Monthly Archives: February 2022

Intersections

A writer I like says that each page contains hundreds of decisions. A parent or an analyst might say the same about an hour in their day. Not me. Sounds like too much hard work, for the conscious mind anyway. It’s good to know that another part of me is on call, though, thinking of all the layers, making some decisions at least, mostly about psychoanalysis, lesser so about writing. They entail different relationships, you see: with live “in your face” figures on the one hand; distanced, mysterious readers—you—on the other. That’s me thinking about and making decisions about relationships, or as we say in psychoanalysis, that’s me thinking about object relations. That’s that part of object-relating, or is it object-creating? Are we still creating objects, meaning caregivers and others into which and from which we get ourselves?

According to some, D.W. Winnicott dropped a mic on psychoanalysis when he declared that a subject tests the object with his or her omnipotence; that for him the concepts of merger and fusion were not so much denoting pathological states (“stigmatizing”) as necessary stages of development. See, we need a robust figure for an object, a “rock” who can take all that we can dish, not be destroyed, and still love us. That’s right: love. That old thing. Turns out it’s all we need after all, especially when we’re at our worst, within our omnipotent, infantile fantasies. Supposedly, this message contrasted with what Sigmund had to say 40 years before Winnicott. Freud had conceptualized stages of primary process (the “id”) and primary narcissism, which he too described as necessary in the growth of human beings. This meant a movement from an infantile, auto-erotic state, to one in which we attach to an object (a mother), and then necessarily withdraw, which ultimately leads to the replacement of the mother with one based upon her model, or else we withdraw into ourselves (secondary narcissism). We cathect that libidinal energy to an ego, and from there we…wait, what was the difference?

No, No, I get it, sort of. For the likes of Freud and later Bion, the task of life is to learn reality (the reality principle) and to adapt to that reality—like not getting to have your mother (sexually), or even have her at your non-sexual beckon call. If you learn reality, it’s because of frustration (plus other frustrations derived from that) or at least the capacity to learn from frustration, or else one lapses into psychosis. That idea’s more Bion, actually. Anyway, Winnicott appeared to nuance if not quite flip the script, specifying that the “frustration” is a failure of a nurturing environment to be just that. Ah D.W., you brazen finger-pointer you. Who were you to say that a maladjusted child was one whose mother was just not strong enough—not “good enough”, as that concept was cleaned up—to settle the child’s excitable nerves, his over-stimulated, omnipotent, mother-possessing self? Wasn’t Sigmund right to assign responsibility to the innate excitability of the child, and to later place him before a righteously law-imposing patriarch at the ripe age of 3-5 and nip that object-seeking, taboo-traversing impulse in the bud? Well, who knows whether Sigmund really thought that dads were more decisive than moms in the raising of a child, but he didn’t think that omnipotence was something to caress and tolerate, like Winnicott did. And who knows whether the latter thought that parents were getting it wrong when the perversions started to happen, or when hysterias began to stiffen limbs and refrigerate the nether regions?

In treatment, this all becomes a prescriptive template for a therapeutic process. For Freud, this meant the application of what he termed an evenly hovering attention; an abstinence from gratifications of varying kinds, all derivative of sexual desire; attention to rules, the implicit validity of a Super-ego, a pathway to discontented civilization. Civilization is discontent, observe many, but we’re meant to do something about that, not just sigh, accept our lots in life and sublimate. Sigmund wasn’t much of a protester, I guess. His followers, students and so on: they weren’t activists. Now, to be fair, to be a Jewish activist, a protester against how things are in 30s central Europe would likely not have worked out. Old Siggy would have been shot or oven-roasted for saying that a harsh Superego derived from a parental template intersects with the malady of anti-semitism or fascism in modern society. Yeah, cancel culture has nothing on what Sigmund fled to London from.  

If psychoanalysis has something to say about modern society then it has extended its definition of a child. So here we (we?) introduce the concept of intersectionality to broadly declare that psychoanalysis has something to say about the state of the world, not just Oedipal triangles of children and parents—though, to be fair, Freud had been commenting on the world and not just the interior lives of his patients at least since Totem & Taboo in 1912, and later, certainly, in Beyond The Pleasure Principle, Civilization and its Discontents, and the epilogueish Moses and Monotheism. But let’s not quibble. Basically, the modern zeitgeist is to suggest that object and subject are figurative terms denoting positions of power and not having it, of being an underdog within the shadow of an institution, a “system”, etc, and within the corridors or streets of morality construction there are varying rules and therefore new Superegos. And it might take a philosophy or critical thinking expert to identify the metapsychology which declares that rage is the exclusive prerogative of the underdog, hence the progressive dislike of people who seem angry but don’t deserve to be so.

