YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 21, 2013

Discovery anxiety

Joyce Kozloff Map

Joyce Kozloff Map

This blog is about mental health and idealization of families (for a previous and related blog see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/); but this one emphasizes the fear of discovery, whether it takes the form of self-inspection (examining our deepest, most hidden feelings) or discovering knowledge of other peoples, other places. Some might call this process of locating oneself in a specific personal history/world history a form of mapping. It is possible that many “anti-imperialists” suffer from the fear of actually encountering what is now called “the dark side” of human nature, and which in less enlightened periods, was called savagery or “the primitive.” Even the most enlightened and creative persons in the history of the West (e.g., Diderot) have imagined the “primitive” as exempt from the vicissitudes of growing to maturity in the developed societies. (See http://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.)

Perhaps one of the hardest life tasks is this process of mapping, for the darkest continent is ourselves. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the mapping and I do not blame others for reluctance in undertaking a voyage into choppy waters, where strange creatures lurk.  For many, such monsters are transformations of our repressed rage at being unfairly bossed by parents, or competing with siblings for the love and protection of parents, or the “puritanical” tasks of self-control and the postponement of gratification or instinctual renunciation for the sake of treasured relationships (I refer to sex and aggression as instincts). Sadly, our schools and other socializing institutions may not address such “Freudian” considerations, because even the most advanced societies dare not tamper with the institution of family, lest its “citizens” start defending their political and economic interests with greater energy, focus, and sophistication.

I first realized that “discovery” was terrifying in my dissertation research as I read the very private letters and notes of major Melville scholars, most of whom developed frightening physical symptoms while conducting their researches into Melville’s texts—symptoms that they blamed on a dead author (and his demonic character Captain Ahab) who should not have been a real-life threat. Melville’s indefatigable close readings of every kind of “family” that he wrote about, whether that be his family of origin, or “families” aboard ships, or the wider Christian family, was disturbing to very intelligent men, who then diverted their attention from Melville’s texts to his “influences” in the literary history of the West, or perhaps the leftists among them, tore delightedly (and sadistically) into the task of destroying his reputation as a man and a husband and/or father. (See http://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. )

One of my most productive friends in academe, dead at 55 of a massive heart attack, once told me that he was afraid to look inside himself, or even to go to a physician, because he feared the chaos within. The braver artists and scholars have fascinated us because they gave these “imagos” forms and faces. I don’t care if you call them Moby Dick or Leviathan or the State. Just don’t mix them up with Mom and Dad or sisters and brothers.

Joyce Kozloff

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3 Comments »

  1. [...] [Added: Columbus Day, 2010. Because Herman Melville's great-grandson Paul Metcalf had associated Columbus with Captain Ahab, it occurred to me that what the "anti-imperialist" anti-expansionists feared most was discovery as such. Finding out new things–for instance that admired authorities have been lying to you, or painfully over time finding out new truths in science and medicine–can get you fired, not hired, thrown out of graduate school or your profession or worse, much worse. So let us celebrate today the risky process of discovery, and honor those of our ancestors and contemporaries who are making the Ahab-ish leap from light into darkness that few of us would imitate. This is such a big subject that I wrote a recent blog about it: http://clarespark.com/2013/02/21/discovery-anxiety/.%5D [...]

    Pingback by Racism, Modernity, Modernism | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 12, 2013 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

  2. [...] against all currents and to cherish memory and a more accurate history, letting chips fall. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/02/21/discovery-anxiety/.) If this be romantic defiance or an attack upon “unity” as many an order-loving leftist or [...]

    Pingback by “Free Speech” and the internet | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 2, 2013 @ 7:50 pm | Reply


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