23 October 2011

Freud for females ... ?

This quote from Freud reveals all! Read the following to be enlightened:

"...When a male child first turns his curiosity to the riddles of sexual life, he is dominated by his interest in his own genital. He finds that part of his body too valuable and too important for him to be able to believe that it could be missing in other people whom he feels he resembles so much [my emphasis]. As he cannot guess that there exists another type of genital structure of equal worth [my emphasis], he is forced to make the assumption that all human beings, women as well men, possess a penis like his own.

This preconception is so firmly planted in the youthful investigator that it is not destroyed even when he first observes the genitals of little girls. His perception tells him, it is true, that there is something different from what there is in him, but he is incapable of admitting to himself that the content of this perception is that he cannot find a penis in girls. That the penis could be missing strikes him as an uncanny and intolerable idea, and so in an attempt at a compromise he comes to the conclusion that little girls have a penis as well, only it is still very small; it will grow later.

If it seems from later observations that this expectation is not realized, he has another remedy at his disposal: little girls too had a penis, but it was cut off and in its place was left a wound. This theoretical advance already makes use of personal experiences of a distressing kind: the boy in the meantime has heard the threat that the organ which is so dear to him will be taken away from him if he shows his interest in it too plainly.

Under the influence of this threat of castration he now sees the notion he has gained of the female genitals in a new light; henceforth he will tremble for his masculinity, but at the same time he will despise the unhappy creatures on whom the cruel punishment has, as he supposes, already fallen."

-- Sigmund Freud, 'Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood', Philosophers on Art: from Kant to the Postmodernists, Columbia University Press 2010 (ed. Christopher Kul-Want); originally published as 'Eine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci', 1910.


Now, my big question is: Does this psychoanalytic explanation of phallocentricity explain patriarchy? Or rather, is Freud's analysis merely a product of patriarchy?

Is the idea that women are 'missing' something, that they possess 'wounds', that they are 'unhappy creatures' a psychoanalytic discovery - i.e. in relation to the non-lack of having a penis - or a product of a patriarchal, phallocentric psychoanalysis? Are these assertions even possible without the assumption that a penis is the 'ground zero' of sexual being (and thus human being)? Is it not absurd to speak in such terms, as if the female's perspective on the male genitals (as foreign, as 'different', as lacking, even - to use the loaded term in reverse) is somehow inferior or secondary to the male's impressions of hers?

Perhaps, Freud is aware of this - I've not read widely enough to say - but certainly upon reading the above text, one has not only the impression that Freud is staking out something crucial to his general theory, but also that the quote itself explicitly delineates these obvious short-comings, this obvious oblivion (for which he cannot totally be blamed, given his epoch) to the inherent phallocentricity of his claims.

Moreover, this can be seen further in the fact that - here, at least - we have no 'female child' perspective to parallel the 'male child' one. Perhaps it's because Freud is male, I don't know. But my first reaction to this text was: Okay, but what do the female children think !?! Surely they, too, must be 'dominated by [their] interest in [their] own genital'? Surely they, too, must find it 'uncanny and intolerable' that others who they see as resembling themselves so closely have this odd protrusion where there shouldn't be one? Surely, if Freud's argument has any traction, the female child, too, is 'incapable of admitting to [her]self' that such a perception (i.e. the male child's odd protrusion) of difference can be correct? Does she, too, imagine that the boy's strange 'growth' will alter itself eventually to look like hers?

Maybe she does. But Freud doesn't seem to give her (and hence us) the chance to see her genitals as in fact not less-than a penis, but rather at least 'equal to' a penis (as he himself intones in relation to children's physical resemblance in all other respects).

For it seems that Freud assumes that there is a lack inherent in the simple biological fact that a female doesn't have something ostentatiously sticking out, like a penis or testicles, for example. But could this simple - banal - biological reality possibly equal 'lack'? I guess we are trapped by language, I am realising; I can't even speak about female genitals without there being a certain presupposition (in my own words and thoughts) that obviously females are lacking, because the penis protrudes. Lack is something 'missing'. The penis is missing from the female because, apparently, there is nothing to see. But, what if our idea of missing, of lack, was totally fucked up? And in fact constructed on this very idea of male supremacy?

I guess that's what many women have been saying for a while now. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is case in point. More recently, Luce Irigaray's Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, speaks about the female sex as being not one but 'already two' (though not divisible into ones); which fundamentally alters the dominant conception of sexuality. (I quoted Irigaray on this blog a couple of months ago: http://raddestrightnow.blogspot.com/2011/08/quote-of-day-yay-citation-du-jour.html.)

Maybe all this is bleedingly obvious and redundant, and maybe I've completely misinterpreted Freud. In any case, these are some questions that came to mind. Any thoughts very much appreciated.

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