My chopped-off penis

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At the back of the East Camberwell
railway station there is a track that runs through a concrete grey underpass
out onto the edge of a cliff that overlooks the railway tracks.  This path begins its journey at
Canterbury Road, cuts through the slope of the park, down past the electricity
output station and then onto a narrower path that runs all the way to the Camberwell
shopping centre and Burke Road. 
I have not been on this track since
I was a child but I reckon it’s still there and I have it in my mind that I
must re-walk this track soon. 
I was with my sister and two of my
brothers on our way to the shops when the thought occurred to me, the thought
more of a question: what must it be like to have a penis? 
And no sooner had this question
troubled me than I imagined my imaginary penis being cut off.  Just like that.  Blood everywhere in great spurts and no
one to clean it up except me in my imagination.  What a relief it was then to be a girl with no excess bits
to cut off. 
I had not yet encountered Freud or
his notions of penis envy but when I did read about this concept I wondered if
my childhood fantasy could indeed point to my own penis envy or was it
something else?
In those days I cannot remember
even knowing the name for penis, or for vagina or for anything else down
there.  We did not talk of such
things in my family.  So I write
about this memory now looking back with the authority of an adult.  Back then notions of body and body
parts both terrified and enthralled me.
One of my daughters has recently
pointed out this thing called ‘crip’ theory.  I had not heard of it before.  The notion that we are all disabled in one way or another by
virtue of being human and that it is necessary therefore to acknowledge this in
some way. 
In the past the pressure has always
been on us, especially those who write essays at school, at university and the
like, to seek the perfect and complete product. 
Crip theory argues in favour of
uncertainly and incompleteness.  It
argues for the messy realities of our lives, for the fact that we can only know
things in incomplete ways and a realisation that it’s okay to include our
uncertainties in our writing without feeling the pressure to be conclusive in
our work. 
Needless to say I enjoy this
notion.  It gives me permission to
continue on my messy way, throwing up ideas that come to me seemingly from
nowhere like my fantasy of my soon to be chopped off penis and I do not need to
fit it into any category beyond the memory that it once was.  
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29 Comments on My chopped-off penis

  1. Lo
    April 20, 2013 at 5:46 am (5 years ago)

    What a lovely and fascinating post……hmmmm…..crip theory……I love it.

    Reply
  2. Yvonne Osborne
    April 20, 2013 at 11:21 am (5 years ago)

    I never had penis envy. I think that's a bit of bologna invented by a man who had vagina envy! I do like the crip theory. Interesting post, as yours always are.

    Reply
  3. River
    April 20, 2013 at 11:32 am (5 years ago)

    Crip Theory is pretty much the way I live. Who knew it had a name?
    I've never understood penis envy. Never wanted one or even thought about having one, apart from thinking how inconvenient it must be to have to always make sure it is properly tucked away etc.

    Reply
  4. Jim Murdoch
    April 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm (5 years ago)

    You might remember I talked about penises in Stranger than Fiction:

    Mary had wanted to know why she didn’t have “an aiming tube” too—such an appropriate euphemism, he’d always thought—but their mother had circumvented the issue with her usual consummate skill and the matter never raised its ugly head again. If only his sister had realised how poor the original design had been and that men did not refer to their genitalia as if they had minds of their own for no good reason. Why was it when he pointed the blasted thing in one direction the stream, if he was lucky enough to have only one to contend with, went some other—invariably on the carpet?

    Mary was a real person. She was my best friend’s sister and the quote about the aiming tube was one of hers. I hung onto that quote for about twenty years before it found its way into my novel which is also why Jonathan’s sister ended up being called ‘Mary’.

    I’ve never had vagina envy—breast envy perhaps (Steve Martin’s wonderful quote comes to mind here: "I could never be a woman, 'cause I'd just stay home and play with my breasts all day")—but, and this is another thing I tackled in Stranger than Fiction, I’ve never been especially impressed by the design of the penis. I’m stuck with mine so there’s no point whinging about it. It does what I need it to do in its own good time—that it might have a brain of its own is not such an unreasonable thing to imagine—but that’s about it. I could never be gay. Why would I want to have to engage with another one of these?

    Crip theory is interesting. It appeals to me in the same was fuzzy logic does. I’ve always felt I was broken or damaged in some way and believe most writers (especially the great ones) to be similarly crippled by something, some life experience and occasionally physically (e.g. Jean-Paul Sartre grew up walleyed and was also only five feet tall). The irony is that so many of us ‘cripples’ still strive for perfection in our work. It’s like the legless man who straps on a pair of running blades and aims (and often manages) to outrun his whole bodied competitors. Writers and artists often use their art and craft to set themselves above mere mortals who have to contend themselves with nine-to-five existences and never do anything with their lives. In racing we talk about handicaps. I’d never thought about this before today but it does make sense. Writing’s hard enough for me without adding on any extra weights.

