YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 23, 2013

Peter Gay’s “Freud”

gustav-klimt.JudithI 1901I have finally read all of Peter Gay’s Freud: A Life for our Time (Norton, 1988). (Counting notes and index, it comes to 810 pages.) It told me less about Freud in his time, than it did about the American appropriation of Freud during the time when Peter Gay, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, was making his way in psychoanalysis and academe, for Gay had adapted to the progressive movement’s halt to the Enlightenment (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/, especially the sentences in bold face, quoting Talcott Parsons in the early 1940s). Progressives decreed that there would be no more “romantic” defiance of authority (i.e., experts), religion would occupy a different sphere of life than science, and Freud’s last (pessimistic) works (The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Moses and Monotheism*) would be roughed up as products of old age, illness, and the shock of the Great War.

For the progressives are, above all, optimists about social engineering. Hence we learn that Freud was in part a Lamarckian with a strong belief in social psychology and national character. Moreover, he declared “a plague on both your houses” when referring to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Thus Gay can use the word “totalitarian” knowing that he will get no argument from other progressives (i.e., social democrats/left liberals: see https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/).

Peter Gay is an intellectual historian and a trained lay analyst, so we are somewhat bullied in taking his judgments as an authoritative, fearless account of one of the great interventions in the treatment of neurosis—for instance, of hysteria, anxiety, phobias, and all illnesses with psychosomatic causes (today we call this “stress”). Yet his imagination is curiously circumscribed. For instance, at no point does he deploy anything like a class analysis to Freud’s topography of the mind: the interconnected superego, ego, and Id. (On the long-term effects of bullying see http://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/anxietystress/37467.)

Were Peter Gay an appropriately daring lone wolf, as audacious as his subject, he would surely have recognized the lasting impact of the “Jacobin” controlled French Revolution as the Red Specter par excellence. He might have seen Freud’s “Id” as the rampaging People, known throughout Europe and America for their la-dee-da attitudes toward sexuality and ever available aggression against bullying superiors (i.e., the People as the embodiment of the Pleasure Principle); similarly the “the Superego” (internalized paternal conscience) could have stood for an aristocracy/haute bourgeois elite that could be either rigid or accommodating to the new industrial working class that threatened ancient elite prerogatives, while the Ego (or Reality Principle) would be the professional layer of healers and professors who espoused “moderation” in all things, and never, ever, bullied their patients or students to adopt those practices that served “social cohesion” and “political stability;” rather for the ego psychologists among them, it was “therapy” or practices that enhanced “civilian morale.” (For the alliance of aristocracy and working class against the ‘laissez-faire’ modernizing bourgeoisie, see https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.)

Peter Gay 2007

Peter Gay 2007

Hyper-individualistic Puritanism (Moralizing Mothers?! See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/.) would have to go, for a harsh Superego would likely call forth world-destroying rebellion in the sons; and indeed Gay’s agitated portrait of Nazis in Vienna, the thieving, brutal mob, is indeed scary, and finally drives the deeply rooted Freud to England where he will end his 83 years in an assisted suicide, but after coming out as an anti-Semite in Moses and Monotheism. (Was it any wonder that Talcott Parsons of Harvard described the analogues of Nazis in America “romantic Puritans”? Harvard sociologists would be sure to tame that harsh superego, along the lines recommended by other moderate men, appropriating “Freud” for their mind-management techniques in the interest of “civilian morale.” See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.** )

Personally, I remain fond of Freudian concepts such as the distinction between neurotic vs. objective anxiety, the ambivalence inside ourselves in our primary attachments to parents, siblings, and other love-hate objects, a subject developed by such as John Bowlby and other attachment-theorists. And without understanding regression, we are helpless in the face of fairy tales, Oscars weekend, pornography, and popular culture in general (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.) But I am not so fond of Peter Gay, who failed to interrogate his own class position/careerism in writing this supposedly authoritative, no-holds-barred biography, intended to instruct a crossover readership in the life of Freud and of his polymorphous perverse sex-obsessed (?)  followers, modernist followers who are leading us into decadence and the abyss (see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/22/traditionalists-on-the-culture-front/).

