Comfort Food

Charles Rabot, photography. (On the glacier between Jøkelfjord and Langfjord, Norway 1881)

“Plato’s Phaedrus implies that Socrates had theoretical objections to writing philosophy, since writing is always less truthful than the direct medium of speech. Socrates probably never gave official public lectures or founded a philosophical ‘school’. He seems to have imagined philosophy as something close to conversation.”
Emily Wilson (The Death of Socrates)

“A tide of unnecessary publications is rising through our universities and libraries, it is threatening to drown real intellectual life and nobody knows how to stop it.”
Noel Malcolm (Sinking in a Sea of Words, The Independent, 1998)

“The liberation of an individual, as he grows up, from the authority of his parents is one of the most necessary though one of the most painful results brought about by the course of his development. It is quite essential that liberation should occur and it may be presumed that it has been to some extent achieved by everyone who has reached a normal state…. On the other hand, there is a class of neurotics whose condition is recognizably determined by their having failed in this task.”
Sigmund Freud (Family Romances, SE Vol.9)

One of the topics that continues to crop up in the Aesthetic Resistance podcasts is the sense of unreality that permeates contemporary life. Edward Said mentioned this in one of his final interviews. And there is a disturbing tendency today, in media (social media most of all) that over-emphasizes the importance of AI and deep fakes etc. AI is not the source of our unreality, though it serves as a significant symptom.

So what is the cause of this sense of unreality, a sense that many of us find unnerving and even melancholic? I think that is possibly the wrong question, but it is also a question that is worth investigating a bit.

“What Freud objects to, then, is not the existence of “unknown and uncontrollable forces” that operate behind the back of the ego that would contradict the entire experience of psycho- analysis-but their hypostatization into the commanding factor in psychic life. If, however, the id is not to be assigned the dominant position in mental life, and if the ego is not to be construed as utterly passive and subservient to it, the essential question remains to be answered: what are the relative strengths of the ego and the id vis-a- vis each other? { } Borrowing an image from Phaedrus of his “divine Plato,” Freud portrays the ego’s subordination to the id in the following terms: “Thus in relation to the id [the ego] is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.” The question’ becomes, then, how the weaker ego can hold the superior strength of the id in check. Continuing the equestrian metaphor, he writes that “[whereas] the rider [tries] to do so with his own strength, … the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a littler further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id’s will into action as if it were its own.”
Joel Whitebook (Perversion and Utopia)

Martin Wong

“To interpret dreams or any of the other articulations of the unconscious, Freud taught, is to “return” to a text that is not merely distorted, *entstellt*, but that distorts its distortions by producing a facade of “false and misleading plenitude.” Such a “return,” moreover, can only reveal these distortions by participating in them: by repeating them, which is to say, by transforming them. “
Samuel Weber (The Legend of Freud)

This is the task at hand. The process of distortion, on which contemporary politics and culture (sic) are based, is now not only accepted but accepted without complaint. Or rather, without much complaint. It is viewed today as a given, as the baseline for how society functions. The President, in his dotage, referred to a recent talk he had with Mitterrand, of Germany. Well, Mitterrand was French, and also long dead. But no matter. Joe has ‘slowed down’ a bit. And does anyone really care if the President of the world’s (allegedly) most powerful nation speaks to invisible friends? The legacy media is now hysterical about Tucker Carlson interviewing Putin (an interview Amanpour and other Empire scribes claimed they wanted, too). The idea of cognitive dissonance is almost obsolete. Nothing is experienced as a contradiction. I’ve written a good deal about the erosion of public education, and this is a significant factor in how the bourgeoisie, in particular, seem to have suspended critical thinking.

I posted a short clip (on social media) of a fragment of a speech by John Kennedy, from 1962. He was speaking of the arts. He mentioned Sophocles and others, and spoke of how society needs a healthy culture. It was nothing remarkable but many who watched it had the same reaction I did. It was nothing to do with evaluating Kennedy per se, but rather how articulate and even dignified he appeared. It was moving. One friend commented how much has been lost. That hearing this made one aware of this loss. And this was exactly my feeling. It was deeply moving, surprisingly. Another friend noted Biden couldn’t pronounce Sophocles. Which is literally true. Nor could Trump, or Haley or Tom Cotton (who is not aware there is a country called Singapore) or Kamala Harris.

