The Clare Spark Blog

October 7, 2015

The Patriarchal Family: what could possibly go wrong?

patriarchal-familiesFirst read this account of patriarchy as contrasted with feminism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy.

The call for the strong father-led family did not originate with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s call for the [patriarchal] family: Jindal’s antidote to the Roseburg, Oregon massacre. Like other conservatives, he blames social decadence on moral laxity, accelerated by abortion rights, bad mothers, and video games. “Garbage in, garbage out,” he proclaimed. (https://www.bobbyjindal.com/jindal-we-fill-our-culture-with-garbage/)

This battle cry hardly originated with social conservatives like Jindal, but, was confirmed yet again during the 20th Century with such liberal mavericks  as D. H. Lawrence, Gregory Bateson and Henry A. Murray, all of whom worried that relationships in the modern family were gravely flawed, as I showed in these blogs: https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/ (especially the material in bold face type on Gregory Bateson, objecting to mother-son bonding), this collage taken from various 20th century masculinists, including Henry A. Murray warning about the feminization of American culture, Picasso, and another writer for Survey Graphic: https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/image-861.jpg, and https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.  Double binds inherent in social democracies (the unstated conflict between Truth and Order) were blamed on feminization, particularly the rise of the moral mother as husbands left home for offices and factories: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/

Here are some of the other complications that can emerge with the stern, disciplinary father who compensates for the too-attaching, seductive mother:

Corporal punishment. It was not long ago that whips, belts, and other paraphernalia were wielded by the male. “Wait until your father gets home!” warned the unconditionally loving mother. But even if father eschews beatings, there is much evidence that parental quarreling in front of the children is also traumatic. At every stage in development, we search for safety and family division can be terrifying.

What might be the consequences of spanking and whipping? Over-identification with “authority” at the least. Any form of social protest will be viewed as illegitimate and dangerous to the adult veteran of harsh childhood discipline. Adult sexuality is likely to be sadomasochistic in practice.

Catting around for him, but not for her. I need not belabor the double standard.

Divorce. No-fault divorces, easy to get, may result in the high rate of failed marriages and traumatized children. Romantic love may fade as pre-marital idealizations are shattered by the boredom of everyday life, despite television commercials to the contrary. Community property states are deterrents, so pre-nuptial agreements are demanded before assuming the risk of dividing property half and half. [Update: some readers took this to mean that I am against all divorces, but recent research suggests that single mothers are not to blame for delinquent children; that it depends on the skills of the single parent whether or not children are raised without trauma (look up Rebecca Ryan’s research at Georgetown U.)]

Need I go on? The irony is that authoritarian families (located in either Left, Right, or middle) engender revolt in the children, especially after puberty as the peer group more and more takes over in the inculcation of “values.” Conservatives do what they can to ignore this platitude, but no study in child development will deny its validity. (For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2014/08/14/understanding-obamas-ongoing-appeal/.)

thrash

 

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July 12, 2013

Blogs on the integral ‘nation’

Diego Rivera peasants

Diego Rivera peasants

Scholars are supposed to create revisions of the past through exhaustive archival research. But careerism pushes them to curry favor with patrons and senior professors who will get them jobs and fellowships.  In order to get the doctorate and a job in academe they must create a simulacrum of “objectivity.” A faithful rendering of their archival nuggets will label them as “disruptive” forces to be stopped cold in their tracks.  “Mining” the sources, letting chips fall where they may, is verboten, even Satanic, in the new dispensation.

Fascists reconfigured class conflict in the mid-1930s. Here is a footnote to my last blog in this index. “See W.P. Witcutt, “The Future of Capitalism: A Note on Werner Sombart,” American Review 5 (Oct. 1935): 531-535. Comparing Hilaire Belloc and Sombart, Witcutt wrote (praising Sombart for his “objectivity”), “By Capitalism Sombart, like Belloc, does not mean the régime of private property, as opposed to Socialism. He does not give any formal definition of Capitalism, but indicates certain constituent elements which may be gathered under the following headings. The Capitalist system consists: (1) of a society stratified into possessors of capital, entrepreneurs, and workers, pure and simple, possessing nothing–proletarians; (2) in the intensive utilization of mineral wealth. “The exploitation of riches beneath the earth’s surface and modern Capitalism are at bottom different aspects (natural and social) of one and the same phenomenon” (531-532). Cf. A.J. Penty, “The Centrality of Money and Machinery,” American Review 6 (Nov. 1935): it is the financiers who first destroyed the stability of peasant life and property. The merchants were the “haves,” the peasants the “have-nots” (2-3).

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ (especially good on the peasant problem)

https://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/21/citizen-obama-political-pluralism-and-the-elusive-search-for-unity/

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/15/the-politics-of-family-vs-mass-politics-altered/  (On superheroes and  Les Misérables)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/

https://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/

https://clarespark.com/2013/07/09/preconditions-for-hard-liberty/

https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/ (American Protestants are Puritans and un-Christian according to the moderate men)

Nation_cover_journalism

February 10, 2010

“Balance,” “equilibrium,” and psychological warfare

Herman Melville, balanced in old age

[Read this along with https://clarespark.com/2009/12/09/strategic-regression-in-the-greatest-generation/.]  I have been reading Roy R. Grinker Sr.’s memoir Fifty Years in Psychiatry: a Living History (1979), and was not surprised to discover his resignation as he contemplated his life path: Grinker, a leader in the field, sighed (?) that psychiatrists and other mental health workers should not expect to “cure” their patients, but to aim for “stability.”  “Psychiatry,” he wrote, “no longer entertains the notion of cure, reconstruction of personality, or ‘adjustment.’ On the contrary, we help people in trouble to regain a stability that has been lost temporarily for a number of reasons, or we help them to attain a degree of adjustment which they never had–in other words, to reestablish the continuity of development that has been interrupted at some time for a variety of reasons (145).”

But then Dr. Grinker, the harmony-seeking progressive echoing Edmund Burke, seemingly reverses himself, advocating a general systems theory approach: “…instead of referring to dichotomies and conflict, we may refer to two processes inextricably linked: Stability and change. …’Unity in diversity and continuity in change,’ or unified thinking characteristic of a systems approach. This is contrasted with dualistic thinking oriented only toward stability and permanence based on the illusion by objective science that some parts or variables and especially our terrestrial background can be viewed as steady.”

Grinker continues, hopefully: “Unitary  thinking, on the other hand, considers that both parts and whole, both focus and background, are constantly changing, but regulated by some form of organization that prevents de-differentiation, focal cancerous overgrowth, internal psychological confusion, social chaos, and anarchy. Our problem is to identify the ways by which the organizational principle operates (160).” Grinker’s obscure and abstract theorizing echoes the structural functionalism promoted by Harvard sociologists, and before that Malinowski, the cultural anthropologist. In other words, legitimate mental health professionals aim to keep their patients or clients from making trouble–for a multiplicity of families and for the State.

If you doubt this leap of mine, read these Grinker tocsins: “Currently, we are experiencing a shift from materialistic to moral values, which is creating a precarious balance at all ages, particularly adolescence. In the United States, a group has ‘dropped out’ of the mainstream of the life of technology into a drug society, which frequently results in irreparable damage. Another group fights against our current establishment, hoping to change it prior to their necessary and ultimate commitment. Another group completely avoids affectionate involvement with any other human being and ends with the stable instability of the borderline (159).”  In an earlier book, Grinker as usual, attacked objective science: “…science is not free of religon….It is constantly involved in faith that the ultimate truth will be uncovered….Attempts at complete objectivity are never successful….” (Psychiatry in Broad Perspective, 1975, p.12). This is precisely the view of “interdisciplinary” studies of the history of science, as derived from functionalists at war with the skeptical masses. (On “healthy skepticism” see https://clarespark.com/2014/02/22/healthy-skepticism/.)

I was already onto this panicky line while conducting my dissertation research, and I am excerpting from one chapter (“Pluralism in a Perfectly Happy Family”), an excursus that barely made it into the book. If you wondered what a “progressive”  organic conservative is or was, you will see yet more examples below.

[Excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival ] Composing his “Memories” at the end of the 1930s, the Harvard physical chemist Lawrence Henderson, founder of the Pareto seminar and mentor to Henry Murray, [i] reviewed the development of his social thought. As a young man he had studied in France, learning quickly to distrust the emotional Germans. Henderson preferred the French because “so many Frenchmen escape the cruder forms of sentimentality and…so many of them are individualists and also very French, that is the opposite of anomic in Durkheim’s sense.” He admitted that the French were excitable in little things, but “cool and restrained in serious situations. In all countries most men are stupid, but I find more Frenchmen interesting than mere chance can account for” (90-91). Toward the end of the memoir, Henderson described his theory of historical change (afterwards noting that the model resembled his first scientific paper on molecules and atoms):

“Promises and principles are among the forces that determine the actions of men. There are other forces such as passions, political, military, and economic expediency that are also operative. Any concrete action by any person is a resultant of all these factors. Moreover, these factors are mutually dependent. In operation, each modifies all the others (236).” [ii]

These words were written on July 14 (Bastille Day), 1939, but there is no resemblance to the political science theories proposed by radically enlightened intellectuals. Henderson’s model is scientistic and falsely compares historical causation (“the actions of men”) with the attractions and repulsions of atomic particles; his scientism is also characteristic of the conservative Enlightenment, deployed to stave off the rival materialism of the nineteenth century– those ideological formulations supported by the “imperialist” “heroic science” that prevailed throughout the academy before some cultural/social historians of the 1960s-90s unmasked its fatal pretensions.[iii] Diverting his gaze from the facts that could model the structures, functions, and operations of real human institutions, Henderson undergirds fascist ideology in the twentieth century. It would be wrong to say that such thinkers erase class as an analytic category because of their commitments to nation or race as the source of identity. On the contrary, these philosopher-kings are acutely class-conscious, believing they can manipulate systems made cockeyed and thrown off-balance by selfish and stupid mass/class passions. The moderate men were classicists sensitive to “proportion” in all things. As several 1930s corporatists put it, unlike the Puritans who liquidated their peasantries, peasant-rooted countries such as Italy, France, Belgium and Ireland, creatively mastered their bourgeoisies. Their remedy for the chaos of modern decadence was to remand the usurping, snobbish, class-conscious and divisive nineteenth-century middle-class back to the middle where such anti-social, anti-intellectual persons naturally belonged. With the materialists safely sandwiched, sick societies would be returned to the steady state. Social equilibrium, classlessness, and a coherent national character were achieved, then, when society was rooted in the peasantry and governed by the aristocrats they, the peasants, had always thrown up in a crisis. In turn, the peasant-chosen self-sacrificing aristocrats would be obedient to the self-sacrificing good king who spoke for the common people.[iv] Here was the “ideal force” that bound communities, bringing order out of chaos; that force was a fact, a higher truth that materialist historians were too blind to see.[v]

Of course (self-indulgent) romantic artists, like other demagogues, should be silenced. In late 1943, Norman Foerster looked ahead to “the humanities after the war” and saw the necessity for lost intellectuals to “refind themselves” in the new-old criticism: “With few exceptions the departments of the humanities in higher education are ill prepared for the high task before them. An age of science and of naturalistic philosophy has left its mark upon them. They have misapplied the method of science, and they have adopted views of life that make most of the great writers and thinkers of the world appear of little meaning to the modern age. Lost in a relativism approaching nihilism, they have all but ceased to look for the abiding truths which make the distinction between past and present unimportant. If for a century they have declined in prestige, the reason is partly that they themselves have robbed their great field of its greatness. Today their first task is to refind themselves, not to encourage an intellectual and artistic creativity of any and every sort but rather to lay the critical foundations which will give imaginative presentation a sound direction.”[vi]

It would not do for the lower orders to suppose that the anger one person feels for another could be alleviated through comprehending the larger social situation in which individual struggles are enmeshed, or that economic and political institutions are ill-described with the analytic tools bequeathed by corporatist Greeks, medievalists, and Renaissance humanists.

