’ processes and feelings inside her own body. In my view, a feminist reconstruction of a Kleinian psychodynamic model of the female life-cycle could be such a useful epistemic model. Such a model acknowledges a sexually specific internal embodied reality, which has real social and psychological consequences in terms of subjective development and intersubjective relationships. The girl lacks such a model of reality, so as Klein explains, she develops and increasing tendency to employ malignant (phallocentric) phantasy in her struggle to comprehend both what is going on inside her, how this relates to changing outer bodily appearance, and the impact these may both be having on her relationships in the outside world. This gives rise to increased anxiety, a sense of alienation and inferiority.
The possibility of a refusal of a patriarchally constructed femininity with which the , third wave I of feminism is concerned, 1 believe rests on the subversion of such an economy via deconstructive and reconstructive strategies of the kind championed by Irigaray and developed by Grosz and others. wish to argue, following on from Irigaray and borrowing a phrase from Marx, that if one reads Klein’ s psychoanalytic descriptions and explanations of phallocentrism as interpretations of the symptoms of phallocentrism, then one can re-interpret the symptomology otherwise, as instead a container of the seeds of phallocentrism’s own destruction. A feminist deconstructive approach to psychoanalytic theory has so far aimed to extract those seeds from the tomb of the symptom, while a feminist reconstructive strategy would aim to germinate them elsewhere.18 I hope to continue working towards this within the next section of this chapter.
Early Anxiety Situations and the Sexual Development of the Boy.
By attending to the comparable early anxiety situation in the sexual development of the boy, I will suggest that Klein demonstrates the precarious nature of the heterosexual masculine identity position in a culture which conflates nurturing responsibilities solely with mothering.
Klein writes of the femininity position in boy children and the castration complex as developmental phases rife with conflict and anxiety, arising mainly from the changing psychosexual identifications involved in the shift from one to the other. This gives rise to much confusion and phantasy regarding the mysterious unseen contents of the mother’s body and the function of the father’s (and therefore the little boy’s) penis in the reproduction of children, and thereby their respective roles in relation to the child’s origins.
I should like to turn to her essay on ‘The Effects of Early Anxiety Situations on the Sexual Development of the Boy’ (1932, pp. 240- 279) to clarify what have said above, and to support the efficacy of my suggestion that an alternative non-phallocentric model of female psychosexual development (and/or epistemological frame of reference), would be useful to both biological sexes/all genders/sexualities. I hope to demonstrate that alternatives to the dominant phallocentric models of sexual difference would put an end to the mystification of female sexual ontology, and thereby reduce unconscious anxiety and confusion concerning the nature of sexually different ontologies, to the benefit of adults and children of both sexes, For Klein it is the lack of knowledge of the mother’s body, and thereby all resonant with it, that provokes much of the unconscious anxiety and internal danger-situations that lead to neurotic and psychotic symptoms.
The femininity phase.
Klein identified this phase as observable in children of both sexes, its resolution proving greater ‘problem’ for the little boy however, acculturated as he is into renouncing all that is deemed ‘feminine’ i.e., all conscious memory of primal identifications with mother, in order to achieve stable ‘masculine’ gender identity. According to Klein, the primal urge children of both sexes have to separate from mother induces the little boy to attack the insides of the mother’s body in phantasy (as does the little girl) in order to wrest from her the father’s penis which he imagines she has incorporated inside her. It is important to remember that, for Klein, mother is perceived in phantasy as the sole source of nourishment, frustration and the child’s origins in early infancy. She further identified the function of these destructive infantile phantasy attacks for the little boy as follows :
It is important to read Klein with the understanding that she is intending to describe unconscious psychic reality rather than what is accessible to conscious reflections upon the infant’s behaviour. I suggest the above statement is read with the understanding of the infant’s different existential state of being-in-the-world, as yet undifferentiated from mother, and about to encounter the threat of castration when she encourages him, through weaning at first, to become so. For Klein, castration is a threat he fears as the combined parents’ act of retaliation against him for his sadistic phantasies. Klein believes this anxiety situation is often the unconscious source of sexual impotence in adult men. She writes,
Klein writes of the male child’s attempts to master the anxiety evoked by phantasies of the kind described above by focussing his infantile omnipotent phantasies regarding his thoughts and excrements on the omnipotent power of his penis. The fact that the penis actually changes its physical appearance when he has certain thoughts and phantasies he takes as proof of its omnipotence. Also, because it emits ‘dangerous and poisonous’ urine, Klein writes, ‘In his imagination he... likens it to devouring and murderous beasts, firearms and so on’ (p. 243 ). This concentration of sadistic omnipotent powers upon the penis is Klein writes ‘...of fundamental importance for the man’s activity and his mastery of anxiety... Both as regards the sexual act and sublimations he displaces his danger-situations into the outer world and overcomes them there through the omnipotence of his penis’ (pp. 243-244).
