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Studies in Gender and Sexuality (2014) - The Death-Mother in Psycho: Hitchcock, Femininity, and Queer Desire




Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho (1960) is a significant work on many levels-to Hitchcock's career, to film history, to the horror genre. I propose that a crucial aspect of Psycho's design, one that relates to Hitchcock films as a whole, is its thematization of a concept that I call the "death-mother." A distinction between Mrs. Bates/"Mother," on the one hand, and the death-mother, on the other hand, impels this discussion. The death-mother -- which relates to the varieties of femininity on display but exceeds their specific aspects and implications -- is an effect produced by the film text and can only be understood through an analysis of the work as a whole. Exceeding the specifications of the Mrs. Bates character, the death-mother maps onto tropes and preoccupations in Hitchcock's oeuvre but, more importantly, indicates the aesthetic implications, for the male artist most commonly, of the dread of femininity. I develop the concept of the death-mother from the writings of Freud, Nietzsche, and Andre Green and from feminist psychoanalytic theory: Barbara Creed, in her reworking of Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection, and Diane Jonte-Pace, in her analysis of Freud's work. My analysis focuses on the relevance of the death-mother to issues of femininity and queer sexuality crucial to and enduringly controversial within Psycho.