CHAPTER FOUR: MATERNAL AMBIVALENCE, THE DEPRESSIVE POSITION AND THINKING.
I have suggested that Melanie Klein’s shift away from Freud’s father centred approach to development towards a mother-focused approach may provide important clues about the consequences of the widespread social phantasies surrounding patriarchal mother- infant child-rearing relations and the subsequent developmental process. In the previous chapter I argued that Klein’s work may be read as an account of how split-off maternal frustration at the often oppressive reality of this situation is dealt with by the immature infantile psyche. Klein’s work also interests me because I believe it invites an exploration of the social and psychological taboo of female aggression in general, including self-destructive forms of female aggression, and the impact of disavowed maternal aggression both across genders and within same gendered relationships. I suggest that an exploration of the taboo of maternal ambivalence (coupled as it is with the acceptability of ‘normal’ paternal ambivalence) may reveal it to be a contributory psychological condition for the social acceptability of widespread gender focused aggression towards women.l
However, I believe it is important first of all to trace the development of the concept of ambivalence in the writings of Freud and Klein, so I can contextualise my argument within the history of psychoanalytic ideas. I will argue that psychoanalysts display much ambivalence about ambivalence, before going on to relate the different metapsychological positions on ambivalence to the widespread cultural disavowal of maternal ambivalence and inter-dependency in our individualist Western culture. I will suggest that the widespread disavowal of female aggression and the taboo of maternal ambivalence are both necessary conditions of phallocentrism. I have argued that a phallocentric psychic economy must, by necessity, ‘hollow out’ or ‘rob’ the multi-dimensional embodied female psyche of it’s autonomous sense of being-in-the-world, so that woman can become the simultaneously idealised and envied container, a phantasy construct rooted in infantile part-object relations to the mother’s breast. This enables such a psychic economy to reproduce the phallocratic subject at the expense of ‘feminine subjectivity’, by which I mean female psychosexual autonomy. However, I will also suggest that Klein’s psychodynamic phenomenology reveals the central challenge to the phallocratic subject is the integration of the split breast into a whole ambivalent object, so that it may become the intrapsychic source of creativity in the depressive position, rather than the fragile container of (phallocratic) psychotic anxieties in the paranoid schizoid position. I will furnish this argument using the further insights of Bion and Laing, before again considering the implications of a reconstructed Kleinian theory for a feminist psychology of knowledge.
To aid my argument I will return to the ideas at the heart of Rozsika Parker’s study of maternal ambivalence, Torn in Two (1995) . As I explained in the previous chapter, Parker argues that if we lived in a culture able to allow conscious expressions of maternal ambivalence without inducing self loathing, self-reproaches and persecutory quilt in mothers, then the creative potential of ambivalence could be recognised and used. The mother would then be able to experience her hatred and love consciously, simultaneously or in alternation, and contain her ambivalence in order to think about it. This, she argues, would have beneficial effects for mother’s and mother-infant relations. I would suggest that it would also lead to an undermining of the taboo of female aggression. However, before returning to these ideas in order to explore them further I want to begin to outline how the concept of ambivalence has been developed within Freudian and Kleinian thought, and why it is I find the relationship of ambivalence to psychoanalytic theories of human nature and to the social reality of child-rearing practice, problematic as a whole.
Ambivalence in the Work of Freud: ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’ (1915)
In a footnote to his translation of ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’ (1915) Freud points out that the term ‘ambivalence’ was coined by Bleuler in paper on his work on the schizophrenias. Bleuler distinguishes between three types of ambivalence as follows :
‘... (i) emotional, i.e., oscillation between love and hate, (ii) volitional, i.e., an inability to decide on an action, (iii) intellectual, i.e., belief in contradictory propositions’ (Strachey, 1957, p. 131).
Strachey says that Freud generally uses the term in the first sense, particularly in reference to the ‘instincts’. Freud wrote, ‘Experience shows that the amount of demonstrable ambivalence varies greatly between individuals, groups and races’ (1957, p. 131).
Freud argued that marked instinctual ambivalence was an archaic inheritance more to be associated with so-called primitive ancestors. For him the sexual instincts that most often appear in an ambivalent manner are sadomasochism, and scopophilia-exhibitionism. He says that these activities are essentially auto-erotic, i.e., in the first instance the sado-masochist gains erotic satisfaction through sexual interest in a part of their own body as does the scopophilic-exhibitionist.
However, the co-existence of love and hate toward the same object or emotional ambivalence, seemed to Freud to be a far more prevalent type of ambivalence in civilised society. He says that the co-existence of love and hate ‘refuses to be fitted in with our scheme of the instincts’ (Freud 1915, p. 133).
Freud argued that the experience of conscious emotional ambivalence, or the loving and hating of the object simultaneously , was the result of the total ego relating to whole objects, the ambivalent relations of sexual instincts to their objects being part-object relations. Freud also observed that the self-preservative relation of the ego to its sexual object is how we most appropriately define love.
In childhood, the development of the capacity to ‘love’ passes through three basic stages, each one more ego-syntonic than the last. Adult sexual love is an ego-syntonic sexual object love, comprised of the fusion of self-preservative and sexual instincts. But Freud also argued that the admixture of love and hate in adult sexual love, i.e., sado-masochism, is an indication that a more infantile stage of love has not been surmounted. He describes the early development of the three stages of love, which he says correspond to the three great mental polarities, that may be summarised as follows:
1. Loving and hating versus indifference... where the ego-subject loves and hates only itself and is indifferent to the external world; the sexual instincts are auto-erotic and satisfactions sought are narcissistic.
2. As the ego develops, it begins to deal with an inevitable amount of unpleasure due to its growing awareness of the existence and effects of external objects that frustrate its instinctual demands. Under the pressure of the infantile pleasure-ego it deals with this new situation by introjecting objects that cause pleasure and expelling (projecting) what causes unpleasure. Thus the pleasure ego is maintained despite the growing impingement of reality on the psyche.
Here loving is associated with everything inside the self, hating with everything outside the self including the external world and the object, Freud says, ‘At the very beginning, it seems, the external world, objects, and what is hated are identical’ (p. 136).
The first pair of opposites in the development of love is love-indifference which reflects the polarity ego-external world, the second pair of opposites love-hate reflects the mental polarity pleasure-unpleasure. When these early narcissistic developments are superseded by the object stage, pleasure and unpleasure instead begin to signify relations of the ego to the object.
3. At this stage the reactions of love and hate towards different objects correspond to the ego’ s instinct for self preservation. We are attracted to that which brings us pleasure, repulsed by that which brings us unpleasure. These reactions to the stimuli of objects are both life enhancing . Freud says ‘the true prototypes of the relation of hate are derived not from sexual life, but from the ego’s struggle to maintain and preserve itself’ (1915, p. 138).
So, our experiences of love and hate which first seem to be opposites in terms of content do not in fact stand in any such simple relation to each other. Hate, says Freud, is older than love because it derives from the narcissistic ego’s repudiation of the external world and its initially unmanageable outpouring of stimuli. Hate derives from the self-preservative ‘instincts’ , adult love from the fusion of both self-preservative and sexual instincts. This is why love is so frequently ambivalent, i.e., is accompanied by hateful impulses against the same object. The hate which is derived from love is, says Freud, a result of an earlier stage of love which has not been surmounted, where the ego-instincts for self- preservation dominate the sexual instinctual urges for procreation.
The vicissitudes of the instincts says Freud, are result of their subjection to the three great polarities that dominate mental life. ‘Of these great polarities we might describe that of activity-passivity as the biological, that of ego-external world as the real, and finally that of pleasure-unpleasure as the economic polarity’ (p. 140).
