this is a collection of writings by study group attendees on the study group, what a few people thought newcomers (or interested people) would find helpful to know. how would you say they/we got it right and/or wrong? what would you say are the good and bad points about the group?
we seem to be having a run of radical writings, and then radical critiques of them.
this week we’re (re)reading Call, and next week we’ll look at a critique of the invisible committee/tiqqun, reading an excerpt of a book from the italian, To The Customers…
Nothing is missing from the triumph of civilization. Neither political terror nor emotional poverty. Nor universal sterility.
The desert can no longer expand: it is everywhere. But it can still deepen.
Faced with the obviousness of the catastrophe, there are those who become indignant and those who take note, those who denounce and those who get organized. We are on the side of those who get organized.
[From the first issue of Blasphegme: An anarchist broadsheet on the walls of Paris. It’s been getting pasted up around the city in the past month. The biggest difficulty faced by anarchist counter-info projects is often distribution — how to get texts into the hands of people who will be interested in them? Using posters as a way of distributing long-format texts has definitely been tried before, either by connecting to a website or by keeping things short enough to fit, but it’s an interesting idea that’s worth experimenting with more.]
“I spit on your idols, I spit on your gods, I spit on the homeland […] I spit on your flags, I spit on capital and the golden calf, I spit on all religions: they’re jokes, I don’t give a shit about them, I don’t give a damn. They only exist because of you, leave them and they’ll fall apart.
You’re resigned, but you’re a force — you don’t even know it, but you’re a force nonetheless, and I cannot spit on you, I can only hate you… or love you. Beyond all my other desires, I want to see you shaken from your resignation in a terrible awakening into life. There is no future paradise, there is no future, there is only the present.”
Albert Libertad, To the Resigned, 1905
Blasphegme: A neologisme designating a blasphemy delivered in the form of spit (or phlegm) on all religions, whether monotheist or polytheist, whether the religion of the state or of capital, the religion of work or of the ego.
The blasphegme spits in the face of all gods and of all prophets, with no distinction between the various collective delusions that poison us, that keep us in awe of a higher power before which we must kneel.
The blasphegme is the individual expression of non-resignation in the face of a society that leaves us no time to breathe, using the power dynamics between individuals to keep the cattle calm, too busy competing and acting out our frustrations, products of lives that have known only the coercion of laws made to regulate social life.
This journal aims to agitate, to spread anarchist ideas, to spread seeds of subversion in a daily life as boxed-in as graph paper.
We’re not trying to teach, rather we hope to spark debates on the ideas that matter to us and that seem essential for any individual seeking to liberate themselves, here and now, from all that shackles that keep us from soaring high.
Emmaüs: Profiting off misery
Four people will be appearing in appeals court on October 3 in Paris, following some events in the summer of 2015 in a shelter operated by Emmaüs on rue Pernety in the 19th arrondissement. A group of migrants, sick of the scorn of this charitable organization that makes money off their situation, decided to block the entrance of the building with the help of a few others acting in solidarity. Like a good charity, Emmaüs called the cops, crying about illegal confinement, which lead to one migrant and three supporters being held in investigative detention before being released on bail and later being handed a four-month conditional sentence, plus fines, in October 2015.
To be clear, Emmaüs is the company put in charge of the migrant issue by Paris city hall, taking over the sites that the government sets up and working to prevent all struggle, sorting and dispersing migrants, or even collaborating in their incarceration in detention centres.
But Emmaüs is also known for its charitable work. It manages a big block of rent-controlled housing in Ile-de-France (1) and there too is known for its desire to force poor people into ever greater misery in order to make a profit. Kicking out tenants, raising rents… usual speculator tactics. That said, we know this organization mostly for its “communities” where they exploit homeless people, called “companions”, offering them shelter and a meal in place of a wage. The strict rules can see “companions” thrown out in the middle of winter if they’re suspected of not obeying. As well, let’s remember that the Emmaüs stores depend on the work of “companions” and make a profit by selling donated or scavenged stuff to poor people.
For this reason, Emmaüs deserves to join the Vultures of Misery club, alongside The Red Cross, France Land of Refuge, the Salvation army, and all the other humanitarian organizations that prosper on the backs of the poor.
The party’s already over?
(excerpt from a poster seen in the streets of Paris these past months)
We’ve had a good time running through the streets these past months, trying to subvert our existing lives and these modern, sanitized cities, these showpieces of capitalism and the society of control.
We didn’t give a shit about this law, just like the results of a presidential election or of a football match, because we don’t want to work, period. We don’t accept our exploitation, whether or not its facilitated by this law.
So why wait for the next “movement” to have fun, when all we have to do is to continue what we started these past months? Why should we each return to our own isolation, submerged in the various alienations that distract us from our self-destructive boredom and loneliness, when we’ve seen that so many of us want to attack the existing world? This society tries to break us down a little more each day, and to frighten away those who have decided they can no longer accept this comedy, no longer blindly follow the union march and the marching orders of good citizens, no longer accept states of emergency, or, for that matter, any states at all.
We have discovered, or rediscovered, what it means to run across the pavement, to play in spaces where policing controls our every movement. We knew that this society of misery depended on our servitude, and our fear of cops, but we’ve learned that we are strong enough to overturn it, that they can’t prevent us from playing like wild children who destroy everything they pass.
We’re off to such a good start, let’s not trade any piece of the present for a fictional tomorrow, and let’s not surrender anything of this moment for the winds of the future!
Solidarity with all those arrested these past months!
Some summer notes
This summer, some sparks of revolt flickered here and there, sending a clear message to power that attack against the established order doesn’t take vacations!
The riot is the most beautiful street art … The art festival on Aurillac street happens each summer and, like last year, took a rather subversive turn. Following a collective refusal by some people to be searched at the entrance to the festival, some cheerful revellers tried to change the tone of the party and to spread their hatred of this society among those in attendance.
Tags against fundamentalists … Twice in July and August in Besançon, anti-religious tags were thrown up on the walls of buildings belonging to a catholic fundamentalist organization, known for its actions against abortion and contraception. Here’s a small selection of the messages left for these religious reactionaries: “Down with robes, up with rubbers”, “No gods no masters” and “Catholic Fascists, out of our lives”(2).
The MEDEF deprived of golf … In Chailly-sur-Armaçon, in Côte d’Or, the golf course that was going to host a tournament for members of the MEDEF (3) was trashed. Two banners were left behind, reading “Done playing” and “200 € = one round of golf or one month of misery”
…and all the rest. We don’t have enough space here to list all the other attacks carried out over the holidays, but we’ve observed that everywhere it’s the cops, the offices of political parties (the Socialist Party, the National Front) (4), banks, schools, journalists, etc who take the blows of those whose hatred of this society is not held back by summer.
