Keynote Speech at the International Conference at Sigmund Freud University Vienna, September 6, 2018, on “Psychoanalytic Views on Death and Dying”
KILLING, DEATH AND DYING – WISHES, FANTASIES AND ANXIETIES
There are two ways by which we encounter death. The death of our body in the future – we do not know when, we do not know how – and the death of another, which we encounter and experience as a loss of someone we love, or – most irritating and also satisfying – when we kill somebody, in the inner world, or in reality in very extreme and rare situations.
We Swiss people love our mountains, the Alps. All young people do either skiing, snowboarding or mountainclimbing, we start doing it as small children and we train all the time to get better and better and better…
When I was seventeen years old, I encountered death, I got a narrow escape. I was a member of a group of young mountainclimbers, it was a beautiful weekend in late summer, great weather, and we planned to climb a peak in the alps. We were twelve young guys, divided into three groups. My rope team consisted of three youngsters, including myself and our geography teacher, an experienced mountain climber.
Early sunday morning, we got up at four o’clock , and we started uphill towards the peak. There had been an embarrassing moment when we realized that in the mountain hut where we had spent the night, some of our equipment had been stolen by another team that had gotten up earlier. For twelve people you need three ropes, twelve ice picks, twelve iron shoes. But one set of three ice picks and three iron shoes had been stolen, so we only had nine ice picks, and nine iron shoes .
There was a discussion. The best solution – in retrospect, would have been – that one team had to stay in the hut, only two teams going for the peak. But the weather was nice, the peak not too difficult, we were all experienced climbers, all in very good shape, the three leaders of the team very experienced climbers. And we were in an adventurous mood. (You remember: Freud said, that live becomes empty and shallow when you are totally denying death. So we were – without goinginto it very deeply, aware of the risk of dying, but we wanted to live and enjoy the mountain climbing more…) We decided to split the material between the groups. Three ice pics, three iron shoes for every group.
At 4.30 we started uphill. My group was the last in the sequence. The leader was fully equipped, with ice pick and iron shoes. The second man had only an ice pick, the third man only shoes, and me as the last in row had again ice pick and shoes.
All went well as we climbed uphill, at 11 a.m. we reached the peak. We were in great mood, we shot pictures, rested. At noon we started downhill, we planned to cross a glacier field and a mountain pass and reach the village, our goal, to arrive at around four in the afternoon.
Downhill is more difficult than uphill, you cannot cling to the stone and the ice, your movement is not into the mountain but away from it, you have to be even more careful of every step you take.
Then the catastrophe happened, when we were going downhill in very steep serpentines crossing the glacier. At a turning point of a serpentine, our leader lost balance and fell. The second man was taken by surprise and shock and froze instead of hitting his icepick into the ice and holding the man. So he too fell. The third man with no ice pick had no chance to stop the two of them falling by hitting his icepick into the ice because he had none. So it was all up to me as the last man in the row, fully equipped to stop the fall of my three colleagues. 300 kg against 100 kg. And the surface of the ice and snow was soft and melting in the afternoon summer sun. I hit my icepick with full force into the snow and ice, and laid myself with my full weight over it and waited. The rope got tightly stretched. I felt the weight of my colleagues. In the end I had no chance. 300 kg against my 100. After about six or seven seconds of pushing with full force the ice pick with my full weight into the snow, the ice pick and me, we flew high up in the air and our group was falling about 500 metres downwhill on the steep icy mountain flank. The first thought , with utmost clarity was: Now, I am going to die. The shock was absolute. I felt nothing, dissociated immediately.
And in this five to ten seconds falling, I saw an inner film rolling down before my eyes: Me as a baby and little child, my mother smiling at me, me in kindergarten and primary school, me in holidays with my family, me going to the sports club, me laughing with my best school buddies, ….and then …full stop…I was hanging at the rope in some ice crevasse in the glacier. Some meters above me my I saw my colleague also hanging on the rope. And about twenty meters above me I saw some small piece of blue sky. I was surrounded by ice. What saved our lives, was that the team had not been falling into the same crevasse in the glacier, the first and second man falling in to one crevasse and me and the third guy in the neighbouringcrevasse, we were hanging in perfect balance on the rope. If the whole team had disappeared in the same crevasse, perhaps some fifty years later, the glacier would have released our corpses. There were no mobile phones at that time. It took the other rope teams two hours to get us out of the crevasse. We were lucky, no one dead, no one badly hurt. At seven in the evening we reached the village. That was my first close encounter with my own possible death. Death as a realityhappening to me in the next few seconds had placed me in a state of shock, I was overwhelmed by emotions and I defended immediately against them by recalling at that time myvery short life. It was also like saying goodbye to my beloved, leaving the party, maximum pain experienced in the time of a blink of an eye.
The second close confrontation with death was three years ago when I was in Minsk together with my fiancée, now my wife Juliya, when my beloved sister, three years younger than me, age 53, called me and said the words: „Markus, I am going to die, I have pancreaticcancer.“ Four months later, she was dead.
It was very difficult to me to conceive that it was just a terrible disease, a natural process that nothing could be done, that there were no explanations, just the plain fact, that she died. I felt the tendency to fantasize into this void, looking for guilt, I felt the tendency to reason and to avoid the singularity of the event, that I was to lose my beloved sister just by the simple fact of death.
