Categorization And Its Discontents

A Discussion of Sexual Difference Based on Iain Bank's "The Wasp Factory"

Swiss Diploma Thesis 1997 97 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature






4.1 Freud - The Master Discourse
4.2 Point of View
4.3 Subjectivity
4.3.1 Subjective Narration
4.3.2 Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust or The Split Subject
4.4 To Have or Not to Have - This Makes the Difference
4.4.1 Biology Is Destiny Proves to Be a Phallic Fallacy/Fantasy
4.4.2 The Relevance of Language
4.5 The Abject

5.1 How Banks (Ab)Uses Psychoanalysis
5.1.1 Freud in General
5.1.2 The Oedipal Scenario
5.1.3 Castration Complex Disavowal/Denial and Its Consequences
5.1.4 Repetition Compulsion
5.1.5 Anal Stage and Anal Fixation
5.1.6 Frances Does Not Exist
5.2 The Monster as Ideal Site/Sight of Ambiguity
5.3 Uncanny Doubling - Eric as Frank’s Other
5.4 The Powers of Absent Mothers
and Marginalised Women
5.4.1 Mother - Omphalic Site of Origin and Death – a Duplicitous Figure
5.4.2 Creativity
5.4.3 The Hostile Mother
5.4.4 The Subversive Voice: Hackneyed Notions of Femininity and Stereotyping
5.5 The Father Figure



List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Page references to Banks’s The Wasp Factory appear in brackets without any further information.

References to Freud, by year of first publication of article and page number, unless otherwise stated are primarily to the Fischer edition Sigmund Freud Werke im Taschenbuch , 28 vols (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1991-1994) or very rarely to the Fischer edition Sigmund Freud Studienausgabe, 11 vols (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1969-1975).

References to other textual sources are given by author, year of publication and page number. Unfortunately, no page references can be indicated to some of the newspaper articles (which were extremely difficult to get hold of in the first place).

Full bibliographical information is given in the general bibliography at the end of this paper.

All our truths are, in a sense, fictions - they are the stories we choose to believe.

Hilary Lawson (1989, xxviii)

Es ist unerlässlich, sich klarzumachen, dass die Begriffe “männlich” und “weiblich”, . . . zu den verworrensten gehören . . . .

Sigmund Freud (1905d, 119)

To believe that one “is a woman” is almost as absurd and obscurantist as to believe that one “is a man”.

Julia Kristeva (Moi 1985, 163)


In her stimulating book on androgyny Carolyn Heilbrun claims that brilliant novels challenge conventions: “[w]hat makes great novels unconventional is that they do not accept as eternal principles what are merely agreed-upon modes of action and belief” (1973, 56). Banks’s novel is certainly unorthodox in many ways. TWF is a disturbing piece of writing to say the least. It is a form of literature that erodes the standing values and norms by being imaginative, ambiguous and carnivalesque. An identification with the ‘hero(ine)’ entails an examination of parts of our being we would rather leave undisturbed as well as an analysis of our mortality. Who would like to identify with an obviously disturbed pubescent who has killed innocent children? Is there a deed which our code of morality and decency makes us despise more than infanticide? I think it is considered the basest of base deeds. At its core, Banks’s novel is fascinated with primeval darkness and it is therefore not surprising that Banks’s first novel has not been received unanimously as a masterpiece. In fact, the reviews have been highly controversial. The damnation of the piece stems mostly from the fact that many reviewers failed to note the humour in it, but also from ignorance, since it is obvious that some critics have not even bothered to read the book (properly) before reviewing it. However, there are also those who see in him “the great white hope of contemporary literature” (Walker quoting Fay Weldon 1991, 57). It seems that Banks did not expect praise from this camp[1] but it is not illogical since he belongs to the category of male novelists who make a major part of their impact through women. Up to now he has written seven mainstream novels, three of which feature a woman as leading character[2] and two more have very strong female supporting roles.[3] He seems to be a man unusually sympathetic to the cause of women. This leads me to ask: Is TWF an example for Cixous’s ‘écriture féminine’ which Sprengnether defines as follows?

[A] practice of writing on the side of woman and of the Imaginary against the phallogocentrism of Western culture. It can be invoked by both men and women, and indeed the writing most often cited in evidence of this practice is male authored (1990, 200).

This special type of writing splits open the closure of binary oppositions and revels in the pleasures of open-endedness. There are of course many critical voices which do not endorse such a thing as female writing, Mitchell and Kristeva are among them, but I find the idea not that absurd especially since Banks’s text certainly is an attempt to disrupt phallogocentrism, though Lacan may be right when he remarks that such a model of writing might be subversive but never transformative.

Banks has produced an eclectic body of work in genre terms, and yet some basic elements can be detected in all his novels. Much of Banks’s writing deals with uncertainty over identity, the individual without society, strange family constellations, as well as innocence and experience (rites of passage). Though Banks thinks that the assumption that people are what they write is a misguided concept, there is the usual grain of truth to it. Banks’s obsession with freaks, gender and our complicity in dominant cultural practices and discourses of power (‘as you make your bed so you must lie in it’) are indicative of his personal standpoint. The novel contains even some bits and pieces of autobiographical material. The inspiration for the setting for example stems from Banks’s early childhood which he spent in North Queensferry: “It was a great place to grow up in, there were wartime bunkers, old quarries and army buildings to wander around, it was almost like an island” (Nickalls 1991). Banks first ambition was to be a scientist (this might explain Angus’s profession), he led a hermit-like life at university and he was an only child:

You are forced to live in your own world. But it’s not a nightmare world . . . It doesn’t make good copy, but I was happy. . . . though, of course I did torture wasps occasionally. (Glover quoting Banks 1994)

What I find particularly intriguing as well as challenging is that Banks invites us to produce different readings of his story. The novel needs several re-readings in order to be unravelled. When we read the book for the first time we are tricked into a wrong reading, we are kept in the dark and thus attempt to interpret the story under wrong premises. Once we have reached the final pages we realise that we have been deceived and yet another reading is called for. But even when we have read the book there is no single meaning and much of it can be read in different ways and leaves ample room for speculation. Nairn calls Banks a player of games, one who plays “with characters and readers alike” (1993, 130). This is certainly true but he also plays with meaning. It is obvious that Banks does not insist on meaning as single, fixed and given and this accentuated plurality of meaning reveals moments of crisis in the order of predominant values. “A contest for meaning,” writes Belsey, “disrupts the system of differences . . . .” (1985, 178). Such a disruption of the system of differences, and of sexual difference in particular, is, of course, typical for postmodernism. Thus Banks’s novel “can be read as disrupting sexual difference, calling in question that set of relations between terms which proposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women” (ibid., 167).

