Rob Weatherill: Raskolnikov's Dream
Psychoanalysis Ireland »
Upcoming Events »
Crime and Punishment » Rob Weatherill: Raskolnikov's Dream
RASKOLNIKOV’S DREAM. COMPLACENT PSYS ALL ROUND?
Talk given as part of the College of Psychoanalysis day on Crime (Feb 3rd 2007) “Psys” - a term coined in France to cover psychotherapists and psychoanalysts
Abstract: Fears of social breakdown used to be dismissed as “hysteria” or “moral panic”, but as early as 1927, Freud regarded the superego as ‘the most precious cultural asset’. Soon after Lacan was concerned about the paternal function. By mid-century psys were seeing the rise of modern “borderline” maladies, and Klein analysed the “archaic” superego. By the eighties, Lasch was writing about a narcissistic culture. More recently, Zizek pointed-up the emergence of the obscene criminal father who is the inverse of the Law. Only two years ago Jacques-Alain Miller was commenting on the pathology of democracy. This paper will expand on these psychoanalytic myths and explore how psys are as much part of the problem as part of the solution. By implicitly promoting an emotivist, subjectivist culture largely free from ethical constraints, we may be further contributing to weakening of the social. No longer radical, “therapy culture” is a structural element of late capitalism smoothing the path to ever greater consumption of state and private resources.
"Never had people considered themselves as wise and as strong in their persuit of truth as these plague-ridden people. Never had they thought their decisions, their scientific conclusions, and their moral convictions so unshakable or so incontestably right…Each of them believed that the truth only resided in him…They did not know whom to put on trial or how to pass judgment; they could not agree what was good or what was evil. They did not know whom to accuse or whom to acquit. In cities the tocsin was sounded all day long: they called everyone together, but no one knew who had summoned them, and all were in a state of great alarm…" (Raskolnikov’s dream, in Crime and Punishment. F. Dostoyevsky. Penguin Classics.)
"On the day when crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age, it is innocence that is called on to justify itself". (Albert Camus, The Rebel).
Back in the 1950s when fears of nuclear war was rife and Strontium 90 was circulating in the upper atmosphere, my parents’ generation worried about whether or not to bring children into such a potentially toxic world. In the 1990s, Guy and Hope, fictional mother and father in Martin Amis’s London Fields have produced an infant monster in the shape of little Marmaduke: ‘The moment came and Marmaduke sprang for the knife. After a fierce struggle beneath the table Guy, his father, disarmed him and climbed to his feet, holding his nose where Marmaduke had bitten it.’ The irony is that Guy and Hope always give generously to the charity Save the Children. But now they ask, ‘What about our own child? Who’s going to save him?’ No one can, it seems! He is in a state of permanent tantrum silenced only by a parental one. For years, like my parents’ generation, they had worried about the awful kind of world they were bringing their child into. Now they were seriously worried about the awful kind of child they were bringing into their world!
Towards the end of his work Freud asserted the civilising effect of the superego, taking for granted the necessity for “external coercion” in child-rearing:'It is in keeping with the course of human development that external coercion gradually becomes internalised; for a special mental agency, man's superego, takes it over and includes it among its commandments. Every child presents this process of transformation to us; only by that means does it become a moral and a social being. Such a strengthening of the superego is a most precious cultural asset in the psychological field. Those in whom it has taken place are turned from being opponents of civilization into being its vehicles. The greater their number is in a cultural unit, the more secure is the culture and the more it can dispense with external measures of coercion'. (1)
Freud had a formula that went something like: cultural development occurs in proportion to the restraining, repressing, renunciation of the sexual and aggressive drives. Although this leads to discontent, malaise or neurosis within civilisation, the formula of repression must stay in some shape or form.
Melanie Klein took things further, with her concept of the 'archaic superego' which is the forerunner of the mature adult superego. Firstly, by contrast, it is not a moral agency in any sense. It opposes drive but in an entirely driven way. It operates on the principle of the talion, using aggression to oppose aggression. The ruthlessness of the infant in procuring its needs is matched by the ruthlessness of the archaic superego response. Freud had already noted this severity in melancholia and obsessional neurosis.
