Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Freud's remarks on gender: narcissism and masochism

Freud saw an antithetical relation between object libido and ego libido after they emerged from primary narcissism:

"We see also, broadly speaking, an antithesis between ego-libido and object-libido. The more of the one is employed, the more the other becomes depleted... Finally, as regards the differentiation of psychical energies, we are led to the conclusion that to begin with, during the state of narcissism, they exist together and that our analysis is too coarse to distinguish between them; not until there is object-cathexis is it possible to discriminate a sexual energy—the libido—from an energy of the ego-instincts (On Narcissism, p. 76).

In other posts I've shown that love and idealization of the object has been identified by Jacobson, Horney, Kohut, etc. as being feminine. So, even though Freud claims that anaclitic love object cathexis is masculine I believe the others are seeing more clearly and the ego vs. object libido here is masculine vs. feminine.

This antithetical relation builds upon an earlier distinction between activity and passivity which is how Freud wants to characterize masculinity and femininity:

It is, moreover, a suggestive fact that the existence of the pair of opposites formed by sadism and masochism cannot be attributed merely to the element of aggressiveness. We should rather be inclined to connect the simultaneous presence of these opposites with the opposing masculinity and femininity which are combined in bisexuality— a contrast which often has to be replaced in psycho-analysis by that between activity and passivity (Three Essays, p.160).

The first reason he doesn't want to call this trend masculine and feminine is because the child must develop the cognitive capacity first for it's attitude to the world to be a masculine or feminine one. However, it is important that he sees active and passive expressions in the anal stage which is also where he holds that “Defaecation affords the first occasion on which the child must decide between a narcissistic and an object-loving attitude (Freud, ‘On Transformations of Instinct’, p. 130). Freud writes:
 Here the opposition between two currents, which runs through all sexual life, is already developed: they cannot yet, however, be described as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, but only as ‘active’ and ‘passive’. The activity is put into operation by the instinct for mastery through the agency of the somatic musculature; the organ which, more than any other, represents the passive sexual aim is the erotogenic mucous membrane of the anus. Both of these currents have objects, which, however, are not identical. Alongside these, other component instincts operate in an auto-erotic manner. In this phase, therefore, sexual polarity and an extraneous object are already observable. But organization and subordination to the reproductive function are still absent (Three Essays p.198-9).

Freud is clear that every human being is a bisexual mixture of active- narcissistic and passive-loving trends:

In every normal male or female individual, traces are found of the apparatus of the opposite sex. These either persist without function as rudimentary organs or become modified and take on other functions. These long-familiar facts of anatomy lead us to suppose that an originally bisexual physical disposition has, in the course of evolution, become modified into a unisexual one, leaving behind only a few traces of the sex that has become atrophied. Three essays, p. 141

in human beings pure masculinity or femininity is not to be found either in a psychological or a biological sense. Every individual on the contrary displays a mixture of the character-traits belonging to his own and to the opposite sex; and he shows a combination of activity and passivity whether or not these last character-traits tally with his biological ones (ibid. p. 219 footnote).

Now Freud later seeks to get rid of the tie between activity to masculinity and vice versa by pointing out that in other animals, such as spiders, the females are active. However, he has linked masculinity/activity to the somatic musculature and in humans men generally have more musculature so it makes sense to keep this linkage although Freud's point is well taken.

In his later work, Freud makes femininity or passivity synonymous with masochism:

This feminine masochism which we have been describing is entirely based on the primary, erotogenic masochism, on pleasure in pain (The Economic Problem of Masochism, p. 162).

In a previous post, I talked about this relation as one of degeneration in contrast to destruction. In a frustrating encounter with the object one can either try to destroy it, which shows self-love, or remove the offending organ out of love for the other. All these words anthropomorphize the child and are by no means conscious thoughts going on in it.

There is a relation of resonance with the object in which one degenerates and
there is a relation of antagonism with the object in which one is destructive.

The narcissistic man who has repressed his sexuality can put down women and be aggressive towards them.
The masochistic woman who has repressed her sexuality out of love for her husband (i.e. she loves him and doesn't want to hurt him but is not sexually attracted to him) will degenerate her sexual interest.

