“Feminine Psychology and Masculine Ideology” — an excerpt from the book “Beyond Psychology”

Been wanting to transcribe more from Otto Rank’s book Beyond Psychology (1941), picking back up on page 235 at the beginning of chapter 7 titled “Feminine Psychology and Masculine Ideology”:

It has become a truism that man from time immemorial has imposed his masculine way of life upon woman, both individually and collectively. Traditions, likewise, seem to agree that woman not only willingly submitted to any man-made ideology which happened to prevail but was clever enough to assimilate it and use it to her own advantage. Less obvious, though of greater importance, is the complementary process, namely, that man, while imposing his mentality on woman, usurped some of her vital functions and thus unwittingly took on some of her genuine psychology, differing fundamentally from his own masculine ideology. Herein lies the most paradoxical of all psychological paradoxes: that man, who was molding woman according to his own sexual will, should have taken over into his ideological philosophy the love-principle so deeply rooted in woman’s nature. The conception of Agape, as we have seen, revived the vital principle of woman-love which had been lost in Antiquity, particularly in Greek civilization, where the original mother-goddess was finally replaced by the masculine ideal of the self-created hero.

This gradual replacement of an original mother-culture by the masculine state-organization appears reflected in the development of ancient religion, especially in the Near East, that is, in Asia Minor. Of particular interest to us is the recent study, already referred to, of such development which, documented by Biblical tradition, enables us to follow the successive steps, leading from the one form of social organization to the other. The material in question concerns the story of Petra, known from Biblical sources as “the Rock City of Edom,” which, from the time of Moses and possibly before that, controlled, for many centuries, a great transit route. In its early days of matrilineal succession, the deity was a goddess who, by acquiring a son first for the role of consort and later father, finally became masculinized herself in the form of a god.

Such development, characteristic of all early religions of civilized peoples, seems to reflect the gradual emergence of our later conception of family-types from an undifferentiated mixture of biological facts and supernatural ideologies. Yet, in a sense, this symbol of an original bisexual mother-goddess reveals to us the real story behind the mythical conception of the “first” man, as presented in later Biblical tradition. In order to be impregnated by man, woman had first to give birth to that man as her son, who, when matured, could become her mate and thus a father. The Biblical story presents, as it were, the end-phase of this development in a masculinized reversion of the fact that man is born of mortal woman. Primitive religion, on the contrary, abounds in pictures of a self-sufficient or (later) hermaphroditic goddess who originally creates life without the aid of man before creating man, who in turn creates her in his own image. Such speculations about the origin of man necessarily lead to an incestuous beginning, which, however, does not reflect biological facts but expresses an ideological need in man to blot out the mother-origin in order to deny his mortal nature. Herein is to be found the dynamic drive for man’s religious, social and artistic creativity through which he not only proves his supernatural origin (religion) and capacity (art) but also tries to translate it into practical terms of social organization (state, government).1

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[Footnote] 1 A German scholar, Ernst Bergman, designates these two antagonistic tendencies of human civilization in terms of the difference of the sexes as “Erkenntnisgeist und Muttergeist” (Breslau, 1931), meaning the spirit of knowledge as against the spirit of motherhood. He even speaks of a sexualization of woman by man.

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The primaeval mother-goddess, later associated with her son-lover who eventually as father usurped her place, seems to have been the prototype of the “Heavenly Queen” characteristic of all Near-Eastern religions, in which invariably a mother-goddess appears sexually related to a son. From Babylonian and Egyptian to Persian and Greek tradition we find this same pattern symbolized in the relationship of Istar-Tammuz, Isis-Horus, Maja-Agni, Tanit-Mithra, Kybele-Attis, Astarte-Adonis and Aphrodite-Hermes. Even in Christian tradition, traces of a similar relation of Christ to Mary can be detected as Robertson1 has suggested on the basis of an earlier myth of a Palestinian God—probably named Joshua—who appears in the alternate relations of lover and son to a mythical Mary. It is important, however, to bear in mind that Christianity does not represent a mere parallel to those ancient conceptions but rather a revival and re-interpretation of the original mother-concept which had given way to the masculinization of Eastern civilization. For in Christianity, this incestuous relationship is interpreted as a symbol of spiritual re-birth. This conception is expounded in Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ question as to how a man can be born when aged? Is it possible for him to enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again? Christ’s well-known answer to this tricky question bears out his spiritual interpretation of the ancient tradition.

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[Footnote] 1 Robertson, John Mackinnon, Pagan Christs. N. Y., Truth Seeker Co.

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The gradual masculinization of human civilization, in my opinion probably the most enlightening clue to history, is borne out by mythical and religious tradition as well as by the development of social concepts and artistic creation. Mythologically, it is epitomized in the transition from an original moon-goddess characteristic for all early religion to the masculine sun-god who obliterates the moon. The transition—paralleling the above-mentioned religious concept of a mother-son relationship—is found in the widespread tradition of an originally female moon-goddess who was first supplemented by a masculine counterpart, a moon-god, in the role of son or brother, with a later development to husband and father. “These mythological traditions of all civilized and most primitive races have their sociological counterpart in the fact that the remains of the moon-cult also point to primitive conceptions of society, in which the woman still played a greater part than that which we find allotted to her in the patriarchal organization of high cultures with their sun-cult.”1 The best documented example of such masculinization, implying the denial of woman’s importance, is to be found in Egyptian tradition with its violent suppression of the moon-cult epitomized in the ancient Isis-religion by the sun-cult of Ra forcibly introduced by the heretical king Tutankamon. According to the original moon religion in ancient Egypt, the child was named after the mother, a matrilineal rule still reflected in the legend of Moses, the fatherless child. In this, as in all other traditions of the myth of the birth of the hero, the father was not eliminated, as Freud saw it in the light of his patriarchal philosophy, but was unimportant if not altogether unknown.

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[Footnote] 1Art and Artist, Alfred A. Knopf, N. Y., 1932, p. 125.

