Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Where is the pre-oedipal father in psychoanalyic theory?

Freeman advocates for increased conceptualizing of the pre-Oedipal father in psychoanalytic theory. Freudian psychoanalysis placed the Oedipus complex at the foundation of neurosis: “from its inception, psychoanalytic theory has been thoroughly imbued with allusions to the symbolic power of father…[m]ost poignantly...in the formation of the individual psyche [the Oedipus complex] and of civilization itself” [the superego], yet requires the relative absence of the  pre-Oedipal father for its theory, an assumption now questioned, as well as found to be constraining on men, and unnecessarily gendered. Freeman finds a “curious tension between the symbolic presence and substantive absence of fathers… embedded at the heart of psychoanalytic theory.” (Yet psychoanalytic theory represented this pre-Oedipally absent paternal authority in the so-called phallic mother.) 

The paradox: father, the “absent authority”, is relatively absent in psychoanalytic discourse, yet the “symbolic weight” of the father in psychoanalytic theory overlooks the “exclusive presence of the mother...as the lynchpin of early childhood development.” (Klein first turned our attention to the mother-infant dyad, but its importance was previously overshadowed by the Freudian idea of the Oedipus complex where the child must repress earlier fantasies, developed in the relative absence of the pre-Oedipal father, and “yield...to the moral order represented by the father” which will then give rise to the child’s separate identity and morality. The disembodied father was also emphasized by Lacan: the “real father” distinguished from the “symbolic father” or “the-name-of-the-father.”)

In the Oedipus complex, “the child’s initial confrontation with the father is marked by aggressive resentment and fear”. This pejorative take means the boy reveres and resents the father. Freud ignored or denied the early paternal-infant interaction. For the boy, father arrives on the scene and severs the mother-infant engulfment (and risk of incest). The boy "turns... toward culture” as if the father  psychologically birthed the child [just as Zeus, from his head, birthed Athena]. (Western religion, too, emphasizes the symbolic role of the Father (God) as procreator.) The girl, however, disavows her mother for bringing her into the world without a penis. In actuality, father’s role is not merely as authority, but also includes “containers, protectors, facilitators, models, challengers, initiators, sanctioners, and mentors.” including “a prenatal role (father as “mother-facilitator”), and pre-oedipal roles (e.g., “identification” and “gender identity”).”

It is the quality of parenting and not the gender or sexuality of the parent which is important. Freeman questions psychoanalytic theory’s gendered Oedipal theory which serves to suppress female sexuality and to deny male “access to the psychological vocabulary of love and emotional connectedness that define the maternal sphere.” She notes the male dilemma: “the expression of involved forms of fatherhood ... would at once provide emotional relief from the inevitable “discontents” of civilization while presenting a painful threat to masculine identity within a patriarchal culture. … Rather, parenting is identified as a form of compensatory pleasure for mothers alone”.  Freeman makes a point for the benefits of both parents participating in child-rearing.

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