Up to the New Introductory Lectures Freud keeps bisexuality and the active and passive aims as the centerpiece of his chapter on Femininity:

One might consider characterizing femininity psychologically as giving preference to passive aims. This is not, of course, the same thing as passivity; to achieve a passive aim may call for a large amount of activity. It is perhaps the case that in a woman, on the basis of her share in the sexual function, a preference for passive behaviour and passive aims is carried over into her life to a greater or lesser extent, in proportion to the limits, restricted or far-reaching, within which her sexual life thus serves as a model. But we must beware in this of underestimating the influence of social customs, which similarly force women into passive situations. All this is still far from being cleared up. There is one particularly constant relation between femininity and instinctual life which we do not want to overlook. The suppression of women's aggressiveness which is prescribed for them constitutionally and imposed on them socially favours the development of powerful masochistic impulses, which succeed, as we know, in binding erotically the destructive trends which have been diverted inwards. Thus masochism, as people say, is truly feminine. But if, as happens so often, you meet with masochism in men, what is left to you but to say that these men exhibit very plain feminine traits? (New Intro lectures, p.115-6)

Afterwards, Freud chooses an 'anatomy is destiny' approach which seems to make reality more important than inner life or fantasy and goes against the power of his thought.

Again, if we conceive of two relations to the object: resonance as the feminine, passive, or masochistic aim and antagonism as the masculine, active, or narcissistic aim then we can talk about two libidos the ego libido and the object libido as Freud used himself. These libidos would have their own economy although, as Freud points out, they ultimately derive from the same ur libido

It would not be surprising if it were to turn out that each sexuality had its own special libido appropriated to it, so that one sort of libido would pursue the aims of a masculine sexual life and another sort those of a feminine one. But nothing of the kind is true. There is only one libido, which serves both the masculine and the feminine sexual functions. To it itself we cannot assign any sex; if, following the conventional equation of activity and masculinity, we are inclined to describe it as masculine, we must not forget that it also covers trends with a passive aim. (ibid, p.131).

Through out the entire development of the individual, from the womb until it leaves off the path of eros and individuation and turns to neurosis or death, there is the bisexual functioning of aggression and sex which, since the sexual function doesn't arise until the phallic stage, is better put as ego libido vs. object libido or narcissism vs. masochism.

There are two more important points to make

1. The musculature of the male which designates him as active is mythologically seen as corresponding to consciousness, the sun, the sky, etc. while the female corresponds to the earth, moon, etc. However, the feminine part of bisexuality is important for much of what it termed the ego qua perceptual-consciousness system or the subject in philosophy. The systematizing functions, logic, etc. is one part but mimicry, empathy, etc. is equally important in a "strong ego" capable of aesthetic engagement and reading the feelings of others.

2. Though the average person is capable of developing basic skills in math and empathy with others (i.e. dynamically everyone's bisexuality goes through the same stages of development). What is important when dealing with an individual is the economic factor which, when it's not a matter of a parent or culture directing an individual towards developing certain abilities, is a matter of fixation. In a previous post I talked about the fixation of sadism in different stages that are fused with ego functions to make them economically selected and defused in the superego return of aggression upon the self. By parallel there would be a fixation of some longing for the object that is manifested in different ways (bite, swallow, mutilate, kill, etc. vs. to be embraced, to be surrounded, to bask in the presence of, etc.). These part drives would play an economic factor in ego functions of receptivity to the object from the primordial level of colours and form in art, to mimicry and doing impressions of others, all the way up to what Nietzsche calls the 'historical sense' upon which 19th century philosophy was based.

So, although everyone dynamically goes through the same stages of development, the primary repression or fixation of certain instincts, as well as adaptive failures (which I'll have to write about some other time), are key for how a person functions in a "bisexual" way. It is possible that a very muscular man will have a very feminine character because of what has been traumatic for him and caused fixations on masochistic side of his personality.

psychoanalysis to this extent is also philosophy of authenticity:

There are a few people who stand up and sing the national anthem with pride at sporting events, a majority who go through the motions (not self-consciously but as an unconscious social drive), a few who self-consciously don't want to disappoint someone there, and a few who don't even care to keep up appearances.

the same goes with kissing.

There are many people who kiss because it's what they think people should do (as the unconscious social drive). There are some who don't bother to kiss and have no such drive to keep up appearances. Then there are a few who really have eroticized kissing and get off on it.

Freud's system is subtle enough to account for all these differences and it's only in the hands of autistic narcissists that his models have become the laughing stock of academia.

But, the bourgeoisie is his own grave digger and by university being as boring as the world of money-making there's no place left for us to go. We have to create something great so that we can kneel down before it as our masochism demands.

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