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Toward postmodern masculinities.

The question, What does it mean to be a Man? may be perennial but current sociocultural changes make exigent its critical reassessment. The twentieth century has witnessed not only the first hundred years of psychoanalysis but also profound sociocultural and intellectual transitions that presage the ending of an "episteme," exposing the limits and conditions of a masterdiscourse that has governed Western reasoning since the medieval era (Reiss 1982, 1988). This "analyticoreferential episteme," characterizing the so-called "modern era," encodes epistemological and ethical standards that entrench patriarchal oppression by casting the "otherness" of womanhood as the commodified "object" of masculinist principles of enunciation and exchange, the subordinated "other" in a powerful logic and rhetoric of domination (Barratt 1993). As this masterdiscourse exhausts itself (and there is evidence it is so doing), our sociocultural code permits, among many other eventuations, renewed openings for feminist theorizing and feminist praxis, a critique of the way in which patriarchal suppositions are deeply inscribed in the rules that govern our thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting. While these notes are not the place to reenter the entire debate over these fundamental "epistemic" transitions as the contemporaneity in which feminism blossoms, their consideration is nevertheless crucially relevant to any question concerning psychoanalysis as liberatory discourse, the critique of masculinist hegemonies in all our sociocultural practices, and the potentiality of "postmodern masculinities."

Freud's psychology both stands as the apotheosis of modem reason, the heir to enlightenment values grounded in reflective-subjective and scientific-objective practices (as well as the successes of "technical rationality" or "instrumental reason"), and it stands as the harbinger of postmodern inspiration the exemplar of discursive practices that emancipate whatever may be excluded or repressed by the totalization of analytico-referential reason. In this sense, the discipline of psychoanalysis occupies a very significant but disconcertingly ambiguous position in relation to the critique of patriarchy (by which we mean a critique of the predominance of the male idiom and inflection in all our sociocultural practices of enunciation and exchange). In one frame, psychoanalytic doctrine can be seen as one of the last manifestos of patriarchal legitimation, an ideological structure that systematically rationalizes masculinism. In another frame, psychoanalytic method can be seen as an inspiration for feminist critique, an enigmatic and extraordinary challenge to the hegemonic structuration of masculinist discursive practices.

Since the sixties, the encounter between psychoanalysis and feminism has constituted a highly charged and highly significant body of literature, the promise of which has yet to be realized. As is well known, psychoanalytic theories and practices have been compelled to respond to virulent feminist criticism of their classical formulations concerning the conditions of womanhood. What is less well known is that psychoanalytic theory and practice, both classical and contemporary, have provided feminism with its major resource for serious theorizing (e.g., Benjamin 1988; Brennan 1989; Chodorow 1989; Irigaray 1974, 1977, 1984; Jardine 1985; Mitchell 1974, 1984; Moi 1987; Nicholson 1990). In relation to manhood, however, the issues have been less successfully debated. Most of us are acutely aware that the early psychoanalytic literature tends to take certain traditional and conventional mythologies of masculinity as its implicit and explicit standard. It is somewhat embarrassing that even by the end of this discipline's first century, only a few psychoanalytic practitioners have undertaken to scrutinize the operation of this standard critically (e.g., Fogel, Lane and Liebert 1986). Moreover, the attention of psychoanalytically sophisticated feminists to the questions of masculinity has been relatively recent (e.g., Jardine and Smith 1987; Penley and Willis 1993; Silverrman 1992).

If this is the intellectual context in which the task of a critical reevaluation of the question, What does it mean to be a Man ? acquires its exigency, there is also an important political and sociocultural context for this reappraisal: put simply, our notions of masculinity are shifting in their ethical form as well as their moral content, and psychoanalysis could and should be of inestimable service to those who are, in one way or another, wrestling with this question in their daily lives. As the millennium ends and we live through a time in which our ideas about the conditions of knowledge and the purpose of human existence in this universe are being encouraged to change dramatically, we currently witness a resurgence of reactive and defensive ideologies, including fundamentalisms of many varieties. In particular, as a response to the twentieth century's feminist challenge, which is often anticipated in a manner that is profoundly threatening, individuals, both men and women, are increasingly prone to resort to beliefs in essentialist definitions of masculinity.

Essentialist arguments function ideologically to render the values of the status quo immune from the call to change. For example, a definition of masculinity that asserts the fundamentality of genetically encoded neurophysiological characteristics can easily be used to relieve us of feminism's challenge by depicting patriarchal arrangements as "natural" and hence virtually irresistible. This is not the place to enter into a discussion of the ways in which biologizing explanations of the mind can be both otiose and, in a certain sense, delusional (especially when it comes to matters of the ethicality or morality of human thought, affect, verbalization, and conduct). However, it is important to note here the power of conviction that assertions about biological inevitability have over many people (including many so-called psychoanalytic" practitioners). Another important contemporary example of recourse to essentialist arguments is familiar to anyone who has studied the recent prominence of the so-called "men's movement," which has developed in response to the experience of uncertainties over sexuality and gender, articulated as if caused by the loss of traditional notions of manhood. This movement has produced some valuable literature (e.g., Brod 1987; Clatterbaugh 1990; Hudson and Jacot 1991; Kupers 1993; Ross 1992; Rutherford 1992). Of less value, however, is the frequency with which many "theorists" of this movement merely appeal nostalgically to an empowering archetypal imagery, the figurations of a primal nature to which supposedly men must "return" if they are to be "true" to themselves. Whatever the aesthetics of such definitions of manhood, which often employ the poetics of a Jungian imagination augmented by the syncretic use of diverse strands of ancient mythology, the rhetoric surrounding such imagery persuades by means of its essentialism which appears to insulate such beliefs from dispute (e.g., Hillman 1979; Johnson 1989,1991; Monick 1987; Tatham 1992). The appeal to ancient mythology and archetype, like all other modes of essentialism, effectively forecloses our critical thoughtfulness about why or how "masculinity" is as it appears to be, and why it has so often been founded as a maliciousness toward everything that is not "masculine," including the otherness of womanhood.

