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Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

http://apa.sagepub.com/ Fuck Redux : A Review And Commentary


Nathan Kravis J Am Psychoanal Assoc published online 18 April 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0003065113485131 The online version of this article can be found at: http://apa.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/04/18/0003065113485131

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Nathan Kravis

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FUCK REDUX: A REVIEW AND COMMENTARY


Leo Stones On the Principal Obscene Word of the English Language (1954) embodies a particular moment in the history of psychoanalysis, one that stands in contrast to our current zeitgeist. In a review that is both admiring and critical, Stones paper is compared with a recent book by an OED editor on the same topic (Sheidlower 2009). The latter totally neglects Stone, and psychoanalysis in general, and speculations are made regarding this neglect.

eo Stone (1954) takes up one of those questions that seem obvious as soon as asked: Why is the word for our most intimate exchanges also a word of rage and hostility? He sees in this bivalence a problematic intersection of sex and aggression, and he does what any thoughtful analyst of his generation would naturally try to donamely, relate this nexus of love and hate to the psychoanalytic understanding of childhood development, in particular the mastery of separation and its potential legacy of rage at the mother and male envy of women. Fuck is an angry repudiation of the passive-receptive stance of suck. Writing from the exclusively heterosexual male perspective of his day, Stone averred that the mother whose breast you once sucked becomes the woman you later want to fuck (p. 41). But Stones true aspiration is much grander: it is to show that psychoanalysis explains language and is its own linguistics. Instead of saying, as Lacan does, that the unconscious is structured like a language, hes saying that language is built on and has evolved from the structure of the unconscious. Further, hes saying the whole reason language exists is to help us master separation (p. 54).

Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College; Training and Supervising Analyst, Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Submitted for publication January 23, 2013.
DOI: 10.1177/0003065113485131
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Nathan Kravis

Stones claim that fuck and suck are etymologically related is dubious. Moreover, though he displays much erudition regarding etymologies, his main claim is that they really dont matter, because psychoanalytic understanding trumps etymology. Stones clinical material is not particularly impressive or persuasive, but his primary aim is to illustrate how both men and women use the roughness of fuck to deny the longing to be mothered, tenderly cared for, and suckled (p. 51). He thinks that both the word fuck and overtly aggressive sexual behavior defend against this longing and ward off its attendant vulnerability and shame. Stones statement that the oral receptive attitude of sucking may provide the conceptual and linguistic Anlage that ultimately eventuates in basic words for sexual intercourse in English (p. 53) is difficult to parse, but its all part of his claim that the frustration of the sucking impulse lends impetus to the aggressive use and connotations of the word fuck (p. 43 n. 31). Behind the figure of God-aspunitive-superego Stone descries God-as-mother-of-separation-anddeprivation (p. 48). That Stone would tilt at conventional oedipalized narratives of mature or genital love and sex was a foregone conclusion. Emphasis on the preoedipal determinants of adult character is the banner carried throughout his elegant corpus. He is certainly not the first to argue that the oedipal phase is invariably tinged with oral aggression, but he does go out on a limb to posit a homology between morpheme (fuck) and meme (fucking). *** While the history of the word is certainly less interesting than the act itself, it is actually Stones esoteric approach, his highly intellectual rendering of something obscene and graphic, that captures a bit of the spirit of psychoanalysis, especially (but not only) at the time Stone wrote this paper: the heroic sense that psychoanalysis gazes upon the impolite, the embarrassing, the socially awkward yet ubiquitous. Psychoanalysis is in some sense the civilized discourse of the rude and raw, and Stones paper is an aristocratic, almost regal exemplar of the stylized but unflinching honesty for which Freud was lionized by Jones and others. We still find that heroic trope in psychoanalytic discourseand we always will because we so badly need it. That this is so is due to a confluence of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. As a treatment modality, psychoanalysis is culturally and economically besieged, and a sense of heroism 2
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supports professional pride. But even if and when the guild is flush, analysts contend with thwarted healthy narcissistic strivings because good analytic work is at least somewhat narcissistically depriving (Kravis 2013). Yes, the figure of the analyst gazing unafraid, unabashed, undaunted upon the Unconscious now seems quaintbut it is also, I contend, timely. One might say that the best and worst of 1950s American psychoanalysis are evident here. There is much that is brazen and arrogant in this paper, particularly with respect to the incursion of psychoanalysis into philology, the subtle derogation of philology that this entails, and the smug expectation that analytic insights have solved and will solve any and all remaining enigmas in this and other domains. Yet this confidence and brazenness are also highly appealing. Even if it leads Stone into striking the antiquated pose of an epistemological conquistador la Freud, marauding and colonizing other disciplines, it also empowers him to say many intriguing and imaginative thingsamong them his pointing out the macho need to deny the passive-receptive pleasures of drinking and getting drunk (p. 38). The oral eroticism of becoming intoxicated or letting oneself be powerfully affected (and perhaps overcome) by an ingested liquid is usually (at least among men) masked by manly displays of stamina and fortitude, often accompanied by a great deal of machismo and male braggadocio. Stone might have pointed in this connection to drinking games and hazing rituals involving alcohol among American undergraduates. While it would be reductionist to attribute rampant alcohol use on college campuses to repressed oral needs, it is worth noting that fraternity rushing occurs precisely at an age when separation anxiety is recrudescent and must again be mastered. Stones comments on drinking suggest that the oedipal dynamics of late adolescence are strongly colored by the reworking of the frustrations of weaning and the pain of separation. In the same vein, Stone implies that the exaggerated use of fuck in the military and in other male communities (p. 41)1 serves the same defensive purposes as bravura displays of excessive alcohol consumption: the warding off of the wish to surrender to the ministrations of female tenderness. ***
1

See Freud (1921) on the church and the army.