Another conscious confrontation with death was when the first time in my live I wanted to kill somebody. My first great love and girl friend whom I was together with for four years had left me after an ugly quarrel leaving me somewhere in the streets in the city. I was crying with desperation, pain and anger. I wanted to kill the bitch that caused unbearable pain to me. I fantasized about loosening the tyres of her car, and when she would be cruising the highway next time, the tyres would explode, the car would crash and she would die. Sweet revenge for the pain.
Of course I just enjoyed the fantasy and did not act it, but what I felt wasan immense desire and pleasure to kill her.
For those who are not familiar with this kind of feeling just watch the film Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino.
As you can see, the preparation for this lecture started an inner process of confrontation with death. I realized that memories from childhood and my adult life emerged, where I was confronted with death. I remembered this severe sports accident in the Swiss Alps thatI happily survived when I was seventeen years old. I recalled painful memories of losses: My beloved sister, dying from pancreatic cancer three years ago, the death of my mother a year ago, the death of some near friends and colleagues during the whole lifetime. And I realized again that my two grandfathers had died before I was born. I recalled several occasions during my childhood where my parents had referred to these deaths in all details: both grandfathers quite young, around 50, in the middle of their lives, one with a sudden heart attack after a peaceful lunch with the whole family, under the eyes of his beloved, the other drowning in a lake while as a schoolteacher ice-skating with his pupils, and disappearing in a hole in the ice observed by all the teenagers, and I recalled situations where I wanted to kill somebody, condemn someone to death.
So I was suprised that there were confrontations, several ones, and I nearly had put them away totally, only occasionally I recalled them with apparently almost no feelings.
The preparation of the present speech attacked this denial of death and activated a lot of feelings and memories.
I will present the following theses in my speech, and discuss them:
- Death and Aggression are two central independent issues in our life, they are mixed and intertwined in a complex way in our psychic life. When we do not understand these issues and their complex psychological connection, we fail to understand either of them clearly.
- Psychoanalysis has neglected both issues, death and aggression, and failed to give them the adequate place in theory (and practice). It also failed to clarify the complex connection between the two issues, and thus repeated the psychological confusion we all have with these two issues, in psychoanalytical theory.
I will highlight the way psychoanalysis up to now dealt whith these issues, describe the still existing lack in psychoanalytic research concerning these issues, and make some proposals where the future journey of psychoanalytical thinking and research might go.
Death as the great underrated issue in Psychoanalysis
One might perhaps claim that psychoanalysis has no problem dealing with death. After all, there are is a lot of discussion in our scientific literature about the denial of death, about death anxiety, about the death drive, about Death as the only Real, and so on. But there is a problem.
Starting with Freud himself, there is a profound ambivalence towards giving death the adequate and deserved place in psychoanalytical thinking and theory. We can observe in psychoanalysis the same contradictory emotional movements toward death I encountered in my own relationship to it when preparing this lecture: On the one hand psychoanalysts accepts death as real, they confront our emotional tendency to deny it, but on the other hand, they themselves try to minimize theoretically the impact of death in our inner life, they secondarize it, they reduce the impact of death to the effect of other primary issues: Castration Anxiety, Guilt, Death Drive, and so on.
As Liran Razinsky in his comprehensive monograph about Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death has shown, this emotional ambivalence towards death can be observed throughout the whole history of psychoanalytical theory, starting with Freud, and continued with Klein, Lacan, Winnicott, Kohut and others till today.
Due to the short time of my speech, I can only highlight a few points.
Freuds theoretical position is that death is not of psychic significance. It does not exist in the Unconscious. He puts forward two claims: Claims about the non-representability of death, and claims about the fear of death. Freud says, that there is no representation of death in the Unconscious, and that the fear of death is in fact something else, and can be reduced to be of just one of many other expressions of castration anxiety.
In „Thoughts for the times on war and death“ (1915) he writes:
„In the Unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality“(p. 291).
But this refers only to one’s own death. Freud denies the psychic presence of death in one’s own case, but he specifically claims that the unconscious acknowledges death in the case of another person. Death and Castration, he asserts, are the only punishments the unconscious knows. He claims, that everyone of us, at least in imagination, castrates and kills others. Another argument against the representability of death in the unconscious lies for Freud in the fact, that no living being has ever experienced death as long he is alive, and therefore, it cannot be a content in the Ucs:
„The unconscious seems to contain nothing that could give any content to our concept of the annihilation of life. Castration can be pictured on the basis of the daily experience of the faeces being separated from the body or on the basis of losing the mother’s breast at weaning. But nothing resembling death an ever have been experienced; or, if it has, in fainting, it has left no observable traces behind. I am therefore inclined to adhere to the view that the fear of death should be regarded as analogous to the fear of castration.“ („Inhibition, Symptom and Anxiety“, 1926, 129f.)
There are a lot of other quotes in Freuds work, where he supports the argument against the representation of death, I just pick out a philosophical one:„It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death; and whenever we attempt to do so we perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators“.(1915, S. 291).
As soon as we are thinking about our own death, Freud claims, we are in the position of Huckleberry Finn faking his own funeral and watching it from behind a tree. This may be true, as I realized in my experience falling down the mountain, but the difficulty to represent one’s own death is not an argument against its impact on us, it even makes the impact greater! Dissociation is the proof that the confrontation with one’s own death is traumatizing, unthinkable, overwhelming and that the fact of death leaves traces in the deepest layers of our psyche. The problem is not that death does not exist in the Ucs, but that we have difficulty to represent it, to symbolize and name it! We fail to symbolize the traces in the symbolic register.