At the outset of my paper is a short exploration of the generic aspects of the novel in which I will draw some parallels between postmodernism and Gothic but also beween postmodernism and horror. I will show that these three genres have various intersections, for instance they are all primarily concerned with ambiguity and uncertainty. The main strand of my argument will be occupied by my giving evidence for my claim that TWF is a postmodern Gothic novel.

In the following chapter entitled “The Book’s Title - Nomen Est Omen” I will seek to elucidate the book’s title and try to illustrate that it has been carefully chosen since it comprises all major themes of the novel.

The gender issue is omnipresent in TWF .[4] However, the novel’s relevance for discussions of sexual identity does not lie in its direct approach to issues of gender but lies hidden in the complex textual patterns which allow such issues to be raised.[5] It does not take much imagination to claim that the basic or ur-text of Banks’s oeuvre is Freudian theory. Banks’s choice is not surprising when one bears in mind that psychology was one of his subsidiary subjects at university. This leads me to my major thesis in which I maintain that TWF is a postmodern reading and rewriting of Freudian theory, mainly of the formulations of the Oedipus and castration complexes, infantile and feminine sexuality as well as some of Freud’s other writings. Such a re-working of psychoanalytical discourse provides “a genuine potential for dismantling the fixity of gender” (Waugh 1992, 344).

My other theses revolve around the issues of sexual difference and the way ‘femininity’ is constructed in Occidental culture. I will seek to illustrate that the always already castrated woman is on the side of Kristeva’s notion of the abject and that the appropriation of female progenitive abilities brings man (Angus) closer to the abject and thus opens up a path for him to jouissance which he would otherwise be denied, always bearing in mind that jouissance entails both giving birth and creativity as well as death.

Thus chapter four (“Theoretical Frame”) is an introduction to Freudian and Lacanian theory as well as to Kristeva’s notion of ‘the abject’. Subjectivity and the importance of the eyes form another centrepiece of this part of my essay which will be linked to a discussion of sexual difference and language as a mirror of our cultural practices. Though the emphasis lies clearly on theoretical formulations in this section I could not (and did not want to) avoid bringing in material from TWF here and there.

In chapter five (“Story’s Embeddedness and Indebtedness”) I will be preoccupied with the analysis proper of the book. My main focus is again on Freud and I will expound in what way Freud’s body of work is translated into the novel (5.1). I will also show where Frankenstein’s influence is the strongest by discussing the concept of the monster and I will demonstrate why the monster is ideal for a negotiation of sexual difference (5.2). In the section which follows (5.3) I am primarily interested in the relationship between Frank and Eric. I shall argue that these two characters serve as platforms onto which Banks transposes the binarism ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ and that Eric and Frank inseparably belong together like the two sides of a coin. The novel’s notable absence of women and mothers occupies a central position in the second last section (5.4). An absence that can be equalled with the conspicuous absence of the mother in psychoanalytical discourse and can be read as a disclosure of the misogynist tendencies in patriarchal society that are still at work today.[6] My analysis will centre on alternative models of subjectivity, meaning models which question the concept of penis envy and on Agnes as castrating (not castrated) mother/woman. I will further argue that Angus’s motivation for a gender mutation in his daughter derives from the fact that he feels threatened by the ‘feminine’ which reveals his death anxiety. The text’s preoccupation with death and life will be touched on in various sections and will be part of my concluding remarks. The last section of my paper shall shed some light on Angus’s (the only signifier of paternal power) function in the novel (5.5).


“If certain critics had their way, postmodernist novels and short stories would come with a warning label along the lines of the warnings on cigarette packs and advertisements” notes Brian McHale (1987, 219) in his brilliant discussion of postmodernism. Needless to say, McHale does not share this point of view. However, there is a grain of truth in it insofar as postmodernist literature seems to favour weird (or even insane), obsessional and eccentric heroes/heroines and that it often confronts us with death-dealing mad(wo)men, stomach-churning violence and other hair-raising situations. Hutcheon has also pointed to the fact that postmodernist novels have a predilection for freaks, deviants and eccentrics, that they “move off-center”[7] and choose for settings peripheral loci.[8] To move off center means that we see things from a different angle. What is Frank if not an eccentric? The aspect of decentering is also a cornerstone of the (post)structuralist critique of the Cartesian cogito . Recent concepts of the subject/subjectivity are closely bound up with sexual difference since the formation of the ‘I’ can only be attained by accepting our symbolic castration, that is by accepting and living the roles that the Symbolic allocates to us, that is if we are following Lacanian discourse. Postmodernism situates the subject and thus reveals differences in general, and sexual difference in particular (Hutcheon 1988, 159) which means it both acknowledges current notions of subjectivity and suggests new forms of subjectivity. Frank, as an eccentric who falls between classificatory boundaries, is the perfect protagonist for a postmodern novel precisely because postmodernism is highly aware of difference and the way difference hides hierarchies.

It is almost impossible to predict the development of the action and the texts more often than not resist or block interpretation because the different meanings do not neatly cohere into a unity.

The difficulty, for the reader, of postmodernist writing, is not so much a matter of obscurity (which might be cleared up) as of uncertainty , which is endemic, and manifests itself on the level of narrative rather than style. (Lodge 1977, 226, my italics)

Hutcheon also emphasises that “postmodernism is fundamentally contradictory” (1988, 4, my italics). Thus, when I keep on asking myself whether I should see Frank as a woman or a man I find myself trapped in the hackneyed ‘either/or’ structure[9] which is clearly not compatible with any concept of postmodernism. Rather, postmodernist fiction tends to favour “both and neither” (ibid., 46). Thus, I am faced with the problem that there are several ways to read the text and that my interpretations may be contradictory. Postmodern novels “cast doubt on the very possibility of any firm ‘guarantee of meaning’ ” (ibid., 55). It seems that postmodernist writing deploys strategies that aim at defying the necessity to choose between two things, to select; it wants to break up the socially sanctioned binary oppositions. I would suggest that it attmepts to get rid of distinct categories, to break up binary oppositions because it considers these conceptual schemes as inedaquate, especially since difference always privileges one term over the other in an opposition. Postmodern texts illustrate that these categories and the way they are valued are often arbitrary. It can thus be said that the postmodern era is marked by a strong attraction to conceptual relativism.[10] The way our world is parcelled out/carved up/divided up in distinct categories (among others the m/f distinction) is put into question, challenged but not denied or, in Hutcheon’s terms: “It is . . . a questioning of commonly accepted values of our culture (closure, teleology, and subjectivity), a questioning that is totally dependent upon that which it interrogates” (ibid., 42).[11]

Labelling TWF postmodernist is a precarious undertaking since talking about genre in connection with postmodernism is a contradiction in itself. If we conceive of postmodernism as disruptive, in the sense of ignoring borders and norms, then any generic categorisation seems tricky, if not impossible at first glance. In the ongoing discussion about the necessity or superfluity of a concept of genericity, I belong to the supporters of its necessity since the aspect of genre is crucial for my analysis of TWF as a postmodern Gothic piece. I fully agree with Perloff who writes that “it is virtually impossible to read a given new “text” without bringing to it a particular set of generic expectations” (1989, 4). Cohen also argues for the keeping of generic categorisations. He demonstrates that we already find postmodern features in the writings of the eighteenth century. He justifies any theory of postmodern genres by indicating that not all texts are different from all others so that a classification or grouping makes sense. Generic distinctions are particularly useful when one is dealing with intertextuality resp. “the postmodern palimpsest assumption” (Cohen 1989, 18).

