The Consequences of Jones's Misunderstanding of the Metaphor
Auteur : Gérard Amiel 15/11/2009
On referring to psychoanalysis, it reveals that sexuation represents a radical failure of Aristotelianism, since the man-woman question doesn’t follow a strict logic categorized as type A or not A. From the very beginning Freud said: “libido is male in both sexes.” With regard to the infant’s genital make-up in “Sexual Life” Freud reminds us that when faced with a real, namely the anatomical difference between the sexes, female sexual anatomy is not interpreted as being something purely different, but rather as being something missing. Therefore the child relates to the concept of absence as being something he imagines should be found there, which here defines the phallus as imaginary. It is indeed this interpretation therefore, based on an absence, which accentuates the phallus. And Freud even says so explicitly: “For both sexes, only one sexual organ, the male organ, plays a role. There therefore doesn’t exist a prima genital but a prima phallus.” This point therefore categorically severs all possible links between the phallus and the penis, between what relates to the organ and what concerns the signifier, since the subject in his relation with the ‘Other’ (with a capital O), faces the question of an absence, that symbolises the phallus.
The Freudian standpoint is based on the fact that the phallus symbolizes the libido for both sexes. The libido is always male, and that included for the little girl. Therefore, the notion of Speaking being is never part of a logic of the type “each sex has its own libido,” as Jones tries to explain it. Based on this first allusion back to the Freudian axis, I will try to present the question of the phallic stage as seen by Jones, mainly in relation to two articles, which are: “The Early Development of Female Sexuality,” dating from 1927, and “The Phallic Stage,” written in 1932. This time I am purposefully leaving aside the article entitled “Primitive Feminine Sexuality,” published in 1935, as it is the object of another debate, related to this one, but rather more orientated towards post-Freudian offshoots concerning the female position.
To place my argument in context, I would like to remind you that it follows on from my work on “The Theory of Symbolism,” which illustrated that Jones had given greatest weight to the metonymic dimension in his writings, at the expense of the metaphoric question, a choice that doesn’t fail to lead to a significant amount of shifts, impasses and misunderstandings, which all culminate in the very same question of the phallus.
In the article : “The Early Development of Female Sexuality,” Jones basically challenges the Freudian position which is considered to be based on a prejudice, and a phallic prejudice shall we say with regard to femininity. And here from the outset we find ourselves at the very the heart of the misunderstanding, since the question of the phallus is brought down to the anatomical level: “Analysts of the masculine sex were led to adopt extreme views centred on the phallus concerning the problem of femininity. The importance of the feminine genital organs was accordingly underestimated.” This places things straightaway on this plane. The deadlock which follows derives from keeping focus on the genitality, since trying to draw a link between anatomy and what is understood as being the realm of phallic enjoyment is to make a priori assumptions that genitality is automatically confused with the phallic dimension. However, clinical experience contradicts this interpretation, and even demonstrates the opposite. For example it shows that phallic over-investment can go together with genital extinction, as observed in certain cases of hysteria. Or using another counter example, genitality can sometimes open the way to viewing the sexual realm devoid of symbolic constraints, which results in sex that is beyond both sexuation and desire. Therefore, genitality does not follow in strict parallel the path of neurosis.
Yet why this constant shift within the post-Freudian school? Historically it is true that Freud spoke firstly of a prima genital, but in his work on Oedipus, he went on to talk of a prima phallus. At this juncture, he is no longer speaking to us about the same thing. There is a fundamental shift that takes place that is not here taken into consideration. Freud, for his part, clearly extended some significance to the prima phallus, and in his articles he tries to follow its characteristics in childhood, in adolescence and in adulthood through psychoanalysis. His formulation never therefore refers to the anatomical dimension, but rather, based on his understanding of the subject, gives us hints towards the signifier dimension at play for the phallus. It is only later that he tries to tackle the issue of anatomy and draw a link. Yet his starting point is neither sexology nor gynaecology. For him, this prima phallus consequently gives the castration complex equal importance in both sexes because desire is regulated in both sexes by this complex. Freud tells us that in boys, maintaining Oedipean desire is accompanied by anguish, and in girls, it is all played out in penis envy.
On the subject of castration, Jones questions this Freudian position: “this concept of castration has to a certain degree put an obstacle in the way of our understanding of the fundamental conflicts in question. In fact, we have here an example of what Karen Horney called an unconscious prejudice that arises from the fact that this research has taken on a view that is far too masculine.” And he suggests that the notion of castration be replaced, so as to shift the focus on to something else. Replaced with what exactly? With aphanisis.
