Yesterday, I spent the largest part of my day loafing in the bed, in retreat from the cold, and reading Teresa Brennan’s book, The interpretation of the flesh: Freud and femininity.
I must say that in her conclusions, she agrees with something I had been contending all along: That the treatment of adult women in the public sphere can have a profound ontological effect on their very beings.
Here is what she says:
“Of course the notion that this projection can castrate the other presupposes that psychical energetic connections work not only within but between beings. [...] For the subject, the advantage of this projection is that it disposes of the affects and anxiety that otherwise inhibit his ability to follow a train of thought, and/or linguistic chain of association; the disadvantage is that this ability depends on maintaining critical blind spots.” ( p 233)
Here we have an example of the way that psychology can assert itself into the realm of the political. Brennan certainly sees that there are cultural-historical influences that determine how masculinity and femininity are constructed in the society, but she does not go so far as to label these constructions as being also political.
That does not mean that these projections onto the other of a state of “castration” — which we can understand as mental and political helplessness — are not facilitated by political mechanisms, making them profoundly political. Rather, Brennan is writing in 1992, and advancing a novel thesis about psychological intersubjectivity, that was hardly recognised at that time. Seventeen years later, we are more familiar with post-Kleinian theory, and we are able to draw more conclusions concerning the interlinking of the political sphere with our inherent psychological mechanisms.
It becomes clearer after reading Brennan’s book that the projection of “castration” onto an other — which, as Brennan points out, can be one who is biologically male or female, but for psychoanalytical reasons, is generally a woman — is a political feature of the psychological division of necessary labour.
This is because, as humans, we are all physiologically complex — which is to say, made up of both rational and irrational drives. So it is that if one is to politically represent and uphold exclusively the rational side of one’s identity, it is necessary for one to somehow do away with the irrational side of one’s self (both as representation and as, far as possible, as conscious experience).
To maintain a rational self-image, the inherent irrational aspects of human psychology — (those which intrude at times to seem to prevent the work of narrow rational thinking) — will be denied, or sublimated of projected, depending on the level of the level of the psychological resources and skill of the subject.
Brennan deals with the issue of projection in the last few pages of her book, and it is fortunate that she does so, since these days it is tacitly acceptable, within the Western socio-political complex, for projections to flow from male to female, but not for them to flow the other way around: That is, the political rhetoric that maintains ideologies imputes that “it is irrational to impute irrational characteristics to men.” It does not seem to be irrational to impute them to women, however. So it is that individual men are lifted above the possibility of criticism, by virtue of the tacit acceptability of the logic of projection.
But projection isn’t merely rhetorical: that is, there is more to it than expressing the idea that “it isn’t me, its you!” as a way of putting women back into their (traditional) places. Rather, at a deep psychological level, the subject who projects also actually believes that it is not he, but her, who is responsible for a disruption of his chain of thought.
Consider the nature of the political divide in terms of this tacit division of psychological labour: Phenomenologically, those positioned as “masculine” (which can be upper division women as well as men, in the managerial classes) experience only annoying interruptions to their rational train of thought, which seem to come from the outside of their own psyches, and need to be crushed or put down. Meanwhile, those positioned on the alternative side of the political divide, those allocated to do “feminine” work, will have a variety of experiences depending on their degree of psychological and political awareness.
Those who find themselves positionally on the “feminine” side of power systems will not have the same view of the world and of established systems of morality as those who find themselves on the “masculine” side (due to factors dominated by psychological symbolisations of gender and social status). At the lowest level of consciousness, women who are projected upon will find a certain need fulfilled, in that an identity — albeit a weak and shaky one — is projected upon them. Their narcissistic sensibilities (whether weak or strong) are enhanced.
At a higher level of consciousness, one encounters the male projection of “castration” as a constant assault on one’s processes of thinking, as well as on one’s capacity to maintain a sense of identity. The males who project are inclined to expect women to identify with all of their failed processes of thinking, as if they had originated from the women themselves. In the case of ongoing assaults of this projective sort (which I have experienced), which sometimes appear to be specifically designed to weaken one’s resolve, I find the only solution is to get away from the situations that allow for these power dynamics, and to take refuge as a hermit. Otherwise, one will not be able to think very much, if at all.
When one has no choice but to associate with those (including organisations and systems) which engage in this process of projection, it does feel masochistic, despite the fact that one is on red alert for combat, and is not masochistic at all. This is because these projective attacks work against one’s inner ontological awareness — the part of the self that governs a sense of identity.