*I have read Moses and Monotheism three times, and have failed to find anything antisemitic about it, as some scholars have claimed. Freud explicitly states that antisemitism may be a displacement of resentment against Christianity, and that pre-Jewish, pre-Christian barbarism remains powerful. It may be that Peter Gay’s allergy to Freudian pessimism indicates his desire to appeal to progressive gentile American sensitivities. Here is what Freud actually wrote about antisemitism: “We must not forget that all the peoples who now excel in the practice of anti-Semitism became Christians only in relatively recent times, sometimes forced to it by bloody compulsion. One might say they all are ‘badly christened’; under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them. The fact that the Gospels tell a story which is enacted among Jews, and in truth treats only of Jews, has facilitated such a projection. The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity, and it is not surprising that in the German National Socialist revolution this close connection of the two monotheistic religions finds such clear expression in the hostile treatment of both.” (Moses and Monotheism, transl. Katherine Jones (Knopf, 1949), pp. 144-45)

**[From Hunting Captain Ahab:] For Parsons, maladjusted neurotics were fomenting conflict and fragmentation, not adaptation and interdependence. But froward rebels could be cured in the socially responsible psychiatrist’s office through “steady discipline to which the patient is subjected in the course of his treatment. While the fact that he is required and allowed to express himself freely may provide some immediate satisfactions, he is not really allowed to ‘get away’ with their implications for the permanent patterning of his life and social relations, but is made, on progressively deeper levels, conscious of the fact that he cannot ‘get away’ with them. The physician places him in a kind of ‘experimental situation’ where this is demonstrated over and over again (561).”

Egon Schiele 1915

Egon Schiele 1915

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January 7, 2013

Some backstory for Hunting Captain Ahab

MDcomicFirst take a look at this:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reception_theory. Reader-response theory was a postmodern move that contributed to the death of the author, and to the notion that there was no right or wrong way to read a text. Indeed, as publishers circulated my ms. to readers, some accused me of being another Ahab, bossy and doctrinaire, sniffing out miscreants in the profession, though there was little evidence for such a slur.

It was no miracle, but dumb luck that I came to write my big book on the twentieth century reception of a semi-forgotten Herman Melville, who was strenuously and controversially “revived” during the interwar period, then the Cold War, then again in the 1960s-70s.  This blog recounts the fortuitous conjunction of personalities and events that led to the unlikely publication of my weird and predictably unpublishable study of the Melville industry.

I begin by declaring how utterly boring most works inspired by “reception theory” are. Although the Wikipedia article starts the critical method with a gallery of leftists, historians had long been writing about the reception of major figures, for instance Goethe as received in England and America. I have always consulted such works and found them unreadable, disorganized, and boring. I had the same reaction to Peter Gay’s two volumes on The Enlightenment, which I have just mowed through, most of it unread owing to its lack of any visible method or thesis, though at the very end of Vol.2 (p.567), he brings up the Enlightenment-inspired American “experiment” and advises that the horrors that followed the generally anti-clerical 18th century (unprecedented wars and irrationalism, including class and racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries) might have been averted had “the secular social conscience” (p.39) he believes join his subjects, been adopted in the supposedly progressive and exceptional USA.  Surprise, the famous Peter Gay is a liberal and advocate of the welfare state, as his discussion of Adam Smith makes clear.

What follows is a brief account of my good luck in being allowed to write about a major figure (Herman Melville), and then the peculiarities of the most important Melville revivers that led them to hoard scraps of paper that most scholars would never save, thus giving me access to their inner thoughts at the time they were reading and writing about Herman Melville. I.e., reception theory is useless without probing the inner thoughts and emotions of the critics/readers studied.

First there was my good fortune in knowing historian Alexander Saxton (who had written about Jacksonian Blackface Minstrelsy), who would be my dissertation director upon my return to graduate school after the Pacifica Radio purge of myself as Program Director for KPFK-FM (Los Angeles).  I told Saxton that I was quarreling with Berkeley professor of Political Science  Michael Rogin over Melville’s intentions in “Billy Budd,” and (perhaps) since Saxton was getting criticized by Rogin in a left-wing journal, he agreed to let me write about Melville as a history dissertation. (I was told by a Berkeley professor of English that they would never have let a graduate student tackle a major figure! From that conversation, I concluded that I had made the right decision in sticking with history over an English Ph.D.)