To sum up, Freud did not acknowledge a representation of death in our deepest inner truth, the ucs, and therefore he had reduced death anxiety to something representable, castration anxiety.
The tricky thing about the relationship of psychoanalysis to death is that it is contradictory. The „official“ and predominant denial of the primary importance of death in our psychic life is counter-run by contradictory and more existential statements of „personal“ acceptance of death’s primary importance.
By example, Freud closes his text on war and death as follows:
„ Should we not confess that in our civilized attitude towards death we are once again living psychologically beyond our means, and should we not rather turn back and recognize the truth? Would it not be better to give death the place in reality and in our thoughts which is its due, and to give a little more prominence to the unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed? (…)Illusion becomes valueless if it makes this harder for us. We recall the old saying Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want to preserve peace, prepare for war. It would be in keeping with the times to alter it: si vis vitam, para mortem. If you want to endure and live your life, prepare yourself for death.” (p. 299f.)
So Freud oscillated in his work between the tendency to integrate death in psychoanalytical thinking and give it a primary stance which is due to its existential importance, and the other tendency to reduce its impact in psychic life to a secondary effect of other more important issues.
Some say that Freud acknowledged death by introducing the death drive in psychoanalytical theory, but as Razinsky showed clearly, this is not true.
Freud wrote in „Beyound Pleasure Principle“: „If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything dies for internal reasons – becomes inorganic once again – then we shall be compelled to say that ‚ the aim of all life is death’, and looking backwards, that ‚inanimate things existed before living ones’.“
Freud tried to soften the irritating impact of death by inventing the death drive, he „drived death away“, in the words of Razinsky, by constructing a teleological argumentation. If we all strive to die, then death becomes the fulfillment of a wish, a goal, a peak, something we reach, as a drive goal, it becomes something „living“, and it does not confront us as with something strange and uncanny we will never know, we have great difficulties to grasp and understand.
I will come to this point again in the next chapter when I address the problem of aggression.
And the followers of Freud, did they succesfully integrate death into psychoanalytical thinking in theory? I cannot resume the whole debate here, but the answer is no.
Also Melanie Klein who made the most of the death drive, and explained death and annihilation anxiety and aggression as a direct consequence of the death drive, reduced death anxiety to a consequence of an intrapsychic problem, namely the the fear to be annihilated by the action of the defused death drive within the psychic system.
What about Lacan? Lacan is said and rumoured within the psychoanalytic community to have given Death a central place in his theory. I cannot go here into the details of his arguments, I just remind you of some points: He asserted that Death is the only Real, we cannot grasp and symbolize it, therefore it stimulates a never-ending psychological activity to understand it, to circle around it, without ever succeeding in it. He also widely uses the term death in his whole theory, but he often uses it in his own way, mostly metaphorically: The word is the death of the thing, and so on.
So Lacan too rather implemented improvised and exploreddeath, often in metaphorical use, in his own pre-existing conceptions than giving it an own status.
And so it was with the other psychoanalytical theorists up till today, they dealt with death within the main arguments of their theories, they fitted death into their theories, but did not give it a primary status to be studied.
Let me close the first chapter with the conclusion: Up to now psychoanalysis, like mankind, has not fully put death in its due place, and failed to make the study of the impact of death on our psychic functioning a primary research goal and project.
Aggression as the second great issue that psychoanalysis neglects
Let us turn to the the problem of Aggression, the other great taboo in psychoanalysis (and of course mankind).
This thesis may seem for some of you kind of intriguing because „officially“ psychoanalysis seems to have acknowledged the problem of agression by accepting aggression as a reality and studying its causes.
After all, Freud has introduced the death drive and the destruction drive, and later psychoanalysts, even if they deny the death drive as primary motivational source, they accept aggressive impulses related to frustrations and traumata and do not underestimate the need to control them and find ways of understanding and overcoming them.
But if we look more closely into the theory, we realize that due to unconscious super-ego resistances the psychoanalytic mainstream up to now fails to fully acknowledge and conceptualize the enormous aggressive pleasure experienced in violent acts, especially killing.
The pleasure to kill is all too often denied and explained away by other motives (trauma, frustration, identification with an aggressor, and so on). It seems difficult to accept that everyone of us is a potential murderer, and in the inner world, every one IS a murdererhaving castrated and killed in imagination his parents, or siblings, and other rivals our frustrators. What seems to be most intriguing seems to be the fact – we all emotionally know – that the idea of killing somebody is full of pleasure.
In some elements of the theory of the death drive put forward there is also some aspect of calming the super-ego. When our aggression in the form of the death drive is primarily directed against ourselves as auto-aggression, and only secondarily against the others, when directed outside, then we are not so „bad“. When the primacy of hetero-aggression and the pleasure inbuilt in it, is denied, then, from this softened point of view, the wish to kill is not a genuine wish, aspiring for this ultimate pleasure to kill somebody, it is just a deflection of in-built auto-aggression, a necessary move to save the threatened psyche. It is self-defence and not pleasure wanting to kill somebody. By this point of view we try to calm down our super-ego. Child analysis and adult analysis proves the primacy of hetero-aggression over auto-aggression every day.
