CHAPTER FIVE : TOWARDS A KLEINIAN FEMINISM OF AUTONOMY
This chapter will attempt to meet systematically the earlier objectives for this study set in Chapter One. I chose to define the aims of this thesis within the set of paradigms proposed for developing a autonomous feminist epistemology outlined by Elizabeth Grosz (1988).
Firstly, she argued that a feminism of autonomy must aim to counter phallocentric claims to access an objective, perspectiveless, static truth. Grosz wanted different forms of knowledge to avow openly the political, historical and sexual contexts within which particular epistemological concerns evolve and are addressed. For feminists of autonomy, truth evolves from trajectories of desire emanating from the observer upon whom all thinking, including epistemological constructs, are dependent.
Feminism must therefore accept its own historicity, avow its political ambitions, and admit its epistemological constructs are products of sexually contextualised desiring bodies. To affect any other form of positionality that neglects these contextual considerations would mirror the monolithic universalism and therefore self-deception,of phallocentrism. Thus this alternative set of conditions for establishing truth flies in the face of the traditional epistemological criteria of phallocentric Western philosophies in that it is politically transparent rather than opaque, while maintaining an intellectual consistency commensurate with established academic critical practice.
Throughout this study so far, I have used object-relations psychoanalysis in conjunction with feminist critiques of Western philosophical mind-body dualisms to suggest a theoretical perspective able meet the first set of conditions outlined above. I shall now go on to detail how I understand this synthesis of ideas may be able to achieve a crucial first step towards a feminism of autonomy.
I have suggested that a combination of feminist philosophical critique and Kleinian object relations theory describes and explains the sexuate origins of knowledge within a phallocentric political context. In turn I have suggested that this reproduces polarised representations of gender difference, which in turn gives rise to particular power relations, that point towards a sexuate account of the history of ideas within which particular epistemological concerns arise and evolve. This effectively counters phallocentric aims to pursue a perspectiveless, ahistorical, objective truth.
Also, I have used the work of Bion who argues that all thinking originates in an attempt to contain the affective communications that occur between desiring bodies. Thinking is driven by desire for resolution of affective conflict. The process that western philosophy calls Reason, is for Bion, a result of thinking managing to resolve conflict, thus achieving what is desired, rather than what many philosophers believe is the outcome of a desireless, non-affectively charged process. Reason is a process that achieves the very feelings of satisfaction sought out by our most dominant desires, and is characterised as a thought process not ending in feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction.
Psychoanalysis shows us that thought processes that achieve a reduction in tension via a resolution of conflict are necessary though temporally limited, and are largely reliant upon the operation of intrapsychic defences or splits. The person dominated by those thought processes deemed ‘reasonable’ would in all likelihood be rather schizoid and contemptuous of their feelings, desires and carnality.
Feminists like Bordo and Goldenberg have suggested that those Western philosophers seeking Truth via the trajectories of Reason occupy such a schizoid position, and that this dominant subjectivity has created cultural mores that are contemptuous of the carnal vulnerability of humanity. These mores objectify woman who is more greatly associated with humanity’s lower bodily nature. This results in a paranoid-schizoid phallocentric psychic economy wherein women are related to in part-object terms by the bulk of both women and men. Klein describes how the development of little girls growing into women involves a process of ‘forgetting’. This resonates again with Heidegger’ s emphasis on Western culture’s ‘forgetting’ a sense of existential origin in What Is Called Thinking? A feminist phenomenological reading of Klein explains how girls learn to dispossess their bodies, through a process of phallocentric acculturation. This process offers nothing other than a phallocentric evaluation of women’s bodies as ‘castrated’, which is highly alienating for women themselves. My reading of Klein describes how women are compelled to accept and embody a fundamental split that lies at the foundations of phallocentric evaluations of women’s bodies and learn how to evaluate themselves by introjecting this gaze.
Klein describes how post menarche young women begin to suffer all sorts of specifically ‘feminine’ problems such as eating disorders, obsession with body image, and a growing disinterest in external achievements, together with a general decrease in any sense of personal autonomy or active desire.