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As the repressed mother-cult is presented in such fragments of an earlier civilization, so we may find in other relics of ancient tradition further evidence for the once universal veneration of female creativity which was denied by man’s need of an immortality of his own. How far-reaching and in what unexpected directions such a search may lead can be illustrated by a suggestion of Dr. Murray’s, which she presents in connection with her discussion of this change of sex in the early religion of Petra. She points out that among the gods whose images—often merely oblong stones—have been found at or near Petra were several who were also honored at Mecca in the “Days of Ignorance.” This conjecture makes it likely that the “Holy Carpet” which covers the Kaaba was once the outward image of a goddess, which therefore had to be decently veiled. Such interpretation would explain the ceremonial circumambulation of the Kaaba during the ceremonies of the Haj as a relic of the ritual dances long ago, when pagan Arabs capered-round it naked and priests of Baal leaped up and down before the altars of a god who required human sacrifices. Both through their racial relatedness to the Arabs and the religious influence from Babylonia the Jews seemed to belong to this same cultural development to which they also appear geographically bound. Petra, which during its long history had changed hands frequently, was always snatched from earlier settlers by one of the many Arabic desert tribes attracted by its riches. In the Bible it is known as Edom because in its early days it was occupied by the Edomites, descendants of Esau and kinsfolk of the Jews. They had captured it from the Horites, who in turn had taken it from the Kenites under whom it was first known. The Biblical sources from which most of Petra’s history is drawn provide many examples showing how primitive and crude the Jews were in the day of their power.

There is one incident recorded from a later period which is completely out of place as far as religious ceremonial is concerned and which seems to have preserved in it another relic of an original mother-cult among the Jews, whose monotheism appears as the result of a long struggle against foreign gods who still betrayed the earmarks of an earlier mother-goddess. The episode referred to is King David’s dance before the Torah, an unheard-of sacrilege not only in the times before the building of the first temple but even in the early days of the Golden Calf—another mother-symbol. In the light of Dr. Murray’s suggestion about the original “sex” of the Kaaba it seems quite possible that the Torah which guided the nomadic Jews through the desert represented an original female symbol, a relic of the great Asiatic Mother-Goddess who had been replaced by Jehovah through the man Moses, in whom appears epitomized the transition from the mother-cult of ancient Egypt to the father-cult of monotheistic religion. The Torah proper, containing the new masculine Law of Moses, was—not unlike the Kaaba—carefully covered by the rich vestments inside of which it rested invisibly.

Christianity not only openly restituted the early importance of the mother-cult but likewise did away with its highly masculinized substitutes in Jewish religion and Roman statecraft. By spiritualizing the Oriental mother-cult, the Christian religion extended this genuinely biological conception into a universal love-ideology applicable alike to man and woman. We have shown how this spiritual love-conception of Agape gradually became contaminated with earthly, that is, sexual love-desires—a confusion of the two principles culminating in the romantic love-emotion. This semi-religious development precipitated what one might call a feminization of our Western world, resulting in our psychological type of man. The will-ful Eros and the yielding Agape were translated into psychological terms of “wanting” (will) and “being wanted” (loved), a moral re-evaluation which not only brought about a change of personality types but a change in the general mores of modern times.

This change of psychology in modern man calls for a new evaluation beyond our moral classification of masculine and feminine which shall take into account the more fundamental difference concerning the functioning of the will in the personality of the two sexes. Whereas man’s will in its free expression is simply “wanting,” in woman’s psychology we meet the paradoxical will-phenomenon of wanting to be wanted. Such reversal in the expression of the will raises the question as to whether we are to see it in another perversity of human nature or a genuine expression of woman’s natural self. This latter assumption would then presuppose that there always was and still is a woman-psychology, which has not only remained unrecognized throughout the ages but has been misinterpreted religiously, socially and psychologically in terms of masculine ideologies. First and foremost, through this confusion of the feminine Agape and the masculine eroticism, the religious conceptions of good and evil have been interpreted in sexual terms of “masculine” and “feminine”; that is to say, our social standards and values concerning masculine and feminine traits have become inextricably bound up with our moral notions of good and bad. According to this moral code, which Western man set up by interpreting nature in moral terms, masculinity became identified with strength, power, if not creativity—in a word, goodness; whereas femininity designates silliness, weakness, if not wickedness—in a word, badness.

In view of our previous discussions, it becomes obvious that what we meet in those moralistic qualifications is the age-old struggle of the rational self against its irrational nature. From the point of view of man’s rational psychology, “feminine” traits of emotionalism appear “irrational,” whereas in reality they represent human qualities of a positive nature. Since modern psychology is not only masculine but derived from our neurotic type of man, a great deal of its terminology originated from a misinterpretation of woman in terms of man’s sexual ideology. Such misinterpretation, as shown for example in the psychoanalytic conception of masochism, is not a modern invention but is deeply rooted in human language. For language, which originated as a free expression of the natural self, gradually developed into a rational means of communication voicing the predominant ideology. Thus, in contrasting masculine ideology and feminine psychology we have to guard against becoming involved in the intricacies of linguistic confusion inherent in human speech. In other words, we must first step beyond language in order to remain “beyond psychology,” made up as it is from a language already sexualized. Contrary to common belief, human language did not emerge like the love-call of birds and other animals as an expression of the male’s sexual urge for the female. True, language is masculine, but only in the sense that it was created by man to be used as a most powerful instrument with which to produce a world of his own by interpreting the existing world in terms of his masculine sexology.

The creation of the universe through Jehovah’s word, as the Old Testament presents it, gives testimony to man’s presuming to re-create the natural world in his own words. The Biblical story called “The Tower of Babel” epitomizes man’s ambition to change language from a means of self-expression into a tool for universal communication. The moral of this parable seems to imply a warning against man’s presumptuous attempt to “understand” everything by putting it into words. The fallacy of such an undertaking betrays itself in the vicious circle created by man who first named things in his own language, only to use the same language afterwards by which to “explain” them. Thus it seemed easy to prove—be it in religious, sociological or psychological terms—that this man-made universe was right. In reality, however, this creative ambition of man has produced ever-increasing confusion since the time of Babel, until in our day the world is actually at war about the meaning of words. Terms like communism, fascism, democracy seem to evade any clear definition, because it is not so much their semantic meaning which counts as the way they are used and the means they are used for.1

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[Footnote] 1 Soon after the German occupation of Czecho-Slovakia, Berlin sent a daily radio-hour to Prague in order to explain the political terminology of the Third Reich to its new subjects.

