The Conquistador and the Dark Continent
Reflections on the Psychology of Love
[1]

Carol Gilligan

I begin this essay on love with a question about Othello: How do we hear the lines at the end of the play, when Othello speaks of himself as "one that loved not wisely but too well"? In this tragedy built upon stories, how do we hear this story of love? The sadness of the speech dispels an ironic reading of its text, and earlier in the scene it is clear that Othello is trying to reveal himself. Casting aside his heroic stories—"Why should honour outlive honesty? / Let it go all"—he announces his wish to be seen; "Uncle," he says, "I must come forth." "Look in upon me," he tells Gratiano; "Behold," he says, presenting himself. "Here I am," he says to Lodovico, attaching the word honorable to murderer and renounc­ing as vain his former boasts. Thus, when he asks these Venetian en­voys, as they prepare to make known his fault to the state, to "speak of me as I am: nothing extenuate," we are inclined to believe the story he says they must tell. Yet, listening to his story of excessive love and looking at Desdemona dead on the stage, we wonder—if he loved her, why did he kill her? Why didn't he know who she was?

The conquistador of my title, however, is Freud, the self-proclaimed conqueror of an inner world: the dark continent, also his phrase, refers to women's experience of sexuality and relationships. If the tragedy of Othello raises the question of how we can talk about love without knowing about women, or conversely, if we know about women, what stories have darkened our reason, obscuring the truth, the work of Freud not only reveals a psychology of love that excludes the experience of women, but also clarifies the problems posed by including women in the psychology of love. The Freud I portray in this essay is not the Victorian patriarch who has been well described, but Freud the observer, the writer of letters, the scientist who in recording his observations uncovered a problem in psychology that only recently has been explored.

The theme of conquest, in love and in science, implies the over­coming of nature. But the image of a dark continent, marking the presence of mystery and danger, also suggests the shadow that is cast by the figure of the conqueror. "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them," Othello explains in the opening scenes of the play, relating a love that leaves her story untold. The failure to see that this story is missing creates the vul­nerability to its misapprehension and raises the question of what he means by love. In a play that is reiteratively about honesty, Desdemona dies telling a lie—to protect Othello but also to convey the truth of her love within a framework that has rendered its direct expression untenable.

In the Vienna in which Freud wrote, the constraints on women were similarly apparent, manifest in the indirect discourse that led to the initiation of psychoanalytic treatment. But as the elaboration of one set of meanings led another to become progressively hidden, women's stories about love became increasingly dark and inacces­sible. Thus a story is lost and with it the tension between two forms of attachment—one that connects love with wisdom, one that sepa­rates feelings from judgment.

My interest in conflicting stories about love grew out of my re­search on moral development—how people come to construe expe­rience in moral terms, and how moral language in turn shapes and is changed by experiences of conflict and choice. In listening to this language as it appeared in people's discussions of conflicts and choices they faced, I heard a way of talking about morality that did not fit the categories described in psychological or philosophical texts. This different voice emerged most clearly in women who, when talking about morality, often spoke not about matters of jus­tice—the fair weighing and balancing of claims—but about care and response, problems of responsibility in relationships. This way of talking about morality had repeatedly set women apart: at best they were seen as merciful and selfless; at worst, as lacking in judgment and thought. Piaget had said that "apart from our relations with other people, there can be no moral necessity"; but he then equated moral development with the evolution of the legal sense, noting that girls in their games did not share boys' fascination with the elaboration of rules.1 Iris Murdoch observed that philosophers seemed to have "forgotten or 'theorized away' " the facts that an unexamined life can be virtuous and that love is a central concept in morals.2 Al­though the same elision appears in the psychology literature as well, women, it seemed, in talking about morality were in fact talking about love.

"What makes something a moral problem for you?" A fourteen-year-old girl replies: "Probably like having a fight over something that's not worth fighting about. Like getting into a fight with your parents over something that's not really worth doing . . . and then, you know, you just get farther apart." "Hurting others," another teenager says, "doing something that takes away from other people ... that is what makes it a moral problem for me." "It is something in the context of people living together," a women who is a physi­cian reflects, "and of necessity being interdependent on each other and having to share with each other and hence having to care about each other."

