The Clare Spark Blog

May 9, 2015

Monster Moms

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

Ever since I read Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers (1942) I have been racking my brains for the origins of his diatribe against MOM. Here is how Wylie, later to be matched by the fictional mother in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), or the frequent naming of the welfare state as “nanny state” by conservative journalists, described the transformation of the faultless Cinderella into a (secret) monster:

[Wylie:] “MOM is the end product of SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis,  of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)

[Clare:] Here are some of my prior musings upon the origin of the Bad Mother, ambivalently celebrated in film noir and pop culture: First, Freud described the Oedipus complex, in which daughters would inevitably compete with Mom for the favors of Dad. This can’t end well.

Second, the Switch from smiling caretaker to Bitch Goddess, of good Mother to bad: (This is an excerpt from an MLA paper I delivered in 2002 to the Melville Society):

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This was an inference only. I have never seen it described in the psychoanalytic literature, let alone by feminists.]

Third, political scientists and historians agree that since the Industrial Revolution, paternal authority in the home has diminished, giving rise to “domestic feminism.” Men would be the absent breadwinner, no longer paterfamilias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pater_familias), while Mom now (seemingly) ruled the roost, then, in her moralistic way, going on to invent progressivism and its welfare state. Simultaneously, Jesus became feminized, as Ann Douglas pointed out in her overwrought defense of traditional, masculinist Calvinism in The Feminization of American Culture (1977).

Fourth, “splitting” as the Kleinian object relations analysts describe it: Romantic attachments, whether to the family or to other love objects, often entail idealization. The [narcissist], depleted of “narcissistic supplies” demonizes what was once a perfect creature. Which brings us back to Papa Freud, who had already figured this out in his descriptions of romantic love and idealization.

Fifth, and perhaps the most current and relevant. Mom’s are supposed to keep us safe, but I hear reports that pre-teens and teens are suffering from OCD and related problems (e.g. eating disorders) because the world is perceived as just too dangerous. Even omnipotent Mom is helpless against these real-life monsters: jihadism, global warming, race relations gone wrong, etc. Hence the pop culture vogue for zombies, werewolves, vampires, etc. who have nothing to do with the return of the repressed but are signs of objective media-fortified anxieties.

There is no escaping from the Good-Bad Mother (or Father either), for these imagos are reinforced in popular culture, but rarely analyzed in journalism, not even by many feminists.

All attachments are problematic. Get used to ambivalence, and if your parent is gone, my advice is to focus on her or his strengths, not her weaknesses. (https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.)

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January 17, 2014

A final synthesis explaining Hitler’s antisemitism

doublebind3[Clare:] How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was ostensibly stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers.[1]  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.) Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist?  That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution.  Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of what seemed to be capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.  Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase.  Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

doublebind2signs

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual.  However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative!  As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness.  But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” [2] gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and equality under the law, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended. Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939).  Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to social idealism of the enlightened bourgeoisie.  All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man. [3]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:]  The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution.  Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction.  As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall.  Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!”  To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus.  For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s dog at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws.  The fly came close to him.  He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized.  His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression.  Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated.  I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him.  He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:]  A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe.  They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us.  In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations.  When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs.  As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing.  And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”

Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money.  One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth.  A big city is very ungrateful.  Its inhabitants are like children.  They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility.  A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them.  There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked.  I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

[Clare:] Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence.  It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities.  It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with some Protestant sects, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him.  That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance.  And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous primarily  to their class.  I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable.  Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions.[4]  After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority.  The defining attribute of the “moderate” Enlightenment (as Jonathan Israel calls it), of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character.  To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions.  The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, democratic pluralism, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration.  In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Werner Sombart:] We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about.  Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood.  But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends. [5]

[Clare:]   By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide.  In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good. (On “corporatist liberalism” see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/.)

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

NOTES.


[1] Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.

[2] The passages I have quoted elsewhere from Geoffrey Gorer on de Sade suggest that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201.

  [3] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12.

   [4] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

   [5] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a rationalist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation.

January 6, 2011

Feminist in Love (3)

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Collage, Clare Spark, early 1990s

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