- 1. Intro
- 2. Annotations
- 2.1. Foreword
- 2.2. CHAPTER ONE: Introduction: Human Nature and the Heroic
- 2.3. PART I: THE DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY OF HEROISM
- 2.3.1. CHAPTER TWO: The Terror of Death
- 2.3.2. CHAPTER THREE: The Recasting of Some Basic Psychoanalytic Ideas
- 2.3.3. CHAPTER FOUR: Human Character as a Vital Lie
- 2.3.4. CHAPTER FIVE: The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard
- 2.3.5. CHAPTER SIX: The Problem of Freud’s Character, Noch Einmal
- 2.4. PART II: THE FAILURES OF HEROISM
- 2.5. PART III: RETROSPECT AND CONCLUSION: THE DILEMMAS OF HEROISM
Human being is the only creature aware of it’s own condition, that it will eventually die. That nothing in nature is truly under his control. Heroic systems allow us to live without constant paralyzing fear of death.
However, modern progress in science and psychology discredited religions, and left us with no heroic system to follow. We see the flaws in each system (religion) and thus can’t commit to them (for long, at least). We still have faith that psychology will solve this problem, and through total self-knowledge arrive at endless happiness. However, according to Ernest Becker, the human being can’t live without repression. That is, man is ultimately unable to perceive the whole of reality without going insane. Hence, more self-knowledge (about this issue) brings less happiness instead of more.
The book left me with no satisfactory practical answer. All we are left to do is to choose and commit to any one system of heroism. This is unsatisfactory for me as the flaws in each system are obvious (from my current point of view).
In my first existential crisis I adopted the Nihilistic stance. Where I posed as if I did not care about anything, because nothing has objective meaning anyways. But as presented by Meaningness, this Stance disregards the obvious perceived patternicity of the universe. I actually did care about stuff. Meaningness proposes a system that hopes to accomplish a Complete Stance. One which does not disregard the nebulosity nor the perceived pattern of reality, of meanings and of purposes. I’m curious to see if that will satisfy me.
The following are annotations from the book, extracted from Kindle. I intend to organize still.
If I am like my all-powerful father I will not die. So long as we stay obediently within the defense mechanisms of our personality, what Wilhelm Reich called “character armor” we feel safe and are able to pretend that the world is manageable.
Society provides the second line of defense against our natural impotence by creating a hero system that allows us to believe that we transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, to build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information-society and global free market.
Making a killing in business or on the battlefield frequently has less to do with economic need or political reality than with the need for assuring ourselves that we have achieved something of lasting worth.
The root of humanly caused evil is not man’s animal nature, not territorial aggression, or innate selfishness, but our need to gain self-esteem, deny our mortality, and achieve a heroic self-image.
The best we can hope for society at large is that the mass of unconscious individuals might develop a moral equivalent to war. The science of man has shown us that society will always be composed of passive subjects, powerful leaders, and enemies upon whom we project our guilt and self-hatred. This knowledge may allow us to develop an “objective hatred” in which the hate object is not a human scapegoat but something impersonal like poverty, disease, oppression, or natural disasters.
Living with the voluntary consciousness of death, the heroic individual can choose to despair or to make a Kierkegaardian leap and trust in the “sacrosanct vitality of the cosmos,” in the unknown god of life whose mysterious purpose is expressed in the overwhelming drama of cosmic evolution.
Tillich called a transmoral conscience, an ethic that is universal rather than ethnic.
Why, then, the reader may ask, add still another weighty tome to a useless overproduction? Well, there are personal reasons, of course: habit, drivenness, dogged hopefulness. And there is Eros, the urge to the unification of experience, to form, to greater meaningfulness.
I have had the growing realization over the past few years that the problem of man’s knowledge is not to oppose and to demolish opposing views, but to include them in a larger theoretical structure.
usually, in order to turn out a piece of work the author has to exaggerate the emphasis of it, to oppose it in a forcefully competitive way to other versions of truth; and he gets carried away by his own exaggeration, as his distinctive image is built on it. But each honest thinker who is basically an empiricist has to have some truth in his position, no matter how extremely he has formulated it. The problem is to find the truth underneath the exaggeration, to cut away the excess elaboration or distortion and include that truth where it fits.
Ira Progoff’s outline presentation and appraisal of Rank is so correct, so finely balanced in judgment, that it can hardly be improved upon as a brief appreciation.
[N]arcissism is what keeps men marching into point-blank fire in wars: at heart one doesn’t feel that he will die, he only feels sorry for the man next to him.
“The Denial Of Death”
In our culture anyway, especially in modern times, the heroic seems too big for us, or we too small for it. […] We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope.
Modern culture is (mostly) following a different hero-system: materialism. However, although we envy our heroes, they’re not given the same prestige as older systems did. The hero represented all that’s good in mankind.
What the anthropologists call “cultural relativity” is thus really the relativity of hero-systems the world over. But each cultural system is a dramatization of earthly heroics; each system cuts out roles for performances of various degrees of heroism: from the “high” heroism of a Churchill, a Mao, or a Buddha, to the “low” heroism of the coal miner, the peasant, the simple priest; the plain, everyday, earthy heroism wrought by gnarled working hands guiding a family through hunger and disease.
Different systems, but systems nonetheless.
“civilized” society is a hopeful belief and protest that science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible.
And in this sense, even science, psychology and psychotherapy are “religions”. Systems in which we put our faith to solve all of our problems.
Everything painful and sobering in what psychoanalytic genius and religious genius have discovered about man revolves around the terror of admitting what one is doing to earn his self-esteem.
It could be a protection we’ve developed. Acknowledging our commitment to a system might make us aware of the absurdity of the system. And that disbelief might leave us unprotected to face the terror of nature.
[Man] will choose to throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades […] [b]ut he has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.
This is the ultimate proof that hero-systems override our fear of death. Also, the word “meaningful” strikes me out as important. A system which supports such an action is necessarily Eternalistic. That is, it relies on the existence of objective meaning, and on meaning being definite and eternal (e.g. God gives us definite rights and wrongs which do not change or expire). An opposing system would be Nihilism (which tries to deny all meaning).
The crisis of modern society is precisely that the youth no longer feel heroic in the plan for action that their culture has set up. […] We are living a crisis of heroism that reaches into every aspect of our social life: the dropouts of university heroism, of business and career heroism, of political-action heroism; the rise of anti-heroes, those who would be heroic each in his own way or like Charles Manson with his special “family”, those whose tormented heroics lash out at the system that itself has ceased to represent agreed heroism.
We are seeing the flaws in each hero system and there seems to exist no good alternative.
Is it not for us to confess that in our civilized attitude towards death we are once more living psychologically beyond our means, and must reform and give truth its due? Would it not be better to give death the place in actuality and in our thoughts which properly belongs to it, and to yield a little more prominence to that unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed? This hardly seems indeed a greater achievement, but rather a backward step … but it has the merit of taking somewhat more into account the true state of affairs…. —SIGMUND FREUD
heroism is first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death.
As in “Hurray! A chance to become immortal through an heroic act”.
Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism performed the ingenious trick of pretending not to want to be reborn, which is a sort of negative magic: claiming not to want what you really want most.
According to Buddhism, if you reach Samadhi you’ll never die. Hence, no need to be reborn. I understand this as such: through years of mental programming one learns to ignore the ego and identify with the whole universe instead (“I am the Universe, not this body”). Because the universe does not die, one thinks he does not die either. But even if it’s just a mental trick, it might be useful to achieve it. Even if just for the sake of peace of mind.
[T]he fear of death must be present behind all our normal functioning, in order for the organism to be armed toward self-preservation. But the fear of death cannot be present constantly in one’s mental functioning, else the organism could not function.
Thus, repressions. We focus on our hero-systems and push this fear into the subjective.
If this fear were as constantly conscious, we should be unable to function normally. It must be properly repressed to keep us living with any modicum of comfort. We know very well that to repress means more than to put away and to forget that which was put away and the place where we put it. It means also to maintain a constant psychological effort to keep the lid on and inwardly never relax our watchfulness.
A man will say, of course, that he knows he will die some day, but he does not really care. He is having a good time with living, and he does not think about death and does not care to bother about it — but this is a purely intellectual, verbal admission. The affect of fear is repressed.
[A]s some of the early Darwinians thought: early men who were most afraid were those who were most realistic about their situation in nature, and they passed on to their offspring a realism that had a high survival value. The result was the emergence of man as we know him: a hyperanxious animal who constantly invents reasons for anxiety even where there are none.
Two questions come to mind. First, considering that is the case, can we overcome this evolutionary trait? How? In a way, realizing that I am programmed to be anxious kind of relaxes me.
Recently psychiatrists reported an increase in anxiety neuroses in children as a result of the earth tremors in Southern California. For these children the discovery that life really includes cataclysmic danger was too much for their still-imperfect denial systems—hence open outbursts of anxiety.
[N]arcissism is increased when one’s childhood experiences have been securely life-supporting and warmly enhancing to the sense of self, to the feeling of being really special, truly Number One in creation. The result is that some people have more of what the psychoanalyst Leon J. Saul has aptly called “Inner Sustainment.” It is a sense of bodily confidence in the face of experience that sees the person more easily through severe life crises and even sharp personality changes; it almost seems to take the place of the directive instincts of lower animals.
Man’s Existential Dilemma
Man has a symbolic identity that brings him sharply out of nature. He is a symbolic self, a creature with a name, a life history. He is a creator with a mind that soars out to speculate about atoms and infinity, who can place himself imaginatively at a point in space and contemplate bemusedly his own planet.
And when they try to master the body, pretend it isn’t there, act “like a little man,” the body suddenly overwhelms them, submerges them in vomit or excrement—and the child breaks down in desperate tears over his melted pretense at being a purely symbolic animal.
Often the child deliberately soils himself or continues to wet the bed, to protest against the imposition of artificial symbolic rules: he seems to be saying that: the body is his primary reality and that he wants to remain in the simpler physical Eden and not be thrown out into the world of “right and wrong.”
We might say that psychoanalysis revealed to us the complex penalties of denying the truth of man’s condition, what we might call the costs of pretending not to be mad.
The Meaning of Anality
With anal play the child is already becoming a philosopher of the human condition. But like all philosophers he is still bound by it, and his main task in life becomes the denial of what the anus represents: that in fact, he is nothing but body so far as nature is concerned.
Anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their Truth with a capital “T.” On the other hand, when men really want to protest against artificialities, when they rebel against the symbolisms of culture, they fall back on the physical.
Nor wonder how I lost my Wits; Oh! Caelia, Caelia, Caelia shits! In other words, in Swift’s mind there was an absolute contradiction “between the state of being in love and an awareness of the excremental function of the beloved.”7
“For all obsessives sex is severed from unification and procreation… . Through the … isolation of the genitals from the whole of the body, sexual functions are experienced as excretions and as decay.”
The Oedipal Project
As Brown put it: The Oedipal project is not, as Freud’s earlier formulations suggest, a natural love of the mother, but as his later writings recognize, a product of the conflict of ambivalence and an attempt to overcome that conflict by narcissistic inflation. The essence of the Oedipal complex is the project of becoming God—in Spinoza’s formula, causa sui… . By the same token, it plainly exhibits infantile narcissism perverted by the flight from death… .
the child wants to conquer death by becoming the father of himself, the creator and sustainer of his own life.
That is why Brown, like Rank, could say that the Oedipal project is “inevitably self-generated in the child and is directed against the parents, irrespective of how the parents behave.” To put it paradoxically, “children toilet train themselves.”12 The profound meaning of this is that there is no “perfect” way to bring up a child, since he “brings himself up” by trying to shape himself into an absolute controller of his own destiny.
“Character is from the point of view of the psychoanalyst a sort of abnormality, a kind of mechanization of a particular way of reaction, rather similar to an obsessional symptom.”13 The Castration Complex
On the one hand the mother is a pure source of pleasure and satisfaction, a secure power to lean on. She must appear as the goddess of beauty and goodness, victory and power; this is her “light” side, we might say, and it is blindly attractive. But on the other hand the child has to strain against this very dependency, or he loses the feeling that he has aegis over his own powers. That is another way of saying that the mother, by representing secure biological dependence, is also a fundamental threat.
put another way, we can say that the child “fetishizes” the mother’s body as an object of global danger to himself. It is one way of cutting her down to size, depriving her of her primary place in creation.