'How is it that the superego…develops such extraordinary harshness and severity towards the ego? If we turn to melancholia first, we find that the excessively strong superego which has obtained a hold upon consciousness rages against the ego with merciless violence, as if it had taken possession of the whole of the sadism available in the person concerned. Following our view of sadism we should say that the destructive component had entrenched itself in the superego and turned against the ego. What is now holding sway in the superego is a pure culture of the death instinct…In obsessional neurosis…the instinct of destruction has been set free and it seeks to destroy the object…The superego behaves as if the ego were responsible for this…by the seriousness with which it chastises these destructive intentions…' (2)
Klein pointed-out that the early superego is 'immeasurably harsher and more cruel than that of the older child or adult and that it literally crushed down the feeble Ego of the small child…In the small child we come across a superego of the most incredible and phantastic proportions…' (3) The younger the child the more severe is the superego. 'We get to look upon the child's fear of being devoured, or cut-up, or torn to pieces, or its terror of being surrounded and pursued by menacing figures…'
When aggression is at its height they never tire of, 'tearing and cutting-up, breaking and wetting and burning all sorts of things like paper, matches, boxes, small toys, all of which represent (unconsciously) parents, brothers, sisters and bodies and breasts, and this rage for destruction alternates with attacks of anxiety and guilt'. (4) These frustrated and destructive rages within the child cause him great anxiety, 'for he perceives his anxiety arising from his aggressive instincts as fear of an external object [person], both because he had made that object their outward goal, and because he has projected them onto it, so that they seem to be initiated against himself from that quarter'. (5) He cannot own up to his rage; instead he will create terrifying images of his parents who are now felt to rage against him. This is a desperate attempt at control by turning sadism against the self.
In the archaic superego we have a brutal instrument of self-punishment which is as impulsive and dangerous as the drives of the Id, that it is trying to control. This is part of our very early development. It remains mostly unconscious and we only become aware of it during nightmares, certain drug states, during horror movies and certain paranoid states as well as depressive ones.
Critically, for our argument here, with the alleged loss of the more mature and benign superego and suitable identification figures, which has occurred over the last half century, children are increasingly exposed to this frightening internal world. The more that children and people generally were to be liberated from the old structures of paternal authority, the more freed up to do their own thing, the more they were to suffer the slavish oppression of the archaic superego. This is the insight we should reclaim from Freud and Klein.
However, the neo-Reichians continues to be so much more popular and influential in psy circles than either Freud or Klein. Many of the early analysts believed in sexual liberation and were promiscuous and bohemian social utopians in contrast to the psychoanalytic establishment. As early as 1930, the profession was completely polarised. Freud had published Civilisation and its Discontents, maintaining civilisation demanded sacrifice of our freedom, but the younger analysts believed in throwing off repressions. According to Elizabeth Danto (6), Reich was powerful, brilliant and sexy. He had an electrifying energy all of his own. Reich thought Freud’s civilisation book was a response to his ideas, saying that Freud was the one who was “discontented” by civilisation. Reich wanted to cure the world of sexual repression. In 1928, Freud referred to him as, ‘a worthy but impetuous young man, passionately devoted to his hobbyhorse, who now salutes in the genital orgasm the antidote to every neurosis'. That year Reich, created a mobile clinic, Sex-Pol, arguing for ‘free sexuality within an egalitarian society’. They were against abstinence, the corrupting influence of the family and in favour of pre-marital sex. Six free clinics were established, staffed by left-analysts, which immediately became overcrowded, boasting membership of over 40,000. In 1930, Reich met Freud and stressed the importance of removing children from the family if the Oedipus Complex was to be avoided, but Freud replied: ‘Your viewpoint is no longer compatible with the middle path of psychoanalysis’. Freud argued that it was not the job of psychoanalysis to save the world. Reich described Freud as being like a “caged animal”. Increasingly radical, Reich joined the communist party. Freud’s New Year’s resolution for 1932 was: step against Reich!
