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The Castration of Oedipus

Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and Feminism

Joseph Smith, Carla Ferstman

Publication Year: 1996

The intellectual movements of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism have redefined the ways in which we think about human experience. And yet, an integration of these movements has been elusive, if not impossible. In this landmark book, J.C. Smith and Carla J. Ferstman combine these disparate traditions to create a provocative, unified, and tightly woven perspective that transcends the misogyny implicit in much of Freudian psychoanalytic theory.

The dialectics of domination and submission are central to Smith and Ferstman's argument. Men and women, they insist, must avoid the temptation to fetishize equality and recognize the roles of domination and submission in the human psyche, or, in Nietzsche's terms, the Will to Power. They argue that the unification of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism leads us to a shocking conclusion--that women and men cannot move beyond the suffering which so haunts the human condition, unless heterosexual men surrender the power that is causing their misery and affirm life by joyfully accepting domination by women. And women, conversely, must reaffirm their power by rejecting Oedipal genderization and embracing a liberating matriarchal consciousness and a matriphallic sexuality.

A work of tremendous insight and extraordinary intellectual energy, The Castration of Oedipus will provoke strong reactions in all readers regardless of ideology.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-9

These authors have a lot of nerve. They have swum into the treacherous waters among the already rocky shores of psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and feminism, but not only that. They have written a book that claims to be doing each of those enterprises simultaneously rather than redescribing or reinterpreting them. Even more outrageously, they claim to be pushing...

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ONE Thinking the Unthinkable

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pp. 10-30

Contemporary critical social theory points to three perspectives: the psychoanalytic, the postmodern, and the feminist. Though each has its own independent core, incorporating aspects from one or more of the other perspectives can be beneficial and has the result of strengthening or clarifying the respective theoretical structure. There is substantial literature...

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TWO The Sexuality of Politics

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pp. 31-51

Clearly, there can be no full integration of feminist theory and psychoanalysis as long as psychoanalysis continues to maintain that the Oedipal passage is a necessary representation of unconscious life and that a successful Oedipal passage of an individual, whether male or female, is the measure of effective individuation. So long as psychoanalytic theory treats...

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THREE Knowledge and the Languaging Body

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pp. 52-79

Psychoanalytic theory, postmodernism, and feminism have one important feature in common. They each call into question the very nature of knowledge and inevitably lead us to question how we know what we think we know. Each requires us at some point to use "the instrument of analysis to analyze the instrument of...

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FOUR The Dialectics

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pp. 80-112

In his essay The Double Session (DS), Derrida develops a textual dialectic located within the text rather than in material reality. Derridean textual dialectics is different than Hegelian dialectics, which polarizes thesis and contradiction as antithesis. It meets at a point Derrida refers to as the fold. The text has two parts, the published, visible, and readable text and the...

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FIVE The Dialectics of Fantasy

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pp. 113-141

Distinctions between appearance and reality are inevitable when one concentrates on the biological limits of knowledge and on the subjectivity of sensed experience. Each person presupposes or assumes his or her own existence as the knower, as a given, and the external world as other and object. At the same time, reality is a human construct that is relative to a...

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SIX The Dialectics of Signification

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pp. 142-170

The master signifiers (the primary and the privileged) link the Imaginary and the Symbolic to the Real. The Imaginary and the Symbolic are in the realm of human cognition, whereas the Real is outside, connected only by metaphor. Consequently, the representation is never the same as what is represented. The Real cannot be known directly but only metaphorically,...

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SEVEN The Dialectics of Desire

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pp. 171-199

In understanding human sexuality, there are, according to Laplanche's interpretation of Freud, "two terms, two 'signifiers' " that must be "the guiding thread," drive and instinct (L&D, 9). Instinct is "a performed behavioral pattern, whose arrangement is determined hereditarily and which is repeated according to modalities relatively adapted to a certain...

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EIGHT Ariadne and Dionysus

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pp. 200-231

The act of seduction consists of leading a person astray in conduct or belief from a norm or standard by enticing or beguiling the person to do something that is wrong in terms of that criterion. Ariadne operates as the temptress who enforces the primal seduction of Dionysus. He is drawn to her in death but, in the union, wills only Eros. She holds the key to the...

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NINE Medusa Depetrified

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pp. 232-258

Medusa's presence evokes sentiments of fear and reproach in those who happen to cross her path. As such, she is constantly being put in an obscure corner, in the dark continent of decay. She has come to symbolize the pure potency of the female—her prowess—intellectually, physically, and sexually. She is a figure who is not necessarily pleasant, nice, or...

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TEN Oedipus

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pp. 259-286

More so than any other myth, the Oedipal legend has successfully managed to capture the attentions of psychoanalysts, philosophers, anthropologists, cultural critics, historians, and dramatists. The fascination with the myth lies mainly in its ubiquitous applicability, and its metaphorical use of discursive language. Key to...


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pp. 287-304


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pp. 305-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780814788943
E-ISBN-10: 0814788947
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814780190
Print-ISBN-10: 0814780199

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 1996