Once heard, this voice could readily be identified in people's dis­cussions of moral dilemmas as the themes of connection, not hurt­ing, care, and response differentiated it from the voice that spoke of equality, reciprocity, justice, and rights. The discovery that these dif­ferent modes of moral discourse appeared in conjunction with dif­ferent ways of describing the self—as separate in relation to others and as interdependent—revealed the common grounding of these distinctions in two different perspectives toward relationships. These two perspectives, which were clarified through the work of Nona Lyons, are the perspectives of reciprocity and response—one rooted in impartiality and objectivity, the capacity to distance oneself and determine fair rules for mediating relationships; one grounded in the specific context of others, the ability to perceive people in their own terms and to respond to their needs.3

For centuries these two lines of morality have wandered through the Western tradition, appearing in the contrasts between reason and compassion, fairness and forgiveness, justice and mercy—and emerg­ing repeatedly, although by no means exclusively, in contrasts be­tween women and men. These distinctions implied an underlying di­vision between thought and feeling, a separation between the pro­cess of judgment and the capacity for response. But the association with gender focused the problem in this formulation, since the im­plication that women were thoughtless and men without feeling clearly could not be sustained. Instead, there appeared to be two modes of thinking that carried different implications of feeling and signified different ways of perceiving others and knowing oneself.

"What does responsibility mean to you?" A thirty-five-year-old man replies: "I think I, as an individual, am responsible for myself, and having responsibility for myself involves being responsible for people to whom I have a commitment. But as far as being respon­sible for everybody, I don't think so. I think what happens to people happens to them, and you cannot be responsible for everybody." While this response confirms the prevailing definition of self in terms of individuality and separation, as well as the common understand­ing of responsibility in terms of personal commitment and contrac­tual obligation, a different understanding of both self and morality emerge in a forty-year-old woman's reply: "Responsibility means that you care about the other person, that you are sensitive to the other person's needs and you consider them as part of your needs because you are dependent on each other, and you live and work, you give and take with people in society, it requires an interplay, an interchange. In order to live in society, it requires that everyone gives and takes, and that's what I mean by responsibility, the willingness to give and take." In this way, attention to women's thinking broad­ened the definition of self and the categories of moral thought, and this expanded conceptual framework provided a new way of listen­ing to differences not only between, but also within, the thinking of women and men.

The discovery that love, in the sense of care and concern for the well-being of others in their own terms—a love arising from an awareness of connection and tied to the capacity for response—ap­pears regularly in people's thinking about moral conflict and choice, raises a series of questions that extends the inquiry on morality into the psychology of love. Such an extension has been advocated in phi­losophy by Lawrence Blum, who challenges the dominant Kantian position by arguing that altruistic concerns and sympathetic emo­tions can be considered morally good,4 as well as in psychology, by Martin Hoffman, who, in turning to the study of empathy and al­truism, points out that "Western psychology has evolved along lines seemingly antithetical to giving consideration for others a central place in the overall view of personality." Hoffman criticizes "the doc­trinaire view ... that altruistic behavior can always be explained in terms of instrumental, self-serving motives in the actor"—the view, in short, that people are selfish, and altruism always a guise.5 But the current inquiry, which is sympathetic to these efforts and in­debted to their clarification, begins with the awareness of two dif­ferent perspectives toward relationships and asks whether the dis­tinction between egoism and altruism, as well as the sharp division between rationality and emotion, which have informed the discus­sion not only of morality but also of love in the Western world, are not themselves embedded in a particular perspective toward relation­ships, one premised on a fundamental separation between other and self.

Since women repeatedly are observed in the literature on psycho-analysis and personality psychology to blur the distinction between self and others, just as in the literature on morality they are ob­served to let feelings influence thought, it is through the experience of women that I enter the psychology of love. The existence of two perspectives that inform two ways of speaking about relationships immediately calls attention to the potential for misunderstanding, not only in everyday life but also in schemes of interpretation—the possibility of a systematic mistranslation in the shift from one to the other mode. While the characterization of women as lacking an awareness of boundaries implies a failure of differentiation, the acu­ity of women's perceptions of others challenges this interpretation and suggests a different experience of self that gives rise to a dif­ferent story of love.

The way in which one story about love obscures another is the subject I wish first to address by unraveling the mystery of how Freud, who began with the exploration of women's experience, ar­rived at a theory that shadowed that experience, rendering the psy­chology of women opaque. By traversing again the familiar terrain of the Studies on Hysteria and the Dora case, I will chart the progress of an eclipse that follows the exposition of theory, beginning with the Three Essays on Sexuality that Freud published in 1905, extending with the paper "On Narcissism" in 1914, and reaching completion in the 1920s, when the image of the dark con­tinent appears. The question then arises as to why this shadowing of women was not seen by Freud to impose a qualification on his theories of sexuality and love.