However, around the same time, Lacan spoke up for the father (and by implication his internal representative – the superego) and the absolute value that should be placed on the 'tender virile identification.' However, Lacan acknowledged, and this acknowledgement is just as valid seven or eight decades later: ‘The resulting situation for this good father is a remarkably difficult one; to a certain extent he is an insecure figure.’ (7)
Speaking of neurosis as early as 1938, Lacan says that weak fathers problematise sublimation and creativity. With foresight, he warns, ‘Impotence and the utopian spirit are the sinister godmothers who watch over the cradle of the neurotic and imprison his ambition.’ (8)
And judging by our inbox spam, there is much impotence about and later we will have much to say about the utopian spirit.
It was not actual fathers, but the symbolic father which was the crucial agency for Lacan. The murdered father of the primal horde, “lives” on as this bearer of language, of differentiation, of meaning, of repression (the superego) on the one hand, and promise (the ego ideal) on the other. The father is the “spokesman,” who explains the world. He is the one who acknowledges, legitimates, and underscores us. Without the agency of the father, the Imaginary register, the imagistic-celebrity culture, becomes hyper-realised.
Borch-Jacobsen summarises the Lacanian position:
'…the insolvency and “narcissistic bastardising” of the father figure, the growing indistinguishability of the paternal function from the “specular double”, the “tangential movement towards incest” in our societies...In short, it is the competitive, rivalrous world, revealed as the great traditional ordering principles retreat, a world of doubles all the more identical for assuming their autonomy, all the more racked by guilt for declaring their emancipation from every law. Hense the paradox: “God is dead, so everything is permitted. Nothing is permitted anymore.”'(9)
This echoes our discussion above on the emergence of the archaic superego, where the criminal and the cop, double and interchange. In the free-market of feelings emerge hate crimes, metonymies of hate, searching at random on the streets for one hate object after another. The archaic superego becomes an undercover double-agent infiltrating the criminal underworld, death squad, the masked hit man, the contract killer to “take out” what is already dead. Criminal means justify criminal ends. The war on terror becomes terroristic.
The father has at least two functions in our psychoanalytic understanding. Firstly, he breaks the incestuous Oedipal bond of the child with the mother, in effect saving the child from a later psychosis. This is clinically verifiable again and again. Secondly, the father is the shield against death. In the jealous Oedipal rivalry with the father, lies a narrow footbridge thanks to which the son does not feel directly invaded, directly swallowed by the Real, i.e. unmediated confrontation with the anguish of death. Indeed, the death of the father, whenever it occurs, is felt by the son as a hole that opens in the Real. Freud puts it very strongly early in the Civilization book: ‘I cannot think of any need in childhood so strong as the need for a father’s protection’ (10)
Contemporary progressive thinking about the father prefers terms like “significant parent” de-differentiating mother from father, significant other, or carer, etc. Here the father may be important, but certainly no more important than anyone else. To think otherwise is flout the inclusive rhetoric. But research in Britain (there has only been one small study in Ireland) has shown that “fatherlessness” is disastrous in virtually every measurable outcome for the children concerned. An intergenerational vicious circle is set up, whereby sons without fathers become so antisocial, linked into gangland criminality, drugs and alcoholism and sire children who they in turn will not look after, that no woman would want to be associated with this kind of low-life. Meantime the women suffer poverty, having to cope largely on their own.
Here are some of the recent observations from Britain.
Half of all cohabitees split up before their child's fifth birthday, compared with just one in 12 married couples. That adds to the army of children being brought up without a male role model and imposes a heavy burden on society. The financial cost of family breakdown, now £20bn a year, a third of the U.K. education budget. The great majority of young offenders come from one-parent households. Children from broken homes tend to fail at school, are twice as likely to have behavioural problems as their friends and 70 per cent more likely to become hooked on drugs. Many run wild in street gangs, which have become substitute families. 15% of all babies born grow up without a father. Family breakdown, in all its forms, is occurring at a greater rate today than ever before. (11)
Lacan was quite aware that, in contemporary life, the rigour of the Symbolic register was more of a structuring mythology than a reality. The now chronic deficiency of the paternal function, the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, the undermining of the Law, the loss of familial landmarks leads us to reformulate, the Freud/Lacanian Oedipus is not the Oedipus as it is; it is the Oedipus as it must be.