The Hungarian and Swiss psychoanalyst Judith Le Soldat has revised classical Oedipus Theory where aggression only has a secondary importance. According to the classical concept, we murder the father only because he blocks the way to the mother, because he is in our way and is opposing our incestuous wishes. It is Le Soldat’s merit to clarify Oedipus Theory and make it very clear that the aggression is a primary motive, the child revenges himself for the frustration of wishes and castrates and kills the parents in a state of fury, and he or she enjoys the revenge and aggressive pleasure. That is why Le Soldat explains Castration anxiety as a direct consequence of one’s own aggressive desires and deeds.
So we come to conclude , that Castrating and Killing are the greatest aggressive pleasures. And Psychoanalysis still struggles to accept these clinical basic psychological facts.
The confusion in psychoanalytical theory dealing with the relationship of death and killing
I now turn to the question of the psychological connection between Death and Aggression, in the most extreme form, Death and Killing.
Death is what we all await. We do not know when and how.
It can strike in the next second, tomorrow or, as we all want to believe, at least when we are not tired out of life or suicidal, in the not too near future.
Aggression on the other hand, is a motivational source, a drive, that aims for the pleasure of attacking and destroying others, in the most extreme form, kill another person.
Because the death of another person is also a drive goal, death and aggression, are psychologically linked. We deny death because its difficulty to be grasped, because of the difficulty to represent it,
and we deny our aggressive wishes, our withes to kill somebody because of their internal consequences, especially guilt and revenge anxiety.
There is yet more to be said: The difficulty to represent death, its unknowability in so far as it concerns our own death, makes it especially difficulty to represent and grasp natural death and finiteness in our psychic inner world.
Freud pointed at these important facts:
We have the tendency to fill up the void, the irrepresentablityof death , this most irritating gap, with our own highly idiosyncratic fantasies derived from the consequences of the aggressive drive and its derivatives.
That is why we have difficultes to accept death just as fact and natural event, and we infiltrate our concept of death by guilt and punishment fantasies.
When my sister died of cancer, I could not accept it as just a terrible natural process, I immediately started to fantasize in terms of guilt and punishment.
Why she? I thought. She was such a kind person, she did not deserve it, and I added, I would have deserved it much more. My super-ego punished me, because, as I knew from my personal analysis, as the elder brother, jealous having to share the parents love with my younger sister, I had many times in my mind killed my little sister in childhood.
I remember a conversation with my 3-and-a-half year old daughter, when I was driving her to the Kindergarten, and her two-months-old younger brother was sitting in his baby seat in the car. She suddenly said; „Pa, do you mind to lay Noël (the baby brother) onto the street, and drive with the car over him?“ I asked: „Is it hard for you to have him too in our family?“ She thoughtfully said: „Oh yeah, I want him gone, but then…I also love him, he is so sweet….“
This is one of the sources of our death wishes against other persons, frustration, jealousy, revenge, and so on. And this colours of course our relationship to death. We cannot but imagine death as kind of a murder, or punishment. The influence of the aggressive drive infiltrates our relationship to death, and we have great difficulty to meet death as it mostly is, a natural event, in-built in life.
The idea that someone mustbe guilty when death steps in, is a typical loadening of the void of death with ucs oedipal fantasies.
A good friend of mine, having died of cancer too, some years ago, who, it was revealed after his death,made criminal financial deals, leaving his widow in gigantic financial mess having to pay debts, I could not help thinking he got the punishment he deserved, that his unconsious split-off aggression had caused his cancer, and so on. We project aggressive fantasies into death which is just natural decay.
Another example of projecting psychic ideas stemming from different sources into death happens when death is loaded with ideas about passive wish fulfillment.
In the unconscious death can be imagined as representing some ultimate passive aggressive blow, marvelously pictured in Lars van Triers film Melancholiawhere the crash of the great planet to earth is experienced by the protagonists as some longed (and of course also feared) wish fulfillment, kind of an ultimate intense orgiastic blow. I cannot refer here fully to Judith Le Soldats concept of the Hammer Blow Wish. But it is a well known clinical fact, that Death is imagined as an ApolloFigure giving us the ultimate passive aggressive satisfaction.
So the fantasized loading of death with psychological contents linked with passive and aggressive drive fulfillment or consequences like guilt or revenge anxiety sometimes lead to inner confusions, sometimes repeated in theoretical confusions in psychoanalytical thinking. This passive-aggressive wish fantasy lies at the ground of many bloody and violent suicidal impulses and acts.
I have to restrict my self to give some more example of the confusion of the subject of death with the subject of aggression,
the confusion and infiltration of the natural process of dying with the unconscious idea of killing himself or being killed.
A patient of mine always complains desperately about her fear of dying. When she has to go to work, she has an an anxiety attack of having a heart attack. When she feels some erotic attraction, she immediately thinks, she is going to die. And so on. But she never ever had any real confrontation with death up to now. So her anxiety attacks fit into Freuds scheme, she punishes herself by imagining death as a punishment for her aggressive and egoistic sexual wishes to take something from life. This is Oedipal Stuff, here Freud is right. It is not about death, it is more about punishment.
But there are other cases when Death really steps in. A patient of mine fell ill during her analysis of a very rare illness, leading to death in about 4 to six years. She started to fantasize that this sickness was an appropriate punishment for her bad character, always being so aggressive and having manipulated and persecuted other people, made their life like hell. She used oedipal fantasy to minimize the real impact of the uncanny confrontation with her real death, to be just around the corner in some years.
Let me come to some conclusions for the future research into the impact of death and aggression in our psychic lifes.
