Joining the Resistance
Carol Gilligan
In the very early days of Freud's practice, a lady of Vienna --- one plagued by "hysteria" --- was telling him the details of one of her dreams. Freud kept butting in with stories from his own life. She finally had her fill of it, and, at one point, told him that she was paying, and that he was wasting their time with his irrelevant rambles, and that if he would just shut up and listen her, her treatment would get along just fine.

Evidently he got the picture. From her he learned a key element of his future practice, indeed, one of the key elements of "talk therapy." And that was that he was no more than a big ear for patients to fill ... and he should learn to shut his trap and let them cure themselves, as many of them, ultimately, would do.

Thus, one of the central tenets of psychoanalysis (doctor mostly silent, patient lying there, talking out of her mind, talking --- and taking --- the cure) we owe not to the master himself but to a fairly astute patient of his from 1891 Vienna.

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Carol Gilligan is fascinated by these early days of psychotherapy, and, most of all, the concept of Freud's women patients as his teachers,

    and what they taught him gave him insight not only into the working of the psyche but also into the connections between inner and outer worlds, the psyche and the culture in which it is embedded.

It was with this that he stumbled on the idea that "knowledge was a secret she [Elisabeth] was keeping from him, but ... she was also keeping the secret from herself," what Gilligan so elegantly identifies as "the splitting of consciousness though which we can come not to know what we know."

To Gilligan, this is the source of the on-going tragedy of Freudian evolution. In the early days of his practice, he was able to rid himself of his male-centric view of the mind. But then, in a volte-face, he abandoned the women who had been his instructors, and, with his new Oedipus theory, "he re-inscribed patriarchy into the psyche."

    As a thumbprint of a patriarchal civilization, the Oedipus myth does indeed reveal its tragedy.

We can find traces of this patriarchy in the poems of Andrew Marvell, in the edited diaries of Anne Frank, in the political events that occurred in the United States after 9/11, and in the odd phraseology of juveniles.

Take Marvell's poem, ""To His Coy Mistress." Gilligan tells us that in a class of "Women teaching girls / Girls teaching women" young Anjli reported that she found the poem "morbid" and "frightening." Her teachers castigated her for this interpretation, one writing, "She misreads Marvell's playfulness." It's all very carpe diem to our male-oriented way of looking at the world, a "Gather rosebuds while ye may" sort of thing, but she saw something very different. The tone of it --- persuasive, fondling, hurry-up-before you're dead --- this young girl found to be scary if not repulsive.

One of Anjli's teachers who finally figured out what she was trying to tell them (a girl teaching the women teachers), wrote, afterwards, Carpe diem, carpe diem.

    Now there's an educational system at work. What did it tell her? Go underground; to survive, go underground, at least until you get out of this system. Or worse.

It is Gilligan's ability to take something as commonplace as this poem --- taught everywhere as an example of high Renaissance art --- and see the effect it can have on a sensitive young girl. In the same way, she can look at the way Anne Frank's diaries have been tampered with (mostly by her father) so that we get a picture of the girl's frustration at her mother's temporizations, but miss her spirit of sisterhood, a spirit of forgiveness. This is a key passage that was excised by Leo Frank:

    I need my mother as an example which I can follow. I want to be able to respect her ...

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Gilligan is at her best when she is carefully and coolly observing --- for instance --- the language of her charges. She quotes Niobe Ways' study of "the hidden landscape of boy's friendships," where one discovers a young boy's "capacities for love and empathy."

    Over and over again, across cultures and class, boys in baggy jeans or white shirts, with trim cuts or dreadlocks, speak of their love for their best friends.

But once they are ready to leave high school, "they hedge any depiction of closeness with other boys with the phrase 'no homo.'"

It is fun moving through this book with Gilligan as she chances on this or that element of patriarchy --- in Freud, Lysistrata, Hawthorne, Marvell, Oresteia. And it is enlightening to watch her demolish the old wheeze of a child's support scheme which never was or is the simple mother / father / child triad (that we have always imagined) but, we now learn, through countless studies, is more often mother / father / child / alloparent. The "alloparent" is what we used to call an "Important Other," grandmother, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, cook, maid, or teacher --- one who helps to balance out the tensions of the tiny triad.

Most interesting of all is her take on language: girls who Gilligan is studying will interlard their conversations with repeated "I don't know" and "You know," the first being a confession that there are certain things that should not be mentioned, perhaps not even thought; and then, looking at her, saying "ya know" --- asserting that she is the wise one, who knows the truth, even though they may suspect that she does not know at all.

--- Carlos Amantea
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