Freud understands ambivalence in ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’ as result of the conflictual demands of self-preservative ego-instincts (which couple the need to avoid unpleasure, resulting in hatred, with the need for pleasure, resulting in love) and the species-serving sexual instincts (attraction and physical intimacy leading to reproduction). For Freud, when the two sets of instinctual needs are met by one object the result is mature adult sexual love. However as this will consist of whole object relations then it will never be free of hate, which is consequence of frustration or unpleasure with the object. One must accept the reality of hate in love relations, as it serves to preserve an erotic relation to the object when that object is deemed frustrating, or turns away from us. Such an erotic relation is sadistic and a manifestation of earlier part-object relations. However, in this way the ego preserves itself and the erotic tie is maintained. Hate here has the function of self-preservation and the preservation of the erotic relationship. Hate, then, has too similar a function to love and to be realistically defined as its opposite. The true antithesis to love is indifference.
‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ (1920)
Freud’s views on ambivalence here shift so that he begins to recognise libidinal instincts or Eros running through both the self-preserving ego instincts and the object-relational sexual instincts. He recognises that a part of the ego is always libidinally cathected and that this provides the impetus for the narcissistic aim of self-preservation. Also he no longer proposes that there are qualitative differences between the two types of instinct, but that these differences are instead topographical. His observations of the prevalence of hate and destructiveness in human relations leads him toward the recognition of a new opposition, no longer between the ego-instincts and the sexual instincts, but between life and death instincts.
Freud speculates that destructive hate cannot always be explained away by referring to the instinct of self-preservation. He observes too much human destructiveness and hatred to be able to account far it in this way, as he did in ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’. In ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ he asks the question ‘... how is it that the sadistic instinct, whose aim it is to injure the abject be derived from Eros, the preserver of life’ (1920. p. 54)?
He begins to biologise the mental life of human beings in the next section of this paper by making an analogy between the instinctual life of human beings and the sexual behaviour of protozoa. His observations of the instinctual life of protozoa and individual human mental life lead him to conclude that the function of any individual organism’s behaviour is to reduce the tensions arising from the conflicts of instinctual life toward the aim of stasis, while the sexual union of one abject with another has the effect of increasing the amount of stimulus available which may now be used as a fresh source of libidinal or ‘life’ energy. He speculates that this explains why human beings are driven toward sexual union without any reproductive aim, just like protozoa. The aim of sexual behaviour in bath cases to provide a fresh input of stimulus, or to expand the available pool of libidinal energy. He says,
However, Freud is careful to admit that he is by no means sure of how to demonstrate conclusively the existence of the ‘death instinct’ in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’. This new opposition between the life and death instincts is further developed in ‘The Ego and the Id’ instead. Here Freud begins to speculate about whether the opposition between life and death instincts causes the co-existence of love and hate in total object relations.
The Ego and the Id (1923)
Freud begins to use an alternative method of describing the dynamic relations of mind in this paper, foregoing the earlier distinctions between the unconscious, preconscious and conscious, for a distinction between the id, ego and superego. The primitive state of fusion that exists between the id and barely formed ego make them both the ‘great reservoir of the libido’. The main distinction between the ego and id can be made on the basis that ‘the ego is especially under the influence of perception,... perceptions may be said to have the same significance for the ego as the instincts have for the id’ (1923, p. 40).
He then introduces his new theory of ‘the two classes of instincts’. They are both the life instinct or Eros, which may be said to comprise of both the sexual and self-preservative instincts, and the death instinct, whose representative is sadism. The task of the life instinct is to complicate and preserve life while the task of the death instinct is to reduce tensions resulting from the process of living and lead the organism back to an inanimate state. The emergence of life gives rise to both life and death instincts and the matter of living itself involves ‘a conflict and compromise’ (p. 41) between these two classes of instinct.
However, Freud readily admits the difficulties inherent in differentiating in theory between two classes of instinct that are most often fused with each other in reality. The existence of fusion of life and death instincts begs the question of the possible diffusion of them. To illustrate the real instance of fusion versus defusion, he writes, ‘The sadistic component of the sexual instinct would be a classical example of serviceable instinctual fusion; and the sadism which has made itself independent as a perversion would be typical of a defusion, though not of one carried to extremes’ (p . 41).
Examples of a radical instinctual defusion may be he speculates, an epileptic fit, but for the ‘purposes of discharge’ he suspects that the instinct for destruction is, habitually brought into the service of Eros’. Defusion of instincts, says Freud, is the result of a regression to a very primitive phase of development, and an advance from the earlier phases can only occur under pressure from the erotic instincts, Freud speculates that ambivalence ‘represents an instinctual fusion that has not been completed’ (p. 42).
Freud is careful to avoid the temptation to simplify a theoretical distinction between life and death instincts through psychological correlation of them to love and hate. He says that clinical evidence points to the fact that love and hate are so closely related that to cite them as evidence of life and death instincts actually underestimates the force of opposition he feels to be apparent in the latter.
Interestingly, for the Freud writing The Ego and the Id, the psychological prevalence of ambivalence in both ordinary and neurotic relations between human beings actually undermines the theoretical distinction that he is trying to make between the life and death ‘instincts’. This kind of consciously experienced ambivalence is self-preserving and erotic in its aim, as it always mediated by identification with the object, whether the part-object identification manifest in self-preserving hate, or the total object identification manifest in expressions of concern or love. Rather, it is the psychotic components of relations involved in a regression to a primitive state of ambivalence, a state unmediated by the ego’s more mature defences such as sublimation or identification with the object, that best demonstrate the violent possibility of a defusion of the life and death instincts.
The paranoid-psychotic components of relations serve as a useful example of regressive or infantile ambivalence, involving an ‘acting out’ of the ‘defused’ life and death instincts. Freud writes, ‘In paranoia persecutoria the patient fends off an excessively strong homosexual attachment to some particular person in a special way; and as a result this person whom he loved most becomes a persecutor, against whom the patient directs an often dangerous aggressiveness’ (p. 43).
This ‘dangerous aggressiveness’ can be understood as the result of a primitive defence against repressed homosexual love, which for Freud is the psychodynamic cause of the persecutory aspersions cast at the hated object with the aim of eradicating it. Also, says Freud, this dynamic accounts for the intensity of homophobia that often occurs early on in subsequently homosexual people.
When musing on the seemingly infinite set of circumstances where love may either fuse with hate, defuse from hate, change into hate or vice versa, Freud tries to account for these transformations by proposing that there is a displaceable energy invested in the , qualitative difference’ of love or hate expressed by an individual, which ‘augment(s) its total cathexis’ .
This displaceable , indifferent’ energy , proceeds from the narcissistic store of the libido - that is desexualised Eros’ (p. 44). This is active in both the ego and the id, and is , employed in the service of the pleasure principle to obviate blockages and to facilitate discharge’. Transference phenomena that arise in analysis are an example of how the aim of discharge is effected via an id (unconscious) cathexis. Often neurotic acts of revenge or love may be aimed at the analyst when the original object that stimulated the cathexis resides elsewhere, perhaps with a parent or other authority figure.
If libido is discharged via an id cathexis it will aim to satisfy the sexual instincts directly, whereas sublimations depend on the mediation of the eo in object cathexis and a ‘desexualisation’ of libido. Freud writes,
Further on Freud writes that a transformation of this kind seems to take place in the formation of the super-ego, which is essentially a desexualised identification with the father. He writes,
This was written at a stage when the super-ego and ego-ideal were not clearly differentiated in psychoanalytic thought. It seems Freud may be implying that ambivalence comes about as the result of a partial intrapsychic defusion of the life and death instincts. The super-ego discharges aggression intrapsychically by taking the ego as the object of its destructiveness. The ego will try to obey the dictates of the super-ego and/or follow the prohibitions directed at it by sublimating the libido bound to the erotic cathexes of the id or by adopting a set of obsessional devices intended to defend itself magically against the most destructive dictates of the superego. In this way the obsessional neurotic is better defended and less prone to suicide than the hysteric or the depressive. Failure to either adapt to, or fend off, the demands of the especially harsh super-ego results in the ‘sense of guilt’ or shame common in melancholia. Often an impossible set of internal demands of a ‘high’ or ‘moral’ nature are operating in the psyche of the depressive, In this kind of a person, an ordinary moral slip, or encounter with an intellectual or creative limitation, can be a fatal intrapsychic blow, leading to suicide.