1) The province that contains Paris
2) Two of these slogans rhyme in french: the first one, capote (skullcap) rhymes with calotte (condom) ; in the third one, the expression uses abbreviations, “cathos fachos”
3) The acronym translates as the Mouvement for French Business, it’s a lobby group for bosses, very influential
4) The socialist party (partie socialiste, PS) is currently in power. The National Front (Front National, FN) is a far-right party
chapter 3 from Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, and some questions:
The Origin of Repressive Civilization (Phylogenesis)
The quest for the origin of repression leads back to the origin of instinctual repression, which occurs during early childhood. The superego is the heir of the Oedipus complex, and the repressive organization of sexuality is chiefly directed against its pregenital and perverse manifestations. Moreover, the “trauma of birth” releases the first expressions of the death instinct — the impulse to return to the Nirvana of the womb —and necessitates the subsequent controls of this impulse. It is in the child that the reality principle completes its work, with such thoroughness and severity that the mature individual’s behavior is hardly more than a repetitive pattern of childhood experiences and reactions. But the childhood experiences which become traumatic under the impact of reality are pre-individual, generic: with individual variations, the protracted dependence of the human infant, the Oedipus situation, and pregenital sexuality all belong to the genus man. Moreover, the unreasonable severity of the superego of the neurotic personality, the unconscious sense of guilt and the unconscious need for punishment, seem to be out of proportion with the actual “sinful” impulses of the individual; the perpetuation tion and (as we shall see) intensification of the sense of guilt throughout maturity, the excessively repressive organization of sexuality, cannot be adequately explained in terms of the still acute danger of individual impulses. Nor can the individual reactions to early traumata be adequately explained by “what the individual himself has experienced”; they deviate from individual experiences “in a way that would accord much better with their being reactions to genetic events” and in general they can be explained only “through such an influence.”1 The analysis of the mental structure of the personality is thus forced to regress behind early childhood, from the prehistory of the individual to that of the genus. In the personality, according to Otto Rank, there operates a “biological sense of guilt” which stands for the demands of the species. The moral principles “which the child imbibes from the persons responsible for its upbringing during the first years of its life “reflect” certain phylogenetic echoes of primitive man.”2 Civilization is still determined by its archaic heritage, and this heritage, so Freud asserts, includes “not only dispositions, but also ideational contents, memory traces of the experiences of former generations.” Individual psychology is thus in itself group psychology in so far as the individual itself still is in archaic identity with the species. This archaic heritage bridges the “gap between individual and mass psychology.”3
This conception has far-reaching implications for the method and substance of social science. As psychology tears the ideological veil and traces the construction of the personality, it is led to dissolve the individual: his autonomous personality appears as the frozenmanifestation of the general repression of mankind. Self-consciousness and reason, which have conquered and shaped the historical world, have done so in the image of repression, internal and external. They have worked as the agents of domination; the liberties which they have brought (and these are considerable) grew in the soil of enslavement and have retained the mark of their birth. These are the disturbing implications of Freud’s theory of the personality. By “dissolving” the idea of the ego-personality into its primary components, psychology now bares the sub-individual and pre-individual factors which (largely unconscious to the ego) actually make the individual: it reveals the power of the universal in and over the individuals.
This disclosure undermines one of the strongest ideological fortifications of modern culture — namely, the notion of the autonomous individual. Freud’s theory here joins the great critical efforts to dissolve ossified sociological concepts into their historical content. His psychology does not focus on the concrete and complete personality as it exists in its private and public environment, because this existence conceals rather than reveals the essence and nature of the personality. It is the end result of long historical processes which are congealed in the network of human and institutional entities making up society, and these processes define the personality and its relationships. Consequently, to understand them for what they really are, psychology must unfreezethem by tracing their hidden origins. In doing so, psychology discovers that the determining childhood experiences are linked with the experiences of the species — that the individual lives the universal fate of mankind. The past defines the present because mankind has not yet mastered its own history. To Freud, the universal fate is in the instinctual drives, but they are themselves subject to historical “modifications.” At their beginning is the experience of domination, symbolized by the primal father — the extreme Oedipus situation. It is never entirely overcome: the mature ego of the civilized personality still preserves the archaic heritage of man.
If this dependency of the ego is not kept in mind, the increased emphasis in Freud’s later writings on the autonomy of the mature ego might be abused as justification for abandoning the most advanced conceptions of psychoanalysis — a retreat undertaken by the cultural and interpersonal schools. In one of his last papers,4 Freud proposes that not all modifications of the ego are “acquired during the defensive conflicts of early childhood”; he suggests that “each individual ego is endowed from the beginning with its own peculiar dispositions and tendencies,” that there exist “primary congenital variations in the ego.” However, this new autonomy of the ego seems to turn into its opposite: far from retracting the notion of the ego’s essential dependency on pre-individual,generic constellations, Freud strengthens the role of these constellations in the development of the ego. For he interprets the congenital variations of the ego in terms of “our ‘archaic heritage’” and he thinks that “even before the ego exists, its subsequent lines of development, tendencies and reactions are already determined.”5 Indeed, the apparent renaissance of the ego is accompanied by the accentuation of the “deposits from primitive human development present in our archaic heritage.” When Freud concludes from the congenital structure of the ego that the “topographical differentiation between ego and id loses much of its value for our investigation,” then this assimilation of ego and id seems to alter the balance between the two mental forces in favor of the id rather than the ego, the generic rather than the individual processes.6
No part of Freud’s theory has been more strongly rejected than the idea of the survival of the archaic heritage—his reconstruction of the prehistory of mankind from the primal horde through patricide to civilization. The difficulties in scientific verification and even in logical consistency are obvious and perhaps insurmountable. Moreover, theyare reinforced by the taboos which the Freudian hypothesis so effectively violates: it does not lead back to the image of a paradise which man has forfeited by his sin against God but to the domination of man by man, established by a very earthly father-despot and perpetuated by the unsuccessful or uncompleted rebellion against him. The “original sin” was against man — and it was no sin because it was committed against one who was himself guilty. And this phylogenetic hypothesis reveals that mature civilization is still conditioned by archaic mental immaturity. The memory of prehistoric impulses and deeds continues to haunt civilization: the repressed material returns, and the individual is still punished for impulses long since mastered and deeds long since undone.
If Freud’s hypothesis is not corroborated by any anthropological evidence, it would have to be discarded altogether except for the fact that it telescopes, in a sequence of catastrophic events, the historical dialectic of domination and thereby elucidates aspects of civilization hitherto unexplained. We use Freud’s anthropological speculation only in this sense: for its symbolic value. The archaic events that the hypothesisstipulates may forever be beyond the realm of anthropological verification; the alleged consequences of these events are historical facts, and their interpretation in the light of Freud’s hypothesis lends them a neglected significance which points to the historical future. If the hypothesis defies common sense, it claims, in its defiance, a truth which common sense has been trained to forget.
