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5. Narcissus: an ‘average’ history

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Let us now turn to the myth and read of the birth of the hero, Narcissus, and the unfolding relationship between him and his mother, Leiriope. In the words Freud used to describe his reconstruction of the Oedipus legend (Freud, 1939), the following account is presented as an ‘average’ story of Narcissus’ short life. We are told that Leiriope gave birth to ‘a child with whom one could have fallen in love even in his cradle, and she called him Narcissus’ (Ovid, 1955, p. 83). Through the naming of her child, Leiriope already announces some of her expectations. Graves tells us that the narcissus was also called ‘leirion’ (Graves, 1955, p. 288). The leirion was a three-petalled blue fleur-de-lys or iris which was sacred to the Triple-Goddess and worn as a chaplet when the Three Solemn Ones, or Erinnyes, were being placated. It flowers in the late autumn, shortly before the ‘poef s narcissus’, which, Graves says, is perhaps why Leiriope has been described as Narcissus’ mother. Leiriope means literally the face of (-ope) the leirion. It appears, therefore, that the narcissus flower either had another name, the leirion, or it closely superseded the flowering of the leirion. We may infer from Leiriope’s choice of a name that a child represented a strong wish for closeness and even for the birth of a version of herself.

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14. The limits of knowledge and the castration complex

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Freud linked the resolution of the Oedipus complex with the ‘castration complex’. Thus, for Freud, the castration complex was associated with questions of knowledge as well as the very particular reference it held in relation to the penis. I suggest that the castration complex is linked with the realisation that individual knowledge is limited. The resolution of the Oedipus complex entails a renunciation; not only must the child give up the fantasy that he can have an exclusive relationship with the parent of the opposite sex, he must also accept that there is an objective order of things which he will never completely understand or control. In some cases, this realisation is experienced as a castration or narcissistic blow. The blow is to the child’s budding feelings of power and curiosity and to the satisfactions gained by learning.

Psychoanalysis has interpreted Oedipus’ acts of banishment and self-mutilation as evidence of the castration complex (Freud, 1940, p. 200). Oedipus, it is said, punishes himself for his incestuous relationship with Jocasta. In my view, Oedipus’ self-mutilation does not only signify guilt, but his renunciation of power in the face of forces over which he has no control. Freud spoke of the fate of the Oedipus complex in different ways. In ‘The dissolution of the Oedipus complex’ (1924), Freud writes that the Oedipus complex is dissolved, it succumbs to repression and is followed by the latency period. Freud also discusses the ‘demolition’ and ‘destruction’ of the Oedipus complex. He asks, ‘What is it that brings about its destruction?’ It is the experience of painful disappointments which the boy suffers from his mother’s transference of her love to a new arrival and which the girl suffers from harsh punishments from her father who she liked to think loved her above all else. Even when none of these special events occur, the absence of satisfaction ‘must in the end lead the small lover to turn away from his hopeless longing. In this way, the Oedipus Complex would go to its destruction from its lack of success, and from the effects of its internal impossibility’ (Freud, 1924, p. 173).

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2. Primary internal object-relationships

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Melanie Klein

In the early years of psychoanalysis, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein pioneered the field of child psychoanalysis in Europe. Both sought to portray the inner life of the child from infancy to adolescence. Through the medium of play and the tools provided by Freud for adult analysis, they tried to understand the ways in which the child constructed external reality to form a ‘psychic reality’ or ‘phantasy’ world. Anna Freud’ came over to England with her father from Vienna in 1938. Melanie Klein was born in Vienna but had trained and undergone personal analysis in Budapest and Berlin with two eminent psychoanalysts, Sandor Ferenczi and Karl Abraham. In 1926, she arrived in England at the invitation of a Welshman, prominent in the British Society of Psycho-Analysis, Ernest Jones. As Freud had shocked the intellectual world with his revelation of the sexual life of ‘innocent’ young children of only 3-4 years of age, so Klein exposed this world to the ruthless, innately destructive desires of infants’ wishes, which, moreover, were directed specifically towards their principal love-object, the mother. Whereas Anna Freud adapted her father’s technique to the developmental levels of children of different ages, Klein pursued the rigorous, analytic technique employed in adult analysis. She believed that children could form a transference on to the analyst and that the analysis should be confined to interpretative interventions. Unlike Freud and Anna Freud, she believed that the young infant was a moral creature. (This belief is reflected in the dating of the development of the ‘super-ego’.) Maturity was marked by a modulation of this persecutory, archaic morality, a development which usually took place after about four months of age.

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11. The riddle of life

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

‘What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?’

‘Man, because he crawls on all fours as an infant, stands firmly on his two feet in his youth, and leans upon a staff in his old age.

I have linked the Oedipal phase with the age of enquiry and exploration which begins when the child is able to crawl and which is well underway when the child takes his first steps. This stage progresses with the child’s pronouncement of the T and the concomitant development of language, and his use of identity as a secure base for exploration. It culminates with the comprehension of the ‘reality principle’, which I associate with the capacity to relate to an order of things outside the area of subjective control and wishes. Transitional schemas assist in the differentiation of the personal from the consensual. In my interpretation, the riddle offers an invitation to leave behind the world of concrete action (characterised by analogical communication) and to enter a new domain of information and knowledge (characterised by paradoxical and digital communication). The riddle is a word-puzzle. In Sophocles’ play, we are told that Oedipus’ downfall is brought about by ‘blind deeds’. Actions are taken because of a lack of understanding. The acquisition of language allows the child to participate in an interpersonal world of ideas. The child and his parents are freed from communication through action. The relationship becomes less intense and immediate. Words may wound or soothe but they do not physically strike or stroke.1

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8. The ‘fate’ of the transitional object

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

In the previous chapter, I discussed Winnicott’s view of the use and misuse of the transitional object. Recently, there has been discussion over the ‘fate’ of the transitional object. Let us consider three alternatives:

1 The transitional object is held on to and becomes a ‘patch’.

2 The transitional object is replaced by an inner representation of the mother and/or her regulatory, soothing functions.

3 The transitional object loses significance because of an expansion of sensibilities and interests beyond the mother-infant relationship.

In this chapter, I present a case in which a transitional object was used as a patch rather than a bridge, thereby losing its transcon-textual and playful quality.

A comparison of the views of Donald Winnicott and Marion Tolpin

Marion Tolpin, a child psychoanalyst, has written about the role of the transitional object in the development of a cohesive self (Tolpin, 1971). Using Kohut’s concept of ‘transmuting internalization’, Tolpin takes issue with Winnicott over the ‘fate’ of the transitional object. In her view, the transitional object loses meaning just because the transitional object does ‘ “go inside” ‘; the ‘soothing functions of the transitional object’ become part of an individual’s ‘mental structure’ and ‘precisely because of this the treasured possession is neither missed, mourned, repressed, nor forgotten. It is no longer needed’ (p. 320). However, by focusing on the gradual internalisation of the soothing and regulating functions of the transitional object, Tolpin overlooks the transitional or bridging aspect of the transitional object which becomes ‘diffused’ into the ‘intermediate territory’ between ‘inner psychic reality’ and ‘the external world’ (Winnicott, 1953, p. 5). Also, the play element tends to diminish when the object is viewed solely as a comforter. According to Winnicott, a comforter lacks the quality of a true transitional object. The comforter is a simple substitution for the mother or her functions and is closer to a patch over the hole created by separation.

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