GHOST. The visibility of the fault, the phallus symbol

In medicine, the experience of “phantom limbs” is known 1: people who have lost an arm or a leg often perceive, as if they still have it, that limb that they are actually missing, feeling a wide range of sensations – heat, cold, pain- in parts that your body does not have. It is their character of reality that makes these experiences ghostly. Similarly, the body can undergo phantom visions and hearing in the absence of sensory stimulation. These experiences seem to occur when the brain loses the information that normally comes to it from a sensory system; in the absence of information, some cells of the nervous system become more active and the brain mechanisms end up transforming that neuronal activity into meaningful experiences, by giving them a figural concretion. What this symptomatology shows is the constructive aspect of the activity of the brain, which really generates the experience of the body. This perceptual phenomenon of presumed sensations finds similarities with the presumed experiences linked to the processes of consciousness. Also in this case, in psychic and symbolic processes, the experience of the body is an imaginal construction of complex identification processes. The phantasmatic would thus allude to those experiences that do not coincide with the evidences of the world considered as reality.

There is an identity link between the phantasmatic (linked to the notions of appearance and persistence) and the monumental (linked to the notions of memory and presence) … established by the symbolic / phallic root they share.

“In every ghost, the subject comes into play. In each scene, he is represented, whatever the mask” (Denise Lachaud). 2

“The one who fantasizes tries to rectify an unsatisfactory state of lack, because what one dreams of is what one does not have” (Roberto Harari). 3

For this reason the phantasm is closely linked to jouissance: For Freud, the phantasy manifests what does not adjust, everything that demand cannot articulate in need, everything that constitutes the threshold between conscious and unconscious. In correspondence with Freud, Jung states it more exhaustively:

“the object of the ghost is called, in certain cases (…) it is the most frequent, the mother”. 4

This is the phantom from the psychoanalytic point of view, the place where the subject will apprehend himself as an object in the field of the Other. and of an Other whose primary referent is the mother, who gives the subject its objects …

“Everything that is presented with a phallic status marks the real presence of the Other’s desire”. 5

This is how the phantasmic network of the phallic is woven. In Freud it is the imaginary aspect of the ghost, linked to trauma and a subject caught in a network of signifiers. In Lacan, the symbolic aspect of the ghost, linked to the subject captured in a network of discourse. In Winnicot, the relationship between fetish and phallus is articulated from the notion of a transitional object. Finally, the notion of cure implies that of a deconstruction of the ghost. Properly interpretive and productive task, since the ghost, moreover, presents a fundamental duality:

to. a system of representations

b. what is outside the representation

It is, paradoxically, the image or presence of what is missing. In the history of western culture, the phallus will have become a symbolic fault, and the symbol (symbols / diabolos) par excellence. This link allows a reflection in both directions: the identification processes arise in a dense cultural and political network that is properly scenic (aesthetic), monumental; and the evolutions of public art emerge in a dense psychological network of symbolizations, identifications and faults, linked to the phantasmatic (ecstasy, status, statue).

The exploration of this link is carried out here in two courses:

I. PHALLUS PASCHALIS. The iconographic strategies of medieval Christianity, and specifically the phallic phantasmagoria in the scenes of the crucified Christ, and its connection with other Greco-Roman traditions (Hermes, Fascinus, etc.)

II. MEDIA FALICITY. The iconographic strategies of contemporary media, and specifically phallic phantasmagoria in advertising photography

In both cases, we handle a notion of art that is not disciplinary, but anthropological: that meaning that allows us to include previous, later, and foreign practices that, since the Renaissance, have determined a specific and disciplinary concept of art (fine arts versus applied arts , high culture versus culture, etc …) 6.

Sex is next to hunger among the main motivations of human action and selective forces of cultural evolution. Gender is just that cultural instrument capable of altering and conveying fundamental motivations, directing them towards differential socialization processes linked to the establishment and maintenance of power. Therefore, gender is a symbol of authority, that is, it represents authority, and at the same time it catalyzes, realizes that power, educates in that power, habituates. Thus, power is the symbol of absolute difference. If gender symbolizes power, it is because power symbolizes difference. If gender has been a fundamental tool in the rites of subordination and dominance, it has been for the importance that sexuality has on the constitution of personality, and on social activity. Gender conveys the existential intensity of sex, instrumentalizing that force towards the establishment and preservation of the Sexual-Social Contract. The history of the genre is the history of how the body is endowed with an image, in a false way, usable by civilization in spite of itself, not because of it. It is, therefore, a history of the body as a spectacle or monument with a clear urban vocation: a substantially phantasmatic body, abyssally alien to the real body.