Second, the major Melvilleans, many of them young men at the time, complained bitterly to each other in private regarding their distressing physical symptoms while reading and writing about Herman Melville: they blamed Melville for their symptoms and accidents and were often sick of him. Normally, no researcher would have access to such private feelings, but one of my revivers, (the Stalinist) Jay Leyda, was a squirrel and hoarder of literally every letter and note paper (some written on the back of envelopes and library receipts) during his research on a chronology for HM (the Leyda Log), which could have started in 1939, though most scholars would say 1944. Lucky for me, his papers were opened after his death, and most of his Melville work was at UCLA Special Collections, twenty minutes from my house. (Leyda literally dumped his Melville materials on UCLA English professor Leon Howard, who was advised to trash most of it. But Howard too was squirrelish. Most scholars do not have protracted access to an archive, but I did, so could go through every box, and it took months and months, but the pickings were astonishing. Then I found even more material at NYU’s Tamiment Library, where a helpful archivist dug out yet more material of the kind that most scholars would kill for.)

Third, my years on the radio covering censorship in the art world had alerted me to the ways in which institutions ignored the wishes of artists (if they were shown at all), contextualizing their production to fit either the reigning ideology of the moment, or the wishes of wealthy directors and patrons. So I was diligent in reading and rereading Melville and in getting a grip on the total literary/historical output of his revivers, not just the ones who kvetched about HM to Jay Leyda (who had his own feuds and confusions).  I started reading Melville in 1976 and my book was not published until 2001.

Almost no one puts that much time into a single book, but I was obsessed with the “Melville problem” for it illuminated what had been murky about why individual writers were either in or out of the canon. At the same time, I came to see that the double binds and mixed messages that Melville plainly laid out in his fiction were duplicated in supposedly liberal institutions.  That is, there was allegedly no conflict between Truth and Order (i.e., the individual and society), between Science and Religion, between Nationalism and Internationalism. Supposedly, academics in the humanities were free to write what the evidence suggested, without interference from colleagues or superiors. That turned out to be grossly false, but since academic freedom was widely advertised, one could not talk about the backstabbing, departmental politics, hazing of graduate students, and other conspiracies. Unless one chose fiction to tell the tales, and the more avid readers of confessional novels located in the academy will know what I mean.

Finally, it was not until I had been into many archives and secondary sources that a pattern emerged: Melville was an autodidact, and the animus directed against him was directed against all readers who looked askance at authority since the invention of the printing press and the gradual improvement in mass literacy and numeracy.  Once I saw that, everything fell into place, and I could write a book that was logical, organized, and I hoped, readable.

What do I wish to be the takeaway from this short blog? Do not trust historians or any other experts who lack an abundance of footnotes and/or fail to demonstrate humility. It is likely that most professionals have an axe to grind, and are scared. Skepticism in the reader is the appropriate state of mind. Toward the end of my book, I warn the reader that I may be biased in favor of Captain Ahab, and that I ask myself everyday if I am not projecting my own mishegas onto Herman Melville in my insistence that Captain Ahab is speaking in the voice of the Romantic HM (sometimes blending his views with the more cautious Ishmael). The book is hefty because I included long quotes from my primary sources so that the reader could check ME.

Bartleby

For a summary of my startling research, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/. The third blog explains why everyone should read my book, not just literary scholars. As to how I organized my thoughts on the Melville pseudo-revival, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.

January 2, 2013

Culture warriors and the Enlightenment

enlightenment[My most comprehensive treatment of this vexed subject is here: https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.]

Bill O’Reilly, the most popular history writer in America today and the dominant draw in cable news, has announced to his millions of viewers that he will accelerate his assault on “secular-progressives” and implied that he expects to win the culture wars for “traditionalists” like himself. He has started his campaign because he believes that the breakdown in family structure (i.e. the absent father in minority and other poor families) is the primary cause of dependency on the redistributionist welfare state.

