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Kistner, U. (2017). “Sucking” Words: Orality in Translation. DIVISION/Rev., 17:40-41.

(2017). DIVISION/Review, 17:40-41

“Sucking” Words: Orality in Translation

Ulrike Kistner

In the second of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud turns his attention to the early period of infancy. As this becomes one of his claims to theoretical innovation, it is not surprising that this would present us with some problems in following, in the translation of the first edition (1905), the emergence of differentiated concepts from onomatopoeic verbs signifying primal activities.

Even at “the beginning,” the focus falls on a specific kind of pleasure: the infant's activity of sucking at the mother's breast directed to “sensual sucking”: “It was the child's first and most vital activity, the sucking at the mother's breast, or what substitutes for it, that must have previously familiarized it with this pleasure [of sensual sucking]” (Freud, 1905/1977, p. 37).

Even at “the beginning,” Freud's reader is taken straight to the central issue: the question of infantile sexuality in the field of the psychic that was the bone of contention among sexologists, pediatricians, educationists, and emerging psychoanalysts around 1900 and beyond.

Freud proceeds to differentiate a specific kind of pleasure of the infant: “The need for repeating the sexual satisfaction now becomes detached from the need for taking in food” (1905/1977, p. 37). The infant's pleasure is nonfunctional, autoerotic, and polymorphous.

The observations of Budapest pediatrician Sámuel Lindner come to Freud's aid in specifying “The Manifestations of Infantile Sexuality”:

Sensual sucking (Ludeln oder Lutschen), which appears in early infancy (schon beim Säugling), and may be continued into the early years of adulthood, or even persist throughout life, consists in rhythmically repeated sucking (saugend) contact with the mouth (the lips), in which the purpose of food intake is excluded.

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