For Klein, then, the concentration in phantasy of sadistic omnipotent powers upon the penis is fundamental to the achievement of a secure masculine identity position. This belief in the powers of his own penis enables him to pit it against his father’s penis in phantasy and ‘take up the struggle against that dreaded and admired organ’ (1932, p. 244). This will enable him to stave off the primitive stirrings of castration anxiety inherent in his phantasies regarding the primal scene as outlined above. The drive to master the anxiety evoked by these phantasies acts as an incentive to sexual activity, with his mother in the context of masturbatory phantasy at first, then post-latency period, displaced and acted upon with other females. Alongside this drive toward genitally focussed sexual activity of heterosexual kind arrives the desire for knowledge, also as a means of mastering anxiety evoked by the desire to conquer the mystery of the unseen interior of the mother’s body, perhaps to have his sadistic phantasies disconfirmed or to rescue her from the bad objects (e.g., the father’s sadistic penis) inside her. In this way, Klein argues, the ambivalence evoked by the phantasies dominating the femininity phase and the sadistic phase promote psychosexual and intellectual development simultaneously.
The ‘woman with a penis’ or ‘phallic mother’ phantasy so often alluded to in psychoanalytic literature Klein writes ‘always means, I should say, the woman with the father’s penis’ (Klein, 1932, p. 245). Klein argues that as the boy’s real relationships to real objects improve as he matures, they will undermine these phantastic imagos of the combined parent figure, who it is eventually recognised in reality are in fact, two separate figures. This means that the separate differently sexed parents take on different roles in the boy child’s internal world, Klein writes,
For Klein the outcome of the little boy’s development depends on whether or not he manages to resolve his femininity phase successfully. Should he not succeed in overcoming this phase, she argues that he would be likely to become impotent or homosexual. However, in order to become actively heterosexual he must develop what Klein calls ‘penis pride’. This compensates for his ‘feelings of hate, envy and inferiority that spring from his feminine phase’ (p. 250). Penis pride may also be displaced onto those pursuits deemed masculine by our culture, e.g., f intellectual pursuits. Klein writes,
Klein observes that should the boy retain a conscious ability to identify with his mother then this is likely to much improve his later relationships with women. He has to be able to play the part of the ‘bountiful mother’ towards his partner, and can only do this by identifying at some level with his own mother and believing in the goodness of her body and his own insides. In this way Klein argues, he sublimates his feminine components via his relationships with women, and overcomes his feelings of envy, hate and anxiety towards his own mother. The sexual act is then understood as a means of restitution, of overcoming anxiety by making good his own and his partner’s insides. She writes,
Should this belief in the integrity of his own body and that his insides are good fail, then Klein observes that castration anxiety can come to dominate all his other fears, which will also relate to a general anxiety about the body. This usually leads to damaged sexual potency in adulthood. It is therefore in the male’s interests, says Klein, to gather as much ‘secondary reinforcement’ of his penis pride as possible, to defend against a regression to his earlier femininity and concomitant hatred, envy and anxiety, whilst still retaining some measure of identification with his mother and women in general.
Secondary Reinforcement of Penis Pride.
‘The fact that the penis is a vehicle first of the boy’s destructive and then of his creative omnipotence, enhances its significance as a means of mastering anxiety’ (p. 252).
Klein argues that the boy’s earliest anxiety situations resulting from his feminine position, i.e., fear of having his body attacked and his insides made bad, are eventually displaced onto the penis as an external organ, Here anxiety can be more successfully mastered by
The further implications of ‘penis pride.’
In the quotation above we find the implicit equation of the unknown, the non-visible, i.e. , the mother , the mother’s body, the feminine, with faeces, with waste matter, with what does not matter, i.e., phantasy, unreality; the visible with what can be known, with conscious reality, i.e., what matters. Curiously the boy’s sense of phallic omnipotence is not interpreted as pathological, but rather as a necessary condition of his mental health, while the same cannot be said of Klein s observations of ‘feminine’ beliefs in the omnipotence of thoughts and/or magical powers of feelings, etc. The latter is often equated with infantile regression and/or psychosis, yet the former belief in the omnipotent power of the phallus = psychic representative of the penis, is accepted as the desirable state of affairs in the male (and female) psyche. The emotional investment in the omnipotent penis is justifiable because, according to Klein, it is a necessary means of defending against an identification with the male’s early feminine phase, and so helps him achieve a ‘stable’ masculine identity position.