In Freud’s construction, the first human group was established and sustained by the enforced rule of one individual over all others. At one time in the life of the genus man, life was organized by domination. And the man who succeeded in dominating the others was the father — that is to say, the man who possessed the desired women and who had, with them, produced and kept alive the sons and daughters. The father monopolized for himself the woman (the supreme pleasure) and subjugated the other members of the horde to his power. Did he succeed in establishing his dominion because he succeeded in excluding them from supreme pleasure? In any case, for the group as a whole, the monopolization of pleasure meant an unequal distribution of pain:… the fate of the sons was a hard one; if they excited the father’s jealousy they were killed or castrated or driven out. They were forced to live in small communities and to provide themselves with wives by stealing them from others.”7 The burden of whatever work had to be done in the primal horde would have been placed on the sons who, by their exclusion from the pleasure reserved for the father, had now become “free” for the channeling of instinctual energy into unpleasurable but necessary activities. The constraint on the gratification of instinctual needs imposed by the father, the suppression of pleasure, thus not only was the result of domination but also created the mental preconditions for the continued functioning of domination.
In this organization of the primal horde, rationality and irrationality, biological and sociological factors, the common and the particular interest are inextricably intertwined. The primal horde is a temporarily functioning group, which sustains itself in some sort of order; it may therefore be assumed that the patriarchal despotism which established this order was “rational” to the extent to which it created and preserved the group — thereby the reproduction of the whole and the common interest. Setting the model for the subsequent development of civilization, the primal father prepared the ground for progress through enforced constraint on pleasure and enforced abstinence; he thus created the first preconditions for the disciplined “labor force” of the future. Moreover, this hierarchical division of pleasure was “justified” by protection, security, and even love: because the despot was the father, the hatred with which his subjects regarded him must from the beginning have been accompanied by a biological affection — ambivalent emotions which were expressed in the wish to replace and to imitate the father, to identify oneself with him, with his pleasure as well as with his power. The father establishes domination in his own interest, but in doing so he is justified by his age, by his biological function, and (most of all) by his success: he creates that “order” without which the group would immediately dissolve. In this role, the primal father foreshadows the subsequent domineering father-images under which civilization progressed. In his person and function, he incorporates the inner logic and necessity of the reality principle itself. He has “historical rights.”8
…one or the other son might succeed in attaining a situation similar to that of the father in the original horde. One favoured position came about in a natural way: it was that of the youngest son, who, protected by his mother’s love, could profit by his father’s advancing years and replace him after his death.9
Primal patriarchal despotism thus became an “effective” order. But the effectiveness of the superimposed organization of the horde must have been very precarious, and consequently the hatred against patriarchal suppression very strong. In Freud’s construction, this hatred culminates in the rebellion of the exiled sons, the collective killing and devouring of the father, and the establishment of the brother clan, which in turn deifies the assassinated father and introduces those taboos and restraints which, according to Freud, generate social morality. Freud’s hypothetical history of the primal horde treats the rebellion of the brothers as a rebellion against the father’s taboo on the women of the horde; no “social” protest against the unequal division of pleasure is involved. Consequently, in a strict sense, civilization begins only in the brother clan, when the taboos, now self-imposed by the ruling brothers, implement repression in the common interest of preserving the group as a whole. And the decisive psychological event which separates the brother clan from the primal horde is the development of guilt feeling. Progress beyond the primal horde — i.e., civilization — presupposes guilt feeling: it introjects into the individuals, and thus sustains, the principal prohibitions, constraints, and delays in gratification on which civilization depends.
It is a reasonable surmise that after the killing of the father a time followed when the brothers quarrelled among themselves for the succession, which each of them wanted to obtain for himself alone. They came to see that these fights were as dangerous as they were futile. This hard-won understanding — as well as the memory of the deed of liberation they had achieved together and the attachment that had grown up among them during the time of their exile — led at last to a union among them, a sort of social contract. Thus there came into being the first form of a social organization accompanied by a renunciation of instinctual gratification; recognition of mutual obligations; institutions declared sacred, which could not be broken — in short, the beginnings of morality and law.10
The rebellion against the father is rebellion against biologically justified authority; his assassination destroys the order which has preserved the life of the group. The rebels have committed a crime against the whole and thereby also against themselves. They are guilty before the others and before themselves, and they must repent. The assassination of the father is the supreme crime because the father established the order of reproductive sexuality and thus is, in his person, the genus which creates and preserves all individuals. The patriarch, father and tyrant in one, unites sex and order, pleasure and reality; he evokes love and hatred; heguarantees the biological and sociological basis on which the history of mankind depends. The annihilation of his person threatens to annihilate lasting group life itself and to restore the prehistoric and subhistoric destructive force of the pleasure principle. But the sons want the same thing as the father: they want lasting satisfaction of their needs. They can attain this objective only by repeating, in a new form, the order of domination which had controlled pleasure and thereby preserved the group. The father survives as the god in whose adoration the sinners repent so that they can continue to sin, while the new fathers secure those suppressions of pleasure which are necessary for preserving their rule and their organization of the group. The progress from domination by one to domination by several involves a “social spread” of pleasure and makes repression self-imposed in the ruling group itself: all its members have to obey the taboos if they want to maintain their rule. Repression now permeates the life of the oppressors themselves, and part of their instinctual energy becomes available for sublimation in “work.”
At the same time, the taboo on the women of the clan leads toexpansion and amalgamation with other hordes; organized sexuality begins that formation of larger units which Freud regarded as the function of Eros in civilization. The role of the women gains increasing importance. “A good part of the power which had become vacant through the father’s death passed to the women; the time of the matriarchate followed.”11 It seems essential for Freud’s hypothesis that in the sequence of the development toward civilization the matriarchal period is preceded by primal patriarchal despotism: the low degree of repressive domination, the extent of erotic freedom, which are traditionally associated with matriarchy appear, in Freud’s hypothesis, as consequences of the overthrow of patriarchal despotism rather than as primary “natural” conditions. In the development of civilization, freedom becomes possible only as liberation. Liberty follows domination — and leads to the reaffirmation of domination. Matriarchy is replaced by a patriarchal counter-revolution, and the latter is stabilized by the institutionalization of religion.
During that time a great social revolution had taken place. Matriarchy was followed by a restitution of the patriarchal order.The new fathers, it is true, never succeeded to the omnipotence of the primeval father. There were too many of them and they lived in larger communities than the original horde had been; they had to get on with one another and were restricted by social institutions.12
Male gods at first appear as sons by the side of the great mother-deities, but gradually they assume the features of the father; polytheism cedes to monotheism, and then returns the “one and only father deity whose power is unlimited.”13 Sublime and sublimated, original domination becomes eternal, cosmic, and good, and in this form guards the process of civilization. The “historical rights” of the primal father are restored.14
The sense of guilt, which, in Freud’s hypothesis, is intrinsic to the brother clan and its subsequent consolidation into the first “society,” is primarily guilt feeling about the perpetration of the supreme crime, patricide. Anxiety arises over the consequences of the crime. However, these consequences are twofold: they threaten to destroy the life of the group by the removal of the authority which (although in terror) had preserved the group; and, at the same time, this removal promises a society without the father — that is, without suppression and domination. Must it not be assumed that the sense of guilt reflects this twofold structure and its ambivalence? The rebellious parricides act only to forestall the first consequence, the threat: they reestablish domination by substituting many fathers for one, and then by deifying and internalizing the one father. But in doing so they betray the promise of their own deed — the promise of liberty. The despot-patriarch has succeeded in implanting his reality principle in the rebellious sons. Their revolt has, for a short span of time, broken the chain of domination; then the new freedom is again suppressed — this time by their own authority and action. Must not their sense of guilt include guilt about the betrayal and denial of their deed? Are they not guilty of restoring the repressive father, guilty of self-imposed perpetuation of domination? The question suggests itself if Freud’s phylogenetic hypothesis is confronted with his notion of the instinctual dynamic. As the reality principle takes root, even in its most primitive and most brutally enforced form, the pleasure principle becomes something frightful and terrifying; the impulses for free gratification meet with anxiety, and this anxiety calls for protection against them. The individuals have to defend themselves against the specter of their integral liberation from want and pain, against integral gratification. And the latter is represented by the woman who, as mother, has once, for the first and last time, provided such gratification. These are the instinctual factors which reproduce the rhythm of liberation and domination.