At this point, we have extracted a number of things. 1) Freud’s ironic valuation of the superego as a precious cultural asset. 2) Klein’s deepening of this structure with her understanding of the archaic superego, which is an enemy of culture, a violent urgent reaction to the drives, leadingly only to violence and panic, especially in children. 3) Lacan’s symbolic father as structuring effect which has been ailing throughout the time of psychoanalysis and modernity. 4) Finally the real flesh and blood father, who fails, but even in his failing is a hedge against incest, psychosis and ciminality.
The psychoanalytic clinic in parallel with the failing father was also changing. For half a century psys have noticed an increase in the number of people seeking help who show narcissistic disturbances or borderline conditions. These people are fragmented. They have very profound mood swings, levels of self-esteem ranging from grandiosity to a sense of inferiority which is a void or empty space. Kohut spoke of a ‘depleted self … the empty depression, i.e. the world of unmirrored ambitions, the world devoid of ideals'. (12) Kernberg (1970) (13) pointed out that narcissistic pathology represents a defence against a fundamental rage that is felt to be so destructive, so full of impotent anger, that it threatens completely to destroy the self and other. Here the drives and the archaic superego vie for control leading potentially, at the end of the line, to homicide or suicide.
Most recently, Paul Verhaeghe (in unpublished work) goes on to talk about contemporary disorders, which are now quite unlike Freud’s descriptions of the psychoneuroses. He lists them. Panic attacks, stress disorders, addictions, cutting, promiscuity have much in common with Freud’s “actual neuroses”. They are action oriented, with the focus on the Real of the body, the here and now with no hidden meaning or historicisation. The transference is likely to be, not just a negative transference per se, but an immediate challenging of our position from the first instance. These people have not constructed symptoms to repress the drive, they haven’t the luxury of a sinthome – Lacan’s term for living in a creative way with one’s neurosis. So what position must the analyst adopt, he asks? Well, the therapeutic alliance and an attempt to provide, what Lacan called ‘a coating for the drive’.
The new social bond:
As Jacques Alain Miller says in his strong defence of contemporary psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, ‘the psy is now being expected to substitute himself for the forebear to assure the transmission of values and continuity between generations. The listening ear of the psy, qualified or not, constitutes the compassionate cushion to the “society of risk” …the need for personalised attention’ (14) Over and against this listening to the suffering other (the client, the patient), lies what Miller refers to as the desert of “abstract and anonymous systems”. Here he lists society’s pathologies: detraditionalisation; loss of bearings; disarray of identifications; dehumanisation of desire; violence in the community; suicide among the young; the passages á l’acte of the mentally ill. As Miller says, psys are being called upon to be ‘constitutive or re-constitutive of the social bond which is going though a process of restructuring probably without precedent since the industrial revolution’ (15)
We are being called upon to ‘assure the transmission of values and continuity between generation’, on the one hand, and to be ‘reconstitutive of the social bond’ on the other. Against this exemplary vision for psychoanalysis, we could claim that psys have facilitated, by their “value neutral” or culturally relativist position, precicely the opposite: the deconstructing all social bonds, identifications and traditions. We have been probably closer to the aims of the Cultural Revolution in China and the campaign by the Red Guards against the “Four Olds”: ideals, culture, customs, habits. To claim now that psys are constitutive of the social bond, or transmitting values, or acting in place of forbears, may be somewhat disingenuous. What values? What social bond?
As one person who I saw for analytic sessions over a number of years who had grown up in a strong rural community said, when I’d finished explaining payment and timing of the sessions, payment for missed sessions, etc: ‘To think that it has come all the way down to just this!’ What he explained was, he had seen the end of the old natural informal social ties and their replacement by the “professional relationship”. The rural communities in Ireland have been devastated with the loss of the creameries, the post office, the local shop, the local schools and most recently the rural pub.
