The psychoanalytic interpretation of “Furies” in literary writing; Comparison between Aeschylus’ Orestreia and Shelly’s Prometheus Unbound (edited & updated)

Artwork depicting a Fury in mythology

By Karen Barna

In the study of psychoanalysis, the interpretation of mythical furies are considered to represent man’s departure from psychic reality, that is his psychic split from conscious reality and his decent into a delusional state of psychic paranoia. In some of these literary writings there is the projection of a set of domestic images that demands separate attention – images that suggest man’s desire to appropriate for themselves the decision making authority in giving life and taking life away, exercising his power over the life of other human beings. This will to life and power over death, and for the case of this essay is represented in terms of paranoid delusional psychic states, can be represented by two different plays which possess to very different defensive themes. One play is represented as a literary tool that helps to explain fixed personality states in which unachieved mutual recognition for the mother (other) is acquired, a personality constellation that represents unconscious defensive themes on matricide, and the other play represents as a literary tool that helps to explain regressive personality states that aren’t necessarily fixed, but can remains so, in which unachieved mutual recognition for the father, a personality constellation that could represent conscious as well as unconscious defensive themes on patricide. Both fixed psychic states possess the risk of regression even after recovery, typically in high-stress situations where communication can break-down and a person’s regressive content will find avenues for aggressive discharge. Both states are psychic creations formed out of self deluded fears and the behaviors manifested are usually acts committed out of a conscious or unconscious attempt at self-preservation. These are delusional narcissistic state that represents man’s fall or man’s free-fall into a state of paranoia and both plays can represent the psychic split from reality into an either unconscious fixed repetition drive or a regressive fall into a previous fixed state of paranoia and delusional fear. This previous fixed state is known as our child ego state. We all from time to time fall into childish modes of thought and behavior.

Defensive Themes On Matricide (the Dead Mother)

Regarding the first play, Aeschylus‘ Orestreia, which is a literary comparison of the psychic delusional fantasy state representative of the dead mother and matricidal themes in human behavior. “Chasseguet-Smirgel, in the classical psychoanalytic vein, foregrounding the intrinsic dangers associated with the omnipotent devouring preoedipal mother, she inadvertently brings to view the somewhat defensive function the phallus represents in the classical model. Her famous phrase, “beating back the mother” brings into view quite explicitly a paranoid and defensive violence underpinning the phallic model, which is quite an accurate observation.” (Jacobs, 2007, pg. 27-28) This phallogocentrism becomes apparent in individuals suffering narcissistic personality disorder. The term phallocentrism is the term which equates the masculine (phallus), as the all-powerful organ and Freud quipped quote, “The penis is everything.“ This phallocentricity can be observed in human behavior as phallic narcissistic states of the human ego. It is not viewed as primarily a masculine symbolic of the ego, but also a feminine symbolic as both little boys and little girls desire and both come to envy the power of father’s penis.

The two literary works I’m reviewing are Aeschyleus’ Orestria and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. In Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the play registers psychoanalytic themes on matricide and has been used as a literary tool in comparison to fixed conscious states of mental illness. These fixed conscious states are tied to repetition behaviors, and these repetition behaviors are tied closely to unconscious fantasies formed in early childhood development; as in the fantasy of the omnipotent mother. In this play, Orestes kill his mother Clytemnestra for murdering his father Agamemnon. Immediately he is hounded by the Furies, which are the mother’s curses and Orestes flees Argos in a state of insanity and guilt. These Furies represent a descent into a depressive state where mourning becomes possible for the patient. In psychoanalytic work, this can be viewed as an act of mourning in which the patient can introject some previously held unintrojectable truth. Once this truth is digested and worked through, which Melanie Klein relates to the suffering into truth which represents a departure from the paranoid schizoid mode (hubris) where the child makes greedy destructive attacks on the mother’s body, and move toward the depressive position to stop (dike) the repetition behavior, accepting the truth and relinquishing the fantasy of omnipotence, leading to remorse, reparation, and integration. A state in which the patient can now achieve and feel mutual recognition in mutual associations in terms of object relations.

Defensive Themes On Patricide (the Dead Father)

In the second play, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, the god Prometheus is bound to a mountain top precipices by evil and unjust god, Jupiter. Prometheus represents everything that is good and wholesome in authoritative leadership; wisdom, love, and justice. Whereas Jupiter represents everything that is evil; tyranny, injustice, abusive punishment. This play holds the possibility in representing the regressive paranoid schizoid mode (child ego state), where the child makes greedy destructive attacks on the father’s body, and where Jupiter represents the reigning omnipotent father in patriarchy, this play houses paranoid, delusional, and defensive themes on patricide.

Out of complete phallocentric envy, at both Prometheus obstinance of not bowing in submission to Jupiter’s Supreme will, and of Prometheus‘ possessed leadership skills and power, Jupiter commands Mercury to unleashes the Furies to hound Prometheus, but before Mercury acts he tries to talk some sense into Prometheus. Unsuccessful at convincing Prometheus to bow down in submission to the destructive tyrannical god and spare the Prometheus further anguish, Mercury unleashes the Furies. Unable to run, or defend himself because he is chained to a mountain top, Prometheus endures the pain and suffering associated with this psychic state, a punitive punishment that does not serve Jupiter well, as Prometheus refuses to introject the delusional truth of Jupiter’s perceived fantasy of omnipotence. This play represents the very real theme of tyrannical leadership of abusive authority and a person regressive fall into a paranoid state (child ego state) when Prometheus refuses to creatively solve the problem as can be seen in the side-effect of trauma and abuse victims. The psychopathology of the bully and the psychopathology of psychopathic leadership which Jupiter represents. It is also a play that is symbolic of the United States departure from the abusive and absolute rule of the British monarch and a country’s creation of democracy, fairness, and statehood. A play that declares, perhaps, sometimes we may be required to fall back into our child ego states in order to preserve fairness and justice. Here is some background on the myth:

Prometheus is the one who gave wisdom to Jupiter and with one law alone – “Let man be free” Asia says omnipotent tyranny knows no faith, no love, no law and is friendless. Jupiter reigned and he bought forth famine, toil, disease, strife, wounds, and ghastly death. Jupiter sent alternating shafts of frost and fire. Then he sent fierce wants to the hearts of man and made them go mad so that they levied mutual wars on one another so that their homes were destroyed. Prometheus is the one who sent mankind love to calm the chaos and quiet their disquietude. He sent love to the hearts of men. He calmed the fires. He gave man iron and gold – the slaves and signs of power and gems and poisons. Prometheus gave men speech which created human thought. Then because he gave man this intelligence man was able to investigate and created science. Then he gave them art. Prometheus told mankind of the hidden powers of herbs and of springs and disease slept as if it did not exist. Prometheus gave man astronomy and he told them about the planets and stars and phases of the moon. He taught him how to navigate boats on the sea which gave rise to trade routes and opened financial markets. Prometheus is responsible for the advancements of man which has elevated man to god-like status. Jupiter quivered in fear at Prometheus’ curse, “So tell me,” asks Asia, “Since Jupiter almost shit his pants at Prometheus’ curse, who is Jupiter’s master?” And, what’s further she asks, “Is he too just a slave like Prometheus?” Demogorgon asks, “Do you know whether Jupiter is evil?” Asia demands from Demogorgon to tell her who he calls “God” and what his name is? Demogorgon tells Asia, “Jupiter is the supreme being of all living things. He is the almighty god.” Asia refusing to believe Jupiter is the almighty asks “Who is his master?” Demogorgon says he cannot see the answer to this question. The deep truth is imageless. He simply doesn’t know the answer to her question. The answer to the question is Prometheus. Prometheus has control over Jupiter. It is Prometheus split from Jupiter’s delusional belief in his omnipotence that drives the god insane. It is a literary portrayal of how phallocentric states can consume and overtake the human psyche causing a splitting off from reality to one’s existence. In this vein Hegel’s On Lordship and Bondage comes in to play. It’s interesting that Percy Byshee Shelley should title the Jupiter’s evil presence in this play,. “the phantasm of Jupiter.” As a reference to  Jupiter’s self-deluded fantasy of omnipotence.

A parallel here which can be made to perhaps compliment Kleinian theory comes to echo the philosophy of the Great tragedians: “To have recognized and understood one’s destructive tendencies directed at the loved parents makes for a greater tolerance towards oneself and towards deficiencies in others, for a better capacity of judgment and altogether greater wisdom.” This is the truth that Jupiter is suppose to arrive at following his fall. To recognize that “I have edges and you have edges, and sometimes those edges meet causing conflict.“ The psychoanalytic notion that mutual recognition can be achieved with the relinquishing of omnipotent control, which Mercury is, unfairly I might add, asking of Prometheus. The tragedy structures greed and destruction, hopefully followed by remorse and knowledge, not so much for Prometheus, but on the part of Jupiter as he is the one who is suffering from a delusional fantasy of omnipotence and too, he is deposed at the end of the play. An ending in which mutual recognition is restored and represented in the symbolic of calm and peaceful weather. Sunny, clear blue skies and gentle winds descending upon humanity void of hurricane winds, typhoon rain, or cataclysmic earthquakes when Prometheus‘ re-reinstatement as god. One could relate Jupiter’s psychic state to the paranoid schizoid mode (hubris) where the child makes greedy destructive attacks on the father’s body (Prometheus), and the depressive position to stop (dike) the repetition behavior by suffering into truth after his defeat, and relinquishing the fantasy of omnipotence, which is suppose to lead to remorse, reparation, and integration and which moves the patient into a depressive psychic state in which mourning becomes possible and mutual recognition combined with mutual association in object relations is restored.



A literary example of psychopath; A devil called Mephistopheles

Creative Artwork depicting Goethe’s Mephistopheles

By Karen Barna

Some further information on the literary classic Faust written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the Prologue in Heaven, Mephistopheles, the devil speaks ill of mankind in undesirable script of degradation:

“….Of suns and worlds I nothing have to say,
I see alone mankind’s self-torturing pains.
The little world-god still the self-same stamp retains,
And is as wondrous now as on the primal day.
Better he might have fared, poor wight,
Hadst thou not given him a gleam of heavenly light;
Reason, he names it, and doth so
Use it, than brutes more brutish still to grow.
With deference to your grace, he seems to me
Like any long-legged grasshopper to be,
Which ever flies, and flying springs,
And in the grass its ancient ditty sings.
Would he but always in the grass repose!
In every heap of dung he thrusts his nose.”


There is a gathering in heaven, a meeting so to speak, the Lord wants to know how the angels are doing in conducting their affairs. The dialogue is mostly restricted between Mephistopheles and the Lord. Mephistopheles is the reigning spirit of man. He watches them and expresses disdain at their poultry existence unable to satisfy themselves and their knowledge is limited to themselves and in that they are very dull. The Lord helps reveal that Mephistopheles is bored too with his duties, just like Faust. “No, Lord, I tell you frankly what it’s worth: It’s bad; men drown in evils that are sent them; Poor things, I find it boring to torment them.” Obviously Mephistopheles finds them an unequal opponent, daunting and unchallenging. The Lord says, “Have you nothing more to say to me? Is complaining your only need? Will nothing please you upon the Earth?” Mephistopheles is obviously bored with the torments of man, so the Lord seeing great value and fortitude in Faust hopes Faust will prove a worthy challenge and inquires of Mephistopheles knowledge of Faust. “Know you one Faust?” Mephistopheles confirms he knows him and describes his desire for Heavenly knowledge that is above that of man’s own ability. He chases after Earth’s finest art and earthly joy and yet is still unable to satisfy himself “Still fails to satisfy his restless heart.” Because of Faust’s thirst for omnipotent knowledge, that is he wants to know what the gods in Heaven know. The Lord says, Faust serves men in bewildering ways and views Faust’s presence in the world needed and sees him as a righteous man, who with a good heart will not be duped by evil. The Lord, just to be sure, intends to send some heavenly light his way to help steer him from his own self-destruction. Then in a ballsy act, Mephistopheles makes a wager with the Lord, inquiring, “What will you wager that you do not lose him…?” The Lord accepts his wager and gives Mephistopheles the power and authority to seduce him as he pleases, with only one stipulation, that Faust’s mortal dwelling place remains on earth. The Lord then declares the eternal state of man, “For man must strive, and striving he must err.” Error and mistake is his lot in life, only groping in the dark to find his way. Mephistopheles then thanks the Lord for allowing him Faust but declares disdain at dwelling in the presence of corpses (the human race). The Lord then warns Mephistopheles he will stand ashamed when called on to confess when Faust does not become seduced by the dark force. Mephistopheles requests of the Lord accolades, a parade, triumph fanfares by the dozen. The Lord agrees, but what does the Lord get in return should he fail? He gets to keep Faust as faithful servant. The heaven closes and the Archangels depart.

