The Clare Spark Blog

May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed but dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)

The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)

While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.

First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe.  I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)

How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.

Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably  have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.

If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.

Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they  emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

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May 4, 2011

Disraeli’s captive Queens

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:51 pm
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Undated portrait of Disraeli

With millions of women envying Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, I thought it would be a nice contrast to the universal gush to quote from Benjamin Disraeli’s first novel, Vivan Grey, written when he was only twenty-one years of age, and later suppressed, but then republished at the urging of Goethe and other admirers.  It is almost inconceivable, reading this book, that he would one day be the Prime Minister of England, a close adviser to Queen Victoria, and a major player in world politics.

The young hero, wandering miserably through various German principalities after a political fiasco in England, falls in love with a mystery woman, who turns out to be an Austrian Princess incognito, who returns his passion but cannot control her fate. What follows is Disraeli’s commentary on women who marry kings or who themselves are “political queens” (i.e., like Elizabeth the First):

[Disraeli’s narrator, describing the Princess’s letter to Vivian:] She spoke of her exalted station as a woman, that station which so many women envy, in a spirit of agonising bitterness.  A royal princess is only the most flattered of state victims. She is a political sacrifice, by which enraged Governments are appeased, wavering allies conciliated and ancient amities confirmed. Debarred by her rank and her education from looking forward to that exchange of equal affection which is the great end and charm of female existence, no individual finds more fatally and feels more keenly that pomp is not felicity, and splendour not content.

Deprived of all those sources of happiness which seem inherent in woman, the wife of the Sovereign sometimes seeks in politics and in pleasure a means of excitement which may purchase oblivion. But the political queen is a rare character; she must possess an intellect of unusual power, and her lot must be considered an exception in the fortunes of female royalty. Even the political queen generally closes an agitated career with a broken heart. And for the unhappy votary of pleasure, who owns her cold duty to a royal husband, we must not forget that even in the most dissipated courts the conduct of the queen is expected to be decorous, and that the instances are not rare when the wife of the monarch has died on the scaffold, or in a dungeon, or in exile, because she dared to be indiscreet where all are debauched. But for the great majority of royal wives, they exist without a passion; they have nothing to hope, nothing to fear, nothing to envy, nothing to want, nothing to confide, nothing to hate, and nothing to love. Even their duties, though multitudinous, are mechanical, and while they require much attention, occasion no anxiety. Amusement is their moment of greatest emotion, and for them amusement is rare; for amusement is the result of equal companionship. Thus situated, they are doomed to become frivolous in their pursuits and formal in their manners, and the Court chaplain or the Court confessor is the only person who can prove they have a soul, by convincing them that it will be saved. [Book VIII, p. 492-93]

Some parts of this first novel are obviously satirical, for instance the calamitous ending that parodies German Romanticism. But the passage I quoted above seems to be written from the heart and in the author’s true voice.  Also, I am convinced that either Melville channeled the young Disraeli or read this book, for the sendups of fashion and foppery will find their echoes in Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857).

I do not claim a perfect analogy with the situation of Kate Middleton. These are more democratic times. But the abasement of many before the aristocracy is noted here, and Disraeli, born a Jew but a convert to Anglicanism, never lost the tongue of the observant artist and independent commoner, [partially] masked though he may have been.

PM Disraeli with Victoria

March 30, 2010

Who are you, this week, Jake Tapper?

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 9:19 pm
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Michelangelo's Horned Moses

[Added 3-31-10: I am now blocked from Tapper’s Facebook page, an odd move for a liberal. My only question is what in this blog prompted the silencing? (I should explain that I and a few others had not found his Twitter to be funny, and Mr. Tapper had multiple opportunities to acknowledge our feelings on his thread, but did not. Hence I had time to think about why I didn’t find his Tweet amusing and wrote this blog. It did not come at him out of the blue.)]

Jake Tapper, Senior White House correspondent for ABC News, and noted for his confrontations with authority, twittered this today and posted it on his Facebook page. “At the same time Jews worldwide commemorate being led out of bondage, RNC struggles with opposite dilemma.”   Tapper was referring to the recent report that some RNC members (not including Michael Steele) had improperly spent RNC funds for an evening at a S-M Club in Los Angeles; i.e. they were enjoying themselves with bondage fantasies. Some of his FB friends found this joke amusing; I and a few others did not—rather I was offended and said so. I consider this little dustup significant enough to blog about it, for it raises the question of what it means in Obama’s America to be an assimilated Jew, also the aggression that may be hidden in what we take to be humorous, for Tapper pounced on the RNC debacle with an attempt at wit in a field that prizes wit over precision, no matter how lame the “joke.”

