Metaphor and Truth
Additional Comments on Melanie Klein
Auteur : Jean-Paul Hiltenbrand 21/01/1998
Lecture given on 21st January 1998
What is known as the “Name-of-the-Father” is used to assign a phallic symptom to a subject. Such is the experience of analysis. Beyond that, namely how an infant boy or girl copes with the reality of a relationship with his or her father is, bar any seriously grave problems, virtually unrelated. The real father-figure will have an influence on the modes of the relationship between the subject and the phallus, yet not as far as having an influence on the inscription of the phallus itself. To debate this point, I will approach it in the same manner as Melanie Klein, as I never took the opportunity to fully unravel the question the last time during the Grenoble Controversy Symposium.
“(…) the pleasure the infant gets from biting is not only due to libidinal satisfaction of its erotogenic zones, but is connected with clearly marked destructive cravings which aim at the annihilation of its object. This is still more so in the phase when the sadism is at the height of its development. The idea of an infant of from six to twelve months trying to destroy its mother by every method at the disposal of its sadistic trends – with its teeth, nails and excreta and with the whole of its body, transformed in phantasy into all kinds of dangerous weapons – presents a horrifying, not to say an unbelievable picture to our minds. And it is difficult, as I know from my own experience, to bring oneself to recognise that such an abhorrent idea answers to the truth. Bit the abundance, force and multiplicity of the cruel phantasies which accompany these cravings are displayed before our eyes in early analyses so clearly and forcibly that they leave no room for doubt. We are already familiar with those sadistic phantasies of the child which find their culmination in cannibalism, and this makes it easier for us to accept the further face that as its methods of sadistic attack become enlarged so do its sadistic phantasies gain in fullness and vigour. This element of escalation of impulse seems to me to be the key to the whole matter. If what intensifies sadism is libidinal frustration, we can readily understand that the destructive cravings which are fused with the libidinal ones and cannot be gratified – in the first instance, that is, oral-sadistic cravings – should lead to a further intensification of sadism and to an activation of all its methods. “The Psychoanalysis of Children”, M. Klein, Virago, p130, revised authorized translation by Alix Strachey and H. A. Thorner.
This text centres on this key point of Klein’s, which poses the following question - based on the description that she is able to give us of the subject’s primal phantasy and of the drive mechanism, and in this pre-Oedipal situation, will something happen in order to enable the subject to place itself in normality, in other words, the phallic symptom? She aligns herself with the strictest Freudian tradition, that is, the first object is the frustrating breast of the mother. Swallowing and destroying the mother’s breast remains the first form of enjoyment. And Freud said that the first oral enjoyment is the one that is never forgotten and equally never regretted. It is during this paranoiac phase therefore, that the process aimed at destroying the object develops.
“(…) the reason why the boy has in the deepest layers of his mind such a tremendous fear of his mother as the castrator, and why he harbours the idea so closely associated with that fear, of the ‘woman with a penis’, is that he is afraid of her as a person whose body contains his father’s penis; so that ultimately what he is afraid of is his father’s penis incorporated in his mother. The displacement of feelings of hatred and anxiety from the father’s penis to the mother’s body which harbours it is very important, I think, in the origin of mental disorders and is an underlying factor in disturbances of sexual development and in the adoption of a homosexual attitude. This displacement, I think, occurs in this way: the fear of his father’s penis incorporated by his mother is worked over by the well-known mechanism of displacement on to the less disturbing fear of the maternal penis. The fear of the paternal penis incorporated by the mother is so overwhelming, because at this early stage of development the principle of pars pro toto holds good and the penis also represents the father in person. Thus the penis inside the mother represents a combination of father and mother in one person, this combination being regarded as a particularly terrifying and threatening one. As I pointed out earlier, at its period of maximal strength the child’s death-wishes he feels against them during the primal scene or in his primal phantasies are associated with sadistic phantasies which are extraordinarily rich in content and which involve the sadistic destruction of his parents both singly and together.” Idem, pages 131-132.
“Moreover, these sadistic impulses against his father and mother copulating together lead the child to expect punishment jointly from both parents.” Idem, pages 132-133.