Through her sexual power, woman is dangerous to the community, the social structure of which rests on the fear displaced to the father. The king is slain by the people, not in order that they may be free, but that they may take upon themselves a heavier yoke, one that will protect them more surely from the mother.15
The king-father is slain not only because he imposes intolerable restraints but also because the restraints, imposed by an individual person, are not effective enough a “barrier to incest” not effective enough to cope with the desire to return to the mother.16 Liberation is therefore followed by ever “better” domination:
The development of the paternal domination into an increasingly powerful state system administered by man is thus a continuance of the primal repression, which has as its purpose the ever wider exclusion of woman.17
The overthrow of the king-father is a crime, but so is his restoration — and both are necessary for the progress of civilization. The crime against the reality principle is redeemed by the crime against the pleasure principle: redemption thus cancels itself. The sense of guilt is sustained in spite of repeated and intensified redemption: anxiety persists because the crime against the pleasure principle is not redeemed. There is guilt over a deed that has not been accomplished: liberation. Some of Freud’s formulations seem to indicate this: the sense of guilt was “the consequence of uncommitted aggression”; and
… it is not really a decisive matter whether one has killed one’s father or abstained from the deed; one must feel guilty in either case, for guilt is the expression of the conflict of ambivalence, the eternal struggle between Eros and the destructive or death instinct.18
Much earlier Freud spoke of a pre-existing sense of guilt, which seems to be “lurking” in the individual, ready and waiting to “assimilate” an accusation made against him.19 This notion seems to correspond to the idea of a “floating anxiety” which has subterranean roots even beneath the individual unconscious.
Freud assumes that the primal crime, and the sense of guilt attached to it, are reproduced, in modified forms, throughout history. The crime is re-enacted in the conflict of the old and new generation, in revolt and rebellion against established authority — and in subsequent repentance: in the restoration and glorification of authority. In explaining this strange perpetual recurrence, Freud suggested the hypothesis of thereturn of the repressed, which he illustrated by the psychology of religion. Freud thought that he had found traces of the patricide and of its “return” and redemption in the history of Judaism, which begins with the killing of Moses. The concrete implications of Freud’s hypothesis become clearer in his interpretation of anti-Semitism. He believed that anti-Semitism had deep roots in the unconscious: jealousy over the Jewish claim of being the “first-born, favorite child of God the Father”; dread of circumcision, associated with the threat of castration; and, perhaps most important, “grudge against the new religion” (Christianity) which was forced on many modern peoples “only in relatively recent times.” This grudge was “projected” onto the source from which Christianity came, namely, Judaism.20
If we follow this train of thought beyond Freud, and connect it with the twofold origin of the sense of guilt, the life and death of Christ would appear as a struggle against the father — and as a triumph over the father.21 The message of the Son was the message of liberation: the overthrow of the Law (which is domination) by Agape (which is Eros). This would fit in with the heretical image of Jesus as the Redeemer in the flesh, the Messiah who came to save man here on earth. Then the subsequent transubstantiation of the Messiah, the deification of the Son beside the Father, would be a betrayal of his message by his own disciples — the denial of the liberation in the flesh, the revenge on the redeemer. Christianity would then have surrendered the gospel of Agape-Eros again to the Law; the father-rule would be restored and strengthened. In Freudian terms, the primal crime could have been expiated, according to the message of the Son, in an order of peace and love on earth. It was not; it was rather superseded by another crime — that against the Son. With his transubstantiation, his gospel too was transubstantiated; his deification removed his message from this world. Suffering and repression were perpetuated.
This interpretation would lend added significance to Freud’s statement that the Christian peoples are “badly christened,” that “under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic.”22 They are “badly christened” in so far as they accept and obey the liberating gospel only in a highly sublimated form — which leaves the reality unfree as it was before. Repression (in the technical Freudian sense) played only a minor role in the institutionalization of Christianity. The transformation of the original content, the deflection from the original objective, took place in broad daylight, consciously, with public argumentation and justification. Equally open was the armed struggle of institutionalized Christianity against the heretics, who tried or allegedly tried to rescue the unsublimated content and the unsublimated objective. There were good rational motives behind the bloody wars against the Christian revolutions which filled the Christian era. However, the cruel and organized slaughter of Cathari, Albigensians, Anabaptists, of slaves, peasants, and paupers who revolted under the sign of the cross, the burning of witches and their defenders — this sadistic extermination of the weak suggests that unconscious instinctual forces broke through all the rationality and rationalization. The executioners and their bands fought the specter of a liberation which they desired but which they were compelled to reject. The crime against the Son must be forgotten in the killing of those whose practice recalls the crime. It took centuries of progress and domestication before the return of the repressed was mastered by the power and progress of industrial civilization. But at its late stage its rationality seems to explode in another return of the repressed. The image of liberation, which has become increasingly realistic, is persecuted the world over. Concentration and labor camps, the trials and tribulations of non-conformists release a hatred and fury which indicate the total mobilization against the return of the repressed.
If the development of religion contains the basic ambivalence — the image of domination and the image of liberation — then Freud’s thesis inThe Future of an Illusion must be re-evaluated. Freud there stressed the role of religion in the historical deflection of energy from the real improvement of the human condition to an imaginary world of eternal salvation. He thought that the disappearance of this illusion would greatly accelerate the material and intellectual progress of mankind, and he praised science and scientific reason as the great liberating antagonists of religion. Perhaps no other writing shows Freud closer to the great tradition of Enlightenment; but also no other shows him more clearly succumbing to the dialectic of Enlightenment. In the present period of civilization, the progressive ideas of rationalism can be recaptured only when they are reformulated. The function of science and of religion has changed — as has their interrelation. Within the total mobilization of man and nature which marks the period, science is one of the most destructive instruments — destructive of that freedom from fear which it once promised. As this promise evaporated into utopia, “scientific” becomes almost identical with denouncing the notion of an earthly paradise. The scientific attitude has long since ceased to be the militant antagonist of religion, which has equally effectively discarded its explosive elements and often accustomed man to a good conscience in the face of suffering and guilt. In the household of culture, the functions of science and religion tend to become complementary; through their present usage, they both deny the hopes which they once aroused and teach men to appreciate the facts in a world of alienation. In this sense, religion is no longer an illusion, and its academic promotion falls in line with the predominant positivistic trend.23 Where religion still preserves the uncompromised aspirations for peace and happiness, its “illusions” still have a higher truth value than science which works for their elimination. The repressed and transfigured content of religion cannot be liberated by surrendering it to the scientific attitude.
