Friday, February 11, 2011


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" (

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" (,

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" ( 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?


  1. Of course, we would expect nothing less in a post than what Darren has presented us with here. True to form, he has given us a lot to think about and showed us ways in which the information manifests itself in "real life." Additionally, I enjoyed seeing Tracy Chapman and The Truman Show references in Darren's blog. I am a big fan of both.

    Like Darren, my research interests also involve the inherent violence found in humans and a desire for peace and nonviolence. Although I am concerned with how humans treat companion animals rather than how they treat each other, the point remains the same. Indeed, the two usually go hand-in-hand. When an other (in my case, a comapnion animal or "pet") is placed in an object role, the outcome can be (and often is) devastating. I do not believe this is a pre-determined hopeless scenario which cannot be resolved. However, it is clear from the readings that how individuals control their inner violent tendencies has a dramatic effect on the object, whether that be human or animal. In my grand illusions and imaginary world, it is my first instinct to disagree that all humans are inherently violent, but if we are honest with ourselves, we have all been to the point where we want to punch, choke, or shake someone out of anger. I have these feelings several times a day driving to school! However, most of us are able to control these urges, lulling us into a belief that we are nonviolent creatures. When in fact, the id is quite violent by nature. It is only our reason and common sense that keeps our urges in line. We are aware of the consequences of acting on our every impulse and have some sense of right and wrong provided to us by our superegos. This is not true for all human beings, however. Many individuals do not control themselves, either by choice or affliction. How then, can we positively influence those who do not have an ego capable of controlling their id? Is awareness, as some have suggested enough? It is not likely. Awareness might be the first step, but behavioral control must be learned. Perhaps because our parents are the "first line of offense in this shaping process," it is their obligation to be the teachers of this control and the only ones capable of doing so.

  2. Freud's concept of the super-ego is a representation of influences from authority figures in an individual's life. The ideals and demands imposed upon a person act as a filter for the desires and impulses of the individual's id.

    Freud expands this notion in his essay "Civilization and the Individual." The super-ego becomes a psychological force of a community that is molded by the legacies of leaders to form the basis of the community's ethics--"the relations of human beings to one another." The compulsion to act benevolently toward other people is antithetical to the primary instinct of destruction, and the ethical commandment to "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is in fact "the strongest defense against human aggressiveness and an excellent example of the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego." (Social Theory, p.150)

    In the videogame Fallout 3, the player can mold his or her character's reputation and personality through actions that result in a gain or loss of Karma. For example, giving water and medicine to sick people increases your Karma, while stealing things and unwarranted acts of violence will decrease your Karma. There is no codified system of law in the apocalyptic world of the game, so characters will attack you if you wrong them. Zizek would interpret the system of Karma as a display of his idea that civility and humane behavior are a process of objectifying others. The sick figure in need of medicine is not a person but a source of good Karma. The victim of theft is a list of possessions and a source of bad Karma. Likewise, Freud would see the cultural super-ego at work. It would be easy to succumb to the destructive instincts of the id and kill everything in sight, but the imposition of Karma filters and restricts those desires by designating them as unethical based on the legacies of law and order.

  3. Darren, you offer some provocative observations of “what psychoanalysis is about,” to use Zizek’s words (17). My comment tries to continue that theme by looking at some of the provocative points that Zizek makes about September 11 to elaborate and pin down what he suggests “psychoanalysis is about.”

    One significant question that the readings for this week grapple with (perhaps with the exception of Lacan’s excerpt) seems to be: what to make of violence—violence both experienced and imagined? For example, in the section “The Psychical Apparatus and the Theory of Instincts,” Freud implies that acts of violence and people’s fascination with violence are the result of one of our “two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct.” This latter instinct, in contrast to Eros, seeks “to undo connections and to destroy things” (ST 132). Likewise, Zizek offers an interpretation of violence in “Passions of the Real, Passions of Semblance.” As a way to expand the above discussion that Darren started about what “psychoanalysis is about,” I would like to try to understand a few of Zizek’s key points.