Give death its own primary and independent place in psychoanalytical thinking and theory
Having sorted out a certain still existing lack in psychoanalytic theory to deal with death, we are in the position to formulate some postulates for future thinking and research:
- Give death an autonomous and primary place in psychoanalytic thinking and theory, make a clear distinction between primary confrontation with death and secondary one (e.g. when murderous wishes lead to revenge and death anxiety).
- Advance psychoanalytical drive theory to a full acknowlodge of active and passive aggressive pleasure, resolve the confusion about so-called destructivity, clearly make a difference between genuine aggression and defence manoeuvers or drive-defense compromise formations (like the Hammer Blow Wish)
- Study the connection of aggressive drive and death, eliminate the now existing confusion, study the enormous imaginary loading of death with ucs fantasies! And create an independent theory ofthe impact of death in our inner world!
Keynote Speech ECCP Conference Portoroz/Slovenia, Sept 18, 2014
Postmodern Cultural Resistances against Psychoanalytic Working – how to deal with it?
Markus Fäh, Ph.D., Zurich
Postmodernism, Globalization, Acceleration and Virtualization are major cultural developments producing specific cultural and individual resistances against psychoanalytic working. How can we psychoanalysts deal in a creative and efficient way with these resistances, on a clinical as well as on a political and cultural level? What are our own resistances against influencing individuals as well as the society with our psychoanalytic perspectives and instruments? The author formulates some tentative and provocative hypotheses.
Dear Colleagues, dear friends!
Before I begin with developing my thoughts I would like to thank the local organizing committee and the Slovenian Branch of ECPP, especially Vera Horzen and Isztok Zver, for the brillant organization and the very warm welcome, and also Barbara Fitzgerald, Charles Sasse and Tania Mizinova for the huge amount of work leading our organization!
In summer 2003, in Lvov, ECPP was given life, and in autumn 2004, ten years ago, we had our second conference in Ljubljana, thanks to our friend and veteran Janko Bohak. I had the chance to be the first president of ECPP, and felt quite overwhelmed by this task, and thanks to the many friends in the board, to name a few, of course Barbara, Cornelia Krause-Girth, Alfred Pritz, Mikhail Reshetnikow, Charles Sasse, and all the others, we managed to survive the first years…in 2008, Mikhail Reshetnikow took over, and with his organizing talent and management capacities, ECPP started to flourish, not only in qualitative but also in quantitative aspects…
2012…Barbara Fitzgerald was elected president…and she fills ECPP with her organizational as well as her psychoanalytical and spiritual capacities…
It is not self-explanatory when the climate in organizations is alive and good. Many organizations, especially psychoanalytic ones, suffer from group symptoms that inhibit their productivity and success.
I have raised this issue in the third ECPP Conference in Paris 2005 where I spoke about the analyst’s fear of being creative, about the thinking inhibitions, and the infantilizing group mechanisms in psychoanalytic organizations. In Kiev, 2009, it was the intercultural difference between different national and regional psychoanalytic cultures that attracted my attention, and I postulated four stages in the development of a specific regional or national psychoanalytic culture. A year ago, in Repino, in the Summer School of ECPP Russia, I addressed the challenge of the global change to psychoanalysts, and the tendency that we as analysts deny and disavow changes happening around us that contradict our beloved and cherished views and values.
Today I would like to elaborate on this and connect two strands of thought, on one hand societal and cultural change as well as individual symptoms and defence structures, on the other hand and in the second part of my paper the psychoanalysts’ symptoms and defences against dealing analytically with this challenge.
My thesis is: if psychoanalysts understand their task in Freudian tradition – helping people change under certain societal circumstances given by removing unconscious barriers – we psychoanalysts in the first quarter of the 21st century have to understand the present societal changes , and also the impact of these changes on the individuals facing it when we want to fulfill this task successfully…
Psychoanalysts who understand their task and work as making Ucs Cs , will study the impact of societal change, and will try to understand the coping strategies and the ucs elaboration of these societal changes, and they will also study their own resistances against perceiving societal and individual motives.
First I would like to to shed some light on four major societal and cultural changes human beings are confronted with in these days.
Second, I would like to discuss the individual and collective resistances to psychoanalytic work stemming from these changes. And I will introduce the concept of the psychoanalytic phallus and the symptom of the phallic inhibition of analysts as an individual and group symptom of the psychoanalysts, refusing to deal efficiently and successfully with collective and individual as well as their own resistance. I will put forward a clinical and theoretical understanding of these symptom, and jlbwill try to give some ideas how to overcome it.
PART ONE: THE SOCIETAL TENDENCIES
The notion of hypercapitalism is used by economists and philosophers to describe the present stage of capitalism. It is characterized by not only exploiting people as producers, but also as consumers.
Corporate structures where individuals knew their place and career pathways have continually been eroded. Now employees are seen as assets (human resources) who have to continually prove themselves to be kept on in their jobs. No more jobs for life. Life (bodily) is used up to produce profit. Used up people seek diversion by appealing to outside themselves for diversion. Buying and shopping malls appear as the new churches where the imagination of consumers is stirred and exploited.
We are not paid the whole value of our work – the traditional capitalist exploitation according to Karl Marx, this is the classical capitalism. In hypercapitalism, in addition to the first step of exploitation, we as consumers have to pay for nothing. We pay for more than we get, because we pay for nothing, and we fill this nothing with our imaginary projections. The french philosopher Jean-Paul Galibert highlightens this finding in a very creative and inspiring book: »Chronophages« = Time Eaters. Our whole life time is eaten up by the Chronophages, we work as producers, and we work in a leisure time with our imagination to create more than there is in the products we buy.
