ATTACHMENT AND CONNECTION: ON FREE WILL IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
“Rather than look for discursive expositions of the author’s beliefs, the reader is best served by waiting to see what emerges from the intermingling of his or her own thoughts with an accumulation of impressions gathered in this blog. These impressions defy attempts to be nailed down and final, which is a very good thing, according to some.”
Looking at You: And You The Same
I’m looking at you
Looking at me
Looking at you
And you the same.
Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey: Endless Love (Royal Albert Hall)
I. ON ATTACHMENT
During the past few weeks, many of the young persons with whom I work have been focussing upon and struggling with issues related to feelings of attachment to others. As a result, many of my own thoughts have centered upon our generally pervasive need to feel connected with others. The following brief commentary attempts to summarize the course of those thoughts, which have ranged from Jean Paul Sartre’s book “Nausea,” to the jazz songs of Bessie Smith and finally to a short “Haiku-like” poem that I have written in an attempt to encapsulate this journey in a hopefully striking manner.
To begin, for a number of years my mind has often returned to the echo of a scene near the end of Sartre’s Nausea. Nausea is a haunting narrative of one day in the life of its protagonist, Roquentin, as he attempts to cope with living in a world that is meaningless. It is a kind of existence that appears to tumble from moment to moment, without any real sense of past or future, a life that slowly decomposes and ultimately slides toward death.
But in one of the final scenes of the book, juxtaposed to the painfully dark and grim journey of the day, Roguentin is alone in a darkened, candle-lit room in a bistro hidden away in a desolate location beneath an overhead train trestle. He is facing a juke-box, which suddenly begins to play a scratched recording of Bessie Smith’s hauntingly hopeful song, “Some of These Days.” The lyrics and melody suddenly punctuate Roquentin’s existence by imposing a sense of order on the chaos of his life. Despite the record’s scratchiness, Roquentin can play the song again; he can return to a melody, an underlying sense of connection in life, which is repeatable, unchanging, a-temporal and ideal.
Further, the latter belief rests upon what has become a post-modern conviction, that meaning is co-created by a person and an object, for example that meaning is co-created by the artist and the sense-making activity of the “reader.” In terms of interpersonal relationships, for Sartre the recognition of and by the other is represented by the “stare” of the other. The stare is the other’s attempt to fix “me” in the present, to transform me into Being for others, establishing a sense of connection and attachment.
In addition, the gaze of the other jolts one to realize the significance of one’s personal choices in determining the course of one’s life. In other words, while we may not know ahead of time how the course of our lives will turn out, it is not all simply a matter of fate.
“I found my way into Et Cetera: Publick and Privat Curiosities (ECPPC) by way of a brief, eloquent tribute to the perseverance of a group of psychoanalytic psychologists in Chicago, who were determined to form the first non-M.D. psychoanalytic training institution outside of L.A. and NYC. Initially, I was struck by the author’s tone of genuine admiration and appreciation for those who persevered in this very worthy endeavor. Over the ensuing months, I’ve returned to this blog many times to sample the satisfying entries on a range of topics including current affairs, psychology, psychoanalysis, people, cultural issues, politics, art and poetry. Each time I read further in this site, I find more and enjoy more.The publisher of ECPPC is a psychoanalyst with a strong postmodern, intersubjective bent, which isn’t an analytic model, as much as it is a way of seeing and being. Whether his posts take the form of personal reflections, comments on politics, gripping or entrancing images or poetry, he is, at once, earnest, curious and playful—qualities of mind and heart that are indispensable to the analytic endeavor. This playfulness is not only expressed in ideas, but in form, beginning with the playful spelling of the blog’s title.
Rather than look to ECPPC for discursive expositions of the author’s beliefs, the reader is best served by waiting to see what emerges from the intermingling of his or her own thoughts with an accumulation of impressions gathered in this blog. These impressions defy attempts to be nailed down and final, which is a very good thing, in my opinion.