Hector Garcia, photography.

That people, at least the white bourgeoisie, in the West (meaning primarily the US) have forgotten how to speak is reinforced by several studies. Smartphones are blamed for much of this but I think its deeper than that. Certainly electronic gadgets are a huge issue, though. Texting is not speaking. And it is worth asking what texting is, exactly. Its not really writing. But this entire framing of contemporary malaise begins with narrative.

“The ‘I’ that tells itself this story thereby strives to secure its position as mere “observer,” situated at an ostensibly safe remove from the disturbing possibilities it seeks merely to describe or retell. But the story does not end there, as the “downfall” or *Untergang* of the Oedipus complex indicates. This downfall calls into question, or into play, precisely the position of a contemplatively detached, omniscient observer and narrator. And in so doing, the narrative reveals that what is also, and perhaps above all, at stake in its performance is the position of the narrator. The telling of the story itself becomes part of the “action,” a performance inscribed in a scene that is not separated from what it describes. The “I” or ego reveals itself to be not so much a speaker as an addressee, someone spoken to.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

This is profoundly important, I think. The ego that narrates experience is also an actor in this performance. But more, it is the audience, too. And it is the audience before it is the actor.

“The “I” that remembers, like the ‘I’ of the dreamer, finds itself scattered throughout the dream despite its apparent distance from it. To be both nearby and far away at one and the same time is to be subject to the effects of a certain dispersion.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

It seems possible that the evolution of cinema mirrors the psychic evolution of humans in the 20th century. Orson Welles character narrating in Lady From Shanghai has become the autistic voice of pop culture, today. Or the voice of a senile President. Or the voice of Donald Trump. Or Rishi (Chaiwala) Sunak. John F. Kennedy was the last human being to serve as President. That was enough to get him killed. Today the shrieking ego of Yoav Gallant or Netanyahu is dispersed collective ego. How else to explain the blatant lying, the open sadism, the narcissistic celebration of child murder?

Man Ray (photography)

Weber notes that the unconscious is irreducibly theatrical. It is the ‘other scene’.

“A theatrical scenario thus never takes place “once and for all” but rather “one scene at a time.” It is singular and yet repetitive, ongoing and yet never complete. It is both nearby and distant, familiar and strange, present and passing. It is marked not by acts or even by actors but rather by acting. Its tense and temporality is that of the present participle. “Presenting” rather than “present,” it entails a participation that never comes full circle, never forms a whole.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

Repetitive. But perhaps not in the sense that Weber means. The repetition is built into the ‘presenting’ by memorizing of lines, by rehearsal. Always the same, just a little bit different (as Godard once put it). Weber notes that theatre is the only art-form that doesn’t result in a *work* of art. More a working through art. And this is true. Theatre is the most uncanny of mediums. It is the most tied to human narcissism and to dreams. The actor is the most uncanny of professions, as well. Actor never know what they are actually doing. But they practice an obsessive repetitive discipline to get better at this thing they don’t understand.

Now Weber does a chapter length analysis of the famous E.T.A. Hoffman story The Sandman (in the context of the uncanny), and then, oddly, Sophocles (that guy again) by way of Heidegger’s reading of the second chorus of Antigone. It is not particularly relevant here what Heidegger thought, but what is interesting is the idea of the Chorus itself. For the chorus is both in the play and without the play.

Henry Fuseli (The Three Witches, 1785)

“It is precisely in the theatrical derangement of the “work” that the uncanny takes place, and it is this, perhaps, that ultimately distinguishes theater as medium from art as genre, as prescribed by classical aesthetics. Unlike the work, the play is never self-contained: it only “is” in its “execution,” which entails not so much form as performance, or rather, deformance; its temporality is that of the unexpected and the discontinuous, the Aristotelian peripeteia, the coup de theatre. Theatrical performance is suspended between this “coup” and the traces it leaves. Theater, as Walter Benjamin put it, is most of all “Exponierung des Anwesenden,” an “exposing of the present” or more literally, of “presenting.” The present participle irrevocably exposes the present to a movement that is both uncanny and theatrical, but once again also somehow disreputable. “
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