In this sense, a Fraternal (masculine) theory of the Contract is accompanied by a unisexual theory of the body and sex, which has wanted to take man as a model not only cultural, but even physiological and anatomical. From this unisexual theory, which Thomas Laqueur will designate as “cultural theory with anatomical disguise” p. 96.

“The woman was considered an inverted man. The uterus was the female scrotum; the ovaries, testicles; the vulva, a foreskin, and the vagina, a penis […] and the vagina as “natural symbol” of interior sexuality, of passivity, of the private against the public, of a critical stage in the ontogeny of women » 7.

Indeed, gender is historically inscribed as the body of man became a model of the human. From the Hebraic tradition of the rib of Adam, from the homohumanism of Aristotelian Greece, to the medieval belief that the reproductive system of the woman came from the interior of the man8, to the masculine “discovery” of the clitoris, (which incidentally was attributed, among others, Renaldo Colón, 1559, anatomical explorer of the Renaissance), which in any case is not about the discovery but about the nomenclature of what they consider a female version of the penis. Indeed, from Rufus of Ephesus (Sgl. II BC), to Hippocrates, Avicenna, Fallopian, Abulcasis, Copernicus, or Freud, they will consider it a minimized and insufficient version of the penis, and they will call it columnita (Columnnella), Vara (Virga), tail, woman’s penis, etc.

These cambalaches consummated in their deepest metaphors, a deep mix of genres, but not in a continuum independent of sex, but in relation to a “strong” construction of gender not neutral but politically differential. Freud added a kind of supposed scientific legitimacy to these medieval theories, suggesting a phallus-based, unisexual and masculine unconscious structure to which women should also adapt. But Freud is hardly the corollary of a millennial Western, Greek, Judaic, Christian, Victorian, and ultimately psychoanalytic system of thought … this millennial gender system is based on a transfer of a certain theory of male sexuality (based on the complex of castration and Oedipus) and female (based on the envy of the male penis, and on the masculinity of the clitoris in the pre-oedipal woman overcome by the vaginal and post-oedipal phase that inscribes women in their social subordination – «theory of vaginal-clitoral transfer »). But issues such as “penis envy” or “female castration complex” seem to belong rather to the male phantasm linked to his own “penis envy” (Bettelheim9), his “uterus envy” (Suraci10), his ” envy of pregnancy “(Karen Horney, 1924, E. Fromm, Dundes11) … Freud must have known that his statements had no anatomical or physiological basis: His scientific rhetoric should be interpreted as an example of modern representations of the genre, that is, of the myths of femininity and masculinity. And yet, a part of the gender studies developed from the most radical feminism, have succumbed to what Jane Gallop called “the seduction of the father”, regarding the centrality of the phallus and the Oedipus complex in the construction of identifications of genre.

Gender has defined woman as addition (ornament, caprice, gratuitousness, ductility), and man as subtraction (metaphysics, function, content, rigidity). And at the same time, he has defined women as Lack. What hides this structure? We already know that it is weakness that projects a cultural apparatus of domination, which is the weakest that needs to dominate the most. Again, in the historical inscription of the Gender, a total symbolic investment is glimpsed: the unnecessary, unstable, precarious, incomplete, emotional, passive character … all the organic and psychological precariousness that man does not recognize for himself, is displaced and projected onto the woman’s body …

For Michéle Montrelay12, male imagery takes into account and plays with four meanings in relation to the experience of sexuality:

1. Externally visible male genital formations and deformations, their appearance (and disappearance).

2. The idea and perception of male genitalia as a kind of equipment – as an apparatus.

3. “Appareillage” (rigging and appearance) in the sense of being ready, systematically prepared for a game, for an act of sexual pleasure

4. The “arriving” itself, the orgasmic experience of “arriving”, of completion, of the end of the act.

But there is a more substantial nucleus, linked to the impossibility of man regarding reproductive functions. As Giuditta the Russian (Uomini e Padri) recalls, ethnographic and mythological testimonies show that before the causal relationship between intercourse / ejaculation and pregnancy / childbirth, that is, the fertilizing property of sperm, men (and not women), would have lived their existence in the world as biologically not necessary: ​​The mystery of (pro) creation would belong to the female body, and to fertilizing entities such as the moon, the storm, the spirit, the leaves of certain plants, the casual ingestion of an insect, etc … In this situation, the existential condition of half of the human race, the male, is perceived as excluded from the procreative dimension: a dimension, moreover, fundamental in the articulation of kinship ties and therefore of cohesion and social organization.

