Thursday, July 30, 2009

Aimee Bender’s Motherfucker: A Psychoanalytic Reading

Motherfucker, by Aimee Bender presents some characters and symbolism that can be psychoanalyzed using theories by Freud and Lacan. Freud’s Oedipal complex can be applied to both the character of the motherfucker as well as the starlet. Ross C Murfin writes, “According to Freud, all of us have repressed wishes and fears...One of the unconscious desires most commonly repressed is the childhood wish to displace the parent of our own sex and take his or her place in the affections of the parent of the opposite sex” (p. 504). The motherfucker focuses his sex life only on women who are mothers. Murfin writes “Freud used the words condensation and displacement to explain two of the mental process whereby the mind disguises its wishes and fears…in displacement, an anxiety, a wish, or a person may be displaced onto the image of another, with which or whom it is loosely connected through a string of association that only an analyst can untangle” (p. 507). In this case, the motherfucker’s mother is displaced onto the women in the story that he has sexual relations with. “I fuck mothers”, he said to anyone who asked him. “And I do it well” (p.75). He is playing out the repressed childhood fantasy of sleeping with his own mother.

Similarly, the starlet displaces her father onto the motherfucker when he mentions he was on a train. “He mentioned his train trip and she said her father had been a conductor for years” (p. 79). She associates that her father was a conductor on a train for years, she immediately relates him back to her father. Even Heddie from Butte calls him when her “father was mad at her about something that had happened four Christmases ago” (p. 80). She is displacing her feelings of needing her father’s approval onto the motherfucker. According to some psychoanalytics, all of these relationships in the story revolving around parent and child can give insight into the author’s own personal relationships or those of her readers.

According to Freud “A latent element is replaced not by a component part of itself but by something more remote – that is, by an allusion; and in the second, the psychical accent is shifted from an important element onto another which is unimportant” (p. 27). In Benders story, hats act as the remote object that replaces the latent object of women. “I love all women, he told himself. He liked to try hats on in stores” (p. 76). What he is really saying is he likes to try on these women by having sex with them. “The motherfucker told her he liked her hat” (p. 77). Later in the story before they have sex, the author states, “She is wearing a hat” (81). In John Haber’s web essay he writes, “Lacan was fascinated by Sigmund Freud’s earliest discovery – unconscious desires, as revealed through free associations and dreams. In other words, desires emerge through words and images. They speak a parallel to our own...He marveled at a word’s absence in oneself, a lack in life: desire. Lacan brought together Feud’s technique, of word association, with his subject matter, desire…One necessarily expresses desires in words, so every desire needs a symbol” (p.1-2). As shown above, the hat in this story symbolizes his desire for these women.

According to Lacan, “The individual desires to control meaning but this is not possible because of the nature of language. Language, Lacan argued, is not a matter of a one-to-one correspondence between signifier and signified. The signifiers of language cannot fix the arbitrary field of the signified; signifiers slide across the continuum hence the desire for mastery of meaning is unsatisfiable” (p. 182). Along with the hat, desire is also represented later in the story as a house as well as an angora sweater. “Desire is a house. Desire needs closed space. Desire runs out of doors or windows, or slats or pinpricks, it can’t fit under the sky, too large. Close the doors. Close the windows” (p. 83). Desire in the story is like Language as it is not truly containable. Once the windows are open it will flow out and take on new meaning. Different objects in the story can represent and symbolize desire but the true meaning cannot be mastered.

1 comment:

  1. This is great--really puts a nice spin on the story, and makes the reader think about it in different ways. Hadn't thought about the father references before. It's always good when you can take a relatively minor detail (these few references) and from them draw out a major reading.

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