Where in our cities, organised as they are around profit, are there resting places for dwelling, protecting us from the obsession to give away our time to the Chronophages?
Take Credit Cards as an example. We pay for the illusion of paying nothing when we buy products, in fact we pay horrendous rates of interest. And brands like Nike: you pay for the product many times more then the real cost it took to produce it, but we pay the right to identify ourselves with this brand, so ironically we pay for the right to work with our imagination and fill the brand with our fantasies and longings.
I will not go more into the whole theory of hypercapitalism, the essence is that even as consumers we are exploited, we do not get a fair return, we fill the emptiness for which we pay with our hyped imaginations. So , in fact, as consumers, we work again, we work by fantasizing and pumping up the content of what we are buying. Hypercapitalism creates a great mass of people working as producers and consumers , and a small number of hypercapitalists accumulating all the money.
It is only by means of using the instrument and perspective of psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian psychoanalysis, we come to the point of understanding what hypercapitalism is doing to us. The impact of economic substructure functions like the Real according to Lacan, it is not symbolized, it is a mute force oppressing us all, sucking the blood out of our veins, and we are even enjoying it! The task of psychoanalysts would be to understand such unconscious exploitation, speak it out and restore the freedom of people to agree or not agree.
To perceive the Real, to tolerate the anxiety connected with this step, empowers the individusal to choose…to agree or not to agree..which includes the people and leaders they wish to support.
A core psychoanalytical capacity is to analyse the subject as well as the object, to analyse the madness within the individual as well as the collective madness in the world surrounding the individual. Helping people coming to terms with the madness of the culture and and society around us, and to restore sanity and not merely keep functioning a sanitised wasteland, is the main task for us psychoanalysts.
Understanding the mechanism of hypercapitalism is not possible without psychoanalytic instruments. Psychoanalysis has to analyze societal changes and their impact on the lives and psychic functioning and structure of people, then it will fulfill its function for changing individuals and society for the better.
The late philosopher and intellectual Tony Judt once said that “the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their inability to imagine alternatives”. Psychoanalysis needs to explore ‘the thrall’.
A consequence of hypercapitalism is the growing economic inequality. The wealth of the world is in the hands of the few. We have a situation resembling the one in the 19th century, as the research of the French economist Thomas Piketty shows, when wealth was inherited, and you had no chance to change your social class by your own effort and merits. Born poor, stay poor. Born rich, stay rich. By working (honestly – one is tempted to say) it is impossible to escape your social class.
This creates severe psychic consequences. The classical capitalistic meritocratic ideology that every man und woman can use their life span to to pursue any individual goals – the promise of the pursuit of happniness – even get rich if he feels like it – when they work hard und accumulate enough capital, is fundamentally eroded.
Those who are rich today do not have to work and they become richer just because of the economic laws of the financial market. Those who are poor and work hard will never become rich because the deeply indebted states take away a lot of their income. Nothing changes, the social-democratic efforts only try to minimize and soothen the consequences of hypercapitalism. The Slowenian philosopher and Lacanian Thinker Slavoy Zizek says there is only one conclusion: There must be a revolution to remove this sick and destructive economic system. But what kind of revolution? We do not know yet, he says, but we have to think about it.
It is a psychological and a socio-psychological question; Why are people blind to these economic facts, why is there no public debate on taking away the trillions of dollars from the rich and fill the chronically empty box of the financial household of the states, regions, communities. Why taxing income and consume , why not taxing wealth and inheritances?
Income tax and consumer tax are not social, they hit the rich and the poor likewise. Fortune tax only hits the rich, and enhances the situation of the public sector. There are differences in taxing inheritances, but the fact remains that inequality is increasing due to capital inherited in relation to income generated by work.
Why is this not part of a global agenda of politicians around the world? Like in therapy, we have to ask the question so that it can be studied psychoanalytically.
Why do we unconsciously agree with being sucked out, being cheaten, being lied to? Is it an unconscious desire to suffer, to be treated badly? And the rich and mighty only exploit this neurotic desire of the masses?
Do we have a desire to sacrifice our energy to nurture an insane system, to keep it alive?
Postmodernism is a specific cultural phenomenon characterized by some features I will shortly describe now.
Postmodernism as a paradigm favors pluralism and difference rather than a central and all encompassing master or meta-narrative. Since according to postmodernism the completeness and consistency of any school of thought remains indeterminate, the only legitimate position is to celebrate diversity and pluralism of points of view. This is the equivalent of multiculturalism in a larger culture.
In the psychoanalytic field this tendency is reflected by the existence of different schools of psychoanalysis that can be clearly defined and discussed, and the growing difficulty of establishing an overall theoretical map encompassing all different psychoanalytic schools of thought. In this respect , ECPP is a compromise between modernist and postmodernist tendencies: On one hand, ECPP does not want to create a leading paradigm of psychoanalytic thought favouring one psychoanalytic school and creating bureaucratic and hegemonic structures exerting overall dominance, on the other hand we try to stick to some basic common grounds applying to the thinking and working of all of us.
Postmodernism has a deep impact on the lives of individuals and on the culture as a whole: It frustrates the longing for a strong father figure establishing and enforcing the law, on the other hand, it allows for a space for feeling and thinking not dominated by some restrictions and inhibitions.
How can Psychoanalysis be an instrument to deal with the impact of postmodernism?