This location of the source of ambivalence in the intrapsychic dynamics of life and death instincts in The Ego and the Id was the point of departure for Melanie Klein, who saw herself as loyal follower of Freud, and developed the theme of destructiveness and ambivalence prominent in his later theoretical work.
Ambivalence in the Work of Melanie Klein
Klein was especially interested in how containable ambivalence contributed to creativity and whole object love, while uncontainable ambivalence leads to destructiveness and regression to part-object relationships. The theme of ambivalence and why it is sometimes felt to be containable, and at other times uncontainable, I will argue, should be understood as the pivotal concern of her theoretical and clinical work. Klein ended up consolidating this concern within her developmental schema that observes and describes how we relate and grow via the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions. While Klein herself regarded ambivalence as an inevitable product of human nature that is governed by life and death instincts (which was a view contiguous with the Freud who wrote The Ego and the Id), I will continue to regard her developmental and conceptual schema as ‘descriptive phenomenology’ of development rather than a ‘biological/ scientific explanation’ of the ambivalence at the heart of human nature.
Ambivalence and Paranoid Schizoid/ Depressive Positions: From Destructive Incorporation to Creative Separateness.
Those psychic processes Klein observed to be in essence destructive, include all those phantasies which aim to incorporate and thus annihilate the object as a defence against the depressive anxiety (pining) that accompanies separation. These are both psychodynamically and existentially regressive, and recall early part-object relations to mother/the other characterising the paranoid schizoid position, including phantasies of persecution and idealisation that point to infantile narcissistic functioning reminiscent of our earliest relations to the ‘mother’s breast’ (a term I understand to indicate our earliest nurturing environment whether or not we are literally breast-fed by our biological mother). I argued above that this sort of psychic functioning characterises the dominant phallocentric psychic economy within which we all develop and relate. Any frustration encountered within such a mode of functioning is dealt with by splitting the object(s) into polarities, reminiscent of ultimately good and bad part-objects (‘part’ because conceived of as all-good or all-bad, not ambivalent and thereby whole). This splitting is driven by phantasies of persecution, fuelled by (often unconscious) envy, and has often been defended against via concomitant phantasies of idealisation. All of these manoeuvres; Klein argues, are designed to fend off the , threat I attendant with the recognition of interpersonal separation and originate in the efforts of the infant to retain access to mother' s breast during weaning by , incorporating it via those phantasies described above. These phantasies aim to eradicate the separateness and difference of the (mother; as they originate in that existential modality dependant upon the unchallengeable omnipotence of infantile narcissism. Whatever the protests of the (m)other or evidence of the (m)other' s difference may be, all heterogeneity is encountered as persecutory, as a threat of I castration I (by which I mean that moment, which is initially felt as life-threatening, when the infant begins to recognise the mother and itself as separate). Existential homogeneity on the other hand, is felt to be life affirming, being as it is, an effective defence against separation/ ‘castration’ anxiety. However, the danger of those defences built upon the phantasy of sameness or existential homogeneity, is psychodynamic atrophy, together with annihilation of the other and external reality, perhaps culminating in psychosis.
Conversely, all those psychic processes observed by Klein to be creative admit of difference, ambivalence, and separateness. They are, therefore, reality orientated because the subject has relinquished its phantasy of omnipotence, and is able to recognise and contain its own (and thereby potentially the other’s) ambivalence/ anxiety regarding conflict and difference. When the reality of separateness dawns on the subject, anxiety arouses guilt at subjecting the (m)other to demonising/ idealising phantasies in the paranoid schizoid position and drives the subject to reparative measures (through fear of retaliatory persecution) through displays of love and concern. Depressive relations are motivated by the desire not to spoil/ colonise the separate reality of the other (so as not to be spoiled in retaliation), while paranoid schizoid relations are motivated by spoiling/colonising/incorporating only. The other cannot really exist for the person in a paranoid schizoid position - the phantasy of the other dominates, and this phantasy functions as a container for all the unwanted, unacceptable, projected parts of the split ‘self’. The emergence of creative/ reparative psychic processes characterises the depressive position, ‘depressive’ because it originates from the acceptance of the loss of a cherished phantasy of absolute unity with an enviable-ideal object, and a relinquishing of omnipotence, which instigates a process of mourning ( akin to weaning).
However Klein observes that mature adults always have an infant inside them, so that even when creative, contained ‘depressive’ relationships are achieved, they will always have the potential to regress to paranoid-schizoid relationships, and progress back again. This oscillation between the two positions is the oscillation between manageable ambivalent whole object relations and the destructive part-object relations that underpin the whole spectrum of intersubjective relationships.
For Klein and her followers, creative processes are thereby subversive of a paranoid schizoid mode of functioning, and at the same time are rooted in, and emergent from, that functioning. I suggest that real depressive relations that emerge, for Klein, from a desire to preserve the mother, thus enabling a relationship with her as an autonomous, whole, ambivalent object, are thereby always potentially subversive - of a paranoid schizoid phallocentric psychic economy that conceives of women in part-object relational terms.
The Disavowal of Ambivalence and Maintenance of a Paranoid Schizoid Psychic Economy.
‘To be genuinely considerate implies that we can put ourselves in the place of other people: we "identify" ourselves with them’ (Klein, 1937, p. 311). It follows that the ability to form the deep mutual attachment called love relies upon the capacity to be considerate, which in turn depends upon identification. However, following on from Klein, I would suggest that unless one is consciously able to identify and accept the whole range of human emotions within oneself , i.e., one’s own ambivalence, then one’s capacity for identification of the co-existence of a whole range of emotions in the other, the other’s ambivalence, is likely to be very limited. However, whatever feelings are split off and disavowed when ambivalence cannot be contained have to go somewhere.
In the context of the ideas set out above, would suggest that the metapsychological notion of innate life and death instincts, particularly in late Freudian and Kleinian psychoanalysis, may point towards a wider social taboo, that of the impact of disavowed maternal and paternal ambivalence on newly born infants. I am suggesting then that the metapsychological theory, grounded in biological essentialism, disguises the social reality of the widespread inability to cope with the exigencies of parenting very young infants. By locating the source of the infant’s frustrations in the instinctual drives of the organism, we may be avoiding a more painful political and social issue in a time of changes and shifts in childrearing practices. I suggest that the cultural disavowal of the real hatred and aggression carers often struggle to contain, and the influence this may have on early infancy serves to undermine the fundamental importance of the role of caring for children, and nurturing in general, has in the shaping of civilisation. I would also like to suggest that this is related, in a phallocentric psychic economy and patriarchal culture, to the dominant tendency to conceive of nurturing and childrearing as women’s responsibilities, whether they are mothers, child minders or nannies. This in turn, I would suggest is related to the lack of recognition afforded to labour involving the servicing or nurturing of other human beings, or what is still largely deemed ‘women’s work’ in general.
Having said this I do not want to get into the mother blaming of previous generations. Rather I want to recognise the very difficult and painful reality of mothering in a culture that maintains part-object relations by simultaneously idealising and denigrating mothers, and the impact that this has on women mothering and on their infants. With this in mind, I have suggested that Klein’s work may be read as an account of how split-off maternal frustration is dealt with by the immature infantile psyche. As I mentioned above, Klein’s work interests me because I believe it opens up the issue of the social and psychological taboo of female aggression, and may thereby improve our understanding of the self-destructive forms that this often takes, I will suggest that the taboo of female anger leads to a particularly rigid cultural imperative to disavow maternal ambivalence. It seems to me that the female oppression endemic in a phallocentric psychic economy may lead to the rigid internalisation and/or disavowal of the anger associated with maternal ambivalence, which may eventually end up expressed in depression or acted out as child abuse.