Melanie Klein, in her contributions to psychoanalysis, emphasized that the infantile fantasies of children contain states of paranoia and frustration, leading to splitting defenses, a withdrawal from “bad” objects, plus a fear that one’s own internalized “bad” object will do harm. This interweaving of introjection and projection, and attendant frustration, is a product of dependency, and so, as we extrapolate to culture, we must look at dependencies in interpersonal relationships, power dynamics between groups. In our book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, Joe Farley and I focus our attention on the interdependence between heterosexual men and women, primarily. We do not mean to be “exclusive” of sexual minorities, but the truth is that psychotherapy is segregated by a number of demographic factors, and group identity is a factor, so we do not market to sexual minorities because we are not sexual minorities ourselves. Also, while race is of course an important—perhaps the most important cultural dimension for psychoanalysis to address in the 21st century—its intersection with sex addiction is unclear and the dependencies contained are imbalanced. People of color depend upon the justice of white people in an institutionally dominant white America. In microcosm, a person of color looking for a therapist is more dependent upon its dominantly white demographic—this is why it seems more incumbent upon white practitioners to practice “diversely” than it is for providers of color. Otherwise, in what ways are white people dependent upon people of color?

However, the thing is…we’re interested to explore in our book the ways in which men and women are dependent upon one another because—with respect to sex, at least—they are more or less equally at each other’s mercy—a unique phenomenon between social groups. Again, this is a heteronormative perspective. A gay man or woman may have numerous relationships across gender boundaries, but they do not have their intimacy needs met by the opposite sex so there is relatively little tension in such dynamics and therefore less to compel attention to the needs of the gendered other. That’s another extrapolation of the Freud-Bion axiom: it is tension, frustration, the prospect of adaptation, that informs motivated action. Yes, a rabbit hole, but if I may grab a rung on a ladder on the side of that abyss, I mean to say what numerous analysts think: that members of the gay (and perhaps transgendered communities) live in a part-object (one sex) world, which if true would be ironic given their reputation for celebrating “gender fluidity”. The LGBTQ (plus) communities may, like racial minorities, consider themselves inextricable from a dominant culture, but like all individuals to some extent, its members can indeed live or at least fashion private realities.

And a further irony is that such realities contain less widely known battlegrounds. I don’t know. Is there a battle of the sexes within the LGBTQ communities, with the notion of “sexes” as I allude to it elasticized? Are there internalized, gendered differences to contend with however much those differences have been…wait—here’s a writer’s decision, cut from the intersections—would it be cool to say cut off?

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Fred Stein gets a text

As he stood upon the heel of a frost-bitten meadow, gazing out for a stolen moment at the tawny sunrise, Fred Stein took a labored breath and stopped what he was doing. This was a microcosm of his state, he thought—a state of mind within a state of being—in which he’d stolen a protracted moment of life and had stopped what he was doing.

The cabin near Bighorn Canyon, about a hundred miles south of Billings, Montana, belonged to the family. Fred’s father, Frank, had built this place decades earlier after inheriting the plot of land from his father, who’d once owned a horse ranch. By now, Frank was aged and too frail for the austere outdoor life, and despite the recent upgrades, including solar panels and thick double glaze on the windows, the quaint yet sturdy domicile required a tough outer skin, but also much more. The cabin was a fair distance from any highway and therefore any hospital should Frank, now 84, have what he reticently call a problem. Go ahead and use it, he’d said a year or so ago with a tired wave of his hand. Not exactly a gift, or a hand-me-down. More like how he reacted to Fred when his son was sharing something personal that excited him that he—Frank—didn’t understand. “Huh, not for me”, he’d say with a stolid look. Frank understood being available for his son in, shall we say, other ways.