Freud applies the notion of the return of the repressed, which was elaborated in the analysis of the history of individual neuroses,24 to the general history of mankind. This step from individual to group psychology introduces one of the most controversial problems: How can the historical return of the repressed be understood?
In the course of thousands of centuries it certainly became forgotten that there was a primeval father …, and what fate he met. … In what sense, therefore, can there be any question of a tradition?25
Freud’s answer, which assumes “an impression of the past in unconscious memory traces,” has encountered widespread rejection. However, the assumption loses much of its fantastic character if it is confronted with the concrete and tangible factors which refresh the memory of every generation. In enumerating the conditions under which the repressed material may penetrate into consciousness, Freud mentions a strengthening of the instincts “attached to the repressed material,” and events and experiences “which are so much like the repressed material that they have the power to awaken it.”26 As an example for the strengthening of the instincts he cites the “processes during puberty.” Under the impact of the ripening genital sexuality, there reappear in the
…phantasies of all persons the infantile tendencies … and among them one finds in regular frequency and in the first place, the sexual feeling of the child for the parents. Usually, this has already been differentiated by sexual attraction, namely, the attraction of the son for the mother, and of the daughter for the father. Simultaneously with the overcoming and rejection of these distinctly incestuous phantasies, there occurs one of the most important as well as one of the most painful psychic accomplishments of puberty; it is the breaking away from the parental authority, through which alone is formed that opposition between the new and old generation, which is so important for cultural progress.27
The events and experiences which may “awaken” the repressed material — even without a specific strengthening of the instincts attached to it — are, at the societal level, encountered in the institutions and ideologies which the individual faces daily and which reproduce, in their very structure, both domination and the impulse to overthrow it (family, school, workshop and office, the state, the law, the prevailing philosophy and morality). The decisive difference between the primal situation and its civilized historical return is, of course, that in the latter the ruler-father is normally no longer killed and eaten, and that domination is normally no longer personal. The ego, the superego, and the external reality have done their work — but “it is not really a decisive matter whether one has killed one’s father or abstained from the deed,” if the function of the conflict and its consequences are the same.
In the Oedipus situation, the primal situation recurs under circumstances which from the beginning assure the lasting triumph of the father. But they also assure the life of the son and his future ability to take the father’s place. How did civilization achieve this compromise? The multitude of somatic, mental, and social processes which resulted in this achievement are practically identical with the contents of Freud’s psychology. Force, identification, repression, sublimation co-operate in the formation of the ego and superego. The function of the father is gradually transferred from his individual person to his social position, to his image in the son (conscience), to God, to the various agencies and agents which teach the son to become a mature and restrained member of his society. Ceteris paribus, the intensity of restraint and renunciation involved in this process is probably not smaller than it was in the primal horde. However, they are more rationally distributed between father and son and among society as a whole; and the rewards, though not greater, are relatively secure. The monogamic family, with its enforceable obligations for the father, restricts his monopoly of pleasure; the institution of inheritable private property, and the universalization of labor, give the son a justified expectancy of his own sanctioned pleasure in accordance with his socially useful performances. Within this framework of objective laws and institutions, the processes of puberty lead to the liberation from the father as a necessary and legitimate event. It is nothing short of a mental catastrophe — but it is nothing more. Then the son leaves the patriarchal family and sets out to become a father and boss himself.
The transformation of the pleasure principle into the performance principle, which changes the despotic monopoly of the father into restrained educational and economic authority, also changes the original object of the struggle: the mother. In the primal horde, the image of the desired woman, the mistress-wife of the father, was Eros and Thanatos in immediate, natural union. She was the aim of the sex instincts, and she was the mother in whom the son once had that integral peace which is the absence of all need and desire — the Nirvana before birth. Perhaps the taboo on incest was the first great protection against the death instinct: the taboo on Nirvana, on the regressive impulse for peace which stood in the way of progress, of Life itself. Mother and wife were separated, and the fatal identity of Eros and Thanatos was thus dissolved. With regard to the mother, sensual love becomes aim-inhibited and transformed into affection (tenderness). Sexuality and affection are divorced; only later they are to meet again in the love to the wife which is sensual as well as tender, aim-inhibited as well as aim-attaining.28 Tenderness is created out of abstinence — abstinence first enforced by the primal father. Once created, it becomes the psychical basis not only for the family but also for the establishment of lasting group relations:
the primal father had prevented his sons from satisfying their directly sexual tendencies; he forced them into abstinence and consequently into the emotional ties with him and with one another which could arise out of those of their tendencies that were inhibited in their sexual aim. He forced them, so to speak, into group psychology.29
At this level of civilization, within the system of rewarded inhibitions, the father can be overcome without exploding the instinctual and social order: his image and his function now perpetuate themselves in every child — even if it does not know him. He merges with duly constituted authority. Domination has outgrown the sphere of personal relationships and created the institutions for the orderly satisfaction of human needs on an expanding scale. But it is precisely the development of these institutions which undermines the established basis of civilization. Its inner limits appear in the late industrial age.
1 Freud, Moses and Monotheism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), p. 157.
2 Alexander, The Psychoanalysis of the Total Personality (New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph No. 52, 1929), p. 7.
3 Freud, Moses and Monotheism, p. 158.
4 “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” in Collected Papers (London: Hogarth Press, 1950), V, 343.
5 Ibid., pp. 343–344. Italics added.
6 In his paper on the “Mutual Influences in the Development of Ego and Id,” Heinz Hartmann stresses the phylogenetic aspect: the “differentiation of ego and id, developed by whatever process of evolution through hundreds of thousands of years, is in the form of a disposition, in part an innate character of man.” However, he assumes a “primary autonomy in ego development.” Hartmann’s paper is in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Vol. VII (New York: International Universities Press, 1952).
7 Moses and Monotheism, p. 128.
8 Ibid., p. 135.
9 Ibid., p. 128.
10 Ibid., p. 129.
11 Ibid., pp. 129–130.
12 Ibid., pp. 131–132.
14 Ibid., pp. 135–136.
15 Otto Rank, The Trauma of Birth (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929), p. 93.
16 Ibid., p. 92.
17 Ibid., p. 94.
18 Civilization and Its Discontents (London: Hogarth Press, 1949), pp. 128, 121.
19 “Psychoanalysis and the Ascertaining of Truth in Courts of Law,” in Collected Papers, II, 23.
