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Speaking the Unspeakable

Religion, Misogyny, and the Uncanny Mother in Freud's Cultural Texts

Diane Jonte-Pace

Publication Year: 2001

In this bold rereading of Freud's cultural texts, Diane Jonte-Pace uncovers an undeveloped "counterthesis," one that repeatedly interrupts or subverts his well-known Oedipal masterplot. The counterthesis is evident in three clusters of themes within Freud's work: maternity, mortality, and immortality; Judaism and anti-Semitism; and mourning and melancholia. Each of these clusters is associated with "the uncanny" and with death and loss. Appearing most frequently in Freud's images, metaphors, and illustrations, the counterthesis is no less present for being unspoken--it is, indeed, "unspeakable."

The "uncanny mother" is a primary theme found in Freud's texts involving fantasies of immortality and mothers as instructors in death. In other texts, Jonte-Pace finds a story of Jews for whom the dangers of assimilation to a dominant Gentile culture are associated unconsciously with death and the uncanny mother. The counterthesis appears in the story of anti-Semites for whom the "uncanny impression of circumcision" gives rise not only to castration anxiety but also to matriphobia. It also surfaces in Freud's ability to mourn the social and religious losses accompanying modernity, and his inability to mourn the loss of his own mother.

The unfolding of Freud's counterthesis points toward a theory of the cultural and unconscious sources of misogyny and anti-Semitism in "the unspeakable." Jonte-Pace's work opens exciting new vistas for the feminist analysis of Freud's intellectual legacy.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I thank the many colleagues and friends who have read and commented on this project over the past several years. Peter Homans read earlier versions of chapters 3, 4, and 5. Jay Geller read chapters 3 and 4. Mary Ellen Ross and Marcia Mim read the introduction. Don Capps and Judith Van Herik read the entire manuscript. ...

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Introduction. Misogyny and Religion under Analysis: Masterplot and Counterthesis in Tension

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pp. 1-20

Freud’s Oedipal paradigm, characterized by death wishes for fathers and by erotic desires for mothers, constitutes what has been called his “masterplot” (Brooks 1989). It is the thesis for which he is best known and which he saw as his “immortal contribution” to Western culture (SE 5: 453). ...

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1. The Counterthesis in “The Dream Book” and “A Religious Experience”: The Beginning and End of Interpretation

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pp. 21-44

On November 19, 1899, about two weeks after the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud wrote impatiently to his friend Wilhelm Fliess in Berlin, “It is a thankless task to enlighten mankind a little. No one has yet told me that he feels indebted to me for having learned something new from the dream book ...

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2. Death, Mothers, and the Afterlife: At Home in the Uncanny

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pp. 45-73

One of the sites at which the counterthesis emerges most clearly is the site of death, the site of the fears and fantasies surrounding mortality. Freud’s interpretation of death is generally seen as supportive of the Oedipal master thesis which shaped so much of his work. Cultural theorist Peter Homans, for example, asserts, ...

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3. Jewishness and the (Un)Canny: “Death and Us Jews”

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pp. 74-98

Chapter 2 traced a “counterthesis” in Freud’s writings in three kinds of images, each associated with death, immortality, and the afterlife: images of dead mothers, images of mothers as instructors in death, and images of uncanny maternal bodies. Showing that Freud used similar terminology to describe the heavenly afterlife ...

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4. The Sources of Anti-Semitism: Circumcision, Abjection, and the Uncanny Mother

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pp. 99-116

Freud offered several analyses of the sources of anti-Semitism. In most of these, he assumed Oedipal conflicts to be at the root of anti-Semitic prejudices, focusing in particular on the castration fears evoked by circumcision. As we have seen in other contexts, however, Freud’s analyses of castration anxiety often slip beyond the boundaries ...

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5. Modernity, Melancholia, and the (In)Ability to Mourn: When Throne and Altar Are in Danger

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pp. 117-139

In “Fetishism,” written just as he was finishing The Future of an Illusion, his most famous critique of religion, Freud addresses one of his favorite themes: the adamant denial of the male child in the first encounter with sexual difference. Here, he links the child’s anxious and defensive response with the panic of the adult male ...

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Epilogue. Guessing at What Lies Beneath

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pp. 140-150

Much of what we do as scholars involves creating or selecting patterns within texts and fashioning those patterns into coherent narratives about the texts. We develop meaningful narratives out of other narratives in a process involving creation and discovery at the same time. ...


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pp. 151-168


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pp. 169-182


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pp. 183-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780520927698
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520230767

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2001