Two quotes from the site, taken together, give us a glimpse of the author’s very appealing sensibilities. Writing about his grandmother lost in prayer, he asked:
“Was that the certainty of fundamentalism? Or was it the initiation into a mystery none of us can ever fully understand? I’d argue the latter. The 18th century German playwright Gotthold Lessing said it best. He prayed a simple prayer: “If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left hand only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand, and say, Father, I will take this–the pure Truth is for You alone.”
He also quotes Freud, noting that
“In the history of psychoanalysis, there is hardly a more striking anecdote than a comment made by Freud in a letter to Oskar Pfister in 1910:
‘Discretion is incompatible with a good presentation of psychoanalysis. One must become a bad character, disregard the rules, sacrifice oneself, betray, behave like an artist who buys paints with the household money belonging to his wife or bums the furniture to heat the studio for his model. Without such a bit of criminality there is no real achievement.’”
I have no recollection of reading that quotation of Freud before stumbling upon it in ECPPC. It speaks to a faith in seeing over doing and seeing as becoming. Nothing blinds us more to our own being, and the being of others, than imprisonment by the ‘practical,’ the darkness of convention, and disdain for the odd and the eccentric. As I write and reflect on this, Flannery O’Connor’s observation comes to mind:
“You shall know the truth and it will make you odd.”
Also in the same post, don’t miss the author’s observations on ‘resignation’ and the reactions of Anna Freud and Edith Jacobson to Nazi persecution. Here the image that comes to my mind is the attempted (but failed) murder of truth by nailing it to a cross. Truth transcends vulgar attempts to be nailed down by self-serving calculation, because truth is by nature, always elevated, alive and becoming rather than fixed, final and lifeless.
Perhaps I’m trying too hard to explain what must be experienced. So, let me leave off this review simply by saying that the publisher of ECPPC is a rare bird — which is in my view — the best kind of bird to be.”
III. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN
Again, I return to thoughts of Quentin Crisp and how, in his own highly eccentric manner, his life seemed to symbolize and attempt to promote a perspective (however paradoxical) of individuality, self acceptance and tolerance. Along this line, he once stated, “I have always lived my life in the profession of being.”
Many years ago Quentin wrote a short autobiographic note of his life, entitled “What Does It Mean to be Human?” The following is the text of that autobiographic summary:
“When thinking about what it meant to be human, I was very sorry that I was not a scholar and had no philosophical point of view to express. More than not being a scholar, I am not really a human being. I do not mind spending long hours alone, and I never find something to do. This is part of my nature.
My sister reminded me before she died that she and my mother sat on each side of the fireplace and occupied themselves with darning socks, and knitting, and writing letters on their laps. I lay as a child on the rug between them, and once an hour one of them said, “Why don’t you get something to do?” And I said, “Why should I?” That is a question I cannot answer. Why should I have something to do?
Of course, there is the theory that time is money. It is an American theory: I am not earning money while I am doing nothing. Which is sad. But if I were rich, I would never do anything. I was asked by a paper, “If you suddenly had a million dollars, what would you do?” And I said, “Go to bed, and never get up again!” This was a great disappointment to the people who asked me the question. But idleness is my only occupation, and people are my only hobby.
If I regard what I think is human, and perhaps I was asked precisely because I am not a human being and, therefore, have a detached view of the subject, I would say it was a preoccupation with the idea of death. The reason why people do not live alone and do not spend hours doing nothing is because they can hear time ticking by. Then they develop hobbies, which drive them mad. You may ask them, “Why do you do this?” They ultimately say, “Well, it helps kill time.”
I don’t want my time dead. Time is meant to be lived! Those who are not hopeless are worried that one day their lives will end. And, if you live long enough, of course, you long for it to end. That’s been my desire in recent times. I only hope to become extinct. But before all that, you must try everything. Have children. Behave in such a way that monuments are built to you. Rule the world! Have streets and theaters named after you. Write your autobiography. These are ways to staying alive, and this seems to be a preoccupation with being human.