The social views of Princeton professor Willard Thorp, like the corporatists quoted above, bear comparison with Henderson’s. Thorp’s model societies are paragons of deep-breathing and balance, repelling the modernity that forces the anomic (atomized) individual to clash with other individuals. Here is the conservatively enlightened Thorp’s 1938 account of Melville’s radicalism; perforce “one” arrayed dogmatic and marauding transcendental Ahabs against deep-diving Herman Melville, the proto-Durkheimian proto-New Dealer Ishmael who said NO!:

[Thorp:] “When one contemplates the number of matters on which the age had come to a final opinion, to which Melville offered a challenging negative, and the number of subjects which the age, for its safety, refused to discuss at all, but which Melville insisted on dragging up to the light, one is astonished that he was tolerated as long as he was. He seems, indeed, to be unique among his contemporaries in his freedom from zeal or prejudice. Even the most sacred tabus he insisted on examining with a cool dispassionateness. Not only did he question the inalienable right to property, the dogmas of democracy, the righteousness of imperialist wars and Christian missions, but he dared to discuss in a voice louder than a whisper such horrific subjects as cannibalism, venereal disease, and polygamy. At the moment when young men in America, imbued with transcendentalism, were giving eloquent support to the doctrine of the manifest destiny of the nation and defied the world to show any civilization which could equal ours, Melville was studying with habitually clear eyes a savage society in the South Seas which had achieved an admirable social equilibrium. While American orators scolded the Old World as corrupt and decayed, the home of tyranny and oppression, he measured against their glorious American standards the attainment of the naked Polynesians. Equipped as no man in his day was by his contact with all sorts and conditions of men, having crossed many social frontiers without the baggage of the “yes-gentry,” he returned to the America of 1845 to record what he had observed. He could report that he had seen happy savages who could live together in charity, and this had made him form a higher “estimate of human nature than [he] had ever before entertained”; he could also report that he had lived on an American man-of-war where unbelievable human vileness that made the heart sick nearly overturned any previous theories of the perfectibility of man he may have had.

Though the business of navigating a ship never interested Melville, he felt a deep concern for the destination of the inhabitants of the world which the ship enclosed. He pondered the social relationships, the code of life and manners, the clash of individual on individual, which determined the nature of this compact, artificial society, and endeavored to relate what he saw there to the larger society which dispatched the ship on its errands of commerce or war. Every serious book or article which Melville wrote is a variation on the social theme (Thorp, 1938, xcvii-xcviii, my emph.).”

One wishes that Thorp had not mixed-up the reader with his bouncing balls of personified and incommensurable social and political categories; but he cannot help himself because the social science or anthropological skills he attributes to the intrepid “Melville” are part of one’s own religious, anti-scientific world-view, one in which the psychological acumen/self-control/decorum of individuals leads either to “admirable social equilibrium” or commerce/war.[vii]

[D.H. Lawrence, 1923, Ch. 9:] ” There are lots of circuits. Male and female, for example, and master and servant. The idea, the IDEA, that fixed gorgon monster, and the IDEAL, that great stationary engine, these two gods-of-the-machine have been busy destroying all natural reciprocity and natural circuits, for centuries. IDEAS have played the very old Harry with sex relationship, that is, with the great circuit of man and woman. Turned the thing into a wheel on which the human being in both is broken. And the IDEAL has mangled the blood-reciprocity of master and servant into an abstract horror.

 Master and servant – or master and man relationship is, essentially, a polarized flow, like love. It is a circuit of vitalism which flows between master and man and forms a very precious nourishment to each, and keeps both in a state of subtle, quivering, vital equilibrium. Deny it as you like, it is so. But once you abstract both master and man, and make them both serve an idea: production, wage, efficiency, and so on: so that each looks on himself as an instrument performing a certain repeated evolution, then you have changed the vital quivering circuit of master and man into a mechanical machine unison. Just another way of life: or anti-life.”

An organicist discourse conflates political organization with physical organisms. Is your society devolving into warring classes or sects? Then loosen the whalebone stays of your Victorian corset, follow with a dose of paternalistic Christian charity, moderate expectations for improvement, and the Hobbesian, over-urbanized nineteenth century will approach the happiness and natural harmony of Melville’s (clean, generous) savages. The West had not brought progress, but there was a Golden Age before greed, individualism and artifice [consumerism] blighted the landscape. Although his notebooks of the early 1930s had condemned romantic escapism, by the late 1930s a more conservative, even reactionary Olson, like Thorp, would find his Golden Age in archaic, pre-literate societies: there was no pattern to history, neither repetitious cycles of rise and fall nor the unfoldings of Whiggish progress. “I feel too strongly about chance,” Olson wrote, identifying with archaic societies mayhap because their warrior myths provided hero-fathers who, in some sense, won the battle with cosmic mothers.

Our analysis of the divisions that matter, of the source of social evil, will determine strategies for self-defense and amelioration. Whereas the scientistic Thorp had identified “the age” (Victorian materialism) as the great Adversary, the radically enlightened social theorist studies the structural constraints on piecemeal reform; reformers should not raise unrealistic expectations that only structural transformations in the political economy can accomplish. The corporatists studied in this book, demagogically appealing to primitive emotions with images of spontaneity, unity and relaxed tensions, cannot formulate a transformative politics because they do not arm themselves with facts by studying how “the system” actually functions before they launch their salvos. Revolutionaries will betray their populist politics by the optimism with which they describe the projected outcome: for the corporatist Left, all social evil will be swept away with the bloated capitalists who manipulate Wall Street and the market, while the corporatist Right would puncture bloated bureaucracies (that pamper non-whites and Nature) to liberate self-adjusting market mechanisms.[viii] The operative word is “bloated” and signifies very old upper-class associations of usurpers from the lower orders with puffed-up toads. The toads are the new men, the scientists and engineers who displaced the old elites to create the revolting twentieth-century “mass society” articulated by Ortega y Gasset in 1930. Being toads, they are naturally oblivious (blinded) to the lessons of the Fall; or worse, they are the fallen angels who caused the Fall.[ix] These demonic interlopers are possessed by an insatiable will to power a.k.a. the yen for absolute knowledge to be handed over, in their toadying way, to absolutist monarchs. The toads recognize none of the boundaries that have hitherto preserved order and continuity in the realms of good, tolerant kings, who, of course, frown upon excessive deference in their subjects, while the toads’ expansionism destroys the balance of power that the good king would like to protect. Such fairy tales suggest social hygiene, the purge, as rational means to a rational end.

For the so-called functionalists, the national/ethnic natural “community” (always a good thing) is a chemically regulated “system” optimally in equilibrium, like any other biological body seeking homeostasis. Unless overwhelmed, it adjusts to invasion by foreign agents through either expulsion (vomiting, defecating or excreting) or through internal destruction. Antibodies mask themselves in clothes closely resembling the enemy’s apparel; they may blacken up, enticing hostile microorganisms or aberrant cells to the crushing hug. The primitivist vaccinations of conservatively enlightened Melvilleans cannot be fathomed without seeing through this rhetorical strategy, since the agents of counter-subversion appear to be imitating Melville, adopting the persona of the Enlightenment historian/geologist/sleuth who detects hidden faults and fissures in harmonious corporatist ‘families’ and ‘honest’ individuals. But the black mask functions solely to establish a safe distance from their femme fatale; first they must kill it. The organicist model continues to be embraced by antidemocratic social theorists because, unable rationally to legitimate class rule, they are forced to keep worker-soldiers anxiously focused on defenses–on threats to national security. The forbidden materialist gaze, like the demand for intimacy in love and friendship, is experienced as pressure that leads to disintegration: a breach in the fortress, a hole in the wall, a ripping of the social fabric, a nuclear weapon.

Here is one Fascist writer from the 1930s who used some of these very images to lure the uncommitted to the camp of revolutionary reaction; note especially his segué from chastity to the “real” boundary between subject and object, his escape from merging: “Fascism arises…as an answer to the rise of Communism which accompanies capitalist decay. Communism is the toxin that calls up the Fascist anti-toxin. And Fascism does not appeal to the discredited capitalist values, but to pre-capitalist ones: it emphasizes those virtues and that way of life which capitalism has steadily undermined and which Communism would destroy completely…[T]he full romantic tide of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has risen with increasing force against all the foundations on which Western civilization was built: it seeks to sweep away things as various as Christian sexual morals and the epistemology which maintains that subject and object are real distinctions. Whatever it attacks it attacks out of hatred of discipline and authority; it is a philosophy which deifies hybris.” [x]

The inflated rhetoric of the populist propaganda I have described may be intended to advance particular careers by mobilizing resentment and hope in the lower orders, but must lead to disillusion and apathy when repressed facts of the real world return. Here is an unfinished early poem by Charles Olson, perhaps written to his lace-curtain Irish-Catholic mother, who is not at all like Milton’s Muse:

[14 Oct. 1932:] “You gave me curtains and I hung them/ fingering the coarseness of the gauze/ as though it were as soft as your white skin/ –Gauze/ That stood between us like the veil/ That separates this frantic life (Death)/ From that other death (Living) beyond./ Gauze/ That hid–oh. God, I want to press/ you close/ to me – on my knees before you -k  (This is enough–better to write it in the closest chambers of my brain–and body!)”

Perhaps Olson wanted to press mother’s/ God’s goodness into his evil flesh, but Mother’s blocked, blocking vision would lead the white rat into endless mazes and “mostly madness.”

As Melville showed us, the process of emancipation from parental imagos is long, tortuous, and perilous. Only a few individuals in a few modern societies have attempted this Promethean task in their own lives, yet civil liberties are meaningless without the self-knowledge and social knowledge that makes self-determination and self-expression more than a recruiting slogan. Social organization may always be conflicted, no matter how rational and equitable the planning and feedback mechanisms in the hands of socialists, or, no matter how free of government regulation the market may become in the hands of libertarian conservatives. The critical thinker, like Melville, is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but alert to ambiguities, flaws, hypocrisies and blind spots in the processes that legitimate authority. Visions of a more perfect union are deceptive when they imagine the uninterrupted bliss of suckling infants (the fantasy of kneeling Charles) as the end point of human evolution. These regressive longings for the idealized social relations of pre-modern societies are more powerful and dangerous than rationalists think. Charles Olson, like other irrationalists, would turn my analysis upside down. For Root Man, historians and political scientists are the primum mobile of social decay, “the Protestant thing” that is really Jewish. [End of unwinding excursus.]