When Joseph Breuer, drawn by the suffering of his now-famous patient, Anna O., began to attend to the words she muttered during her daily periods of "absence," he noticed that if he repeated her phrases to her while she was complaining about the "tormenting," she "at once joined in and began to paint some situation or tell some story, hesitatingly at first and in her periphrastic jargon, but the longer she went on the more fluent she became, till at last she was speak­ing quite correct German." This observation was striking because at this time in her illness Anna O. was otherwise "almost completely deprived of words," becoming for two weeks completely dumb and "in spite of making great and continuous efforts to speak, she was unable to say a syllable." Breuer, through his "benevolent scrutiny" of this "markedly intelligent girl with great poetic and imaginative gifts" as well as "a keen sensitivity to the sufferings of others," sus­pected that she "had felt very much offended over something and had determined not to speak about it." Proceeding on this suppo­sition, he obliged her to talk about the inhibition and discovered that when she did so, it disappeared.6

For a while, Anna O. spoke only in English—a language Breuer could understand—and the stories she told in the course of what she named her "talking cure" were "always sad and some of them very charming; as a rule their starting point or central situation was of a girl anxiously sitting by a sickbed." Anna's symptoms—distur­bances first of voice, then of vision, then of the movement of vari­ous limbs—had appeared during her father's illness, and at the time of his death they intensified, and her stories became "still more tragic," deteriorating ultimately into "frightful and terrifying hallucinations."7

Hysteria had been thought for centuries to be caused by a wan­dering womb, but when Breuer began to follow the wandering words of his hysterical patient, he found that the symptoms were connected to a story that was being concealed, not only from others but also from the patient herself. Using hypnosis as an adjunct to Anna's self-induced periods of trance, he found that once her symp­toms were reattached to their stories—a laborious process that pro­ceeded detail by detail—the various disturbances of movement, vi­sion, and speech disappeared and his patient experienced relief. De­scribing this cathartic method to Freud, who wondered about it for the next five years, Breuer fled from his attachment to Anna and left Freud to puzzle over the stories and the process of their dissociation.

In his essay "The Psychotherapy of Hysteria," published in 1895, Freud, never adept at hypnosis, reports the substitution of his own technique of using the pressure of his hand on the patient's forehead to release the familiar though forgotten thoughts. Enumerating a "few instances of the excellent results brought about by this tech­nical procedure," Freud reports the case of a girl who was suffering, like so many others, from an intolerable tussis nervosa, which had dragged on for six years following its onset when she was fourteen. Recalling under pressure the death of a dog she had loved, she ar­rived by association first at the thought, "Now I am quite alone in the world. No one here loves me," and then at the memory that her cough had returned along with a similar thought following the death of her uncle who, in Freud's description, "seems to have been the only member of the family who had shown any feeling for her, who had loved her." Freud identifies the pathogenic idea as the thought that nobody loved her together with its companion thought that she did not deserve to be loved. But he concludes this illustration of the success of his method by noting that "there was something attach­ing to the idea of 'love' which there was a strong resistance to her telling me." However, he ends, "the analysis broke off before this was cleared up."8

The sense of something attaching to the idea of love that was elud­ing Freud's observation and provoking strong resistance in his female patients, leading them to break off analysis in midstream, returns as a theme in the Dora case, recurring underneath Freud's jubilant report of the success of his method of analyzing dreams and the confirmation of his theory of infantile sexuality. Now the out­lines of the story underlying the symptoms of hysteria were clear as Freud specified the psychical determinants of the disease—a psychi­cal trauma, a conflict of affects, and a disturbance in the sphere of sexuality. Dreams, the royal road to the unconscious, revealed these connections with startling clarity, enabling him to establish the in­timate connection he sought between the story of the patient's suf­ferings and the symptoms of the disease. But between his Studies on Hysteria and Dora's analysis, which took place in the last months of 1900, Freud's own self-analysis had intervened, providing him with a different story that he proceeded to impose on Dora's case.

Dora came to Freud for analysis at the age of eighteen, brought by her father and suffering from severe attacks of nervous coughing which had, as their most troubling symptom, "a complete loss of voice."9 In reporting the case of Elisabeth von R., Freud had delin­eated "the features one meets with so frequently in hysterical people," noting as characteristic Elisabeth's "giftedness, her ambi­tion, her moral sensibility, her excessive demand for love which, to begin with, found satisfaction in her family, and the independence of her nature which went beyond the feminine ideal and found expression in a considerable amount of obstinacy, pugnacity and re­serve."10 Dora, described by Freud as "a girl of intelligent and en­gaging looks," showed the same independence and high-spiritedness, as well as the qualities of obstinacy and reserve, that Breuer had noted in Anna O. But now Freud saw in these qualities the process of resistance at work, protecting the repression and chal­lenging the analyst to overcome the patient's reluctance with his powers of interpretation.

