The Clare Spark Blog

May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

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October 3, 2012

The Sexual Revolution (2)

In part one of this miniseries on the “sexual revolution” said to have been accomplished during the second wave of feminism, I retrieved an ad from an upscale magazine distributed free to my neighborhood in Southern California (see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-1-2/, and its lookalike https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/.) Don’t miss this painting showing how New Women as mothers transmit their demonism to their closely held sons!). It was obviously a backlash to the “liberated women” of the 1920s, taken from a Belgian artist who viewed the new woman as creating Pierrots out of their sons, emasculated doubles of themselves. Mother became puppeteer, turning the male child into a zany figure from the Commedia d’el Arte: Pierrot was a mask for Cain, a fratricide; while some saw Pierrot as feminized, the outsider who could never escape his mother’s influence. He was in the eternal grip of Mother, revealed now as Femme Fatale. (For more on this theme see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/. The Mother figure in Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is no heroine.)

Yesterday, Oct. 2, 2012, the Obama campaign created an e-card directed to the female voters, depicting a flapper with the message “Vote like your lady parts depended on it.” The image was taken down before the end of the day, but it revealed the primary message of still-regnant second wave feminism: the liberation of women signified nothing but sex and the loose morals we associate with the Jazz Age, notwithstanding the recent passage of women’s voting rights. It is true that for many women, single and married alike, the need to control the timing of reproduction is not a “single issue,” but one at the forefront of  consciousness, for her economic status and life chances depend on controlling the timing of reproduction. But to propose, as the Obama campaign clearly did, that a Republican victory would mean regression to the bad old days is, in my view, absurd and objectively unproven as a claim.

On the popular Fox show The Five (Oct.2, 2012), Bob Beckel chided Dana Perino and Andrea Santaros for seeing Gloria Steinem as a washed-up feminist, implying that Steinem had paved the way for the cushy jobs enjoyed by Perino and Santaros at Fox. This sent me back into my memory bank. Gloria Steinem was indeed a much publicized star of the second wave. A strikingly beautiful young woman, she was considered “a babe” and was also known for her connection to powerful male editors in journalism. It is true that second wave feminists had an enormous impact on the culture, but the takeaway was 1. sexual freedom, even promiscuity as the central demand of “women’s lib” and 2. having emerged from the civil rights movement, many of the 1960s-70s feminists soon subordinated their goal of liberating women to anti-imperialism, joining with men in the anticapitalist crusade, and of course, ignoring the subordination of women in South America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The West was now worst, and “white male supremacy” the enemy for right-on feminists. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/.)

But Beckel forgot a major fact of history: It was 19th century feminists of the first wave who were the original trail blazers, and their crusades on behalf of votes for women were linked to abolition, higher education for (excluded) women, entrance into the professions, temperance, and the uplift of prostitutes. Such were the “middle class puritans” decried later on by bohemians as Victorian battle axes. (Some of their number included Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stady Stanton, Harriet Beacher Stowe, the Grimké sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Julia Ward Howe, and more.) The most important writers after the Great War fled this menacing figure, running off to the South Seas or, better, Harlem, Paris, Italy, and Spain. Gangsta rappers of today partake of the same bohemian reaction to middle-class mothers and to emancipated women in general. as all women became “bitches.” (See illustration in the first of this series.)

Herbert Marcuse was correct when he warned of “repressive desublimation.” The fashion and cosmetic industry, plastic surgeons, hair stylists, and a host of women’s magazines urged  all women to cultivate their sexual attractiveness, even into old age. The sex could be dark, as fashion photographer Bruce Weber and others eroticized the submission to male fetishes, for instance, stiletto heels. (For a more extended commentary on the regnant S-M, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/. On the link between misogyny and antisemitism see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.)

What then, has been the effect on young women and girls? The Hollywood celebrities today have come out for Obama and for sex. Their innocence lies solely in their ignorance of the past. Along with the bohemian authors of the 1920s and afterwards, they have gone native, in flight from everything that the first wave feminists advocated. Can we sink any lower? (For more on the first wave feminists of the 19th Century, see https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/.)

Frida with cat

Frida Kahlo with cat in classic come hither position

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