Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man
Psychoanalysis and Masculinity
Psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud, has been, albeit perhaps implicitly, a theory of masculinity. Freud’s Oedipus Complex, for example, charts the development of masculine identity in the boy while leaving the girl’s pathway to femininity less fully explicated. And let yourself recall that Freud’s immortal question was not “what do men want” was it? Nevertheless, according to Donald Moss, contemporary psychoanalysis has many glaring blind spots when it comes to thinking about men.
Part of what Moss addresses in this interview is the experience of being a male analyst looking at and listening to men. He argues that this kind of male-male analytic pairing has ended up somehow sidelined and so remains under-thought and under-theorized by analysts. His book is an attempt to open an apparently tightly shut if not hidden door, (think “The Cask of Amontillado”) in the hopes of both shedding light and broadening our conceptual frameworks for thinking about manhood, masculinity and maleness.
Moss draws our attention to some uniquely masculine dilemmas, He argues that on the road to manhood, the boy must pass through the feminizing process of identification. In a sense he is enlarging the popular idea put forth by Greenson, Stoller and Chodorow, each separately, that boys must peel away an initial feminine identification with their mothers in order to become men. Moss argues that to become a man, a man needs a man. “We ‘know’ we are ‘men’,” writes Moss, “when we ‘know’ we are, in some way, fashioning ourselves in the likeness of a predecessor.” This need for a predecessor demands that the boy be receptive and open to the influence of the man he most wishes to resemble. Thus the process of being masculinized demands the boy assume a feminine position. Moss asks us to consider then the impact of internalized homophobia on all men. He wonders if, under the influence of homophobia, many boys defensively turn away from the men they need? And how does this turn away impact the development of a masculine identity? When considering these and other questions, Moss identifies a certain vexatiousness seemingly at the heart of manhood.
Somehow, as well, masculinity is often enough a source of disappointment. We hope it will be an incredible resource, a fount of strength, protectiveness and security yet, given our expectations, it often falls far short. Moss argues that, at some level, we had best get comfortable with that chasm. Following Lacan’s dictate to never give up on your desire, Moss suggests that we see masculinity as a site of aspiration. But we had also best keep in mind that masculinity can take on elements of a Riviereian masquerade, and by doing so, it reveals its feminine aspect once again. Repeatedly in this interview, Moss deftly points out the plethora of paradoxes surrounding masculinity, and in so doing, invites the listener to rethink “common sense” notions of manhood and maleness. Of course, it takes a certain kind of man to expose his own weaknesses–and listening to Moss, the strength and fortitude it takes to do so make for compelling listening–and so with his displays of candor and vulnerability, Moss returns us again to the paradoxical nature of masculinity.