NOTES.

[i]           60. See Barbara Heyl, “The Harvard ‘Pareto’ Circle,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 4 (1968): 316-334. The Paretans were viewed as fascists by their liberal Harvard colleagues in the 1930s. The seminar included Crane Brinton, Henry Murray, Clyde Kluckhohn, Talcott Parsons, Joseph Schumpeter, Bernard De Voto, and Robert Merton. Merton was a major figure in the developing discipline of the history of science; its agenda is avowedly anti-Marxist and anti-liberal. See Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: The Merton Thesis, ed. with Introduction by I.B. Cohen (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1990). George Sarton proposed the discipline in 1916 (see letter, Harvard University Archives).

[ii]           61. “Memories,” Lawrence Henderson Papers, Harvard University Archives. Cf. Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob, and Lynn Hunt, Telling The Truth In History (New York: Norton, 1994), 253. “Historians cannot comprehend all the variables bombarding a single event. Human beings participate in a dense circuitry of interacting systems, from those that regulate their bodily functions to the ones that undergird their intellectual curiosity and emotional responses. A full explanation of an event would have to take into consideration the full range of systematic reactions. Not ever doing that, history-writing implicitly begins by concentrating on those aspects of an event deemed most relevant to the inquiry.”

[iii]          62. See Joyce Appleby, et al, Telling the Truth In History, 51 and passim.

[iv]          63. See Carl Schmitt, “A Note on Europe,” American Review 9 (Sept.1937): 407-410. I am using Schmitt’s metaphors. The same argument can be found in Geoffrey Stone, “The End of Democracy: Ralph Adams Cram’s Plea for a New Order” AR 9, 365-379. For these fascist critics, “moderation” does not signify the willingness to compromise, but to subdue the bourgeoisie without sacrificing progress.

[v]          64. Folke Leander, “The Materialistic and the Humanistic Interpretations of History,” American Review 9 (Sept.1937): 380-406.

[vi]          65. Norman Foerster, “Introduction,” The Humanities After the War (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1944), vii. Wendell L. Willkie was a contributor to the volume.

[vii]         66. Thorp later edited A Southern Reader (New York: Knopf, 1955), stating in the Introduction that he had always found the South to be the most exotic and exciting part of America, its problems with Negroes and poverty notwithstanding. See E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Macmillan, 1943), for a concise summary of the organic conservative cosmos shared by corporatist thinkers from Plato through the late Middle Ages and the Elizabethans on into Central Europe of the fascist period. See also Stephen Copley, ed. Literature and the Social Order in Eighteenth-Century England (Sydney: Croom Helm, 1984), Introduction, for the contrast between the discourses of the humanists and Adam Smith (along with other analysts of economic institutions).

[viii]         67. See F.A. Hayek, Individualism: True and False (Oxford: Blackwell, 1946) for a concise enunciation of the main principles of libertarian conservatism in which science is annexed to hierarchical organic conservatism and the rule of expertise. His recommended lineage for “true individualism” is Locke, Mandeville, Hume, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton. Hayek has undermined the search for legitimate authority based on common understanding and checks from below.  Man is innately incapable of grasping totalities; only deluded and false individualists would claim such an achievement. These include rationalist philosophes and utilitarians, along with the “original” German Romantics;  similarly looking to coercive, bureaucratic state power to impose order, destroying checks and balances attainable through spontaneous voluntary organization at the local level. The only role for the state is negative: to prevent any one group from arrogating to itself the excessive power that destroys equilibrium. Describing the conditions that enable true individualism, Hayek explained: “[It is absurd to think that] individualism postulates (or bases its arguments on the assumption of) the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals, instead of starting from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society (7)…The willingness to submit to [flexible but normally observed rules that make the behavior of other people predictable in a high degree], not merely so long as one has no definite reason to the contrary, is an essential condition for the gradual evolution and improvement of rules of social intercourse, and the readiness ordinarily to submit to the products of a social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand is also an indispensable condition if it is to be possible to dispense with compulsion…coercion can probably only be kept to a minimum in a society when conventions and tradition have made the behavior of man to a large extent predictable (23-24).”

[ix]          68. Thorp’s fixation on stable savage societies can be explained by their focused contemplation upon natural creation that is abandoned in the introspective individual of modernity. Tillyard in Elizabethan World Picture quotes Hooker on this phenomenon: “The bad angels fell away voluntarily, and they did so because they turned their minds away from God and from God’s creation, itself, the evidence of God’s goodness, to themselves. There was indeed ‘no other way for angels to sin but by reflex of their understandings upon themselves; when, being held with admiration of their own sublimity and honour, the memory of their subordination unto God and their dependency on him was drowned in this conceit. Whereupon their adoration love and imitation of God could not choose but be also interrupted. The fall of the angels was therefore pride’ ” (50). The multicultural emphasis on diversity and inclusion refers back to the idea of God’s (Nature’s) plenitude and perfection described at length in Frank Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being.

[x]           69. Geoffrey Stone, “Excelsior,” American Review 9 (Summer 1937): 299, 303. Stone, a future Melville critic, was reviewing Stephen Spender’s Forward From Liberalism.

November 16, 2009

Panic Attacks and Separation Anxiety

Manipulative Mother 1923 This slightly revised version of a Pacifica radio talk fits well into our recent discussions about the continuing relevance of Freud, and how liberal mental  health professionals thought about anxiety disorders in the early 1990s. I refer the reader to Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego for a stimulating remark on “neurotic dread.”* I was asked (by listeners) to repeat the KPFK talk, and it was subsequently read  and okayed by a practicing historian-psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg. I got no criticisms from listeners who showed it to their therapists. I am not a therapist, but sufficiently well-read in the history of medicine and psychiatry.

KPFK program Panic Attacks, hosted by Dr. Etta Enzyme, December 12, 1994. First in a projected series exploring the ways specific historical explanations (especially the causes of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War, ecocide etc.) affect mental and physical health, hence the possibility of constructive social change.

1.What is a panic attack?  Panic attacks are not fear responses to immediate threats like earthquakes.  Rather, harmless but symbolically laden internal body signals stimulate terror: of isolation, of loss of support, of loss of balance, of descent into madness; it is the state of mind most desired by practitioners of psychological warfare.  Persistent anxiety weakens the immune system.  Clinicians often see panic attacks as one instance of separation anxiety, itself symptomatic of an underlying narcissistic personality disorder.

2.Comment on Dr. Joycelyn Elders firing: how have journalists explained opposition to masturbation?  For instance, see Gina Kolata, “America Keeps Onan in the Closet,” The New York Times, 12/18/94, p. E5 for an ooh-la-la description of masturbation phobia since the 18th century “when sex became medicalized.”  Laughable consequences are listed, but none resembles the fear of critical thought (i.e., of separation from abusive authority) in D.H. Lawrence.  In a Letter to the Editor 12/20, Frederic C. Thayer writes, “Traditionally, masturbation is condemned because it wastes energy and sperm necessary for procreation, and is for selfish pleasure rather than social duty.  Masturbation is described as “self-abuse” that causes mental derangement.”

The hostile conservative response to masturbation is more complex than some timeless resistance to (anarchic) pleasure by ascetic, corporatist thinkers.  In Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors, D.H. Lawrence rants on about the “self-abuse” he attributes to mass culture which, while apparently promoting “sex-secrecy,” “stealthily” inflames the flesh: the “mental energy” sometimes released leads solely to the “futility…nothingness…sentimentalities…self-analysis…impotent criticism…suppressed rage” which characterize (solipsistic) “modern literature” and “work[s] of science.”  “[Masturbation] is the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization.”  Lawrence’s is a class-bound reactionary response to the “the grey ones left over from the nineteenth century,” i.e.,, to Victorian culture; his panicky diagnosis of [narcissism] reminds me of more recent, equally pessimistic  criticism.  What (other than the family) are the political and institutional sources of this anxiety?  How have mental health professionals accounted for panic attacks and related anxiety disorders, and what are some of the debates in the field?

3.Object inconstancy and its discontents.  Since the pioneering work of Bowlby, Winnicott, and Mahler, new thinking in clinical psychology and social work stresses the lifelong salutary effects of a strong and reliable maternal bond, experienced as object constancy.  Should there be a lack of steady parenting in early childhood, the damage may manifest itself later in panic attacks and related phobias and symptoms, especially during adolescence; appropriate separation is sometimes impeded by parents who ask their growing children to befriend them so as to contain the parents’ anxieties.  At all ages related symptoms may include insomnia (there is no internalized representation of the protective parent: only a surrogate close at hand will allow relaxation); hoarding; fears of being poisoned (e.g., by mass culture); school phobia (clinging to mom or exposure to “secular humanism”?); drug use to deaden the pain of loss; self-mutilation and adolescent suicide (only a violent act directed against the self can restore the maternal bond); agoraphobia; compulsive “taking care” of others to control them; clinging to masochistic relationships; the inability to cope with divorce; and in borderline personalities (close to psychotic), oscillations between depression over lost attachments and fears of being swallowed up and disintegrating.  One psychologist notes a common wish: the longing for the golden fantasy of a symbiotic [i.e., not draining?!!]) relationship with mother where all needs are met, hallowed by perfection.  (None of the dozens of psychology abstracts I consulted specifically alluded to authoritarian ideologies and peasant societies of the Right or Left where individuation would not force young people into agonized choices; cf. D.H. Lawrence, or T.S. Eliot and his hatred of “worm-eaten liberalism” aka “freethinking Jews,” the catalysts or enzymes of social disintegration.)

Professionals disagree about the efficacy of antidepressants, or whether or not separation anxiety in infancy and early childhood explains panic attacks in adulthood.  To me, the most sensible suggestions for treatment were historical and sociological in approach: psychiatrist Terry Kupers says mental health professionals must be activists to provide public funding for the treatment of anxiety disorders; meanwhile in short-term care the patient should record the circumstances of every parting to detect lifelong patterns of separation anxiety in relationships.  Another stressed the need for family therapy to scrutinize the ways in which their interactions impede autonomy.  Another writer, in a similar vein, reminded me that the problems in separation cannot be described schematically, that particular families shape the difficult problem of growing up in their own unique and awful ways. [I doubt that there is an infinite variety of  histories.] In other words, individuals and their families are being taught to read themselves and the often subtle messages they communicate around issues of maturation and difference, to discover the patterns which contribute to serious mental and physical health problems, and which in turn will affect social action.