Unlike essentialist dogmas, psychoanalysis is a method of ideological critique, addressing the human subject as a construction of signs, a semiotic locus within the repetitious networks of meaningfulness (for example, as a sense of self established through the compulsion to repeat certain significatory configurations), and indeed addressing this construction as inherently divided, conflicted, or contradictory (for example, a subject whose sexual differentiation is formed under the aegis of "castration"). The notes to follow merely suggest how psychoanalysis educates us generally about the narrated character of our psychic realities (all reality" being significatory as well as dependent on the unicity of a linear temporality that prioritizes the presentness of the present as presence), and indicate briefly how psychoanalysis educates us particularly about the narratives of manhood, both actual and possible. Three distinctive features of the psychoanalytic account of the narratives of manhood and the masculinism of narrative should be noted at the outset:

(1) In our view, psychoanalysis is a conversational inquiry upon human experiences and understandings which, through its commitment to free-associative method, ensures its concern both with the significations of the body and with the bodiliness of all signification. As communicated in the awkward theorizings of Intensitaten, Besetzungen, and Triebe, psychoanalysis is concerned concomitantly with sensuality and language, or with discourse of the flesh (as the libidinality and aggressivity of the body), and with discourse of the word (the significations that constitute all our thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting); with desire and representationality. As the emancipatory science of passion and discourse, psychoanalysis is "neutral" in as much as it "assumes" for each individual the omnipotentiality or polyvalency of our eroticism (our body's "drive dispositions"), the plurivocality or polysemy of our articulations (our enunciations or utterances of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting), and hence the polymorphous potentiality of our sexual/gender differentiations (cf. Lingis 1985). That is to say, psychoanalysis "assumes" nothing, refusing to presume that there are any factors "extraneous" to the individual's existential Journey that are necessarily to be held to account for the character of this journey. As such, psychoanalytic interrogation is inherently anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist. Although many "psychoanalytic" practitioners have reneged from the scientificity of this "neutral" attitude, particularly when they adopt "developmentalist" or "adaptivist" dogmas, this attitude is the means by which psychoanalysis has rendered its most remarkable accomplishments, and it operates as a sort of proleptic tenet in every psychoanalytic interrogation.

(2) Psychoanalysis offers a constructivist account of the human subject's existential odyssey through the discourse of its flesh and the discourse of its word. As is well known, the discipline has expressed much about its discoveries concerning the psychic reality of sexuality and genderization through the thematics of Oedipal narration and the universality of "castration." These thematics will be further mentioned in what follows, but here we need note only how this constructivist and existential emphasis on the psychic realities of the individual's journey compels us to distinguish the representation of "masculinity" as a semiotic positionality (the privileged position that substantiates itself as the binary opposite of "femininity," an assertion of the significatory priority of identity-over-difference in all our discursive practices and narrations), from the representationality of "masculinity" as the "contents" of this positionality (the conventions that compose the descriptive characteristics that are culturally designated "masculine," including its agential orientation and its common proclivities such as activity, voyeurism, fetishism, reification, objectification, sadism, and dominance or "mastery"). In a valuable essay on identificatory processes, Adams (1991) has parsed out Freud's arguments about the "form" of masculinity (its structuration as the meaning of its difference from "femininity" as its binary opposite) and the "contents" of masculinity (its culturally normative descriptors). Since the form/content dichotomy has had a checkered history in other scholarly literatures, we use here the terminology of "positionality" and "content" of positionality, which will better connect our discussion with the current lexicon of semiotics (e.g., Coward and Ellis 1977; Kristeva 1975; Silverman 1983). When examining the thematics of sexual and gender differentiation, this terminology will help us distinguish accounts of the formation of positionalities, of the coherent of these positionalities, and of the relationship between such forms" and their contents.

For example, while patriarchal domination appears more or less universal (this being a matter of the positional dominance of the masculinist idiom or inflection in all sociocultural practices), the contents of what it means to be "masculine" are culturally variable even when ubiquitous (Gilmore 1990). Thus, in the context of our discussion of the significance of Oedipality and "castration," we suggest it is one matter to argue that all narration is phallocentric, another matter to explain why attempts to identify with the discursive centricity of "the phallus" should be associated so ubiquitously with particular descriptive features of "masculinity" (subjugation of the "object," and so forth), yet another matter to account for the historical and sociocultural specifics of men's oppressive power over women, and still another matter to comprehend the clinical finding that both men and women are routinely caught in a discursive network that equates possession of a penis (as virile and erect) with the locus of "the phallus" (as the unrepresentable principle of the origin and organization of all representationality, the generative source of significatory meaningfulness). It is the illusion of this equation, the fallacy of penile positivism, that seems to be most profoundly at issue in the struggle between a triumphantly capitalized Masculinity that accords with the epistemological, ethical, and narratological imperatives of the modern era (the logic and rhetoric of domination), and the possibility of postmodern masculinities.

(3) Through the exposure of phallocentricity, psychoanalysis informs us about narrative and the narration of "masculinity" in a way that discloses the extent to which the narratological imperative by which human affairs are cast is inherently masculinist, why this might be so, and what may be achieved through this insight. This disclosure suggests that not only is masculinity necessarily Oedipalized in one way or another, but so too are the fundaments of all narration; moreover, this conjunction accounts for the way in which Oedipal narration inaugurates psychoanalysis itself. In this sense, psychoanalysis, as the method of an ideological critique of the hegemony of Masculinity as capitalized, leads into a critique of the imperative of narratological structuration as girded by the masculinist metaphysics of representational time (Barratt 1993).

What follows begins by considering some of these general questions of narratology and Oedipality, proceeds to discuss "masculinity" both in general as the superordinate significatory positionality and in particular as positionalities with specific contents, and finally moves to a sketch of psychoanalytic discourse as the ideological critique of masculinism or phallocentricity.

Oedipalized Narration

The journey that Sophocles narrates, from the pathless hillside of Cithaeron, where an infant whose ankles have been pierced is left to die, to the grove of the Furies in sight of the hill of Demeter at Colonus, where the aged, blinded Oedipus is taken to his death, is in many ways the key narrative of manhood in the western tradition (Sophocles c.442-406 b.c.e.). Perhaps its importance is only matched by the drama in the mountains of Moriah where Abraham refrains from infanticide a reprieve which epitomizes the symbolic suicide in which a man becomes a father by acknowledging and accepting his own death in favor of his son's future, an acknowledgment which would seem to symbolize submission to the governance of patrilineage as suprapersonal Law (Torah/Genesis, 22:1-19; see Derrida 1974). In this tradition, the Oedipal narrative is a prototypical narrative of manhood and, so it can be argued, the privileged narrative of narration itself (cf. Brooks 1984, 1993; Chambers 1984; Lauretis 1984; Hirsch 1989; Jameson 1981; Scholes 1979). It is also, par excellence, the narrative of psychoanalytic endeavor, as well as "the shibboleth that distinguishes the adherents of psychoanalysis" (Freud 1920). Assuming the reader's familiarity with the Sophoclean cycle, let us note some of the ways in which the Oedipal narrative achieves this triple significance.

In one important sense, Oedipus's life "begins" with his father's mutilating him and attempting to kill him: Jocasta, his mother, tells us that "before three days were out after his birth King Laius pierced his ankles and by the hands of others cast him forth upon a pathless hillside" (lines 711-20). It is the swollen ankles, consequent of this mutilation, that give Oedipus his name; significantly, he is unnamed by his parentage, deprived of the name off his father (and thus, as we shall mention again below, Oedipus is not even given that token which might appear to save him from his death). Oedipus's augured destiny is to be the death of his father and this prophecy, together with Laius' mutilative, infanticidal response, sets in place the events of Oedipus's life. In a valuable essay which includes a critique of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus Kimball (1986, 35) has demonstrated that "the discourse of oedipaization is the discourse of infanticide or, rather, it is a discourse of infanticidal repression . . . the Oedipus complex is a reaction-formation and the inscription of it in the socius, a defense against an infanticidal desire the violence of which produces the socius and simultaneously threatens it." Although Laius's infanticidal intent has been less discussed in the psychoanalytic literature than Oedipus's patricide (Ross 1982), this seems to us a crucial aspect of the theorizing of masculinity and its constitutive desires (Girard 1972). Manhood now comes to be comprehended as a trajectory from one ineluctable act of violence and its semiotic or symbolic expression/repression to another, a trajectory that inevitably textualizes the erotics of masculinity.

If Oedipus's life "begins" as a reprieve from infanticidal wishes, it must be said that such wishes are integral to a man's failure in accepting his own mortality (by assuming the responsibilities of social fatherhood). We must note here both how the possibilities of a son's manhood are framed by his father's mortality, and how every birth has meaning to a father in terms of his own mortality (and fantasies of immortality). Arguably, a man's infanticidal intent toward his progeny is as inescapable as his fantasies of immortality. The implementation of this intent must be interrupted if the species and the socius are to be perpetuated (interrupted by Laius's bungling or by Abraham's reprieve), and this interruption sets in place the son's existential trajectory. In the Oedipus saga, we thus grasp the unavoidable significance of a son's birth as foretelling the mortality of the father, and the frustration or restraint of the father's infanticidal impulses as necessary for the perpetuation of our sociocultural arrangements. Such restraint implies the man's success in accepting his own mortality, and this success is vital to the transformation of the life of an adult male into what Wilson (1980) calls the "social fatherhood" necessary for the advent of "civilization."

Once the theme of infanticide and its interruption is given its due, we can appreciate how Oedipus's life is rendered, and his narrative necessitated, by an effort to elude the inevitability of death. In this context, we might argue that Oedipus's life trajectory has as much to do with death and representationality (the lineage of naming with its assertion of a virility-violence that "intends" to counter the beginnings and the ending of life in death) as it has to do with rivalry for the desire of the other, the "woman" as object of exchange (Girard 1972, 1978), although we shall find that these dynamics are inseparable. Thus, in a profound sense, all human life is constituted and composed of narrative, and, as has often been said, all narration is structured as the human assertion of life against the inherency of death, an "assertion" that marshalls both aggressivity and psychosexual positionality.

Although this might seem to be overtaxing the significance of the text, it is certainly noteworthy here that Oedipus himself, in giving an answer to the riddle of the Sphinx and thus acquiring his kingdom, names the rudiments of narrational structure, telling the terrifying She-Monster that a man's life has continuity as a beginning, a middle, and an end, as a locus of finitude bound by death. The Sphinx's riddle of human identity which, as Cameron (1968) and others have pointed out, is a variant of the Delphic injunction to Know Thyself, and Oedipus's answer specifies the possibilities of knowing as constituted against the "inner perimeter" of death. Human design and intentionality, as the assertions of life against death, are only meaningful because of their location within a narrative structuration that is both finite and compulsively repetitive: human life is narrational. We shall return to this in what follows.

However, here let us also briefly note the complex relations between naming and narration, and in particular the unique importance of that act of naming that appears to lie most within the - illusory - power of individual agency, the giving of a proper name. Such a name is a privileged sign because it asserts the illusion of an identity over the dispersal of temporalities; a proper name is a mark that seems to secure referentiality because it appears to reiterate an identity that is not descriptive. Naming thus upholds the illusory power of the subjectivity of the "I" and the intersubjectivity of the "me/you" over the significatory system by appearing as "a pact by which two subjects simultaneously come to an agreement to recognize the same object" (Lacan 1954-55, 169; cf. Kripke 1980). The name "thus functions as a kind of prohibition, but also as an enabling occasion [and] is a token of a symbolic order, an order of social law, that which legislates viable subjects through the institution of sexual difference" (Butler 1993, 152).

Receiving the Name-of-the-Father not only confers durability and recognizability on the "object" named, thus fixing this "subject" against the mobility of its desire, but also locates the named within the phallocentric discourse of nomination and designation as well as a patrilineal organization in which patronymic names appear to endure through the repetitiveness of circuitries of enunciation and exchange (the assertions of naming, the traffic in women, the exploitation of nature). Receiving the patronym thus intimates the father's death by the subjection and subjectivation of the son who survives, and is, by the same token, the guarantee that the son can never "come into his own" since he has no "own" to come into other than his place within the paternal order secured and resecured through his "own" alienation or estrangement in the repetitive maneuvers of enunciation and exchange by which "otherness" is subjugated. Under another description, the only "own" that Oedipus can come into is that of the dramatic moment of self-mutilation, the "now" of the I-Now-Is around which his story pivots, the "now" of both knowing oneself and blinding oneself to this knowing.

In this context, it is surely significant that Oedipus's name is a descriptor, "Swollen Foot," rather than the proper name of his father. "Swollen Foot" connotes both Oedipus's tumescence and his "castration," thus locating him both thematically and historically; moreover, as Rudnytsky (1987) suggests, the first syllable of "Oedipus" suggests oida, "I know," by which "Oedipus" may be rendered "Know Foot," indicating the self-knowledge of and through "castration" that is the story's pivotal epistemic occasion, the moment of definitive - but deferred - presentness. Thus, naming secures the appearance of an identity as the presentness of the present, and narration locates the named within the regimented temporality of representational law and order, the repetitive lineage of history. Put simply, naming and narration are all that secure signification against the fluidity of desire and the abyss of death: naming and narration secure the phallocentricity of the representational system, since it appears as a matter between fathers and sons, a dialectic of infanticide and patricide, with "women" functioning as the "otherness" of He who assumes the "Name-of-the-Father."

How then does life's narration "begin"? In one important sense the narrative of Oedipus' life "begins" with the interruption of his father's infanticidal intent (and with his not-being-named, his lack of the "Name-of-the-Father" betokened by his signature or "ur-name," Swollen Foot, the trace of his mutilation by an infanticidal father). However, there is another important sense in which Oedipus exists before he is even born. He is, in Kimball's (1986, 34) phrase, "an augured being" for it has been said, even before his birth, that Oedipus would be the death of his father. Interestingly, it is Jocasta who reports this prophecy and who emphasizes its ambiguous origin: "There was an oracle once that came to Laius, I will not say that it was Phoebus' own, but it was from his servants, and it told him that it was fate that he should die a victim at the hands of his own son ..." (lines 711-15). As is well known, Aeschylus's trilogy about the Oedipal myths places greater emphasis on this motif of an inherited curse than does the Sophoclean cycle. For the latter emphasizes the terrors of self-knowledge as well as the paradigmatic questions of awareness as the universal thematics of what Hegel dubbed the "guilt of innocence," which Freud described as that "strange state of mind in which one knows and does not know a thing at the same time" (cf. Ricoeur 1970; Rudnytsky 1987). Thus, in a very basic sense, Oedipus's life is, from before its "beginning," subjected to a significatory law and order: unnamed but foretold. This does not, however, obviate the ethical and moral drama of self-consciousness that Oedipus's saga epitomizes.

If, by the results of the prenatal prophecy and his father's inclinations, Oedipus's life is destined, fated, or foretold, we must equally take note of the way in which he achieves his manhood, and his life achieves its "middle." Indeed, we must take heed of the claims of his "I" to an autonomous intentionality, and indeed to the powerful prerogatives of kingship. At the opening of the play, surrounded by the suffering Theban children for whom he is taking responsibility, he refers to himself as "I Oedipus whom all men call the Great" (line 8). The Priest immediately reminds Oedipus that he is generally considered, not as a God, but as "the first of men in all the chances of this life" (lines 33-34). The Priest reminds us that Oedipus has already saved Thebes on a previous occasion by causing the Sphinx to commit suicide in a fit of rage because he alone could articulate the solution to her riddle, identifying the passage of a man's life from infancy, through manhood, to senescence. In conjunction with the unwitting act of patricide, this act of defeating the Sphinx is, we could argue, Oedipus's initiation into manhood, as ruler of Thebes and Jocasta's husband. Whether acknowledged or not, we would argue that manhood generally requires both the son's decision to embrace the father's death as his own apotheosis, his own decision to live on despite the consequences, as well as the defeat of primordial She-Monsters. The latter is illustrated not only by Oedipus's assertion of manly knowledge which sends the Sphinx into a suicidal rage, but also by his - thwarted - matricidal intent when Oedipus calls for a sword with which to kill Jocasta for her collusion with Laius's infanticidal plan, as well, perhaps, for her incestuous seductions (this being tied to Oedipus's earlier assertions of solidarity with Laius, his filiative defense of the prerogative of fathers). Manhood thus involves severance of certain ties to the maternal. In this connection, Gilmore (1990) emphasizes how, in most and perhaps all known cultures, men have to be made and, in an important sense, to appear to make themselves. The prerogatives of "masculinity" are a psychopolitical prize to be won - and inevitably, eventually lost - rather than the result of some "deep structure" that merely manifests itself without intervention (Tolson 1977).

This accounts for the historical and cross-cultural frequency of male initiation rites, formal and informal trials by which boys may enter, what Leiris (1939) called, the "fierce order of virility" which distinguishes them from women. It accounts especially for the apotropaic function of inflicting wounds on the boy-man's body (scarification, circumcision, subincision, castration), and especially for the mandate to brave near-death tests of skill and endurance. By these apotropaic rites, the boy pays a price for his manhood, marking on the body an emblem of his own mortality and castration, yet marking on his body also the emblem of a "word inside us stronger than all others," a word that "cannot be shared, only sacrificed" (Jabes 1963, 1987) - hence marking emblematically both a separation from the mother and a tribute to the death of the father (Bataille 1927-39; Derrida 1974, 1992). Oedipus, the unnamed, finds his name in his mark, the pierced ankles and swollen feet that signify his symbolic castration, his and his father's mortality, but that also signify his survival of the infanticidal event, his capacity to attain manhood and thence to die.

Oedipus's attainment of manhood is, as has been suggested, characterized by his claims to self-determination, the claims of his "I" to an autonomous intentionality and kingly prerogatives, even when these repetitively prove to be pretensions. Although this masculinity is initiated both by his ability to kill when provoked and by his ability to resolve the She-Monster's riddle (and thus perhaps accept that he too, having attained manhood, will age and die), it is nevertheless a masculinity based on enormous falsehood (he appears as savior of the Theban people but is also their downfall) and as magnitude of "(quasi) ignorance," for it can be argued that he does not know he has killed his father and he does not know he has married his mother. To say that this is the paradox of manhood is perhaps to overburden the notion of paradox. The acts for which Oedipus's life is most familiar are, of course, the killing of his father and the incestuous sex with his mother. Here the blindness of sighted "innocence" becomes crucial to the "paradoxes" of his masculinity in at least two respects, and these are controversial matters around which an enormous scholarly literature has accumulated.

First, it is perhaps important to note one reading of what Oedipus actually did - at least in the Sophoclean version of the myth. Under considerable provocation, he counterattacked and killed his father, who was riding a coach at the crossroads of Phocis, and who was at that time anonymous to Oedipus. Oedipus testifies how he was travelling on foot when an old man in the coach "wanted to thrust me out of the road by force," his coachman "was pushing me," and the old man "struck me from his carriage, full on the head with his two pointed goad" (lines 805-9); Oedipus in anger kills the man. As Culler (1981, 172-76) and others have pointed out, Oedipus admits to the killing despite the fact that it is never fully established that the victim was indeed his father. Rather, Oedipus, the other characters in the drama, and we the audience, come to believe in this coincidence because the logical and rhetorical momentum of the narrative demands it and, indeed, we might argue that Oedipus's guilt makes it more or less irrelevant whether it happened or not: without anything more weighty than circumstantiality, the narratological imperative makes it so, and Oedipus punishes himself accordingly.

Second, it is also perhaps important to note that, under one reading of the plays, Oedipus never has sexual relations with Jocasta while knowing her to be his mother: rather, the marriage and the raising of their children occur while Oedipus believes his mother to be Merope, the Dorian queen of Corinth. Jocasta hangs herself when the incestuous relation is exposed, and Oedipus, who had called for a sword in order - so it seems - to kill this woman, then blinds himself at the sight of his wife-mother's corpse, exiling himself thereafter.

In these ways, the "paradoxes" of falsehood and ignorance comprise Oedipus's manhood up to the point of his self-blinding and exile. These are the dialectics of not-knowing, knowing and unknowing, and they are akin to the way in which the No (the law-of-the-father that interrupts infanticide and then intervenes to prohibit incest) has, in one sense, never been articulated for Oedipus even though he has, in another sense, transgressed it nevertheless. Between not-knowing the known and knowing the unknown, around the constitutive forces of life's unknowability, the paradoxes of Oedipus's life trajectory make his narrative that of psychoanalysis itself.

Despite all the assertions of Oedipus's manly powers - his claims to self-determination, his "I" that appears to posit itself as an autonomous intentionality, and indeed all the powerful prerogatives of kingship - they are nevertheless proven to be nothing more than substantial pretensions (cf. Felman 1983). The coordinates of Oedipus's life, his narrative, are scarcely a matter of his choice: rather, Oedipus's destiny is "lived out" from "elsewhere." If choice is ever operative in the attainment of manhood, it centers on the moment of Oedipus's self-mutilation, augmented by the manner of his subsequent death at Colonus (cf. Lacan 1954-55). This is the moment around which the entire drama is played, a moment of the presentness of the present, the I-Now-Is, in which the multitudinous anarchy of "past-futures" appears to be "re-presented" (Barratt 1993).

The Sophoclean drama weaves themes of infanticide, incestuous desire, and patricide into a complex configuration that pivots around the moment at which Oedipus, so we are told, blinds himself upon seeing his mother-wife's suicide. This blinding, the assertion of a present moment in which destiny transmutes into (self-) governance and impulses are arrested by the mandates of civilization is, so psychoanalysis suggests, a universal story of human epistemology and ethicality: the reflectivity of consciousness, the "I" that is positive it knows what it thinks and is what it is, is Oedipal. This is because the Oedipal legend is that of a subject divided between the multiple formative dimensions of his temporalities, its histories. It could be argued that this subject is intentionally self-governing only in the moment that he embraces his own "castration," refusing to see what he knows in a dramatic moment of presentness (a moment which is actually displaced or deferred in as much as Oedipus's self-mutilation, significantly enough, occurs offstage, reported to the audience by a messenger).

The subject of reflective awareness repeatedly refuses to see what he knows, or to know what he sees, namely his own constitution within the patrilineage of infanticide and patricide by which men attempt to ward off death, as well as the conjugation of desire and death represented by the otherness of woman (the She-Monster, the mother-wife, and Antigone who is the sacrificed daughter). It is only by self-sacrificial mutilation and exile that Oedipus lives, at least until Colonus; it is only by an act of exclusion, foreclosure, or repression that the "I" of reflective consciousness acquires its semiotic self-certainty or self-substantiation against the vivacious mobility of an otherwise "desirousness," the primordiality of chaos, and the inherency of death in all our being-in-the-world. This is the dynamic by which we may comprehend how, at Colonus, "Oedipus ends up presenting" not a solution to the riddle of man's life "but the paradoxical gift of an enigma: the gift (of speech, the blessing) of the enigma of his own death" (Felman 1987, 142); Am I made man in the hour when I cease to be? is, according to Lacan's (1954-55, 214) interpretation, the decisive question raised by Oedipus at Colonus.

Attachments, Identifications, and Castrations

There are, of course, many readings of the Oedipal legend (cf. Goux 1990; Kerenyi and Hillman 1991); there are also many variations in psychoanalytic comprehension of the human significance of Oedipality (cf. Mullahy 1948). However, what we are arguing here is that if Oedipalized narration represents a prototypical narrative of manhood, the privileged narrative of narration itself, and the exemplary narrative of psychoanalytic endeavor, we must appreciate it on at least three levels: (1) As a saga of the inevitability of infanticidal, patricidal, and incestuous longings in the constitution of manhood; (2) As the myth of a temporal lineage in which falsehoods and ignorances seem to be progressively dispelled in a momentum of disclosure that apparently culminates in the present presences of a reflective awareness that cannot bear itself, that attains knowledge in the deferred or displaced presentness of a self-mutilation, and that is, in any event, prescribe from "elsewhere" and inherently governed by its "being-unto-death"; and (3) By virtue of these occasions, as the story of narration itself, of representationality as the ambition of life against death, the story of representationality and "otherness."

If Oedipalized narration constitutes our notions of manhood, we must note how the Oedipal complexities of masculinity involve a medley of conflicts over gender and generation. Here psychoanalytic accounts of the boy's attainment of manhood are governed by the narratological imperative, the conflicts of gender and generation being founded as the semiotic aporia of all narrational structuring: conflicts of gender derive from the establishing of significant differences, and conflicts of generation derive from the historicity of significatory transformation. As we shall suggest, both concern the fundamentality of the repetition compulsion in the founding of narrational meaningfulness.