Benjamin said much the same thing about tragedy. An exposing of the tragic only happens on stage, to those present. And to the idea of being present. The loss of the tragic corresponds to the loss of narrative depth and to a psyche that can longer frame ideas, can no longer write scenarios of their subjectivity. The exposing or revealing of the tragic is processual, it is not revealed from discrete points of view, for example. And there is a lingering sense of uncanniness about the processual exposing of what is linked to Death, and to the idea of the subject being the addressee. And it occurs to me that the addressee is not really an audience. It is closer to the Chorus in Sophocles, or more, perhaps in Aeschylus. One of the best films of the year, as a sidebar, is Michael Mann’s Ferrari. I wrote before about Mann’s Black Hat, and now a directors cut is finally available and I look forward to viewing that. But Ferrari is almost obsessively death infested. For that reason alone it is worth seeing. I digress. The narrating of experience is, then, something like acting. And acting brings with it a sense of mortality. We re-narrate when we see a play, or a film. Less with books, but even there, it is a part of making sense of the story. A story that exists alongside its narration. In theatre the story cannot ever end. The coup de theatre is also a literal coup, too, in a sense. The execution (funny the double meaning of words, often) of the play suggests a future — the end of the play — but with the knowledge it will begin again the following night.

The sharp rise in depression and acute anxiety is tied into the denuded quality of our interior narratives. For we must always narrate our experience. And experience is increasingly strip mined. It is increasingly without qualities, either good or bad, beautiful or ugly. The rise in AI usage, the acute rise in automated service platforms, (besides transferring labour to the customer) has diluted experience. A wan neurasthenic landscape — a voyeuristic muteness blankets everything. People suffer psychological lassitude. Punching a touchscreen to order a hamburger is somehow less vivid than speaking to a human face and ordering a burger.

I wrote several years ago (on this blog) that fascism is the oration of reification.

Ivan Plusch

and in another post from the same period…

“I think the shift from instrumental to digital is worth a long analysis, but for here, the short version is that instrumental thinking, and logic, was there to serve cataloguing and measuring, to give a vocabulary to institutional and bureaucratic projects, and it fostered a philosophy that favored positivism and logic. It is the language of industrialization and finance, of all things mechanical. The digital has abandoned most of that because computational power subsumes it. The digital is the missing voice, the mute observer (voyeurism is nearly always silent), and the voice of pop therapeutics. The digital is a recorded voice, and a grammar that would come from a damaged speech, a developmental disorder or neurogenic flaw. It is a speech that prefers to remain silent.”
John Steppling (Funeral Rites (or Rise of the Screen))

The digital here includes AI. For AI is always damaged speech. Damaged narration. But in what way is it damaged? What I called ‘pop therapeutics’ is the place holder for introspection. It is a non-theory. Mental comfort food. And this idea of ‘comfort food’ itself suggests a severely unhappy society. One of the propagandized fears associated with AI has to do with ‘fooling’ people. That the viewer or listener cannot tell what is real and what is artificial. This begs a number of questions having to do with what defines authentic. But putting that aside, the real question is what it means to be ‘fooled’. One implication is that the viewer or audience must pass these arbitrary tests. The populace as inmates in a generalized asylum.

The public anticipates failure. AI manufactures a speech damaged by those coders who are perilously close to autistic (most) and who do not ‘think’ about form or shape or structure. The speech of AI is without any of those things and hence deeply uncanny. It is almost the inverse of normal writing as we have known it since the time of Gutenberg, anyway.

Marcellin Boule, stereograph of Neanderthal skull, La Chapelle 1911.

Perhaps the most critical effect of screen habituation, and of the loss of language and the draining of experience, is found in the decline in parenting skills. What was once instinctual, even in very young mothers, is now taught by ‘experts’ since instincts are also evaporating.

