(Freud between Sophocles, Abraham and Alice Miller)
Freud’s both great discoveries: infantile sexuality and the mechanism of the unconscious, are corollary the one of the other since the unconscious issues from the repression of the former. Sexual mutilation being the summit of that repression, psychoanalysis brings an essential knowledge in understanding and condemning it. However, it really challenges it. Indeed, the trauma of his own circumcision provoked several clinical and theoretical mistakes of Freud. So, sexual mutilation very particularly illustrates Alice Miller's report that trauma is a main factor of psychopathology.
We cannot quote in this short review the reflections about sexual mutilation of Bettelheim, Groddeck, Roheim, Lewinter, Dolto, Leboyer, Kristeva, Miller, Nathan, Tractenberg and others. With Freud’s, their recollection would almost create a psychoanalytical theory of sexual mutilation. We shall limit ourselves to Freud's.
I - The clinical picture: psychoanalysis of sexual mutilation
1) Introduction: repression of autosexuality and threat of castration
Under one form or another, all human societies quell at various degrees infantile sexuality: autosexuality, in order to dominate the youth and prevent incest. Occurring before jealousy towards the parent of the same sex, this quelling is the primary cause of repression and may, consequently, provoke the failure of the Oedipus complex. Freud calls it the "nuclear complex of neuroses". Then, auto-repression is all the more intense as parental repression is accompanied by violence or threat of violence and psychoanalytic clinic regularly reports the harm of violence set up as educational system. Above all when this violence, exerted in the name of the traditional lie: "It's for your own sake.", concerns the sex. Violence is, and has been for generations, the basis of world educational systems, so that psycho-neurosis is the most common disease. The height of that violence, sexual mutilation must be condemned by all those who want to avoid rendering the child psychotic, neurotic or perverse. Freud was among the first in history to condemn it:
"... little boys hear that the Jews have something cut off in their penis - a piece of their penis, they think - and this gives them a right to despise the Jews.”
"... fear of castration is one of the commonest and strangest motives for repression and thus for the formation of neuroses. The analysis of cases in which circumcision though not, it is true, castration, has been carried out on boys as a cure or punishment of masturbation (a far from rare occurrence in Anglo-American society) has given our conviction a last degree of certainty."
Attacking a taboo, he handles it with kid gloves. His condemnation is toned down; it seems aiming at the Anglo-Saxons only. Besides, his affirmation that circumcision is a threat of castration will be posthumous and suggested by means of a footnote. But he never stated the obviousness that circumcision is the castration of the specific organ of masculine autosexuality, which is difficult for a circumcised to become aware of. Drawing a parallel between circumcision and the devastating clinical effects of verbal threats of castration that are rife in Western society, he writes in that note:
"(1) … The primaeval custom of circumcision, another substitute for castration, can only be understood as an expression of submission to the father's will…"
Since the whole family, not the child, submits itself not to the father but to the grand-father and the tyrannical societal group, this blunder testifies of Freud's own deep circumcision trauma. Alice Miller asserts that trauma creates paralysis, obviously partial in that opportunity, of the thought. Indeed! A threat of castration, either verbal or acted, is particularly traumatizing. A partial castration is at the same time a threat of total castration and a death threat and thus a very efficient tool for submitting the child and the adult through terror. Besides, even in non excising cultures, circumcision is indirectly a threat of excision of girls and thus a great cause of psychological harm for them too.
2) Circumcision: Freud's cultural bias
Freud's creeds as for sexology testify of an ignorance that goes up to despising the organs of autosexuality, the taboo of taboos. On one side, he qualifies the clitoris an inferior organ:
"... the prototype of the inferior organ is the little real penis of woman, the clitoris.",
From the one who discovered the testicles of the male eel, this judgment of value opposed to reality is particularly aberrant. Disparaging a unique in nature organ of pure pleasure, the unhappy circumcised man seems very jealous. For, quite the contrary, the clitoris is the prototype of the organ of pleasure, without any other function since, at variance with the penis, it participates neither in micturition nor in reproduction. Erectile, it is the phallus of woman. Considering as inferior a merely sexual organ, present with all mammals, is inadmissible. Freud precisely denies the reality of the fact that the clitoris is a pure organ of pleasure. He exactly considers the specific organ of autosexuality inferior because he considers autosexuality inferior, neurotizing and unreasonable. So, he is a victim of the massive repression of autosexuality of Judaic culture. That autosexuality should be neurotizing for a circumcised is unhappy. It is not astonishing but must not be generalized. Freud's great mistake is that he considers the phallic function, that is to say the erotic-erectile function, as masculine:
"Taking into account the auto-erotic and masturbatory activities, it could be set up as a thesis that the sexuality of little girls has an entirely masculine character."
