Monday, December 12, 2016

One hundred

Freud, near the end of his life, postulated the death instinct, or Todestrieb, which Stekel renamed Thanatos, equal and opposite to Eros, the life instinct. He said all organisms seek to die, but in their own way. NeoFreudians, who learn Freud’s theories in the same way most people learn the theories in which they profess to believe – by memorizing them, without understanding them – don’t understand Thanatos, so they ignore it, as most people ignore things they don’t understand. But people used to understand it.

We are limited, capable of knowing only a few things at any one time; so when we learn something new, we forget something old. The new thing we discover is more often than not a rediscovery of something our grandparents knew, but our parents forgot (because they learned it without understanding it). Thanatos is one of the things our grandparents knew. Socrates, at the beginning of what we used to call Western civilization, said life is a rehearsal for death.

NeoFreudians (and not just the professionals; we’re all amateur neoFreudians now, not even but especially those of us who profess to be experts) pretend to believe that children don’t know about death, just as Victorians pretended to believe that children don’t know about sex. Both are secrets supposedly known only to adults, and being initiated into these secrets is what it means to become an adult (because it obviously doesn’t mean acquiring adult responsibility, power and maturity. Most so-called adults are as submissive to, and dependent on, their rulers as they’d been on their parents when they were children).

I’ve been thinking about this because I awoke this morning with a tumult in my head. Apparently I’d had not just a dream, but what Jung called a ‘great dream’. But I couldn’t remember it.

Freud said dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, and I used to travel that road easily. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remember my dreams. Or anything else.

I'm currently rereading Life Against Death, Norman Brown's attempt to make sense of Freud's Eros and Thanatos. I'd forgotten I'd read it before, as a child, and couldn't find it in my library (I can't find anything in my library any more), so I assumed I'd never read it.  

Brown, like Phillips, says we're unhappy not only when we get the things we want, but especially when we get the things we want, because it’s then we discover we don’t really want what we think we want. What we really want is to return to the past (as Marcel did in À la recherche du temps perdu) and recapture that oneness with the world that an infant feels when suckling at its mother’s breast.

Before I fell asleep last night, I read Brown’s chapter on the anal-sadistic phase, in which the infant becomes dissatisfied with the world’s inability to satisfy its hunger, and its love for its mother turns to hate.

I couldn’t remember my dream when I awoke, but the tumult in my head gradually resolved itself, as the cacophony of an orchestra in rehearsal gradually resolves itself into music, into the words of the Hindu axiom: Everything is food. Life feeds on life. However much we want to avoid hurting others (if for no other reason than that our awareness of their pain distracts us from our pleasure), the best we can offer them is jakta, the quick and least painful death.

I then remembered a recurring dream I used to have. Invited to a banquet (Life is a banquet, say those who live for pleasure), I discover the main course, which at first appears to be meatloaf or kibbeh nayeh, is in reality a pile of shit. It wasn’t last night’s dream, but they seem related.

Some people come into this world, so like a garden, eat its fruits until they're sated, and expect the rest of us to eat what they leave behind; and what they leave behind is shit.  

I tried to change the world for the better. They change it as we all do, turning what we eat into shit. Changing life into death.

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