“[P]ostmodern fiction manifests . . . a self-conscious turning toward the form of the act of writing itself” (Hutcheon 1988, 128), and it does so via intertextuality or interdiscursivity. There are basically two texts that must have been on Banks’s mind when he wrote TWF. Firstly, Freud’s corpus, particularly his writings on the formation of the ego and on sexual difference. Secondly, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein . These two textual sources form also the groundwork of my essay. That I give precendence to Freud and Shelley does not imply that there are no other writings that have influenced Banks, but these two are certainly the most obvious and thus the most useful for my purposes.

Banks’s indebtedness to Freud is obvious. Not only does Banks use specific Freudian vocabulary or concepts (stage, castraitor, penis envy, children are sexless), though he does so very sparsely, the whole plot revolves around a castrated main protagonist. Could there be a more direct hint at Freud’s body of thought concerning sexual difference? Particularly given the fact that the castration complex centers

on the phantasy of castration which is produced in response to the child’s puzzlement over the anatomical difference between the sexes (presence or absence of the penis): the child attributes this difference to the fact of the girl’s penis having been cut off (Laplanche, Pontalis 1989, 56).

Banks does not mine Shelley’s novel in the same way he deploys Freud’s works. Of course, I can call Frank as well as TWF a “hideous progeny” (Shelley, xii) but there are both hundreds of other characters and books which deserve to be called the same. In my view, the similarity or kinship lies rather in the plot and some conceptual ideas. Both texts ( TWF as well as Frankenstein ) are monstrous constructs, the main characters both kill relatives of their creators but the reasons[12] for doing so differ vastly. Additionally, these two novels share their main topics, namely the creativity of the male (subject) and the gender issue. The similarities I have just addressed are in no way representative or exhaustive but these are the ones that will be most relevant to my discussion. As to the plot I would argue that TWF possesses as a basic plot what Carroll calls an overreacher[13] story and this is basically the plot we also find in Frankenstein . The overreacher plot consists of four parts: preparation, experiment, boomerang, and confrontation (these functions may be rearranged). Though the preparation section is omitted in TWF one can clearly recognise this plot-form. The most striking parallel between these two texts, however, is the fact that the central characters are deviants or monsters and that on the site of their bodies issues of gender are negotiated.

“A literary work can actually no longer be considered original; if it were, it could have no meaning for its reader. It is only as part of prior discourses that any text derives meaning and significance” (Hutcheon 1988, 126). Seen in this light the story could even be read as an allegory for postmodernism. Angus stands for the author and Frank embodies his progeny, i.e. the novel. Angus does not create something new, he only refashions, remodels, reworks, recreates what there already is, feeding on the originality of the past, in the same manner as postmodernism draws on current and past models of conceptualising the world and then rethinks the whole. Frank is fiction just like the world or the “reality” we live in is construed. Frank’s artificiality parallels the constructedness of our culture. Our “Symbolic” is after all only a world of seeming. The intertextuality[14] of the work (Shelley, Freud, Fitzgerald, Grass and many others) highlights the postmodernist attitude that it is illusory to think that any writer can be truly original and it challenges “single, centralized meaning” (ibid., 127). Banks is first and foremost a brilliant storyteller and his success is largely based on a readiness and a capacity to assimilate a great variety of already-existing literary texts and genres; he is a real “fiction factory”.[15]

Closely bound up with intertextuality is parody. Parody as defined by Hutcheon seems to be tailor-made for postmodernism since it is a “repetition with critical distance that allows ironic signalling of difference at the very heart of similarity” and “it enacts both change and cultural continuity” (ibid., 26). I think I do not have to further belabour the point for if one thing is fairly obvious with regard to TWF it is the fact that Banks is parodying Freud.[16]

The above mentioned “reconsideration of the idea of origin or originality” (ibid., 11) is also closely related to the Gothic.[17] Frankenstein however, offers a completely different concept of textual creativity. The creator, Victor Frankenstein, creates something radically new and his monster stands for the autonomy of art and its deliberate separation from life (i.e. separation between nature and culture as was usual in Romanticism). Banks as a postmodern novelist could never assume such a standpoint.

Brian McHale notes that the Gothic is a genre that has been repeatedly refashioned and reemployed by postmodernist writers.[18] This is not surprising since some of the generic hallmarks of Gothic fiction are strikingly close to postmodern characteristics, e.g. disturbing ambivalence, a preoccupation with sexual role, blurring boundaries and self-alienation, to name but a few. If I argue that one aspect of postmodernism is the return to and to some extent the revival of the Gothic, Banks’s novel could then be called a postmodern Gothic story. What underpins my contention further is the fact that both Gothic[19] and postmodernism concern themselves with “the presence of the past” (Hutcheon 1988, 4;45).[20] This preoccupation with the past is inherent in the term ‘postmodernism’ as it is in the word ‘Gothic’. The age of postmodernism defines itself “by what it has just-now ceased to be” (Anderson 1995, 6). It can be said that postmodern themes were already present in the literature of past centuries. “What is new today” writes Steinar Kvale “is the pervasiveness of postmodern themes in culture at large” (1995, 19). On the literal level, Banks translates the past into the present by rewriting a tale in the Frankensteinian tradition. However, his reworking is a critical and not a nostalgic one.