Freud's sexual mutilation explains his dissymmetric, male chauvinist conception of sexuality. His statement according to which the little girl would suffer from being deprived of penis seems to be the projection upon woman of his own unconscious envy of vagina.
On the other side, like all circumcised in infancy, Freud disregards the reality and feminine nature of the foreskin.
"A man, after all, only has one leading sexual zone, one sexual organ, whereas woman has two: the vagina – the female proper organ – and the clitoris, which is analogous to the male organ."
"Woman is more bisexual than man because of her clitoris analogous to the penis."
as if the foreskin did not have a certain functional symmetry with the clitoris in autosexuality, including the isolated and indefinitely repetitive orgasmic contractions, similar to clitoral orgasms, that a circumcised cannot know. Those who do not own a foreskin cannot guess its value of second sexual organ of man, a very handy and erogenous pocket mini-vagina.
3) Claude Olievenstein's case
In an autobiographic chapter where he does not speak once of circumcision but that abounds in unconscious references to it, the psychiatrist Olievenstein also provides us a magnificent example:
"Adult paranoia begins, it seems to me, very early in infancy, right after leaving the maternal womb."
– eight days later indeed!
4) Anna Freud's case
Making autosexuality guilty, Freud's own daughter, at least in her adolescence, was the victim of his wrong theory according to which autosexuality would be neurotizing and should be fought. She wrote the inventor of infantile sexuality that she struggled against her own tendency to autosexuality(!).
II – Practice and theory: sexual mutilation of psychoanalysis
Freud committed a grave mistake in the analysis of his most famous patient: the Wolf-Man. The day when the young boy played with his penis in front of her beloved maid, the latter scolded him: "Children who do that get a wound in that place." Uttered with a harsh tone, it is a malicious forecast accompanied by a threat of loss of love, and thus exclusion. But Freud interprets it as a threat of castration. This projection of Freud’s own circumcision trauma had a negative incidence on the course of the patient's analysis.
2) Ethnological theories
In his two complementary anthropological theories about circumcision, dating from 1916 and 1936, Freud appears clumsy and shy.
His 1916 theory, reaffirmed in 1933, is apologetic of circumcision; he presents it as a progress by comparison with castration, without proof that castration existed before:
"It seems indubitable to me that circumcision…, is an equivalent of castration and comes to take over it."
It is very likely that, in ancient times, circumcision, castration and complete human sacrifice existed, altogether or separately, depending on the society. Only the disappearance of all these acts of barbarity constitutes progress.
The same accounts for his 1936 theory which he reproduced in his above mentioned and commented posthumous work:
"... whoever accepted that symbol (circumcision) was showing by it that he was prepared to submit to the father's will... "
At last, Freud should have formulated the psycho-sociologic theory of infantile sexual mutilation amongst primitives of polygamous societies as prevention of incest through threat of castration (for boys) or death (for boys and girls).
3) Freud's denaturation of Sophocles's Oedipus
The main cultural flaw provoked in Freudian theory by circumcision lies in a view of the Oedipus complex that misrepresents, through weakening it, Sophocles's myth. Roheim was the first to point out that the separation-of-the-mother / submission-to-the-father rituals of primitives distort the Oedipus complex:
"... the superabundance of ritual dealing with this theme (orality) is a camouflage of the Oedipus complex."
This remark very obviously applies to circumcision. However, Freud interprets Oedipus's blinding as a castration:
"Castration and blinding which substitutes to it are the punishment..."
This is wrong. With Sophocles, warned by the oracle, the father tries to kill his son through abandoning him in nature. Therefore, interpreting Oedipus's auto-punishment as a castration, which is not murder, is totally fanciful. Freud projected upon Sophocles's myth the threat of castration of circumcision, extremely vivid since consisting in a beginning of realization. For Sophocles, Oedipus's blinding only symbolizes his ignorance, his "blindness", his unconsciousness when he killed his father and married his mother, a double blindness thus (one eye for dad, one eye for mum). The fact that Freud transformed that metaphor into a matter of castration is the height of... his own blindness, stemming from the anguish and castration fantasies of a circumcised. In Sophocles's scenario, the paternal punishment is death, which is the normal unconscious fantasy: desire to kill the father in order to marry one's mother / fear of being killed by him. Therefore, Freud projected the very Judaic idea of punishment by castration rather than through death upon the Hellenistic myth. A victim of the trauma of his own circumcision, he misrepresented, warped according to Roheim's word, Sophocles's Oedipus. Sophocles, not Freud, invented the unconscious and the Oedipus complex. Freud invented the science of deciphering the unconscious, which is quite another thing.
