Analysis of ‘Belle de Jour’

Belle de Jour is a 1967 French film by Luis Buñuel, based on the 1928 novel of the same name by Joseph Kessel. It stars Catherine Deneuve as Séverine Serizy, a young and beautiful housewife who, unable to be intimate with her husband, Pierre (Jean Sorel), spends her midweek afternoons as a high-class prostitute while he, unsuspecting, is at work as a doctor in a hospital.

“Belle de Jour” (“beauty of the day”), the name Séverine adopts as a prostitute, is a pun on the French expression belle de nuit (“beauty of the night”). She isn’t available at night to satisfy her erotic desires, which involve BDSM, something her mild-mannered, bourgeois husband would never approve of.

Here are some quotes in English translation:

Pierre Serizy: I’d like everything to be perfect too. If only you weren’t so cold.

Séverine Serizy: Please don’t mention that again.

Pierre Serizy: I didn’t mean to upset you. I feel a great tenderness for you.

Séverine Serizy: What good is your tenderness to me?

Pierre Serizy: You can be very cruel when you wish.

“Forgive me.” –Séverine (repeated line)

“Pierre, please, don’t let the cats out.” –Séverine

Henri Husson: You should see a specialist about your obsessions.

Renee: He’s rich and idle. Those are his two main illnesses.

Henri Husson: Don’t forget the hunt. I also have a special weakness for the poor. I think of them when it snows, with no fur coats, no hope, no nothing.

“You go in. The women are there. You pick one. You spend half an hour alone with her and after you leave, you’re depressed all day. But what can you do? Semen retentum venenum est.” –Pierre, to Séverine

Séverine Serizy: I can’t understand women like that.

Henri Husson: It’s the oldest profession in the world. It’s mostly arranged by phone now, but the women in those houses are a special breed.

Séverine Serizy: I’m sure you know them well.

Henri Husson: Yes, I used to go a lot. I enjoyed it. There’s a very special atmosphere. The women are complete slaves. I remember a few around the Opéra. Especially one run by Anaïs. 11 cité Jean de Saumur. I have marvelous memories.

*************

Madame Anais: You’re nice and fresh. Just what they like here. I know it’s hard at first, but who doesn’t need money now and then? We’ll split it fifty-fifty. I have my expenses.

Séverine Serizy: Thank you very much, but I must be going.

Madame Anais: Come on. You’re just a bit nervous. I bet it’s the first time you’ve worked. It’s not really so awful.

**************

Madame Anais: You’re doing fine. You’re a big hit already. Mr. Adolphe is a simple man, so don’t get upset. Do what he wants. That’s all he asks.

Séverine Serizy: No, I want to go.

Madame Anais: What? You about done putting on airs? Where do you think you are? Go on!

**************

Monsieur Adolphe: No, you’re not running off now! Who do you think you are, you little slut?

[slaps Belle de jour]

Monsieur Adolphe: You get me excited and then pull me up short?

[pushes Belle de jour on the bed]

Monsieur Adolphe: You can put on airs for a while, but I’ve had enough!

[Belle de jour lies calmly on the bed]

Monsieur Adolphe: There. See? That’s more like it. So, you need the rough stuff, do you?

**************

Henri Husson: [In Séverine’s dream fantasy, she is wearing a long white, sleeveless dress] How’s your wife?

Pierre Serizy: Very well, thanks.

Henri Husson: Where is she?

Pierre Serizy: Right over there. Want to say hello?

Henri Husson: I’d love to. How are you little slut?

Pierre Serizy: Everything okay, you tramp?

Henri Husson: [throwing mud on Séverine] Old whore!

Pierre Serizy: Maggot!

Henri Husson: Sodomite!

Pierre Serizy: Scum!

Henri Husson: Fellatomane! Tramp! Harlot!

**************

Prof. Henri: I love you. I love you, I tell you. Now walk on me. Spit on me. Stomp on my face.

Charlotte: Dirty old man! Pig! I’ll teach you!

Prof. Henri: But I love you! Marquise, hit me harder!

**************

Duke’s Butler: [Fantasy sequence] Monsieur Duke, shall I let the cats in?

Duke: To hell with you and your cats!

“I’d slit my father’s throat for less, but friendship comes first. We’re not gonna fight over some slut, eh?” –Hippolyte

Marcel: Leave your stockings on. A girl tried to strangle me once. Poor thing.

Séverine Serizy: If you like, I won’t charge you.

Marcel: Naturally. Plenty of girls would love to be in your place.

**************

Séverine Serizy: Don’t tell Pierre.

Henri Husson: Pierre? I admire him more and more.

Séverine Serizy: Please don’t tell him. At least try to understand. I’m lost. I can’t help it. I can’t fight it. I know I’ll have to atone for everything one day. But I couldn’t live without it. Fine! Do as you like with me!

Henri Husson: No. Not now, anyway. I guess what attracted me about you was your virtue. You were the wife of a boy scout. That’s all changed now. I have principles, unlike you.

The film begins with a scene of Séverine and Pierre riding in a coach on a country road covered in autumn leaves. The jingling of sleigh bells is heard. Husband and wife declare their growing love for each other, but she remains cool to his sexual advances. Though normally gentle and sensitive to her wish not to rush into love-making (actually, they’ve already been married for a year, with him never having her…even once!), Pierre suddenly gets angry, orders the two coachmen to stop, and he tries to pull her out of the coach.

When she demands that he let her go, he has the two men grab her and take her out to the trees, where she, resisting all she can, is tied to one. Pierre tears away her top and bra to bare her back, and he orders the men to flog her. She begs him to stop.

During the flogging, she oddly asks Pierre not to let the cats out. When the flogging is finished, he tells one of the men to enjoy her while he smokes a cigarette and watches. The coachman’s kisses, on the back of the neck as he’s about to have her, cause her to close her eyes and sigh with pleasure.

The scene suddenly switches to her in her bed, with Pierre in his pyjamas, approaching. The whole coach scene has been a sex fantasy of hers…not a sexual assault.

In this fantasy, we can glean a number of things about her character. The jingling of the bells, a motif heard many times, and in many forms, throughout the movie during her sex fantasies, symbolizes the vibrating pleasure she feels in her vagina (the ‘bell’); the clappers of the bells (or their ball-bearings inside) can be seen to represent either her hymen–as we assume that her frigidity has made her wish to return to virginity, if it hasn’t kept her a virgin the whole time–or they represent a phallus jerking away inside her.

Either way, in this symbolism we see Séverine’s central conflict: to bang, or not to bang. She is cold to her husband’s passion, yet she fantasizes of wild, transgressive sex with strangers. Her name, a feminine version of Severin, the name of the main character of Venus in Furs, suggests her masochistic tendencies. Yet her beauty, as well as her urges to cheat on her man, suggests cruel, sadistic Wanda from the same novella.

So what we have in Belle de Jour is the sublation of the contradictions of sexual purity vs. licentiousness, of sadism vs. masochism, and of woman’s sexual subservience vs. her sexual liberation. In Venus in Furs, we had Severin’s arousal fuelled by opposites that are never properly reconciled (Sacher-Masoch, page 29); in this film, we see a constant unity of opposites…or at least an attempted unity of them.

‘Not letting out the cats’ seems to be a reference to the exposure of her genitals. While she says chats (cats) instead of chatte (pussy), this seems to be a distortion in her wish-fulfillment, a censoring of her erotic desires that is comparable to Severin’s use of Katzen in Venus in Furs (see my analysis–link above). Séverine says she wouldn’t have “the cats” let out, yet her eyes wish they’d be let out.

The next day, she and Pierre meet with Renée (Macha Méril) and Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli), this latter man being discomfiting to Séverine in how frankly he tells her of how “séduisante” she is. She rejects his sexual advances with a harshness she never uses on her gentle, nice-guys-finish-last husband; but over the course of the movie, we realize that Husson is involved in her dreams and repressed fantasies, too.

Recall her dream, much later on in the movie, of being with him at a table in a restaurant, the two grinning as they look in each other’s eyes: he breaks a wine bottle–symbolic of her broken hymen–and the two of them go under the table, where he gives her an envelope, symbolic of sex (i.e., a phallic letter in a yonic envelope). Pierre and Renée are at the table, too, fairly indifferent to it all, beyond his mild curiosity. Séverine wants Husson, but she’ll never admit to this.

I mentioned earlier the many sublated contradictions in this film; but there is one contradiction that cannot be reconciled, no matter how hard Séverine tries. This is the contradiction between her hypocritical bourgeois morality, her wish to retain her respectable public image, and the satisfaction of her private, transgressive desires.

Exposing bourgeois hypocrisy is a favourite theme of Luis Buñuel, and he pushes this theme to the hilt in this movie. Husson would seem to be Buñuel’s mouthpiece here, in his sardonic wish to expose Henriette’s, and later Séverine’s, wish to be prostitutes; but I suspect insincerity in him when he says he worries about the poor when left out in the cold…especially when we learn that he likes frequenting whorehouses, places where poor women are mercilessly exploited by pimps and madams.

Séverine’s wish to work for Anaïs (Geneviève Page), the madam of a high class brothel, is a strange one, apart from her already-established masochistic tendencies. These tendencies seem rooted in a childhood experience of having been touched inappropriately by a man: did the touching get carried any further…towards penetrative rape? We don’t know. In any case, it explains her frigidity (recall the repulsion towards sex that young Deneuve has acted out elsewhere in cinema).

Given that the film was made in 1967, during the rise of second-wave feminism and its drive to encourage housewives to leave the home and pursue careers, we find it curious that Séverine, a well-provided-for bourgeois housewife, should choose prostitution of all things as fulfilling work. Though she is escaping the patriarchal prison of the house and her husband as her only sexual partner, she is also willingly subjecting herself to the sexual degradation of being objectified and used by lecherous men.

In this contradiction, we see the controversy between anti- and pro-prostitution feminism. In her masochism, Séverine is subjecting herself to exploitation, as an example of the excesses of the pleasure-pain of what Jacques Lacan called jouissance; but unlike proletarian women and girls forced into such exploitation because of the poverty that capitalism creates, Séverine, as a bourgeois woman, freely chooses it.

Naturally, she is conflicted about selling herself at first. She meets Madame Anaïs, but tries to run away, making her procuress force her into yielding to such louts as the porcine Monsieur Adolphe (Francis Blanche). As a bourgeois woman, Séverine could easily leave; her masochistic jouissance, however, forces her to stay and service him. It is her need to preserve her hypocritical bourgeois public image that makes her unwilling to give her body over to male lust, not any feeling of disgust.

When she first learns, through her friend Renée, that a woman they know, Henriette, has been selling herself, Séverine says with a frown that it must be horrifying to have sex with strangers…yet the thought of becoming a prostitute herself is turning round and round in her mind. She later asks her husband about his experiences in brothels, which he says were few and ultimately unsatisfying; but when he says in Latin that semen retained is poison, she is disgusted with him.

This here is an example of the hypocritical bourgeois liberal mentality: her id has all these wild, untamed desires, in her case leading to the excesses of jouissance; but her harsh, overly-judgemental super-ego demands that she live up to the ego-ideal of a proper bourgeois lady. Small wonder her dreams and fantasies include her being either punished or degraded in some way. Her inner battleground is between her conscious and unconscious mind.

Buñuel’s critique of bourgeois moral hypocrisy is personified in Séverine, and expressed elsewhere by Marx: “But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus.

“The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion, than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.

“He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.

“For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.

“Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each others’ wives.

“Bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with, is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalized community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident, that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.” —The Communist Manifesto, II: Proletarians and Communists

When Séverine finds the address of Anaïs’ whorehouse and approaches the door, a woman coming down the stairs makes her pretend she’s waiting at the elevator instead of wanting to knock on Anaïs’ door. Immediately before this hiding of her true intentions, another childhood memory of hers runs through her mind: this time, we see little Séverine (about the same age as when that man inappropriately touched her) in church during Mass, refusing to take the Host in her mouth. We hear a man’s voice (that of Pierre?) ask, “Séverine, Séverine, what’s the matter with you?”

Reminded of the memory of the man touching her, we might wonder if there’s a connection between it and the scene during Mass. Is her refusal of the Host symbolic of childhood sexual abuse from the priesthood? Or does her guilt, including a fear of eating the body of Christ unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27), fuel her masochism?

After a few sexual encounters with men like Adolphe, she seems to have processed the childhood trauma she suffered (or, at least, gotten over her bourgeois inhibitions), and now she feels more comfortable as a prostitute. She enjoys servicing an Asian client, who rings a tiny bell as she grins lasciviously at him, standing next to him without her panties on.

A masochistic professor (François Maistre) wants her to help him act out a fantasy of himself as her grovelling servant; but her failure to act out her part as he wishes causes him to bark orders at her, then demand that Anaïs get Charlotte (Françoise Fabian) to take Séverine’s place, for she apparently is only of use in the kitchen. As we can see, masochistic submission becomes dominance: more sublation of opposites. In fact, we can hear the professor ordering Charlotte to hit him harder.

Recall how Freud once said that every sadist is always at the same time also a masochist. Séverine is disgusted to see the professor lower himself so, yet in her fantasies, she’d lower herself much further. Séverine would never have liked Severin, in spite of herself.

Her dreams, as revelatory wish-fulfillments of her desires, continue. We hear cowbells clinking in the background as Pierre and Husson discuss the names of cows: Remorse and Expiation. Here we see an explicit link between Séverine’s masochism and her guilt feelings over cheating on the husband she’s not even once had sex with. He and Husson sling mud at her, symbolic of shit, while she’s tied up, wearing an angelically white gown; they call her “little slut” and “pig.” Her saintly raiment, sullied with the mud, is the sublation of sinner and innocent.

Remember how any ringing of bells, be they cowbells or jingle bells, symbolizes her sexual arousal; so she unconsciously enjoys Husson’s presence as well as his and Pierre’s symbolic defecating on her, though in her conscious mind, bad boy Husson repels her.

Later, she hears those coach sleigh bells in her dream about the Duke (Georges Marchal), who would have her play the role of his dead love in a coffin. In his passion for her as she lies practically naked in the coffin, wearing only a black see-through garment, we see the sublation of libido (part of Eros, the will to live) and Thanatos, the death drive…or the pleasure-pain of jouissance. (We’d need only hear the Liebestod as heard in the soundtracks of Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or, and the scene would be perfect.) The coldness of her ‘corpse’ before the Duke suggests a displacement onto him of her frigidity towards Pierre.

Cats are heard meowing. The Duke’s servant knocks at the door, asking if his master wants him to let the cats in; again, in my interpretation, the cats are a symbolic reference to Séverine’s genitalia. The Duke curses at his servant about the cats, suggesting more of the hypocritical bourgeois reaction formation to any frank expression of sexuality.

Shortly after this cursing, the Duke slips down under the coffin with a guilty frown on his face. She feels a jiggling of the coffin, suggesting that the Duke is stimulating her genitals or buttocks in a perverse, disturbing way. After the encounter, and when she’s dressed, the servant brusquely kicks her out of the Duke’s mansion, to leave her in the rain: again, in her fantasizing, she must be punished for her jouissance; also, in the servant’s rudeness to her, we see the bourgeois hypocrisy in enjoying the services of a prostitute, but in also treating her as bestial and beneath the upper classes.

More dualities to be sublated are implied in Belle de Jour vs. belle de nuit, the opposition of day and night. Linked with this idea is the Duke’s reference, in his chat with Séverine at an outdoor café before their encounter in his mansion, to the soleil noir (“dark sun”), the sublation of jour and nuit. He also considers his sexually perverse encounter with her “a religious ceremony of some sort.” Sublation of the sacred and the profane.

Jouissance, especially the zesty, almost mystical, feminine kind that Lacan commented on, is a poetically resonant word when applied to Séverine’s sexual excesses. Apart from it meaning such things as “enjoyment” and “orgasm,” jouissance also refers to the enjoyment of property rights, which is instructive given her status as a bourgeois woman. In fact, Lacan’s notion of plus-de-jouir (“surplus enjoyment”) is inspired by Marx’s notion of surplus value, which–when applied to this film–is perfectly personified in the willing bourgeois prostitute.

The surplus value of Séverine’s masochistic pleasure-pain is something she, as a bourgeois woman, can enjoy and give up whenever she wishes to; but a proletarian prostitute is unable to escape her world of exploitation and degradation…herein lies the crucial difference. Having a madam force the girls into sex work is no less oppressive in principle than when a pimp forces them. For Séverine, though, as soon as she sees the danger in Husson finding out her secret (tempting him to tell Pierre), as well as the growing jealousy of her favourite client, Marcel (Pierre Clémenti), she can quit, and Madame Anaïs must accept it.

Séverine’s preference of the crude, violent bad boy Marcel as a lover, over sensitive but boring Pierre–in spite of how she must keep up appearances as his faithful wife–can be seen to symbolize how the hypocritical bourgeois liberal wants to be seen publicly as gentle and respectful of human rights; but when tensions rise in the world, even liberals will embrace violence to protect their class interests.

While Pierre, as a doctor, represents the gentle, liberal bourgeoisie, mafiosi Marcel and Hippolyte (Francisco Rabal) represent the nasty, violent, and even fascist-leaning side of capitalism (note how the mafia can be seen to represent capitalists in other movies). The two men beat up and steal from a man in an elevator, Epstein-like Hippolyte shows a sexual interest in the underage daughter of Pallas (Muni), and jealous Marcel attempts murdering his rival, Pierre, but ends up paralyzing him and putting him in a coma instead.

Séverine, in her overwhelming guilt, allows Husson to tell Pierre about her dalliances. She then sees her teary-eyed husband, emotionally destroyed and unmoving in his wheelchair (reminding us of Wanda’s wheelchair-bound husband before he died–Sacher-Masoch, page 20; recall another line from the novella: “Is there any greater cruelty for the lover than the beloved woman’s infidelity?”–page 4…Severin + Wanda = Séverine). Instead of having another sexy dream, though, she reverses course and has a wholesome one of her husband smiling, getting up from his wheelchair, and embracing her.