It expresses the realization by the child that he is saddled with an impossible project; that the causa-sui pursuit on which he is launched cannot be achieved by body-sexual means,19 even by protesting a body different from the mother. The fortress of the body, the primary base for narcissistic operations against the world in order to insure one’s boundless powers, crumbles like sand. This is the tragic dethroning of the child, the ejection from paradise that the castration complex represents.
The inner self represents the freedom of thought, imagination, and the infinite reach of symbolism. The body represents determinism and boundness. The child gradually learns that his freedom as a unique being is dragged back by the body and its appendages which dicate “what” he is.
The person is both a self and a body, and from the beginning there is the confusion about where “he” really “is”—in the symbolic inner self or in the physical body.
This is why it is so difficult to have sex without guilt: guilt is there because the body casts a shadow on the person’s inner freedom, his “real self” that—through the act of sex—is being forced into a standardized, mechanical, biological role. Even worse, the inner self is not even being called into consideration at all; the body takes over completely for the total person, and this kind of guilt makes the inner self shrink and threaten to disappear. This is why a woman asks for assurance that the man wants “me” and not “only my body”; she is painfully conscious that her own distinctive inner personality can be dispensed with in the sexual act. If it is dispensed with, it doesn’t count. The fact is that the man usually does want only the body, and the woman’s total personality is reduced to a mere animal role.
The person becomes, for a time, merely his physical self and so absolves the painfulness of the existential paradox and the guilt that goes with sex. Love is one great key to this kind of sexuality because it allows the collapse of the individual into the animal dimension without fear and guilt, but instead with trust and assurance that his distinctive inner freedom will not be negated by an animal surrender.
The Primal Scene
the meaning of his life, a meaning split hopelessly into two realms—symbols (freedom) and body (fate).
The body, then, is one’s animal fate that has to be struggled against in some ways. At the same time, it offers experiences and sensations, concrete pleasure that the inner symbolic world lacks.
sex as a project represents a retreat from the standardizations and monopolizations of the social world. No wonder people dedicate themselves so all-consumingly to it, often from childhood on in the form of secret masturbations that represent a protest and a triumph of the personal self.
It is as though one tried to transcend the body by depriving it entirely of its given character, to make sport and new invention in place of what nature “intended.”
By the time the child grows up, the inverted search for a personal existence through perversity gets set in an individual mold, and it becomes more secret. It has to be secret because the community won’t stand for the attempt by people to wholly individualize themselves.26 If there is going to be a victory over human incompleteness and limitation, it has to be a social project and not an individual one. Society wants to be the one to decide how people are to transcend death; it will tolerate the causa-sui project only if it fits into the standard social project. Otherwise there is the alarm of “Anarchy!” This is one of the reasons for bigotry and censorship of all kinds over personal morality: people fear that the standard morality will be undermined—another way of saying that they fear they will no longer be able to control life and death.
A person is said to be “socialized” precisely when he accepts to “sublimate” the body-sexual character of his Oedipal project.27 Now these euphemisms mean usually that he accepts to work on becoming the father of himself by abandoning his own project and by giving it over to “The Fathers.” The castration complex has done its work, and one submits to “social reality”; he can now deflate his own desires and claims and can play it safe in the world of the powerful elders. He can even give his body over to the tribe, the state, the embracing magical umbrella of the elders and their symbols; that way it will no longer be a dangerous negation for him. But there is no real difference between a childish impossibility and an adult one; the only thing that the person achieves is a practiced self-deceit—what we call the “mature” character.
all our meanings are built into us from the outside, from our dealings with others. This is what gives us a “self” and a superego. Our whole world of right and wrong, good and bad, our name, precisely who we are, is grafted into us; and we never feel we have authority to offer things on our own.
We fear our highest possibility (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments… . We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe and fear before these very same possibilities.4
Maslow used an apt term for this evasion of growth, this fear of realizing one’s own fullest powers. He called it the “Jonah Syndrome.” He understood the syndrome as the evasion of the full intensity of life: We are just not strong enough to endure more! It is just too shaking and wearing. So often people in … ecstatic moments say, “It’s too much,” or “I can’t stand it,” or “I could die”… . Delirious happiness cannot be borne for long. Our organisms are just too weak for any large doses of greatness… . The Jonah Syndrome, then, seen from this basic point of view, is “partly a justified fear of being torn apart, of losing control, of being shattered and disintegrated, even of being killed by the experience.” And the result of this syndrome is what we would expect a weak organism to do: to cut back the full intensity of life: For some people this evasion of one’s own growth, setting low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self-crippling, pseudo-stupidity, mock-humility are in fact defenses against grandiosity …5* It all boils down to a simple lack of strength to bear the superlative, to open oneself to the totality of experience—an
We might say that the child is a “natural” coward: he cannot have the strength to support the terror of creation. The world as it is, creation out of the void, things as they are, things as they are not, are too much for us to be able to stand. Or, better: they would be too much for us to bear without crumbling in a faint, trembling like a leaf, standing in a trance in response to the movement, colors, and odors of the world. I say “would be” because most of us—by the time we leave childhood—have repressed our vision of the primary miraculousness of creation. We have closed it off, changed it, and no longer perceive the world as it is to raw experience. Sometimes we may recapture this world by remembering some striking childhood perceptions, how suffused they were in emotion and wonder—how a favorite grandfather looked, or one’s first love in his early teens. We change these heavily emotional perceptions precisely because we need to move about in the world with some kind of equanimity, some kind of strength and directness; we can’t keep gaping with our heart in our mouth, greedily sucking up with our eyes everything great and powerful that strikes us. The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act.
As Maslow has well said, “It is precisely the godlike in ourselves that we are ambivalent about, fascinated by and fearful of, motivated to and defensive against. This is one aspect of the basic human predicament, that we are simultaneously worms and gods.”7 There it is again: gods with anuses.
Freud’s greatest discover, the one which lies at the root of psychodynamics, is that the great cause of much psychological illness is the fear of knowledge of oneself—of one’s emotions, impulses, memories, capacities, potentialities, of one’s destiny. We have discovered that fear of knowledge of oneself is very often isomorphic with, and parallel with, fear of the outside world.
In general this kind of fear is defensive, in the sense that it is a protection of our self-esteem, of our love and respect for ourselves. We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves or to make us feel inferior, weak, worthless, evil, shameful. We protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defenses, which are essentially techniques by which we avoid becoming conscious of unpleasant or dangerous truths.8
He must repress his parents’ inadequacy, their anxieties and terrors, because these make it difficult for him to feel secure and strong. He must repress his own anality, his compromising bodily functions that spell his mortality, his fundamental expendability in nature. And with all this, and more that we leave unsaid, he must repress the primary awesomeness of the external world.
the human animal is characterized by two great fears that other animals are protected from: the fear of life and the fear of death.
The child’s character, his style of life, is his way of using the power of others, the support of the things and the ideas of his culture, to banish from his awareness the actual fact of his natural impotence.
Not only his impotence to avoid death, but his impotence to stand alone, firmly rooted on his own powers.
There is no secure answer to the awesome mystery of the human face that scrutinizes itself in the mirror; no answer, at any rate, that can come from the person himself, from his own center. One’s own face may be godlike in its miraculousness, but one lacks the godlike power to know what it means, the godlike strength to have been responsible for its emergence.
In these ways, then, we understand that if the child were to give in to the overpowering character of reality and experience he would not be able to act with the kind of equanimity we need in our non-instinctive world. So one of the first things a child has to do is to learn to “abandon ecstasy,” to do without awe, to leave fear and trembling behind. Only then can he act with a certain oblivious self-confidence, when he has naturalized his world. We say “naturalized” but we mean unnaturalized, falsified, with the truth obscured, the despair of the human condition hidden, a despair that the child glimpses in his night terrors and daytime phobias and neuroses. This despair he avoids by building defenses; and these defenses allow him to feel a basic sense of self-worth, of meaningfulness, of power. They allow him to feel that he controls his life and his death, that he really does live and act as a willful and free individual, that he has a unique and self-fashioned identity, that he is somebody—not just a trembling accident germinated on a hothouse planet that Carlyle for all time called a “hall of doom.”
We don’t want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality, that we do not really control our own lives. We don’t want to admit that we do not stand alone, that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us.
This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god or openly a stronger person, but it can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life, that like a comfortable web keeps a person buoyed up and ignorant of himself, of the fact that he does not rest on his own center. All of us are driven to be supported in a self-forgetful way, ignorant of what energies we really draw on, of the kind of lie we have fashioned in order to live securely and serenely.
We enter symbiotic relationships in order to get the security we need, in order to get relief from our anxieties, our aloneness and helplessness; but these relationships also bind us, they enslave us even further because they support the lie we have fashioned.
So we strain against them in order to be more free. The irony is that we do this straining uncritically, in a struggle within our own armor, as it were; and so we increase our drivenness, the second-hand quality of our struggle for freedom.
We seek stress, we push our own limits, but we do it with our screen against despair and not with despair itself.
We do it in the prison of a dialogue with our own little family, by marrying against their wishes or choosing a way of life because they frown on it, and so on. Hence the complicated and second-hand quality of our entire drivenness. Even in our passions we are nursery children playing with toys that represent the real world.
It is fateful and ironic how the lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours.
It was not until the working out of modern psychoanalysis that we could understand something the poets and religious geniuses have long known: that the armor of character was so vital to us that to shed it meant to risk death and madness. It is not hard to reason out: If character is a neurotic defense against despair and you shed that defense, you admit the full flood of despair, the full realization of the true human condition, what men are really afraid of, what they struggle against, and are driven toward and away from.
Neurosis is another word for describing a complicated technique for avoiding misery, but reality is the misery. That is why from earliest times sages have insisted that to see reality one must die and be reborn. The idea of death and rebirth was present in shamanistic times, in Zen thought, in Stoic thought, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, as well as in Judeo-Christian and modern existential thought. But it was not until scientific psychology that we could understand what was at stake in the death and rebirth: that man’s character was a neurotic structure that went right to the heart of his humanness. As Frederick Perls put it, “To suffer one’s death and to be reborn is not easy.” And it is not easy precisely because so much of one has to die.
Freud summed it up beautifully when he somewhere remarked that psychoanalysis cured the neurotic misery in order to introduce the patient to the common misery of life.
I like the way Perls conceived the neurotic structure as a thick edifice built up of four layers. The first two layers are the everyday layers, the tactics that the child learns to get along in society by the facile use of words to win ready approval and to placate others and move them along with him: these are the glib, empty talk, “cliché,” and role-playing layers. Many people live out their lives never getting underneath them. The third layer is a stiff one to penetrate: it is the “impasse” that covers our feeling of being empty and lost, the very feeling that we try to banish in building up our character defenses. Underneath this layer is the fourth and most baffling one: the “death” or fear-of-death layer; and this, as we have seen, is the layer of our true and basic animal anxieties, the terror that we carry around in our secret heart. Only when we explode this fourth layer, says Perls, do we get to the layer of what we might call our “authentic self”: what we really are without sham, without disguise, without defenses against fear.
And when it is through psychologically, it only begins humanly: the worst is not the death, but the rebirth itself—there’s the rub. What does it mean “to be born again” for man? It means for the first time to be subjected to the terrifying paradox of the human condition, since one must be born not as a god, but as a man, or as a god-worm, or a god who shits. Only this time without the neurotic shield that hides the full ambiguity of one’s life. And so we know that every authentic rebirth is a real ejection from paradise, as the lives of Tolstoy, Péguy, and others attest. It takes men of granite, men who were automatically powerful, “secure in their drivenness” we might say, and it makes them tremble, makes them cry—as Péguy stood on the platforms of Parisian busses with hot tears rolling down his cheeks while he mumbled prayers.
it is impossible to stand up to the terror of one’s condition without anxiety.
