Fragment of an analysis of the mother in Freud.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
It was for the longest time that the mother in Freud troubled me. Unlike some feminist psychoanalysts such as Julia Kristeva who argue that the mother/maternity in Freud is finally to be thought of as a ‘massive nothing’ (Kristeva, 1987: 255), I knew that the mother was there/da, but it was how she was there that concerned me and forms the basis of this thesis. Freud shows us the mother in his work when he argues that the child’s first love object in its truest sense is the mother, ‘and all of his sexual instincts with their demand for satisfaction have been united upon this object’ (SE 18: 111). I highlight the ‘his’ because Freud’s focus on this first love object is primarily male. And although Freud does not differentiate between the little girl and little boy at this early stage, thereafter the girls relationship to the mother, argues Freud, ends in ‘hate’. She cannot be forgiven for not giving the little girl a penis. But the mother as a primordial ‘object’ not only becomes lost (and thereafter we are all involved in a search to ‘refind ‘it’/‘her’) but she seems also to be, uniformly Mater/matter to be overlooked. To use a rather explosive analogy, it is as if the mother and Freud are together yet separated in a double-barreled shotgun, with the misfiring of one barrel obscuring (obliterating) the other. Freud in fact used a similar analogy in an explanation for anxiety. Here the rifle is pointed at the ‘wild beast’ a description that Freud uses to describe the unruly forces of the libido in the unconscious. A fitting parallel then because the mother has a relation to anxiety and the unconscious that might best be described as central.
Thus Freud writes and the mother is ‘shaded’. Again an apt analogy one that Freud himself uses to describe the Odyssean like shades that invade the unconscious as ghosts and taste blood. If the mother is indeed the dark-continent, a simile for the unconscious, or at least her sexuality, which after all is what is important in Freud’s Oedipal theory, then the question might be asked, ‘is the mother a ghost that haunts our living lives’? Of course a living mother is not a ghost, but then a literal explanation neglects the repression that accompanies the developing ego, an ego no less that is subject to childhood amnesia during the middle years of childhood.
The Prologue introduces us to Freud the man. It seemed to me at the onset of this thesis that the mother is both universalised but also personalised. If Freud did not mourn his mother, why might this be so? And how is Freud himself mourned, remembered, outside his work? Chapter One is an introduction to Freud’s work, asking where the mother might be, and even why she may or may not be recognised in areas that seem peculiar to a space that mothers might occupy. Chapter Two looks at feminist psychoanalysts and asks how they engage with both Freud the man, and Freudian psychoanalysis and thereafter the later schools of psychoanalysis. Chapter Three engages with Freud and Freudian theory, offering an in-depth engagement with particular psychoanalytic concepts and places where the mother might be, or should be, but for some reason is not. Chapter Four explores the concept of anxiety, itself singled out as somehow having an integral relationship to the mother but again, Freud by a less than careful sleight of hand writes the mother out. And yet this is not a direct writing out, because Freud circulates around the point, the navel as it were, offering a kind of adverse reckoning, the mother is there but also, she is not. Chapter Five concludes this thesis by looking at several different theories, including Christopher Bollas’s ‘clowning mother’, and asks how might they offer alternative ways of understanding the mother, both within Freud and as an extension of Freud.