I am also interested in exploring how the role of ambivalence in psychoanalytic accounts of the development of thought and creative thinking may contribute to feminist perspectives on theories of knowledge which aim to re-root the ‘intellectual/cognitive’ processes involved in the ‘feminine’ somatic domain of intersubjectively sexed and fleshy bodies.
Rozsika Parker: Torn In Two.
To do this I want to return briefly to the above mentioned study of maternal ambivalence by Rozsika Parker (1995). This study undertakes a shift in focus from traditional accounts of mothering in psychoanalytic theory, which have tended to view the mother primarily in terms of her role as the origin of, and nurturing environment for, her child. In contrast, Parker concentrates on the psychological processes involved in maternal development and then explores how this may affect a mother’s relationship to her child’s development, especially when a mother encounters her own mixed feelings towards her child’s need to negotiate issues of separation, engulfment, loss and difference from mother.
As already mentioned, Parker argues that this risk of abuse could be avoided if our culture allowed mothers to have their ambivalent feelings towards children without instilling shame and guilt in them. This would enable mothers to experience the full range of emotions, contain and think about what was happening between them and their children, and use their ambivalence creatively. She writes,
Our infantile terror that an ambivalent mother’s hate will destroy her love and concern is defended against by the idealisation or denigration of mothers, The social context of modern mothering makes the conflict at the heart of creative ambivalence unmanageable. Parker writes,
She goes on to expose how the cultural fantasy of the ‘at-oneness’ of mother and child underpins this idealisation of motherhood. This fantasy encourages merging and promotes a dangerous inertia which blocks the development of mutuality and the recognition and mediation of differences. This undermines mother’ s capacity for creative thinking about what is going on between herself and her child. Parker argues that, in contrast, W, R, Bion suggests that the suffering of ambivalence that is the clashing of love and hate promotes thought and acts a spur to development.
Following on from Bion, Parker’s work suggests that unless primary carers are able to think about and thus contain their own ambivalent responses to the demands of infants in their care, and their own infantile impulses, then the developing child has no option but the frantic projection and re-projection of omnipotent phantasies in order to sustain itself.
From a more esoteric perspective, Bion also stresses the importance of mother being able to experience her ambivalence consciously. Both reveal the creative possibilities that evolve from both the mother’s and infant’s growing capacity to tolerate, recognise and think about their differences from each other. Bion describes 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 conclusion of both Bion’s psychoanalytic theory of the 1960’sand ‘70’s, and Parker’s empirical study of mothers’ experiences of maternal ambivalence in the 1990’s are similar. Mothers should feel able to allow themselves and their infants to have real experiences of their mutual ambivalence. An inability to allow this dynamic to emerge consciously risks the child developing a phantastic relationship to femininity wherein female aggression is taboo and maternal goodness is idealised. This will have different consequences for the child depending on its gendered psychosexual identifications with mother.
These ideas suggest that the ability to contain our own ambivalence and that of others is a necessary condition for the development of thinking and creativity in general. This may contribute towards and also result from the general cultural taboo around female aggression. Consequently healthy child-development leading to the generation of creative, thoughtful adults remains remote possibility. The cure for this cultural neurosis may depend in part on the continuing struggle for re-definition of ‘femininity’ and thereby ‘mothering’, that enables women to experience their own destructiveness consciously without persecutory guilt and self-loathing, leading to a fuller, more autonomous experience of female subjectivity.
I suggest that what is needed is a reparation of the splits at the source this cultural neurosis, which struggles to contain regressive psychotic anxieties evoked in the phallocratic subject by the ‘uncanny’ otherness of women’s bodies. This would be possible, according to Klein, if we were all able to contain depressive anxiety in the face of loss of unity or sameness, and accept psychosexual and existential differences without dichotomising them into false polarities that mirror our earliest part-object relations to the breast. Mutual containment of anxiety/ ambivalence, sparing, restitution and reparation are the pathway to gratitude (for being spared by the other’s containment) that is the reciprocal foundation of whole object relations.
I shall now go on to describe how this might be achieved via an autonomous feminist reconstruction of the Kleinian model of sexuate embodied knowledge.
The Subversion of Phallocentrism by Reparation of the (M)Other- The Radical Potential of the Depressive Position.
I suggest that not only does Klein re-root the acquisition of knowledge in intersubjective somatic processes that are the necessary condition of our being-in-the-world, but also her developmental schema undermines the efficacy of a linear temporality, that is, I suggest, a phallocentric temporality, as an appropriate yardstick of psychological growth and progress.
Klein and Bion both argue that there is no natural linear temporal path of development, where there is always a straightforward transition, as maturity increases, from the paranoid schizoid position to the depressive position. Rather all intersubjective relations oscillate between these two positions all our adult lives. They both argue that it is not possible to achieve permanent depressive relations between adults. Just as Freud observed there is always a child in the adult, so Klein and her followers observed that inside the child there is a frustrated and frightened infant.
I suggest that the Kleinian schema reveals that psychological progress depends upon conscious recognition of the intersubjective processes within which we live and relate. Linear concepts of time as a ‘climactic’ yardstick of developmental progress are elided by oscillations between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Instead psycho-dynamic developmental time is cyclical, involving a continuous dynamic process of regressive re-covering and renewal , driven by the growing conscious recognition of the inevitable loss, the depressive ‘mourning’, that underpins all creative psychological change.2
Psychodynamic time is, I suggest, rooted in the cyclical patterns of the gynocentric somatic processes which are the repressed, disavowed, forgotten (in the Heideggerean sense) aspect of our being-in-the world. A re-covering and remembering of these processes, would argue (to use Heidegger’s phrase) ‘point towards what there is to be thought’. I suggest that ‘what there is to be thought’ is the repressed shadow side of a paranoid schizoid phallocentric psychic economy, which is driven by an envious greed for ever greater climactic conquest over human carnality, particularly the mortal limitations of fleshy intersubjectively sexed bodies. Our ‘forgetting what there is to be thought’, culminates, suggests Heidegger, in a loss of reverence for the mystery of life and technocratic nihilism. Our efforts to remember the repressed, I suggest, may counter this paranoid-schizoid trend, as at the same fuelling our ability to integrate our inevitable destructiveness, rather than disavowing, splitting-off and projecting this and associated aspects of human experience into the necessarily repudiated ‘feminine’ container that is woman.
However, to achieve this integration of our inevitable destructiveness, we have to think what there is to be thought rather than repudiate, or ‘forget’ it. I will begin to explore ways this might be achieved, by suggesting a different kind of relationship between time and thinking, implicit in Kleinian thought, that subverts the phallocentric, linear climactic model of cultural/ individual progress and creativity. I will suggest that our culturally ‘common-sensical’ notions of time and thinking necessarily depend upon an existentially, and psychosexually split, or dis-integrated mode of being-in-the -world, which allows all too often for the disavowal and thereby unchecked malignancy, of the shadowy destructiveness of the most primitive phantasies surrounding the (m)other, which fuel the paranoid schizoid dynamics, that drive a climactic, temporally linear form human ‘creativity’ and ‘culture’ .
Cyclic and Monumental Time- Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Memory: Remembering What There Is To Be Thought.
Throughout this section of the chapter I will suggest that women’s psychosexual being-in-the-world reflects a sexually specific relationship to cyclic and monumental time, that is as Kristeva puts it ‘women’s time’. I shall explain how I am using her ideas in conjunction with a psychodynamic conception of memory, differentiating between the ontogenetic memory of cyclic time and the phylogenetic memory of monumental time, which I will suggest are forms of memory traceable to our earliest existential relationship to the mother’s body via the modalities of both infinite and cyclic space-time.
