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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 impressionof 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'

Excerpt

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 and for having been introduced to a world of new problems” (Masson 1985: 387). Although it took longer than two weeks for the world to realize that Freud had “enlightened mankind a little” with what he called his “dream book, ” we now understand that he did indeed introduce to our century a “world of new problems. ”

Some parts of this world of new problems, however, have barely been visited in a century of readings. Freud's justly famous book The Interpretation of Dreams and his less well-known essay “A Religious Experience” provide “specimen texts” for an inquiry that does so, somewhat like the “specimen dream” Freud described and interpreted in the second chapter of his dream book. This chapter begins by describing and . . .

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