Friday, January 6, 2012

Reich's sociology II

Again, what is at stake in Reich's claim that the Oedipus complex isn't universal is the difference between the Trobriand Islanders and other primitive groups which don't display the same neurotic behaviour found in patriarchal organizations:

Malinowski had opportunity to observe another primitive society that lay south of the Trobriand Islands in the Amphlett chain. This people were very similar to the Trobrianders in race, customs and language, writes Malinowski, but they differed considerably in their social organization; they already manifested a strict sexual morality in regard to premarital intercourse, which they condemned, and they lacked any such institutions as found among the Trobrianders for fostering sex activity; characteristically, the family life was much more privatized. Even though maternal authority still prevailed, a much stronger role for patriarchal influence had emerged, and “this, combined with the sexual repressiveness, establishes a picture of childhood sexuality more similar to our own”. Malinowski states: “In the Trobriands, though I knew scores of natives intimately and had a nodding acquaintance with many more, I could not name a single man or woman who was hysterical or even neurasthenic. Nervous tics, compulsory actions, or obsessive ideas were not to be found.” There were occasional occurrences of cretinism, mental retardation and speech difficulties; also infrequent outbreaks of anger and violence. The natives ascribed all this to black magic… “During my stay in the Amphletts, my first and strongest impression was that this was a community of neurasthenics. Coming from the open, hearty, gay, accessible Trobrianders it was astonishing to find oneself among a community of people distrustful of the newcomer, impatient in work, arrogant in their claims, though easily cowed, and extremely nervous when tackled more energetically. The women ran away as I landed in their villages and kept in hiding the whole of my stay… I at once found a number of people affected with nervousness”. 127-8

Another patriarchal tribe is described in Thomas Gregor’s Anxious pleasures:

The Mehinaku, like other tribes of the area, appear to be subject to a host of illnesses of apparently hysterical origin 148 AP

A man’s sexual failures are common knowledge, and his reputation as a lover rides precariously on the shifting currents of community gossip…. Evidence for the seriousness of impotence to men is the substantial effort they have invested in trying to understand its causes and find a cure… there are a number of effective cures known to all men 137-9 AP

Sexual relations are dangerous, according to the men, because women’s genitals are frightening. When pressed for an explanation of this fear, the men complain women’s vaginas are ‘dark’ in colour, foul in smell, and otherwise ‘revolting’... above all else, women’s genitals are dangerous because they are associated with menstrual blood. 140-1 AP

According to the villagers, female genitals are symbols of wounds. A man unfortunate enough to dream of the genitalia would do well to leave his machete and ax at home in the morning since he risks a serious injury… the interpretations are surprisingly psychoanalytic 153 AP

The best wrestlers are said to have sexual relations very infrequently and never before intertribal bouts. 145P

The Mehinaku theory of conception is male centered. Children are accumulations of semen and may even be referred to by their fathers as ‘my former semen’ 167 “The baby is accumulated semen resulting from numerous acts of intercourse…the infant is formed through repeated acts of intercourse that accumulates enough semen to form the baby” 88 AP

All Mehinku women live with the threat of rape… despite the women’s anxiety, they accept the system and even enforce it… the men know they can can count on their wives and daughters’ support when it is time to rape someone else’s wife or daughter…. It is rare to hear the men use the first-person pronoun or verb form in describing rape, however hypothetical. Moreover, the men are anxious to emphasize that the matter is dictated by custom rather than personal anger or desire… and also in typical fashion, an informant points out that if it were done differently, the men would suffer a worse fate than the women [“all the men would die”]… rape is not primarily an expression of personal sexual or aggressive needs, but a group response to an open challenge to the patriarchal system 103-4 AP

After the bullroarers are carved and painted, they are attached to twenty foot cords hafted to ten-foot poles. The women are warned to get inside their houses… the sound of 15 or more large bullroarers whirling simultaneously on the village plaza can only be compared to that of an airplane revving its engines in one’s living room. Next to a clap of thunder, it is the loudest sound the villagers will hear. The women are told they are listening to the voice of the spirit. Most of them, however are only modestly impressed… A woman who [leaves the house and sees the bullroarers] suffers an uncertain supernatural penalty: all her hair may fall out. But few women take this threat seriously… far from being frightened, [most] women regard the performance with the attitude of appreciative spectators… ironically the men are fully aware that the women are party to the secret of the bullroarers… as an object of intimidation [the bullroarers] do not reach the status of Kauka’s flutes [kept in the men’s house “Women curious enough or bold enough to watch the building of the men’s house would be subject to gang rape” 57 M] but it would be an error to underestimate its symbolic significance. The women watch the show, but they do so from the poorest seats in the house. It is the men who bully them off the plaza-stage and shout abuse when they are not quick enough about it. 107-8 AP

