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Sigmund Freud

In the phallic phase, the genitals become the focus of sexual stimulation. In infantile sexuality, "only one genital, namely the male one, comes into account. What is present, therefore, is not the primacy of the genitals, but the primacy of the phallus.[1]

It is the presence or absence of the penis that forces the child to recognize that boys and girls are different. The child accounts for the absence of the girl's penis through the idea of castration.

The boy sees the woman as a castrated man and the girl has to accept that she has not got and never will have a penis.

Jacques Lacan

Father and Mother-Child

It is through the intervention of the Name-of-the-Father that the imaginary unity between child and mother is broken. The Name-of-the-Father is a symbolic function that intrudes into the illusory world of the child and breaks the imaginary dyad of the mother and child.

Father's Phallus

The child assumes that the father is one that satisfies the mother's desire and possesses the phallus. The father is assumed to possess something that the child lack]s and it is this that the mother desires.

"Symbolic" Father and "Actual" Father

It is important here though not to confuse the Name-of-the-Father with the actual father. (The Name-of-the-Father is a symbolic function that intrudes into the illusory world of the child and breaks the imaginary dyad of the mother and child. )

PHALLIC SIGNIFIER n this sense, argues Lacan, the Oedipus complex involves an element of [[[substitution]], that is to say, the substitution of one signifier, the desire of the mother, for another, the Name-of-the-Father.

It is through this initial act of substitution that the process of signification begins and child enters the symbolic order as a subject of lack. It is also for this reason that Lacan describes the process of symbolization itself as 'phallic'. It is through the Name-of-the-Father that the phallus is installed as the central organizing signifier of the unconscious.

The phallus is the 'original' lost object, but only insofar as no one possessed it in the first place. 

The phallus, therefore, is not like any other signifier, it is the signifier of absence and does not 'exist' in its own right as a thing, an object or a bodily organ.


Castration Anxiety

Castration involves not just an anxiety about losing one's penis but simultaneously the recognition of lack or absence. The child is concerned about losing its own penis and simultaneously recognizes that the [[mother does not have a penis.

The idea of the penis, therefore, becomes metonymically linked to the recognition of lack. It is in this sense that Lacan argues that the phallus is not simply the penis; it is the penis plus the recognition of absence or lack.

Castration is not the fear that one has already lost, in the case of girls, or will lose, in the case of boys, one's penis but rather the symbolic process of giving up the idea that one can be the phallus for the mother. The intervention of the father distances the child from the mother and also places the phallus forever beyond its reach.

If the symbolic father is seen to possess the phallus, then the child can only become a subject itself in the symbolic order by renouncing the imaginary phallus.

  1. Freud 1991e [1923]: 308