    Zizek begins the essay by pointing out that many people find violence notable for the authenticity it represents; it suggest a “passion for the Real.” The “Real” stands for the Lacanian notion of the world as experienced in early human development; it essentially entails what we experience before we enter language, before “symbolization (i.e. cultural classification)” enters our consciousness and “cuts up the Real into separate parts” (Storey 101-102). The “passion for the Real” is supposedly the groping for this once unmediated contact with the world, and violence can be understood not only as one of our basic instincts, as Freud suggests, but also as one of the means for enacting this passion: an attempt to achieve provisional contact with the “Real.”

    Within this “passion for the Real” lies a paradox, according to Zizek. The paradox is this: the “passion for the Real” results in its apparent opposite, in a theatrical spectacle” (9). That is, with the example of September 11, rather than the terrorist violence pushing Americans closer to the “Real,” waking “us, Western citizens, from our numbness, from immersion in our everyday ideological universe” (9), the violence resulted in a terrifying spectacle that we repeatedly watched with horror, fascination, and “jouissance at its purest” (12).

    Why do we watch the violent spectacle with such jouissance? Because, Zizek suggests, what happened on September 11th was not that the Real came in and exploded our fantasies about reality; what happened was that our fantasies came in and exploded our “reality (i.e. the symbolic coordinates that we experience as reality)” (16). That is, as Zizek puts it bluntly: “America got what it fantasized about, and that was the biggest surprise” (16). Thus part of the reason that he affirms this violence as one America’s fantasies par excellence is because we have already witnessed this spectacle over and over again in our cultural products, like all the “Hollywood disaster movies” (16). America had already dreamt about the destruction long before it happened on September 11th.

    The key question is: why? Why was/is such destruction our fantasy? Zizek offers his own complex, psychoanalytic reasons that are difficult to decipher. But difficulty aside, he proclaims: “This is what psychoanalysis is about: to explain why, in the midst of wellbeing, we are haunted by nightmarish visions of catastrophes” (17).

  4. Lacan’s reinterpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis provides insights into our longing “to return to a time before ‘lack’, to find ourselves in what is not ourselves; and each time we will fail” (Storey 102). As Storey clarifies, “In other words, desire is the desire to find that which we lack, ourselves whole again, as we were before we encountered the Imaginary and the Symbolic” (102).

    The notion of “lack” fascinates me; it lends itself to a reading of an endless number of media texts. Such a reading would certainly account for our recognition(s) of the “lack” and our misplaced efforts to address it, characterized by infinite quests to discover the next fetish-as-substitute. Employment of a fetish will, of course, always fail to truly and wholly satisfy.

    To elaborate, I share an example of psychoanalytic film criticism. The film is 1962’s “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and chronicles the story of an aging child actress who, in her desperation to preserve her child-star status, refuses to grow up and, indeed, demonstrates this through her attempt to “resurrect” her act (not to mention the deranged way she keeps her crippled sister locked in a room upstairs and tries to feed her dead birds and rats. Enter Joan Crawford-as-victim). See, for instance, in this clip ( how “Adult” Jane reverts back to “Baby” Jane through her attire, her garish makeup, her performance (of the creepy “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”), the repulsed/bemused piano player (a signifier for the absent Daddy, to be sure): all the while, she gazes into the mirror, unable to distinguish between that which is real and that which is imaginary. She is not really seeing reality, but rather a reflection of what reality once was. She is, in fact, trying to return to this moment in her life: ( And, observe the moment of recognizing that the lack cannot be fulfilled: the mirror betrays her and enables this moment, encourages it even, while the replica-doll-as-fetish gazes on: (

    To complicate (and illuminate) all of this further, the (aging) actress playing Jane, Bette Davis, attempted to embark on her very own singing career after the film, trying to “fit in” to the hip 1960s: ( Art mimicking life, or vice versa?

    To answer Darren’s third question, then: “Is peace or a state of non-violence coexistence possible when some are in an inhuman status?” I don’t know. I think that my example of “sisterly love” in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” suggests that inhumanity can be an unfortunate, though unavoidable consequence of our fervent, though failed attempts to fill the lacks in our life – whether we try to do so sanely or otherwise. Through this reading, it seems unlikely for this co-existence to be possible (Davis and Crawford feuded in real life, adding a further layer of meaning). Of course, I acknowledge that this is an extreme example. But it nicely demonstrates these concepts in motion, as applicable, as instructive, and as worthy of our attention.