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In trying, at least temporarily, to keep out of this ideological word-war, we go back to the undeclared war on the border of the two sexes, that is, masculine versus feminine ideology. Here, because the only terminology which psychology furnishes us with which to explain woman is a masculine one, we find ourselves confronted by the same difficulty concerning human language. While the story of the Tower of Babel impresses upon us the linguistic confusion between man and nature in terms of national differences, here we encounter a more fundamental difference in the language used in traffic between man and woman. There actually are two different languages characteristic of man and woman respectively, and the woman’s “native tongue” has hitherto been unknown or at least unheard. In spite of her proverbial chattering, woman is tacit by nature; that is, she is inarticulate about her real self. Man, in his creative presumption, took upon himself the task of voicing her psychology—of course, in terms of his masculine ideology. This fundamental misunderstanding between the two sexes, speaking as it were different languages, appears in Biblical tradition at the beginning of things when Adam listens to the voice of the serpent, speechless by nature, and simply understands it his way. Mark Twain, an unsurpassed master of language, expresses this dualism in human speech when, in his “Diary of Adam,” the first man constantly complains about Eve’s interfering with his joyful task of naming things by suggesting different names for them.

The question as to whether or not this aboriginal dualism of verbal expression in man and woman is reflected in the two genders of various languages has become a source of heated debate among linguistic scholars. In approaching the problem from a new angle, that of man’s creative urge, I was disposed to assume, in conformity with the general view adopted in this book, that what we have to deal with is not a growth of language out of sex-acts or sexual activity but a comparatively late sexualization of language as a manifestation of the human creative urge which gradually usurps the parenthood of everything by bringing sexual connotations into its nomenclature. This sexualization of language is itself, then, a metaphorical way of expressing a “just-like”; that is, it gives name-forms to everything that man creates, “just as if” they were produced by him as the child is.2 It is very tempting, of course, to adduce the existence of genders in almost all modern languages as evidence of the sexual origin of languages; but such a conclusion is so superficial that most scholars, even when attempting to prove the sexual origin of languages, scorn it as unscientific. A really scientific approach proves for our living languages what Powell had already established as a result of his thorough investigation of Indian languages, when he says: “The student of linguistics must get entirely out of his head the idea that gender is merely a distinction of sex. In the North American Indian languages (and probably in the Bantu and the Indo-European also) gender is usually a classification method.” We find the classification of “higher” and “lower” beings, that presently became one of “male” and “female,” in the Semitic languages, which, even thus early, breathe the moral outlook of the East. Here, too, the primitives disclose to us the deeper sources, for (according to Powell) the main principle of their classification is to divide animate and inanimate objects.

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[Footnote] 2 A rather curious example is provided in the famous “Indian Bible,” as the first translation made in the colonies was called. Some scholars claim that the translation by the Rev. John Eliot was so faulty that the Indians could not understand it. But recently Prof. S. E. Morison came to the rescue of the translator by pointing out some of the difficulties under which Eliot labored. “Throughout the Bible, wherever the word ‘virgin’ occurs, Eliot uses a word that means ‘a chaste young man.’ That was because chastity was accounted a masculine virtue. They had a word for ‘virgin,’ but seldom any occasion to use it. No doubt it seemed much more suitable to the Indians to have the bridegroom met by ten ‘chaste young men.'”

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Thus the inclusion of primitive languages within the scope of our study has shown this phenomenon of grammatical genders to be but a part of a much wider and more complex system of classification; and this makes it all the more interesting to follow the phenomena of transition. Opposed to the two-gender system of the Indo-European, we have the Indian classification that we have just been discussing, based chiefly on the distinction of “soul” and “no-soul” (living and non-living), though, to be sure, there attaches to this a certain valuation as “personal” and “impersonal,” which reappears in the distinction of “masculine” and “feminine.” Most interesting of all are the transitional languages, which show the beginning of sexualization side by side with the old basis of classification. According to Meinhof, the developed system of the Bantu languages has more than twenty classes with special prefixes; and between them and our two-gender system we have, for instance, the Hamitic Ful, in which, above the old classification of nouns, is an overlying new system with only four headings: persons, things, big and small, whence, as the big pass into the class of persons, and the small into that of things, a twofold system is developed, corresponding to our division into masculine and feminine. This gives us a glimpse into the valuation-principle which eventually identifies persons, living, big and important things with man, and non-living, small and unimportant things with woman. This provides a striking parallel to the primitive’s belief regarding the immortality symbols (i.e.. the shadow) of man or woman respectively, stressing the immortality claim of man’s soul as against woman’s mortality, and subsequently assigning values to everything by dividing the world into things animate and inanimate, i.e. good and bad. The only problem here is: why does woman always come into the class of the evil, dangerous, and less valuable? This, as I have explained, arises from man’s urge to eternalize himself personally, an urge threatened by sexual propagation, of which woman is the representative; and so woman passes into what I have called the Not-I class, which includes dangerous as well as unimportant (and neutral) things.

This brief summary of the origin of human speech bears out man’s utter egocentricity, which can be supplemented by the fact that among the first things he named were the parts of his own body. Centuries before the Greeks formulated this basic egocentricity in the slogan of their whole civilization: “Man is the measure of all things,” it operated naively in primitive man. Starting from his own body as his “first field of experiment in his efforts to solve the problem of the ego and to discover its relation to the surrounding world,” man divided the visible universe, as it were, into two categories, the “I” and the “not-I.” The things he accepted, liked or needed he classified as belonging to the I-class, relegating everything else to the not-I class. By virtue of his belief in personal immortality, in which woman as the bearer of sexual mortality did not participate, she automatically became identified with the not-I class (wo-man—no man). Hence, all not-I things, which later formed the neuter class in European languages, were first considered feminine. Thus language, like all other basic human inventions, originated from the supernatural worldview and not from practical motives or rational considerations. Such origin explains the powerful role of words in magical practice, whereby the knowledge of the right word, kept as a secret in priestly tradition, could call a person or thing into being as well as destroy it.

