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Cousins, A. (2006). Siblings: Sex and Violence by Juliet Mitchell Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2003; 252 pp.. Fort Da, 12(1):84-87.
(2006). Fort Da, 12(1):84-87
Siblings: Sex and Violence by Juliet Mitchell Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2003; 252 pp.
Reviewed by Andrea Cousins, Ph.D., Psy.D.
Juliet Mitchell's Siblings: Sex and Violence is a deeply puzzling and finally maddening book: maddening because Juliet Mitchell (not to mention the plaudits on the back cover) promises much. With her groundbreaking Psychoanalysis and Feminism(1974), Mitchell bridged the wide gap between 70s feminists and Freudian theory. She also bridged the gap between American neo-Freudians and a more European, Lacanian point of view. She spoke and was intelligible to a broad audience.
Not so with Siblings. What would seem to be a universally familiar topic has been rendered highly obscure. One emerges from a paragraph gasping for breath, only to be pulled under by the next wave of text. The difficulty is unrelenting.
Somewhere near the bottom of the argument, there is a child with a (real or imagined, literal or figurative, younger or older, opposite- or same-sex) sibling. The child understands that this other child is his or her equivalent, a perfect replacement. When this happens — and in Mitchell's theory it happens to all of us — one is struck with the realization that one is not unique. Your sense of yourself is annihilated. There is, in Mitchell's poignant phrase, “a black hole where we thought we stood” (p. 42). If all goes well enough, we eventually become capable of ordinary hate. If not, the black hole fills with murderous rage and violence, a familial variant of which is incest.
We hear of these things — or so it would seem — from our own patients:
My father took my mother to the hospital and I went to live with my grandparents. When I came back, my baby sister was there. I didn't think I was going back, because I thought my sister was supposed to replace me.
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