The mythology of gender would have started from the requirement to encompass and relate in a network of artificial relationships, culturally constructed, to half of the human race that would otherwise be excluded from the fundamental relationship of kinship if those relationships were strictly biological: man , a biologically non-essential and peripheral subject, who depends on his wife and son to have a place in the relationship, has to become socially essential and necessary, symbolically inverting the terms of dependency …

The gender identifications will try to replace a lack (the lack of meaning), since it starts from a high non-recognition (repressed, sublimated). And from this supposed lack, on the other hand, is born the Sense, the notion of the Necessary: ​​If the man does not want to recognize himself in his unnecessaryness, he will have projected the fantasy of a Sense of the Necessary towards what the woman does not have. What the woman does not have is precisely what identifies the lack of the man: what the man has in excess to be necessary: ​​the phallus. From this simple and perverse investment a parental unilinearity would have emerged to replace matrilineality: From the complete absence of the figure of the father … to a delusional substitution that will end up denying women even their reproductive function, appropriated by the spermatik logos …

“It is not the mother who begets the one who is called her son (…) begets the father who fertilizes her” (Aeschylus, Orestiadas)

This investment historically coincides with the birth of marriage, patrilineality, exogamy and the first state and pre-state organizations, catalyzed by a progressive definition of gender linked to the centrality and ubiquity of the phallus: «Woman as Lack; and what the woman lacks is the phallus »…

“The penis in question is not the real penis, but the penis to the extent that the woman has it – that is, to the extent that she does not have it” 13

Not to have the phallus symbolically is to participate in it as an absence, so it is to have it in some way: it exists as a ghost. Undoubtedly everything that refers to the phallus is necessarily linked to the ghost14. Never mistaken for the penis, the phallus is an imaginary object that is expressed in the symbolic. It is this imaginary object that underpins the field of the symbolic to which iconography has persistently referred. Given that images are fundamental in the processes of identification, the phantasmatic of the phallus, – chosen as the very image of the lack, in phantom par excellence – will be a problematic ingredient in all identity.

The birth of phallic mythology will have been linked in the first place to that “unbearable” certainty of contingency, to an anxiety of loss, of finishing, of vulnerability properly male; Second, to the consciousness of the productive and creative force of desire. But, as Abigail Solomon-Godeau warns,

“the manifest non-equivalence between the physical organ and the symbolic phallus is a central problem in the imagery of heroic masculinity” 15

Phallocentrism -the centrality of the phallus- will have been accompanied by a centralicism -the phallicity of the center, as a centrality of the visual, as Jane Gallop or Laura Mulvey have already warned. The preeminence of the visual has gone hand in hand with a visuality of the preeminent from which the development of monumental rhetoric can be deduced. Imagining the sense of need will have been the masculine task of the Social; the man is projected as lack and the woman is projected as futility and addition. Only in this way, expressed in Lacan’s words, “woman is a symptom of man.” In this way, the body of man is what the discourse and the image hide. There is nothing more invisible than the penis, which is hidden monumentally repressed until it multiplies and appears, transfigured as an already ubiquitous ghost. It hides not so much its presence as its lack, imagining that what it lacks is but a lack, and counter-reciprocally turning the phallus into a primordial, original presence.

It is only from this sophisticated investment game that what the analysis has called the castration complex is instituted, which I have referred to on another occasion as “complex castration desire” – well in terms of a phallic attribution to women, making the woman a phallus -a sexual or reproductive accessory) or making the phallus a woman -vegulated by the psychoanalytic figure of the “phallic woman”; either in terms of a symbolic change of meaning – turning the phallus into a symbol of what is Necessary.

“For psychoanalysts, who are certainly open to understanding this scene of the unconscious and sexuality, the phallus, the sublime penis as a symbol, is the mark of division, of difference, the signifier-ur. The last and initial point of meaning, closing the unconscious and sexuality around it “16

But, as the psychoanalyst Michéle Montrelay affirmed

“Imagine that a woman had invented the unconscious … certainly she would not have invented this unconscious. Impossible, absolutely impossible” 17

The universal primacy of the phallus in psychoanalysis, the phallus as the aboriginal signifier, can only be maintained as axiomatic, autogenous, which shows its incompleteness. In any case, the primacy of this imaginary object is not universal, but artificial and cultural, even though it may refer to contents of experience such as lack, the ghosts of fulfillment, desire, the illusion of the full instant, that can be found in quite different contexts … Rather the phallus will appear as a central figure in the mapping of the unconscious and sexuality from the perspective of a culture where

1. The relationship between reproduction and sexuality is instrumentalized from a productive nucleus linked to territory, property, war; where simultaneously there is reproductive indiscrimination and sexual discrimination; where, for this reason, virility models are built based on sacrifice, provision, violence and femininity models based on lack, self-denial and passivity.

2. Where the image fosters a properly scopic, optical culture. So the erect penis is an immediate symptom of desire, the affirmation of an activated libidium, and finally, a simple allusion to the demand, the greed, the lack …

From these conditions, the phallus as a symbolic sublimation of erection, will have developed in these Indo-European cultures of ranchers, and farmers as an icon of fertility, health, opulence and power, becoming an apotropaic fetish against envy, propitiatory of fortune and also as a deterrent. There will be, therefore, a phantasmatic / phallic symbolism of an Oedipal nature (linked to territory, dominance, heritage and patrilineality), and another pre-Oedipal phallic symbolism, linked to desire (linked to joy, excitement, opportunity, fortune) )

But after 40 years of what with some complacency is still called the sexual revolution, gender studies have not prevented the penis from becoming the central metaphor of the gender crisis in the 1990s, coming to be considered, almost exclusively as an “instrument of intimidation, aggression, rape and destruction” 18.

All in all, the logic of the ghost implies the ubiquity of what is not seen. The deconstruction of the ghost is, on the contrary, an experience of visibility. Weber stated that “there is nothing more invisible than a monument.” It is in this invisibility that the subliminal reveals the phantasmatic.

“You could say we live in a phallic environment. I mean if you go to Manhattan, it’s just penis after penis! The whole place is a kind of temple to the phallus. And of course, the power of the phallus, in terms of trade and money. We see monuments everywhere that are basically great cypresses: Cleopatra’s Needle, Nelson’s Column. So we have real penises before us, but also phallic objects. I can’t imagine a woman constructing a shaped building tower. It is inconceivable “Sara Kent19



(Phallic symbols on the torsos of the crucifixes of the Tuscan school) 20

In a time of famine, pandemics, wars, when nothing was spared in those centuries of curse and terror in which Europe was formed, it is not surprising that the obsession with the corpse was inscribed, with macabre dances, in every iconographic sphere. It is the solemnity of the “triumph of death”, of a death not so much projected as administered by the ecclesial power of a hope. From the bottom of misery, human spoils have more or less willingly submitted to the construction of wonders for the glory of a mystical body. But never with so much faith will the pain and ills of the body have been given its positive and infinite value. It is that daily body, simultaneously sublimated by grace and alienated by pain, around which medieval culture is structured. A body that in no case could have been identified with the excellences of the classical proportion, both because of the suspicion of paganism of the joyous Roman canonical body, and because of the suspicion of unreality of a body without ailments. A double fragility that is not hidden, but is exploited, becomes a frenzied ambrosia, a mystique or a coquetry of bodily fragility. Nothing in medieval culture will be removed from this dance of a body simultaneously imaginary, real and symbolic; at the same time possible, impossible and necessary.


Nothing more invisible than the most present. Nothing is more present than what is necessary, than what does not cease to be written21. Nothing more present than lack. Indeed, what is not missed is missed. Psychology calls castration the symbolic lack of an imaginary object, or, to put it explicitly, the lack of a phallus. It is not a matter of a deprivation, of the imaginary lack of a real object, because the real does not have or is lacking in anything, but in relation to what is no longer real, and no real prosthesis supplements a lack that never refers to a real object.

For the rest, the phallus belonged to the classical body, to the canonical body of the pagans in which patristic Christianity in no way wanted to recognize itself. Thus, the body of man, and its phallic specificity, will have been the most invisible figure in the iconography of Western art.