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It is easy to mock the intellectual arrogance of American psychoanalysis circa 1954evident here in the supposition that psychoanalysis explains language to such an extent that a form of psychoanalytic philology supersedes actual etymologyyet there is much here that is beautiful and powerful, much that reminds me of what drew me to psychoanalysis in the first place and what draws me still. Note, for example, how Stone gets going with a whole theory of poetry, or at least of rhyming poetry: The profound desire to reconcile contradictions, to restore the unity of sound and meaning, while still preserving the differentiation so necessary to aspiring life, may be important in poetry (p. 45 n. 35). I think the idea here is that we basically want words to be onomatopoeic but know that we must renounce that pleasure in order to be intelligible and intelligentexcept in poetry. And look at what Stone does with snakes: Yes, he says, the snake is a venerable phallic symbol. But affectively, what do snakes really mean to us? Snakes are scary! Whats particularly scary about them is their venomous bite. Snakes are hostile creatures. Stone makes the case that symbolically their oral-aggressive significance is more important than their phallic/genital significance. He reminds us of Cleopatras suicide: she has the snake bite her breast. He offers a Kleinian interpretation: the nasty biter is the baby at the (bad) breast whose hostility is projected (p. 47).2 Or, if sibling rivalry is your thing, the snake is the hated crawling sibling rival (p. 47), the rug rat who has intruded and usurped. (See Freuds discussion of rats and biting in the case of the Rat Man [1909]. Recall that Freud, speaking of his patients identification with rats, states that he himself had been just such a nasty, dirty little wretch, who was apt to bite people when he was in a rage [p. 216].) In the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, projected oral rage is masked by adult sexuality and oedipal-level tragedy. Stone is arguing that ambivalent aggression engendered by separation from the mother is, as he puts it, anterior (p. 47) to oedipal love and hateand this is precisely what is encoded in the word fuck. Sacks and Michels (2012) have written about the commonplace confusion between the symbols for healing and commerce. The staff with two intertwined snakes is the Caduceus, mistakenly deployed in medicine but properly belonging to Hermes, messenger of the gods and
2 Note also Stones early (for an American author) noncritical mention of Klein on p. 39.

