What is expected from an application? Shall it be one’s closeness to psychological insights in their life? My confusion while composing this application is whether, in the position of analysand or analyst, I am expected to write this quasi self-introduction appliance, whether I should “speak more about myself” or approach my life in a more theoretical, analytical fashion. The following article is written in the latter position, the analyst one, for I believe it presents the closeness and potentials better.
At the end of last semester, I have been seeing professor Patrice weekly. Since I am primarily interested in philosophy, in our conversations he commented on philosophy, or a common motive to study philosophy to be precise: that philosophy is, after all, an attempt to make sense of one’s suffering. This comment was a shock for me. What this comment implies, in my interpretation, is a renunciation of truth and philosophy. The universality and truthfulness of philosophy are subverted to a mere defense mechanism. However, everyone’s suffering varies in its forms and quantities, which indicates truth, transcendental values, never possesses its self-assumed universal power. There always are people whose primordial trauma doesn’t make them form the need to justify their life by philosophy, whom Law doesn’t regulate to the same extent. Isn’t this also what Freud says about superego in The Ego and the id, that who acts most ethically receives the most punishment. When people argue and one may wonder why others just don’t understand what is “right,” it may be because they simply don’t need to.
But why was this terrifying exactly? Why wouldn’t I be satisfied with putting aside what philosophy may mean to others and pursuing “truth” by myself and for myself? Why is there the attribution of universality in the definition of truth and philosophy, the study of truth?1 After all, what does philosophy need the Other for? This leads to another interpretation: what hides behind philosophy is the impotence to accept life as what it is. And the achievement of philosophy is the withdrawal from life in all its painful vitality, from life’s “particular” to “universal,” to repackage a profound defeat as a triumph, but as a fake triumph.
God who forbids, truth which falsifies other understandings, and the Name-of-Father (also as father’s no, which is the same pronunciation in French) in Oedipal structure which prevents the child’s attempts in obtaining mother’s full attention and introduces castration, aren’t they different names of the same thing? They are the absolute Negativity that people serve and sacrifice for, as if a child tries to satisfy her/his father. We need the Other to recognize us, to tell us that the castration we have made is good and enough. Freud understands a child’s “education” as a loss of sexual pleasure. The immediate gratification of the need to eat and excrete is withheld or punished, and autoerotic behavior (thumb sucking, touching one’s genitals) is progressively discouraged. Children give up their pleasure in exchange for their parents’ love and esteem. This is why an Other is always presupposed in philosophy, the Other who desires our sacrifices and rewards us for them afterward.
But can we ever serve him (God, Father, or the Other) well? Are our sacrifices what the Other really wants, or what we fantasize the Other wants so that we can be rewarded? “Philosophy is an attempt to make sense of one’s suffering.” There is always a subjective stance behind a universal truth. We can never reach the harmony and wholesomeness that people fantasize about. Philosophy is a long way of pursuing unobtainable satisfaction. Therefore, in my opinion, the practice of studying philosophy (and gaining a kind of identity from it) is closely related to what Freud hypothesizes about the death drive. A drive that gains satisfaction from its very incapability of satisfaction, by repeating a trauma, attempts to retroactively undo the nefarious effects of a traumatic event.
Life is meaningless. The true sublimation lies in, in my current understanding, fully identifying oneself with that negativity of life. Life itself is imbalanced, incomplete, and traumatic. And we shall give up the need to justify life in any way. It is like when a child becomes her/his father, when we become God. I yet have enough vocabulary of how this sublimation works. But in psychoanalysis, in my perception, lies the key to this transformation.
According to the standard medical model, psychopathology consists of a deviation from normal mental functioning produced by a damaged development. Freud broke decisively with this model by positing a continuity between normality and pathology, as the title of one of his books, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”, indicates. The same mechanisms at work in mental illnesses also manifest themselves in the slips, bungled actions, and witticisms (his book on jokes) of daily existence. Even more audaciously, Freud pointed out the affinities of civilization’s highest achievements with different pathological phenomena ⸺ religion with the compulsive rituals of the obsessional neurotic, philosophical theories with paranoiac systems, art with infantile sexual fantasies. Just as Arthur Schopenhauer once offered the suitably Beckettian definition of walking as “a continuously arrested falling”, so psychoanalysis invites us to conceive of sanity as not the antipode of but a more or less well-regulated madness.
Imagine a situation in which a psychotic who is living in constant fear of having a breakdown, only to be reassured by his doctor, “Don’t worry, the breakdown has already happened, you are mad.” We are already dead/castrated. Search no more for reasons and justifications for life…
- Here I am referring to a narrow definition of philosophy. Instead of bidding farewell to philosophy, this writing opened my path to philosophy proper⸺it emptied the pathological.↩︎
- 他们在我看来是自由的，正是因为他们所做的仍是我做不到的。他们的自然反衬了我的不自然。话虽如此，我也没什么把「从社会常规中解放的自由」当作我努力的意向，此文只是对于那刻他们在我眼中所呈现的自由的感慨的记录。改变会自然发生。Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. (“Where it was, shall I be.” — Freud)将反叛当作口号无非是另一种束缚。
[Dream] It began with some fantasy story. I was on a secret mission with one partner, which is all I can recall. Then I was happily chatting with that partner in a public bath, which is also common in China. The partner disappeared and my father entered the view. He was searching for me. He wanted me to report to him where I go, but I was happy having my own time.1 He walked towards me through the bath. I was embarrassed by his somehow muscular attitude. (Blaming his child, me, in the public. However, in reality, my father is rather restrained in the public.)