Postmodernism challenges psychoanalysts in many ways:
First, it confronts us in a personal and narcissistic way: we have to accept the fact, that our psychoanalytic paradigm is no more the leading psychological paradigm in culture. There is a pluralism of psychotherapeutic approaches, there is a big market, and rivaling transnational »companies« in sharp concurrence. This is a narcicisstic injury we have to deal with, younger colleagues perhaps are less afflicted by this, because they never experienced the »Golden Age« of monopoly of Psychoanalysis that lasted till the beginning of the 80s.
Second, postmodernism challenges us in a clinical way: It has an impact on the demands with which clients and patients are confronting us. They want to adapt to postmodernist values, they are children of this culture, so they rebel against authority, setting, theory. They want flexibility, empathy, they change their demand according to their rapidly changing life situations. They want first crisis intervention, after having mastered the crisis, they often do not want intense long-term analysis, but some coaching for a specific life stage with specific problems. They demand for advice and quick solutions. How do we deal with this demand? In classical analytical therapy, we were in the comfortable situation of having had established a clear setting, and on this basis we could interpret many movements of the patient, many demands as a reflection of transference wishes and resistance. Without having established a setting and a strong enough working alliance, we are on a shaky ground. Psychoanalytic interventions are addressed to people not yet ready or willing to work analytically. This forces us to operate not only with classical explicit interpretations, it demands from us to act and counter-act, inspired by implicit psychoanalytic understanding.
I will not go into a detailed case report, only mention the example of a manager, 45-year-old, leading two love relationships in a parallel way, and coming to me with the question: I cannot do it anymore, I am like a candle burning on both ends, please tell me which woman should I choose? Of course I frustrated this demand, telling him hat it must be a symptom of his life style that he could not feel the answer to his question within himself….I worked with him analytically in a setting adapted to his international jet-set life style, and I had to be flexible as well as firm towards him in my demand for reflection instead of action…now he is coming to realize that his way of managing everything is a defense against a deep anxiety of BEING himself….
Third, Postmodernism challenges psychoanalysts in a theoretical way….
Psychoanalytic Theory is a child of modernism. Emancipation of the individual from the pressures of identifications with societal norms and pressures.
Classical psychoanalytic theory reflected the myth of the oedipal father as a guarantee of psychic structure, introducing the law forbiding the incestuous relationships between infant and mother.
Postmodernist theory critizices hegemonic demands , and also critizices the idea of a universal law. In this way it undermines the modernist notion of the Oedipal Father.
We can notice this theoretical break in the process of the Work of Lacan. Lacan discusses the two aspects of the father. The father as separating mother and infant, introducing the law, but also the pervert father of the primal horde, abusing, violating and killing his children and perverting the law.
Postmodernist Lacanian Theory helps to understand why the modernist and classical psychoanalytic longing for an ideal father is a defense against something else.
Against emptiness, against the need for filling the void with something else than a BIG OTHER.
There is no big other. It is just what we are longing for.
Of course this very short glimpse of late Lacanian Thinking is not sufficient to discuss this complex subject now. What I am underlining here is that postmodernism is also a challenge to classical psychoanalytical theory.
Many psychoanalysts are inhibited in their theoretical thinking. They fall into the clinicist trap, they even denigrate theoretical thinking. But Theory is the second phallus of psychoanalytical thinking.
The first phallus is our psychoanalytical method. The second is theory.
I will address this point again later.
The third challenge we are facing now is the challenge of globalization.
Globalization confronts us with the fact that that our regional or national illusions are lost. Everything we do, on an individual as well as on a collective level, has a global aspect.
As psychoanalysts in the traditional and classical sense we have developed a culture of privatistic illusions. We tend to interpret even societal phenomena in familialistic terms.
But globalization forces us to accept that everything we do is global. When we psychoanalysts abstain from political thinking and acting, we are just naive cowards not using our potent phallus to give our contribution to create a better world.
What is the psychoanalysts contribution to a better world?
Psychoanalysis in a globalized world confronts us also with the fact that there is transnational diversity within global unity. This also leads to the question of transnational psychoanalytical identity and national psychoanalytical cultural diversity.
Five years ago, in Kiev, i focused on the subject of different national psychoanalytical culture as a third stage of psychoanalytical development. Horst Kächele proposed a fourth stage, the stage of transnational diversity. I fully agree with him. The challenge of development of psychoanalytic communities around a globalised world is to merge specific national and regional culture with psychoanalytic common grounds.
Therefore globalization is a two-fold challenge for us psychoanalysts. We have to think about the impact of globalization onto the minds of people, and we have to adapt our psychoanalytic culture to the globalized world.
4: Acceleration, Virtualization, Simulacra
Let us just briefly mention the fourth societal challenge we are facing, the cultural phenomena of acceleration and virtualization. The world is growing faster in relation to the slowness of our human minds, and it is also getting more and more virtual as opposed to real. We are drowning in simulated versions of reality, so called »simulacra«, according to the term the French philosopher Baudrillard coined.
The rapidly growing production of virtual reality leads to the experience that people lose contact with what is real. They are never sure, is it real or just another narrative, a fake, a simulacrum?
Take love life as an example.
You can »manage« several »love« relationships in parallel just by creating the simulacrum of a love relationship for every receiver of your virtual text messages.
By communicating with SMS over great distances, by example, you create a simulacrum of real contact, when you manipulate the receiver in believing something that is not real.
As a reaction to this irritation the disbelief and distrust in what is said rises. People want real proof of the non-virtual character of their perceptions, they are not satisfied with words.