The Gothic has never ceased to fascinate, thrill and excite since its inauguration.[21] Small wonder, for the fears and anxieties that brought this type of fiction into life are still very much the same these days as they were in the late eighteenth century. Terror and horror as central features of Gothic literature abound in Banks’s novel and terror was then and continues to be the order of the day. The fear of scientific experminenting and its disastrous results are more relevant than ever. Genetic engineering has opened up fascinating but also fear-inspiring new horizons. The individual cannot keep pace with technology’s progress. Banks himself has mentioned people’s fear of technology in more than one interview.[22] The great powers’ and other countries’ stockpile of weapons could easily eradicate our planet. The Earth suffers from overpopulation, economic insecurity, political instability and last but not least there is a constant threat of an ecological catastrophe. Like their ancestors, today’s Gothic texts reveal social anxieties, one of those being the above mentioned fear of scientific experiments and their sometimes fatal results or unintended and uncalled for but nonetheless dangerous side effects.

We can draw yet another parallel between postmodernism and Gothic. The postmodern era can be regarded as “the site of the struggle of the emergence of something new” (Hutcheon 1988, 4) or, in Anderson’s wording: “we are charging headlong into a new era: a time of rethinking and rebuilding in which beliefs about belief are shaken as never before, . . . .” (1995, 3) and the same holds for the period of the Gothic:

Es gibt keinen Zweifel, dass dieses literarische Genre in England das Vorspiel zu einer tiefgreifenden Umwälzung im Denken und in den Künsten war. Dem Schauerroman fiel in der Tat die Aufgabe zu, ein erstarrtes Schema der literarischen Imagination und der poetischen Kreativität aufzubrechen und der Erforschung des wirklich “Neuen” die Tür zu öffnen. (Massari 1989, 109-110)

Punter suggests the following three points as the most significant criteria of the genre: firstly, a concern with paranoia must be clearly discernible: “the reader is invited to share in the doubts and uncertainties which pervade the apparent story” (1989, 404, my italics).[23] Secondly, conceptual relativism, and thirdly, a concern with the nature of taboo. One of the major issues is the negotiation of sexual difference[24] but “also taboos associated with man’s supposed place in the hierarchy of natural and divine life, . . . .” (ibid., 405) which hints at the age-old (male) envy of woman’s ability to give life and man’s strange machinations to be able to do likewise. In my view, Banks’s book fulfills all three criteria and is thus rightly called a ‘Gothic horror story’. And Banks draws abundantly on the Gothic: the narrative is a first-person tale, the story’s setting is an isolated place embedded in a rough and wild landscape, there is a family mystery that has to be unveiled by a hero(ine)-villain(ess), the main protagonist who unravels the “web of deceit” (Botting 1996, 74) has a different name and sex at the beginning of the story, the central figure is an outcast, and the negotiation of female oppression and imprisonment (both of which Banks translates into the novel literally) is very much in the Gothic tradition. Other Gothic characters in the plot are both the double and the monster, the male scientist who plays creator, and the evil father and suffering child.

Banks’s decision to write a novel in the Gothic tradition can be partly explained with his proclivity for science fiction. As Iain M. Banks he has published several science fiction novels[25] and when asked he freely admits that writing science fiction is more fun for him:

As for which type of book I prefer writing, SF is slightly more enjoyable, particularly the Culture stuff. I enjoy writing both, and really, there’s not much in it but if they said stop writing SF because it’s not selling, I’d still write for my own enjoyment. (Morris citing Banks 1992, 5)

Science fiction can be regarded as a modern, further developed variant of the Gothic: “[s]cience fiction, connected with the Gothic since Frankenstein , presents new objects of terror and horror in strangely mutated life-forms and alien invaders from other future worlds” (Botting 1996, 156).[26] On the other hand, the Gothic frame lends itself perfectly to a thematisation of literary creativity.

Another, very plausible reason why Banks has written a Gothic novel is the contiguity of Gothic and psychoanalytical discourse. Gothic is a symptom, a repression that fails or, as Punter has astutely noted, it

provides us with a ‘negative psychology’, . . . Gothic takes us on a tour through the labyrinthine corridors of repression, gives us glimpses of the skeletons of dead desires and makes them move again. (1980, 409)

The Gothic writer’s concern with the repressed puts him/her in the position of the outsider because they work on the borderline territory of the acceptable. Banks takes up a typical postmodern stance pertaining to psychoanalysis: he questions it but deploys it all the same.

Another type of genre that should also be mentioned here is horror. Though horror and Gothic should never be conflated, these two generic types very often go hand in hand. Horror stories are coextensive with Gothic writings insofar as they have a predilection for the supernatural, violate borders, take place in lonely, eerie places, and also reveal man’s fear of scientific experiments of which there is no telling what the consequences will be. Another characteristic these two genres share is the deployment of particular elements of disclosure.

Though TWF is indebted to horror it is not a pure horror story. Particularly because Banks does not believe in the supernatural, which is one of the hallmark features of the horror genre. When he was asked if he read horror writers his answer was ‘no’:

After The Wasp Factory somebody gave me a Stephen King book to read - Christine - which annoyed me because I cannot take the supernatural seriously and anything that involves it just leaves me cold. . . . it’s just not my cup of tea. (Robertson 1990, 26)

The horrific, repulsive imagery functions as camouflage, as the obviation of the internal censor. That is, this kind of fiction can be regarded as some kind of wish-fulfillment: “The repulsion is the ticket that allows the pleasurable wish-fulfillment to be enacted” (Carroll 1990, 170). The fact that we are disgusted by the (mis)deeds of the monsters is precisely what makes a horror novel so “attractive for the scheming, circuitous psyche. What appears to be displeasure, and, figuratively speaking, pain, in horror fictions is really the road to pleasure,[27] given the structure of repression” (ibid., 170).

In the classic horror stories women are more often than not the victims of the acts of terror unleashed by the (male) monster. If we take the view that the real monster of the story is Angus then the victim is female. However, Frank as the monstrous result of his father’s criminal experiment is also a monster. Her/His[28] victims are picked at random with regard to their sex. Contrary to traditional horror stories ‘the hero(ine)’ is not a sympathetic figure, the reader (male and female alike) finds him/her rather repulsive right from the beginning. Frank elicits identification neither from the female nor the male reader which is not surprising because the hero(ine) and the monster have merged to one ambiguous body. Horrific creatures are often interstitial (neither-nors), not classifiable according to our standing categories or mixtures of two distinct creatures or characteristics (e.g. wolf and man = werewolf, good and bad = Jekyll and Hyde, Norman Bates = man and woman etc.). It is clear that Frank is mad, s/he is a schizophrenic person, two people in one person. Many oppositions are inscribed on his/her ambiguous body: Frances/is is both man and woman, victim and victimizer, monster and hero, s/he’s neither child nor adult, neither dead nor alive (not registered).

It is noteworthy, however, that when we read the book for the first time we do not know that Francis is in fact Frances and so only male readers would to a certain degree identify with the chief protagonist, and only insofar as they probably can comprehend his overreacting to his castration or at least commiserate with the poor castrated fellow.