While this genuine magic of words still echoes in our political and scientific slogans, language, which was at first religious, gradually became secularized. Hence is explained why any profanation of language was forbidden, and still is, for that matter, until language itself in its every-day use became profane. This process of deteriorization, known to linguists as “change in the meaning of words,”1 ultimately also led to the sexualization of language as a part of the whole masculine interpretation of the world.

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[Footnote] 1 In the process which reflects the changing mores, words tend towards a baser standard. Examples of such “moral degradation” of words can be amply found in every modern language. Not being sufficiently familiar with the history of the English language, I am taking a few examples from a letter to the New York Times. Mr. Jacques W. Redway, of Mt. Vernon, N. Y., writes on June 21, 1938: The opposite process, the covering up of a bad meaning by a nice word known as “euphemism,” applied essentially to everything which has to do with the two basic “unmentionables,” sex and death. Examples abound here, too, for every category; so we will just mention one which, having found expression in law, definitely characterizes the social philosophy of our times. The good old English word “bastard,” which is avoided in ordinary speech has been formally banned in New York by a statute approved April 9, 1925, and for it is to be substituted in all legal documents the term, “child born out of wedlock.”

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[Bolded mine. Some footnotes were omitted.]

Stopping for today on page 247. It’s proven to be an interesting book to read, though I won’t claim to have formed a strong opinion about all of its content. It’s interesting food for thought to take in and swish around with the rest. Though I am fairly familiar with arguments about the masculine origin and slant of language, Otto Rank adds an interesting perspective into the mix.

I intend to transcribe more from this book at a later date.

On why we create enemies and victims — an excerpt from the book “Escape From Evil”

Tonight I decided to read a portion of Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil (1975), and I will now transcribe that portion (since the audio quality didn’t turn out too good and I won’t claim to be great at reading aloud). Beginning on page 114 under the section titled “The Science of Man after Hitler”:

Burke recognized that guilt and expiation were fundamental categories of sociological explanation, and he proposed a simple formula: guilt must be canceled in society, and it is absolved by “victimage.” So universal and regular is the dynamic that Burke wondered “whether human society could possibly cohere without symbolic victims which the individual members of the group share in common.” He saw “the civic enactment of redemption through the sacrificial victim” as the center of man’s social motivation.32

Burke was led to the central idea of victimage and redemption through Greek tragedy and Christianity; he saw that this fundamentally religious notion is a basic characteristic of any social order. Again we are brought back to our initial point that all culture is in essence sacred—supernatural, as Rank put it. The miraculousness of creation is after all magnified in social life; it is contained in persons and given color, form, drama. The natural mystery of birth, growth, consciousness, and death is taken over by society; and as Duncan so well says, this interweaving of social form and natural terror becomes an inextricable mystification; the individual can only gape in awe and guilt.33 The religious guilt, then, is also a characteristic of so-called secular societies; and anyone who would lead a society must provide for some form of sacred absolution, regardless of the particular historical disguise that this absolution may wear. Otherwise society is not possible. In Burke’s generation it was above all Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini who understood this and acted on it.

If there is one thing that the tragic wars of our time have taught us, it is that the enemy has a ritual role to play, by means of which evil is redeemed. All “wars are conducted as ‘holy’ wars”34 in a double sense then—as a revelation of fate, a testing of divine favor, and as a means of purging evil from the world at the same time. This explains why we are dedicated to war precisely in its most horrifying aspects: it is a passion of human purgation. Nietzsche observed that “whoever is dissatisfied with himself is always ready to revenge himself therefore; we others will be his victims. . . .”35  But the irony is that men are always dissatisfied and guilty in small and large ways, and this is what drives them to a search for purity where all dissatisfaction can come to a head and be wiped away. Men try to qualify for eternalization by being clean and by cleansing the world around them of the evil, the dirty; in this way they show that they are on the side of purity, even if they themselves are impure. The striving for perfection reflects man’s effort to get some human grip on his eligibility for immortality. And he can only know if he is good if the authorities tell him so; this is why it is so vital for him emotionally to know whether he is liked or disliked, why he will do anything the group wants in order to meet its standards of “good”: his eternal life depends on it.36 Good and bad relate to strength and weakness, to self-perpetuation, to indefinite duration. And so we can understand that all ideology, as Rank said, is about one’s qualification for eternity; and so are all disputes about who really is dirty. The target of one’s righteous hatred is always called “dirt”; in our day the short-hairs call the long-hairs “filthy” and are called in turn “pigs.” Since everyone feels dissatisfied with himself (dirty), victimage is a universal human need. And the highest heroism is the stamping out of those who are tainted. The logic is terrifying. The psychoanalytic grouping of guilt, anality, and sadism is translatable in this way to the highest levels of human striving and to the age-old problem of good and evil.

From which we have to conclude that men have been the midwives of horror on this planet because this horror alone gave them peace of mind, made them “right” with the world. No wonder Nietzsche would talk about “the disease called man.”37 It seems perverse when we put it so blatantly, yet here is an animal who needs the spectacle of death in order to open himself to love. As Duncan put it:

. . . as we wound and kill our enemy in the field and slaughter his women and children in their homes, our love for each other deepens. We become comrades in arms; our hatred of each other is being purged in the sufferings of our enemy.38

And even more relentlessly:

We need to socialize in hate and death, as well as in joy and love. We do not know how to have friends without, at the same time, creating victims whom we must wound, torture, and kill. Our love rests on hate.39

If we talk again and shockingly about human baseness, it is not out of cynicism; it is only to better get some kind of factual purchase on our fate. We follow Freud in the belief that it is only illusions that we have to fear; and we follow Hardy—in our epigraph to this book—in holding that we have to take a full look at the worst in order to begin to get rid of illusion. Realism, even brutal, is not cynicism. As Duncan so passionately concluded his Nietzschean and Dostoevskian exposition of the terrifying dynamics of purity and love “. . . we cannot become humane until we understand our need to visit suffering and death on others . . . The sociology of our time must begin in [such an] anguished awareness . . .”40  It has already begun in the work of Burke, Duncan, Mumford, and Lifton; but its theoretical formulations were already plentifully contained in the neglected work of Rank. From the point of view of such a sociology, the great scientific problems of our time have been the successful and grand social cohesions, especially of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Burke and Duncan have amply described the religious horror drama of Germany under Hitler, where the dirty and evil Jews were purged from the world of Aryan purity by the Nazi priesthood.41  […]

