Pre-oedipal gender configurations, she emphasizes the importance of the mother and society in a child’s development. In contrast to Freud’s emphasis on the father, castration anxiety, and other masculine concepts, Chodorow argues that the mother plays the most significant role in a child’s development. A child’s pre-oedipal relationship with their mother is rich, long-lasting, and preexists any significant relation to the child’s father. Thus Chodorow works off of the ideas of Freud to argue the importance of the relationship between mother and child during the pre-oedipal stage.
Examples of Chodorow’s psychoanalytic concepts exist in Octavia Butler’s Amnesty. The protagonist of the story, Noah Cannon, must act as translator for the human race when strangely shaped aliens called communities make contact with Earth. One thing she experiences as translator is a strange process of merging between herself and the community. The merging of entities in Octavia Butler’s Amnesty is a defensive formation created by Noah’s mind in response to the painful treatment of the Communities. This fantastical merging replicates the concept of pseudosymbiosis Chodorow discusses in her work on mother-daughter relationships.
In general, Nancy Chodorow is a psychoanalytic theorist interested in the different ways that boys and girls develop and respond to the traditional family structure. She describes psychoanalysis in the past and present, making clear Freud’s foundational ideas and the recent discovery of the pre-oedipal mother-daughter relationship. Chodorow draws on the ideas of other psychoanalysts who emphasize patterns of fusion, projection, narcissistic extension, and denial of separateness that effect mother-daughter relationships. Particularly important in these relationships is symbiosis between mother and child.
The publication had the rarest of chances and of course, a bit of luck, to have the honor of reading from Mrs. Jane Bingley excerpt at her house near Longbourn. We have come to speak with the former Ms. Bennet about her mother, who sadly passed away five years ago after a period of ill health. After being supplied by a generous amount of tea and sweets, Mrs. Jane Bingley was more than ...
Chodorow points out several factors that prevent a healthy relationship such as “the way a certain sort of psychotic mother inflicts her pathology predominantly on daughters. ” (476).
In these relationships gone wrong, Chodorow discusses several contributing factors. “Having denied their daughters the stability and security of a confident early symbiosis, they turned around and refused to allow them any leeway for separateness or individuation. Instead, they now treated their daughters and cathected them as narcissistic physical and mental extensions of themselves. (476).
In these relationships, the mother projects her own desires onto her child, taking away the child’s individuality. Blame is attributed to the mother, as she does not provide enough empathy or understanding for the developing child. Based on these factors, Chodorow defines two different relationship patterns between mother and daughter, symbiosis and pseudosymbiosis. Symbiosis signifies a relationship in which there exists “an extreme fear of merging as well as a wish to merge, because there is no firm sense of individuation in the first place. (478).
In contrast, pseudosymbiosis signifies a relationship the distinction between self and object is firm, making the wish to merge a defensive formation usually against feelings of aggression toward the object. Pseudosymbiosis characterizes the kind relationship had between Noah Cannon and the alien communities in Octavia Butler’s Amnesty. For those familiar with Chodorow’s ideas, they almost immediately get the sense from Amnesty that Noah’s merging with the communities functions as a form of pseudosymbiosis.
The pseudosymbiotic nature of their merging is first evidenced by the firm distinctions between Noah’s self and the object she merges with – there exist tremendous physical and psychological differences between the strange plantlike communities and the human Noah. From the story’s first paragraph, we gain a sense of the communities’ distinct alien features. “It looked, Noah thought, a little like a great, black, moss-enshrouded bush with such a canopy of irregularly shaped leaves, shaggy mosses, and twisted vines that no light showed through it. ” (597).
The relationship between parents and their children is one of the most basic human interactions. Mothers and daughters provide both physical and emotional care for their young sons and daughters. In the process, parents will instill children with family values and goals, while teaching them the accepted norms and values of society. This is done in hope that parents will one day see their own ...
The distinct features of the communities are described further as Butler reveals how the aliens communicate and perceive the world. They communication takes the form of an electrical display and they do not possess any eyes, although they have what Butler calls “entities of vision” (597).
Thus from the very beginning of the story, we have a firm sense of the distinctions between Noah as a daughter-like subject and the communities as mother-like objects. Later in the story, it becomes evident that the communities experience a sort of narcissistic pleasure in their ability to control and manipulate umans. This strengthens the connection between the communities and Chodorow’s idea of the narcissistic mother who projects onto her child and attempts to live vicariously through him or her. Noah describes how over time the merging becomes a pleasurable experience for both her and the communities. “The communities also found it comforting – even more than she did. ” (598).
This reveals the strange pleasure that the communities experience from being able to control the humans whom they have conquered.
That the communities enjoy the process more than her demonstrates that the act of merging is more for their pleasure than it is for her own. The communities also possess a narcissistic belief that humans should be able to do things just like them. “Too many of them assumed that human beings should be able to do something like this too, and that if they wouldn’t, they were just being stubborn. ” (599).
This reveals how the communities are inclined to project their own nature onto humans.
Despite the complexity of their forms and their ability to see at a microscopic level, the communities make the strange mistake of assuming that humans should also share their characteristics. They can see everything for what it is; yet they still mistakenly conceive of humans as having their same abilities. The communities possess a self-obsessed belief that all life should be characteristic of them, thus revealing their own narcissism similar to the psychotic mother described by Chodorow. Based on this evidence, one may argue that the merging present in Butler’s Amnesty is actually a form of pseudosymbiosis.
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In accordance with its definition, pseudosymbiosis posits that the subject’s wish to merge is a defensive formation created by their mind to fight against their own feelings of aggression towards the object The question now arises, why would Noah possess feelings of aggression towards the communities? The answer is very easy to see. Later on in Butler’s story, we discover that the communities have direct responsibility for killing countless humans, destroying the economy, and exposing many people to horrible living conditions after abduction.
Butler’s language reveals even more reasons why Noah should harbor serious aggression towards the Communities. When the communities perceive that Noah is not following orders, they subject her to agonizing pain. “She was hit with a sudden electrical shock that convulsed her. It drove the breath out of her in a hoarse scream. It made her see flashes of light even with her eyes tightly closed. It stimulated her muscles into abrupt, agonizing contortions. ” (599).
This punishment is very over-the-top and gratuitous, demonstrating that the aliens possess little empathy for the humans interacting with them.