Thursday, April 25, 2013

The symbol of the phallus and perfection as the 'not-mother'

I've posted about the phallus as perfection and perfection as a negative quality or the not-mother many times before. Someone has asked for more support in this claim after I told them about my interpretation of the primal horde myth. The interpretation is that the original procreator deity is formed after a negation of the mother at the proto-phallic stage in which language, jealousy, and reputation exists when the community recognizes the skills, strength, or "knowledge" of the totem animal in its survival in the wild. The creation of the procreator of the tribe is the prototype for the oedipal father and not the other way around and the creation of his imago (i.e. the not-mother = father) from the negation of the mother is internal. Here's what I shared with them.   

The phallus or perfection has to be understood as a negative quality. By this I mean that the most important relationship a child has is to its mother or primary caregiver and that a single mother can raise a child that isn’t psychotic or neurotic and this illustrates that the phallus exists for the child through the mother. Philosophically, Freud’s point about striving for perfection is simple here.  We are finite beings and can’t grasp the infinite or perfection and therefore it is best understood to be a negation of the finite. If we understand that the infant wants the mother’s breast, her hugs and caresses, and desires her finite material body in its sexuality, then perfection arises as the not-mother. The phallus, as a symbol of the not mother or not-finite, represents a transitional space where the child can escape from the strong emotional relationship it has to the mother. Freud writes:

“It may be difficult, too, for many of us, to abandon the belief that there is an instinct towards perfection at work in human beings, which has brought them to their present high level of intellectual achievement and ethical sublimation and which may be expected to watch over their development into supermen. I have no faith, however, in the existence of any such internal instinct and I cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved. The present development of human beings requires, as it seems to me, no different explanation from that of animals. What appears in a minority of human individuals as an untiring impulsion towards further perfection can easily be understood as a result of the instinctual repression upon which is based all that is most precious in human civilization. The repressed instinct never ceases to strive for complete satisfaction, which would consist in the repetition of a primary experience of satisfaction. No substitutive or reactive formations and no sublimations will suffice to remove the repressed instinct's persisting tension; and it is the difference in amount between the pleasure of satisfaction which is demanded and that which is actually achieved that provides the driving factor which will permit of no halting at any position attained, but, in the poet's words, [‘Presses ever forward unsubdued.’]. The backward path that leads to complete satisfaction is as a rule obstructed by the resistances which maintain the repressions. So there is no alternative but to advance in the direction in which growth is still free—though with no prospect of bringing the process to a conclusion or of being able to reach the goal” (Freud, BPP, p. 42).

Freud’s claim here is a simple one: the finite mind couldn’t possibly grasp something infinite or perfect even though philosophers have often claimed the opposite. He ‘naturalistically’ proposes that concepts like perfection have an existence as a negative quality. This no doubt sounds very philosophical and abstract but yet we all use the word perfect in common language and therefore it must have a meaning. The problem is that a thing or person one person describes as perfect may not be so to another. So instead of looking at these objects as if they possess objective perfection we can say that that a man describing a woman as perfect might have idealized her in an ego ideal. Similarly, a person might regard attaining a certain job or title as representing part of the perfect life and work very hard to become partner in his firm. However, the instincts ‘persisting tension’ means that even when he does attain it the feeling of triumph will only last for so long before the ideal will have to find a new object. The real question in all of this is whether we want to ignore meaning and talk about neuroscience, ignore science and talk about God, or whether we can follow Freud and the more difficult and subtle, dialectical approach he takes to meaning.   

An early analyst makes it clear that the phallus is symbolic of perfection: “the symbol of the phallus has simultaneously been accepted unconsciously, by both men and women, as an outstanding mark of fertility, of potency, and of superiority. (Bousfield, The Castration Complex in Women, p. 121-2)[1]. Freud is also clear in many places that perfection is identified with the father and an individual’s “helplessness remains and along with it his longing for his father” (Future of An Illusion, p. 18):

To begin with, we know that God is a father-substitute; or, more correctly, that he is an exalted father; or, yet again, that he is a copy of a father as he is seen and experienced in childhood—by individuals in their own childhood and by mankind in its prehistory as the father of the primitive and primal horde. Later on in life the individual sees his father as something different and lesser. But the ideational image belonging to his childhood is preserved and becomes merged with the inherited memory-traces of the primal father to form the individual's idea of God. (A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis, p. 85; Civilization, p. 82). 

Not for a moment are we in the dark as to why a great man ever becomes important. We know that in the mass of mankind there is a powerful need for an authority who can be admired, before whom one bows down, by whom one is ruled and perhaps even ill-treated. We have learnt from the psychology of individual men what the origin is of this need of the masses. It is a longing for the father felt by everyone from his childhood onwards, for the same father whom the hero of legend boasts he has overcome. And now it may begin to dawn on us that all the characteristics with which we equipped the great man are paternal characteristics, and that the essence of great men for which we vainly searched lies in this conformity. The decisiveness of thought, the strength of will, the energy of action tare part of the picture of a father—but above all the autonomy and independence of the great man, his divine unconcern which may grow into ruthlessness. One must admire him, one may trust him, but one cannot avoid being afraid of him too. We should have been led to realize this from the word itself: who but the father can have been the ‘great man’ in childhood? (Moses and Monotheism, p. 109-10).

Klein shows that father or his penis is a symbol of perfection, is the successor to the mother or her breast, and retains a ‘symbolic equation’ with her.

As we know, and as Abraham especially has pointed out, the nature of the child's object-relations and character-formation is very strongly determined by whether its predominant fixations are situated in the oral-sucking stage or in the oral-sadistic one. In my opinion this factor is decisive for the formation of the super-ego as well. The introjection of a kindly mother leads to the setting up of a friendly father-imago, owing to the equation of breast with penis. In the construction of the super-ego, too, fixations in the oral-sucking stage will counteract the terrifying identifications which are made under the supremacy of oral-sadistic impulses (Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, p. 213-4, emphasis mine)

When the girl turns to her father's penis as the wished-for object, several factors concur to make her desire for it very intense. The demands of her oral-sucking impulses, heightened by the frustration she has suffered from her mother's breast, create in her an imaginary picture of her father's penis as an organ which, unlike the breast, can provide her with a tremendous and never-ending oral gratification (ibid. p.271, emphasis mine).

[1] The phallus is not just the symbol of perfection, a part-object symbol of the father-substitute- in the oral, anal, phallic, etc. stages. It is also the symbol of the father-substitute who is supposed to protect and foster in regards to the altruistic pole of the personality, or what Bousfield is pointing to as fertility and what Klein identifies as the life drives. The link of the not-finite to death instead of perfection is discussed in earlier posts.  

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