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Fear of the Phallus and Castration Anxiety  

Artefact 3: Phallic Tenderness | Article 11 of 12

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In the eleventh of twelve essays, Stephen Alexander explores the role of the phallus in Lawrence’s writing and challenging Freud.

Stephen Alexander

Stephen Alexander

Castration anxiety was one of Freud’s earliest psychoanalytic theories. In brief, it’s a conscious or unconscious, often overwhelming fear of emasculation – in both the literal and metaphorical sense – originating between the ages of three and five years old (i.e., the phallic stage of psychosexual development) and frequently lasting well into adulthood. If it’s a fear of losing power and control, so too, ultimately, is it a fear of death; with the latter conceived in a purely negative sense from the restricted point of view of the ego as a judgement which condemns.       

For Lawrence, however, the “root fear of all mankind” is fear of the phallus itself, rather than fear of castration. Indeed, castration is often the socially approved solution to the problem of the errant phallus: “Hence the frenzied efforts of mankind to despise the phallus and to nullify it” or the “modern jazz desire to make the phallus quite trivial, a silly little popgun”. It’s fear: fear of an inhuman alter-ego – a daimonic self – that Lawrence sometimes refers to as the Old Adam.        

Lawrence challenges Freud’s pessimistic insistence in Civilization and Its Discontents that man is an aggressive animal full of dangerous desires and unrelenting impulses; a blonde beast in need of taming – or gelding – via the expedient that is Love. Like Nietzsche, Lawrence wants to untame man and counter the Christian prayer of baptism that calls for the destruction of all that is evil in man and which is symbolised by the phallic serpent that lies coiled at the base of the spine: “I shall accept all my desires and repudiate none”, writes Lawrence. “It will be a sign of bliss when I am reconciled with the serpent …”

Suggested Reading:

D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Reality of Peace’, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (CUP, 1988).

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. Joan Riviere, ed. James Strachey, (The Hogarth Press / Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1969).


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