This piece of literature suggests the Lord seems to be vesting too much faith in Faust, that is mankind, and the only one who truly knows the fragile nature of mankind is the devil. In trying to understand why the Lord would entertain a psychopath in his court, one may soon realize this was a projection of man’s earthly state of existence, in creative fiction, on to the fantasized realm of Heaven. We all, after all, have to deal with the occasional psychopath or sociopath from time to time. If Heaven was the U.S. Government, then the psychopath might be considered his military force called upon to fight against evil. Or, as it turns out, the U.S. Presidency. Also, reading this helped me make the connection between knowledge and the Tree of Knowledge in the book of Genesis of the Old Testament. “Eritis sicut deus, scientes bonum et malum.” The phrase written by Mephistopheles in a student’s book means “You will be as a god, knowing both good and evil!” Which further solidifies the truth that the God concept was created by men to control the behavior of the populace. It echoes the historical abuses of the Catholic church at keeping lay people illiterate and ignorant when the ecclesiastical conducted sermons in an esoteric language the audience couldn’t understand. This literary writting subtly declares “god” a wimp, and the devil as strong. Strong enough to mislead and seduce mankind with licentious temptations like prostitutes. Ain’t life a bitch?

Shakespeare said it best when he wrote, “Our remedies oft in ourself do lie; which we ascribe to heaven the fated sky.” It further proves that man is his own god and creates for himself his own heaven or hell. He has the power to change the quality of his existence. Human goodness, from my perspective, is more prevalent in the populous than the psychopath. However, during our postmodern times, at certain points in our human history, it may be hard to share in this view point. In addition it reveals man’s age-long failure in entertaining the psychopath, and even man’s struggle to properly identify and combat them in postmodern day existence. Even Aristotle observed and wrote about “the unscrupulous man” (the psychopath) in ancient times. The struggle between good and evil, tells of man’s life long struggle between human goodness and human depravity. The psychopath operating at a high level of intelligence, of course, astutely knows human behavior and human desire. He, as a consequence to his nature, needed to fit in to the group and so studied, through direct observations, the language of others. The devil merely gives the people what they want, sometimes our most deepest and darkest desires. And yet some end-up incarcerated while others lead our nation.


Nasty: Reverberations of unconscious fantasy in narcissistic states

Paradoxes and Splits

By Karen Barna

On Paradoxes and Splits in Human Conscious States

“It has been noted that some people have difficulty forming fantasies and using them as signals or defensively (Marty and de M’Uzan, 1963; McDougall, 1989; Krystal, 1995). This category of patients includes persons who suffer from trauma, psychosomatic disorders, eating disorders, or addictions; these patients exhibit regression to desymbolized, federalized, and somatized ways of communicating. Their repertoire does not include fantasy metallization, reflectiveness, and certainly imagination. They use words as objects rather than symbols; and instead of being oriented toward people and the self, they are oriented to things. It is not difficult to imagine that traditional psychoanalytic treatment, in which language takes center stage, poses serious problems and limitations with this group of patients. Rather than be helped to become aware of the meaning and function of their fantasies, they need to be taught language of fantasy and the imagination. Chapter 7 presents material from an intensive therapy with such a patient.” ~Fantasy, Psychopathology, and Treatment, Unconscious Fantasies in the Relational World by Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner

I live with my 82 year-old mother. Recently she told me, “Why don’t you go and see if you can find a job?” On that advice, I dusted off my resume, went on-line and started looking for work. When I started to receive phone calls from prospective employers, they, I can only assume family members and the medical doctors who implanted me, employed electro-magnetic frequency signals. That is, they turned on advanced technology in the form of radio waves to “treat me and my illness.” This prevented me from successfully completing my employment search and left me “dead in the water” so to speak, to use a euphemism.

Then, my same sex sibling arrives for a visit yesterday, who by the way is a nurse in the medical community, and proceed to tell me how she can creatively problem solve, while I am a half-wit dim-wit, unable to creatively imagine the possible solutions before me. Seeing how I can’t obviously find a job and successfully complete my work search and live on my own, independent self-sufficiently, and while she obviously can be a success. I have never owned property. I have never paid a bill. I have never held down solid work employment. I am the “stupid” and “ignorant one” suffering from “organic brain damage.” While she is so much more than I could ever creatively imagine, obviously. Can’t I tell the difference? These are statements obviously made as the result of someone’s self-denuded mush of paranoid self-aggrandizing phallic masturbations in an attempt at assuaging their damaged ego. So can’t I obviously tell the difference?

I have come to term these events as Shum Liam Lum Doobily, borrowing on the Urban slang term which means very large penis, because that is exactly what is going on here. Someone is attempting to phallicly castrate the ego of another individual by putting on display, on front and center stage, their own self aggrandizing very large, and I do mean a Shum Liam Lum Doobily size, phallic narcissistic ego. I am also reminded of the poem in the prelude to Goethe’s Faust in which the supreme life forms, also known as gods, peer down upon these lowly humans, watching them twitter and jump around the place in their “plaguey state of the human condition.” This must be how my physical workout activities must look to the gods reigning over me; plaguey and unvaluable.

In the classical poetic play entitled Faust, Goethe declares the words of Mephistopheles in the Prologue in Heaven as retaining and undesirable script. He, as a member of God’s court, steps forward to deride man in his human nature. “He carps, criticizes, and derides. He has no idea of the universe at the highest level, he sees merely the pitiable self-torments of man, the creature of imperfection living in an imperfect world.” He out rightly laughs at man in his “degraded” human state. Mephistopheles is the direct opposite of courageous leadership. Instead of declaring, like the other archangels; Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael the glory and goodness of the whole universe he becomes vituperative and rails abusively against man. This is a red flag in character analysis of people and could quite possibly establish a person’s identity. Mephistopheles declares that the cause of man’s misery is the power of Reason which God himself bestowed upon him. It is this very gift that has caused man to lift his head towards the Heavens and seek the meaning of its mysteries. It is this very philosophical content of Faust – the imparted Reason and free will given from God causes him self-consciousness, the power of discrimination, freedom to choose right or wrong, and with it a recognition of its disturbing consequences. This very quality without which mankind would lack the character of humanity, is the reason for man’s unhappiness, declares Mephistopheles; it make him less understanding than the animals, which unself-consciously know their place in nature.

I can only assume that perhaps the above referenced quote from the book Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World may have given ammunition to further the arsenal of my familial arch nemesis which was suppose to further the debated point. “….some people have difficulty forming fantasies and using them as signals or defensively. This category of patients includes persons who suffer from trauma, psychosomatic disorders, eating disorders, or addictions; these patients exhibit regression to desymbolized federalized, and somatized ways of communicating.” This quote serves to further my point and to debate the actual statement posed by the authors as potentially false. I, although having suffered from addictive states earlier in my youth as well as an eating disorder, can creatively imagine and do use my fantasies as solutions. This statement made, by the author of the above referenced book, completely overlooks the possible notion that life is dynamic and, as such, interventions take place along the path of one‘s life journey that can facilitate in one‘s development. During my recent readings in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis I came across a theory that is multi-dimensional, although at the time of this writing, the name of theory eludes me. It is for this reason the human species is capable of change. My creative solutions, unlike my family’s creative solutions, don’t manifest in sick and sadistic ways that ultimately harm other people. My way of creatively fantasizing takes the shape of literary art and visual art forms in modes of self-expression, as well as constructively channeling my aggression though sports related activities like aerobic dance, (and dance is a form of self-expression as we have seen historically in the exotic realm of belly dancing to seduce one‘s mate) and weight-lifting and sports performance drills. As far as I’m concerned what is being communicated to me through these clandestine acts and verbal debates is complete BULLSHIT!!!!