If you look at the Greek statuary, it is obvious to note that according to a complete proportional system, the genitals are represented with a minimized relative size: an adult male body endowed with an infantile penis. Thus, this stone body, which is fundamentally the personification of a symbolic body, clearly reproduces the value and the games of forces, correlations and intensities of the different powers, of the different parts: the sexual class is adequate to its relational position within of a group that surpasses it, that governs it. It is a personification of the prevalence of the whole (canon) against the parts. Undoubtedly, this minimization of the size of the penis necessary to form a harmonious body, gives the penis an intensity, a power that is intended to be counteracted by a subtractive disproportion. Indeed, the symbolic excellence of the erect penis will have derived from its very condition as the ultimate symbol of sexual desire, since only men show external sexual excitement22, through a visible and undoubted metamorphosis. This condition of exteriority of a drive that may appear dissociated from the subject, will have motivated the symbolic conversion of the penis into opening of animality, a beastly instinct capable of usurping the primacy of the mind.

This resistance to logos will have been conjured, precisely, by a symbol, already autonomous, but also innocuous, devitalized: the phallus, an imaginary object that is only expressed symbolically, is not identified with the penis, but with a phantasmagoria linked to lack ; this identification with lack gives it a centrality in the symbolic. Exempt from the commitments of his relationship with a host body, the phallus, independent, autonomous, will be converted into a sign of good fortune. As a part that replaces the whole, the phallus will acquire its fetish status. The evolutions of the sign, between the penis and the phallus, will have been the evolutions between the taboo and the talisman; evolutions that will end up turning the talisman into a taboo, the symbol of fertility and good fortune, a symbol of intimidation, aggression, rape and destruction …

According to a certain economy of repression, we will see those exempt parts reappear, erected in “everything”, in the profuse collection of phalluses to Apollo. Classicism thus shows these two faces: The logical face of the canon – visible in the bodily architecture of the personifications – and the (para) dojico face of the phallus – through mythological episodes, sarcastic comedies, and the profuse popular iconography in vessels, cameos, etc … It is not a temporal or stylistic fracture (between a classical and a baroque moment), but a fracture or spatial, social supplement.

The purely plastic field shows in the official statuary a corporal metalanguage linked to the construction of the polis. On the contrary, mythology and visual narrative, as well as popular iconography, testify to a field that is widely linked to a body traversed by drives, by fissures, by inconveniences other than the “needs” of the global order, of the (provided) system. On the one hand, then, the geometry and the canon – the invisibility and the minimization of the penis -, on the other, the story and the passion – the phallic visibility and ubiquity. And in both, the presence as necessary repeated, active and passive, visible or latent, the omnipresence of the symbol, of the phallus.

In the logical body, its specific information refers to proportionality, to the agreement, to the security-for-freedom transaction, while its analog information refers to the lack, to the symbolic object par excellence. Both levels are conveyed through phallic iconography. To this logical body belongs that statuary called classical, one that at different times, each culture wishing for a New Order tries to recover as an original reference, from Dionisio Aeropagita or Miguel Angel to Albert Speer, Winckelmann or Mondrian.

In the drive body, its specific (digital) information refers to excess, the encounter with the real, while its analog information comes to certify an instrumentalization of that body that remains inscribed in the harmonic system as a state of initiation, as a reference, as a basis , as a supplement in the process of domestication. Both levels are conveyed, also, through the phallic presence. To this instinctual body corresponds the iconographic family of classicism known as “erotic art”, but also those representations in which the part of the phallus becomes the overdetermined protagonist of the whole. This is the case in the Greek hermes, abstract figures, minimal paparelepideds, crowned by a head, and supplemented by a phallus. Greek Hermes who will become the Roman “terms”, witnesses to the divinity of the roads that will be translated to this day in the municipal “terms” (and their monumental appearance in landmarks or landmarks). And also the phallic cults and images dedicated to both Dionysus and Apollo, or even in Roman times, to the god Fascinus, with power to prevent the evil eye and protect the home. Indeed, the phalluses to Apollo will also have been phalluses of Apollo23, an iconographic place of a mystical body, sublimated, disembodied by excess of corporality, by material redundancy, already a symbol of fertility and protection (against theft, against poverty, against enemy).