Translating Sigmund Freud’s writings into English has left a formidable heap of wreckage strewn across the twentieth century. We’re used to saying “Ego” and “Id” when he simply used ordinary German words for “I” and “It.” Most relevant for this look at The Lamb, we’re used to hearing (if we hear this part of Freud at all anymore) about “castration” or the fear of it. Castration means the removal of the testicles, but that’s not what Freud was talking about. He was concerned about the removal of the penis, or the fear of its removal, or the child’s suspicion that it has been removed in the case of the female. The association with the idea of cutting is always strong, and of course blades (swords) may be phallic. A blade may shave as well as cut. Incision by a blade is a cousin of biting, some teeth being known as incisors. Here I want to call attention to the chain of associations in The Lamb that includes shaving, biting, and cutting.
Now, bringing up Doktor Freud seems (to continue speaking Freudian language) hopelessly “overdetermined” by the violent contests that comprise the history of psychoanalytic thought. It is so often assumed that the legacy of Freud is somehow “settled” or finalized, that he has been refuted, or subsumed, or otherwise tamed by subsequent inquiry, whether that inquiry bears the honorific adjective ‘scientific,’ or rests upon some other authoritative revelation. I take for granted here, without providing any explicit argument, that it is still worth paying heed to Freud, and that doing so still evokes insight that is not negated by the countless ways in which viewpoints associated with his name have been criticized. I ask to be allowed to invoke his name only provisionally, not simplistically as an infallible authority. I do not expect acceptance of any view according to which “biology is destiny,” noting in passing that even Freud himself arguably did not hold this as a dogma. I take up a Freudian gaze here not so much as what we usually think of as explanatory theory, but more as a hermeneutic lens. Try it. I’m not looking for unqualified commitment.
One of the most important things to realize about shaving, biting, and cutting in The Lamb is that it is clearly not associated with death. The images that accompany death are very different, suggesting the violence of an impact at first (“Fly on a Windshield”), but having much more to do with breath, with wind, with blowing or sucking in of air, and of course with transformation of one kind or another, with throwing into question the borders of the real (Rael). More on that soon. Shaving, biting and cutting, on the other hand, are all focused upon the bodily loci of love and sex.
The heart (also “the porcupine”) is shaved. Flesh is bitten by the (snake-like) Lamia, and they in turn are eaten by Rael (whose blood has killed them). And then there’s the visit to Doktor Dyper. “Don’t delay! Dock the dick!” This cutting is presumably some sort of treatment (“cure”?) for the curse of being a Slipperman (which came from having “tasted love”). The preservation of the member in a yellow plastic tube (“honey-pouch”) promises “safety” of some sort, safety which brother John is unwilling to risk when Rael’s is lost to the raven, and into the ravine.
Think of how all of this involves severing. What (or who) is severed from what (or whom)? It seems as though the severings (including that of John from Rael) are essential in leading to Rael’s ultimate experience of seeing his own face where John’s should be.
Shaving, biting, cutting, severing, removing, preserving (“pickling”). And if Docktor Freud is taken at least as a reliable cultural iconographer, also borrowing two or four cents from Jacques Lacan, may we conclude that the forms of sexual severing (alienation?) in The Lamb are part of what clears the way for the Other as mirror?
I do not present this as a conclusion. In order to understand why, think about how “It” is not a conclusion either. “It” has always been my least favorite song on the album musically. (See? I am not WHOLLY uncritical of the album.) “It” seems to act like a grandiose finale, and I’ve never thought it was really a successful one. But as I’ve thought with Freud a bit here, it has occurred to me how completely apt this may be.
No conclusion, but suddenly a director shouts, “CUT!!”