I used Bion’s work to suggest that existential maturity involves an ability to tolerate and contain affective ambivalence without splitting off our more dissatisfied, disturbing feelings. For psychoanalysts, these more disturbing feelings may also be important indicators of the truths of desires driving us to recognise undeveloped aspects of ourselves.1 In an earlier chapter I explored Klein’s description of the ‘normal’ development of a girl into a woman to demonstrate how the girl’s increased feelings of bodily dispossession point towards her undeveloped potential for psychosexual autonomy. I described how the ‘feminine condition’ can largely be understood as a pathological construction moulded by the dominant paranoid-schizoid cultural imperatives of a phallocentric psychic economy. ‘Normal’ womanhood seems to develop in a context where the Oedipal2 male subjects the female object of sexual desire to infantile phantasy processes of idealisation and envy which she may cope with in various ways.However, whichever way she chooses to deal with his ‘Oedipal’ ambivalence, the culturally dominant existential category of ‘woman’ remains represented and conceptualised in oscillating, polarised part-object relational terms. The paranoid-schizoid Oedipal male would rather pluck out his own eyes than see the whole woman before him as a mother and a lover at the same time.
To overcome and challenge this fundamental process of splitting, I used Bion to argue that an ability to contain, and consciously accept, ambivalence is desirable, as this is the driving force of creative thinking and psychological growth. In contrast ‘reason’ is a process that evolves through an inability to contain ambivalence and is founded upon a denial of a reality composed by different modalities of experience, including intersubjective carnal desires, and what seem to be more ‘rational’ cognitive processes. A feminism of autonomy should evolve from an acceptance of the fertility of such coexistent modalities, and aims to reintegrate our understanding of thought as an embodied creative process, by dispersing the defensive fog surrounding the reality of carnal desire, and its investment in all thinking. This includes the ‘highest’ or ‘most enlightened’ (seemingly disembodied) kinds of thought such as science and philosophy.
I have used Klein’s insights on the sexuate origins of knowledge in the ambivalent phantasy processes of infancy, to explain the origins of thinking in the affectively registered desires of the body, Klein describes how all thinking is an attempt to make sense of intersubjective affective processes felt first of all, via the pre-discursive, pre-symbolic emotional charge between the mother I s and infant I s bodies. Our infantile bodies are for Klein highly sensitive epistemological registers of affective truth.3 Prior to entry into the symbolic order, to language, this is the only form of communication accessible to the baby. Bion explains how an adult I s ability to maintain a conscious access to these highly sensitive infantile processes nourishes the foundations of creative thinking, and makes one a more affectively attuned, I intuitive’ person. This abiIity consciously to register and contain those originally infantile processes anterior to language, which go on to charge our adult encounters with meaning, Bion deemed the necessary condition for becoming an effective psychoanalyst.
I would like to extend this claim and suggest that an ability to remain attuned to the psychic reality of social phantasy systems (Laing) revealed by the linguistic mediation of pre-symbolic affective processes is a necessary condition of integrated, mature creative thinking. The person who remains so attuned has what Klein deems a ‘feminine’ disposition, in the sense that such a person continues to be aware of, and invest in, pre-symbolic communication.
The feminine subject of psychoanalytic theory still swims with the pre-Oedipal affective currents of communication as well as negotiating the Oedipal limits of their expression. It is this construction of the feminine subject that I suggest constitutes Bion’s ego-ideal of the effective psychoanalyst because, for Bion, the therapeutic encounter involves an affective processing and containing of the other. From the Kleinian feminist perspective developed here, this involves occupying a ‘feminised’ subject position, a becoming-woman (Deleuze)4, in that one must become existentially marginalised from a symbolic order dominated by a phallocentric and paranoid-schizoid psychic economy. The irony is that it is just this marginalisation that gives one the opportunity to apperceive a social phantasy system posing as universal reality. This enables multiple modalities of intersubjective experience to become apparent, all competing with greater or lesser success to rupture, disrupt, disturb the dominant reality of the group. As Laing pointed out, the successful subversive runs the risk of social expulsion or scapegoating,5 unless they disturb the system just enough to suggest reform rather than revolution, which is much safer for everybody. Both Bion and Laing have explained how reformists can usually be contained by the dominant reality of the group, unless this takes a despotic6 form, as in the case of the paranoid psychotic and those dysfunctional groups or political regimes dependent upon similar paranoid-schizoid dynamics for their survival.