“While it is being breastfed and during daily care, the baby has a third, concomitant experience: that of being held in its mother’s arms, pressed to her body, sensing its warmth, smell, and movements, and being carried, rocked, rubbed, washed, and caressed, while at the same time being bathed in her murmuring and humming. These experiences taken together characterise the attachment drive described by Bowlby and Harlow and evoke the idea of what Spitz and Balint call the primal cavity. Bit by bit these activities lead the baby to differentiate a surface with an inner and outer face, an interface that allows the distinction between inside and outside, and a volume within whose atmosphere it feels itself bathed; both the surface and the volume give it the experience of a container.”
Didier Anzieu (Skin Ego)

The psyche cannot escape that which it flees. For Freud, repression is flight, or a turning away, in its original sense. I think people carry an image of repression as like stuffing a jack in the box back in the box. But the metaphor is more fleeing a threat. A threat which at its origin cannot be escaped. The psyche cannot escape that which it contains. Although again, the allegory of a box or container is deeply flawed. Now, I have to introject here that one of the problems with discourse today is the loss of a political analysis. Even politics is not given a political analysis. Things, events, situations, are all ‘solved’ by (as Weber put it in a lecture a few years ago) mono-causal agents. This is not far from ‘things falling out of the sky’ — for not just solutions are monocausal, but the problems themselves.

Amy Young

“And since repression is constantly liable to modification through the conflict between what was repressed (but also desired) and what replaced it (for example, a phobia) there is always, Freud insisted, the possibility of the repressed “returning” in one form or another, of its gaining the upper hand—or threatening to do so—over that which was repressing it. Anxiety for Freud was to be construed as the response of the psyche, and in particular of the I, to this threat of a return of the repressed, which manifested itself “economically” through the release of energy that could not be bound to representations—that could not be channeled and objectified, besetzt, as Freud writes, whether through the formation of symptoms, inhibitions, or phobias, or through other means.”
Samuel Weber (Anxiety, Psychoanalysis, and the Uncanny)

Now Weber has an essay in his recent collection, on Agamben and the essay What is a Camp? It is telling today with the ongoing slaughter in Gaza, itself a camp, to see how these ideas travel from colonial exterminations to Nazi camps, to Zionist domination and now genocide of Palestinians. And how the state, in the U.S and EU, seem completely comfortable with allowing it to happen. And one way to investigate this extreme violence is to track the evolution of anxiety in the contemporary psyche. Freud writes, in The Ego and the Id (which Weber somewhat eccentrically translates as The I and the It):

“We know that the fear of death makes its appearance under two conditions (which, moreover, are entirely analogous to situations in which other kinds of anxiety develop), namely, as a reaction to anexternal danger and as an internal process, as for instance in melancholia…The fear of death in melancholia only admits of one explanation: the I gives itself up because it feels itself hated and persecuted by the trans-I. . . . When the I finds itself in an excessive real danger which it believes itself unable to overcome by its own strength, it is bound to draw the same conclusion. It sees itself deserted by all protecting forces and lets itself die.”
Sigmund Freud (The Ego and the Id)

The *I* feels deserted. This has a quality of truth to it. Whatever definition can be applied to the *I*, the fear and anxiety of desertion is most acute. And in contemporary life there is a growing tendency to preventatively abandon oneself rather than experience the coming desertion. And perhaps media, and AI itself, are expressions of this anxiety — in the context of this preventative submission to desertion. Abandonment is the most acute terror of the child. And we see in the insanity of Israeli settlers the need to create thousands of orphans. Their anxiety is so powerful they make videos mocking these terrorized children.

Francis Bacon

The fear and anxiety from within. Perhaps all religious fanatics suffer internal death terror. Freud interestingly opens his essay the uncanny with this:

“The psychoanalyst feels seldom the impulse to undertake aesthetic investigations, not even then, when Aesthetics is not reduced to the theory of the Beautiful but is rather described as the theory of the qualities of our feelings.”
Sigmund Freud (The Uncanny)

Aesthetics as the theory of the qualities of our feelings. It is telling that this quote is rarely referenced today. For aesthetics has become something even less than the theory of the beautiful. It is the theory of entertainment. Comfort food. Kitsch. Of sentimentality.

The forgetting of aesthetics coincides with the repression of feelings in general. Weber adds: “The narcissism of the I, we begin to suspect, may turn out to be an avatar of the death drive.” What Lacan called the ‘dialectics of desire’. The desire for control, for unification, is undermined (in a highly repetitive fashion) by anxiety. By fear of castration. And more, today, it is a fear of overwhelming desertion. Rather than face this anxiety, the terror of desertion, there is always the counter desire to give in, to preventatively submit to death. To an end. To the end. I will leave them before they leave me.

