Day 234: Freud on Yo Mama

Well, Freud on your mother in law, to be precise (which is still a pretty funny sentence within a Freudian framework). Reading Freud’s early writings is good fun in two regards: 1) his insights are based upon relatively simplistic anthropological and ethnographic observations (which makes me wonder why they are not more popular with Sociologists–after all, their work could be described in the same way with an added fetish for empiricism) and 2) these observations are of the weirder kind, as they must necessarily form the basis for Freud’s psychoanalytic apparatus that is, after all, more interested in rare or even obscure psychological occurences/crises and their relation to the function of the norm. In any case, this all works very well for the purpose of gently introducing undergraduates to Freud as a funny, readable guy before throwing them into the really complex and challenging stuff.

Case in point: Freud on mothers in law, taken from Totem and Taboo:

 … on the Banks Island these prohibitions are very severe: a man will not even walk behind his mother in law along the beach until the rising tide has washed away her footsteps. But they may talk to each other at a certain distance. It is quite out of the question that he should ever pronounce the name of his mother in law, or she his. … On the Solomon Islands, beginning with his marriage, a man must neither see nor speak with his mother in law. If he meets her he acts as if he did not know her and runs away as fast as he can in order to hide himself. … Among the Zulu Kaffirs custom demands that a man should be ashamed of his mother in law and that he should do everything to avoid her company. He does not enter a hut in which she is, and when they meet he or she goes aside, she perhaps hiding in a bush while he holds his shield before his face. If they cannot avoid each other and the woman has nothing with which to cover herself, she at least binds a bunch of grass around her head in order to satisfy the ceremonial requirements.

The significance of all this is: if repression forms the basis not only for consciousness and socialization but for the very arrangement we refer to as civilization and if the prohibition of incest (also in non-blood, more customary/social forms, as illustrated here) is fundamental to the repressive creation of consciousness, then smiting your mother in law is actually an exercise in preserving the very foundations upon which modern civilization rests. Good to know, no? (Well, this is not really what Freud claims, yet I believe it is important to point out these logical connections.)

In other news: the job market is robbing me of my last nerve and my dissertation keeps getting longer. It may, in fact, at this point have evolved into a Foucauldian discourse, which, as I attempt to repress and limit it via categorization, escapes this form of exercised power and grows precisely BECAUSE of this exponentially. Imagine my consternation upon realizing that my Marxist baby grew up to be a Foucauldian. Problems with fathering everywhere!


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