It was Andras Angyal who got to the heart of the matter of psychotherapeutic rebirth when he said that the neurotic who has had therapy is like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous: he can never take his cure for granted, and the best sign of the genuineness of that cure is that he lives with humility.
Full Humans and Part Humans
If you get rid of the four-layered neurotic shield, the armor that covers the characterological lie about life, how can you talk about “enjoying” this Pyrrhic victory? The person gives up something restricting and illusory, it is true, but only to come face to face with something even more awful: genuine despair.
This is a serious game, the defense of one’s existence—how take it away from people and leave them joyous?
to see the world as it really is is devastating and terrifying. It achieves the very result that the child has painfully built his character over the years in order to avoid: it makes routine, automatic, secure, self-confident activity impossible.
It can’t be overstressed, one final time, that to see the world as it really is is devastating and terrifying. It achieves the very result that the child has painfully built his character over the years in order to avoid: it makes routine, automatic, secure, self-confident activity impossible. It makes thoughtless living in the world of men an impossibility. It places a trembling animal at the mercy of the entire cosmos and the problem of the meaning of it.
As Rank put it once and for all, for all future psychoanalysts and students of man: every human being is … equally unfree, that is, we … create out of freedom, a prison… .16
man’s finitude, his dread of death and of the overwhelmingness of life. The schizophrenic feels these more than anyone else because he has not been able to build the confident defenses that a person normally uses to deny them.
Frankly I don’t know anything more cogent that needs to be said about this syndrome: it is a failure in humanization, which means a failure to confidently deny man’s real situation on this planet. Schizophrenia is the limiting test case for the theory of character and reality that we have been expounding here: the failure to build dependable character defenses allows the true nature of reality to appear to man. It is scientifically apodictic. The creativity of people on the schizophrenic end of the human continuum is a creativity that springs from the inability to accept the standardized cultural denials of the real nature of experience. And the price of this kind of almost “ extra human” creativity is to live on the brink of madness, as men have long known. The schizophrenic is supremely creative in an almost extra-human sense because he is furthest from the animal: he lacks the secure instinctive programming of lower organisms; and he lacks the secure cultural programming of average men. No wonder he appears to average men as “crazy”: he is not in anything’s world.
Nowhere is this merger of religious and psychiatric categories clearer than in the work of Kierkegaard.
The Existential Paradox as the Beginning of Psychology and Religion
If a man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in dread. [That is, if he were utterly unself-conscious or totally un-animal] Since he is a synthesis he can be in dread … man himself produces dread.
But the real focus of dread is not the ambiguity itself, it is the result of the judgment on man: that if Adam eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge God tells him “Thou shalt surely die.” In other words, the final terror of self-consciousness is the knowledge of one’s own death, which is the peculiar sentence on man alone in the animal kingdom. This is the meaning of the Garden of Eden myth and the rediscovery of modern psychology: that death is man’s peculiar and greatest anxiety.* Kierkegaard’s Characterology
Kierkegaard’s whole understanding of man’s character is that it is a structure built up to avoid perception of the “terror, perdition [and] annihilation [that] dwell next door to every man.”9 He understood psychology the way a contemporary psychoanalyst does: that its task is to discover the strategies that a person uses to avoid anxiety. What style does he use to function automatically and uncritically in the world, and how does this style cripple his true growth and freedom of action and choice? Or, in words that are almost Kierkegaard’s: how is a person being enslaved by his characterological lie about himself?
There is no doubt that by “shut-upness” Kierkegaard means what we today refer to by repression; it is the closed personality, the one who has fenced himself around in childhood, not tested his own powers in action, not been free to discover himself and his world in a relaxed way. If the child is not burdened by too much parental blocking of his action, too much infection with the parents’ anxieties, he can develop his defenses in a less monopolizing way, can remain somewhat fluid and open in character. He is prepared to test reality more in terms of his own action and experimentation and less on the basis of delegated authority and prejudgment or preperception.
Kierkegaard gives us some portrait sketches of the styles of denying possibility, or the lies of character—which is the same thing. He is intent on describing what we today call “inauthentic” men, men who avoid developing their own uniqueness; they follow out the styles of automatic and uncritical living in which they were conditioned as children. They are “inauthentic” in that they do not belong to themselves, are not “their own” person, do not act from their own center, do not see reality on its terms; they are the one-dimensional men totally immersed in the fictional games being played in their society, unable to transcend their social conditioning: the corporation men in the West, the bureaucrats in the East, the tribal men locked up in tradition—man everywhere who doesn’t understand what it means to think for himself and who, if he did, would shrink back at the idea of such audacity and exposure.
Why does man accept to live a trivial life? Because of the danger of a full horizon of experience, of course. This is the deeper motivation of philistinism, that it celebrates the triumph over possibility, over freedom. Philistinism knows its real enemy: freedom is dangerous. If you follow it too willingly it threatens to pull you into the air; if you give it up too wholly, you become a prisoner of necessity. The safest thing is to toe the mark of what is socially possible.
For philistinism thinks it is in control of possibility, it thinks that when it has decoyed this prodigious elasticity into the field of probability or into the madhouse it holds it a prisoner; it carries possibility around like a prisoner in the cage of the probable, shows it off… .20 Kierkegaard as Theorist of the Psychoses
Too much possibility is the attempt by the person to overvalue the powers of the symbolic self. It reflects the attempt to exaggerate one half of the human dualism at the expense of the other. In this sense, what we call schizophrenia is an attempt by the symbolic self to deny the limitations of the finite body; in doing so, the entire person is pulled off balance and destroyed.
The full-blown schizophrenic is abstract, ethereal, unreal; he billows out of the earthly categories of space and time, floats out of his body, dwells in an eternal now, is not subject to death and destruction. He has vanquished these in his fantasy, or perhaps better, in the actual fact that he has quit his body, renounced its limitations.
the misfortune does not consist in the fact that such a self did not amount to anything in the world; no, the misfortune is that the man did not become aware of himself, aware that the self he is, is a perfectly definite something, and so is the necessary.
“ambulatory schizophrenics”—those whose self and body are in a very tenuous relationship but manage nevertheless to carry on without being submerged by inner energies and emotions, by fantastic images, sounds, fears, and hopes they cannot contain: But in spite of the fact that a man has become fantastic in this fashion, he may nevertheless … be perfectly well able to live on, to be a man, as it seems, to occupy himself with temporal things, get married, beget children, win honor and esteem—and perhaps no one notices that in a deeper sense he lacks a self.27 That is, he lacks a securely unified self and body, centered on his own controlling ego energies, and facing realistically up to his situation and to the nature of his limits and possibilities in the world. But this, as we shall see, is Kierkegaard’s idea of consummate health, not easy to attain.
The loss of possibility signifies: either that everything has become necessary to man or that everything has become trivial.32
Other Urges to Freedom
There is the type of man who has great contempt for “immediacy,” who tries to cultivate his interiority, base his pride on something deeper and inner, create a distance between himself and the average man. Kierkegaard calls this type of man the “introvert.” He is a little more concerned with what it means to be a person, with individuality and uniqueness. He enjoys solitude and withdraws periodically to reflect, perhaps to nurse ideas about his secret self, what it might be. This, after all is said and done, is the only real problem of life, the only worthwhile preoccupation of man: What is one’s true talent, his secret gift, his authentic vocation? In what way is one truly unique, and how can he express this uniqueness, give it form, dedicate it to something beyond himself? How can the person take his private inner being, the great mystery that he feels at the heart of himself, his emotions, his yearnings and use them to live more distinctively, to enrich both himself and mankind with the peculiar quality of his talent? In adolescence, most of us throb with this dilemma, expressing it either with words and thoughts or with simple numb pain and longing. But usually life suck us up into standardized activities. The social hero-system into which we are born marks out paths for our heroism, paths to which we conform, to which we shape ourselves so that we can please others, become what they expect us to be. And instead of working our inner secret we gradually cover it over and forget it, while we become purely external men, playing successfully the standardized hero-game into which we happen to fall by accident, by family connection, by reflex patriotism, or by the simple need to eat and the urge to procreate.
Kierkegaard’s introvert feels that he is something different from the world, has something in himself that the world cannot reflect, cannot in its immediacy and shallowness appreciate; and so he holds himself somewhat apart from that world. But not too much, not completely. It would be so nice to be the self he wants to be, to realize his vocation, his authentic talent, but it is dangerous, it might upset his world completely. He is after all, basically weak, in a position of compromise: not an immediate man, but not a real man either, even though he gives the appearance of it.
And so he lives in a kind of “incognito,” content to toy—in his periodic solitudes—with the idea of who he might really be; content to insist on a “little difference,” to pride himself on a vaguely-felt superiority.
But this is not an easy position to maintain with equanimity.
Introversion is impotence, but an impotence already self-conscious to a degree, and it can become troublesome. It may lead to a chafing at one’s dependency on his family and his job, an ulcerous gnawing as a reaction to one’s embeddedness, a feeling of slavery in one’s safety. For a strong person it may become intolerable, and he may try to break out of it, sometimes by suicide, sometimes by drowning himself desperately in the world and in the rush of experience.
And this brings us to our final type of man: the one who asserts himself out of defiance of his own weakness, who tries to be a god unto himself, the master of his fate, a self-created man. He will not be merely the pawn of others, of society; he will not be a passive sufferer and secret dreamer, nursing his own inner flame in oblivion. He will plunge into life, into the distractions of great undertakings, he will become a restless spirit … which wants to forget … Or he will seek forgetfulness in sensuality, perhaps in debauchery… .37
We are witness to the new cult of sensuality that seems to be repeating the sexual naturalism of the ancient Roman world. It is a living for the day alone, with a defiance of tomorrow; an immersion in the body and its immediate experiences and sensations, in the intensity of touch, swelling flesh, taste and smell. Its aim is to deny one’s lack of control over events, his powerlessness, his vagueness as a person in a mechanical world spinning into decay and death. I am not saying that this is bad, this rediscovery and reassertion of one’s basic vitality as an animal. The modern world, after all, has wanted to deny the person even his own body, even his emanation from his animal center; it has wanted to make him completely a depersonalized abstraction. But man kept his apelike body and found he could use it as a base for fleshy and hairy self-assertion—and damn the bureaucrats. The only thing that might be undignified about it is its desperate reflexivity, a defiance that is not reflective and so not completely self-possessed.
The Meaning of Manhood
How does one transcend himself; how does he open himself to new possibility? By realizing the truth of his situation, by dispelling the lie of his character, by breaking his spirit out of its conditioned prison. The enemy, for Kierkegaard as for Freud, is the Oedipus complex. The child has built up strategies and techniques for keeping his self-esteem in the face of the terror of his situation. These techniques become an armor that hold the person prisoner. The very defenses that he needs in order to move about with self-confidence and self-esteem become his life-long trap. In order to transcend himself he must break down that which he needs in order to live. Like Lear he must throw off all his “cultural lendings” and stand naked in the storm of life. Kierkegaard had no illusions about man’s urge to freedom. He knew how comfortable people were inside the prison of their character defenses.
The prison of one’s character is painstakingly built to deny one thing and one thing alone: one’s creatureliness. The creatureliness is the terror. Once admit that you are a defecating creature and you invite the primeval ocean of creature anxiety to flood over you. But it is more than creature anxiety, it is also man’s anxiety, the anxiety that results from the human paradox that man is an animal who is conscious of his animal limitation. Anxiety is the result of the perception of the truth of one’s condition. What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and selfexpression—and with all this yet to die.
But now Kierkegaard seems to have led us into an impasse, an impossible situation. He has told us that by realizing the truth of our condition we can transcend ourselves. And on the other hand he tells us that the truth of our condition is our complete and abject creatureliness, which seems to push us down still further on the scale of self-realization, further away from any possibility of self-transcendence. But this is only an apparent contradiction. The flood of anxiety is not the end for man. It is, rather, a “school” that provides man with the ultimate education, the final maturity. It is a better teacher than reality, says Kierkegaard,40 because reality can be lied about, twisted, and tamed by the tricks of cultural perception and repression. But anxiety cannot be lied about. Once you face up to it, it reveals the truth of your situation; and only by seeing that truth can you open a new possibility for yourself.