“Psychoanalysts (notably Piera Aulagnier, 1979) insist on the dissymmetry between the patient and the analyst or the infant and its carers, on the primary dependency and original helplessness—the term is Freud’s (1950a [1895])—to which the analysand regresses as an effect of the process of psychoanalysis. Winnicott has pointed out that, alongside states of integration of the psychical and bodily Egos, a baby also experiments with states of non-integration—these are not necessarily painful and may be accompanied by the euphoric sense of being a limitless psychical Self, or indeed the baby may not wish to communicate these states because it feels too good or too bad. Little by little the infant acquires a sketchy understanding of human language, but this is limited to the second articulation and it is unable to use it to give out messages; primary articulation is beyond it; this mystery of sound, combined with its semiotic impotence, causes the child both pain and rage, like a psychical violence enacted upon it—Piera Castoriadis-Aulagnier (1975) has called that experience the “violence of interpretation”—not to mention the brutality of the physical and chemical attacks the child’s body is exposed to or the “fundamental violence” (Jean Bergeret, 1984) of hatred, rejection, indifference, poor care and physical blows that may come from the people around it. This violent and increasingly intolerable dependence on a mother who is the “spokeswoman” (Castoriadis-Aulagnier, 1975) necessary to provide for its needs gives rise, in the baby’s nascent psychical Ego…”
Didier Anzieu (Ibid)

Rene Magritte

Anzieu is comparing psychoanalysts and cognitivist theory. This was written some time ago, remember (1987). Anzieu was a patient of Lacan. But he was always more philosopher than clinical psychoanalyst. He also wrote a psychoanalytic study of Samuel Beckett. A curious but rather insightful and maybe profound study. In writing about the process of reaching ‘nothingness’, in Beckett’s work, Anzieu notes it is “the emptying of everything the individual has lacked in his history, in order to come into being, to feel contained in a self…”

It is interesting, though, how close some of Anzieu’s conclusions are to Wilhelm Reich’s, in the sense of the skin as a hardened carapace, a shell, and the rigid taut muscles that serve as literal and metaphorical ramparts for the psyche. And the child looms as the core and origin of our fears. We were once infants, of course, but we don’t remember that. The infant is a narrative device, almost. We have no real ingress to the mind or soul of the infant. And the idea of our helplessness (a term Freud used) is disturbing. Out of this infant comes a child, an adolescent, and an adult. None of which stages seems inevitably connected to its infancy. Or rather, we don’t feel the inevitability.

I wrote about Anzieu before here

The Reichian idea of emotions ‘caught’ in areas of the body, usually hardened protected and defended areas, is echoed in Anzieu. Reich wrote of ‘eye block’ or ‘genital block’ etc. Those who cannot look you in the face, are an example of emotional deadening, of a deep lacerating fear or anxiety connected to vision. Today however, the not-looking-one-in-the -face is actually the norm. It may be attributed to, say, technologies such as the smart phone, but the point is rather the same. It becomes the alibi for the fear of the ‘others’ face. Attribution almost doesn’t matter at a certain point. The ‘not looking’ is what matters.

Didier Anzieu

I will note that a lot of the writing about Anzieu and his primary book, The Skin Ego, seem oddly simplistic. This simplification is something my friend Johan Eddebo has commented on, and in particular in relation to AI. Anzieu’s idea of a bodily/skin phase of ego development is actually pretty directly Freudian. Many commentators write as if this ‘skin’ were somehow not attached to or part of the rest of the body. The point is not ‘skin’ as much as it is the evolution of and development of a sense of space, an envelope (as Anzieu has it) — and this is directly tied into sound, and the look or gaze of the Mother, etc. Again though, childhood amnesia and the impossibility of grasping the pre-linguistic self is one of the chief facts that speak to the exaggerations of science. And science today feels almost synonymous with artificial intelligence and digital/computer modelling.

It is perhaps telling that much of Anzieu’s early work was focused on group dynamics and group psychology. And unsurprisingly these early monographs employ theatrical references (Greek tragedy often). And the role of the monitor or moderator fascinated Anzieu. For this is the audience and the chorus again. Our internal narration connects directly to our experience and later self explanation of our mothers.