The Use of Electro-Magnetic Frequency and Its Resulting Traumatic Side-Effects

I wonder has anyone stopped to consider how the use of a veiled electro-magnetic hand, a force that can be used, much like a blunt object, in bludgeoning a person to death, as a result of someone’s sick sadistic fantasy of omnipotent control in the conscious and unconscious psychic mind, in someone’s individual self-deluded fantasy of omnipotence? How did a paranoid schizoid orchestrate the implantation of a medical device into another human being that works off radio frequency, one that operates on proximity and has range? How are they still able to operate the device without detection? How many people were employed in the deployment of this schism? How many professional medical doctors were employed in its deployment? And were they paid-off? Because as far as I’m concerned it is not a medical treatment because what it offers is misery. What it offers is depressive states. What it offers is complete BULLSHIT!!!

The use of these veiled electro-magnetic frequency signals have sought to steal my sense

Kitten with gun
Illustration of a conscious paranoid state – a psychic split from one’s reality

of legitimacy as a sentient, independent, self-sufficient, creatively thinking human being. Much like the undesirable script of Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust. It has sought to render me“less desirable” and an “outcasted unwanted.” The sole purpose for its use is to jeopardize my sense of agency, so that I cannot further become a more independent and free, self-sufficient person. Its purpose is to incarcerate me under the abusive authority of a power structure that doesn’t encourage freedoms like; freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom to creatively find solutions to problems, especially if those solutions lie in the creative fields of a productive work activity and employment. It acts like the Utica crib used in psychiatric hospitals during the 1700s for the purpose of isolating an individual. I believe the reason for this veiled weapon and its presence in my life is the solution to someone’s delusional paranoid state, most likely a unconscious fear that has manifested in a very real conscious fantasy based in the fear of ’Other.’ (click the link below for more on the literary work Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

A literary example of psychopath; A devil called Mephistopheles

Quote taken from Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World by Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner page 19, Copyright 2006, The Analytic Press, Inc., Publishers, Hillsdale, New Jersey.

On The Family Romance Fantasy “Not In The Family”

A Series of Unfortunate Events

When a massive fire kills their parents, three children are delivered to the custody of cousin and stage actor Count Olaf, who is secretly plotting to steal their parents’ vast fortune. Lemmony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events premiered December 17, 2004. Casting Jim Carey, Jude Law, and Meryl Streep.

By Karen Barna

Family Romance Fantasies are fantasies which manifest in individual feelings regarding their membership to the family they are born into. Children’s movies and storybooks are full of these types of fantasies. Examples of some creative literary writings and plays of family romance fantasies are Steward Little, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events. These stories typically portray a child, often an orphan, living with mean and unloving parental figures who have replaced the real parents, who died or were killed. Freud appreciated the need to account for the prevalence of the family romance fantasy and to understand its significance. One of his contributions to the matter lies in his placing the fantasy in a developmental context. Freud’s brief but dense paper on the family romance tells the story of the individual’s struggle to become liberated “from the authority of his parents.” His paper alludes to the foreshadowing developmental issues and process that are now subsumed within different contemporary psychoanalytic frameworks.

“Comparing primary fantasies (fantasmes originaires) to myths in their capacity for solving mysteries and addressing vital affairs of children: ‘Like myths, they [fantasies] claim to provide a representation of, and a solution to, the major enigmas which confront a child.'” ~Unconscious and Conscious and the Relational World

Case Vignette in Domestic Violence and Battery

A few years ago a friend came to me and wanted some advice regarding a family issue that had unfortunately played out in otherwise disastrous circumstances. This young girl was beaten by one of her family members in a very sadistic way. After she told me the story, she uncovered the particular elements to this act of domestic violence which displayed elements of; rage, envy, narcissistic loss, with a combined element of sexual sadism. My young friend took this event very seriously and she was very hurt by the behavior of her relatives. At first, she was filled with a high sense of narcissism as she could not get over why they would want to do this to her. After further probing into her family relationship we uncovered that the aggression found in her family situation had always been there. That in fact, there were other acts of violence commissioned against her, and these acts all stemmed from primal scene psychopathology fantasies. I was happy that after our discussion she was soon able to realize the psychoanalytic make-up of the individuals she was dealing with and that these acts of violent rage and aggression were probably not solely the result of her doing alone. There were other individuals also responsible for these terrible acts and they needed to take responsibility for their evil doing. Once she came to realize that this act, in all likelihood did not exist in solitude, that the people she was dealing with were likely to hurt her again, she could then come to a choice about what avenues to pursue in protecting herself from these individuals in the future. Whether or not she wanted to pursue legal issues involving restraining orders, and possible law suits and other protective custody issues.

My psychoanalytic conclusion to the evaluation and analyst of this particular case is as follows. This male individual was filled with rage, envy, narcissistic loss, combined with elements of sexual sadism. This act of domestic violence appeared to be a conscious fantasy possessed by the perpetrator toward my friend’s sexual unattainable, as he became sexually excited during the commission of the beating. While I’m not completely certain that this may have not been the case, my study of psychoanalytics have brought me to the possible conclusion that this act may have represented something else. The very nature of my friend’s constitution as a female subject made it very easy for this male perpetrator to project onto her femininity a type of surrogacy of revenge. At the time, my friend was much thinner, much younger looking, with porcelain doll like facial features. This may have represented a homosexual sadistic fantasy towards a certain male in his relational orbit as these are the very physical traits another male possessed, who at the time was present in the family. A male competitor. And it is no doubt that this act was first conceived as a conscious fantasy of destroying a person’s “otherness,” and as I have previously stated, it was born out of anger, envy, and narcissistic loss. After reading some material on unconscious and conscious fantasies in the relational world, I realized this act probably was done out of a type of wish fulfillment against this particular subject in the family. These conscious fantasy wishes take place in primal scene fantasies and the wish fulfillment that manifests in family romance fantasies. Someone wanted my friend “Not To Be In The Family” because the prelude of events prior to this event were, what seemed to me, to possess elements of a form of excommunication, it became clear to me that this particular relative or perhaps a group of relatives didn’t want her around.

In my clinical opinion, this individual may possess homosexual unconscious fantasies from time to time toward other male competitors. This does not mean he is a homosexual. It means that he may have experienced some type of trauma in his early pre-oedipal and oedipal phases of childhood development, as he harbors sadomasochistic elements to his personality constellation.

