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The Castration of Oedipus: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and Feminism

J. C. Smith
Carla Ferstman
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Castration of Oedipus
    Book Description:

    The intellectual movements of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism have redefined the ways in which we think about human experience. And yet, an integration of these movements has been elusive, if not impossible. In this landmark book, J.C. Smith and Carla J. Ferstman combine these disparate traditions to create a provocative, unified, and tightly woven perspective that transcends the misogyny implicit in much of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. The dialectics of domination and submission are central to Smith and Ferstman's argument. Men and women, they insist, must avoid the temptation to fetishize equality and recognize the roles of domination and submission in the human psyche, or, in Nietzsche's terms, the Will to Power. They argue that the unification of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism leads us to a shocking conclusion--that women and men cannot move beyond the suffering which so haunts the human condition, unless heterosexual men surrender the power that is causing their misery and affirm life by joyfully accepting domination by women. And women, conversely, must reaffirm their power by rejecting Oedipal genderization and embracing a liberating matriarchal consciousness and a matriphallic sexuality. A work of tremendous insight and extraordinary intellectual energy, The Castration of Oedipus will provoke strong reactions in all readers regardless of ideology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8894-3
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)
    Ann Scales

    These authors have a lot of nerve. They have swum into the treacherous waters among the already rocky shores of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism, but not only that. They have written a book that claims to bedoingeach of those enterprises simultaneously rather than redescribing or reinterpreting them. Even more outrageously, they claim to be pushing psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism to those perspectives’ logical conclusions.

    At no point do the authors attempt to define the three disciplines. They start, rather, with certain notions that are fundamental to each. They believe, fundamental to feminism, that women are oppressed, in every...

  5. ONE Thinking the Unthinkable
    (pp. 10-30)

    Contemporary critical social theory points to three perspectives: the psychoanalytic, the postmodern, and the feminist. Though each has its own independent core, incorporating aspects from one or more of the other perspectives can be beneficial and has the result of strengthening or clarifying the respective theoretical structure. There is substantial literature combining any two of these three perspectives. Each alliance turns out to be a case of one perspective co-opting some aspect of the others while at the same time rejecting one or more of the basic presuppositions upon which the perspective rests. Thus, we have postmodern feminism, postmodern psychoanalysis,...

  6. TWO The Sexuality of Politics
    (pp. 31-51)

    Clearly, there can be no full integration of feminist theory and psychoanalysis as long as psychoanalysis continues to maintain that the Oedipal passage is a necessary representation of unconscious life and that a successful Oedipal passage of an individual, whether male or female, is the measure of effective individuation. So long as psychoanalytic theory treats a successful Oedipal passage as the norm against which perversion is to be measured, the relationship between feminism and psychoanalysis must remain equivocal and paradoxical. If, on the other hand, the Oedipal passage is considered to be only a possible materialization and not necessarily the...

  7. THREE Knowledge and the Languaging Body
    (pp. 52-79)

    Psychoanalytic theory, postmodernism, and feminism have one important feature in common. They each call into question the very nature of knowledge and inevitably lead us to question how we know what we think we know. Each requires us at some point to use “the instrument of analysis to analyze the instrument of analysis”;¹ to conceptualize the process of conceptualization, to take cognizance of the process of cognition, to explain the process of explanation, to observe the process of observation, to become conscious of what is consciousness, to examine the reality of reality and the differentiations of difference, and to articulate...

  8. FOUR The Dialectics
    (pp. 80-112)

    In his essayThe Double Session(DS), Derrida develops a textual dialectic located within the text rather than in material reality. Derridean textual dialectics is different than Hegelian dialectics, which polarizes thesis and contradiction as antithesis. It meets at a point Derrida refers to as the fold. The text has two parts, the published, visible, and readable text and the unpublished, unspoken, and hidden text, which lies between the lines and beneath the surface. He states, “This double session will itself have been picked up on a corner, in the middle or the suspense of the two parts of a...

  9. FIVE The Dialectics of Fantasy
    (pp. 113-141)

    Distinctions between appearance and reality are inevitable when one concentrates on the biological limits of knowledge and on the subjectivity of sensed experience. Each person presupposes or assumes his or her own existence as the knower, as a given, and the external world as other and object. At the same time, reality is a human construct that is relative to a particular discourse or set of discourses. There is no transcendental appeal to an objective measure outside of or beyond the limits of human perception, mental life, and language. Nevertheless, as one encounters the external world within the framework of...

  10. SIX The Dialectics of Signification
    (pp. 142-170)

    The master signifiers (the primary and the privileged) link the Imaginary and the Symbolic to the Real. The Imaginary and the Symbolic are in the realm of human cognition, whereas the Real is outside, connected only by metaphor. Consequently, therepresentationis never the same aswhat is represented. The Real cannot be known directly but only metaphorically, and therefore the Real can be represented but the representation is not and can never be the Real. All we can do is improve the metaphors. As Nietzsche stated: “the physical explanation, which is a symbolization of the world by means of...

  11. SEVEN The Dialectics of Desire
    (pp. 171-199)

    In understanding human sexuality, there are, according to Laplanche’s interpretation of Freud, “two terms, two ‘signifiers’ ” that must be “the guiding thread,”driveandinstinct(L&D, 9). Instinct is “a performed behavioral pattern, whose arrangement is determined hereditarily and which is repeated according to modalities relatively adapted to a certain type of object,” and ‘the sexual object’ is defined as ‘the person from whom the sexual attraction proceeds’ ” (L&D, 10-11). Laplanche quotes the following passage from Freud: “Our study of thumb-sucking or sensual sucking has already given us the three essential characteristics of an infantile sexual manifestation. At...

  12. EIGHT Ariadne and Dionysus
    (pp. 200-231)

    The act of seduction consists of leading a person astray in conduct or belief from a norm or standard by enticing or beguiling the person to do something that is wrong in terms of that criterion. Ariadne operates as the temptress who enforces the primal seduction of Dionysus. He is drawn to her in death but, in the union, wills only Eros. She holds the key to the labyrinth, and only she knows the way out.¹

    She has also seduced Nietzsche. Ariadne has initiated in him the desire to castrate the privileged signifier and the desire to fill the void...

  13. NINE Medusa Depetrified
    (pp. 232-258)

    Medusa’s presence evokes sentiments of fear and reproach in those who happen to cross her path. As such, she is constantly being put in an obscure corner, in the dark continent of decay. She has come to symbolize the pure potency of the female—her prowess—intellectually, physically, and sexually. She is a figure who is not necessarily pleasant, nice, or receptive in the traditional feminine connotations of such terms. Rather, Medusa is a true fighter—an Amazon—and one to be feared for she has a brute force untamed by femininity. She has been given the physical attributes of...

  14. TEN Oedipus
    (pp. 259-286)

    More so than any other myth, the Oedipal legend has successfully managed to capture the attentions of psychoanalysts, philosophers, anthropologists, cultural critics, historians, and dramatists. The fascination with the myth lies mainly in its ubiquitous applicability, and its metaphorical use of discursive language. Key to Sophocles’Oedipus Tyrannusis the method utilized to reveal the tale. The plot is not about the origins of Oedipus per se but more with Oedipus’ logical approach to solving the riddle of his existence. Through processes of ironic textual and symbolic reversals, Oedipus is brought full circle from the position of the hero-king-god, a...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 287-304)
  16. Index
    (pp. 305-316)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)