Archive | October 2014

On Androgyny and the Primitive Mind

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Androgyny, the union of female and male characteristics, is considered by psychoanalysis as a ‘primitive state of mind’, as Jung says, a place and time when differences, or opposites, were not separated but conformed a whole. When exactly this happened is left unclear however this wholeness or androgyny state reminds at the unconscious level where consciousness has not yet processed pairs of opposites. This union of opposites does not only refer to sexual differences but to any kind of contraries which, especially the Western civilization, have carefully and ‘logically’ separated. For Jung this is part of the white civilization problem: binary opposition rather than help, confuses as it consists in separate and eliminate part of the human wholeness. Evil/goodness, weak/strong, light/darkness are some classical examples. Freud’s work might be approached at the light of such conflict in Western culture: instinct/culture, or expression/repression are likely to end up in neurosis or hysteria.

At the linguistic level, androgyny was also suggested by Freud in “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” where he states that in an antique era a word might have meant one thing and its opposite. Similarly, Irigaray from a feminist perspective, claims Western discourse being build by men has forgotten its etymological origin expressing both male and female together in a single word. Binary oppositions have been criticized by feminism as something proper of a patriarchal culture, considering psychoanalytical arguments, it is a topic worth to explore. Indeed, asiatic cultures, which are popular defined as ‘feminine’, seem to still include the union of opposites; asiatic medicine is more based on the wholeness of the human being than it is Western medicine, mainly characterize by ‘cutting off’ what does not work, the human body being approached by parts rather than as a whole harmonious unity. It might be interesting to compare both medical discourses.

On space, Lefebvre points out some differences between the Western and the Eastern civilizations on the organization of domestic and public space. The opposition outside/inside is here as well approached differently: the white culture has been characterized by a strong separation of these two spheres, especially since the Modern period and the bourgeoisie, while the East keeps a more fluid relationship between the two spheres stressed trough the importance of the garden, and constructions being part of nature rather than opposite to it.

Pleasure and Power: Nussbaum on Butler

Edvard Munch - puberty (1895)

Martha Nussbaum in her article “The Professor of Parody” (1999) gives an explanation of contemporary American feminist discourse focused on the example of Judith Butler’s work. Nussbaum’s critique focuses on three main issues: Butler’s complicated narrative, her lack of originality on the analysed topics and the conclusions she withdraws from them, and her passivity concerning social and political changes. Due to my research topic I will focus on the former and the latter arguments.

Nussbaum infers from the obscurity found in Butler’s texts a lack of honesty which may consist in complicating simple statements and arguments in an aim to disguise them under a high intellectual value ‘since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought’ (1999: 4). Indeed, Nussbaum refers back to Socrates’ defense of clarity and simplicity in philosophical thought, claiming against sophists and rhetoricians whose ‘manipulative methods showed only disrespect [for the soul]’ (1999: 5). Therefore, Nussbaum suggests ideological purposes in Butler’s text, however, she does not consider the possibility of these texts as being an expression of an unconscious meaning, instead she stands easily for a lack of meaning, a simple reproduction of issues, mentioned by previous authors, in a confusing verbosity (1999: 4-5).

The third point of Nussbaum’s critique regarding Butler’s passivity is interesting insofar it relates to Foucault’s questioning the repeatedly use of our supposed repression in contemporary discourses. According to Nussbaum, Butler’s texts are so theoretical and symbolic that they ignore the real and material situation of women who are victims of social and political injustices being unable to help them (1999: 12). Nussbaum suggests Butler’s arguments to be ‘focus narcissistically on personal self’, while there exists other feminist scripts concerned in ‘building laws and institutions, without much concern on how a woman displays her own body and its gendered nature’ (1999: 13). But Butler, argues Nussbaum, finds pleasure living within the same structures which oppress her, belonging to them insofar they are the conditions for her being, as for its victims: ‘I cannot escape the humiliating structures without ceasing to be, so the best I can do is mock, and use the language of subordination stingingly’ (1999: 10).

