It's Crawling beneath You!

About a week ago, I had a dream in which I saw two cockroaches in my room. Fortunately, the spray insecticide I had was quite effective. I killed the cockroaches and felt relieved. The spray happened to run out of its filling as well. “What a coincidence! It finished its mission,” I thought, and was going to buy a new one from the supermarket. At this very moment, another insect crawled out of my bed and marched directly towards me. It’s huge and unstoppable. I screamed and woke up.

Today, I had another dream ending with an insect. First, I was with a girl A in my home. We seemed to be close to each other. While we were happily chatting, I tried to go further and put my hand on her waist. She didn’t seem to like it. I withdrew my hand immediately and stepped back. I felt a little nervous, but then I comforted myself that there was no way for me to know beforehand what the other is expecting. What is important is to respect their feelings and act accordingly. Then there appeared the girl B.1 We were quite intimate. Somehow the girl B had to leave. I begged her not to leave, and the girl A stepped in-between. She started criticizing me for interfering the girl B, for not just letting her do what she wants. I felt sad and went to the window to breathe some cool air and cool myself down. As I opened the window, a huge insect jumped out and scared me.

Also today, on the bus I saw someone with some mental illness. He would shout at anyone who just got on the bus. I felt a little terrified. It occurred to me that my fear of insects is a fear of things with which no communication is possible, of autonomous, blind, and raw energies that would crawl towards humans without the fear of death. My fear of insects is not on the level of phobia, mostly due to the unfortunate exposures to insects in daily life from time to time. Nevertheless, insects as a symbol appear often in my dreams. Another metaphorical characteristic we shall not overlook is the element of surprise. Cockroaches are hard to find. Even if there seem to have no space where they can hide, nevertheless they live under the same roof and surprise you by their appearance. In the aforementioned two dreams, the insects always come out of nowhere, which reminds me of my experience of encountering my mother’s unexpected attitude in my childhood.

From a Freudian perspective, the pattern is clear. Usually, I would be in my house (ego). The superego (the girl A), if there were, would already be in the room. The Id (insects) is the intruder of pure life energy.2 The superego and the Id, two elements on the opposite side of the spectrum, are not as unrelated as people may think at the first glance. In other words, what we bear witness to is the short circuit between the Law and enjoyment ⸺ the superego is the Law who enjoys. In The Birds by Hitchcock, the violent attacks of the birds ally with the protagonist’s mother’s envy of any potential sexual partners with her son. In The Trial by Kafka, everyone who enters the court is greeted with vicious laughter, gazed upon, and made fun of.

However, it is not the sadistic pair of the superego and the Id that terrifies and disgusts me. To better delineate, let’s take a look at another example of insects. In the very beginning of Blue Velvet by David Lynch, we are presented with a peaceful view of the idyllic American small town. While the protagonist’s father is watering the lawn, all of a sudden, a heart attack breaks out. Following the father’s collapse, the camera noses into the lawn, revealing to us the palpitation of the bursting life energy there: the crawling insects devouring the grass, accompanied with the noise from the background that is not emitted from any perceivable element in the view as if it directly signifies the anxious tension we the viewers experience.

The Pre-Raphaelites in art history offer another supreme example of the hidden, uncanny, deeply disturbing dimension once the religion falls (like the father’s heart attack). In The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt, beneath the official image of a shepherd seducing a girl and neglecting his sheep, it is not hard to discern the dull and muscular face of the shepherd, and, more importantly, the cunning gaze of the girl secretly enjoying the manipulative power of her sexual attraction. This enjoyment is the very life-substance qua jouissance, the liquid mass of loathsome, which I cannot help but find disgusting.

The Hireling Shepherd
The Hireling Shepherd

A comparison between two “psychos” would draw the demarcation to its definite end. In the recent movie Joker, the absence of the father figure leaves Arthur Fleck to encounter im-mediately the superego imperative from his mother, “to smile.” What we see is a direct identification with the superego ⸺ Arthur even discards the external attribute of the superego by killing his mother. Even though Arthur’s action is immoral (that is to say, unacceptable in society), he is totally ethical and pure. In Kantian terms, his action is non-pathological. There are no hidden desires that the subject is not ready to confront. On the other hand, in Psycho by Hitchcock, the protagonist appears to kill other people following the order of his mother, protecting his mother. If it were only this aggressiveness from the superego, he could barely be counted as “psycho” for me. The true uncanny turning point is that at the end of the movie, when a psychiatrist comes and announces to everyone how the murderer is after all a victim of his mother qua superego, the mother tells the inverted truth that she is actually the victim of his son:

“It’s sad when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They would put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end, he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man, as if I could do anything excerpt just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t even move a finger, and I won’t. I will just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do suspect me.”

It is this entangled relationship between the superego (sometimes the ego-ideal) and the Id that bothers me. The symbolic order can function only by maintaining a minimal distance towards reality, on account of which it ultimately has the status of fiction. Suffice it to recall the anxiety that arises when our words realize themselves “to the letter.” In Hitchcock’s Rope, Professor Cadell is unpleasantly surprised when two of his pupils “take literally” his theories about supermen’s right to murder and realize them. Thus if it is to function normally, symbolic order is not to be taken “literally.” When, for example, a waiter greets me with a complimentary “How are you today?,” the best way to cause surprise is to take this question seriously and answer it (“I really had a bad day. First, a terrible headache in the morning. Then…”). Is this not also the main theme of various literature works? Hell, according to Dostoevsky, is the first region, the realm of mind and reason, which is explored again and again in his works.

Sometimes I am disgusted by this relationship, as the hatred of masculinity appears many times in my dreams. In my dream on 5/7, I felt embarrassed by my father because he seems to feel entitled to lecture his son by the external-symbolic father-son relationship. As I tried to define in the sidenote, the masculine position 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.” This also explains why, although I dislike the religion of the Church, I am intrigued by the religion of personal passion, which has always-already borne witness to the death of the Father.

At other times I am kind of hysterized of not knowing whether I am telling a lie, of having unconsciousness. When thinking about my future back in the spring vacation, I was sinking in anxiety when I realized I set myself an aim, confinement for my life, whereas in fact I am totally free. With Kant, the philosopher of freedom, the deadlock of freedom emerges. Our freedom is asserted as autonomous, and every limitation/constraint is thus thoroughly self-posited. This is also what I like about the movie series Neon Genesis Evangelion. In its ending, the protagonist becomes capable of saying goodbye to Evangelion the robot, which has been the reason, in his perspective, that he could be needed by the others. He no longer needs to ground his desire (of relationships with others) upon an external object, and embraces the groundlessness of his desire and of one’s life.

  1. An immediate fantasy of a successful sexual relationship after a failure?↩︎
  2. The direction of the Id is intriguingly inverted compared to Furi’s dream, where the frogs were trying to go out of the room.↩︎