The values that psys do transmit, the new social bond that they do constitute can be succinctly formulated. A transactional exchangeable/negotiable social bond which values listening and speaking in total freedom and without censorship or discrimination. We value non-judgemental, non-interventionist listening and that is the ethical example we set in terms of the social bond. And Miller is correct: this is, in effect the new social bond. Because what psys practice in their clinics has now been transposed as a model deployed as an ideal for all social bonds within a democratic liberal society. We must all work with each other, in public and private, in a non-judgemental, transactional, negotiated and equal ways. Psi-values have diffused to the whole culture. What is good in the clinic, becomes deeply problematic, I am arguing, when diffused into a whole culture.
What words do we use to describe the contemporary? Fluid, floating, ephemeral, rapidly changing, a continuous revolution, migratory, re-cyclable, diffuse, cool, non-committed, non-discriminatory. All this and more is part of psi-values, now writ-large in the community, now enshrined in human rights law. And this law (From the EU and the UN) supercedes all previous formulations. The postmodern is also post-history. We have pulled up all our roots. As Terry Eagleton has pointed out, at least modernists still had a sense of the values they were at the same time destroying, they still had a sense of the tragic. Postmodernists, on the contrary, are post-everything – values and the tragic. This is the “liberation” that doesn’t even know itself, like the post-feminists who want to know nothing of feminism, or the post-Marxists, who want to know nothing of Marxism, and so on.
A well known Lacanian analyst, Bill Richardson, caused a stir when he argued in effect that clients in psychoanalysis need a sense of values and commitments to others!
In a letter in The Irish Times, Frank Farrell (09.01.07) wonders:
'Is there anything other than the lethargy of our legislature that is keeping Christianity from being a crime? Is there not a dominant thrust in public discourse to denigrate many things that Christianity used to stand for? Are parapets not being erected all over the place below which any budding Christian would do well to keep his head? Wouldn't an avowal of Christianity bring about howls of name-calling, even that shameful tag of fundamentalism? Surely all those things that Christians held to be wrong must now be permitted by law, since otherwise we would "criminalise" those who do them? So it is smart indeed to be careful about the evidence we leave.'
William Burleigh’s recent MORE4 programme, Dark Enlightenment, puts forwards the notion that the West’s desertion of its Christian roots has led to what Durkheim called “effervescence” where every bubble of this frothing represents an idea as the religious impulse fragments into a multiplicity of “solutions” and pseudo religions, cults and practices.
The superego, that Freud regarded as a precious cultural asset is constituted from the Judeo-Christian heritage. It enshrined rights, but rights with obligations inculcated by a long enculturation process. Now in the post-Christian psi-environment, we have competing rights without obligations. The new social bond that Miller refers to is a virtual bond: a bond that isn’t a real bond or, at most, passes itself off as a minimalist bond. Anything else would be unacceptable in a right-based, me-first culture. So it is a bond with a light (lite) touch, which allows for maximum exchangeability. Psi-culture has helped to create this new dispensation. What results then is a radically subjectivist culture – me first and my feelings first.
The effects of this new post-Christian culture bear most heavily on children, among other vulnerable groups.
Christopher Bollas, in his novel I can hear the Mermaids singing, refers to Attention Deficit Disorder and its increasing diagnosis among children and the Ritalin prescribing that is running at a third of a million prescriptions a year currently in the UK. But he says, 'it is not the children who have ADD, it is the parents! He is suggesting, the entire culture projects its own disorder into the child. Too many parents do not know what to do with their children, so they are bundled off to pre-school, then later in the day they are watched by nannies or childminders. It seems clear to him that those with the attention deficit disorders were actually the parents, plus the entire culture that supported this form of attack on childhood’ (16) But again, here is the psi confusion, because Bollas would have argued for equal parenting and the whole play of liberation (for adults!), which then in turn led to a catastrophic rise in house prices requiring two incomes to own a house. He goes on, ‘All he knew was that each and every child with this tag who he had seen or supervised had been neglected by the mother or father. From his point of view it was not a matter of blaming the parents, but of recognising that children need to have their parents around. They needed the mother or father at home when they returned from school, as they were vital characters in helping kids breakdown from the strains of reality’ He suggest ominously by way of conclusion, ‘The world was unwittingly predisposing an entire population to a mordant after-effect: to the inevitability of depression following adolescence, when millions of people would feel some deep inner loss but not have a clue about its origins’ (16).
