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The feminine in Freud's later life

The Father of Psychoanalysis, not unlike the Church Fathers who preceded him, took revenge on the mother by constructing a theory of a brutal, disciplining and punishing superego, intensifying the level of the aggressive drive with which the boy identifies in Freud’s resolution of the Oedipus Complex. And in this enforced absence of maternal care, an infantile part of Freud is completely fragmented and cannot imagine a non-brutal end to the Oedipal. He has a lot of trouble envisioning a loving and benevolent superego, which becomes as harsh and immutable as Yahweh’s Divine Law. And again like the Church Fathers, the repudiation of sexuality is the only way to develop one’s spiritual sensibilities. Sagan puts it well: “Freud’s world of the Oedipus Complex, castration, and the superego is a male world where women exist only as prizes to be awarded to conquerors” (1988: 8-9) - an idea that, as we saw in Part I, had its beginnings in 5000 B.C.

Freud is absolutely right in his theories on the Oedipus Complex and true to himself. He is correct in asserting that this is how things develop for a man. The only point he omits is that because of the archetypal paradigm of the succubus that informs our culture, this is also the way pathology of shame develops. Freud had a genius for self-scrutiny, but acts with his eyes closed when looking at the mother because there can be no vision or recognition of his shame. “In the face of the horror, Freud, like Oedipus, ‘blinded himself’, acting from impulses and emotions that appeared to arise from an inner sense of obligation ‘to close the eyes’ in order to ‘do one’s duty toward the dead’ ” (Salyard, 1988: 424).

The conclusions that Freud reaches about women and the meaning of femininity are about women as they exist within the fantasy structures of a patriarchal psychic reality. The whole experience of the mother-infant dyad is seen retrospectively as feminine, and the only connection Freud allows to the mother is in seeing the boy with the vulnerability and dependency of an infant. The boy has no choice but to overcome his infancy through his assertion of difference and superiority. Any connection to mother is blocked off through devaluation and denigration, Freud’s acts of matricide. He uses massive denial and contempt in a refusal to see past the looming succubus who menaces masculinity; he cannot see woman’s virtues or restore his connection to the mother. The wish for the phallic mother may well be a universal experience for all humankind, not for the reason that it awakens unbearable sexual urges, but because the child wants the omnipotent mother. But Freud will fight to the death to defend against a shaming experience with the pre-oedipal mother; this results in an irremedial distortion of his most basic theories. Freud may have recreated a mother-infant world in the methods of psychoanalysis and called his process of a cure “love,” but the installment of the Phallos, the Father - the enthronement of the harsh and punishing superego who sits in judgment - results in a loss of compassion, love, nurturance, and seeing, as well as a psychological understanding of the pre-oedipal period and mother-infant attachment.

But Freud the patriarch shared in human weaknesses. One catches a glimpse of Freud’s true feelings for the feminine being repressed in his commentary on Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings Bacchus and John the Baptist: “These pictures breathe a mystical air into whose secret one dares not penetrate” (1964b: 117). Further on he writes words that could just as well have been written by Jung, and that demonstrate the feminine place where they really discovered the same principle:

The figures are still androgynous, but no longer in the sense of the vulture- phantasy. They are beautiful youths of feminine delicacy and with effeminate forms; they do not cast their eyes down [unlike Oedipus], but gaze in mysterious triumph, as if they knew of a great achievement of happiness, about which silence must be kept. The familiar smile of fascination leads one to guess that it is a secret love. It is possible that in these figures Leonardo has denied the unhappiness of his erotic life and has triumphed over it in his art, by representing the wishes of the boy, infatuated with his mother, as fulfilled in this blissful union of the male and female natures.

(pp. 117-118)

Freud knew that he lacked the “oceanic feeling” he attributed to the Father, and with it a feeling for the mother as well as religion. Late in his life, Freud appears to move from a “father-fear theory of culture to a nature-terror one” (Becker, 1973: 97). He peers into the maternal psychic area shrouded in mystery, and feels he made a groundbreaking discovery:

Our insight into this early, pre-Oedipus phase in girls comes to us as a surprise, like the discovery . . . of the Minoan-Mycenean civilization behind the civilization of Greece . . . Everything connected with this first mother- attachment has in analysis seemed to me so elusive, lost in a past so dim and shadowy, so hard to resuscitate, that it seemed as if it had undergone some specially inexorable repression.

(1964f: 226)

As the oppressive aspects of sexuality lifted from Freud, he began to perceive that the human species would come to extinction, not, as he had previously written, from conflicts over sexuality (his intellectual bulwark had begun to collapse) - but from uncontrolled destructiveness (the defining feature of the archetype of Lilith, Maid of Desolation). He re-defined the problem of civilization as the instinct of aggression and the attempt of human culture to control it.

Nevertheless, Freud dies with his rational paternal authority intact. He remained bound to his instinct theory. He held onto his mother’s most intense beliefs of his authentic talent and single-mindedly strove to engineer his own immortality. There is no doubt that Freud’s self-analytic honesty was unique; the truth is, however, that he suffered from “some impairment of self-confidence,” (Becker, 1973: 117), and that he “hated helplessness and fought against it, and the emotional feeling of utter helplessness in the face of experience was too much for him to stand. It gave full play to the underside of dependency that he tried to control” - Freud even admitted this to Karl Abraham (p. 115). He completely rid himself of any intellectual dependence on others (except a few men, like Jung, on whom he was at one time extremely dependent) or a spiritual dependency on the illusory comforts of religion. He would not forgo knowledge for love. For this reason, Freud worked the psychoanalytic movement “as a mirror to reflect power back upon himself’ (Becker, 1973: 116). Psychoanalysis became his “personal vehicle for heroism, for a transcendence of his vulnerability and human limitations’ (Becker, 1973: 109). Jung summarizes Freud’s rigid omnipotence this way:

Freud never asked himself why he was compelled to talk continually of sex, why this idea had taken such possession of him. He remained unaware that his “monotony of interpretation” expressed a flight from himself, or from that other side of him which might perhaps be called mystical . . . He was blind toward the paradox and ambiguity of the unconscious, and did not know that everything which arises out of the unconscious has a top and a bottom, an inside and an outside. When we speak of the outside - and that is what Freud did - we are considering only half of the whole, with the result that a counter- reflect arises out of the unconscious.

There was nothing to be done about this one-sidedness of Freud’s. Perhaps some inner experience of his own might have opened his eyes; but then his intellect would have reduced such an experience to “mere sexuality” or “psychosexuality.” He remained the victim of one aspect he could recognize, and for that reason I see him as a tragic figure; for he was a great man, and what is more, a man in the grip of his daimon.

(1965: 152-153)

One’s virtue is one’s own Self. When one’s image as reflection is used as an antidote to feelings of fragmentation and shame, the person who is looking may be quite unaware of the sustaining power his own image holds for him. The child must free himself from his mother’s reflections of her own image of her son, and in turn recognize the object (or really subject) of his dependency - a task at which Freud fails. He remained in mother’s omnipotence which was later disguised through the paternal superego and identification with cultural moral values. The man of genius repeats the narcissistic inflation of the infant. When Jung re-visioned Freud’s resolution of the Oedipus Complex, he walked right in on Freud’s deepest shame, and the area most blindly defended by his power and authority - as well as Liriope and Jocasta.

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