The question of whether the dominant phallocracy is despotic maybe debatable, but a feminism of autonomy constitutes the greatest challenge to this particular psychic economy in that it has been apperceived by feminists as a social phantasy system at last and named as such. The ‘feminised’ subject is the only subject capable of true revolt against this dominant psychic economy though they are at the same time marginalised from it, and risk full dispossession from the group as a consequence of presenting such a challenge. As Laing demonstrated in his study of female schizophrenics Sanity Madness and the Family, this might take the extreme form of a dissenter being deemed insane, being stripped of their human rights, and thus losing any opportunity to intervene in social ‘reality’ in a socially meaningful way.
However, for a feminism of autonomy necessarily sceptical of orthodox psychoanalytic categories, the person occupying the feminised subject position of Deleuze’s ‘becoming-woman’ is open to a range of signifieds beyond the false dichotomies generated by a schizoid symbolic order. Her identity is in continuous process, in flux. In Deleuze’s terms she is rhizomatic and nomadic.7 She partakes of a different spatio-temporal order than the Man of Reason identified with the linear trajectories of modernist desire. She is at once able to accommodate and embody the cyclical and monumental temporal orders, making rhizomatic connections between varying psycho-social and spatio-temporal modalities of experience possible. The distinction between the Oedipal and pre-Oedipal may become meaningless to her, except that these distinctions are enshrined in the cultural imperatives of a phallocentric psychic economy. They are categories of psychic experience superimposed by the semiotic regime of a paranoid-schizoid psychic economy that wants to disavow the realities of monumental and cyclical space-time8 invested with the reality of what Nietzsche called ‘eternal return’9 in favour of a linear climatic model of progress.
Such dichotomies are symptoms of a culture in denial of gynocentric origins and in favour of humanity adopting the non-desiring model of becoming enshrined in the non-carnal processes of technical progress.l 0 Those who adopt the latter ambition seem to become paradoxically passionate in their striving to become non-desiring. As I demonstrated above, the non-desiring person is satisfied, not frustrated. Thus to become non-desiring, the trajectories of pure reason necessitate a satiation of the passions, rather than a conquering of them as Descartes would have us believe. Only full satiation of desire leads to a lack of frustration. The pursuit of pure reason is driven by a selfish and passionate greed, and a desire to consume and annihilate the limits and realities of the other. I suggest that the Cartesian trajectory, which underpins the Enlightenment project, is driven by a paranoid existential hunger for access to an omnipotent world view. Descartes is driven by his passionate need to rid himself of feelings of frustration. He succeeds. Descartes ends up satiated by such a certainty in the existence of God that he manages to attain a blissful security - like the baby who has obtained their full feed at the originally frustrating breast.
Deleuze and Guattari point towards the irresolvable paradox for the subject conditioned to follow the Cartesian tradition of the pursuit of ‘pure’ reason as follows:
Indeed Klein observes that the epistemophillic instinct is driven by aggression, by a desire to break up the environment into bits in order to ‘know’ it better, meaning to reconstruct and contain it according to one’s initial, infantile, phantasy. This is driven by a sublimated need to invade the mother’s body in order to better understand one’s origins there, and a sublimated greed for the satisfaction achieved at the mother’s breast.
All of this serves to demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can never partake of objective, perspectiveless means or achieve a static rendition of the truth. The pursuit of all knowledge is charged with the passions of intersubjective relationships and communities, is highly evaluative as a result and achieves a partisan and partial truth, specific to the historical and political context and concerns of the enquirer or enquiring community. This does not make the pursuit of knowledge a useless activity, but it democratises such activity, and de-thrones the Western philosopher as enquirer in chief. His view becomes as partial, as passionate, and self-interested as any other, though no less valuable for that. The big questions he asks about life are revealed by Klein’s analysis of children, to originate in infantile questions concerning existential origins, and as questions everyone wanted the answer to ‘once upon a time’.