The consequence of this cultural bias is a grave theoretical error that flaws psychoanalytical theory and practice: Freud substitutes an inexistent "castration complex", which he improperly integrates into the Oedipus complex, for common fantasies of castration.
For those who have not been traumatized by a sexual mutilation, at the age of sexual impulse for the parent of the opposite sex and jealousy towards the other, the threat imagined by the child facing her or his desires concerning the parental couple, is not castration but death through exclusion of the family. Freud very sensibly formulated this for girls but very foolishly not for boys!
In cultures practising circumcision, the Oedipus complex, the time of integration into society, is altered. A real castration threat substitutes itself for the imaginary fear of death resulting from the unconscious desire to kill the parent of the same sex. But the correct resolution of the Oedipus complex cannot result from physical injury (or threat of injury) by others. Quite the opposite, a positive or negative emphasis on whatever part of the body, by real or verbal violence from the social group, is unacceptable meddling of the lawmaker into family life and into the development of the individual, a source of mass psychopathology. This affirmation was shockingly illustrated in Israel where a court decision, happily quashed in appeal, condemned a mother to a high penalty on daily basis as long as she would not have had her son circumcised.
The circumcised, or those who have been threatened by castration, may find a way out and may believe in a lessening in their favour of the universal Law. There is nothing like circumcision or actual threat of castration to pervert a child. Doubting the acts or words of their progenitors is hard for them. They are naturally led to boast, with a wealth of arguments, about their deeds or misdeeds, including those against themselves. Once adults, things that seem to have always existed look natural to them, they will reproduce them.
The circumcised thus risk making an absurd alibi of their disability. A partial castration brings them the comfort of a sign of "identification" placing them above women and the common herd. As if a mutilation could enable to leave (or... not to leave) infancy behind! No only other men, “foreigners”, are intimately considered to be despicable, dirty and untouchable without one being contaminated. But above all, it would be unthinkable that they would marry their daughter or sister. Racist endogamy and possession of women certainly are one of the aims of the operation. Circumcision is also a sign of belonging to a violent – and therefore assumed powerful – community. Allegedly more reliable than identity documents, this particular sign becomes the paradigm of the narcissism of groups that exclude themselves from of the universal community and discriminate the latter. This means of "identification" (mixed up with belonging) forever puts its holders in a caste: “the elected”, which may think that everything is allowed (stoning, excision, forcing into marriage, polygamy,... etc.) or owed to it (the Promised Land). Therefore, through a violent action into the unconscious and the powerful affective world, it is a perverse technique of enrolment of the individual into a brutal society. It reinforces division of the world into rival groups indulging in merciless wars.
Circastration is the chain and ball at the feet of psychoanalysis that prevents Freud's message to be heard. On the one hand, Roheim himself did not draw the consequence of his masterly observation that sexual mutilation is likely to provoke the failure of the Oedipus complex, on the other hand, "castration" of woman is not an operative concept. At the contrary, Lacan jumped over the idea of symbolical castration in order, as demonstrated by Elisabeth Roudinesco, to make a fortune through operating the "castration" of the wallet of his customers by inventing short sessions with delirious fees. Nevertheless, psychoanalysis brings an aetiology, prevention and treatment of mental disease. Overcoming its flaws due to its founder’s sexual mutilation, which assumes a deep restoration, will enable it to do it better in the future. It stigmatizes sexual mutilation as an expression of the domination drive through sadistic and paedophobic fantasies. This drive is strongly strengthened by the denial of the reality of the loss and therefore of the crime. Psychoanalysis brings humanity first a scientific method of decoding the unconscious that enables to find out in each individual case the sequence of circumstances of the trauma, a prerequisite to healing, then, the dynamic of an ethics that concern both the development of the child and socio-politic. The barbarity of feminine and masculine excisions issues from infectious moral disorder that drives circumcised individuals and even noncircumcised peoples towards the "moral order". It must be abolished as soon as possible.
- Sexual mutilation and the moral order
- La circoncision, une dangereuse folie collective
Sigismond (Michel Hervé Bertaux-Navoiseau) – email@example.com
Independent psychoanalysis researcher, a former pupil of the Psychoanalysis department of Paris VIII University, author of "Feminine and masculine sexual mutilation, the greatest crime against humanity", available for free at: independent.academia.edu.
This text was the matter of a lecture pronounced 4th September 2008 in the University of Keele (UK), at the 10th international symposium of NOCIRC, organized with NORM-UK and the school of law of the university. It is published on the site of the Institut européen de psychanalyse et travail social : psychassoc.com and has been quoted by Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig.
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