Beyond the Pairs of Opposites

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“All creatures are bewildered at birth by the delusion of opposing dualities that arise from desire and hatred.” —Bhagavad Gita, Seventh Teaching, verse 27

I’d like to try to unify all I’ve written on this blog so far, in order to sculpt an all-encompassing philosophy, if you’ll indulge me, Dear Reader.

If you have been reading my blog posts with an attentive eye, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme that has shown itself in many forms: the dialectical relationship between opposites. This will be apparent to you regardless of whether you’ve read my political posts, or my literary or film analyses. It can even be seen a little in my complaints about my family.

I mentioned duality and dualism in my Analysis of Romeo and Juliet, and how the opposites intermingle sometimes. I mentioned equivocation in my Macbeth analysis (how an idea can sway either to one opposite, or to another: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”), and the upside-down world in King Lear (to be good, one must be rude and blunt, as well as be disloyal to the established power structure; while evil Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall are polite, and those loyal to them are also evil). Hamlet delays his revenge because he is psychologically paralyzed by the paradox–in killing his uncle, the king–of the revenge’s extreme good (out of love for his murdered father) and evil (the prince will be as guilty of regicide as his uncle is). In Richard III, we see constant, swift shifts from good fortune to bad, and bad to good. I believe that one of the main reasons Shakespeare’s writing continues to resonate with us is his understanding of the paradoxical unity of opposites. Such understanding leads us all closer to the truth.

In The Graduate analysis, I mentioned the dialectical idea that the tightening chains, if you will, of parental authority forced Benjamin to fight to free himself of that authority. The sexual trap Mrs. Robinson set for him woke him sexually and helped him to mature. Her forbidding him to date her daughter, Elaine, on the one hand, and his own parents’ pressuring him to date her, on the other, were the tightening chains that made him defy both the Robinsons and the Braddocks, and free himself.

In my two Ouroboros posts, I wrote of how the dialectical relationship between opposites can be seen in the form of a circular continuum, symbolized by a serpent, coiled in a circle, biting its tail, the head and tail being those extreme opposites. I showed how this unity of opposites is seen in the history of class struggle and in the growth of the capitalist mode of production.

In writing of narcissism in the family, I wrote of the contradictions between the golden child (my sister) and the scapegoat (me); and how, in some ways, the former child has it worse, and the latter has it better, because the tightening chains around me, like those around Benjamin Braddock, freed me, while my older sister J.’s favoured position in the family has actually held her in stronger chains.

All of these unities-in-contradiction are manifestations of what I like to call The Unity of Action: what in one way goes well clockwise along the ouroboros’s tail, for example, goes badly counter-clockwise, and vice versa in another way. Another issue, particularly seen in some of my more recent posts, is alienation and fragmentation, the contradiction of self vs. other. The cure to this ill I see as what I call The Unity of Space, to be discussed below. A third dichotomy, that of the past vs. the future, can be reconciled by a focus on the present, a fading out of the past and a fading into the future, or The Unity of Time.

I believe a proper understanding of these Three Unities can help us solve a great many of the world’s problems. The Unity of Space can cure social alienation by helping us to see the other in ourselves and vice versa, thus creating and building empathy and compassion for others, instead of fighting and competing. The Unity of Time can help us to stop obsessing over either past pain or idealized past eras, as well as to stop worrying about a bad future or fantasize about an idealized one, and to focus on making the most of the eternal NOW. The Unity of Action can make us stop dichotomizing projects into absolute successes or failures, and instead monitor our slow but sure progress towards increasing levels of achievement (e.g., why we can’t have full communism immediately after a revolution…the transitional worker’s state must be allowed to run its course).

So many of us feel isolated and alienated, typically because of traumas from childhood abuse or emotional neglect. The aggressive authoritarianism in families in the US and around the world, resulting in all these forms of abuse and neglect, has been found by researchers to be almost universal. It isn’t a far leap to go from perpetrating abuse at home to shootings, from authoritarianism to police brutality and racism, to a fetishizing of religious fundamentalism and of the ‘free market’, and ultimately to viewing imperialist wars as ‘fighting for one’s country,’ rather than the unlawful invasion of sovereign states. Authoritarian abuse causes a split between the powerful and powerless.

This split is an example of the dichotomy of self vs. other. The alienation one feels from this split blinds one to the dialectical unity between self and other. Hegel understood this in his allegory of the lord and bondsman in The Phenomenology of Spirit (Hegel, pages 111-119). We experience self-consciousness only through a recognition of another person as a kind of reflection of ourselves, and the other recognizing us.

When two men meet, who will dominate whom? A death-struggle ensues, Hegel tells us, and the winner is the lord, getting his sense of self through himself independently, as well as knowing his bondsman acknowledges his existence; while his bondsman has a sense of self only through his relationship through his master, for whom he now works.

Over time, though, the fruit of the servant’s work, his creations, accumulates, giving him a sense of his own mastery of his art; while his master increasingly comes to depend on the slave’s work, since the lord isn’t really working. Thus, the lord and bondsman seem to switch roles in a way, a dialectical relationship that can be symbolized by the ouroboros, the biting head (lord) shifting to the bitten tail (bondsman), and vice versa. The bondsman’s journey (i.e., the accumulation of all the products of his work) from the bitten tail along the length of the serpent’s body, all the way up to the biting head, now makes the bondsman into a new kind of lord.

It’s easy to see how Marx could apply Hegel’s idea to the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat: one day, the workers would seize control of the means of production, where they’d produced so much, and create the dictatorship of the proletariat. This new workers’ state would, in turn, wither away eventually–once all pockets of counter-revolutionary capitalist resistance would be annihilated–and we would finally have anarchist communism, a reward for all our patience.

We must try to see how this interdependent self/other relationship applies to all human relationships. In so doing, we could be aided in dismantling authoritarian thinking, we’d kindle a sense of mutual empathy, and mend the social rifts that cause all our alienation.

Indeed, we must understand the ego to be an illusion, as Lacan did. The fragmented, ill-defined sense of self a baby has changes into a unified one when the infant sees his image in a mirror. This mirroring also comes in the form of a parent looking into the baby’s eyes and responding to him. This unified ego, however, is an illusion, a fake ideal to strive for. This is true not only of the mirror reflection, whose phoney ideal alienates us from it, but also of all those people whose faces we gaze into, people who mirror themselves back at us. These hellish others, as independent egos, are as fake as the self.

Recognizing this phoney sense of self and other, really just two fragmented sources of energy bouncing back and forth at each other (in the forms of projection, projective identification, and introjection), leads us to reject the alienating dichotomy of self vs. other, in favour of a Unity of Space, a dialectical monism where the boundary between self and other is much blurrier than one would assume.

The blurred boundary between self and other, the unity of all things in matter, is not just something believed by meditating mystics and practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc (or some users of LSD, for that matter). It is also seen in the notion of internalized object relations, as well as the notion of self-objects in self psychology.

What does it mean to be me, other than the sum of influences (as well as the sum all of those I’ve influenced) in my life? As I’ve argued elsewhere, the human personality is relational, an intermingling dialectic of self and other. I–the subject in a relationship with another, the object–am the serpent’s head biting the tail of the other, and vice versa.

As well as there being a dialectic of the self and the other, there’s also a dialectic of the fragmented parts within the self. Heinz Kohut wrote of the bipolar self (not to be confused with the cyclothymic ups and downs of sufferers of bipolar disorder), a self based, on one pole, on an inner child whose grandiosity wishes to be mirrored with an empathic parent, and on the other pole, an internalized parental imago to be idealized. Super-me at one end, and Super-Mom (and/or Dad) at the other.

If all goes well, the child’s grandiosity and idealizing are let down in gradual, bearable bits over time, a move from the narcissistic biting head of the ouroboros down the length of its body to the middle. The child will thus be able to form a cohesive self with mature, realistic narcissism, in which restrained grandiosity is integrated with bearable, circumscribed amounts of shame.

If such transmuting internalization and optimal frustration don’t occur, a result of parenting that’s lacking in sufficient empathy (or worse, child emotional neglect or even abuse), the child’s narcissism is split–vertically (through denial and disavowal, creating and maintaining a False Self, or, I believe, through projection) and/or horizontally (through repression)–into a dichotomy of pathological grandiosity vs. toxic shame. Here, one is suspended at the serpent’s biting head of narcissism and the bitten tail of shame. The result? Sometimes, people like Donald Trump, a poor little rich (overgrown) kid whose ego is fed by his religious-cult-like followers, and who’s shamed (through no one’s fault but his own) by the mainstream liberal media. More typically, though, the result is poor kids with impoverished egos, because they got little empathy from Mom and Dad.

The only way such a pathological narcissist can socially function is to deny his unique problem with grandiosity, by either projecting it onto everybody (“The only thing worse than immodesty is false modesty: pretending you’re humble, when secretly you really think you’re great,” my older brother, R., once said; I suspect his motive was to rationalize and project his own arrogance onto the world.), or to project it onto a particular target (as my probably narcissistic late mother tried to do to me with her autism lie, herself imagining autism to be essentially identical with narcissism, an idea as ridiculous as it is offensive). Here we see the internal dichotomy transforming itself into one of self vs. other.

So many of us live fragmented lives, alienated from each other, and alienated from ourselves within. We’re like a large window broken into hundreds of shattered pieces, lying strewn all over the ground, with jagged edges. If anyone approaches us, he or she risks cutting his or her feet on us, because we too often react with hostility to anyone trying connect with us. We’re shattered glass within as well as shards lying beside each other.

We need to recognize ourselves not as all these tiny fragmented shards of glass, but rather as drops of water in an infinite ocean. We move up and down in waves, those waves being the ever-shifting dialectic of the self and other, as well as pretty much everything else. All things in the infinite ocean we call the world can be conceived of as having the characteristics of both particles and waves. This wave metaphor can also represent the communist definition of equality: not a flat, straight line where everyone is forced to be the same, as the political right would straw-man our ideal; but instead as crests shifting into troughs, then back to crests, and to troughs, over and over again–from each according to his or her ability (crests), to each according to his or her need (troughs).

(The Unity of Space may sound like pantheism to some, though I’d describe it as a philosophy of dialectical monism. These kinds of ideas certainly do not have the backing of the scientific community; indeed, most physicists rightly scoff at writers like Fritjof Capra and Gary Zukav for sentimentally oversimplifying both science and Eastern philosophy, conflating particle/wave duality with a ubiquitous cosmic consciousness [whereas I’m more interested in the unconscious]. I’ll content myself with how Einstein praised Spinoza’s monism, an idea similar to mine. Appealing to those geniuses far from scientifically proves my case, of course [My knowledge of physics is at Bill Hicks‘s level!], but it’s good enough for me. Just as creationism isn’t and shouldn’t be mistaken for science, neither should my ideas; I do believe, however, that they can help people.)

When we come to see ourselves as united rather than fragmented, we can build mutual empathy and friendship, which can lead to community and finally to solidarity. With solidarity, we can begin to organize against the ruling class, the one other that we’ll never be reconciled with, because not only don’t they want to reconcile with us, but they also want us to be forever at odds with each other, and fragmented within. They use their media to divide us in this way.

But how can we heal our fragmentation within? First, we must take an honest look at our relationships with that primal other in our lives: our parent(s). No parent is perfect, or ever could be, of course, but by any reasonable measure, were our parents at least good enough? If they, and thus their corresponding internalized imagos, were more bad than good (i.e., non-empathic, authoritarian, manipulative, cruel, or abusive), we must replace these bad object relations with good ones, for those wounded primal relationships make up the blueprint for all subsequent relationships.

Well, how can we do this? If I may be so bold, I’ve found hope in one possible solution: hypnosis/meditation. In a state of hypnosis, the unconscious mind is on average more suggestible, more easily influenced (though more resistant people will be harder to hypnotize, of course). After getting oneself in a relaxed state by taking deep breaths in and out slowly, and relaxing every part of one’s body, one body part at a time, from the head to the toes, one begins to visualize the ideal mother and father. You can pick a good mother and father from inspiring scenes in movies (I like these examples), and after adapting the scenes in your thoughts in ways that are more fitting to you, you then imagine them treating you with the same love and kindness. In as vivid a visualization as you can make, imagine yourself as a little kid being loved and cared for by these idealized parents, who will be your new imagos.

What will they say to you? What kind, loving, supportive, encouraging words will they use, and in what kind of gentle tone of voice? How will they validate your experiences? How will they show patience and understanding when your foibles are apparent? Try to visualize this Edenic childhood in as much detail as your imagination, under hypnotic trance, can muster. Do this several times a day, every day, and feel the love and security wash all through your body. (Though not using hypnosis, Kohut tried to achieve a kind of empathic self-object relationship with his analysands in his narcissistic transferences.)