No mistake about it: the curriculum in the “school” of anxiety is the unlearning of repression, of everything that the child taught himself to deny so that he could move about with a minimal animal equanimity.
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic “ideas” [the characterological lie about reality] and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost—he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.45
the destruction of the emotional character armor of Lear, of the Zen Buddhists, of modern psychotherapy, and in fact of self-realized men in any epoch.
Our modern understanding of psychodynamics confirms that this progression is very logical: if you admit that you are a creature, you accomplish one basic thing: you demolish all your unconscious power linkages or supports. As we saw in the last chapter—and it is worth repeating here—each child grounds himself in some power that transcends him. Usually it is a combination of his parents, his social group, and the symbols of his society and nation. This is the unthinking web of support which allows him to believe in himself, as he functions on the automatic security of delegated powers. He doesn’t of course admit to himself that he lives on borrowed powers, as that would lead him to question his own secure action, the very confidence that he needs. He has denied his creatureliness precisely by imagining that he has secure power, and this secure power has been tapped by unconsciously leaning on the persons and things of his society.
Once you expose the basic weakness and emptiness of the person, his helplessness, then you are forced to re-examine the whole problem of power linkages. You have to think about reforging them to a real source of creative and generative power. It is at this point that one can begin to posit creatureliness vis-à-vis a Creator who is the First Cause of all created things, not merely the second-hand, intermediate creators of society, the parents and the panoply of cultural heroes. These are the social and cultural progenitors who themselves have been caused, who themselves are embedded in a web of someone else’s powers.
Once the person begins to look to his relationship to the Ultimate Power, to infinitude, and to refashion his links from those around him to that Ultimate Power, he opens up to himself the horizon of unlimited possibility, of real freedom. This is Kierkegaard’s message, the culmination of his whole argument about the dead-ends of character, the ideal of health, the school of anxiety, the nature of real possibility and freedom. One goes through it all to arrive at faith, the faith that one’s very creatureliness has some meaning to a Creator; that despite one’s true insignificance, weakness, death, one’s existence has meaning in some ultimate sense because it exists within an eternal and infinite scheme of things brought about and maintained to some kind of design by some creative force.
the basic formula of faith: one is a creature who can do nothing, but one exists over against a living God for whom “everything is possible.”
Now the dread of possibility holds him as its prey, until it can deliver him saved into the hands of faith. In no other place does he find repose … he who went through the curriculum of misfortune offered by possibility lost everything, absolutely everything, in a way that no one has lost it in reality. If in this situation he did not behave falsely towards possibility, if he did not attempt to talk around the dread which would save him, then he received everything back again, as in reality no one ever did even if he received everything tenfold, for the pupil of possibility received infinity…
If we put this whole progression in terms of our discussion of the possibilities of heroism, it goes like this: Man breaks through the bounds of merely cultural heroism; he destroys the character lie that had him perform as a hero in the everyday social scheme of things; and by doing so he opens himself up to infinity, to the possibility of cosmic heroism, to the very service of God. His life thereby acquires ultimate value in place of merely social and cultural, historical value. He links his secret inner self, his authentic talent, his deepest feelings of uniqueness, his inner yearning for absolute significance, to the very ground of creation. Out of the ruins of the broken cultural self there remains the mystery of the private, invisible, inner self which yearned for ultimate significance, for cosmic heroism. This invisible mystery at the heart of every creature now attains cosmic significance by affirming its connection with the invisible mystery at the heart of creation. This is the meaning of faith. At
The true autodidact [i.e., the one who by himself goes through the school of anxiety to faith] is precisely in the same degree a theodidact … So soon as psychology has finished with dread, it has nothing to do but to deliver it over to dogmatics.
Psychoanalysis as a Doctrine about Mans Creatureliness
It is clear to us today, too, that Freud was wrong about the dogma, just as Jung and Adler knew right at the beginning. Man has no innate instincts of sexuality and aggression. Now we are seeing something more, the new Freud emerging in our time, that he was right in his dogged dedication to revealing man’s creatureliness. His emotional involvement was correct. It reflected the true intuitions of genius, even though the particular intellectual counterpart of that emotion—the sexual theory—proved to be wrong. Man’s body was “a curse of fate,” and culture was built upon repression—not because man was a seeker only of sexuality, of pleasure, of life and expansiveness, as Freud thought, but because man was also primarily an avoider of death.
Consciousness of death is the primary repression, not sexuality.
The First Great Reluctance of Freud: the Idea of Death
Killing is a symbolic solution of a biological limitation; it results from the fusion of the biological level (animal anxiety) with the symbolic one (death fear) in the human animal.
This kind of courage is not unusual in men who see themselves as historical figures; the self-image marshals the necessary dedication to the work that will give them immortality; what is pain next to that?
All these examples seem to boil down to “magical control games.” Freud’s concern for his mother seems like transparent displacement and rationalization: “My death does not terrify me, what terrifies me is the thought of the grief it would cause her.” One is frightened by the emptiness, the gap that would be left by one’s disappearance. One can’t cope easily with it, but one can cope with someone else’s grief over one’s disappearance. Instead of experiencing the stark terror of losing oneself as a disappearing object, one clings to the image of someone else. There is nothing complicated in Freud’s use of these intellectual devices.
As one’s whole life is a style or a scenario with which one tries to deny oblivion and to extend oneself beyond death in symbolic ways, one is often untouched by the fact of his death because he has been able to surround it by larger meanings.
The Second Great Reluctance of Freud
Freud’s telling personal admission that “my own superstition has its roots in suppressed ambition (immortality)… .”30 That is, it has its roots in the strictly spiritual problem of transcending death, a problem that for Freud was characteristically one of ambition, of striving, and not of trust or yielding.
To yield is to disperse one’s shored-up center, let down one’s guard, one’s character armor, admit one’s lack of self-sufficiency. And this shored-up center, this guard, this armor, this supposed self-sufficiency are the very things that the entire project of coming-of-age from childhood to manhood is all about.
the basic task that the person cuts out for himself is the attempt to father himself—what Brown so well calls the “Oedipal project.” The causa-sui passion is an energetic fantasy that covers over the rumbling of man’s fundamental creatureliness, or what we can now more pointedly call his hopeless lack of genuine centering on his own energies to assure the victory of his life. No creature can assure this, and man can only attempt to do so in his fantasy.
The ambivalence of the causa-sui project is based on the ever-present threat of reality that peeks through. One suspects at all times that one is fundamentally helpless and impotent, but one must protest against it.
What, then, is the problem of yielding? It represents nothing less than the abandonment of the causa-sui project, the deepest, completest, total emotional admission that there is no strength within oneself, no power to bear the superfluity of experience. To yield is to admit that support has to come from outside oneself and that justification for one’s life has to come totally from some self-transcending web in which one consents to be suspended—as a child in its hammock-cradle, glaze-eyed in helpless, dependent admiration of the cooing mother.
The Faintings in Relation to Freud’s General Life-Problem
The uniqueness of the genius also cuts off his roots. He is a phenomenon that was not foreshadowed; he doesn’t seem to have any traceable debts to the qualities of others; he seems to have sprung self-generated out of nature. We might say that he has the “purest” causa-sui project: He is truly without a family, the father of himself. As Roazen points out, Freud had soared so far beyond his natural family that it is no surprise that he should indulge in fantasies of self-creation: “Freud came back again and again to the fantasy of being raised father-less.”34 Now, you cannot become your own father until you can have your own sons, as Roazen so well says; and natural-born sons would not do, because they do not have “the qualities of immortality associated with genius.”35 This formulation is perfect. Ergo, Freud had to create a whole new family—the psychoanalytic movement—that would be his distinctive immortality-vehicle. When he died the genius of the movement would assure his eternal remembrance and hence an eternal identity in the minds of men and in the effects of his work on earth.
The Interpretations of Jones and Freud
The Emotional Ambivalence of Causa Sui
How sweet it must be to let go of the colossal burden of a self-dominating, self-forming life, to relax one’s grip on one’s own center, and to yield passively to a superordinate power and authority—and what joy in such yielding: the comfort, the trust, the relief in one’s chest and shoulders, the lightness in one’s heart, the sense of being sustained by something larger, less fallible. With his own distinctive problems, man is the only animal who can often willingly embrace the deep sleep of death, even while knowing that it means oblivion.
But there is the ambivalence that Freud—like all of us—was caught in. To melt oneself trustingly into the father, or the father-substitute, or even the Great Father in the sky, is to abandon the causa-sui project, the attempt to be father of oneself. And if you abandon that you are diminished, your destiny is no longer your own; you are the eternal child making your way in the world of the elders.
Today we generally see homosexuality as a broad problem of ineptness, vague identity, passivity, helplessness—all in all, an inability to take a powerful stance toward life.
We said that the truly gifted and free spirit attempts to bypass the family as the instrument of distinctive procreation. It is only logical, then, that if the genius is going to follow to the letter the causa-sui project, he comes up against one large temptation: to bypass the woman and the species role of his own body. It is as though he reasons: “I do not exist to be used as an instrument of physical procreation in the interests of the race; my individuality is so total and integral that I include my body in my causa-sui project.” And so, the genius can try to procreate himself spiritually through a linkage with gifted young men, to create them in his own image, and to pass the spirit of his genius on to them. It is as though he were to try to duplicate himself exactly, spirit and body. After all, anything that detracts from the free flight of one’s spiritual talent must seem debasing. The woman is already a threat to the man in his physicalness; it is only a small step to bypass sexual intercourse with her; in that way one keep’s one’s carefully girded center from dispersing and being undermined by ambiguous meanings.
Most men are content to keep their meanings firmly in hand by refraining from extramarital infidelity; but one can narcissistically harbor his meanings even more by refraining from “heterosexual infidelity,” so to speak.
It is common knowledge that sexual relations between Freud and his wife came to an end around the age of forty-one and that he was strictly monogamous so far as we know. This behavior would be all of a piece with his causa-sui project: the narcissistic self-inflation that denies dependency on the female body and on one’s species-given role and the control and harboring of the power and meaning of one’s individuality.
The Conceptual Ambivalence of Causa Sui
Now as we draw the circle on the very beginning of our discussion of Freud, we can see that his two great reluctances, as we have called them, are related, and in fact merge into one. On the one hand he refused to move away cleanly from his instinct theory to the more blanket idea of a death fear. In the second place he refused to move into a yielding posture toward external nature; he was unable to give large expression to the mystical, dependent side of himself. It seems to me that the two reluctances are related in his refusal to abandon the causa-sui project, which would have led to a larger problematic view of human creatureliness. But such a view is the seeding-ground of faith, or at least brings the person right up to faith as an experiential reality and not an illusion.
Freud saw that a patient in analysis developed a peculiarly intense attachment to the person of the analyst. The analyst became literally the center of his world and his life; he devoured him with his eyes, his heart swelled with joy at the sight of him; the analyst filled his thoughts even in his dreams.
Perhaps we could even say that men were all too willingly mystified by hypnosis because they had to deny the big lie upon which their whole conscious lives were based: the lie of self-sufficiency, of free self-determination, of independent judgment and choice.
Ferenczi pointed out how important it was for the hypnotist to be an imposing person, of high social rank, with a self-confident manner.
He knew “just those ways of frightening and being tender, the efficacy of which has been proved for thousands of years in the relations of parent to child.”
The explanation of the ease of hypnosis, said Ferenczi, is that “In our innermost soul we are still children, and we remain so throughout life.”11
But the predisposition to hypnosis is the same one that gives rise to transference, and no one is immune to that, no one can argue away the manifestations of transference in everyday human affairs. It is not visible on the surface: adults walk around looking quite independent; they play the role of parent themselves and seem quite grown up—and so they are. They couldn’t function if they still carried with them the childhood feeling of awe for their parents, the tendency to obey them automatically and uncritically. But, says Ferenczi, although these things normally disappear, “the need to be subject to someone remains; only the part of the father is transferred to teachers, superiors, impressive personalities; the submissive loyalty to rulers that is so wide-spread is also a transference of this sort.”
Freud’s Great Work on Group Psychology
Or as Fenichel later put it, people have a “longing for being hypnotized” precisely because they want to get back to the magical protection, the participation in omnipotence, the “oceanic feeling” that they enjoyed when they were loved and protected by their parents.