What O’Reilly fails to see is that many, if not all, of his secular progressive enemies are as much committed to the organic society as is he, for they are often moderate men given to “compromise,”  and thus healers of every conceivable rift in the “body politic.”

As I have demonstrated on this website and in my book on the Melville Revival, there was not only one Enlightenment, but two streams of thought contributing to what O’Reilly calls “secular progressivism.” One stream watered the New Deal, while the other fed the notions of free market capitalism as explicated by Hayek and the Friedmans, to name a few.

Take Peter Gay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gay) , whose volumes on the Enlightenment energized the fields of cultural history, social history, and the history of medicine, sub-fields of history that lean toward the organic society (the class collaboration furthered by the New Deal and other conservative reformers), though that is not generally seen, as these academics are a tightly knit group that fends off “mechanical materialist” intruders, who deny, say, the notion of Zeitgeist as formulated by such counter-Enlightenment figures as Herder and other German Romantics. And yet in his Freud For Historians (Oxford UP, 1985), Gay distances himself from such mystical formulations as Zeitgeist.

Here is what Peter Gay wrote in the second volume of his massive tome The Enlightenment: An Interpretation Vol.II: The Science of Freedom (Knopf, 1969):

“There was nothing new in the philosophes’ perception that society is a fabric with interdependent, interacting parts:* what they did that was new was to take this perception as a justification for their own importance. After all, if progress is infectious, then to teach truth, expose error, and inculcate confidence—and all this, of course, the philosophes were sure they were doing—was to spread reason and shed light over large areas, even in unsuspected places. Thus the philosophes enlisted the enlightened atmosphere of their day in the service of their movement.” (p.25, “The Spirit of the Age, ” my emph.)

I quote Peter Gay because I want to distinguish between what I call the Conservative Enlightenment and the (materialist) Radical Enlightenment. The former type is covertly Burkean, emphasizing continuities with the past through “interdependence” and (implied) deference to Platonic Guardians, while the latter was a rupture with the past. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/.)  The American Constitution was one such rupture, especially as its original favoritism toward white males was rectified by the antislavery and voting rights for women amendments.

What is at stake in these competing notions of Enlightenment is the conception of the autonomous individual, capable of standing apart from passions, from families, from tribal associations, to read the world (reality) and hence to make decisions as an independent citizen. Such a one can throw off the conception of “national character” or group mind that [collectivist] Peter Gay supports through his rhetoric and his reverence for “the secular social conscience” (p.39), Kant and other German thinkers. The notion of Zeitgeist is imaginary, like the widely used term “cultural climate,” or, to use Peter Gay’s scientistic language “enlightened atmosphere.”

Today, the cultural climate that alarms Bill O’Reilly (e.g. the “culture of violence”) has taken on the agency once attributed to the individual. But such culturalist formulations go well with the corporatist liberal/communist notion of “social engineering.” Fix the “cultural climate,” bring back the moderate, healing good father (Lincoln, JFK, O’Reilly), and such events as the Newtown massacre will end, and we shall indeed live to see the best of all possible worlds.

domestic-violence-400x258

*Compare Gay’s formulation to that of Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob, and Lynn Hunt: “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.” (From Telling the Truth in History, Norton, 1994, p.253)

December 18, 2012

Blogs on mental health

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Most of this website is devoted to our political culture and its bizarre evasions of mental health issues. I blame this on an aversion to anything smacking of [the Jew] Freud and his followers in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-oriented therapies. We would rather look to religion, myths of the happy family, the notion that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and pills as prescribed by much of the psychiatric profession. Our continued blindness to the psyche, our obliviousness to problematic institutions, and to problems in families will only lead to more mass deaths of the shocking character of Newtown, December 14, 2012.  We will continue to “undo” these preventable catastrophes in a desperate and fruitless attempt to escape from reality–whether from scapegoating or from premature diagnostics.

