Chapter 4: Deracination: Historicity, Hiroshima, and the Tragic Imperative
Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. 93-133.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE PSYCHE THAT DROPPED THE BOMB
Power into will; will appetite
And appetite, that universal wolf
So seconded by will and power
Must make perforce a universal prey
And last eat up itself.
— Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
— Samuel Beckett, Proust
— Rosa in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
OVERTURE: THE EGO AND ITS PLEASURE
A Note on Structure
The dialectical relationship of chapters three and four is the identity of perfect mirrors. Chapter Three shows that rational, logical mediation is a lie. Chapter Four shows what dramatistic mediation is and how its malign form is the underlying principle structuring the ego-ratio. The two chapters thus stand in a necessary connection, with the latter the dark double and ground of the former. We thereby see the superstructure and the basement in their identity. To which Chapter Five will reply by developing an agon where dramatistic self-mediation creates, from the ground up, a radically different structure of self-reference issuing in a radically different psyche.
In history collective agents find in action a way to pour the pressures of their culture into a project. Thereby a collectivity moves to the act that will give fitting expression to the desires that drive it. This is the register at which we will here present, from within, the Psyche that found its "objective correlative" in the Bomb. Our goal is to articulate this Unconscious in a systematic way by beginning with the founding disorder and tracing the sequence of self-mediations that structure that psyche from within as it proceeds to the form required for a resolution of its conflicts.1
Thanks to Kant such a description of the ratio is now in order. For in Kant on the sublime the superstructure reveals its rootedness in desires and conflicts it can neither resolve nor comprehend. Another kind of analytic is required to bring it to self-knowledge, one that enters mind's inner world and attempts to know it without imposing defenses and guarantees. Such an analytic must try to get at everything the ego-ratio does not want to know about itself in order to hold up to the ego the mirror before which it shatters. The theory of the crypt, which I will articulate in this chapter, is an attempt to construct that analysis through a systematic reconstruction of the inner world of the ego. Since this inquiry breaks with the relationship most audiences have to the ego-ratio, a few clarifications about the argument that follows are in order. The purpose of the inquiry is to make possible a radical act. Once we see the inner world of the ego for what it is we will have no choice but to abandon the ego and begin again with another principle and order of self-mediation.
To motivate that effort what follows offers the ego-ratio a tragic experience of its own internal structure. Critique here aims at the very foundations of the structure that issues in the ego. The hermeneutic circle here is one in which the concepts and guarantees that the defense-ego uses to contain threats to its identity are precisely what the examination strives to expose and deracinate. The reader's "good faith" is accordingly called on in a new way. As a negative capability: the exercise of systematic suspicion toward one's habitual principles of explanation and response sustained through the pursuit of underlying conflicts and motives which can be known and become an active part of one's self-knowledge only if one refuses to return to the guarantees. The shock of recognition here strives to activate in the reader that Nietzschean self-contempt we discussed earlier. While this is the "rhetorical" relationship that shows the deepest respect for the reader's existential possibilities, it is also the one sure to activate defenses in ways that make their operation mandatory for many audiences; even as "that which goes without saying," since the best defense is to repel a threat without letting oneself know one has done so.
Concretely, the stakes of the inquiry can be thought of along the following lines. Once we enter the crypt, the developments that are required to extinguish its founding anxieties stand forth in their true visage. We then learn all the ways in which ego development is a cover-up whereby the archaic avidities prosecute their claims in an unbroken chain. That chain reveals the actual sequence of mediations that generate and structure the ego. Seen from within the ego reveals its actual unity. It is not the movement toward mastery of internal conflicts through the achievement of a rational, conflict-free ego sphere that issues in mature social agency in a progressive community. It is, rather, the structure needed so that the culture it serves can project its disorders with the greatest assurance that the founding anxieties will be vanquished and the darkest desires fulfilled. Description from the crypt reveals that rationality and ego development are quite different from what we assert when we celebrate reason and its ideals: i.e., the bonds of love, moral development, the social process, generativity, maturation, stable object-relations, and the rhetorical universals of humanistic conversation.2 In bringing that culture before the Bomb as the Event that fulfills the contradictions and desires that shape its inner logic, the ratio is offered a new knowledge of itself and the conditions of its pleasure. Moreover, cathartic exposure here offers neither resolution nor renewal; for, as we will see, after such knowledge there is no forgiveness and no way of going back to the world of the guarantees.3 Deracination offers the only meaningful response.
Kant and Freud supplement one another in providing the starting point for the inquiry that follows. Kant by teaching us, against his official intentions, that defenses become concepts exist to protect avid desires so that they can be projected as ideals and imperatives charged, through their restraint, with an accumulated aggression that is either dissembled (religion, the ethic of duty) or openly announced for the world to see (the Bomb). Freud by showing that the ego is indeed a pleasure-ego with a double relationship to the detour called reality: an agency constrained to defer pleasure until a way is found, at a later time, to get pleasure in a form magnified and enriched by that delay. Time may have a wallet on its back in which it keeps alms for oblivion; it also has a monkey, a signifying ape, for whom all "losses are restored" when one is finally able to seize the day and fulfill the resentments bred by the self-lacerations of festering desire.
Historical time sucks energies from a psychic register that wombs itself, in sublimation, until the day when desires can finally reveal themselves in a demystified form. As in the Bomb: where the purest ego the culture has devised — objective science — attains a pleasure in which it is given to itself as the identical subject-object of a pure auto-affection; objectivity triumphant as omnipotent narcissism in unending masturbation before the one mirror which guarantees that "mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show" since here pure mind has freed itself of every restriction. Pleasure for the ego-ratio is here attained in what is truly paradise regained, since with the evacuation of aggression and of every internal restraint, the founding condition of the psyche is abrogated. As we will see, everything that the ego, as a defensive structure, exists in order to contain and deny is here released and set completely outside it. The ego's identity is here assured because everything that haunts it from within is now projected and fully externalized. Jouissance of necessity defines its relationship to the object, which is why subsequent statements of remorse reek of bad faith. Like all tragic agents the ego-ratio brings about the thing it fears and denies, and then recoils in utter estrangement from the recognition it thereby creates for itself. Our goal is to give it back the tragic knowledge of itself it denies. This is the drama we will now set forth. To tell that story we must remain at the sublime register, but now work totally from within its crypt, since this is the register from which the sequence of mediations that extend the founding disorder derive.4
Here too Kant offers us an inadvertent insight, which we may use by way of transition to the investigation proper. It comes in another reversal that turns the circle in which Kant's thought moves back against itself. Kant's aesthetic is founded in the idea that in the Beautiful we apprehend the "subject being born," the first paring off of incomparable powers.5 What he learns only later is that in the Sublime subject is re-born through the recognition of a deeper truth about itself. If beauty dreams harmony, the sublime returns the ego to the actual conditions of its inner world. This is the necessary dialectical connection between the two — a connection in which the sublime performs the Aufhebung of what beauty projects by embracing the disorder that it displaces and denies. In the sublime, beauty finds what was suppressed in its birth — the true conditions of its origin. Retroactively, Beauty thereby becomes in Kant what it was for Rilke: "the beginning of terror."6 What the psyche flees through pursuit of the Beautiful returns in the Sublime to announce itself as the origin and the immanent telos structuring the ego. That telos thus traverses and transfixes the Beautiful, driving the psyche to seek out phenomena and expression that will mirror its inner condition in sublime objects and acts that are beyond its "imagining" yet utterly appropriate to its desire.
THE EGO'S CRYPT —
THE INNER STRUCTURE OF AN ANTI-DIALECTIC
My purpose in this chapter is to describe Hell — from within. To trace, at the level of primary affect, the sequence of self-mediations whereby human beings murder their own souls. The eight sections that follow constitute the progression of an anti-dialectic, the series of malign mediations required to bring the founding disorder of the psyche to the perfection it will find in the ego-ratio. The real function of ego developments is thereby revealed. To bring out that underlying truth each section that follows deliberately moves in a circle in order to represent what the psyche does to itself when it resists drama. The result is a vast and vicious circle of repetition — an anti-dialectic where ego development is but the disguise in which the founding disorder becomes progressively more virulent and less checked by countervailing possibilities. That is the sad consequence of the attainment of a psychic structure that has cleansed itself of anything within that opposes the conditions of its perfect self-reification.
In exposing the truth of that process, the Bomb will once again be our Vergil. As we will see, the Bomb is the objective correlative that reveals what the ego seeks and desires from the beginning. As referent it thereby offers at each stage the deepest insight into what actually transpires in the drama that follows. That drama, in contrast to chapter 3, reveals the founding disorder not in its sublime guise, but from its basement. Each structure of ego development is thereby presented with the masks stripped away. The total structure then faces the possibility of implosion once it becomes evident that the vast circle is one of destructiveness seeking, through repetition disguised as development, the modifications needed to escape what haunts it from within by projecting it without. We thus attain the only proper name for the structure of self-mediations that solidify the ego: the process whereby death-work empowers itself in the psyche. For the perfection of this anti-dialectic gives one carte blanche to do the most horrible things in the assurance one is protected from any future knowledge of one's motives and of one's actual, unconscious intentions.
I. The Psyche's Founding Condition
A. Catastrophic Anxiety
We begin with an effort to describe what is the deepest experience — the one most deeply denied. Catastrophic anxiety is a fear that haunts us from within as our founding condition,7 the fear that one has already been annihilated; that, like Beckett, one has "never been born properly" and never will be because inner paralysis is the psyche's permanent condition — a truth attested each time when, striving to cohere as a subject, one collapses before the tidal wave of an aggression against oneself that rises up from within. An unspeakable dread weds the psyche to terror. All other forms of anxiety are pale after-thoughts. There is a threat worse than extinction. The deepest self-knowledge we harbor opens up an inner world ruled by a force opposed to our being. Death is the icy wind that blows through all we do. This is the anxiety from which other anxieties derive as displacements, delays, and vain attempts to deny or attenuate our terror before a dread that is nameless and must remain so lest despair finalize its hold on us. In catastrophic anxiety the destruction of one's power to be and the ceaseless unraveling of all attempts to surmount this condition is experienced as an event that has already happened. That event forms the first self-reference: the negative judgment of an Other on one's being — internalized as self-undoing. Post-modern posturing before the phrase "I am an other" here receives the concretization that shatters "free play." There is a wound at the heart of subjectivity, a self-ulceration that incessantly bleeds itself out into the world. The soul is caked in ice, in a despair that apparently cannot be mediated: the nightmare state of a consciousness utterly awake, alone and arrested, all exits barred, facing inner paralysis as the truth of one's life. We ceaselessly flee this experience because if it ever comes down full upon us an even more terrifying process begins: an implosion in which one's subjective being is resolved into fragments of pure anxiety that leave one incapable of existing as subject except in the howl to which each suffered state descends in a final, chilling recognition — that everything one has done and suffered is but sound and fury, signifying nothing. One has become a corpse with insomnia. Identity and self-reference ceaselessly circle about that void.