By explaining the precise power that held groups together Freud could also show why groups did not fear danger. The members do not feel that they are alone with their own smallness and helplessness, as they have the powers of the hero-leader with whom they are identified. Natural narcissism—the feeling that the person next to you will die, but not you—is reinforced by trusting dependence on the leader’s power.
The real world is simply too terrible to admit; it tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will decay and die. Illusion changes all this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe, immortal in some way. Who transmits this illusion, if not the parents by imparting the macro-lie of the cultural causa sui? The masses look to the leaders to give them just the untruth that they need; the leader continues the illusions that triumph over the castration complex and magnifies them into a truly heroic victory.
Furthermore, he makes possible a new experience, the expression of forbidden impulses, secret wishes, and fantasies. In group behavior anything goes because the leader okays it.18 It is like being an omnipotent infant again, encouraged by the parent to indulge oneself plentifully, or like being in psychoanalytic therapy where the analyst doesn’t censure you for anything you feel or think.
Developments Beyond Freud
For example, Freud found that the leader allows us to express forbidden impulses and secret wishes. Redl saw that in some groups there is indeed what he perfectly calls the “infectiousness of the unconflicted person.” There are leaders who seduce us because they do not have the conflicts that we have; we admire their equanimity where we feel shame and humiliation. Freud saw that the leader wipes out fear and permits everyone to feel omnipotent.
Redl refined this somewhat by showing how important the leader often was by the simple fact that it was he who performed the “initiatory act” when no one else had the daring to do it. Redl calls this beautifully the “magic of the initiatory act.” This initiatory act can be anything from swearing to sex or murder.
Freud has said in Totem and Taboo that acts that are illegal for the individual can be justified if the whole group shares responsibility for them. But they can be justified in another way: the one who initiates the act takes upon himself both the risk and the guilt. The result is truly magic: each member of the group can repeat the act without guilt.
it does something even more than relieve guilt: it actually transforms the fact of murder. This crucial point initiates us directly into the phenomenology of group transformation of the everyday world. If one murders without guilt, and in imitation of the hero who runs the risk, why then it is no longer murder: it is “holy aggression. For the first one it was not.”21 In other words, participation in the group redistills everyday reality and gives it the aura of the sacred—just as, in childhood, play created a heightened reality.
W. R. Bion, in an important recent paper22 extended this line of thought even further from Freud, arguing that the leader is as much a creature of the group as they of him and that he loses his “individual distinctiveness” by being a leader, as they do by being followers. He has no more freedom to be himself than any other member of the group, precisely because he has to be a reflex of their assumptions in order to qualify for leadership in the first place.
Even when one merges his ego with the authoritarian father, the “spell” is in his own narrow interests. People use their leaders almost as an excuse.
When they give in to the leader’s commands they can always reserve the feeling that these commands are alien to them, that they are the leader’s responsibility, that the terrible acts they are committing are in his name and not theirs.
The Larger View of Transference
the powers of the leader stem from what he can do for people, beyond the magic that he himself possesses. People project their problems onto him, which gives him his role and stature. Leaders need followers as much as they are needed by them: the leader projects onto his followers his own inability to stand alone, his own fear of isolation.
Transference as Fetish Control
transference is fundamentally a problem of courage.30 As we have learned conclusively from Rank and Brown, it is the immortality motive and not the sexual one that must bear the larger burden of our explanation of human passion.
the fatality of transference: when you set up your perception-action world to eliminate what is basic to it (anxiety), then you fundamentally falsify it.
Jung’s view was similar: fascination with someone is basically a matter of … always trying to deliver us into the power of a partner who seems compounded of all the qualities we have failed to realize in ourselves.33 And so was the Adlerian view: [transference] … is basically a maneuver or tactic by which the patient seeks to perpetuate his familiar mode of existence that depends on a continuing attempt to divest himself of power and place it in the hands of the “Other.”34
We can establish our basic organismic footing with hate as well as by submission. In fact, hate enlivens us more, which is why we see more intense hate in the weaker ego states. The only thing is that hate, too, blows the other person up larger than he deserves. As Jung put it, the “negative form of transference in the guise of resistance, dislike, or hate endows the other person with great importance from the start…
Transference as Fear of Life
“… unless we prefer to be made fools of by our illusions, we shall, by carefully analysing every fascination, extract from it a portion of our own personality, like a quintessence, and slowly come to recognize that we meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.”
This is how we can understand the essence of transference: as a taming of terror. Realistically the universe contains overwhelming power. Beyond ourselves we sense chaos. We can’t really do much about this unbelievable power, except for one thing: we can endow certain persons with it.
The child takes natural awe and terror and focusses them on individual beings, which allows him to find the power and the horror all in one place instead of diffused throughout a chaotic universe.
In Rank’s words the transference object comes to represent for the individual “the great biological forces of nature, to which the ego binds itself emotionally and which then form the essence of the human and his fate.”40 By this means, the child can control his fate. As ultimately power means power over life and death, the child can now safely emerge in relation to the transference object. The object becomes his locus of safe operation. All he has to do is conform to it in the ways that he learns; conciliate it if it becomes terrible; use it serenely for automatic daily activities.
The child does partly control his larger fate by it, but it becomes his new fate. He binds himself to one person to automatically control terror, to mediate wonder, and to defeat death by that person’s strength. But then he experiences “transference terror”; the terror of losing the object, of displeasing it, of not being able to live without it. The terror of his own finitude and impotence still haunts him, but now in the precise form of the transference object.
We might better say that transference proves that everyone is neurotic, as it is a universal distortion of reality by the artificial fixation of it. It follows, of course, that the less ego power one has and the more fear, the stronger the transference.
This is a logical fate for the utterly helpless person: the more you fear death and the emptier you are, the more you people your world with omnipotent father-figures, extra-magical helpers.
But Freud is right about tyrannical fathers: the more terrifying the object, the stronger the transference; the more that the powerful object embodies in itself the natural power of the world, the more terrifying it can be, in reality, without any imagination on our part.
Transference as Fear of Death
The castration complex makes the body an object of horror, and it is now the transference object who carries the weight of the abandoned causa-sui project. The child uses him to assure his immortality.
This use of the transference object explains the urge to deification of the other, the constant placing of certain select persons on pedestals, the reading into them of extra powers: the more they have, the more rubs off on us. We participate in their immortality, and so we create immortals.
Every group, however small or great, has, as such, an “individual” impulse for eternalization, which manifests itself in the creation of and care for national, religious, and artistic heroes … the individual paves the way for this collective eternity impulse… .49
have we been astonished by fantastic displays of grief on the part of whole peoples when one of their leaders dies?
The people apprehend, at some dumb level of their personality: “Our locus of power to control life and death can himself die; therefore our own immortality is in doubt.”
When the leader dies the device that one has used to deny the terror of the world instantly breaks down; what is more natural, then, than to experience the very panic that has always threatened in the background?
The Twin Ontological Motives
One thing that has always amazed man is his own inner yearning to be good, an inner sensitivity about the “way things ought to be,” and an excruciatingly warm and melting attraction toward the “rightness” of beauty, goodness, and perfection. We call this inner sensitivity “conscience.”
On the one hand the creature is impelled by a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic process, to merge himself with the rest of nature. On the other hand he wants to be unique, to stand out as something different and apart. The first motive—to merge and lose oneself in something larger—comes from man’s horror of isolation, of being thrust back upon his own feeble energies alone; he feels tremblingly small and impotent in the face of transcendent nature. If he gives in to his natural feeling of cosmic dependence, the desire to be part of something bigger, it puts him at peace and at oneness, gives him a sense of self-expansion in a larger beyond, and so heightens his being, giving him truly a feeling of transcendent value.
Rank said: “For only by living in close union with a god-ideal that has been erected outside one’s own ego is one able to live at all.”
Now we see what we might call the ontological or creature tragedy that is so peculiar to man: If he gives in to Agape he risks failing to develop himself, his active contribution to the rest of life. If he expands Eros too much he risks cutting himself off from natural dependency, from duty to a larger creation; he pulls away from the healing power of gratitude and humility that he must naturally feel for having been created, for having been given the opportunity of life experience.
Man is moral because he senses his true situation and what lies in store for him, whereas other animals don’t. He uses morality to try to get a place of special belongingness and perpetuation in the universe, in two ways. First, he overcomes badness (smallness, unimportance, finitude) by conforming to the rules made by the representatives of natural power (the transference-objects); in this way his safe belongingness is assured.
Second, he attempts to overcome badness by developing a really valuable heroic gift, becoming extra-special.
Do we wonder why one of man’s chief characteristics is his tortured dissatisfaction with himself, his constant self-criticism? It is the only way he has to overcome the sense of hopeless limitation inherent in his real situation. Dictators, revivalists, and sadists know that people like to be lashed with accusations of their own basic unworthiness because it reflects how they truly feel about themselves. The sadist doesn’t create a masochist; he finds him ready-made.
One obviously can’t have merger in the power of another thing and the development of one’s own personal power at the same time, at any rate not without ambivalence and a degree of self-deception. But one can get around the problem in one way: one can, we might say, “control the glaringness of the contradiction.” You can try to choose the fitting kind of beyond, the one in which you find it most natural to practice self-criticism and self-idealization.60 In other words, you try to keep your beyond safe. The fundamental use of transference, of what we could better call “transference heroics,” is the practice of a safe heroism. In it we see the reach of the ontological dualism of motives right into the problem of transference and heroism, and we are now in a position to sum up this matter.
Transference as the Urge to Higher Heroism
Here we come upon the age-old problem of good and evil, originally designating eligibility for immortality, in its emotional significance of being liked or disliked by the other person. On this plane … personality is shaped and formed according to the vital need to please the other person whom we make our “God,” and not incur his or her displeasure. All the twistings of the … self, with its artificial striving for perfection and the unavoidable “relapses” into badness, are the result of these attempts to humanize the spiritual need for goodness.
Transference heroics gives man precisely what he needs: a certain degree of sharply defined individuality, a definite point of reference for his practice of goodness, and all within a certain secure level of safety and control.
If transference represents the natural heroic striving for a “beyond” that gives self-validation and if people need this validation in order to live, then the psychoanalytic view of transference as simply unreal projection is destroyed.66 Projection is necessary and desirable for self-fulfillment. Otherwise man is overwhelmed by his loneliness and separation and negated by the very burden of his own life. As Rank so wisely saw, projection is a necessary unburdening of the individual; man cannot live closed upon himself and for himself. He must project the meaning of his life outward, the reason for it, even the blame for it.
Technically we say that transference is a distortion of reality. But now we see that this distortion has two dimensions: distortion due to the fear of life and death and distortion due to the heroic attempt to assure self-expansion and the intimate connection of one’s inner self to surrounding nature. In other words, transference reflects the whole of the human condition and raises the largest philosophical question about that condition.
This is the most remarkable achievement of the Christian world picture: that it could take slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, and make them all secure heroes, simply by taking a step back from the world into another dimension of things, the dimension called heaven. Or we might better say that Christianity took creature consciousness—the thing man most wanted to deny—and made it the very condition for his cosmic heroism.
The Romantic Solution
The point is that if the love object is divine perfection, then one’s own self is elevated by joining one’s destiny to it.
Modem man’s dependency on the love partner, then, is a result of the loss of spiritual ideologies, just as is his dependency on his parents or on his psychotherapist. He needs somebody, some “individual ideology of justification” to replace the declining “collective ideologies.”
As we know from our own experience this method gives great and real benefits. Is one oppressed by the burden of his life? Then he can lay it at his divine partner’s feet. Is self-consciousness too painful, the sense of being a separate individual, trying to make some kind of meaning out of who one is, what life is, and the like? Then one can wipe it away in the emotional yielding to the partner, forget oneself in the delirium of sex, and still be marvellously quickened in the experience.