The film ends with the sleigh bells heard outside. She looks out the window and sees the coach riding down the road strewn with autumn leaves, as in the film’s beginning; a return to the beginning of the cycle, but without the couple as passengers. The empty seat is symbolic of Lacan’s notion that there is no such thing as a sexual relationship. There is sexual activity between men and women, of course (as we see constantly in this movie), but there is no rapport between the sexes, no harmony, as between her and Pierre. Their love is an illusion: at best, theirs is a Platonic friendship, and this–in combination with her superficially sexual relations with other men–indicates the general alienation felt in capitalist society.

This motif of autumn is important. It symbolizes her growing coolness towards her husband, and the fallen leaves suggest her fall from grace. Before, during the height of her jouissance at the brothel, she fantasized about Pierre and Husson shooting her in the head with phallic pistols out there in the woods, among the autumn leaves, the blood flowing from her head being symbolic, perhaps, of the pleasure-pain of getting a facial. She’s tied to a tree, her wound making her look rather like St. Sebastian: sublation of sinner and saint.

Now, however, having emotionally killed her husband, she can dream only of an unattainable return to innocence. Her shame doubtless will deter her from ever satisfying her desires chez Madame Anaïs. Will Husson finally have her? It’s doubtful, now that he knows she hasn’t the voluptuous virtue he thought she had.

There will be no more sublation of her sex fantasies with the reality of a prostitute’s life. In a futile attempt to assuage her guilt, she is compelled to escape reality and have innocent fantasies, of her restored husband, from now on. Now, she can only have pain sans pleasure. Fate has been most severe with Séverine.

Analysis of ‘Venus In Furs’

Venus In Furs is a novella written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and published in 1870. Because the semi-autobiographical story is about a young man, Severin von Kusiemski, who persuades a beautiful woman, Wanda von Dunajew (her real-life counterpart having been Sacher-Masoch’s mistress, Baroness Fanny Pistor), to dominate, whip, humiliate, and enslave him, we derive the word masochism from its author…thanks to Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his seminal text, Psychopathia Sexualis.

Though the novella was originally meant to be part of an unfinished cycle of stories called The Testament of Cain, Venus In Furs is by far Sacher-Masoch’s most famous work, and it is one of the few of his writings to be translated into English.

Here are some quotes:

“Is there any greater cruelty for the lover than the beloved woman’s infidelity?” –narrator of framing story (page 4)

‘”And as a rule it is the man who feels the woman’s foot,” cried Madam Venus with exuberant scorn…’ (page 5)

“Yes, I am cruel–since you take so much pleasure in that word–and am I not entitled to be cruel? Man desires, woman is desired. That is woman’s entire but decisive advantage.” –‘Madame Venus,’ the talking statue in the narrator’s dream (pages 5-6)

“Woman’s power lies in Man’s passion, and she knows how to make use of it if man isn’t careful. His only choice is to be woman’s tyrant or slave.” –Severin, to the narrator (page 10)

‘…my beloved was made of stone…a stone statue of Venus…This Venus was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.’ –Severin (page 12)

‘Enough: this Venus was beautiful, and I loved her as passionately, as morbidly and profoundly, as insanely as a man can love only a woman who responds to his love with an eternally consistent, eternally calm stone smile. Yes, I literally worshiped her.’ –Severin, of his Venus statue (page 12)

“Nature knows of no permanence in the male-female relationship.” –Wanda (page 19)

‘My love was like a profound, a bottomless abyss, into which I kept sinking deeper and deeper, from which nothing could save me.’ –Severin (page 27)

‘Cold shivers ran down my spine. I looked at her: she stood before me, so solid and self-assured, and her eyes had a cold glint.’ –Severin, of Wanda (page 28)

“…the greatest passions…arise from opposites. We are such opposites, almost hostile to each other. That explains this love of mine, which is part hatred, part fear. In such a relationship, only one person can be the hammer, the other the anvil. I want to be the anvil. I can’t be happy if I look down on my beloved. I want to be able to worship a woman, and I can do so only if she is cruel to me.” –Severin, to Wanda (page 29)

“…sensuality now became a sort of culture in my imagination, and I swore not to squander its holy sensations on an ordinary creature but to save them for an ideal woman–if possible, the Goddess of Love herself.” –Severin (page 32)

“In my mind I always pictured a beautiful female ideal…” –Severin (page 33)

“So a woman wearing fur,” cried Wanda, “is nothing but a big cat…?” (page 35)

“I saw sensuality as sacred, indeed the only sacredness. I saw woman and her beauty as divine since her calling is the most important task of existence: the propagation of the species.” –Severin (page 36)

“Yes–you’ve aroused my most cherished fantasy.” –Severin, to Wanda (page 37)

‘”I’m afraid I’ve already found my ideal!” I cried and pressed my hot face into her lap.’ –Severin, to Wanda (page 37)

“You’ve corrupted my imagination…” –Wanda, to Severin

“Women are neither as good as their admirers and defenders would have it nor as bad as their enemies make them out to be.” –Wanda (page 47)

‘Wanda…was so kind, so intimate, so full of grace.’ –Severin (page 48)

“A woman’s infidelity is certainly a painful stimulus, the supreme voluptuousness.” –Severin, to Wanda (page 49)

“You may always address me as ‘Mistress,’ do you understand?” –Wanda, to Severin (page 60)

‘…from time to time I heard our Mistress enjoying herself, surrounded by admirers…’ –Severin (page 77)

‘Venus in Furs was jealous of her slave. She tore the whip from its nail and struck me across the face. Next she summoned the black maidservants, and had them tie me up and drag me down to the cellar, where they threw me into a dark, dank subterranean vault–a bona fide dungeon cell.’ –Severin (page 84)

‘I felt myself starting to hate that woman.’ –Severin, of Wanda (page 85)

‘…I saw that she was wearing only the fur, and I was terrified–I don’t know why–as terrified as a condemned man who knows he is heading toward the scaffold, yet starts to tremble the moment he sees it.’ –Severin, of half-naked Wanda (page 89)

‘…Wanda threw off her fur coat in a single moment and stood before me like the Goddess in the Tribuna.

‘At that instant, she looked so chaste, so holy in her uncloaked beauty that I knelt before her as I had knelt before the Goddess, and I pressed my lips devoutly to her foot.’ –Severin (page 90)

‘He was a handsome man, by God. No, more: he was a man such as I had never seen in the flesh. He stands in the Belvedere, hewn in marble, with the same slender and yet iron muscles, the same face, the same rippling curls.’ –Severin, of Alexis Papadopolis, his rival for Wanda’s love (page 96)

‘What I felt was fear–a fear of losing the woman whom I loved almost fanatically; and this fear was so violent, so crushing that I suddenly burst out sobbing like a child.’ –Severin (page 101)

“You know what I am,” she retorted nastily. “I’m a woman of stone, Venus in Furs, your ideal–just kneel and worship me.” –Wanda, to Severin (page 103)

“The moral is that I was an ass.” –Severin, speaking to the narrator (page 119)

“The moral is that woman, as Nature has created her and as she is currently reared by man, is his enemy and can be only his slave or his despot, but never his companion. She will be able to become his companion only when she has the same rights as he, when she is his equal in education and work.” –Severin (page 119)

The story begins with a framing device involving the original narrator telling Severin about a dream he’s had of conversing with a living statue of Venus, who has a huge fur wrapped around her marble body (page 3).

This notion of being infatuated with the statues of Venus is a motif recurring throughout the novella, for a man’s willful enslavement to a woman is based on his pagan worship of her (as he sees it) divine beauty.

This beauty is carved into immovable stone: cold, inflexible, hard, and therefore cruel. The immovability of the stone also suggests permanence; combine this unmoving, unchanging permanence with beauty, we have ourselves an ideal.

The notion of ideal feminine beauty is also a recurring theme in the novella. Recall Goethe‘s words: “The Eternal Feminine draws us on high.” Beauty on the outside is seen as a symbol of beauty on the inside…regardless of how unrealistic such ideals are.

Another classic work of art–a painting–has inspired Severin: Titian‘s Venus with Mirror, the goddess’s lower body wrapped in fur, apart from which she is naked. Both Severin and the narrator fetishize her in the fur.

In his paper, “Fetishism,” Freud pointed out that the fur fetish is based on desire for a woman’s pubic hair, a desire traced back to boys’ Oedipal desire for their mother, and their horror, upon seeing her genitals, at realizing she has no phallus. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae, believes that Venus In Furs supports Freud’s claim (Paglia, pages 258, 436).

As Freud himself observed: “…it is as though the last impression before the uncanny and traumatic one is retained as a fetish. Thus the foot or shoe owes its preference as a fetish–or a part of it–to the circumstances that the inquisitive boy peered at the woman’s genitals from below, from her legs up; fur and velvet–as has long been suspected–are a fixation of the sight of the pubic hair, which should have been followed by the longed-for sight of the female member; pieces of underclothing, which are so often chosen as a fetish, crystallize the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could still be regarded as phallic.” (Freud, pages 354-355)

If Freud’s explanation seems far-fetched, consider Jacques Lacan‘s more metaphorical version. The mother’s lack of a phallus is, for Lacan, connected with the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and the father’s prohibition against a boy’s having of his mother; the boy cannot be the phallus that his mother desires, because his father won’t allow it. Hence, his father has symbolically castrated him. From this lack–manque–comes one’s desire.

Since a boy can’t have his mother, he must look elsewhere to gratify his unfulfillable desire, the objet petit a, a substitute for the forbidden mother that, in this story, Severin and the narrator can attempt to replace with the fur fetish and the Venus ideal. [For a more thorough explanation of such psychoanalytic concepts as those of Lacan, look here.]

Freud’s thoughts on fetishism seem to anticipate Lacan’s ideas about manque and the objet petit a in this passage: “In the conflict between the weight of the unwelcome perception and the force of his counter-wish, a compromise has been reached, as is only possible under the dominance of the unconscious laws of thought–the primary processes. Yes, in his mind the woman has got a penis, in spite of everything; but this penis is no longer the same as it was before. Something else has taken its place, has been appointed its substitute, as it were, and now inherits the interest which was formerly directed to its predecessor…We can now see what the fetish achieves and what it is that maintains it. It remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it.” (Freud, page 354)

That Titian’s painting has the fur covering Venus’ lower half further supports the symbolic association of the fur with her pubic hair. Cupid, Venus’ son, holds her mirror: the Goddess of Love and Beauty is the Mother.

Now we can see the origin of Severin’s desire to be dominated by a beautiful woman: he has an unresolved Oedipus complex, transferred onto Wanda. She symbolizes his mother, who in his unconscious has been split into Melanie Klein‘s “good mother”–his idealized parental imago whose beauty he desires to enjoy (hence, the furs)–and the “bad mother” who punishes him and is cruel to him.

Freud noted how a spanking can give erotic pleasure to a child: “Ever since Jean Jacques Rousseau‘s Confessions, it has been well known to all educationists that the painful stimulation of the skin of the buttocks is one of the erotogenic roots of the passive instinct of cruelty (masochism).” (Freud, page 111)

Severin, as a boy, must have enjoyed getting swats on his little buttocks from the hand of his pretty mama. Little is said in the novella about his relationship with his mother; the lack of any mention of his (as I suspect) shameful desires for her can easily be attributed to repression. Instead, Severin freely admits to desiring his beautiful but violent aunt–a clear displacing of his Oedipal desires from his mother to his aunt! (pages 32-34)

To return to the beginning of the novella, the narrator is woken from his dream by a hand “as brown as bronze” (page 6), suggesting another hard, cold statue, this time one of a man, the narrator’s “Cossack,” who stands “at his full height of almost six feet.” (page 6)

The Cossack tells the narrator that he must hurry and meet up with Severin, and that “it’s a cryin’ shame” (page 6) that the narrator is asleep when he must be going. This scene is symbolic of the father making a boy give up on his Oedipal dream of having Mother (symbolized by the statue of Venus in the dream). The “bronze” statue of the Cossack represents the father bringing the narrator (symbolic of a boy experiencing the Oedipus complex) into the world of reality.

Severin’s story, of himself also leaving his dreams (page 117) and coming into reality, will help the narrator understand the need to wake up, too; for the narrator is an obvious double of Severin. In fact, both men can be seen to represent the universal Oedipal desirer, the common male masochist. Severin’s story is written in a manuscript called Confessions of a Suprasensual Man. (page 10)

Speaking of writing, it seems prophetic that the narrator has a book by Hegel lying next to him as he sleeps (page 7); in the explanatory notes at the end of my Penguin Classics English translation of Venus In Furs (page 125), it is justifiably assumed that the passage of Hegel that the narrator has been reading before dozing off is the master/slave dialectic section of The Phenomenology of Spirit. In this dialectic, the slave gradually comes to free himself of his master, as Severin will of Wanda, and–one hopes–the narrator will of his slavish devotion to Venus in furs, too.

Before Severin meets Wanda, he–just like the narrator–has been idolizing a stone statue of Venus; only instead of it being in his dreams, Severin’s is in a meadow, in a garden in the small wilderness where his house is. Because of this ideal, he has had very little interest in Wanda…but she will soon embody that ideal for him, in the flesh.

There are numerous passages in the novella that suggest that Severin’s love for Wanda is at least comparable to a boy’s Oedipal love for his mother. To give one example: after kissing her foot, which causes her to run away, leaving her slipper in his hand–because she feels he is “getting more and more indecent,” he returns it to her the next day and stands “in the corner like a child awaiting its punishment.” (page 24)

Another example, suggestive of his relationship with Wanda as being like that of a mother and her little boy, is on page 82: “She started caressing me, cuddling me, kissing me like a child.” Yet another example, symbolically suggestive of a boy’s Oedipal jealousy, is on page 101: “What I felt was fear–a fear of losing the woman whom I loved almost fanatically; and this fear was so violent, so crushing that I suddenly burst out sobbing like a child.”

He remembers having his idolatrous fetishes from as early as the cradle; he “can’t remember ever not having them.” His mother told him he was “suprasensual” from those earliest years, “suprasensual” being his word for describing his desires. (page 30)

I’ve already mentioned his aunt, to whom–I believe–he made his first transference of his repressed Oedipal desires for his mother. Countess Sobol “was a beautiful, majestic woman with a charming smile; but [Severin] hated her, for the family regarded her as a Messalina.” (page 32) This love/hate is the splitting of the mother into her good and bad aspects, but displaced onto Severin’s aunt.

Severin describes his aunt beating him with a switch while wearing “her fur-lined kazabaika.” After the beating, he “was forced to kneel down, thank her for the punishment, and kiss her hand.

“Now just look at the suprasensual fool! The switch held by the beautiful, voluptuous woman, who looked like an angry monarch in her fur jacket, first aroused my desire for women, and from then on my aunt seemed like the most attractive woman on God’s earth.” (page 32)

Since Severin is telling the story, and since he’s clearly addled by his strange passions, it’s easy to believe that he’s an unreliable narrator. (His having been “healed” of the sickness of his masochism at the end of the novella is also unconvincing, especially given how Sacher-Masoch himself, on whom Severin and the narrator are based, carried on with his acting-out of his female domination fantasies years after the publication of Venus In Furs, to the irritation of his wife at the time!) When he admits he incestuously desires his aunt, this could easily be a cover-up for a much more forbidden desire…to have, and be punished by, his mother!

Severin explains his fur fetish to Wanda by speaking of “the bewitching beneficial influence that cats exert on highly sensitive and intelligent people.” (page 35) Yes, Wanda, “a woman wearing fur…is nothing but a big cat.”

Sacher-Masoch uses the word Katzen, in italics in the original German. Now, Katze innocently just means cat, the -n being the plural ending. But consider the context behind the usage of the word in this “erotic” conversation. (page 35)

In English, “pussy” has been used to mean a woman’s genitals as early as the 1870s, and probably earlier. In French, chatte, the feminine for chat, has had the same meaning, so the European association between the feline and the vagina has existed for some time.

Furthermore, Katzen sounds dangerously close to tzchen, the German word for kitten, or…pussy! Given the strict censorship of any lewd ideas back in the prudish late 19th century (Recall the scandal surrounding Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in which the title character would baiser John the Baptist’s mouth!), one should find it easy to believe that Sacher-Masoch was using Katzen as a euphemism for the yoni.

So, in all of this, we see further support for Freud’s idea that furs and velvet are associated with a woman’s pubic hair. If by Katze, Sacher-Masoch had innocently meant cat, what would make Severin’s conversation with Wanda such an “erotic treatise”?

Almost immediately after this discussion of furs and Katzen, Severin mentions his reason for worshipping woman’s divine beauty: “her calling is…the propagation of the species.” (page 36) Human life emerges from female genitals, our uncanny sight of origin (a seeming wound where a phallus might have been, if only in unconscious phantasy). Woman is a goddess because she is a mother, the Giver of Life. Severin’s sexual passions, and his pagan devotions, are at their unconscious root, Oedipal.

He wants to be “the slave of a woman, a beautiful woman,” one who ties him up and whips him, and who kicks him “when she belongs to another man.” (page 37) How similar such a woman is to the Oedipally desired mother who punishes her naughty son with spankings, and who belongs to another man…the boy’s father. Having found his ideal in Wanda, Severin presses his “hot face into her lap” (page 37), an area of her body where he often brings his face (pages 44, 50, 112), where–were her clothes to be removed–her pubic hair would be found.

She tells him he is “mistaken” to “believe that everything lurking in [his] imagination is in [her] nature too” (page 38), but he won’t listen. For such opposites as those of love and hate are what give us our greatest passions (page 29).