This is the hour of the wolf, where one is arrested before the primary fact: at the deepest register of the psyche, one finds a voice of terror. Fear of psychic dissolution is the ground condition of our being as subjects. Subjectivity is anguish before the dread of becoming no more than bits and pieces of pure horror, fleeing in panic a voice that has already overtaken us, resolving our subjective being into traumatic episodes of pure persecution. At the heart of inwardness a malevolent spirit presides. To put it in nuclear metaphors: catastrophic anxiety is the threat of implosion into the other's unlimited destructiveness. To complete the picture we need only add Winnicott's point: people live in dread of this situation, projecting fear of a breakdown into the future, because the breakdown has already occurred.8
B. Exorcism through Evacuation
And so a crypt is built to contain this anguish and repress the experience that is its cause. We organize a "life" of identities and stabilities to give ourselves the illusion of escape. Unable to reverse our condition we take up the only alternative. We try to evacuate the whole thing: to blow it out into the world and invest it in objects that are fitted to receive the full brunt of one's discontent and powerless to reply. Projection, the ego's priest, is founded in identification with an internal aggressor. That is the complex that informs the effort to lodge our disorders and forbidden desires in others so that we can wage an attack on our inner conflicts then watch the ensuing spectacle from a safe distance. Evacuation finds in projection a prime agent of human perception and the secure base for the perpetual, mutual defeat that Sartre finds in all "concrete relations with others." We're always on the lookout for a chance to make someone else bear our discontents. But it's never enough. Satisfaction eludes us. We keep erupting, bleeding from within, in a leukemia of soul that rages whenever we see those who have in "their daily lives" "a beauty that makes us ugly." For then the projections return with the force of the furies. Envy and resentment erupt as the assault within our inner world of the truth of our "character" — a truth we deny by investing it externally. This grows apace over the years and then we long for a lasting deliverance, a final solution in the dim recognition that when projection proceeds from the register of catastrophe it requires and longs for a grand exorcism. What we seek incessantly is a total evacuation of all inner discord, a complete and lasting externalization in an ideal victim, one in whom all that haunts us will stay outside, lodged in the world in what Hegel calls a "standing negation."9 Our need is for a subject who is destroyed and lives on, proof of a sublime aggression sculpted in time.
The Bomb provides such an opportunity. The criteria required to fully exorcize catastrophic anxiety finds in it the conditions for expelling the most primitive anxieties in the perfect objective correlative. The subject voids itself of its core anxiety — the inability to reverse inner destructiveness by becoming the power to destroy, unbound, raining judgment down on a mass of subjects who are indifferently bound together as fragments of pure suffering unable, after that action, to ever form any identity except as walking corpses, hibakusha, deadened affect delivered over to the condition of death-in-life.10
Projection here succeeds because in that shattered mirror one sees oneself reflected as the power within that originally proclaimed one's utter worthlessness. Malign "reversal" has grown to the event. All inner anxiety about one's power to be resolves itself in the power to act free of restraint. We have become the thing we feared. Its destructiveness is now ours and nothing else has being.
C. The Contradiction: The Sublime — From the Crypt
The mediation traced above is driven by a contradiction about which it circles endlessly. That is what the sublime object of the ego-ratio reveals when read from its crypt. Sublime action seeks an absolute reversal of catastrophic anxiety in the absolute affirmation of unshakable guarantees. Catastrophe must be reversed because it is that experience of contingency that underlies the horror of contingency in all its forms, the force driving the search for the guarantees needed to contain it. In catastrophe contingency is the other's will as unbounded, unlimited destructiveness. The threat of extinction is the "restraint" here placed on subject. This restraint is prior to the dialectic of "desire restrained and checked" on which Hegel grounds his phenomenology. Desire here isn't restrained and checked — it is turned back against itself in torment. The other requires my destruction for their pleasure and assures that end by colonizing the psyche with an aggression that renders impotent every effort to make a beginning, a tentative move toward independence or self-cohesion. There is no exit but one apparently: identification with the aggressor. I become a self by turning someone or something else into an object delivered over to the true golden rule: do onto others what was once done onto you.
This logic maintains because catastrophic anxiety internalized is death-work as the self-mediation whereby we enact the command of the Other. The only way out, the only way to finalize this process, is evacuation through a lasting exorcism. It alone confers on the psyche a certitude beyond all cogitos. The genesis of the primary way in which the psyche mediates itself from out of the horrifying experience of its own utter contingency is here avoided. It is also that mediation which finds it, in flight forward, already, in its primitive imaginary, one with the Bomb. In its inner catastrophic world, subject experiences itself as full of death, disease, corruption. The Bomb alone has the power to cast all "nuclear waste" outside and beneath oneself in a way indefinitely extends the temporality of that act. Radiation disease is a death that works inward — invisibly, yet inexorably. Death thereby breeds itself forth into an indefinite future, omnipresent in a working, adifférance that begets delayed effects as further insurance against Nachträglichkeit. The extension of death's dominion attained in the Bomb serves one grand function: to prevent the return of projections by extending the temporality of the deed into a future that is lived, by its victims, as a judgment that is inevitable, irreversible, the antithesis of Benjamin's messianic time, ticking — a plea to delay death that can only be answered by death.
The Bomb thus serves as felix culpa to an inner necessity. To do its job, a sublime event must exorcize everything within the subject that makes it an object of its own contempt. What better way than Orwell's boot brought down in an act of splitting that magnifies the distance between the terror on the ground and the view from above. Catastrophe is now fully outside oneself located in an Other who has become nothing but matter, body become spectacle of pain frozen forever in charred sculptures strewn across a devastated landscape, Laöcoon Munched; but with the Howl silenced and deferred until it erupts later from within the survivors in a semiosis that can only be read by the scientists who planted it there and have now come (as bio-power/knowledge) to study their handiwork as it blooms and bursts from deep within the body of thehibakusha as further testimony of one's power/jouissance. Evacuation is complete. Death-work has been lodged securely in the Other. In the hibakusha one gets to see one's Thanatos as a narrative principle, a force in history. One gets to see, over time, what it is like to live death. Soul-murder as the innermost reality of the crypt, produces and finds in the hibakusha its dialectical image. As the expressive figura of death incarnate, a terrifying verveilledoch here attains its objective correlative.
To purge oneself of catastrophic anxiety, an utterly dehumanized object is not enough. Neither the Sartrean look nor the Nazi act suffice. The disorder of the psyche is deeper, prior to desire (Sartre) and demand (Nazism). The projection of death-work can never rest by simply investing one's self-contempt in another. For evacuation to work, the object must become something one can study, inspect, perform operations upon. Catastrophic anxiety is the a proiri that gives Auschwitz and Hiroshima their necessity in the genocidal imagination. The Bomb constitutes an Event because the psyche reverses its core condition — its cardiac arrest in inner self-loathing — through a projection that is total and irreversible. If the evacuation of trauma is the abiding motive atop the crypt, there is nothing abstract or Lacanian about the Real that results from its projection. Evacuation is that malevolent reversal that condemns one to endless repetition. One blows one's self-hatred and one's rage over that state fully out into the world but is thereby rendered powerless to do anything but gape in rapt amazement at one's creation. That is perhaps why, for over 50 years now, whenever given the opportunity, Paul Tibbets has proudly repeated the declaration that he has not had a moment's remorse or regret. Death-work externalized leaves one a spent and reified subject, lacking any power other than the endless repetition of one's deed.
The wheel thus comes full circle in the only justice granted such subjects. When catastrophic anxiety is only mediated by death-work, the affects that compose subjectivity are rent assunder and scattered in pockets of pure persecution. With each attempt to compose an inner self-cohesion, death-work, as internal saboteur, rises up in a renewed attack on the effort to be. Using the Bomb to reverse this disorder produces as its result a perfect, attic justice. Guilt and remorse are denied the doers of the deed because to feel such things is to renew a process of self-unraveling. What the Bomb was meant to deliver one from has become the guardian of untroubled sleep. With the call of conscience rendered impossible, the subject becomes overtly psychotic and must cling ever more desperately to an untroubled memory of the sublime event. In its reflection the subject pronounces, without being able to comprehend or mediate it, the truth about itself: in the ravaged landscape of Hiroshima the founding inner world of the psychotic — a world of utter fragmentation and the obliteration of every term of reference — has finally found a home to which it must say "stay thou art so fair," a home in which nothing inhuman is unheimlich.
II. The Manic Defense against Depression
A. Triumph, Contempt, and Dismissal: The Manic Triad
With the expulsion of catastrophe, the psyche leaps to a new determination, ready to harvest a rich reward — the banishment of depression. (I discuss depression as wakeful anguish and draw out the countervailing, tragic self-mediation it makes possible in chapter 5.11) Depression is the psychic register where soul-murder, as inner voice, sounds its darkest chords. A shadow keeps falling across the ego and its acts, a voice that speaks a message more insidious and more powerful than the threat of extinction, replacing it with words that shatter all "developmental" illusions.12 There is something worse than non-being. Catastrophic anxiety appeared to be the ultimate beginning, but it was really a stand in. There is a more intimate voice, one that convicts us in our being of failure, worthlessness, a fundamental inadequacy which strips us of our "achievements" and our phantom identities. The renewed assault of catastrophic anxiety is thereby increased by the recognition that every effort to surmount our condition only returns us to a worthlessness that our failed efforts only serve to deepen. The condition we hoped to surmount through our deeds transcends them. We touch here on the paradox from which mania — the elation that ensues whenever we feel we have triumphed over internal conflicts and banished them for good — draws its energies. Insofar as action is an attempt to overcome depression, a degree of mania always attaches to it. Our ambitions are large, the energies we invest in them great, because there is much they must transform. Mania and depression are doubles forming a single complex in the ordinary working of which depression rules. Projects collapse or end in boredom. Even genuine achievement partakes of Nietzsche's "melancholy of things completed." As Mary did the body of her son, depression receives us back into the place prepared for us, that of a sadness beyond words which eventually turns into a vigorous attack upon oneself. We attain the loneliest recognition: action doesn't deliver us, it only delays. Unless, that is, there are acts where manic elation finds lasting, orgasmic investment in a unending auto-affection.
For that to happen, however, mania must unlock the triad that structures the inner transformation it tries to bring about. In the dance of elation, mania too often disguises the fact that it is an act of aggression on an object, unleashing a process that fears and refuses to end. The underlying truth of elation isn't release or celebration but attack. It is not enough to escape inner torment. As Melanie Klein argues, a triumphant assertion of contempt and dismissalis required to proclaim one's victory over the sources of one's depression. Mania is the jubilation that supervenes when one feels that all inner sources of torment have been vanquished. The attack on external objects is the proof of this achievement, the act required to keep the process from turning back inward.
It is also the circumstance that hoists mania by its own petard. The fit always returns until the proper object and the perfect expression is attained. As Hamlet knows, elation is but sabbath on the Ixion of depression. When the dancing stops and the music ends, the object of hatred within rises up, "unbated and envenomed." Mania is a desperate effort to sustain the illusion that one has gained a lasting release from that object and thereby entry into a world where everything flows magically in a stream of realized desire. The underlying truth returns once the stream reveals itself as a tidal wave of aggression that will brook no opposition, that mocks all prohibitions, and that finds the celebration of destructiveness an end in itself. Another apparent reversal of our inner condition has transformed us into the thing we flee.
In mania the most violent deeds are possible because they have already happened in the subject's inner world. That is the key to understanding the triad — and its object. If all joy wants eternity, all mania seeks the finality of death. Triumph must be the absolute overcoming of all inner prohibitions against wreaking violence on anything that raises the spectre of depression. That violence must, in turn, be externalized in a rush of projection on as many targets as one can find, sustaining the process being the thing that matters. Contempt solidifies the utter indifference, the coldness and cruelty visited upon the objects of one's scorn, the need being to belittle and dehumanize. Dismissal finalizes success by banishing anything that might arise in the wake of destruction to trouble the mind with afterthought or forethought. The fascist stance is here attained: self-righteousness wedded to brutality. The goal of the manic triad is the elimination of every seed of inner conflict. Mania practices a scorched earth policy. This drive defines each moment of the manic structure. The only limit mania fears is an end to the process. For that is the moment in which the aggression that has been unbound in the manic high turns back inside to attack its true object in a suicidal implosion.
