- Woman as Man’s Uncanny ObjectA Discussion Following Freud and Lacan
Imagine that you’re dealing with the most restful desirable, in its most soothing form, a divine statue that is just divine—What could be more unheimlich than to see it come to life, that is, to show itself as a desirer?—Jacques Lacan, Seminar X, Anxiety
In this essay I will attempt to investigate the field of male heterosexuality by focusing our gaze on its drama as understood in the Freudian discourse. Why is it that even after the dissemination of such a wide array of well-founded and well-developed arguments on the need for gender equality and to minimize gender oppression, and despite the positive change that has begun to take place for both women and men, and notwithstanding the theoretical revolution that has taken place in the field of gender studies, the estrangement of the feminine vis-à-vis the heterosexual (and maybe even homosexual) male seems to be an indestructible fact of life, a given, if you will.
I will seek to articulate how this estrangement or alienation comes about, especially its presence in the Freudian discourse, a prominent example of Western masculine thought. My position stems from an ongoing dialogue with Lacan’s interpretation of the works of Freud.1 It is a negotiation both internal and external to the psychoanalytic discourse, such that it could even be described as an uncanny method, both accepting a number of core tenets and premises of psychoanalysis while also attempting to [End Page 67] view it from the outside, in seeking to delineate and confine its very logic—the logic of Freudian psychoanalysis—to the category of male psychology.
To examine the question of men’s estrangement from women, I will turn to the Freudian corpus, namely, Freud’s essay “The Uncanny,”2 from which, I claim, a fundamental position regarding the structural gap between men and women can be extracted.3 For Freud, male identity is founded first and foremost on castration anxiety, the very castration that is perceived as the female condition. This is not a fear of femininity in itself (as an essence in its own right) but rather a reduction of the contradictory relation it shares with masculinity to the anxiety of phallic loss and becoming an un-man. According to Lacan, Freudian castration anxiety is first and foremost the anxiety itself, a fear and anxiety of losing what has already gone, the effort to protect a thing always lost—while the woman, in light of the fact that she is born “castrated,” has nothing to lose.
I will argue that masculinity is in itself the protection of this lost phallus. In other words, masculinity is none other than the movement to safeguard the lost object, and in fact there is a longing for and retroactive and imaginary re-creation of the lost masculinity. This a loop that one cannot easily escape—as the man is threatened with an ever greater loss of the object already lost, his very masculinity, he will, in line with this logic, strive all the more to regain what has been lost, thus strengthening the masculine-phallic orientation. In other words, the more one attempts to constrain the phallus, the stronger it grows, because the protective movement is the very masculinity which in retrospect makes imaginary attempts to return it to the man. These imaginary-illusionary movements inadvertently and paradoxically constitute the most real masculinity there is, one that expands well beyond the confines of the imaginary and illusions. Absurdly, in this sense, there is a masculine essence!4
This allows me to define my position of fessimism: a play on words that includes the pessimism entailed in the necessary acceptance of the feminist move, but also pessimistic recognition of [End Page 68] the influence psychoanalysis has had on my discussion, in which the imaginary is not just a fictitious illusion that can be easily discarded, but is the most real.
The imaginary aspect governing masculine (as much as feminine) identity is not negligible. The imaginary can also be conceptualized as narrative, myth, and stereotype, coloring the structural aspect of the symbolic. The imaginary...