I now wish to continue answering Grosz’s questions to debunk further the myth of the disinterested philosopher, as her second point remarked that a feminism of autonomy must counter the phallocentric commitment to representing knowledge as neutral, disinterested and objectivist. She criticises especially those scholars of the human sciences and humanities who use methodology most appropriate to the natural sciences , i.e. , variants on the philosophical theme of neo-positivism, to study texts, analyse cultures, social institutions or explain historical events.
I have used Kleinian theory to suggest that no thought or idea develops through a carnally untainted, neutral and objective observation of other human beings. The idea that this may be possible when it comes to selecting which of the many natural-scientific processes are worth explaining, must also be called into question largely for the reasons already outlined above. However, the idea that one may achieve a dispassionate disinterested objectivity when studying or analysing profoundly human situations ( social and political institutions, history) and/or cultural products (by this I mean art, music, literature and any other form of textuality) seems in the light of what has been discussed, absurd.
I suggest that the most appropriate methodology for any human centred scholarship should incorporate an hermeneutic approach alongside any neo-positivist analysis. I would argue that an awareness of the evaluative and affective investments of the researcher, or research community in a piece of research or scholarship, would deepen the significance of any conclusions reached, by making the evaluative component transparent and therefore more easily challenged, than the opaque pretensions to neutrality presented by more objectivist models. When covert evaluative positions are exposed and clarified by critics, as they usually are, then the study is usually termed ‘biased’ (i.e., partial). I have suggested, from a feminist psychodynamic perspective, that impartial conclusions cannot be attained.ll The fact that impartiality is still sought as the arbiter of truth in much research means that the critic’s discovery of a bias often goes on to discredit an entire field of enquiry. I suggest that all research in any discipline would deliver results with greater cogency and meaning if evaluative positions were reflected upon and declared in the first place, rather than being ignored only to become the weapons of critical invalidation later on.
I would argue that the point during any research project where embodied, desiring, passionate motives to know seem most obvious is at the beginning, in the researcher or scholar’s selection of subject matter. It seems difficult to argue that one embarks on any long-term committed piece of intellectual work out of any other source of motivation than a ‘desire to know’, which may also become invested with a passion for knowledge, or an obsession with finding an answer.
Beyond that point it seems that any human being’s motivation for conducting a piece of research is likely to be complex and affectively charged for all sorts of economic, political, social and other sorts of reasons. None of these motivational factors seems likely to be value free.
This means that the traditional scientific view that a piece of research is valid only if it is able to accommodate an interchangeability of ‘objective’ observers must be challenged. A feminism of autonomy adopting a Kleinian framework for understanding how knowledges evolve and thinking develops, understands both as embodied sexuate processes necessitated by the reality of relational intersubjectivity. In this way a feminism of autonomy that uses psychodynamic theory as an epistemological model, rather than natural science, returns the passion for knowledge to its sexuate origins in the desires of the flesh and sets quite different criteria for evaluating evidence.
Thirdly, Grosz argues for feminism of autonomy that challenges the linguistic and discursive paradigms of phallocentric theory, right down to questioning why certain words or narrative structures may or may not be used within an academic, philosophical or theoretical text. During this study I have used the word ‘intuition’ to denote an affectively charged form of embodied knowledge that integrates pre-symbolic currents - or what Deleuze calls the ‘primitive pre-signifying semiotic regime’ with more conventional symbolic strategies of communication. In our phallocentric psychic economy the term intuition connotes a ‘feminised’ form of knowledge, not testable on the grounds of the occularcentric evidence cited ipso facto in Law courts, scientific methods of investigation /proof etc.
This kind of evidence forms the building blocks of a phallocentric ‘objective rationality’ or ‘reason’, so that the term ‘intuition’, dependent upon a non-occularcentric, but embodied, affective form of evidence, is deemed irrational, unreasonable, and therefore philosophically and semantically problematic, or meaningless, by the academic phallocracy. The concept of intuition is intellectually discredited because ‘intuitive knowledge’ cannot be measured against the phallocentric yardsticks of truth and is therefore not recognised as meaningful in terms of dominant academic discourse.