I will then go on to use Heidegger’ s suggestion that what there is to be thought has been forgotten, and resides within the mythological mystery of the origins of the nine muses, born from the womb of Memory. Using a synthesis of these ideas I will attempt to re-think a different, fundamentally gynocentric sense of being-in-the-world and space-time, as an antidote to the fragmentation of phallocentric being-in the world, and the climactic ruptures that characterise the phallocentric, linear space-time of history. This reconstruction, I hope to demonstrate, is suggested by the gynocentric origins of the Kleinian schema, particularly by the relationship between the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions, or between a dis-integrated and an integrated psychosexual sense of being-in-the world.
For Heidegger, thinking is a process of recall and he traces the origins of the word ‘thinking’ in old English word ‘thanc’ meaning both ‘thinking’ and ‘thanking’ and to remember, to recall. He writes,
Thanking is intimately related to thinking for Heidegger, it is an act of recalling what there is to be thought, which is the Being within all beings, or that which supersedes what passes away (the human space-time of history) that lies at the source of what it is to be human. The Being that is expressed in beings is the eternal recurrence of the same (Nietzsche) beyond that which passes away, or history. Being is expressed in temporal terms as both cyclic and monumental, while it is being that passes away like the linear climactic time of history. These temporal expressions of Being and being in Heidegger have very clear psychosexual resonances with the different nature of female and male reproductive roles and orgasmic experience. For Heidegger, Being supersedes linear time through the eternal, cyclical, recurrence of the ‘same’ (which I suggest maybe otherwise expressed as life or ‘being’). This resonates again with the timeless function of women’s bodies as a cyclical container and reproducer of the human race, whose continuing species existence supersedes the climactic life and death rupturing of the linear time of ontogenetic histories. Thus species/ phylogenetic memory contains and is the basis of individual or ontogenetic memory, while the challenge to the latter acculturated experiential modality is to in turn contain the more primitive aspects of the former ‘instinctual’ modality of Being via an eternal becoming .
Heidegger’s concept of Being seems to incorporate both the cyclical loss and change that underpins the eternity of creative becoming. What is called ‘thinking’ should involve a remembering and revering of this process- a ‘thanking’. But what relevance these ideas for a Kleinian feminism of autonomy?
In everyday speech thanking is an expression of gratitude, an intersubjective process that emerges from whole object relations, where the reality of ambivalence and the contradictions at the heart of each human being is recognised and containable. One recognises both one’s own and the other’s capacity for love and hate, while guilt arouses concern for the other, gratitude is a process that acknowledges the other's potential destructiveness, gratitude which has been spared one. In the depressive position, triumphs over the primal envy of paranoid schizoid dynamics, faith in the other over disavowal and repudiation, so that a common interest in intersubjective co-operation finds expression. At the heart of an expression of gratitude is the recognition of both the contiguity and separateness at the foundation of I-Thou, or intersubjective relations. There is an acceptance of loss of the ideal object and at the same time a sense of contiguity with the whole ambivalent object.
The transition from the paranoid schizoid to the depressive position is characterised by the encounter with the whole real and ambivalent object that is spared and spares one. This sparing of each other's destructiveness implies an ability to contain primitive anxieties, and this ability leads to the mutual expression of gratitude, which is the basis of the love of mature object relations. However, I suggest that contained within this Kleinian expression of gratitude, is an implicit thinking of the other and a thanking of the other, in the Heideggerean sense. I suggest that implicit in an expression of gratitude is a containment of potential destructiveness via an acknowledgement of its inevitable presence. This brings me back to Bion’s work, and the role of containment in the development of thinking.
As I demonstrated in a previous chapter, Bion’s theory of thinking differentiates between the various modalities of psychic experience that contribute to the development of different ‘strata’ of thought. Beginning with the ephemeral bodily perceptual experiences which are the building blocks of phantasy, he describes the impact of increased powers of containment upon the development of thinking. Phantasies are stored and become memories, which are bound together to become dreams or preconceptions. These eventually meet with reality to form concepts, which may eventually evolve into complex systems of reflective thinking (i.e., thinking geared towards gaining an extra-perceptual understanding about the world) such as scientific deductive systems and algebraic calculus.
Bion implies that that the progressive containment of destructiveness via an acceptance of its inevitable presence leads to gratitude for the privilege of being spared. This is also suggested by the quasi-religious awe and reverence Heidegger refers to in his work. Heidegger argues that an attitude of reverence is necessary to begin thinking what there is to be thought. This resonates with Bion’s assertion that the psychoanalyst must become like an open and receptive container to catch what there is to be thought during the analytic encounter. Within both these schema, it seems that an acceptance, rather than a needing to prevent the destructive face of ambivalence from being expressed, is implied as pivotal to the evolution of creative thought and thinking. A respect of the other’ s separateness and a letting the other ‘be’ (whether the other is human or not) is a necessary condition for creativity and cultural progress; psychological maturation in Klein, creative thinking and analytic healing in Bion, and reverence rather than nihilism in Heidegger.
I would suggest that the core notion that draws these very different conceptual schemas together is the facing up to and owning of human destructiveness, rather than an idealising (political or religious) utopian vision that splits off any such recognition, or a dystopic technocratic nihilism which revels in uncontained destructiveness yet labels this as progress. Such responsibility enables containment of the phantasies which drive the acting-out of human destruction. This ability to contain destructiveness is, as Bion demonstrates, crucial to the dynamics of creative thinking.
I have suggested using Bion’s schema, that a phallocentric psychic economy consigns woman the task of container of human destructiveness and reifies man as the contained creator. This polarised psychosexual social phantasy system originates in the paranoid-schizoid, part-object relations to the mother’ s body in early infancy. What this means is that human beings risk entombment in a symptomatic re-projecting feedback loop originating in the splitting off of destructiveness and denial of the ambivalence at the heart of nurturing. This prevents depressive whole object relations from flourishing and becoming the dominant currency of our psychosexual economy. To explain this further, I now want to draw together the various strands of my argument so far.
For Klein the epistemophilic urge is a subliminal product of aggressive phantasy towards the mother’s body. For her the gaining of information and knowledge about the world is driven by the need to sublimate primitive destructive drives, which implies a containment and a channelling of envy, aggression, etc. into creative/ intellectual pursuits. These pursuits characteristically express the need to take the world to pieces and rebuild it according to one’s own phantasy in order to understand it. Thus philosophical questioning that underpins works of artistic and scientific imagination are for Klein, subliminal products of the most primitive phantasies expressed towards the mother’s body in early infancy.
Bion further develops these ideas to describe the crucial role of the containing ‘breast’ in the development of thinking, which must hold and contain destructive projections from infants in order to enable intrapsychic development to take place, that is benign rather than malignant. Should the ‘breast’ or nurturing environment be unable to maintain a benign feedback loop then the infant experiences a ‘nameless dread’ of having its destructive phantasies left uncontained and/or re-projected. This will lead to the infant developing its own immature strategies for dealing with destructive feelings which lead to forms of intrapsychic splitting characteristic of paranoid schizoid relations. The result maybe a blockage of intellectual development and/or interest in creative pursuits, eventually leading to regression into psychosis. The source of this development lies with a nurturing environment which cannot contain the infant’s very primitive expressions of ambivalence.
Parker develops this further by arguing that Western culture reproduces persecutory maternal ideals that disavow and disallow expressions of maternal ambivalence, so that the wider issue becomes a political and socio-psychological one, not the sole responsibility of individual nurturers. If idealising and persecutory phantasies regarding maternal qualities dominate cultural mores then paranoid-schizoid, part-object relations to mothers (and therefore I suggest all women} prevail over whole object relations.