A contradiction stands at the center of the manic-depressive cycle, seeking a solution that only the Bomb provides. To comprehend that contradiction, we must tunnel back into the depressive condition from which mania derives and study its internal structure. When elation ends and reflection returns, the manic-depressive confronts a single truth. One is onself the object of depression — and that is the truth one cannot admit. Accordingly, an effort is made to split into three what is really a unity. The inner world of the depressive is the product of that split. This is its structure:
- The subject as object of inner mourning.
- The inner other or saboteur13 whose judgment makes that condition one of endless suffering, incapable of mediation.
- The objects — within and without — onto which one projects the aggression wedding the subject to the saboteur.
The genealogy of human destructiveness springs from this structure. For in depth, destructiveness is what happens when a subjectivity defined by self-loathing finds in cruelty the only release through the free projection of all the hatred one feels toward oneself in one's inner world upon a host of objects (persons, values, institutions, beliefs, etc.). Aggression experiences, as heightened pleasure, the boundlessness of cruelty. Elation then beckons with the discovery of new targets, richer occasions, with but one proviso — the feast of aggression must never end. In mania one finally knows who one is and what one wants: that the music, le Sacre, not cease until one explodes from within in a rage that has become absolute "in and for itself," beyond all restraint or law.
This logic rules because elation offers the next step in the anti-agon, the malign reversal of the psyche's internal condition that we are tracing. In mania the aggression which the other has projected into me becomes my aggression, but now free of the other's chains and increased as a result of that "reversal." As such it must be projected onto objects that will necessarily have two characteristics, the second of which must remain disguised: (1) the object must be beneath us and thus deserving of contempt and (2) it must be an appropriate stand-in for the true object of our hatred. Unable to confront the inner world directly, one must locate its characteristics in a substitute. To cite the most familiar example: the hatred of men toward women invariably derives from an inner world in which women are feared as that greater power before which, in weakness, one cowers, the cruel irony being that in attacking women, one strives to extinguish that which one sees as feminine in oneself. The perfect mirror is provided by the tendency of women to trap themselves in violent, masochistic relationships, since that complex stems from a similar paralysis: the feeling that one deserves the other who wounds, since no other "bond of love" satisfies the need for self-undoing.
The virtue of the example is the deepened understanding of aggression it offers. The object of aggression — both within and without — is always double: something one hates and fears in the other because it resembles something one hates and fears in oneself. Aggression aims at the frustrating terms of an internal relationship in an attempt to annihilate the bind that locks it in endless frustration. It is the fantasmatic effort to take action within through the travesty of that possibility — violent pseudo-drama as a substitute for the real thing. Which is why elation, the victor's crow over the defeated opponent, is the most evanescent and deceitful of moods, an invariable prelude to a deeper, often suicidal, return to the lacerating core of the depressive subject. Elation by contrast is magical thinking "dancing in the dark," fearing and knowing one thing, that when the music ends we learn that the song has been about death.
B. From Wakeful Anguish to the Big Sleep
Depression and mania, as affects, are perfect mirrors. The slough of despond defining the former must be matched by any equally massive outpouring of affects that deliver consciousness from itself. Only by pumping up the "good feelings" and keeping them at a pitch can the inner state of the psyche find relief. From which we can derive the proper definition of elation: elation is hysteria in panic flight from inwardness, acting out its despair over any possibility of taking action within. Which is why when the dance ends, one returns to ground-zero and finds nothing changed, since the innermost belief fueling the manic process is that one can do nothing to alter the sense of fundamental badness that reigns within.
Unless a new object, the right one, can be found and a final solution attained through an act that would leave in its wake an objectification to which the psyche could always return to reassure itself of the triumph over all inner restraints. In such an object elation would find its dream fulfilled: that of perpetual masturbation before an image that forever stiffens one in the hastening of a climactic jouissance. For all its energies, elation is a premature ejaculator who has but one goal: the triumphant extinction of inwardness. That is why there must always be something world shattering about this state. In elation one feels messianic, at the center of things, ready to render the ultimate truth of experience and bring everything (oneself, the other, one's entire history) to a final determination.
That dream blossoms with the Bomb. The narcissistic grandiosity that is at the center of elation no longer holds itself apart, in sublime reserve, indifferent and superior. It here acts in a world become pure field for its sovereign will. The observed of all observers, one is now also the object of rapt attention for an audience awed by one's performance. Within the manic subject's inner world a remarkable possibility here beckons: the true audience that has always presided in disdain over one's efforts will be transfixed by one's act. The inner condition that mania tries to reverse finds in the Bomb its deadly Aufhebung. Depression presides over all efforts as the internalization of the judgment that is seen in the face of the m/other as that other turns away in indifference and scorn.14 Elation is the recovery of that gaze become adoration. Thus, naming the plane Enola Gay weds the mother to the son in the news to be broadcast shortly to an awe-struck world. One has finally done something that makes the m/other proud in a recognition that can't be revoked. That is the key to elation. Elation dreams the reversal of one's inner world through a triumphant externalization. That is the logic of mediations that weds it to the Bomb. In the Bomb the inner tie binding m/other and son is epiphanized in a world that has become pure theatrical space for a cruelty beyond Artaud's imagination. It is a final, annealing act because in it two depressions have been laid to rest.
The depressive always harbors one hope about the Other's cruelty: that it too is the product of depression, grounded in sadness, dissatisfaction, and a loss that one can reverse through one's achievements. This is the source of the fantasy that one can "humanize" the other's aggression, save the other from themselves, and bring about a genuine change in that hardened heart. To rephrase Nietzsche, one would rather have a sad object than a bad one. For then destructiveness does not form the core of the other's relationship to me. The depressive's deepest fear — that hate will prove stronger than love15 — is vanquished. "What does a mother want?" It is a question Paul Tibbets pondered, in chaste reserve, until the moment ripe for an answer.
III. The Fractured Mirror And The Psychotic Core
In weaving its illusions, mania affects a transformation in two other inner structures that also decompose whenever depression levels the loud claims on which they rest. Both derive from the psychotic dimension of the personality and both, for reasons that will emerge, have risen to a position of dominance in "post-modern" society. I refer to narcissism and its crypt, the schizoid personality: the perfectly self-enclosed subject and its guardian, the deadening of affect.
A. Narcissistic Grandiosity
The split on which narcissism depends and the grandiosity it requires find in the Bomb the mirror required for their finalization. Narcissism is the beautiful, empty face we erect atop a crypt, the aloof countenance of a beatified self that has escaped the judgments it visits on all others. As unlimited power the look attains in the Bomb the gaze that cannot be disrupted — the gaze upon itself, confirmed through the image reflected back to it from a face at ground-zero , the fragmented, Picassoed face of the other, caved in upon itself, broken into shards of weeping without sound. Narcissistic perfection lies in a self hollowed out from within so that it will coincide with the image of detachment and indifference it uses as the lure to fascinate all other subjects by refusing to take any notice of their being, let alone their efforts to gain its recognition. Aggression finds in Hiroshima the perfect Image for the relation it seeks to others. For the narcissist we are all "always already" hibakusha. In two ways: as the occasion for the cruelty, rejection, and humiliation on which the aggression underlying narcissism projects itself; and as the object of rage on which narcissism vents itself whenever its self-image is disrupted. In the American gothic, Paul Tibbetts fathers Patrick Bateman, both desperately seeking through narcissism to contain the underlying psychosis that matures in virulence, enriched like uranium ore, by this malign self-mediation. Narcissism provides the coldness required for self-righteous murder.
B. Expelling Psychosis: The Schizoid Condition
Psychotic anxiety derives from two terrors: (1) the fear of being fragmented into bits and pieces of unremitting psychic pain, unable to form a self that doesn't dissolve immediately into the howl; and (2) the even greater fear of being compressed into an "identity" subjected to ceaseless persecution, claustrophobia finalized with no exit tacked up over the door. In crypting these inner worlds, the psychotic register of the ego traps itself in a malign representation of what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid condition. At the schizoid pole, the deadening of affect forms the abiding desire, since withdrawal from the world is the only way a psyche rent in pieces, each bearing the force of destructive aggression, can flee a contact with what simultaneously assaults it without and within. At the paranoid pole, however, the inner certainty persists with malevolence stalking the psyche in an attack that is inevitable, since it confirms what the psyche knows it deserves. The result is a consciousness disjunct condemned to oscillate between the positions in the paralysis of a psyche incessantly traumatized in its inner world. Until the Bomb delivers it, that is, by reversing and resolving psychotic anxiety in a cleansing act that expels both sides of the split by locating them in an object which stands at a distance infinitely outside and beneath the subject. Through the creation of that object psychosis displaces its condition, assuring ascent to the narcissistic "stage of development."
A perfect circle has been drawn. It is, however, a self-reifying one and teaches us the invaluable lesson that there really is no development in the movement from paranoid-schizoid operations to the self-cohesion of narcissism and the subsequent ego developments that narcissistic cohesion supposedly makes possible.16 Something of a radically different sort comes to pass through these self-mediations. The psyche has found a way to resolve its conflicts by creating a structure in which death-work regulates the psyche from within. As Beckett argues, death may be slow work: it is not, however, a maze without a plan. There is a praxis of self-discharge that becomes habitual through the operations of the anti-agon we have been tracing. It is now time to give that process a name — Thanatos as self-mediation — and to articulate its logic in systematic, metapsychological terms. This will be the task of section IV.
IV. Soul-Murder Perfected: Death-Work as Self-Reference
Soul-murder17 is the process whereby the condition of abjection deriving from the other's destructiveness becomes death-work as self-reference and self-regulation. A complete reversal of the psyche's condition is thereby affected in a solution that is in its way final. The psyche takes the terror that haunts it from within and masters it by becoming it. Death-work thereby becomes the principle of self-mediation regulating all our significant behaviors. Three acts are needed to carry out this drama and seal the wound that festers at its center. Those moments are (1) abjection reversed, (2) blockage overcome, (3) aggression unbound. Through their ministry death woos the subject by offering the anti-agon required to reverse the horror of its founding condition. Tracing that process will reveal how death, working within the psyche, raises itself to the status of a "metapsychology."
It attains that status because the process we here describe involves a transfer of energy that produces a complete restructuring within the very inwardness of the psyche. By the end there is nothing left to "cut back into life." Spirit has been extinguished. Metapsychology, as we will use that term here, is the effort to articulate in dramatistic terms the process that takes place in depth whenever the psyche enacts a complete transformation in its self-reference.18 Here its subject is the three steps needed for the soul to impact itself in ice.
A. Psyche's Inner Structure as Anti-Agon
1. Abjection reversed. Tunneling inward, we find at the heart of the psyche not accedie, but abjection.19 And for the abject soul, blockage appears total. In a cardiac arrest of soul, striking our heart we hurt only our hand, reopening channels of self-laceration into which we rush imploding into a void. At the core of our self-reference, we are turned to stone by a murderous presence. Impotence is a poor word for such a condition. Psyche at its abject foundation lives in constant torment beneath a force that rages whenever the slightest sign of spontaneity threatens to mitigate its judgment. At the core, abjection is experienced as that primitive affect which permits no mediation. Self-torment as self-unraveling is one's permanent condition. Undoing as the "defense" that brings everything down to a zero-sum game is here experienced as the psyche's innermost necessity. To escape abjection all energy is centered in the unremitting task of severing connections. Such is the way in which death first installs itself in the psyche.