4. The larger institutional environment in which anxiety disorders have emerged.  Because the transition from pre-modern to capitalist social relations is incomplete, the humanities lag behind the hard sciences.  There are some sociologists, political scientists, and cultural anthropologists whose work is avowedly anti-science; Harold Lasswell was part of the moderate conservative movement of academics who explicitly separated the methodologies of the social sciences from the physical sciences in the 1920s.  In a related move, the history of science as an academic discipline was contrived by Harvard’s Robert Merton to demonstrate the socially constructed character of scientific knowledge; Merton’s project was candidly counter-Enlightenment.

The legitimacy of the exploring, self-directing individual is advocated by only a minority of liberal and Left intellectuals; scientists are necessary but suspect, like rationalism in general.  We give lip service to “cultural freedom,” but few of us are willing to live with its consequences.  Yet our official ideology in “the West” asserts numerous civil rights and obligations to participate in democratic processes.  What critical tools are required to make popular sovereignty rational and humane?  How have threatened élites discouraged the development of critical skills through psychological warfare in popular culture?  Have upper-class radicals, in the name of socialism, served reaction, not popular education?  What public policy demands should be advanced by liberals to educate citizens for mental and physical health?

5. On narcissism theory and recent prescriptions for its cure.  The derogatory term “narcissistic” denotes the selfishness of yuppies; for instance, some social democrats claim that “the culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch) has produced Generation X: abandoned, empty, confused and self-destructive.  The narcissistic disorder as I see it, is less moralistic in its diagnosis: Perhaps narcissism results from unreliable attachments in early childhood, and the repeated exposure to ambivalent systems of support inside and outside the family, in schools and other socializing institutions, including the media.  Because communication is often dishonest but unchallenged (“Be yourself, be original, but don’t make me too angry”), youthful egos are weakened while the source of domination is obscured.  Hence narcissists lack a sense of inner balance, competence in defending their interests (who dunnit to me?), and self-worth that would make them self-directed and socially responsible: creative, curious, lovable to others and effective reformers.  They may depend on omniscient others who feed their weak egos with flattery/conspiracy theories (we alone are the cognoscenti).  To restore the Golden Age, they will fuse with such heroic agitators, or with a glorified racial past, or with fetishized luxury goods.  As repressed facts of the material world return, idealizations are shattered.  The all-nurturing other (the object) may become a killer who must be destroyed (Otto Kernberg). [My reading:]  The switch occurs at the moment of disillusion, as artificially inflated self-esteem (grandiosity) ebbs or rushes away, leaving in its wake emptiness, uncontainable fear and anger.  The fear and anger (if suppressed) triggers the adrenalin that begins the panic attack; the ghastly irony lies in the misdirection of our anger toward the self; we may remain politely fastened to an object that was never there for us in the first place.  (Or perhaps as children we believed our anger caused the death of domineering or negligent parents and/or sibling rivals or the breakup of a family in divorce: any eruption of anger is unmanageable and world-destroying.)

By contrast, some romantic conservatives account for the pervasive “narcissism” and related social problems (including the rise of fascism, a narcissistic disorder) as the result of weakened paternal authority in the family.  The newly triumphant figures of modernity have sapped the authority of the paternalistic father: vampirish specters appear as Goldfinger the international Jew (designer and profiteer of mass culture and consumerism) in cahoots with mad scientists, femmes fatales, and perfectionist puritan mothers.  Feminized and jewified, modernity has produced, what else?  The Masturbator!  Similarly, the terror-gothic genre (horror movies and gothic fiction) confronts the viewer with appalling images of the inquisitive, wandering, goal-directed imagination exploring the sensuous material world (D. H.Lawrence’s “nosy Hebrew”).  Persistently feeling one’s own unhappiness and the common pain of suffering humanity, asking authority “why” it devises particular damaging social policies, demanding access to state secrets, can lead only to bloody revolution, ripping and shredding of the social fabric, and finally, the Bomb (e.g., the theme of Pandora’s Box in Kiss Me Deadly, a classic of film noir).

One would hope that progressive intellectuals would be alert to such right-wing tactics, but no.  As one KPFK listener put it, intellectuals today latch onto traditions which make them comfortable; the idea of the detached, disinterested seeker following the truth wherever it leads is held to be a bourgeois illusion, the Big Lie of objectivity and positivistic science that delivered scientific racism.  Some poststructuralists say that (relatively) accurate readings of the world are impossible, that there is only “intertextuality” for ballast, that the goals of “objectivity,” or of universally valid moral standards are (in fact!) a stealthy imposition of a totalitarian ideology.  Such irrationalist  [1] ideas should be vigorously opposed in the culture wars raging in our universities, and not just by the libertarian Right. Liberal Freudians are not irrationalists; rather they believe that rational processes (historical memory and the reconstruction of power relations in socializing institutions) can at least diminish the extent to which we are misdirected by self-destructive behavior. (Irrationalists have said that such fantasies are disseminated by Jews, consummate peddlers of false utopias; see the excellent description of the right-wing agitator in Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit, 1949).

Are panic attacks a health risk of middle-management?  Historians revise and reconfigure the past, finding material causes for socially-induced catastrophes; we seek clarity and balance, not chaos, but threaten illegitimate authority.  Because democratic pluralists seem to support critical thought (but in practice are unevenly committed to it), institutions are vague and abstract in their demands.  Be original, but not too destabilizing, we are advised, echoing the family.  But how far to go too far?  We don’t know the rules until we break them.  So, to keep our jobs, we may betray the real and the good, not daring to hold authority accountable; all relations remain shallow and there is, in fact, little reliable support.  In such a deceptive and self-deceptive society, anyone and everyone can turn on us–whenever we demand that our arguments be engaged, calling love and support into question.  People too attached to their creative work must be “monomaniacs,” like Melville’s Captain Ahab.

If my analysis is valid, what are the implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders?  As long as institutions are unwilling to be tested and challenged, as long as they blunt critical tools, no amount of individual or group therapy or pills will alleviate our distress; perforce we will adjust to a world without many enduring attachments.  The fearful may continue to follow false friends and false prophets: screaming, hysterical demagogues and paranoids who will divide us when only species cooperation can protect the planet.  Idealizing the father-driven family will not solve the problems conservatives are (often rightly) worried about.  Accurate readings of our bodies, our histories, our loves and friendships, the origin and development of all institutions and of the natural world which we are fast destroying, should be the goal of education.  Workers in mental health cannot neglect these aspects of their training, lest the good work they do be nullified by the strange world outside the clinic. [12-27-94]

* From Freud (1922): “Dread in an individual is provoked either by the greatness of a danger or by the cessation of emotional ties (libidinal cathexes [Libidobesetzungen]); the latter is the case of neurotic dread. In just the same way panic arises either owing to an increase in the common danger or owing to the disappearance of the emotional ties which hold the group together; and the latter case is analogous to that of neurotic dread.” Group Psychology and the  Analysis of the Ego, Chapter V, transl. James Strachey. Apply this suggestion to the assimilating immigrant or upwardly mobile ethnic individual or group. This view eliminates the problem of separation from the mother, but rather extends panic and anxiety to other situations in any society with fluid class boundaries. Imagine the fear of loss of status or the fear of abandoning one’s neighbors and ancestors. (For another blog on this topic, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/.)

October 25, 2009

Panic Attacks

 

Pierrot and manipulative Mother? Or Mask?

Pierrot and manipulative Mother? Or Mask?

 I have resurrected an old KPFK program Panic Attacks, hosted by Dr. Etta Enzyme, December 12, 1994. It was first in a projected series exploring the ways specific historical explanations (especially the causes of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War, ecocide etc.) affect mental and physical health, hence the possibility of constructive social change.

 1.What is a panic attack?  Panic attacks are not fear responses to immediate threats like earthquakes.  Rather, harmless but symbolically laden internal body signals stimulate terror: of isolation, of loss of support, of loss of balance, of descent into madness; it is the state of mind most desired by practitioners of psychological warfare.  Persistent anxiety weakens the immune system.  Clinicians often see panic attacks as one instance of separation anxiety, itself symptomatic of an underlying narcissistic personality disorder.

 2.Comment on Dr. Joycelyn Elders firing: how have journalists explained opposition to masturbation?  For instance, see Gina Kolata, “America Keeps Onan in the Closet,” The New York Times, 12/18/94, p. E5 for an ooh-la-la description of masturbation phobia since the 18th century “when sex became medicalized.”  Laughable consequences are listed, but none resembles the fear of critical thought (i.e., of separation from abusive authority) in D.H. Lawrence.  In a Letter to the Editor 12/20, Frederic C. Thayer writes, “Traditionally, masturbation is condemned because it wastes energy and sperm necessary for procreation, and is for selfish pleasure rather than social duty.  Masturbation is described as “self-abuse” that causes mental derangement.”

    The hostile conservative response to masturbation is more complex than some timeless resistance to (anarchic) pleasure by ascetic, corporatist thinkers.  In Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors, D.H. Lawrence rants on about the “self-abuse” he attributes to mass culture which, while apparently promoting “sex-secrecy,” “stealthily” inflames the flesh: the “mental energy” sometimes released leads solely to the “futility…nothingness…sentimentalities…self-analysis…impotent criticism…suppressed rage” which characterize (solipsistic) “modern literature” and “work[s] of science.”  “[Masturbation] is the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization.”  Lawrence’s is a class-bound reactionary response to the “the grey ones left over from the nineteenth century,” i.e.,, to radical Victorian culture; his panicky diagnosis of [narcissism] reminds me of more recent, equally pessimistic, radical criticism.  What (other than the family) are the political and institutional sources of this anxiety?  How have mental health professionals accounted for panic attacks and related anxiety disorders, and what are some of the debates in the field?

 3.Object inconstancy and its discontents.  Since the pioneering work of Winnicott and Mahler, new thinking in clinical psychology and social work stresses the lifelong salutary effects of a strong and reliable maternal bond, experienced as object constancy.  Should there be a lack of steady parenting in early childhood, the damage may manifest itself later in panic attacks and related phobias and symptoms, especially during adolescence; appropriate separation is sometimes impeded by parents who ask their growing children to befriend them so as to contain the parents’ anxieties.  At all ages related symptoms may include insomnia (there is no internalized representation of the protective parent: only a surrogate close at hand will allow relaxation); hoarding; fears of being poisoned (e.g., by mass culture); school phobia (clinging to mom or exposure to “secular humanism”?); drug use to deaden the pain of loss; self-mutilation and adolescent suicide (only a violent act directed against the self can restore the maternal bond); agoraphobia; compulsive “taking care” of others to control them; clinging to masochistic relationships; the inability to cope with divorce; and in borderline personalities (close to psychotic), oscillations between depression over lost attachments and fears of being swallowed up and disintegrating.  One psychologist notes a common wish: the longing for the golden fantasy of a symbiotic [i.e., not draining?!!]) relationship with mother where all needs are met, hallowed by perfection.  (None of the dozens of psychology abstracts I consulted specifically alluded to authoritarian ideologies and peasant societies of the Right or Left where individuation would not force young people into agonized choices; cf. D.H. Lawrence, or T.S. Eliot and his hatred of “worm-eaten liberalism” aka “freethinking Jews,” the catalysts or enzymes of social disintegration.)

