- Poststructuralist Paraesthetics and the Phantasy of the Reversal of Generations
I. What is wrong with the Oedipus complex?—The Oedipus complex and “the foundational fantasy of the ego’s era” (Brennan)
These days it would certainly amount to a dare to propose that the Oedipus complex is the very core of patriarchal/logocentric discursivity. Every attempt to—consciously or unconsciously—(re)inforce Oedipus (Sprengnether 1985) is bound to be regarded as a reactionary enterprise. However, it is precisely such reinforcement that underpins the most advanced versions of poststructuralism. This paradox cries for a merciless treatment, for only thus can we hope to break the self-perpetuation of tradition, i.e. to attain the goal which the celebrated critics of logocentrism have justly posed but drastically failed to achieve.
To be sure, the task of surpassing Oedipus is not an easy one; it implies real and not a conventionally rhetorical shift of paradigms.1 On the other hand, there are no actual reasons for pessimism.2 To substantiate our claim we must closely attend to the genealogy of this pessimism, that is, to start with the question, “what is wrong with Oedipus?”—however trite it might appear to the poststructuralist eye.
Fortunately, the triteness happens only to be ostensible. Consider, for instance, one of the basic feminist charges against the Oedipal structure(s), that “the Oedipal chauvinism...for which Freud’s theory of the girl as ‘little man’ manqué was exemplary” (Benjamin 1995: 118). Chauvinism is, of course, an expression of the unconscious fear of castration, which, in its turn, gives rise to aggressivity, to the “drama of rivalry and aggression” that, according to Brennan, defines the “ego’s era”—the era of a self-contained patriarchal subject aspiring for (absolute) mastery and knowledge of the other (Brennan 1993: 53). As the postructuralist saying goes, historically, this abstract subject has found a talented impersonator in the father of psychoanalysis. Witness Freud’s strategy with his patients, governed as it was by the wish to evade and obscure “the legacy of the pre-Oedipal period,” “the flexible identificatory capacities of pre-Oedipal life” (Benjamin 1995: 119, 117). It is with the latter that feminism (and poststructuralism in general) has placed its stakes. Hence the vogue currently enjoyed by the “notion of recapturing over-inclusive structures of identification...by decentring our notion of development and replacing the discourse of identity with the notion of identifications” (118). At first sight it may actually appear that the decentering pluralization of identifications offers an economic solution to our problem. Since, as Derrida has taught us, there is no absolute ‘beyond’ to any logocentric structure, one has to work from the inside in the manner of “pharmakon.” As we shall shortly ascertain for ourselves, this view of deconstruction drastically limits its scope, making it a purely rhetorical affair, and unfortunately not in the de Manian sense.
Theoretically, the pluralized identifications should enable us to circumvent the rigid Oedipal identifications which form the coercive structure of patriarchy and in so doing to merge the parental figures into the “father of individual prehistory” who can be dubbed the mother as well (cf. Kristeva 1987: 33; 1989: 13–14).3 In Kristevan terms, this mergence allows the semiotic to emerge into the symbolic, the former acting as a “pharmakon” to the latter. The result is that “we plunge...into the representational flux—the rolling identifications and wrappings of self and other—of fantasy itself” (Elliott 1995: 48). Put otherwise, “the construction of interpenetrating consciousnesses” (cf. Dorval and Gomberg 1993) should guarantee that the concomitant construction of the “libidinal space” (Elliott 1995: 45) would be purged of the aggressive rivalry (Brennan 1993: 53). Thus, the way for the post-Oedipal non-patriarchal sexuality (not in the developmental, quantitative, but qualitative sense) freed from coercive relations of power seems to be cleared, so that nothing prevents us from assuming that the “foundational fantasy” of the ego’s era which excluded the woman (49) has been successfully displaced and replaced by a more progressive fantasmatization (cf. Castoriadis 1995). However—and be it only as a tribute to common sense—I think it would be unwise to purchase a new commodity while...