In doing so, however, it gives birth to its antithesis. As Hegel shows, the virtue of blockage, of restraint is that it establishes the possibility of a fundamental change in one's self-reference. That possibility finds a its origin in abjection, because abjection is the situation that mandates the necessity of taking action within. Death-work organizes one response to that challenge. Subject as who/why slumbers as the other. And they exhaust the alternatives, since abjection is that affect whereby catastrophic anxiety brings the subject before the primacy of its existential self-reference. The trauma that founds the subject is experienced in abjection as an energetics that must be projected upon. The dialectic in which the psyche is grounded — and the two antithetic structures of self-mediation that derive from that condition — are joined together in this experience in their fundamental and unremitting opposition. The goal of death-work in developing its anti-agon is to repress and extinguish an agon that is equiprimordial with it. Tracing that process thus reveals all the ways death installs its sway in the psyche and why the possibility of its reversal depends on a systematic understanding of those structures. If that study creates the desire for a recovery of the who/why, in its abjection, as the basis for the only genuine self-mediation, it will be because giving death scope also reveals how its opposite slumbers within it as a reversal that becomes possible only when one acts within the inner structures created by death.
2. Blockage overcome. Overcoming the force of inner destructiveness requires an equally massive energy. But how reverse death? How transform that energy, except by indirection, imitation, and repetition: by collecting certain shards of pain in order to reverse abjection by centering a fledgling "identity" in them. It is, of necessity, an identity "restrained and checked," deferred and delayed and as such the first inwardness: inwardness as holding oneself in, anticipating revenge. The child beating the stuffed toy has found a way to become, like the ant, "a centaur in his dragon's world,"20 avenging himself, in blind imitation, on the giants who stalk him in his primitive imagination. Here's real fort/da had we the strength to see it. The encopritic condition. In unbound violence the other's hatred becomes one's violent protest. Bits and pieces of pure rage accumulate and coalesce in the only "identity" one trusts. Thereby blockage grows toward a reversal as fantasy plots narratives that proceed to those grand festivals of cruelty in which, after long delay, one can turn the tables and do unto others.
Inside, however, death has not been reversed. It has been empowered, extended in an internalization of soul-murder that has as its true object, of necessity, the extinguishing of one's being as who/why. The autistic child is an uncanny representative of condition general. Like the sleepless Macbeth, the psyche that embraces death has "caught the nearest way:" reversal by repetition. That principle here provides the first coherent self-reference, one that acts, with a twisted authenticity, within the chamber of horrors that is the register of primary affects. (The term authenticity is appropriate here because what we are about to describe reveals, sadly, why for many subjects the murdering of their own soul is their only fully human act.) The self-mediation affected here has this form: one takes the most terrifying affects and experiences and from them composes an identity, an affective coalescence, which empowers one as a force within that primitive realm. An agon with the destructive other thus commences based on a correct "interpretation" of the other's actions and intentions and a suitable response. But reversal just as surely fails here because sustaining a destructiveness mightier than the deadly force that continues to burn like a stake in the heart does not surmount the need for repetition but assures it as an identification with the aggressor that is formed and then projected, without and within.
3. Aggression unbound. To make death-work, as energetics, form an identity, one's own power must prove stronger than the destructive force that maintains its power by assaulting any threat to its dominion. The only way to silence inner doubts and fears about its return, a revenant descending in flames, is by giving oneself the one proof adequate to the situation. Therefore, one seeks out occasions for an ever increasing expression of one's own aggression. That demand forms the circle that the psyche here proves powerless to sever. To assure that reversal and self-empowerment has taken place, one must contract an accumulated aggression now refined into pure hatred and inflict it on objects that are appropriate because they reflect one's original condition. One continues to live that trauma, but with fear now become hate and freely projected onto substitute objects. Those who live in horror of the return of their original abjection thus find it "sublime" to cast off all restrictions — to brutalize women, children, blacks, gays, jews, in the delight and rectitude of the fascist moment. They must sieze that opportunity whenever or wherever it comes, even in the smallest of rooms and occasions: as when Herr Professor, seeing the craving for recognition in a student's eye, stiffens to the pleasure of making the "scene of instruction" one of humiliation. . . .
B. Thanatos Takes a Bow
With the completion of the tripartite structure described above, the psyche achieves self-identity in the first full flush of Thanatos. Death-work has found a way to extend itself by co-opting the possibility of its reversal. It thereby attains the first confirmation of its sublimity. Increase of power, the fundamental dynamic of the sublime, is here established as a "quantum mechanics" within the psyche, one that establishes a theory of Thanatos that is not abstractly "metaphysical" but is firmly rooted in experience.
Here is the tale it tells. In the initial situation that generates psyche, as opposed to behavior, death is primary, its power absolute and unbound. Thanks to the previous description we now know that structuring power is the secret of death's appeal. Death doesn't extinguish, it organizes. Discharge of energy in the great bliss of release from tension is but its sabbath moment. Thanatos is a bureaucrat, an inveterate capitalist: concentration, growth, extension are its goals. Rather than an instinct seeking discharge, Thanatos is a colonizer intent on building within the psyche a culture appropriate to it. From which we derive the following as its initial definition: Death is the work we take up from within in order to make the voice of the destructive other the term of our self-reference.
1. Ego as Culture of Death-Work. This drive informs the culture death creates for itself. Hatred, envy, cruelty, vain condescension and petty vindictiveness: such are the self-mediations that create an inwardness that nurtures itself on affects that harbor resentment while hollowing out objects and occasions for its expression. Rather than spend itself in abrupt or noisy discharge, death works best when it stores aggression and builds upon it. Holding back and holding within nurture rage, hardening the heart through repetition. In the resulting self-reference, subject attains a substantiality from which everything then flows with a perfect symmetry, derived from a single principle: those murdered in their souls can only repeat that act — within themselves and upon others. In the abjection of victims, one finds the perfect object. The wheel has come full circle. That which attacks us from within has become the basis of our activity.
Death-work has thereby evolved a structure ruled by three principles: (1) increase of aggression is mandatory and finds in that inwardness which nurtures resentment the perfect womb for its development; (2) repetition, however, always requires a greater expression, an expansion of the field over which aggression holds sway; (3) the attempted reversal of one's founding condition thus moves in a vicious circle. That circle binds destructive energies to a growing contempt for any restraint on their expression. Two forces come to synthesis in this self-mediation: the destructive terror at the core of the psyche and the destructive rituals one has organized to counter it are now one in a marriage that constitutes the unity and identity of the psyche. The threat of implosion has become the force of explosion.
To finalize the process, everything within that must be vanquished for death to secure its reign seeks an appropriate expression. This desire points to a new and frightening theory of repression and the repressed. To achieve lasting peace we must turn ourselves inside out. The primitive terrors that freeze the life-blood of the psyche must find an expression that roots them in the world. One needs acts that reduce the fractured beings on whom they are inflicted to the abjective correlative that is incessantly sought: one must devise humiliations that reduce the other to the stark, arrested eyes of the animal caught in the headlight of one's vindictiveness.
Structurally, death-work attains that maturity through three essential transformations:
- abjection, the internal regulator attacking the psyche from within, is reversed through repetition;
- destructiveness is thereby compressed in an identity where blockage is overcome in an aggression that awaits occasions:
- in which, unbound, it can celebrate the overcoming of its initial condition by delivering the other over to it. To rewrite Nietzsche: Thanatos is the death that cuts back into life: with its self-brutalization it increases its power.
It all works because death provides the energetics of a hermeneutic that forecloses the circle of its self-reference. Step one: thanatopic anxiety remains unbound until inner destructiveness is channeled through an attack by the subject on its own being. Step two: that capitulation binds aggression to resentment, the a priori that has as its inherent demand an attack on life itself. With that principle as the door of every perception, the dead proceed, on all occasions, to oppose anything that escapes their condition. The great reversal has occurred. Step three: implosion-explosion, the dark doubles, organize a world that has become the field for projections that must increase hate because the abiding pressure of the trauma within can only be relieved through festivals of cruelty.
Thanatos must find and create objects for itself. That is its logic as a force in the personality and in History. Evacuation is the categorical imperative that drives the dead in an Aufhebung where to be aware of limitations is, indeed, to be already beyond them: since every blockage nurtures resentment and the need, at a later date, for that greater cruelty required to satisfy what festers within. This logic gives us a true picture of what happens to one's inwardness in what is called "identification with the aggressor." That act is usually viewed from the perspective of the ego and its defenses. We now see the underlying motive which makes that account as blind to the true conditions of its prison-house as Ugolino and as unaware of the magnitude of the reversal that is required to undo death's inner dominion. For to reverse death, no less is required than a self-mediation that deracinates the hold that death has at the center of one's self-reference.
2. More die of heartbreak: a phenomenological description. Before that task most subjects shrink in perpetual fear, contracting their being into ego-identities based solely on consensual validation and reflected appraisals. The result is lives that are called normal, ordinary, healthy, but which can only be described, in an rigorous way, by the steps of another logic; that whereby subjects in "quiet desperation" and in despair over their inner world, die of heartbreak and then ulcerate their being forth in activities that can have only one goal — mutual, collective deadening. What follows outlines the deep structure of the process.
- In the original traumatic experience that creates the psyche, destructiveness is introjected, creating massive anxiety;
- Self-destructiveness results in suicide or suicidal behaviors;
- Or is displaced and delayed through aggression coalesced then discharged on "appropriate" targets, "significant others."
- This process gives concrete relations with others a dramatic structure that proceeds inexorably to a final venting, an attack in which the weaker party finally takes flight or is destroyed.
- Either result produces in the victor the moment of crisis. With no object present, projection turns back inward. The repressed drama of the subject collects around its abiding discontents. The loss or absence of the other leaves only three possibilities: (a) A new object is found, but the new cycle of abuse must correct what went wrong and thus perfect the system of cruelty. The old object is regained but the cycle now proceeds from the point previously reached; the object of attack being that in the other's psyche that enabled them to gain a brief, phantom independence. (c) Inner destructiveness, finding no object, completes the inner return and "eats up itself."
- Kill or be killed thus reveals itself as the logic that shapes the buried history of many a life, the calcifying truth of most human relationships. As such it is also the point at which metapsychological description starts to burn. For once this structure is known, there is no hiding place, no illusion that after "bad experiences" one can return to a cleansed beginning. Choices made at the deep register of the psyche are irreversible. Time and experience the slow articulation of their meaning. Once we discover the ways our lives are dedicated to death, we have only one choice: to re-enter the crypt and summon the courage to take action within by confronting all the ways that death has in us "a local habitation and a name." But because that act demands unremitting struggle with the voice that haunts us, in most cases something else comes to pass.