      Professionals disagree about the efficacy of antidepressants, or whether or not separation anxiety in infancy and early childhood explains panic attacks in adulthood.  To me, the most sensible suggestions for treatment were historical and sociological in approach: psychiatrist Terry Kupers says mental health professionals must be activists to provide public funding for the treatment of anxiety disorders; meanwhile in short-term care the patient should record the circumstances of every parting to detect lifelong patterns of separation anxiety in relationships.  Another stressed the need for family therapy to scrutinize the ways in which their interactions impede autonomy.  Another writer, in a similar vein, reminded me that the problems in separation cannot be described schematically, that particular families shape the difficult problem of growing up in their own unique and awful ways. [I doubt that there is an infinite variety of  histories.] In other words, individuals and their families are being taught to read themselves and the often subtle messages they communicate around issues of maturation and difference, to discover the patterns which contribute to serious mental and physical health problems, and which in turn will affect social action.

4. The larger institutional environment in which anxiety disorders have emerged.  Because the transition from pre-modern to capitalist social relations is incomplete, the humanities lag behind the hard sciences.  There are some sociologists, political scientists, and cultural anthropologists whose work is avowedly anti-science; Harold Lasswell was part of the moderate conservative movement of academics who explicitly separated the methodologies of the social sciences from the physical sciences in the 1920s.  In a related move, the history of science as an academic discipline was contrived by Harvard’s Robert Merton to demonstrate the socially constructed character of scientific knowledge; Merton’s project was candidly counter-Enlightenment and anti-Marxian.

    The legitimacy of the exploring, self-directing individual is advocated by only a minority of liberal and Left intellectuals; scientists are necessary but suspect, like rationalism in general.  We give lip service to “cultural freedom,” but few of us are willing to live with its consequences.  Yet our official ideology in “the West” asserts numerous civil rights and obligations to participate in democratic processes.  What critical tools are required to make popular sovereignty rational and humane?  How have threatened élites discouraged the development of critical skills through psychological warfare in popular culture?  Have upper-class radicals, in the name of socialism, served reaction, not popular education?  What public policy demands should be advanced by liberals to educate citizens for mental and physical health?

 5. On narcissism theory and recent prescriptions for its cure.  The derogatory term “narcissistic” denotes the selfishness of yuppies; for instance, some social democrats claim that “the culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch) has produced Generation X: abandoned, empty, confused and self-destructive.  The narcissistic disorder as I see it, is less moralistic in its diagnosis: Perhaps narcissism results from unreliable attachments in early childhood, and the repeated exposure to ambivalent systems of support inside and outside the family, in schools and other socializing institutions, including the media.  Because communication is often dishonest but unchallenged (“Be yourself, be original, but don’t make me too angry”), youthful egos are weakened while the source of domination is obscured.  Hence narcissists lack a sense of inner balance, competence in defending their interests (who dunnit to me?), and self-worth that would make them self-directed and socially responsible: creative, curious, lovable to others and effective reformers.  They may depend on omniscient others who feed their weak egos with flattery/conspiracy theories (we alone are the cognoscenti).  To restore the Golden Age, they will fuse with such heroic agitators, or with a glorified racial past, or with fetishized luxury goods.  As repressed facts of the material world return, idealizations are shattered.  The all-nurturing other (the object) may become a killer who must be destroyed (Otto Kernberg). [My reading:]  The switch occurs at the moment of disillusion, as artificially inflated self-esteem (grandiosity) ebbs or rushes away, leaving in its wake emptiness, uncontainable fear and anger.  The fear and anger (if suppressed) triggers the adrenalin that begins the panic attack; the ghastly irony lies in the misdirection of our anger toward the self; we may remain politely fastened to an object that was never there for us in the first place.  (Or perhaps as children we believed our anger caused the death of domineering or negligent parents and/or sibling rivals or the breakup of a family in divorce: any eruption of anger is unmanageable and world-destroying.)

      By contrast, some romantic conservatives account for the pervasive “narcissism” and related social problems (including the rise of fascism, a narcissistic disorder) as the result of weakened paternal authority in the family.  The newly triumphant figures of modernity have sapped the authority of the paternalistic father: vampirish specters appear as Goldfinger the international Jew (designer and profiteer of mass culture and consumerism) in cahoots with mad scientists, femmes fatales, and perfectionist puritan mothers.  Feminized and jewified, modernity has produced, what else?  The Masturbator!  Similarly, the terror-gothic genre (horror movies and gothic fiction) confronts the viewer with appalling images of the inquisitive, wandering, goal-directed imagination exploring the sensuous material world (D. H.Lawrence’s “nosy Hebrew”).  Persistently feeling one’s own unhappiness and the common pain of suffering humanity, asking authority “why” it devises particular damaging social policies, demanding access to state secrets, can lead only to bloody revolution, ripping and shredding of the social fabric, and finally, the Bomb (e.g., the theme of Pandora’s Box in Kiss Me Deadly, a classic of film noir).

      One would hope that progressive intellectuals would be alert to such right-wing tactics, but no.  As one KPFK listener put it, intellectuals today latch onto traditions which make them comfortable; the idea of the detached, disinterested seeker following the truth wherever it leads is held to be a bourgeois illusion, the Big Lie of objectivity and positivistic science that delivered scientific racism.  Some poststructuralists say that (relatively) accurate readings of the world are impossible, that there is only “intertextuality” for ballast, that the goals of “objectivity,” or of universally valid moral standards are (in fact!) a stealthy imposition of a totalitarian ideology.  Such irrationalist  [1] ideas should be vigorously opposed in the culture wars raging in our universities, and not just by the libertarian Right. Liberal Freudians are not irrationalists; rather they believe that rational processes (historical memory and the reconstruction of power relations in socializing institutions) can at least diminish the extent to which we are misdirected by self-destructive behavior. (Irrationalists have said that such fantasies are disseminated by Jews, consummate peddlers of false utopias; see the excellent description of the right-wing agitator in Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit, 1949).

      Are panic attacks a health risk of middle-management?  Historians revise and reconfigure the past, finding material causes for socially-induced catastrophes; we seek clarity and balance, not chaos, but threaten illegitimate authority.  Because democratic pluralists seem to support critical thought (but in practice are unevenly committed to it), institutions are vague and abstract in their demands.  Be original, but not too destabilizing, we are advised, echoing the family.  But how far to go too far?  We don’t know the rules until we break them.  So, to keep our jobs, we may betray the real and the good, not daring to hold authority accountable; all relations remain shallow and there is, in fact, little reliable support.  In such a deceptive and self-deceptive society, anyone and everyone can turn on us–whenever we demand that our arguments be engaged, calling love and support into question.  People too attached to their creative work must be “monomaniacs,” like Melville’s Captain Ahab.

      If my analysis is valid, what are the implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders?  As long as institutions are unwilling to be tested and challenged, as long as they blunt critical tools, no amount of individual or group therapy or pills will alleviate our distress; perforce we will adjust to a world without many enduring attachments.  The fearful may continue to follow false friends and false prophets: screaming, hysterical demagogues and paranoids who will divide us when only species cooperation can protect the planet.  Idealizing the father-driven family will not solve the problems conservatives are (often rightly) worried about.  Accurate readings of our bodies, our histories, our loves and friendships, the origin and development of all institutions and of the natural world which we are fast destroying, should be the goal of education.  Workers in mental health cannot neglect these aspects of their training, lest the good work they do be nullified by the strange world outside the clinic. [12-27-94]

October 23, 2009

Murdered by the Mob: Moral Mothers and Symbolist poets

Mad Kate

Mad Kate

In my own quiet way, I am attempting to revise “psychoanalysis” by inspecting the imaginations of individual artists, many of whom died early. Raymond M. Weaver of Columbia University was the first modern biographer of  Herman Melville; he was also an uncloseted gay man, an author, and possibly a sadomasochist. Numerous subsequent Melville critics attacked his biography as “Freudian” and Weaver himself as a radical.  James Thomson (“B.V.”) was an English nineteenth-century radical journalist and poet, author of The City of Dreadful Night, and was an admirer of Melville, who reciprocated his interest. All three men came from Calvinist backgrounds, but can be seen as pagan in their sympathies.

In this excerpt from an unpublished ms., I use the Melville-Thomson-Weaver triad to probe the sexual and class politics of some Symbolists as they encountered “the modern woman” (for them, the moral mother as Goddess of Annihilation/the Mob). We begin with the perception that Weaver was a radical insurgent, a liberal, or a Freudian; I will try to more fully describe Weaver’s social imagination: we shall see that Weaver, like other Romantics and Symbolists, led a double life, oscillating between the defiance and capitulation we have seen before in the contrasting postures of romantic and repentant Wandering Jews. Quotes from rare sources are used throughout, using my collage technique. The blog is rated X. (For part two see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/.) Since the essay is a collage, I shall take the name of  Fuseli’s Mad Kate for my interpretative comments.

[Hughes on Daniel Macmillan, 1837, 58-59:] [Daniel Macmillan’s] recovery was slow, and he had to spend the next two months in Scotland, this time for the most part in towns where he came across numbers of mechanics and weavers, a sad contrast to the poor peasants of Arran, intercourse with whom had so cheered him three years before. “The discontent of the lower classes is most painful in itself,” he writes, “in the form it takes, and the spirit it springs from. How different was the old Covenanter spirit. These Covenanters were most noble. They fought for God’s truth, and wished to rid the earth of whatever was an abomination to the Lord. Duty was the highest thing to them, and they struggled hard to obey its behest. Their boldness was not a brutal, vulgar, ignorant temerity, without reverence, without faith, but solemn and noble. I feel sure of this, notwithstanding Sir Walter’s graphic misrepresentations. I have often talked with some of the remnant of that old stock,–a few who still keep alive the holy flame,–and know what true refinement lies at the bottom of their noble natures. But, alas, that race is becoming quite extinct. The poor men, the mechanics, weavers, and the like in our towns, care not one farthing for the Covenant, or for those deeper matters of which the Covenant was a symbol. They know nothing about duty or faith, or God; they care only about their rights; they talk only about reform, universal suffrage, from which they look for justice and deliverance from oppression. They do not look up to God for help in the old-fashioned way. This may be a ‘progress of humanity,’ and all the rest of that jargon, but I, for one, cannot admire it.”

[W.B. Yeats, Early Memories, MCMXXII, 21] Sometimes here in New York I have wandered into apartments and among people where they were running some great factory for the production of opinion, anarchist, socialist, pacifist, I know not what. The din seemed that of the trenches, only that instead of heroism and the sobering effect of great issues on which man stand face to face with death itself, we have small antagonisms and vanity and temper, always temper, and instead of intensity, vehemence; and pitiful mental and moral squalor of men trying to dominate, and with that end in view quite content to be shallow in feeling as in thought; quite willing, also, to insult with ugliness and to make themselves ugly–in fact, anything for effect! To be with my old friend was like entering a shaded parlor, its quiet only broken by the rustling noise of a fire burning briskly on the hearthstone.