Run that thought beside these comments from the British survey: ‘Young adults are engaging in a new culture of intoxication. Behind these drugs and alcohol headlines is the emergence and growth of a range of addictive behaviours and practices. Self harm and cutting, virtually unheard of ten years ago, are on the rise. Gambling is national addiction. Britain can also claim the dubious achievement of chalking up the fastest rise in the prescription of anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs to children.(18)
The three-Ds of Postmodernity: De-moralisation/De-sublimation/De-traditionalisation.
Thomas Mann on Freud's 80th birthday in 1936:
The analytic revelation is a revolutionary force. With it a blithe scepticism has come into the world, a mistrust that unmasks all the schemes and subterfuges of our own souls. Once roused and on the alert, it cannot be put to sleep again. It infiltrates life, undermines its raw naivete, takes from it the strain of its own ignorance
“Revolutionary”, “unmasking”, “undermining”. We have all been excited by this prospect, by this settling of accounts with complacency, with pharisaic righteousness, bringing down and breaking up. The end of hypocrisy and deference, fifties drabness as in Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake, the emergence of colour, the breakdown of barriers to social mobility, rights for minorities, sexual freedom, economic freedom, wealth on a scale undreamt of two generations ago and so on. Deregulation in every area of life, especially the arts and entertainment. It is an amazing success story in the wealthy urban areas of the West. Here we must invoke parallel universes. Like a meteorite at the end of its trajectory burns brightest at the moment of it extinction, the huge undreamt of success of liberal democracies has allowed parallel growth in criminality on a global scale. I remember John Simpson, the BBC’s most sober world affair correspondent, on the eve of the millennium, saying how a senior Interpol spokesperson had acknowledged that global crime was now out of control. But this is largely hidden from us for two reasons. One, because of a kind of conspiracy of positivity – everything has to be seen in a positive progressive light. Two, because no one can configure postmodernity. It is complexity in action and, freed at last from our Judeo-Christian formation, we have no way of getting our bearings. Radical success and radical nihilism co-mingle. Anything can mean anything and seventy years on from Thomas Mann’s pronouncements, we have reached the most advanced forms “unmasking” and “scepticism.” On the hither side of our utopia – Raskolnikov again - 'Never had they thought their decisions, their scientific conclusions, and their moral convictions so unshakable or so incontestably right…Each of them believed that the truth only resided in him [radical subjectivity]…They did not know whom to put on trial or how to pass judgment; they could not agree what was good or what was evil. They did not know whom to accuse or whom to acquit. In cities the tocsin was sounded all day long: they called everyone together, but no one knew who had summoned them, and all were in a state of great alarm.'
Perhaps it is a failure of nerve, perhaps it is a senior moment, but this project, this praxis, we can see with the benefit of hindsight, has been de-moralising – gradually removing the moral basis for our civilisation, easily exploited as it was from the beginning by those who stood to gain from the liberation of the drives and the "policeman in your head" – namely rampant consumer capitalism on the one hand (from the Right as it were) and on the Left the state supported therapy industry that is required to pick up the pieces of social breakdown and its escalating costs. De-sublimation, Marcuse’s term, leads, not to the coating of the drive, to use Lacan’s term, but to the exposure of the drive and the kind of frenetic drivenness that characterises the postmodern subject.
One can be "addicted” to anything — not only to alcohol or drugs, but also to food, smoking, sex, work, shopping . . . This universalization of addiction points towards the radical uncertainty of any subjective position today: there are no firm predetermined patterns, everything has to be negotiated, up to and including suicide. Today, there are many young people saying: why live? It’s a cool question: why live? Camus emphasised that suicide is the only real philosophical problem. However, when precisely does this question “why live” actually arise? Only in postmodern de-traditionalised society, when life itself has lost touch with any natural rhythm, any proscribed pattern, any normality, when it is always, always now a question of choosing, even the ultimate choice of whether to live or die. The same kind of logic goes for euthanasia. Until recently, suicide was simply a sign of some terrible aberration, despair or misery, and suicide was regarded as a sinful act. With the contemporary, however, suicide becomes an existential act, the outcome of a pure decision. Living itself becomes an addiction, marked by an excess that no longer fits the simple life process. So instead of a balanced process of living to a natural life cycle, you must get passionately attached or stuck to some excess where your very survival in at stake.
