Rainer Geissler, MA, MFT | Article

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

V. Final thoughts

“… a symmetry is necessary in which both the self and other must own the burden of subjectivity, the tendency to assimilate or deny the difference of the other (destruction). We must not only recognize our tendency to destroy, we must survive for the other; and we must also ask the other to take on the onus of being a subject and surviving our destruction.”
(Benjamin, week V, p111)

We cannot speak about repression or criticize it without bringing repression alive in language. As soon as we articulate our thoughts through language, they become real in the world and can be used by the other in any way s/he wants. Language renders expression of personal experience unspeakable because every experience of me in relation to whatever not only requires, includes and implies the other but it requires the other to have the exact same understanding of my words as I imply in them. This, however, is an impossible task: “Our memory constitutes an unconscious Other that inhabits us; this memory is invested by the narrative that restores it to us, submits it to the domination of the conscious, deciphers in language and addresses an Other.” (Kristeva, week VIII, p66)
The other within is not me. The other within is the superego, with its objective to inhibit the expression of unfiltered subjective experience. It is the ongoing voice in our heads telling us what we did wrong and induces feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Freud contextualized the superego so to speak as the ‘social security agency’ society installed into our minds to protect morality and social norm(ality). Rather than saying that this is how it has to be Freud put into language what before him nobody would dare to speak off and exposed “…how sexual repression in childhood created conflictive and strained marital relationships which in turn affected the children of these marriages in ways that would reproduce the whole situation in the next generation ... Freud argues against the view prevalent in his time that hysterics are degenerate and weak, and for the view that the women he treated were especially intelligent, creative, and moral.” (Chodorow, week IV, p170) In other words, Freud argued that his patients in fact were ‘social rebels with a cause’ fighting against sexual repression and social injustice. The symptoms they came to treatment for was the price they had to pay for their social disobedience. Freud realized also that it makes no sense to ‘heal’ his patients as long as the source of their ‘illnesses’ would remain unchanged. And that is what he pleads for and writes about: the necessary changes of society rather than the adaptation of his clients to societies sick making conditions. What is most important for me to point out here is that “Freud’s theory is a social and political theory. … Psychoanalysis shows that women and men and male dominance are reproduced in each generation as a result of a social division of labor in which women mother [and are object’s to an assumed] male superiority.”
Psychological damage occurs when the father does not intervene, when he does not prohibit the child in his incestuous wishes for the mother, meaning when he does not initiate castration. The child becomes an Oedipal victor, which means it does not receive the phallus and therefore is not castrated; it merely receives his fathers disinterest and ignorance, receives the message ‘You are not worthy for me to bother about you.” The phallus –and its confusion with the penis- is not a signifier for male or female, it is the signifier of the fe-male human being needing to complete the Oedipus complex as successful castrated being. Only successful castration provides the phallus for male and female and signifies their individuality as meaningful and powerful men or women: “In Freud’s schema, after the castration complex, boys and girls will more or less adequately adopt the sexual identity of the appropriate parent. But it is always only an adoption and a precarious one at that. … For Freud, identification with the appropriate parent is a result of the castration complex, which has already given the mark of sexual distinction. For other analysts, dispensing with the key role of the castration complex, identification is the cause of sexual difference.” (Mitchell, week VII, p22)
“Psychoanalysis demonstrates the internal mechanisms of the socio-cultural organization of gender and sexuality and confirms the early feminist argument that ‘the personal is political.’ … Male dominance on a psychological level is a masculine defense and a major psychic cost to men, built on fears and insecurity; it is not straightforward power.” (Chodorow, week IV, p177; italics added by me) To be human is to be different – our differences are a gift to celebrate, something to learn from each other rather than something we need to repress out of the fear to loose our individuality. Someone or something is different from me, not better or worse, not good or bad, not dangerous or threatening - simply different, male and female. Men, denying equality between men and women in their fear to be inferior, are responsible for and have to carry the burden of the lack they create in society. The desire created by the masculine lack, however, holds the promise for a world in which people take responsibility for themselves and for others rather than a world in which we all only pretend to be responsibly. Response-ability is not simply to be accountable for something, it is the ‘ability to give a response’, the ability to adequately act or re-act in ones environment. Only when men finally are willing and able to take responsibility and face their fears and insecurities, they will be able to change and transform their relationship to women. And only when women and feminists realize that the phallus they fight against in fact is that what they fight for, they will be able to offer the necessary support men need to be able to engage in real transformation.
It seems as if “…the shadow of the object…” (Benjamin, week V, p108) not only fell on the ego but that the shadow of the ego fell on many of the critical responses to Freud. Whether they come from a feminist perspective or a different psychological perspective, many of Freud’s critics often seem to misinterpret his words and take them as basis for past and present sexism. In doing so, however, they confuse the phallus with the penis and forget that “psychoanalyses is about human sexuality and the unconscious … a psychoanalytic concept of sexuality” (Mitchell, week VII, p2) and not a handbook in learning how to apply repression. The psychoanalytic endeavor lies in raising awareness for the social forces that lead us to suppress our subjective individuality and make us fit into pre-given and seemingly questionable but unchangeable moral norms. Freud shows us that male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual etc is not a choice but an expression of the differences that make us human beings. As such we need to understand that “…authorship, or ownership, of our desire and intention is a crucial feature of subjectivity occluded by the conventional opposition between activity and passivity. … being a subject of desire requires ownership and not merely activity. Ownership depends upon reclaiming the maternal form of activity, the recognition and holding of emotional states, excitement in particular.” (Benjamin, week V, p110)


Week IV
Chodorow, N. J. (1991): Feminism, femininity, and Freud; in Feminism and psychoanalytic theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Week V
Benjamin, J. (1998): Shadow of the other: Intersubjectivity and gender in psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge
• Introduction
Week VII
Mitchell. J. & Rose, J.
(Eds.) (1985): Feminine Sexuality. New York. W. W. Norton & Company
Kristeva, J. (2001): The sense and nonsense of revolt. New York: Columbia University Press
• Oedipus again; or, phallic monism