The fact that postmodernism and horror do also have some striking parallels fits nicely into the whole concept. Both horror and postmodernism deal with anxieties and fears of an era of social stress, they violate socially sanctioned values and they dislodge standing classificatory norms. By maintaining that TWF has some attributes which stem clearly from the horror genre I take issue with Nairn (1993, 127) who claims that this novel has been wrongly designated as horror. Even Banks does not object when his first novel is called horror. To my mind it is legitimate to call TWF a postmodern Gothic novel enriched by a bit of horror.

Since this section is only intended as a sort of frame I have only selected those characteristics which are relevant to the themes of the ensuing chapters. A thorough discussion of postmodernism is clearly beyond the scope of this essay.


This brief section shall illustrate that the title intimates what is at stake in The Wasp Factory. First, as a name or symbol for the book it draws our attention to difference, second, its interrelation with the literary establishment points at the aspect of writing, that is, of creating a text and last but not least, it also suggests a link to psychoanalysis as well as the ongoing gender debate.

The title of a book is in a way a story’s name and thus should not be overlooked, especially when the main protagonist repeatedly draws our attention to the importance of names, for example in the following passage: “. . . wondering if my father had a name for that stick of his. I doubted it. He doesn’t attach the same importance to them as I do. I know they are important” (16). In this passage the hero’s view agrees with the author’s who has been quoted as follows: “writers deal in symbols, symbols are important to scribblers” (Martin 1993, 24). Writing is a form of symbol formation and this in turn is the outcome of a loss, thus creative writing entails pain and the whole work of mourning for the loss of the loved object, i.e. the loss of the mother. Given that names always take the place of the already existing idelible mark of birth, the navel, these signifiers seek to gloss over our debt to nature, namely our mortality. My argumentation abuts against Kristevan terrritory here. She calls language “our ultimate and inseparable fetish” (1982b, 37). A fetish denies even as it articulates what it attempts to dislodge, namely the fact of castration and it is therefore an ideal tool for deflecting death anxiety.[29]

It is a Western habit to categorize, label, name everything. As soon as we have a label, we feel better because we gain a kind of control. Naming clearly belongs to the realm of the (paternal) Symbolic while the unnameable belongs to the (maternal) Imaginary. We do not feel at ease when we have difficulty of grasping an idea with words, signifiers. We think that we are in control if we are able to capture ‘reality’ with language but it is a treacherous control. Angus’s ‘labelmania’ as well as his daughter’s ‘naming-mania’ for instance both point at this aspect of language and how we are shaped or ruled by it:

In the common-sense belief that language is a nomenclature, a set of labels for what is irrevocably and inevitably there - whether in the world or in our heads - this process of fixing meaning provides us with a series of polarities which define what is. (Belsey 1985, 177, my emphasis)

This belief is based on the assumption that the link between a thing and a name is something quite unproblematic which is, in my view, a rather naive standpoint. “The linguistic sign is . . . a two-sided psychological entity” (Lodge 1988, 11), it is a link established in the brain between a concept and an acoustic image. And once this link has been established, it is a very rigid concept. Names have significance, they carry a fixed meaning. For the meaning to change it ususally takes many decades if not centuries. By naming things we in a way ‘kill’ them, or as Lacan puts it “the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing” (Grosz quoting Lacan 1990, 70) which implies that the act of naming is an act of power, an insight which is part of Frank’s philosophy: “the naming ceremony . . . gave me power” (63). Freud equals the murder of the father with/to the advent of language because for him the murder of the father is the historical event that constitutes the social code as such. The Symbolic is the order of naming (the Name-of-the-Father being its fundamental signifier). The order of the signifier is informed by a vicious circle of differentiality. In the signifying chain every word can only be discriminated from the other through its difference, as a consequence difference inheres in names - and difference will be a topic which permeates the whole paper.

As the title of the book suggests, the story revolves around the production (creation) of things (people are also conceivable) through an artificial process. The title leaves some room for speculation, though. It is not clear whether wasps only provide the raw material used for manufacturing the products or if wasps are the manufactured goods, or if the wasps are in some way altered during the process of manufacturing. In a factory goods are made in large quantities which means that whatever the product, it must be something that is not singular. We should also bear in mind that wasps sting and unlike bees they are insects with a negative connotation, though as the vultures of the insects they are extremely useful. The question arises what is produced or altered ? What could ‘wasp’ stand for, apart from the one obvious meaning? Is it an abbreviation? If so for what?

What comes to mind first is that the term ‘WASP’ actually has another than the literal meaning, it stands for ‘wealthy Anglo-Saxon protestants’. It is a term which is relevant in connection with The Great Gatsby a novel which has otherwise[30] not much in common with TWF. I maintain that ‘wasp’ is a signifier for the literary establishment which Banks despises or at least does not take too seriously: “I thought and still think that there is a hell of a lot wrong with the English and London literary scene” or elsewhere “Perhaps it [ TWF ] is all a joke, meant to fool literary London into respect for rubbish” (Robertson 1990, 26). Banks also claims that he is “not that bothered about critical acclaim” (Yates 1995. 16), a statement easily uttered by someone who has gained enormous popular and critical acclaim since the publication of his first oeuvre and was chosen as one of the Best of Young British writers in 1993. This erudite chosen circle based in London sanctioning or dooming books (and with them their authors) can be compared to a factory that produces goods. If a book is highly acclaimed its author will rapidly climb the ladder of success, if not, a writer will find it extremely difficult to gain a foothold in the literary scene. Banks is highly disdainful of anything to do with the literary establishment and he is “trying not to play the literary game” (Martin 1993, 24). For example he did not attend the gathering organised for the Best of Young British in London because the political attitude of the owner of the chosen venue was incompatible with Banks’s political convictions. He also dislikes how people differentiate between his two strands of writing (mainstream and Science Fiction) considering one superior. His provocative statement “I just like to write about weird shit, basically” (Jamieson 1995, 58) is a slap in the face of the literary establishment. I am convinced that it is Banks’s intention “to challenge the canon, to expose the system of power which (though unacknowledged) authorizes some representations while blocking others” (Hutcheon 1988, 182).