Further on this study I will begin to explore how the syntactic and semantic structures of the grammatically correct sentence might be subverted to suggest a non-phallocentric way of representing thought as it may occur, i.e., as a politically charged poetic narrative that need not depend upon foreclosed forms of linear, rational structuring. Some of the feminists to have experimented with language in this way, in order to evoke a non-phallocentric form of thinking and representation, are Luce Irigaray and Mary Daly. Of course, many male writers have been famous for their subversive poesis and Julia Kristeva argues that such writers are more in touch with the ‘semiotic’ ( or pre-Oedipal) order, an archaic maternal form of drive-based bodily communication that exists anterior to the symbolic order of language, investing it with musicality and rhythm. These men, argues Kristeva, occupy a ‘feminine’ subject position, and are likely to experience themselves as marginalised by the dominant order in some way. She cites examples of writers displaying these traits including Artaud, Mallarme, Joyce and Celine.
This is an interesting standpoint and one that makes sense within a psychodynamic psychosexual framework that does not wish to reduce sexual difference to anatomy or biology, However, I would argue that these writers mentioned by Kristeva cannot be usefully compared to the feminists who manipulate textuality and discourse for political ends, For Grosz it is the self-conscious act of subverting the phallocentric narrative that is important when developing a feminism of autonomy. Language is the raw material of theory and must be up to the task of re-presenting woman in terms of an autonomous, non~phallocentric way of imagining femaleness. This does however, run the risk of alienating large numbers of women, for whom the political use of poetic, metaphoric and non-rational narrative/semantic structures may not yield anything but incomprehension and confusion.
Nevertheless, language is the raw material of theory. I would suggest that it is worth taking the risk of alienating some women for a while, until the subversion of conventional narrative and discourse becomes a general concern of women writing anything. However, I would also suggest that it is not always expedient to present certain types of argument in a non~rational form, although the words chosen can always be considered in the light of their sexuate semantic resonances, i.e., their sexual-political denotations and connotations.
This attention to language and its sexuate resonances is not a great strength of Kleinian theory, and tends to be the province of the ‘return to Freud’ instigated by Jacques Lacan. However, Klein does pay attention to the resonances of certain words during her analysis of children and their covert sexuate content. Bion also pays attention to syntax and semantics, particularly in the analysis of psychotic patients, whose thought disorder is only accessible through the close observation of speech patterns and content. I have not included Lacanian ideas or feminist appropriations of Lacan in this study, because I find that Lacanian theory reifies language and discourse at the expense of linguistically unmediated more primitive forms of communication. For Lacan, no form of communication escapes linguistic mediation, whereas for Klein and object relations theorists in general, attention to language is important, but does not dominate their co~existing attention to the pre-formation of phantasy that is communicated via affective currents that maybe mediated by, but maybe anterior to language. This is because for Klein, the ‘primitive’ affective processes evoked by analytic interventions are returns of repressed infantile phantasy material that originates in the baby’s pre-symbolic communicative processes with the mother’s body. The point of naming these processes during the analysis is to contain them. For object-relations theory, psychoanalytic terminology, or language becomes the container of the previously uncontainable unnameable affective currents that have overloaded the pre-symbolic cipher with psychotic levels of ambivalence, leading to splitting and repression.
I would suggest that Kleinian theory aims to reintegrate narrative with the intuitions of the body. The point of attending to language is that in our phallocentric culture, language is often inadequate when it comes to naming affective processes and intuitions of the flesh. Psychoanalytic discourse has paved the way for this type of embodied language to develop. I would argue that when I anguage more accurately process experienced within and between names the affective charge or persons then it contains and integrates the symbol with the affective charges informing the intuitions of the flesh. The embodied semantics of the symbol then become an effective means towards the end of intersubjectivity and emotional maturity. During therapy it is by naming the unnameable that previously uncontainable levels of ambivalence become containable, so that thinking can take place rather than repression.