I suggest that any identity position founded upon a belief in one’s omnipotent powers though appearing ‘stable’, in social nexus founded upon a shared phantasy, is likely to be highly unstable existentially. Yet if what is considered ‘stable’ is based on a shared dominant phantasy system, then a challenge to this non-reality, i.e., the apperception of phallocentrism as the social phantasy system that passes for reality (Laing), will carry the implicit threat of radical instability, (e.g., castration), along with it. I would suggest that such an apperception of a social phantasy system (i.e., a feminist challenge to phallocentrism) may therefore lead to a rise in psychotic anxieties, based on fear of ‘remembering’ ( in the Heideggerean sense ) the split-off maternal matrix of meaning.
I am suggesting that the repressed archaic-maternal encircles and/or contains the phallocratic subject’s omnipotent phantasy structure, thereby averting the threat of castration as a kind of existential death. An extreme resistance, and possibly retaliation, to any such challenge to the stabilising social phantasy system is therefore to be expected. We have to be careful. The feminist challenge to phallologocentrism will expose women to many dangers within the academy should we proceed down this path too directly.
Using Kleinian categories I suggest that phallologocentrism is, psychodynamically, a paranoid-schizoid psychic economy which is vicariously reproduced via a simultaneously idealised and envied woman-mother.19 She functions as a container for split-off psychotic anxieties re: the insides of the (woman’s) body, i.e., what cannot be known and/or mastered visually/externally to the body. The woman-mother is every woman, symbolically, whose sexual ontology is conceptualised in part-object terms by the dominant paranoid schizoid social phantasy system called phallocentrism. I suggest that Klein is describing how ‘normal’ feminine psychosexual development depends upon the female’s ability to learn to become an existential vehicle for the psychotic anxieties inherent in a paranoid schizoid psychic economy, by introjecting these dominant part-object relations to her own psychosexual ontology/ body. This is a necessary condition for the compulsive repetition of phallocratic Law at the level of intersubjective psychic reality. To achieve the adult female status of container, the woman-mother must complete an adult journey into self-estrangement by adapting to a phallocentric social phantasy system, which is rooted in part-object, paranoid-schizoid phantasies regarding what it means to be ‘feminine’ and to be a woman with an adult female sexual ontology. This is fraught with existential conflict and psychological difficulties, as Klein describes so lucidly in her essay on the psychosexual development of girls discussed above.
I would further argue that there is no point in apportioning blame to either gender here for the incurred dysfunctional dynamics between the sexes. Hon can women and men achieve ‘depressive’ adult relations to each other in psychic economy that perpetuates ‘fetishised’ part-object phantasy constructions of ‘femininity’ which ward off the ‘uncanny’ nature of real women, and omnipotent part-object phantasy constructions of ‘masculinity’ which also ward off the castration threat? What we have here is a determined attempt to disavow the reality of the complexity and subtlety of sexual difference.
By arguing against a tendency among certain strands of feminism to apportion blame to men for all of this, I am not suggesting that men do not gain in numerous ways from patriarchal social and economic arrangements that uphold the phallocratic Law of the father, nor I am saying that women are not oppressed by these arrangements; rather that no man or group of men could consciously challenge these arrangements without the support of women and vice-versa. I would argue that the whole problematic of sexual politics must look toward human solutions rather than specifically gendered ones.
I suggest this because I believe that sexual politics are grounded in a psychic economy founded upon shared phantasy constructs of sexual difference, so that both sexes often miss out on the possibility of a true meeting either across or within genders. I should explain what I mean by this; for example, it tremendous difficulties because our core cultural phantasy structure makes it difficult for women to cope with and/or conceive of their differences with other women (Orbach and Eichenbaum). Woman to woman relationships are often charged with, and disrupted by , a shared phantasy of being merged, which it has been suggested, may be rooted in the intersubjective ontology of patriarchal mother-daughter relationships. The evidence shows that their relations focus on similarity to the detriment of difference, the recognition of has been documented that adult women often have in same sex friendships or sexual relationships which often threatens to break the mother daughter bond.20
Rather than recognising differences within same gender relations, it seems that our phallocentric psychic economy represses the recognition of shared human differences and similarities, by polarising these gendered phantasy constructs, representing them as ‘opposites’ and all members of the one biological sex the same. This in turn leads, I suggest, to reaction formations that subsequently ensure the intersubjective and intrapsychic compulsive repetition of these polarised representations of sexual differences, and it is this dynamic which infects the dominant psychic economy with its characteristic bi-polar rigidity.