He not only likes to write about eccentrics, he himself is an eccentric in the WASP’s world: “Banks . . . is an ex-centric writer, outside the tradition of the mainstream social novel which has always been dominant in Britain” (Binns 1991, 12). By way of comparing the literary establishment to the wasp factory, Banks parodies and criticizes it. If the wasps represent the literary product (the author’s creation) and the factory signifies the establishment, then Banks’s criticism is levelled at the ratings of books, which are completely contingent (the death the wasp ‘will choose’ cannot be foretold either). This way of classifying authors is highly questionable then because it pigeonholes a novelist. The Independent writes that Banks’s feelings were mixed when he was included on the list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists for the reasons I have suggested above, Banks said:

“I can’t just dismiss it out of hand because I feel quite honoured that judges like Salman Rushdie think my stuff is good. But in general I dislike lists and prizes because you can never be sure what the criteria are.” This attitude dates back 20 years “to when I used to watch Miss World on TV with my Mum and Dad. Somehow the one I settled on as stunning never even used to make the shortlist. It’s the same with books, really.” (O’Kelly 1993, 30)

I think one reason why Banks is the author of such a diverse body of work is that he would like to escape this system of categorization, he has therfore been frequently accused of self-indulgence and flashiness. However, once a text has been published there is no escape. The critics, like vultures, attack their prey and the caught victim (wasp) sooner or later will have to choose one of the doors in order to be neatly labelled.

However, the main concern of the novel lies elsewhere. As I have mentioned above something artificial is artificially created. The product of a factory is never natural, it is artificial, construed, manufactured. These words often crop up in discussions about gender. What else could ‘wasp’ be an abbreviation for then? This question has troubled me for months and I could not come up with a completely satisfying solution. The variant I like best is ‘Women As/Are Symptoms of Psychoanalysis/Patriarchy’. Woman and particularly the mother is repressed in psychoanalytical discourse which has given rise to much criticism primarily launched by feminist circles. The factory (patriarchy) produces wasps (women, but also other marginalised groups like the poor, coloured people, foreigners etc.). And again there seems to be no way out.[31] Every subject must assume a position, the only alternative is madness. At the moment a woman enters the factory (the Symbolic), she is still whole, when she has been fully integrated (i.e. undergone the process of becoming a subject), she is reduced to a hole, that is she is robbed of her power, castrated. She is not what she used to be, she is an artificial creature now.


I have delved into a plethora of extant writings about sexual difference and will draw on this bulk of material heavily because I will argue that at the heart of TWF lies the fatal division of the sexes (engendered by Freud’s moot formulation of the castration complex which leads to the unnatural death of several children). This short outline of Freudian theory[32] will be followed by an analysis of TWF’s point of view encompassing a discussion of the eyes and ocularocentrism, which revolve around the interplay of presence and absence, subjective narration as well as current models of subjectivity (here the emphasis lies on Lacan for once), and the chapter will be rounded off with a brief account of Kristeva’s formualtion of ‘the abject’.

4.1 Freud - The Master Discourse

One cornerstone of Freudian thought is the discovery of the unconscious which MacCannell has summarized as follows:

The unconscious is rooted in unavowable und unavowed wishes or desires which have undergone repression such that their content remains foreign to, forbidden by the consciousness, which expends considerable energy in barring knowledge of and/or memory of such desires from itself. The unconscious does, however, find indirect expression - through nuances, gestures, mistakes, dreams, where these forms take place as lapses, faults or mistakes. (1992b, 441-2)

Freud’s discovery of the unconscious was a real master stroke and revolutionized the picture of the human mind. Only a relatively small part of what is mental is conscious; the rest is unconscious. One way of obtaining material about how the unconscious functions was listening to his neurotic patients’ discourses, but the ‘royal road’ to the unconscious is our dreams. While we are sleeping the internal censor is inactive and thus the repressed can be articulated. It is also in the Interpretation of Dreams that the mythos of Oedipus crops up for the first time in Freud’s work. Lacan, by further developing Freud’s theoretical model, maintained that the unconscious is structured like language and he equated condensation with metaphor and displacement with metonymy.

Freud shocked many of his contemporaries by doing away with the common belief that children were harmless and innocent creatures. Aggressiveness and a tendency towards cruelty are innate and the ‘normal’ human being must suppress or deviate these urges all his/her life. However, the real uproar was caused by Freud’s postulation of infantile sexuality which forms the bedrock of his theses on female sexuality and femininity. The infant experiences three stages of libidinal development: the oral, the anal, and the phallic stage. These stages belong to the pre-oedipal phase in which the child is still bisexual or sexually ambivalent, that is of a sexually undifferentiated disposition. Both girl and boy are autoerotic meaning that they are both active pleasure-seekers. Since the baby-girl is just as active as the baby boy, there is basically no difference between the sexes. It needs an input from without (society, culture, law) to trigger sexual difference. During the phallic stage it dawns on the child that there are people who are more powerful. This realisation effects castration anxiety in the boy and penis envy in the girl. The phallic stage is followed by the oedipal phase in which a child must negotiate the Oedipus complex, which lies between the ages of three and five years. In the course of this crucial period the child must overcome his/her incestuous desires for his/her parents that are accompanied by ambivalent feelings for both of them. The positive variant of the Oedipus complex involves love for the parent of the opposite sex and a desire for death for the parent of the same sex. In the negative form the infant sexually desires the parent of the same sex and would like to get rid of the parent of the opposite sex. Every child experiences both variants to a certain degree. While the Oedipus complex triggers sexual difference, its corollary, the castration complex, cements it. In order to resolve the Oedipus complex the subject must accept symbolic castration. The castration complex revolves around the phantasy of being castrated based on the bewilderment of the child over the anatomical difference of the sexes.[33] Boys and girls assume that the ‘girl’s penis’ must have been cut off, thus the boy lives in fear of castration while the girl must accept her castration and suffers from penis envy. Attempts to disavow castration are expressed as fetishism, doubling, and others (e.g. homosexuality).

The theoretization of the Oedipus complex seeks to establish a double track for the subject, a fork in the road to identity where the child must irreversibly choose either the route to masculinity or femininity. The Oedipus complex, which Freud also called the ‘nuclear’ complex, is a universal norm which requires a division of the sexes into two to ensure the survival of the species and together with the castration complex it forms the centrepiece of Freudian theory.

Given that for Freud the boy’s development is the norm and the girl’s is derived from the boy’s, psychoanalysis has often been considered as no equal-opportunity theory precisely because of its reductive emphasis on the male child. Freud’s fixation on issues of male subjectivity and the elaboration of patriarchal culture from which the mother is effectively excluded as an agent is mirrored in the way the oedipal phase is privleged over the preoedipal. The father figure is in control and there is no escape from him while the mother is relegated to play a minor role. Since the child is the subject of study in Freud’s theory it has also often been called a discourse of childhood.

