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Speaking the Unspeakable

Speaking the Unspeakable: Religion, Misogyny, and the Uncanny Mother in Freud's Cultural Texts

Diane Jonte-Pace
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Speaking the Unspeakable
    Book Description:

    In this bold rereading of Freud's cultural texts, Diane Jonte-Pace uncovers an undeveloped "counterthesis," one that repeatedly interrupts or subverts his well-known Oedipal masterplot. The counterthesis is evident in three clusters of themes within Freud's work: maternity, mortality, and immortality; Judaism and anti-Semitism; and mourning and melancholia. Each of these clusters is associated with "the uncanny" and with death and loss. Appearing most frequently in Freud's images, metaphors, and illustrations, the counterthesis is no less present for being unspoken--it is, indeed, "unspeakable." The "uncanny mother" is a primary theme found in Freud's texts involving fantasies of immortality and mothers as instructors in death. In other texts, Jonte-Pace finds a story of Jews for whom the dangers of assimilation to a dominant Gentile culture are associated unconsciously with death and the uncanny mother. The counterthesis appears in the story of anti-Semites for whom the "uncanny impression of circumcision" gives rise not only to castration anxiety but also to matriphobia. It also surfaces in Freud's ability to mourn the social and religious losses accompanying modernity, and his inability to mourn the loss of his own mother. The unfolding of Freud's counterthesis points toward a theory of the cultural and unconscious sources of misogyny and anti-Semitism in "the unspeakable." Jonte-Pace's work opens exciting new vistas for the feminist analysis of Freud's intellectual legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92769-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION Misogyny and Religion under Analysis:Masterplot and Counterthesis in Tension
    (pp. 1-20)

    Freud’s Oedipal paradigm, characterized by death wishes for fathers and by erotic desires for mothers, constitutes what has been called his “masterplot” (Brooks 1989). It is the thesis for which he is best known and which he saw as his “immortal contribution” to Western culture (SE5: 453). The Oedipal masterplot, articulated in Freud’s earliest psychoanalytic writings and frequently reiterated during the forty years of his psychoanalytic career, provided the foundational structure for his analyses of psyche, culture, and religion.

    Freud was deeply committed to pursuing and promoting the Oedipal thesis. Although he did not formalize it as a “complex”...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Counterthesis in “The Dream Book” and “A Religious Experience”: The Beginning and End of Interpretation
    (pp. 21-44)

    On November 19, 1899, about two weeks after the publication ofThe Interpretation of Dreams,Freud wrote impatiently to his friend Wilhelm Fliess in Berlin, “It is a thankless task to enlighten mankind a little. No one has yet told me that he feels indebted to me for having learned something new from the dream book and for having been introduced to a world of new problems” (Masson 1985: 387). Although it took longer than two weeks for the world to realize that Freud had “enlightened mankind a little” with what he called his “dream book,” we now understand that...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Death, Mothers, and the Afterlife: At Home in the Uncanny
    (pp. 45-73)

    One of the sites at which the counterthesis emerges most clearly is the site of death, the site of the fears and fantasies surrounding mortality. Freud’s interpretation of death is generally seen as supportive of the Oedipal master thesis which shaped so much of his work. Cultural theorist Peter Homans, for example, asserts, “In Freud’s mature psychoanalytic theory, death was . . . a drive which polarized around the father” (1989: 98). Death wishes toward the father and fears of paternal retribution, Freud often argued, shape all human relationships with the authorities of culture, state, religion, and family: in psychoanalytic...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Jewishness and the (Un)Canny: “Death and Us Jews”
    (pp. 74-98)

    Chapter 2 traced a “counterthesis” in Freud’s writings in three kinds of images, each associated with death, immortality, and the afterlife: images of dead mothers, images of mothers as instructors in death, and images of uncanny maternal bodies. Showing that Freud used similar terminology to describe the heavenly afterlife (a “home in the uncanny”) and the genitals of the mother (“an uncanny home”), I suggested that Freud’s counterthesis hinted at a theory of unconscious associations of maternity, mortality, and immortality. This chapter will pursue this excavation of Freud’s notion of the uncanny at another set of sites: the counterthesis appears...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Sources of Anti-Semitism: Circumcision, Abjection, and the Uncanny Mother
    (pp. 99-116)

    Freud offered several analyses of the sources of anti-Semitism. In most of these, he assumed Oedipal conflicts to be at the root of anti-Semitic prejudices, focusing in particular on the castration fears evoked by circumcision. As we have seen in other contexts, however, Freud’s analyses of castration anxiety often slip beyond the boundaries of the Oedipal framework. In this chapter, I examine Freud’s interpretations of anti-Semitism, finding evidence of the counterthesis in his analysis of a common source for misogyny and anti-Semitism. This chapter turns from theHeimlichkeitof Jewish identity for the Jew to theUnheimlichkeit,the uncanniness or...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Modernity, Melancholia, and the (In)Ability to Mourn: When Throne and Altar Are in Danger
    (pp. 117-139)

    In “Fetishism,” written just as he was finishingThe Future of an Illusion,his most famous critique of religion, Freud addresses one of his favorite themes: the adamant denial of the male child in the first encounter with sexual difference. Here, he links the child’s anxious and defensive response with the panic of the adult male whose political and religious structures are endangered. In spite of having seen the nude body of the mother, Freud suggests, a young boy refuses “to take cognizance of the fact of his having perceived that a woman does not possess a penis.” The child...

  10. EPILOGUE Guessing at What Lies Beneath
    (pp. 140-150)

    Much of what we do as scholars involves creating or selecting patterns within texts and fashioning those patterns into coherent narratives about the texts. We develop meaningful narratives out of other narratives in a process involving creation and discovery at the same time. Freud’s major creation and discovery was the Oedipal theory with which he constructed a coherent narrative out of the “texts” of his own life and the lives of his patients, a narrative which informed the corpus of texts that make up his writings. Our creation and discovery has been another narrative, a shadowy but meaningful one, within...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-168)
    (pp. 169-182)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 183-190)