From an early age, a girl knows that she is “just a girl” and in many respects inferior to boys. As she matures, she learns that the vagina is “smelly” and “disgusting”. She must take care that others do not see it when she sits or walks. With her first menses, she discovers that she is a danger to others. She can be held responsible for contaminating food, defiling sacred rituals, and making men sick. When she enters the network of sexual affairs, she finds that she must comport herself carefully. A casual boyfriend may seize on any unusual or uninhibited conduct in sexual relations and joke about it among his friends. One of the reasons that a woman expects gifts of her lovers is that a token of commitment is insurance that she will not be denigrated in village gossip… Significantly there is no word in the Mehinaku language for a woman’s sexual climax 33-4 AP

Women, a boy comes to realize, are physically weak, mentally deficient, morally inferior, and dangerous. They cannot recall the basic myths (“the words will not stay in their stomachs”), they are frightened to walk through the forest alone, and they are given to invidious and incessant gossip… A man’s place is with other men in the men’s house. A man who spends too much time at home with the women is like a woman himself, and that is what he may be called by jeering village gossips. 177 AP

Kalu, one of the more assertive women, remarks, “I could not go fishing. The line would cut my hands. I am afraid of big animals. We women have no strength… the men are worthy of respect” 24 AP

The difference between the matriarchal tribes and the patriarchal is that previously the woman’s brother, the uncle, was the symbolic head of the family while in patriarchy the husband is the head of the family. By having the father be the head of the family this means that the mother’s dissatisfaction with him and the denigration of his name leads to the child forming the castration complex:

the mother of the future pervert herself denies sexual reality and denigrates the father's phallic function. It is possible that she gives the child in addition the feeling that he or she is a phallic substitute. In the histories of these patients we frequently find that another model of virility was held up to the child, sometimes the mother's own father, or brother, sometimes a religious figure, or God is the one phallic object of value (Primal Scene and Sexual Perversion, p.381).

"You are mother's real little man" in no way evoked in the small boy a comparison with his own father. The latter, denigrated in the eyes of the mother, had become a negative value, an absence, the very image of castration. In all events it was not towards this father that K. could turn to find the phallic image with which he could identify. Only through his mother could he hope, eventually, to have acess to it. Thus his masculine identifications were at this point split in two. Although certain of his hobbies were an attempt on K.'s part to identify with the idealized grandfather, in his creative and professional life he seemed constrained to identify with the castrated father at the same time trying to cloak the ensuing depression in the fiction of playing an eternal game. In his erotic life, on the other hand, he identified with the masculine image offered by the mother—the phallic grandfather with a whip in his hand—but on a deeper level this necessitated an identification with his mother, who alone had the right to the paternal phallus (The Anonymous Spectator, p. 296-7)

The castration complex has both a sexual and social sense which McDougall gives two examples of:

Supported in his own specific sexual identity he often reserves scorn for the 'straight' sexes, the people who make love in the old-fashioned way—the way of the despised and denigrated father. Thus paradoxically the ordinary heterosexual is thought of as deprived (unconsciously as castrated because the victim of paternal and social pressure), and is a representative of the castrated paternal imago. The son has discovered, as one analysand put it, 'a more spicy dish'. (This patient whose problems were also reflected in his alcoholism, paid prostitutes to urinate on him. He felt that others were envious of his special recipe.) This feeling of being 'in the know', chosen over the heads of ordinary mortals to receive the secret of the gods, marks the illusion of the incestuous child who believed himself to be the apple of his mother's eye—to the detriment of the scorned father who is attributed the child's place as the excluded one, the castrate. But the incestuous child is able to continue his illusion of being mother's sole object of desire on condition that he agrees only to play at sexuality. (Primal Scene and Sexual Perversion, p. 375).

"to be like the others" still signified castration, "to be accepted by the others" was equivalent to losing his identity. He would then be forced to go over to the other side, the side of the brothers—and the fathers. To make such a move would mean the risk of losing all hope of possessing the mother's phallic secret and thus one day possessing the means of totally satisfying her… his feeling of identity would be reduced to nothing. For K. could only find his identity in the eyes of his mother. Only through her could he hope to acquire his manhood. His wish for his father's love and for the right to identify with him and thereby introject an authentic paternal-phallic image was felt to be forbidden by his mother, and had therefore to remain unconscious. His mother remained sole guardian of his narcissistic integrity (McDougall, Anonymous Spectator, p. 298).

So the issue at stake is that the castration complex is central in neurosis and not the oedipal complex. However, both Reich and Freud seemed to confuse the Oedipus complex with the castration complex at times.

"Castration" into language would have to occur before the phallic mother could potentially refer the child to another, absent 'phallic object'. This means that the earlier (poly-)phallic stage in which the child has an ideal of excellence or gift-giving would itself be where the subject is born into language qua sign. (I'll have to do another post in the future on Wittgenstein and Peirce).

update- to get rid of confusion I'm no longer referring to these stages as related to complexes (polyphallic, castration, oedipus, father).

To show the parallel developmental structure I'm referring to the oral, anal, phallic, etc. as for example

proto-phallic (poly-phallic), deutero-phallic (phallic-narcissistic), phallic-narcissistic (castration complex), phallic-Oedipal (Oedipal complex), trito-phallic (genital stage)

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