Tom Wolfe says his novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, is about the "de-moralisa-tion" of sex.. The story told is one of student life at a fictional A-list US university. Sex, to these kids, has become just one more aspect of the good, the consumerised, life.
'I think there was actually comparatively little free love in the 1960s — in the communes, yes, but in the population, no. It's certainly in colleges now. The silken slither-slither, the golden spasms: that's what it's all about. These health centres in the colleges, they encourage good sex. It was going to all these colleges that made me realise that sex has been de-moralised. And I really don't think de-moralised sex is as much fun as good old evil sex.'
Wolfe, like Freud, inclines to the belief that sexual repression is one of the most distinctive things about human beings; removing it, therefore, threatens our humanity. (19)
One of our best known and most influential psys is Adam Phillips. In an interview connected with his book, Going Sane, where he suggests that madness has all the best lines (that is unless you are mad), he writes of how relationships are ‘not the kind of thing that one can be good or bad at, that one can succeed or fail at, any more than you can be good or bad at having red hair, or succeed and fail at being lucky. From my point of view, the way modern life is constructed and lived, you can't make a relationship work by an act of effort or will. The will can't do that work of imagination in a relationship, and when that happens people grow to hate each other even more,’ he says.
When a relationship feels (my emphasis) like it's over, he believes it is. We should accept that the man or woman of our dreams isn't someone we could actually have a relationship with, and learn to bear our frustrations’ (20).
Phillips has been called the writer of the floating world. Paradoxical, whimsical, ironic - ephemeral like the relationships he is describing. What does sustain a relationship if not, in the final analysis, effort, hard work, commitment and much imagination. With whom should we have a relationship if it is not the man or woman of our dreams, providing these dreams have some base in reality? We all know young lovers who have grown old together, who will stand by each other, in spite of difference and even hatred at times. All relationships are ambivalent. No but now nothing can be taken seriously; everything must be ironic.
The symbolic father, the imaginary father, the real father and now a contemporary myth that coincides with postmodernity and its total skepticism born of psi-values - the emergence of the obscene father. The father, the man, the male, male psychology, essentially lewd, lustful, pornographic. Once the father was feared and hated for his trenchant embodiment of the Law, now, in an absolute reversal, he becomes a terrifying figure. Within two generations, the old paternalist ambivalently loved and hated father has been displaced by his perverse counterpart.
The father has suddenly come alive! Zizek has it:
'[The] postmodern shift affects radically the status of paternal authority: modernism endeavours to assert the subversive potential of the margins which undermine the Father’s authority, of the enjoyments that elude the father’s grasp, whereas postmodernism focuses on the father himself and conceives him as “alive”, in his obscene dimension – the “anal father” who definitely does enjoy; the obscene little man who is the clearest embodiment of the phenomenon of the “uncanny” (unheimliche).' (21)
This other side of the Name-of-the-Father is revealed in Conrad's novels, in the figures of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and Mister Brown in Lord Jim. Marlow encounters Kurtz deep in the midst of the African jungle. Kurtz is a paternal figure who is a master of enjoyment without restraint, a representation of radical evil, all powerful, cruel to the utmost, an absolute Master for whom there are no limits. Yet he is a father who knows beyond the dead neutrality of the Law, a knowledge that is to do with absolute destruction/pleasure of the law beyond the law. This is the father, who allegedly lies behind the stabilising father – the warlords, the drug barons, narco-capitalists, tribal chieftains, mercenaries, paramilitaries, terrorists, who boast of their raping, torturing, ethnic cleansing and their casual enjoyment of killing in excess.
Closer to home, in fact, we are constantly told, he is most likely to be in the home, the father and adults in general are no longer to be trusted. The one-time bearers of values for the next generation are radically compromised by our psi-culture that argues for the transparency and the openness of everything and the new social-bond-lite.