I’ve tried doing hypnotic meditations in Richard Grannon‘s Silence the Inner Critic course, which is rather expensive, but if you have even as mild a case of C-PTSD as I do, you’ll consider it money well spent. After only a few hypnosis sessions, I found my road rage, and propensity to blow up in anger over trifles, to be reduced to 10%-20% of what it had been before. It’s amazing! If I can do it, I’ll bet you can, too, because my bad habits are stubborn, and my tendency to make catastrophes of things is one of the most stubborn of all.

I plan on writing more about this kind of thing, so this introduction to such ideas is rather brief and sketchy; a more detailed, systematic elaboration of these ideas will follow.

This replacing of bad object relations with good ones, the introjection of an idealized parent imago to replace a traumatically frustrating, non-empathic imago, is something I believe that religions have unconsciously tried to do, using a loving sky-father god. Consider the sentimentality of such Bible verses as, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 136:1); “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); and “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) They all reflect this idea of the loving Spirit of God the Father, an internalized object relation, really, coming inside us, transforming us, and turning pain into inner peace. Though most of what Freud said about religion was wrong, I believe he was right about the idea that God is an illusion, based on a psychological need for a father figure.

Having said this, I must stress that my idea of The Three Unities is not meant to be the starting of a religion…in any conceivable sense. Some readers (insofar as anyone will be interested in reading this rather idiosyncratic post) may choose to think of my ideas in a religious sense if he or she wishes to; but that’s their doing, not mine. If by any microscopic chance in the remote future, my idea is institutionalized as some form of fanaticism, causing atrocities of the sort committed by the religious superstitions of the past, then I–right now, for the record–wash my hands of it. My idea is grounded in the philosophy of dialectical monism, in psychoanalysis, and in historical materialism; I say this in case some cretin gets the idea that this writing makes me–absurdity of absurdities!–into some kind of…prophet (!).

I want to use my ideas to help people gain a power for living, not to promise a panacea. We will always feel pain and frustration in life; The Three Unities won’t stop that from happening. They may help us all to cope much better, as I’m hoping, by helping us to go beyond the pairs of opposites–dichotomous thinking, alienation, fragmentation–to experiencing the undulating rhythms of everything, the waves of an infinite ocean.

Barbara Stoler Miller, trans., The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, Bantam Books, New York, 1986

‘Spaz’, a horror short story

Giorgio Bianchi was playing dodgeball in PE class. None of his classmates understood why he chose to continue taking PE all the way to grade twelve instead of stopping as soon as he had his one compulsory PE credit; after all, he was clumsy and spastic in the extreme, always embarrassing himself in front of them. Taking elective PE classes made perfect sense to him, though: he’d hoped all that sports practice would improve his coordination. 

But it didn’t. 

At one point in the game, he dodged the ball, but bumped into Ben Davis, one of the most popular jocks in St. John’s Catholic High School. 

“Watch it, spaz!” Ben shouted. 

“Sorry,” Giorgio said. He dodged the ball again, but tripped over the leg of Karen Schultz, Ben’s pretty girlfriend. She ended up falling, too, and right in the trajectory of the ball.  

She got hit on the head with the ball, and was out of the game. 

“Eat shit, Bianchi!” she shouted at him as she walked out of the playing area. 

“Language, Karen!” the coach said. 

Again, a guy on the other team was aiming at Giorgio, who dodged a feint throw, but ended up bumping into Ben again; the thrower, seeing Ben’s disorientation, now threw at him and hit him in the shoulder. Ben was out. 

“I’m gonna kill you, Giorgio Bianchi—Jar Jar Binks, more like it!” he said before walking off to the outer circle, where Karen and the other players stood, out of the game. 

Towards the end of the game, there were only Giorgio and two girls on his team, and an Asian girl and the boy who hit Ben on the other team. That boy had the ball again.  

Giorgio was nervous; he was also at the side of the play area, not at all aware that he was standing just in front of Ben. 

That boy with the ball was getting ready to hit Giorgio. Before he even knew what was going on, Ben had already pulled Giorgio’s gym shorts and underwear down. 

The chorus of laughter, especially the piercing, shrill cackles of the girls at the sight of his exposed penis, made him almost not notice the impact of the ball pounding him in the face. 

“It’s so small!” shouted Karen, who was on the other side from Ben in the outer circle, and thus facing exposed Giorgio, as was the Asian girl, Sophie Chang, who covered her eyes. 

As Giorgio lay there on the floor, he scrambled to pull up his shorts and underwear. The laughter was hurting his ears. He didn’t dare look in anyone’s eyes. 

“Way to go, Jar Jar Binks!” shouted Ben.  

Now everyone was chanting Giorgio’s nickname, one he’d had to put up with for four high school years: “Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks!” 

Sophie, the only one who didn’t chant, just stood there with a frown, for she felt his humiliation. 

*********** 

In his bedroom that evening, Giorgio was at his computer, reading for the tenth time about Reddit user Lumpawarroo’s theory that Jar Jar Binks was originally intended by George Lucas to be a villain skilled with the Dark Side of the Force, and only pretending to be a bumbling fool deserving of universal contempt. 

“If only I could come out and surprise people with a hidden kung fu ability,” he said to himself as he watched the video comparisons of Jar Jar’s clumsy, yet uncanny luck in fighting battle droids at the climax of The Phantom Menace with the staggering, pretend clumsiness of the zuiquan wushu masters. “If only my bad coordination was really ‘drunken fist’ kung fu.” 

*********** 

Sophie was eating dinner with her parents that same evening. 

“You look unhappy about something, Sophie,” her mother said. 

“I saw a boy get publicly humiliated in gym class today,” Sophie said. “Somebody pulled down his shorts and underwear in front of everybody. Poor guy.” 

“Ooh!” her mother said. “You didn’t look, did you?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. 

“Good,” her mother said. “I was worried you were interested in him based on what you saw.” 

“Who is he?” her father asked in Mandarin. 

“A rather clumsy boy named Giorgio Bianchi, but I think he’s cute, and I feel sorry for him, because he always gets bullied,” she said. “Instead of calling him ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, they always call him ‘Jar Jar Binks’.” 

“Man, that’s mean,” her father said. 

“I wish I could help him somehow,” Sophie said. 

“Is he Chinese?” her mother asked in Mandarin. 

“Is he Catholic?” her father asked. 

“Of course, he’s Catholic, Dad,” Sophie said. “He goes to my school.” 

“I mean, is he a practicing Catholic,” he said. “‘Cause if he is, maybe he’ll get you out of that silly talking-to-spirits nonsense.” 

“The spirits help me with my homework and studying for tests,” Sophie said. “That’s how I get such good grades without having to spend so much time studying.” 

“Whatever,” he said. “I just wish you’d study the normal way.” 

“Also, it’s dangerous to tamper with the spirit world,” her mother said. “Is this boy Chinese, though?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “Does the name ‘Giorgio Bianchi’ sound Chinese?” 

“No,” her mother said.  

“With a name like ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, he’s obviously Italian,” her father said. 

“Anyway, nobody’s perfect,” her mom said. 

“What does he want to do for a job, though?” her father asked. “Does he want to be an engineer?” 

“I don’t know,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “I don’t think so. He doesn’t take any classes at school that would lead up to studying engineering.” 

“What about computers?” her dad asked. Sophie shook her head. “Business? Economics? Law? Medicine?” She kept shaking her head. 

“I doubt it,” Sophie said. Then she said in Mandarin, “He doesn’t seem the type.” 

“Well, he doesn’t sound like he’s worth your time,” her dad said. “Let alone worth your worries. Probably just some lazy kid who just wants to play a guitar and smoke dope.” 

“Daddy!” Sophie shouted. “I like him!” 

“He sounds like a loser,” her dad said.  

“Well, excuse me for not having tastes worthy of your high standards, Daddy! Donut-eating policemen like you are all high-class types, aren’t they?”  

“Hey, don’t take that tone with me, young lady,” he said. “You should respect us cops. We do a hard, dangerous job, and we’re not appreciated much these days!” 

Sophie sighed. “I’m finished my dinner.” Then she asked in Mandarin, “May I be excused?” 

“Yes,” her mother said in Mandarin. 

Sophie got up and left. I hate you two sometimes, she thought. 

She went into her bedroom and locked the door. She stripped down to her underwear, then took out twelve small candles and laid them out in a circle around her, over a black silk blanket with a white pentagram on it. She lit the candles, turned off the light, and got naked. She sat cross-legged in the middle. 

I’ve succeeded at summoning spirits to help me with my homework and tests, so I don’t have to study so hard, she thought. I wonder if I can summon one to help Giorgio. 

She closed her eyes and took several slow, deep breaths. She chanted a triad of words in Mandarin, over and over again. As she got more and more relaxed, she ‘listened’ for any spirits who may have been approaching her. She ‘felt’ their energies touching her bare skin. 

“Oh, all you guardians of the world between spirit and matter,” she whispered, hoping her parents wouldn’t hear, “release one of your kind to rid Giorgio Bianchi of his tormentors. I speak to all the spirits in the entire spirit world, from all times, all nations, and all traditions. O Lady and Lord, yin and yang, Mother Goddess and Horned God, hear my prayer.” 

Just then, her parents walked past her bedroom, speaking in Chinese. 

Sophie heard a spirit say, in Mandarin, I hear you, and I’ll help you. 

Sophie smiled. 

*********** 

Giorgio lay in bed that night, never able to forget his humiliation from that afternoon. Crying himself to sleep, he thought, over and over, I wish I could kill Ben and Karen… 

He had the following dream: 

He found himself in a dark room, what looked to him like a basement or boiler room. An Asian man of about forty years of age, wearing a fedora and red wool sweater, appeared before him. His face was glowing gold. He reminded Giorgio of Freddy Krueger. 

“Hello, Giorgio,” he said to the boy in a husky voice. “My name is Di. I have been summoned to protect you from all your enemies. You’ll have your revenge on your tormentors, as well as protection from any reprisals, starting tomorrow morning.” 

“How can that be?” Giorgio asked. “What can you do?” 

“I can cause your body to work miracles. I am a spirit from ancient China; don’t let my modern clothesor my fluency in English, deceive you. We in the spirit world transcend all time and cultures. I know many kinds of kung fu, though I won’t really be using them to help you. You’ll get your revenge through ‘accidents’. You’ll see.” 

Giorgio wanted revenge for his many humiliations, no doubt, but he didn’t like the grin he saw on Di’s shining face. 

“I’m still not sure of this,” he told Di. “What kind of ‘accidents’ will be used as revenge on people like Karen and Ben?” 

“You’ll see,” Di said, the evil grin never leaving his face. “Your protection is assured. All I ask is your appreciation for what I’m about to do for you. Your soul and mine are one.” 

“This revenge will be in proportion to what they’ve done to me?” 

“The pain they feel will be in proportion to the pain they’ve given you. You’ll see.” 

“How do you define that ‘proportion’? You’re not going to kill them, are you? I don’t want anyone’s blood on my conscience. I mean, after what happened yesterday, a part of me wanted them dead, but–“ 

“I am that part of you. You’ll see, because you’ll do it. Your soul is mine.” He began cackling maniacally, his laughing echoing throughout the boiler room. 

Giorgio woke up, his upper torso shooting up from his pillow. He was shaking. 

I’d like to kill Ben and Karen, he thought, but only in my dreams, my fantasies. 

He fell asleep again after ten minutes of trembling. 

He was in that boiler room again. A knife in his hand, he was staggering about for a few seconds, then he flung it at a mirror, cracking the glass. In the reflection, he saw himself in Di’s fedora and sweater. His face had Di’s yellow glow…and his grin. He saw himself laughing as Di had before. 

*********** 

The next morning, he was in biology class. Ben and Karen were sitting at the table behind his group’s, chuckling. 

“Mesa Jar Jar Binks,” Ben said in the character’s annoying falsetto. 

“Mesa pi-pi so tiny,” Karen said in the same voice. Giorgio’s heart was pounding, almost in pain, at the sound of their laughing. 

At each table, where trios of students were teamed, lay a carcass of a cat in the middle. Each student had a scalpel for dissecting the cat. Giorgio held his with a trembling hand. 

“Don’t you cut me with that knife, you spaz,” a girl at his table said to him. 

Di’s face appeared before his eyes in a split-second, flashing light. 

Karen stepped over to the other side of her table, putting her immediately beside Giorgio. He began staggering. 

She turned to him with her scalpel. “Mesa cut your pi-pi off, Jar Jar,” she said, then giggled. “Mesa make–“ 

With a sudden jerk of his hand while staggering, Giorgio swiped his scalpel in an arc across her throat, cutting her off mid-sentence because he’d sliced the blade clean through her throat! Her blood sprayed in all directions, several small dots of red splashing on Giorgio’s face. She fell to the floor. 

Everyone screamed, not least of all him. 

“What’s going on?” the teacher shouted. 

“That little dork, Giorgio, just cut Karen’s throat with his knife,” the female student next to Giorgio said while backing away from him. 