“Although the child’s pre-genital impulses are still predominant, it is already beginning to feel, in addition to oral, urethral and anal desires, genital desires for the parent of the opposite sex and jealousy and hatred of the parent of the same sex and to experience a conflict between its love and its hatred of the latter even at this early stage. We may even go so far as to say that the Oedipus conflict owes its very acuteness to this early situation.” Idem, page 133.
What does this tell us? A modern interpretation of Melanie Klein's thesis would claim that she is saying the penis is merely a metonymy of the father. Equally, the penis is simultaneously a symbol of both the mother and father, in one single person. It will be subsequently shown that her description is founded on the level of an interchange of drives. However, here I would like to add a point. What Melanie Klein makes explicit is a description that remains wholly on an imaginary plane. It is purely of a genital nature, and remains on the level of drives which grow into a conflicting, duel-like relationship. What is extraordinary in her observations is that the mother is mute. She is certainly all set with the words, but Melanie Klein barely takes into consideration the fact that the mother-figure has the power of speech. Both of these assumptions– the mother being silent, and the drives being on an imaginary level – lend a certain logic which leads to an Oedipus conflict, which is in itself imaginary too. This combination of the mother and father, the often repeated symbol of the combined parents, leave the father and mother on a strictly equal level. In other words, however much Melanie Klein refers to Oedipus, the father and mother are equals, whereas the Oedipal myth at least gives each person a distinct role.
What then are the consequences? Clearly, the super-ego cannot be the result of the Oedipus complex as Freud theorised, but must therefore be the result of a drive system. Is this thesis legitimate? It remains a subject for debate. Lacan already pointed out that it is not a question of object relations, since it would be pure nonsense to impose this structure as deriving from Oedipal theory, with the object relation in the centre of that equation. The mistake also lies in failing to notice that between the drive and the phallic dialectics there is an overlap; that between what is described on a drive level as Melanie Klein shows and the phallic dialectics, there lies a gap calling out to be bridged. There is a profound conflict between what remains of the subject’s oral constitution, and phallic dynamics; there is an obvious split that we come across, and that we see and recognize in oral pathology and in other pathologies that are linked to object relations. If the penis is reduced to the mere position of a part object, then the child’s later psychodynamic structural development cannot be envisaged, even if in the child’s own eyes, the father is seen as being the fornicator of his mother! It doesn’t make any difference, as ultimately, the father can merely be the victim or captive of what Melanie Klein describes to us as follows: “the vagina is a poisoned trap in the child’s phantasies!”
How did she reach this conclusion? How did she know that if the father has sex, he will get trapped inside the vagina! Something jars in this description, since the adult is no longer inscribed in such a psychodynamic. I am keen to draw attention to this symptom, that of failing to notice it in the text or in the experience of both child and adult treatment! So what is this symptom? For all that a person considers himself to be a subject, he is most certainly barred from gaining access to the phallic signification, to the phallic dialectic. The same problem is found in Melanie Klein's writings: that is, by indicating that the infant is a subject already equipped with a full array of wills and intentions, she turns that child into a small-sized adult. And there in lies the true error with respect to the death instinct: that if the primal phantasy is already inscribed, it can only function if the subject is abolished, or elided. In the phantasy equation S barred <> a, S barred really does mean barred!
What Melanie Klein does describe is the omnipresence of a subject who nurtures his own phantasy. She builds up the idolization of the subject as a little prince, with his own phantasy, needs and objects. And is that not the very image of the modern subject! Who can deny that Melanie Klein is wholly modern and up-to-date? She presents the modern subject with his imaginary impasses. She is describing modern-day society to us, 60 years before its time! A nd there in lies the success of Kleinian analysis – that of rendering redundant all misadventures of the modern subject: if you undergo analysis, you come out unscathed! You can understand why followers of Lacan's school of thought earn such a bad press, as we have a reputation for causing havoc when it comes to the chaos that is the field of the Imaginary order. Failing to see all of this is a symptom; failing to notice if the person on the analyst's couch is talking about his place as subject, that it can be funny, pleasurable, whatever you like, but that his desire is barred!