When I was younger and was not ill, I didn’t mind how long I lived. Now that every step of my life is painful, I long for death. If being human has any other special aspect it is that in every human being there are two people. One who sits in judgment on the other. The worldly, the doing person, acts irresponsibly, or nobly, or wisely, or foolishly, according to the mood or the situation. But inside him, further away, is an abstract spiritual being who never changes and who sits in judgment on him.
This situation becomes evident when we hear people say, “I was ashamed of myself.” Who is ashamed of whom? It is this duality between the active living organism and the contemplative inner-self that sits in judgment that constitutes the whole human being. This is, I think, what constitutes a human being.
Blending In: Persecution and The Art of Writing
IV. THOUGHTS ON HOPE AND SEPARATION-INDIVIDUATION: CONVEYED IN THE MANNER OF PERSECUTION AND THE ART OF WRITING
Our seemingly established right to freedom of expression may be seen as caught between two different trends of disenchanted modernity. The first trend relies upon the demands of an extremely pragmatic form of rationalization, leading to the framing of our thoughts as legitimate only when subordinated to the dictates of scientistic objectivism and the dominant governmental ideology.
At perhaps an even more personal level, it can lead one to become subjugated to an increasingly impaired quality of thought processes (often a rapidly progressing, narrow focus upon issues related to the draconian pursuit of power) characterizing whatever institution to which one has been devoted.
The second trend is to anchor feelings of confidence upon introspective self-inquiry, which offers one the opportunity for a sense of freedom from the dictates of orthodoxy, inequality, and authority.
However, the reaction against the first trend of submission to external domination may tend to produce, in its emphasis upon introspective subjectivity, a vulnerability to reifying counter-ideals of not-knowing and mutuality, which must also be carefully deconstructed. Differences in meanings achieved by others who also choose to rely ever more upon the liberating capacity of subjectivity suggest pluralism will make new knowledge demands upon us. The development of new critical abilities will be needed to help form a way of knowing that is based upon collaborative, democratic processes, where knowledge itself can be used homeopathically as an antidote to the old ideal of the knowing authority.
In the history of psychoanalysis, there is hardly a more striking anecdote than a comment made by Freud in a letter to Oskar Pfister in 1910:
“Discretion is incompatible with a good presentation of psychoanalysis. One must become a bad character, disregard the rules, sacrifice oneself, betray, behave like an artist who buys paints with the household money belonging to his wife or bums the furniture to heat the studio for his model. Without such a bit of criminality there is no real achievement.”
This statement, notably to a non-analyst, reminds us how, despite its present appearance of orthodoxy and reverence for the founder, psychoanalysis began as a marginal, radical enterprise. From its inception, psychoanalysis took up a quietly critical stance toward authority, bourgeois conventional norms and what were then the certainties of conscious knowledge.
In contemporary life, the renewed sense of enrichment provided by a turn to self-inquiry, as opposed to living as a servant to external powers, is accompanied by sometimes distressing feelings of disenchantment, an awareness that the modern condition no longer allows us to call upon religious, mysterious, and awe-inspiring forms of truth, upon authority founded in such revealed truth. One of the consequences of this disenchantment is that the ultimate and most sublime values have retired from public life, at best into the brotherliness of immediate personal relationships.
At the same time we are required either to suffer a great deal more uncertainty or, more constructively, learn how to embrace it. Those who find this condition too difficult to bear will retreat vociferously, in a manner that obscures the uncertainty of life, into the arms of churches which promise them a renewed sense of entitlement and power over others, often over the unfortunate and disadvantaged.
My concluding remarks are perhaps the most difficult to formulate clearly. In contemporary psychotherapeutic and “self-help” thinking, feelings of resignation are unanimously associated with feelings of depression, inadequacy and a sense of low self-worth. There are, however, important incidents in the history of psychoanalysis that point out an entirely different dimension of “feelings of resignation.”