Of course, the cabin in Bighorn was all about not being available. It was the point, the raison d’etre, Fred thought, employing a phrase his father would never use. His eyes turned back to the sight of his axe which was currently sunk into a piece of softwood conifer, cut from a nearby forest a month or so earlier. Fred had enough wood for several days, perhaps weeks, and knew that the stacks that he had were sufficiently dry for optimal burning. But in the pause was the question of how long he would stay in this incognito retreat—how long before he would head back to civilization, or else wait for it to find him. Fred’s wife, Anne, would have known, or at least guessed, that he was out here. She’d visited the place only once and hadn’t liked it, or hadn’t liked its location. The middle of nowhere, she once scoffed, not getting the raison d’etre—a phrase she wouldn’t have used either. Something to think about, Fred next thought as he swung down his axe, burying its tip into a soft wooden neck. Too soft, he murmured, flashing upon Anne’s visage again.

Something to think about? Something to trip on, he nuanced, thinking of the psylocibin stems that he’d brought along. They were currently nestled in his backpack, inside the cabin and warm, inviting him. After breakfast, Fred decided, about the impending trip. He now preferred doing this alone, though he’d shared doses with friends, mostly business partners, on a few occasions. Unfortunately, Fred’s partners, though habitually calm and cool in their office personas, were invariably neurotic under the influence. Their slavish adherence to rules, “control” issues would come to the surface, causing niggly disruptions, failures of flow. Not for me, declared Jared, Fred’s best friend, after a trip dominated by nausea and what he called “spinning”. Fred kept telling him to relax, and as that advice failed, he became less relaxed himself; distracted by irritation. That desire to control things or else get away reared itself, torn from memory of playground disappointments: the games that peers wouldn’t get and therefore wouldn’t play for long.  

It was ironic that Fred worked, or did work he now pondered, for a notable cell phone provider. In the surrounding area, there was little in the way of service. Even his company, which serviced his own plan of course, provided little in the north Wyoming, south Montana region. And it was a message from them, at his last stop in Lovell, just south of the state border, that served as his last contact. His last bill had been paid, apparently. Thanks, they were saying. Fred chuckled, felt a dark whim of good customer feeling, of employee compliance; of good 21st century citizenry. Would anyone else know he was here and try to reach him, and maybe succeed? That stop in Lovell was his last stop on the grid. With enough provisions for a month, an SUV last clocked in Colorado, a demented parent as an only witness to his potential whereabouts, he figured he was clear for a spell. Or was that all a naïve delusion? It was out here that his grandfather had once disappeared, Fred recalled—something his father had shared, the family folklore. Just drifted off on a horse, never to be seen again—that was Bill Stein. Horses didn’t have license plates, could never be tracked back in the day. These days, phones come and go, get lost, stolen. Yet you need them for everything, and they can betray you. Do they locate you, Fred later asked himself? All this wandering thought was much later, during his shroom interlude. He’d paid his bill, hadn’t he? They got no reason to come after him. What do they care about what he does to family or friends, or what they ever did to him?

On a creaking porch that was the next feature due an upgrade, Fred reclined on a rawhide covered chair and took out a cigarette. Through a thin plume of smoke, he next gazed out towards the opposite side of the meadow. Above rolling hills in the distance, pale blue had taken over from tawny sunrise, signifying mid-morning, and from a peaking sun a warm glow was softening the frosty air and would-be tundra. Stillness. Fred had long delighted in stillness, especially after bouts of unpleasantry that he could barely think about. Here the land was still, and so was the air, and the high, cloudless sky and light of the day was stirring imagination of long days within an Arctic summer. Amid dense patches of forest there were tiny hints of movement, from dashing rodents to darting birds, but nothing sizable like a family of deer or conceivably invasive, like an Elk. And nothing human, best of all. This land is your land, he murmured through hallucinogenic stupor. The cigarette was burning down, poised to sting his finger, and as Fred caught a glance of dancing blue and red colors, smoke drifted before his eyes, forming a screen. Silence was broken by the buzz of his phone from within his pocket: an alert that a new text was coming in, mocking nature, entrapping humanity. Those blue and red colors were coming closer now, approaching upon a snaky trail that would lead to Fred’s front door. Next, they paired off, forming an attack maneuver, like fireflies dispatched to hit the flanks of a target. Getting closer, the red and blue colored bubbles got bigger and bigger, but finally dissolved in a blur of dust inflected with cut grass. From the resulting haze, a phalanx of men in uniform stepped forward wearing grim faces under crisp, tidy Stetsons. They had come for the son of Frank Stein.

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