“Oh, my God!” The teacher said, taking out his cellphone to call 9-1-1 as he saw Karen’s blood surrounding her body in a growing lake of red. “You didn’t do it on purpose, did you, Giorgio? I mean, after what happened yesterday?” 

“Of course, I didn’t!” the shaking, sobbing boy said. “It was an accident, I swear to God!” He began staggering again. 

“You spastic idiot!” Ben shouted, stepping around his table, with his hands in fists, to get at Giorgio, who saw Di’s face flash before his eyes again. The teacher was calling an ambulance. “You killed my girlfriend, and I’m gonna kill y–“ 

Staggering Giorgio slipped on Karen’s blood and lunged at Ben with the scalpel, stabbing him deep in the gut. Ben buckled, coughed blood, and fell on top of Karen. 

Again, the students screamed deafening, piercing cries that made everyone’s hands cover his ears, and in the confusion, Giorgio ran out of the classroom without anyone stopping him. As he ran down the hall, he passed Sophie, who shuddered at the bloody knife in his hand, the spots of blood on his face, and his bloody footprints on the floor. 

“Oh, shit,” she said. “What have I done?” 

When she saw a mob of students running out of the biology classroom to chase Giorgio, she knew exactly where to look to find out what had happened. When she poked her head in the doorway, already full of anticipatory dread, and then saw Ben’s and Karen’s bloody bodies, she retched. She was as frozen in shock as the biology teacher was. 

A minute later, she heard sirens. 

“Wow,” the teacher said. “The cops sure got here fast. Must’ve been nearby.” 

“Oh, fuck,” she said, then ran down the hall. 

“Get that little bastard!” shouted a student from the biology class as she and Giorgio’s other chasers saw him go for the stairs. “He killed my best friend!” 

He ran up the stairs, not tripping over even one, to his amazement: he’d tripped over steps so often in the past, it was as if he’d taken fewer successful ascending steps than tripping, even when walking up them with perfect calm. It was as if…someone…was helping him get away. He saw a flash of Di’s face again. 

He reached the roof of the school, opened a door, and was outside. The students had him cornered at the edge of the building. He looked down four floors to the pavement. He shook as he saw the students closing in on him. He started staggering again. 

“You’re gonna pay for what you did today, you little spaz,” one boy said, his face tensed in a malicious pout. 

More sirens could be heard, as could footsteps up the stairs to the roof. 

“Jar Jar never died in the Star Wars prequels,” another boy said. “His death would’ve almost redeemed them. We can make this Jar Jar die, though.” 

“No, you won’t,” said a female cop coming out onto the roof with two others, all of them pointing guns at Giorgio. “C’mon, kid. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is. Come in the car with us.” 

“OK,” he said, still staggering. He dropped the scalpel and held his hands out to be handcuffed. The female officer approached him with cuffs. 

Another one of the cops, Sophie’s father, noted Giorgio’s staggering. “What’s wrong with you, kid?” He said. “Are you drunk?” 

“No,” Giorgio said. “I just feel…woozy.” Di’s face flashed before his eyes again. 

Just when the cop with the cuffs was about to put them on him, Giorgio slid his foot on a pebble, swiping his leg in front of hers and making her trip. She fell off the roof, screaming till her head cracked open on the pavement below. A growing circle of red surrounded her head. 

Immediately after her tripping and falling, Giorgio saw Di’s face in another flash. The third cop aimed at Giorgio’s chest and was about to fire, but the boy’s foot slipped on another pebble, kicking a larger rock that flew at the cop’s gun, knocking it to point up at the man’s face. When in a knee-jerk reaction he pulled the trigger, he shot a bullet up just behind his chin, up through the center of his head, through his brain, and out the top of his head. 

Blood sprayed everywhere, like a gushing fountain. Screaming from all directions was hurting Giorgio ears. 

Sophie’s father cocked his gun. That can’t be mere clumsiness, he thought. No one’s that clumsy…and that lucky at the same time. 

Giorgio looked down to the pavement beside the dead female cop and saw Sophie’s car, a distinct one with black paint and large white pentacles painted on the sides. Its roof was also removed. She looked up at him; she felt…someone…making her drive over there. 

Jump, Di’s voice whispered in Giorgio’s ears. 

He saw Officer Chang coming closer, with that gun pointed at him. “C’mon, kid,” the cop said. “Let’s end this. No more people have to get hurt.” 

“I agree,” Giorgio said. “Let’s end this.” Then he jumped. 

As he fell screaming, he saw Di’s face flash several times in his eyes. The spirit also took over his body, carrying him in midair and placing him neatly into the passenger seat next to Sophie. He landed with his ass hitting the seat, and his feet dodging the glove compartment to land on the floor with no pain. 

“Oof!” he grunted. “How the fuck did I do that?” 

“A spirit made all this happen,” Sophie said. “We’re outta here.” 

She sped off in her car, past her father’s squad car (in which his female partner was sitting), off the school campus, and down a road in a direction that would take them out of town. Both of them were shaking. 

“I…just killed…four people…including two cops…in the past…fifteen minutes,” he said, tears soaking his face. “What the fuck’s going on?” 

“I’ll explain later,” she said, turning a corner with screeching tires. “Right now, we’ve just gotta get you away from my dad and his cops.” 

“How do you know what’s going on?” Giorgio asked. 

“Because I’m the one who summoned the spirit that’s making you kill all your enemies.” 

“How do you know I won’t kill you? 

“Because I’m not one of your enemies, of course.” 

*********** 

Officer Chang got into his car, as did other cops in two cars behind his. They all raced down the road after Sophie and Giorgio. 

“I’m pretty sure he’s in my daughter’s car,” Chang said to the female cop in the passenger seat beside him. 

“How do you know that?” she asked. 

“Because during dinner last night, I had a conversation with her about the boy, identified by his classmates as Giorgio Bianchi,” Chang said. “My daughter feels sorry for him because he’s been bullied at school. She wants to help him. I saw the car they raced off in: I bought it for her last year. From the roof, I could tell by the pentagrams she later had painted on the sides. Only she’d be strange enough to paint pentagrams on her car. She believes in weird ideas, like communication with spirits. It’s a phase she’s going through.” 

“OK, but how was this Giorgio able to survive that jump?” his partner asked. 

“Good question. Anyway, I talked to the biology teacher, who told me the two kids the boy killed had been bullying him. Sophie, my daughter, told me that Ben, the second of the victims, humiliated the boy yesterday by pulling down his shorts and underwear in gym class, right in front of everybody.” 

“Humiliation enough to make him want to kill?” 

“Seems that way to me. Funny thing, though: he has a reputation for being clumsy, and the killing of Ben and the female victim looked like accidents, just the kid being spastic again; but what I saw on the roof, Giorgio staggering for a moment before ‘accidentally’ killing Officers Denny and Howard, looked a lot more like zuiquan than clumsiness.” 

“Sorry. Zuiquan?” 

“It’s a form of kung fu. It means ‘drunken fist’. You see Jackie Chan do it in a few martial arts movies. The fighter tricks his opponent by making him think he’s drunk or clumsy, then he throws a surprise punch or kick. I’m guessing that Giorgio secretly learned zuiquan, and was hoping to kill his enemies by making their deaths look like an accident. If so, his plan didn’t work.” 

“Still, I saw, from this car, him fall and land in her car,” the female cop said. “He didn’t even look injured. They drove off chatting with each other, as if he’d just walked over and gotten in. How could he have done that?” 

“I know, it’s crazy. I’m a practicing Catholic, but I believe God causes miracles to save only the lives of the good. Sophie believes in weird things like the ghosts of our Chinese ancestors, but come on! There must be a scientific explanation. I’m gonna call her.” He took out his cellphone and dialed Sophie’s number. 

“Hello?” Sophie said. 

“Honey, where are you?” her dad asked. 

“Sorry, Daddy. I can’t tell you.” 

“You have that boy, Giorgio Bianchi, in your car, don’t you?” 

“Sorry, Daddy, I can’t let you have him. He didn’t kill those people on purpose.” 

“What makes you think you’re an authority on this issue?” 

“Because I raised the spirit that took over Giorgio’s body and made him kill those people.” 

“Well, I suppose that might explain his miraculous jump off the school roof and into your car without even an injury, as it seems…” 

“That’s right,” Sophie said. “He didn’t even get a scratch.” 

“But I don’t think a supernatural explanation will hold up in court,” her father said. 

“Can you explain it any other way? Can you explain how a guy with a reputation for clumsiness could have performed all those feats with such precision?” 

“I can’t explain the jump, but ask him if he ever studied zuiquan, you know, the martial art.” 

Sophie looked over at Giorgio. “Do you know zuiquan? You know, a kind of kung fu called ‘drunken fist’.” (She pronounced it ‘dzway-chüen’.) 

Giorgio thought for a second. “Huh?” he said. “Wait. Do you mean ‘zooey quahn? Like, a kung fu guy pretends to be clumsy or drunk, staggers a bit, then he lands a surprise punch or kick?” 

“Yeah, that’s right,” she said. 

“I’ve read about it a bit, but I’ve never learned it,” he said loud enough for her father to hear on the phone. 

“Did you hear that, Daddy?” 

“Yes,” her father said. “And that’s proof enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, he’s lying about having no training. Come on, honey, be a good girl and get him to turn himself in. I don’t want you to be charged with aiding and abetting a felon.” 

“Daddy, if I let you take him in, the demon inside him will kill you! Giorgio just told me about the two cops on the roof who he killed. Please stay away, for your safety!” 

She hung up. 

“Oh, Goddammit, Sophie!” her father said, then tried to call her again. “Oh, she’s turned off her phone. Fuck!” 

“So, what do we do now?” the female cop asked. 

“What do you think? We’ve gotta find them. And it’s gonna break my heart, but I’ll have to bring my daughter up on charges, too.” Di’s face flashed before Chang’s eyes. “What the…?” 

Suddenly, a kind of fog came over all the cops’ heads. 

All three cop cars came to a halt. The drivers and passengers in each car looked at each other in confusion. 

“Wait…w-what were we just doing?” the driver of one police car asked his partner. There was an awkward pause. 

“I-I forget,” the partner said. “We were pursuing a perp, weren’t we?” Another awkward pause. “Wh-who were we pursuing?” 

The driver used his radio to call Officer Chang. 

“S-sir?” He said. “I feel really embarrassed to ask, but–?” 

“What are we doing?” Chang said, anticipating the question. “We’re feeling the same confusion in this car, as are the officers in the other car. Just give me a few minutes to think, OK?” He got out of his car and looked around the roads and buildings, hoping in vain to see something that might help him snap out of his oblivion. 

*********** 

As Sophie kept driving, she was checking her rearview mirror with paranoid eyes: were any police cars trailing her? She heard no sirens; were her followers being furtive about it, waiting for a chance to pounce on them when she least expected it? 

Then, both she and Giorgio heard Di’s gravelly voice: You lost them. 

As if no proof were needed to verify the spirit’s words, Giorgio and Sophie believed Di with perfect faith. She slowed her driving, and both of them heaved a huge sigh of relief. 

“Hey, over there,” she said, pointing to an abandoned old building she sometimes visited to get away from the world. “We can hide in there. Nobody will bother us in there.” 

“But it’s so filthy and awful-looking,” Giorgio said. 

“Exactly,” she said. “No one else will be there. Not even squatters, winos, or derelicts.” She parked behind the building, hiding her car between two tall piles of garbage. They got out. 

“Oh, God, it stinks,” he said, then plugged his nose. 

“We don’t have a lot of options, Giorgio,” she said, also covering her face. 

They walked into the building and across to the other side, where the stench wasn’t so bad. She pointed to a corner. 

“Here,” she said. “Let’s sit here and think this through.” 

They sat, and he asked, “OK, what’s all this about a spirit?” 

“Last night, I thought about what happened to you in gym class, and I felt sorry for you,” she said. “I wanted to protect you from more bullying. I also know a few things about tampering in the spirit world, so I summoned a spirit to protect you. I didn’t mean for it to kill your enemies, though! This has all been my fault. Don’t blame yourself.” 

“So, whenever I see the shiny, golden face of an Asian wearing a fedora, right when one of these freaky things happen, that’s the spirit that’s caused all this trouble?” Giorgio asked. 

“Wait a minute,” she said with her mouth and eyes agape. “An Asian with shiny, golden skin? That voice I heard, saying we lost my dad and the cops. That husky, gravelly baritone voice. And he made you move like someone who knows zuiquan…” 

“You know which spirit he is?” 

“Di,” she said. Her whole body looked as if it would drop. 

“He said his name was ‘Di’, in my dream last night.” 

“Oh, no!” She fell to her knees. “When Di is summoned, he doesn’t go away. If he leaves you, he’ll just enter someone else. The best we can hope is he’ll enter someone far away, someone neither of us knows or cares about…not that I’d wish Di on my worst enemy.” 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked, his voice rising in a crescendo of panic. “I don’t wanna be possessed of a demon for the rest of my life! I don’t want any more blood on my hands! You have any idea what it’s like, having no control over your own body? It was bad for me before, but not like this! I’m scared just to move! Look, Sophie, you got me in this mess, you’ve gotta get me out of it!” He grabbed and shook her. 

“Calm down!” she shouted, slapping him. “I need to communicate with Di. Maybe I can make a deal with him.” 

“How do you ‘communicate’ with him?” 

“There’s a ritual we can do with him, to get his full attention. But you have to do it with me, and…we both have to get naked…and sit together.” 

He blushed and shrank away. 

“Giorgio, I won’t see anything I didn’t see yesterday. We have to be naked so our bodies’ energy won’t be blocked from receiving the energies surrounding us. That’s part of how we can communicate with the spirit world.” 

He didn’t stop blushing. “You OK with me seeing you?” 

“Sure, why not? I have a good body, even if I do say so myself. What can I say? I hope you like what you see.” She took off her blouse right in front of him, then unbuttoned her skirt. 

“Wh-why do you hope that?” He unbuttoned his school uniform shirt. 

“Because I’ve always liked you.” She dropped her skirt, revealing her white bra and panties. “You’re cute…and your ass is cute. You’re eighteen, aren’t you?” 

“Yeah,” he said, blushing again while pulling down his pants. 

“I’m eighteen, too, so don’t worry about anything. We’re grown up enough to be doing this.” She took out some candles from her bag, arranged them in a circle around herself and Giorgio, and lit them. She got a piece of white chalk from her bag, then drew a pentacle on the ground, just inside the circle of candles, getting the sides of the five-pointed star as straight as she could, and the circle around it as symmetrical as she could. Then she and Giorgio took off their underwear, she in all insouciance, and he with trembling hands and a purple-red face. 

They sat cross-legged, facing each other. His hands were covering his crotch. 

“Giorgio, you have to be open. I saw it. It isn’t small. Karen was just being mean.” 

He moved his hands away, but he avoided her eyes. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a smirk of pleasure on her face, her eyes looking down at him, and it encouraged him to look straight at her. 

“Don’t be so shy,” she said. “I’d do you.” 

“This is so embarrassing.” 

“You don’t need to feel that way. It’s just the human body.” 

“But I’m getting a boner from seeing you.” 

“Thanks.” She grinned, looking down and noticing the growth. 

“One thing I don’t get,” he said, trying to refrain from looking between her legs. “If we’re summoning a Chinese spirit, why are you incorporating Western pagan symbols into your ritual? I don’t mean to be racist or anything, but the two don’t seem to go together.” 

“Oh, there’s where you’re wrong,” she said. “I find my rituals work a lot better by mixing ideas from different traditions. The Moon Goddess and the Horned God of Wicca, they’re just like yin and yang, as I see it. These opposites are archetypes that manifest themselves in all things, in all traditions, and they’re the basis for contacting the spirit world.” 

“Oh, OK. So, what are we going to do?” 

“Summon Di, and talk to him. I’ll be speaking in Chinese. That should draw him in better. Let’s close our eyes and take some deep breaths.” They closed their eyes. “Breathe in slowly, a long, deep breath.” They both did, grimacing at the foul odor around them. “Hold your breath for a moment.” They did. “And…let it out slowly.” They did. “Let’s do it again, two more times. Just relax. Breathe in slowly…hold it…and let it out slowly.” They did this one more time. 

Sophie started chanting something in Mandarin, repeating the three-word mantra of the previous summoning, saying it several times in a rhythmic way. She and Giorgio started feeling a vibration all around their bodies, between each other, and in front of themselves, where they sensed a presence. 

Suddenly, they heard Di speaking in Mandarin. Sophie replied, and the two began a conversation Giorgio wished he could participate in, for he couldn’t speak a word of Chinese. Sophie and Di kept talking and talking, their voices getting louder, more and more emotional, and with more tension, more agitation. Finally, they ended with Sophie fighting back tears. 

“W-well, what is it?” Giorgio asked. “What did Di say?” 

All you need to know, Di said in Giorgio’s and Sophie’s minds, is that I find you a most ungrateful host, Giorgio. I rid you of those two tormentors of yours—Ben and Karen—I helped you elude the authorities, and now you want to throw me away, like some object that’s exhausted all of its usefulness to you. You’ll be rid of me, boy, but not in a way you’ll like. You’ll see. 

Di laughed in his portentous way, then Sophie and Giorgio sensed he’d left them. 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked. 

“We’re going to make love,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. 

She reached forward and kissed him on the lips. She crawled on top of him as they continued kissing. 

“But what…are we…gonna do…about Di?” He asked in between kisses. “What did you…say to…each other…in Chinese?” 

“That doesn’t matter,” she said, then kissed him. “Di will…leave you. That’s all…that matters.” 

“But Di said…I won’t like…how he’ll…” Giorgio began. 

“Shut up and fuck me,” she said. “I don’t wanna d–, be a virgin. Put it in me.” He did. She winced as she bounced on him. “Ow! That hurts! Oh!” The pain in her heart made the pain between her legs seem trivial. Her pain was love for him, just as he was loving her more and more. She was the only person in that whole school who’d ever been kind to him. 

He pulled out and made a mess on the ground. “Ooh!” he grunted. 

“Eww, that’s gross,” she said, noting also her blood, which was mixing with his come. 

“I didn’t want to get you pregnant,” he panted. 

“What difference would that have made?” She got a tissue and wiped herself clean. 

“What?” Noting she looked away from him and wouldn’t answer, he then yawned. “I feel worn out. I gotta sleep for a bit.” 

“Me, too.” They put their clothes back on, lay side by side, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. 

Giorgio, this time, had pleasant dreams…unlike Sophie. 

*********** 

The other two police cars, in their confusion and oblivion, were allowed to drive back to the police station. Chang and the female cop were about to turn around and go back, too; he had vague misgivings that he was urgently needed somewhere and didn’t want to turn around. He let the other two cars go because cops were needed elsewhere in the city. Chang just kept hoping he’d remember again what they’d just been doing.  

Just then, Di’s golden face flashed before the eyes of Officer Chang and his partner; the fog of forgetfulness lifted from their minds. When they finally remembered who they’d been chasing, they wanted to kick themselves for letting the other police cars go. 

“Shit!” he shouted, then started the car. “Let’s go.” 

“I’ll call backup,” she said, picking up the two-way radio. 

As she was calling for backup, Chang was thinking about the series of supernatural events that had occurred. He was merely assuming that boy knew zuiquan. He’d made a miraculous jump of four floors without any injury. And suddenly, conveniently for him and Sophie, all the cops had forgotten who they were chasing. Sophie often talked about summoning spirits who helped her with her homework and tests…and she routinely got excellent grades, without much studying. 

Could she have really involved the supernatural in this? 

“I don’t believe it!” the female cop said. “They said they have nobody available right now to send to help us, and nobody at the police station remembers the killings at St. John’s. How could that have happened?” 

“Spirits,” Chang said. 

“Sir, you can’t really believe what your daughter…” 

“Do you have any other explanation?” Chang said, getting no answer from his partner. “Look, whatever’s going on, we’re getting no help. We’re on our own. The point is, that crazy kid’s with my daughter, and I’ve got to get her away from him. I have a hunch I know where she’s hiding, too. A dilapidated old building on Mason St. She often goes there, and it’s near here, too. If the station has any back-up available to send us, call them and tell them where we’ll be.” 

*********** 

A half hour later, Giorgio and Sophie woke up to the sound of footsteps and talking. They scrambled to their feet, their hypervigilant eyes darting around in all directions. 

“Who’s that?” Giorgio whispered. “The cops?” 

“Shh!” she said. “How should I know?” 

They hid in a corner, behind a stack of crates, and eavesdropped through the wall between them and the approaching voices. 

“Oh!” the female cop whispered. “I’m glad the worst of that stink is behind us.” 

“Shh!” Chang said. “If they’re here, they’ll hear you.” 

“Oh, no,” Sophie said. “That’s my dad’s voice.” She took out a switchblade from her purse. “There’s something I’ve gotta do. You’re not gonna like it, Giorgio. Neither will I, and that’s because…I…I love you.” 

“I love you, too,” he said. They kissed. “But what do you have to do that’s so awful?” He shuddered at the knife, the blade of which she was holding against her wrist. 

“I can’t say,” she said. “You’ll try to stop me.” 

“Oh, God, Sophie, you’re not thinking of…” 

The two cops turned the corner. 

“And here they are,” the female cop said. She took out her cellphone to call the station. 

“Come on, Sophie,” her father said. “Let’s just go home and forget this ever happened.” Then he looked at Giorgio. “Son, for some strange reason, maybe it’s this…demon…my daughter was talking about on the phone, all the cops have forgotten the crimes you committed today. I’m gonna make this real easy for you: just let Sophie go, and you’ll walk.” 

“But, I want to be with her,” Giorgio said. “I love her.” 

“I love him, too, Daddy,” Sophie said, hugging Giorgio. 

“Oh, fuck me,” Chang said. “C’mon, honey. He’s dangerous.” 

“Not anymore,” Sophie said, then let go of Giorgio and began staggering, the switchblade hidden behind her hand. 

“What’s wrong, honey?” her father asked, walking toward her. 

“No, Daddy,” she said. “Stay away!” She saw a split-second flash of gold. 

“Back-up should be here in a few minutes,” Chang’s partner said, putting her phone away. Giorgio shook at Sophie’s staggering. Her father came closer to her. 

“Sophie,” he said, grabbing her free arm, “I just want to…” 

She slipped and lunged forward, stabbing him deep in the gut. 

“Unh!” he grunted, buckling and coughing out blood.  

“Daddy!” Sophie screamed, then pulled the bloody knife out of him. 

He fell on his face on the ground before her, his blood soaking the ground. The female cop pulled out her gun. Sirens could be heard outside. Giorgio backed off, the whites of his teary eyes showing. Sobbing Sophie staggered a bit on the pebbly ground. Di’s face flashed before her eyes again. 

“Sophie,” the cop said, cocking her pistol. “Let go of the knife. I don’t wanna hurt you.” 

Sophie’s right foot slipped on some pebbles, and the knife flew from her hand and into the cop’s neck…but not before she put a bullet in Sophie’s forehead. 

“Sophie!” Giorgio screamed as he saw both of their bodies fall to the ground. 

He fell to his knees sobbing and put his arms around Sophie’s lifeless body. 

Five cops entered the area, guns pointing at him, their faces grimacing from the stink. 

“This is the kid who killed all those people at the school,” one of the cops said. “I’ll bet he killed these people, too. How did we forget about the school, then remember again? Weird.” 

Don’t worry, Di said in shaking Giorgio’s ear. I’ll never trouble you again. The echo of his laughing voice bounced off the stony walls, then faded out. 

The Golden Child

Sometimes in families, there are legitimate, practical reasons to favour one sibling over another, while the parents still love both. To take a convenient example from cinema, consider how, in The Godfather, Michael Corleone is chosen over his older brother, Fredo, to succeed Don Vito as the head of the family business. Feckless Fredo is too weak and stupid to run the dangerous business of a mafia family; his younger brother, however, has proven himself not only strong and smart, but also level-headed, unlike the oldest brother, Sonny, whose hot-headedness gets him killed.

Now, one of course would be hard-pressed to find examples of fairness in families even approaching perfection; but in families with narcissistic parents, sons and daughters are either favoured or slighted based on probably the most illegitimate reason one could think up–how much, or how little, narcissistic supply is given to the ego-driven parent.

Kids often learn early on how to get in the good graces of a narcissistic parent; what they don’t and cannot learn is that these good graces aren’t real love. Normal parents love their kids regardless of what their kids may say or do to frustrate them. The narcissistic parent, however, will hold grudges against his or her kids’ failure to provide narcissistic supply, or worse, the kids’ causing of narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic rage may prompt explosive anger in the pathological parent: all the child can understand is that Mommy or Daddy is angry, and it’s easier to believe that the rage is justified than to acknowledge that the parent is routinely being cruel and unreasonable, a scary thing for a child to contemplate, a child who has nowhere else to go to be safe. Thus, turning against oneself (blaming/attacking oneself instead of the parent) is actually an ego defence mechanism rather than masochism on the part of the child.

The rage may also prompt a vengeful attitude in the narc parent. One effective tactic a narc may use is to engage in triangulation, pitting one kid, or kids, against the offending child by speaking as a mediator between them (i.e., spreading lies and gossip), instead of the kids directly communicating with each other. Here is where narcissistic favouritism comes in. The kids who have learned the rules of pleasing Mom or Dad, at all costs, without understanding how abnormal this family dynamic is, will become golden children. Any kid who doesn’t learn, or refuses to go along with, those rules will be branded as the family scapegoat. Everyone else backs the narc parent in scapegoating the targeted child, partly out of the pleasure of ganging up on one victim, and partly to avoid being similarly targeted in the future.

These labels of ‘golden child’ and ‘scapegoat’ aren’t always absolute: some golden children are more golden than others, and scapegoats who occasionally give narcissistic supply to their disordered parents will enjoy some ‘vacations’ from emotional abuse, or they may enjoy the relief of seeing other family members get an even worse scapegoating. What does remain fairly constant, however, is the power imbalance that the narc parent and his or her flying monkeys have over the scapegoats.

It is truly nauseating, from the scapegoat’s perspective, to see the golden child(ren), GCs, suck up to the narcissistic parent, as I had to put up with in my older sister, J. My older brothers, R. and F., were moderate GCs, and they never really kissed our (probably) narcissistic mother’s ass…certainly not the way J. did, anyway; but Mom never had it in for them the way she did for me, the identified patient of the family. A fault of mine is my brutal honesty, not something our mother took kindly to.

My sister’s allegiance to our mother was cherished, though. She would back our mother up in any situation, and believe any nonsense Mom told her; even if testimony could be given to contradict Mom, J. would take Mom’s side, every time. It was all about proving that she was the worthiest of Mom’s love.

I recall two occasions, back when I was about ten or eleven years old, when J. saw me eating a lot of bad food (burgers and fries, etc.), then accused me of hypocritically “going on and on about following the Canada Food Guide.” I NEVER DID THAT. After I told her so, on the second occasion of her self-righteous accusing, I never heard that nonsense from her again (though I’ve continued, to this day, to eat lots of bad food!).

The question, however, needs to be asked: where did J. get this idea from, that I went around preaching about the virtues of eating right? I don’t think she’d been hallucinating.

In recent years, as I’ve increasingly come to see what a liar my mother was, I found a most likely explanation: Mom and J. had been engaging in one of their many smear campaigns against me behind my back, this time complaining about my bad eating habits, all the while pretending they were worried about my health, when really they were just bashing me for its own sake (on other occasions, J. would sneer at me and snort that she thought I’d eventually become a diabetic, ffs!).

Along with this, I suspect I had said or done something to cause Mom narcissistic injury–perhaps one of my less than enthusiastic reactions (<<<last three paragraphs of Part III) to her having bought me pants, yet presenting them to me (pulling them out of the bag in a dramatic reveal) as if she’d bought me a super-cool toy, one of her many mind games–and Mom wanted to get revenge on me (as all ‘loving’ mothers do, remember) by making up a story about me preaching about following the nutritional advice of the Canada Food Guide, all to hurt my reputation in the family by making me look like a hypocrite. J. has no idea how often she was duped by our mother.

To be fair, I have no way of proving for sure that the ‘Canada Food Guide story’ was one of my mother’s many lies. Maybe J. got the story from someone else. Maybe the lie was her own invention: like narc mother, like golden child daughter. But given my mother’s well-established track record, and that I’ve never caught any of the other family members lying…only in being too credulous with Mom’s fables…abductive reasoning has served me well so far. That Mom made up the lie is by far the best explanation.

My information on these matters is inescapably limited, so I can’t demand perfect explanations; I have to settle for those that leave the fewest holes. How could the alternative explanations, of all they put me through in my life, be any better than what I’ve concluded? Seriously, am I supposed to believe that an emotionally abusive family loves me, and that all their conflicts with me have been my fault? If so, how convenient for them.

It amazes me how often Mom and J. stuck up for each other. Those two were pals in the eeriest way. She was propped up as an exemplary mother, J. as the ideal daughter, always playing the role of ‘loving family woman’. I could retch at J.’s affectation.

Heinz Kohut wrote of how a narcissistically disordered person results from a failure in parental empathy, which is like nutrition for a child’s grandiosity and exhibitionism. When parents give sufficient empathy, and the child’s frustrations are bearable (i.e., given in small doses over time), the child’s resulting transmuting internalization can help him to tone down his wild grandiosity and develop healthy, realistic narcissism.

When, however, one parent fails to give a child the needed empathic mirroring, the child will turn to the other parent to compensate, perhaps in the form of an idealized parent imago; if neither parent mirrors or merges with the child’s grandiosity, his still-unrealistic, immature sense of narcissism could split vertically (disavowed and–I believe–projected narcissism) and horizontally (repressed narcissism). See Kohut, page 185, diagram and note, for more information.

In The Restoration of the Self, Kohut writes of a patient (Mr. X) whose pathological narcissism resulted from a conditionally empathic merging with his mother, provided that he always be no more than an extension of her (such a parent/child relationship being typical of narcissistic parents), and that he regard his father as inferior, a rejecting of his unconscious wish to have his father as an ideal introjected into his mind. As a result, Mr. X’s self was split vertically, with his grandiose merging with his mother, and horizontally, with his unrealized wish to idealize his father repressed into his unconscious (Kohut, pages 205-219).

I believe something similar happened with J., though she assuredly never developed Mr. X’s pathologies as described in Kohut’s book. I believe J., as a child, was traumatically disappointed in our grumpy, ultra-conservative father, possibly in part from our mother encouraging a derisive attitude towards him, however indirectly and subtly, in Mom’s usual mode (causing her to repress an Oedipal wish to idealize him–horizontal split; I believe Mom also did this to my brothers, R. and F.); then, J. found that the only way she could get empathic mirroring and merging with Mom was by allowing herself to be an extension of Mom’s ego (a vertical split, with J. disavowing and denying a grandiosity I saw her nonetheless display all the time, in proudly presenting herself as the ‘ideal daughter’ and ‘loving family woman’, while sneering in disgust at the conceitedness she saw in–or, rather, projected onto–other people).

I’ve complained before of J.’s sucking up to our mother at my expense, with numerous examples (see here for a few; see also Part IV of this). For other examples of her obnoxious attitude (and of that of my mother and brothers), see here.

I’ll give yet another example. Back in the early 1990s, the family restaurant went out of business, so naturally we were all unhappy about that. Until that time, we’d had a habit of, instead of buying our milk in stores, cleaning out empty liquor bottles from the restaurant bar, filling them up with milk, and taking them home. We joked on one occasion about the neighbours imagining we were “a bunch of boozers” after seeing so many liquor bottles among our garbage over the years. I, in my early twenties at the time of the demise of the restaurant, wanted to revive that old joke, but my timing was poor.

I tactlessly joked, at the sight of all those empty bottles in the kitchen, that we as a family “would make good derelicts.” This was right on the night that we’d closed up the restaurant for the last time, so I know, I know: I opened my mouth and inserted my foot. Mom and J. could have just said, in all firmness, “C’mon, Mawr, don’t joke about such things. We’re kind of down right now.”

Instead, J. gave me the most evil of dirty looks, and Mom told me to “Shut up.” They acted as if I’d meant to be hurtful, when surely they realized that I hadn’t meant to, as inappropriate as my remark obviously was.

I bring this up not to suggest I’d said nothing wrong, but rather to point out another example of J. and her virtue signalling at my expense, all to please our mother.

The phoniness of the golden child, as I’ve said above, is nauseating to witness; but the GC’s position in the family is not without its unenviable moments, too, and this phoney act the GC puts on is at the centre of his or her problem, for the GC is pressured into putting on this act.

Narcissistic parents assign roles like golden child or scapegoat for their kids. Not only do the parents treat their kids accordingly, but they also manipulate their kids into behaving in ways consistent with their roles; this manipulation comes in the form of projective identification.

The son or daughter who is meant to embody all of the narc parent’s worst qualities is made to introject those bad traits; my mother did that to me with such things as her autism lie, describing ‘my autism’ in the language of narcissism, and making me feel totally separate and alienated from the world. The GC is made to introject all the ‘virtues’ that the narc parent imagines him/herself to have; this is done partly by flattering the GC accordingly, but also partly by pressuring him or her to embody those virtues. Our mother did this to J., who’d suffer Mom’s wrath if ever she failed to measure up.

I’ll give a crushing example of J. displeasing our Mom. When she was about twenty or twenty-one years old (I would have been fifteen or sixteen at the time), she was dating a young man with long red hair, wearing jeans and a jean jacket. This was in about the mid-80s: he was a ‘metal-head’ or ‘rocker’, not someone my parents would ever accept as a boyfriend for J.

I remember seeing him with my sister on the living room sofa, getting in the mood, when our parents weren’t at home at night (J., studying in secretarial school, was still living at home). Obviously, I had to make myself scarce.

My bedroom was in our basement at the time. From there, I could hear my mother screaming, “I am ashamed of you!” repeatedly at J. on one of those nights; for our parents had come home unexpectedly early and found the young fellow lying naked in her bed. I don’t think you need any more details about what he and J. had been doing.

Along with Mom’s screaming, I could hear J.’s weeping and shame-laden attempts to explain herself. J. had failed to be the perfect daughter she was supposed to be, even though all she’d done was something that had become pretty standard among young adult dating couples by the 1980s…not that that made any difference to our socially-conservative parents, of course.

What is interesting about this is how our father reacted. Naturally, he didn’t approve of J.’s behaviour any more than our mom did, but his anger and shock at J. were much better controlled, as I recall. He focused more on the foolishness of what J. had done (i.e., risking pregnancy or disease), and less on the ‘shameful’ aspect of it. The unkindness of his words went to this extent: “What a donkey!” he said, twice, of J. Our near-hysterical mother, in contrast, seemed to be displaying narcissistic rage at J.’s failure to be her G.C.

Years later, J. was in a relationship with the man who would become her husband (he later died of cancer–<<<scroll down to Part VII). They were living together, and I doubt it was a platonic living arrangement. Though their relationship was getting serious, and the man was a clean-cut, respectable sort that our parents would have approved of, technically they weren’t yet married, and thus they were ‘living in sin’.

Our conservative father was the only disapproving one this time, though he grudgingly tolerated J.’s living with her then-boyfriend, acquiescing to how “that’s the way people do things these days.” Dad was playing the role of protective father, while our mother was all proud, in her smug and superior attitude, of being a ‘progressive thinker’, as against Dad’s sexist double standards for J. (while having allowed R. and F., my brothers, to live with any then-girlfriends, something I doubt our father approved of, either, by the way). This was an example of Mom doing a minor smear campaign on our father.

Mom’s hypocrisy is notable in how narcissism motivated both contradictory attitudes. Her daughter had ‘shamed the family’ by giving herself to a long-haired ‘punk’ (who, for all we know, could have cut his hair and become a ‘respectable’ member of society within a year of his breakup with J.); but now, Mom was a ‘good feminist’ for approving of this modern living arrangement with a man who–though he would prove himself a genuinely worthy husband–could have gotten J. pregnant and run off on her, for all we knew at the time.

Mom’s ‘feminism’ was nothing more than bourgeois progressivism; as long as bourgeois prejudices about ‘respectability’ weren’t challenged, J. and her not-yet husband could bonk away in bed as often as they liked. Years after J.’s ‘shame’ with the ‘punk’ in her bed, she spoke to me of the bad dating mistakes she’d made back in the 80s, with a frown of shame on her face for having displeased our mother.

J.’s haughty, self-righteous attitude toward me should be seen in light of her need to conform with our mother’s expectations of her. In my private thoughts, I always sent J.’s contempt of me back at her whenever I contemplated her chronic need to conform socially (while requiring me also to conform); now I can understand her psychological motivations for doing so. J.’s phoney virtue signalling was indeed an act she was putting on, the False Self she was required to adopt to fulfill Mom’s need for her to embody all the virtues Mom deluded herself into thinking she had. She needed J. to manifest them publicly, so Mom could watch and identify with her, and thus smile with pride at her daughter, her ‘mini-me’.

Similarly, I as the identified patient was also playing a phoney role our mother required of me, so she could be exorcised of her narcissistic demons by projecting them onto me. The scapegoat role is a False Self that I must dispel from my life; I must rediscover the real me that the family never wanted me to be.

Also, Dear Reader, if any of these issues apply to you, you must work to dispel the False Self you were required to be by your disordered parents or ex-partner, be that phoney role the scapegoat or the golden child (the good role of the idealize phase, or the bad one of the devalue/discard phase, respectively, if it was your ex who abused you). You get to decide who you really are, remember, not those people who programmed your brain for their not-so-noble purposes.

Stay authentic, my friends.

Analysis of ‘Taxi Driver’

Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller filmed in 1976, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese (who also has a cameo or two in the film), and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard HarrisCybill Shepherd, and Peter Boyle. It is ranked #52 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

  1. “May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.” –Travis Bickle

2. “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” –Bickle

3. “Twelve hours of work and I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.” –Bickle

4. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.” –Bickle

5. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” –Bickle

6. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” –Bickle

7. “I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we’d go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That’s my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.” –Bickle

8. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others – cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.” –Bickle

9. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” –Bickle, looking at himself in a mirror (ranked #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.)

10. [in an anniversary card to his parents] “Dear Father and Mother: July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year.” –Bickle

11. “When we came up with our slogan, ‘We are the People,’ when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.” –Senator Charles Palantine

12. “Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: ‘I am the man. I suffered. I was there.’ Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.” –Palantine

13. [to Travis] “You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?…I want you to see that woman, because that’s my wife. But that’s not my apartment. That’s not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn’t know who lives there – I’m just saying, “But you know who lives there?” Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna kill her. There’s nothing else. I’m gonna kill her. What do you think of that? Hmm? I said ‘What do you think of that?’ Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer everything. I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. I have a .44 Magnum pistol. I’m gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face? I mean it’ll fuckin’ destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what it can do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see. You should see what a .44 Magnum’s gonna do to a woman’s pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I’m, you know… You must think I’m pretty sick or somethin’, you know, you must think I’m pretty sick. Right? You must think I’m pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I’ll betcha, I’ll betcha you really think I’m sick right? You think I’m sick? You think I’m sick? You don’t have to answer. I’m payin’ for the ride. You don’t have to answer.” –cuckold passenger

14. “Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that’s what you are. Like I’ve been a, I’ve been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don’t own my own cab. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin’ somebody else’s cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy’s a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. ‘Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we’re all fucked, more or less you know.” –Wizard

15. “So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn’t you ever try lookin’ in your own eyeballs in the mirror?” –Iris

The main themes of Taxi Driver include false ideals, and alienation leading into fragmentation, these being social and psychological problems stemming from capitalism and imperialism. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a Vietnam vet suffering from insomnia and loneliness, problems common to sufferers of PTSD and C-PTSD. With his feeling of being broken off from the rest of society comes the breaking up, the falling apart, of his personality.

You can see how troubled Travis is just from the first look in his eyes at the beginning of the movie. When he’s interviewed for the job, he’s asked by the interviewer (Joe Spinell) why he wants to be a cabbie; when he says he can’t sleep, the interviewer suggests going to theatres that show porno films.

Already we see an example of the social alienation between different members of the proletariat. How is it ‘treatment’ for proletarians’ insomnia to watch naked, sexualized, and exploited lumpenproletariat? Bickle was a veteran suffering from the trauma of fighting an imperialist war where soldiers like him saw (and often participated in) the raping and bombing of Southeast Asians. Recall Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old girl who was photographed running naked because a napalm strike was burning her clothes and her back. How could watching porn cure this, instead of aggravating it?

When the interviewer asks about Bickle’s driving record, he responds, “Clean, like my conscience.” With his record in Vietnam, this joke sounds suspiciously like reaction formation. The interviewer is offended by this remark, forcing an apology from Bickle–more alienation.

When Bickle goes into the parking lot where all the cabs are, the camera moves away from him to get a sweep of the area; not his point of view, but as if we were seeing the scene from other eyes. One would expect to see more of Bickle, who is more or less narrating the story (i.e., the story is essentially from his point of view). The camera drifting away from him suggests his distracted, dissociated mind; it also suggests his growing alienation from himself…his fragmentation.

Bickle does go to those porno theatres; what’s worse, on two occasions he tries to connect with women in that very setting! Naturally, the women in question are so offended and disgusted that they want nothing to do with him.

It’s easy to look at Bickle’s behaviour and say, “What an idiot! Taking a woman he wants to impress on a date…to a porno theatre? Asking the name of a woman selling snacks in a porno theatre? What is he thinking? Is he thinking?”

Such snap judgements, however, fail to get at the root of the problem, which is in the conflicts in his fragmented unconscious mind, in his alienation from his species-essence. Part of him wants to connect with these women (or with any woman in general), but another part of him wants to sabotage that connection by scaring them off. Bickle knows as well as any idiot (though he speaks as if he doesn’t) that no woman wants to date or get to know a pervy porn lover…but he puts women in that awkward situation anyway. In his alienation and fragmentation, he can’t make up his mind whether to be or not to be connected with a girl, so his conflict is resolved in a brutal social faux pas.

Heinz Kohut knew of a patient whose fragmentation perfectly exemplified this inability to think straight–a man who confused left and right! The patient had a dream he was “in an airplane flying from Chicago to New York. He was occupying a window seat on the left side of the plane, as he mentioned, looking out toward the south. When the analyst pointed out the inconsistency in his report of the dream: that, going from Chicago to New York, he would be looking north, not south, from the left side of the plane, the patient became utterly confused and spatially disoriented–to the point that he literally could not tell right from left for a short time.” (Kohut, pages 153-154)

The patient’s fragmentation came from his parents’ disappearance from his life for a span of more than a year, when he was three-and-a-half years old. In this connection, one wonders about the closeness of Bickle’s relationship with his parents, when he writes to them in an anniversary card (see Quote #10 above), and he doesn’t remember the exact dates of their anniversary, his mother’s birthday, or Father’s Day! He remembers only that the dates are all in July. Recall (Quote #6) that he says he’s been lonely all his life, suggesting a lack of closeness with his parents in his childhood. His trauma from his Vietnam War experiences would have multiplied his fragmentation by the thousands, hence his own inability to think straight, or to remember to do even the simplest of things, like remember to ask Betsy’s last name (Quote #7).

When Bickle becomes a taxi driver, he accepts working absurdly long hours throughout the night because he can’t sleep. He is like so many right-leaning members of the working class, who take on such long hours without ever questioning if such a working life is good for them.

He drives his cab around an especially rough area of New York City. As a conservative worker, he feels revulsion at the lumpenproletariat all around him. His prejudice against blacks is first noted when he calls them “spooks” (see Quote #1 above), then says it makes no difference to him if they ride in his cab, a denial of the racism he also manifests in the dirty looks he gives blacks later on, as well as the black man he shoots in the head for trying to rob a convenience store (instead of just making a citizen’s arrest, or, since Bickle’s at close range, maybe shooting the gun out of the black man’s hand in self-defence when he spins around to try to shoot Bickle). If only he could feel more solidarity with all the global proletariat (including not only blacks but also prostitutes, beyond the mere ‘gallantry’ of saving Iris [Foster] from her pimp, Sport [Keitel], more on that later), he just might cure his alienation.

When Bickle sees Betsy for the first time, a curvaceous blonde beauty working for the campaign of a left-leaning liberal politician named Palantine (Harris), he idealizes her in his mind, imagining that the sewer society all around them “cannot…touch…her.” When she rejects him after his foolish choice to take her to a porno movie, his ideal of her has been shattered.

This leads to a discussion of an important theme in Taxi Driver: false ideals. Apart from his temporary idealizing of Betsy, Bickle also idealizes outdated notions of manhood, a problem many right-leaning male members of the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and petite bourgeoisie have, including many in the ‘manosphere‘, for example. Bickle imagines men are supposed to protect and provide for all women, as well as ‘perform’ for them (i.e., initiate dates with them and play the role of ‘perfect gentleman’).

In his social awkwardness, though, Bickle is over-aggressive in his wish to join up through Betsy instead of Tom (Brooks), to help the Palantine campaign. His reason to prefer her over Tom, bluntly given, is that she is “the most beautiful woman [he’s] ever seen”. During their time together in the café, he’s polite and well-groomed, and in his jealousy over Tom’s attentions to her, he bad-mouths him, whom he doesn’t know at all, saying he’s “silly” and that he doesn’t respect her. That night, Bickle takes her to a porno!

The same man who has no problem with pornography does, however, have a problem with prostitution; for he sees Iris try to escape from Sport by getting into his cab. (This version of the scene doesn’t have the dialogue, but the visuals are sufficient to demonstrate my point, anyway.) We see Bickle’s piercing eyes through his rear-view mirror–an important motif representing his projections of his own, inner viciousness out into a world he perceives as vicious (more on that later)–as he sees the pimp grab the girl and toss him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to make him forget the whole incident.

He can forget about the exploited women in porn, as well as all those other prostitutes he sees on the streets or even in his cab, but not Iris. For Bickle, she has a face: she is a real human being to him. His alienation is so bad that he can recognize humanity in such women only when up close.

Because of his having been rejected by his once-idealized Betsy, he regards her as “in a Hell,” and unkindly generalizes about all women thus, saying they’re “like a union.” He, like those in the ‘manosphere’, would do well to give up their right-leaning convictions, join unions, and end their alienation instead of aggravating it with flippant misogyny.

Note the dialectical tension, though, between this misogyny and its opposite extreme, misguided gallantry. (Remember, also, how dialectical materialism sees a unity in contradictions.) A fellow cabbie inspires Bickle to buy weapons, and after an encounter with an angry cuckold who wants to murder his unfaithful wife (possibly by firing a phallic .44 Magnum at her face and between her legs!), he buys a number of guns to kill Iris’s pimp and mafia associates, and thus free her of them.

Bickle watches that angry cuckold fearfully through his rear-view mirror, seeing a disturbing reflection…of himself, actually, when you think about it. One of the guns he buys is a .44 Magnum. He later watches porn in a theatre and mimics aiming and firing a gun, with phallic fingers, at the screen.

Part of him has wanted to stop himself. He talks to a fellow cabbie they call “the Wizard” (Boyle), who apparently gives good advice. Bickle, in his increasing alienation and fragmentation, can’t tell the Wizard what’s troubling him beyond saying, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” (Then again, how do you tell someone that you want to murder a politician, and then a pimp to free a prostitute, and maybe even kill more people in the future?)

The Wizard’s counsel is hardly helpful. He seems to be experiencing fragmentation on a certain level, too, for he speaks in a largely incoherent way. He does, however, touch on a few important points: a man identifies with his job, and by saying he doesn’t want to own his own cab, the Wizard is implying an acknowledgement of worker alienation, of his own alienation from having to drive a cab every day.

Bickle’s faux-gallant wish to be the hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Iris), yet also to assassinate a popular politician (Palantine), presumably to spite Betsy (inspiring John Hinckley Jr. to try to assassinate Reagan, to impress Jodie Foster), represents a growing problem in the self-centred, alienating modern world–masculinity in crisis.

Just as sex roles have required women to be docile, timid homemakers and beauty queens, they have also required men to be stoic providers and protectors, willing to face any terror without shedding a tear. Such would have been Travis Bickle’s experience in Vietnam, killing fellow members of the global proletariat, including innocent women and children, all to stop the spread of an ideology dedicated to ending imperialism.

The trauma of war, combined with the worker alienation felt in the modern, capitalist world, have all combined to create great social isolation in Bickle. Instead of getting organized, however, with fellow workers to end the capitalist, imperialist system that sent him to kill people in Vietnam, one that created the material conditions that alienate him from the rest of society, he’d rather “get organizized” (more fragmentation) all alone, and fight and kill the ‘scum’ he sees all around him–including his fellow proletarians.

People are way too often distracted from legitimate socialist struggle by identity politics…on both the left and the right: white nationalism and the alt-right; the extremes of men’s rights activism, incels, and others in the manosphere; the kind of CIA-influenced ‘feminism’ that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president just because she’s a woman, while ignoring her total support of imperialism and neoliberalism, etc. Instead, poor whites should be joining the proletarian struggle, and the ending of sex roles should integrate women’s and men’s issues within a socialist context. Solidarity for all the people. Our true enemy is none other than the ruling class. Alienated Bickle in many ways is like those idpol fetishists, who are too self-absorbed to channel their discontent into solving more fundamental problems.

Mirrors are a major motif in this film. I’ve mentioned the rear-view mirror of Bickle’s cab. There’s also his mirror in his apartment during his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Though he’s imagining himself confronting one of those “scum” he wants to ‘stand up to’, remember that he sees himself in that mirror. He’s talking to himself. The scum he’s confronting is himself, whom he’s been projecting onto the world around him. As he himself says, he’s the only one there.

Jacques Lacan wrote of the mirror stage, when an uncoordinated infant first sees him- or herself in the reflection. The emotional effects of this psychological identification with the image in the mirror are problems Lacan saw as staying with one throughout life, though. There’s a feeling of alienation from oneself: that’s me in the mirror, but the image’s totality and unity (an idealized version of myself) seem at odds with the awkward, fragmented person I feel myself to be. Bickle, on two tries, has to make three jerks of his arm to make the device under his sleeve produce the concealed pistol in his hand; this reflects that awkwardness, all in contrast with his tough talk, “You’re dead.” The gun should just slide into his hand in one quick, effortless movement.

Note that in this scene, as well as the scenes with his mohawk, he’s wearing a green jacket, part of combat fatigues. The mohawk was also adopted by some soldiers, considered to have done especially heroic missions, during such wars as in Vietnam. Bickle seems, on at least an unconscious level, to be still fighting the war in his mind. Knowing how PTSD sufferers relive their trauma through flashbacks, we shouldn’t find it difficult to imagine Bickle thinking this way.

So all of his exercising, weight-lifting, target practice, etc., is like him going through basic training again. He speaks of eating no more bad food, no more pills, “no more destroyers of [his] body” (not that he actually makes these healthy reforms): in other words, he’s trying to fight against his own fragmentation, just as his mind is falling to pieces.

Recall those breaks in camera continuity, as when he repeats the words, “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let- Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…” And again, right after he’s shot Sport the first time, and he goes to sit on the steps before the building where Iris is with the other mafiosi, his sudden walking into the building, turning to the right from walking on the sidewalk, after his sit on the steps, seems too abrupt…it’s as if he never sat. Those continuity breaks, like the camera’s sweeping away from Bickle in the taxi parking lot at the beginning of the film, or its moving away from him when he phones Betsy to try to make up with her after their disastrous date, all symbolize his fragmentation, his alienation from himself.

The scene of his attempt to assassinate Palantine, during which he reacts to the glib, charming words of the senator’s speech with ironic clapping and a sneering smile, could be his attempt to spite Betsy as I mentioned above; or it could be a reflection of his wish to take on the capitalist political establishment that sent him out to kill Vietnamese peasants, people who’d never done him any harm; and yet, in the words of liberal Palantine, that establishment hypocritically condemns the Vietnam War.

Remember that Bickle’s trauma, as is the case with the veteran of any war, is not just about the pain he endured, but also the pain he caused the ‘enemy’: in this case, Vietnamese soldiers who were just trying to liberate their people from imperialism; also, Vietnamese women and children, including prostitutes exploited by American GIs…sometimes underage prostitutes, like Iris.

One might think that, just because nothing is said about Bickle’s experiences in Vietnam, there’s little justification for going on and on about his trauma from the war. His laconicism about Vietnam can, however, easily be attributed to repression. (Recall, also, that the trauma of the Vietnam War was fresh on people’s minds back in the mid-1970s.)

When, during his job interview at the beginning of the movie, you see and hear him talking about his honourable discharge from the marines, his pained, grimacing facial expression gives us a clue as to how “honourable” the whole thing had really been for him; contrast this with the friendly smile of the interviewer, who has also served in the marines.

Let’s come to the film’s climax. Pimps are mafia, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, mafia are capitalists. The brutal exploitation of prostitutes, also something I’ve discussed elsewhere, is another example of capitalist cruelty, imperialist cruelty, in the case of Third World prostitutes exploited by Western tourists. So Bickle’s rescuing of Iris by going into the urban jungle and killing Sport and the other two mafia men, while he’s in his green jacket and with his mohawk, is like him going back into the jungles of Vietnam to kill the imperialists, though he–a conservative proletarian–would sense this intention only unconsciously. Since he unconsciously sees himself in these pimps (and them in him), he is killing himself in unconscious phantasy.

He uses his .44 Magnum to blow off the fingers of a mafia man, then uses a knife to stab the man in the other hand. He puts another gun to the man’s face and fires a bullet in his head, just after he’s filled the face of another mafioso with bullets–all of these acts of violence being symbols of fragmentation…Bickle’s own fragmentation, since he projects his self-hatred onto these scum. In killing them, he’s trying to kill himself.

Indeed, after killing them, he points a gun at his head and tries to kill himself, only he’s out of bullets. So, when the cops come, he just points his bloody finger at his head and mimes shooting himself. Iris, a witness to all the killing, just sits nearby and sobs.

The media portray his rescue of Iris from pimps as an act of heroism. This is more false idealizing, for what Bickle has really done, by subjecting a teenage girl to the close-up witnessing of a bloody shootout, is to traumatize her far worse than all the sexual exploitation she’s been enduring. In fact, with all those phallic guns ejaculating bullets and spraying, if you will, multiple orgasms of blood, Bickle has raped Iris far more brutally than the paid rape of prostitution ever could.

Her father writes Bickle a thank-you letter for having rescued her and having her return home to go back to school; but we never really get her side of the story. She certainly regrets having been a prostitute, but is she happy back at home again? What drove her to run away in the first place? She told Bickle, during breakfast in a diner, that her parents “hate” her. It’s easy to assume this talk is just teenage hyperbole, but the notion of ‘loving parents’ is another easy assumption, a false ideal. If her parents abused her, what kind of abuse was it? Physical? Emotional? Did her father sexually abuse her? If it’s the last of these three, an understanding of object relations theory would explain her running into Sport’s arms.

The movie ends with Bickle giving Betsy a ride home at night. On the surface, he seems to be stable again, even amiable, for he gives her a free ride. Then, just before the ending credits, as he’s driving, he sees something in his rear-view mirror that agitates him. Is it another manifestation of the filth and corruption of the city, a filth he must wash clean with more blood? Or is it his own face in the reflection that troubles him? After all, we see his eyes in the mirror just before the first of the credits; and during his moment of agitation, the soundtrack recording is briefly played in reverse, suggesting a move backwards in time, towards his moment of extreme instability and fragmentation.

He is no hero, of course. He is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode with more violence at any moment. He felt no therapeutic catharsis when he killed those mafia men. He’ll kill again, and the victims could very well be far more innocent the next time. He has by no means exorcised his Vietnamese demons, for the evil is still alive inside himself. No matter how hard he tries to project it out onto the streets of New York City, it remains inside him.

Killing is in his blood; he got it from Vietnam. The internal dialogue of violence was programmed into him from his years of seeing combat every day. The ghosts of all those Viet Cong (and, in all likelihood, innocent civilians) he killed are still haunting him, his bad object relations. Only love would replace those bad internal objects with good ones, and his perpetual objectifying of women makes getting that love an impossibility.

Recall how, before the shootout, he broods while watching TV in his apartment, holding his .44 Magnum (aiming it at the TV, too) and seeing the smiling dancing couples on American Bandstand, a staged love, to be sure (as the media is almost universally phoney); but also one that he, in his isolation, can’t have, much less a real love. Oh, the pain you see in his eyes as that bittersweet song is playing! He can’t even have a love that leads to marriage, then divorce, as he sees in the soap opera just before he knocks over and destroys his TV set.

A man-woman relationship is only a sexual one for him; hence his viewing of pornography. But could it be that, as he says, such a relationship “is not so bad”? After all, he saw far worse treatment of women, sexual and violent, in Vietnam. The escape from reality into a world of pornographic fantasy would seem less harsh. Bickle’s pathological failure to achieve loving relationships leads to his empty pleasure-seeking, as WRD Fairbairn noted (see my third quoting of Fairbairn in this blog post). However Bickle may try to rationalize his pathologies, though, his reality is that he’s in a Hell, the Hell of his war trauma, a Hell of loneliness…and he’s gonna die in a Hell like the rest of ’em.

Psychic Bridges

One recurring theme I’ve noticed from reading a lot of writers on the subject of psychoanalysis is the idea that the human personality is relational, rather than an isolated, self-developing thing. A person is best understood in terms of how he or she interacts with and is influenced by the other people he or she is in regular contact with. The most crucial contacts one has for one’s development are, of course, one’s parents/primary caregivers and one’s (more usually elder) siblings.

Object relations theory is all about how one introjects imagos of one’s parents; we carry these imagos inside our psyche, like ghosts haunting a house, and they influence how we perceive the world, regardless of whether or not the imagos are an accurate representation of the early people we were in contact with as infants or children. These imagos help form psychic bridges between ourselves and our social environment, and are crucial parts of our personalities. The positive or negative energy that our primary caregivers send across those bridges to us cause us, in turn, to send positive or negative energy right back across to them, then it comes back to us again, and is sent back from us again, back and forth, and back and forth, throughout our lives.

When those early caregivers/influencers are loving and kind, they inspire us to be similarly good to others; when they are cruel and abusive, we learn to be cruel and abusive to others. After years of being bullied and psychologically abused by my siblings, along with my inability to fight back (for it’s in the nature of bullies not to allow you to fight back), I had a huge store of inner rage, all that negative energy that needed to be vented; so, when I became an English teacher to Taiwanese kids, the boys–whose pre-teen awkwardness reminded me of when I was an awkward, patience-trying boy–ended up being on the receiving end of all that rage.

I know intellectually that I shouldn’t be taking out my frustrations on those kids (the way my siblings shouldn’t have taken the rage they got from our parents all out on me, and the difference between my siblings and me is in how I recognize what I’ve done is wrong, whereas they don’t recognize their own wrongdoing), but to this day, I still find it a challenge to refrain from blowing up at them from time to time, for such is the nature of my poorly-built psychic bridges, my ‘mental programming’, if you will. So, you see, the importance of setting up the best psychic bridges that we can for children cannot be overstated.

In the self psychology language of Heinz Kohut, these good, empathic psychic bridges are called self-objects, in particular, early caregivers who provide an empathic response to childhood grandiosity and exhibitionism, encouraging it and letting it down in ways appropriate to whatever phase of development a child may be in at a given moment. For children must learn to deal with disappointments and reduced narcissistic gratification in amounts that they can bear.

When the self-objects fail to provide that needed empathy, the child experiences traumatic disappointments, causing his or her narcissistic energy to fail to be incorporated into a psychic context of healthy, realistic self-esteem. Instead, the child’s self-concept splits: there’s a horizontal split, with much of the narcissistic energy repressed–pushed down–into the unconscious; also, there’s a vertical split, with much of the narcissistic energy disavowed–pushed over to the side, as it were. The remaining core ego puts on the mask of an unassuming, genial personality, a likeable False Self to fool the world into thinking the pathological narcissist is a normal person.

For my part, I tend to modify Kohut’s ideas where it seems appropriate, necessary, and defensible. Now, please remember, Dear Reader, that I am no authority on these matters; I merely dabble in psychoanalysis and have no formal training in it. All I’m doing here is giving my personal opinions, so take them with a generous dose of salt. Don’t take them as gospel.

Part of my modifications of Kohut includes my belief that the vertical split/disavowal of narcissistic energy includes projecting the grandiosity onto other people; this projecting often goes as far as to lapse into projective identification. If the pathological narcissist can cause his or her victim–ideally, a sensitive type whose empathy and sweetness are things the narcissist envies–to manifest the grandiosity and self-centredness projected from the narcissist, he or she then can feel ‘cured’ of the pathology, the demons seem exorcized, as it were, and the narcissist can then feel comfortable in his or her False Self, deluded that the mask worn is his or her real face. I believe my late mother victimized me in this exact way.

So this split in the narcissist’s personality is a kind of dialectical split between hidden narcissistic grandiosity and an outward display of fake modesty.

The narcissist’s psychic bridges must be examined, too. We’ve already considered his or her grandiose self; now we must look across to the other side of the bridge of the bipolar self–his or her idealized parent, and how that parent’s imago influences the narcissist’s personality.

The lack of empathy the child suffered caused an injury to his or her grandiose self; that injury carries across to the other side of the bridge, causing a split image of the parent, between the idealized, all-good parent and the hurtful, empathy-denying bad parent. Healthy people, who have realistic self-esteem and recognize the coexistence of good and bad in themselves, also see the good and bad coexisting in their parents, for the psychic bridge reflects parallels of parents and children on both sides; hence, narcissists have a split of outward good (grandiosity) and secret self-hate, as well as a split of outward good seen in their parents (idealized parent imago) and a secret, unacknowledged resentment of the bad sides of their idolized parents.

I believe the preceding paragraph describes the personalities of my brothers R. and F., and especially my sister J., with respect to their own repressed/disavowed grandiosity, hidden behind a ‘respectable’ collective False Self, and to their idealizing of our late mother. She, in turn, had the same repressed/disavowed grandiosity for herself, as well as the same idealizing of her parents, especially her father, who died when she was a child, traumatizing her and not allowing her the opportunity to experience optimal frustration in him, which would have lead to a realistic sense of his strengths and faults.

Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex needs to be modified, in my opinion, to mean not merely the love of the opposite-sex parent and the hate of the same-sex one (or, for that matter, in the case of the inverted, or negative, Oedipus complex, hate of the opposite-sex parent and love of the same-sex one), but rather an expanded notion, incorporating a mixture of love and hate for both parents. We all love Mom and/or Dad sometimes, and at other times we would love to kill both, or as least one, of them.

So these psychic bridges, with oneself on one side and one’s parents/primary caregivers/siblings on the other, are also like mirrors into which we see those primal people as reflections of ourselves (if you’ll indulge my piling of simile onto simile, Dear Reader). However we love or hate those other people is a reflection of how we love or hate ourselves; positive or negative energy is sent back and forth across the bridges.

Narcissists outwardly display grandiosity and excessive self-love while idealizing their parents; inwardly, though, they hate themselves and secretly resent their parents’ failed empathic responses to their childhood exhibitionism.

Failed parenting doesn’t necessarily result in narcissism: that tends to be the case for golden children, but what of scapegoats like me? To understand our psychic bridges, I recommend an examination of the ideas of WRD Fairbairn.

Fairbairn created his endopsychic structure, a relational model based on a libido of object-seeking (i.e., seeking out other people for love and friendships), to replace Freud’s inappropriately drive-based personality structure of id, ego, and superego. Freud thought it was all about a will to pleasure; Fairbairn thought it was all about a will to relationships, to connection with others.

So instead of Freud’s ego, we have Fairbairn’s similar concept of the Central Ego, linked to an Ideal Object (the link is the ‘psychic bridge’, as I call it). The id is replaced by the far-from-identical Libidinal Ego, psychically bridged with the Exciting Object; and the superego is replaced by the even-more-different Anti-libidinal Ego (formerly, the Internal Saboteur) and its Rejecting Object.