  5. Thank you for the insightful post, Darren. To answer your first question, I think searching for a superego capable of mitigating violence inherent in a human being is, ironically, a dangerous quest. Violence falls in line with what Freud calls the “destructive instinct,” which Zizek describes as “passion for the real.” To connect this to our previous discussions, violence becomes a way in which one can grapple and negotiate with not only the repressive state apparatus, but also the ideological state apparatus that guides hegemony. When we look towards Zizek’s interview with Soft Targets (1), he explains that that sometimes violence can mean doing nothing. He describes violence as, “changing the basic social infrastructure, the fundamental relations of society.” Thus, when an individual practices sabotage (2), even if all they do is play on facebook instead of working at their 9 to 5 job, to some small degree it is an act of destruction or violence. In some ways, this is why Dr. King stressed that nonviolence should be viewed as an act of love instead of as a tactic, because when it is, it falls into this type of destruction.

    Although I find determining the effectiveness of any range of violence/retaliation? difficult, simply accepting the violence that is performed through the hegemonic structure makes me extremely uneasy. My favorite TV show turned movie, Serenity (3), is an excellent example of how the battle between the id and the super-ego can be viewed in extremes.

    When the Alliance (collection of corporations that govern the universe) give “Pax” to the citizens of planet Miranda, 99.9% of the citizens become so passive they resist all urges including eating, moving, etc (an exaggeration of the super-ego), while other .1% turn into madmen that rape, torture, murder and eat human flesh (an exaggeration of the id). That 99.9% DO discover the “superego capable of mitigating the violence inherent in human being.” One could argue the Serenity crew, especially, River Tam (4) struggle to perform the task of the ego by “gaining control over the demands of the instincts, by deciding whether they are to be allowed satisfaction, by postponing that satisfaction to times and circumstances favorable in the external world or by suppressing their excitations entirely” (Freud, p. 131).

    To tie this to your last two questions, I believe Eros is equally important in this process (5). When we read Lacan’s account of the mirror stage, as well as Zizek’s argument against subject-object relationship, we should take a cue from Martin Buber (6). When we move away from the Real, we view both ourselves and others as objects. Buber refers to this as the “It”. The “it” the object that performs the task, i.e. taking your ticket at the theatre, bringing you food at the restaurant, etc. However, when we move towards the Real we view the ourselves and others as subjects/”I”s or as Buber refers to as “I,” “You,” or “Thou”.

    To answer your last two questions simply, when we ignore the Real, we go along with oppression of others, because they are simply objects, which maintain the “stability” hegemony. Through Eros, we recognize them as humans, so destruction becomes an act of love. In my opinion the goal of conflict resolution should not be one of fair, but instead what affirms an individual’s humanness, thus what appears to be a conflict, might not really exist. I don’t believe peace or a state of non-violence coexistence is possible when some are in an inhuman status, because the oppression of others through hegemony IS an act of violence. Not only is it devoid of destruction, it is also devoid of Eros.


  6. Our readings discuss a lot about how these theories of identity and being are used to critique cultural texts such as films. In addition, Darren uses song lyrics as examples of how artists participate in this discussion of being and how culture impacts it. Having a background in marketing and television, I am drawn to think about how commercials fit into this picture. While the previous examples (film and music) are forms of art, many feel that commercials do not fit into this group. However, I feel that commercials still fit into the equation. Instead of using this medium though which language and symbols are used to express our dreams or understand ourselves and the world around us, marketers try to identify a tying idea or ideology that allows the most people (or as marketers term it: lowest common denominator) to individually identify with that ideology and thus with the product. A good example of this was the Chrysler commercial that we watched in class last week. The theme of struggle and overcoming it, while it is interpreted differently based on the individual, each individual can identify with the theme. This individual interpretation was evident in class when Marcus gave his personal understanding of the physical landmarks in the commercial; whereas, I personally interpreted it from the aspect of Eminem and his struggle because I had seen his movie 8 Mile. However, both Marcus and I were still able to identify with the overall theme of struggle. Another good example of this, if you can remember back to the candidate talk about smoking, is how the tobacco industry commission studies around individual smokers in order to target individuals similar to them. Essentially, marketers try to assist in constructing the illusion of being through language and symbols in the hopes that one will live in this illusion through their product.