It seems that, if nowhere else, Banks agrees with Freud[34] and Lacan at least in one respect, namely that sexual identity is a construction. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that we find the debate about sexual difference and gender at the heart of Banks’s novel. However, he treats the subject in a most unorthodox way by creating a protagonist who is so utterly repulsive that some critics even did not have the nerve to read the book from start to finish, otherwise statements like “a work of unparalleled depravity” (O’Kelly 1993, 20) or “one of the most disagreeable pieces of reading that has come my way in quite a while” (Lively 1984) would never have been made. To read TWF may be a ‘bowel-turning’ experience but there is definitely more to it than ghoulish atrocities and exorbitant brutalities. In a very impressive manner Banks has produced a novel which revolves around Irigaray’s observation based on Freud: “Das kleine Mädchen ist also ein kleiner Mann [sic], . . . .” (1980, 30)[35] or as Kristeva puts it: “Freud has been seen only as . . . a man who fantasized women as sub-men, castrated men” (1991, 449).

It is true, as Kofman states, that Irigaray tears Freud’s writings apart but nonetheless Irigaray is one of the very few women psychologists who propagates sexual difference. Herein she sides with Freud though her body of thought could not diverge more from his. Irigaray advocates the difference of men and women based on completely different premises and she does not advocate a subjugation of one sex to the other. Kofman does not say that Irigaray’s critique were not justified but that “things are perhaps not quite that simple” (1980, 41). Obviously Irigaray was using a faulty and sometimes also incomplete French translation. I think it does not matter if one works with a translation, faulty or not, or with the original, in either case Freud’s corpus leaves much room for speculation, especially in the debate on gender:

Aber das Wesen dessen, was man[n] im konventionellen oder im biologischen Sinne “männlich” und “weiblich” nennt, kann die Psychoanalyse nicht aufklären, sie übernimmt die beiden Begriffe und legt sie ihren Arbeiten zugrunde (1920a, 280, [n] is my addition).

Indeed, things are not quite that trivial! I find this attitude of Freud’s rather simplistic and untenable. He is obviously aware of the conflict potential these words hold, but he uses them all the same. Why does he have to stick to these terms which involve so many dangers? He has coined a considerable number of new terms, why did he keep these two? I can only speculate about his motives.[36]

I do not agree with Lacan who maintains that Freud was so often misunderstood because he is fairly easy to read. At first glance this might be the impression one gets but as soon as one really delves into the bulk of his writings one realizes that he is more often than not extremely vague (expressions of possibility prevail),[37] that he sometimes changes his standpoint (particularly conspicuous in his writings about “femininity”) or even contradicts himself.[38] In correspondence with Kofman I maintain that Freud had very promising ideas about sexual difference and ‘woman’, particularly in his earlier essays, for example in a footnote to Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) he writes:

Die dritte, soziologische Bedeutung [der Begriffe ‘männlich’ und ‘weiblich’] erhält ihren Inhalt durch die Beobachtung der wirklich existierenden männlichen und weiblichen Individuen. Diese ergibt für den Menschen, dass weder im psychologischen noch im biologischen Sinne eine reine Männlichkeit oder Weiblichkeit gefunden wird. Jede Einzelperson weist vielmehr eine Vermengung ihres biologischen Geschlechtscharakters mit biologische Zügen des anderen Geschlechts und eine Vereinigung von Aktivität und Passivität auf, sowohl insofern diese psychischen Charakterzüge von den biologischen abhängen, als auch insoweit sie unabhängig von ihnen sind. (120)

And, in “On the Sexual Theories of Children” (1908c) he states:

Wenn wir unter Verzicht auf unsere Leiblichkeit als bloss denkende Wesen, etwa von einem anderen Planeten her, die Dinge dieser Erde frisch ins Auge fassen könnten, so würde vielleicht nichts anderes unserer Aufmerksamkeit mehr auffallen als die Existenz zweier Geschlechter unter den Menschen, die, einander sonst so ähnlich , doch durch die äusserlichsten Anzeichen ihre Verschiedenheit betonen. (71)

Or, in a later text : “. . . and must conclude that what constitutes masculinity or femininity is an unknown characteristic which anatomy cannot lay hold of” (1932, Young-Bruehl 1990, 343). As Rodowick has pointed out Freud always felt uneasy with the concept of biological determinism with regard to sexual difference.[39] But it seems as if he were not always comfortable with the consequences of his ‘revolutionary’ reasoning with the result that he sometimes got cold feet and backed out by falling back on biologism,

Die feministische Forderung nach Gleichberechtigung trägt hier nicht weit, der morphologische Unterschied muss sich in Verschiedenheiten der psychischen Entwicklung äussern. Die Anatomie ist das Schicksal, . . . . (1924d, 167, my emphasis)

which he clearly recognized as not being the decisive factor for sexual difference in the majority of his texts.

Freud could easily have postulated groundbreaking hypotheses had he had the guts, instead he was obviously afraid of the results of his thinking. Why was Freud so guarded when dealing with sexual difference when he had absolutely no qualms about publishing his (for the time) shocking essays on infantile sexuality? Does the reason for his difficulties concerning the gender question really lie in the fact that he was, as some pro-Freudian feminists argue, a victim of his era? Or else, as Lacan would have it, that he did not have the necessary tools at his disposal? I honestly doubt it. True, Freud could not base his findings on the same theoretical groundwork as Lacan but Freud was not known for being at a loss for an answer except when dealing with ‘the mystery of woman’ or the ‘dark continent’. Besides, Freud published other writings that had just as far-reaching consequences and were just as novel as some texts on the two sexes would have been had he not suddenly altered course in his thinking. I wonder where does this insecurity and bias with regard to “femininity” stem from? I must leave this question unanswered since an exploration of it would be beyond the scope of this paper.


[1] See Maxton Walker’s article “Great White Hope”, 57.

[2] The Wasp Factory (1984), Canal Dreams (1989) and Whit (1995).

[3] Walking on Glass (1985) and Complicity (1993)

[4] When I use the word ‘sex’ I mean our biological sex, i.e. whether the subject/person is equipped either with a vagina or a penis. The term gender denotes the ‘psychosocial sex’, whether a subject/person assumes a male or a female position in the Symbolic. The terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ belong to the first concept while ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ belong to the latter.

[5] Let me note in passing here that the question of gender is also not immediately addressed in Frankenstein (see Botting 1991, 100).

[6] Freud ignored the mothers in all of his case studies (Dora, Little Hans, The Rat Man, Dr. Shreber, The Wolf Man) and he paid little attention to the figure of the mother in his other writings.

[7] Banks as an author also moves off-center by writing very unconventional novels. Further he does not consider himself as part of the literary canon, adopting a rather disrespectful stance against the literary establishment. Moreover, as a Scotsman, Banks is something like an ex-centric, a fringe figure in his own country. However, the Scottish issue is only of minor importance in TWF . “Banks sees himself as an international, Scottish, British writer, in that order” (Nickalls 1991).