Exploring Theory and Questions in the Clinical Setting of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic events such as these explore and pursue questions like, “What drives a person to fantasize, with sadistic rage, the tearing down of another?” Klein’s radical notion of phantasy uncovers infant phantasy both in form and structure. An infant’s original bodily sensations like, hunger, desire, various forms of pain, the filling of one’s mouth with the breast, taking in milk, filling one’s stomach – a variety of sensations associated with digestion and evacuation and even the sensation of an erection play in the infant’s phantasy formations (Blass, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, June 2017, Volume 98, Issue 3). To begin with the infant does not recognize himself separate from the mother. He sees his mother’s breast as a part of himself, thus the foundation of homoerotic love established in primary narcissism. Psychoanalytic theory suggests that the reason for family romance fantasies revolve around issues of separation-individuation as well as oedipal issues. Further questions to explore are, “Under what circumstances are these fantasies originated and how do they take shape in organizing a person’s internal self- in terms of object relations found within their world?” In addition, “How are these fantasies employed to master developmental tasks which include separation-individuation and what type of oedipal issues are at play?” The analyst needs to pay careful attention in detecting and uncovering subtle and hidden clues to the enactment or re-enactments of these types of fantasies in treatment.

Students of psychoanalysis will explore the myth of Oedipus Rex and uncover how Oedipus originates in his being unaware of his status as an adopted son. The Oedipus myth is, in essence, a family romance. Oedipus’ unawareness of his origins drives the outcome of events and leads him to his tragic destiny. Oedipus also needs to uncover the secrets of his origin and it is his investigation that leads him to discover his own culpability. The use of the family romance fantasy can be seen as an expression of the child’s curiosity about and effort to uncover his or her origins, or to relieve guilt about incestuous impulses, is yet another theme that has been developed in many of the investigations of family romance fantasies.

Additionally, it is important to add that the pre-oedipal stage of symbiotic connection with our primary caregiver, and all the bodily sensations we experience as infants as a result of that, can have profound long lasting effects, as well as the misfiring of the oedipal stages. Regarding the human condition, there are always human peculiarities to consider. No person escapes the side-effects to these phases whatever they ultimately end-up meaning to us, whether they be beneficial or detrimental.  Joan Riviere explains:

“…in babyhood, goodness, pleasure and satisfaction were all one and the same thing, identical – all three experienced in one sensation, a good feeling in body and mind alike, a heavenly content. And they remain thus united in the depths, up to the last breath we draw, in spite of the complications and distinctions that we consciously make between them later.” (Riviere, 1937, p.182)

Final Comments

Speaking from personal experience I have often had “Not In The Family” family romance fantasies. When my personal family relationships turn adverse, I often imagine that I was switched at birth in the hospital nursery and that my “real” parents are somewhere in the outside world unaware they have the wrong child. I also imagine that at some point during my childhood I must have been abducted by aliens and that the “real” me is living on some distant planet located on the outer edges of our universe. The “real” me looks and acts a lot like my “real” family members which must be the answer to our profound social differences and our inability to negotiate mutual recognition at times.

I have always felt that fantasies are a wonderful thing as they can act as a protective enclosure to an otherwise harsh reality that may be difficult to face. However, it is crucial that we be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy and to know when fantasy is serving to alleviate stress and when it is becoming counter productive to healthy human relations. In addition to knowing when to act on certain fantasies and when not to act. Fantasies, after all, are the stuff dreams are made of.

Literary contributions being read at the time by the author of this post:

Papers from the publication The International Journal of Psychoanalysis which include:
Reflections on Klein’s Radial Notion of Phantasy and Its Implication for Analytic Practice by Rachel B. Blass (Israel)
On Fascination and Fear of Annihilation by Michel Thys (Belgium)
Intimacy: The Tank in the Bedroom by Adrienne Harris (New York, USA)
Several Aspects of the Concept of Phantasy by Viviane Abel Prot (France)

Two published books:
Like Subjects; Love Objects by Jessica Benjamin
Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World by Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner



When Love Turns to Hatred and Fear; The Recognition of Sexual Differences

Are Sexual Fantasies Normal.jpg
Are Your Sexual Fantasies Normal?

By Karen Barna

Some time ago I meet someone who, to me, absolutely represented the perfect ideal. At the time I didn’t realize why I felt an overwhelming sense of oppression, an emotional response that Karen Horney (1932) wrote of in her classic essay “The Dread of Women” when she critiqued the poem “The Diver.” In this particular poem Schiller writes about the overwhelming sense of dead he feels about a woman. He expresses fears of being “done in” by this powerful presence. Psychoanalytic deconstruction of this poem reveals the fantasy of “The Omnipotent Mother” and the residual unconscious fantasies that result from its development. These emotional feelings stem from a Mother’s recognition of baby and, as a consequence, these feelings are firmly established in the foundation of the baby’s sense of agency. They can also result in pathological symptoms during object selection. If a child suffers a too rigid care giving mother, the fear of actually being controlled and manipulated by her, that is, an overwhelming fear of being “done in by her,” is expressed. This fear is a symptomology of a type of psychopathology resulting from earlier symbolic recognition of Other. These symptoms will usually manifest when we are confronted with the perception of someone who represents a shadow of this omnipotent force. Whether the person actually possess these character traits isn’t really important, in fact they may not and this is what delusions are made of, but what is important is how the person perceives this love object of which he or she may feel attracted to. “Does he or she feel terrified?”; “Does he or she feel attracted to such a terrifying person?” In this supposition we hear the echoes from the earlier symbolic space of Mother-Child. These fears are the psychopathology stemming from the need for self-protection from the death instinct which may have resulted from the misfiring of the pre-oedipal and oedipal stages, at least in theory. These “misfirings” are believed by some psychoanalysts to be responsible for mental illnesses like personality disorders and gender identity disorders.

Back to my personal case analysis. This person possessed the soft gentle features of a “good maternal” object which must of seemed to me as attributes of the “good mother“, sensitive and loving . My perception of this mother symbolic was of the traditional gender division where mother is the primary nurturing figure, associated with dependency, inside, and security. This symbolic represents the inner space of intimacy found in human sexuality. Yet at the same time he also possessed the castrating phallus of hero-father, savior, rescuer which stemmed from his occupational choice in policing. So here in one vein, we have the maternal ideal. A man representing the “good breast” with the beautiful muted soft colors of an impressionist painting, representing the softer homosexual character traits. In the other vein we have the castrating phallus of savior, super-hero, protector. This stemming from his occupational choice, policing. All this represented to me the perfect idealized symbolic space of completion, Mother-Father-Self. These are the conscious and unconscious fantasies that were present in my human psyche at the time. Whether or not he proved to be either of these “idealized” symbolics remained to be seen, because like Schiller’s poem, I experienced this overwhelming sense of fear, the symptomology of a pathology stemming from, perhaps and this may not actually be the case, earlier symbolic space, in a need for protection from the death instinct.