“…the power of the phallic mother is attributed to the monitor and the observer. At the primitive level which is the relation to the part-object, the relation of the newborn to the maternal breast-penis, I don’t have a thing, but I am a thing,and I am it, in the best cases, for another person, as the baby is for the mother. “
Didier Anzieu (Group Psychology and the Unconscious)

Maja Ruznic

The utter wonder of human consciousness, of the human senses and body are routinely diminished, conceptually, by contemporary thinking. Some of this is the residue of the *mind is a computer* idea that seems to have arisen around the turn of the 21st century. And this over simplification serves propaganda perfectly. Just read anything, literally, from the World Economic Forum. Anything. Listen to ANY of the speeches. Quite literally these are delivered with a 5th grade vocabulary and are often highly repetitive. In other words, like you would talk to a class of third graders. But today, such is the saturation level, that propaganda and marketing have subsumed rational discourse. And academia is at least partly to blame. Its been near completely compromised by corporations and the military. In about equal measure. And corporations and the military are not in the business of complexity.

So, the loss of conversation, of actual discussion face to face, has meant the bewildering autistic speech of a generation of political and academic leaders has become the model to be emulated. I have said this before but go back and watch 1950s and 1960s interview shows (William F. Buckely vs Gore Vidal, or James Baldwin, or whoever) and it will be evident this is a different world. A now foreign world.

Worth noting here that the uncanny was a concept Freud was never totally comfortable with. It served as a transitional idea and related directly to the idea of the ‘involuntary’.

“The element of the “involuntary” in turn links the uncanny not only to repression as an economic or drive-dynamic phenomenon, but to the topographical instance of the “I.” For it is the “I” that is the seat not just of anxiety but also of the will—a phenomenon that Freud constantly collides with, without his ever being able to really theorize it. It plays a decisive role in this essay in the form of its negation, the involuntary. And involuntary repetition in turn anticipates the “repetition compulsion” that shortly thereafter, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, will lead Freud to hypothesize the death drive.”
Samuel Weber (Anxiety, Psychoanalysis and the Uncanny)

and a bit later:

” But “castration” in turn has to be interpreted in terms of a shift in the function of the I: by virtue of its anxiety, the I is compelled to restructure itself and to engage with—if not acknowledge—its irreducible heterogeneity. In Lacanian terms, what emerges here can be described as a crisis both of the imaginary and of the symbolic: each splitting apart from itself while remaining inextricably interconnected. Castration thus emerges as the model of that “loss,” to which Freud from his earliest writings on had always linked anxiety: the “loss of perception” becomes manifest as the fear of losing one’s eyes in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story of “The Sandman;” and finally, the fear of “castration,” which Freud here links both to a perceptual loss (the negative “perception” of the absence of the phallus) and to an anticipated physical loss.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

Lady from Shanghai (1947, dr. Orson Welles)

The repetition compulsion has always seemed, to me anyway, as the most unsettling idea in all of Freud. The return of the repressed, which has become a staple of pop culture today, has always been a somewhat unconvincing argument on the other hand. The fear of desertion, today, which was once a fear of loss — and the manner of the travel from personal loss (however collective) to desertion is perhaps farther than expected. Behind this is something Freud himself knew was problematic, theoretically. A complete self that he didn’t quite believe in. The response of the ‘I’ to loss, or anticipated loss (castration) becomes a response, a pre-emptive self desertion, a leaving the world behind, as a protective measure that then ushers in some form of repetition compulsion.

“The I can no longer hope to consider itself Herr im Hause, like Kafka’s “House-Father” in the story that details the latter’s “care” (“Sorge des Hausvaters”: “Cares of a House-Father”). It is no longer at home, above all with itself, since it is inhabited by something it can neither comprehend nor control. Thus, the home becomes a privileged site of the “unhomey”: the uncanny.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

One more uncanny thing is how inevitable Kafka is in these discussions. One cannot escape Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, or Kafka. But Kafka is almost of culmination of all narration. There is such a profound instinct in Kafka to reproduce the psychic stage, the pre-linguistic space of what we cannot remember. But that is for another post. There is a very telling paragraph in Whitebook’s book, referencing Ricoeur’s book on Freud …

“Ricoeur insists that adequacy of consciousness and expansion of the ego remain the goal: “Psychoanalysis can have no therapeutic ambition other than enlarging the field of consciousness and giving back to the ego some of the strength ceded to its three powerful masters [the id, the super- ego, and external reality].” What had been “origin” in the idealist tradition, namely “conscious-being (Bewusstsein),” now “becomes task or goal.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