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/20/role-models-talcott-parsons-and-structural-functionalism/ (the ruling paradigm for mental health today)

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/16/gun-control-laws-quick-fixes-undoing/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/ (on the Foucauldians)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/23/peter-gays-freud/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/ (retitled Holiday blues and unhappy families)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/13/the-brain-trust-at-ucla/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/ (takes up the recent flap on Jamie Foxx on SNL)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/

https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/ (don’t miss case 123, before and after: truly remarkable and awful)

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ (some on military psychiatry, some on ideology of progressive psychologists and writers)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/

December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook, Candide, Melville, and the problem of Evil

Obama tears Candide, chapter 20, transl. Robert M. Adams (Norton, 1966):

[Candide:] “You must be possessed of the devil.

[Martin, the disillusioned scholar and Manichean:] He’s mixed up with so many things of this world that he may be in me as well as elsewhere; but I assure you, as I survey this globe, or globule, I think that God has abandoned it to some evil spirit—all of it except Eldorado. I have scarcely seen one town which did not want to destroy its neighboring town, no family which did not want to exterminate some other family. Everywhere the weak loathe the powerful, before whom they cringe, and the powerful treat them like brute cattle, to be sold for their meat and fleece. A million regimented assassins roam Europe from one end to the other, plying the trades of murder and robbery in an organized way for a living, because there is no more honest form of work for them; and in the cities which seem to enjoy peace and where the arts are flourishing, men are devoured by more envy, cares, and anxieties than a whole town experiences when it’s under siege. Private griefs are worse even than public trials. In a word, I have seen so much and suffered so much, that I am a Manichee.

[Candide:] Still there is some good.

[Martin:] That may be but I don’t know it.

(The late Robert M. Adams, who taught me expository writing at Cornell long ago, is the editor of this edition of Candide, and in his concluding essay, questions Puritan attitudes toward “work.” And yet, Voltaire was a great favorite in the Soviet Union.) Adams is devastating on the subject of Candide’s choice of the garden: “He has never really been with us, and now he is going back where he came from, to some place outside Europe, outside history, outside people, to a cold and lonely garden where the vegetable he cultivates most assiduously will be his own indifference, his own self-sufficiency. He was, is, and always will be, an outsider….” (p.173, 1966 edition. But see Georg Brandes’s two vol. biography of Voltaire, II, p. 145: To cultivate one’s garden signifies “…work [that] keeps them free of three great evils: ennui, sin, and poverty”…it is the consolation he holds out to the human race”. Nobody read Brandes any more (though Peter Gay, Ben Hecht, and I did), but Peter Gay sees Candide’s garden as all of Europe, and Voltaire as a radical activist.)

Adams's  Candide

It is instructive to see how each of us responds to this mass trauma in Newtown, Connecticut, so far away for most of us. We know almost nothing about Adam Lanza and his family dynamics, or even the details of the massacre, but we do know (or don’t know) about our own psyches. How we defend ourselves against such a horrible event is a way to get out of the inner darkness how each of us is put together. I will be watching myself, and hope others will try be self-reflective too.

In the comments that follow, I see each type of response as a defense against grief, seeking some soothing explanation or tactic that will explain what no one yet knows. I would suggest that all the comments, whether they come from Left or Right, tell us more about how we defend ourselves against our own often repressed rage and fears of loss of control than they tell us about Adam Lanza and the so-called ‘tragedy’ at Newtown, Connecticut.

I started with Voltaire’s controversial comment (speaking through Martin) on the problem of evil, a preoccupation that runs through the fiction of Herman Melville, who was well aware of Voltaire as a great infidel. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. Melville invokes Voltaire in his annotations to Book 9 of Paradise Lost  comparing Milton with Voltaire as an “Infidel”.*  These annotations were read aloud by me on Pacifica Radio in 1990, but not published by scholars until years later, and then later detoxified by moderate men and women. It is notable that Lillian Hellman’s orignal play of Candide was watered down in later productions of the Bernstein musical.

Adam Lanza (20)

Adam Lanza (20)

What follows are various conservative diagnoses and advice regarding the ‘tragedy’** at Sandy Hook:

Bill O’Reilly: inexplicable “evil” [and he is expressing learned helplessness: nothing can be done (same as “the poor will always be with us”)]. Same with Hannity. Evil is the devil. A forensic psychologist agrees with Bill. Bill puts on camera a third grader Lebinski and her mother: questions her mother in front of the dazed child. Saturday: Monica Crowley: massacres not preventable [can’t imagine preventable measures and psychiatric interventions] Dr. Keith Ablow is an outlier on Fox: believes that the mental health system has broken down. Geraldo hates this kind of talk.