    I am intrigued by Darren's questions concerning violence and non-violence. I completely understand the concept of violence being a natural instinct (or the id) and have personally experienced it myself. However, I wonder if the answer to the question is in Freud's understanding of the development of the ego and superego. While the ego is the impact of the external, the super ego is the intermediary between the external and internal, primarily working to suppress the internal (Storey, pg. 92-3). So maybe it is when the ego and superego are so full developed that the id is significantly suppressed. I believe that the only way that this is possible is through a strong conscious effort. For example, when I was younger (12-15) my sister and I fought a lot, which tended to be very physical. After each fight, my father would tell me how this was unacceptable behavior and how I should learn to control my rage. So, like many, I worked on this behavior and no longer feel the need to hit her when I'm upset. However, I have a very good friend whose 25 year old daughter has had problems controlling these behaviors, primarily due to her mental disabilities (autism and others). Although recently, she has been accepted into a program at Vanderbilt where a psychiatrist works with her one on one doing specified exercises in order to change this behavior. It is working very well.

    However, I do not think that just individual repression of the id is the only answer. I think that cultural reinforcement of non-violence is important too. Just as the job candidate's research on smoking seeks to show smokers what their world can look like without violence, it is important for our culture to reinforce non-violence. This is a hard thing to do in a society that applauds strength and the ability to overcome struggle, particularly through war and commerce. However, doesn't this go back to our base or mode of production?

  7. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It just is. The mere idea that you can access something means it already exists. This is the essence of being and meaning. Being is, meaning is constructed. There are no new ideas only recycled and reconstructed ones. There is infinite matter to shape with, we don’t create the matter, but we create the meaning of it. Our existence as individuals is a concept, when we break from the essence of being through the idea of the individual (mirror) and acquire language to articulate being we castrate (as Lacan would say) ourselves (in thought) from pure essence. The pure essence of being always exists and the detachment from it is due to the ideas of individualism and deification. To separate oneself from being through ego is possibly the greatest downfall of man. There is a great difference between thinking and acting. To think violence against anyone or thing is to feel a great distance or separation from the object one attacks, if the connection was understood then there would be no desire to assault, destroy, or subjugate.

    We exist as extensions of our ancestors; we are inextricably connected to all that is in the understandable universe. The id is a myth, an idea that exists because human beings have failed to understand their interconnectedness. This is the reason idolatry is dangerous. Once you deify, you place something or one into an inferior subject position. This creates a disconnection that precipitates the violence. Violence is a byproduct of fear. Fear is a byproduct of scarcity. If we can reattach ourselves to being and use symbols to communicate synergistically instead of letting symbols use us, then maybe we can be and not feel castrated from anything. If we can understand how we all exist because of each other then we will thrive in abundance, not scarcity. Power is exerted over those who acquiesce to the idea of power. Once one realizes that everything is then one can take a more objective view of meaning and why people construct meaning to subject objects to their version of reality. In the subjugator’s version, they are the ones in control. Victim is a role that is accepted. Power is assumed but it must also be granted. Referring back to our buddy Althusser, hailing to something may be hell for you, so be careful who or what you follow. Freud and Lacan are a good place to get to the root of this violence. However, I cannot take on the defeatist attitude. The self is a construction that creates autonomy but in that autonomy is isolation. To be isolated is to be scarce. I like Lacan’s rewrite of Descartes where he writes, ‘I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think’ (103). I wonder how the mirror stage works for someone who never has physical sight, I assume this person’s construction of the self is based on the other available senses. Somewhere there should be a reconciliation of this concept as perception is as varied as the human existence itself and never fits neatly into a narrow theory.