    Reply
  5. ellen abbott
    April 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm (5 years ago)

    Freud was an idiot, a misogynist who could not imagine that what women wanted was the same freedoms and opportunities as men. the only thing he could come up with was penis envy. I don't know a single woman who ever wished she had a penis.

    Reply
  6. PhilipH
    April 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm (5 years ago)

    From the title of this piece one could be forgiven to think it was a 'cock and bull' story, but it was honest and interesting.
    And it's not just some female ladies of the opposite gender who have a penis envy! Oh no sirree. There was an actor called John Bindon, a bit of a 'hard man' in more ways than one. He was friends with quite a few London gangsters and John's famous party piece was to hang a few half-pint beer mugs on his extraordinary penis. He was quite a ladies man too. Dunno why.

    Reply
  7. Kirk
    April 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm (5 years ago)

    "Crip theory argues in favour of uncertainly and incompleteness. It argues for the messy realities of our lives, for the fact that we can only know things in incomplete ways…"

    Norman Vincent Peale must be turning in his grave (which is fine with me.)

    Reply
  8. Christine
    April 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm (5 years ago)

    HA! I like this. I have been waiting for this theory all my life. Crip theory is about what happens at the edges of things with the resulting accidents and magnificent discoveries…
    My husband tells the story of a visit to his workplace by someone from the tax office who asked how many projects had failed. You see, the tax man explained, it showed the workplace or company people were prepared to experiment, to risk failure rather than stay safe and keep within the lines.

    Reply
  9. Anthony Duce
    April 21, 2013 at 2:08 am (5 years ago)

    Okay, you will have me admitting when I wondered what it would be like to have boobs, and curves. To have such power, thinking of the wondrous powers you that have them, have over me☺
    I love your writing, the thought provoking wonder we think about, you put into words.

    Reply
  10. Marja
    April 22, 2013 at 8:31 am (4 years ago)

    Interesting I never had thoughts about a penis except that I am happy to not have one.
    Crip theory sounds interesting. I think when we learn we are always uncertain and incomplete, even though we can still strive for perfection. We always must take risks and try out new things. I think than the learning curve will be the steepest. Imperfection is the trend

    Reply
  11. Rob-bear
    April 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm (4 years ago)

    I had never hard of Crip Theory. I followed your link, and read.

    As someone who has lived with (invisible) disability for a long time, I found the theory "interesting." And yet something about it makes me uncomfortable. I'm not sure what, but there is something.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, too.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting

    Reply
  12. Tommaso Gervasutti
    April 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm (4 years ago)

    Hello Elisabeth, this matter has been an intense topic of discussion in the "psychoanalitic" period of time of the middle 70's.

    I have anjoyed your post.

    All my best

    Reply
  13. David-Glen Smith
    April 23, 2013 at 10:52 pm (4 years ago)

    Oh my…. that title caught me off guard, immediately. Let me breathe for a minute.

    Reply
  14. paul walter
    April 25, 2013 at 11:29 am (4 years ago)

    Hi Elisabeth, had wanted to get back here for another look but Google kept getting in the way.
    As David said, it's a worrisome title for folk this side of the dinga-divide.
    But you got to the essence of what this pyscho analytical theory is actually about, re subjective anxieties, personality formation/individuation and other misunderstood and the sometimes complex and sensitive existential thinking that speculates on formation and emergence.
    It's actually a good companion for the last post up at npfs.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:25 am (4 years ago)

    Crip theory has a lot going for it, I reckon, Lol. I'm glad it makes sense to you.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:29 am (4 years ago)

    Penis envy preceded womb envy as far as I know, Yvonne, and in that order. I reckon it was a concept of its time, when the patriarchy held even greater sway that it does today. At a symbolic level it makes some sense but as you imply it has had to move along.

    Freud had his blind spots but he also began a pursuit that has proved worthwhile as long as it keeps developing and moving beyond those initial concepts which made sense in their time, though they do not so much apply today.

    Thanks, Yvonne.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:33 am (4 years ago)

    Crip theory is pretty much the way I live too, River. Not everyone has the same curiosity about the anatomy of the opposite sex. This might have to do with all sorts of factors, and I'd be speculating too far to list them.