His experience of Wanda, as mentioned above, is a transferred splitting of the Oedipally desired mother into absolute good and bad. He likes these extremes because of the arrest in his childhood sexual development, as we saw with his aunt. He won’t learn or grow out of these fixations, what Wilfred Bion would have called -K, a refusal to know; and for this reason, Severin will suffer terribly as the story goes on.

Wanda herself comments on his refusal to know her, to grow in knowledge (-K): “Don’t you know me yet, don’t you even want to know me?” she asks him (page 28). For Bion, another important element in the Oedipus myth is the urge to gain knowledge (K) at all costs, as the Theban king wishes to do in learning the identity of Laius‘ killer; yet Tiresias understands the danger of revealing this identity, and so in his reluctance to tell Oedipus, represents -K.

Severin’s refusal to grow in knowledge (-K) is linked to his repressed, unresolved Oedipus complex, transferred first onto his aunt, then onto Wanda. His growth in knowledge would involve a reintegration of the split good and bad aspects of his mother, a movement from the paranoid-schizoid position (PS) to the depressive position (D).

In the fetishizing of his feminine ideal, Severin stays split: he idolizes the good mother, displaced onto Wanda’s beauty when in the furs; and he suffers the cruelty of the bad mother, displaced onto Wanda when she whips, kicks, enslaves, and–worst of all–cheats on him.

She warns him of the danger of arousing her narcissism by worshipping her and allowing himself to be unconditionally enslaved by her; but he won’t listen (-K, reversible perspective). She would have him integrate the absolute good and bad of femininity: “Women are neither as good as their admirers and defenders would have it nor as bad as their enemies make them out to be…The best woman sinks momentarily into filth, the worst woman rises unexpectedly to great good deeds, putting her despisers to shame. No woman is so good or so evil as not to be capable at any moment of both the most diabolical and most divine, both the foulest and the purest thoughts, feelings, actions.” (page 47)

Still, Severin won’t listen, for he prefers those extreme opposites that arouse passion (page 29), his split state of PS, over the sane moderation of D. He wants to stay in thrall to his ideal imagining of her, which he “both reviled and worshiped.” (page 105)

Now, she agrees to his absurd fantasy of enslaving him while wearing furs, though secretly she plans to cure him of his desires by pushing his fantasy too far. In living out his fantasy of being dominated by a beautiful woman, Severin is experiencing what Lacan called jouissance, a transgressive overindulgence in pleasure, a surfeiting that leads to pain.

In jouissance, one willingly endures this pain as a kind of extension of the transgressive pleasure. This is a shifting past the biting head of the ouroboros (extreme pleasure) to experience the bitten tail (extreme pain). In other posts, I’ve written of the dialectical relationship between opposites as symbolized by the ouroboros’ head and tail, with the coiled length of its body representing every intermediate point on a circular continuum between those extreme opposites.

While Severin thinks Wanda is indulging his jouissance in going past the biting head over to the bitten tail, she’s actually taking him in the opposite direction. She’s taking him along the coiled length of the serpent, further and further away from the biting head of pleasure, and closer and closer to the bitten tail of pain…unbearable pain, unbearable even for him.

By being enslaved by his “Venus in furs,” with Wanda as the replacement for his mother, Severin is using Wanda as his objet petit a, the unattainable object-cause of his desire. He can’t have Mother, in her desirable aspect (i.e., the good mother, who like the Virgin Mary, is “full of grace”–page 48), or in her domineering aspect (the bad mother); so he has Wanda. But Wanda as a symbolic mother introduces a torture that even masochistic Severin can’t accept: the male rival as symbolic father.

In the BDSM community, consensual limits–as to how much pain, erotic humiliation, etc., is given and received–are strictly respected (through safewords, etc.). No such restraint is seen in Sacher-Masoch’s novella or in the Marquis de Sade‘s pornographic novels, in which victims (including children!) are not only tied up and whipped, but also raped, tortured, and murdered–the wealthy, powerful criminals responsible getting away scot-free.

Severin wants to experience the jealous fear of Wanda cuckolding him, but only within a reasonable limit–just the fear of it (page 49). She carries things way beyond his masochistic fantasies, though, in particular with a Greek named Alexis Papadopolis. (page 97)

Normally, the mother/infant relationship involves the mother soothing the baby’s fears, anxieties, and frustrations by absorbing and containing them in what Bion called maternal reverie, then sending those feelings back to the child in a form tolerable to it. This exchange of energy back and forth, through projective identification, is how a baby grows in K.

What Wanda, as Severin’s symbolic mother, is doing, however, is a negative version of this container/contained relationship (the mother, as container, being a symbolic yoni, and the baby’s contained anxieties being a symbolic phallus), so that instead of soothing Severin’s anguish, she is turning it into a nameless dread, driving him mad with jealousy.

In a nightmare, he dreams she has turned into “a huge polar bear drilling her claws into [his] body.” (page 68) He awakens to “hear her diabolical laughter.” This is an example of the negative container/contained relationship: in his dream, it is he who must contain her hostility, symbolized by her phallic claws digging yonic wounds into his skin. When he wakes in terror, she won’t contain his fear; instead, she laughs at it, making him feel worse.

The persecutory anxiety of his PS continues when he dreams of being condemned to death for having “murdered Wanda in a raging fit of jealousy.” (page 80) He is about to be beheaded, but instead of feeling the blade of an ax go beyond touching the back of his neck, he feels a slap. Wanda has woken him up with the slap, and she demands her fur.

She is free to make him feel jealous all she wants, but he is forbidden to treat her the same way. When he looks too long at Haydée, one of Wanda’s African female servants, he is put in “a bona fide dungeon cell.” (page 84)

Freud’s theory about the fur fetish as a covering of the female genitals, the shocking sight of a missing phallus [Freud, page 352: “the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and–for reasons familiar to us–does not want to give up.”], seems apparent when Wanda is nude before Severin, except for the fur she’s wearing (page 89). He narrates, “I saw that she was wearing only the fur, and I was terrified–I don’t know why…”

He doesn’t know why he’s afraid (one would think he’d simply be aroused) because the root of his desire is a repressed wish to have his mother; but her lack of a phallus, as Lacan observed, is associated with Severin’s having been forbidden to have her, a forbidding from the Name of the Father…and the name of Severin’s symbolic father is Papadopolis.

Severin is afraid to know Wanda’s beauty (-K), so when she throws off her fur coat and stands before him in her glorious nakedness, he doesn’t think about his “Goddess” lustfully, but instead kneels before her, for “she looked so chaste, so holy in her uncloaked beauty” (page 90). Like the Virgin Mary, Wanda is “so full of grace.” (page 48) He would rather have a reaction formation to her, seeing the pure, good mother, than lust after the naked, whorish, bad (symbolic) mother.

Still, she arouses his jealousy with a number of male admirers, including a poor young painter (pages 91-95), and finally, the Greek! (pages 96-97) Severin finds Papadopolis especially threatening, for he knows he cannot compete with him to win Wanda’s love.

Severin feels “seized with that dreadful mortal terror, an inkling that this man could capture her, fascinate her, subjugate her.” Severin feels “inadequate next to his savage virility…envious, jealous.” (page 99) This is the same Oedipal jealousy a little boy feels when he knows only Daddy can have Mommy.

Severin wants to run away from Wanda…but he can’t.

Ultimately, she has him tied up, but Papadopolis is to whip him! (pages 114-117) Since Wanda and the Greek are Severin’s symbolic mother and father, the whipping symbolizes a re-experiencing of the childhood, Oedipal trauma of a boy being punished by his father for wanting his mother. The pain is too much for Severin; in his indignant rage, he demands to be untied. (page 115)

This descent into greater and greater suffering is like moving along the coiled length of the ouroboros’ body to reach the bitten tail of the most excruciating pain, then to reach a state of clarity, to understand the need to give up his Oedipal jouissance, to realize his objet petit a will never be fulfilled. It’s like “awakening from a dream.” (page 117)

After escaping from this ordeal, Severin goes home to help his old and ill father. Along with an unrealized wish to join the army, we can see in this father/son reunion a symbolized identification with the father, which is precisely what happens to a boy after the dissolution of the Oedipus complex.

Wanda, one day long after, writes a letter to Severin, explaining how the excesses of her cruelty were meant to cure him of his strange passion, to send him past the bitten tail of pain and over to the biting head of self-mastery, a return to peace of mind.

Severin, however, is not truly cured; he’s just switched from masochist to sadist. Now, he dominates women instead of submitting to them (page 9). As Freud, reversing Severin’s process, once said, “A sadist is always at the same time a masochist…” (Freud, page 73)

Severin’s submission to, and idolatry of, Wanda has really just been a reaction formation against his wish to rule over women. The Oedipus complex, properly understood, is a narcissistic trauma: a child’s love of his mother is a selfish wish to have her all to himself, never to share her. She, as his ideal, is a mirror reflecting his narcissism back to him as he experiences the Imaginary Order. In worshipping Wanda, Severin has merely been projecting his excessive self-love (disguised as self-abasement in his reaction formation with her) onto her.

Women are wise to resist men who want to worship them. Sacher-Masoch’s wife learned this the hard way. True equality of the sexes will come when men stop deifying women, which dialectically resolves into misogyny, a shift from the ouroboros’ biting head of worshipping women to the bitten tail of despising them. The apotheosis of Woman as Mother, as Giver of Life, easily shifts over to the notion that “a woman’s place is in the home.” Women should be seen as neither goddesses nor slaves, but as human beings.

Severin himself acknowledges that woman “will be able to become [man’s] companion only when she has the same rights as he, when she is his equal in education and work.” (page 119) Still, he bosses around “a pretty, buxom blonde…bringing [him and the narrator] cold meat and eggs for [their] tea.” (page 9) This is Bion’s -K and reversible perspective: Severin can understand the basic principle of supporting equality, but the specific premises–that one must do what one can to promote equality in one’s day-to-day life–are rejected.

Severin is thus still trapped in the duality of the paranoid-schizoid position (PS). He can bear dialectical opposites, Hegel’s thesis and negation, but not the sublation of those opposites, the ambivalent feeling of the depressive position (D). He is by no means cured.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus In Furs, Penguin Classics, London, 1870

Sigmund Freud, 7. On Sexuality, The Pelican Freud Library, Penguin Books, London, 1987

Wilfred Bion, Elements of Psychoanalysis, Karnac, London, 1963

Glossary of Psychoanalytic Terms

Introductory Remarks

Whenever I write up something here and I make reference to psychoanalytic terminology, I find myself hitting a wall, so to speak. Many of these concepts are obscure and not well-known to the public, and so I have to explain what they mean…every time I use them, and that meticulous repetition can be tedious.

To explain the terms, I typically add links to various online sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia.com–the Free Encyclopedia, etc. The problem with these sources is, what is said in the articles for each psychoanalytic concept is so convoluted, so verbose, and in so roundabout a way, that I feel my readers must be all the more frustrated…as am I.

So I’ve decided, in this blog post, to explain all those concepts myself, in as accessible and down-to-earth a language as I can make it. In future posts, whenever I find myself using a lot of these terms, I’ll add a link to this post, so my readers can have quick and easy explanations of these often abstruse ideas.

When it comes to classical Freudian psychoanalysis, my readers can go here for all the basic concepts, like free association, dream interpretation, parapraxis, the stages of psychosexual development, the id, ego, and superego, the life and death drives, etc. It’s all explained there.

There is much, however, that came after Freud, and it isn’t all that well known to the general public; so I’ll have to go over each concept, one by one, here. I hope this helps.

Glossary

Alpha elements are thoughts, emotional experiences, feelings, etc., that have been processed and converted from beta elements (see below). Alpha elements exist in a form acceptable to the mind, unlike beta elements, and can be used in dreams, waking thoughts, etc. Wilfred Bion devised these terms (see entry below).

Alpha function is what is used to convert unacceptable and unpleasant beta elements into alpha elements. Since a baby doesn’t yet have the developed mental apparatus for doing this converting and processing of agitating external stimuli (beta elements), its mother, usually and traditionally, will do this converting for it until the child can do the alpha function for itself. Again, this concept comes from Wilfred Bion.

Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object–Originally called the “internal saboteur,” this part of WRD Fairbairn’s endopsychic structure corresponds vaguely with Freud’s harsh, judgemental superego. Put in other terms, it can be called the “anti-wanting-I” (as Lavinia Gomez calls it, p. 63), and it refers to that part of the personality that rejects people (this subsidiary ego is connected with what Fairbairn called the Rejecting Object); it is angry, and it doesn’t want relationships. It’s “anti-libidinal,” because for Fairbairn, libido isn’t about seeking pleasure simply to satisfy drives and neutralize psychological tension, as it was for Freud; instead, Fairbairnian libido is about seeking relationships with other people (objects–see below), in friendship and love.

Attacks on linking occur when the normal building up of knowledge through object relations (i.e., links with other people) is stifled by an unwillingness to link, to learn. Wilfred Bion was concerned with the development of knowledge (what he called the K link, see below) through a sharing and trading, back and forth, of emotional experiences in the form of projective identification (see below), especially between mother and baby.

Through this process of sharing feelings, external stimuli (beta elements–see below) are transformed by alpha function into alpha elements (see above), which can now be used as thoughts to learn by and remember. Originally, a mother does this sharing with her baby, to help it build up a thinking apparatus so it later can do the thought processing for itself.

However, sometimes traumatic experiences, personal biases, prejudices, etc., can close one’s mind to new experiences, and this impedes the ability to do linking, hence “attacks on linking.” Taken to an extreme, these attacks on linking, through -K (a refusal to know–see below) can lead to psychosis, as Bion observed.

Beta elements are external stimuli that haven’t yet been processed into thoughts, or alpha elements (see above). If they are too upsetting to the receiver, as they pretty much always are for a baby, they are ejected and passed on psychically to other people, if possible, through projective identification (see below).

This is why the mother is so crucial to a baby, who isn’t yet capable of processing these agitating stimulations; she becomes a container (see below) for the baby’s beta elements, and for all the baby’s anxieties, fears, and frustration that stem from its inability to process the beta elements. She does alpha function (see above) for the baby through a process called maternal reverie (see below), transforming the upsetting emotional experiences into acceptable ones (alpha elements), and returns them to the baby, soothing and pacifying it.

I imagine beta elements with the metaphor of insects: mosquitoes, ants, horseflies, cockroaches, etc., that come at us, stinging or biting us, or crawling up and down our skin, irritating us. When either our mother uses alpha function for us as babies, or when we learn to do it for ourselves, the ‘insects’ vanish–they have become alpha elements, thoughts we can now deal with and use for learning and growing.

A beta screen is built up when there are excesses of unprocessed beta elements that have been ejected because the receiver of them finds them too troubling or traumatizing to deal with. Perhaps one cannot rid oneself of them by giving them to other people through projective identification (see below). In any case, too much of a beta screen can lead to psychosis, and to bizarre objects (see below), which are hallucinatory projections of one’s inner psychotic state.

Wilfred R. Bion was a British psychoanalyst born in India. Having dealt with psychotics for many years of his career, and having been a member of the object relations school (he was a follower specifically of Melanie Klein, whose notion of projective identification he developed considerably), Bion was concerned with the development of knowledge (K, see below) as conceived as a link between the subject (oneself) and objects (other people, or internalized representations of them in the subject’s mind–see below).

He developed a theory of thinking that originates with what he called “thoughts without a thinker,” and which grows over time, through projective identification (see below) with one’s mother until one can process one’s own thoughts through alpha function (see above) and thus be one’s own thinker of them, unlike a baby…or a psychotic, for that matter.

The bipolar self is a concept devised by Heinz Kohut (see below) for explaining how people can have a healthy, stable sense of self. He discussed it in his book, The Restoration of the Self. The two poles giving this stability are the idealized parental imago (see below) and the grandiose self (see below). If one pole is compromised, a person will rely heavily on the other pole. If both poles are compromised, though, one may develop pathological levels of narcissism as a defence against fragmentation (see below).

Bizarre Objects are what Bion called hallucinatory projections of fragments of a psychotic’s personality. When beta elements (see above) aren’t being processed and converted into alpha elements (see above) useful for thought, an accumulation of them creates a beta screen (see above), blocking out new experience and inhibiting the growth of knowledge (K-see below).

The psychotic’s personality fragments and splits off hated parts of himself, then he attempts to project those pieces outward. In his hallucinatory state, he begins to imagine that those split-off parts of himself have engulfed the objects surrounding him, for example, a phonograph.

As Bion describes it with a few examples here (page 48), if the split-off projection is preoccupied with seeing, the psychotic thinks the phonograph is watching him; if the projected fragment is preoccupied with hearing, the phonograph seems to be listening to him as much as he hears its recorded music. The phonograph is a bizarre object.

The central ego, linked to the ideal object, is one of the three subject/object configurations of WRD Fairbairn’s endopsychic structure. This configuration corresponds roughly to Freud’s notion of the ego.

In a healthy person, the central ego is predominant, because the ideal object represents real people in the external world with whom we should have relationships, as opposed to the fantasied relations that the two split-off, subsidiary egos and their corresponding objects (libidinal ego/exciting object–see below, and anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object–see above) have. As with Freud’s ego, Fairbairn’s central ego is connected with reality.

For Fairbairn, libidinal need is object-need (i.e., the need to form relationships with other people, as opposed to the superficial, empty pleasure-seeking found in Freud’s id and represented in Fairbairn’s libidinal ego/exciting object), so the “ideal object” is a real person to be friends with or to fall in love with.

The capacity for concern is DW Winnicott’s term for when an infant comes to an ambivalent understanding of its parents’ combined goodness and badness. It learns that there is a difference between “me” (the infant) and “not-me” (its mother), who has a life and needs of her own; so it must learn to be responsible. The term “capacity for concern” is Winnicott’s rough equivalent to Melanie Klein’s notion of the depressive position (see below), when a child repents of his or her hostile feelings towards the bad mother/father and seeks reparation (see below) with his or her parents.