   But first, some family history. Tapper is the son of a pediatrician and a psychiatric nurse, whom he characterized as “hippies” in a profile written by Howard Kurtz for the Washington Post. He attended Dartmouth College, majoring in history and visual studies, graduating magna cum laude, then briefly attended film school at USC. He is known as a liberal reporter, “pushy,” and within that group, something of a maverick as he attempts to maintain the aura of objectivity.

   Starting in high school, Jake Tapper attended Akiba Hebrew Academy, a “pluralistic” Jewish private school near Philadelphia that emphasizes training for future leadership. Surely, Mr. Tapper learned either there or elsewhere that the Moses-led Exodus that preceded the giving of the Ten Commandments is the central event in Jewish history, and indeed a landmark in the history of civilization. Certainly that was the impression I received from reading the Tanakh. To be sure, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement is said to be the holiest day in the year for Jews, but I am writing now of the core of Jewish identity, and whether one is a religious Jew or a secular one, the idea of emancipation gets at the core of who I think we are as a people, if indeed we are still a people.  Antisemites may wish to characterize us (along with America) as slave-driving capitalists or genocidal communists and Zionists with world domination (i.e., the bondage of non-Jews) as our goal, but I have never heard such ambitions voiced by any Jew, let alone in words written by Jewish authors, whatever their politics of the moment.

   I am not an observant Jew (my children are though), but the thought of juxtaposing the bondage of the Israelites under the Pharaohs with the theatrical “bondage” enjoyed by voyeurs in the RNC is not the funniest of linkages, and suggests to me that Jake Tapper, somewhere in his journey to the top of his profession (he is rated the third most influential journalist), lost his sense of history, of propriety, and whatever Jewish identification he may have carried from his teen-age years at Akiba Hebrew Academy (now renamed Barrack Hebrew Academy).  Call me a puritan bluestocking if you like, gentle reader, but at least my lips are not sealed.

July 13, 2009

Eros and the Middle Manager: S-M with implications for Multiculturalism

Advertisement, Los Angeles Weekly, Nov. 10-16, 1989

Advertisement, Los Angeles Weekly, Nov. 10-16, 1989

I’m reposting in response to my enigmatic statement on Facebook that “Masochism Builds Character.” Also because of the wide distribution on a related blog https://clarespark.com/2014/09/21/spanking-sex-and-the-nfl-fracas/.

This  essay was originally delivered on Pacifica Radio as the first installment of my series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” [Added 3-24-10:  This essay contains my inferences from the study of one particular collection of materials, and is not intended as a formula or a scientific law. But compare it to Peter Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud (1993), chapter one on the German dueling societies and bourgeois adolescent aspirations to join an aristocracy. Gay sees adolescent homosexuality as a defense against terrifying relations with women (see Gorer on Sade, mocking romantic love as slavery). Also, materials from the Steadman Thompson collection are scattered throughout this website, particulary in the essays on Dr. Henry A. Murray of Harvard University, Director of the Harvard Clinic and a practicing S-M connoisseur.]

[excerpt from a fantasy by Steadman Thompson, middle-management at the Armstrong Cork Company, Akron, Pennsylvania, in the Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA, added 1/28/06:] “As I stood up, she came forward with the silver collar. I was aghast at what I had said and done but I stood still and let her fit the cold metal around my neck. As the lock clicked with an icy finality my misgivings rose to an apex.
“Now look, Vivienne,” I whined.
The wand whistled and struck stingingly before I could flinch. “Speak when spoken to, slave and address me as “Mistress” unless I give you another title to use. Now take a hold of the back of my robe.
As I timidly obeyed, she raised her wand and from the wand and the ball on her crown came a light so intense it washed away all our surroundings.”

EROS AND THE MIDDLE-MANAGER, KPFK, 9/89. [slightly revised 7-13-09, revised again 2-14-15]

Fascism may be seen as an attack on the Brain and the color Grey, that is, on the rationalism of the Enlightenment. It wants to restore or perpetuate the corporatism and militarism of the feudal world. Its targets are the newly literate, politicized, and partly emancipated groups of modernity: labor, women, non-whites, Jews: the rising groups of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who were using Universal Reason to discredit the claims of the old aristocracies. Trusting the evidence of their senses, they challenged the notion that élites were more intelligent, more socially responsible, more moral, more balanced than the “lower orders.” Their arts were realistic and naturalistic; their philosophy was materialism, [some of?] their anthropology suggested that “we are one”: “races” would soon be obsolete.