Family therapist/clinical psychologist; the community is gathering to start the process of healing. Various clerics: the children are angels now and are safe.

Second Amendment male, cited on FB: Obama had faked his tears to start the process of disarming the people.

[Added, 12-17-12: Bernie Goldberg criticizes Right wing for explaining massacre as absence of God in the classroom and abortion. O’Reilly brags that his was the best coverage on Cable (Friday) ignoring that he was intrusive in showing victims and a parent. He is also convinced that Lanza wasn’t a loon.]

Moderates, liberals and left-wing radical diagnostics follow:

The allover liberal explanation has three parts: 1.the shooter and his family; 2.poor security/wide availability of guns; 3. a culture of pervasive violence. All reiterated on Fox News Sunday.

Larry Mantle on NPR radio KPPC, Los  Angeles, interviewed a traumatized teacher and pushed her to divulge her feelings. Later some of her distraught words are repeated on NPR, All Things Considered.

Mental health professionals and other liberals: gun control. (i.e., regulate) (12-15) Dr. Alvin Poussaint from Harvard: a rare event, but gun control, conflict-resolution study should be supported.

Charles Krauthammer (12-14): he killed his mother and those attached to her. [He did not know that she was a volunteer teacher and that his brother claimed he might be autistic or suffer from some unstated learning disorder.]

Lefty on FB: Chicago is worse than this, and no one cares. Rich people get more sympathy and coverage. Lefty (cont.) OR Reagan started this by attacking warehousing of crazies (it was actually Carter’s idea, said one of my FB friends).

Dr. Alan Lipman (mental health professional) all signs were there that he could have had psychotic break into paranoid delusions. The aim is prevention and treatment. (Fox guest 8:20 am Saturday) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lipman. Founded a Center for the Study of Violence at Georgetown. Followed by Robert Stone, who diagnoses autism and lack of empathy.

Centrist child of divorce: incomprehensible and doesn’t know how he will explain it to his children.

Wall Street Journal editorial: a crushing event: let our emotions run pending further revelations.

*From Hunting Captain Ahab:  [To Mitford’s comment on Milton’s religious wanderings (xcix):] He who thinks for himself never can remain of the same mind.  I doubt not that darker doubts crossed Milton’s soul, than ever disturbed Voltair [sic].  And he was more of what is called an Infidel.

[To Satan’s seduction of Eve, Book IX, Melville double scored: “And life more perfect have attained than fate/ Meant me, by venturing higher than my lot.”(689-690) A partially erased note follows “Why then was this forbid? Why but to keep ye low and ignorant,/ His worshippers?”(also double scored, 703-705):]  This is one of the many profound atheistical hits of Milton. A greater than Lucretius, since he always teaches under a masque, and makes the Devil himself a Teacher & Messiah.  [Leyda marked the word “Fate” with an arrow].

[To Book X (5-11): “…for what can scape the eye/ Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart/ Omniscient? who, in all things wise and just,/ Hindered not Satan to attempt the mind/ Of man, with strength entire, and free will armed,/ Complete to have discovered and repulsed/ Whatever wiles of foe or seeming friend.”]  The Fall of Adam did not so much prove him weak, as that God had made him so.  From all that is gatherable from Milton’s theology, the Son was created.  Now had the Son been planted in the Garden (instead of Adam) he would have withstood the temptation;–why then he and not Adam?  Because of his created superiority to Adam. [Leyda writes] “M adds, later: Sophomoricus”[1]

[Book X, (41-43): “…man should be seduced/ And flattered out of all, believing lies/ Against his maker…] All Milton’s strength & rhetoric suffice not to satisfy concerning this matter–free will.  Doubtless, he must have felt it himself: & looked upon it as the one great unavoidable flaw in his work.  But, indeed, God’s alleged omnipotence & foreknowledge, are insuperable bars to his being made an actor in any drama, imagined.[2]

NOTES to Melville’s annotations of Paradise Lost.


