Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic Considerations about the Anti-Oedipal Condition in Heinrich Von Kleist's Penthesilea and in the Analysis of Miss M1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic Considerations about the Anti-Oedipal Condition in Heinrich Von Kleist's Penthesilea and in the Analysis of Miss M1

Article excerpt

Based on Heinrich von Kleist's drama Penthesilea and a clinical case, this study seeks to demonstrate a theoretical concept that is developed and identified as the anti-oedipal condition. This state involves a regressive insistence on suffocating any form of oedipal maturation and, with it, any form of genital-sexual desire; it damages, even destroys, any form of intellectual-creative curiosity. A specific form of defensive organization, the anti-oedipal condition, is sought out when psychic development, when oedipal-genital maturation requires re-establishing contact with a sort of inner terra cremata, an emotional domain that once had been supposed to be eliminated due to catastrophic experiences that could not be integrated. This defensive organization dominated Kleist's Amazons as well as Miss M. What happened first in both instances was a regression to and fixation at the anti-oedipal condition, but the paths leading out of this incapsulation were antipodal.

Keywords: amazons, anti-oedipal condition, terra cremata, terra incognita

We die with the dying:

See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:

See, they return, and bring us with them.

(T.S. Eliot)

Miss M came to seek psychoanalytic treatment because her isolation, her patent rejection of any emotional overture, had become unbearable for herself. At the same time, she was affected by a deathly fear of abandoning her silent encapsulation and turning towards communication and a loving feeling that for quite a while had been knocking at her inner door. The analytic work with this young woman was often excruciating, especially during those periods of silence, when - if she said anything at all - she spoke extremely slowly, in a low voice, in a snarling way, often incomprehensible. It seemed as though she was trying to express demonstratively her intent to take no notice of my existence, erase me from her mind, and obliterate me from her perception. It was during one of the first of these phases that I was reminded of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea. Three years before taking his own life in 1811, the great German dramatist penned this tragedy in which he concerned himself with the Amazons - that mystical race of women in Greek mythology whose 'iron law' (Kleist, 1808) was expressed in the form of a taboo which strictly forbade any form of affection for a man, any sort of attachment outside their own matriarchal group. In the case of Miss M, as in the case of Kleist's Penthesilea, overcoming the denial of emotions they sought incessantly to destroy would have involved a 'catastrophic change' (Bion, 1965).

But why have recourse to a literary work to shed light on a clinical and theoretical problem? Freud (1926), in The Question of Lay Analysis, outlines his reasons for contending that other ''branches of knowledge'' such as ''the history of civilization, mythology, the psychology of religion and the science of literature'' must be taught in university psychoanalytic curricula of the future, and he concludes that:

[U]nless he is well at home in these subjects, an analyst can make nothing of a large amount of his material.

(Freud, 1926, p. 245)

And, today, Johannes Dçser (2003, p. 2) writes:

Myth has always been a source of inspiration and insight for psychoanalysis. The study of myth allows us to demystify the processes at hand. Reading the present through the poetic lens of the mythical can serve as an exercise in conceptualization and depersonalization that helps ward offinsanity for the subject who feels threatened. Myth is an antidote to traumatic apathy and indifference.

Both citations shed light on both my state of mind and that of my 29 year-old patient when I was reminded of the Amazon myth and Kleist's literary representation of the same. I truly felt like being ''able to make nothing'' of the situation, of my patient, of her silence. We were paralysed, trapped in a state of ''apathy and indifference'' with no way out. …

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