Rainer Geissler, MA, MFT | Article

The Other Within or Enemy Mine (Part Ii) - by Rainer Geissler, MA, LMFT (C) 2003

II. In other words…

The capitalistic system we live in exploits our desire in that it provides us with lack. The culture industry of our capitalistic societies not only mercilessly commercializes lack and desire, it also creates lack, and with it new desire which did not exist prior to the invented lack by which it is symbolized. Whether we like it or not; the system of the culture industry is perfect to the degree that we are not able to distinguish if that what we want or do is what we really want or want to do or if we only believe that we want it or want to do it. In other words: feminist criticism of the patriarchal structures cannot be sure if the feminist desire to overcome female suppression is really their desire or if they merely are made believe it to be their desire. How do we know that what we hear and see on TV or radio and what we read in books, magazines or papers is real and not an invention of the culture industry to provide us with nonexistent problems in whose solution we put all our energy? We never would come to experience the solution we desire because the solution is in the hands of the culture industry who can provide it or not (think about censorship on American TV and the pictures and stories about the war in Iraq the public was provided with vs the ones not shown to the public; or think about the lies that where invented by the government in order to manipulate the opinion of the public in order to go to war in the first place).
Whether female suppression is real or propaganda, the prayer wheel like repetition of female suppression does neither change that what is proclaimed as fact nor does it secure the sympathy of the accused male suppressors. It does, however, fill the latter over time with an equal amount of annoyance as the amount of energy the former invests in their claims. Feminist criticism, as much as I agree with it, has to take the challenge to answer the question if the phallus they fight against is not in fact the very phallus they aim to receive in order to not feel suppressed any longer. If the phallus symbolizes the suppressor than he also symbolizes the power of that suppressor. The suppression only can end when the power is handed over to the suppressed or equally distributed between suppressor and suppressed. But here again the suppressed can only win what they blame to be the source of their suppression. Feminist criticism therefore needs to provide an answer to the question what happens once feminism has reached its goal and female suppression is extinguished. And what to do with the empty place, the lack, it leaves behind. What desire will be created by that lack? Can such lack that is the result of the feminist victory over suppression -which is the extinguishing of suppression- not only be filled by that what was extinguished – female suppression? What if not only feminist goals but all the goals we fight for leave behind nothing else than the same desire due to which the goal once came into consciousness and, if that would be so, does that not mean that we only turn around in circles without ever reaching what we desire and is not that exactly what Freud describes with the castration complex in the Oedipus?
“Desire persists as an effect of a primordial absence and it therefore indicates that in this area there is something fundamentally impossible about satisfaction itself.” (Mitchell, week VII, p6) Thus, is our urge to satisfy our desires nothing else than an urge impossible to ever be satisfied, an illusion? Or maybe a clever invention the culture industry once whispered in our ears after we where born, an invention we, as we encounter it later, only can conceptualize as something that pre-existed us, a given non-existence that only can exist if nothing exits – especially not the human mind? The human mind only exists thru the law of the father symbolizing lack and therefore the human mind is dependent on the lack without which it does not exist because there would be nothing it could relate to which at the same time is the precondition for its existence. Without lack there is no desire and without desire nothing to control the (m)other with. Without desire no phallus. Without phallus, no signifier of neither lack nor desire. Without the fateful confusion of phallus with penis, nothing feminism could fight for – or was it fight against?
Speaking of the phallus too often is in fact speaking about the male genital, symbolizing male power and female repression, which becomes a male characteristic. No one seems to bother anymore that the phallus merely symbolizes the lack rather then being that what is lacked. Lack always only is possible by comparison of what one has with what one thinks to be in need of. Humans compare themselves with one an-other, Awareness of lack requires being in relationship to someone who is different in that s/he possesses something I lack. I may have never been aware of that lack and filling it may change nothing else than filling up a whole that always existed without bothering me (because I was not aware of its existence, and therefore it may also be that it never existed in the first place until my awareness of wanting that of which I did not know that I want it before I saw its representation for the first time created the lack due to which I realize that desire) and only thru the encounter with the other that long existing lack came into being for me and now thru my awareness of what always have been there I am in need to fill the very same lack, which once it is filled, will sink back into nonexistence leaving me again not being aware of it or that it ever was in my awareness.