3. Intimation — Revelation I: over Hiroshima — the voice in the clouds. Serial killers repeat their act because they find no release, no lasting evacuation, however grisly. They lack and forever seek the perfect object. The few lucky ones who succeed attain a state of sublimity from which there can perhaps be only one "regret." Such a man is Paul Tibbets, who has maintained for fifty years a remarkable consistency. Unequivocally and on every possible occasion, Tibbets has stated that he has never felt the slightest remorse and has no regrets about having dropped the Bomb. We trust this account and applaud it. What Tibbets cannot tell us, however, is why his conscience remains clear. Or what he envisioned when he "ushered in the nuclear age" with these, his first words to the crew following the bomb's detonation: "Gentlemen, you have just dropped the first atomic bomb in history" (italics mine).21 We cannot know the nuclear future Tibbets foresaw at that moment. Nor his "disappointment" over the past 50 years. What we can know is this. Tibbets found what he was seeking: the act needed for his Thanatos to reify itself. Tibbets can have no remorse because on August 6, 1945 he died. His psyche fully evacuated its condition, achieving the lasting peace of its own reification. The rest is but quotidian time. Thus Tibbets' Nietzschean blink as "the last man" who was among the first to walk through Nagasaki and gaped in vacancy becoming, in his own words, a "tourist," purchasing rice-bowls, noting the efficiency of the Japanese in cleaning up "the mess," his nose dumb to the smell of death pervading the place.22 Absence of affect in Tibbetts is not a mask but a permanent condition. Scientific objectivity, distance, and lack of concern is not a pose, or a discipline one exerts under strain, but that door of perception which now determines, in Nagasaki and elsewhere, "all that is the case." As such it is the discipline of heart and mind that proves "determinate in the last instance." As it did much later for Tibbets, who could not resist the call, when it came, and he found a chance in 1976 to re-enact his mission, and drop a "bomb" complete with simulated mushroom cloud to the cheers of an admiring throng, at the annual air show of the Texas Confederate Air Force, an act solidifying his claim as the apostle of the post-modern imagination.23
Death is that discipline which takes anything that "hath a daily beauty in it" and turns the situation to advantage. Historically it moves inevitably to what may today be the true dialectical opposition: the grandeur in a blade of grass to a perception cleansed of death-work versus the death of nature as the demand required to bring the "rationality" of the evolving global techno-culture to a point where everything external corresponds to what gnaws at it from within.
V. The Law of the Son
A. The Phallic Ego and the Attainment of (Phallic) Identity
We have now traced the structure of self-mediations that issues in the ego. What follows presents the truth of this structure when it is viewed from its crypt. We hear often today that the phallic stage is the achievement of identity through ascent to the Symbolic order and "the law of the father," a development that supposedly overcomes pre-oedipal conflicts and the self-dissolution they threaten.24It is a tidy myth, concealing through projection-denial, the lower layer that is its life-blood. That lower layer, moreover, reals the truth about social and cultural relationships when identification with the phallic remains an obsessive fixation, a scene of instruction and unending rivalry.
As our culture demonstrates with systematic regularity, aggression is not overcome in the Symbolic and the social orderings it makes possible. It is extended through a malign reversal that assures destructiveness of new objects and a new direction. Socialization establishes ways of relating that displace and forestall inner torment by contracting all feelings into issues of power. The secret of the system derives from the totemic icon on which the whole thing turns. For phallicized subjects, the inner world is intolerable because with the achievement of phallic identity inner destructiveness centers itself in self-persecution and self-loathing. Inwardness itself becomes the thing one fears because it is connected with sinking into an abyss of affects associated with failure, passivity, feminization, worthlessness, and loss of control. Being emotional equals engulfment in the realm of the mother, who speaks in a voice that "unmans." The phallus as weapon is the reversal that frees us from that voice. Through its assertion all acceptable feeling becomes concentrated in an object defined by the power of its imposition. (That the penis is a tongue — this is the forgotten language, forever lost to those trapped in phallicized identifications.) Speaking ill of the phallic order, however, belies the primary fact. For in it two amazing reversals are affected.
Maternal destructiveness is the psyche's founding anguish; weakness, impotence, and uxoriousness its products, which are overcome by identifying all such feelings with the "feminine" and then extinguishing the entire complex by attacking its externalized representatives: women, children, nature, "men" who refuse phallic identification, etc. Because such acts stem from the traumatic memory of our deepest humiliations, however, the change they affect involves a complex self-mediation. In an effort to concentrate one's destructiveness on those affects that make us weak and susceptible, the phallus provides the reversal that banishes those feelings by providing a principle of self-mediation which identifies strength with the pitiless judgment one now passes on everything that once made one an object of humiliation. The proper principle has finally been found that makes possible the creation of a crypt in which one packs ones heart in ice by burying every experience that delivered us over to the anguish of the who/why. This is the story which the phallus, a flaming sword atop that crypt, desperately denies. For to tell it would show that the phallus is not the law of the Father's Symbolic social order delivering us from the claustrophobic world of the pre-oedipal and incestuous Mother. That picture is valuable as a counter-phobic defense of the Law whenever it comes under attack. And thereby the deeper necessity is served, which is to prevent our seeing the symbolic order for what it is: the censor we establish to crypt the conflicts of the inner world and thereby sustain the repression of those truths about normalcy, the ego, and the social, cultural subject that stand forth whenever the symbolic order emerges in its true light: as the mediation whereby subjects bind themselves to bureaucracies and interpellations that discipline and punish all concerned,25 since the system has as its informing principle the attack on any and every thing that can be feminized or so labeled whether by men or by women. Socialized in such practices the collective subject wages an unending effort to exorcize the deep terror within by attacking whatever can serve as its representative. And so the penis becomes a battering ram that hammers away at everything that scares us, rape being, from this perspective, literalization of the dominating trope — rigor mortis of soul made present to itself in its objective correlative.
In the phallus father and son come together in one thing — the desire to put an end to inwardness and the affects that define it by making it impossible to regard those feelings as anything but a disorder that depriving one of masculine identity. The result: men can't communicate with one another honestly about their feelings because the phallus functions a priori to castrate that possibility. The threat of exposure as "feminine" is the mutual betrayal that polices all occasions.
In the larger social context, that threat also provides the glue that holds the Symbolic system together. Externalization requires organization; it needs a bureaucracy, even as Kenneth Burke shows, "of the imagination;"26 a system of rituals, rites of passage and of bonding, even sacred games. The world must be made safe for the Phallus. The only law capable of assuring that is objectification. Bergson's comic therefore becomes the ruling principle that always takes command over those areas where the "feminine" and other countervailing behaviors could ooze through. Order is Ordnung, never more so perhaps than in the academy. After all, there are certain analytic rules that all responsible discourses must follow. Thought is a social, communal, professional activity: the a priori conditions of rational communication are all ye know on earth and all ye are permitted to know. They determine what counts as a legitimate speech act, which is why eventually, as a host of commentators today assure us, "we" will put an end to all this post-modernist gibberish and restore objectivity, common sense, and the essential truths of humanism to their rightful place on the throne.27
Be that as it may, the energy fueling the fortresses we build against unreason derive from the pleasure and relief those structures offer at a deeper register. The symbolic order of the phallus is the perfection of a circle. That circle marches to a logic that has this structure:
- The world of the m/other is seen as an unmediated realm of primary affects and primitive conflicts which, for the nascent subject, breed terror as the founding self-reference.
- The phallus offers a way to negate the negation, to reverse the reversal: to institute the claims of binary logic as scorched earth policy.
- Male identity is the ascent to that order; male solidarity the process of torturing all into submission to its rules by extinguishing all feelings save those that are rational.
- That commitment solidifies itself by projecting aggression on anything "identified" as feminine.
- Phallic identity thus affects a double reversal: (a) one's inner weakness is projected and denied, (b) on what becomes, through that process, a suitable object of contempt and aggression.
The Symbolic order thereby achieves its deepest purpose by offering constant occasions for a manic release of depressive tensions. Once the institutionalization of rationality is in place, the system is fool-proof for its hermeneutic circle now rests on an "ontological" principle that extends reason and exorcizes otherness in one and the same act. Phallic power is a principle that affirms itself as tautology, whenever it speaks, with no recognition of the irony. Denying otherness is the one way it always goes beyond the principle of contradiction.
In summary, the Phallus affects a self-mediation that submits the self-reference grounded in the M/other to a complete reversal. The organizing principle of the process: aggression. The result: the first proof of death's ontological power. In the phallic order destructiveness reveals, in a systematic way, that it needs no principle outside itself to bring about a complete transformation of the psyche. Thanatos thereby establishes its credentials as a first principle, a true beginning. And in so doing it achieves what will become the principle of its development: eroticizing itself is the act that gives Thanatos the power to annex and extinguish its other.
Once destructiveness has been made a specifically male thing death-work — as self-mediation and as hermeneutic circle — achieves a perfection of sorts. If the m/other triumphs in the inner world by making subject doubt itself, the father principle enacts the needed reversal by making the overt violence of those whose only distinguishing quality is greater physical power the omnipresent threat capable of ending every debate. The Phallus has one grand meaning for the psyche, and for both genders as they reconfigure power around it: the power to do hurt of those whose wound is salved daily by those little murders that offer but momentary relief from a project that is self-contradictory and unrelenting — to destroy without in order to eradicate within.
B. The Little Lower Layer: Phallic Identity as the Perfect Incest
My effort, throughout, is to formulate a logic, to show that the psyche, in its most violent acts, moves with rigor in the circle of its own self-entanglement, and is always supremely logical in taking the steps need to complete its imprisonment. That logic is, however, the anti-dialectic whereby the true agon of subjectivity is refused. And with it the recognition that the bond binding the energies that coalesce in the phallic ego is grounded not in the law of the father but of the abiding presence of the destructive mother. The attempt by men to convince one another that they are powerful because they have escaped what they all fear is a quest which reveals their actual view of the feminine: the mother not as angel in the house but as Spartan presence. The M/other is the one who sets goals in which one always fails, even when one carries out the founding judgment's fundamental fantasy and comes back, like the Spartan soldier, on one's shield. The prospect that paralyzes Lacan and others is that the "bond of love" with the m/other is such that father and son have no real or independent access to one another. Their bond is the supreme myth on which the Symbolic rests, but the truth of the relationship is defined by the effort, together or in rivalry, to escape the m/other's dominion. Through rituals of bonding/bondage, the castrata seek ways to deny their shared state or to triumph over one another in battles where the winner always loses, uneasy being the head that wears the crown. For the entire thing is staged by both parties for one audience, the m/other, who passes judgment on the competitors, with the judgment of "impotence" the ever-present threat. In the phallic order, the incestuous is not surmounted: Oedipal rivalry solidifies its power to subdue all human relations to its demands. Identification with the aggressor, the defense on which the ego's identity depends, rest on the marriage Hamlet speaks of: one in which the law of the Father stands in permanent terror of the engulfing Mother.
That recognition amounts to an implosion of the Symbolic, revealing the trauma of the Real as something it can neither contain nor deny. Least of all by magical thinking; as in the curious Lacanian plea/demand that the m/other accede to the Law of the Father and thereby save the son — from herself. And the perfect incest that beckons — das ewig weiblich. As owl of morning, it led one dutiful son to an act of "poetic" genius.
C. Intimation — Revelation II: Tibbets' Agonistes
As Tibbets notes, in narrating the naming of the plane, "they gave planes some pretty strange names in those days, and I didn't want any of that."28 A new Adam must bear Adam's curse. The act of naming must bring to fruition the erotic truth of the Symbolic tie that binds the doer to his deed. Many American planes bore the names and figures of sexualized women pictured dealing death: of Eros celebrated as a destructive force — a bare-breasted woman, not Slim Pickens, riding a hungry phallus down into the earth. True revelation demands that those precursor images return to the source. Back home, a proud gal sits waiting under the apple tree. In dream space and perfect symmetry the son finds union and jouissance in her name, Enola Gay. Put it all together it spells M-O-T-H-E-R, the word made flesh and blazed into the body of the other with a sudden blow that shuddering dawn. Abjection reversed. Blockage overcome. Aggression unbound. The mother's judgment of the son has become that bond of love which requires raining an ultimate terror on the earth to substantialize its reign.