The idealization I felt toward this man with the richness of his perceived good maternal gifts, for me turned into a way I could reach back through the lens of loss and recover what seemed to be lost in “the lost territory” of the early oedipal symbolic dyad. This loss would represent goodness, security, love, and acceptance in the symbolic space of which I seemed to long desperately for, for the symbiotic oneness with this perceived “good mother.”

Psychoanalytic theory has adduced this original oneness to explain the fear of regression that is the basis of the dread of mother and of woman, that is a fear of being placed back into a state of helpless found in infancy and dependent on this omnipotent presences which could either feed us or leave us to die. This fear makes the oedipal girl turn away from the over controlling fantasy of the omnipotent mother to the father for protection form danger. In her turn to father love she is able to recognize sexual difference and the father’s phallic attributes leave the girl filled with excitement for discovering the prospects which are much different than that of mother’s. The prospect of exploring the outside world, with active motion and with all its castrating possibilities which will ultimately serve as the girls ego protection from the postmodern currents of uncertainty.

Current reinterpretations of penis envy has emphasized the girl’s need to identify with the father as a figure of separation from the pre-oedipal mother. Thus, the power of the father and his phallus derives meaning for the little girl in separating from mother. The flight from mother is a response seen in early childhood as a flight from the state of helpless dependence on the omnipotent mother, in particular the anally controlling mother. It represents difference and separation, the phallus becomes the desired object for children of both sexes. The meaning of the penis as a symbol of revolt and separation derives from the nature of the child’s struggle to separate from the original pre-oedipal maternal power. Thus both children invest in the father’s desired male attribute of the penis and either desire or are satisfied by its possession. For father is the recognition of independence, self-protection, and castrating outside enemies.

My perception of this male individual was such that I perceived him to possess both dichotomies, perfect mother love and perfect father love. That is to say, the symbolic representation of nurturer and the prospect of phallic defender in one very over-inclusive way. This symptomology of bisexual is, in my opinion, what all individuals, both male and female possess as they have gone through both the pre-oedipal and oedipal stages of development. Is this  Maternal-Paternal dyad not exactly what most individuals have experienced? The stages of pre-oedipal and oedipal phases of human sexual development leave us with maternal psychological attributes as well as with paternal psychological attributes. It is many psychoanalysts’ opinion that most individuals possess the Mother-Father-Self triad, regardless of their gender. It is why a pre-oedipal girl may fantasy of achieving one day a very masculine occupation. The occupation of astronaut. She may insist on wearing her astronaut costume all the time, to bed and even to the grocery store with mother.

Thus what we might imagine in this scenario of bisexuality the ambivalent conflict which follows in the oscillation between maternal love object and phallic defender in the psyches of both love objects, that is, in their response in relation to one another. Hence, marital conflict. The oscillations of conflict found within the marital dyad between the two defending phallic egos need not be explained any further. Everyone involved in a love relationship understands conflict. Conflict resolution is usually found within the symbolic space of mutual recognition in acceptance and love of other, as one of the phallic egos fall away into submission to the other. Vanquished and conquered like in the act of sexual intercourse which as a symbolic leaves one vanquished and the other conqueror.

The other scenario one might imagine is that this person represent completely the repudiated maternal love object or he represents completely the phallic over-defender super-hero perspective. If this is the case we might imagine the bottom falling out of the fantasy which will be followed with disappointment and disillusionment. It is important to note that fantasies like this, both conscious and unconscious, are common place at the first stages in meeting others. In the beginning, we do not yet know what type of possibilities the other person holds for us. It is our creative imagination that likes to invent them for ourselves as we creatively imagine the possibilities. It is only time and the reality of the circumstances that set the imagination straight as they either turn out to be true or they turn out to be false.

SUBNOTE: It is important to note that I was suffering from electro-magnetic frequency torture. Someone was using radio wave signals to inflict mental harm in an attempt to reduce my capacity to understand concepts and draw conclusion which would ultimately serve me in legitimate self-agency. Although the deductions I finally were able to arrive at took me sometime to figure out, I’m writing down this story because I finally was able to make psychoanalytic sense of it despite the obstacles that stood before. A dike, as in blockade, and wall. No homosexual pun intended.




As always I like to sometimes include music in comparing the idea I’m trying to convey.

Yesterday during my reading of a particular work in psychoanalytic literature I came across the following quotation:

“On the one hand, the identificatory impulse functions defensively to avoid the ambivalent mother; or the other, the wish to be like father expresses and intrinsic need to make desire one’s own, to experience it as legitimate and self-originated, not as the property of the object, but as one’s own inner desire.”

This quote deals directly with the child’s psychoanalytic sense of legitimacy and agency in gender development and identity. This quote made me think about how easy it is for a person possessing naked power, that is a power that is undisputed and absolute in nature as in a parent over a child, to steal another being’s sense of legitimacy and agency. I immediately recalled a time when my own sense of legitimacy and my own inner sense of self-agency was stolen. As a woman, I have been called many things; a whore, a slut, white-trash, and stupid among other things. As we grow into adulthood, we should have been give the power, by our caregivers, to see through another person’s words, comments, and opinions but when our own individual psychoanalytic history comes at us, we may end up surrendering our very power, our very sense of legitimacy to a faulty authority figure.

The act of stealing another person’s sense of legitimacy and agency can be conducted in the most subtle and clandestine ways, ways that can leave a powerful impression upon the psyche of the abused. It happens all the time. And the reason it happens all the time is because it is so terribly easy to do, especially to young children and those who lack stable and firmly established identities. A very easy example which illustrates this type of “abuse of power” scenario can be found in two children playing on the playground. When an insecure young girl on this playground crosses paths with an older male bully who tells the girl she is ugly and stupid. If she is told this enough times she may end-up introjections these notions as truths to her own sense of subjectivity agency. We can compare behaviors like this to the life of “Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years as a Slave.” For those of you who do not know who Solomon Northup was, he was an American free black man living in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. In 1841 he was drugged, beaten, and taken to Washington, D.C. where he woke up in a slave pen. There, he was sadistically remade into a slave for the South. He was forced to accept his new-found status as a captured slave and was sold “down river” to Louisiana and labored for twelve years, toiling on cotton and sugar plantations in the South.