Right afterward, I was in my home in China. My father was lecturing me. I argued back. He took a stick and later a knife, threatening to beat me. I fought back and yelled at him: (also where I woke up)
In parentheses is what I haven’t said yet in the dream, where I woke up. The first point is a general feeling I always have and I think there were times when my father was lecturing me, he had said this kind of words. (Nothing in this home belongs to me.) Interestingly, I can’t make sense of the second point. It does not make sense why I can’t earn money by myself, and how my father is related to this.
On a later note, it occurs to me, as misleading as this might be, that if I have to localize these two unnatural elements in my dream (embarrassment and “you can’t earn money”), it would be from my mother. It is my mother who used to lecture me in the public, and always talks about my major and potential occupations. (“Can you find a job studying philosophy?”, etc.) That is to say, the sense of weirdness derives from the displacement of my mother with my father as if the aggressiveness towards my mother should be repressed.
I have questioned myself since long before why I barely see my mother showing up in my dreams. My father is rather that old totalitarian figure (“Go visit your grandpa no matter what!”). The rule is clear. No abyss of other’s desire. It leaves my private sphere of desire and subjectivity untouched. I am actually doing well with my father recently. It is rather my mother who I think I should be angry with, but I can’t feel the anger.
- The pressure to report my location appeared also in another dream I had last year, in which I pretended to have gone nowhere because it felt troublesome to me to explain to my father. In my hometown, my family went out mostly by car. My experiences of going somewhere alone have been quite limited, resulting in an unofficial forbiddance of me to go outside alone.↩︎
[Dream] I was traveling with my high school classmates in Japan. It was a school trip. We were packing and going to fly back to China. Somehow I had a lot of baggage, to the extent that there is no way I can carry it all by myself. I felt anxious about whether I could pack everything in time while walking around the entrance of the hotel we lived in and observing what everyone else was doing at the time. Some were already taking buses that go to the airport; some seemed to have already packed everything, playing together and waiting to leave. I didn’t know what I should do, what is the schedule. I felt left alone.1
“There is no time to wonder,” it occurred to me, “I have to pack right now.” I entered the hotel. It was a tall building, gorgeous and complex, like a maze. The only clue preventing me from getting lost is my room number. It felt like even though we all lived in the same building, we were separated, forced to shelter ourselves in our own rooms, and forbidden from visiting each other in the hotel. I entered the elevator, accompanied by two male peers. Although I felt a little annoyed by their masculine attitudes, I chose to play along with their phantasm.2 Occupied by the conversation, I missed my stop. I got out as soon as I could. Somehow the elevator turned into a minibus, and the outside was not a floor in the hotel, but the east side of Shonandai station. (It felt natural to me in the dream.)3
I wanted to go to the west side of the station. The road was not the asphalt road, but a mud ground full of little rocks and glass flakes. Bare feet, I was nervous if I would hurt myself. However, I managed to run towards the station without hurting myself. Once I got over this obstacle of how to go to the other side of the station, I started thinking aimlessly (like in shower time). I felt like I want to try new things, to be flexible, yet there is a limit. Myself appeared transparent to my gaze, allowing me to see what I am consisted of. I saw three cloud-like clusters of energies: to eat, to sleep, to think (There is no word that appeared in my dream to represent the last one. It is neither “to read books” nor “to study philosophy”, no signifier to engender identification. It is a sense of urgency without an aim.) There is no extra part of me which I can alter. I wanted to turn to Niina for help, but immediately I gave up this thought. Maybe there is no answer. Reflecting as I am writing down this dream, I don’t think I felt helpless.
- This impotent gaze is a common element in my dream. I was wandering around, having no interaction with others. Why did I not simply ask others what I should do? Am I confronted with the fact that there is in the Other no signifier that can answer for (répondre de) what I am? It is the pure cogito designating the very point at which I lose my symbolic identity. Suffice to recall Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life in which the hero witnesses how things might have turned out in the case of his nonexistence, or Hitchcock’s Rear Window in which the hero is immobilized only to observe from the window what is happening.↩︎
- Masculinity for me refers to a very specific definition, irrelevant to the actual gender. It may be understood as “behind the name of the Father, am impostor who does not have the encourage to claim responsibilities for his own desires.”↩︎
- It might be due to the expression “miss my stop” that the signifier shifts to “bus” for its automatic mechanism.↩︎
[Dream] I was looking down at a black chip I hold at hand, a chip like what people use in gambling houses. Everything sank into pure blackness except my arms and the chip I was holding. It was like a candle lighting up in darkness. The chip has some sort of symbol on it, which renders it of vitality. Someone was speaking to me. It was a man, but I don’t recall any details of him further. Even his voice is uncharacteristic insofar as it left no imprint in my memory. But I guess it means I was comfortable with his voice.
That person said, “Life is only fun if you take a risk and play at the edge. But be careful that if you play too hard, you can lose your life.” I tossed the chip, wanted to express “got it” by complying with what he said, but failed to catch my chip. I felt calm even though the chip has fallen into the dark. I made no attempt to find my chip. (Up to now, it was me who held the chip and failed to catch it. Suddenly, however, I started to recognize myself as another person.) I realized that in “that man’s” efforts to live, that man happened to lose his life.
I woke up first crying and then laughing. The emotion that drove me to cry was sympathy. I found that person’s life ironic and tragic. He was innocently following the word and yet he lost his life. Then I started laughing hard because of the paradoxical core of the message. To be noted, there were no definitive words but only images for the message. I summarized the images into the sentence aforementioned. There were mainly two images going on parallel in my mind: 1) you have to use your chips until there is only one left. But once you lose the only chip you have, you would have none (in other words, you would die). 2) you have to play on the edge. But this also makes it easier to push oneself over the edge. As I woke up, I tried to take a note of the dream and delineate why I found the dream so funny, ending up feeling confused since it barely makes sense as a joke.