    Thanks, River.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:42 am (4 years ago)

    I agree Jim, about the disabilities of all writers, and I reckon that to some extent these disabilities can fuel the desire to write, and the striving for perfection, or as near as we might get to it, through our work.

    As for penises, what comes to mind is a truck i noticed this morning on my way to a wedding. The truck was red with a naked cartoon figure of a buxom female painted in gold or silver on the driver/passenger door. The truck which was clearly a concrete pouring truck went by the name of 'Positive pumping'.

    The analogy is clear. I'm not sure whether to shrug it off as a joke or whether to feel indignant at this further mocking of the sexual act, the couple and particularly the woman, the one who holds the pump on the side of the truck. Presumably the metaphor extends ion other directions. Who'd want to be pumped full of concrete. Who'd dream up such a sales gimmick? Little boys and their toys. The mind boggles.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:47 am (4 years ago)

    I don't think Freud meant his penis envy quite as literally as we might see it today, Ellen. And as much as I disagree with much of what he wrote then, I disagree now. We've developed a long way since his initial ideas, but I think it might be unfair to call him an idiot. If anything it seems to me he was one smart guy but he was a creature of his time. His ideas are not easily accessible and they have been falsely characterised in the popular consciousness. There's more to these ideas than meets the eye, and certainly it needs thought and questioning but not total dismissal. Remember crip theory. Freud's part of that, too, though he might not have thought it at the time.

    Thanks, Ellen.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:51 am (4 years ago)

    That's an interesting story, Philip. It's true that there are men who can be as insecure about their penises as there are women who are insecure about their female genitalia. Perhaps because we associate our genitalia with desire and therefore to some extent with power. It's easy to feel either desirable or undesirable depending on your circumstances, and so no wonder we judge ourselves on the basis of some of these superficial variables.

    Thanks, Philip

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:54 am (4 years ago)

    I had to do a Google search for Norman Vincent Peale, Kirk. He was the founder of positive thinking among other things. Now I can see why he might turn in his grave and as you say, Kirk, that's not a bad thing.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:56 am (4 years ago)

    I reckon we need this crip theory big time, Christine and your example just goes to show the value that can lie in our mistakes. Out of mistakes we learn . If we never suffer them we tend to stultify.

    Thanks, Christine.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 4:58 am (4 years ago)

    It's probably helpful for all of us, Anthony, at least from from time to time to reflect on what it might be like to be the 'other', not just on the basis of gender but on the basis of many other variables, as you can imagine.

    Thanks, Anthony.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 6:36 am (4 years ago)

    Maybe our increasing recognition of imperfection is a good thing, Marja. Too much certainty leads to wars and the like. Hardly a good thing.

    It seems to me a little doubt goes a long way, but too much doubt can be crippling. We need to try to get everything in balance, including crip theory. But of course, perfect balance is also impossible,
    Thanks, Marja.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 6:39 am (4 years ago)

    Maybe the discomfort with crip theory, Rob-bear, has to do with the dangers of reducing things to abstract ideas. But as long as we recognise these things as ideas only and not facts, as long as we can go on thinking beyond them, and they don't become absolutes, I reckon they're worth reflecting on. We needn't accept them as gospel truths.

    Thanks, Rob-bear.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 6:41 am (4 years ago)

    I often reflect back on the good old seventies, Davide. Psychoanalysis might have been or seemed more alive then, or more acceptable, or was it the beginning of its death rattles? I don't know. I know that for some of us certain psychoanalytic ideas are still alive and well, but hopefully they keep on developing and changing.

    Thanks, Davide.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 6:45 am (4 years ago)

    Breathe away David-Glen. I didn't intend to take your breath away, only to offer a little food for thought, but then again I who have no penis and can only imagine what it's like with one, would presumably feel less distraught at the fantasy of its being chopped off than you. For you it must seem more ghastly. The threat, the fantasy that is. Such a reality even for me is almost unthinkable.

    Thanks, David-Glen.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    April 27, 2013 at 6:48 am (4 years ago)

    It's good to see you here again, Paul Walter. I suppose it's fair to imagine that someone on the other side of the so-called 'dinga-divide', at least on the other side from me, might feel more anxious about my thoughts.

    Psychoanalytic theory tries to deal with these anxieties in ways that might surprise some, but like everything else it's an imperfect tool, method and way of thinking.

    Thanks, Paul

    Reply
  29. Jim Froggatt
    April 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm (4 years ago)

    I've had one for 80 years. There have been times in the past when I've wondered what it would be like to not have one. These days, although it's still there (or was, last time I looked) I might as well not have one.

    Reply

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