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Slochower, H. (1966). Manicheanism and the Denigration of Woman: Karl Stern: The Flight From Woman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1965, 310 pp.. Am. Imago, 23(2):184-186.

(1966). American Imago, 23(2):184-186

Manicheanism and the Denigration of Woman: Karl Stern: The Flight From Woman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1965, 310 pp.

Review by:
Harry Slochower

Karl Stern's book contains three main theses. Its most noteworthy contribution is the analysis of six modern figures: three philosophers—Descartes, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard; and three literary men—Sartre, Tolstoy, Goethe. There is also a discussion of Ibsen's Hedda Gabier. While these chapters are not all on the same level, the author breaks fresh ground, writes engagingly and manages to create focused pictures in a few pages.

The six figures are seen as exemplifying the continuation of the Manichean heresy in which woman was regarded as an abomination. Here, spirit is opposed to nature, power opposed to love.

This temper has been accelerated by the neuterism of modern mechanism and technology, as well as by its philosophic counterparts of rationalism and logical positivism. These can be equated with the masculine as opposed to the feminine, calling forth the ghastly spectre of a world denuded of womanly values. Hope lies in the recognition of these values. Stern espouses a natural theology. “Nature,” he writes, “is the soil of grace, and the love for the sexes is a prototype of divine love.” (p. 224). Woman is connected with the mystery of nature, with “matter” (mother). In this connection, Stern cites Helene Deutsch to the effect that woman “acts out of the dark mysterious depths of the unconscious.” The only analogous feminine quality appears in the creative act of genius.

Thus, Western rationalism (the masculine principle) has brought about “flight from woman.” Psychoanalytically, we have here a terror of being loved, due to a bottomless need to be mothered.

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