[8] See Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988, 58-61).

[9] “The formula of “either/or” - sign par excellence of the binary machine - ”, writes Rodowick, “thus appears again in the text of Lacan and his most ardent supporters” (1991, 64). The supporters (Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose are among them) who claim that without sexual difference mankind would cease to exist because neither man nor woman can become a subject outside the division into two sexes. They are following Lacan who claims that any speaking being whatever is inscribed on one side of the chart or the other independent of one’s biological sex (Lacan 1982, 150). Obviously we need difference in order to exist but do we need sexual difference? In Powers of Horror Kristeva has shown that not all cultures share the primary distinction between the sexes. In India, for example, the most important boundary of the sociosymbolic order is between pure and impure (1982b, 79-81). Unfortunately the Indian variant is no way out of the impasse because the caste system and endogamy are merely glossing over sexual difference and thus cannot be considered to be an alternative.

[10] i.e. the distortion of ethical and behavioural codes in the sense that the authors of postmodern novels are aware that all standing values are set up by “society”, “the law” or other influential/powerful conglomerats of human beings but not givens.

[11] Let me note in passing that postmodernism shares some traits with Kristeva’s notion of ‘the abject’. The abject can be equated with uncertainty and ambiguity. It is something (definitely not an object) that does not respect borders or abide to rules, it makes the subject feel s/he is an utterly fragile and provisional structure. All procedures, positions or behaviour which undermine our sociosymbolic order without putting them openly into question are abject. The abject is omnipresent but ‘normal’ individuals repress it, jettison it. TWF confronts us with the abject (see my detailed discussion of the abject in section 4.5).

[12] For a thorough discussion of the monster’s motives in Frankenstein see Bronfen 1994, 28-38.

[13] Thus Banks could be called an “imaginative overreacher” (Homans 1995, 146).

[14] I am using this term in the way as defined by McHale (1987, 56-57).

[15] Term borrowed from Thom Nairn’s essay “Iain Banks and the Fiction Factory” (1993, 134).

[16] Those critics who did not partake in the damnation of Banks’s first novel but wanted to explain why some reviewers were horrified have pointed out that these must have missed Banks’s ironic and parodic intentions while Banks himself puts it down to hypocrisy: “There’s no doubt that as a species we find violence exciting, . . . The more vicious it is, the better we like it. It’s silly to pretend otherwise, when so much of the way the world works is based on violence” (O’Kelly 1993, 30).

[17] Though the question of origins was also characteristic for the Romantic era, the situation then was very different: Gothic novelists suffered from an anxiety of (literary) influence while postmodernist writers seem to wallow in it (cf. Bronfen 1994, pp.16).

[18] Ralph Cohen also suggests a “linkage between eighteenth-century and postmodern genres” (1989, 19).

[19] See Botting 1996, pp. 32;56 and Punter 1980, 418.

[20] Again there is a striking parallel to parody which both enshrines the past and questions it (Hutcheon 1988, 126).

[21] Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is quite unanimously acknowledged as the first Gothic piece of writing.

[22] Namely in “The Player of Games” (Williams 1995) and “Depraved Heart” (Fay 1995).

[23] This is reminiscent of a typical feature of postmodernism (see p. 5 of this essay).

[24] Punter has pointed out that “a preoccupation with sexual role is an enduring characteristic of the Gothic” (1980, 379-380; 411).

[25] As a highly regarded author within the science fiction genre Banks fits neatly into the category of postmodernism since “[s]cience fiction, like postmodernist fiction, is governed by the ontological dominant” (Mc Hale 1987, 59). On top of this many a postmodern writer draws on science fiction, “mining science fiction for its raw materials” (ibid., 65).

[26] If we conceive Frankenstein as the cradle of Science Fiction it is not surprising that Banks’s first publication is a bizarre rewriting of Shelley’s ‘hideous progeny’. This circumstance gains even more weight when we know that TWF is not the book Banks has written first (as a matter of fact it was his seventh), it is only the one he had first revised and consequently first published. In my view it is a logical choice.

[27] In his Liz-Arbeit on horror K. Bächi has found out that while we are watching horror films we sort of walk on a catwalk across the jouisannce pool and thus derive pleasure without being harmed.

[28] In order to highlight Frank’s interstitiality and liminality I will use both pronouns throughout the text.

[29] I will come back to this point in section 5.4.2.

[30] The only other parallel I could detect is the topic of the prodigal son, which does not mean that on closer inspection one would not find more similarities.

[31] I put the emphasis on ‘seem’ because the wasps possess a sting and they have the choice of not entering Frank’s ‘catch-jar’.

[32] Should the reader not be familiar with Freud’s body of thought, I suggest the reading of one of the following three studies: Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Sarah Kofman’s The Enigma of Woman , Elizabeth Wright’s Feminism and Psychoanalysis , and Madelon Sprengnether’s The Spectral Mother.

[33] Lacan defines castration as “a symbolic lack of an imaginary object” (Evans 1996, 22), it “involves coming to terms with what one is not, with what one does not have, with what one cannot be, with a recognition of finitude, that something is always already lost, and irretrivably so” (Bronfen 1992c, 156). Contrary to Freud “the castration complex always denotes the final moment of the Oedipus complex in both sexes” (Evans, ibid.).

[34] Freud, however was not very consistent on this point. In his essay “Femininity” he claims that “woman’s social inferiority and her lack of “aptitude” for sublimation are . . . inborn and indelible inferiorities . . . .” (Kofman 1985, 220)

[35] In “Einige psychische Folgen des anatomischen Geschlechtsunterschieds” the girl is acknowledged a development different from the boy for the first time. That essay was written in 1925 and could have given rise to great hopes. Unfortunately, the girl’s situation was rapidly deteriorating from then on.

[36] Freud’s stubbornness in keeping these conflict-ridden terms ‘männlich’ and ‘weiblich’ is all the more stunning as well as suspect because in other essays, for example in “Das Unheimliche”, he writes page after page discussing a single word.

[37] I take issue with Kofman too who claims “If they are read carefully enough, all of Freud’s texts are quite explicit” (1985, 153). On the contrary, the more carefully one reads, the more speculative the texts become.

[38] See Kofman The Enigma of Woman. Woman in Freud’s Writings for a trenchant study of Freud’s ‘enigmatic’ texts on “femininity” or Rodowick The Difficulty of Difference (particularly chapter four and five).

[39] See Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930a, 71n).


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The Wasp Factory Iain Banks Sexual Difference Freud



Title: Categorization And Its Discontents