  8. Aside from Freud’s discussion of how the id works, each theorist appears to lean toward the nurture side in the old nature vs. nurture debate. Who we think we are and how we think others view us is influenced by the cultural norms in which we are born and reared. As Darrin notes, the human game is primarily rigged long before and individual has the conscious capacity for choosing to play. In much the same way as Marx’s notion of the role of the superstructure and Althusser’s conception of the role of state apparatuses and ideological apparatuses, the ego and the superego essentially perform the same task of encouraging/motivating/forcing the individual to adhere to a cultures rules and regulations. Much like a parent, they serve as our conscience of what is right or wrong.
    With this in mind, my response to Darren’s second question about how does the awareness of human conflictedness enhance the scholarship and work related to conflict resolution is that conflict resolutions are as much the responsibility of external world in which one function than her private internal (id) world. In other words, it is just as much the responsibility of the context in which the conflict takes place (family, work place, religion, legal system) than it is the individual’s personal task to rectify the problem. An example that illustrates this notion is the old debate about the relevance of prisons and their attempts to “rehabilitate” individuals for the good of society. A person commits a crime and ends up in prison because his id or desire to fill his lack overpowers his rationale for acceptable ways to quench his cravings. Because the person has demonstrated that he did not receive the proper influences earlier in life and therefore does not have the capacity to make “correct” decisions, the prison system assumes the role of trying to develop a moral consciousness (ego and superego) so that the individual, when in a future situation and wants to fill his “lack,” will listen to his ego (mother, prison system) and make the right decision.

  9. PART 1

    Here's the deal, folks. Yesterday, as I was reading through Storey's chapter on psychoanalysis and the selected readings of Freud, I thought to myself, "I've seen this before. No sweat. I'll be able to knock this out and, afterwards, I'll be able to enjoy a nice nightcap of Rum Runner's and Pimm's Cups at my favorite watering hole -- The Cove. However, I had yet to read Zizek. To say that he put a crimp in my plans and destroyed my conscious self is an understatement. The only way I can liken it is like listening to music all your life then finding Frank Zappa or thinking that you have a grasp on film until you see Kubrick: you think you have it figured out until a Zen master comes along and says, "Know your place, little boy!"

    Basically, I had my post idea fine-tuned until this rapscallion, Zizek, decided to wreck my EGO. I am currently floating in the turgid sea of the ID and where I have remained in a terrifyingly primitive state since my exposure to him. That being said, I have a couple ideas that I would like to explore for the time being.

    Since I am film major, I would like to explore and expand upon Zizek's reference to the landmark 1979 film APOCALYPSE NOW. For those of you who haven't seen the film, here is Robert's quick-capsule review: Vietnam war flick which is based on Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS. The story follows Captain Willard, a US Special Ops. Officer, on an assassination mission to "terminate the command" (with extreme prejudice) of Colonel Kurtz: a distinguished war vet who has gone AWOL with a rogue command deep inside the jungles of Cambodia. For the purposes of this post, brevity is my M.O., so I will keep the topic of conversation relevant to what Zizek touched upon in his article.

    As Zizek notes: "It is not significant that in the figure of Kurtz, the Freudian 'primordial father'-- the obscene father-enjoyment subordinated to no symbolic Law, the total Master who dares to confront the Real of terrifying enjoyment face to face -- is presented not as a remainder of some barbaric past, but as the necessary outcome of modern Western power itself? Kurtz was a perfect soldier -- as such, through his overidentification with the military power system, he turned into the excess, which it has to annihilate in an operation that has to imitate what it fights" (Zizek 27). As I began to think about the film, I reached an interesting Freudian structure within the film -- i.e. the main characters' that are represented by Freud's ID, EGO, and SUPER-EGO -- all of which were fairly simple to pin down.