A contact barrier is formed between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind as a result of healthy alpha function (see above). Alpha elements (see above), or processed thoughts made from external stimuli (beta elements–see above), can cross the contact barrier and be used in dreams or in waking thoughts.

When alpha function is impaired, and beta elements are ejected rather than processed for thought, instead of constructing a contact barrier, what ends up being constructed is a beta screen (see above), which–taken to extremes–can lead to psychosis and the projection to bizarre objects (see above). This is another of Wilfred Bion’s concepts.

Container/contained, represented by the feminine Venus symbol and the masculine Mars symbol respectively (therefore making them yonic and phallic symbols), is Bion’s extension of Melanie Klein’s concept of projective identification (see below). It is applied mainly to either the relationship between the mother (container) and infant’s agitation (contained), or to that of the therapist (container) and the patient (contained).

This relationship is how the K link (see below) develops. A baby is assailed with beta elements (see above), and its mother must use alpha function (see above) to process the beta elements and convert them into thoughts, or into an emotional experience the baby can tolerate (alpha elements–see above), because the baby hasn’t yet developed the thinking apparatus needed to deal with agitating external stimuli. A baby therefore needs its mother to do its thinking for it.

Hence, the mother is a container of the baby’s projected agitation, fears, anxieties, anger, frustration, etc. (the contained). Through maternal reverie (see below), the mother soothes her baby and transforms its irritation into something it will find emotionally acceptable. The baby projects its stressful feelings, which result from external excitations (beta elements) it can’t understand or deal with; Mother introjects and contains those feelings, then transforms them into feelings the baby can handle; and finally, she sends these tolerable versions of the feelings back to the baby.

The depressive position is one of Melanie Klein’s concepts. It’s a mental state that comes into being after the splitting (see below) into absolute good and absolute bad of the paranoid-schizoid position (see below). During the first few months of life, a baby is content when the mother’s breast presents itself for feeding. This part-object is called the “good breast”; but when the breast doesn’t present itself to the baby when it wishes to feed, it’s the “bad breast.”

In its frustration over the unavailability of the “bad breast,” the baby engages in sadistic phantasy (see below), vengefully wanting to bite, devour, and destroy the breast. The baby doesn’t yet understand that the available, satisfying “good breast” and the unavailable, frustrating “bad breast” are both part of the same, good and bad mother. These breasts are perceived as separate, black-and-white opposite, part-objects. This splitting is the “schizoid” part of the paranoid-schizoid position.

Later, after much hate has been given by the baby to the “bad breast,” it begins to realize that the mother is one whole object, with both good and bad breasts–or more accurately, with both good and bad aspects in the same person. The baby now feels guilt and remorse for its former hate, and it fears retaliation from the “bad mother” (this being the “paranoid” part of the paranoid-schizoid position), but more importantly, it fears losing the “good mother,” who is now seen as connected with the bad. The baby now enters the depressive position, feels ambivalence towards good and bad Mother, and seeks reparation (see below) with her. Integration of the good and bad aspects of Mother, Father, or anyone, leads to mental health.

Envy, in the Kleinian sense, is something a baby feels towards its mother. It wishes, through unconscious phantasy (see below), to spoil all goodness within her. Wilfred Bion elaborated on Kleinian envy when he discussed why -K (see below), a stubborn refusal to grow in knowledge, should exist (Bion, page 96), as summarized below.

The infant splits off and projects fear into the breast with envy and hate. The breast in K would contain and soothe the baby’s fears through maternal reverie (see below); but in -K, the breast seems enviously to remove what’s good and valuable, and the baby’s fear grows into a nameless dread, a fear of annihilation (see below).

WRD Fairbairn was a Scottish psychoanalyst and a contributor to the object relations school. He broke away from Freud in many ways, especially with respect to drive theory as a basis for libido. For Fairbairn, people are primarily driven by an urge to have relationships with other people, so mere pleasure-seeking represents a breakdown of object-seeking libido (e.g., people turning to drugs, drinking, porn, and promiscuity, out of a failure to have real human relationships–see Fairbairn, pages 139-140).

Fairbairn accordingly replaced Freud’s id, ego, and superego with, respectively, the libidinal ego/exciting object (see below), the central ego/ideal object (see above), and the anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object (see above). Note how each of the three egos is connected with an object, since for Fairbairn, the primary goal of the subject, or self, is to link with objects (other people–see below). Failure to do so leads to either the pleasure-seeking discussed above, or to a rejecting, misanthropic attitude, or to some combination of the two.

Foreclosure, or forclusion in the original French, is Jacques Lacan’s word for the subject’s refusal to leave the dyadic, one-on-one Oedipal relationship of the Imaginary (see below) in order to enter the broader world of society’s shared signifiers, language, culture, customs, and laws as embodied in the Symbolic Order (see below). Lacan claimed that staying in this antisocial, narcissistic state can lead to psychosis.

Thus, forclusion is comparable to Bion’s notions of accumulated beta elements and the beta screen (see above), as well as -K (see below) leading to the projection of fragments of the self into bizarre objects (see above).

Fragmentation is a psychological falling-apart of the personality, a lapsing into a psychotic break with reality as a result of extreme, unprocessed trauma. Hated external stimuli (beta elements–see above) are ejected from the self; rejected parts of the self are split off and projected outwards, leaving a reduced, impoverished self that can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality.

Heinz Kohut was especially concerned with this problem and its relationship with narcissism, as is Otto Kernberg, though their approaches to the problem differed in a number of ways. Both recognized that pathological levels of narcissism are often a defence against fragmentation, generally in the form of constructing a false self, a mask to hide the true self (see below).

Good and bad breasts and/or parents are the result of splitting (see below) when an infant experiences the paranoid-schizoid position (PS–see below). A baby, during the first few months of its life, understands its mother to be only a part-object, the breast, rather than a complete person. When the baby wants milk and the breast appears, this is the “good breast.” When it doesn’t appear, it’s the “bad breast,” against which the baby feels anger, frustration, and vengeful sadism–biting the nipple, etc.

Later, when the baby realizes its mother is a whole person, having both available and unavailable breasts, it can feel ambivalence towards her coexisting good and bad aspects. It is now in the depressive position (D–see above), but it may engage in splitting again and return to PS at any time if she, or its father, behaves in frustrating or withholding ways; for one can oscillate between PS and D throughout one’s life.

A good enough mother (or father), in DW Winnicott’s use of the expression, is as good as a parent needs to be in order to provide small, tolerable levels of frustration to a child to help it learn how to adapt to the external world and do reality testing.

The grandiose self is one of the narcissistic aspects of what Heinz Kohut called the bipolar self (see above), the other pole being the idealized parental imago (see below). Both poles are necessary to form psychological stability.

A child’s grandiose self would say, “I am great, and I need you to validate that greatness for me; I am perfect, and I need you to confirm it,” or to mirror the grandiosity. When such validation is rarely or never given from parents who fail to be empathic, the child will try to compensate by over-relying on parental idealization for his needed stability. If the idealizing pole (“You, Mom and Dad, are my ideal mirrors of greatness! You are perfect, and I am a part of you!”) also fails, one may resort to pathological levels of narcissism to prevent a psychological falling-apart (see fragmentation, above).

A holding environment is what DW Winnicott recommended as a healthy environment in which a baby can grow and thrive with its mother. The idea is to create a facilitating environment that is attuned to one’s maturational needs. The idea is extrapolated from the mother/infant relationship to that of the therapist and patient. The emphasis is on empathy, imagination, and love between caregiver and infant. It can be compared, in some ways, to Bion’s theory of container/contained (see above) in both parent/infant and therapist/patient relationships.

A good enough mother (see above) facilitates the child’s transition to autonomy through the holding environment, allowing the baby to be completely unconscious of its need for a separate individual. Failure to provide holding can result in the child’s developing of a false self; successful holding results in the child’s cultivation of a true self (see below).

The idealized parental imago is Heinz Kohut’s term for one of the two narcissistic configurations of the bipolar self (see above). This pole is about idealizing one’s mother or father as a self-object (see below), and using this parent as an internalized object (see below) within the mind to give a child psychological stability. This pole would say, “You, Mom and/or Dad, are my heroes, my role models! Please, never fail me or disappoint me in embodying the perfection I see in you!” The other narcissistic configuration is the grandiose self (see above).

The idealizing transference is what Kohut used in therapy to repair a narcissistic patient’s damaged idealized parental imago (see above). The therapist (e.g., Kohut) would take on the role of the parent in this transference (see below).

Identification is the taking on of the character traits of someone else in order to emulate him or her. Typically, the term is used to refer to a child adopting his or her same-sex parent’s personality traits as part of the dissolution of the Oedipus complex. For example, a boy fearing punishment from his father (i.e., castration anxiety), because of his wish to take his mother from his rival father, results in him identifying with his father and renouncing his Oedipal desires.

The Imaginary is one of three orders that Jacques Lacan devised to describe differing mental states. The Imaginary is an early state associated with a child’s dyadic, Oedipal relationship with Mother, whose face (metaphorically, a mirror) reflects the child’s narcissism (i.e., his grandiose self–see above) back to him.

The Imaginary also involves a literal mirror reflection, in how a child establishes his ego through seeing and recognizing his reflection for the first time in the mirror stage (see below). Here, one is preoccupied with images: that of oneself in the specular image, and that of the Oedipally desired mother, who looks lovingly back at one, just like a mirror reflection.

Internalization and introjection are terms referring to the taking into the mind of external stimuli or objects, and incorporating them in one’s personality. The external elements, especially when they are one’s conception of other people (objects–see below), thus become internal objects, which live in one’s mind like ghosts haunting a house, and thus influence how one sees the world.

Jouissance, or “enjoyment” in the original French, is a term Jacques Lacan used to describe a transgressive overindulgence in pleasure, a desire that ultimately can never be fully satisfied, since one always wants a little more than can be given. Jouissance can be felt in a child’s enjoyment of his mutually reflective relationship with his Oedipally desired mother; but when Father forbids this dyadic relationship to continue as such, the boy must find replacements for her, which are never fully enough to sate his objet petit a (see below).

In jouissance, pleasure and pain are often intermingled, given the extremes to which one may go to experience something ‘beyond the pleasure principle.’ Indeed, the surfeit of pleasure felt in jouissance was something that Lacan compared to Marx’s concept of surplus value, for this is an excess of pleasure leading to pain, or what I would call passing from the biting head of the ouroboros to its dialectical opposite, the bitten tail. As the Buddhists have always understood, the fire of desire causes the fire of pain.

K/H/L links are part of Wilfred Bion’s terminology for how a subject relates to objects (see below); they refer, respectively, to knowledge, hate, and love, with knowledge being by far the most important, since Bion as a therapist was mainly concerned with how knowledge is accumulated as a means of ensuring mental health.

As Bion himself stated: “I prefer three factors I regard as intrinsic to the link between objects considered to be in relationship with each other. An emotional experience cannot be conceived of in isolation from a relationship. The basic relationships that I postulate are (1) X loves Y; (2) X hates Y; and (3) X knows Y. These links will be expressed by the signs L, H and K.” (Bion, pages 42-43)

In this formulation, X is the subject, or self, and Y is the object, typically another person. What this means is that in “x K y,” where x represents the infant and y the mother, the emotional experience between them results in the infant growing in knowledge, starting with a healthy container/contained relationship (see above) between the two, through mutual love between them (x K y, because x L y).

If the mother/infant relationship is stifled or strained, perhaps because of, or resulting in, x H y, the consequence is -K, or a rejection of knowledge, a refusal to grow and learn. For Bion, knowledge is not something one has, but is rather something one gradually accumulates through linking with others. “As I propose to use it it does not convey a sense of finality, that is to say, a meaning that x is in possession of a piece of knowledge called y but rather that x is in the state of getting to know y and y is in a state of getting to be known by x.” (Bion, page 47)

Furthermore, -L is not H: it is a lack of love. -H is not L, or liking: it’s a lack of hate (Bion, page 52). -K, a denial of knowledge and an aptitude for misunderstanding, can lead to psychosis if taken to extremes, but in other circumstances can be superior to K. Sometimes not knowing, in the form of exchanging emotional experiences through projective identification (see below) is better, if that emotional exchange is too painful to bear, as in the case of abusive relationships.

At other times, the emotional exchange between people is beneficial, even crucial, for growing in knowledge. To illustrate the point with an example from my personal life, I did most of my learning of music in relative social isolation: I would have learned and grown as a musician much better if I’d sung and played guitar in more bands.

Melanie Klein was an Austrian-British psychoanalyst and one of the founders of object relations theory. She did pioneering work with children, giving them toys and observing their playing to determine the nature of their psychological state. There was, however, controversy between her and Anna Freud over how to treat children.

Klein developed the theory behind splitting (see below) and integration, especially as observed in children, and she devised such concepts as the paranoid-schizoid position (see below), the depressive position (see above), and the good and bad breast (see above). Her work had a great influence on such later psychoanalysts as DW Winnicott and Wilfred Bion (see entries).

Heinz Kohut was an Austrian-American psychoanalyst; he conceived self psychology. His focus was on treating narcissistic patients, who, until his and Otto Kernberg‘s work with them, had been considered largely untreatable; there has, however, been controversy between him and Kernberg over how to treat narcissistic patients.

In Analysis of the Self, Kohut wrote about how to treat narcissistic patients, which involves transferences of the grandiose self (see above) and the idealized parental imago (see above). In The Restoration of the Self, Kohut wrote about what he called the bipolar self (see above). Parents, as a child’s self-objects (see below), are supposed to help the child achieve a healthy sense of self by nurturing the grandiose self through empathic mirroring, and by being role models for him or her (idealization).

If the parents, through a lack of empathy, fail as self-objects for the child, he or she is in danger of fragmentation (see above) or of developing pathological levels of narcissism. To develop healthy, restrained narcissism, a child must be let down in tolerable amounts (optimal frustration), little by little, so that he or she gradually learns that the world doesn’t revolve around him or her.

Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst, one of the most influential since Freud. He is known for having incorporated into psychoanalytic theory such diverse influences as poststructuralism, Hegelian philosophy, the anthropological work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Ferdinand de Saussure‘s work in semiotics. Critics have thus accused Lacan of having an impenetrable, unreadable writing style, and of reducing almost everything to language.

His work constituted a “return to Freud,” through his emphasis on such things as the talking cure (“The unconscious is structured like a language.”), and through his metaphorical reinterpretation of the Oedipus complex. He conceived of three orders, the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real (see entries), linking them together in a Borromean Knot.

The libidinal ego, connected to the exciting object, is one of the three configurations of WRD Fairbairn’s endo-psychic structure. It corresponds roughly with Freud’s id. It is a subsidiary ego, along with the anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration (see above), as against the central ego/ideal object (see above).

Because of splitting (see below) as a result of faulty object relationships, the libidinal ego seeks out connection through pleasure-seeking; thus, this split-off, subsidiary ego links with an exciting object (celebrities to idolize, porn, prostitutes, etc.) instead of seeking out relationships with people in the real world.

The manic defence has been discussed by such object relations theorists as Melanie Klein and DW Winnicott (see entries). It is a defence against feelings of guilt, sadness, and depression through pleasure-seeking and indulgence in feelings of excitement and elation (or mania).

Though it isn’t strictly a part of bipolar disorder (which used to be called manic depression), the manic defence can be seen as related to it, in the sense that one swings to, and tries to stay with, the manic pole in order to avoid suffering the depressive pole.

Manque, French for “lack” or a “want” of something, is a Lacanian term to describe the feeling of not having a desired thing, such as the feeling of a lack of existence. It can also be related to Lacan’s metaphorical interpretation of penis envy, in the sense of lacking the phallus as a signifier.

The mirror stage is what Jacques Lacan called the first time a small child sees and recognizes his or her reflection in a mirror. This milestone in a child’s development, helping him or her to establish a sense of ego, initiates him or her into the Imaginary Order (see above).

One sees oneself in the mirror, but one is not the specular image. The child sees a whole, unified image in the reflection, but he or she feels him- or herself, all awkward and clumsy, to have a fragmented body. Hence, there’s a sense of alienation from oneself, an estrangement between the ideal-I of the specular image (an ideal one strives to approximate as close as one can, throughout life) and the flawed, real person looking at the mirror reflection.

Maternal reverie is the capacity a mother has to introject her baby’s anxieties, fears, and frustrations (the baby’s contained), and to process them while soothing her baby, or to be a container for those feelings (see above). After processing the baby’s agitation, she transforms those negative feelings into ones the baby can tolerate, and sends them back to it. This process of being a thinker for her baby, done through the passing back and forth of emotional experiences with projective identification (see below), is how a baby develops an ability to do the containing, or the processing of external stimuli (beta elements–see above), and thus thinking for itself.

The mirror transference is part of Heinz Kohut’s therapy for narcissistic patients. The therapist acts as a mirror for the patient’s grandiose self, indulging his narcissism in a way that his parents failed to do when he was a child. Over time, the therapist will let the patient down little by little, in bearable amounts (optimal frustration) so that through transmuting internalization, the patient can develop a cohesive sense of self without the need of his formerly pathological levels of narcissism.

There are three forms of this transference, each involving different degrees of regression and the nature of the point of fixation. They are the merging transference (or fusion, a total immersing of the therapist into the psyche of the patient), the twin-ship/alter-ego transference (in which the therapist is felt to be like the patient–see below), and the mirror transference properly speaking (in which the therapist is felt to be in service of the patient’s needs).

Because of this whole absorption of the therapist into the patient’s identity in the merging transference, the therapist must have a considerable amount of patience and forbearance to endure this giving of himself over to indulge his patient.