I believe that this perspective has profound implications for a feminism of autonomy aiming to develop an embodied form of discourse that admits its affective, political and evaluative origins in the intuitions of the flesh, and promotes the subversion of the phallocentric symbolic order as the formative epistemological register of the real. This subversion of the symbolic must also be reflected in the attention feminists give to the affective charge invested in the texts we produce. A conscious recognition of our own anger, grief, bitterness, or love, humour and joy will enable us to anticipate counter-reactiveness, and restate our position, if necessary, without defensiveness, or with more anger or seriousness, if needed. We must invite an engaged responsiveness to our concerns and ideas adequate to the task at hand, rather than provoke a ‘paranoic reactivity’ where possible. To achieve this we need to monitor and maintain our own emotional literacy, as being female does not guarantee that what we feel in a given situation is always useful.
Grosz’s fourth challenge to phallocentric theory argues that such theory is committed to the separation of the subject and object of knowledge and assumes that the knower can separate themselves from the necessarily intersubjective communities that produce societies, pol itics, histories, theories and knowledges.
Kleinian theory explains that the necessary condition for any knowledge to emerge is intersubjective relationship, the first being the infants relationship to the mother’s body as a primary nurturing environment. She shows that where the primary nurturing intersubjective relationship becomes blocked or inhibited, commensurate blocks and inhibitions in the infant’s learning process will develop.
For Klein and Bion, integrated intellectual development can only take place when the infant’s anxiety is successfully contained by its primary carer(s). As the baby has not entered the symbolic order of language, it is totally dependent on the carer’s capacity to be responsive to affective communications anterior to the Oedipal symbolic order, in order to be understood. This means that the adult carer must be able to contain the infant’s terror and frustration when hungry for example, and receive these malignant feelings in order to feed them back to the infant in detoxified, benign form. Bion best describes what happens when the carer fails to establish this benign feed-back loop for the infant. The baby will project and re-introject with increased force and frequency in a frantic attempt to sustain itself against unmanageable levels of ambivalence. This will result in what Bion calls the infant’s experience of ‘nameless dread’. I would suggest that it is the splitting off, and repression of this nameless dread that leads to the ontological insecurity described by Laing as the intrapsychic foundations of psychosis.
For Bion however, this means that as the baby develops into a child it fails to establish the difference between conscious and unconscious elements of thinking so that childhood psychosis or autism becomes a real possibility, perhaps alongside an unusually precocious form of consciousness, that is able to divine the psychic qualities behind a given situation with uncanny accuracy, Both states of being-in-the-world result from inadequate ego development, and Laing goes on to describe the adult consequences of this course of development in Self and Others. He suggests that the child who has not be provided with the sense of psychic safety necessary to separate out from its primary carer(s), remains submerged in a world dominated by other’s affective processes, in a social phantasy system. Laing describes how this social phantasy system impedes access to reality and thereby blocks and inhibits self-development and learning. The psychic autonomy of the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the phantasy of the group. I would suggest that this situation strikes a useful parallel with the psychosexual position of the adult woman in a phallocentric psychic economy so far described in this study.
As a feminist reading of Klein describes, the girl’s development into full womanhood demands that she sacrifice any ego-syntonic sense of psychosexual autonomy and become a container of phallocentric phantasy. A sense of alienation from, anxiety about, and pre-occupation with her body and bodily functions sets in around the time of menarche. Her lack of access to anything other than a phallocentric explanation of her development divorces her from the intuitions of her own flesh, and establishes a disembodied sense of herself as a desired feminine sex object among a community of desiring masculine sexed subjects; rather than a desiring and desirable sexed subject among other differently sexed desirable and desiring subjects.
This is the living embodiment of the sexuate subjectóobject polarisation Grosz describes as a paradigm of phallocentric theory and knowledge. It upholds the occularcentric valorisation of the ‘visibly sexed’ (phallocentric-being-in-the-world) over the ‘non-visibly sexed’ (gynocentric being-in-the-world), and subjects woman to the epistemological dominance of vision that denies her sexual autonomy, her different sense of being-in-the-world.
Klein describes how this process of sexuate subject-object polarisation leads the ‘normal’ young woman into a growing neglect of those occupations deemed ‘masculine’ such as competitive sports and intellectual pursuits, and an increasing pre-occupation with feminine pursuits of body adornment, dieting and exercise, in order to best embody the masculine subject’s phantasy of the desirable sexed object, and our culture’s ideals surrounding the desirable personal qualities that favour becoming a future mother. I would suggest that Klein is describing how the female subject is infantilised by phallocentric psychic economy, how this social phantasy system submerges any burgeoning sense of psychosexual autonomy under the weight of masculinist desire for the sexual, yet at the same time maternal, object. Teresa Brennan (1992) termed this process the development of the ‘unbearable weight’ of femininity. She described this process as a ‘turning inward’ of the growing woman’s relational, psycho-physical energy, which results in increased intrapsychic rigidity, the repression of most forms of aggression, and an increased listlessness resulting from a sense of being literally ‘weighted down’ by the physical impact of phallocentrism’s ‘foundational phantasy’ of woman. I would suggest that the growing woman is prevented from becoming post-Oedipal by the weight of this ‘foundational phantasy’, which transmits a dominant cultural imperative for every woman to become increasingly pre-occupied with her body, bodily feelings, and value herself primarily as the object of masculine Oedipal desire.
To be gradually relegated to the status of object as womanhood develops is an existentially deadening experience for the adolescent girl . Klein explains that this process is often accompanied by depression and eventual acceptance, or else increased resistance and outright rebellion. The former strategy achieves the (phallocentrically) desired end of adult heterosexual child-bearing femininity, the latter may result in the ‘overly intellectual and assertive woman’, perhaps desiring of lesbian sexual attachments and harbouring a ‘masculinity complex’.
Though it seems the latter strategy maybe mentally healthier way of dealing with the onslaught of an existentially deadening cultural imperative, it is the former strategy that most women seem to adopt as means of coping with their own adolescent ambivalence about their evolving adult status as a sexed object. I would argue that this is because in a phallocentric psychic economy, all resistance is taboo and risks a radical exclusion from the power base that structures the social order.
I suggest that the oppressive nature of sexuate subject-object relations serves to instigate a process of intellectual and creative atrophy in the majority of phallocentrically-identified women (i.e., women who adopt the strategy of embodying the masculine subject’s desired object) . From a feminist Kleinian perspective, women who internalise culturally dominant paranoid-schizoid part-object relationships to their own bodies, must split-off any epistemological drive to encounter the real in order to preserve the dominant phantasy structure within which they are operating. For Klein, only those relations which emerge from an encounter between two subjects occupying the depressive position, that is intersubjective whole-object relations, between separate and existentially mature adults can be truly creative.
This is why, for a feminism of autonomy, intersubjectivity has to be understood as the relational foundation of all knowledges. Subject-object relations degrade the object, and even where the object may not be human, the entire process of knowing evolves from an agreed set of cultural imperatives that govern that process, and these are defined by intersubjective communities of knowers such as scientists, mathematicians or whatever. All conclusions result from the interpretation of evidence, and what is and is not ascribed the status of evidence has been demonstrated to be a profoundly political, and therefore intersubjective, matter. Hence scientific enquiry emerges from the particular concerns and questions of a given socio-historical community of persons. Scientific knowledge does not evolve from a disembodied process of objective observation of innate laws of nature just waiting to be discovered. It is a profoundly human project, an epiphenomenon of the epistemological concerns of intersubjective community. This is why the cosmological tenets of theoretical physics that explain how the universe is made are constantly shifting and changing, As one Law is ‘discovered’ so it is contested and another one is made. Thus science is created, and progresses creatively.
Fifthly, Grosz shows how phallocentric theory does not define itself substantively, but rather describes itself via what it is not; not passion, not corporeal, not emotional. Anything other to phallocentric conceptions of monolithic, universalist truth is deemed unreal and non-evidential epistemologically. In contrast a feminism of autonomy defines itself in positive terms and refuses to explain what it is by using the strategies of oppositional exclusion promoted by phallocentric methods of binary polarisation. It is evident to feminists of autonomy that similarity and difference may co-exist between and across varying modalities of thought, of experience rather than just stark relations of mirroring based on opposition. Furthermore, a feminist reading of Klein reveals that oppositional categories originate in infantile phantasy relations to the primary nurturing environment, based on splitting whole ambivalent objects of attachment into good and bad part-objects. This results in a relationship with the primary nurturer (usually female, usually mother) that oscillates between extremes of idealisation and envy respectively.
Creative thought and thinking evolve from a psyche capable of consciously recognising and containing ambivalence, not though paranoid-schizoid mechanisms of splitting into oppositional categories of goodóbad, positiveónegative, masculineófeminine, mindóbody.
Feminists recognise the implicit hierarchical structure in binary oppositions, with the positive value being attributed to the primary term, a neqative value to the secondary term. A feminism of autonomy must be able to admit that paradox, ambivalence, irony are substantive qualities of human experience that should be represented in theoretical terms. In this way theory should aim to contain the creative tension at the heart of the paradox, of ambivalence, that qenerates new ideas rather than expel, alienate or repudiate that which it is not. Feminist theory should be dynamic rather than static, and promote intellectual movement rather than inertia. I have also suggested that a feminism of autonomy should also recognise and work with other embodied forms of space-time, such as the psychodynamic realities of cyclical and monumental space-time representative of sexually autonomous feminine life-experience, alongside linear, climactic conceptions of space-time resonant with more phallocentric trajectories of desire.
Grosz also emphasised that intellectual labour must not be elevated to the privileged status it enjoys in phallocentric culture that erroneously values one side of given dichotomy over another, in this case, mental labour over physical labour. Intellectual work should be understood as one practice in dynamic relation to other equally important forms of creative labour, each with something to offer a richer, more equitable and dynamic way of living. The psychodynamic theories of knowing outlined in this study explain how the drive toward intellectual work arises from the feelings and concerns of everyday living. In this way psychoanalysis does not revere intellectual work as of a higher order than any other form of creative labour. The person that emphasises the value and status of intellectual work in their lives, at the expense of feelings, relationships, relaxation, etc. is more likely to be viewed by the psychodynamic therapist as using their work as a manic defence against depression, or as a schizoid defence against intimacy, rather than a sign of well-being or health.
I want to suggest that the Kleinian feminist perspective developed in this study may be used to meet many of the chal lenges posed by feminst philosophers such as Grosz to those attempting to develop a more sexually representative, and culturally contextualised, theory of knowing, When Klein and her successors, Bion and Laing, are deconstructed using Grosz’s feminist perspective, it soon becomes apparent that their developing psychology of knowledge seems to meet the challenges posed by Grosz to disembodied phallocentrism. In phenomenological, object-relational terms, all knowledge is carnal and originates from the intersubjective relationship composed of the affective and instinctual desires of the flesh. In psychodynamic terms all knowledge is driven by desire and is therefore embodied knowledge, because it has gynocentric origins in the formative relationship established between the infant’s and mother’s body; a relationship that has to be forgotten in a phallocentric, paranoidschizoid culture.
However, as Heidegger intimated, we live in the shadow cast by these origins, and this has an uncanny presence, being both near and far away, within us yet outside us. We are haunted by the ghost of our forgotten origins, which remains ‘what there is to be thought’ in an age dominated by technocratic nihilism (an age, I would suggest, characterised by the paranoid-schizoid reverence of the linear forms of processing enshrined in disembodied mechanical progress, over and above the intuitive wisdom contained in the living flesh of the human body).
Phallocentric knowledge disguises these origins, and presents itself as perspectiveless, objective and beyond the realms of desire, politics and passion.
In the remainder of this study I will expand upon the possibilities presented by a Kleinian feminism of autonomy by attempting to re-think ‘femininity’ and imagine a different matrix of desire than that reproduced and invested in the dominant Western phallocracy. Using Grosz’s later work, and the work of Deleuze and Guattarri, I will try to envisage a different way of knowing capable of representing the affective investments necessary to what I shall call the ‘erotics of knowledge’ .
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM