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What theories women want: the shift in psychoanalytic theory.

The Shift In Psychoanalytic Theory

In the last twenty years, a paradigm shift has been occurring in Anglo-American psychoanalytic theory and practice. This shift is still in course. Its outcome is uncertain, however, for, while it is being promoted and celebrated, it is also being criticized and rejected within the world-wide guild of psychoanalysts. Further, the history, causes, implications, and meanings of the shift have only begun to be studied, and it has not generated a critique in its own terms--a psychoanalytic critique. That is, it has not gotten to the point of depoliticizing. Polemic is still its mode, and it is marked--pro and con--by vying for leadership, for influence, for historical place, and for succession, which might mean, in the paradigm shifters' camp, triumph over Freud or, at least, the capacity to go on without looking constantly backward to the founder.

Two dimensions of this shift are, however, completed and no longer have an atmosphere of battle about them. First, there is general agreement that psychoanalysis needs to be--and to an extent has been--purged of its period-piece scientific assumptions; that is, purged of its nineteenth century mechanistic concepts, its Helmholtzian hydraulic metaphors, its Darwinian teleological supports for prescriptive notions of normality, its reductive biologism, and its consistently dualistic esprit de systeme. Second, there is general agreement that Freud's views of female psychology were (in Ernest Jones's term) "phallocentric" and need revision. Of the plethora of revisions that have been offered, it seems to me that two have passed into common Anglo-American acceptance. Little girls, one new clinical consensus states, have genital sensations and are aware of their genitals earlier than Freud thought and probably prior to their consciousness of sexual difference. A related consensus stipulates that female penis envy is neither so undifferentiated nor so determinative as Freud thought. Penis envy is very obvious in many clinical contexts, but it need not constitute for women generally an identity-determining factor, and it should not be considered as arising in a particular developmental moment. Penis envy does not begin with a single flash of unhappy visual recognition, but assumes different forms in different developmental stages. Both of these claims imply that female development has a course of its own--or, more likely, courses (in the plural)--and is understandable neither from reference to female children's recognition of male children nor by extrapolation from male development.

Past these areas of consensus, however, the topic of female development opens out on the wider arena of the psychoanalytic shift in course and is part of its embattled state. To see why this is so, and to begin to describe the shift, let me name it with reference to its ancien regime--it is "anti-Oedipus." The paradigm shifters say, most fundamentally, the Oedipus complex is not, as Freud constantly and consistently argued, the nucleus of the neuroses. The nucleus of the neuroses as well as the crux of development is the period called "preoedipal." Almost all psychoanalysts would agree that the preoedipal period needed the closer attention that Freud began to give it late in his life, but not all would agree that it is the pathogenic era or the crux of development. But this controversy really centers around the critical claim that the preoedipal is not to be understood with Freud's synonym, "the pregenital," that is, it is not to be understood in terms of Freud's instinctual drive theory as the period in which libido is expressed primarily in and through the oral and anal erotogenic zones and in which aggression takes primarily the forms of oral sadism and anal sadism. Neither anatomy nor the instinctual drives are in any way destiny, and the erotogenic zones do not, in their erotogenicity, reflect any inborn program of biological maturation.(1)

Within the camp of the new psychoanalysis, there are many contingents. Some, under the influence of Melanie Klein, do have a drive theory, one focused on the death instinct and aggression as much or more than on sexuality. But, generally, it is Klein's object relations narrative that has been appropriated, and her drive theory left behind, as her work has been read together with that of other British analysts--Guntrip, Fairbairn, and Winnicott in Klein's generation--to make up a broad contingent called "Object Relations." This venue is much more concerned with intrapsychic object relations--introjections, identifications and projective identifications--than is the American contingent, influenced by Sullivan, by Horney and the "Cultural Freudians," and by empirical social psychologists, who stress intersubjective or interpersonal relations. Among those of a third contingent, whose primary influences are theorists of narcissism like Heinz Kohut, preoedipally constructed "self objects" are the key sites of attention.

But, although the object relations schools and the interpersonalists and the self psychologists are separated by many theoretical differences, they do share the conviction that developing children and adults should be conceptualized as beings who have a basic need and capacity for relationships. Humans should not be conceptualized as moved by their desire for erotic (in the broadest sense) pleasure and as pursuing their goal aggressively. Development is not a story of drives necessarily--even tragically--in conflict with "the reality principle" and with familial and societal regulations, with civilization. Stephen Mitchell puts the contrast this way:

Mind has been redefined from a set of predetermined structures emerging from inside an individual organism to transactional patterns and internal structures derived from an interactive, interpersonal field. (Mitchell 1988, 17)

And it is very clear that this contrast supports a basically optimistic vision of humans having the capacity to develop as unconflicted, harmonious beings capable of harmonious living-together.

From this fundamental anti-Oedipus, anti-instinctual drive theory position, many auxiliary theoretical claims follow. First, as the maternal dyad, not the triad of father-mother-child, is the crux of development, "good enough mothering," to use Winnicott's phrase, is the key to the envisioned mental health and harmony. Many contemporary analysts will even go so far as to divide the world into those who have had good enough mothering and those who have not--the well and the ill--and argue, further, that all of the ill suffer from narcissistic disorders, disorders of self-esteem, or relational disorders. This for example, is Donald Rinsley of the Menninger Clinic speaking in the graceless jargon of today:

... [While] oedipal-type conflict and rivalries certainly appear during the latter part of a child's pre-school years, the healthy child, possessed of a sound, nascent self-identity resulting from an optimal balance of interdigitated growth and dependency needs, proceeds to deal with these conflicts and rivalries with little or no personal and interpersonal perturbation. Of course, such balance is achieved as a result of the child's mutual attunement with an empathic, good enough mother and a healthy father who both nurtures the mother and provides for the child's ongoing separation-individuation .... The same may be said of the period of adolescence, the regressive-recapitulative features of which were classically cited to support the long since discredited view of the adolescent as a turmoil-ridden, even normally psychotic victim of untrammeled instinctual drives unleashed by surging and shifting hormones and the psychological effects of frightening bodily changes. (Rinsley 1989, 43)

As this passage indicates, another feature of the new psychoanalysis is its focus on issues of separation and individuation from the mother, from the mother-child dyad, but with a slant in favor of normal dependency, not the achievement of autonomy. The child does not begin in a symbiosis with the mother, but in a relation with her, and then the child grows into a more mature relation with her that is modeled on the original one. Individuation does not mean autonomy, it means connectedness, relatedness. There is, correlatively much less stress on adolescence as the period in which a "second individuation" brings about autonomy or independence from the family and from intrapsychic dominance by paternal imagos. Indeed, adolescence almost falls out of the picture in the new psychoanalysis, for a healthy childhood simply leads to an unproblematic adolescence, as this quotation from Rinsley says explicitly, without qualification.

There are, as I indicated, differences in the new psychoanalytic camp, but more often than not the mother who is so central to the new psychoanalysis is the child's real mother, she is not a mixture of a real person and the child's fantasy, not a mixture of perception and imagination or representation. The emphasis is on intersubjectivity. And the mother's needs as well as her relational abilities are assessed theoretically while the child's needs and developing abilities are assessed--they are an interactive unit. Similarly, in terms of technique, the focus on the real mother and her empathic "good enough mothering"--and the lack of such in pathology, or as pathology--entails stress on relational reparations. Analytic therapy is to provide the missing mothering, to allow the patient to begin again. Where deprivation was, there empathic nourishing shall be--that is the therapeutic motto, not "where id was, there ego shall be."

The mature individual envisioned in the new psychoanalysis is not someone who has negotiated what Freud called the "transformations of puberty"--that is, achieved a satisfying genital sexuality and become capable of loving outside of the original family--but someone who has developed self-esteem and relational capabilities generally. From the ideal therapeutic mother, the ideal personhood can be learned--and that is a mothering personhood. It is significant--and certainly not accidental--that this person of relational abilities, this empathic person, fulfills precisely the ideal of so-called "cultural feminism." She is cultural feminism's image of a woman who is destined for relationality, either essentially or by deep forces of social conditioning. In her, maternal relationality has been reproduced as a matter of upbringing; she has intuitive understanding--not masculine rationality and logicality; her moral compass holds no categorical imperatives; here is "a different voice," which is valued by other women, even if not by patriarchal institutions. She is a woman who has the whole world--and the very possibility of future harmonious living-together--in her hands.

It is not surprising, therefore, that feminist writers who have assessed the new psychoanalysis have assumed that it is just what feminism needs, that it is what women want, that it addresses the complaints women have had about psychoanalysis since the period right after the First World War. In a description by Janet Sayers of the new psychoanalysis, you can hear the tone of feminist vision come true:

Psychoanalysis has been turned upside down. Once patriarchal and phallocentric, it is now almost entirely mother-centered. Its focus has shifted from the past and individual issues concerning patriarchal power, repression, resistance, knowledge, sex and castration, to the present and interpersonal issues concerning maternal care and its vicissitudes--identification, idealization and envy, deprivation and loss, love and hate, introjection and projection. (Sayers 1990, 3)

A similar passage from Nancy Chodorow, who is not just an assessor but a contributor to the new psychoanalysis, also sounds the theme of reversal:

Thus the object relations perspective takes the construction of masculinity and femininity to be interconnected and constitutes a critique of masculinity as well as a reformulation of our understanding of the female self. It stands the traditional Freudian understanding on its head, as it to some extent revalorizes women's construction of self and makes normal masculinity extremely problematic. Feminist object-relations theorists have also argued strongly for theoretical and developmental treatment of the mother as a subject, against psychoanalytic (including object-relational) tendencies to treat her as an object whose role is evaluated in terms of the presumed needs and fantasies of the child alone. This leads to a reformulation of the psychoanalytic self as well, as it emphasizes not only that separateness, not connectedness, needs explaining, but that intersubjectivity and the mutual recognition of the other and the self are fundamental to satisfactory development. (Chodorow 1989, 185)

Feminist Theorizing and the New Psychoanalysis

Among psychoanalysts, as opposed to Anglo-American feminist appropriators of psychoanalysis, the ascendancy of preoedipally focused relational theory is a source of great controversy, and of great opposition. Anglo-American opponents think that it implies complete repudiation of the dynamic unconscious and/or a dangerous underestimation of the importance in human life of sexuality and aggression. Another strong current of opposition has emanated from Lacan and his followers, who argue that focusing on the mother-child dyad, highlighting a child's experiences of frustration and efforts at individuation, completely obfuscates the key Freudian theory of the castration complex (the "Law of the Father") and its revelations about the indeterminacy of sexual identity for females and males. Efforts of many sorts to stop the paradigm shift in course with either reassertions of Freudian orthodoxy, Lacanian claims about the 'real' Freud, an eclectic blending of old and new, or some form of transcending synthetic vision have been offered.(2) This battle is of great interest--indeed, it seems currently to be defining the whole field of psychoanalysis--but it is not the battle itself that I want to discuss here. I want to put my attention, rather, to the opportunity that this battle offers for reflecting on how theories satisfy desires.

I am going to consider this controversy in psychoanalysis from two angles. First, I want to offer some reflections on what might be called the psychodynamics of theory-making, or to engage in what might be called psychotheoretical criticism. Second, I want to try to put the controversy in a larger social and therapeutic context, to ask what it has meant for the therapeutic atmosphere in which we now live and work--not just in the field of psychoanalysis itself, but generally. Anyone who contemplates the history of psychotherapy in this country will notice immediately that there are junctures in it which are characterized by single-cause theories of pathology, moments in which, across very different types and modes of therapy, a single cause emerges as the one toward which a preponderance of therapeutic attention is directed. In the war years and through the 1950s, for example, the figure to whom Anna Freud gave the name "the rejecting mother" was at the center of attention as all manner of pathologies were charged up to an undifferentiated maternal rejection.(3) We are, it seems to me, currently in another such moment, and it is defined by the unrelational parent or parents, who, whether female or male, are masculine. They are not rejecting, but abusive; the theme of pathology is not abandonment, but exploitation. I want to suggest that the rejecting mother causal theory arose as the old phallocentric Freudian psychoanalysis was first being criticized, and that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the abusive masculinity theory is being sustained by the new preoedipally-focused psychoanalytic theory in its vulgar and caricatured forms.

To begin to explore the psychodynamics of theory-making and to argue this social claim, let me make a few historical notes on how this new psychoanalysis developed, particularly in relation to the issues that are key to feminism. Its roots are in the 1920s debates between Vienna- and London-based analysts over the female psychology.(4) Women, all agreed, following Freud's late statements, have more complex (and some said longer) preoedipal periods than Freud had initially thought. For Freud and his followers, the complexity was due chiefly to the girl's "masculine" libido being invested first in her mother and then, only by detours and indirections, tenuously, in her father. For the London group, depending upon Melanie Klein's clinical and Karen Horney's cultural writings, as choreographed for battle by Ernest Jones, the girl's complexity centers on how her femininity, which is her condition at birth, becomes shaped by an initial introjection of the paternal penis which she fantasizes as inside the mother, that is, by a masculinization. Both of these positions were based on Freud's drive theory, but the drive theory became, as the positions were worked and reworked, a topic of increasing controversy because it had received two such different interpretations--one that called all libido masculine and one that saw libido as from birth dual, masculine and feminine.(5) (It did not occur to the contestants, apparently, to speak of libido as indeterminate until it becomes more or less determined as a child develops, and this unenvisioned third possibility shows, I will argue later, how narcissistically invested the two contesting theories were.)

As the grounds for the new psychoanalysis developed after the Second World War, its tie to the debate about female psychology loosened. In the 1950s, emphasis on the preoedipal was buttressed much more strongly by the extension of psychoanalytic therapy to the psychoses and by efforts to stake out the territory of the vaguely titled "borderline" and narcissistic disorders. Both of these endeavors really had the effect of showing that the male's preoedipal period is also more complex than the original Freudian formulations indicated. But they also had the consequence of bringing to the fore, especially in studies directed at boys, the image of the rejecting mother. Specifically, a new approach to male homosexuality emerged. A preoedipally rejected boy will end up seeking love from his father--and thus be homosexual--while a preoedipally rejected girl who seeks such love will, at least, find her heterosexual destination. In this period, although the preoedipal was being stressed, the old psychoanalytic emphasis--more apparent in his followers than in Freud himself--on heterosexuality as normality and homosexuality as pathology was firmly in place.

While the therapeutic scope of psychoanalysis was widening, the drive theory continued to be questioned, and then it became the focus of criticism when female psychology once again came center stage, in the early 1970s, under the impact of second wave feminism. The most recent phase of the psychoanalytic revolution, its most politicized phase, has been defined by psychoanalysis's encounter with feminist critique. And it is also important to acknowledge that within the many mansions of the larger therapeutic house, as Ilene Phillipson has shown in detail in her recent study On the Shoulders of Women: The Feminization of Psychotherapy, women have become the majority population, both as therapists and as clients, so that women are, thus, both the chief therapeutic focus of the new psychoanalysis and the chief practitioners in the broader field. Although the major psychoanalytic theoreticians continue to be male, the new psychoanalysis is of women, for women, and--more and more--by women.

The women practitioners and theoreticians within psychoanalysis, however, are standing on the shoulders of women within feminism for whom the preoedipally focused relational psychoanalysis was alluring for, basically, two reasons. The first was that the view of female psychology implied by the oedipally focused and drive theory based Freudian psychoanalysis was unacceptable to feminists--to feminists of the most diverse persuasions--because it was "phallocentric." This was female psychology viewed from a male angle, under the aegis of the male child and the male adult preoccupations with the phallus and with castration anxiety, in the sphere of paternal household rule. The Freudian view of women was, the critique went summarily, that they were failed men, inferior humans. Furthermore, the viewpoint was sexist in the sense that it confused prejudices against women with scientific theories, conventional notions of femininity and feminine subservience and passivity in heterosexual relations with scientific discourse about normal femininity. Freud and his followers were self-conscious neither about their own theoretical and clinical vantage point nor about how influenced they were by their prerogatives and their milieu. They did not understand themselves, to say the same thing, relationally. They were also speaking for unproblematic scientific objectivity just as scientific objectivity was getting ready to take a thunderous fall into problematization at the hands of, first, philosophers of science and then feminists.

The second reason why this new psychoanalysis was embraced in feminist theory circles is that it promised a women's liberation of quite a different sort than had come forth on the basis of the old psychoanalysis. The old psychoanalysis had been taken up (and usually vulgarized beyond recognition) for its liberationist potential by people of the left, mostly Marxists who wanted some kind of Marx-Freud synthesis.(6) Beginning with Wilhelm Reich in the 1920s and continuing through the 1960s appropriations of his position among affiliates of the Frankfurt School as well as by independents liek Norman O. Brown, the liberationist theme was always the same: an inhumane and killing--some would say a fascistic--civilization has been built upon repressed instinctual drives, and freedom will come from unrepression. Sexual freedom, which is to be won with an assault upon the patriarchal nuclear family, is both the source and the model of political freedom. To feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s who were arguing that "the personal is political," this liberationist vision was appealing, but it also clearly had its sexist elements. For example, the Freudian-Marxist view was, in most of its incarnations, aimed at abolishing not only constrainingly normative visions of "mature sexuality," and the constraining patriarchal nuclear family, but motherhood as it had become instituted. Either separation of sexuality from reproduction or actual liberation from having children were part of a program that could be called "rejecting of motherhood." And in a certain sense, this rejecting of motherhood was a reaction to the then widely disseminated image of the rejecting mother.

In the late 1960s, many feminists, calling Simone de Beauvoir to witness, did subscribe to the critical vision of motherhood as necessarily constraining upon female sexuality, but for many more it seemed a great error.(7) Those feminists who urged psychoanalysis on the women's liberation movement, arguing that it was not or did not need to be a mainstay of sexism, began their arguments with a critique of the Marxian left's liberationist appropriation of psychoanalysis. Juliet Mitchell started the trend by taking on Wilhelm Reich in Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Nancy Chodorow took aim at Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. In opposition to the Marx-Freudians, feminist theoreticians constructed an image of liberation not from the constraints of civilization--that is, patriarchy--but a liberation for relationality. Sexual liberation was not to be individualistic, not to be narcissistic. The ideal was not unrepression but mutuality, sharing.

The preoedipally oriented relational psychoanalysis promised a female psychology that did not pathologize women, that emphasized the complexities of male identity--and specifically the complexities that support sexism, including the dimension of sexism that pathologizes women--and a liberating vision of human beings designed for relatedness, for connection. In this psychoanalysis, it was acknowledged clearly that motherhood is reproduced in daughters--and that this process exists crossculturally, as mothers have primary responsibilities for childcare under the most diverse social orders. But the stress was not on maternal constraint. Mothers who mother well--good enough mothers--give their daughters the gift of an identity more secure than that of sons, who achieve their identities by disidentification with their mothers. And they give them the maternal virtue--relationality. Trouble comes into this picture from patriarchal institutions that constrain the mother and thus her daughter. In very crude terms--or in very crude interpretations of the theory--trouble comes from masculinity.

Is This What Women Need? Critical Reflections

As these currents of feminist argument developed in the early 1980s, there grew with them a realization that all kinds of theorizing which are in the service of political visions are going to bear the imprint of their purposefulness, or, to say the same thing, that the theoretical is political just as much as the personal is. The realization grew that if Freudian psychoanalysis is phallocentric, any theory aimed at correcting for its bias runs the risk of bias in the opposite direction, compensatory bias. This critical turn began as a cautionary streak within the emergent object relations camp. It was noted that embracing an ideal of femininity as an empathic, relational mothering could end up, practically, sanctioning relegation of women to the mommy track. That it could turn out to support or rationalize a new and more complexly psychologized doctrine of essentially separate feminine and masculine spheres. Further, an uncritical valorization of women's relationality could both blunt appreciation of what good can come from autonomy, aggression, and intellectual mastery--the "masculine" attributes--and blind one to the many ways in which women want and try to achieve what these "masculine" attributes bring.

This important tempering of the theory by examining its consequences, by translating it from theory into practice and considering the consequences, is a different matter, however, than exploring the psychodynamics of theory-making, and it is also a different matter from exploring how theories can become vulgarized, how they have social-theoretical consequences. But the psychotheoretical project has emerged, to a small degree. Feminists have reflected, for example, on how the focus on motherhood in the new psychoanalytic theorizing has attracted fantasies about motherhood, fantasies of good mothers, of bad mothers, of past mothers and future mothers, of male mothers and mothering without men.(8) At least in a preliminary way, processes of idealization in feminism have been studied--as they have been studied in the intellectual histories of other oppressed groups using theory as a weapon of liberation. On a social level, theories that compensatorily valorize women share limitations with theories like those of negritude or Black pride that take all of the charges against Blacks made in the history of white racism and change their valences--so "Black is Beautiful"--or those of Gay Pride that hold up homosexuality as the only truly wonderful and humane type of sexuality, the very opposite of deviancy.(9)

But it seems to me that this study needs to go much further--not because I believe that there is some theoretical place to stand that is not involved or invested, a position of purity over theory-making, but because I think that people suffer from their idealizing as well as from being the victims of other people's opposite idealizations. Using the terms of Freud's instinctual drive theory, it can be said generally that group idealizations involve either displacements of aggression onto out-groups or projections of aggression onto a specific "other," and both the displacement and projection processes subtend--to put the matter bluntly--prejudices.

Now that we have had, historically, a phallocentric psychoanalysis and a psychoanalysis self-consciously constructed as not-phallocentric, we are in a position to reflect generally on how the ingredients of psychosexual identity play into, are projected into, two ideal types. We are in a position to reflect psychoanalytically--taking into account the two modes--on a process of theory making. And the first reflection that the situation calls for, I think, is that emphasizing sex or gender differences seems to be a function of a disposition or a need to identify with a single sex or gender and usually to valorize it by asserting that the other sex or gender is lacking. Denial of femininity in men has its theoretical corollary in denigration of women; denial of masculinity in women has its theoretical corollary in denigration of men. And the same rule of thumb extends to cross-identifications. Women who are masculinely identified, who live and work and have their psychosexual pleasure in male company, are "sexist" and denigrate women in their theories and mythologies, as men who are femininely identified denigrate men (even though they, unlike their female counterparts, are generally homosexual in object choice(10)).

These general psychotheoretical rules of thumb hold for the surface of theorizing, but below them there is the level of theoretical narcissism, where I think the story is more complex. Masculine narcissism, which denies the feminine, construing the feminine as the castrated, appears theoretically as a claim that "the woman is castrated." That is, the theoretical image of women is the displacement site for anxiety about castration. But the theory that "the woman is castrated" will go right along with a theoretical strand in which the phallic woman, the woman who is not castrated, the omnipotent preoedipally fantasized mother, is retained. In Freudian theory, for example, the phallic woman appears as the woman who gets a penis by having a baby--she is the adoring, unrejecting mother with her son; she is the mother that a son most needs in his life and his theory. And she is, theoretically, the mother of the Oedipus complex, impregnated by a penis that might well be his, or that might well be him.

On the other side of this dynamic, there is feminine narcissism creating the theory to satisfy feminine narcissism, which is not a narcissism primarily focused on the phallus, at least not on an unintrojected phallus. Female narcissism creates the image of a male who is lacking, and what he lacks is the mother-bond and mother-identification--the experience of sameness with her mother--that the girl has and loves. He is not-us (in the plural, while male narcissism says how she is in relation to me, singular).(11) The image also captures a complaint: he does not know how to pay attention to women, not in a motherly way or an idealized (feminine, maternal) fatherly way--he is not nurturing and he cannot appreciate a woman as a woman and as women do. And along with this image goes a strand of theorizing about the perfect mother, the mother perfect in her containment of all things, and in her female body, including her genitals, who should as the good mother produce the perfect daughter. Her perfection is, however, complex, because her genitals are so largely hidden from her daughter's view. That is, the daughter may have a narcissistic attachment to the female genitals, referenced to her own sensations, but it will be less representable or externalizable than the boy's; and she may--if one credits Melanie Klein's clinical observations--have a narcissistic attachment to an introjected phallus that she has claimed from her mother.

What I have said so far about male and female narcissism is on a rather general level, not depending on a specific type of psychoanalytic theory. But if we want to go further and note that there is also great ambivalence about the mother in female theorizing, investigating will require a step into the fray of psychoanalytic views--old and new--on female narcissism. In the library on this topic, I find compelling some (not all) of Bela Grunberger's observations about why heterosexual women, whose narcissism so often takes the form of wanting to be loved, organizing psychically and behaviorally around lovesolicitation or narcissistic confirmation, reject the pregenital dirves, the component instincts, and the pleasures associated with them.(12) Heterosexual women, for whom the mother is, eventually, an unsatisfactory object, when they look to their fathers for love reject what they have experienced sexually in infant self-exploration and in relation to their mothers--pregenital eroticism, especially autoerotism. The love they seek is more in the domain of object relations, confirmation, than instinctual satisfaction. This bent is, then, I think, reflected in theory-making that rejects the instinctual drive theory. It might follow from this observation that homosexual women, for whom the paternal object is not necessary in the same way, would be less inclined, in their lives and in their theories, to reject pregenital satisfactions or to reject the instinctual drive theory.(13)

I made a turn here, to keep focusing on female narcissism, into a type of Freudian theory that is still very much tied to the instinctual drive theory--a type well represented by the anthology Female Sexuality edited by Chassequet-Smirgel. This seemed necessary to me because the feminist object relations theory is so--of course, given its orientation--uninterested in female narcissism. There is no female (or male) narcissism in this theory; there is only failed female relationality.(14) Similarly, there is no female oral, anal or phallic sadism or masochism, no scopophilia and exhibitionism, no masturbation or autoerotism in general. The theory seems to me as blind to these manifestations as most versions of the phallocentric theory are to male investment in the phallic mother as a figure of relational bliss rather than as a castrator--that is, to primary rather than secondary narcissism, to denial of sexual difference rather than to accentuation of it.(15)

Let me take up this problem of blindness to female desire from another angle. In the recent feminist theoretical literatures on the new relational psychoanalysis, it is interesting to observe how prominent currently is the question--to put it very simply--why do women ever become heterosexual? If a woman's deepest and oldest bond is with her mother, what would move her to her father? It was Freud himself, of course, who first posed this question and noted, as he considered it, that bisexuality is more obvious in women than in men, and also that women with strong father-ties have in their earlier histories equally strong or stronger mother-ties.(16) In the recent literature, feminist theorists frequently make the related claim that women are less tied to or dependent emotionally (as opposed to materially) upon men than men are upon women. Women recover from heterosexual love losses, so this argument goes, with more resiliency than men because they have, as it were, only half an investment in the heterosexual sphere and they do not, in loss, lose their female-bonding, while men lose both the female love object and the mother who stands behind her.(17)

Women, to translate this result into caricature, do not need men. Nothing psychological compels them toward men, although much in social and economic organization and convention may, as may--at least until recent technological developments complicated this matter--their desire for children (or their desire to be mothers). This is a story, of course, in which the reckoning is done exclusively in object relations terms. For the heterosexual turn to show up as predestined, a theory must posit either some form of primary femininity (an inborn biological program aimed at reproductive sexuality) or some form of instinctual drive theory which, modifying the Freudian one, stresses a little girl's very early awareness (unconscious) of her genitals. Grunberger's theory, worked out in conjunction with Chassequet-Smirgel, goes in this second direction. Grunberger attributes the girl's heterosexual turn to her need for narcissistic confirmation, which the father can give because he is the truly satisfying (genital) sexual object, the one who offers a prototype of integration of sexual and narcissistic needs. The good enough father--the one who is the very opposite of an abusing father--is key to his daughter's heterosexuality because his confirmation of her allows her, as it were, to leave her mother without repressing her desires.

In complete contrast to most object relations feminists, Grunberger understands men to be more invested in their instinctual satisfactions than they are in narcissistic confirmation, so they are less dependent upon their objects and more able to recover from a wound to their narcissism in a loss of love than women are. Correlatively, Grunberger's approach can also indicate why sexual liberation in the form of paeans to polymorphous perversity is so typical of males in the Reich-to-Marcuse left-Freudian tradition and why so many female theorists might be inclined, for psychological rather than political reasons, to find this tradition unsatisfactory. Because the male does not change his object, he does not reject the pleasures of his first love. Consequently he continues to take his pleasure in the component instincts (and is more frequently given to perversions than females) and would want to celebrate them theoretically.

I started this reflection on narcissistic positions projected into theory-making with the suggestion that identifications with one sex or gender sustain (if they do not actually produce) theories in which male-female difference is emphasized--either inborn sex difference (on the old model) or socially constructed gender difference (on the new model). On the basis of the sketch I made of the male and female narcissistic theorizing modes, I want to suggest now, secondly, that such singular identifications and operations on a narcissistic basis also tend to sustain either/or thinking. That is, they tend to support the intellectual habit of saying things like "either the drive theory or the object relations theory." Theoretical positions get genderized--there are "masculine" and "feminine" theories--and are embraced or rejected as such. The level on which this happens, however, seems to me to be Oedipal. These are "either father or mother" theoretical moves.

Quite different in their mode of operation are people who have what Lawrence Kubie called "the drive to become both sexes" and who stress in their theories or their mythologies the similarities between the sexes.(18) They may be quite narcissistic, too, but their narcissism is not single sex-linked--it is a narcissism keyed to omnipotent thinking, as all-embracing thinking. Such people, it seems to me, tend both to idealize androgyny and to find the differences among people on grounds other than or in addition to those of biological or socially constructed sex. General differences of character impress them more, or, if they are psychologists, differences of pathology type strike them more than differences of sex. Freud himself, it seems to me, in his early theorizing, at the moment when he was so adventurously exploring his own bisexuality in the letters to Fliess and The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, was more interested in pathology types (or what he called "the choice of neurosis") and general characterology than he was later, when he became more rigidly masculine in his identifications and more inclined than ever to present women as failed men. His rigidification can be seen growing in the 1914 essay "On Narcissism," which is such an example of psychotheoretical masculine narcissism. The good lovers in that essay, you will remember, are men, who project their narcissism onto women, overvaluing them, and thus loving women--themselves in their women--with great self-enhancing intensity.(19)

There are also, it seems to me, people who desire to be neither sex--either in the sense that they are ascetics, or in the sense that they relish gender-bending, identity-shifting, masquerade and imposture. Ascetics seem to me prone to cathect images of development rather than visions of masculinity or femininity. They valorize normality (and usually this translates into visions of heterosexual normality, but there are also those who envision homosexual normality). Socially, they tend, also, to be conservative, to make good proponents of orthodoxy, whether that be orthodoxy in relation to the old (e.g., Freudian orthodoxy) or orthodoxy expended to make the new into the established. By contrast, those who are identity-shifters generate anti-theories, theories that attack the terms of other developmental theories, that deconstruct, that celebrate transgressive (not polymorphous) sexual modes. These are unconfident but supercilious or superior sorts whose main division of the world is not into feminine and masculine but into free and enslaved, worthy and unworthy. Like most anarchists, they are ferocious manicheans. In characterological terms, ascetics seem to me to be more obsessional, and gendershifters more hysterical--in contrast to the two sorts of narcissistic character-trait dominance that mark those who identify with one gender and those who desire to be both.

The kind of typology I am sketching--and just sketching--here can provide, I think, a kind of cautionary tale about psychoanalytic theorizing and the needs it can serve. But I also think it provides a foundation for a more social theoretical evaluation of theory. As I suggested before, theory-making involves not only processes of idealization and denigration, but processes that can be easily debased or vulgarized--that attract fantasizing which is psychotechnic. When theories can be construed as ideals--as portraying the ideal masculinity or the ideal femininity--they are picked up by those in need of ideals. But further, on a deeper level, theories that can be construed as Rousseauistically presenting human beings as born good and then corrupted by their environments offer restoration of an ego ideal focused on perfection and featuring "society" or "patriarchy" or some hypostatized "out-there" as the sole source of loss.(20) People whose own ego ideals have either dissolved or become hopelessly demanding under the impact of reality, rather than becoming tempered are realistic, are especially prone to use quick fix versions of theoretical ideals to help themselves, to orient themselves, give themselves meaning and direction. And they do the same with negative ideals--which currently take the form of images of bad masculinity.

The new psychoanalysis that valorizes women has attracted a particular vulgarization in theory and practice--one its theoreticians certainly did not imagine, do not want, and are not responsible for--that suits our social moment. This vulgarization goes: when women are not empathic and relational, it is because they have been exploited or abused--not rejected so much as invaded--by bad masculinity. The place to get cured of this condition is therapy, which is currently the locus of female empowerment as consciousness raising groups were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And this now means feminist therapy, which used to be quite hostile to psychoanalysis--the old phallocentric psychoanalysis--but which is quite receptive to the new object relations psychoanalysis.

There is much that is salutary in this development, but also much that seems very dangerous. To my mind, the worst theoretical and therapeutic consequence of the theory vulgarization process is the one that valorizes--rather than analyzes--female pathology, making women's illnesses into heroic endeavors at rejecting masculine impositions. This development echoes the beginning of the feminist therapy movement, in the early 1970s, when anorexics got conceptualized as hunger strikers, women who were making a protest against patriarchal culture and its (truly) insane standards of female beauty. It is happening again now as women with all sorts of different pathologies (including eating disorders) are being conceptualized as victims of abuse, as "survivors." "Abuse" is becoming just as all-encompassing a term as "rejection" was in the 1950s, so that verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and so forth, no matter what the developmental stage at which they may have been experienced, are all undifferentiatedly "abuse" (or sometimes "trauma," to fit with the diagnostic category "post-traumatic stress disorder"). And the new psychoanalysis, which does not have an instinctual drive theory or any of the analysis of children's and adult's sexual fantasies that the instinctual drive theory supported, is much better suited to an image of females as purely passive victims of such abuse.(21)

At the mid-century, as average family size in America contracted and women moved into workplaces and public roles in unprecedented numbers, "the rejecting mother" appeared. Again, a real social phenomenon--the increase in abuse of children that has grown up with the breakdown of familial regulation and with the horrible consequences of "polymorphous perversity" embraced not as a mode of liberation but as a regressive escape from mature sexuality--has been accompanied by a simplifying theory. But this time, the burden of accusation has shifted from femininity to masculinity (whether in females or males, mothers or fathers). There is, as in the earlier era, a degree of insightfulness and appropriate social critique in the accusation, but also a great deal of pendulum-effect and psychotheoretical distortion, which will fall to future clinicians to assess and to correct.


(1.)It is sometimes claimed that the Freudians who grouped around Anna Freud stand opposed to the turn toward the preoedipal. This seems to me a misunderstanding. Anna Freud criticized any form of exclusive focus on the preoedipal in development theory or theory of pathogenesis, stressing instead developmental lines with many key moments. But, of course, hers was a psychoanalysis based on the instinctual drive theory and she did oppose adamantly the various efforts to abandon it.

(2.)For a recent review of some of these efforts, excluding the Lacanian, see Jay Greenberg, Oedipus and Beyond: A Clinical Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1991). On Lacan's insistence that focus on the mother-infant dyad obscures how the castration complex operates in females and males, see the introductions to Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, editors, Female Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne (NY: Norton, 1982).

(3.)See Anna Freud, "The Concept of the Rejecting Mother" (1955), The Writings of Anna Freud, IV (New York: IUP, 1968), 586-602.

(4.)Behind these roots stand the figures of Abraham and, particularly, Ferenczi; and thus it is not coincidental that Ferenczi's work is undergoing a revival currently.

(5.)Jacques Lacan is one of the few commentators on this period of controversy who has understood that Freud's critics simply substituted their concept of feminine normality--"primal femininity" working out toward heterosexuality--for Freud's concept of universal masculine libido and bisexuality limited in the two normal directions of feminine heterosexuality and masculine heterosexuality. Lacan felt that Freud's work also contained a more fluid, less normalizing theory of sexuality identity as always indeterminate, and it is this strand that Lacan found in Freud to which the Lacanians have devoted their fervor.

(6.)For a strong argument that Reich was really anti-Freudian, see Bela Grunburger and Janine Chassequet-Smirgel, Freud or Reich? (New Haven: Yale, 1986).

(7.)Lesbian activists at that time tended to be anti-motherhood, and it is, of course, one measure of the enormous shift in feminism since then that motherhood is now so much a part of lesbian activism.

(8.)See Nancy Chodorow and Susan Contratto, "The Fantasy of the Perfect Mother," in Chodorow, op cit., 79-96. For a more general approach to theory construction: Christian David, "A Masculine Mythology of Femininity," in Chassequet-Smirgel, ed., Female Sexuality (Ann Arbor: U. Michigan, 1970, orig. 1964).

(9.)In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon argued very persuasively that there were two key problems with the negritude movement: first, the Negro attributes celebrated in the theory had been dictated--as castigations--by the whites, so they were still reflective of the dynamics of racism; and, second, focus on compensatory theorizing draws attention away from the real arena of change, the political. Both criticisms have been made against "cultural feminism" by feminist politicos, usually of more Marxist orientation (who, in the early 1970s went under the title "radical feminists"). But such political reflections, crucial as they are, are not really psychotheoretical in the meaning of that term as I am trying to demonstrate it here.

(10.)Feminine male homosexuals who denigrate men are often, as has been noted clinically, masochistic; they seek a male partner, and that partner's penis, but not for empowerment as most masculinely identified homosexuals do. They denigrate a male who is necessary to them as a punisher, as Jean Genet noted again and again in Our Lady of the Flowers. The masculinely identified "sexist" woman is often a woman who has found a safe way to love her father--she has joined his camp, become his son, but is loved by another man.

(11.)This portrait seems to me to fit, particularly, the interpersonalist Stone Center (Wellesley, MA) theorists of female communitarianism, the most idealizing of psychoanalytically influenced feminist theorists.

(12.)Bela Grunberger, "Outline for a Study of Narcissism in Female Sexuality," in Chassequet-Smirgel, ed., Female Sexuality, op. cit.

(13.)It is interesting to note that American psychoanalytically framed academic "Queer Theory" is generally more under the influence of Lacan than of object relations theory, and that it is focused on the Oedipus complex--called "the Symbolic," where "the Law of the Father" rules--rather than the preoedipal. Like most French theorizing, it is not so rejecting of the instinctual drive theory, although it uses the Lacanian version of this, focused on joissance and obsessed with the topic of alienation of desire or failure of pleasure.

(14.)More precisely, there is only "cognitive narcissism," which refers to the infant's inability to distinguish himself or herself conceptually from the mother while in the primary relational matrix.

(15.)Kohut's work on narcissism is focused on what Freud called secondary narcissism, and so are most social theories that take off from Kohut, like Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism. The one psychoanalytic social theoretical text that is firmly focused on primary narcissism is The Future of An Illusion, and in it Freud stresses how theories--illusions--reflecting primary narcissism (in males only) are nostalgic images of a primal state of merger with the mother, bliss, nirvana.

(16.)When Freud reiterated these points, which had first been sketched in his early work on hysteria, in his late essays on female sexuality, he was moved to make penis envy even more important than he had made it earlier--penis envy is the main instrument of conversion to heterosexuality (not mother-identification, a possibility that would have required less male narcissism in his theorizing).

(17.)Nancy Chodorow, "Oedipal Asymmetries and Heterosexual Knots," Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, op. cit., 74.

(18.)Lawrence Kubie, "The Drive to Become Both Sexes," Symbol and Neurosis (NY: IUP, 1978). In this 1954 article, revised in 1974, Kubie tends to pathologize this drive (it is "self-destroying"), because he views the identities sought as "mutually irreconcilable and consequently unattainable identities." Thus he offers a reading of Virginia Woolf's Orlando as a tragedy, not a successful sublimation. Kubie does not inquire whether theories of universal bisexuality, including Freud's and his own, are example of the drive he studies having been successfully sulimated.

(19.)It is formulations like this one, of course, that make object relations theorists think that there is no such thing as relationality or mutuality in Freud, for even love here seems to be modified narcissism. Similarly, altruism turns out to be doing unto or for others what you do not allow yourself to do unto yourself. That is, altruism is a reaction formation. But I think that Freud's description of male love reflects a desire to be both sexes--the male's overvaluation of the female is an absorption of her into himself--cast in terms that could be adapted to the "phallocentric" conception in Freud's later work on female psychology.

(20.)Freudian psychoanalysis cannot be used for refurbishing an ego ideal. After he wrote "'Civilized Morality' and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908), which

does offer a social etiology of both neurasthenia and neurosis, Freud never again offered anything that resembles an image of inborn goodness corrupted, and he constantly criticized Reich and the Communist theoreticians of the 1920's for their "illusions" about where "good" and "bad" are located.

(21.)It is no coincidence that Freud has recently been charged with having abandoned his "seduction theory" out of cowardice or inability to tolerate the idea of widespread paternal abuse. This is the sequel for the present moment of the earlier charge that his science as a whole is phallocentric.


Chassequet-Smirgel, Janine, editor. 1970 [1964]. Female Sexuality. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Chodorow, Nancy. 1989. Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1962. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press.

Freud, Anna. 1968. "The Concept of the Rejecting Mother" (1955). In The Writings of Anna Freud, IV. New York: IUP, 586--602.

Greenberg, Jay. 1991. Oedipus and Beyond: A Clinical Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Grunberger, Bela, and Janine Chassequet-Smirgel. 1986. Freud or Reich? New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kubie, Lawrence. 1978. "The Drive to Become Both Sexes." In Symbol and Neurosis. New York: IUP.

Mitchell, Juliet, and Jacqueline Rose, editors. 1982. Female Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne. New York: Norton.

Mitchell, Stephen. 1988. Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rinsley, Donald. 1989. Developmental Pathogenesis and Treatment of Borderline and Narcissistic Personalities. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.

Sayers, Janet. 1990. Mothering Psychoanalysis. London: Hamish Hamilton.
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Author:Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth
Publication:American Imago
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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