Tibbets' "genius" was this: he saw the son's destructiveness as the m/other's objectified, seeking a form adequate to itself. Tibbets, the Spinoza for our time. The law of the father, in might military, as the reversal that fulfills the m/other's commandment by externalizing it. The wheel thereby comes full circle, with destructiveness turned back upon itself in a concerted attack on the very things it nurtured in order to secure its power — weakness, fear, humiliation, abjection. Projection now serves as testimony to the m/other's power. In creating the hibakusha, totally dehumanized representatives of those inner qualities that are hated and abhorred, Tibbets completes the self-alienation that is the logic of war's development. And if history teaches us one thing, it is that with each step in that ghostly process the chances of reversal recede. Destructiveness follows an unconscious logic of implosion that finds realization and reification in the Bomb. That is why Tibbets can only gape in rapture, his attention forever fixed on the triumphant eradication of his own inwardness in an evacuation that voids the possibility of any subsequent ethical awareness. The point Canetti seeks, the moment when history disappears, was attained August 6, 1945 in the extinction of "conscience." Implosion alone now sustains the psyche's self-reference, with involutional psychosis the only way left for agents to pass judgment on themselves. And thanks to Tibbetts, that possibility too has perhaps been rendered no more than a last "humanistic" nostalgia.
"Concrete Relations With Others" as Mutual Deadening
A. Group Psychology American Style
The Bomb establishes the terms of collective behavior in what will come to be called "the post-modern world." It is the act needed to put everything on a firm and lasting foundation. For the phallocrat, "other people" are one of two things: those one abases and those who, as audience, witness that process, arrested by its power, compelled to undertake its internalization and imitation. The big Other,29 the one who is always looking at us, most intensely perhaps when we are alone, offers one avenue of escape from the threatened judgment. That is why group psychology is always incipient mass psychology and why the psychological disorder from which the Other derives its power is revealed once there is a sublime object around which a mass of subjects can libidinally coalesce in order to be freed through collective identification with it of all inner doubts and anxieties. Such an Object, as magnet for a group-in-fusion as a collective will, has the power to gather together in obeisance those who stand in sublime awe beneath its power. Power alone then offers the interpellated "we" the only identity that protects "one" from classification under the only other label that exists. The Bomb contracts all human relations into ones of domination or submission. The only subjectivity it allows is collective and blindly submissive. Beneath it one stands arrested in the blink of Nietzsche's "last man." For under its rule, one is either the nameless, disposable victim or the adolescent bully who here begins to strut and fret his hour upon the stage of world history in what is perhaps a true revelation of the American character: brute might celebrated in the violent rupture of all "humanistic" limitations, the bliss of aggression unbound. As Harry Truman said, "This is the greatest thing in history." There is nothing we can't do to other human beings — and, in the Bomb, we know it.
Being and Nothingness(1943) was a prophetic book, not of existence recovered but of dialectic dissolved. All that was required to create a world adequate to it was the coming of the Bomb. The Bomb is the identical en-soi pour-soi — the Look that turns everyone into a thing. Especially those subjects who coalesce as Massenmensch in the rush to embrace it as das Ding, the "brute Thing" that eradicates the threat of any Look with the power to reify those who have already reified themselves in its image. "We" need no longer fear the look of the other because the power of an oppositional subjectivity, what Hegel terms a free consciousness, has been banished from the earth. After the Bomb, there is only en-soi as pure expression of the truth of the rationalistic pour-soi. The Cartesian quest for a certitude that banishes all doubt here finds the only lasting, clear and distinct foundation: true freedom and autonomy is the power to compel submission by flicking the switch that turns the look of the other en masse to a blank white screen, no trace left of the tortured visage and the howl that the irradiated victims hurl back from ground-zero in a final fury of the question "why." Free at last of any threat from that Other, a new populace comes into existence, a smug one immune to any rhetoric addressing it as "mon semble, mon frere." In the Bomb that audience finds a judgment beyond appeal; it courses in the power of that sublime object which fascinates and fixates all subjects to center all desires in a final configuration of Hegel's "society as a community of animals,"30 — animals who will live condemned to the ceasless consumption of images of themselves. The point Canetti seeks has been found: post-modern hyper-reality has arrived. Baptized in the logos that will shape the future, held in sublime fascization, a crowd gathers to memorialize the blessed Event.
B. Intimation — Revelation III: The Los Angeles Coliseum, Navy Day, October 27, 1945 — The First Super Bowl
Sartre, in nostalgia, looked back to the French Revolution to conceptualize the possibility of an authentic group-in-fusion. We, condemned to historicize that idea, turn to the L.A. Coliseum and Navy Day, October 27, 1945.31 On that day a crowd numbering over 120,000 gathered for a simulated re-enactment of the bombing of Hiroshima, complete with a chemical mushroom cloud, which rose from the 50 year-line to cheers, fireworks, the rippling flags of a rapt throng. The age of simulation had begun.
In the Coliseum, the news broadcast on August 6, 1945 as message to the world rises up again as symbol, a great attractor, for an audience come together to participate in the birth of a new form of theatre — that of a performance art dedicated to the satisfaction of a collective mania. That theatre draws on two circumstances for its power: first, the isolation under the Bomb of each subject in a dread so omnipresent that it is the only experience left of individuality; second, the gathering of such paranoid subjects32 in a collective bow before the re-enactment of that subjection, followed by a rush of ascent straight from the sublime register, to embrace and consume that object. Einstein's challenge "to change the way we think about everything" is here resolved, not in a Rilkean embracing of the flame but in collective reification. The consumer society is here born in the panic that will fuel its narcissitic fixation on its own emptiness. In its birth "the society of the spectacle" announces its truth: spectacle here is both scene of global instruction and also the theatre where an audience cums to the ritual which confers on it a "lasting" identity: the howl of joy that rises as a single voice in a hymn of praise to the burgeoning cloud is the collectivity in hosanna before the image of their inhumanity as it blossoms before them, big with the future. Those gathered in awed attendance at that spectacle are sublimed by the unspoken prayer that rises with the object, the plea to be assured of only one thing: that one never find oneself the object of this savage god. The most primitive bases of group psychology here coalesce in the performative act that seals the fascization of the American character. For fascism is this: self-brutalization made the basis for self-certainty in the reduction of all human relations to awe-struck obeisance in "Yes" to the blow, the effort to kiss the boot as it descends. Leaving the Coliseum the crowd finds that like Adam and Eve leaving paradise " the future is all before them," for the manic ceremony now finished is but prologue to the swelling act in which the collective psyche celebrated here becomes a society of consumers who feed incessantly on their own death. The post-nuclear subject is this: the void that cannot be filled and that sucks everything into itself in the endless proliferation and rush to the next new image, the next new need.
C. Nuclear Fear: 1945- : A Tiger's Leap into the Future
For celebration always begets as aftermath the return of the reality it was meant to exorcize. Therein the pour-soi that sought reification in the Bomb reveals its inner condition as the logos that will shape the Amerikan character in the fifties as it fashions a mind of winter for itself by referring everything to the one fear that has now become absolute. That self-mediation cancels the principle of subjectivity on which Hegel based the phenomenology. Nuclear fear is the felix culpa that completes the work begun in the Coliseum.33 Psychic numbing thereby becomes the through-line shaping all social structures. The deadening of affect is the act proving that one has internalized the Bomb. Thus the explosion of the mental health industry and the obsessional need behind the plethora of psychologies dedicated to purging everything that troubles the subject within.34
That fact is not without its irony. The term psychic numbing was first introduced by Robert J. Lifton to describe the psychological effects of the bomb on its victims, the hibakusha. The term may already have contained another signification, however, as projection and uncanny prophecy of the only way that those who used it could "learn to stop worrying and love the bomb." A psychological category constructed to objectify the victims and turn them into discursive subjects for knowledge/power finds its true referent in the processes that structure the ghostly solidarity of the victors. That irony, however, contains no possibility of reversal. Another exigency drives the process of psychic numbing. Nuclear fear is this: the anticipation that somehow, someday the position will be reversed and one will become the victim. Those who find in this fear signs of an American conscience, of guilt gnawing the subject toward recognition and renewal, convict themselves of the worst kind of a-historical nostalgia. The real pursuit is what D.H. Lawrence, apropos of WWI, termed "the process of intrinsic death." If, as Doris Lessing argues, "the bomb has already gone off" within us it is because after it we live in one world, with psychic perhaps numbing the only telos capable of producing Eliot's "unified sensiblity."
The justice of the post-nuclear condition is that it falls with special force on the victors, because they know one thing with Cartesian certainty. They used it. The Event in the L.A. Coliseum brought as its glad tidings the cancellation of Emily Dickinson's message to the world. The only space within where a subject can retreat in solitude to take up the burden of one's being is now a space where the Bomb is omnipresent and omnipotent. And it has already gone off, because with its use, a deadening implosion at the deepest register of our inwardness takes place.
One often hears this charge from those who were around in 1945: "Where were you during the war? You don't know anything about how we felt? I'll bet you weren't even alive then." There is in the statement a disingenuous honesty. A shout went up with Ahab/Truman. Americans took joy in the Bomb and that affective experience went straight down to the deepest register of the psyche, in a Hosannah that would prove irreversible. To be in History is at times to make a choice which no afterthought can alter. The aporia of "remorse" is this: on August 6, 1945, the collective psyche made a decision that it can neither admit nor renounce. It felt good. It was a sublime moment. Casting all moral considerations aside, a populace embraced the news in thanksgiving and a revenge long delayed. That is why 50 years later that populace and its historians still clutch at virtually any datum that can be unearthed to "justify" the act, or, at least to sustain that "debate" and the need for further historical research. We must find a way to "save the conversation," to block interpretive closure, to keep both sides of the debate in place, marshaling new "facts" to attenuate the deed and the responsibility it imposes. One thing above all is needed: to delay and defer the time when one has to internalize what happened on August 6, 1945. Histories are written so that history will never be experienced in a way that brings the subject before itself in depth. The two sides in the Hiroshima debate have a secret to hide — one they share with most Americans — their complicity in preventing this encounter. And as long as one bathes the issue of closure with humanistic guarantees — such as Lipton and Mitchell's notion that by admitting our errors we are cleansed and renewed — one's psychic position is not really different from those rebarbative ones, such as Professor Fussell, who continue to proclaim their "good feelings" over the use of the Bomb in order to sustain a hysteric defense against what would come with its internalization.35
D. The History of the Present
At the end of Don DeLillo's White Noise, crowds gather, mysteriously drawn to brilliant sunsets which, they dimly know, stand as signs of the pollution of the planet. They are transfixed by the new light they can just barely discern as it comes to envelope them, because they find in that bright angel of death a ratification of the process that forms the inner history of the U.S. from 1945 to the present. In their numbness DeLillo's collective subjects, ripe for death, find in those sunsets a last after-image of the founding act celebrated in the Coliseum. Like radiation sickness and ecological catastrophe, cultural death-work comes not in a "screaming across the sky" (Pynchon) but dispersed as an atmosphere, a new habitus and Wittgensteinian "form of life" only faintly visible to the ghosts sleepwalking their way across the neon necropolis. As Durkheim's descendant, DeLillo shows us, with the loving attention to detail of the born sociologist, all the ways in which Death organizes a culture for itself: the ways in which it develops as a historical force fatally attracted to the conditions of its own finalization, bound in love to the one binding object of desire.
Our effort in describing the psychological self-mediations that issue in those structures is not a contribution to sociology, but to its foundations. Similar to Heidegger's argument about the "analytic of Dasein," the effort is to establish existential categories that will enable us to chart the quotidian as a dessert that grows because it has but one foundation. The power of Thanatos is its ability to annex and change the function of every object in which Eros and erotic longing invests itself. Since 1945 the goal that has driven this process is the panic flight of the collective historical Unconscious seeking a world where it will be safe from the one reality it cannot attend to, the psychotic pressure that has acted upon the nerves since August 6, 1945. It is frequently claimed that the Bomb has given us 50 years of safety from world war. Its historical "force and signification" has been far more basic and primitive. On August 6, 1945, the psyche was turned inside out: every act since has proceeded from the psychotic register.