  10. PART 2

    The ID is best represented by Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore [kill-gore]-- brilliantly acted by Robert Duvall. What is striking about this portrayal is both the madness and likability of Colonel Kilgore: he is a man's man, he drinks American beer, he commands respect. On a darker level, he is callous, reckless, selfish, and insane. Soon after he and his bevy of helicopters have strafed and bombed the Hell out of a Vietnamese village suspected of harboring the Vietcong, his attention is divided. One moment he is about to serve water to a VC soldier -- whose guts are pouring forth from his abdomen -- stating the bravery of the enemy soldier and that any man who fights deserves a drink from his canteen. Almost as quickly, his attention goes elsewhere and is redirected toward the original intention of the helicopter bombing run in the first place: clear the area so he and his impressionable privates can surf the beach. Storey's quote by Freud, I think, best summarizes Colonel Kilgore's ID: "It is filled with energy reaching from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about satisfaction of instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle" (92). The desire and primitive nature of Kilgore is, as Freud stated, "the most primitive part of our being" (92). His attention vacillates from his soldiers to surfing to the glory of war. Kilgore displays a primitive, almost carnal lust for war and destruction as evidenced in his famous napalm speech: "Do you smell that?...I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like...
    [sniffing, pondering] victory. Someday this war's gonna end..."

    The EGO is best represented by Captain Willard -- the protagonist of the story. Like Freud's representation of the EGO, he is the voice of common sense and reason. Like the EGO, he doesn't start out as such. He was most likely a gung-ho soldier early in his career, holding patriotic and jingoistic ideals similar to those of Kilgore. But the horrors of war and his experiences within them have shaped his former ID self into his present EGO. He "has been modified by the direct influence of the external world" (Storey 92). Most importantly, he represents the EGO because he struggles to serve his three masters: (1) the external world (the war, the jungle), (2) the libido of the id (Kilgore, the American ideals of a patriotic and dutiful soldier, his senior officers and commanders), and (3) the severity of the SUPER-EGO (Colonel Kurtz).

    This brings us to the SUPER-EGO, represented by Colonol Kurtz and brilliantly portrayed by a portly Marlon Brando. As Storey restates Freud: "Whereas the EGO [Cpt. Willard] is the representative of the external world (reality), the SUPER-EGO stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal world of the ID [the military] (Storey 92-93). Further analysis shows that the SUPER-EGO is being influenced by processes that have remained unknown to the EGO (Storey 93). In a pivotal scene in the film where Cpt. Willard is introduced to Col. Kurtz, Kurtz "crystallizes" this concept: Kurtz' behavior and rogue status isn't an exercise in madness but, through experience, he understands what Willard doesn't. Acting as an enlightened form of the ID, he has seen what the VC do in war and how they fight. The military commanders (ID) want to fight the war with base instincts and no understanding. Kurtz understands what they do not -- i.e. that the enemy fights not for base instincts or selfish wants; they fight out of "love" for a desire to be free from imperialist control.

  11. PART 3

    The second and last part (did I hear an "Amen"?) I'd like to discuss is Walter Benjamin's concept of DIALECTICS AT A STANDSTILL -- i.e. "in the expectation of a Messiah, life comes at standstill -- coupled with Zizek's citation of Patricia Highsmith's short story, BLACK HOUSE. Benjamin's idea of different societies' and cultures' expectations of a messianic figure who will return in some form to save the day has profound resonance as Zizek points out in contemporary Cuban society where figures and symbolic images such as Che, who died for the cause, are manipulated by the status quo to perpetuate the lie. I believe this idea can also be attached to certain elements of organized religion, in that the expectation of a messianic return in a way pacifies the believers to accept the reality they're given and not challenge the Real. I think Zizek puts it best: "When Eternity intervenes in time, time comes to a standstill" (8). Nice.

    Similar to this idea is the BLACK HOUSE short-story concept. As Zizek explains: "[T]he 'black house' was forbidden to the men because it functioned as a empty space wherein they could project their nostalgic desires, their distorted memories; by publicly stating that the 'black house' was nothing but an old ruin, the young intruder reduced their fantasy space, depriving the men of the place in which they were able to articulate their desires" (Storey 108).