A nameless dread is Bion’s term for the fears of annihilation that one may feel if overwhelmed by agitating beta elements (see above) and/or a lack of containment from one’s mother or therapist. Normally, a mother’s capacity for maternal reverie (see above) is used to soothe a baby’s anxieties by being a container for them (the contained–see above). If the baby’s agitation isn’t thus processed and sent back to it in a tolerable form, that agitation, fear, and anxiety worsen, threatening mental illness. The same danger can arise if a therapist fails to be a container of his or her patient’s unease.

The Name of the Father, or nom du père in the original French (punning on Non! du père) is a concept Jacques Lacan devised for describing how a child transitions away from the Oedipal, narcissistic, dyadic relationship with his mother in the Imaginary, and enters the Symbolic Order of society’s shared signifiers (see entries). The name, or nom, suggests the father introducing the signifiers, language, and law to his child. The non! is the father’s prohibition against his child’s desire to have Mother all to himself.

O is what Wilfred Bion called “the deep and formless infinite,” or Ultimate Reality; it’s what Western religion would call “God,” what Eastern religion might call “Brahman,” or “the Tao,” and what I would describe metaphorically as the infinite ocean. O is thus a mystical concept Bion believed is experienced only by abandoning memory, desire, and understanding. One arrives at it through intuition, a looking inwards, not through sensory experience.

Since O is the ineffable, a truth not adequately expressed in words, and because it has both blissful and, paradoxically, traumatic sides (whichever side one experiences depends on one’s openness to it and one’s spiritual maturity), it can be compared in many ways to Lacan’s Real (see below).

An object is anyone or anything in relation to the subject, or self. Usually in the context of psychoanalysis, an object is another person when related to the subject. Thus, objects can be actual people in the external world, or they are internalized representations of such people in the subject’s mind (internal objects–see above), thus subjected to such mental distortions as according to the subject’s disposition.

Object relations theory is about how the personality develops as a result of the subject’s relationship with objects (see above). The personality will take on the traits and disposition it has based on one’s relationship with one’s parents or primary caregivers when a child. So, someone with a friendly, loving disposition probably got this from loving parents, while someone with a harsh disposition probably got his attitude from harsh, abusive parents.

Object relations involves the introjection of traits from others, resulting in internalized objects of those people in one’s mind (see above). These objects live in one’s head like ghosts in a haunted house, influencing the way one thinks, feels, and experiences the world around us.

Important object relations theorists include Melanie Klein, WRD Fairbairn, DW Winnicott, John Bowlby, Wilfred Bion, Michael Balint, and Harry Guntrip.

The objet petit a is Jacques Lacan’s expression for the unattainable object-cause of desire. One strives to find it, to experience jouissance through it (see above), but one can never fully experience it to satisfaction. The petit a is “little a” in French, the a standing for autre, “other.” There is the autre of the mirrored, dyadic relationship with the mother, as well as the projection of the ego into the specular image, in the Imaginary (see above); but after the dissolution of the Oedipus complex due to the Name of the Father (see above), one replaces that autre with the Autre of society (“The unconscious is the discourse of the Other.”). The wish to find gratification of that original petit a continues, never satisfied, throughout life, in failed attempts to replace it with a transference to someone or something else.

The Oedipus complex needs to be dealt with here in a post-Freud context, because in order for it to be convincingly understood as a universal, narcissistic childhood trauma, we must go beyond the limitations of the classical Freudian concept of incestuous desire for the opposite-sex parent, and the murderous phantasies directed against the same-sex parent.

To expand the concept and show its universality, we must consider a number of its variations. First, there’s the negative Oedipus complex, which is an inverse version describing a love of the same-sex parent and a hate of the opposite-sex, rival parent. Then there’s little girls’ pre-Oedipal love of their mothers prior to the castration complex, which is supposed to make them switch to loving their fathers.

On top of all this, Melanie Klein’s description of splitting (see below) the parents into good and bad mothers and fathers (see above) complicates matters, so loving one parent and hating the other isn’t a uniform, unchanging feeling. Though the depressive position (see above) allows for reparation (see below), integration, and ambivalence for one’s parents, the bad parent’s integration with the otherwise Oedipally-desired one, and the integration of the good parent with the otherwise hated rival one, mean we must qualify all this Oedipal love and hate and give it nuance.

Finally, there’s Lacan’s metaphorical interpretation of the Oedipus complex. A child is in a dyadic, one-on-one relationship with the Oedipally-desired parent, represented here metonymically–for simplicity’s sake–as a little boy with his mother. He sits on her lap, and they look in each other’s eyes lovingly as they cuddle; he is surfeited in his jouissance (see above) with her. His narcissism is mirrored back to him in her loving eyes: this is him in the Imaginary (see above), and she is the autre, his objet petit a.

She is his idealized parental imago (see above), complementing and mirroring his grandiose self (see above), to use Heinz Kohut’s terminology. The boy lives with her as if no one else existed, like Norman Bates and his mother between the death of his father and her meeting the man who would inflame his jealousy to the point of poisoning them both with strychnine.

Speaking of men who ruin the boy’s Edenic relationship with Mommy, he soon realizes that she is in a sexual relationship with Daddy, who won’t allow him to stay in that one-on-one relationship with her. This prohibition is the Name of the Father (nom du père, or Non! du père–see above), an opposition to the boy’s narcissistic wishes, an opposition that he is too little to be able to overcome.

The threat of castration, manque (“lack“–see above), is a metaphoric one that forces the child out of the Edenic jouissance of the Imaginary and into the Symbolic Order (see below), from the autre to the Autre (other/Other–see below) of the larger social world, its language, shared signifiers, culture, customs, and laws. Here, the phallus is a signifier of what is lost in the Imaginary, and of entry into the Symbolic, all at the cost of the lost jouissance. Paradise is lost. One must now search in vain for the objet petit a in an attempt to replace the lost Oedipally-desired parent.

So the Oedipus complex, understood in this more nuanced, metaphoric sense, is a universal, narcissistic childhood trauma. One must give up that desired parent, as a mirrored extension of one’s grandiose self, in order to function in society. If one fails, or refuses, to do so, this foreclosure (see above), this refusal of the K-link (see above), can lead to mental illness, as seen in Norman Bates.

Omnipotence is an infantile mental state in which a child imagines him- or herself capable of anything through wishful thinking. He or she thinks this way before reality testing causes disillusion. As DW Winnicott explained, a good enough parent (see above) will indulge the infant’s omnipotence up to a point–i.e., a mother provides her breast quickly enough so the baby will imagine it has made the breast appear by his or her own power–then the parent will disillusion the infant little by little, in tolerable amounts, until the child can accept reality as it is.

Lacan’s notions of other and Other (autre and Autre in the original French) address how other people are experienced by the subject. The autre is another person as experienced as a mirrored reflection or extension of oneself in the Imaginary (see above). Typically, this other is the infant’s mother in the dyadic, narcissistic, one-on-one relationship.

The Other, on the other hand, indicates radical alterity. Such another person is not assimilable with the self, but is another subject in his or her own right. This sense of otherness results from the Name of the Father‘s prohibition (see above) of the child’s Oedipal indulgence, requiring the child to enter the Symbolic (see below) and accept the unconscious world of signifiers, societally-shared symbols, culture, and law. (“The unconscious is the discourse of the Other.”)

The paranoid-schizoid position (PS) is Melanie Klein’s expression for a baby’s experience of splitting (see below) its mother into good and bad breast part-objects, then a good and bad mother whole object (see above entries). When the baby is frustrated from the unavailable “bad breast,” it projects rage and sadism onto that breast (e.g., biting the nipple).

But what goes on without also goes on within, so a mother split into good and bad results in the baby’s internal world being split into good and bad, too. Furthermore, the baby fears reprisals from the mother whom it has injured in phantasy (paranoid anxiety). It also fears how its splitting may have annihilated the good mother (i.e., when she is absent for an indefinite period of time).

Several months later, the baby comes to realize that the good and bad aspects are part of the same mother, and the depressive anxiety of the depressive position (see above) drives it to seek reparation (see below) with its mother.

Phantasy (deliberately spelled this way) refers to unconscious imaginings one has in order to deal with the frustrations of the external world. One usually thinks of an infant’s violent phantasies directed against the “bad mother.”

Projective identification is Melanie Klein’s extension of regular psychological projection. With projection, one merely imagines one’s own personality traits, good or bad, to be seen in other people; but projective identification takes this idea one step further, in actually manipulating others to manifest those traits in the real world, not just in one’s imagination.

Wilfred Bion took Klein’s concept even further than that, using it to explain how a baby acquires the ability to think “thoughts [originally] without a thinker” and to process emotional experiences by trading these feelings (the contained) back and forth with its mother (the container–see above), whose capacity for maternal reverie (see above) uses alpha function (see above) to process the baby’s beta elements for it (see above) and turn them into alpha elements (see above).

Lacan’s Real is what cannot be symbolized, expressed, or processed through language (i.e., the network of differential, interrelated signifiers of the Symbolic–see below). The Real Order is undifferentiated; “it is without fissure.” The inability to process or verbalize experience in the Real is what gives it its traumatic quality. The Imaginary (see above) is a narcissistic world of reflected images (the mirror, Mother smiling back at her baby, etc.); the Symbolic is the social world of shared language, culture, custom, and law; and the Real is what one has no way of relating anything to–it’s the thing-in-itself, thoughts without a thinker, in many ways, like Bion’s O (see above).

Reparation is a Kleinian term for a baby’s reconciling with its mother (as an internalized object–see above) after realizing she encapsulates both good and bad aspects. In the paranoid-schizoid position (PS–see above), the baby split Mother into good and bad, because sometimes she was frustratingly unavailable (e.g., not providing the breast); accordingly, the baby in its rage attacked Mother in unconscious phantasy (see above). But now, through its fear of losing her as a complete internal object including both good and bad, it wants to make amends with her, as it were, in its mind.

A selected fact is what Wilfred Bion called any idea that one could use to link a patient’s ideas together in the process of psychotherapy. The patient, because of his attacks on linking (see above), has made a psychotic break with reality. In science, the notion of a selected fact, as used by Henri Poincaré, is to give coherence to a group of scattered data, and therefore to give order to the world’s complexity; whereas Bion’s use of the term is to give order and coherence to a patient’s scattered thoughts, to bring the patient from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position (see above).

A self-object is the self’s use of and relationship with an object (see above) for the purpose of establishing psychological stability or structure. The earliest and most basic self-objects are those an infant has with its parents, hence the idealized parental imago (see above). The analyst will be an important self-object for his or her patient in the narcissistic transference. Other possible self-objects can be one’s allegiance to a political ideology, to one’s nation, one’s admired writers, artists, etc.

Heinz Kohut coined this expression, using it as a key element in self psychology.

Splitting, or black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, is a defence mechanism one uses to deal with the frustrating aspects of people and the external world. Splitting happens when one cannot reconcile the good and bad sides of people and things. Splitting the object also involves a splitting of the self.

Object relations theorists like Melanie Klein and WRD Fairbairn (see above entries) developed our understanding of splitting with Klein’s notion of the paranoid-schizoid position (PS–see above) and Fairbairn’s notion of splitting the Central Ego/Ideal Object (see above), resulting in two subsidiary egos, the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object, and the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (see above entries).

The Symbolic is one of Jacques Lacan’s three orders, along with the Imaginary and the Real (see above entries). One enters the Symbolic when the Name of the Father (see above) causes the dissolution of the Oedipus complex (see above) and its dyadic mother/infant relationship, bringing one into society and its shared symbols, language, culture, customs, and law. Engagement with the Symbolic Order is essential for mental health, freeing one from the narcissistic Imaginary Order. Failure or refusal to enter the Symbolic, what Lacan called foreclosure (see above), leads to psychosis.

Transference is the shifting of feelings from a relationship with one person (typically one from childhood, as with a parent) to one with another person (often, as in a patient with his or her therapist). These can be such feelings as love or hate. Freud found the transference useful as a crucial part of the treatment; for him, it wasn’t a resistance, but was rather the very work needed to be done.

Since transference in a therapeutic context involves the feelings the patient has for the analyst (e.g., the doctor reminding the patient of his or her Mom or Dad), countertransference refers to the analyst’s feelings about the analysand; it can give the therapist valuable insights into what the patient is trying to elicit in him or her.

A transitional object is what DW Winnicott called a comfort object (like a teddy bear, a doll, or Linus’s blanket), used to help a child make the transition–from having Mother as an extension of him- or herself–to recognizing the difference between “me” and “not-me,” to accepting that Mother cannot always be there for the child, that she and the child are separate entities. Thus, being disillusioned about not having omnipotence (see above) is bearable for the child.

The True Self and False Self are what DW Winnicott called different personality states of a healthy or unhealthy sort. For Winnicott, the False Self is a defensive façade causing one to lack the spontaneity, energy, and vitality of the True Self; accordingly, the False Self leaves one feeling dead and empty.

Elsewhere, the False Self is often used to describe the façade of excellence that a narcissist presents of himself to the world, in an attempt to impress others and thus trick the narcissist into thinking his False Self is his True Self.

The twin-ship/alter-ego transference is a narcissistic transference that Heinz Kohut used in his therapy for patients with a narcissistic personality disorder. It involves establishing a sense of similarity between the analyst and analysand, seeing the one as a “twin” or “alter ego” of the other; this likeness is without the sense of the analyst’s ego feeling engulfed and absorbed into that of the analysand, as felt in the merging transference (see mirror transference above).

Donald Woods Winnicott was a British psychoanalyst, and an important theorist in the object relations school (see above). He started as a paediatrician in the 1930s, but then came under the influence of Melanie Klein (see entry above). He helped develop such concepts of hers as the manic defence (see above), and he came up with a number of his own original ideas, such as the transitional object (see above) and transitional phenomena, the “me” vs. “not-me” relationship between an infant and its mother, and the True Self/False Self (see above).

Winnicott hosted a popular BBC radio program from the 194os to the mid-1960s, giving advice to mothers on how to raise healthy children. His concept of the “good enough mother” (see above) was a reaction against the excessive tendency he saw at the time to seek psychotherapeutic help for problem children.

Conclusion

Anyway, that’s all for now. As I learn more about psychoanalysis, I’ll make changes to this wherever I’ve said anything inaccurate. Remember that I’m no trained expert in the field; I’m just somebody who reads a lot. If anyone out there knows better about these topics and feels I could do with a better explanation here or there, pointing out my mistakes kindly in the comments will be appreciated. Thanks!

Further Reading

Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945, The Free Press, New York, 1975

Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1945-1963, The Free Press, New York, 1975

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

D.W. Winnicott, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner-Routledge, London, 1992

D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, Routledge Classics, New York, 1971

D.W. Winnicott, Holding and Interpretation, Grove Press, New York, 1972

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

Sean Homer, Jacques Lacan, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, London, 2005

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1977

Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black, Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought, Basic Books, New York, 1996

Wilfred R. Bion, Learning From Experience, Maresfield Library, London, 1962

Wilfred R. Bion, Elements of Psychoanalysis, Karnac Books, London, 1963

Analysis of ‘Evil Dead’

Evil Dead is a supernatural horror/comedy movie franchise that began with the trilogy written and directed by Sam Raimi (with Evil Dead II co-written by Scott Spiegel, and Army of Darkness co-written by Ivan Raimi), produced by Robert G. Tapert, and starring Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams. I’ll be dealing with these three films, not the 2013 reboot or the TV series.

Here are some quotes:

The Evil Dead (1981)

“Oh go to hell, I’m not honking at you!” –Scotty

“I believe I have made a significant find in the Kandarian ruins, a volume of ancient Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled Naturon Demonto, roughly translated: Book of the Dead. The book is bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. It deals with demons and demon resurrection and those forces which roam the forest and dark bowers of Man’s domain. The first few pages warn that these enduring creatures may lie dormant but are never truly dead. They may be recalled to active life through the incantations presented in this book. It is through the recitation of these passages that the demons are given license to possess the living.” –Voice on Recorder

[getting freaked out by the recorder]  “TURN IT OFF!!!” –Cheryl

[after being raped by the trees and running back to the cabin] “No, no it was the woods themselves!” [sobbing] “They’re alive, Ashley, the trees, they’re alive!” –Cheryl

“I know now that my wife has become host to a Kandarian demon. I fear that the only way to stop those possessed by the spirits of the book is through the act of…bodily dismemberment.” –Voice on Recorder

[after becoming possessed] “Why have you disturbed our sleep; awakened us from our ancient slumber?” [shouts] “You will die! Like the others before you, one by one, we will take you.” [falls to the floor] –Cheryl

“Why does she keep making those horrible noises! Her eyes. What’s wrong with her eyes? For God’s sake, what happened to her eyes???!!” –Shelly

[her face is smoking and scarred] “I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained on those hot coals, burning my pretty flesh.” –possessed Shelly

[singing] “We’re going to get you.
We’re going to get you.
Not another peep.
Time to go to sleep.” –possessed Linda

“Join us…” –Voice of Evil Force

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987)

[Ash’s hand gains a life of its own.] “You bastards. You dirty bastards.” [sobs] “Gimme back my hand…GIMME BACK MY HAND!” –Ash

[Ash stabs his possessed hand with a kitchen knife, pinning it to the floor.] “That’s right…who’s laughing now?” [grabs the chainsaw and revs it.] “Who’s laughing now? ARRRGHH!!!” [cuts the hand off at the wrist.] –Ash

[to his freshly sawn off possessed hand] “Here’s your new home.” [He then places a bucket and a stack of books on it to trap the hand; the top book reads “A Farewell to Arms“] –Ash

**********

Bobby Joe: Honey…you’re holding my hand too tight.

Jake: (looks at her) Baby, I ain’t holdin’ your hand.