VII. The Trauma Is the Real: The Post-Modern Condition Attained
— Marilyn Chambers
Here is a version of things you are not likely to hear when next the good news goes conferenced forth that the post-modern condition has arrived. The Trauma is the Real. All symbolic strategies for displacing that recognition were blasted to bits by the Bomb. That is why culture today moves in the medium of the hyperreal, the simulated, the landscape of the waking dream become collective nightmare in a vertigo of psyche where the mad proliferation of self-canceling texts conceals and reveals the effort to turn horror into the only possible comfort: that of void, the absence of reference — the endless free play of the signifier, dancing in the dark to Le Sacre. In the Bomb the Symbolic order was realized, exposed, and shattered. Reference had finally been attained. Which is why after Hiroshima "Language" becomes the culture's overriding obsession as we seek words to deny the Real and render Reference impossible or, at least, "fabulously textual."36 Simulation provides that desire with the perfect symptom: a denial of reality that serves only to confirm the desperate hollowness of that denial. "Deconstructing of subject" then takes the final step. We must unravel our being as subjects in order to gain release from what has become a historical condition of unspeakable horror. If one can dissolve one's being in a language "that speaks us," then there is one thing that can never be spoken. The hermeneutic circle becomes endlessly auto-referential in ludic service to the spasms of non-meaning whereby it hollows out the subjects who embrace it. Undoing, the most primitive defense mechanism., is now the only one left.
This reading is, of course, a far cry from the conscious intentions of those theorists who constructed post-modernism and even further from the eminently "referential" preoccupations of those who career themselves forth by expounding the new dispensation. The inwardness I am describing here is precisely what they cannot let themselves know about themselves because a dialectical beginning would then be attained, with the post-modern seen as the post-nuclear and the latter category no longer marginalized, but made the basis for a demystified reinterpretation of aporia, irony, deferral, and delay. Contra his epigones, Derrida did not deconstruct the Cold War; his thought stands, rather, as an essential moment in the change that the Nuclear Referent effects within the inwardness of the subject.37 And faced with the historical reality of that change, the various humanisms offer no meaningful counter-discourse pointing the way to a return to "sanity" and a way out of the historical condition we've described. Their effort, rather, and their unattainable unconscious, is to protect their audience from the one thing that matters, a "pessimism of strength" that would look at history without guarantees, especially those that posit catharsis and renewal as the assured results of every "confrontation" with a traumatic past. Confronted with the Bomb, humanism, like post-modernism, has one goal — containment. "Human kind cannot bear very much reality."38 And in that fact Humanism finds its true definition: it is the system of essentialistic beliefs about the fundamental goodness of human beings that provide the a priori identity from andto which the humanist moves himself and his audience in dealing with History. Which is another way of saying that humanism after Hiroshima is in the service of death and perforce regards Lethe as "the knowledge most worth having," reinstitution of the guarantees being for it the only way to cleanse oneself of the burden of history.
VIII. Epiphany: The Eroticization of Thanatos
Pleasure under the sign of the Bomb has this essential characteristic: it consists in binding then releasing a destructiveness that voids all inner tension in an aggression which is projected without restraint. Neither the pleasure nor the reality principle can restrain or account for the "expense of spirit" in the resulting feasts of cruelty. For pleasure to come no residual or retrospective consciousness can live on in remorse to trouble the act or turn it back against the self. Thanatos eroticized necessarily finds its pleasure in the perfect psychotic act: one where the evacuation of inner destructivness has become bliss, exorcism made jouissance, the subject's giddy self-dissolution into fragments of pure brutality celebrated as a triumphant externalization of all discontents. The sublime drive — the Kantian need for an increase of might in a greater outpouring after every blockage — has a telos that points to one end, which is now fully present in the Bomb as the identical subject-object of history.
As such the Bomb offers a radically new understanding of the "eternal battle" of Eros and Thanatos, one that deprives that "dialectic" of the hidden guarantees Freud established in proclaiming it. The Bomb shows us that the dialectic is historical to the core. That recognition spells the death of dualism and the guarantees which binary logic imposes on history. When Eros and Thanatos are dualistically opposed we are always safe and can always begin again, with hands washed clean of history. Dualism separates its central categories all the better to assure the a priori, essentialistic, and transcendental status of the favored term. As such dualism is the mother of the guarantees, the permanent ally of humanism whenever contingency threatens its hegemony. With dualism's aid we can always sort things out so that everything we value ends up on the right side of the "divided line." That is why after every holocaust we re-discover a cleansing, healing power within. In learning about evil one always learns about the other, the aberration, the unthinkable — never about the heart of one's own inwardness. Dualism is the conceptual realization of splitting as that defense which enables the psyche to label as "bad" everything within itself it can't deal with. Thereby dualism protects a set of "good" a priori needs from the possibility of fatal contamination by their opposite. Whenever it turns to history, dualism accordingly becomes transcendance playing a comedy, claiming to find as universal in the world what it imposes a-historically from above.
When Eros and Thanatos become historical categories, in contrast, they bite into us, disrupting and challenging the very "life of spirit" by delivering us over to a process where everything is at issue. When opposition is dialectical, not dualistic, everything is subjected to the possibility of irreversible change because the opposition is such that one category can and does invade those realms supposedly secured for the other. Annexation, colonization, change of function are the primary facts: and no essential humanity protects us (and Eros) from such processes. Once aggression was eroticized, the possibility was set that eventually nothing but aggression would produce erotic pleasure. There is nothing that escapes this threat, nothing within the subject that guarantees protection or recovery. Today, rather, in de-volution far advanced, the question is whether there is anything left to combat the encroachments of Thanatos. Humanism is the refusal to face this condition. Existentializing dialectic is the antidote. It is that way of thinking that situates everything immanently, in a historical understanding voided of guarantees.39 Eros and Thanatos set the dialectical categories that make that history concrete in a way that maximizes its urgency. As forces in the psyche given over to history, they are not eternal ideas, but fundamental choices directly felt in the pressure they daily exert upon the nerves and the heart leading to choices one lives out in acts that prove determinative. Existentialized and historicized, the dialectic of Eros and Thanatos is the "concrete universal" that simultaneously defines the world and our responsibility in it. Nietzsche's reconquest of one's humanity is more than one's daily task; it defines our historical situatedness. Before retreating to dualism, Freud noted that his thought contained "the basis for a very grave philosophy." As we'll see, that possibility establishes the tragic as the category that concretizes the dialectic of Eros and Thanatos in a way that gives a new determination to Nietzsche's idea that there is a "highest form of affirmation possible for an existing subject."40 If "the only death is the death of will" (Roethke), the only resistance that counts is the effort to confront the force of death within and engage it in a battle to the death. To do that, however, one must have an intimate knowledge of the opponent. Sections I-VIII have traced death's genealogy. The task now is to articulate a new metapsychology, one that will provide a rigorous and systematic articulation of the force and reality of Death in the psyche.
1. A brief methodological note on the place this chapter has in the structure of my overarching effort to develop a new theory of the psyche. Chapter 4 of I&E offered a dramatistic re-interpretation of Freud as part of an effort to ground psychoanalysis in an existential theory of subjectivity. GG used that framework to develop a critique of current psychoanalytic theories through a demonstration of how art — and specifically dramatic literature — can be the source for new and radically unsettling developments in psychoanalytic theory. That demonstration brings with it the possibility of a crisis in which psychoanalysis will be forced to confront the flight from knowledge that controls its effort to limit and often to undo its insight into the depth of the human disorder. The present chapter attempts to get to the heart of the ulcer by reconstructing the psyche that dropped the Bomb; i.e.,the collective unconscious that controls our culture as expressed in the Event that reveals its truth.
The allusions in this chapter to Sartre and Hegel serve to indicate the dialectical intent behind my effort, in analyzing the American psyche, to provide a new theory of what both thinkers term "objective spirit" and to revive Sartre's regressive-progressive method, though with quite different psychoanalytic concepts than those he employs to concretize it in the great volumes on Flaubert.
An additional word is needed with respect to two frameworks with which I would not want my project to be confused: (1) psychohistory as practiced by Mazslich and others and (2) Jung's concept of the "collective unconscious." The first typifies a reductive use of traditional Freudian concepts in support of what is finally a solipsistic reading of history. The contrast with Jung can be best illustrated through comments on Michael Perlman's Jungian reading of Hiroshima, Imaginal Memory and the Place of Hiroshima (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988). In turning actual persons in Hiroshima into representatives of psychological archetypes Perlman's book throws into high relief all the ways in which Jung helps us flee history, impose sentimental quasi-religious guarantees upon it, and how stark the resulting incongruity is between archetype as inadvertent caricature and actual historical agents when one's subject is Hiroshima. No better example could be found perhaps of Benjamin's idea that the "dead remain in danger": for the danger is precisely that the refusal to know their situation will take the form of a pseudo-mourning ritual with deliverance guaranteed a priori and a-historically. When such s one's need, Jung provides the "categories" of explanation. Finally, my psychoanalytic treatment of Hiroshima contrasts sharply with the recent book by Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial (New York: Putnam, 1995). Lifton and Mitchell's effort is to "cleanse" the American psyche by persuading us that it is time to admit the truth about the bombing of Hiroshima. The guarantee is the assurance that knowing the truth about the past is necessarily cathartic and curative; and in line with Lifton's allegiance to ego psychology, a perfect instance of the ability of "the protean [American] self" to remake itself in a way that is always liberal and progressive. The book is, in short, one of the clearest examples of how the guarantees form and interpellate an audience in the necessities that humanistic interpretation imposes on traumatic realities. What Lifton and Mitchell offer, in closing the books on Hiroshima, is a celebration of the ideological commonplaces of American ego psychology as the framework that both enables us to understand the past and that frees us from that spectre. The book thus forms a striking contrast to the psychological description of the psyche developed in this chapter and a confirmation that the Trauma Lifton purports to heal has not yet been known, internalized, or "mourned" and cannot be within the terms of ego psychology. Recent developments in Lifton's thought do not, however, minimize the profound debt that everyone concerned with Hiroshima has to Lifton's Death in Life (New York: Basic Books, 1967), a great and humane work of testimony and, as I will show, a diagnosis not only of the hibakusha, but inadvertently of the American psyche and the force of Thanatos since 1945 in its constitution. Psychic numbing is, of course, the spectre Lifton needs to deny lest he see in 1995, half a century after the Event, how deep the disorder of the American psyche is and how complicitous the beliefs and desires that structure ego psychology — and the health professions — have been in serving to protect that "identity."
2. In his great satiric and philosophic article "Limited, Inc, " Glyph 2, pp.162-254. Derrida shows that a single system of assumptions binds together the thought of the "academic community" known as Anglo-American analytic philosophy. In that context John Searle is, as Derrida shows, anonymous, and justly so, since his thought is underwritten and produced by the discourse community of which he is a proud member.
The concept of the "Inc" has a much broader application, however, and can be used to reveal the common purpose uniting those who often know nothing of one another. I refer to the common set of assumptions, concepts, and commonplaces that bind together distinct disciplines in their contribution to an overarching unity of purpose that constitutes what I will here term "Humanus, inc." The term refers to Humanism as a single ideology that can be identified as the controlling force in the structuring of thought and research in the variety of fields and disciplines all of which are required to realize humanism as a world-view totalized across a culture. (It is not necessary that a given practitioner be consciously aware of the reinforcing work in other fields or the overarching set of grounding assumptions for those assumptions to exercise structural control over one's work; in fact, the general assumptions work best when they remain unconscious, tacit, habitual, automatic; when they have the status of that which "goes without saying."
To bring out the ways in which the grounding assumptions operate across a number of different disciplines and topics I therefore focus, at different points in the discussion, on "Humanus, inc " in its philosophic, psychological, rhetorical, literary, ethical and historical exemplifications. My purpose is to show that the underlying system is the proper object of articulation and critique. An intellectual biography of "Humanus, inc." today would include something like the following list of reinforcing texts: Jurgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society; Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative; Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep; Hayden White, MetaHistory; Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love; Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1971); Charles Altieri, Subjective Agency(Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Gerald Graff, Literature Against Itself (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979); Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Norman Holland, The Dynamics of Literary Response (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); Erik Erickson, Identity and the Life Cycle (New York: Norton, 1980); Alistair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).
I leave out of consideration here the internal debates whereby the variants of humanism constitute their Christian, rationalist, romantic, evolutionary, pragmatic, consensual, etc. alternatives since my point is that the primary function of such debates and "conversations" is to assure that the set of shared assumptions will define and contain the parameters and possibilities of thought and discourse.
4. Thereby, dialectical reinterpretation brings together a diverse number of psychoanalytic thinkers and concepts in a theory of psyche that is often profoundly at odds with the different analytic theorists on whom it draws. Accordingly, comments on specific analysts and specific concepts and issues in their thought will be given at appropriate places in the discussion.
7. On catastrophic anxiety, see Wilfrid Bion, Seven Servants and the two seminal essays on psychosis — "Differentiation of the Psychotic from the Non-Psychotic Personalities," IJPA 38 (1957), pp. 266-75 and "Attacks on Linking," IJPA (1959), pp. 308-315. On the connection of that concept with the fear of dissolution or, in the words of Bion's greatest patient, Samuel Beckett, "of never having been born properly," see especially Endgame. Adorno termed that play the "first work of nuclear art." It is also, in many ways, the last; thanatoptic unbinding being the principle that shapes its agonistic structure. The anxiety Beckett speaks of was frequently voiced by Winnicott's patients and underlies Winnicott's concept of "the false self system."
My effort in this chapter is to show that Beckett's fear is condition general for the nuclear subject; and thus the reason why in analyst's offices today the schizoid and the narcissist have replaced the Freudian "sexual" subject.
10. See Robert Jay Lifton, Death In Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (New York: Basic Books, 1967) for the striking development of this concept as a way of describing the psyche of thehibakusha. We are all in debt to Lifton for his effort here and in other works to preserve the record of those who have suffered in some of the primary atrocities of our time. My concern here, however, is with the limitations of Lifton's framework of ego psychology and its concept of working-through as a way of containing the reality of traumatic experiences.
12. The thought of Erik Erickson is the seminal illustration of this way of thinking and the structure of relations the ego requires for its development. See especially Identity and the Life-Cycle. Ego psychology quickly adopted Erickson's thought, shorn of its internal complications, because it provided the larger cultural and ideological scheme needed to assure "the solidity of the ego." A similar argument is mounted by Habermas in Communication and the Evolution of Society, where all good developmental things become the property of the ego in its ethical and rationalistic march toward a realization of the universals of the Kantian tradition. Ego psychology is the perfect match for such philosophic projects because it gives the illusion that the subject can attain a substantialized identity through a developmental process that is irreversible and that thus frees the subject from the threat of the psyche's deeper disorders.
13. Fairbairn develops the concept of the inner saboteur to account for that "agency" within the structure of the psyche that produces its own undoing. The concept has much in common with Freud's malign super-ego and with the Lacanian Big Other.
14. Winnicott develops this idea to account for the anxious solicitation of the other's gaze as it is represented in the face in the paintings of Francis Bacon. See The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment (London: International Universities Press, 1965). A similar point about the gaze of the Other is developed phenomenologically by Sartre and in psychoanalytic terms by Lacan. Depression, as defined here, is an attempt to constitute as a principle of inwardness Bion's notion that "inquiry begins when love is doubted."
15. See also D. W. Winnicott, "Fear of Breakdown" in Psychoanalytic Explorations(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 87-95, one of Winnicott's finest essays on the value of depression; in effect, an assertion that in depression we experience the reality of the crypt and the primacy of its indestructible claims upon us.
17. I derive this term from Martin Shengold, Soul-Murder (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). My development of the idea, however, has little in common with how Shengold deploys the concept. It is closer in spirit to Alice Miller's seminal work on childhood trauma. See especially, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, Trans. Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984).
18. For a very different attempt to constitute Thanatos in metapsychological terms one turns, of course, to Lacan whose complex thought on Thanatos has recently been developed in a book-length study by Richard Booth, Death and Desire (New York: Routledge, 1991),which goes a long way toward making clear what Jean Laplanche in Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976) worked overtime to render opaque. See also Ellie Ragland,Essays on the Pleasures of Death (New York: Routledge,1995). A detailed contrast of my thought on Thanatos with Lacan's would take us too far afield. Suffice to note here that I plan to take this issue up at length in a subsequent work. On which see Appendix B.
19. On this concept and its connection to melancholia, see the work of Julia Kristeva. Especially, Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) and Black Sun (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).
21. See The Paul Tibbets Story, by Paul Tibbets with Clair Stebbins and Harry Franken (New York: Stein and Day, 1978), p. 227. In 1989, Tibbets reissued the book as Flight of the Enola Gay, claiming sole authorship. This is the book he sells, along with other memorabilia at various gatherings of patriotic groups. One can, at such occasions, get Tibbets autograph, but only for a fee. Coffee mugs, T-shirts — with "first atomic strike force" blazoned across them — and other items are also available. A catalogue is available from Tibbets' Book Company.
24. We see here both the appeal and the inherent limitation of the Lacanian theory of history as the trauma one flees through the Symbolic. The result is an abstract dialectic in which everything turns on the opposition between two hypostatized terms. My attempt here is to situate trauma in a context that concretizes it historically. Tibbets is thus used to establish the sub-text of Lacan's fixation on the phallus — and the paternal metaphor — as a psychological disorder that the Symbolic order does not and cannot surmount. That which Lacan wants to label pre-oedipal and imaginary so that he can leave it behind in the ascent to the phallic order is shown to have the force of a revenant, a power that disrupts the phallic dream from within, both as the deeper "fantasy" informing it and as the pre-Oedipal anxiety that it wants to consign to oblivion as "the nuclear waste" beneath the feet of the phallic signifier.
26. The considerable value of Kenneth Burke's insufficiently appreciated work as a social psychologist is the power of his categories to unlock the ritual desires and motives that structure social action.
27. This is, of course, a program that embraces both right and left in a "conversation" that is based on assumptions "shared" by the warring parties, by (say) DeSousa, Bennett, Graff, Searle, Fukuyama, and Fish. Excluded from that "conversation" is everything that will be purged once rationality is restored and all the old alternatives once again establish their rule, as exclusive and exhaustive "choices," in an academy freed of its discontents and purged of the spectre of post-modernism.
30. The thing Hegel constantly fears and repeatedly tries to render impossible: the collapse of the dialectic, an imploding, psychotic regression to its beginning but with that state reified, unsublatable, and thus the true and bitter end of history. Hegel's exorcizing dream is of irreversible advance, but such necessity can and must be purely logical. That is why History gives that guarantee the lie — and in so doing our situatedness one of its primary terms of reference. For Hegel's society as a "community of animals" is but another way of formulating what will become the culture of narcissism grounded in the commodity fetishism that animates the "empty" subject of "late" capitalism. Hegel there describes far more than the Hobbesian state. It is one of the most prescient chapters in the book: not a picture of what is surmounted in the modern world (as Hegel thought) but the condition to which it devolves. In that socius, the true tie that binds us: desire commodified, each against all, nothing but endless consumption to fill the inner emptiness with signs that deny that condition by inflicting it, as envy, on the other.
32. Pynchon is the thinker who develops the richest contemporary understanding of paranoia as the dialectical category that best describes the "post-"modern condition. Plato defined dialectic as the ability to make connections. Gravity's Rainbow constitutes the contemporary, historical realization of that "ideal."
33. Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear: A Study of Images (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988). Lacking a theory of the image and any way to interrogate its psychological meaning, Weart's book ends up simply collecting data.
34. It is not without significance that the concern of the late Foucault is mirrored in the work of popular psychologists such as Thomas Moore, Daniel Peck, and James Hilliman. For yet another effort to return to Greece in order to recover an essentialistic ethic, see Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness.
35. Paul Fussell, Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (New York: Summit,1988). See also the more recent Wartime (New York: Oxford University Press,1989) for a reiteration of Fussell's enduring, rebarbative sentiments.
36. This claim was made by a number of Derrida's followers. Derrida, of course, never said any such thing. His own relationship to the nuclear resulted, rather, in one of his most complex and valuable essays: "No Apocalypse, Not Now, Seven missiles, seven missives," Diacritics (Summer, 1984). I cannot hope to do full justice to the turns of that essay here. What is worth noting, for our purposes, is that it constitutes one of the clearest examples of Derrida's thought as a historically situated response to the post-nuclear world. Derrida's attempt in focusing on that world's most important hypertext — the politics of deterrence — is to develop a theory of textuality as a "drama" within discourse that represents and contains historical contradictions. In his essay on the nuclear the contradictions circle around a center which is, as Derrida sees, simultaneously "real" and "fabulously textual." Deterrence is the language and linguistic practice that became necessary once the Bomb existed. By the same token, deconstruction's constant reference over language finds in the logic of deterrence its actual historical basis, its master trope. Anxiety before the prospect of absolute annihilation, is the abiding motive behind the effort to assure oneself that if one can assert a purely textual universe — which, ironically, is the same thing the two superpowers did in that monstrous proliferation of language called the "logic of deterrence" — then one can contain History, can prevent the end from ever happening. If we still take seriously Lukacs idea that movements in thought co-respond in some way with historical situations — as the manifestation in thought of historical contradictions — then we might see that the connection between deconstruction and the nuclear "unconscious" is necessary — and total. As such deconstruction constitutes one of the most meaningful responses to the anxiety of our historical condition, since it takes that anxiety into the very inwardness of thought and language where it simultaneously explodes and implodes.
37. The basis of this desire in Derrida's own relationship to death is admirably acknowledged by Derrida himself in Aporias. Trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993) and The Gift of Death. Trans. David Wills. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). The alternative deferred, which just barely emerges in the margins of these texts, is a recovery of the existential.
Chapter Four: “The Psyche That Dropped the Bomb”
Table of Contents:
|One||THE WAY TO HIROSHIMA||1|
|Two||CUTTING BACK INTO LIFE||25|
|Three||THE SUBLIME AND THE KANTIAN RATIO, OR, HOW THE WHITE MAN THINKS||47|
|Four||THE PSYCHE THAT DROPPED THE BOMB||99|
|Five||FROM ENTHUSIASM TO MELANCHOLIA AS SIGN OF HISTORY: OR, REFLECTION FROM KANT TO HAMLET||151|
|Six||THOSE IMAGES THAT YET FRESH IMAGES BEGET||193|
|APPENDIX A||Twelve Theses on the Philosophy of History||235|
|APPENDIX B||Toward Concrete Dialectics: History, Psychology, Aesthetic Ontology||237|