Jaylen Pigford

And this is one of the places where Freud meets Marx. For the Frankfurt School the question of social freedom was to be understood through the necessary alienation of life under Capitalism. And that the stage of monopolistic capitalism, the Father as employee and not autonomous patriarch, signaled an inevitable shrinking of the Oedipus Complex. But the forces of capital also have, as a secondary function of their logic, curtailed literacy and culture. And the commanding scientism of today is, of course, also the result of Capitalism’s pervading need to make everything simple. Simple is sellable. Simple is comfort food again. (the term comfort food, apparently originated in the 60s, although a 1977 Washington Post article probably popularized it). Comfort food is actually worth noting as its basis is a triggering of childhood memories while encouraging ingestion of warm carbs. But there is a narrative that runs alongside such terms. An appeal to something nostalgic, and simplistic. Comfort Food is written of in the popular culture as a good thing. A retreat into stupor almost. The pre-bourgeois world did not have comfort food. This is also privilege, in another sense. Such ideas are always reactionary. Nostalgia is today almost reflexively regressive. It is pre-vetted approval — the imprimatur of cultural authority. There is so much nostalgia in media today that the present all but disappears.

The same forces that create comfort food created the idea of and culture of therapy. Self help books and Oprah. This insidious trivializing of life sustains the unthinking fondness for royalty and, really, any celebrity. But social media has now merged this sentimental trivalizing with the logic of hierarchical competition. And with the repetition compulsion now on auto pilot. Taylor Swift and her gajillion followers or likes or whatever are operative as pop therapeutics (see above). This is Super Bowl weekend I just realized. The ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians will not impact the numbers for super Sunday. For the actual televised spectacle (the broadcast is likely 3 hours and change) there will be only about 12 minutes of actual game play. The aforementioned loss of the present also makes it easier to disguise throwing Biden under the bus, or the various atrocities committed daily by the IDF. Instead the IDF makes tiktok videos of intentionally amateurish dance numbers. Nostalgia. Just like when we were kids in the backyard. Its a recruitment strategy, but thats the conscious part. Come kill babies and mothers, look how fun it can be! The unconscious part is the crippling anxiety of desertion. The culture of nostalgia operates within that compulsive repetitive anxiety that links to the death instinct. Oprah really is the avatar of castration terror and the Death Drive. All such talk shows are. The relentless trend toward ‘comedy as news’ (Jon Stewart, Colbert, et al) was inevitable. Folksy and avuncular, warm and welcoming — Stewart is comfort food for University educated white people. The new *storyteller* (see Benjamin’s essay) are found in such shows. Telling stories is really retelling stories. A Stephen Colbert can ‘only’ be reactionary, for his role is nearly identical to *comfort women*, the girls and young women sold into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese military circa WW2. (,%22comforting%2C%20consoling%20woman%22.) The slave can revolt, but Colbert is not Spartacus. The Roman Legion provided far more room for dissent than corporate American media. The audience desires for this to all turn out to be meaningful. That their own lives, too, eventually, can become meaningful. But desire eventually becomes terror.

If Anzieu is right in his thoughts on the group and the monitor, and the Chorus in Sophocles, then the media version of comfort food (Oprah et al) are exercises in stunting the narrative, if not erasing it. The screen as both chrous and audience, an odd contradictory (sort of) interface. The relationship of skin and screen is yet another topic for a future post.

“Benjamin emphasizes in his essay that the relation of audience to the storyteller is determined by the former’s desire to seek “council” or “advice.” That council or advice will always involve specific objects and problems. But beyond that, it will also inevitably involve, whether the I knows it or not—indeed whether the unconscious knows it or not—its relation to that other to which we name catachrestically, “death.”
Samuel Weber (Ibid)

Titian (Cain and Abel, 1543)

By the by, if you want to know a bit of background on Lady from Shanghai, there is this.
pay particular attention to the reviews at the time of its original release.

I leave you with the great Miko Peled

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  1. “It seems possible that the evolution of cinema mirrors the psychic evolution of humans in the 20th century. Orson Welles character narrating in Lady From Shanghai has become the autistic voice of pop culture, today. Or the voice of a senile President. Or the voice of Donald Trump. Or Rishi (Chaiwala) Sunak. John F. Kennedy was the last human being to serve as President. That was enough to get him killed. Today the shrieking ego of Yoav Gallant or Netanyahu is dispersed collective ego. How else to explain the blatant lying, the open sadism, the narcissistic celebration of child murder?”

