Maternal Fantasies: Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Retellings of the Yamamba Legend Open Access

Taniguchi, Kyoko (2011)

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This dissertation is a study of maternal fantasies, both "a mother's fantasies" and "fantasies about mothers." Drawing on the psychoanalytic understandings of motherhood and the literary expressions of the maternal in the contemporary appropriation of the figure of yamamba (cannibalistic mountain witch) by Japanese female writers, this dissertation examines the ways in which literature and psychoanalysis articulate the intersection between the mother as subject and the mother as object. This study explores the fantasy of maternal images in Okamoto Kanoko's "Sushi" (1939), Kanai Mieko's "Yamamba" (1973), and Oba Minako's "The Smile of a Mountain Witch" (1976) and the ways in which these women writers appropriate the folkloric mountain witch legend as the erotically charged fantasy projected onto the maternal figure.

I approach the topic of this dissertation, "that which is maternal," as the question of identification, subjectivity, and the ambiguous and ambivalent conceptualization of self and other, that ultimately originates from the archaic, undifferentiated relation to what Julia Kristeva calls "abject," that thing that threatens to engulf the subject and lures one toward the sweet union with the mother-death-other. My readings of a series of contemporary adaptations of the yamamba legend disagree with the dominant feminist readings that celebrate yamamba as the earth-goddess mother as the subject. My dissertation reads yamamba, a Japanese version of what Barbara Creed calls monstrous-feminine, not just as a manifestation of men's infantile fear and longing but also as the mother's own fantasy, whether it is retold as a maternal goddess, mysterious witch, sensual whore, or sweet death.

Drawing on the psychoanalytic literature on motherhood, I argue that there is no maternal subjectivity independent of her daughterly subjectivity as a daughter of her own mother, real or imagined, because mothers are not just daughters first but daughters always. In doing so, this study also problematizes the notion of separation, autonomy, and dependency. While the problem of separation may seem like the problem of fantasy versus reality--child's fantasy versus mother's reality--I see it as the problem of two fantasies, child's fantasy and mother's fantasy.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1
Sensuality and Motherhood...19

The Forbidden Body of the Mother: According to Irigaray...24
Imaginary Body of the Mother: Rethinking Amae...30
Mother's Desire and Mother's Mother...41
Nonverbal Understanding as Erotic Fantasy...47

Chapter 2
Motherhood and Transience: "I am mourning the end of my child's babyhood"...59

Transience and Japanese Aesthetics...61
Transience, Transition, and Mourning...68
Transience and Guilt...75
Baby as Mother's Transient Transitional Object: "I am mourning the end of my child's babyhood"...80
Conclusion: Transience and Nostalgia...89

Chapter 3
The Mother Goddess: Okamoto Kanoko's "Sushi"...93

"Good Mother" and "Bad Mother"...97
Motherhood as Transience...104
Masochistic Amae...110
Amae in "Sushi"...116

Chapter 4
Illusory Mother in Kanai Mieko's "Yamamba"...128

The Abject: Death Infecting Life...134
The Illusory Mother...140

Chapter 5
The Daughter's Voice of Her Mother: Oba Minako's "The Smile of a Mountain Witch"...159

"My Mother's Death"...167
Daughter's Guilt...179
Mother in the Mirror...186



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