It seems to me that Klein’s work on psychosexual development provides many clues as to why the complex and subtle psycho-socio-symbolic economy that is phallocentrism, reproduces itself so rigidly at the level of psychic reality, despite challenges to its core omnipotent phantasy structure and homogeneity of representation concerning sexual differences. I suggest that the above Kleinian account of the deepest unconscious origins of masculinist phantasies of omnipotence, in particular, has a special significance for feminists attempting to account for why patriarchy as a psycho-symbolic structure is so resistant to merely social and economic forces of change. 1 wish to explore further why this might be so by looking again at those formative sexuate relations with the mother’s body described above.
Initially Klein believed that the destructive phantasy attacks on the mother I s body to be a response to frustration at the time of weaning, but later she came to view these destructive phantasies as having a constitutional base in the human organism. I would suggest that there is a more cogent explanation for these phantasies inherent in her first idea, wherein acculturation may be understood to have as important a role as biology, The more constitutional explanation, as 1 have argued above, seems to me to close down the possibility of change, and suggests that biological phenomena governing character are by their inherent innateness, transpersonal (Freud would have said phylogenetic).
I find a regressive ‘Old Testament’ kind of resonance with the Western Church fathers’ doctrine of original sin, and transpersonal nature of good and evil, in these kinds of explanations of psychic reality, which do little to bear out real experiences of psychological growth and change.21 For the remainder of Klein’s work supports the notion that psychological growth and change are possible and real events, though the absolute resolution of conflict into a state of complete mental and emotional stability or ‘health’ remains an idealistic illusion. I think such stasis as a model of health must be illusory, because the atrophy implied by such a model must again close down the possibility of growth and change. Encountering sexual difference is, Klein suggests, the driving force of human creativity and is spurred on by the need to resolve conflict and anxiety.
However, Klein also observes, that the resolution of the little boy’s femininity phase is not absolutely possible because his earliest forms of intrauterine and infantile experience were in relation to his mother. This is a necessary condition of human life. My question from a feminist perspective is, why is this primal connectedness so terrifying?, What haunts our culture such that he feels he must split off and deny the efficacy of forms of communication and relatedness imparted from this primal maternal realm of being-in-the world in order to attain a stable ‘masculine’ identity position?
I suggest that those forms of relating deemed ‘feminine’, i.e., the intuitive, the phantastic, and the imaginary, would be more useful for being consciously available as modalities of psychic experience, and welcomed into our conceptions of the reality accessible to the human mind. Presently such aspects of our psychic experience are not allowed the status of reality by most of us, and so are banished as dangerous fictions or mind tricks to be denied. I suggest that this is because these aspects of our experience threaten our dominant ‘social phantasy system’, which is based on the illusion that we are all, or should all desire to become, self-contained, ego-centric subjects (whose status as such can be verified by solely visual ‘evidence’). This sphere of our experience is what is believed to constitute verifiable social reality. Everything other to the visible known is given a polarised definition of ‘fantasy’ or ‘phantasy’ if unconscious, when, in fact, both, as Laing has argued from his phenomenological perspective, are mutually interdependent modalities of our intersubjective experience; the sum total of which comprises human existential ‘reality’.
I suggest that these conditions of our being-in-the-world are encoded into the deepest strata of a phallocentric psychic economy driven by the dominant phantasy of the omnipotent powers of the penis-phallus, the psychodynamic phenomenology of which is most lucidly described in the work of Melanie Klein. This phantasy evokes other secondary, fantasies that seek to polarise experience into real and not-real, based on the phallocentrically reproduced belief that what can not be seen (the insides of the mother’s body) does not matter, is not real.
I suggest that Klein’s psychosexual schema explains why, if we should agree to this state of affairs, and relinquish those aspects of our experience which cannot be understood via ocularcentric methods of evaluation ( i.e., positivistic/ phallocentric), we are deemed healthy, sane and are allowed a free rein in dealing with the affairs of the world. However, now I have begun to indicate the potential seeds of phallocentrism’s destruction encoded in the tomb of Kleinian symptomology, I wish to return my attention to the creative ambivalence at the heart of the depressive position, and Bion’s theory of thinking, in order to suggest a means of germinating those seeds elsewhere.
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM