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The Thinking Body: A Feminist Revision of Melanie Klein

by Jo Nash.



1. I have already referred to Freud’s occularcentric evaluation of the relative power of the sexes to evoke envy in the other. Freud argued that penis envy in the girl/woman was the result of her recognition of the visible superiority of the male organ when measured against the size of her own. This is rather like arguing that a nose must be superior to a mouth because it is evidenced by a visible protrusion rather than an opening with lips. Freud’s belief in the innate nature of penis envy, based on the greater visibility of the penis, and hence its superiority, reveals Freud’s own phallocentrically loaded gaze, See note 5 of Chapter One for an analysis of this.

2. This idea could be described as Klein’s point of departure from Freud, away from a patrifocal to a matrifocal explanation of child development and the origins of the unconscious. This is explained in greater detail in Chapter 3. I suggest that Freud’s work on the uncanny and the fetish reveal important chinks in his phallocentric armour that point toward the gynocentric origins of the unconscious and phantasy life. I would argue that conscious matrifocal accounts of the origins of our inner worlds, and later relatedness to, and knowledge of the outer world, are effectively warded off by the culturally imbued phallocentric defences against the power of the mother described in Freudian theory.

3. For a full and detailed account of this historical trend see Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes.(1994), referred to in note 5 to Chapter One.

4. Dorothy Dinnerstein wrote an account of this concept of global destruction in her book The Rocking of the Cradle and the Ruling of the World (1976). She argued that the reason for this was largely embedded in faulty, culturally imbued, parenting practices that encourage alienated and alienating identifications with concepts of sexual difference that are artificially polarised and symbiotic. This results in a form of archaic, female ‘tyranny’ over the earliest years of our life while male tyrants get on with making history. For many human beings (though by no means all) gender polarity results in them repudiating and/or repressing those aspects of their humanity that are deemed to be a property or quality of the opposite gender. The implications of this are that elaborations of this formative process for dealing with difference, lead to breakdown in communication that allows of no healthy recognition of differences and similarities, between individual human beings, across culturally constructed,polarised categories of identification. This is ultimately destructive. She wrote,

If people could come widely to see just what this link between societal despotism, female rule over childhood, and male rule over the historical process really is, the result could be fundamental, since it is lack of insight into the nature of this link that makes possible the shared self-delusions on which the historical process now rests. Action embodying such insight might even now make a difference for the possibility that a human future is not, after all, out of the question (p. 163)

5. As I will be referring to Lacanian terminology throughout the remaining text it is necessary to define the key terms here for the sake of clarity. For Lacan the Symbolic Order and Imaginary are best explained in relation to each other, as they emerge from a process of splitting, inaugurating primary repression, at a point of infantile development called the mirror stage. The infant reaches the mirror stage of development between the ages of six to eight months, where for the first time it ‘misrecognises’ itself as whole by observing its reflection in a mirror. This moment is a jubilant one for the child, who, Lacan argues, has previously felt itself to be a frustrated and fragmentary extension of the mother’s body and drives. At this moment of jubilation the infant also begins to understand itself as separate from the mother, but the misrecognition of itself as ‘whole’ forms an alienated ego, distanced from the ‘subjective’ inner volitions and drives. This is because this misrecognised whole self is in reality a self for others, is ‘whole’ only as a result of external others’ confirmation of wholeness, so that the ego’s sense of itself as separate and whole is precarious, alienated from the now repressed Imaginary relationship with the mother. The Imaginary opens up the unconscious through the primary repression of the early infantile relationship with the mother. In the Imaginary there is no absence only presence, as there is no ‘no’ in the unconscious. Primary repression also heralds the imminent identification with the Law of the father via the Symbolic Order, known as the Oedipal crisis. The sense of ‘self’ founded by the ego’s misrecognition of itself as whole during the mirror stage, lays the foundation for the subject’s interpolation into the Symbolic Order of language. The ‘I’ then perceives itself as separate from others, and the separating utterance of ‘I’ becomes the first step on the path to the differentiation of signifiers (word presentation) and their relationship to signifieds (object associations) which is the acquisition of language.

This differentiation or splitting comes about through the recognition of otherness through sexual difference, namely the recognition of the phallus.The phallus, for Lacan, is the primary mark of anatomical difference, due to the epistemological supremacy of vision (you can’t see female sex organs) and so is the primary mark of division, neither the boy nor girl has the phallus, which is equated with the object of the mother’s desire, who is eventually recognised as the father. Pre-Oedipally, however,anterior to the mirror stage, the child possesses the ‘phallus’ in having exclusive attachment to the mother, and the mother possesses the ‘phallus’ as the child. This dyad is then broken by the child’s awareness of either the physical or verbalised presence of the father, The father is recognised as a rival for the mother’ s attention, and as the object of her desire- He is then identified with the phallus.

Lacan’s most important claim is that male and female children enter the Symbolic Order differently. For Lacan gendered subjectivity is formulated differently due to different male/female relationships to a Symbolic Order dominated by the phallus. For Lacan one cannot denote meaning via symbol until one conceives of lack of something. As the phallus is the first symbol of the Law of the Father which denotes lack (of access to the mother) and thus inaugurates the child into the Symbolic Order of language, gendered subjectivity is constituted through taking up the appropriate place in a pre-constituted social reality, language, a-priori to the individual, which is constructed around the Law of the Father. The phallus is symbolic of lack on the one hand, and power and social order on the other, Thus this theory offers an explanation of the female internalisation of subordination through the construction of self in the triadic power hierarchy within the family, recognised in the Oedipal crisis; and the formation of the unconscious mind, through the acquisition of language as a phallocentric Symbolic Order. Thus women are constructed in the realm of the male sign, and are as Lacuna put it ‘excluded by the nature of things, which is the nature of words’ (1977, p. 68).

For both genders however, the possession of the phallus is always illusory. No-one possesses it- From the initiation into the Symbolic onwards, the signifier I 1 , represents the subject, but this I l’ cannot represent anything except in relation to another signifier, and it is to this , 1 I -in-relation-to-an-other that the subject, meaning the inner sense of self in the Symbolic Order is reduced. The taking up of a gendered/sexual identity through the a-priori phallocentric Symbolic Order of language and the subsequent formation of the ego is an alienating process.

6. I shall also be referring to Kristeva’s , semiotic order I which she uses in her work to denote a whole schema of unconscious I events I This concept of the , semiotic order I has been compared with the Lacanian Imaginary and the Kleinian realm of unconscious phantasy, However Kristeva’ s particular term needs to be further explained.

The semiotic stage of the child’s acquisition of language exists anterior to the mirror stage and is pre-predicative, or pre-phonological. It admits distinctive utterances, which are uncertain and indeterminate articulations, in that they do not yet refer to a signified object.Kristeva uncovered the semiotic disposition through her parallel study of poetic discourse and psychoanalysis. She writes , ,.,poetic language is, from a synchronic point of view, mark of the workings of the drives, (appropriation/rejection, orality/anality, love/hate, life/death) and from a diachronic point of view, stems from the archaisms of the semiotic body’ (Kristeva, 1984, p. 136, my emphasis).

The semiotic indicates the ‘marks of the workings of the drives’ which I stem from the archaisms of the semiotic body’, that is the primary relationship with the maternal body, the first body within which, and through which, the infant communicates. Kristeva recognises semiotic activity as a rupturing through language of the primary ‘pulsions’ of the drives. These pulsions are stored in a ‘chora’ , a term borrowed from Plato, meaning receptacle for the unnameable, improbable, hybrid, anterior to naming, to the One, to the father, and consequently maternally connoted to such an extent that it merits not even the rank of syllable’ (1984, p. 133).

The resonances between the semiotic and the Imaginary is obvious, in that in both the semiotic disposition, and the Imaginary, the child perceives itself to be part of the mother. There is no absence, or separateness, only presence- For Lacan the Imaginary is a result of primary repression, and is born of the process of splitting, which is necessitated upon entry into the Symbolic Order, This primary repression arises from the mirror stage, before which there is no unconscious, no Imaginary. Yet importantly for Kristeva, the semiotic does exist prior to the mirror stage.

With the semiotic disposition, writes Kristeva ‘We are dealing with disposition that is definitely heterogeneous to meaning but always in sight of it or in either a negative or surplus relationship to it’ (p. 133). Studies of psychotic discourse, (which partakes of more extreme textual/linquistic disruptions than poetic discourse, ) reveal that the workings of the semiotic are observably dependant of the body’ s drives. Within psychoanalysis the relationship between the drives and the utterance is ‘observable through muscular contractions and the libidinal or sublimated cathexis that accompany vocalisations’ (p. 134). As the analysand makes a verbal utterance, so she makes a bodily utterance, albeit unconsciously. This bodily utterance variously disrupts the tonality, rhythm, syntax and semantics of speech and the text.

7. A social phantasy system might be defined as shared network of phantasies that interpolate a group of individuals into playing parts in the resulting socially constructed phantasy system. This can have an alienating effect on the individuals concerned, who confuse the modality of experience, , phantasy , , for , reality’ . This confusion is the result of a cultural assumption that shared experience denotes , reality , , and that private, or unshared, experiences are the result of phantasies. In fact phantasy is a modality of experience which is always invested in reality, whether we are conscious of it or not, This is explored in more detail in the section on the work of R.D. Laing further on in this Chapter.

8. For a shocking and controversial account of how such a phallologocentric psychic economy feeds into ordinary men’ s iniquitous attitudes and abusive social behaviour towards women see Adam Jukes’ Why Men Hate Women (1993). This is a study of the psychological makeup of men who abuse women, informed by Jukes work with them from behavioural and psychoanalytic continuum that change towards women, and despairs of women who do try to have heterosexual relationships based on equality. This stance is a controversial one and uncomfortable when one realises it has been uttered by an informed male voice. Jukes argues that such abuse exists on a continuum that is all pervasive socially and leaves very little scope for equality. He actually advocates lesbian separatism for women.

9. For a feminist account of emotional responses as a guide to knowledge see Alison Jaggar ‘Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology’ in Gender/Body/Knowledge (1989). She writes,

‘...I appeal to a claim I have made elsewhere: the perspective on reality available from the standpoint of the oppressed, which in part at least is the standpoint of women, is a perspective that offers a less partial and distorted and therefore more reliable view ( … ) . Oppressed people have a kind of epistemological privilege insofar as they have easier access to this standpoint and therefore a better chance of ascertaining the possible beginnings of a society in which all could thrive… 1 would claim for this reason that the emotional responses of oppressed people in general, and often of women in particular, are more likely to be appropriate than the emotional responses of the dominant class. That is, they are more likely to incorporate reliable appraisals of situations (p. 162, my emphasis).

10. Although O’Connor and Ryan (1994) have demonstrated that an unproblematic clinical application of the Kleinian developmental schema is heterosexist, it is my contention that the contradictions at the heart of her observations of female psychosexual development admit the possibility of an alternative reading of her texts. I suggest that a detailed critical analysis of Klein’s texts indicates the possibility of another path to phallocentric other-focussed, heterosexual, child-bearing, ‘feminine’ development that is implicitly present in the gaps, incoherences and inconsistences in her work. I shall argue that, reread from a feminist perspective, Kleinian theory demonstrates, albeit unintentionally (perhaps unconsciously), the pathological nature of the psychic processes involved when an individual female is interpolated into this culturally normative path of development. Her work may also be read an account of the ‘compulsory’ nature of normative heterosexuality (Rich, 1980) imposed on women by a phallocentric psychosexual economy. My rereading of Klein suggests that to become (phallocentrically) ‘feminine’ involves a painful struggle underpinned by a process of sexual becoming based on achieving a particular form of existential self-estrangement, This is a controversial reading of Klein which may upset many Kleinians, and is one that 1 hope to substantiate throughout the remainder of this study.

11. Roszika Parker’s study Torn in Two (1995) to which I refer in Chapter 3, examines the problem of maternal ambivalence from an eclectic psychoanalytic perspective. She argues that maternal ambivalence can be manageable or unmanageable, and that unmanageable ambivalence is due largely to cultural taboos around maternal ambivalence which encourage women to disavow and repudiate destructive feelings towards their children. Parker suggests that these taboos should be challenged actively by all of us. Mothers would then feel able to experience and think about the full range of their constructive and destructive feelings towards their children consciously, free from the feelings of persecution attendant upon a series of identifications with unattainable maternal ideals . Manageable maternal ambivalence is a result of being able to experience the full range of feelings from good to bad consciously and think about them, rather than split them off or repress them. This containment of ambivalence Parker argues, leads to a creative exchange between mother and infant which enables separateness and mutuality to develop between them. However, a mother who is unable to think about her ambivalence may ‘act~out’ her destructive phantasies instead, resulting in a range of exchanges from neglect to abuse.

12 . I use the word ‘schema’ rather than ‘theory’, because , as Mitchell (1986) has argued, Klein’s work is based on a descriptive phenomenology of intrapsychic and intersubjective experience which is necessarily conflictual and dynamic, rather than linear and structural, as suggested by the word ‘theory’. I suggest that her texts attempt to adhere to close descriptions of those modalities of experience that are in confl ictual, temporally non-linear, yet dynamic relation to each other. ‘Schema’ therefore seems a more semantically evocative word suggestive of Klein’s point of narrative departure from the later Freud, whose work at that time attempted to adhere to a more linear, structural ‘theory’.

13. Issacs’ statement about phantasy and knowledge is 1 to my whole problematic, which is concerned with the affective investment necessary for acquiring knowledge about the world.

14. I suggest that ‘acting-out’ can be usefully understood as the opposite of ‘thinking’, in that the former connotes behaviour based on uncontained phantasy, the latter behaviour based on contained elaborations of phantasy, would like to present this as an alternative to the conventional polarisation of ‘phantasy’ and I thinking’ - Further on 1 shall suggest that phallocentric theory making may be understood as a form of ‘acting-out’ , in that it is characterised by an inability to adhere to limits, and is founded upon a phantasy of access to a universalist disembodied truth via the exercise of an emotionless process called , reason I , 1 shall suggest, using the work of other feminist critics of these theoretical structures,

that this ‘foundational fantasy’ (Brennan, 1993) is born of a masculinist acculturated inability to tolerate the ambivalence and frustration born of becoming sexually different from mother and the maternal realm ( Irigaray) in general.

15. It is my contention that the relational vehicle of container and contained is unavailable to the adolescent girl at an intersubjective level , during her journey through the Oedipal , rapids’ ( Ferenczi } - Rather than having an affirmative effect upon her sense of autonomy and sexual agency this journey has an estranging and disconfirming effect.

Her process of sexual becoming evokes the ‘primitive’ anxieties described by Klein ( 19321 due to the pull of dominant interpolations into phallocentric social phantasy system that has the effect of estranging her from her pre-pubescent sense of agency, and intellectual/bodily autonomy. Consequently she develops a fragile ego in contrast to the boy’s. The same social phantasy system supports the little boy’s need to separate radically from all that is deemed , feminine, which as a concept then takes on the role of container for all those primitive anxieties evoked by what is deemed alien or other to this phallologocentric psychic economy (see Brennan 1992, 1993; Irigaray 1974, 1991, pp. 34-53). This has an ego strengthening effect for him, and affirms his sense of sexual agency.





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