[The Grand Conspiracy of the Members against the Minde, of Jewes against their King, by John Allington [a sequestered Divine], London, 1653:] An example strongly convincing me, that even the Law and light of Nature, were it not clouded with carnall and perverse affections, even that glimmering light were enough to teach the minde, that resist we may not against God’s ordinance.

[Shelley, “Passage from The Wandering Jew”:] The Elements respect their Maker’s seal!/ Still like the scathed pine tree’s height,/ Braving the tempests of the night/ Have I ‘scaped the bickering flame./ Like the scath’d pine, which a monument stands/ Of faded grandeur, which the brands/ Of the tempest-shaken air/ Have riven on the desolate heath;/Yet it stands majestic even in death,/And rears its wild form there.

[W.B. Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, 1922, 58-60:] I know very little about myself and much less of that anti-self: probably the woman who cooks my dinner or the woman who sweeps out my study knows more than I. It is perhaps because nature made me a gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for conversation, and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest conviction, that I love proud and lonely things. When I was a child and went daily to the sexton’s daughter for writing lessons, I found one poem in her School Reader that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment of some metrical translation from Aristophanes wherein the birds sing scorn upon mankind. In later years my mind gave itself to gregarious Shelley’s dream of a young man, his hair blanched with sorrow, studying philosophy in some lonely tower, or of his old man, master of all human knowledge, hidden from human sight in some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean shore. One passage above all ran perpetually in my ears–“Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream/ He was pre-Adamite, and has survived/ Cycles of generation and of ruin./ The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence,/ And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,/ Deep contemplation and unwearied study,/ In years outstretched beyond the date of man,/ May have attained to sovereignty and science/ Over those strange and secret things and thoughts/ Which others fear and know not.”…Certainly if wisdom existed anywhere in the world it must be in some such lonely mind admitting no duty to us, communing with God only, conceding nothing from fear or favour. Have not all peoples, while bound together in a single mind and taste, believed that such men existed and paid them that honour, or paid it to their mere shadow, which they have refused to philanthropists and to men of learning?

[Axel to Sara, Axel’s Castle, MCMXXV:] The external world! Let us not be gulled by the old slave who sits fettered in broad daylight at our feet and promises us the keys of an enchanted palace when his clenched sooty fist hides only a handful of ashes!

[Mad Kate:] In both his 1919 essay on Melville and in the 1936 attack on Lionel Trilling, Weaver had distanced himself from “Freudians,” perhaps too vehemently. A receipt in his files show that he was reading The Psychology of Insanity while researching the Melville book; Joseph Freeman wrote that Weaver had introduced him to Freud through A.A. Brill;[1] meanwhile unpublished letters to John Erskine and Mark Van Doren suggest or indicate that he was under psychiatric (probably not psychoanalytic) supervision shortly before his death, and probably earlier. Before we examine these and other Weaver materials at Columbia University, I shall draw out Weaver’s intellectual debt to the Romantic tradition, particularly to the Victorian poet and radical reformer James Thomson (“B. V.”), whose affinity to Melville is well known, but has not been analyzed in the Melville scholarship. Weaver frequently cites Thomson in Mariner and Mystic; the politics of Sphinxes and Medusas are plainly drawn in Thomson’s Symbolist poetry.  Thomson admired Shelley, whose sequence of poems: Queen Mab (1813), The Mask of Anarchy (1819), Beatrice Cenci (1819), and Prometheus Bound (1820), suggests the pattern of revolt and recantation one sees in Hawthorne, Melville, Thomson, and Weaver. For instance, in The Mask of Anarchy, “written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester,” Shelley advises “the many” to passively resist future assaults by “the few” by resolutely refusing to answer violence with anarchic violence, thus shaming their persecutors who will reform and desist.[2]

Perhaps these pure young men and the readers who respond to their art react furiously against illegitimate parental authority and excessive punishment by “bitter and biting” sainted mothers, but then turn their contaminating aggression inward.  Romantic defiance seeks the inner check to preserve the family: Comes now the repentant Wandering Jew, following, not truth, but longing for the violent death of annihilation or the easeful death of oblivion, “conquering penance of the mutinous flesh” thus “attained to sovereignty and science over those strange and secret things and thoughts which others fear and know not.”[3] Such asceticism, both admired and resented by (the child in?) Yeats, is an evasion of personal history that protects the pure and Christ-like suffering mother. The ancient witch archetype makes sense to these “allegorical” writers and their witch-hunting friends not because of a “collective unconscious” or because they simply copy other writers or because they are inscribed with a cultural code or because mothers (not fathers) socialize children. Rather, my collected witch-hunters share an unusable past, partly or entirely repressing the same searing memory: the now benignant, now malignant evangelical mother whose flashing eyes and burning criticisms implied abandonment and death to the child who has been too needy, dirty, rude, or unhappy and who persistently asks the “why” question. Such writers will create “doubles” to confront the abusive parent whom they may never cease to idealize; but the double will die, dying only to return in another costume.

James Thomson said he was thinking both of Dürer’s figure of Melencolia[4] and the Victorian Radical George Eliot when he constructed the heroic female figure who rules his City of Dreadful Night, but it is possible that he also drew upon Shelley’s Wandering Jew fragment (while installing his own pessimism into Melencolia’s “tenebrous regard”) for Thomson’s Melencolia does not suffer from writer’s block, as does Panofsky’s. Here She is:

[Thomson:] Anear the centre of that northern crest/ Stands out a level upland bleak and bare,/ From which the city east and south and west/ Sinks gently in long waves; and throned there/ An Image sits, stupendous, superhuman,/ The bronze colossus of a winged Woman,/ Upon a graded granite base foursquare.

Low-seated she leans forward massively,/ With cheek on clenched left hand, the forearm’s might/ Erect, its elbow on her rounded knee;/ Across a clasped book in her lap the right/ Upholds a pair of compasses; she gazes/ With full set eyes, but wandering in thick mazes/ Of sombre thought beholds no outward sight….

Unvanquished in defeat and desolation,/ Undaunted in the hopeless conflagration/ Of the day setting on her baffled prime.

Baffled and beaten back she works on still,/ Weary and sick of soul she works the more,/ Sustained by her indomitable will:/ The hands shall fashion and the brain shall pore,/ And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour,/ Till Death the friend-foe piercing with his sabre/ That mighty heart of hearts ends bitter war.

But as if blacker night could dawn on night,/ With tenfold gloom on moonless night unstarred,/ A sense more tragic than defeat and blight,/ More desperate than strife with hope debarred,/ More fatal than the adamantine Never/ Encompassing her passionate endeavour,/ Dawns glooming in her tenebrous regard:

The sense that every struggle brings defeat/ Because Fate holds no prize to crown success;/ That all the oracles are dumb or cheat/ Because they have no secret to express;/ That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain/ Because there is no light beyond the curtain;/ That all is vanity and nothingness….

…Her subjects often gaze up to her there:/ The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance,/ The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance/ And confirmation of the old despair.[5]

[Mad Kate:] Throughout Melville, Thomson and Weaver, I have found an obsession with this Mother: the outwardly beguiling and impressive but inwardly terrible Nature goddess of the fatherless nineteenth century: with “the instruments of carpentry and science scattered about her feet” Melencolia is a Promethean figure of science, artisan revolt, and indomitable aspiration, like Milton’s Mammon, turning sorrow into labor, but whose “full set eyes…wandering in thick mazes of sombre thought” crazily pore into the heart of things…to discover the void which Thomson’s desperate characters had asserted earlier in the poem.   Following the logic of Thomson’s imagery in this and other works, however, Melencolia may not have discovered anything; rather, she has created the void by destroying all meaning in the universe with her “tenebrous regard,” with the eyes that belong not to “science” or to the process of introspection, but to the punitive mother crucifying the furious but cowed and silent child, and carrying not only her own deadly disapproval, but his.

The abused child is trapped through introjection of the cruel parent’s judgment; by internalizing the parent’s point of view with masochistic self-punishment and/or the sadistic punishment of other “evildoers,” the child is temporarily relieved of the dragging burden of anxiety brought up by filial opposition, specifically, the sense that his anger has poisoned the family well, that he has brought greyness to a clearly delineated black and white world. Disowning or repenting of his world-destroying feelings, the purified ex-rebel child/man stands tall to declare  “objectively” that all striving for knowledge, goodness, and happiness is misguided, pointless and dangerous; revolution, even reform, is “vanity” or terminal narcissism: the unpardonable sin of excessive self-regard.

[This passage refers to Melville’s “crazy” novel, Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852).] The apple of the tree of knowledge  (which confers knowledge of both good and evil) has turned to ashes in the mouths of Milton’s rebel angels (the snakylocks); after Pierre learns of his idealized father’s duplicity and tries to rectify this hero-worship by blending previously split images of happy and sad father (a view which brings him into opposition with his mother), he dissociates. After Pierre recovers his “composure” he looks inside himself to see a charred landscape, a frightening image which presages the final catastrophe. We are to conclude that there is no truth, there are only “rebel senses,” “points of view,” and dauntingly endless ambiguities. However, such melancholy formulations may not be hard-won bold and risky “truths.”  Before we acquiesce in the ever more fashionable attacks on the Enlightenment,[6] we might consider how convenient such drastically subjectivist and anti-materialist epistemologies most certainly are and have been to conservatives and reactionaries in class societies bent on monopolizing learning: terrorizing the many in order to limit the impious curiosity and self-confidence of, say, public library patrons that threaten to delegitimize established authority. We look to earlier passages in Thomson’s poem and a predecessor, To Our Ladies of Death (1861), to propose a source for Melville’s Mortmain[a disillusioned ex-revolutionary in Clarel], and the imagery which expressed Raymond Weaver’s nihilism (in his own view, apparently, sadomasochism) and the rationalization for his destructive behavior–but also which may have prepared him to grasp some of the pressing structures in another Ishmael’s psyche.

MELENCOLIA AS A WAY OF LIFE

[James Thomson:] …Some say that phantoms haunt those shadowy streets,/ And mingle freely there with sparse mankind;/ And tell of ancient woes and black defeats,/ And murmur mysteries in the  grave enshrined:/ But others think them visions of illusion,/ Or even men gone far in self-confusion;/ No man there being wholly sane in mind.

And yet a man who raves, however mad,/ Who bares his heart and tells of his own fall,/ Reserves some inmost secret good or bad:/ The phantoms have no reticence at all:/ The nudity of flesh will blush through tameless,/ The extreme nudity of bone grins shameless,/ The unsexed skeleton mocks shroud and pall.