20 Moses and Monotheism, pp. 144f
21 See Erich Fromm, Die Entwicklung des Christusdogmas (Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1931).
22 Moses and Monotheism, p. 145.
23 See Max Horkheimer, “Der neueste Angriff auf die Metaphysik,” in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, VI (1937), 4ff.
24 “Repression,” in Collected Papers, IV, 93.
25 Moses and Monotheism, p. 148.
26 Ibid., p. 150.
27 Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, in The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (New York: Modern Library, 1938), pp. 617–618. See also Anna Freud,The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (London: Hogarth Press, 1937), Chaps. 11, 12.
28 Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, pp. 599, 615; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 1949), pp. 117–118; Civilization and Its Discontents, p. 71.
29 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, p. 94.
some questions off the top of my head:
it’s easy to say “no gods, no masters” but if god and ideology are connected, how do we worship? are we ideological about being right? about not believing in anything?
how has marcuse been shown to be wrong/right in the our time?
what do people know about/think about freud?
what do you think about the “women’s sexuality is seen as dangerous” explanation for (strict) sexual morality?
The Last Messiah
The first English version of a classic essay by Peter Wessel Zapffe, originally published in Janus #9, 1933. Translated from the Norwegian by Gisle R. Tangenes.
One night in long bygone times, man awoke and saw himself.
He saw that he was naked under cosmos, homeless in his own body. All things dissolved before his testing thought, wonder above wonder, horror above horror unfolded in his mind.
Then woman too awoke and said it was time to go and slay. And he fetched his bow and arrow, a fruit of the marriage of spirit and hand, and went outside beneath the stars. But as the beasts arrived at their waterholes where he expected them of habit, he felt no more the tiger’s bound in his blood, but a great psalm about the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.
That day he did not return with prey, and when they found him by the next new moon, he was sitting dead by the waterhole.
Whatever happened? A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily – by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn the one edge toward himself.
Despite his new eyes, man was still rooted in matter, his soul spun into it and subordinated to its blind laws. And yet he could see matter as a stranger, compare himself to all phenomena, see through and locate his vital processes. He comes to nature as an unbidden guest, in vain extending his arms to beg conciliation with his maker: Nature answers no more, it performed a miracle with man, but later did not know him. He has lost his right of residence in the universe, has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and been expelled from Paradise. He is mighty in the near world, but curses his might as purchased with his harmony of soul, his innocence, his inner peace in life’s embrace.
So there he stands with his visions, betrayed by the universe, in wonder and fear. The beast knew fear as well, in thunderstorms and on the lion’s claw. But man became fearful of life itself – indeed, of his very being. Life – that was for the beast to feel the play of power, it was heat and games and strife and hunger, and then at last to bow before the law of course. In the beast, suffering is self-confined, in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life. Even as the child sets out on the river of life, the roars from the waterfall of death rise highly above the vale, ever closer, and tearing, tearing at its joy. Man beholds the earth, and it is breathing like a great lung; whenever it exhales, delightful life swarms from all its pores and reaches out toward the sun, but when it inhales, a moan of rupture passes through the multitude, and corpses whip the ground like bouts of hail. Not merely his own day could he see, the graveyards wrung themselves before his gaze, the laments of sunken millennia wailed against him from the ghastly decaying shapes, the earth-turned dreams of mothers. Future’s curtain unravelled itself to reveal a nightmare of endless repetition, a senseless squander of organic material. The suffering of human billions makes its entrance into him through the gateway of compassion, from all that happen arises a laughter to mock the demand for justice, his profoundest ordering principle. He sees himself emerge in his mother’s womb, he holds up his hand in the air and it has five branches; whence this devilish number five, and what has it to do with my soul? He is no longer obvious to himself – he touches his body in utter horror; this is you and so far do you extend and no farther. He carries a meal within him, yesterday it was a beast that could itself dash around, now I suck it up and make it part of me, and where do I begin and end? All things chain together in causes and effects, and everything he wants to grasp dissolves before the testing thought. Soon he sees mechanics even in the so-far whole and dear, in the smile of his beloved – there are other smiles as well, a torn boot with toes. Eventually, the features of things are features only of himself. Nothing exists without himself, every line points back at him, the world is but a ghostly echo of his voice – he leaps up loudly screaming and wants to disgorge himself onto the earth along with his impure meal, he feels the looming of madness and wants to find death before losing even such ability.
But as he stands before imminent death, he grasps its nature also, and the cosmic import of the step to come. His creative imagination constructs new, fearful prospects behind the curtain of death, and he sees that even there is no sanctuary found. And now he can discern the outline of his biologicocosmic terms: He is the universe’s helpless captive, kept to fall into nameless possibilities.
From this moment on, he is in a state of relentless panic.
Such a ‘feeling of cosmic panic’ is pivotal to every human mind. Indeed, the race appears destined to perish in so far as any effective preservation and continuation of life is ruled out when all of the individual’s attention and energy goes to endure, or relay, the catastrophic high tension within.
The tragedy of a species becoming unfit for life by overevolving one ability is not confined to humankind. Thus it is thought, for instance, that certain deer in paleontological times succumbed as they acquired overly-heavy horns. The mutations must be considered blind, they work, are thrown forth, without any contact of interest with their environment.
In depressive states, the mind may be seen in the image of such an antler, in all its fantastic splendour pinning its bearer to the ground.
Why, then, has mankind not long ago gone extinct during great epidemics of madness? Why do only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the strain of living – because cognition gives them more than they can carry?
Cultural history, as well as observation of ourselves and others, allow the following answer: Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.
If the giant deer, at suitable intervals, had broken off the outer spears of its antlers, it might have kept going for some while longer. Yet in fever and constant pain, indeed, in betrayal of its central idea, the core of its peculiarity, for it was vocated by creation’s hand to be the horn bearer of wild animals. What it gained in continuance, it would lose in significance, in grandness of life, in other words a continuance without hope, a march not up to affirmation, but forth across its ever recreated ruins, a self-destructive race against the sacred will of blood.
The identity of purpose and perishment is, for giant deer and man alike, the tragic paradox of life. In devoted Bejahung, the last Cervis Giganticus bore the badge of its lineage to its end. The human being saves itself and carries on. It performs, to extend a settled phrase, a more or less self-conscious repression of its damaging surplus of consciousness. This process is virtually constant during our waking and active hours, and is a requirement of social adaptability and of everything commonly referred to as healthy and normal living.
Psychiatry even works on the assumption that the ‘healthy’ and viable is at one with the highest in personal terms. Depression, ‘fear of life,’ refusal of nourishment and so on are invariably taken as signs of a pathological state and treated thereafter. Often, however, such phenomena are messages from a deeper, more immediate sense of life, bitter fruits of a geniality of thought or feeling at the root of antibiological tendencies. It is not the soul being sick, but its protection failing, or else being rejected because it is experienced – correctly – as a betrayal of ego’s highest potential.