Thus Freud proceeds in the analysis to tell Dora the story she was attempting to withhold, relying on clues from her dreams and her inadvertent movements rather than waiting, as Breuer had with Anna O., for her to tell the story herself. Bypassing Dora in this way through her dreams, Freud found evidence of the story he had found in himself—of love for the mother and jealousy of the father, trans­posed in this case to the opposite sex, but carrying the same telltale features of a guilty love and forbidden sexual acts that led the story to be repressed. Yet Dora had a story of her own to tell. "None of her father's actions seemed to have embittered her so much as his readiness to consider the scene by the lake [with Herr K.] as a prod­uct of her imagination," and since her father had brought her to Freud in part to silence that story, which had at its center his affair with Frau K., Dora kept anxiously trying to make sure whether Freud was listening, whether he was "being quite straightforward with her."12

At the point in the analysis when Dora's opposition began to yield to her curiosity and she raised questions of her own about why she had first remained silent and then suddenly spoke to her parents about Herr K., a counterpoint of two stories emerges and the prob­lem of listening becomes acute. Freud, puzzling over why Dora felt so deeply injured by what seemed a serious proposal, looked upon her telling her parents as indicative of "a morbid craving for re­venge," while regarding her silence as appropriate under the circum­stances—"a normal girl, I am inclined to think, will deal with a sit­uation of this kind by herself."13 Dora, focusing on the silence, reports a second dream in which she enacts not only her revenge, but also her search for confirmation of the story that she, in her oppo­sition, was trying to tell.

In the dream, she receives a letter from her mother telling her that her father is dead. She tries to find the railway station, refusing the assistance of a man who offers help and choosing instead to go alone. Seeing the station but unable to reach it, she feels the anxiety of being unable to move. Then, at home, she discovers that her mother and the others had left for the cemetery. In the final part of the dream—initially suppressed, but then released, Freud says, by the forcible impression of his conclusion that the dream portrayed a phantasy of defloration—Dora goes up the stairs and, entering her room, begins to read a big book that lay on her writing table. In­terpreted by Freud as fresh evidence of a forbidden sexual curiosity secretly indulged, the dream and its silences also reveal Dora's de­spair. Discovering that no one is present to listen—her father is dead, her mother has left, feeling accused by others of having abandoned them—her mother writes in the dream that since Dora left home without telling her parents, she had not wished to tell her that her father was ill, Dora relinquishes the hope of assistance and turns to find confirmation on her own, implying through the detail of the writing table that she will tell her story herself.

"I do not know," Freud says, in the postscript that he adds to the case, "what kind of help she wanted from me." But focusing now upon the process of transference, he reveals his belated awareness of a story that had been suppressed. "The longer the interval of time that separates me from the end of this analysis, the more probable it seems to me that the fault in my technique lay in ... [my] failure to discover in time and to inform the patient that her homosexual love for Frau K. was the strongest unconscious current in her mental life." But to this story of a deeper sexual current running under­neath that attached to her father and Herr K., Freud adds a curious ending: that the "remorseless craving for revenge" expressed in Dora's second dream concealed "a contrary current of feeling—the magnanimity with which she forgave the treachery of her friend,"14 Frau K., and kept secret from everyone the fact that it was she who had betrayed Dora's sexual curiosity to her father, giving him the in­formation he used in discrediting her story about Herr K. Thus the story not heard in the analysis was a story of loyalty and love.

It is surprising in light of these early case histories of women's dis­orders of sexuality and love to find in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, published by Freud in 1905—the same year he released the Dora case—the statement that the erotic life of men alone "has become accessible to research." That of women, by con­trast, is "still veiled in an impenetrable obscurity—partly owing to the stunting effect of civilized conditions and partly owing to their conventional secretiveness and insincerity."15 Although Freud clearly was still feeling the sting of Dora's symbolic slap in the face, his statement also reveals the difficulty he encountered in trying to fit the vagaries of female anatomy and the stories told by his women pa­tients into the scheme that now was emerging from his own analysis and interpretation of dreams. Writing to Fliess in 1897, during the period of his most intense self-discovery—that he had "found love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case too"—he saw the link between his dreams and the great dramas of the West­ern tradition. Thus he now believed that he had discovered "a gen­eral phenomenon of early childhood,"16 and built his theory of sexu­ality on this seemingly unshakable internal and historical base.