                [1] The word “sophomoricus” was written with a darker pencil and separated from the rest of the comment.

                [2] The two volumes, heavily annotated, with numerous comments erased or cut away, were offered anonymously at auction; Jay Leyda and Hershel Parker were allowed to copy the marginalia; Leyda reported to Harrison Hayford, 3/6/84 that Parker was “hysterical.”  Leyda’s transcription was sent to Harrison Hayford 2/4/85.  In a letter of August 18, 1987, Parker wrote to me “After seeing M’s Milton marginalia I would be more wary than ever about deriving a coherent ideology from M’s texts.” Hayford, at my request, sent me a photocopy 4/3/90. I have analyzed these annotations (and their implications for Melville scholarship) on Pacifica radio (KPFK) to celebrate Melville’s birthday in 1990 and 1991. Their new owner had refused access to scholars, but later sold the volumes to another anonymous collector who subsequently donated the Milton volumes to Princeton University.

A few of the comments have appeared in Robin Sandra Grey, “Surmising the Infidel: Interpreting Melville’s Annotations on Milton’s Poetry,” Milton Quarterly Vol.26, #4 (December 1992): 103-113.  Grey (a Milton scholar, not a Melvillean) finds herself “confronted with a reading of Milton’s ambitions and agenda so curious, indeed perverse, that perhaps only William Empson in Milton’s God and Harold Bloom in Ruin the Sacred Truths would have regarded Melville’s assessments without significant surprise” (110).  She has read Melville as another Satan: “…Milton’s powerful dramatic depictions of Satan’s character have interest for Melville largely as they reveal the tension in Satan between his former glory and virtue and his present degradations and viciousness” (fn 21, p.112).  Her comment on the Devil as Messiah annotation states her preference for “skeptical” Ishmael over “frenzied” Ahab, linking only Ishmael to the masque because of his remarks in the Whalers Chapel.  Cf. David Hume, HE, Vol.7, 337 (year 1660) on Paradise Lost, which he fervently admired despite its not being wholly purged of (Leveller) cant.

Hershel Parker has been reticent about these matters in the first volume of his authoritative Melville biography, Volume I (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1996).  Of the marginalia I have quoted, Parker has heretofore published only the comment about Milton and Voltaire (618).  (One other annotation is quoted, in which Melville ratifies separation of church and state in Mitford’s Introduction.)  Paradise Lost influenced Moby-Dick insofar as “Melville took some of Ahab’s qualities as Satanic opponent…”Ahab is the “tyrannical captain” likened to Cromwell  (699-700).  Parker does not discuss the mysterious prior provenance of these books.  In the Historical Note to the N/N edition of Moby-Dick, Milton is mentioned, but his battles are aesthetic ones alone, as these sentences hint: “ [While writing the book] Melville’s imagination for many months had unrolled at will a panorama of Milton’s dubious battle on the plains of heaven. The dubious battle being waged in his study was…the most intense aesthetic struggle yet waged in the English language on this continent.” (617).

Parker has answered my query regarding his mental states while copying the annotations, also his intentions regarding their publication:  “I will not write an essay on HM and Milton, ever, but I will refer to the marginalia–esp in the 1860 chapters.” “I wasn’t hysterical, except that Jay and I were at the Phillips Gallery in 1983, not 84, with someone else who simply would not shut up his mouth. It was excruciating. I was not hysterical about the annotations. As usual with me, the excitement came long afterwards—when I was drafting the 1860 chapters of volume two, in 1990 or 1991 or so. I sacrificed myself and led him around the corner so Jay could have some time with the books. By the time the volumes came back on the market I had a set of the same edition and carried that up to NYC and got all I could, in the right place on the pages; the day was very overcast, but I got some erased words, nevertheless, by carrying the volumes to the windows.  Princeton tried some very expensive processes, I understand, but failed to recover erased words….I will quote all the recovered annotations in the LOG, I assume, when the time comes.” (e-mail message to me Nov.1, 1997).

** I questioned the current meaning of ‘tragedy,’ inferring that “in the best of all possible worlds” only hubris or a similar character flaw can bring us down.

July 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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