If we want to go back and start again from the ordered standpoint of a child, we must admit that from the outset, the child is a part object who has a very specific place in the mother's desire. She loves her child as a part object. But what if the child represents the phallus? It is not a part object. In that case, the child would have to make the conversion and transfer from a part object into something else, and that is when the difficulties begin. As an object, because the child is himself an object, he will be able to identify with other things, firstly with the missing letter in the demand, or with the object that will immediately emerge to take its place. Then the child is urged to identify with the new object. It is a fundamentally paranoiac situation, having to identify with the object of the drive. And it is due to this primitive paranoia in which the object is considered as being likeable, nice; a nice shit, or a stinking shit; that we begin to wail. Then, very gradually, the object is brought to face another x, which represents the enigmatic x, which designates the cause of the mother's actions, and her comings and goings. This x determines what conditions her presence and her absence. She comes and she goes, but what does she want, what is it that drives her? This same x also conditions the mother's reactions, even on the level of drives, and also on the level of a growing sexuality. This x is recognized immediately by the child as a symbol, a sort of totem that dictates all the mother’s words and responses.
There are two phases. In the first, the subject identifies himself with the x of the demand, and he therefore comes to consider himself as the object of the drive, having been the object of the mother, whether that object be good or bad, regardless. This x is also a symbol. It also identifies itself with a symbol. And here, to a certain degree, I am addressing the question raised by Bergès: without a doubt, within the link which is made between the drive system and speech, the symbol can only be created by language, by speech. In the second phase, the operation involves the desire for the Other. The mother's movements, her offerings, her refusals, her comings and goings, the fact that she is part of a discourse that is not usually centred on her child - all of this is structured by something else. What is it? It is an organizing principle of these facts and actions, and it is once again a symbol in the eyes of the child, who is urged to learn about the symbol and its nature. Remember the illustration that Freud gives of the Fort/Da, in which he uses a language game to create a symbol which represents the mother's absence. This symbol links the absence to a signifier: Fort, which denotes the mother as absent, but also stands for the cause of the mother's absence, the cause of her desire, over and above the relationship between mother and child.
The mother lives in two worlds, one which she shares with her child, and the other one which is governed by a discourse which long predates the child’s birth. This coil has several functions: it is a symbol. The function of a symbol is not to be locked in a one-way dynamic. It is a signifier, which has a multitude of signifieds, as it is part of a chain in which its function is based purely on the very nature of its distinct difference from the rest. The example of Signor/Signorelli shows how language works in the same way. Language speaks through signifieds, which are not necessarily congruous with the function of the signifier. I'll give you another example which is an effective metaphor: there is a woman who dreams that she sees a picture of members of her family, and on the image of her mother she sees a mark on her mother's clothes. This dream reveals the mark that at the same time symbolises that she is attached to her mother. (This is a play on words in French: ‘la tâche’ means ‘mark’, and ‘l'attache’ means ‘family ties’). Here is a metaphor which shows the special link between this person and another.
So what is the point of the metaphor? It must be seen as having a triple pole. Firstly, metaphor itself involves the act of creation - the spontaneous creation of a symbol. In other words, here is a function which sets up the conditions necessary for its own substitution. And for substitution to take place, the terms that appear in the metaphor have to take on the function of symbols from the outset. The stain that falls into the snare of obsessional neurosis also implies the washing of that stain. Depending on whether this argument is part of a hysterical or obsessional discussion, the effects will differ. The obsessive is a domain which concerns the difficulty there lies in accepting the power of a symbol as a barred subject. The second function is the elision of a term placed within the metaphor. The third function is that the outcome of the metaphor must be part of a true reorganization of the order of signifiers along the chain. Analytically speaking, it is one of the most important functions - that of displacing a term in the metaphor, and one which will cause a radical change in the structure at the level of the chain of signifiers. And that is rare! We hear a lot of metaphors banded about in analysis in a stream of words, yet the point which enables this crossover is a very particular metaphor. It will change something along the chain. Without it, there would be no point in performing the analysis. It’s the only leverage available.
These three functions all lead to what is often dramatic for the subject - that is, the castration of the mother. Need we remind ourselves that a large part of hysterical symptoms is based on this problem? The feelings of guilt, which are what normally remain from our relationship with the father-figure, are in the case of hysteria, unleashed on the uncastrated mother. And there in lies the choice of hysteria: that is, channelling a sense of guilt towards the mother. In practice, it is a core question. Why doesn’t the subject accept this operation? Why does he experience it as an unbearable destruction of the mother? How come this system is such an unshakeable obstacle, even for 40 to 60 year-olds? That’s what makes the little girl go quiet and mute! And it is not just the case for the small child, on the brink of the metaphorical ‘no’ of the Name-of-the-Father. It is something we come across, whatever the social sex, since hysteria comes from the male line. So why is it a core question for the subject? One can only answer that once the metaphor has been studied more closely.
S S barred
_______ _______ S barred _______ d (M)
S barred X
The metaphor is made up of an equation involving four terms, with the elision of two of those elements, so that S, which represents the signifier, leads to the unknown signification of x, with S’ as the mother’s desire. As for S, you can call it what you like, even the Name-of-the-Father, though it is not decisive. And here I’d like to allude to a comment made by Lacan that must be underlined in red: “the elision of S’, represented here by the bar through it, is the condition of the success of the metaphor.” There remains the task of defining d (M), which represents the mother’s desire, in other words, S’ in the four-letter equation of the metaphor.
It will become clear why I chose to discuss the well-known operation that Melanie Klein saw as surgical – that of the train entering the station. Melanie Klein sees the child as a subject, yet a subject without speech. However, that doesn’t mean for her that the child can’t talk. She simply approaches the interplay of drives from the Imaginary or Real order. She doesn’t theorize what should be theorized, that is, if the drive has a value for the child; it means that the drive, or the demand, that Lacan writes as: S barred <> D, is already a symbol because it has already passed through speech. She cannot see that all of this is essential for the child. And that is what gives the utmost value to the drive for the child, the fact that it has already been expressed through speech, what we can hear on the lips of adults every day - the knowledge that the subject’s demand is immediately found in the Other, insofar as this demand comes to question the desire of the Other. The child’s demands have an essential role, focused on questioning the desire of the other, both the other with a little ‘o’, and the Other with a big ‘O’. In other words, in terms of the mother-child relationship, the child questions that object beyond the mother’s own desire, an enigmatic object, the motor of her desire, as much as her reactions. Obviously, she can’t reply, because, like everybody, she cannot access her own primary organizer, since it is in the place of the Other, a place normally blocked off to her.
Through his demands, the child gradually becomes the desire of the desire of the mother. At the very beginning, he becomes this part object - in this organisation of language, of questions, needs, demands, harassment, all of this is what brings him as a child to become this desire of the desire of the Other - the tipping point from desire to demand, or from demand to desire. This system can only be established through speech, because firstly, drive is inscribed in the mind through speech. No subject can exist in a world jammed with needs : or there would be no subject left! That was the aim of communism! The communists hadn’t prepared for the fact that there would be no subject left at the end. The subject can only exist where the Other’s discourse governs, where something can remain open, and where there presides the famous organizing principle that preceded the subject’s arrival, an opening on to his closed world. The fact that the subject is the desire of the desire of the Other acts as a window through which he can breathe. This link of the desire of the subject as the desire of the desire of the Other, where the subject is unaware of the desire of the previous Other, is what constitutes the window of escape onto that which is beyond the desire of the Other. Unfortunately, here is where pathology, and in particular perversion, bring to light difficulties: the child is able to recognize the Other’s organizing principle as being that with which he will eventually identify, and invest in a relationship, through love for her. Since he will have identified it as being the goodness that is found in the maternal Other, and thus he turns it into to the object of his own desire, because in the same way, his desire will also be the desire of the Other. Lacan said: "for a sacred mother, a perverse son.” The good sovereign who brings the desire to life, and which is beyond her own desire – in this instance, the child rushes forward to become this goodness, this perverse goodness. Fundamentally, perversion is connected with the organizing symbol of the mother’s desire, which organizes her enjoyment. And this is what the son aims at in his own desire, namely grand phi, the phallus from a symbolic standpoint.
In the standard case of neurosis, which tends to be the norm, we find two different systems co-existing side by side. On the one hand, there is an organization which is the drive, which is an insertion in the chain of signifiers. This drive has been formed by the body, and from its relationship with speech between the mother and child. It is a type of symbol. On the other hand, there is an organization in the chain of signifiers, and one which isn’t formed by the body, but from the discourse that preceded the infant’s birth – it is an enigmatic point from which the mother establishes the link, at best as a phallic signifier, but the child only perceives this through chance from the signifiers of the mother’s actions. If the phallus organizes the mother’s movements, the child is not the mother’s centre of gravity, unless the child takes the place of phallic signifier. It is also possible that the mother invites the child to be at that centre (for which there are two solutions).
Why does the child come forward to take this place? It is precisely because his being, and his existence depends on the very desire of the desire of the Other. This desire of the desire of the Other is what keeps him alive, in existence, and therefore the fact of arousing this desire in the Other is what ensures he stays alive. Call it what you wish – existence, or ek-sistence – in other words, the child is living outside, and alongside, insofar as he has identified himself with the mother’s phallus.
This elision of S’ which represents the mother’s desire, has several consequences within the metaphor. The first consequence is that the pleasures of the drives are no longer the dominant factor. The second consequence is that the phallus becomes the accepted symbol, established by the paternal position – it becomes the symbol of its sole power. What can we say on that? We will come back to this point later. The third consequence is that the mother is deprived of the symbol by the father. And that is what the subject is urged to accept. And then it is up him to accept it or not! He either perseveres or he doesn’t. He may choose not to accept it, and thus refute not the father’s authority, but the place of signifier that would later come to bar the link and separate the child from his mother. He doesn’t accept it, because if he does accept, he will lose the possibility of being the desire of the desire of the Other, so he will have to simply desire full stop. Women know very well that when one studies closely the politics of gentlemen, if they are able to continue being the desire of the desire of the Other, they are as happy as Larry! So, prior to the metaphor there are two currents, both of them chains of signifiers, which are duly organized in the field of discourse of the Other, that is, the mother. What is particular about the metaphor is the fact that it splits apart its two strands of organization of chains of signifiers, so as to put in place the chain of signifiers of the subject, in which it is to operate from then on.
So, Melanie Klein’s playful game is to make us believe that we can carry out this operation through the Imaginary order, yet this is not possible. It is impossible for the subject to grasp what happens in the metaphor! Either the subject will inscribe itself in a determination which is his own desire, or he will remain at his mother’s service. As for the father, we never hear about him. That means, as Lacan specifies, that the Name-of-the-Father is an invocation, a call. But the subject can forever call! It’s allowed! However, with the metaphor, one can see that all there is left to do is to question or refer to an authorisation – the metaphor means : in the chain, one has to somehow keep going forward, and without any guarantees. And that is what psychoanalysis is all about, about what analysis leads us to, about invoking a desire and not a father. The operation of the Name-of-the-Father does not involve approval. The Name-of-the-Father is a treaty signed on the phallic market. And with that, it is then up to each individual to cope themselves. And how does one go about doing business on the phallic market? In this business, everyone must find their own way of bargaining their wares – though some never manage to, never showing their goods.
So, I hope I have managed to bring something across to you. In conclusion, when Melanie Klein talks about the father’s penis, she is teasing us. In Melanie Klein’s writings, what you read about is a society in which the notion of the Name-of-the-Father doesn’t exist.
Despite her formulations and whacky publications, it hasn’t so far been proven that her work in practice was quite as absurd! It would appear to be more the case that here we are dealing with gaps in her structure, and omissions which had considerably heavy implications, particularly when her own pupils rushed to embrace them here. Her work in practice had nothing to do with all that. Yet, it should be noted that her reference to Oedipus remains very superficial…