Our words can act like the chains of slavery when those words are masqueraded as truths and when the result of these harsh sadistic phrases play out in the repetition drive of subjects affected. The little girl who is repeatedly told on the play ground she is ugly and stupid may mold those ideas into self-harming sadomasochistic tones of behavior during adolescence and puberty and during her second narcissistic phase of development. But unlike Solomon Northup, she holds the potential to forever being enslaved by them, of never achieving her freedom and her true legitimate sense of self and self-agency, or worse. She may end up a statistical casualty of modern times, from the profound lack of inadequate treatment we humans tend to offer one another. The human archive is filled with stories that can be used to compare the harsh brutality of the human race and the stealing one‘s legitimacy. In an account of his misfortunate abduction, Solomon Northup stated:

“As soon as these formidable whips appeared, I was seized by both them, and roughly divested of my clothing. My feet, as has been state, were fastened to the floor [….]. With the paddle, Burch commenced beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted on my naked body. When his unrelenting arm grew tired, he stopped and asked if I still insisted I was a free man. I did insist upon it, and then the blows were renewed, faster and more energetically, if possible, than before.” ~Solomon Northup (44-45)

When history comes at us, it can lock us firmly in place, just as firmly fastened as Solomon Northup us in the slave pen he found himself in. We then become subjects of the inertia that our prior histories dictated to us, unable to break free. Childhood is riddled with demarcations which are the result of human interaction. A child needs to explore and discover things which are outside the security of the inner space and into a world. And it is this world that will ultimately play on our psychic development. Words are only part of the equation and they can be used like weapons, weapons that don’t directly kill us but lead us down a path of destruction which ultimately brings about our ultimate destiny. One of our human failings is forgetting, or perhaps never recognizing how much power we possess over another’s sense of being. When this happens, we run the risk of compromising mutual recognition and complementarity with repudiation and disdain. This is a challenge every human being faces and a challenge every human being must try and master. Sadly, our human archive has told us we frequently get it wrong.

A Rilke Quote and The Recognition of Erotic Transference in Psychoanalysis


“Angelus Novus” by Paul Klee (1920)

“Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic
Orders? And even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I should dissolve in his
mightier Being. For Beauty’s nothing
But beginning of Terror, we’re still just able to bear,
And why we adore it so is because it serenely disdains
To destroy us. Each single angel is terrible.
And so I contain myself, and choke down the call
Of depth-dark sobbing. Alas, who is there we can make use of?” ~Rilke, Duino Elegie

Although Freud committed psychoanalysis to the process of demystification, it is not precisely in that spirit that we transpose the figure of the Angel from the sacred to the therapeutic. Rather, a wish to summon up the aspect of mystery which remain alive in psychoanalysis, in the erotic force of the transference. For the terrifying and powerful figure of the Angel seems to express something of the awe and danger that Freud first discovered in the relationship between Breuer and Anna O, a force equal to that of hypnosis, which tapped as yet unsuspected depths of desire (see Person 1985). Feud was later to give this force a place in the name of the transference, even through his own patient Dora seemed to flee the prospect of falling in love with him.

Following will be describing the erotic transference as a transformation in which the analyst begins to assume the character of the Angel. But what is the Angel, and why is it terrible? This writing suggests that we might read in Rilke’s lines an expression of the longing for recognition. After further thought, the angel seems to be not only a “recognizing angel” but the realization of Rilke’s own desperate longing: to break through the barrier that separates internal and external worlds. Rilke’s statement at the very outset of the elegies indicates that the problem is the danger of destruction – literally, the terrible awfulness of the Angel – that this breakthrough entails. Hence, the poet has to reformulate the wish to be embraced by the Angel in the act of creation, to attain transcendence himself without the Angel – or rather, with the Angel only as a figure of identification. Rilke’s preoccupation with expressing the internal world through the signs of the manifest, visible world, seeking the means of expressing the suffering within us. Rilke wrote that the Angel “is the creature in whom that transformation of the visible into the invisible we are performing already appears complete,” and elsewhere he spoke of a landscape in which appearance and vision were united in the object: “In every one of them a whole inner world was exhibited, as though an Angel, in whom space was included, were blind and looking into himself.” Thus in the ninth elegy Rilke declares the poetic charge to be releasing the earth from appearance into essence, from material into ethereal being: “Earth, isn’t this what you want: an invisible re-arising in us? . . . . Earth invisible! What is your urgent command, if not transformation?”

One way of interpreting this movement is in terms of the wish to release and express “true self” experience (Winnicott 1960) and thus activate one’s own transformational capacities. The poet’s awe of the Angel expresses the compelling longing that springs from idealization and typifies its irreducible double-sidedness: self-alienation and submission versus aspiration to a true form of being. Searching for a way to articulate this fundamental ambiguity in our relationship to what Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985) has called “the Ideal,” I was reminded of the Angel. Then, these are the analysand lines which speak about the analyst as the Angel, we can begin to sense a link between the erotic transference and this figure of the Ideal. In that analysis, a long and varied development of the Angel theme encompassed the figures of the analyst, the lover, the father, the mother, the seducer/betrayer, the redeemer. The image of the Angel could summon up a longing for unattainable transcendence and then again annihilating absorption or rejection. Above or beneath all, this was an eros of redemption – falling in love as transfiguration, in Milner’s words (1957) – that promised to release some hidden sense of meaning and connection between self and the world.

The transference erotic in which we are interested here is, like this love of the Angel, a love that can be at once heady and lamenting, elated and terrifying, hopeful and crushing. To place this notion of erotic transference in historical perspective, we must relate it to love of the Ideal, to the process of putting the other in the place of one’s ego ideal, which Feud relates to love of the narcissistic type (1914) and which he discerns in the relation to both the father and the hypnotic leader (1921). The Ideal, or the Malady of the Ideal (Mallarmé, cited in Chasseguet-Smirgel 1985), is as much a feature of political as of personal life. Though respectful of its power and alert to its many meanings, Chasseguet-Smirgel (not unlike Freud) frames her views in terms of the dichotomy between rationality and irrationality, relegating the Ideal to the latter. Indeed, many critics of romanticism have emphasized the dangerous valence of the Angel’s power and forsworn the temptation to search for the embodiment of holiness, knowledge, and perfection.

But other psychoanalytic writers, like Milner (1987) and more recently Eigen (1993) and Ghent (1990), have tried to integrate that search as a vital component of healing. Eigen (1993), in particular, points out that the psychoanalytic literature has “followed Freud in deciphering the pathological elements in attachment to ideal states, relatively neglecting their healing aspect” (p. 74). In this vein, we can see that the desire to be recognized in one’s “true-self” or “spontaneous gestures,” to use Wainscot’s (1960) terms, fuels the creation of the Ideal and is a vital as its identificatory and libidinal aspects. A crucial premise of this notion is that insofar as the ideal is self-generated, psychoanalysis aims at enabling a creative re-owning of it. Eigen’s (1993) reframing has far-reaching import: he proposes that Freud “by a sleight of hand linked desire with ideal images without crediting the capacity” to create them (p. 103), that “one can as easily say that it is the capacity for ideal experiencing that makes eros what it is, rather than, or as well as, the reverse” (p. Xix). While we want to bear this doubleness in mind, let us trace a transformation in psychoanalysis that has foregrounded the creative or heavenly aspect of the ideal, perhaps as a way to balance the closely associated destructive or demonic side.