Laing’s theoretical work describes the broad impact of social phantasy systems upon socio-psychological development, which have the effect of sanctioning culturally dominant phantasies as ‘reality’. I have suggested that he offers us a useful way of thinking about how cultural ideals of maternity and infancy are reproduced. Laing shows how, if one should announce one’s apperception of social phantasy systems or make a manoeuvre of dissent away from the strategies of oppressive splitting that underpin these systems, one risks expulsion from the social group altogether. If Laing is right then this does not bode well for a feminism of autonomy. What a feminism of autonomy needs to do is recognise what its own vision of reality, particularly psychosexual reality, will evoke in the phallocratic subject and a devise a creative strategy for dealing with this. A feminist psychology of knowledge must be able to contain and explain adequately the rise in psychotic anxieties, envy and anger that some women refusing to be a paranoid-schizoid, part-object container of human destructiveness will evoke in most men and many women. I would suggest that the masculinist backlash to feminism can be best explained in these terms.
It seems that our cultural phantasies around parenting, especially mothering do not permit mother’s to feel able to admit of a need for support, of limits and of vulnerability. I now want to explore further the persecutory maternal ideal that I have suggested is a foundational phantasy of a phallocentric psychic economy, and how this very primitive phantasy reproduces part-object relationships to women’s bodies. Such an exploration aims to re-focus on the pivotal challenges facing the phallocratic subject who is struggling to achieve whole object relationships that are able to recognise female psychosexual autonomy.
From the Combined Object to the Uncanny - The Path to Recognition of Female Psychosexual Autonomy.
I want to return to my suggestion implied by Freud’s work on ‘The Uncanny’ outlined in Chapter Two, that the phantasy at the foundations of a paranoid-schizoid, phallocentric psychic economy of is that of the phallic mother, or as Klein calls it, the combined object. Klein describes this as one of the earliest phantasies that the infant has regarding the mother’s body, and is inspired by phantasies of attacking, penetrating and robbing her body out of anger and frustration, when mother is felt as withholding what the infant wants. As I explained above in a previous chapter, during very early infancy the mother’s body seems undifferentiated from the infant’s, so is perceived as omniscient and omnipotent, as the one and only site of nourishment and reproduction of the species. The concrete expression of this phantasy is a terror should the infant get inside mother, that she will contain a penis concealed within her vagina or somewhere else inside her body. This part-object phantasy penis is much feared as potentially retaliatory. Klein observes that this is the most primitive phantasy of oedipal unity that both excludes, terrifies and dominates the infant from birth onwards, potentially leading to ever increasing rage and frustration. It is the task of the nurturer to contain and feed back these projections benignly.
As the neurological system and perceptual apparatus of the infant matures the mother’s body is gradually recognised as other, and the ability to differentiate between objects evolves. It is after this time that a glance of the mother’s whole naked body or breast may evoke ‘uncanny’ feelings which are dealt with by regression to the mother-with-penis phantasy (often symbolised by the fetish in adult sexual fantasy). The challenge presented to the infant, child or adolescent is containment of ‘uncanny’ feelings rather than regressive phantasy. Klein’s clinical case studies show that such containment can only be achieved through adult explanation of how the mother’s and father’s bodies work differently, and how they join together to make a child. However, in a phallocentric Western culture still dogged by debates over the usefulness of sex education at an early age, this often does not occur. Children are often left to sharing their anxiety laden phantasies and theories about their origins amongst themselves. It also remains the case that many women are uncertain about how their bodies actually do fit together anatomically or function sexually, and/or aren’t able to explain the nature of sexual desire, or why they menstruate, to their children without enormous shame and guilt. I explained how Klein described the consequences of this for both boy and girl children in the previous chapter.
However, it is Donald Meltzer’s definition of how the transition from phantasies of the combined object toward whole object relations (to each sexually different parent) feeds creativity, that I find useful for the sake of clarity. R. D. Hinshelwood writes,
Though I detect a heterosexist bias in much of Meltzer’s writing, one cannot escape the biological fact that one originates from the coming together of male sperm and female ovum. Whether one has two or more same sex carers, one primary carer or two or more differently sexed carers, it remains a truth that we all have a biological mother and father, and it this sexual truth that Klein observes is the preoccupation of the young child struggling to understand its origins.
However, whatever the biological sex of our primary carer(s), it also remains a fact that women’s bodies are mystified, misrepresented and misconstrued within a phallocentric psychic economy, such that while we develop within such a culture, to be able to differentiate wholly between the sexes at an unconscious level often remains difficult. Luce Irigaray (1974), in particular, has demonstrated how Freud’s psychoanalytic writing on female sexuality and psychology illustrates and reproduces this obsessive-compulsive rigidity around questions of sexual difference. The only opening for women to challenge this she suggests, is a mimetic strategy that over-represents female sexuality in terms of the reaction-formations to which we are consigned. In this way she mimics excessive compliance to phallocentric notions of the feminine, particularly with her ‘irrational/ illogical’ prose style, to mock and expose the psychosexual phantasy constructs fuelling phallologocentrism.3 In this way she has, in my opinion, provided the most explicit critique of phallocentrism as an omnipresent representational and psychic economy, permeating the history of ideas in Western culture to date. Her work also seems to make Heideggerean references to the need for reverence for the divine (or Being), which she sees as a necessary form of social mediation, and as providing a stable psychosexual horizon, in times of drastic change.
Above I mentioned Heidegger’s reference to the mythological origins of the nine muses, those midwives of inspiration which men have referred to thought the history of Western thought. Heidegger is very careful not to distinguish between mythos and logos, but adheres to a pre-Socratic poesis to evoke ‘food for thought’. It is my suggestion that his refusal to distinguish between the mythos and logos of thought must have influenced Irigaray’s prose style, and has much to contribute to my particular attempt to re-construct a Kleinian, gynocentric psychology of knowledge. To clarify my suggestion, I would now like to examine a particular passage from Heidegger’s set of lectures devoted to the exploration of thought and thinking. He writes:
For Heidegger, what there is to be thought is best evoked by poesy. Thinking does not recognise any distinction between mythos and logos. When this distinction was made, by Plato firstly, and those Western thinkers after him, philosophy became (phallo)logocentric, and the ‘mythos’ was made redundant to the task of thinking, of finding the ‘truth’. Mythology, poetry, plays, etc., those stories of the affectively and sexually charged human dramas demonstrating the ‘eternal recurrence of the same’, were now assigned the ‘inferior’ status of artistic/ religious fantasies as opposed to ‘reality’. The activity of thinking was now divorced from the activity of inspirational fantasising, of envisioning, of creating. To think was to indulge in a phallogocentric activity, involving a process of discovery of universal principles evidenced by what could be seen in order to establish truth. The expulsion of mythos from what could be properly conceived of as ‘reality’ gave rise to the ascendancy of a phallocratic ocularcentrism in Western philosophy, a loss of reverence for the mystery of life contained within the womb of Dame Memory, and a ‘forgetting of what there is to be thought’. My reading of Heidegger suggests that what is forgotten is matrifocal and gynocentric in origin. Integrated thinking for Heidegger involves the proper utilisation the of mythos and the logos via poesy. This reintegration will lead us back to the pre-Socratic attitude of ‘radical astonishment’ and reverence for the mystery of life which we have forgotten.
In what amounts to the shared pre-occupations in Bion’s work, mythos is reintegrated into the development of thought and thinking, both at the individual ontogenetic level of dreaming, involving the construction of personal mythologies; and in the cultural dream space of public mythologies, where mythos expresses phylogenetic or species memory and is essential to the task of cultural production whether artistic, scientific, philosophical or whatever.
