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The Birth Of The Mother

The Letter, Issue 30, Spring 2004, Pages 111 - 121


THE BIRTH OF THE MOTHER*

Carol Owens


When I, as a wife, a mother, a psychoanalyst question myself about the difficulties encountered in the course of my life, I find that they are all located in or round the mother; in or round that part of psychoanalytic theory that bears on women and the structure of their unconscious. For the business of motherhood is unbearable, buttressed as it is by a theory that is indefensible, in which Freud decides that I as a woman shall want a child as replacement for the penis I never had.[1]

Did you know that if you were to look up 'mothering' in Laplanche and Pontalis' "The Language of Psychoanalysis", you would find that mothering is a psychoanalytic technique?[2] Nowhere in this entry is there any mention of women who are mothers and if you want to find out anything about mothers you have to look up 'penis-envy'. And there it is: in the Oedipal complex, penis envy takes two forms, first the wish to acquire the penis within oneself (principally in the desire to have a child) and, secondly, the wish to enjoy the penis in coitus.[3] That's it, and that's all. In Evans' dictionary of Lacanian psychoanalysis, we find that 'the mother which interests psychoanalytic theory is above all the symbolic mother, the mother in her role as the primordial Other'. [4] I don't know about you, but in my clinical work I don't just encounter symbolic mothers!

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