The technology made possible by science raised hopes for a world freed of unnecessary toil, of leisure that would give all people the opportunities for creativity and self-development that had been possible only for the very wealthy. Dispossessed or threatened élites counter-attacked with the ideology of “scientific racism”: there were imperishable differences between “races,” between all men and all women, geniuses and dolts. Blurring the boundaries, muddying distinctions led to degeneration and decay; the rationalists and materialists were un-natural, turning supple social organisms into machines; they were setting classes and genders against each other by insisting that there were conflicts of interest in the real world: theirs was a delusion caused by a foolish reliance on “the rebel senses.” Rebel senses created extremists. The good father, the Good King would restore a lost harmony to the mutinous and riven modern world; the Heart would conquer the wandering Mind. With a wave of his magic wand, pink and red children would see the old light. Only the Mind forg’d manacles. The Heart was the site of liberation.

The test of Freedom was easily comprehended but harder to enforce; the rebel senses kept coming back.

This is the Test: Iron collars, high-heels, corsets, all the iron cages, were not confining, as the naked eye would suggest. In the pastoral ruled by the Heart People, we were all frolicking lambs & skylarks, appearances notwithstanding. We were all artists and craftsmen: inventive, spontaneous, unchecked. Marx called these Heart People feudal socialists. Some of their mentors were Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, William Morris, Eric Gill, Lewis Mumford, and Carl Jung. After the rationalists of the 1930s were purged (while at the same time master race theories were in disgrace) the Heart People became ideologists of “democratic pluralism” (now called either ethnopluralism or multiculturalism, C.S. 7-13-2009): A pluralism without the classical liberal bourgeoisie, a pluralism that said all blacks or whites or reds or browns, whatever their social class or particular life experience, naturally cohered into ethnic or racial groups, each with its own distinct ideology, by definition mysterious to other ethnic or racial groups. Mental health, emotional maturity, physical well-being, and a blossoming individuality depended on acceptance of such natural facts.

But we were not fascists. Harvard psychologists warned us of the dangers of scapegoating. Christians must stop scapegoating Jews, whites must stop scapegoating blacks, and labor must stop scapegoating business, as Gordon Allport insisted in 1948. The corporatist triumph was complete. Disputes that might be grounded in ideological differences were to be resolved through self-control. An emotionally mature person would beat down the rebel senses to use the social institutions that, properly manipulated, would bring rewards to the truly meritorious; would resolve all conflicts. Any stray rationalist who said it couldn’t be done was stamped with the label: outside agitator, melancholy baby, the secret agent bringing a grey conformity to a spotless black and white world. Greyness brought artificial enmity to the body politic; even dangerous illness. The remedy was the purge of this foreign body, only then there could be healing and a restoration of harmony and order.

A Quack Remedy. The outcome for rational self-defense in the face of real dangers was disastrous. Social problems that required rational deliberation, analysis, and social action to be solved were turned into questions of decorum: politeness, respectability and moderation meant identifying social irritants in order to purge and heal. We were a nation of muckrakers, each group identified its enemies as was naturally apparent: modern artists, homosexuals, feminists, pawnbrokers, polluters, media moguls, demagogues, Klansmen, Willie Horton, mobs, white supremacists, consumer society, Pharisees, psychiatrists, midwestern Protestants and fundamentalists, commie-Jews, technocrats, mad scientists, Palestinians, and Zionists. Respectability, success, sanity, realism and group acceptance were all linked. Groups cohered only around the identification of the source of the disease, not because of underlying unity in a shared humanity, a commitment to open-ended inquiry and creativity for all, or a clear-eyed view of institutions that hamper the growth of democracy and solidarity.

If your rebel senses told you that freedom was domination, that praise was humiliation, that community was only a definition imposed on warring fragments by bureaucrats, you were blessed by the magic wand/rod until greyness gave way to the blaze of pseudo-enlightenment, the halo of the moderate man. In such a condition you were qualified to manage the health and education of those below: humane, competent, and calm, you were the good mother, the labor bureaucrat, the schoolteacher, the historian. Our humanity, our competence, our serenity comes from the certainty that is the lesson of the beaten child: we are too weak to overthrow the illegitimate, hurtful authority that trained us. (See Terry Gilliam’s recent film, Brazil.) We patrol the boundaries that divide artist from non-artist, black from white, good from evil, male from female, professor from student, expert from amateur, parent from child, clean from dirty, rational from irrational.

In this context, sexuality (which may be intense) becomes a performance of, a metaphor for, irrational hierarchies, and is an occasion for punishment, not pleasure, intimacy, or mutuality. Sadomasochism expresses the power relations of the middle manager, who is masochistically submissive to her/his superiors, sadistic to those under her/his supervision–to the extent that human possibilities for growth, change, and cooperation are stifled by the imposition of learned helplessness and misrepresentations of ourselves, of other societies, and of world, group, and individual history. Whether or not we literally are tied-up and whipped, as “middle-management” we are no less in bondage than our explicitly histrionic brothers and sisters. It is this terrible resonance that has provoked, I believe, the furor over the art of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

Sources: besides the life and art of Herman Melville and his Anglo-American revivers, the collection of Steadman Thompson, an employee of the Armstrong Cork Company in Ohio and Pennsylvania, who later moved to San Francisco. He collected the Justice Weekly (a libertarian newspaper dedicated to the civil rights of the bizarre), the photographs and pamphlets manufactured by professional writers and illustrators catering to this trade; movie stills–all showing scenes of bondage and humiliation; scrapbooks which montaged his own drawings and compositions with typed excerpts from pulps, novels, and literary criticism, and newspaper clippings about transvestitism, the New Look, crinolines and girdles. The collection spans the mid 1940s-mid 1960s.