How does he define aphanisis? He defines it as follows: the total and therefore permanent abolishment of the capacity to reach orgasm. And here we are in a completely different arena. And a few lines further down in the same article he adds: “The punishment that is aphanisis signifies for me the permanent abolishment of sexual pleasure.” Aphanisis - a mixture between pleasure and orgasm, which are not at all the same, but this is where he places things - this aphanisis, Jones says, takes the form of the castration anxiety for men, and the fear of separation for women. This aphanisis complex shifts the man/woman distinction, and is another way of viewing the difference between the two sexes, while attempting to put the phallic question and the question of castration for women into perspective. So how does he fill the place left empty by the withdrawal of the phallus and of castration? Still in the same text, he introduces the idea of a prevalence of orality, with an oral phase controlled by sucking, which gives way to the following series : an anal stage bound up with the vagina, a mouth-anus-vagina stage which corresponds to an identification with the mother. However, this approach excludes a pseudo-phallic anatomical interpretation, as we find in Freud on the question of the clitoris. By denying this phallic dimension, the paradox is that he nevertheless formulates something as being rooted specifically in feminine desire, that is in reality situated in the sphere of having, but which he doesn’t relate to the phallic, and he tells us that the highest expression of feminine desire lies in pregnancy and childbirth. Again, I will not go into the detail here about his supposed evidence based on a case of female homosexuality, where he tells us that to protect herself from aphanisis, the woman can build up several barriers against her femininity, mainly in identification to the penis. And to conclude this article, he even goes so far as to say : “In girls, the phallic stage as described by Freud is probably more a secondary defence mechanism than a true stage of development.” I end here on this first article, and turn immediately now to the second text which addresses more specifically the phallic stage in general.
“The phallic stage” begins with a remark from Jones which positions the direction in which he will angle his argument right from the start. “The phallic stage of female sexual development represented more than a simple and direct evolution, but rather the secondary solution to a psychological conflict, a defence solution. And already at that time, I had doubts about the existence of a phallic stage, even for men, though I didn’t share those doubts, as my article only dealt with female sexuality.” Jones, I would like to point out, goes on to base his entire article around three axes, which are:
- A reference, not to the phallus, which he doesn’t allude to at all after the title, but to the penis, that is to say a reference to the real organ, which gives the extremely sexological aspect to this type of text.
- By systematically using Oedipus as a reference base, that is to say that for him the circulation of the phallus can only take this mythical path. In this respect he is a disciple of Freud.
- By remaining relatively Kleinian in his approach to the concepts.
But we will develop all of this later in detail. Jones therefore, inexplicitly puts forward the theory that there are in fact two parts to the phallic stage in Freud’s writings :
- a proto-phallic phase, where the argument is that all humans possess the same genital organ, penis or clitoris ; and interpreting that beyond the aspect of mere organ, that the phallus is perceived as the subject from the outset.
- a secondary phallic phase, where the world is divided into two categories, those possessing the male organ, and those denied that organ. The phallus is not considered for all to begin with, but is introduced later.
For Jones, the passage from one stage to another is linked to the fear of castration. I will not go into the detail here, because you have already read the text, but based on clinical experience with adults he works on the assumption that a boy equates copulation with castration. And it is based on this equation that he tries to develop his argument. He therefore puts forward two hypotheses on the phallic stage. One which attempts to throw light on the question of the origin of castration through the proto-phallic phase, the classic interpretation, and another complex hypothesis which purports that the proto-phallic stage is already considered as a defence against the secondary phallic phase.
Concerning the classic Freudian interpretation of castration, Jones says that what happens as a result of the proto-phallic phase is that at the beginning, the child is meant to think that all human beings have a penis, and so when the little boy discovers that there exists an anatomical difference between the sexes, it occurs to him that not everyone is constituted in the same way as himself, and that he could effectively lose his own sexual organ, and this is what sets off the whole process that is anchored in Oedipus, which is driven precisely by preserving that organ. So there we have the classic interpretation - beyond reducing the phallus to the level of the organ, we can nevertheless understand that what he is describing is aimed at recognizing a certain primitive phallic state within the dialectic at play. As for the more complex interpretation, I’m going to read you something. Jones positions it in opposition to the classic interpretation, and I don’t want to read you all of that, but I will read to you the two ways of explaining the origins of castration anxiety. The first classic hypothesis is the following: “We assume that the boy, still unaware of the difference between the two sexes, has ceased to think that the mother has a natural penis of her own, until the point when his experience of the female sexual organ leads him to suspect, with disgust, that she has been gelded. This simple hypothesis glosses over the obvious previous questions of from where the boy derives his ideas concerning copulation and castration.” And then the other hypothesis: “On the one hand, we assume that from the very beginning the boy has unconscious knowledge that the mother has an opening other than her mouth or anus, which he can penetrate. But for reasons that we are going to study, this idea leads to the fear of castration, and it is to defend himself against this that the boy buries his drive to penetrate, along with all ideas of the vagina, and he replaces each of them respectively with a phallic narcissism and a persistent belief that the mother also has a penis. If there didn’t exist this dangerous cavity to penetrate, there would be no fear of castration. Naturally, all of this rests on the hypothesis that the conflict and danger are born from the desire he shares with his father to penetrate the same cavity.” Here the primitive phallus seems to be held responsible. And he will go on to reiterate the Melanie Klein option.
Therefore in parallel with the fear of the father, there comes another fear which is inherited from the relationship with the father. What is it? Jones follows Karen Horney’s hypothesis, which he doesn’t fully embrace on the subject of bisexuality and the primary femininity of boys - which, I would like to point out in passing, is in perfect symmetry with what Karen Horney criticizes in Freud on the subject of girls, that is to say, the question of the preoccupation with the primitive phallus as in the case of hysteria. This primary femininity, according to Jones, has been let down in the relationship with the mother, and then transferred onto the father, and this is the source of the boy’s fear of castration by the father. From this first introductory point he goes on to follow the complete development of Melanie Klein’s theory where both the Oedipus complex and the boy’s fear of his father are influenced by the primary relationship with the mother.
He evokes primary orality as being the ultimate source of all that is based on the structure, and he emphasizes oral frustration as being a determinant. He is essentially Kleinian in his thought because for him indeed everything that is inherited from the misadventures of orality, from the oral drive in the relationship with the mother, is what lays down the matrix, the framework, the foundations of what follows concerning the father in Oedipus. And Oedipus is definitely viewed here from its imaginary aspect, that is to say treated as a destructive conflict, from which it is hard for us to imagine how anyone could disentangle himself. He specifies the following: “Why do so many men need to go through a phase of feminine satisfaction, that is to say, through this famous orality with the mother, before being able to feel comfortable in their state of manhood. I have made it clear that the root of all problems must be hidden in the boy’s feminine desires. The first clue is that the feminine stage is a feeding, essentially oral stage, and that within this stage the satisfaction of desires precedes masculine development.”
According to Jones, the link between orality and the phallic stage is orientated by the sadism question – for him it is sadism which enables the transition in the text – sadism and the destruction attached, which is clearly an imaginary interpretation of the death drive. In this configuration, oral frustration implies sadism towards the mother, and on an imaginary level, he tells us that using the penis can also be aimed at destruction. He therefore ends up with the equation that the greater the oral frustration, the more intense the ulterior sadistic tactics, which is a means of denying the woman, through impotence for example, what she desires. And Jones believes that herein lies the explanation – yet to be verified by clinical studies - of the link between phallic narcissism and impotence.
To add to this impasse situation which is inherited from the relationship with the mother, he introduces another dynamic based around the father in relation to Oedipus, yet treated as we have already mentioned in an imaginary way. In other words, intercourse with the mother is directed at destroying the paternal penis that she contains. Here, therefore, we see to what extent the phallus is clearly reduced or relegated to the role of a partial object. And so with a view to shedding light on the causes of the fears of castration, he finishes with the following, still referring to the boy: “We therefore have a simple formula for the Oedipus complex: my aversion towards my father’s penis is so strong, that if I penetrate my mother’s vagina, the same thing will happen to me, or otherwise put, if I have intercourse with my mother, my father will castrate me.” Castration is therefore finally equated with destruction. Here again the phallus, that is to say the Freudian object of primary repression, is not presented in its rightful place. Nevertheless, for Freud, it is neither a fantasy, nor a partial object, nor a real organ.
To sum up, on the subject of the boy, Jones brings to light that the passage from the proto-phallic stage to the secondary-phallic stage takes place as a result of seeing the genital organs; but his Oedipal interpretation portrays the boy in a primary feminine position, because he fears the masculinity linked to penetration would make him run the risk of the penis being imprisoned inside the maternal ‘trap’, as in the case of the paternal penis which is found trapped inside. According to Jones, it is by renouncing the mother so as to save the organ that he is able to free himself of Oedipus, and can therefore return to his secondary-phallic phase. That is to say that this secondary-phallic stage, which for Freud appears as a resolution, is for Jones an impasse, and one which he says is due to a neurotic compromise, that is to say, it is due to the symptom. He tells us that it is based on a defence against Oedipus, whereas he considers the proto-phallic stage to be normal. Therefore I would like to point out that Jones’s guiding axis here is this misunderstanding, a point I can’t stress enough – this confusion between sex and the prima phallus which was a real difficulty at the time because the signifier had not yet been identified as such. And it is for this reason that he has to pursue something else in the imaginary Oedipus, that is to say the affect, the incestuous affect, the fear, hatred, anxiety etc. That’s enough said on the boy.
In the same text on the question of girls, Jones evokes two hypotheses - I will be a bit briefer here so as not to reiterate what I have already said, and what is described explicitly in the first article. First hypothesis: “The little girl’s sexual life is essentially masculine at the beginning. It is her own disappointment which drives her towards femininity.” This is the Freudian standpoint that he doesn’t follow. And the second axis: the little girl’s sexual life is initially feminine, and the failure of this early female sexuality is what drives her towards a phallic masculinity. In other words, in girls he sees a separated femininity and a primitive femininity. For him, there is therefore no phallic phase in feminine development. The secondary-phallic stage is a defence against the Oedipus complex that already exists. Oral frustration triggers off the Oedipus complex. This is, for him, the specifically feminine path that the girl escapes from on entering, as a defence, into the phallic stage. For her, this phallic phase is a development stage that always takes the form of a ‘neurotic compromise’.
It should perhaps be pointed out that this text on the little girl reveals to what degree Jones has difficulty in defining female homosexuality. How does Jones perceive this female homosexuality? What does it represent for him? Because surely, the path that he is taking us down here is certainly not towards the current understanding that we have of female homosexuality, as something wholly different to what he describes based on the phallic stage. With Jones, it is not easy to differentiate between the question of female homosexuality and hysteria. That is to say that we cannot see how he treats the question of hysteria differently from that of homosexuality. He gives female homosexuality an essentially phallic dimension, not simply hysterical but phallic. That is to say that he doesn’t make the same distinction as we do, us, from the teaching of Lacan. This is a fundamental point, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand why he presents this theory. The bottom line is that in what Jones tries to establish regarding precisely this question of female sexuality, and the question directly linked to it, namely female homosexuality, he doesn’t differentiate between the two except on the basis of this phallic evolution. However, if the girl is disappointed she remains within this phallic dimension. Whether she became heterosexual through frustration, or homosexual through frustration, she would still remain enclosed in this difference.
Therefore, the question of the phallic phase in women is taken by Jones as being something arising from the neurotic compromise. Rather than viewing the phallus as an agent for the sexuated position, Jones suggests here that the phallic question for a woman is a defence reaction for a specifically feminine desire. Indeed, I believe that this interpretation went down very well with feminists. He says: “This last phase, the phallic phase, is therefore not so much a purely libidinal evolution as it is a neurotic compromise between libido and anxiety, between libidinal drives and the desire to avoid mutilation. Strictly speaking, it is not a neurosis, but insofar as the libidinal satisfaction is conserved in tact in the unconscious as in a neurosis, it is more of a sexual aberration, which we can label phallic perversion.” On the subject of girls therefore, according to Jones, the orality and the frustration attached appear as the roots and indeed the very model itself of ulterior femininity. Which also leads him to reject the Freudian standpoint of there being only a single libido for both sexes, and to favour the position of separated femininity, in which the phallic question is viewed as a compromise, as a defence against this supposed initial femininity. That seems to me to be what I retained.
So, in conclusion, I hope that I have laid bare Jones’s interpretation which in psychoanalytical terms bases itself significantly on metonymy, which was not the case for Freud, although for certain of his students. Hence, for example, the fact that the phallic question for women appears to Jones as a perversion. And it seems to be here on this very point where he fails to identify the signifier dimension of the issue.
It appears to me that the edge that Lacan has over Freud on the phallic question is in unleashing the phallic logic from his conception of Oedipus, something that is practically obligatory for Freud. The phallus is there, before any transmission or myth of transmission inherited through the father. It exists initially, right from the start, before the child comes into the world in the chain of signifiers and in the language. What we call intelligence consists in the identification, recognized so early on, of this fundamental organizing principle of desire and of the world. So, if there is only one desire, the male desire, alongside this male modality to desire, there is nevertheless a female modality. What differentiates a man from a woman is that a woman doesn’t need to exist entirely in this system, even though she has to go through this state in order to desire. All desire in fact, is inevitably born of this phallic enjoyment, even when the subject is referred to as an ‘Other’ enjoyment (with a capital O), that is to say an enjoyment still related to the phallus in a roundabout way, because the ‘Other’ enjoyment is ‘Other’ only in comparison to the phallic, which exists first.
Lacan’s contribution is therefore to have said that it is in the speech of the ‘Other’ (with a capital O) that the child is confronted with the question of castration, and that he has to learn how the phallus moves and works. A wide body of clinical experience demonstrates the diversity of modalities, namely that the ‘Real’ is humanized by the phallus or that it is not, or that it is occupied by a wild phallus that is untamed by the father - a phallus that is not constrained; that isn’t stamped with a guarantee. Oedipus is no more than a secondary myth that tries to reveal the existence of the primary structure.
So as a final note, and perhaps it is very naughty of me to say so, but it would seem to me that despite what Jones tries to say about his loyalty to Freud, or in any case it seemed to me that the way in which he treats the phallic question is not in fact as Freudian as all that, and you could even say that it isn’t Freudian at all. There, I said it!