I have seen phantoms there that were as men/ And men that were as phantoms flit and roam;/ Marked shapes that were not living to my ken,/ Caught breathings acrid as with Dead Sea foam:/ The City rests for man so weird and awful,/ That his intrusion there might seem unlawful,/ And phantoms there may have their proper home….

“Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?/ I think myself; yet I would rather be/  My miserable self than He, than He/ Who formed such creatures to his own disgrace.

“The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou/ From whom it had its being, God and Lord!/ Creator of all woe and sin! abhorred,/ Malignant and implacable! I vow

“That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,/ For all the temples to Thy glory built,/ Would I assume the ignominious guilt/ Of having made such men in such a world.”

“As if a Being, God or Fiend, could reign,/At once so wicked, foolish, and insane,/As to produce men when He might refrain!

“The world rolls round for ever like a mill;/ It grinds out death and life and good and ill;/ It has no purpose, heart or mind or will….”

Man might know one thing were his sight less dim;/ That it whirls not to suit his petty whim,/ That it is quite indifferent to him….” [James Thomson, City, 1874.] [7]

[Raymond Weaver:] Full divers times I fall a thinking,/ Thinking of this life on earth,/ Thinking of the scheme of man,/ Thinking of his roles from birth;/ Thinking how he strives and masters,/ Falling, how he braves disasters,/ Thinking how he shirks square labors,/ Rough cabals onto his neighbors;/ How cunningly he strokes designs,/ To cull the gold from strait confines,/ Until at last, I fall ablinking,/ Blinking in my cushioned chair.

Witness man’s affections waver,/ How untruly full they savor;/ Mastered still by earthly passions,/ Yet impelled by Gobbo’s fashions;/ How unaptly reigns his reason,/ Yet how choicely tricks in season./ Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,/ Then I tire in my chair,/ Fidget, wriggle, turn to visions/ And my heart falls in despair./ Nature’s dogmas, planned to follow,/ Leave no loopholes fools to wallow,/ Nature’s laws are last decrees,/ Rendered final, how they tease,/ Enigmatic, sealed, charaded,/ E’er long it was light evaded./ Seeing that ’tis useless picking,/ I subject me to the licking.

Yet postulatum humbly offered,/ If in spirit fair ’tis proffered,/ Can’t but lessen, if a mite,/ The burden of the clouded sight./ This life is but a quickened vision,/ Reserved for men of fast decision,/ Replica’d in salient phrases,/ Birth and love and death that razes,/ This cosmic unit whole, entire,/ Is but a ghastly bog of mire,/ For him who waits and waits and waits,/ And him who prates and prates and prates. [“A Soliloquy,” R.W., Headlined “He Philosophizes on Life, In Poetry. ‘R.W.’ Waxes Poe-esque in Anathemmatizing [sic] the Cosmic Unit.” Oct.4, 1919, Evening Sun. Weaver papers; he was working on the Melville biography.]

[Thomson:] Next Thou, O sibyl, sorceress and queen,/ Our Lady of Annihilation, Thou!/ Of mighty stature, of demoniac mien;/ Upon whose swarthy face and livid brow/ Are graven deeply anguish, malice, scorn,/ Strength ravaged by unrest, resolve forlorn/ Of any hope, dazed pride that will not bow.

Thy form is clothed with wings of iron gloom;/ But round about thee, like a chain, is rolled,/ Cramping the sway of every mighty plume,/ A stark constringent serpent fold on fold:/ Of its two heads, one sting is in thy brain,/ The other in thy heart; their venom-pain/ Like fire distilling through thee uncontrolled.

A rod of serpents wieldeth thy right hand;/ Thy left a cup of raging fire, whose light/ Burns lurid on thyself as thou dost stand;/ Thy lidless eyes tenebriously bright;/ Thy wings, thy vesture, thy dishevelled hair/ Dark as the Grave; thou statue of Despair,/ Thou Night essential radiating night.

Thus have I seen thee in thine actual form;/ Not thus can see thee those whom thou dost sway,/ Inscrutable Enchantress: young and warm,/ Pard-beautiful and brilliant, ever gay;/ Thy cup the very Wine of Life, thy rod/ The wand of more voluptuous spells than God can wield in Heaven; thus charmest thou thy prey.

The selfish, fatuous, proud and pitiless,/ All who have falsified life’s royal trust;/ The strong whose strength hath basked in idleness,/ The great heart given up to worldly lust,/ The great mind destitute of moral faith;/ Thou scourgest down to Night and utter death,/ Or penal spheres of retribution just.

O mighty Spirit, fraudful and malign,/ Demon of madness and perversity! The evil passions which may make me thine/ Are not yet irrepressible in me;/ And I have pierced thy mask of riant youth,/ And seen thy form in all its hideous truth:/ I will not, Dreadful Mother, call on Thee….[To Our Ladies of Death, James Thomson, 1861. Thomson chooses the mother of oblivion, rejecting both this annihilating Isabel (the precursor of the Queen who rules the City of Dreadful Night); and the “gracious mother” for whom he is not worthy.]

[George Eliot:]  Dear Poet,–I cannot rest satisfied without telling you that my mind responds with admiration to the distinct vision and grand utterance in the poem which you have been so good as to send me.

Also, I trust that an intellect formed by so much passionate energy as yours will soon give us more heroic strains with a wider embrace of human fellowship in them–such as will be to the labourers of the world what the odes of Tyrtaeus were to the Spartans, thrilling them with the sublimity of the social order and the courage of resistance to all who would dissolve it. To accept life and write much fine poetry is to take a very large share in the quantum of human good, and seems to draw with it necessarily some recognition, affectionate and even joyful, of the manifold willing labours which have made such a lot possible….M. E. Lewes [George Eliot to Thomson, defining good workers, May 30, 1874]

[Thomson:] Dear Madam,…I have no Byronic quarrel with my fellows, whom I find all alike crushed under the iron yoke of Fate, and few of whom I can deem worse than myself, while so many are far better, and I certainly have an affectionate and even joyful recognition of the willing labours of those who have striven to alleviate our lot, though I cannot see that all their efforts have availed much against the primal curse of our existence. Has the world been the better or the worse for the life of even such a man as Jesus? I cannot judge; but I fear on the whole considerably the worse. None the less I can love and revere his memory….

I ventured to send you a copy of the verses (as I ventured to send another to Mr. Carlyle) because I have always read, whether rightly or wrongly, through all the manifold beauty and delightfulness of your works, a character and intellectual destiny akin to that grand and awful Melancholy of Albrecht Durer which dominates the City of my poem….[James Thomson to George Eliot, June 18, 1874, in Henry Salt’s biography of Thomson, owned and marked by Melville (Eliot on labor and order).]

[Mad Kate:]  James Thomson’s religious and political views are said to have shifted from conservatism to pantheism to pessimism and “confident atheism” during his career as a journalist and poet,[8] but his biographers have not studied the continuities in his image of woman, or the childhood experience of early and devastating loss which, like Herman Melville’s, guaranteed that his “politics” would always be grounded in the irrational.  Thomson was an insomniac and an alcoholic who, like Weaver (but unlike Melville in Pierre), was loath to discuss his childhood directly: he did not consciously attack his parents, but displaced his resentment onto nature, reformers, and powerful Jews (as in his essay “An Old Jewish Firm”, attacking Christianity), viewing himself as “Ishmael in the desert from my childhood.”  Like Melville’s family, Thomson’s experienced a “fall in the social scale.” In the autobiographical sketch he provided for his sister-in-law shortly before his death from alcoholism, Thomson demonstrates the selective memory that implicates himself and a “terrible storm” as chief villain and author of his distress:

[Thomson:] “I was just past eight years old and at the school when mother died, so I can only give you very early impressions. These are, that father and mother were very happy together when he was at home, until, when I was about six, he [a sea captain] returned from his last voyage paralyzed in the right side, the result, as I understand, of a week of terrible storm, during which time he was never able to change his drenched clothes. Before then I think he was a good husband and a kind father; her I always remember as a loving mother and wife. He may have been a bit gay, in the sense of liking a social song and a glass, being, I believe, much better looking and more attractive in company than either of his sons. She was more serious, and pious too, following Irving from the Kirk when he was driven out. I remember well Irving’s portrait under yellow gauze, and some books of his on the interpretation of prophecy which I used to read for the imagery. The paralysis at first unhinged father’s mind, and he had some fits of violence; more generally his temper was strange, disagreeable, not to be depended upon. I remember him taunting her with her being his elder. Mother must have had a sad time of it for a year or so. His mental perturbations settled down into a permanent weakness of mind, not amounting to imbecility, but very, very different, I should say, from his former brightness and decision. Before I went to the school he used to take me to chapels where the members of the congregation ejaculated groaning responses to the minister’s prayer, and to small meetings in a private room where the members detailed their spiritual experiences of the week. Good, bad, or indifferent, these were not the sort of things with which he had anything to do in his days of soundness….

I think mother, who was mystically inclined with Edward Irving, had also a cloud of melancholy overhanging her; first perhaps, from the death of her favourite brother, John Parker Kennedy, drowned on the Goodwin Sand; then probably deepened by the death of my little sister, of whom I remember being devotedly fond, when she was about three and myself five, of measles caught from me. Had she or someone else lived [which one?!], I might have been worth something; but, on the whole, I sincerely judge that it was well for both to die when they did, and I would not, for my own selfish comfort, call them back. At first I would have doubtless have done so, but not for many years past.” [Salt, 3,4. Salt, an English Melvillean, mentions the widespread impression that Thomson inherited his imagination from mother and his dipsomania from father; then suggests that whatever the inheritance, Thomson’s nature contained warring elements of cheerfulness and constitutional melancholia.(5)]

[Mad Kate:] To review this family history (mostly ignored in Schaefer’s revisionist work), but restoring its chronology: At age five, Thomson’s beloved little sister dies of the measles, caught from her devoted brother. At age six, hostile nature destroys his father’s physical and mental health, throwing the family onto the charity of others and subjecting James to an unvaried regimen of Calvinist guilt and self-loathing. At age eight (through the intercession of a friend of mother’s), James is admitted to school (the Royal Caledonian Asylum); mother dies shortly afterward, partly of grief at the loss of the little sister who caught James’ measles. At age eighteen there is more trauma: Thomson meets a fourteen-year-old Angel, Matilda Weller, “the beautiful young girl whose love he won, and whose sudden death was the heaviest calamity he ever endured.” [Salt]

Keeping this personal history in mind, we may infer that Thomson’s three goddesses represent a process; that they are not three separate figures, but symbolize the longings and fears that follow sensual indulgence. The child whose mother demands moral purity and family loyalty, or else, will idealize his mother and feel unworthy of her love; contemplating his secret sins he turns away from any optimistic ideology promising either earthly or heavenly paradise. Unconsciously, he probably resents the relentless demands which crush his sense of self-worth and his capacity for enjoyment, just as he must have resented the intrusion of his little sister, a feeling he may not entertain: he could feel that his anger has killed these (three) angels.