(Bobby Joe looks down at her hand, seeing Ash’s possessed right hand gripping it. As she screams, the lantern breaks, and she’s gone by the time another one’s lit)

**********

[upon gaining the chain saw in place of his lost right hand] “Groovy.” –Ash

**********

Henrietta: [her severed head wobbling on the floor] Hey! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll– [Ash steps on Henrietta’s head]

Ash[aims shotgun at her face] Swallow this. [shoots Henrietta’s head]

Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1992)

“Well, hello, Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you, pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town.” –Ash, to Duke Henry

“All right, you primitive screw-heads, listen up! See this? This…is my boomstick! – [continuing nonchalantly] – It’s a twelve-gauge, double-barrelled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about $109.95. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt-blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right…shop smart: shop S-Mart…Ya got that?!” –Ash

“Now I swear, the next one of you primates even touches me…” [yells, shoots at the pit Deadite, then shoots again] –Ash

“Yo, she-bitch, let’s go!” –Ash, to demoness

[as he is about to kiss Sheila] “Gimme some sugar, baby.” –Ash

“Klaatu Barada NNNNNNecktie. Nectar. Nickel. Noodle. It’s an ‘N’ word, it’s definitely an ‘N’ word! Klaatu… Barada… N” [clears his throat into his hand, then pauses]  “Okay… that’s it!” –Ash

“Hail to the king, baby.” –Ash, to female customer in S-MART

The Evil Dead

Evil spirits haunt a forest where there’s a cabin that Ashley, Scott (Hal Delrich), Linda (Betsy Baker), Shelly (Theresa Tilly), and Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) are going to spend their vacation in. A demonic presence races over the ground, past the trees, and to a road where the five are in a car on the way to the cabin. The demon jerks the steering wheel in Scott’s hands, throwing the car onto the side of oncoming traffic…an approaching truck! Scott regains control just in time to swerve back onto his side of the road.

Scott is a rather obnoxious fellow, cursing at a couple of hitchhikers on the road just after his scary moment of having lost control of the car. Cheryl is quite high strung, and she senses the evil of the area before the others do. Their fear and trauma, symbolized by the demons, drives the five to fight with each other rather than bind together.

In a corner of the cabin, Cheryl tries doing some drawing, but a demon takes control of her hand and forces her to draw a crude rendering of the cover of the Book of the Dead (the original–and in my opinion, better–name for the movie) in jagged lines. A trap door to the basement moves, frightening her.

The point here is that the demons are already loose and preying on the five vacationers. No reading of the incantations in the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is necessary to release the evil spirits: they’re already free and roaming about, within the woods.

When the five vacationers are sitting at the dinner table, about to eat, the trap door to the basement suddenly swings open, startling them. The basement can be seen to symbolize the unconscious, and the evil spirits can similarly be seen to represent the return of repressed bad internal objects (representations of other people in our minds), as WRD Fairbairn once discussed, and even compared to demon possession, as he does in section 5 of this paper.

The terrors that the five vacationers suffer thus represent the kind of traumas that separate us from each other, and make us want to fight with each other rather than come together in solidarity. The five of them look down into the dark shadows of the basement framed by the open trap door.

Cheryl imagines the noise was just from an animal down there (a perfectly reasonable speculation that cocky, mean Scott laughs at, saying it’s “the stupidest thing [he] ever heard of”), though her speculation is probably a denial of her inner fears that it was really a demon that made the noise.

Scott goes down into the basement, exploring the symbolic unconscious. Ash goes down later. They find, near a torn down poster of the film, The Hills Have Eyes (an interesting bit of foreshadowing), a tape recorder, a dagger with a skull carved into the handle, The Book of the Dead, and a rifle that Scott stupidly points at Ash, right after hiding in the darkness to scare him, just for the fun of being annoying.

The two men bring everything up and play the tape for all five of them, Cheryl being the most reluctant to hear. A man’s voice is heard, describing the demonic subject matter of the book. Since his words on the tape, and words in the book, have been found in the basement, a symbol of the unconscious, we can understand the words to be a representation of how Jacques Lacan said, “The unconscious is structured like a language.” The chanting of the ancient language can release the demons, symbolically the repressed bad internal objects (and the traumas associated with them), and it can send the demons back to the spirit world, as we learn in Evil Dead II.

The speaker on the tape is an older man, a researcher who has discovered the book and translated it. Since he believes in these evil spirits, I can’t believe he was stupid enough to use the incantations to release the demons. I think the chanting we hear him do on the tape is really an attempt to bind them and return them to the spirit world. He’s failed, speaking of having unwittingly “resurrected” them, and so the demons are flying wildly through the forest.

Recall that Cheryl makes her friends stop playing the tape, then Scott fast-forwards it before playing it again. We missed the part in between, where the man presumably tells his purpose in saying the incantations…I suspect an attempt to return the demons to the spirit world, not to release them.

The man speaking on the tape is apparently old enough to be the five vacationers’ father; his voice can thus be understood to represent the Name of the Father, introducing the Symbolic Order and bringing about the entrance into the world of language, culture, society, and law, the way to ensure (or at least promote) communication, connection, and amity between people; for his reciting the ancient language of the book–the language of the unconscious, or its system of symbols and signifiers–is an attempt to send the demons away from our world.

Cheryl, the odd-one-out of the five visitors, doesn’t want to hear the tape. She finds it frightening, and screams to have it shut off. Her terror symbolizes a rejection of society and community, and a rejection of the growth of Knowledge (-K) through linking with other people, what Wilfred Bion called attacks on linking, or what Lacan called foreclusion. These rejections of community and learning from experience, Lacan and Bion observed, can lead, in extreme cases, to a psychotic break with reality.

Accordingly, Cheryl is the first of the five to become traumatized by the demons (who symbolize bad internal objects, remember), and the first to be possessed. The chanting of the words on the tape is like being assailed with what Bion called beta elements, raw sensory data from the external world that Cheryl isn’t able to (and thus refuses to) internalize, process, and transform (through alpha function) into more soothing, emotionally acceptable thoughts, or what Bion called alpha elements. The beta elements are too painful, and too traumatizing, to process.

When an excess of beta elements is rejected and expelled from the mind, a beta screen is built, a wall that keeps external stimuli from entering the mind to be processed, so learning (through linking with other people) cannot happen. This beta screen is symbolized in the movie by the walls of the cabin, which keep out–to an extent, at least–the demonic forces (symbols of the traumatizing beta elements) that race about outside in the forest and try to get in the cabin. An excessively formed beta screen leads to psychosis, creating bizarre objects (hallucinatory objects that are really projections of the psychotic’s turbulent inner mental state); this lapsing into psychosis happens first to Cheryl when she goes out into the forest and gets raped by the trees.

Knowledge (Bion’s K) is normally acquired through links between people (object relations) in the form of projective identification, a projection of energy, personality traits, etc., from one person to be introjected by another; this originally happens between a mother and her baby, the latter not yet having its own thinking apparatus for processing unpleasant external stimuli (beta elements) and transforming them into pacifying thoughts (alpha elements); so the mother must do this processing (containing) for the anxious, fearful, frustrated baby through what Bion called maternal reverie.

Sometimes, though, this growth of knowledge through links between people doesn’t succeed, and the attacks on linking can, in extreme cases, lead to psychosis. That’s what’s symbolically happening to the five people in that cabin. Sometimes containment becomes negative containment (see Bion, pages 97-99), and projective identification (symbolized by demons taking possession of people in the film) is painful, instead of the soothing mother/baby relationship described in the previous paragraph. Instead of containing fears and anxieties, pacifying them, negative containment turns the bad feelings into a nameless dread: such is the fate of the five in the cabin.

Bion’s extension of Melanie Klein‘s notion of projective identification–what he called the container (using feminine, yonic symbolism) and the contained (using masculine, phallic symbolism)–involves the expelling of one’s own traits, energy, feelings, etc. (the contained), into another person (the container), symbolically as in the act of coitus. So when the trees rape Cheryl, the evil spirits are projecting all their hostility, aggression, anger, and trauma into her, forcing her to introject it all, thus possessing her.

The demons force their vicious beta elements (the contained) onto her (the container), then she–back in the cabin with the other four–tries to expel those beta elements (symbolized by the viciousness of the demons) onto Linda and the others.

Ash listens to more of the tape recording (with headphones, so as not to upset Cheryl), as Scott was more willing to hear it when she wanted it turned off. Since the man on the tape–as I explained above–is a symbolic father for all five of them, speaking the language of the unconscious (what Lacan called “the discourse of the Other“) and providing the “talking cure” that pulls us out of the narcissistic, one-on-one relationship with Mother and brings us into a healthy relationship with society, the two young men’s willingness to listen to ‘Father’ on the tape means they will last longer against the demons (symbols of traumatized, psychotic states) than the three young women will. The men’s psychotic breaks with reality will come later, Ash’s especially.

Ash hears of the researcher’s wife (she being the symbolic mother: her demonic state will be made explicit in Evil Dead II, though the implication that she’s among the demons in this first film will be enough for now) having become possessed, and that the only way to stop the possessed is through dismemberment. I believe the man’s chanting was meant to expel back to Hell demons that had already been roaming the woods, but he failed, because the demons were provoked by the chanting (as they are after the tape recording is played, and it upsets Cheryl) to fight back and possess his wife.

The man’s resurrecting of the demons already roaming the woods was, in my interpretation, really an unintended provocation of them to manifest themselves even more, to stop him from finishing; had he been allowed to finish reciting all the incantations, he might have properly expelled them back to Hell. As I said above, I don’t believe such a well-educated, erudite man would ever be stupid enough to wake demons from their slumber.

His recitation of the ancient language is so emotive, with such dramatic conviction, that he must believe in their magical powers; he isn’t just enunciating the words out of scholarly curiosity. If he believes in their power, surely he isn’t just resurrecting the demons for the sake of doing only that…he hopes eventually to send them back to Hell.

In Evil Dead II, the beginning of a recitation of the mystical words first arouses an incarnation of them, then once recited in full, they’d be expelled back to the spirit world. What’s implied in the first film is made more explicit in the second one. I believe the researcher had already encountered demons earlier in his life, driving him to hope that, with the discovery of the Book of the Dead, he could send all the world’s devils back to Hell. He knew the risks of flooding the world with demons, but he foolishly took the risk anyway, with tragic results for himself, his wife, and the five in the cabin.

Symbolically, this failed attempt to send evil spirits back to Hell represents failed attempts to cure trauma. It may lie dormant, but it’s always there, ready to be triggered and brought out into the open again.

So possessed Cheryl picks up a phallic pencil (the negative contained) and stabs Linda in the ankle with it (the resulting bloody wound symbolizing a negative container yoni). Projective identification passes ferocious demonic possession onto Linda.

Prior to the attack on Linda, we see a touching love scene between her and Ash, when he gives her a necklace. This is the one substantial moment of love and bonding between two people in the whole film; but in the framework of this film, bonding can exist between no more than just two people.

He pretends to be asleep on the couch, with the necklace in a box. She sees it, and wants to take the box out of his hand. They alternate switching between giving each other furtive glances and pretending not to look at each other. This is a kind of mirroring. Then, he puts the necklace on her, and they go to a mirror to see how it looks on her.

This seeing of themselves in the reflection is an example of how Lacan saw the psychological implications of looking at oneself in the mirror, which he saw as a narcissistic moment in the Imaginary Order. Ash and Linda see the idealized image of themselves in the mirror, as a couple totally in love; but the reality of who they are, as fragmented, awkward people fighting each other, will be revealed soon enough.

One reason peoples of all cultures have venerated the dead is historically out of a wish to keep ghosts in the realm of the dead and not to trouble us in the land of the living. This was true of the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia, including the Sumerians from the whom the Book of the Dead has come.

Another reason for ancestor worship is to strengthen the ties of kinship and community: in our modern, alienated Western society, in which Bion’s notion of “attacks on linking” is the norm, it’s easy to see why, in the film, the evil dead are running rampant in the forest, and why the researcher would want to return those spirits to the land of the dead, rather than release them on all of us in the physical world. Thus, this trilogy can be seen as an allegory about the breakdown of society, leading to the disintegration of the psyche.

After the attack on Linda, the spirits break the window to Shelly’s and Scott’s bedroom, and they take control of her. Scott investigates, and possessed Shelly attacks him, scratching deep, bloody cuts into the side of his head: more projective identification, his cuts being the negative container of her demonic rage, the negative contained. Soon enough, he’ll be possessed, too.

But for now, he must stop her, and he does it by chopping her body into pieces. This mutilation symbolizes the psychological fragmentation that introduces a psychotic breakdown. First, society breaks apart, then each individual falls to pieces, as symbolized by Shelly’s dismembered, bloody body parts lying and shaking on the floor.

Outside at night, we see a full moon in the enlarged form of a moon illusion; the symbolism of this huge moon intensifies, through its association with lunacy, the growing psychosis in the cabin and in the woods. A cloud of darkness begins to shroud the moon, symbolizing how Bion’s -K, a wish not to know, but to be in a dark cloud of ignorance instead, leads to psychosis.

Scott, traumatized from having killed his girlfriend, wants to leave. He goes out into the woods and learns just how right Cheryl was about the possessed trees when he himself is attacked by them, his face all slashed up by the branches. Again, the attacking, scratching branches are Bion’s negative contained, and Scott’s wounds are the container; this projective identification–a passing of the demons’ evil into him, all the more ensures that he is soon to be possessed.

The most heartbreaking possession of all, for Ash, is that of Linda. Her eerie giggling, like that of a naughty little girl, suggests the reliving of a childhood trauma of Ash’s, of being teased in the schoolyard during recess.

It upsets him so much that he slaps her hard several times, something he’d naturally never want to do to the woman he loves. What’s worse, deep down, he knows he has to kill her, but of course he can’t: he just freezes with that rifle pointed at her. Meanwhile, possessed Cheryl, locked up in the basement and banging on the door in hopes of breaking the lock, represents those repressed traumas in the unconscious, trying to come out. Locking her up in the basement represents failed attempts at repressing trauma, for she will come out eventually.

The psychoanalytic talking cure, something that would be symbolized in the movie by the completed chanting of the ancient Sumerian language (which I believe isn’t even fully achieved at the end of Evil Dead II), requires a long time of the patient’s continued free associations, dream analyses, etc., to bring about the eventual healing and ridding of psychopathological symptoms. At first, the bringing of traumas to the surface is painful, with lots of resistance from the patient; this resistance is symbolized by the demons attacking any reciters of the Sumerian text. If the recitation is finished, as it would seem to be by the end of Evil Dead II, the demons are finally sent back to Hell.

The demons trick Ash by making him think that Linda and Cheryl are back to normal (symbolically, a form of resistance as discussed above), but only for an ever so brief moment. They then go back to their demonic forms, with Linda singing, “We’re gonna get you,…” etc., in a nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah melody, just like childhood teasing in primary school.

Eventually, Ash has to do the heartbreaking thing and kill her, that is, after she’s stabbed him with a knife, working the negative container/contained mechanism of projective identification on him so he’ll be possessed at the end of the movie. We see him tensing, fidgeting in conflict and agitation as he holds the chainsaw over her; then we see the torment he feels digging her grave outside, and finally having to use the shovel to decapitate her when she leaps in the air in an attempt to pounce on him.

Projective identification is also symbolized by all that blood that is splattered all over his face and body. Possessed Cheryl manages to escape from the basement. Ash goes down there, into the symbolic unconscious, where he sees a surreal spectacle of blood oozing out of an electrical outlet, soaking a lightbulb with red, etc. This gore symbolizes the attempt by the mind to expel traumatizing beta elements. Then, he hears an old gramophone playing a recording of 1930s jazz; a film projector plays an old film against a wall. These two things symbolize old memories recorded and stored in the unconscious, along with all that trauma.

Finally, Ash goes back up to the ground floor, and there he has to fight off possessed Cheryl and now-possessed Scott. Ash is crawling on the floor, his leg held by Scott while Cheryl is hitting him with a poker from the fireplace.

All Ash has as anything to defend himself with are, absurdly, the Book of the Dead lying by the fireplace, and his necklace gift to Linda. He manages, after several unsuccessful attempts, to hook the necklace onto the book and drag it nearer to him.

He thinks that throwing the book into the fire–instead of completing a recitation of the ancient language–will destroy the demons. The use of a necklace (the round glass pendant of which looks like a tiny mirror), in aid of getting the book symbolizes his dubious belief that his undying love for Linda, their one-on-one, mutually reflective relationship as felt in the Imaginary Order, will save him from the psychological fragmentation, the emotional falling apart, that the demonic world represents…Lacan’s formless, undifferentiated, ineffable, chaotic, and traumatizing Real Order.

Ash’s gazing on his own reflection in the mirror prior to this final confrontation, when he touches the glass and sees it rippling like the water of Narcissus‘ pond, should be enough to inform him of the narcissistic illusion of the reflected image, the self-absorbed world of the Imaginary Order. Ash will continue to use narcissism as a defence against the threat of fragmentation, as we’ll see in our analyses of the two sequels below.

As we know, the spirits–having given him the false confidence that he’s defeated them by throwing the book into the fire, with that spectacular, splattering disintegration in front of him–race through the forest, through the cabin, and finally onto him, possessing him at the very end of the movie…leading directly into the second film…

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn

This movie begins with an abbreviated recap of the events of the first movie, but much, if not most, of this recap actually contradicts what we saw before. We don’t see Cheryl, Shelly, or Scott at all; we’re under the impression that Ash and Linda alone went to the cabin for a romantic vacation, for we see only this couple in the car on the ride there.

What’s more, Linda is played by a different actress (Denise Bixler), and one with the shapely, curvaceous, buxom, ‘flawless’ looks of a model, rather than the wholesome, down-to-earth prettiness of Betsy Baker’s Linda. The scenery also has a more dreamlike quality (i.e., matte paintings for the forest landscape at night). Ash apparently can play the piano, and Linda can dance, twirling around with the grace of a ballerina. In other words, what we’re seeing on the screen is not so much Ash’s memory of what happened, but a fantasy, an idealizing of his one-on-one relationship with Linda, rather than his socializing with all his friends and sister.