However, Butler’s attitude can also be understood as a need to keep this structures alive in order to generate oppression and hence her own discourse. This conclusion may arise a polemical and ethical question concerning the academia, its economic sources, and its scope of influence outside itself which mostly refers back to sexual politics, as Nussbaum implicitly points out through her whole article. In Foucauldian terms, there would be a need either to create repression or sustain it in order to justify new discourses on the body. In this context, Nussbaum’s claims on Butler’s passivity would remain insufficient, as Butler’s discourse does not only avoid change but it stands against it as its only possible existence is within these structures in a masochistic relationship; hence, the question arises, is she constructing a masochistic body? This relationship between body, pleasure and power, may logically support patriarchal social and family organizations as a source of pleasure for women, which shows a high cynicism and contradictions in Butler’s texts. In fact, Nussbaum mentions feminist theorists’ comfortable positions ‘in safety of their campuses, remaining on the symbolic level’ instead of ‘work in changing the law, or feeding the hungry’ (1999: 13).

On the Psychic Home

Rembrandt_-_The_Philosopher_in_Meditation

Roger Kennedy develops the concept of ‘psychic home’ from a psychoanalytical perspective in his book The Psychic Home (2014) whose theory may feel complemented with that of Jung and Heidegger’s approach to dwelling, as well as providing an interesting relationship between the importance of the bourgeois interior and the emergence of psychoanalysis. Kennedy argues that it is a human need to have a sense of home: ‘We need to feel at home in the world – it makes us feel secure, it provides the base from which we can explore’ (2014: 12). This sense of home is found inside the human being, it belongs to his interiority being extremely related to the physical construction of the house. This strong relationship is expressed through a continuous interaction between the inside and the outside: the psychic house is fed trough the physical space, while the physical interior becomes yearning and expression of the psychic house.

Kennedy differentiates between the interior home and the domestic space: the first one been approached as a given entity, while the second one belongs to a particular historical context. Indeed Histoire de la Vie Privée shows a complete development of domestic space being its high moment found from the French Revolution onwards, especially during the bourgeoisie. This differentiation is important to oppose traditional feminist critique as it shows how the sense of home may be set apart from the material relationship to the house, in other words, feminism fails to differentiate the relationship between the woman and her inner home from that of the material house, and that may be due to its general materialistic approach. However, following Kennedy, the history of the inner home is that of the human being: the value of home belongs to him, as Heidegger says ‘to be is to dwell’ (147); but the historical development and expression of this interiority is subjected to change, and to the materiality of the world. Thus, bourgeois domestic space should be approached from its particular context, as expression of both human interiority and social interactions. This relationship is what can lead to a conflict which is experienced by the adulteress as a central figure in part of the bourgeois novel.

Kennedy establishes the relationship between the development of domestic space and psychoanalysis based on the idea that, in fact, psychoanalysis somehow belongs to the home’s interiority, and to the inner space both psychically and physically (2014: 20): it belongs to the subject who inhabits the house. Thus the psychic home finds a strong correlation with domestic space in the bourgeoisie which is highly concerned with the cultivation of the inner space in both metaphorical and literal meanings:

 ‘One could say that the older notion of the interior as the spiritual and inner nature of the soul became, in Freud, wedded to the emerging notion of the double nature of the interior as site of dream and material reality to create a new notion of private life and of the human subject. The psychoanalytical interior, or what I shall put forward as the notion of a psychic home, becomes a revolutionary account of the human subject, one that challenged bourgeois domesticity while providing a comfortable space for exploration of its conflicts’.                                                                                             (2014: 24)

 Indeed, psychoanalysis is the product as well as the end of the proper bourgeoisie or Victorian domesticity and its core values. Kennedy approaches the discipline as a result of the strong sense of interiority domestic space brought to the individual who was not freed from inner conflicts, but far from that, those were actually caused by the same domesticity. One can then suggest with Kennedy how psychoanalysis was born from the negative side of domesticity: its conflicts; therefore, being the new discipline a cure but nonetheless also a challenge for Victorian values; the end of the restricted and disciplined sexuality, and the beginning of new experiences of the body.