In a revolutionary period, the little monster encounters images that both attract and terrify him. Other victims –mantled in virtue and Reason, carrying the Promethean lamp and wielding the sword of political struggle, their snakylocks blowing in the wind–are rising everywhere to expose and punish deceptive and illegitimate authority.[9] But instead of identifying with the militant oppressed, he sees them as an incarnation of his omniscient Mother/Christ whose eyes are everywhere, punishing him for the sins the poor attribute to the rich and which good evangelical mothers such as Maria Gansevoort, or Mrs. Macmillan, or Mrs. Thomson, or Mrs. Weaver would have tried to defeat in their children: selfishness, jealousy, lying, indolence, sensuality. His mother’s wrath and his answering resentment are both projected onto the all-too alluring and all-too-destructive mob.  He seeks the third Mother who embodies the anaesthesia of oblivion because he cannot bear the memory of his infernal rage, feelings which he unconsciously believes killed his rivals or his persecutors, perhaps also preventing him from rescuing the beautiful mother from father.

Thomson fears becoming father: the sinking, drunken, crazy, violent victim of the terrible storm. He and his affinity group describe themselves as “insane” because they feel possessed by the Infernal One when they think angrily about the persecution of the young and other helpless victims; they are losing control (“poise” and “balance”): they must be irrational to resent the loss of their independence: that is how Western culture had explained and stigmatized such levels of mobbish defiance. They must turn themselves to stone. But while in their cups (or in their dreams), defenses may relax; the vision of early childhood returns. Tenebriously, they suddenly see the “purity” of women as a trap: the whiteness and the promesse de bonheur of the smiling virgin conceals the black heart of the bloody avenger who unpredictably turns on the “naughty” child or who sends her “only recruit” off to die in battle. In the imaginations of Melville, Thomson, and Raymond Weaver, the connections between the Mother of Beatitude and the Mother of Annihilation are heretically exposed, like the crimson flower that creeps or seeps onto Lucy’s white pillow in the opening scene of Pierre. Yillah and Hautia, or Lucy and Isabel, or Thomson’s first two Ladies of Death, are aspects of the same figure (which Melville at least partly understands), and are projections of a writer who has remained fused with the mother: The sinless bearer of eternal bliss and the malicious god (or goddess) are split images of both good/bad mother and good/bad child.

[D.H. Lawrence, 1947:] Sex must go somewhere, especially in young people. So, in our glorious civilization, it goes in masturbation. And the mass of our popular literature, the bulk of our popular amusements just exists to provoke masturbation. Masturbation is the one thoroughly secret act of the human being, more secret even than excrementation. It is the one functional result of sex-secrecy, and it is stimulated and provoked by our glorious popular literature of pretty pornography which rubs on the dirty little secret without letting you know what is happening…In the young, a certain amount of masturbation is inevitable, but not therefore natural. I think, there is no boy or girl who masturbates without feeling a sense of shame, anger, and futility…[which deepens] into a suppressed rage, because of the impossibility of escape…And this is, perhaps, the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization…The only positive effect of masturbation is that it seems to release a certain mental energy, in some people. But it is mental energy which manifests itself always in the same way, in a vicious circle of analysis and impotent criticism, or else a vicious circle of false and easy sympathy, sentimentalities. The sentimentalism and the niggling analysis, often self-analysis, of most of our modern literature, is a sign of self-abuse…This is just the same whether it be a novel or a work of science. The author never escapes from himself, he pads along within the vicious circle of himself…The real masturbation of Englishmen began only in the nineteenth century. It has continued with an increasing emptying of the real vitality and the real being of men, till now people are little more than shells of people. Most of the responses are dead, most of the awareness is dead, nearly all the constructive activity is dead, and all that remains is a sort of shell, a half-empty creature fatally self-pre-occupied…emptier and emptier, till it is almost a nullus, a nothingness. But null or nothing as it may be, it still hangs on to the dirty little secret, which must still secretly rub and inflame…”You may put it to death publicly a thousand times, and still it reappears, like a crab, stealthily from under the submerged rocks of the personality.” We must join the “proud minority” who want to escape from the vicious circle…The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie. They dominate in the society, in the press, in literature, everywhere. And, naturally, they lead the vast mob of the general public along with them. Which mean, of course, perpetual censorship of anything that would militate against the lie of purity and the dirty little secret, and perpetual encouragement of what may be called permissible pornography, pure, but tickling the dirty little secret under the delicate underclothing. The grey ones will pass and will commend floods of evasive pornography, and will suppress every outspoken word. [10]

[The sea Crabb, published 1867]  ITT: was a man of Affrica had a ffaire wiffe,/Ffairest that ever I saw the dayes of my liffe:/ with a ging, boyes, ginge! ginge boys, ginge! taradiddle, ffaradiddle, ging, boyes, ging!

This goodwife was bigbellyed & with a lad,/& ever shee longed ffor a sea crabbe./ ging & c.

The goodman rise in the morning, & put on his hose,/ he went to the sea syde; & followed his nose./ ging &c.

Sais, “god speed, ffisherman, sayling on the sea,/ hast thou any crabbs in my bote for to sell me? ging & c.

“I have Crabbs in my bote, one, tow, or three;/ I have Crabbs in my bote for to sell thee.” ging & c.

The good man went home, I ere he wist,/& put the Crabb in the Chamber pot where his wiffe pist. ging & c.

The good wiffe, she went to doe as she was wont;/ up start the Crabfish, & cacht her by the Cunt. ging & c.

“Alas! quoth the goodwiffe,” that ever I was borne, the devil is in the pisspott, & has me on his horne.” ging & c.

“If thou be a crabb or crabfish by kind, thoule let thy hold goe with blast of cold wind”   ging & c.

The good man laid to his mouth, & began to blowe,/ Thinkeing therby that they Crabb wold lett goe.

“Alas!” quoth the good man, “that ever I came hither,/ he has joyned my wife’s tayle & my nose together!” ging & c.

They good man called his neigbors in with great wonder,/to part his wives tayle & his nose assunder. ging & c. [11]

[Mad Kate:] Charles Maturin, clergyman and eccentric author of the Gothic novel, Melmoth The Wanderer, had told his parishioners that only Christianity had elevated woman: she was neither slave nor toy; mothers had the sacred responsibility to mold infant character, but gently, as Christ would have done, to forestall social revolution.   In Weaver’s 1926 novel, Black Valley, one of the female missionaries gloats over the power Christianity has conferred upon women in the home (“Say what you will, that’s one thing Christianity has done for the world,” Mrs. Shea swept on contentiously. “It has improved the home!–Why out here they don’t know what love is!….” BV, p.65) In Weaver’s fantasy, women fight amongst themselves to carry off innocent young men. Young Gilson lives with his missionary parents, Alurid and Monica Wilburforce, in sensual, clean, feudal Japan. He is having a secret affair with a gorgeous and exciting modern Japanese girl, an admirer of Nora and Salome, who will discard him once she has captured his seed and become pregnant. His pure and clinging mother is dying of breast cancer; an evil older woman named Gracia West, Gilson’s friend and a “Socratic demon,” arrives from America to take over his life. A Mother of Annihilation, acting, she says, in Gilson’s and his agonized mother’s interests, she smothers Mrs. Wilburforce with a pillow and takes the liberated Gilson back to America.[12]


[1] Probably the popular Bernard Hart, The Psychology of Insanity(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912). Joseph Freeman unfinished letter to Dr. Fries, June 20, 1947, Freeman Papers, Hoover Institution. Freeman does not say when Weaver began to read Freud, nor the title of the Brill which Weaver gave him.

[2] See H.S. Salt, A Shelley Primer (London, 1887). Salt likens the Wandering Jew to Shelley: “he roamed from place to place and settled nowhere.” The geography is a metaphor for ambivalence of the kind I am describing in this study. Salt was an English Melvillean and source of the story that William Morris was a Moby-Dick fan, for which I have found no confirming evidence in the Morris materials at the Clark Library, for instance, in the auction catalog of his library.

[3] And yet the ambiguity remains: is Shelley conquering his asceticism or is he subduing the mutinous flesh? The two plausible readings express the unresolved ambivalence I have seen in every Symbolist here described.

[4] See Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), 156-171. For Panofsky, “Melencolia I” represents the despair of the artist incapable of metaphysical thought (e.g., conceptualizing angels or “extramundane nothingness”) ruled by Saturn, gifted at geometry, but mired in the concrete: “Winged, yet cowering on the ground–wreathed, yet beclouded by shadows–equipped with the tools of art and science, yet brooding in idleness, she gives the impression of a creative being reduced to despair by an awareness of insurmountable barriers which separate her from a higher realm of thought….”(168). At what point did physiognomy yield to art criticism as the preferred surveillance technique?

[5] The woman who rules the City of iron endurance, despair and terror is linked to the eternal Sphinx before whom an armed male angel progressively crumbles (in the passage immediately preceding these excerpts: these end the 55 page poem).

[6] I refer both to Hayden White-style radical skepticism, and the earlier ego psychology which abused science by a dogmatic loyalty to the status quo; each supports “pluralism” and claims to abhor “prejudice” but without the tools of the radical Enlightenment. Russell Jacoby’s Social Amnesia and The Repression of Psychoanalysis, took up the attack on “adjustment” therapies after Fromm, but with a Frankfurt School conservative pessimism that Fromm did not share. See Fromm, “The Crisis of Psychoanalysis,” 1970, and Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought, 1980. For a classic statement of ego psychology’s peculiar sociology, see Gordon  Allport’s The ABC’s of Scapegoating, reprinted nine times since 1948. Allport deplores all “scapegoating” including labor’s scapegoating of business; Allport has taken a structural antagonism and turned it into a case of irrational projection. Anti-Semitism is rarely linked to the general attack on critical thought throughout the history of the West.

[7] The  passages in quotes from Canto VIII are overheard by the narrator; the speakers may be the phantoms in VII. Cf. Clarel (1876): Celio’s upbraiding of Christ, and the blackly defeated Mortmain’s revelations regarding the vapors and foam of the Dead Sea, representations of evil God and evil matter.

[8] William David Schaefer, Beyond “The City” (Berkeley: UC Press 1965), 77.

[9] Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789-1880 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1981).

[10] D.H. Lawrence, From Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors (Michigan City, Indiana: Fridtjof-Kula Publications, 1958). Reprinted from “Remember to Remember,” New Directions, 1947. In the Gill collection, Clark Library. The cover illustration in red and white (from Eric Gill?) shows a snake emerging from a nude woman’s thighs.

[11] From Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript Loose and Humorous Songs (London: Trubner, 1867). Percy Thomas was bishop of Dromore, 1729-1811. The copy of this book in the Clark Library calls attention to the poem in a pencilled notation inside the cover.

[12] Weaver is also identifying with an interesting female character, Frances, who falls apart when her fiancé, a ship’s captain whom she hardly knows, arrives to marry her. Given Weaver’s history of emotional distress, the story of Frances should illuminate his difficulties.

[illustration: Henry Fuseli, “Mad Kate,” 1806-07]

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