The whole of living that we see before our eyes today is from inmost to outmost enmeshed in repressional mechanisms, social and individual; they can be traced right into the tritest formulas of everyday life. Though they take a vast and multifarious variety of forms, it seems legitimate to at least identify four major kinds, naturally occuring in every possible combination: isolation, anchoring, distraction and sublimation.
By isolation I here mean a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling. (Engström: “One should not think, it is just confusing.”) A perfect and almost brutalising variant is found among certain physicians, who for self-protection will only see the technical aspect of their profession. It can also decay to pure hooliganism, as among petty thugs and medical students, where any sensitivity to the tragic side of life is eradicated by violent means (football played with cadaver heads, and so on.)
In everyday interaction, isolation is manifested in a general code of mutual silence: primarily toward children, so these are not at once scared senseless by the life they have just begun, but retain their illusions until they can afford to lose them. In return, children are not to bother the adults with untimely reminders of sex, toilet, or death. Among adults there are the rules of ‘tact,’ the mechanism being openly displayed when a man who weeps on the street is removed with police assistance.
The mechanism of anchoring also serves from early childhood; parents, home, the street become matters of course to the child and give it a sense of assurance. This sphere of experience is the first, and perhaps the happiest, protection against the cosmos that we ever get to know in life, a fact that doubtless also explains the much debated ‘infantile bonding;’ the question of whether that is sexually tainted too is unimportant here. When the child later discovers that those fixed points are as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘ephemeral’ as any others, it has a crisis of confusion and anxiety and promptly looks around for another anchoring. “In Autumn, I will attend middle school.” If the substitution somehow fails, then the crisis may take a fatal course, or else what I will call an anchoring spasm occurs: One clings to the dead values, concealing as well as possible from oneself and others the fact that they are unworkable, that one is spiritually insolvent. The result is lasting insecurity, ‘feelings of inferiority,’ over-compensation, restlessness. Insofar as this state falls into certain categories, it is made subject to psychoanalytic treatment, which aims to complete the transition to new anchorings.
Anchoring might be characterised as a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness. Though typically unconscious, it may also be fully conscious (one ‘adopts a goal’.) Publicly useful anchorings are met with sympathy, he who ‘sacrifices himself totally’ for his anchoring (the firm, the cause) is idolised. He has established a mighty bulwark against the dissolution of life, and others are by suggestion gaining from his strength. In a brutalised form, as deliberate action, it is found among ‘decadent’ playboys (“one should get married in time, and then the constraints will come of themselves.”) Thus one establishes a necessity in one’s life, exposing oneself to an obvious evil from one’s point of view, but a soothing of the nerves, a high-walled container for a sensibility to life that has been growing increasingly crude. Ibsen presents, in Hjalmar Ekdal and Molvik, two flowering cases (‘living lies’); there is no difference between their anchoring and that of the pillars of society except for the practico-economic unproductiveness of the former.
Any culture is a great, rounded system of anchorings, built on foundational firmaments, the basic cultural ideas. The average person makes do with the collective firmaments, the personality is building for himself, the person of character has finished his construction, more or less grounded on the inherited, collective main firmaments (God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the law of life, the people, the future). The closer to main firmaments a certain carrying element is, the more perilous it is to touch. Here a direct protection is normally established by means of penal codes and threats of prosecution (inquisition, censorship, the Conservative approach to life).
The carrying capacity of each segment either depends on its fictitious nature having not been seen through yet, or else on its being recognised as necessary anyway. Hence the religious education in schools, which even atheists support because they know no other way to bring children into social ways of response.
Whenever people realise the fictitiousness or redundancy of the segments, they will strive to replace them with new ones (‘the limited duration of Truths’) – and whence flows all the spiritual and cultural strife which, along with economic competition, forms the dynamic content of world history.
The craving for material goods (power) is not so much due to the direct pleasures of wealth, as none can be seated on more than one chair or eat himself more than sated. Rather, the value of a fortune to life consists in the rich opportunities for anchoring and distraction offered to the owner.
Both for collective and individual anchorings it holds that when a segment breaks, there is a crisis that is graver the closer that segment to main firmaments. Within the inner circles, sheltered by the outer ramparts, such crises are daily and fairly painfree occurrences (‘disappointments’); even a playing with anchoring values is here seen (wittiness, jargon, alcohol). But during such play one may accidentally rip a hole right to the bottom, and the scene is instantly transformed from euphoric to macabre. The dread of being stares us in the eye, and in a deadly gush we perceive how the minds are dangling in threads of their own spinning, and that a hell is lurking underneath.
The very foundational firmaments are rarely replaced without great social spasms and a risk of complete dissolution (reformation, revolution). During such times, individuals are increasingly left to their own devices for anchoring, and the number of failures tends to rise. Depressions, excesses, and suicides result (German officers after the war, Chinese students after the revolution).
Another flaw of the system is the fact that various danger fronts often require very different firmaments. As a logical superstructure is built upon each, there follow clashes of incommensurable modes of feeling and thought. Then despair can enter through the rifts. In such cases, a person may be obsessed with destructive joy, dislodging the whole artificial apparatus of his life and starting with rapturous horror to make a clean sweep of it. The horror stems from the loss of all sheltering values, the rapture from his by now ruthless identification and harmony with our nature’s deepest secret, the biological unsoundness, the enduring disposition for doom.
We love the anchorings for saving us, but also hate them for limiting our sense of freedom. Whenever we feel strong enough, we thus take pleasure in going together to bury an expired value in style. Material objects take on a symbolic import here (the Radical approach to life).
When a human being has eliminated those of his anchorings that are visible to himself, only the unconscious ones staying put, then he will call himself a liberated personality.
A very popular mode of protection is distraction. One limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impressions. This is typical even in childhood; without distraction, the child is also insufferable to itself. “Mom, what am I to do.” A little English girl visiting her Norwegian aunts came inside from her room, saying: “What happens now?” The nurses attain virtuosity: Look, a doggie! Watch, they are painting the palace! The phenomenon is too familiar to require any further demonstration. Distraction is, for example, the ‘high society’s’ tactic for living. It can be likened to a flying machine – made of heavy material, but embodying a principle that keeps it airborne whenever applying. It must always be in motion, as air only carries it fleetingly. The pilot may grow drowsy and comfortable out of habit, but the crisis is acute as soon as the engine flunks.
The tactic is often fully conscious. Despair may dwell right underneath and break through in gushes, in a sudden sobbing. When all distractive options are expended, spleen sets in, ranging from mild indifference to fatal depression. Women, in general less cognition-prone and hence more secure in their living than men, preferably use distraction.
A considerable evil of imprisonment is the denial of most distractive options. And as terms for deliverance by other means are poor as well, the prisoner will tend to stay in the close vicinity of despair. The acts he then commits to deflect the final stage have a warrant in the principle of vitality itself. In such a moment he is experiencing his soul within the universe, and has no other motive than the utter inendurability of that condition.