One striking example involved the psychoanalyst Edith Jacobsen in the 1930s, who at that time was a member of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Jacobson was arrested by the Gestapo for participating in a resistance group in 1934 and was sentenced and held for more than two years in a Gestapo prison; she was finally released due to illness and managed to escape.
It subsequently been revealed that Anna Freud responded to the Nazi persecution of Jacobson solely in terms of her deep worry that Jacobsen had jeopardized the psychoanalytic movement in Berlin, which had hoped to preserve the Institute and continue treating patients without interference, by complying with the authorities, accepting (demanding) the resignation of its Jewish members, and generally being on best behavior.
For Anna Freud, then, “resignation” was in fact both an oppressive demand and a despicable compliance with the Nazi domination and persecution of the Jews. Jacobson committed herself to an entirely different, firm “sense of resignation” to refuse the vulgar type of “resignation” demanded by Anna Freud, displaying a noble, moral and life-enriching form of resignation.
In the United States, the history of psychoanalysis presents other practical instances where the sense and enactment of feelings of resignation were pioneering and moral acts of justice. One of the more significant of these events took place in the 1930s, with the simultaneous resignations of Karen Horney and Clara Thompson from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in protest against the degrading understanding of women that it expounded, viewing women as innately inferior and damaged humans.
The subsequent body of writings about women created by Karen Horney can quite justifiably be understood as a major cornerstone for the feminist movement that emerged. Clara Thompson went on to become a founder of the William Allison White Institute in New York City, which from its very beginnings has served as a fountainhead for contemporary relational thinking.
“Feelings of resignation,” then, need not necessarily be understood to reflect underlying depression, lack of self-confidence, feelings of incompetence and inadequacy. Instead, feelings and acts of “resignation” may serve as a firm commitment to the affirmation of justice, the defiance of authoritarian domination, the refusal to be ruled by primitive forms of reason and the pursuit of humanitarian achievements. In this manner, “the sense of resignation” stands proudly as a beacon of hope for all mankind.
SELF AND IDENTITY
V. ON SELF AND IDENTITY
In America, one speaks for oneself–in the never certain case that one has a self to speak for and that anyone will be impressed.
“Self” and “Identity are not facts about people; they are ways of thinking about people. Therefore, it doesn’t really make sense for us to say that someone “has a self or an identity,” as if each is a thing that actually may be had, possessed or discovered.
Self and identity are changeable. However it is the kind of changeability that derives from the fact that self and identity are not names of identifiable or concrete, monolithic entities. They are classes of (perhaps unformulated) self-experiences, which are quite varied in terms of scope, time of origin, vantage point and context.
Consider these examples: I hit myself (self= my body; I hate myself (self= my personality); I’m self-conscious (self= my actions); I’m self-sufficient (self= competence); I feel like my old self (self= sense of continuity); I’m selfish (self= my needs); my shame was self-inflicted (self= my agency); and I couldn’t contain myself (self= my subjective space).
The reifications of “self” and “identity,” then, center around the concretist idea that cognitive processes are substances, with such properties of matter as spacial location,weight, quantity and inertia. Similarly, our assumptions about feelings too often are identified with qualities of actual substances, substances to be withheld or expelled, gotten rid of or destroyed; or they may fill one up, explode, leak out or spill over. Feelings for others, in addition, in this manner are described as ties that may be cut (like ropes, umbilical cords, or sadistic chains), be substances that engulf, poison, paralyze, suffocate, or “murder” one’s “soul.”
Even though such archaic thinking is commonly used as metaphor in our communications about everyday life, more accurate perspectives would not ascribe substantiality to what are essentially cognitive and emotional processes.