Is one weighed down by the guilt of his body, the drag of his animality that haunts his victory over decay and death? But this is just what the comfortable sex relationship is for: in sex the body and the consciousness of it are no longer separated; the body is no longer something we look at as alien to ourselves. As soon as it is fully accepted as a body by the partner, our self-consciousness vanishes; it merges with the body and with the self-consciousness and body of the partner. Four fragments of existence melt into one unity and things are no longer disjointed and grotesque: everything is “natural,” functional, expressed as it should be—and so it is stilled and justified. All the more is guilt wiped away when the body finds its natural usage in the production of a child. Nature herself then proclaims one’s innocence, how fitting it is that one should have a body, be basically a procreative animal.9
But we also know from experience that things don’t work so smoothly or unambiguously. The reason is not far to seek: it is right at the heart of the paradox of the creature. Sex is of the body, and the body is of death.
Animals who procreate, die. Their relatively short life span is somehow connected with their procreation. Nature conquers death not by creating eternal organisms but by making it possible for ephemeral ones to procreate.
If sex is a fulfillment of his role as an animal in the species, it reminds him that he is nothing himself but a link in the chain of being, exchangeable with any other and completely expendable in himself. Sex represents, then, species consciousness and, as such, the defeat of individuality, of personality. But it is just this personality that man wants to develop: the idea of himself as a special cosmic hero with special gifts for the universe.
From the very beginning, then, the sexual act represents a double negation: by physical death and of distinctive personal gifts.
This point is crucial because it explains why sexual taboos have been at the heart of human society since the very beginning. They affirm the triumph of human personality over animal sameness. With the complex codes for sexual self-denial, man was able to impose the cultural map for personal immortality over the animal body.
He brought sexual taboos into being because he needed to triumph over the body, and he sacrificed the pleasures of the body to the highest pleasure of all: self-perpetuation as a spiritual being through all eternity.
Resistance to sex is a resistance to fatality.
The questions about sex that the child asks are thus not—at a fundamental level—about sex at all. They are about the meaning of the body, the terror of living with a body. When the parents give a straightforward biological answer to sexual questions, they do not answer the child’s question at all. He wants to know why he has a body, where it came from, and what it means for a self-conscious creature to be limited by it. He is asking about the ultimate mystery of life, not about the mechanics of sex. As Rank says, this explains why the adults suffer as much from the sexual problem as the child: the “biological solution of the problem of humanity is also ungratifying and inadequate for the adult as for the child.”
The romantic love “cosmology of two” may be an ingenious and creative attempt, but because it is still a continuation of the causa-sui project in this world, it is a lie that must fail.
For one thing, one becomes bound to the object in dependency. One needs it for self-justification. One can be utterly dependent whether one needs the object as a source of strength, in a masochistic way, or whether one needs it to feel one’s own self-expansive strength, by manipulating it sadistically.
If you find the ideal love and try to make it the sole judge of good and bad in yourself, the measure of your strivings, you become simply the reflex of another person. You lose yourself in the other, just as obedient children lose themselves in the family. No wonder that dependency, whether of the god or the slave in the relationship, carries with it so much underlying resentment. As
How can a human being be a god-like “everything” to another? No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood, and the attempt has to take its toll in some way on both parties. The reasons are not far to seek. The thing that makes God the perfect spiritual object is precisely that he is abstract—as Hegel saw.
If your partner is your “All” then any shortcoming in him becomes a major threat to you.
If a woman loses her beauty, or shows that she doesn’t have the strength and dependability that we once thought she did, or loses her intellectual sharpness, or falls short of our own peculiar needs in any of a thousand ways, then all the investment we have made in her is undermined. The shadow of imperfection falls over our lives, and with it—death and the defeat of cosmic heroism. “She lessens” = “I die.” This is the reason for so much bitterness, shortness of temper and recrimination in our daily family lives.
the deflation of the over-invested partner, parent, or friend is a creative act that is necessary to correct the lie that we have been living, to reaffirm our own inner freedom of growth that transcends the particular object and is not bound to it.
Redemption can only come from outside the individual, from beyond, from our conceptualization of the ultimate source of things, the perfection of creation. It can only come, as Rank saw, when we lay down our individuality, give it up, admit our creatureliness and helplessness.24
Even the partner who plays God in the relationship cannot stand it for long, as at some level he knows that he does not possess the resources that the other needs and claims. He does not have perfect strength, perfect assurance, secure heroism. He cannot stand the burden of godhood, and so he must resent the slave. Besides, the uncomfortable realization must always be there: how can one be a genuine god if one’s slave is so miserable and unworthy?
Rank saw too, with the logic of his thought, that the spiritual burdens of the modern love relationship were so great and impossible on both partners that they reacted by completely despiritualizing or depersonalizing the relationship. The result is the Playboy mystique: over-emphasis on the body as a purely sensual object.25 If I can’t have an ideal that fulfills my life, then at least I can have guilt-free sex—so modern man seems to reason. But we can quickly conclude how self-defeating this solution is because it brings us right back to the dreaded equation of sex with inferiority and death, with service to the species and the negation of one’s distinctive personality, the real symbolic heroism.
To want too little from the love object is as self-defeating as to want too much.
The sensualist tries to avoid marriage with all his might, to defeat the species role by making sexuality a purely personal affair of conquests and virility. The romantic rises above marriage and sex by trying to spiritualize his relationship to women. Neither type can understand the other except on the level of elemental physical desire;
As we saw in the previous chapter, people need a “beyond,” but they reach first for the nearest one; this gives them the fulfillment they need but at the same time limits and enslaves them. You can look at the whole problem of a human life in this way. You can ask the question: What kind of beyond does this person try to expand in; and how much individuation does he achieve in it? Most people play it safe: they choose the beyond of standard transference objects like parents, the boss, or the leader; they accept the cultural definition of heroism and try to be a “good provider” or a “solid” citizen. In this way they earn their species immortality as an agent of procreation, or a collective or cultural immortality as part of a social group of some kind.
The problem is further complicated by something that women—like everyone else—are loathe to admit: their own natural inability to stand alone in freedom. This is why almost everyone consents to earn his immortality in the popular ways mapped out by societies everywhere, in the beyonds of others and not their own.
The Creative Solution
out.28 The most terrifying burden of the creature is to be isolated, which is what happens in individuation: one separates himself out of the herd. This move exposes the person to the sense of being completely crushed and annihilated because he sticks out so much, has to carry so much in himself. These are the risks when the person begins to fashion consciously and critically his own framework of heroic self-reference.
Existence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own.
He wants to know how to earn immortality as a result of his own unique gifts. His creative work is at the same time the expression of his heroism and the justification of it.
What right do you have to play God? Especially if your work is great, absolutely new and different. You wonder where to get authority for introducing new meanings into the world, the strength to bear it.
If you are the average man you give your heroic gift to the society in which you live, and you give the gift that society specifies in advance. If you are an artist you fashion a peculiarly personal gift, the justification of your own heroic identity, which means that it is always aimed at least partly over the heads of your fellow men.
the only way out of human conflict is full renunciation, to give one’s life as a gift to the highest powers.
As Kierkegaard, Rank showed that this rule applied to the strongest, most heroic types—not to trembling and empty weaklings. To renounce the world and oneself, to lay the meaning of it to the powers of creation, is the hardest thing for man to achieve—and so it is fitting that this task should fall to the strongest personality type, the one with the largest ego.
the problem of Freud. We know that he was a genius, and we can now see the real problem that genius has: how to develop a creative work with the full force of one’s passion, a work that saves one’s soul, and at the same time to renounce that very work because it cannot by itself give salvation. In the creative genius we see the need to combine the most intensive Eros of self-expression with the most complete Agape of self-surrender.
Here Rank joins Kierkegaard in the belief that one should not stop and circumscribe his life with beyonds that are near at hand, or a bit further out, or created by oneself. One should reach for the highest beyond of religion: man should cultivate the passivity of renunciation to the highest powers no matter how diffcult it is. Anything less is less than full development, even if it seems like weakness and compromise to the best thinkers.
If a thinker throws off too many unsystematic and rich insights, there is no place to grab onto his thought. The thing he is trying to illuminate seems as elusive as before. It is certain that Freud’s prominence is due to no small extent to his ability to make clear, simple, and systematic all of his insights and always to reduce the most complex theory to a few fundamentals.
The Neurotic Type
neurosis is also historical to a large extent, because all the traditional ideologies that disguised and absorbed it have fallen away and modern ideologies are just too thin to contain it. So we have modern man: increasingly slumping onto analysts’ couches, making pilgrimages to psychological guru-centers and joining therapy groups, and filling larger and larger numbers of mental hospital beds.
We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man’s natural substitute for instinct.
In order to function normally, man has to achieve from the beginning a serious constriction of the world and of himself. We can say that the essence of normality is the refusal of reality.
In terms we used earlier we could say that his “safe” heroics is not working out; it is choking him, poisoning him with the dumb realization that it is so safe that it is not heroic at all.
The ironic thing about the narrowing-down of neurosis is that the person seeks to avoid death, but he does it by killing off so much of himself and so large a spectrum of his action-world that he is actually isolating and diminishing himself and becomes as though dead.10
Now we can see how the problem of neurosis can be laid out along the lines of the twin ontological motives: on the one hand, one merges with the world around him and becomes too much a part of it and so loses his own claim to life. On the other hand, one cuts oneself off from the world in order to make one’s own complete claim and so loses the ability to live and act in the world on its terms.
Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection; or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life. In this way he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience.
There is no doubt that creative work is itself done under a compulsion often indistinguishable from a purely clinical obsession. In this sense, what we call a creative gift is merely the social license to be obsessed.
And what we call “cultural routine” is a similar license: the proletariat demands the obsession of work in order to keep from going crazy.
I used to wonder how people could stand the really demonic activity of working behind those hellish ranges in hotel kitchens, the frantic whirl of waiting on a dozen tables at one time, the madness of the travel agent’s office at the height of the tourist season, or the torture of working with a jack-hammer all day on a hot summer street. The answer is so simple that it eludes us: the craziness of these activities is exactly that of the human condition. They are “right” for us because the alternative is natural desperation. The daily madness of these jobs is a repeated vaccination against the madness of the asylum. Look at the joy and eagerness with which workers return from vacation to their compulsive routines. They plunge into their work with equanimity and lightheartedness because it drowns out something more ominous. Men have to be protected from reality.
The Problem of Illusion
The average man is at least secure that the cultural game is the truth, the unshakable, durable truth. He can earn his immortality in and under the dominant immortality ideology, period. It is all so simple and clear-cut.
But now the neurotic: [He] perceives himself as unreal and reality as unbearable, because with him the mechanisms of illusion are known and destroyed by self consciousness. He can no longer deceive himself about himself and disillusions even his own ideal of personality. He perceives himself as bad, guilt laden, inferior, as a small, weak, helpless creature, which is the truth about mankind, as Oedipus also discovered in the crash of his heroic fate. All other is illusion, deception, but necessary deception in order to be able to bear one’s self and thereby life.20
With the truth, one cannot live. To be able to live one needs illusions, not only outer illusions such as art, religion, philosophy, science and love afford, but inner illusions which first condition the outer [i.e., a secure sense of one’s active powers, and of being able to count on the powers of others]. The more a man can take reality as truth, appearance as essence, the sounder, the better adjusted, the happier will he be … this constandy effective process of self-deceiving, pretending and blundering, is no psychopathological mechanism… .24
Cultural illusion is a necessary ideology of self-justification, a heroic dimension that is life itself to the symbolic animal.
Neurosis as Historical
What characterizes modern life is the failure of all traditional immortality ideologies to absorb and quicken man’s hunger for self-perpetuation and heroism.
We still haven’t explained the inner forces of evolution that have led to the development of an animal capable of self-consciousness,
All the analysis in the world doesn’t allow the person to find out who he is and why he is here on earth, why he has to die, and how he can make his life a triumph. It is when psychology pretends to do this, when it offers itself as a full explanation of human unhappiness, that it becomes a fraud that makes the situation of modern man in impasse from which he cannot escape.