Ash, having been taken by the demons at the end of the first movie, is now experiencing the same psychotic break with reality as the other four did. The trauma of having decapitated the woman he loves is more than enough to push him over the edge. His memory is selectively reimagining how he wants to remember what’s happened, and minimizing the painful parts to the best of his ability.

His willful forgetting of key elements from the first movie (his sister, Cheryl, being raped by the trees, then stabbing Linda in the ankle with a pencil; Shelly being chopped into pieces by Scott, who then–with Cheryl–melts into oblivion) is an example of Bion’s -K, the refusal to gain knowledge, process it and deal with it, rejecting such knowledge to the point of becoming psychotic.

When the demons enter Ash’s body, they send him flying through the forest until he hits a tree trunk, then falls, face first, into a large puddle. Now, it’s Ash’s turn to have the ugly face of the possessed; but the sun has risen, and the demons retreat until dusk. Ash is again given the false confidence that he’s safe, thanks to the sunlight; such confidence is false because we know the demons also attack in the daytime, as when they jerked Scott’s steering wheel, and when a flying “deadite” attacks Ash and the knights in AD 1300 at the end of this film.

His lying face down in the puddle reminds us of Narcissus staring down at his reflection in the pond. Indeed, over the course of this movie and the next, we’ll see Ash using narcissism as a defence against fragmentation, for he will be endlessly threatened with a psychological falling apart, the looming danger of falling into psychosis.

To follow my meaning, we must first understand how a narcissistic personality disorder functions. The grandiose self is only one half of it. The other side involves idealizing someone else, originally the infant’s primary caregiver (traditionally, its mother); then this idealization is transferred onto someone outside the family (e.g., one’s girlfriend), after the dissolution of the Oedipus complex. The idealized other reflects grandiosity back to the self, like Lacan’s mirror in the Imaginary Order.

The idealized parental imago and grandiose self are the two poles that Heinz Kohut said were necessary to give the self structure, thus making a healthy personality in which narcissism is restrained and moderate. Lacking such a structure, one uses pathological levels of narcissism to defend against falling apart, as Ash does in this and the next film. After killing his girlfriend, his idealized ‘other self,’ Ash has only his grandiose self to hang onto as a defence against psychosis…an ever-looming threat.

A few significant things should be noted about the researcher and his wife as they’re understood in this sequel. Recall that the wife was possessed in the first film as a result of his reciting of the ancient language. In Evil Dead II, we learn that his name is Dr. Raymond Knowby. He, as I’ve stated above, is the symbolic father, an internal object from the basement/unconscious, and the name of the father brings one out of the dyadic, Oedipal relationship with the mother (here symbolized by Henrietta, Knowby’s wife) and into society. Knowby thus is Bion’s K, which helps one grow in knowledge and mental health…something Knowby would do if allowed to finish reciting the incantations.

During Ash’s fantasy-memory of the events of the first movie, we see the tape recorder on the ground floor, not in the basement. The former floor is the conscious mind, the latter the unconscious; so Ash’s ‘memory’ of the previous events is a consciously constructed fantasy, a preferred version of what’s supposedly happened.

Part of that fantasy is a photo of Knowby’s daughter, Annie, whom we’ll see with her boyfriend/colleague, Ed Getley, later. The fact that we see this photo of Annie on the desk beside the tape recorder–as opposed to no photo of her, and the tape recorder found in the basement, as in the first movie–means her arrival in the cabin is at least in part an element of Ash’s fantasy. So in Evil Dead II, it’s not always easy to distinguish his fantasy from reality.

Her blonde good looks are somewhat similar to those of Linda in this sequel, too, suggesting perhaps a wish-fulfillment on Ash’s part to be reunited–if not with Linda–at least with a similar-looking woman. Since she’s Knowby’s daughter, a fantasized potential union with her could strengthen the notion of her parents as symbolic parents-in-law of Ash, thus representing an unconscious Oedipal relationship with them.

His continued resistance against the evil dead, symbols of Bion’s traumatizing, agitating, and ejected beta elements, results in the creation of bizarre objects–hallucinatory projections of his inner psychotic state. I’m referring to the scene with the laughing deer head on the wall, and the laughing books, electric light, etc. Since these are all projections from him, he of course is laughing like a madman, too.

Part of his worsening psychotic state is his alienation from himself, as we see in his reflection in the Lacanian mirror, which reminds him of his having sliced up Linda with a chainsaw. The ideal-I in the reflection is being his judgemental super-ego, dumping a guilt trip on awkward, bumbling Ash, who looks in horror at the reflection.

His self-alienation grows when a demon possesses his hand, which attacks him by breaking dishes on his head in the kitchen. Its attempt to kill him with a meat cleaver forces him to stab it with a knife, then hack it off with the chainsaw.

Separating it from his body and trapping it under a garbage pail (weighing it down with a pile of books topped with A Farewell to Arms…yuk, yuk) won’t keep him safe from it. The comic aspects of this and the following movie should be understood–from the point of view of my interpretation–to represent the absurdity of delusional thinking.

The arrival of Annie and Ed (who expect to find her parents there), along with two country bumpkin locals (Jake and his pretty girlfriend, Bobby Joe) carrying their bags results in Ash–mistaking them in his psychotic disorientation for more demons–accidentally shooting Bobby Joe, grazing her left shoulder with the bullet. To what extent are these four arrivals real, and to what extent are they a part of Ash’s deluded fantasy?

To the extent that this meeting of five people is fantasy, and to what extent real, will determine how much of the alienation felt is still in Ash’s head, and how much of it is social alienation. In any case, this sequel continues the themes of social and mental breakdown seen in the first film.

For wounding Bobby Joe, and–as Annie et al wrongly assume when seeing the bloody chainsaw–causing the deaths of Dr. Knowby and Henrietta, Ash is locked up in the basement, as his sister, Cheryl, was in the first film. The other four play the tape and learn what really happened. Possessed Henrietta is woken up in the basement.

Since I see Dr. Knowby as the symbolic father of all in the story, residing as an internal object in the unconscious (symbolized by the basement, recall, where the tape recorder was originally found in the first film), I see his wife, Henrietta, as symbolizing the internalized object of the mother, in her good aspect as the object of Oedipal desire, and in her bad aspect as symbolized in her possessed form.

Ash begs the others to let him out of the basement before Henrietta gets him, since symbolically–as Melanie Klein conceived the bad mother internal object–she causes terrible persecutory anxiety in the paranoid-schizoid position (a state of mind involving splitting Mother into absolute good and bad, and originating in the first few months of infancy, but which one can return to at any time throughout one’s life). Ash, trapped in the basement/unconscious, is experiencing archaic, primal, childhood trauma.

He’s let out, but possessed Henrietta is kept in there. Soon, we see her change back into her original, loving mother form, in an attempt to trick Annie into freeing her from the basement. This switch to original Henrietta shows the contrast between the good and bad mother that is part of splitting, the essence of the paranoid-schizoid position.

She sings “Hush, Little Baby” to Annie, reminding her of when she sang it to her when Annie was a baby. Since it’s actually the possessed Henrietta singing, we see here a kind of parody of the good mother’s soothing of her baby’s distress through maternal reverie (see above).

Because Henrietta is possessed of a demon, that means symbolically that both the good mother and the bad are united, which would be understood if one experienced the ambivalence of the depressive position; but in their traumatized state, Annie, Ash, et al can only see an archaic mother split into ‘good’ (the singing, loving Henrietta) and bad (possessed Henrietta). Hence, Annie denies she’s her mother. Annie is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position.

Societal breakdown is once again symbolized by the continued infighting amongst the five people, especially when Ed becomes possessed. Ash runs off to find an axe, and Annie–wrongly thinking he’s just running away in fear–calls him a “fucking coward!” Ash returns and chops possessed Ed to pieces; apart from her screaming at all of Ed’s green gore, though, Annie doesn’t seem all that upset about her butchered boyfriend, which could be seen to tie in with her being a replacement Linda in Ash’s fantasies.

The ghost of Dr. Knowby appears, telling them to use Annie’s and Ed’s newly-found pages of the Book of the Dead to drive away the evil spirits, to save themselves and to save his soul (for his recklessness in having recited the ancient language). In his repentance over having unintentionally released the evil spirits, we see, in the ghost of Knowby, an integration of Klein’s notion of the good and bad father, the sadness in the ghost’s countenance a mirroring of Annie’s experience of the depressive position.

Bobby Joe screams when Ash’s possessed, disembodied hand is gripping hers; she runs out of the cabin and into the woods, to be grabbed by the trees (in a manner reminding us of what happened to Cheryl), then dragged away to her death.

Annie does the best improvised translating she can of those new pages she’d brought with Ed: they tell of a “hero from the sky” (who we later learn is Ash) landing in AD 1300, and saving the people of that time from the “deadites”; I see this as part of Ash’s narcissistic fantasy, his defence against psychotic fragmentation–it will be developed in the third film. Ash says this “hero from the sky” didn’t do a good job of defeating the demons; since I see this as all part of his grandiose fantasy, his saying the hero failed is just false modesty, his denial of his growing narcissism.

Reciting the incantations will first bring about an incarnation of the demons, then completing that recitation will open a time rift and send them back into the past. Note how Annie says nothing of sending the demons back to Hell, which I believe a better, and complete, translation would reveal (as the ghost of her father has suggested), if she were to have the time to do so. For whether they’re demons of the past or of the present, the demons are still with us, bad internal objects lingering in our trans-individual, collective unconscious.

Jake takes the rifle, points it at Ash and Annie, and demands that they go out into the woods and help him find his pretty girlfriend. As for reciting the incantations, Jake sees no value in that, so he takes the pages and tosses them into the basement with Henrietta, then forces Ash and Annie at gunpoint to go outside and look for Bobby Joe.

Jake’s refusal to allow the incantations (a symbol of the talking cure, recall) to be recited is representative yet again of Bion’s -K, a stupid, stubborn refusal to gain knowledge and link with people. He should be helping Ash and Annie; instead, he cares only about his girlfriend, who is a narcissistic mirror of his own grandiosity. He prizes his dyadic relationship with her over general community and society.

The racing demon rockets toward them and possesses Ash. Annie and Jack get back to the cabin, where he is killed and she is attacked by possessed Ash. He picks her up and throws her against a wall, knocking her unconscious.

He approaches her with intent to kill her, but fortuitously, he sees his necklace gift to Linda lying right next to Annie, whose motionless unconsciousness resembles death. Why is that necklace, by sheer chance, lying so close to Annie?

Since Ash has been having auditory and visual hallucinations (i.e., those bizarre object projections of his psychosis right before the appearance of Annie et al), it’s easy to believe that much of what ensues (as well as much of what precedes) is figments of Ash’s deluded imagination, too.

This is why I believe Annie could be a fantasy of his, a potential replacement of Linda. The sight of that necklace beside knocked-out, unmoving (i.e., seemingly dead) Annie reminds one, unconsciously, of truly dead Linda. Ash is unconsciously transferring his love of Linda onto Annie. His mourning of Linda when he picks up the necklace, combined with the unconscious hope of having Annie replace her, helps pull Ash out of his psychotic state (symbolized by the demon possession), and so he returns to normal.

Kohut’s notion of the bipolar self requires, on one end, an idealized parental imago (see above) and, on the other hand, a mirroring of one’s own grandiosity, in order to have healthy personality structure. If one end breaks down, a person relies ever so much more on the other end to compensate and maintain that structure. If both ends break down, there’s the threat of fragmentation, psychosis, and pathological levels of narcissism are thus often used as a defence against that fragmentation.

In these two films, Dr. Knowby and his wife, Henrietta, the symbolic idealized parental imagoes found in the basement/unconscious, have failed spectacularly to measure up to the parental ideal, he for releasing demons into the world instead of (as I speculate was his real intention) binding them and sending them back to Hell, and she for being the demonic bad mother.

Without the symbolic idealized parents, Ash can have recourse only to Annie as a replacement of Linda, to give him the empathic mirroring he needs in order to re-establish psychological structure and become emotionally healthy again. Her reciting of the pages, which symbolizes the talking cure that will pull Ash out of the traumatizing, formless, indescribable, chaotic Real Order and bring him back to the Symbolic Order of language, culture, custom, and society, further reinforces how important she is for helping him regain his sanity.

An interesting detail about that necklace is its round, glass pendant. Since glass gives off reflections, the pendant is like a miniature mirror. Thus, as a gift Ash gave to Linda, and now something lying next to unconscious Annie, it symbolizes that mirroring of love and empathy that helps Ash rid himself of being demonically possessed, and helps him, through narcissism, ward off the threat of fragmentation.

Annie comes to, he strenuously convinces her that he’s no longer possessed, and they work out their plan to retrieve the pages Jake threw into the basement with possessed Henrietta. They go into the toolshed, fit the chainsaw to Ash’s stump, and he uses it to saw off the rifle, which he puts in a kind of holster on his back. Fancying himself a bad-ass demon-destroyer now, he enjoys the flaring-up of his narcissism.

Groovy.

When he goes into the basement to find the soaking-wet papers (symbolically, the Lacanian language of the unconscious), he tosses them up far too easily to Annie (symbolically, bringing what’s unconscious up to consciousness), as if he were throwing up a softball; one would expect the pages to fly apart in the air, but with the blurring between psychotic fantasy and reality, and with his narcissistic overestimation of himself in that fantasy, anything seems possible. Part of Ash wants to be cured enough to fantasize an easy passing up of the pages.

In the final confrontation with Henrietta, symbolically the bad mother internal object from the unconscious, her neck elongates into a serpentine form. So here, she in a sense resembles Tiamat, the Mesopotamian sea-goddess who is usually described as a sea-serpent or dragon, and who as a primordial deity can be likened to the archaic mother.

Annie now sings “Hush, Little Baby” to the mother/monster, echoing the parody of Bion’s container/contained/maternal reverie that Henrietta did on her daughter. Annie’s containment of Henrietta’s demonic rage thus temporarily tames her, distracting her so Ash can hack her head and arms off with the chainsaw. This ends with a repudiating of the idealized parental imago (Ash blowing her head away with the rifle) and having only Annie to give him stability.

Ash and weeping Annie embrace, suggesting the potential of a love relationship between them. Now, Annie has only begun a reciting of the incantations from the pages, which bring the demons into the flesh. Symbolically speaking, this reciting brings the traumas out into the open, but it isn’t enough to heal them. She must be allowed to finish.

Part of Ash wants her to finish (Bion’s K), but another part of him (his disembodied, possessed hand) doesn’t (-K), for a thorough processing of all his traumas will be too painful for him to bear. So his demonic hand, holding the Kandarian dagger, stabs Annie in the back. Narcissistic Ash fancies himself a great hero, but he hasn’t saved anybody in this or the last movie.

Dying Annie struggles to continue reciting, and she manages to bring about the time rift to send the demons back into the past…but before finally succumbing to her death, has she really completed the reciting sufficiently to send the demons back to Hell? I don’t think so. If she has, surely the time rift would be closed up, at least.

All she’s accomplished is sending them…and Ash…back in time to AD 1300. Her death signals the last of his hopes for a love to replace Linda, to mirror his grandiosity. Totally lacking in what Kohut called healthy psychological structure, Ash is overwhelmed with the threat of fragmentation, a psychotic break with reality.

His only way to hang on now is to indulge in narcissistic fantasy, where as a man of the enlightened future, he can imagine himself as ‘superior’ to the “primitive screw-heads” of the year 1300. As the “hero from the sky,” he can indulge in a grandiose messianic fantasy. Narcissism is his last defence against fragmentation.

Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness

Bruce Campbell, whether he wants to be or not, is more or less synonymous with Ash, so calling this third film Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness is essentially the same as calling it Ash vs. Evil Dead, or whatever you want to call it. The story is now all about narcissistic Ash fighting his demons.

As with the second film, this one begins with an abbreviated recap, and reimagining of, the first two films. And as with Evil Dead II, this contradictory reimagining of Ash’s past is just that: a mix of fantasy and fact.

Ash introduces his place of work here–S-MART, a store that sells a variety of commodities, from hardware and housewares to rifles. In his narcissistic imagination, he portrays himself as the ideal employee: hair neatly combed back with a curl in front (a bit like Superman), and dutifully telling customers to “Shop smart: shop S-MART!”

As the ‘ideal employee,’ he’s imagining himself a better employee than many, if not most, of his co-workers. How Ash really is as a worker–be it in S-MART, or wherever he actually had a job prior to his fateful vacation in the cabin–is probably somewhere below that ideal; and given his goofy awkwardness, probably far below.

His wish to believe he’s better than most of his co-workers shows how his social alienation, and Lacanian self-alienation, now spill over into the Marxian concept of alienation; for his “Shop smart: shop S-MART” wish to gain his boss’s favour indicates at least some level of class collaboration.

His wish-fulfillment goes further: we learn that Linda also worked in S-MART; and instead of seeing either the original actress, with her natural, realistic beauty, or the one with the conventional, model-like beauty of the second film, we see Linda with the familiar face of a celebrity–Bridget Fonda, who had already established herself, as of 1992, as a major Hollywood actress in such films as Godfather Part III, Singles, and Single White Female. Thus, Ash’s narcissistic self-deceit extends to idealizing Linda even more, making her a movie star in his fantasies.

The quick recap of the horrors of the first two films is not only for the sake of pacing and getting on with beginning this third story: it’s also because, as I see it, the less detail that Ash needs to go over, the less painful it will be for him. Wilfully forgetting exactly how he acquired his traumas is, once again, Bion’s -K; knowing too much hurts too much.

