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Bergler, E. (1950). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXVIII, 1947: Circumcision and Problems of Bisexuality. Herman Nunberg. Pp. 145–179.. Psychoanal Q., 19:130-131.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXVIII, 1947: Circumcision and Problems of Bisexuality. Herman Nunberg. Pp. 145–179.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:130-131

International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXVIII, 1947: Circumcision and Problems of Bisexuality. Herman Nunberg. Pp. 145–179.

Edmund Bergler

This is a brilliant, though highly involved and overextended (thirty-four pages) study on circumcision culminating in the formulation that foreskin and femininity, circumcision and rebirth, are unconsciously identified. Anal and oral regressive fantasies are also found in the identification of glans and mother's nipple, and foreskin with smegma, and breast with milk. 'The former represented to him [the patient] the masculine principle, the latter the feminine one …, he restored the unity of his masculine and feminine parts, of himself and of his mother, he became again bisexual, a man and a woman in one person' (p. 157). Nunberg's deduction has the advantage of contributing an answer to the anthropological puzzle of why an injury to the penis (puberty rites of primitives) makes a man more masculine. If circumcision means elimination of femininity in the boy, there is less of an enigma.

Nunberg touches on a great many tangential problems such as those arising from masculinity and femininity in general, activity and passivity, religious attitudes, and even the question of German war guilt. It is at these tangential points—especially the first two—that doubts arise. It should be stressed, however, that Nunberg's main thesis, with its wealth of corroborative material, is

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extremely convincing. The permissible doubts raise the question whether all these complex problems are specifically solvable without centering one's focus on the image of the preoedipal (hence terrifying) Giantess of the earliest nursery where the concept of masculinity and femininity are still unknown. It is also questionable whether activity and passivity on the oral level can be clarified without taking into account the concept of the actively giving mother and passively receiving baby. Finally, the possibility cannot be excluded that the bisexual identification of the circumcised boy, though biologically conditioned, could psychologically represent an autarchic denial of dependence on the Giantess. One gathers the perhaps erroneous impression that the author focuses too exclusively on phallic castration fears. Such an impression is strengthened by his statement '… perhaps we are not entirely aware of the paramount importance of the castration complex' (p. 146).

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Article Citation

Bergler, E. (1950). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXVIII, 1947. Psychoanal. Q., 19:130-131

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