Bion’s work developed from his adherence to Kleinian schema of development which is also matrifocal and gynocentric. Klein’s work revolved around what happens when a cultural mythology or social phantasy system (which I have named as phallocentrism) clashes with the epistemophilic instinct. She implied that this instinct contained within it an inherited memory of the reality of the mother’s body. It seems that the clash between an innate knowledge of the mother’s body and a social phantasy system geared up to forgetting or repressing this, evokes an ambivalence and anxiety in the child that drives him or her to question adults about the nature of human origins, and mistrust adult attempts to avoid or mislead them in answering this.
My suggestion is that a phallocentric culture in denial of the sexual autonomy and reality of the mother, risks involving both the parent and the child in a perpetual state of conflict over its being-in-the-world, which is avoidable. Klein observed, described and explained how this state of existential conflict has the effect of blocking creative development, and impedes the capacity for love and work that Freud described as a necessary condition of mental health. Her clinical work with children enabled them to learn the sexual truth about mother’s and father’s different roles in their origins, and allay what are often terrifying fears around mother as a combined object threatening to engulf the child. The establishment of the concrete reality of sexual difference enables the child to separate out from mother, and begin to appreciate her as a whole person, rather than an ideal or envied part-object. Klein describes the attainment of this state of separateness the ‘depressive position’, as it is underpinned by a process of mourning and acceptance of lost unity with the mother’s body. However this position is only ever partly attainable, as regression to paranoid schizoid interpersonal and/or intrapsychic dynamics may be triggered by a range of transference phenomena in adult life.4
Parker’s study reveals that such a transferential regression to infantile rage, anxiety and idealisation may be triggered by the experience of mothering a young infant, who is bound to evoke a range of ambivalent responses in her mother. It is a parent’s inability to contain and think about these responses which risks them being acted out intrapsychically (depression), or interpersonally (child abuse). It seems that women are particularly affected in their ability to parent by our phallocentric culture’s rigid perpetuation of idealising and envious part-object phantasy constructions of mothering . I have suggested these are driven by a paranoid-schizoid flight from ‘what there is to be thought’ (Heidegger), which I propose is; how to inaugurate the creative process of letting go without necessarily destroying what is other? How to separate out, via the attainment of the reverence and ‘radical astonishment’ at otherness, recommended by Heidegger, as the end result of integrated thinking? I suggest that this is the process that inaugurates the conscious recognition of mother’s existential autonomy.
Such a process of radical astonishment at the mother’s existential autonomy is psychodynamic and therefore cannot take place within a linear temporality. For the disinterring of the repressed of phallocentrism - the malignant maternal part-object, necessarily involves a regression to that state of being-in-the-world experienced in early infancy, and a facing up to the ambivalence evoked by the uncanny nature of her once physical sameness, combined with her now physical otherness. The uncanny moment arouses horror and confusion. We may defend against his by fetishising the female body, breaking it into phallic part-objects, undermining most evidence of its sexual potency and autonomy. I suggest that in our culture the uncanny moment is rarely superseded though it is repressed, albeit partially. What is repressed then habitually returns to haunt us. The uncanny mother exerts an all-pervasive pressure on our collective cultural psyche through the vacuum caused by her absence, caused by our forgetting, and a disavowing means of overcoming her. However her absence is felt, by feminist thinkers in particular. I support Irigaray’s observation that her absence resonates through the gaps and silences in the prose of Western philosophy. In this way her difference, her reality; demands to be recognised, to be thought.
I suggest that Heidegger’s prose contains such an enigmatic reference to what is absent yet exerts a critical pressure to be thought, that it is difficult to ignore. He said,
If Heidegger is right about Socrates; then the linguocentricity of much contemporary Western academic ‘discourse’ avoids the task of thinking. What Heidegger, Bion and Klein describe is a process, a living embodied felt experience, a current, which cannot be captured linguistically because it is always emergent from the preformation of phantasy anterior to language. Though the process of thinking may be mediated linguistically - through the living language of dialogue; evoked in the life pulse of poesy, it can only be atrophied in the tomb of ‘discourse’ . In this way; all academic theory is necessarily ephemeral; it is partial and can never be totalising or universal. I suggest that the drive towards the achieving this latter homogenising phantasy has resulted in us over-acting, or acting-out, at the expense of thinking. Such totalising projections whether they are dystopic or utopic or neither, for Heidegger are a result of the nature of humanity’s affective investments in history and ultimately, relations to time. He writes:
I suggest that what is habitual is our adherence to linear time and our need to furnish our fantasies of future experiences with linear causal explanations rooted in an historically evidenced (that is visibly proven) past. Within such an historical schema there is no room for the ambivalence fundamental to a creative becoming content with no certain knowledge of the future, content ‘to partake of the sacrament of the present moment’ (Laing). The phallocratic state of being-in-the-world that projects linear causal chains into a linear concept of time evolves only to climax, then fade out. This kind of subjectivity resonates with what Nietzsche calls the ‘last man’. The last man precedes the ‘superman’, whose being-in-the-world is in every way antithetical to the climactic linear temporality of phallocentric psychic economy that underpins the technocratic nihilism of concern to Heidegger. He writes,
Heidegger is explaining the concept of the , superman’ as the one who emerges , after the rank order has been carried out’ (I wish to keep here to Heidegger’s masculinist terms of reference) By this, he means the superman emerges at the end of the last days of modern system of world government rooted in technocratic nihilism. The ‘superman’ is he who supersedes what has passed away. What kind of a man is this?
Read from the Kleinian perspective I have so far developed, I would suggest, somewhat controversially, that Nietzsche’s superman may be the feminist’s friend. He is the man who has attained the depressive position by superseding and overcoming the phallocratic drives of the paranoid schizoid subject. He has the ability to place himself in the ‘draft’, and experience the current, as Socrates once did, in order to think. He does not overestimate the power of language as the sole means of communication, but uses it as a container for thought, and so he is economical with it. By standing in the draft he demonstrates that he can contain the inevitable loss at the heart of becoming whole and has accepted, has integrated this loss into his process of becoming. He can dwell amidst contradiction, can contain ambivalence and is not driven to conquer, colonise, rape and pillage out of frustration and the need for boundless progress. He maintains a composure in the face of the ambiguity, boundaries and limits evoked by a recognition of otherness. He has overcome his greed. He knows what has been lost and through knowing this, knows that he is not that, but different. He comes to know himself. The uncanny, the enigmatic presence that is sensed but that cannot be visibly known, is not a source of terror for him, to be destroyed, but a sign of life’s mystery, to be revered. He is an integrated, mature, responsible individual with an appreciation of limits and boundaries. He has a reverence for the mystery of life embodied in the recognition of the other as different.
But who is superwoman? Perhaps she is very similar but different to superman. I would suggest that superwoman is she who has attained the depressive position also, in relation to father, mother, man, woman and child. She lets go of the pernicious influence afforded her by the merging encouraged to take place within phallocentric childrearing practices. She has let go of her desire to incorporate, to merge, though she maintains her connectedness to others because she is allowed to develop autonomously, and has separated out in order to achieve the mutuality that underpins intimacy. With these parallel developments, a balanced, contained and rewarding intersubjective relation between adults becomes possible. Perhaps this was all Nietzsche was asking for? In any case, I suggest that this idea informs the profound optimism and hope implicit in his work.
I would suggest that the path to achieving either kind of psychosexually autonomous subjectivity is fraught with danger and complexity. It means that we all have to undergo a process of change that amounts to ‘catching up’ with these conceptions of what it means to be an adult. In an infantile-narcissistic culture the rewards for attaining adulthood are not great, and the risk of persecution for refusing to remain part of this social phantasy system will be high. However that should not discourage one from trying to leave a dysfunctional group governed by phallocentric cultural imperatives, but prepare one for the pain involved in growing up.