Leaving off there and then picking back up on page 118:

It took Stalin’s purge trials to show us that the highest humanistic ideals of socialist revolutionaries also have to be played out in a religious drama of victimage and redemption—if one is to have a pure and cohesive socialist society at all.42 The Russians exiled religious expiation but could not exile their own human nature, and so they had to conjure up a secular caricature of religious expiation. And they are still doing it: the magician-priests who give absolution to the clean communist masses now wear the white coats of hospital psychiatrists who transform dirty dissident victims with the latest techniques of “secular” science. It is grotesque, but Burke had warned us to always watch for the “secular equivalents” of the theological formula of victimage and redemption; the scapegoat is not a ” ‘necessary illusion’ of savages, children, and the masses,”43 but now an achievement of the “most advanced” socialist society.

[Italicized emphases his. Bold mine.]

That’s what I decided to read aloud today, though I don’t know how well it will be understood without first reading his arguments and explanations leading up to that portion, but I thought it could stand alone on its own and at least perhaps entice others to consider reading the entire book for themselves. Click to read another excerpt posted from this book.

Thanks to the books of Ernest Becker and his frequent mentioning of the Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank, I recently decided to purchase one of the latter’s books titled Beyond Psychology and look forward to delving into it in due time.

For further reading on these and related subjects, you may want to look into Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death (considered a companion book to this one — see excerpts 1, 2, 3 and 4) and works produced by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (which I’ve also transcribed bits of on here and intend to do more in the future).

The neurotic and the artist — another excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death”

Continuing on where we left off on page 181 in Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death:

Another way of approaching neurosis is from the opposite end of the problem. There is a type of person who has difficulty fetishizing and narrowing-down; he has a vivid imagination, takes in too much experience, too large a chunk of the world—and this too must be called neurotic. We introduced this type in the last chapter where we talked about the creative person. We saw that these people feel their isolation, their individuality. They stick out, are less built-into normal society, less securely programmed for automatic cultural action. To have difficulty partializing experience is to have difficulty living. Not to be able to fetishize makes one susceptible to the world as a total problem—with all the living hell that this exposure raises. We said that partializing the world is biting off what an animal can chew. Not to have this talent means constantly biting off more than one can chew. Rank puts it this way:

The neurotic type . . . makes the reality surrounding him a part of his ego, which explains his painful relation to it. For all outside processes, however unmeaningful they may be in themselves, finally concern him . . . he is bound up in a kind of magic unity with the wholeness of life around him much more than the adjusted type who can be satisfied with the role of a part within the whole. The neurotic type has taken into himself potentially the whole of reality.

Now we can see how the problem of neurosis can be laid out along the lines of the twin ontological motives: on the one hand, one merges with the world around him and becomes too much a part of it and so loses his own claim to life. On the other hand, one cuts oneself off from the world in order to make one’s own complete claim and so loses the ability to live and act in the world on its terms. As Rank put it, some individuals are unable to separate and others are unable to unite. The ideal of course is to find some balance between the two motives, such as characterize the better adjusted person; he is at ease with both. The neurotic represents precisely “an extreme at one end or the other”; he feels that one or the other is a burden.

The question for a characterology is why some people cannot balance their ontological urges, why they hug at the extremes. The answer must obviously go back to the personal life history. There are those who shrink back from experience out of greater life-and-death anxieties. They grow up not giving themselves freely to the cultural roles available to them. They can’t lose themselves thoughtlessly in the games that others play. One reason is that they have trouble relating to others; they haven’t been able to develop the necessary interpersonal skills. Playing the game of society with automatic ease means playing with others without anxiety. If you are not involved in what others take for granted as the nourishment of their lives, then your own life becomes a total problem. At its extreme this describes the schizoid type par excellence. Classically this state was called the “narcissistic neurosis” or psychosis. The psychotic is the one who cannot shut out the world, whose repressions are all on the surface, whose defenses no longer work; and so he withdraws from the world and into himself and his fantasies. He fences himself off and becomes his own world (narcissism).

It may seem courageous to take in the whole world, instead of just biting off pieces and acting on them, but as Rank points out, this is also precisely a defense against engagement in it:

. . . this apparent egocentricity originally is just a defense mechanism against the danger of reality. . . . [The neurotic] seeks to complete his ego constantly . . . without paying for it.

To live is to engage in experience at least partly on the terms of the experience itself. One has to stick his neck out in the action without any guarantees about satisfaction or safety. One never knows how it will come out or how silly he will look, but the neurotic type wants these guarantees. He doesn’t want to risk his self-image. Rank calls this very aptly the “self-willed over-valuation of self” whereby the neurotic tries to cheat nature. He won’t pay the price that nature wants of him: to age, fall ill or be injured, and die. Instead of living experience he ideates it; instead of arranging it in action he works it all out in his head.

We can see that neurosis is par excellence the danger of a symbolic animal whose body is a problem to him. Instead of living biologically, then, he lives symbolically. Instead of living in the partway that nature provided for he lives in the total way made possible by symbols. One substitutes the magical, all-inclusive world of the self for the real, fragmentary world of experience. Again, in this sense, everyone is neurotic, as everyone holds back from life in some ways and lets his symbolic world-view arrange things: this is what cultural morality is for. In this sense, too, the artist is the most neurotic because he too takes the world as a totality and makes a largely symbolic problem out of it.

If this neurosis characterizes everyone to a certain extent and the artist most of all, where do we cross the line into “neurosis” as a clinical problem? One way, as we saw, is by the production of crippling symptom or a too-constricting life style. The person has tried to cheat nature by restricting his experience, but he remains sensitive to the terror of life at some level of his awareness. Besides, he can’t arrange his triumph over life and death in his mind or in his narrow heroics without paying some price: the symptom or a bogging down in guilt and futility because of an unlived life.

A second way of crossing the line into clinical neurosis follows naturally from everything we have said. Rank asked why the artist so often avoids clinical neurosis when he is so much a candidate for it because of his vivid imagination, his openness to the finest and broadest aspects of experience, his isolation from the cultural world-view that satisfies everyone else. The answer is that he takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it he reworks it in his own personality and recreates it in the work of art. The neurotic is precisely the one who cannot create—the “artiste-manqué,” as Rank so aptly called him. We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bite off more than they can chew, but the artist spews it back out again and chews it over in an objectified way, as an external, active, work project. The neurotic can’t marshal this creative response embodied in a specific work, and so he chokes on his introversions. The artist has similar large-scale introversions, but he uses them as material. In Rank’s inspired conceptualization, the difference is put like this:

. . . it is this very fact of the ideologization of purely psychical conflicts that makes the difference between the productive and the unproductive types, the artist and the neurotic; for the neurotic’s create power, like the most primitive artist’s, is always tied to his own self and exhausts itself in it, whereas the productive type succeeds in changing this purely subjective creative process into an objective one, which means that through ideologizing it he transfers it from his own self to his work.

The neurotic exhausts himself not only in self-preoccupations like hypochondriacal fears and all sorts of fantasies, but also in others: those around him on whom he is dependent become his therapeutic work project; he takes out his subjective problems on them. But people are not clay to be molded; they have needs and counter-wills of their own. The neurotic’s frustration as a failed artist can’t be remedied by anything but an objective creative work of his own. Another way of looking at it is to say that the more totally one takes in the world as a problem, the more inferior or “bad” one is going to feel inside oneself. He can try to work out his “badness” by striving for perfection, and then the neurotic symptom becomes his “creative” work; or he can try to make himself perfect by means of his partner. But it is obvious to us that the only way to work on perfection is in the form of an objective work that is fully under your control and is perfectible in some real ways. Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection; or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life. In this way he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience. He takes in the world, makes a total problem out of it, and then gives out a fashioned human answer to that problem. This, as Goethe saw in Faust, is the highest that man can achieve.

[All emphases his]

Let’s stop there on page 185.

Becker’s take on Freud’s claims about childhood and sexuality — an excerpt from the book “The Denial of Death”

Picking back up on page 34 in Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death:

The Oedipal Project

Freud often tended to understand human motives in what can be called a “primitive” way. Sometimes so much so that when disciples like Rank and Ferenzci pulled away from him they accused him of simple-mindedness. The accusation is, of course, ludicrous, but there is something to it—probably what they were driving at: the doggedness with which Freud stuck to his stark sexual formulas. No matter how much he changed later in life, he always kept alive the letter of psychoanalytic dogma and fought against a watering-down of the motives he thought he uncovered. We will understand better why in a later chapter.

Take the Oedipus complex. In his early work Freud had said that this complex was the central dynamic in the psychic life. In his view, the boy child had innate drives of sexuality and he even wanted to possess his mother. At the same time, he knew that his father was his competitor, and he held in check a murderous aggressiveness toward him. The reason he held it in check was that he knew the father was physically stronger than he and that the result of an open fight would be the father’s victory and the castration of the son. Hence the horror of blood, of mutilation, of the female genitals that seemed to have been mutilated; they testified that castration was a fact.

Freud modified his views all through his life, but he never got a full distance away from them. No wonder: they kept being “confirmed” in some intimate way by the people he studied. There was indeed something about the anus and the genitals, the physicalness of the family, and its copulations that weighed on the psyche of neurotics like an age-old stone. Freud thought that such a heavy weight must date from time immemorial, from the first emergence of humans out of primate ancestors. He thought that the guilt we each feel deep down is connected with a primal crime of patricide and incest committed in the dim recesses of prehistory; so deep is guilt ingrained, so much is it confused with the body, with sex and excrement, and with the parents. Freud never abandoned his views because they were correct in their elemental suggestiveness about the human condition—but not quite in the sense that he thought, or rather, not in the framework which he offered. Today we realize that all the talk about blood and excrement, sex and guilt, is true not because of urges to patricide and incest and fears of actual physical castration, but because all these things reflect man’s horror of his own basic animal condition, a condition that he cannot—especially as a child—understand and a condition that—as an adult—he cannot accept. The guilt that he feels over bodily processes and urges is “pure” guilt: guilt as inhibition, as determinism, as smallness and boundness. It grows out of the constraint of the basic animal condition, the incomprehensible mystery of the body and the world.

Psychoanalysts have been preoccupied since the turn of the century with the experiences of childhood; but, strangely enough, it is only since “just yesterday” that we are able to put together a fairly complete and plausible commonsensical picture of why childhood is such a crucial period for man. We owe this picture to many people, including especially the neglected Rank, but it is Norman O. Brown who has summed it up more pointedly and definitively than anyone else, I think. As he argued in his own reorientation of Freud, the Oedipus complex is not the narrowly sexual problem of lust and competitiveness that Freud made out in his early work. Rather, the Oedipus complex is the Oedipal project, a project that sums up the basic problem of the child’s life: whether he will be a passive object of fate, an appendage of others, a plaything of the world or whether he will be an active center within himself—whether he will control his own destiny with his own powers or not. As Brown put it:

The Oedipal project is not, as Freud’s earlier formulations suggest, a natural love of the mother, but as his later writings recognize, a product of the conflict of ambivalence and an attempt to overcome that conflict by narcissistic inflation. The essence of the Oedipal complex is the project of becoming God—in Spinoza’s formula, causa sui. . . . By the same token, it plainly exhibits infantile narcissism perverted by the flight from death. . . .

If the child’s major task is a flight from helplessness and obliteration, then sexual matters are secondary and derivative, as Brown says:

Thus again it appears that the sexual organizations, pregenital and genital, do not correspond to the natural distribution of Eros in the human body: they represent a hypercathexis, a supercharge, of particular bodily functions and zones, a hypercathexis induced by the fantasies of human narcissism in flight from death.

Let us take these technical gems and spread them out a bit. The Oedipal project is the flight from passivity, from obliteration, from contingency: the child wants to conquer death by becoming the father of himself, the creator and sustainer of his own life. We saw in Chapter Two that the child has an idea of death by the age of three, but long before that he is already at work to fortify himself against vulnerability. This process begins naturally in the very earliest stages of the infant’s life—in what is called the “oral” stage. This is the stage before the child is fully differentiated from his mother in his own consciousness, before he is fully cognizant of his own body and its functions—or, as we say technically, before his body has become an object in his phenomenological field. The mother, at this time, represents literally the child’s life-world. During this period her efforts are directed to the gratification of the child’s wishes, to automatic relief of his tensions and pains. The child, then, at this time, is simply “full of himself,” an unflinchable manipulator and champion of his world. He lives suffused in his own omnipotence and magically controls everything he needs to feed that omnipotence. He has only to cry to get food and warmth, to point to demand the moon and get a delightful rattle in its place. No wonder we understand this period as characterized by “primary narcissism”: the child triumphantly controls his world by controlling the mother. His body is his narcissistic project, and he uses it to try to “swallow the world.” The “anal stage” is another way of talking about the period when the child begins to turn his attention to his own body as an object in his phenomenal field. He discovers it and seeks to control it. His narcissistic project then becomes the mastery and the possession of the world through self-control.

At each stage in the unfolding discovery of his world and the problems that it poses, the child is intent on shaping that world to his own aggrandizement. He has to keep the feeling that he has absolute power and control, and in order to do that he has to cultivate independence of some kind, the conviction that he is shaping his own life. That is why Brown, like Rank, could say that the Oedipal project is “inevitably self-generated in the child and is directed against the parents, irrespective of how the parents behave.” To put it paradoxically, “children toilet train themselves.” The profound meaning of this is that there is no “perfect” way to bring up a child, since he “brings himself up” by trying to shape himself into an absolute controller of his own destiny. As this aim is impossible, each character is, deeply and in some way, fantastically unreal, fundamentally imperfect. As Ferenczi so well summed it up: “Character is from the point of view of the psychoanalyst a sort of abnormality, a kind of mechanization of a particular way of reaction, rather similar to an obsessional symptom.”

The Castration Complex

In other words, the narcissistic project of self-creation, using the body as the primary base of operations, is doomed to failure. And the child finds it out: this is how we understand the power and meaning of what is called the “castration complex,” as Freud came to develop it in his later writings and as Rank and Brown have detailed it. In the newer understanding of the castration complex it is not the father’s threats that the child reacts to. As Brown so well says, the castration complex comes into being solely in confrontation with the mother. This phenomenon is very crucial, and we must linger a bit on how it happens.

It all centers on the fact that the mother monopolizes the child’s world; at first, she is his world. The child cannot survive without her, yet in order to get control of his own powers he has to get free of her. The mother thus represents two things to the child, and it helps us understand why the psychoanalysts have said that ambivalence characterizes the whole early growth period. On the one hand the mother is a pure source of pleasure and satisfaction, a secure power to lean on. She must appear as the goddess of beauty and goodness, victory and power; this is her “light” side, we might say, and it is blindly attractive. But on the other hand the child has to strain against this very dependency, or he loses the feeling that he has aegis over his own powers.  That is another way of saying that the mother, by representing secure biological dependence, is also a fundamental threat.

The child comes to perceive her as a threat, which is already the beginning of the castration complex in confrontation with her. The child observes that the mother’s body is different from the male’s—strikingly different. And this difference gradually comes to make him very uncomfortable. Freud never tried to ease the shock of the revelations of his theory, and he called this discomfort “horror at the mutilated creature,” the “castrated mother,” the sight of genitals “devoid of a penis.” Freud’s shock effect seemed to many people to partake of caricature. The horror in the child’s perceptions seemed too contrived, too pat, too much designed to fit into Freud’s own addiction to sexual explanations and biological reductionism. Others, too, saw Freud’s way of thinking as a reflection of his own ingrained patriarchy, his strong sense of masculine superiority, which made the woman seem naturally inferior if she lacked male appendages.

The fact is that the “horror of the mutilated creature” is contrived, but it is the child who contrives it. Psychoanalysts reported faithfully what their neurotic patients told them, even if they had to pry just the right words into their expressions. What troubles neurotics—as it troubles most people—is their own powerlessness; they must find something to set themselves against. If the mother represents biological dependence, then the dependence can be fought against by focusing it on the fact of sexual differentiation. If the child it to be truly causa sui, then he must aggressively defy the parents in some way, move beyond them and the threats and temptations they embody. The genitals are a small thing in the child’s perceptual world; hardly enough to be traumatic just because they lack protuberance. As Brown so well put it, the horror is the child’s “own invention; it is a tissue of fantasy inseperable from his own fantastic project of becoming father of himself (and, as fantasy, only remotely connected with actual sight of the female genitalia). Or, put another way, we can say that the child “fetishizes” the mother’s body as an object of global danger to himself. It is one way of cutting her down to size, depriving her of her primary place in creation. Using Erwin Straus’ formula, we would say that the child splits the mother’s genitals off from her totality as a love-object; they then come to be experienced as a threat, as decay.

Penis-Envy

The real threat of the mother comes to be connected with her sheer physicalness. Her genitals are used as a convenient focus for the child’s obsession with the problem of physicalness. If the mother is a goddess of light, she is also a witch of the dark. He sees her tie to the earth, her secret bodily processes that bind her to nature: the breast with its mysterious sticky milk, the menstrual odors and blood, the almost continual immersion of the productive mother in her corporeality, and not least—something the child is very sensitive to—the often neurotic and helpless character of this immersion. After the child gets hints about the mother’s having babies, sees them being nursed, gets a good look at the toiletful of menstrual blood that seems to leave the witch quite intact and unconcerned, there is no question about her immersion in stark body-meanings and body-fallibilities. The mother must exude determinism, and the child expresses his horror at this complete dependency on what is physically vulnerable. And so we understand not only the boy’s preference for masculinity but also the girl’s “penis-envy.” Both boys and girls succumb to the desire to flee the sex represented by the mother; they need little coaxing to identify with the father and his world. He seems more neutral physically, more cleanly powerful, less immersed in body determinisms; he seems more “symbolically free,” represents the vast world outside of the home, the social world with its organized triumphs over nature, the very escape from contingency that the child seeks.

[Author’s footnote: Penis-envy, then, arises from the fact that the mother’s genitals have been split off from her body as a focalization of the problem of decay and vulnerability. Bernard Brodsky remarks about his female patient: “Her concept of woman as fecal greatly stimulated her penis envy, since the lively erectile penis was the antonym of the dead, inert stool.” . . . Phyllis Greenacre—outstanding student of the child’s experiences—had already remarked on this same equation in the child’s perception: penis = movement, therefore life; feces = inertia, therefore death. . . . This makes penis-envy very natural. Greenacre even used the apt idea of “penis-awe” to refer to the spell that the large male appendage can cast in the child’s perceptions of the father. The child, after all, lives in a world of body-power predominantly—he doesn’t understand abstract or symbolic power. So, more body equals more life. A grown woman might well experience a lingering of the same feeling. An indentation and lack of protuberance, with all that goes on inside, is different from an aggressive extension that must give less of a feeling of vulnerability. . . .]

Just have to chime in to say that I laughed the first time I read this. The thought that an extension of this sort, along with the accompanying scrotum, might be associated with less vulnerability is rather odd when one stops to consider all the tales we’ve heard of these appendages being accidentally damaged, due largely to their external placement and position on the male body. I knew a guy once who somehow managed to get his nut slammed in a school locker, leading to it having to be surgically removed. Met one other man who lost a testicle in a horrible accident, though I no longer remember what happened in that story. Then there’s always stories of men landing on the dreaded bicycle bar, or the female lover who comes down wrong when riding a man from above, or the rudeness of pets who trample on men’s laps, or the spilling of hot liquids in such a sensitive place, etc. Anyway, the penis and balls don’t strike me personally as a symbol of invulnerability, at least no more so than the woman’s physique. Darn dangling fleshy bits are always getting in the way and winding up hurt, so far as I can tell, and men don’t tend to take it very well.

Quick TMI story: I have an early memory, probably from around the age of 5 or 6 though possibly younger, when I first noticed a male family member’s genitalia after walking in on him taking a bath. All I remember is laughing hysterically and pointing, thinking it was such a funny sight, before my Grandma removed me from the room. So yeah, the “awe” didn’t come along until much later.

Returning to Becker’s book, picking back up on page 40:

Both the boy and the girl turn away from the mother as a sort of automatic reflex of their own needs for growth and independence. But the “horror, terror, contempt” they feel is, as we said, part of their own fantastic perceptions of a situation they can’t stand. This situation is not only the biological dependency and physicalness represented by the mother, but also the terrible revelation of the problem of the child’s own body. The mother’s body not only reveals a sex that threatens vulnerability and dependency—it reveals much more: it presents the problem of two sexes and so confronts the child with the fact that his body is itself arbitrary. It is not so much that the child sees that neither sex is “complete” in itself or that he understands that the particularity of each sex is a limitation of potential, a cheating of living fulness in some ways—he can’t know these things or fully feel them. It is again not a sexual problem; it is more global, experienced as the curse of arbitrariness that the body represents. The child comes upon a world in which he could just as well have been born male or female, even dog, cat, or fish—for all that it seems to matter as regards power and control, capacity to withstand pain, annihilation, and death. The horror of sexual differentiation is a horror of “biological facts,” as Brown so well says. It is a fall out of illusion into sobering reality. It is a horror of assuming an immense new burden, the burden of the meaning of life and the body, of the fatality of one’s incompleteness, his helplessness, his finitude.

And this, finally is the hopeless terror of the castration complex that makes men tremble in their nightmares. It expresses the realization by the child that he is saddled with an impossible project; that the causa-sui pursuit on which he is launched cannot be achieved by body-sexual means, even by protesting a body different from the mother. The fortress of the body, the primary base for narcissistic operations against the world in order to insure one’s boundless powers, crumbles like sand. This is the tragic dethroning of the child, the ejection from paradise that the castration complex represents. Once he used any bodily zone or appendage for his Oedipal project of self-generation; now, the very genitals themselves mock his self-sufficiency.

This brings up the whole matter of why sexuality is such a universal problem. No one has written about the problem of sexuality better than Rank in his stunning essay on “Sexual Enlightenment.” As I am going to talk about it in some detail in Chapter Eight, there is no point in repeating that discussion here. But we can anticipate it by showing how sexuality is inseparable from our existential paradox, the dualism of human nature. The person is both a self and a body, and from the beginning there is the confusion about where “he” really “is”—in the symbolic inner self or in the physical body. Each phenomenological realm is different. The inner self represents the freedom of thought, imagination, and the infinite reach of symbolism. The body represents determinism and boundness. The child gradually learns that his freedom as a unique being is dragged back by the body and its appendages which dictate “what” he is. For this reason sexuality is as much a problem for the adult as for the child: the physical solution to the problem of who we are and why we have emerged on this planet is no help—in fact, it is a terrible threat. It doesn’t tell the person what he is deep down inside, what kind of distinctive gift he is to work upon the world. This is why it is so difficult to have sex without guilt: guilt is there because the body casts a shadow on the person’s inner freedom, his “real self” that—through the act of sex—is being forced into a standardized, mechanical, biological role. Even worse, the inner self is not even being called into consideration at all; the body takes over completely for the total person, and this kind of guilt makes the inner self shrink and threaten to disappear.

This is why a woman asks for assurance that the man wants “me” and not “only my body”; she is painfully conscious that her own distinctive inner personality can be dispensed with in the sexual act. If it is dispensed with, it doesn’t count. The fact is that the man usually does want only the body, and the woman’s total personality is reduced to a mere animal role. The existential paradox vanishes, and one has no distinctive humanity to protest. One creative way of coping with this is, of course, to allow it to happen and to go with it: what the psychoanalysts call “regression in the service of the ego.” The person becomes, for a time, merely his physical self and so absolves the painfulness of the existential paradox and the guilt that goes with sex. Love is one great key to this kind of sexuality because it allows the collapse of the individual into the animal dimension without fear and guilt, but instead with trust and assurance that his distinctive inner freedom will not be negated by an animal surrender.

[Bold emphasis mine — italics his.]

Okay, let’s leave off there on page 42.