We now confront one figure with two theoretical referents. Referring the Angel to the concept of the ego ideal assumes a different order of psychoanalytic thinking, and perhaps experiencing, than does a notion of the ideal that includes the longing for recognition of creativity or true self experiencing. The distinction and relationship between these two orders may actually be crucial to understanding the double-sidedness of the Angel. To make it simpler, let us think in terms of two analytic discourses – that is, two different ways of framing the analytic experience, sometimes complementary and sometimes opposed. These two discourses roughly correspond to a parallel distinction which have been described (Benjamin, 1990, 1988) between intra-psychic and inter-subjective theories, which take off from Winnicott’s (1969b) distinction between relating to the object and using it. Bollas (1989) has elaborated the inter-subjective side, linking Winnicott’s idea of object usage with the idea of true self, offering a distinction between interpreting the patient’s unconscious and letting the patient use the analyst for true-self expression. The analyst, using her or his own counter transference awareness, aims to elicit that expression, to engage the personal aesthetic of the patient (Barbara Kane, personal communication; see Bollas 1992). Let us use Bollas’ formulations somewhat interchangeably with the distinction between intra-psychic and inter-subjective.

In the discourse of interpretation, the erotic transference can be understood in terms of the dramatic configuration of internal objects in which the analyst take a part. In the discourse of object usage the erotic transference may be understood as announcing the wish to express true feelings or the dread of expressing it (see Ghent 1990). While the interpretation of the erotic transference in oedipal terms (primarily as resistance) in commonplace (Hill 1994), understanding it in terms of the true self may remain elusive, mystical, or unorthodox, however, to assert that the two discourses are not mutually exclsusive. Eventually, I shall try to arrive at some observations about the tension between the two approaches and the way they enhance each other.

The aspect of erotic transference that we will address here has to do with the analyst as the bestower of recognition – the one who knows, or could know, the patient. To be known or recognized is immediately to experience the other’s power. Omniscience can be seen as the prevailing analytic form of omnipotence (Eigen 1993). The other becomes the person who can give or withhold recognition, who can see what is hidden, can reach, conceivably even violate, the “core” of the self. This attribution of the power to know is closely bound up with erotic experience in general, but let’s suspect that it forms the kernel of the erotic transference. The attribution of this power in the transference may evoke awe, dread, admiration, or adoration, as well as humiliating or exhilarating submission. Once transference is “unleashed,” the problem of idealization, submission, humiliation, and the corresponding resistance to those states become endemic.

The attitude of adoration or submission is, of course, constitutive of the relation to authority figures. The problem of submission to or compliance with authority was central to Freud’s efforts to take psychoanalysis out of the sphere of manipulation, hypnosis, or persuasion and make it a rational science that appealed to the patient’s own powers. Yet the sub-text of Freud’s central writings on the transference can be seen as the conflict between two conceptions of psychoanalysis: as submission to the physician’s rational authority and as a project of liberation. Certainly, Freud believed that the analytic situation like any physician-patient relationship, evoked the erotic transference because of the physician’s charismatic authority, and that this evocation was dangerous. Indeed, we may read Freud as seeking to hold in check the destructive side of the ideal.

What became more acceptable to our thought process, since and because of Freud, was that submission to authority is itself an erotic experience. However, understanding the erotic experience in inter-subjectivity terms represents an important departure from or modification of Freudian theory. Inter-subjectively, submission to a powerful other may be understood as a means, however problematic, of securing or freeing the self and, at the same time, finding recognition. When the self is felt to be buried or in chaos, powerless or destructive, penetration and mastery by the powerful one serves to ward off and express self-dissolution, to overcome abandonment (Benjamin 1980), 1988; Ghent 1990). Being pinned down, for example, becomes a way of being held or contained; being forced to do something serves as a supervised form of helpless abandon. The problem is that of reconciling freedom and recognition under the inevitable condition of dependency, and the paradoxical solution is to find freedom by surrendering one’s will, to find recognition through identification with the ideal other.

In discussion of Story of O (Benjamin 1980, 1988) we have seen how the narrative of erotic submission reveals the inner logic of using the controlling, rational other as a means to achieve a controlled loss of self. The condition under which the self can transcend its boundaries and make contact with what is outside is that the other actually transgresses and breaks these boundaries. The condition under which the self can abandon control is that the other takes control. The self is protected against the terrifying void or self-dissolution that occurs when no one is there, when merging in an equal union is felt to be impossible. This paradoxical solution can be understood in many ways. For example, a self psychological theory (see Stolorow and Lachmann 1980) may place the emphasis on the self’s fragmentation, its search for coherence and boundaries through fusion with the representation of the Ideal Other. Or the self may be seen as splitting off and projecting onto to the other its sadistic, controlling tendencies in order to express and yet to be free of them. Ghent (1990) has proposed an interpretation of sadomasochism in terms of object usage and the search for the true self experience. The sadomasochistic solution substitutes for real surrender; it is not merely defensive or shoring up the self but a covert expression of a wish. Submission, Ghent contends, is an “ever-available look-a-like” for real surrender, one in which the numb, exterior false self is given up. Using the other as a containing force that facilitates surrender of the outer self and access to hidden layers of feeling can be articulated in the Winnicottian language of true and false self.

But if we return to the terms of interpretive, intra-psychic discourse, we see that the analyst as Angel can inspire a self-abnegating love, a projection of the ideal that vitiates the self. Analysis ought to offer the opportunity to reveal this self-abnegation and to detach oneself (one’s libido) from the compelling object of desire. But first, of course, that desire for the powerful one is experienced in the erotic transference, quite likely height-ened by the analyst’s unattainably and self-control. While the erotic transference unfolds for many reasons – not lest the patient’s need to experience desire in a safe context – in some cases the control, order, and boundaries set by the authority figure actually excite and evoke the wish for erotic submission (see Davies 1994 on this iatrogenic effect). The analyst’s promise is unconsciously rendered as an exciting, controlling, or withholding power. This unconscious rendering of the analyst’s authoritative neutrality might well be seen as parallel to the articulation of disinterestedness by the masters in Story of O: “We do this not for our pleasure but for your enlightenment.” The very aloofness of the analyst must be registered as the negative current that need only make contact with the patient’s positive charge to complete the circuit of desire.

The Angel of History by Paul Klee (Post World War Artwork)