           

Yet as he begins the three essays on sexuality by introducing the two technical terms of "object" and "aim"—denoting respectively the person from whom the sexual attraction proceeds and the act toward which the instinct tends, the lines and the problems of his theory begin to emerge. Through this "scientifically sifted observa­tion,"17 Freud has separated the discussion of sexuality from the lan­guage of human relationships, and what gets lost in this sifting are the stories of his women patients.

In the last of the essays, "The Transformations of Puberty," these stories briefly return as Freud observes the difficulty for girls in de­taching their libido from their infantile objects and adopting a stance of opposition toward their childhood family relationships. An ex­cessive need for affection and an abhorrence of brute sexual facts, he explains, create in girls an almost irresistible temptation to real­ize the ideal of asexual love in their lives and to conceal their libido behind an affection that they can express without self-reproach. "By holding fast throughout their lives to their infantile fondness ... for their parents or brothers and sisters," girls remained, to their own and their husbands' detriment, "in love" with their blood relations.18

This separation between the affectionate and the sensual currents of the erotic life then becomes the subject of Freud's Contributions to the Psychology of Love, three essays written between 1910 and 1917. In men, this separation creates "the universal tendency to de­basement in the sphere of love," the title of the second essay, and leads to the division of women into madonnas and whores—ideals of perfection and debased objects of sexual attention. Noting the ab­sence in women of these tendencies toward overvaluation and deg­radation, Freud observes instead a "condition of forbiddenness" in women's erotic life. Many women, he observes, try to "keep even legitimate relations secret for a while," and others seem capable of love only in illegitimate hidden relationships. But returning to this subject in his last essay and reporting that "girls often say openly that their love loses value for them if other people know of it," Freud points to a line of explanation that differs from his theme of sexual suppression, saying that in such secret relationships alone, the girl "knows for certain that her own will is uninfluenced—"19 presum­ably by the will of others but also perhaps by their interpretations. Again the story returns of something attaching to the idea of love that women are silencing and withholding from observation. As Breuer had noted in Anna O., "There was something she had felt very much offended over and had determined not to speak about it,"20 but while Freud had uncovered the story about sexuality, there was something elusive about this story of love.

"If mankind had been able to learn [about infantile sexuality] from a direct observation of children,"21 Freud notes, his three es­says on sexuality could have remained unwritten. Prevailing theories about childhood innocence had hindered such observations, blinding observers to what otherwise would seem to be inescapable facts. Since the same can be said with reference to women—equally ac­cessible in everyday life—the question arises as to what stories were blinding observation. It is here that the work of Freud is unrivaled in its clarification, since his rigorous logic and meticulous exposition make it possible to trace in detail how the elucidation of one story of love led another to become progressively obscured. Thus it is pos­sible both to follow in his work an eclipse of women that parallels the exposition of his psychology of love and to witness the dis­tortion of women's experience in an attempt to eliminate contradiction.

In 1914 with his essay "On Narcissism," written in the after­math of his controversies with Adler and Jung, Freud swallowed his distaste at the thought of "abandoning observation for barren theo­retical controversy" and decided that he must no longer "shirk an attempt at clarification." Through the analysis of the pure transfer­ence neuroses, he had, he said, been "forcibly led" to posit a divi­sion in the instinctual life, a separation between ego instincts and sexual instincts that corresponded to the common popular distinc­tion between hunger and love and reflected the individual's twofold biological function of survival and reproduction. Admitting the pos­sibility of error in extending this biological functionalism to a psychological hypothesis, Freud went on to pursue its logical impli­cations in order "to discover whether it turns out to be without con­tradictions and fruitful."22

Yet no sooner had he set forth his first premise than a contradic­tion threatens to appear. Seeking the origins of the capacity to love, which he equates with maturity and psychic health, he extended his distinction between two types of drives to a distinction between two types of love and built a theory of psychic development on the con­trast between love for the mother and love for the self. "A human being has originally two sexual objects—himself and the woman who nurses him," and "although a strong egoism is a protection against falling ill, in the last resort we must begin to love others in order not to fall ill."23 The ability to love others, however, was premised on the differentiation of narcissism from object-love, and this differentiation in turn was traced to the contrast between mother and self. Since this contrast orchestrated a counterpoint in males be­tween love for the same and the opposite sex, while yielding no such distinction in females, and since this distinction was the pivot (or the transference of narcissism to object-love, this was a theory that could not admit women to its account of development.