In his AD 1300 fantasy (note how it isn’t, say, 1301, or 1318), Ash is in chains and being taken to a castle to be thrown into a pit of “deadites.” Narcissists like fancying themselves as victims as much as they like fancying themselves as dashing heroes.

When I describe Ash as ‘narcissistic,’ I don’t mean it in the sense of malignant narcissists who lie, manipulate, and do smear campaigns on their victims. I’m referring to Ash’s change of character as his way of coping with all the traumas he’s suffered: the deaths of his sister and girlfriend, as well as those of Scott and Shelly; also, there are the traumatic disappointments in the symbolic parents of Knowby and Henrietta.

Because of these shocks, Ash has gone from being the unassuming, nice guy of the first film, next to having a psychotic breakdown in the second film, and now, finally to cope with all of this pain, he’s become cocky and belligerent. This is the comic, amusing Ash who’s entertained us, and whom we all love, but that doesn’t change how grandiose he’s imagined himself to be. Indeed, it’s that combination of cocky and awkward that we, as an audience, identify with, and that’s why we love Ash so much…he’s human.

He looks down on the people of 1300 as “primitive screw-heads” and “primates” because seeing himself as above the average person is the only way he can hang on. Since he is, in reality, a careless, bumbling fool, the only way he can feel superior is to indulge in a fantasy world where the average person is ‘behind’ him by almost 700 years.

In the pit, when he has to fight off the possessed, and the wise man tosses down his chainsaw, note how Ash jumps up and effortlessly fits his stump into the chainsaw, all in one flawless attempt. Note how we hear the Early Modern English of writers like Shakespeare, rather than the Middle English of 1300, earlier than even Chaucer. What we’re seeing in this film is not a representation of time travel back to that year, but rather Ash’s fantasy, what he thinks it might have been like.

In this fantasy, Ash is the dashing hero who is waited on by beautiful women who serve him grapes, wine, and roasted meat. The lovely Sheila quickly switches from wanting to kill him to wanting to kiss him. He’s loving every minute of it, needless to say.

The comical absurdity of his fantasy reaches the point of looking like the cover of a Harlequin Romance when he, with his muscular chest showing and his hair blowing in the breeze, holds Sheila and says, “Gimme some sugar, baby,” and they kiss. Ash gets some ass: he’s no longer interested in finding a new love to replace Linda; he connects with women now only out of pleasure-seeking.

Note how this movie is not, essentially, a horror film like its predecessors: it’s a comedy/adventure/fantasy with the trappings of horror in the form of “deadites,” skeletons, etc., and even they are comic rather than frightening. This change in genre is due to the fact that Ash, in his bordering between narcissism and psychosis, is no longer engaging with the real world. He says he wants to go back to his world in the early 1980s…but does he really?

The people of this world cohere socially much better than we’ve seen in the first two films; there’s hostility only between Duke Henry the Red’s people and those of Lord Arthur, as well as, of course, between man and the “deadites.” But this world isn’t real–it’s all in Ash’s imagination.

The wise man tells him that, in order to return to the present time, he must find the Book of the Dead, the Necronomicon, for that book has the magical incantations and formulas to send him back. Since the words in the book symbolize talk therapy, we see again that the only way to be cured of trauma is to face it, to talk one’s way through it. The unconscious is structured like a language, it’s the discourse of the Other. One is cured through a building of knowledge…K.

The wise man tells Ash that, when he finds the book, before taking it, he must say words humorously similar to, “Klaatu, barada, nikto,” a reference to the words of Earth’s salvation in The Day the Earth Stood Still. This allusion is further proof that what Ash is experiencing is fantasy, the details of this dream-world coming from his memory and imagination rather than from the external world.

Still, while the wise man is importuning Ash to memorize the exact words through repetition, Ash displays more -K, his refusal to learn by committing the words to memory. He arrogantly assumes he’s already learned the “damn words,” but talking things through properly, using all the resources of the language of the unconscious to articulate emotion, is crucial to curing trauma and restoring mental health.

Ash rides his horse into a forest (suddenly, he knows how to ride a horse), where he finds himself chased by the racing demon of the first two films. As with Cheryl running to the cabin after being raped by the trees, and Ash rushing back to the cabin after discovering the ruined bridge in Evil Dead II, he–having fallen from his horse–is trying to run away from trauma instead of facing it.

He runs to a windmill, the farcical scene reminding us of that of another deluded, bumbling narcissist who fancies himself a great hero, Don Quixote. Ash gets inside and closes the door behind him, imagining he’ll be as safe from demonic possession as he supposedly was in the cabin of the first two films. The windmill’s walls, like those of the cabin, are a beta screen keeping out traumatizing beta elements (see above).

His being chased by a demon in the forest and using a shelter to protect himself from it suggest what’s really happening to him, as opposed to his medieval fantasy. The windmill is one of his many hallucinations; he’s really alone in the 1980s, having run through the woods and back into the cabin. No horse, no hero…just Ash.

Inside, he sees his reflection in a mirror in the darkness. Thinking it’s someone else, he runs at it and smashes it into pieces. This, once again, is Lacanian self-alienation, between oneself and the specular image. It’s Ash in the reflection…yet it isn’t Ash.

Miniature, demonic versions of Ash emerge from his reflections in the shattered pieces. These are more of what Bion called bizarre objects (see above for links), hallucinated projections of Ash into the external world. They’re a result of the excessive use of a beta screen (the windmill’s walls) to keep out traumatizing beta elements (the demons).

These mini-Ashes attack him, making him trip, bang his head, fall, burn himself, and get a pail stuck on his head. His bumbling reactions to his attackers symbolize the difference between the dashing hero, the ideal-I he saw in the unified, original mirror reflection, before he ran at and broke it, and the clumsy, uncoordinated, fragmented self that Ash really is.

He projects his fragmentation symbolically onto the pieces of broken glass, then into the mini-Ashes who have come out of them. He also projects and denies the bad parts of himself onto the mini-Ashes. Such projection and denial are part of what Kohut called the vertical split of the ego into the grandiose part of the self and the rejected part.

One can project and deny all one wants, just as one can try to repress one’s trauma (as symbolized by locking Cheryl up in the cabin basement), but those bad parts of the self are still, and always will be, part of oneself for as long as the trauma isn’t treated. Hence, one of the mini-Ashes goes down his throat and back inside him, right after they all give him the Lilliput treatment.

He runs outside with an eye having grown by his shoulder, and out there we see the giant moon illusion we’d seen in the original movie…another suggestion that the windmill and medieval world are all just delusions and hallucinations of his. That moon is again, a moon of lunacy, symbolizing his still-psychotic state.

A second head grows out of the spot where the eye was, and soon a second body grows beside Ash’s original; then the two come apart. A good Ash, and a bad one: he has projected his undesirable half again, in a narcissistic attempt to be only the hero.

That the bad Ash and the mini-Ashes are all comical in nature shows how good Ash, in his narcissistic imagination, deflates the worth of the bad Ashes, big and small; just as the army of skeletons, soon to be seen, are also made to look ridiculous. Ash is projecting his bumbling foolishness, as well as his bad side, onto all of them.

After beating bad Ash (by disfiguring his face with a gunshot) and burying him, good Ash finds the Necronomicon…three books! The consequences of his -K are apparent when he forgets the exact wording of the three-word formula to take the correct book and leave the area safely. Symbolically, his failure is a restatement of the theme presented throughout this trilogy: the talking cure, which brings us out of the trauma of the Real and back into the culturally shared signifiers of the Symbolic, must be followed–to the letter, as it were–to its completion, not left halfway.

Once again, narcissistic Ash thinks he’s projecting his foolishness onto others, but the foolishness is always his own. His stealing of the book, while faking the enunciation of the three words, causes the raising of the dead, who are now headed for him and the castle to retrieve it.

Ash is now despised by Arthur, the wise man, and all the people in the castle. Arthur calls him a “braggart,” and a “coward.” But since this is Ash’s fantasy, this negative feeling towards him cannot last long; so he proves his mettle in not only leading the men to protect the book and the castle, but also to train the men in wielding spears (another skill he’s suddenly endowed with), and to have Duke Henry the Red’s men help.

Sheila is captured by a flying deadite, taken to the risen bad Ash, and possessed of a demon. The two will lead an army of comical skeletons to attack the castle. In the ensuing battle, Ash proves his bravery with a sword (yet another suddenly acquired skill…more narcissistic fantasy), and his ingenuity with modern science (quickly gleaned from textbooks conveniently found in the trunk of his car…even more narcissistic fantasy).

With the defeat of bad Ash and the skeletons, Sheila is restored to her original beauty, and–thanks to the help, however belated, of Duke Henry the Red’s men in the fight–the two groups of people become friends. Since this trilogy has mainly been about the breakdown of society through shared trauma, this anomalous amity between people is just more of Ash’s wish-fulfilling fantasy.

When Ash is about to be returned to his own time, he is given precise instructions on how to prepare for his travel ahead through time. But once again, he fails to pay attention to detail (-K), and depending on which ending you see, he either returns to the present while bringing the possessed with him, right into S-MART, or he sleeps too long and wakes in a post-apocalyptic world.

Both endings are acceptable: either he resumes his narcissistic fantasy of being a dashing hero and ladies’ man in today’s world (leading to Ash vs. Evil Dead), or he witnesses the horrific conclusion to how collective trauma (and how oversleeping symbolizes -K, a refusal to learn from history) leads to social breakdown, then ultimately to the annihilation of the human race, which is a truly evil dead.

My Horror Short Story, ‘Bone Cabin,’ In the November Issue of ‘Terror Tract’

I’m thrilled to announce that I have another horror short story of mine to be published in next month’s issue of Terror Tract. The name of my story is “Bone Cabin.” I don’t want to go into any detail as to what the story is about, but let’s just say that when it comes to any place you stay for a vacation, be sure that you won’t be too cramped in…

Other talented writers included in this November 2019 issue are Theresa Scott-Matthews, Cody W. Higgins, John Palisano, Scott Deegan, Howard Carlyle, Dusty Davis, Edmund Stone, David B. Harrington, Andy Rausch, David Niall Wilson, Timothy A. Wiseman, Ryan Woods, Charles Lynne, and Thomas S. Gunther.

Here’s a pre-order link.

So, go out and get a copy of these scary stories. I want to give a great big thank you to Becky Narron for including my story this month. Hugs and kisses to you! 🙂

‘Insidious,’ a Poem by a Friend

A poet friend of mine, Cass Wilson, who also goes by the name Immortal Magpie, wrote this poem about the insidious effects of narcissistic abuse:

Insidiously
You weave your web of lies
Gossamer strands of falsification
Strive to imprison me once more
A myriad of ignoble eyes
Project rose coloured echoes of the past
Evoking flashbacks of tenebrosity and pain

On enlightened wings I rise
Free from the odious taint of your deceit
Familiar to your fallacious words
Impervious to the callous beast
that resides behind the mask

This poem is essentially about her ex-husband’s attempts at hoovering her back into a relationship with him. He’s like a spider, weaving his “web of lies/Gossamer strands of falsification.” I love the musical assonance of these lines, as I do the lyricism and music of the whole poem.

Comparing her narcissistic ex to a spider reminds one of the hubris of Arachne, who boasted that her weaving was better than that of Athena. Just as Athena turned Arachne into a spider for her presumption, Cass’s ex is but a spider in her eyes, one she knows will never weave anything of love for her, no matter how he tries to make her think he will. She won’t ever be imprisoned in those webs again.

“A myriad of ignoble eyes” suggests the ever-watching, invasive eyes of Argus, eyes of judgement we get from narcissists who have few kind words to say to us, but many critical and cruel ones. Still, those eyes “Project rose coloured echoes of the past,” in an attempt to suck her back into the doomed relationship by misrepresenting it as having once been beautiful. She won’t be fooled, though.

“Evoking flashbacks of tenebrosity and pain,” those eyes only trigger painful memories for her, emotional flashbacks that she wants to put behind her forever. Thus ends the first verse, one evoking the pain of the past relationship that she is in danger of being sucked back into. Then comes the second, final, and empowering verse, which looks out into the future.

She flies with “enlightened wings,” knowledge of his true, cruel nature, a knowledge that sets her “Free from the odious taint of [his] deceit.” She is “Impervious to the callous beast/that resides behind the mask” of his narcissistic False Self. That “callous beast” is the lack of love and empathy that he tries to hide behind his fake show of love.

This poem is a delightfully lyrical expression of the pain we can feel in a relationship of narcissistic abuse, as well as the hope of one day putting it all behind ourselves. If you, Dear Reader, have any stories to tell of similar experiences, whether in verse or prose, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll reblog what you write here in a future post. Peace and love! 🙂

Some Preliminary Thoughts on ‘Joker’

Arthur Fleck is my hero.

Sorry, I’m a bit of a joker sometimes…HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!

I finally got around to seeing Joker today. Wow! What a powerful film. Though set in the early 1980s, it’s as relevant to today’s times as any movie can be. Indeed, it’s the first Hollywood movie in a long time (to my knowledge, at least) that has genuine balls.

Contrary to what some of the knuckleheads in the mainstream media have either said or implied, Joker very much has a message. And no, that message is not for sexually frustrated, right-wing men to go out doing mass shootings. The film’s message is firmly left-wing: all out war against the bourgeoisie, and that’s what the ruling class–for whom the mainstream media works–feels truly threatened about.

No, I’m not advocating everyone wearing clown masks going on mass murder rampages, and busting things up. I believe in an organized, well-planned revolution that will result in giving people like Arthur Fleck what they need: decent medical and psychiatric care, guaranteed employment, etc. In short, I seek to eliminate the class system that deprives the have-nots, and which causes the alienation that causes so much of Fleck’s suffering.

I can’t do a proper analysis of this film until it comes out on DVD; then I can watch it twenty to thirty times or so, and savour every detail of this masterpiece, mining it for themes and symbolism. Until then, these preliminary remarks will have to do: after all, so much has already been said about the film in newspaper articles and videos.

Go see the film if you haven’t yet…no, chances are, you won’t become a murderer.

Fright Fest 2019: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Thanks to Thomas S. Flowers for sharing my analysis of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ to his page! 🙂

Machine Mean

Image result for 2001 space odyssey 1968Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke

Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, et. al.

Released: May 1968

Article “Analysis of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ written by: Mawr Gorshin. Originally published on MawrGorshin.com.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 science fiction movie produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by him and Arthur C. Clarke. The film is often said to be based on Clarke’s short story, “The Sentinel,” but this is a gross oversimplification, as only a small moment in the film parallels the story, and even that part is radically rewritten. The actual literary equivalent of the film is the novel credited only to Clarke, but cowritten by Kubrick.

Considered one of the greatest films of all time, 2001 is an epic meditation of philosophical, mystical, and even spiritual/religious proportions; Kubrick was annoyed that early…

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‘I Was a Kid,’ a Poem by a Friend

Here is a kind of prose poem that a Facebook friend of mine, Gerda Hovius, wrote several days ago, to express the pain she felt from having an emotionally abusive father. Actually, I think the poem is in verse (note the mid-sentence capitalization that occurs from time to time), but it was presented to me in paragraph form, and I’m presenting it below in the same form for two reasons: first, I don’t know for sure where she wants the lines broken (e.g., for the sake of enjambment), and this damn blog won’t (to my knowledge) allow me to separate lines within the same blocks to make verses, so we’ll have to make do with what’s below.

The poem was originally written in Dutch, but she translated it as you can see below. In it, she expresses her childhood traumas as I recommended to in this post; and as I suggested here–where I called out to all bloggers to share their experiences of narcissistic and emotional abuse–I want to encourage others to share their pain in words, so I can reblog them here. Here’s the poem:

“I was a kid, A happy child, a child that wanted to be loved. There was no space, there was no time, I wasn’t allowed to cry or be myself. I was not allowed to think what I thought or express that hard or soft. Nothing about me was good enough, Only if I did something he asked me. Then I got a little appreciation, A little attention a little time. I thought it was up to me That everyone saw me as a bother, Whenever I said how I felt or said something, there was always a comment on me. Who I had to be and what I had to be, it takes a lifetime to cure this. I now know better who I am and that I know myself a bit. I was always allowed to be there even though I didn’t feel that way, I was still small. And now if something happens or I get tired, the black clouds cover my sky again. Then I feel again that lonely child who did not belong and was not loved. Yet I know that I just had bad luck, that my father went through it himself. Yet that does not make the sadness go away it is perhaps a little easier to bear if I can access it, as I say now. I still feel hatred when I feel bad and someone is standing in front of me. I am mad at all the injustice here. It is my life it is my destiny, I can give my love my heart is not rotten. I understand that people don’t get it when I’m in the middle of it again. That makes it painful because I feel even more distant from everyone else. And indeed I feel very bad because I am not what is expected of me. But in the end what they do is not relevant, I would like to contact even if it is not possible. Don’t blame me for being an instigator if you don’t understand. It only hurts more.”

I think we can all relate to how, “if something happens or I get tired, the black clouds cover my sky again. Then I feel again that lonely child who did not belong and was not loved.” Elsewhere, “I still feel hatred when I feel bad and someone is standing in front of me,” like that inner critic facing us with his frowns. Still, we know there is good in us in spite of how awful we feel: “I can give my love my heart is not rotten.” The trauma of emotional abuse won’t make our feelings rot away–we’ll survive.

I’ve written before about the problem of feeling “even more distant from everyone else.” As for our abusers, remember that “in the end what they do is not relevant”; they do not deserve the consideration our endless rumination gives them. We shouldn’t be blamed “for being an instigator,” for we have to right to give expression to our pain. If we don’t express it…”It only hurts more.”

Please, Dear Readers, put your pain into words. If you’d like me to post your words here, I’ll be glad to, for we all have to help each other. We all need others to validate us. You can put your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll quote them in a future post. Peace! 🙂