Nietzsche writes about the danger inherent in ‘waking up’ to what is the case, while others all around choose to carry on ‘sleeping’. He writes of the rabble’s potential to destroy the superman; that wise; gentle and sensitive soul who is truly awake.
Bion (1970) writes of the danger posed by this person in the group whom he calls the mystic, the person who contains what is uncontainable for all others in the group, who is the oracle of new truths. The mystic evokes a necessary process of destruction of what contains the group, because it is false, in order to make way for what is true, but the mystic risks destroying the group or being destroyed by the group in the process.
Both of these thinkers describe what may happen to dissenters from what Raymond Williams 119771 called dominant ‘structures of feeling’ within our culture, what Laing calls ‘social phantasy systems’ that dominate the group. The danger for those in the academy attempting to develop a feminism of autonomy is radical exclusion the like of which Luce Irigaray experienced, or a range of muffling devices, from open harassment to covert undermining or mockery for daring to set another agenda, separate from the dominant set of concerns.
At the close of her book Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974) Juliet Mitchell makes the point that subjective change takes place at a much slower rate, within almost a different temporal order than does social change. I would suggest that our phantasy that the social formation shifts more rapidly than our subjectivities might may be revealed as erroneous in post-cold war Europe. The nation-states who were initiators of revolutionary social change seem now to have regressed to a more chaotic stage of economic development, governed by more primitive (in the Kleinian sense) sets of social dynamics, than those nation-states that adhered to a conservative liberal democracy. I would argue that this historical development reveals that shifts in social formation must be underpinned by a shift in subjective values, and by a pervasive debacling of the social phantasy systems that contained the old order. This would take a long time, probably generations.
However, without the latter precipitative cultural changes, the former social and political changes would never solidify. There has to be a thoughtful, contained, piecemeal approach to radical change. I would suggest that this is because underpinning all processes of change is a cyclical temporality of disintegration, regression, re-integration and renewal. There is no linear path to cohesive historical , social and political change. There is only a phallocentric phantasy that this is possible. Psychodynamic accounts of how deep personal change takes place are mirrored, I would suggest, by the regressions and re-integrations involved in long term social changes, recorded in the annals of history.
However it would not be pragmatic to discard the very real usefulness of the construction of time as linear. Just as it would be useful to consider that other parallel temporal schemas operate in conjunction with this construction, and that non-recognition, and lack of reverence for this slower, different model of cyclical temporality, may lead to a potentially catastrophic re-assertion of this reality on many levels of our existence. Psychodynamic theory offers us just one example of how this may be so, demonstrating as it does, that what is repressed, what is disavowed, is always lurking in the shadows, and will return to haunt us. And as Bion has argued - when the repressed returns from the dungeon of disavowal, we risk the rupturing of the social and psychological fabric with catastrophic, rather than containable, change.
Summary conclusion :
I have suggested that phallocentric theory making, though a product of a particular type of creative thinking, risks regression from inertia to atrophy within the tomb of its own discursive limits. It is contained, but also haunted, by the embodied truths of life, death, feelings, flesh which it excludes as indicators of different kinds of truths , subject to different spatio-temporal relations. Phallocentric theory is persecuted by its own universalising idealisms that are erected to deny such truths. Manic defences5 against depressive truths will always set ever more unreachable targets. This seems to be what Heidegger feared, in his veiled prophecies of doom regarding the inevitable self-destruction of a culture of ‘technocratic nihilism’ posing as ‘progress’ .
Any feminism which does not challenge these discursive limits and the social phantasy systems which necessitate these limits, as a fragile paranoid-schizoid container of manic defences, risks either assimilation and incorporation of its project into the mainstream of the phallocentric agenda, or becoming reaction formation to phallocentric discourse that justifies the questioning of its reality status and radical exclusion. I would suggest that feminists need to challenge these discursive limits while at the same time understanding the likely effects such a challenge will have on those ‘whose cage has been severely rattled’. I believe feminists must also have to hand a subtle and detailed understanding of how intersubjective changes have been shown to manifest themselves throughout the cycles and strata of history. This understanding would then function as a container of the renewed psychotic anxieties thrown up by a radical undermining of the efficacy of phallocentric theory, temporality, discourse and representation. I believe that the object-relations theory of Klein and Bion, tempered with a feminist phenomenology drawn from the ideas of Laing, and philosophical intuitions of Nietzsche and Heidegger, point towards a new and different way of understanding how thinking and creative change should always take account of the temporal ‘catching-up’ that needs to be done; by paying attention to the relative limits of our embodied existence, and its specific vulnerabilities, strengths, mysteries, rhythms and cycles.
Psychodynamic time is embodied time, not just linear, but also cyclical and monumental. Psychodynamic time is expressed in terms of phylogenetic and ontogenetic ‘Memory’, involving regression, recovery and renewal/ integration at both the individual and cultural levels of expression. I suggest that cyclical and monumental time are the fundamentally gynocentric time zones of poesy, of embodied thinking, while a linear temporality, attempting to express any Universal Truth wrapped up in the fictions of Modern History, is a disembodied, manic defence against the need to contain and recognise radical plurality of autonomous histories or truths.
Ambivalent, contrary accounts, uncertainty, discontinuity, unexpected synchronies, resonances ruptures and unpredictable changes characterise the evolutionary unfolding of history uncovered by the archaeological method Foucault6 used to study the history of ideas. This may reveal a radical correspondence and discontinuity of truths across and within various ‘discourses’, rather than a revelation of Universal Truth waiting to be discovered underneath them all. I am attracted to this archaeological method that unearths and explores the heterogeneity of what is buried rather than the adhering to a linear causal explanation of events already known. The archaeological method undermines the efficacy of linear time as a pre-eminently useful measure of the evolution history, of ‘ideas’ in particular. However, as I am attempting to describe how ideas emerge from the preformation of phantasy that is anterior to language I do not find the linguocentricity of Foucault’s later work helpful. I would rather refer to modalities of experience implicit in the psychodynamic schema that disrupt our linear fantasies of change than ‘discourses’.
To close this chapter, I will summarise my position as follows: I am suggesting that the reality of existential difference is what needs to be thought about, and is the most pressing question of our age. The unconscious denial and/ or homogenisation of sexual difference in the West, has resulted in the reification of a system of thinking and representation rooted in infantile phantasy. This social phantasy system is in denial of its own dependency upon an existential context of intersubjective embodied life experience, and has given rise to much academic theory that is evocative of this state of being-in-the-world; that is theory that is politically complacent, is in a state of atrophy, neither alive nor dead, but disembodied and schizoid. I am suggesting that the existential dynamics of phallocentric theory/ thought are rooted in (the Kleinian) our infantile denial of mother’s bodily difference, This denial may be summed up as an attempt at an escape from the ambivalence evoked by the uncannily ‘other’, yet seemingly omnipresent, and potentially engulfing part-object. This object may be the other, our mother, or God; as I suggest that the fear of the other, the earliest existential merging with the mother, and experiences of mystical union with the Supreme Being, seem to partake of a common existential register.7
I suggest that the implications this has for those attempting to develop a feminism of autonomy are as potentially hazardous as they are creative.
In the next chapter I wish to return to the assertions made at the beginning of this study regarding the need for an embodied psychology of knowledge that emerges from an autonomous feminist re-conception of psychosexual difference. I will re-present Elizabeth Grosz’s framework for a feminist theory of embodied knowledge and attempt to answer each of her calls for change systematically, with a reply that will attempt to integrate my interpretations of the thinkers I insights have so far presented. My aim is both to demystify and re-present the psychosexual truths inherent in the intuitions of the sexed body - as indicators of the efficacy of a different state of being-in-the-world, subject to different kinds of temporality, which points towards what has been disavowed previously; by the disembodied phallocentrism of a paranoid-schizoid psychic economy.
Process Press Ltd.
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM