Egos and Ogres: Aspects of Psychosexual Development and Cannibalistic Demons in Central Australia
Eickelkamp, Ute, Oceania
On a continuum where communication becomes sociality, which in turn becomes predation and incorporation, aggression has no fixed place. It cannot be defined in an absolute fashion, for it is cultural factors that order this continuum and, in each particular case, establish the thresh-olds differently.
(Levi-Strauss, Cannibalism and ritual transvestism, 1989)
PRIMORDIAL CONFLICTS AND CULTURAL MEDIATION: OUTLINE FOR A DISCUSSION
Predation and incorporation, or the bonds of body-destruction phantasies, are fundamental components of human social relationships and as such culturally ordered. Yet the cultural variation of aggression and its counterpart, love, is not without limits--patterns of aggressive behaviour can be shown to evolve from certain psychosexual dynamics originating in infancy. Following Mimica's (1991a:49, 1991b:82) argument of the organismic interrelatedness between mother and infant as being cannibalistic in nature (foetus and infant eat the mother's bodily substances) and as such presenting a universal substratum of human sociality, one could say that the two basic affects, love and aggression, emerge as a first bifurcation of the original corporeal interdependence between mother and infant. The concern of this paper then is to bring into sharper relief Levi-Strauss' implicit suggestion that the continuum on which aggression has no fixed place is also of a developmental order. I offer an interpretation of cannibalistic figures in Australian Aboriginal accounts that, within a framework of Freudian psychoanalysis and object relations theories, seeks to show how some such primordial forces are given a cultural meaning. The paper works through a hypothesis that owes much to the insights of the pioneer psychoanalytic anthropologist Geza Roheim: the mythopoeic symbolism of Australian Aboriginal societies objectifies to a high degree pre-oedipal dynamics. At the centre of these are positive and negative identifications with the maternal phallus--'the psychological core of the bisexual identification' (Bak, 1968:16). Much in-depth psychological research with individuals would have to be done before it will be possible to determine the extent to which such a hypothesis might apply across Aboriginal cultures and time. I believe such a research to be worthwhile, not least because it can shed light on how cultural transformation is experienced at the core level of the self (Erikson, 1977). (1)
Continuities between the early infantile experiences of the individual and social process establish an uninterrupted circuity: refracting love and aggression, cannibalistic monsters, bogeymen, and ogres can be seen as concrete manifestations of the conflictual relationship between mother and child on the one hand, and between absolute (maternal) incest and sociality on the other. They pay testimony to the struggles and anxieties, but also the ferocious joy, that are part and parcel of the breaking out of the maternal bond and the quest for social relatedness that mark the growth of the human self. Whether stuck up as a frightening mask at the post of a child's bed in Victorian England, identified as the seductive call of a bird that wants to lure an Aboriginal child away from the safety of the camp at night, or declared to possess an infant in northern India who refuses the breast, the hungry ogre lingers on the margins of 'home', ready to attack the one who steps outside. Pertaining to the same developmental processes, cannibalistic creatures are as ubiquitous as incest prohibitions and as varied in their expression. But if the ogre curbs the child's attempt to pull away from the mother and her symbolic objects (the breast, the bed, the home) (2) and thus encourages endosocial bonds, the ogre that symbolises the breach of incest prohibitions (like for instance Dokonikan in the Trobriand Tudava myth (Malinowski, 1949; Devereux, 1986--88)) curbs such self-directed strivings. The first-mentioned creation of life-extinguishing demons for children, placing fearsome 'guardians' around the dyadic unity, is fuelled, I suggest, by the mother's identification with her child. …