    It has become increasingly undeniable that the visible political spectrum is a theatre and that the true function of politicians is to sell the public the idea that what has already been decided at the uppermost levels is some “natural development” that in some unquestioned way has worked itself out through our “democracy”. Ideally this theatre even aims to give the public the impression that the public itself “wanted it this way”. This is why the media uses an odd subjectless mode: “It happens that….” “There is a tendency towards….” “It is thought that ….” “There is no more demand for …..” etc.

    Thus the political leaders are most certainly not called on to actually have personalities. They are all mouthpieces. You might even call them “archetypes”. From Bush to Obama to Trump to Netanyahu etc. And JFK may have been the last to give the impression of some measure of genuine humanity. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan do not come across as human beings but as figureheads, actors, stooges.

    I think that Corbyn’s significance is that he accidentally served as a momentary breakthrough, not because he had a strong character, but because the noises he was making – echoes of the old Labour Party – proved to continue to have a strong attraction for a sizable section of the UK public, a fact that threw a scare into the upper reaches. And it’s interesting that he was “handled” not by the usual mechanism of denouncing “dinosaur socialism” (which would have been risky since it would have drawn attention to “dangerous” ideas from the Left) but by desperately whipping up the most familiar political demons – Hitler and the Nazis no less.

    The sheer incongruousness of the parallel between the Corbyn Labour Party and the Third Reich speaks to the sad decline in public awareness of the past. Indeed, I always thought of the “Labour anti-Semitism” problem as a dry run for the covid operation – whose effectiveness (which astonished even the ones pushing it) ushered in a truly “postmodern” media which can seemingly say anything it wants now. Here is one small indication of the latest – and, so far, most devastating – “death of parody”:

    For all I know, this clip may indeed be a satirical matter. It would not be out of place on Chris Morris’s old Brass Eye series. But in his day, the joke would have been obvious. Now it is not. This imbecilic interview could be meant seriously. It’s impossible to tell.

    And these “clown world” snippets seem to be an appendage to the bigger “clown world” of the mainstream political theatre. The direct involvement of the public in political and economic affairs has been neutered enormously since the lockdown deliberately split up the population, traumatised them, and then “re-educated” them to fit in to a new (virtual) reality.

  2. Regino Robainas28 says:

    Yes,Sir Juan, & I feel Swift Taylor be the
    Amerikan equivalent of Japanese comfort
    Women, metaerotic comfort food for the
    AI repressed, oh what a warm rush the
    anticipation of dreaming with Her superbowl
    orgiastic fireworks.

    I remember my second performance at 6. The
    first, a few months earlier, in first grade
    was the giving, with a Microphone in the
    St. George school garden of Marti’s ode to
    the planting of a Palm tree & the beauty of
    seeking indepedence through manly Revolution
    An instructor helped me plant the baby Tree
    with a near-baby shovel that morning in mid
    Later, around late November of that my second
    theatrical public release (!) at the Circuo
    Militar y Naval country club at night, dressed
    in 18th. century garb obtained from a tailor in
    Old Habana: A recitation, after my moyther hand
    accompanied to the wooden elevated stage of
    Marti’s White Rose poem.

    The evening overflowed afterwards to the beautiful
    Carmelo in Vedado where dozens of my favorite
    comfort Ham croquettes and Cokes were devoured
    with soda crackers.

  3. Regino Robainas says:

    I ate much nourishment from your Essay &
    the brilliant 1st. comment.
    I rode my new charriot tricycle for the
    first time tonight that my brother-in-lwe
    assembled, put pieces together for me. He
    had come down from up North last week
    to touch base again. He lived us in the
    80’s when we were younger.
    Now I FEEL AN ICY UNCANNINES in thinking
    that Mein Kampf was a precise title, that
    with my obvious latent Malignant Narcissism
    I, R, K could have written, perhaps without
    so much genocidal hatred. But still with
    celewstial Rage. Let’s hold our skins like
    warming jackets as we slide the icy inner
    mountains, a Le Foucalt.

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