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On Matricide

On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis, and the Law of the Mother

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    On Matricide
    Book Description:

    Despite advances in feminism, the "law of the father" remains the dominant model of Western psychological and cultural analysis, and the law of the mother continues to exist as an underdeveloped and marginal concept. In her radical rereading of the Greek myth, Oresteia, Amber Jacobs hopes to rectify the occlusion of the mother and reinforce her role as an active agent in the laws that determine and reinforce our cultural organization.

    According to Greek myth, Metis, Athena's mother, was Zeus's first wife. Zeus swallowed Metis to prevent her from bearing children who would overthrow him. Nevertheless, Metis bore Zeus a child-Athena-who sprang forth fully formed from his head. In Aeschylus's Oresteia, Athena's motherless status functions as a crucial justification for absolving Orestes of the crime of matricide. In his defense of Orestes, Zeus argues that the father is more important than the mother, using Athena's "motherless" birth as an example.

    Conducting a close reading of critical works on Aeschylus's text, Jacobs reveals that psychoanalytic theorists have unwittingly reproduced the denial of Metis in their own critiques. This repression, which can be found in the work of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein as well as in the work of more contemporary theorists such as André Green and Luce Irigaray, has resulted in both an incomplete analysis of Oresteia and an inability to account for the fantasies and unconscious processes that fall outside the oedipal/patricidal paradigm.

    By bringing the story of Athena's mother, Metis, to the forefront, Jacobs challenges the primacy of the Oedipus myth in Western culture and psychoanalysis and introduces a bold new theory of matricide and maternal law. She finds that the Metis myth exists in cryptic forms within Aeschylus's text, uncovering what she terms the "latent content of the Oresteian myth," and argues that the occlusion of the law of the mother is proof of the patriarchal structures underlying our contemporary social and psychic realities. Jacobs's work not only provides new insight into the Oresteian trilogy but also advances a postpatriarchal model of the symbolic order that has strong ramifications for psychoanalysis, feminism, and theories of representation, as well as for clinical practice and epistemology.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51205-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PART I

    • 1 Postpatriarchal Futures
      (pp. 3-14)

      Feminisms’ fraught dialogues with psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and contemporary French philosophy have brought the current debate to an abstract level where everything from identity and collectivity to biological sex and the possibility of social change have been problematized, deconstructed, or put “under erasure.”¹ We seem to be living in the intellectual era of the “post” and the “beyond.” I have inherited feminism’s complex dialogues with psychoanalysis and French philosophy, and this intellectual situation throws up the most difficult question: namely, what a so-called third wave or stage of feminism is. It is a reality now to think back through one’s intellectual...

    • 2 Myth, Phantasy, and Culture
      (pp. 15-31)

      The project of analyzing the complex and multiple relations among myth, phantasy, and culture in the context of feminism is driven primarily by the conviction that such an unraveling of interconnected and interdependent registers can contribute to change at a symbolic level. I will begin by using a working definition of the (Western) symbolic, namely, as primarily a register of structuring whereby the material world is mediated through a structural hierarchical dualism so that it can be thought about, represented, and in turn reproduced.¹

      My consideration of the symbolic is intellectually located at the point at which the movements of...

    • 3 Matricide in Theory
      (pp. 32-44)

      If andré green’s conception of the symbolic can be interpreted as pertaining to an increasingly dynamic and potentially heterogeneous system of structuring, his work begins to appear (however indirectly) theoretically allied to that of what I am calling third-wave feminism. In identifying further the ways in which Green’s work could be productively used in conjunction with a feminist project of social symbolic transformation, I now intend to pursue my own attempt to formulate a theory of matricide in relation to Green’s postulation of diverse structurings and Irigaray’s project of constructing potential female imaginaries.

      By proposing diverse structuring and allying Green...

    • 4 Oedipus and Monotheism
      (pp. 45-52)

      Psychoanalytic theory in the post-Lacanian mode is increasingly concerned with expanding its theoretical field to accommodate the conceptualization of different psychic organizations and phantasy structures. Psychoanalytic theorists/clinicians such as André Green, Jean Laplanche, Jessica Benjamin, Carol Gilligan, and Juliet Mitchell in addition to post-Lacanian psychoanalytic feminists have, in different ways, begun to depart from sole adherence to the oedipal structure as the one and only clinical and cultural model and are seeking to expand their references to include different structural constellations and new theories. In this way, the unconscious is now, from within some sectors of contemporary psychoanalysis, being considered...

  6. PART II

    • 5 Oresteian Secrets: DECRYPTING METIS
      (pp. 55-71)

      Aeschylus’s oresteia is the oldest surviving tragedy. It provided the source for the later plays dealing with its themes written by the later tragedians Sophocles and Euripides. In total, ten ancient plays rework and elaborate the Oresteian myth leaving us with a rich corpus of material concerned with the house of Atreus and the bloody chain of murders that marks its transgenerational history.¹ The plethora of tragedies representing different aspects of this myth build up a complex map or grid charting the multifarious interweaving stories that surround the murder of Clytemnestra by her son, Orestes, and his subsequent acquittal in...

    • 6 The Blind Spot of Metis
      (pp. 72-82)

      Myth transmits secrets as well as narratives, and these secrets become entrenched in and determine social organization and practice. The secret of Metis, Athena’s mother, is transmitted with the Oresteian myth in the form of a silence or exclusion that functions to sustain the dominant symbolic organization that positions the maternal body as the limit of thought/representation. In this way, the Oresteia, as I read it, functions in the service of the antimetaphor by virtue of its concealment of Metis behind the manifest representation of Clytemnestra.

