Paul Verhaeghe Narcissus in Mourning

The Disappearance of Patriarchy

Lecture at the Sigmund Freud Museum Wien

Cover One way to understand a concept is to contrast it with its opposite. For the psychoanalyst Verhaeghe, narcissism is the counterpart of melancholia. Narcissism implies completeness and omnipotence. It harks back to the identification with the almighty mother. She is almighty because she can give what the child lacks. During the oedipal period, this identification disappears. Melancholia implies loss and helplessness.

The failure of the original fantasy of omnipotence is the inevitable failure of the father and the safety that he was meant to guarantee; there is in fact no final phallic guarantee whatever. Consequently, a typically neurotic reaction is the endless search for a substitute, creating a series of imaginary fathers. This leads to secondary narcissism and stays within the realm of phallic thinking.

We are accustomed to interpreting these ideas at the level of the individual – the child with his parents, the oedipus complex and so on. When Freud was writing his essays ‘On Narcissism’ and ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, the very same clash was happening on a global scale. Phallic narcissism was brutally shattered by the First World War, and a period of universal mourning followed – the mourning of the father, of The Father. In Verhaeghe’s view, this mourning announced the end of patriarchy, in other words, the end of traditional authority. This compels us to rethink the concept of authority as such.

Paul Verhaeghe, PhD, is senior professor at Ghent University and holds the chair of the department for psychoanalysis and counseling psychology. He has published eight books and more than two hundred papers. Since 2000, his interest has mainly focused on the impact of social changes on psychological and psychiatric difficulties. His most recent book Identiteit (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij 2013; translated in German: Und Ich?) explains how neoliberalism has changed our identity. Recently, he has turned to a new subject: patriarchal authority and its disappearance.
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ISBN 978-3-85132-779-3
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