In 1928, the psychiatrist Marion Kenworthy applied her interpretation of Rankian pscyhoanalytic theory to obstetrics and began promoting the view that children born of Caesarian section, having been spared of the traumatic birth canal passage, tend to be less “sensitized” and less emotionally disturbed. She spoke of the profound “nervous and emotional shock” concomitant to difficult birth experience. This led to the widespread but mistaken impression that Otto Rank himself had promoted Caeserian section to eliminate his alleged psychological Birth Trauma.
A casual reading of Otto Rank’s “The Birth Trauma” would appear to confirm this interpretation of Rankian psychoanalytic theory, for Rank had written in his discussion of the “Heroic Compensation” that the hero being free from anxiety acquires the reputation of one “cut out of the mother’s womb.” Similarly, Otto Rank’s emphasis on the psychophysical Trauma of Birth(strangulation, asphyxia, dyspnoea etc.) m ight readily be interpreted to mean that children born by being “cut out of the womb” should be relatively free of the psychopathology Rankian psychopathology associates with the Birth Trauma.
This line of interpretation of Rankian psychoanalytic theory leads to the question: could birth be anything but traumatic for a juvenilized ape like man?
To begin with, while it is easy to read the idea of the “hero” as one “cut out of the womb” into Rankian psychoanalytic theory, Rank himself never ventured as far as to suggest that children born from Caeserian section escape the Birth Trauma. In his discussion of the “Heroic Compensation,” he rather lays stress on the argument that the “hero” is one who having gone through a specially severe Birth Trauma seeks to master its effects by over-compensatory adjustments. The hero is the one severely persecuted by the father from the beginning, with the hero’s distinction being his ability to overcome the Birth Trauma anxiety by over-compensatory “heroism” in which he boldly re-enacts the deeds of the Primal Trauma rather than merely repress it.
Thus, it impressed on us how difficult the mythical hero Heracles’ birth had been; but in his life the hero is spared psychoneurotic anxiety by his symbolic re-enactment of the Primal Trauma in terrifying adventures in which he takes on the repressive father(who had never wished him born): climbs seven mountains, crosses scorching deserts, cuts his way through thick thorny forests, slays the dragon, all to save the virgin princess(signifying his his conquest of Birth Trauma anxiety).
Analogous to the hero of Herculean physical deeds is the obsessional philosophic-speculative hero who by a superhuman feat of intellectual mastery frees society from the enslaving traditions and conventions imposed by an older generation of fathers.
Thus, far from being one who was spared the Birth Trauma, the hero is one who overcomes the Birth Trauma anxiety by over-compensatory symbolic re-enactment of its deeds in his life.
This bring us to answer the question: could birth be anything but traumatic for a juvenilized ape like man?
In the Rankian psychoanalytic theoretical approach birth is intrinsically traumatic with the circumstances of the “passage” serving only to accentuate the fact. From the physical anthropological perspective, it remains to be shown how birth could be anything but traumatic for a juvenilized ape which, in biological terms, may be considered born significantly premature.
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