First impressions: 1. These lovers of the bizarre identify with the aristocracy against the grey world of the urban proletariat. The corset symbolizes superior self-control. 2. S-M is a purification ritual. Messy, impudent, uppity children are switched until they declare that the whip is a magic wand bringing transcendence. [I am not certain that they confuse pain and pleasure, perhaps they become one big scar.] 3. In the photos and stories, women torture other women; the observer is a respectable male, who identifies with the tormented victim. In some pictures, young men wear the clothes and make-up of middle-aged housewives, chained to a stove or sink or vacuum cleaner; frequently the victim is arranged as Christ on the cross. In some stories, the victim is assigned impossible tasks: wading through muck without spotting his/her shiny black and white uniform, carrying a dominatrix on his back. 4. The reward is a promotion, but not to a position of dominance: one aspires to be mistress of the manor, not the Lord; the servant hopes to displace the selfish and hard-hearted wife. 5. The transformations are sudden, but not stable. Slaves and masters merely change places at breakneck speed [this is not a foolish reading of much history, C.S.]. 6. The writers of the S-M material have contempt for the servility of others, i.e., the upwardly mobile person who enters the houses of torture, then complains about the beatings. “She asked for it,” says my man, the S-M artist and consumer. SHE wears red panties and is from the upper-classes, not the working-class or jobless poor. SHE is the parlor pink or swimming pool liberal; SHE is the mother demanding service both to God and Mammon, separation and dependency, self-interest and Christian charity. 7. The practitioners I have studied do not seek pain as such, rather the serenity and sense of family reunification that follows purification. Their sin is the perception that family relations are duplicitous, that demands cannot be met: such insights lead to dangerous and intolerable anxiety and divisions: the purging restores the child to the lap of benignant authority and family unity, however bogus, is restored.

The beating is not about poor self-control, reining in antisocial “instincts.” The crime is not resistance to socialization as such, some timeless conflict between the individual and society expressed in adolescent defiance, but double-binds specific to modernity and its constantly innovating science and technology which preserve the need for some cultural freedom while braking the momentum toward more broadly shared self-management.

Why are the victims tied up? Perhaps the bondage expresses the passivity and immobility of the so-called objective and independent creative professional and middle-manager, performing a masquerade of self-assertion. In the 1930s, our cultural freedom was used to distinguish democratic capitalism from its proposed alternative, democratic socialism (that went well, didn’t it?) Today we promote the resegregation of women and non-whites into ethnic studies departments. Our professionals, by contrast with their projected harnessed competitors, are frank, socially responsible, neutral, and disinterested: that is, pure. According to the corporatist, facts are group facts. But what if they are not? Then you may lose your job and be invited to step out into a hostile world, for independence may not lead to institutional adjustments; that is, structural change that does not simply co-opt dissidents or display tokens from below. But if such loyalty to old structures or authority figures is paramount, then science and rationalism are betrayed; the modern world, so rich in promise, turns into a death-trap.

What are the implications for artist and intellectuals who want to be “progressive?” We might understand how vanguard arts have been used to prop up the status quo, pleasing an élite clientele through: 1. Playing up to the “superior” by creating puzzles and enigmas to titillate bored would-be aristocrats. 2. By providing ritual rebellions: donning the primitivist mask to discharge tensions. 3. By equating social change with asceticism, sacrifice, and self-denial, symbolized in submission to the oppressed person with a whip; by equating social change with violent revolution and terror; using shock techniques and calling it advanced art: “Making it new” [Ezra Pound] does not have to mean killing it.

What to do now? We should call into question hard and fast distinctions between artists and non-artists; but separate art from life: art is a realm of fantasy, play, and experimentation, where no human experience or feeling is off-limits; but understand that veterans of authoritarian families will be scared of such art, possibly believing that their own violent fantasies are real, have killed others, caused divorces, etc. We should stop begging institutions to love our rebelliousness, but use contradictions within them to secure maximum autonomy, while building alternatives to prefigure a better society, staying alert, clear, appropriately angry at hypocrisy and unnecessary suffering, and desirous of the material preconditions that make a measure of egalitarian love and friendship possible.

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