Then Freud, turning from his initial exposition of theory to dispel the problem that women posed, claimed that while women may love more wisely than man—that is, with less tendency to overvalua­tion—they do not love as well. Stating that "a comparison of the male and female sexes shows that there are fundamental differences between them with respect to their type of object-choice," Freud of­fered the disclaimer that "these differences are, of course, not uni­versal" and concludes that "complete love of the attachment type is, properly speaking, characteristic of the male."24

With this conclusion, a shift in tone sets in to mark Freud's sub­sequent writings about women as the observations of his early work, often complex and richly detailed, give way to the barren theoreti­cal controversies of his later essays on femininity and female devel­opment. Freud clearly saw his problem but did not know how to re­solve it. The fact of gender difference created an asymmetry in early childhood relationships, posing a problem when he turned his at­tention to the origins of love and thus to the history of relation­ships. The question was how to represent this difference within the framework of a unified theory.

In attempting to solve this problem, Freud confronted numerous impediments: his theory, his times, his conception of science, and the problem of access to data, a problem compounded by women's reti­cence. Coming up against an apparent contradiction and seemingly intractable data, he displays his frustration in the tone of his writing and in an argument that sounds, as he says, "tendentious."25 Hav­ing built a theory that could not include women in its account of de­velopment, Freud can only defend his theory by showing how women fail to develop. In doing so, he was supported by prevailing views of women as deficient and by the claims of an evolutionary science that equates anatomy with destiny. Yet dismissing the dis­crepancy posed by women, Freud arrives at a problematic theory of love.

The view of attachment as arising through the transference of narcissism and manifested by the presence of overvaluation26 ties the experience of love to the projection of an idealized self image onto the other. By joining the metaphor of conquest to the myth of Narcissus, Freud illustrates how the other becomes a mirror—lifeless yet enchanting in the ability to reflect an image. The wisdom about love that Othello achieves is gained tragically by the shat­tering of this mirror—in the belated recognition that in seeking self-reflection he had in fact destroyed his love. But while loving too well connotes the blindness of overvaluation, loving unwisely sig­nifies for Othello his failure to perceive the value of Desdemona. Freud, separating love from wisdom, implies that the ability to see the other signifies the absence of transference and therefore of love. Thus women's perceptions of others render them, by definition, in­capable of love.

Describing the "different course" followed by female develop­ment in its "purest and truest" type as one in which the child's origi­nal narcissism fails to transfer to the sexual object and is instead intensified at puberty in a way that is "unfavorable to the develop­ment of any true object-choice,"27 Freud proceeds to set forth a series of distinctions between the sexes. Comparing men's love for women with women's continuing fascination with themselves, con­trasting the intensity of male attachment with the intensity of female narcissism, claiming that the activity of men's love for women finds its counterpart in the passivity of women's need to be loved, he ar­rives at the point where his theory has blinded him to the reality of women's experience—but also to his own experience with women, recorded in his letters and evident in his life.

"My dear Frau Lou," Freud writes to Lou Andreas-Salome in 1916, two years after the narcissism paper, "You are an 'under-stander' par excellence; and in addition you invariably understand more and improve upon what is put before you ... you come along and add what is missing, build upon it and put what has been iso­lated back into its proper context." Writing to Marie Bonaparte in 1938, he acknowledges the "self-effacement with which you give your energies to the introductions and popular expositions of psychoanalysis. . . . You claim to be so very ambitious and to long for immortality at any price! Well, your actions testify to a nobler char­acter."28 As these portrayals of women contrast with the image of women in Freud's scientific writings, the efforts by women to elabo­rate Freud's theories perpetuate a central silence.

During this time, when Freud was surrounded by women in his professional as well as his personal life, when he maintained extenlarged sexuality of psychoanalysis—modeled, as Freud said, on "the Eros of the divine Plato,"34 and arriving at a similar separation of women from the erotic life. While Plato focused his attention on the transformation of Eros from earthly appetite to Beauty in its pure form, seeing in love the force that leads the soul away from the body and toward perfection, Freud preferred, as he wrote in a letter to Binswanger, to live "in the basement of the building."35 There, he said, he could find a home for all the higher forms of civilization as aim-inhibited forms of gratification—only women seemed to elude a place in his "lowly hut." Like Plato's prisoners, chained in a cave and unable to separate the shadows from the sun, Freud's man in the basement was caught in a solitary chain of illusions, unable to differentiate others from the shadows cast by himself.