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patron of merchants (p. 464). The correct medical symbol is the singlesnaked staff of Asclepius. Sacks and Michels explain that Asclepius observed the power of one snake to heal another, and derived from this the medicinal properties of herbs. Stone reads this legend as an allegory of the good breast. He says that the relation of the serpent-phallus to Medicine would seem to be a residual of the positive relation to the allhealing breast (p. 47). In short, Stones excursus on fuck puts on display a wide range of ideas and observations, some compelling, others mediocre. I am skeptical about the accuracy of Stones claim that during the period of the rapid spread of smoking, the word fuck disappeared from polite usage (p. 40), but I see how this assertion fits with his larger thesis about the collectively held unconscious need to deny the encroachment of the oral into the phallic. I find more convincing his reflection that to get fucked is to be made a sucker (p. 39 n. 19). And while I dont think much of Stones idea that fellatio and cunnilingus have in the last few decades, among the intellectually emancipated classes, practically lost their aura of taboo . . . (p. 38), I am intrigued with his notion that the dearth of slang terms for clitoris reflects an unconscious need of both men and women to disavow it (p. 31). *** Where Stone is imperialistic, Sheidlower (2009) is impoverished. Despite devoting an entire book to the word, his exposition of fuck (pp. 7071) is truncated and colorless compared to Stones. Sheidlowers compendium omits (except on pp. xiv and xxviii of his preface) basic cognates like jape, sard, swive, and even occupyall of which Stone has fun with. Sheidlower, an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, is a devoted student of slang. Unaccountably, he begins his usage catalogue with examples that start more than a century after the OEDs Bischops . . . may fuck thair fill and be unmaryit (1535), but he provides a scholarly introduction, and his book is serious in the manner of lexicographers for whom usage is more important than meaning. He and Stone are worlds apart. Compared to Stone, Sheidlower seems oddly uninterested in questions about the deeper meanings of the word he has chosen to dilate upon at book length. Sheidlower is meticulous, and marches us along from his opening entry, absofuckinglutely, on through the alphabet to BFD (big 5
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fucking deal), clusterfuck, Dutch fuck (the act of lighting one cigarette from another), and so on. Sheidlower collects terms like motherfucker and starfucker, but has nothing interesting to say about them. To note this is to mark yet another ominous sign for psychoanalysis as much as it is to criticize Sheidlower. A book that defines motherfucker without breathing a word of oedipal desire (if only to dismiss it as an intellectual relic, a canard of the dying psychoanalytic establishment) is an important cultural document. Notably, Sheidlower doesnt reference Stone. Perhaps Stones paper is obscure and Sheidlower shouldnt be faulted for missing it. But what I mainly want to bring out about Sheidlower is his total neglect of psychoanalysis in general. His implicit stance is that psychoanalysis today has nothing to say about fuck, and I take this to reflect a wider belief that psychoanalysis is no longer the science of sex. Juxtaposed, these two works say something about psychoanalysis then and now. Stone is earnest and probing; Sheidlower provides a lengthy and learned discussion of etymology in his introduction, but his generally lighthearted book, now in its third edition, reads mostly like an insouciant romp, an extended dictionary entry that covers everything yet says nothing. One wonders whether Sheidlower (or someone like him) could produce a book about the word shit without citing Freud. Possibly he could. Thats a testament not merely to how far psychoanalysis has fallen, but also how marginalized we analysts have let ourselves become even in the liberal elites discourse of curse words and foul language, which writers like Sheidlower no longer see as up our alley. We once thought profanity was our province; we once practically owned fuck and shit and piss (see Laporte 1978). Now what we mainly do is stand on the sidelines applauding fMRI and PET scan studies of cursing brains. We have relegated ourselves to the role of cheerleaders gushing admiration for the real science of sex: neuroimaging. *** In sum, Stones paper makes me somewhat wistful. Historically, it summons in the minds eye the remembrance of a time past when it was acceptable to believe that analysts would eventually colonize all fields of humanistic knowledge, in contradistinction to our current episteme, in which new ideas tend to be seen as either pathologically grandiose or epistemologically naive (Govrin 2006; Kravis 2013). Writing almost fifty 6
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years ago, Philip Rieff (1966) said that nowadays, the world is full of tame Christians; in consequence, the churches are empty of life, if not of people. The psychoanalytic movement trains tame Freudians and, in consequence, few sons remain who are worthy of the father (p. 85). Stones paper straddles two eras in the history of psychoanalysis. The first is an earlier era of topographically driven interpretations of unconscious content emanating largely from a somewhat authoritarian objectivist epistemological stance. Such interpretations, untethered to free association and analytic process, tended to be at turns wilder and more formulaic and dogmatic than those typifying a structural theory framework (to say nothing of more modern developments). The second is the era emerging around the time Stone first presented his remarks on fuck (in 1951, according to his first footnote). This was a phase of orthodoxy and conformity, yet also a time of intellectual growth and intense theorizing. Stones discussion of fuck is patrician and pedantic,3 but it is also bold and passionate in staking out psychoanalytic claims to new knowledge. Analysts today are (relatively speaking) wary about claiming authoritative knowledge of anythingexcept themselves. Their organizational controversies and professional issues, their guild interests, their economic woes. If its no longer politically correct for analysts to trample on and lay waste to other disciplines, how will we ever have any fun at all or say anything interesting or new? Analysts today tend to want to make nice with other disciplines, to be courteous, respectful, even deferential toward them. But psychoanalysis was in some ways more exciting, or at least more adventurous, when it was more arrogant and ill-mannered. Epistemologically speaking, todays analysts have better boundaries. This means that all their aggression is turned inward and expresses itself in internecine feuds over esoteric matters that no nonanalyst could possibly care much about. Psychoanalysis was in some sense more lively when analysts felt freer to be (again, epistemologically speaking) boundary violators. In other words, rereading Stones 1954 paper today convinces me that our current epistemological politesse is deadening. Other disciplines, we must hope, will continue to find it worthwhile to maraud and colonize ours. A truly mutual plundering is (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare) a consummation devoutly to be wished (Hamlet III.i.63). If it is possible to avoid overkill in the taming of narcissism
I emphatically do not maintain that this tone is typical of the rest of Stones oeuvre.

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without pining for a past era of intellectual arrogance and authoritarianism, then Stones intrepid originality, minus his certitude, points the way.
REFERENCES

Freud, S. (1909). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. Standard Edition 10:155318. Freud, S. (1921). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. Standard Edition 18:69143. Govrin, A. (2006). The dilemma of contemporary psychoanalysis: Toward a knowing post-postmodernism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 54:507535. Kravis, N. (2013). The analysts hatred of analysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 82:89114. Laporte, D. (1978). History of Shit, transl. N. Benabid & R. el-Khoury. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. Rieff, P . (1966). The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books. Sacks, A.C., & Michels, R. (2012). Caduceus and Asclepius: History of an error. American Journal of Psychiatry 169:464. Sheidlower, J., ed. (2009). The F Word. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press. Stone, L. (1954). On the principal obscene word of the English language (an inquiry, with hypothesis, regarding its origin and persistence). International Journal of Psychoanalysis 35:3056.
141 East 55th Street New York, NY 10022 E-mail: nkravis57@gmail.com

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