      The Oresteia has the potential to allow us to analyze the very conditions from...

    • 7 Melanie Klein and the Phantom of Metis
      (pp. 83-93)

      Klein applies her theory of development to the character of Orestes, showing us the symptoms of the various stages of working through the positions. While she tells the narrative of development through Orestes, she also uses the other characters to show different symbolic roles. Klein uses Agamemnon, for example, to show an excess of hubris and the absence of guilt, pointing to regression to the paranoid schizoid position. Clytemnestra is used to symbolize the “bad breast,” while Athena, for Klein, represents the reestablished “good internal object,” the “good breast.” I will return to this, but first I want to examine...

    • 8 Metis in Contemporary Psychoanalysis
      (pp. 94-106)

      André green’s book The Tragic Effect: The Oedipus Complex in Tragedy contains a significant contemporary psychoanalytic reading of the Oresteia of particular relevance to the discussion here.¹ This work was written considerably earlier than “The Dead Mother” and “Conceptions of Affect,” essays that I have already discussed. While it is not my intention here to trace the development of Green’s thought, it is of particular interest to this discussion to observe that Green is one of the few psychoanalysts to have written in some depth about the Oresteia; he is also one of the major theorists on whom I draw...

    • 9 Who’s Afraid of Clytemnestra?
      (pp. 107-120)

      Phantasies of the monstrous all-powerful mother who is the ultimate threat to identity are frequently reproduced in our cultural imaginary and our discourses. The Oresteian myth provides us with a description of these typical phantasies that are absent from the Oedipus myth. This section will go some way toward demonstrating in detail how the Oresteian myth can be used to analyze the archaic projections onto the mother that result from the incorporation of a generative matricide and the pathological mourning that ensues. By analyzing the manifest projection of Clytemnestra as a symptom that points to the incorporation of matricide as...

    • 10 Metis’s Law
      (pp. 121-126)

      While irigaray has powerfully described how the murder of the mother underlies Western discourses and produces particular pathologies and symptoms at the level of the cultural as well as the individual psyche, she has not addressed the question of a cultural law related to matricide that is distinct from the cultural laws and prohibitions underlying patricide. In my argument, matricide is an nonconcept whose incorporation within the patriarchal discourses functions to suppress the underlying laws relating to matricide that produce unconscious structures different from those of the laws underlying patricide. What I am suggesting is that the equation of matricide...


    • 11 Clytemnestra’s Three Daughters
      (pp. 129-147)

      Klein, irigaray, and green use the Oresteia to think about masculine desire and destiny; the trajectory of Orestes, the matricidal son, is the focus of all their readings. Irigaray, like Green, identifies in Orestes the unconscious of Oedipus, finding in him a pathological masculine structure of desire with matricide at its core. In contrast, Klein announces Orestes as representing the most integrated and mature stage of human psychic development in that matricide and its so-called resolution have allowed him to overcome the depressive position successfully. In the Oresteia, Klein, Green, and Irigaray all read the son’s relation to the mother....

    • 12 The Latent Mother-Daughter
      (pp. 148-156)

      In considering athena in relation to Metis, we reach a stronger position from which to rethink the mother-daughter relation once matricide can be posited as a structural center that can deliver an introjective loss. That is to say, in bringing to light Metis’s law, we can finally introduce the missing link that could bring the mother into theory, into representation, into the generative register of introjection, and thus into structure; namely, into a position that determines aspects of the sociosymbolic cultural organization.

      Restructuring the Oresteian myth by rectifying the exclusion of the Metis-Athena relation radically alters the possibilities of using...

    • 13 Iphigenia Becomes Metis
      (pp. 157-162)

      In this chapter, I will show how the myth of Iphigenia uses a series of oppositions, reversals, displacements, and condensations in order to conceal/disguise the crime against Metis for which it is a substitute. In other words, the Iphigenia myth, in my reading, is the result of the processes belonging to what Freud termed the “dream work” that functions to disguise, distort, and censor the latent thoughts (the incorporation of Metis) from consciousness. The “dream work” distorts the material belonging to the latent thoughts to such an extent that at first glance we may not observe the precise replication of...

    • 14 Virginity and Sibling Incest
      (pp. 163-177)

      IN HER SPEECH announcing Orestes’ acquittal, Athena declares:

      I honour the male in all things but marriage.

      Yes, with all my heart I am my father’s child.¹

      It is a puzzling declaration, since Athena contradicts herself explicitly. She is not her father’s daughter with “all” her heart because when it comes to marriage she stands against the “male.” In rejecting marriage, Athena stands against the institution that is based on the exchange of women by men. It is significant that Athena mentions the part of her heart that does not honor the father; she opposes marriage, motherhood, and the family...

  8. Conclusion: The Question of Chrysothemis
    (pp. 178-182)

    In the early stages of my research for this work, I, like most feminists working with myth, could not get away from the manifest level. Following Irigaray, I struggled with Demeter and Persephone, with Antigone, Phaedra, and Clytemnestra’s daughters, in hope that I could make use of these representations in order to respond to Irigaray in her imperative to create the “yet-to-be” female imaginaries. Running concomitant with my theoretical work that sought to use myth to address the problem of matricide in psychoanalysis, I was also seeking a way to rewrite certain aspects of the mythological corpus to discover whether...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-212)
  11. Index
    (pp. 213-220)