In a wistful letter written in the last year of Freud's life to Rachel Berdach, a German writer, he says that her "mysterious and beau­tiful book [Der Kaiser, die Weisen und der Tod] has pleased me to an extent that makes me unsure of my judgment." "Who are you?" he asks, and "Where did you acquire all the knowledge expressed in your book?"36 The mystery of women thus continues like the wil­low song that Desdemona sings. Women's love, but also, it seems, women's knowledge, continued as an underground story, eclipsed in part by the separation of judgment from feelings, in part by the ascendance of another story. As the constraints that kept Freud from reflecting on the nature of women as revealed to him through his own experience joined with constraints that led women toward self-effacement, they created a powerful bind against discovery. Women remained a continent largely unmarked on the growing map of hu­man experience, and Freud's psychology of love both explained and extended this disjunction.

Since Freud, psychoanalysts have increasingly turned their atten­tion to problems of human relationships, focusing in particular on the deep stratum of connection between mother and child. But in do­ing so, they have continued to use Freud's terminology of "objects," which carries with it the premise of separation by casting the other always in the image of the self's gratification. In attempting to ex­pand this language, grounded in separation, to the exploration of human connection, the object-relations theorists have created a land­scape of love unparalleled in its depersonalization. In this world, sive correspondence with women and showed evidence of deep friendship, his claims not to know about women become increas­ingly insistent. The constraints on his knowledge arose in part from the limitations of theory construction ("I know that in writing I have to blind myself artificially in order to focus all the light on one dark spot").29 In part, they reflected a society where women's lives were not considered to inform human possibility, a society where virtue for women was equated with innocence and self-sacrifice. But con­straints also arose from a conception of objectivity in science that led to a series of enforced separations, reflected in the design of Freud's laboratory—the analytic situation.

The problem posed for psychology by the differences between male and female relationships was clear: "We have, after all, long given up any expectation of a neat parallelism between male and fe­male sexual development." The representation of these differences, however, remained problematic. From women analysts, Freud heard reports of a love between girls and their mothers that was "built up in a very rich manner" and lasted for an unexpectedly long period. Yet, when cast in the language of psychoanalytic theory which from the beginning had obscured its representation and when observed in the context of the analytic setting, this love seemed "so difficult to grasp ... so grey with age and shadowy and almost impossible to revivify," that Freud concluded it lay buried in psychic prehistory.30

As the masking of truth becomes self-evident with Freud's claim that the girl must "acknowledge the fact of her castration,"31 his im­pression of a vision obscured is conveyed by repeated admissions of difficulty in seeing what women want or how they develop. "The sexual life of adult women is a 'dark continent' for psychology,"32 Freud writes in 19 z6. In 1932 he reminds his reader that the "riddle of femininity" remains unsolved. His knowledge of women is, he says, "fragmentary and incomplete: if you want to know more, en­quire from your own experience of life, or turn to the poets, or wait until science can give you deeper and more coherent information."33

This "huge eclipse"—Othello's phrase as he realizes that "I have no wife"—was, however, not seen by Freud to darken his theories of sexuality and love. Women, placed on a continent apart, re­mained a subject for future investigation, but the failure to see a problem in this dissociation reveals the underlying premise of sepa­ration. Libido was a drive, and love was transference in the enwhere people are "objects" and relationships "holding environ­ments" designed to facilitate separation, love becomes cast in meta­phors of illness rather than health. Thus, in Winnicott's description, the "good enough mother" in her "primary maternal preoccupa­tion" sinks into a "withdrawn state" resembling a "dissociated" or "schizoid episode," in order to enable her infant to become the "owner of his sensations."37 This strange language of love directly connects with the language of separation that defines the current psychology of self,38 and the common vocabulary of borders and boundaries, splitting and fusion, creates an imagery of love that is indistinguishable from the imagery of war. If the weather was bad in the world of sexuality during the time in Vienna when Freud wrote, it seems, if anything, to be worse in the present-day world of love. The raincoat of lies under which Freud observed people to con­ceal their sexual lives finds its parallel in the shield of detachment that currently conceals the experience of love. Yet the good enough mother, in her ability to "feel herself into the infant's place,"39 keeps alive in her silence an underground story about a different experi­ence of self in relationship. Although the story of her development, curiously, has never been traced, it is of particular interest for the psychology of love, holding in it the promise of elucidating a love that combines intensity and wisdom, a love that is neither exclusive nor finite but at once constant and changing. In contrast to the im­age of women as either self-absorbed or self-effacing, the study of women may bring to psychology a language of love that en­compasses both knowledge and feelings, a language that conveys a different way of imagining the self in relation to others.