So there is a thirst for reality, hyper-reality, because we have learned to distrust deeply every surface, every sentence. The greed for hyper-reality is unsatiable.
The three films of the Matrix Trilogy by the Brothers Wachovski is an analysis of simulacra as well as a simulacrum it self. With psychoanalytic concepts we are able to understand the way simulacra function and undermine the symbolic reality of our lives.
Bion called the »cliché versions« of reality that borderline or psychotic persons create to defend themselves against fully falling into psychotic functioning »Beta Screens«, reality constructions not constructed out of well symbolized alpha-elements but being composed of bizarre Beta-elements patch-worked together as a fragile protective shield against overwhelming sensual reality and experience.
We live in a world of Beta-Screens.
It is very difficult to tell the difference between accurate versions of reality and simulacra shields. We analysts have to be aware of this difference and making people to become aware of it too.
PART 2: INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE RESISTANCES TO PSYCHOANALYTICAL WORK STEMMING FROM THESE DEVELOPMENTS, PHALLIC INHIBITION OF PSYCHOANALYSTS
5: Individual and Cultural Resistances
Why do people often not perceive these social changes? Why do they, and we, not perceive the environment disaster, the economic inequality, the dangers from genetic research, the danger of nuclear or chemical war? Why do we not realize the reason for all that?
Why are people even enjoying their prison, their lack, their horrendous situation?
Why do they abstain from thinking and acting against it?
Why this inhibition of creativity and political courage?
There are many reasons for it. But the most important is defense against anxiety. Perceiving the real produces anxiety. The truth is unpleasant.
For example the truth about our drive structure and our super-ego-structure. That we defend against paranoid castration anxieties on one hand, and that we enjoy passively masoschistic pleasure when we allow the ruling class to dominate and repress us, and we let the rulers exploit our working force and our imagination power.
6: The Psychoanalytical Phallus
What is the task of the analyst? The analyst’s capacity is to perceive, contain and analyze the derivatives of the Unconcious. To confront the manifold individual as societal symptoms. To speak out the unpleasant truth and to bear the often unfriendly resistance reactions. In other words: to cope with the negative transference as well as his own countertransference.
Psychoanalysis is a strong instrument, it has a subversive power, because it is able to question the individual motives on a very deep level.
The two aspects of psychoanalytical power, the two psychoanalytical phalli are: the psychoanalytical method and the psychoanalytical theory.
But why are we psychoanalysts inhibited in using our psychoanalytical phally, using our phallic potency fully for the best of ourselves, our beloved ones, our clients, the world?
7: Guilt and Unconscious Fantasy
I think we cannot understand this problem, and we cannot overcome this impotency when we do not understand the essence of human aggression, and the great human pleasure stemming from the aggressive drive, i.e. castration pleasure, robbing pleasure, killing pleasure.
Put in the terms of Castration Theory, developed by the Swiss Psychoanalyst Judith Le Soldat:
Acquiring and using the phallus is linked to the oedipal crime having castrated mother and father, and therefore raises guilt and castration anxiety.
Castration Theory postulates that in revenge for the frustration of our passive and active infantile genital wishes we castrate our parents. This produces overwhelming guilt feelings and castration anxiety because we fear the revenge of the castrated parents.
Later on, every success in life, everything we take, is unconsiously equal to having castrated and robbed the trophy, and even, to avoid being revenged, having killed the parents (this by magical thinking and reviving our parents with our genital wishes, leads to even greater revenge anxieties, fear of revenants killing us).
For us psychoanalysts, everything we have learned from Freud, from all the other psychoanalytic theorists, from our own personal analysts, from our supervisors, is considered as a castration trophy. We feel unconsciously guilty of having it, and if we do not confront this guilt and analyse it, we defend against it by creating unconcious phallic inhibitions.
This is the case when analysts do not use their analytic capacities, when they hold back knowledge.
8: The Defenses of the Analysts
The phallic inhibitions of analysts have many faces: We can see it in the creativity inhibtion of many analysts, in the inhibitions in daily clinical practice…
They do not allow themselves to intervene analytically…
They do not allow themselves to seduce clients for analysis proper…
They do not apply psychoanalytical thinking to their own problems, as well to the problem of their children, their beloved ones, their friends…they hide their treasure…and rationalize this inhibition by adhering to an exaggerated ideal of abstinence…
They do not speak out loud their analytical position in the public sphere, they restrict themselves to working clinically, and even there, they do not enjoy being analysts…
They identify themselves with the cultural aggression, they argue defensively against Freud bashing positions…
They are not proud of being psychoanalysts…
And so on…
This phallic inhibition is a neurotic symptom as every phallic inhibition is… they hide their best piece…they defend against coping with their castration anxieties and guilt consciously…and analyse the fantasies and feelings connected with successful functioning…
What should analysts do?
First, they should perceive and diagnose their phallic inhibitions. To be symptomatic is no shame, if you properly analyse it…
Second, they should analyse their inhibitions using the psychoanalytic method AND the psychoanalytic theory
Third, they should go out and speak…
- In their individual career
- In the organizations where they work: They should build up courage to fight and to win…but filter out primitive aggression and contempt…tame the inner monster and use it for fairplay and success
- In culture and society: we have to use aggression to put it into productive channels!
So please, colleagues, to speak with Bob Marley: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights! For the rights of all human beings, for the purpose of conquering the Unconscious, riding the tiger!