If psychology represents the analytic breakdown and dissipation of the self and usually limits the world to the scientific ideology of the therapist, we can see some of the reasons Jung developed his own peculiar ideas. His work represents in part a reaction to the very limitations of psychological analysis. For one thing, he revitalized the inner dimensions of the psyche to secure it against the self-defeating analytic breakdown of it. He deepened it beyond the reaches of analysis by seeing it as a source of self-healing archetypes, of natural renewal, if the patient will only allow it. For another thing, he broadened the psyche beyond its individual base, by turning it into a “collective unconscious.” No matter what the individual did to his psyche he was transcended as an individual by it. In these two ways the person could get his heroic justification from within his own psyche even by analyzing it, in fact, especially by analyzing it! In this way Jung’s system is an attempt to have the advantages of psychological analysis and to negate and transcend them at the same time; to have his cake and eat it too. As Rieff has so compellingly argued, dissatisfaction with and criticism of Jung must stem largely from the impossibility of achieving the psychological redemption of psychological man—as
In this sense, as Rank saw with such deep understanding, psychoanalysis actually stultifies the emotional life of the patient. Man wants to focus his love on an absolute measure of power and value, and the analyst tells him that all is reducible to his early conditioning and is therefore relative. Man wants to find and experience the marvelous, and the analyst tells him how matter-of-fact everything is, how clinically explainable are our deepest ontological motives and guilts. Man is thereby deprived of the absolute mystery he needs, and the only omnipotent thing that then remains is the man who explained it away.37 And so the patient clings to the analyst with all his might and dreads terminating the analysis.
Rank and Kierkegaard: The Merger of Sin and Neurosis
at the very furthest reaches of scientific description, psychology has to give way to “theology”—that is, to a world-view that absorbs the individual’s conflicts and guilt and offers him the possibility for some kind of heroic apotheosis. Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.
man simply cannot justify his own heroism; he cannot fit himself into his own cosmic plan and make it believable. He must live with agonizing doubts if he remains in touch at all with the larger reality.
Thus the plight of modern man: a sinner with no word for it or, worse, who looks for the word for it in a dictionary of psychology and thus only aggravates the problem of his separateness and hyperconsciousness. Again, this impasse is what Rank meant when he called psychology a “preponderantly negative and disintegrating ideology.”
Health as an Ideal
The defeat of despair is not mainly an intellectual problem for an active organism, but a problem of self-stimulation via movement.
Beyond a given point man is not helped by more “knowing,” but only by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way.
As Goethe put it, we must plunge into experience and then reflect on the meaning of it. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad; all plunging and no reflection, and we are brutes.
The customs and myths of traditional society provided a whole interpretation of the meaning of life, ready-made for the individual; all he had to do was to accept living it as true. The modern neurotic must do just this if he is to be “cured”: he must welcome a living illusion.
It is one thing to imagine this “cure,” but it is quite another thing to “prescribe” it to modern man. How hollow it must ring in his ears. For one thing, he can’t get living myth-ritual complexes, the deep-going inherited social traditions that have so far sustained men, on a prescription form from the corner pharmacy. He can’t even get them in mental hospitals or therapeutic communities.
The one thing modern man cannot do is what Kierkegaard prescribed: the lonely leap into faith, the naïve personal trust in some kind of transcendental support for one’s life.
A third problem is that modern man is the victim of his own disillusionment; he has been disinherited by his own analytic strength. The characteristic of the modern mind is the banishment of mystery, of naive belief, of simple-minded hope. We put the accent on the visible, the clear, the cause-and-effect relation, the logical—always the logical. We know the difference between dreams and reality, between facts and fictions, between symbols and bodies. But right away we can see that these characteristics of the modern mind are exactly those of neurosis.
childlike foolishness is the calling of mature men. Just this way Rank prescribed the cure for neurosis: as the “need for legitimate foolishness.”47 The problem of the union of religion, psychiatry, and social science is contained in this one formula.
What is the “best” illusion under which to live? Or, what is the most legitimate foolishness?
We have to look for the answer to the problem of freedom where it is most absent: in the transference, the fatal and crushing enslaver of men. The transference fetishizes mystery, terror, and power; it holds the self bound in its grip. Religion answers directly to the problem of transference by expanding awe and terror to the cosmos where they belong.
Our life ceases to be a reflexive dialogue with the standards of our wives, husbands, friends, and leaders and becomes instead measured by standards of the highest heroism, ideals truly fit to lead us on and beyond ourselves.
Rank saw Christianity as a trutly great ideal foolishness in the sense that we have been discussing it: a childlike trust and hope for the human condition that left open the realm of mystery.
Obviously, all religions fall far short of their own ideals, and Rank was talking about Christianity not as practiced but as an ideal. Christianity, like all religions, has in practice reinforced the regressive transference into an even more choking bind: the fathers are given the sanction of divine authority. But as an ideal, Christianity, on all the things we have listed, stands high, perhaps even highest in some vital ways, as people like Kierkegaard, Chesterton, the Niebuhrs, and so many others have compellingly argued.
Why should someone try to rake this area over again, in what can only be a superficial and simple-minded way? Probably for that very reason: today we need simple-mindedness in order to be able to say anything at all;
The great characteristic of our time is that we know everything important about human nature that there is to know. Yet never has there been an age in which so little knowledge is securely possessed, so little a part of the common understanding. The reason is precisely the advance of specialization, the impossibility of making safe general statements, which has led to a general imbecility.
We saw how complete and complex the transference can be. We obey our authority figures all our lives, as Freud showed, because of the anxiety of separation. Every time we try to do something other than what they wanted, we awaken the anxiety connected with them and their possible loss. To lose their powers and approval is thus to lose our very lives.
Boss says that the terrible guilt feelings of the depressed person are existential, that is, they represent the failure to live one’s own life, to fulfill one’s own potential because of the twisting and turning to be “good” in the eyes of the other. The other calls the tune to one’s eligibility for immortality, and so the other takes up one’s unlived life. Relationship is thus always slavery of a kind, which leaves a residue of guilt. A modern therapist like Frederick Perls actively worked against this tyranny by reminding his patients that “they were not in the world to please their partner, nor he to please them.” It was a way of cutting into the morality of “personal-performance for immortality.”
In short, even if one is a very guilty hero he is at least a hero in the same hero-system. The depressed person uses guilt to hold onto his objects and to keep his situation unchanged. Otherwise he would have to analyze it or be able to move out of it and transcend it. Better guilt than the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility, especially when the choice comes too late in life for one to be able to start over again.
The debt to life has to be paid somehow; one has to be a hero in the best and only way that he can; in our impoverished culture even—as Harrington so truly put it—“if only for his skill at the pinball machine.”
human experience is split into two modes—the symbolic self and the physical body—and that these two modes of experience can be quite distinct. In some people they are so distinct as to be unintegrated, and these are the people we call schizophrenic. The hypersensitive individual reacts to his body as something strange to himself, something utterly untrustworthy, something not under his secure control.
We know today that the cultural sense of space, time, and perception of objects are literally built into the neural structure.16 As the cultural immortality ideology comes to be grounded in one’s muscles and nerves, one lives it naturally, as a secure and confident part of one’s daily action.
Schizophrenia takes the risk of evolution to its furthest point in man: the risk of creating an animal who perceives himself, reflects on himself, and comes to understand that his animal body is a menace to himself.
an attempt at utter symbolic power in the absence of lived physical power. Again, this is what cultural man everywhere strove to achieve, but the “normal” person is neurally programmed so that he feels at least that his body is his to use with confidence.
By pushing the problem of man to its limits, schizophrenia also reveals the nature of creativity. If you are physically unprogrammed in the cultural causa-sui project, then you have to invent your own: you don’t vibrate to anyone else’s tune. You see that the fabrications of those around you are a lie, a denial of truth—a truth that usually takes the form of showing the terror of the human condition more fully than most men experience it. The creative person becomes, then, in art, literature, and religion the mediator of natural terror and the indicator of a new way to triumph over it. He reveals the darkness and the dread of the human condition and fabricates a new symbolic transcendence over it.
The Hermaphroditic Image
the child wants to see the omnipotent mother, the miraculous source of all his protection, nourishment, and love, as a really godlike creature complete beyond the accident of a split into two sexes. The threat of the castrated mother is thus a threat to his whole existence in that his mother is an animal thing and not a transcendent angel.
The fate that he then fears, that turns him away from the mother in horror, is that he too is a “fallen” bodily creature, the very thing that he fights to overcome by his anal training.
The Problem of Personal Freedom versus Species Determinism
Most people, then, avoid extreme fetishism because somehow they get the power to use their bodies “as nature intended.” They fulfill the species role of intercourse with their partner without being massively threatened by it. But when the body does present a massive threat to one’s self, then, logically, the species role becomes a frightening chore, a possibly annihilating experience. If the body is so vulnerable, then one fears dying by participating fully in its acts.
From this vantage point we could look at all perversion as a protest against the submergence of individuality by species standardization.
The problem of self-perpetuation thus presents itself in two distinct forms. One, the body, is standardized and given; the other, the self, is personalized and achieved.
If he procreates bodily he satisfies the problem of succession, but in a more or less standardized species form. Although he perpetuates himself in his offspring, who may resemble him and may carry some of his “blood” and the mystical quality of his family ancestors, he may not feel that he is truly perpetuating his own inner self, his distinctive personality, his spirit, as it were. He wants to achieve something more than a mere animal succession.
apparently, homosexuality has nothing to do with the sex organs of the beloved but rather represents a struggle to create one’s own rebirth in the “closest possible likeness,” which, as Rank says, is obviously to be found in one’s own sex.
to create all by oneself a spiritual, intellectual, and physically similar replica of oneself: the perfectly individualized self-perpetuation or immortality symbol.
the castration complex represents the admission by the child that his animal body is a bankrupt causa-sui project,
The pervert is the clumsy artist trying desperately for a counter-illusion that preserves his individuality—but from within a limited talent and powers: hence the fear of the sexual role, of being gobbled up by the woman, carried away by one’s own body, and so on.
the childhood experience is crucial in developing a secure sense of one’s body, firm identification with the father, strong ego control over oneself, and dependable interpersonal skills. Only if one achieves these can he “do the species role” in a self-forgetful way, a way that does not threaten to submerge him with annihilation anxiety.
there are several ways to overcome the sense of sex as a species-standardization threat to oneself, most of which lie on a spectrum of desperation and ingenuity, rather than self-confidence and control. The most ideal way, the “highest” way, is of course in the experience of love. Here, one identifies with the partner totally and banishes the threat of separateness, helplessness, anxious self-consciousness visà-vis the body. The lover gives himself in joy and self-forgetful fulfillment, the body becomes the treasured vehicle for one’s apotheosis, and one experiences real gratitude precisely to the species sameness. One is glad to have a standardized body because it permits the love union.
But even without ideal love, one can give in to strong physical desire and allow himself to be “carried away” in a self-forgetful manner, so that the species is no threat to one’s distinctive inner self. We see this in phallic narcissism and in some forms of what is called “nymphomania.” Here the person seems to give in to the species identity with a vengeance, to submerge himself in it totally. Perhaps this activity gives the person a relief from the burdens of his self and his dualism. It may often be what the psychoanalysts call a “counter-phobic” attitude: to embrace wholeheartedly just what one dreads, as a means of protesting that it holds no anxiety.
it must also represent the plunging into the “truth” of the body, the affirmation of the physical as the primary area of reality, as Fromm has so well speculated.
The Fetish Object and the Dramatization
No wonder fetishism is universal, as Freud himself remarked: all cultural contrivances are self-hypnotic devices—from motorcars to moon rockets—ways that a sorely limited animal can drum up to fascinate himself with the powers of transcendence over natural reality. As no one can be exactly comfortable in the species submergence of his distinctive inner self, all of us use a bit of magical charming in our relations to the world.
Transvestites believe that they can transform animal reality by dressing it in cultural clothing—exactly as men everywhere do who dress pompously to deny, as Montaigne put it, that they sit “on their arse” just like any animal, no matter how grandiose the throne.
desire itself has to be fetishized. We cannot relate to the total object as it is, and thus we need standardized definitions of sexual attractiveness. These we get in the form of “cues” that serve to cut the object down to manageable size: we look at the breast or the black underwear, which allow us not really to have to take account of the total person we are relating to.