"How would you describe yourself to yourself?" Two nine-year-old children reply: "I am just one person. Describe myself to me? But I am only one person, so how would that be? I don't know." "Well, I would say—hmm—that's a tough one. I'm honest, I'm mean to my sister—umm, I'm kind, nice—Well, kind and nice are almost the same, right? So, I would say—kind, and I'm a good friend-maker." These contrasting portrayals of self in relation to others—of being only one person and of being a good friend-maker—recur in the re­sponses of Jeffrey and Karen who were interviewed when they were eight. "How would you describe Jeffrey to yourself?" "He's got blond hair. Umm—he has a hard time going to sleep. And he bugs everybody, and he fights everybody. He learns how to do things; when he thinks they're going to be hard, he learns how to do them. That's it. I'm lazy." Answering the same question, slightly re­phrased—"If you were going to tell yourself about yourself, what would you say?"—Karen replies: "I don't know. I do a lot of things. I like a lot of things. I get along with everybody. And I get mad not too easy. And, umm, I've made a lot of new friends. And, umm, I don't know if everyone thinks this, but I think I tell the truth most of the time."

The portrayal of connection that appears in these girls' descrip­tions of themselves, representing not only the tie to friends but also the activity of friend-making, contrasts with the boys' portrayal of a self bounded in separation. And these different modes of self-description, although not tied to gender in any absolute way, are tied to different standards of judgment and self-evaluation. Jeffrey's talk about fighting implies a standard of fairness and reciprocity, while the girls' activities of friend-making imply a standard of care and re­sponse. These different perspectives on self in relation to others also color the form that self-description takes, since the focus on connec­tion leads toward the creation of a dialogue as the girls ask for the interviewer's opinion or wonder what other people think, while the focus on separation is manifest in the boys' demonstration of their ability to think for themselves.

As the lives of women are repeatedly overlooked in descriptions of the human life cycle, particularly in the adult years, and the dif­ferences heard in the voices of these children are subsumed in the unilinear representation of current stage theories, we see a psychology impoverished in its representation of love. The hierarchical ordering that buries the lives of women in a dimly lit past and casts differ­ences into a narrowing mold, joining classification with seriation to answer the question of who is better and who is worse, extends to the portrayal of relationships as well, creating an imagery where connection is explosive and conquest becomes the metaphor of love. Yet women and girls, through their portrayal of self as defined through connection to others and of connection as sustained through activities of care and response, bring to the psychology of love a vi­tal imagery^ relationships, delineating a line of development that once seen can then be identified also in the lives of men.

"See better, Lear," Kent advises, as Lear proceeds to divide his kingdom on the basis of a faulty perception of love. But in order to see, Lear first must remove the accoutrements of his separation, the layers of power and conquest, authority and justice, in order to feel "how this mother swells up toward my heart." Only through this explicitly feminine connection—cast as an experience of illness and pain—can he become a man who can know "this lady to be my child Cordelia."40 The theme of men blinding themselves to love by sepa­rating themselves from the world of women, dramatized by Shake­speare in Love's Labour's Lost, extends through the tragedies with the demonstration of the fatal consequences of this blindness in Othel­lo, culminating with the exposition of the process of recognition in King Lear.

As Lear, defining and redefining what it means to be a man, comes through the climbing sorrow of his hysterico passio to see a world that previously had been unknown, he finds in the experience of con­nection a different story of love—a story that is about living and praying and singing and telling old tales and laughing at gilded butterflies and hearing poor rogues talk of court news and talking with them too—"Who loses and who wins / who's in and who's out— / And take upon's the mystery of things, / As if we were God's spies." This love that is neither an appetite seeking gratification nor an oceanic feeling of fusion—the exclusive terms that Freud de­scribes—but instead a middle conception, grounded in the daily ac­tivities of life, tied above all to the activity of communication, con­tains within it a sense of reciprocity—"When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down / And ask of thee forgiveness"—but reflects more saliently Lear's discovery of the meaning of Cordelia's silence and of his own capacity for response.

ENDNOTES

This essay in an earlier version was presented at the Christian Gauss Seminars at Princeton University in October 1982. I am grateful to Samuel Hynes and Pa­tricia Spacks, who read the manuscript and offered comments that were most helpful to its revision. The responsibility for errors remains my own. The inter­view excerpts cited in this essay are taken from research that was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Education.


[1] Excerpted from Gilligan, Carol. (1984) The conquistador and the dark continent: Reflections on the psychology of love. Daedalus (Summer 1984), pp. 75-95.

This Web resource is for the use of students enrolled in Haverford College Psychology courses. It is stored on a server accessible to the haverford.edu domain. It should not be reproduced for non-class use or moved to another domain.