    I hate to do this because this seems like such an easy association, but I can think of one and only one person in this nation -- at this time in history -- who embodies these two concepts: Glenn "Big Baby" Beck. Immediately after Obama's election, Glenn shed the tears heard 'round the world but, more importantly, he and other individuals from a certain news corporation began to vocalize a suddenly common theme: this idea that we have been kicked out of paradise or we have lost our way. As Beck constantly points out on his show or his radio program, this administration has lost its way and has strayed too far from the ideals of the Founding Fathers. Another good one is how America needs to return to more wholesome values of bygone days -- you know, the 1950s and 1960s. In this context, Glenn in a way functions as the old men in the BLACK HOUSE for his distorted perceptions of the good days that are forever gone never really existed in the first place. Yes, the Founding Fathers did some great things, but they also did some rotten ones as well -- slavery, lack of women's suffrage, etc. Concurrently, the 1950s and 1960s was arguably some of the most bloody and shameful of our nations long history -- Korean War, McCarthy's crusade, combative stance toward USSR, Egypt, toiling in the Mid-East, Vietnam, Civil Rights abuses. Like the old men, Mr. Beck has projected this false reality of a better, simpler, more just time onto a milquetoast synopsis of the 1950s and 1960s. Glenn's desire for a return to the golden age of America is a "desire [that] is never fulfilled or fully satisfied, it is endlessly reproduced in our fantasies" (108).

    As to society's (Glenn's) expectations of messianic return in some form: do I really need to go there?

  12. I have to admit every time I read Freud, I feel as though I am more confused. The parts that I think I understand seem to constantly slip away. Of course the most interesting areas such as dreams are the hardest to grasp, therefore, I will lean heavily on Storey who states, “If the meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure to us…it is because [they contain] wishes of which we are ashamed” (p. 94). My inability as a graduate student to fully grasp the readings could be seen as the latent material that I am ashamed to admit, which might include a wish to return to the days of being an undergrad, who could be irresponsible at times. According to Freud, these latent thoughts of inadequacy would be repressed by the dream censor so that I could sleep without disturbances. “The primary function of dreams is to be ‘the guardians of sleep’ (p. 93). These thoughts could “manifest” themselves in a dream where I am constantly running but not getting anywhere. My current understanding of Freud is that dream analysis would be able to analyze the manifest material and discover the latent content.
    At least Darren doesn’t asks big questions, “Is peace or a state of non-violence coexistence possible when some are in an inhuman status?" I wonder if peace or non-violence is an ideal-I we have created to cope with the inhumanity of reality. The possibility of these states become fantasies we retreat to when confronted by “reality as it really is!” (Zizek, p. 17). Maybe it comes to what kind of “I”’s we want to be. Are we I’s who believe in the fantasy of world peace and the myth of non-violence? Look at the recent events in Egypt, which are being portrayed as a triumph of non-violence. However, the reality is that at-least 300 people died and countless others were injured by acts of violence. I guess the question I would ask in response would be, who is more inhuman, those who attempt to turn a violent reality into fantasies of world peace, or those who see non-violent narratives as what they are fictions.