As is well known, psychoanalytic accounts of gender and generational conflict depict the boy's formation through ontogenetic sequences of attachments and identifications (as well as the ubiquity of matters of "castration" in all modes of discursive relation). Although the descriptions of these processes vary considerably, from Freud's (1905) assertion of innate bisexuality, to Winnicott's talk of the "split-off male and female elements to be found in men and women," or to Kohut's (1977) "bipolar self" and many other formulations, such accounts generally emphasize the inevitability of conflicts between what might be called "masculine" and "feminine" dispositions. These psychoanalytic accounts generally emphasize the semiotically constructed character of masculinity through accumulative processes of identification, and they emphasize the plasticity of these identifications through which "masculinity" is formed; psychoanalysis has always noted the interchangeability of sexual/gender positionality whereby, for example, in masturbation fantasy and day- or night-dreaming, "masculine" imageries may serve to occlude "feminine" identifications (e.g., Freud 1915). Indeed, clinical experience and understanding show how routinely identifications become fixated at the enormous cost of psychic suffering. When we appreciate these dynamics and ontogenetic aspects, there can be no question that the acquisition and stabilization of a "masculine" identity is - as Freud (1905) indicated - a "laborious" accomplishment, one that must be continually reasserted via the compulsions of repetition (Barratt 1993).

However, if most psychoanalytic accounts emphatically theorize the vicissitudes and transformability of identifications (as well as the tenuousness of their establishment by means of repetition compulsion), it must be admitted that most have poorly theorized the key question concerning the hegemony of the "masculine" over the "feminine," both on the general level of sociocultural discourse and on the specific level of the boy's formation. Identifications are supposedly determined by attachments, and vice versa. Clinically, it is all too familiar that one may establish an identification in relation to an "object" because one loves it or hates it, or wishes to be loved by it or hated by it, and so on: one may identify out of love, out of the wish for love, out of fear of loss, out of loss itself, out of loss of love, out of fear for oneself, etc. And, beyond all these apparently "dyadically" produced effects, one may identify with an "object" because of what one perceives of its relation to a different "object": for example, becoming like a father-figure out of wishes for the love of a mother-figure, and vice versa, as in the entire gamut of "triadically" produced permutations that we clinically describe as an Oedipal complex.

Since Freud's earliest efforts, it has become increasingly evident - and has been discussed by commentators such as Adams (1991), Borch-Jacobson (1982), Mitchell (1988), and many others - that although the reciprocal implication of identifications and attachments may be descriptively convincing, psychoanalytic theorizing has been utterly unable to specify the determinative relation between them. The apparent fixity of identifications because of attachments (and vice versa) cannot be explained in terms of these theoretical constructs alone. Thus, just as Freud (1930, 1931) seems to have admitted that he could find no necessary connection between womanhood and femininity, we cannot actually explain, in terms of identifications and attachments, why a boy is more likely to turn out "masculine" than not, and more likely to suppress "feminine" identifications. While these matters cannot be elaborated here, it is important to note that in the face of these sorts of difficulties in clinical theorizing, psychoanalysts have usually retreated along two paths.

The first resorts to vague assertions about the "cultural pressures" which compel the boy to become "masculine" (and the woman to be "feminine"). While one would not want to discount the significance of such "pressures," these sorts of theoretical pronouncements always are unsatisfactory in that they leave unexplained the formation of these sociocultural compulsions. This amounts to an essentialist view of "culture" which usually depends on a retrograde biologistic argument about the "naturalness" of exigent sociocultural arrangements - as has been shown, for example, in feminist criticism of Horney's culturalist emphases (see Mitchell's essay in Lacan 1964-80).

The second path resorts more immediately to essentialist assertions about the way in which the psychical components of "masculinity" are, for the boy, somehow encoded in his biological constitution, or about the way in which the endowment of "component instincts" predisposes the boy to "masculinity." While one would not want to discount the significance of the biological historicity of the body, it is, of course, difficult to see how mere reference to alleged constitutional factors resolves the problem of comprehending the ways in which conflicts of gender and generation are psychically inscribed and existentially transacted (Bersani 1982; Johnson 1987). Moreover, "drive theory," whatever its virtues in clinical description, is conveniently circular when deployed for the post hoc "explanation" of psychical events (phenomena are the way they are because of instinctual factor z, and we know that instinctual factor z is operative because of the characteristics of phenomena x). Appealing to the biological basis of sexual/gender differentiation is a retrograde mode of explanation to which Freud was, in a certain sense, adamantly opposed (see Mitchell in Lacan 1964-80).

This is why Freud insisted that the "castration complex" is of the "profoundest significance" in the formation of both the "he" and the "she" of personality (see Barratt 1993, 106). But what exactly is this "castration complex" that both assures the apparently reiterative "fixity" of certain identifications and (re) produces the masculinist hegemony?

For too many psychoanalysts, including Freud, it has seemed too self-evident that the "castration complex" effects the differentiated formation of masculinity/femininity in boys and girls because of the anatomical distinction between the penis and the vulva. As is well known, this has resulted in yet another essentialist account (for which the psychical experience of anatomy is destiny), as well as a literalist depiction of the effects of castration imagery. Whatever clinical guidance may be provided by the aphorism that "castration anxiety is not a metaphor" (Rangell 1991, 3), it is theoretically problematic. This has been discussed extensively elsewhere in terms of: (1) the assumption of the priority of visual and sensory experience over the cognitive and affective construction of such experience, which Williams (1989) characterizes as the "frenzy of the visible" in masculinist discourse; (2) the assumption that such a "primary" experience of the penis/vulva difference must necessarily be construed in terms of domination/deficit, rendering the vulva as a mere not-penis or lack; and (3) the assumption that such a construction is necessarily linked to the prohibition of the incest taboo via the fantasies and actualities of childhood masturbatory practices.

While these notes are not the place to review such arguments, it is these sorts of theoretical problems with the literalistic interpretation of the significance of "castration" that have rendered so important the distinction between the phallus and the penis - a distinction for which we have to thank Lacan despite his trenchant and reactionary commitment to an immutable phallocentricity that is difficult to interpret except in terms of his chauvinistic androcentrism (cf. Gallop 1982, 1985, 1988; Lacan 1972-73). The phallus is the "signifier of signifiers": significatory systems (including percepts, concepts, affects, and the life) are foundationally structured in terms of binary oppositions (presence/absence, male/female), and the "phallus" is the centralizing and unifying principle of organization of all such semiotic systems, asserting identity-over-difference in the repetitive structuration of oppositions such that the one always appears reiteratively to establish itself by subjugating the other. Itself unrepresentable, the phallus is thus the originary principle of all representationality, equivalent to the illusion of I-Now-Is, the identitarian illusion of a generative source of all semiotic meaningfulness, the identitarianism of which appears to secure the possibilities of any and all referential or rational signification. Since the "I" articulates transformations between representations but does not itself generate their meaning, it is with respect to the phallus as the identitarian locus of all generativity that thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting subjects are always and forever "castrated."

Narration and "castration" are thus consequences of the phallocentricity of signification. Narration revolves around the metaphysics of a singular present, a point around which a beginning (the originary past-present), a middle (the present-present), and an end (the final future-present) may be organized potentially in a linear, progressive order of revelation. Castration involves the impossibility of this present being identical to itself as the reiterativity of I-Now-Is, the notion that meaningfulness is always generated from somewhere "other" than its subject of enunciation and exchange; "castration" is thus the difference of a subject that takes itself to be identical with itself, and so establishes reflectively the identitarian illusion of knowing itself. If this notion of the "phallus" - as the generative locus that the subject of thought, affect, verbalization, and conduct can never attain - explains something fundamental about the operation of the various sign systems in which we live and by which we are lived, accounting for the way in which the mobility and fluidity of desire can only ever appear to be fixed, established as a stably reiterated meaning in the presencing of the present, then the subject of discourse is always and forever castrated. "I" can enunciate and exchange meanings but I delude myself whenever I believe that this "I" can itself produce meaning, because meaning is always determined by the systemic structuration of semiotic law and order of which the "I" is itself an effect.

We arrive at the conclusions that all narration is organized phallocentrically, and each subject of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting, is "castrated," created by the phallocentricity of the narrative rather than creating its "own" narration. Recall here that the Oedipal moment in which the "I" knows, the pivotal "now" of the lifestory which is also the moment in which the subject concurrently and concomitantly both resigns itself to being mastered from elsewhere (by the auguries, by the infanticidal father, by the issue of naming, and by the inherency of death in the assumption of manhood) and realizes its mastery by acknowledging its insurpassable "castration," its "self-exile" as the alienated or estranged positionalities by which its desire is intimated, and its constitution as being-unto-death. If the notion of the phallocentricity of discourse bound only by death enables us to comprehend the structuring of the semiotics of narration in terms of transformations of (op) positionalities that are dominant/subordinate and organized around the apparent unity of the presentness of the present, it also enables us to comprehend the inaugural violence of phallocentric discourse in maneuvers of naming and nomination by which the otherness of all that is not-masculine is subjugated in its designation; for this inaugural violence replicates the lineage of infanticide/patricide around the economy of whatever is "other" (cf. Leclaire 1975).

In this context, the questions of postmodern masculinities are brought into focus: How is it that men have so often appeared phallic, and what modes of discursive or bodily praxis can subvert the phallocentricity of our life's meanings?

It would seem that the preeminent "phallic illusion" is that possession of a penis is equivalent to the capacity to think, feel, speak, and act, from the positional centricity of the phallus (cf. Speziale-Bagliacca 1982). The ubiquity of this "ideology" (more precisely, the identitarian mainspring of all ideology) which we earlier dubbed "penile positivism," must be comprehended not only on the level of psychoanalytic theorizing about the formation of masculinities and femininities, but also on the level of anthropology (cf. Smith 1990). In relation to the latter, there is a complex argument linking the advent of symbolizable sign systems, the establishment of the incest taboo, and the advent of fatherhood as a sociocultural institution sometime in the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene eras; we shall not reenter this discussion here (see Wilson 1980, 1988). In relation to the former, we need to comprehend how it is that the phallocentricity of the narratological imperative, augmented throughout the modern era by the analytico-referentiality of discourse, upholds the dominant fictions of masculinist prerogatives, how it is that each man's development is, in one way or another, predicated on the ubiquity with which the penis so routinely obscures the reality of every man's "castration" (see the discussion of Leclaire's ideas in Silverman 1992). Is the penis merely a "translation" of the mythical notion of a locus from which all meaning is generated, the establishment of identitarian positions secured, and if so, why should it seem so inevitable a "transition" (cf. Lemoine-Luccioni 1976)?

In an interesting essay, Gallop (1988, 127) argues that it is impossible "at this moment in our history, to think a masculine that is not phallic, a masculine that can couple with a feminine," yet she considers "that very impossibility to be nonetheless an urgent necessity - it is urgently necessary to think a masculine that is not phallic, to think a sexuality that is not arrested in the phallic "phase" - the "phase" in which modern practices of enunciation and exchange are fixated, the ubiquitous "phase" that construes masculinity as phallic and femininity as its subjugated opposite. Thus, we return to the question concerning the bodily and discursive practices that might disimplicate the penis from its delusory pretense as phallus, and so might provide postmodern masculinities with a liberatory praxis.

Psychoanalysis and the

Ideological Critique of Masculinism

It would seem that postmodern masculinities are both impossible and urgently necessary. But what would such an antiphallocentric praxis entail? Postmodern masculinities would have to operate against the repetition compulsion, as a critique of the logical, rhetorical, and narratological imperative to establish a superordinate positionality in a designated present organized around the identitarianism of phallocentric representationality. The analytico-referentiality of the modern era, epitomized as the imperial domination of technocratic reason over its designated otherness, has reinscribed patriarchal signification as the apparent seamlessness of a monolithic and exclusive mode of empowerment. Against this, postmodern masculinities would be marginalized or subversive occasions wherein the hegemony of a capitalized Masculinity is destabilized, defamiliarized, or deconstructed, implying a critique that demonstrates how masculinist "reason" is founded as the fixative repression of mobility, the "nonreason" of all that is designated "other" (cf. Bataille 1954). Necessarily unable to formulate an alternative narration of manhood, the postmodern impetus would thus locate itself through breaks in patriarchy's absolutism. In the remainder of these notes, we can merely point preliminarily to the implications of such an anti-phallocentricity for the narratives of masculinity, for the erotics of manhood, and for the performance of psychoanalytic discourse.

The Oedipality of narration implies the inevitability of virility-violence in the trajectory of men's lives: in the "beginning" as victim of the infanticidal intent of one's father, in the "middle" as agent of patricidal intent toward one's father and of infanticidal intent toward one's son, and then at the "end" as victim of the patricidal intent of one's son (and all of this is contextualized in a discursive economy that treats whatever is "other" as the material of enunciation and exchange). In a fundamental sense, none of this is escapable although to an extent it may be "contained" (or "defended against") in various ways through the maneuvers of repetition compulsion, maneuvers which establish the structuring of narration against the inevitability of absencing, inherent contradictoriness, kinesis, and "deathfulness" (cf. Lingis 1989).

Thus, on the agenda for postmodern masculinities might be a renewed experimentation with fatherhood, confronting as a crucial question how to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood without reinstating the tyrannies of phallocentricity. There can be no specification of an alternative fatherhood, one that might pretend to escape the virility-violence of patrilineage. Rather, postmodern masculinities would have to perform fatherhood in a way that acknowledges these unavoidable foundations but undermines or ameliorates their oppressiveness. This would be a fatherhood that intimately engages its sons and daughters and that embraces knowingly, by accepting in silence, the suicidal condition of paternal sacrifice, while continuing to insist on the boundaries of the incest taboo - as contrasted with mere impregnation, a fatherhood that is as involving as motherhood. Thus, fatherhood would assume the mantle of a precarious and precious responsibility but would also perform and reperform the penultimacy of self-sacrifice. We are suggesting here neither an authoritarian fatherhood nor the absurdity of an anti-authoritarian fatherhood, but rather one that ironizes itself, participating in the naming of the child yet embracing the sad silence that comes from renunciation of the immortality of transcendence, a penitent's refusal of the illusions of mastery (cf. Kierkegaard 1843; Kristeva 1980). This might be fatherhood as pharmakos, consisting of a "nonidentity-with-itself always allowing itself to be turned against itself" (Derrida 1972, 119; cf. Taylor 1987): fatherhood as engaged, castrative, renunciative, sacrificial, and compassionate, thus countering both the virility-violence of traditional patrilineage and the inescapability of human depravity as "civilization."

But what of virility itself, the distinctively male gyrations of the sexual body? If postmodern masculinities would require the ethicality of an awareness of evil within, as much as a radical openness to all that is otherwise, then they would comprise an eroticism that moves "otherwise" than the identitarian text of self-possession and other-domination, conquest or possession - an anti-phallocentric erotics of manhood. In a certain sense, the performance of such sexualities would entail a movement that "devirilizes" the phallic subject of identity and domination, mobilizing instead the erotics of the entire sexual body in a celebratory kinesis of the pleasures and enigmas of our sensualities. This would not imply that the pleasures of the penis have to be renounced or virility itself abnegated. But it would imply the "ex-static" dispossession of reflective consciousness, the deferral or displacement of the subject of "he-who-fucks" the "object" of his intent.

Against such fixations, postmodern masculinities might well cultivate a serpentine eroticism of the sexual body, taking pleasure in a virility that is a celebration of the life force, the brio by which life is affirmed and hence death both embraced and held temporarily in abeyance. But this would be altogether different from the conquistadorial virility that equates the erect penis with the primordial myth of the phallus that pretends to banish death altogether and so, by establishing itself in a permutative set of identifications or positionalities (that are variously autoerotic, homoerotic, and heteroerotic) repetitiously fixates the subject, repressing or foreclosing its inspiration as the mobility of its desire. Postmodern masculinities would thus embrace "postphallic" pleasures of the flesh that move against the binarism of sexual positionalities as the fixities of masculine/feminine, and against the "phenomenology of fucking/being fucked."

It becomes evident that both the incest taboo and the valorization of the "other" as commodified object depends on this narratological imperative by which the phallocentricity of the "I-Now-Is" attempts to establish the beginning and ending of life itself by repressing the movement of life through desire and death. While the incest taboo must be maintained by the father, postmodern masculinities would nevertheless work and play through and against the repetition compulsions that result in a logic and rhetoric of phallocentric positionalities that depend on the subjugation of an oppositionality (man over woman, masculine over feminine, technocracy over nature, master over slave). Such a "work-play" is exemplified by the free-associative discourse that is the sine quo non of psychoanalysis.

All this has been discussed in more detail elsewhere (Barratt 1984, 1993). But let us note here that if postmodern masculinities would celebrate an eroticism that is temporally unrepresentable, an anarchic dispersiveness of "past-futures" through the sensuality of the flesh, they would also embrace a discourse of questioning that refuses replicative play, a poetics of "saying" that eludes the "said" because the "said" reinstates the phallocentric myth, the word of an absolute patriarchal god, the Name-of-the-father (cf. Levinas 1974). Such a discursive practice is exemplified by the discipline of free-associative interrogation, in which both the psychoanalyst and the patient are, in a certain sense, "devirilized." The psychoanalyst's free-associative commitment abjures the posturing of the "authority who knows," but work-plays through his or her fluctuating loci as paternal, as maternal, as the mythical origin of significatory law and order, and, most profoundly as a moment of discourse that is forever "otherwise" than identitarian. The patient's free-associative commitment unlocks his or her compulsively repeated identifications and attachments, which are positionalities, organized around the mythematics of the "mother's breast" and the "father's penis," in relation to the superordinate illusion of the phallus as generative source of significatory meaningfulness.

Such a discourse accepts that the subject of enunciation and exchange can never be in the - illusory - position of the phallus, and that there is no manhood other than a castrated manhood. Yet it proceeds as an interrogation of the oppressiveness of all semiotic positionalities that are organized as if this were not so. In this way, free-associative method is the liberatory dimension of psychoanalytic discipline. Oedipus, the patient, and the psychoanalyst do not arrive at self-knowledge as the alienated fixity of assured interpretations, as the swelling of tumescence, the conceit of mastery of life over death. Rather, they cast themselves into a deconstructive movement of interrogation, bearing truthfulness-as-process that is the anti-narratological wisdom of an awareness of one's insurpassable castration. This is the truthfulness of the subject as the kinesis of desire in the estrangement of its significatory realization. Accepting the inevitability of Oedipality, against the conceits of analytico-referential domination, conquest and possession, postmodern masculinities would engage a praxis of work and play, labor and love, that "authenticates" itself by mobilizing the impossibilities of life's celebration.


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Author:Barratt, Barnaby B.; Straus, Barrie Ruth
Publication:American Imago
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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