The Nazis, the Bolsheviks, Mao’s Red Guards all played the Oedipal card and got the children to snitch on their parents and adults. The adults were always to be suspected and denounced publicly. Today with our perpetual cultural revolution, the same trick, get the children to tell on the adults. In Britain, if you want to work with children or help out in a childrens’ activity, you must pay £36 and fill in a fifteen page form and wait for 4 weeks to be vetted the Criminal Records Bureau, who are currently dealing with 9m applications.
According to the Manifest club website campaining against what it calls, the “child protection industry”,
'The vetting of adults in the name of child protection is out of control. Those now being vetted include 16-year-olds teaching younger kids to read, parents volunteering at school, and foster carers’ friends. Running an after-school club is now subject to more stringent security tests than selling explosives.' (22)
Jim Campbell, Mayor of Oxford: ‘The important informal ways in which people relate are going to disappear – everything will be done under contract. We are in danger of creating a generation of children who are encouraged to look at people who want to help them with suspicion.
If somebody has three different roles – say, a football coach, school governor and youth worker — they need three different checks. Sometimes they need multiple checks for one job, to satisfy the bookkeeping requirements of different organisations.
This mad bureaucracy is about to get madder, with a new law passed last Monday that will make it a crime for unchecked adults to work or volunteer with children, punishable by a fine of up to £5,000.' (23)
Informal ways in which people relate are going to disappear.
Every kind of human relationship is now to be subjected to training requirements leading to best practice, targeted improvements, evidence based testing, terms and conditions, protocols, contractual relations. This creates massive health bureaucracies, new industries of well paid psy-experts and service providers, regulators, funding agencies and inspectors, both in the public and private sectors. Less and less are people allowed to act informally without risking trouble or litigation. The pollution of paranoia enters into every niche of the social. How did we get here?
‘Blithe scepticism has come into the world, a mistrust that unmasks all the schemes and subterfuges of our own souls. Once roused and on the alert, it cannot be put to sleep again’ this last point is critical. The unmasking of every dark secret of every person of the unconscious of every organisation and institution proceeds apace. And it now seems unstoppable; it cannot be put to sleep.
The result is: hyperreality – an excess of reality, an explosion (terabits) of information, which in turn drives individuals and institutions into more and more subterfuge and secrecy to evade accountability in an attempt to stay below the radar. Again, there are two worlds – the official world of credibility, audits, political correctness, perfection and mission statements, being seen respecting the law. This in effect means people “covering their arses”. And the other receding (or is it growing?) outlawed world of secrecy and criminality thriving in a liberated world without values. The only thing the two worlds share is mistrust and multiplication, because they were both born in mistrust and driven apart by it. And the mistrust born from radical scepticism drives itself, so that every hypocritical vestige has to be chased down in a permanent drive towards perfection and realisation. People do the “correct” thing now, not because they believe in the value of doing it (they may still but it doesn’t matter) but more because they will be breaking the law if they don’t. Their freedom to truly engage with the other (now called client) is so restricted by terms and conditions that their heart may not be in it. Like those service providers who say
We hope you’ve enjoyed your flight with us.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your shopping experience.
We have ended up with the psi-ideal, a neo-Reichian dream of freedom from all obligatory social ties and values while, at the same time, being caught for our own “safety and security” in the Kafkaesque world of scientific/information/language based controls and state surveillance security systems.
Having dispensed with the father, we’ve had to invoke a massively expensive state bureaucracy to stand in place of the father.
Camus threw out a challenge, a twentieth-century coda to Pascal's more famous wager. In a discussion with Sartre, Malraux, Koestler, and Manes Sperber that took place on the evening of October 29th, 1946, Camus suddenly addressed to his four companions the following question:
'Don't you agree that we are all responsible for the absence of values? What if we, who all come out of Nietzscheanism, nihilism, and historical realism, what if we announced publicly that we were wrong; that there are moral values and that henceforth we shall do what has to be done to establish and illustrate them. Don't you think that this might be the beginning of hope?' (24)