  13. Freud’s conceptual framework regarding consciousness raises the question of what role human agency plays in individual expression. He cites the unconscious as housing instinctual drives, which ultimately become repressed wishes due to censorship and resistance. That is, as Freud points out, the id is instinctual while ultimately the superego confines the individual to cultural norms. Therefore, he illuminates the constant human struggle between pleasure principles (the id) and reality principles (the ego). While Freud’s models of psychoanalysis go much deeper than this brief introduction, Jacques Lacan furthers the Freudian notion of the psyche applying post-structuralist model that stress the human “subject” in cultural terms. Lacan merges cultural studies, providing a fascinating view of identity.
    In essence, Lacan ultimately reworks Freud’s formation of psychoanalysis by basing it in culture rather than biology. However, he readily admits that humans are born in a condition of “lack.” Lack, represents the continual search for the desired “other.” The other is always out of reach, rendering it unattainable and almost imaginary. Humans must then dilute this want through displacement strategies and through the act of substitution. Lacan attests that the “Real” realm is what humans are born into, before culture and symbolism step in to displace and repress instinctual wishes. He identifies three stages of development.
    First, the “mirror stage” occurs when infants are able to recognize their own image. Lacan believed that this was where the fundamental shift of consciousness occurs and where the ego emerges. This causes “misrecognition” where one does not see oneself but also an image of the self. One now sees himself as both a subject and the object. The subject being, the self who looks and the object is the self that is recognized. Second, “fort-da game” represents the stage within which language is introduced. Language acts to alienate both being and meaning through the use of symbolism. Through the act of naming, a division between who “I am” and who “myself” is, when ultimately this division is illusory and culturally-based. For example, by submission of oneself to a particular culture, self-identity of our very nature is sacrificed. Third, Lacan labels the third developmental stage as the “Oedipus complex.” Now, the individual must cope with the loss of nature and substitute objects for instinctual drives. Eagleton sums up this period as a “lost paradise in the endless metonymic movement of desire.” (104).
    Lacan sums up this theoretical question beautifully stating, “It is not a question of knowing whether I speak of myself that conforms to who I am, but rather of knowing whether I am the same as that which I speak.” (103). “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.” This statement recognizes the illusory sense of self created through the ego. For example, author Eckhart Tolle, notes the fundamental misunderstanding when Descartes uttered, “I think therefore I am.” Tolle states “He had in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with being and identity with thinking” (Tolle, 13). This misrepresentation is widespread as the human race continually strives for progress toward pursuits which will never be fulfilled. The subject always represents lack, whereby it continually strives to fill a void. It is not until the subject and object are understood as one that a shift of consciousness may begin to take place.

  14. Since this is the first time I have read psychoanalysis literature more-in depth, this week’s readings left me wondering and questioning several things. First, is the concept of the Oedipus complex. This complex seems underdeveloped to me and furthermore seems to add to the problematics of representations of sexuality in modern day popular culture. Maybe someone else who understands the concepts of Freud can further elaborate on this complex, but from my interpretation of the readings this complex seems to only take into account heterosexual gender assumptions and roles, and negates from discussing how this complex or any form of complex applies to homosexuals or children who are not born completely male or female, but rather as a hermaphrodite. How does Freud’s complex relate to those groups, including for hermaphrodites who are often forced into sex/gender roles by their parents choosing which sex they should be shortly after birth? How does nurture vs. nature relate to these individuals? I find this complex to be troubling, but unfortunately “appropriate” for the time in which it was developed; I would be interested in seeing a modern day analysis of this complex which address all forms of sexuality.
    Secondly, I was left contemplating how the roles of mother or father both exist in the Oedipus complex and in Lacan’s first two stages of development. While both Freud and Lacan make clear that such roles exist, even if only symbolically, I am not as easily persuaded. If both of these theories are suppose to apply to all humans, then I am left wondering how the small percentages of children who do not have both a “real” mother and father, or who do not “perceive” a symbolic mother or father in their life, fit into these theories. I believe this is a possibility - that a child can group up without thinking they have a symbolic (gendered) parent - especially if a child is raised by two persons of the same sex and are isolated from the gender roles in society, such as by being homeschooled, playing with non-gender toys/books, and not being exposed to mediated gendered depictions.
    Both of these gender roles theories from Freud and then Lacan left me contemplating many things; most likely the Oedipus complex ended up being the focus of this response because I am most concerned with the issues and problematics surrounding various cultural studies theories and constructions of gender identity; and I found that psychoanalysis left room for criticism of its’ gender constructions. In regards to Darren’s questions, I think that Darren has brought up many relevant questions about the superego, conflict, and human violence. In relation to popular culture, a part of culture at large, I believe that media portrayals perpetuate perceptions of violence in which the superego is “cultured” into. Persons are exposed to such endless forms of violence through exposure to such cultural artifacts including books, cartoons, television, music lyrics and music videos, motion pictures, the internet, pornography, advertisements, theatre, magazines, newspapers, paintings, and I am sure many more artifacts which I do not recall at the moment. Therefore, I think that scholarship provides a way to bring awareness to and decrease violence in all walks of society; Hence, the reason why I study and primarily focus my research on feminist theory/criticisms.

  15. Thank you everyone! You brought up really interesting issues. And thank you Darren, for the most poetic summary of psychoanalytical theory I have encountered. I posted a bunch of book recommendations - some of them directed at your various research interests. More in class...