VI. NEW BEGINNINGS: FACING THE UNKNOWN
Thinking indoors, inside. Complexly simple, liminal considerations about making it possible for us to listen and hear or feel ourselves in a new way:
With the growing plurality of theoretical schools in the arts, social sciences and psychoanalysis (and many other fields), as well as the post-positivist turn in our thinking about theory itself and its relation to truth, there is a new urgency about our relation to the observational data of everyday life. On the one hand, we can no longer presume any definitively correct theoretical framework. Even if we are ourselves persuaded about the truth of our own particular perspective, we are forced to be modest about its claim on reality. This is the lesson of pluralism.
Conversely, we are increasingly forced to recognize that the facts, the data themselves, are always imbued with meaning. That is, there is no clear distinction to be made between facts and theories; there is no place to stand apart from our theories. If truth with a capital “T” is no longer attainable, even the particular local truths of a given situation are contingent and provisional, laced with ambiguity and uncertainty. Our interpretations rest on interpretations, rest on interpretations, rest on interpretations. This is the lesson of post-positivist science.
The emphasis upon the ambiguous and uncertain nature of our lives vitalizes and enriches our experiences of surprise. In other words, expanding our capacities to become engaged in depth with the ongoing events in our lives requires that we learn to become prepared to be unprepared for new experiences. This is an important characteristic of being open, or of openness. It is complemented by being prepared to make mistakes, no matter how diligently we attempt to receive the unknown. Here the stress is on having the flexibility to recover and re-find one’s bearings.
This being said, it is nevertheless very difficult fully to accept that we are, whether artists, scientists (or whatever mix) always taking temporary, limited and highly personal sightings in endlessly changing circumstances, sightings marked not only by new corrections but also by new errors. We can never know how to do that, but we can know that that is what we have to do.
Once one’s mind has been freed of its repetitive ruminations over what it is afraid to face, or its compulsive need to hang on to what it believes it knows, it becomes able to truly question the unknown that is actually there. There is a parallel shift from attempting to create meaning from reconstructions of the past to the realm of the “living moment” in which one is an inquiring subject. From this perspective, we are always asking questions. Our questions are always in search of other questions, and of the questions of others.
There are reasons why the unknown often is kept at bay in the present, reasons derived from old experience. If the notion of the dynamic unconscious is less viable as the crucial point of origin for repressed impulses, it is nonetheless true that there are dynamic processes that actively work to screen our perceptions and curtail our activities in order to protect us from encountering what past experience have made us afraid to know.
Further, the realm of the unknown is in itself is a source of fear. We may be able to contemplate the vastness of space with awe, for example, but when we actually venture into it we become acutely aware of needing to know more than we do. Our relation to unknown places demands upon us to know what we cannot know. It is not surprising that being able to tolerate this confrontation with the unknown often requires us temporarily to “stand back,” something analogous to creating a space in which to move. Such a space allows us to recover or develop the capacity to think about what has previously not been available for thought. For this to happen, an “opening” has to occur in the mind within which the new potential for thinking can occur.
“Space” is used a metaphor here, but as one of those metaphors which allows perspective to develop and reflection arise. If we can “stand back” from an initially overwhelming immediate experience, we are creating something that can be thought of as a “distance” that allows a new relationship between experience and thought. Or one might think of it in terms of time: a delay or a pause that occurs between the act and the thought, which makes it possible for us to listen and hear or feel ourselves in a new way.
LOVE: COMPLEXITIES ABOUND
VII. CONCLUDING REMARKS: LOVE’S COMPLEXITIES ABOUND
The underlying current for many informed contemporary thinkers is that no one has access to ultimate truth. There are minor situational exceptions, of course, such as the reality that I have written this and that you are there reading it. On the other hand, it is still the case that there is no ultimate truth about the interaction between my writing and your reading of it, about my meaning and your own interpretation.
So it is with “love,” or “being in love”: the paradoxical perspective offers celebration for the complexities that abound in our attempts to specify the particulars of those states.
“I paid the price of solitude
But at least I’m out of debt.”
Bob Dylan, “Dirge”