This week, we entered the realm of the psyche or the soul with a specific emphasis on psychoanalysis. We find ourselves eavesdropping on a conversation among three social theorists – Freud, Lacan, and Zizek. This conversation revolves around questions of identity and being. At the root of psychodynamic theory is the idea that human being is a complex myth. We are all actors driven my perceptions and conceptions created and existing just outside of our awareness. I am reminded of the words in certain rituals of baptism that declare baptism as the "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" (http://www.celtic-catholic-church.org/oak_tree/grace-and-sacraments.html).
Like Zizik, I will use any number of examples or artifacts to explain a point. In this post, I will frequently cite song lyrics. For example, it seems to me that a good place to start is to with a classic Who song that asks, "who are you?" A Pink Floyd song responds, "just another brick in the wall." Certain classic rock bands create music as a very public form of psychotherapy and social criticism. The band Styx famously welcomed listeners to the "grand illusion." The song observes,
But don't be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they're just someone else's fantasy
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game
Just remember that it's a Grand illusion
Such lyrics might make one wonder if Dennis DeYoung was writing in collaboration with Freud, Lacan, and Zizek. In a few words, he captured the essence of what these theorists are getting at. That is to say, life is smoke and mirrors. The individual exists only in dynamic tension with others. With other, the individual is trying mitigate the impact of external forces.
Each theorist highlights the notion that the human game is rigged long before an individual has the conscious capacity for choosing to play. Arguably, biology created some essential boundaries through phenotypic and other genetic constraints. Further, each of us enters the world in a particular context and are shaped by forces in that context long before we are aware of the process. Parents and the family system are the first line of offense in this shaping process. We know this. Did we have a hand in naming ourselves? Were we able to select breast-feeding or bottle feeding or our birth order? Were we able to select baptism or circumcision or other religious markings? Of course we were not able! We were agents without agency. This is not to say that at some level we were not aware of the other or of the shaping. Perhaps we did protest or resist, but to little avail. As a result, we began to create a space, an internal locus, through which we could orient ourselves to the world and maximize our subjectivity. In that space, we reconcile others to ourselves - we survive and even thrive. Confusion subsides and we do win the game.
Psychoanalytic theory posits a view that the essentials of who an individual are set early in life before language or the ability to skillfully manipulate other symbols. This need not be overly deterministic, but it can hold great explanatory value. For Lacan, an important development in the first 18 months of life is the development of a mirror image. At some level, the human instinct is to establish a mental image of self. It is a reflected self shaped by the other. Lacan likens the process to looking into a mirror. This imagine being becomes foundational to how we function in the world and is the engine that drives our subjectivity. It is structural. Lacan, unlike Freud is not as concerned with interpreting behavior as he is with understanding the architecture of being. Our being is lived or enacted fiction. Such language reminds the contemporary rhetorical scholar of Kenneth Burke's dramatism and his foundational concepts of division and identification. I am further reminded of the biblical figure Paul who writes, "For we know in part, and prophesy in part ... For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (I Cor. 13:9, 12). This is the great yearning of human being - to be fully known and to be wholly real.
Yet, as all of the readings suggest, our understanding of our subjectivity is tainted. It is illusory. Further, the human freedom that inheres to notions of subjectivity necessarily reduces the other to an inhuman object. One could cynically say that we are all figments of our imaginations. None of us has every seen ourselves without the aid of some reflective device such as a mirror. Paintings, sketches and photographs attempt to capture our reality, but all such devices fall short. In reality, all of our sense of self is a reflected sense. We hear our voice one way and others hear it differently. We see imagine our appearance one and being one way, but others experience it quite differently. As the Who sings in another classic song, "Behind Blue Eyes" (http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/behind-blue-eyes-lyrics-the-who/8a180da36528753448256977002e7c53),
No one knows what it's like
To be hated, to be fated to telling only lies
But my dreams, they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance that's never free
Such an observation necessarily brings us to the place of understanding life as a kind of violence rooted in the tension between subjects and objects. The human subject is programmed to instinctively survive the face of the objective. Thus, at any given moment, each of us is living is a place of barely contained rage. Freud suggests that humans possess a psychical apparatus to deal with this tension. We are familiar with his concepts of id, ego, and superego. Ego is the mediator between id, base animal instincts, and superego, the constraining force sometimes thought of as conscience.
In a paper titled ”Psychodynamics Of Political Correctness,” Howard S. Schwartz asserts that, "this psychology rests on an internalization of external order and places a premium on the maintenance of established structure." He goes on to say that,
The problem is that ... our experience never fully corresponds to the ego ideal. We never get to be the center of a loving world. The problem is that the world is not our mother. It has an independent existence outside of ourselves. Far from being structured by love for our selves, the world manifests a cold, powerful indifference. It does not simply give, but makes demands on us which we must fulfill if it is going to sustain us.
Lacan understand the superego in this cold, anti-ethical agentic way. Zizek builds on a similar understanding of psychology as he writes about the political manifestations of an internal human dynamic. In fact, Zizek captures this quite well in "Passions of the Real, Passions of Semblance" when he writes,
The ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he is living in is a fake, a spectacle staged to convince him that he is living in a real world, while all the people around him are in fact actors and extras in a gigantic show. [He cites The Truman Show.]
So, this raises an interesting question, which is "How far will individuals go to protect and preserve the fantasy and the imaginary?" As Zizek reflects on the events of September 11, 2001, the answers seems to be that humans will go all the way and this highlights the inherent lie of behind notions of humanity.
In "Slavoj Žižek – Freedom as Feigned Necessity: The Mask of Civility," Sabrina Dawkins writes, "human freedom requires the inhuman treatment of the Neighbor, and the humane treatment of the Other requires that he or she be made an object. Since the Other is unfathomable and terrifying, a civil, free society must domesticate the unknown territory through routine niceties and abstract kindness to a universal Neighbor that does not exist."
As I close this post, I want to leave you with the words of Tracy Chapman. Her songs have a particularly strong political orientation. For example, she sings in her 1989 song "Crossroads" (http://www.elyrics.net/read/t/tracy-chapman-lyrics/crossroads-lyrics.html) that,
All you folks think I got my price
At which I’ll sell all that is mine
You think money rules when all else fails
Go sell your soul and keep your shell
I’m trying to protect what I keep inside
All the reasons why I live my life
And even as she protests, she understands that it's all a grand illusion.
An academic posting should be seeded with questions. My research interests are oriented around rhetorics of identity and reconciliation especially as constructed along racial and religious lines. I like to think of myself as an advocate of human rights and see some of my future work as support efforts to advance the causes of peace and nonviolence. However, as one engages Freud, Lacan, Zizek and others, how is it possible to imagine a superego capable of mitigating the violence inherent in human being? Also, how does an awareness of what seems to be essential human conflictedness, enhance the scholarship and work related to conflict resolution? Finally, Zizek suggests that the idea of loving ones neighbor as ones self creates a subject-object relationship in which the other is dehumanized (or treated inhumanly). Is peace or a state of non-violence coexistence possible when some are in an inhuman status?