Lack depends on the other without which I could not reflect on my existence. ‘I’ already includes ‘Thou’ and ‘Thou’ always includes ‘I’. One is neither thinkable nor existent without the other. ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are interdependent preconditions for both human consciousness and unconsciousness and the awareness of lack and desire. ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ lay the ground on which the concept of power takes shape and is divided in ‘powerful’ and ‘powerless’ as inherent abilities of human life rather than a fixed, inflexible, and unchangeable framework in which one has the power and the other has not. ‘I’ is not only dependent on ‘Thou’, ‘I’ also is ‘Thou’ because ‘Thou’ only lives and exists in ‘I’s’ mind just as ‘I’ only exists and lives in ‘Thou’s’ mind and it is impossible for either one to ever know the others real which is different from their projections on each other. Feminist phallic criticism universalizes the ‘suppressive phallus’ only on the ‘Thou’ and excludes the ‘I’, themselves, without whom there could never be suppression.
Feminist criticism ironically overlooks that the phallus they fight against in fact is the very phallus they want to receive. They seem to confuse feminism with femininity and seem to believe the ‘Oedipus-Castration-Complex’ would constitute a superior male and inferior female rather than the roles society forces on both of them. The Oedipus complex does not constitute masculinity and femininity but the psychical birth of the sexes. Feminist criticism on Freud seems to ignore that he “…emphasizes the central place of the Oedipus complex as an organizer of the psychical life of early childhood … concerns the development of the child and does not in any way coincide with adult genital organization. … What is present is not a primacy of genitals but a primacy of the phallus. … it is a matter of phallic organization localized at a certain moment in the subject’s history, which endure as an unconscious fantasy but is not at all the optimal outcome of adult human sexuality. The optimal outcome would be the recognition of both sexes and relations between them. When one speaks of the primacy of the phallus, therefore, one must not lose sight of the fact that it is, I repeat, a matter of a fantasy linked to infantile genital sexuality.” (Kristeva, week VIII, p71/74). Nowadays, however, gynecologists as ‘social gatekeepers’ assign the sex to a child and bring into existence what feminist criticism is about: the implication that one sex is more powerful than the other who by assignment of the other powerless.
Freud did not inscribe men and women as powerless or powerful, he was not concerned with such profanities when he somewhat carelessly raised the impression the little girl would feel inferior and be jealous of the penis of her brother (what if the little girl has no brother and the father died at her birth? How does she know of the penis of her nonexistent male family members?) Freud inscribed both men and women within masculinity and femininity, not as a choice but as a given real. He inscribed men and women in the yet undifferentiated multitudiousness of sexuality where everything is possible apart from sexual object choice. Sexual object choice ironically is no choice as such, it is an imaginary choice with the choice already foreclosed. (I am tempted to write ‘…already genetically foreclosed…’ or something like ‘…genetically already made for us…’ but fact is, nobody knows why one is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual or whatever-sexual; all we know is that we are how we are and that neither one sexuality is superior or inferior to the other.) Female suppression therefore is an illogical but clever invention of the culture industry, an imaginary female inferiority created by inferior feeling subjective individuals fearful to become powerless objects and therefore in need to gain power over others, because they are afraid of the emptiness of the lack. This is what Freud tried to make us aware of: that we become socialized with morality and normative rules invented to hide the real. Never has Freud in any way constituted the phallus as identical with fulfilled adult sexuality. Rather he argued that psychical life becomes more and more differentiated and with that differentiation comes awareness of the other (better an imaginary picture of him in my mind, always only a symbolization of the real but never the real) as different from myself. Again, when we are interacting with the other, we merely interact with an idea of that other we created in our mind
Feminist criticism on Freud that concentrates on female sexuality in the effort to defend and acknowledge the status and nature of female sexuality must become “…isolated, something independent of the distinction that creates it …just as if women have…to have something of their own. The issue subtly shifts from what distinguishes the sexes to what has each sex got of value that belongs to it alone. … For Freud it is of course never a question of arguing that anatomy or biology is irrelevant, it is a question of assigning them their place. He gave them a place / it was outside the field of psychoanalytic enquiry.” (Mitchell, week VII, p20) The Oedipus complex is not the root of organized female suppression but the description of organized social denial of the real, abuse of the symbolic and repression of the imaginary. The Oedipus complex describes the organization of psychic life as the process in which male and female child discover lack and desire. The importance of the Oedipus complex lies in successful castration through the experience that our desires not always will be satisfied (the law of the father). We have to learn, accept, and deal with the other’s desire. Only successful castration provides us with the phallus. In the following, I try illustrate my arguments using the case of a patient with whom I worked a few years ago in The Netherlands.