Pure examples of life-panic are presumably rare, as the protective mechanisms are refined and automatic and to some extent unremitting. But even the adjacent terrain bears the mark of death, life is here barely sustainable and by great efforts. Death always appears as an escape, one ignores the possibilities of the hereafter, and as the way death is experienced is partly dependent on feeling and perspective, it might be quite an acceptable solution. If one in statu mortis could manage a pose (a poem, a gesture, to ‘die standing up’), i.e. a final anchoring, or a final distraction (Aases’ death), then such a fate is not the worst one at all. The press, for once serving the concealment mechanism, never fails to find reasons that cause no alarm – “it is believed that the latest fall in the price of wheat…”
When a human being takes his life in depression, this is a natural death of spiritual causes. The modern barbarity of ‘saving’ the suicidal is based on a hairraising misapprehension of the nature of existence.
Only a limited part of humanity can make do with mere ‘changes’, whether in work, social life, or entertainment. The cultured person demands connections, lines, a progression in the changes. Nothing finite satisfies at length, one is ever proceeding, gathering knowledge, making a career. The phenomenon is known as ‘yearning’ or ‘transcendental tendency.’ Whenever a goal is reached, the yearning moves on; hence its object is not the goal, but the very attainment of it – the gradient, not the absolute height, of the curve representing one’s life. The promotion from private to corporal may give a more valuable experience than the one from colonel to general. Any grounds of ‘progressive optimism’ are removed by this major psychological law.
The human yearning is not merely marked by a ‘striving toward’, but equally by an ‘escape from.’ And if we use the word in a religious sense, only the latter description fits. For here, none has yet been clear about what he is longing for, but one has always a heartfelt awareness of what one is longing away from, namely the earthly vale of tears, one’s own inendurable condition. If awareness of this predicament is the deepest stratum of the soul, as argued above, then it is also understandable why the religious yearning is felt and experienced as fundamental. By contrast, the hope that it forms a divine criterion, which harbours a promise of its own fulfilment, is placed in a truly melancholy light by these considerations.
The fourth remedy against panic, sublimation, is a matter of transformation rather than repression. Through stylistic or artistic gifts can the very pain of living at times be converted into valuable experiences. Positive impulses engage the evil and put it to their own ends, fastening onto its pictorial, dramatic, heroic, lyric or even comic aspects.
Unless the worst sting of suffering is blunted by other means, or denied control of the mind, such utilisation is unlikely, however. (Image: The mountaineer does not enjoy his view of the abyss while choking with vertigo; only when this feeling is more or less overcome does he enjoy it – anchored.) To write a tragedy, one must to some extent free oneself from – betray – the very feeling of tragedy and regard it from an outer, e.g. aesthetic, point of view. Here is, by the way, an opportunity for the wildest round-dancing through ever higher ironic levels, into a most embarrassing circulus vitiosus. Here one can chase one’s ego across numerous habitats, enjoying the capacity of the various layers of consciousness to dispel one another.
The present essay is a typical attempt at sublimation. The author does not suffer, he is filling pages and is going to be published in a journal.
The ‘martyrdom’ of lonely ladies also shows a kind of sublimation – they gain in significance thereby.
Nevertheless, sublimation appears to be the rarest of the protective means mentioned here.
Is it possible for ‘primitive natures’ to renounce these cramps and cavorts and live in harmony with themselves in the serene bliss of labour and love? Insofar as they may be considered human at all, I think the answer must be no. The strongest claim to be made about the so-called peoples of nature is that they are somewhat closer to the wonderful biological ideal than we unnatural people. And when even we have so far been able to save a majority through every storm, we have been assisted by the sides of our nature that are just modestly or moderately developed. This positive basis (as protection alone cannot create life, only hinder its faltering) must be sought in the naturally adapted deployment of the energy in the body and the biologically helpful parts of the soul1, subject to such hardships as are precisely due to sensory limitations, bodily frailty, and the need to do work for life and love.
And just in this finite land of bliss within the fronts do the progressing civilisation, technology and standardisation have such a debasing influence. For as an ever growing fraction of the cognitive faculties retire from the game against the environment, there is a rising spiritual unemployment. The value of a technical advance to the whole undertaking of life must be judged by its contribution to the human opportunity for spiritual occupation. Though boundaries are blurry, perhaps the first tools for cutting might be mentioned as a case of a positive invention.
Other technical inventions enrich only the life of the inventor himself; they represent a gross and ruthless theft from humankind’s common reserve of experiences and should invoke the harshest punishment if made public against the veto of censorship. One such crime among numerous others is the use of flying machines to explore uncharted land. In a single vandalistic glob, one thus destroys lush opportunities for experience that could benefit many if each, by effort, obtained his fair share.2
The current phase of life’s chronic fever is particularly tainted by this circumstance. The absence of naturally (biologically) based spiritual activity shows up, for example, in the pervasive recourse to distraction (entertainment, sport, radio – ‘the rhythm of the times’). Terms for anchoring are not as favourable – all the inherited, collective systems of anchorings are punctured by criticism, and anxiety, disgust, confusion, despair leak in through the rifts (‘corpses in the cargo.’) Communism and psychoanalysis, however incommensurable otherwise, both attempt (as Communism has also a spiritual reflection) by novel means to vary the old escape anew; applying, respectively, violence and guile to make humans biologically fit by ensnaring their critical surplus of cognition. The idea, in either case, is uncannily logical. But again, it cannot yield a final solution. Though a deliberate degeneration to a more viable nadir may certainly save the species in the short run, it will by its nature be unable to find peace in such resignation, or indeed find any peace at all.
If we continue these considerations to the bitter end, then the conclusion is not in doubt. As long as humankind recklessly proceeds in the fateful delusion of being biologically fated for triumph, nothing essential will change. As its numbers mount and the spiritual atmosphere thickens, the techniques of protection must assume an increasingly brutal character.
And humans will persist in dreaming of salvation and affirmation and a new Messiah. Yet when many saviours have been nailed to trees and stoned on the city squares, then the last Messiah shall come.
Then will appear the man who, as the first of all, has dared strip his soul naked and submit it alive to the outmost thought of the lineage, the very idea of doom. A man who has fathomed life and its cosmic ground, and whose pain is the Earth’s collective pain. With what furious screams shall not mobs of all nations cry out for his thousandfold death, when like a cloth his voice encloses the globe, and the strange message has resounded for the first and last time:
“– The life of the worlds is a roaring river, but Earth’s is a pond and a backwater.
– The sign of doom is written on your brows – how long will ye kick against the pin-pricks?
– But there is one conquest and one crown, one redemption and one solution.
– Know yourselves – be infertile and let the earth be silent after ye.”
And when he has spoken, they will pour themselves over him, led by the pacifier makers and the midwives, and bury him in their fingernails.
He is the last Messiah. As son from father, he stems from the archer by the waterhole.
Peter Wessel Zapffe, 1933
1 A distinction for clarity.
2 I emphasize that this is not about fantastic reform proposals, but rather a psychological view of principle
Many thanks to Mrs Berit Zapffe for permission to publish this translation.