The Naturalness of Sado-Masochism
Have we always been puzzled by how willingly the masochist experiences pain? Well, for one thing pain calls the body to the forefront of experience. It puts the person back into the center of things forcefully as a feeling animal. It is thus a natural complement to sadism. Both are techniques for experiencing forceful self-feeling, now in outer-directed action, now in passive suffering.
Mental Illness as Failed Heroics
Finally, then, we can see how truly inseparable are the domains of psychiatry and religion, as they both deal with human nature and the ultimate meaning of life. To leave behind stupidity is to becomes aware of life as a problem of heroics, which inevitably becomes a reflection about what life ought to be in its ideal dimensions. From this point of view we can see that the perversions of “private religions” are not “false” in comparison to “true religions.” They are simply less expansive, less humanly noble and responsible.
If there is any science man really needs it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in creation that is assigned to man, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be a man. —IMMANUEL KANT
My point is that for man not everything is possible.
The most one can achieve is a certain relaxedness, an openness to experience that makes him less of a driven burden on others.
can one be a saint and still organize scientific movements of world-historical importance? How does one lean on God and give over everything to Him and still stand on his own feet as a passionate human being?
The Impossible Heroism
But the dedicated social revolutionary who wants a new world and a new man more than anything else can’t accept the reality that he himself sees. He still believes in the possibility of some kind of “final liberation,” which also rings like the hollow, passing thought that it is.
repression is not falsification of the world, it is “truth”—the only truth that man can know, because he cannot experience everything.
The Limits of Psychotherapy
there really was no way to overcome the real dilemma of existence, the one of the mortal animal who at the same time is conscious of his mortality.
Only angels know unrelieved joy—or are able to stand it. Yet we see the books by the mind-healers with their garish titles: “Joy!” “Awakening,” and the like; we see them in person in lecture halls or in groups, beaming their peculiar brand of inward, confident well-being, so that it communicates its unmistakable message: we can do this for you, too, if you will only let us. I have never seen or heard them communicate the dangers of the total liberation that they claim to offer; say, to put up a small sign next to the one advertising joy, carrying some inscription like “Danger: real probability of the awakening of terror and dread, from which there is no turning back.” It would be honest and would also relieve them of some of the guilt of the occasional suicide that takes place in therapy.
Commercial industrialism promised Western man a paradise on earth, described in great detail by the Hollywood Myth, that replaced the paradise in heaven of the Christian myth. And now psychology must replace them both with the myth of paradise through self-knowledge. This is the promise of psychology, and for the most part the psychotherapists are obliged to live it and embody it. But it was Rank who saw how false this claim is. “Psychology as self-knowledge is self-deception,” he said, because it does not give what men want, which is immortality.
take psychology and deepen it with religious and metaphysical associations so that it becomes actually a religious belief system with some breadth and depth. At the same time, the psychotherapist himself beams out the steady and quiet power of transference and becomes the guru-figure of the religion. No wonder we are seeing such a proliferation of psychological gurus in our time. It is the perfect and logical development of the fetishization of psychology as a belief system.
It is no coincidence that one of the very popular forms of therapy today—called Gestalt therapy—for the most part ignores the problem of transference, as though one can shoo it away by turning one’s back on it.30 Actually, what is happening is that the aura of guru infallibility remains intact and provides an automatic shelter for the patient’s deep yearnings for safety and security. It is no accident, either, that the therapists who practice these guru therapies cultivate themselves with halo-like beards and hairdos, to look the part they play.
The thing about transference is that it takes root very subtly, all the while that the person seems to be squarely on his own feet. A person can be indoctrinated into a world-view that he comes to believe without suspecting that he may have embraced it because of his relationship to a therapist or a master.
The theory is that as one progressively peels away the social façade, the character defenses, the unconscious anxieties, he then gets down to his “real self,” the source of vitality and creativity behind the neurotic shield of character. In order to make psychology a complete belief system, all the therapist has to do is to borrow words for the inner depths of the personality from traditional mystical religions: it can be called, variously, “the great void,” the “inner room” of Taoism, the “realm of essence,” the source of things, the “It,” the “Creative Unconscious,” or whatever. The whole thing seems very logical, factual, and true to nature: man peels away his armor and unfolds his inner self, primal energies from the ground of his being in which he takes root. The person is, after all, not his own creator; he is sustained at all times by the workings of his physiochemistry—and, beneath that, of his atomic and subatomic structure. These structures contain within themselves the immense powers of nature, and so it seems logical to say that we are being constantly “created and sustained” out of the “invisible void.” How can one be betrayed by therapy if he is being brought back to primary realities? It is obvious from techniques like Zen that the initiation into the world of the “It” takes place by a process of breakdown and reintegration. This process is much like Western therapy wherein the mask of society is peeled away and the drivenness is relaxed. In Zen, however, it is the primal powers that now are supposed to take over, to act through the person as he opens himself up for them; he becomes their tool and their vehicle. In Zen archery, for example, the archer no longer himself shoots the arrow at the target, but “It” shoots; the interior of nature erupts into the world through the disciple’s perfect selflessness and releases the string. First the disciple has to go through a long process of attuning himself to his own interior, which takes place by means of a long subjection to a master, to whom one remains a lifelong disciple, a convert to his world-view.
From all Hindu discipleship too, the person comes away with a master without whom, usually, he is lost and cannot function; he needs the master himself periodically, or his picture, or his messages through the mail, or at least the exact technique that the master used: the headstands, the breathing, and so on. These become the fetishized, magical means of recapturing the power of the transference figure, so that when one does them, all is well. The disciple can now stand on “his own” feet, be “his own” person.
The fusion of psychology and religion is thus not only logical, it is necessary if the religion is to work. There is no way of standing on one’s own center without outside support, only now this support is made to seem to come from the inside. The person is conditioned to function under his own control, from his own center, from the spiritual powers that well up within him. Actually, of course, the support comes from the transference certification by the guru that what the disciple is doing is true and good. Even reconditioning body-therapies like that of the once-noted F. M. Alexander today liberally sprinkle their therapy with ideas from Zen and cite their affinity to people like Gurdjieff. There seems no way to get the body to reintegrate without giving it some kind of magical sustaining power; at least, there is no better way to win full discipleship to a religion than by making it frankly religious.
How can the person be left there trembling and alone? Offer him the possibility of mystical contact with the void of creation, the power of “It,” his likeness to God, or at the very least the support of a guru who will vouch for these things in his own overpowering and harmonious-appearing person.
To talk about hope is to give the right focus to the problem. It helps us understand why even the thinkers of great stature who got at the heart of human problems could not rest content with the view of the tragical nature of man’s lot that this knowledge gives.
The Limits of Human Nature
In our earlier discussion of what is possible for man, we said that a person is stuck with his character, that he can’t evolve beyond it or without it. If there is a limit to what man can be, we now also must conclude that there is a limit even to what religious therapy can do for him. But the psychotherapeutic religionists are claiming just the opposite: that the life force can miraculously emerge from nature, can transcend the body it uses as a vehicle, and can break the bounds of human character. They claim that man as he now is can be merely a vehicle for the emergence of something totally new, a vehicle that can be transcended by a new form of human life.
how can an ego-controlled animal change his structure; how can a self-conscious creature change the dilemma of his existence? There is simply no way to transcend the limits of the human condition or to change the psychological structural conditions that make humanity possible. What can it mean for something new to emerge from such an animal and to triumph over his nature? Even though men have repeated such a notion since the most ancient times and in the most subtle and weightiest ways, even though whole movements of social action as well as thought have been inspired by such ideas, still they are mere fancy—as Passmore has so well reminded us. I myself have been fond of using ideas like the developing “spirit” of man and the promise of “new birth,” but I don’t think I ever meant them to conjure up a new creature; rather, I was thinking more of new birth bringing new adaptations, new creative solutions to our problems, a new openness in dealing with stale perceptions about reality, new forms of art, music, literature, architecture that would be a continual transformation of reality—but behind it all would be the same type of evolutionary creature, making his own peculiar responses to a world that continued to transcend him.
task.38 This accent on human effort, vision, and hope in order to help shape reality seems to me largely to exonerate Fromm from the charges that he really is a “rabbi at heart” who is impelled to redeem man and cannot let the world be. If the alternative is fatalistic acceptance of the present human condition, then each of us is a rabbi—or had better be.
task.38 This accent on human effort, vision, and hope in order to help shape reality seems to me largely to exonerate Fromm from the charges that he really is a “rabbi at heart” who is impelled to redeem man and cannot let the world be. If the alternative is fatalistic acceptance of the present human condition, then each of us is a rabbi—or had better be. But once we say this, once we make a pragmatic argument for creative myth, it does not let us off the hook so easily about the nature of the real world. It only makes us more uncomfortable with the therapeutic religionists. If you are going to have a myth of New Being, then, like Tillich, you have to use this myth as a call to the highest and most difficult effort—and not to simple joy. A creative myth is not simply a relapse into comfortable illusion; it has to be as bold as possible in order to be truly generative.
What singles out Tillich’s cogitations about the New Being is that there is no nonsense here. Tillich means that man has to have the “courage to be” himself, to stand on his own feet, to face up to the eternal contradictions of the real world. The bold goal of this kind of courage is to absorb into one’s own being the maximum amount of nonbeing. As a being, as an extension of all of Being, man has an organismic impulsion: to take into his own organization the maximum amount of the problematic of life. His daily life, then, becomes truly a duty of cosmic proportions, and his courage to face the anxiety of meaninglessness becomes a true cosmic heroism. No longer does one do as God wills, set over against some imaginary figure in heaven. Rather, in one’s own person he tries to achieve what the creative powers of emergent Being have themselves so far achieved with lower forms of life: the overcoming of that which would negate life.
Transference, even after we admit its necessary and ideal dimensions, reflects some universal betrayal of man’s own powers, which is why he is always submerged by the large structures of society. He contributes to the very things that enslave him. The critique of guru therapies also comes to rest here: you can’t talk about an ideal of freedom in the same breath that you willingly give it up. This fact turned Koestler against the East,39 just as it also led Tillich to argue so penetratingly that Eastern mysticism is not for Western man. It is an evasion of the courage to be; it prevents the absorption of maximum meaninglessness into oneself.40† Tillich’s point is that mystical experience seems to be near to perfect faith but is not. Mysticism lacks precisely the element of skepticism, and skepticism is a more radical experience, a more manly confrontation of potential meaninglessness. Even more, we must not forget that much of the time, mysticism as popularly practised is fused with a sense of magical omnipotence: it is actually a manic defense and a denial of creatureliness.
the therapeutic revolution raises two great problems. The first is how mature, critical, and sober these new liberated people will be. How much have they pushed in the direction of genuine freedom; how much have they avoided the real world and its problems, their own bitter paradoxes; how much have they hedged on their liberation by still holding on to others, to illusions, or to certainties? If the Freudian revolution in modern thought can mean anything at all, it must be that it brings to birth a new level of introspection as well as social criticism.
But this brings up the second great problem raised by the therapeutic revolution, namely, So What? Even with numerous groups of really liberated people, at their best, we can’t imagine that the world will be any pleasanter or less tragic a place. It may even be worse in still unknown ways. As Tillich warned us, New Being, under the conditions and limitations of existence, will only bring into play new and sharper paradoxes, new tensions, and more painful disharmonies—a “more intense demonism.” Reality is remorseless because gods do not walk upon the earth; and if men could become noble repositories of great gulfs of nonbeing, they would have even less peace than we oblivious and driven madmen have today.
Men are doomed to live in an overwhelmingly tragic and demonic world. The Fusion of Science and Religion
The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer.
Not even psychology should meddle with this sacrosanct vitality, concluded Rank. This is the meaning of his option for the “irrational” as the basis for life; it is an option based on empirical experience. There is a driving force behind a mystery that we cannot understand, and it includes more than reason alone. The
Science, after all, is a credo that has attempted to absorb into itself and to deny the fear of life and death; and it is only one more competitor in the spectrum of roles for cosmic heroics. Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget. Or, alternatively, he buries himself in psychology in the belief that awareness all by itself will be some kind of magical cure for his problems. But psychology was born with the breakdown of shared social heroisms; it can only be gone beyond with the creation of new heroisms that are basically matters of belief and will, dedication to a vision.