Everyone has all three configurations, according to Fairbairn, even the healthiest people, those whose Central Ego and Ideal Object, a seeking out of real relationships in the external world, is the dominant of the three. The less healthy we are, though, because of the poor empathy we got from our parents, the more predominant are our Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (the urge to seek out pleasure in inappropriate, internalized, fantasied objects–idolizing of movie/pop/sports stars, consumption of pornography, etc.) and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (aggression and hostility towards other people).

The more predominant these latter two configurations are, the more of a ‘schizoid’ (i.e., split, fragmented–NOT to be confused with schizophrenic, though such could be the case in extreme cases) personality one has (Fairbairn, page 4). Here, the psychic bridges between oneself and others are damaged or broken.

Melanie Klein borrowed Fairbairn’s use of the word ‘schizoid’ (or, rather, he and she borrowed from each other) to describe these broken people in her use of the term ‘paranoid-schizoid position‘ to describe the hostility a baby (or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age) may feel towards his or her frustrating ‘bad mother‘ (Klein, page 3). Her contrasting term, the ‘depressive position’, describes the saddened state a child is in after fearing the loss of the temporarily-absent mother (after his hostile phantasies of hurting or killing her for having frustrated him), then wishing for reparation with her, a mending of the broken or damaged psychic bridge between him and his mother.

Some of us, like me, can never mend these broken bridges. Some of us were so severely emotionally abused, by Cluster B parents who were unrepentant right up to the grave, that we’ll never get that reparation with them. And if our siblings were the pathological parents’ flying monkeys, they will be every bit as impenitent as our parents. The psychic bridges between us and these primal people will always be damaged, if not irreparably broken; so we’ll need to establish bridges with a new set of people to replace them, new good objects to fill in the holes that the old bad objects broke into our bridges.

It should be a no-brainer to understand that the human personality is relational, based on bridges between oneself and one’s parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings, these elder people having related with one right from one’s birth, as opposed to younger people, or those one meets later in life, and who therefore haven’t had as foundational an influence on oneself.

Unfortunately, there are many who can’t grasp this idea, preferring to regard people as having a good or bad personality because they were ‘born that way’, instead of brought up that way. These people, like my elder siblings, for example, imagine a person to be an isolated particle of existence, as it were, generating himself with minimal, if any, influence from other people. My elder siblings have deluded themselves in this fashion, as did my mother, to evade taking responsibility for how their emotional abuse and bullying made me the man I am today, one who refuses contact with them.

To be sure, I must take responsibility for many of my faults: my wife, who has been only a good psychic bridge for me, has every right to complain of my faults. But one’s personality is more of a wave, a vibration connected with all surrounding vibrations, than a mere particle (to continue with the simile of the last paragraph) disconnected from everyone and everything else. Everything that I am, at my core, is the result of the pernicious influence of my mother, with her lies, gaslighting, and triangulating to ensure I’d never be friends with R., F., and J. These damaged primal psychic bridges ensured I’d go through life with mostly damaged relationships with other people.

My separation from that family gave me a chance to start again in my life here in East Asia, where I’ve made bridges with people on the other side who are kind, loving people. These are the good objects Klein and Fairbairn wrote of, rather like an adult version of a transitional object, in human form, that can link us with the external world in a healthy way. These are Kohut’s empathic self-objects, who give the needed mirroring to us damaged people, to help us build self-love.

If you are in relationships with people who give you damaged or broken psychic bridges, you must get out of those poisonous relationships as soon as you can. You must also mend what’s wrong inside yourself, either through therapy, or through self-compassion, self-care (I recommend ASMR, hypnosis, and meditation), and a greater awareness of how your own hostilities and aggressiveness to others (inspired, no doubt, by your abusers) stops you from building new bridges with others.

Remember, we people are not islands, cut off from each other and generating our own faults. If you’ll indulge more of my similes, Dear Reader, we are like the waves of the ocean, flowing into each other and affecting each other in ways we barely even notice. If someone is in a bad psychological state, he probably wasn’t ‘born that way’, he was probably raised that way.

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

Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, The Free Press, New York, 1975

The Ouroboros of Capital

In The Ouroboros of Dialectical Materialism, I discussed how the ouroboros, a serpent coiled into a circle and biting its tail, can be an effective symbol of the relationship between opposites. The biting head represents one extreme, the bitten tail is the opposite extreme, and every point along the length of the snake’s body symbolizes a different point on the circular continuum, somewhere between the extremes.

In that other post, I discussed how the ouroboros can represent the class struggle in history and at the present. I mentioned how there is a tendency to shift counter-clockwise from the tail of communism to the liberal centre at the bottom of the serpentine coil, then to the right-libertarian front half of the serpent’s body, and ultimately to the fascist snake’s head. Since that counter-clockwise movement is in the interests of the capitalist class, we’ll now be exploring why the bourgeoisie is compelled to move in that direction, as well as what causes the clockwise movements that the ruling class must counteract.

The most basic dialectical opposition in capitalism, as Marx noted in Capital, Volume One, is the commodity, which is a use-value and an exchange-value. Seen as only a use-value, a commodity will gradually depreciate in value as it is used repeatedly over time, thus causing a clockwise movement from the head of the serpent to its tail; once its worth is reduced to nothing, it has to be replaced with a new use-value commodity, a movement from the bitten tail to the biting head. If, however, a commodity is to become an exchange-value, efforts must be made to improve and preserve its quality, thus making it saleable.

Here’s where the capitalist steps in. He ensures that the commodity’s quality moves counter-clockwise on the serpent’s body, moving towards the biting head. He does this through the application of abstract labour, as opposed to the concrete labour that produces mere use-values. This counter-clockwise movement, achieved through socially necessary labour time and effort, creates value by combining use-and exchange-value, pushing up to the biting head and past it to do another revolution past the bitten tail and counter-clockwise along the serpent’s body; for new units of the said commodity, or other new commodities in general, start the counter-clockwise cycle all over again.

This is why the labour theory of value (LTV) is so crucial to Marxian economics. Granted, many economists reject the LTV, but since they aren’t Marxists, it’s safe to assume that many, if not most (or, possibly, even all!) of them are working, on some level at least, in the interests of the minority bourgeoisie; so if they want to accuse us Marxists of bias, we can respond by saying theirs is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

With successfully-achieved value, the capitalist has a business to run. His products are on the shelves of his store, and customers gaze on them with awe, then perhaps buy them. They see the finished product, as if its value were a magically produced presence, a spirit inhabiting an idol. This adoration of the finished commodity, ignoring the process of how it was made, is rather like contemplating Athena sprung fully-grown from the forehead of Zeus, complete with her armour, helmet, shield, and sword; and just as one may not have seen pregnant Metis swallowed whole by her Olympian lover, the consumer doesn’t see all the work put into the manufacturing of the commodity. The employees of the sated capitalist are hidden in his bloated belly, as it were.

Now we must examine the fortunes of the new businessman. There are several obstacles and dangers that he must overcome in his quest to make money, those forces that cause a clockwise movement from the biting head of success to the bitten tail of a bitter going-out-of-business. These include being outdone by the competition, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF), workers’ demands for better pay and enforcement of safety standards, shorter hours, etc., and other potential problems.

Now the capitalist must find ways to minimize costs. There’s little he can do about the cost of constant capital (the means of production), but there’s much he can do to lower the cost of variable capital (i.e., minimizing his workers’ wages), as well as demand maximum hours of work from his employees, to maximize production and profit, a counter-clockwise movement towards the serpent’s head. As for the workers’ struggle to move things clockwise, read my condensed history of that here.

When the capitalist’s business succeeds to the point of going past the serpent’s head and into a new revolution counter-clockwise towards the head again, we see the circulation, reproduction, and expansion of capital discussed in volume two of Marx’s Capital: in other words, we encounter the reinvestment of some of the accumulated capital into even more commodity production, or, in the best of circumstances, the opening of new stores of the business.

If the expansion doesn’t happen in this way, then perhaps an entrepreneur will see the potential of a business, buy it off the original owner(s), and grow it into a business empire, all in accordance with the entrepreneur’s ambitious vision. This is how one store selling coffee beans in Seattle in the early 1970s grew into a worldwide gourmet coffee empire. It’s also how one burger joint in San Bernardino, California in the 1940s grew into an international fast food empire. So many counter-clockwise revolutions along the body of the ouroboros (granted, I’m oversimplifying here, for the sake of brevity; the ups and downs of these businesses’ fortunes will be expressed in the back-and-forth movement along the length of the ouroboros, too–like the swaying of a pendulum; but the general trend towards successful business empires is still clearly visible over time, and, succeed or fail, this trend is the aspiration of capitalists, the very reason to get into business in the first place).

Next, we must examine the ouroboros of the economic cycle. When business is booming, as it was in the Roaring Twenties and (to an extent) in the early-to-mid 2000s, speculators get overconfident and act as though the good times will last forever. Deregulation will continue in order to maximize profit, as a countermeasure against the TRPF. This will result in such things as overproduction and the housing-bubble recklessness that is believed to have come from Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall legislation, and all of this will lead to economic crises: the counter-clockwise movement of the snake’s head of prosperity ends up passing over to the bitten tail of recession.

The movement out of the hind part of the serpent (recession) back to the front half (economic health) will be faster or slower in accordance with the severity of the given crisis. Hence the interminable length of recovery from both the Great Depression and the 2008 financial crisis. Marx predicted, in volume three of Capital, that one day, the crisis will be too great to recover from, and we’ll either have, as Rosa Luxemburg called it, socialism, or barbarism; one has a gut feeling that day may be soon upon us.

In the meantime, the capitalist class finds new ways to stave off that apocalypse. The days of free competition, the laissez-faire of the nineteenth century, pushed things to the limit by the first decade or two of the twentieth century, a counter-clockwise move past the biting head of the ouroboros and the beginning of capitalist imperialism, as Lenin noted: hence the competition for control of the largest portions of the colonized world in World War I.

Markets were drying up in the local countries, and so capitalists had to seek out markets in other countries, including underdeveloped countries. The merging of banks with industrial cartels resulted in finance capitalism (to provide capital, via investment, in the underdeveloped countries), which in turn led to the division of the world among monopolist business companies and the great powers. An example of this, the scramble for Africa, had already been going on in the latter half of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth; hence, the counter-clockwise movement past the biting head (in the local success of capitalism) through another revolution from tail to head again (in the quest for profit abroad, through imperialism).

Today, this imperialism is in an exacerbated state, what with outsourcing, NAFTA, and sweatshops in the Third World. The proletariat in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia are suffering what the English working class had endured in the nineteenth century. Third World attempts at resistance against imperialism, as with Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists, are more clockwise shifts towards the tail of the ouroboros.

The exploitation of the working class in the poorer countries is only the tip of the iceberg, though. Imperialist war is the far greater evil of our day, along with coup after coup, which the US has been guilty of ever since the end of World War II. There was the Iranian coup in 1953, in which the CIA helped MI6 overthrow the democratically-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, who’d wanted to nationalize Iranian oil to provide for his people, thus limiting the profits of the AIOC and making a clockwise movement away from the serpent’s head. Other coups were those in Guatemala in 1954 (after Arbenz’s policies ran afoul of the United Fruit Company) and in Chile in 1973, when Allende had wanted to nationalize industry.

The sweetest words to touch the tongues of US imperialists are these: regime change. By the late 1990s, a variation on this idea appeared: “humanitarian war”…what an abuse of paradoxes! Once the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc had catastrophically fallen, the West, lying that NATO wouldn’t advance “one inch eastward”, in this regard set its sights on its first prey: Yugoslavia. Consider the destruction and suffering the NATO bombings caused the people in Serbia–not just those who died, but also those exposed to the carcinogenic depleted uranium from the NATO bombs–all to pin a bogus charge of genocide on Slobodan Milosevic. Now, a huge US military base sits in Kosovo, the NATO headquarters for KFOR’s Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG-E).

Combine this Balkanization atrocity with the ruining of Russia in the 1990s, and we see the movement that US/NATO imperialism made, counter-clockwise (as in counterrevolution) past the biting head to the bitten tail, and around again, in preparation for the next set of conquests, all in the name of neoconservatism and neoliberalism, and all for the sake of the multinational corporations.

Note how the counter-clockwise movement around the ouroboros is a like a spiral, an upward spiral from the point of view of the capitalist class; but for everyone else, regardless of whether the lower classes can see it or not, it’s a downward spiral.

The US had armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s to bleed the USSR dry, and in the process, armed men like Osama bin Laden. Then, just before the USSR collapsed (and, with the-then collaboration of the weakening USSR with US interests in the Persian Gulf War, anticipating US unipolarity?), George HW Bush declared a “new world order”, not the NWO of the conspiracy theorists, but a neoliberal one, for no formidable leftist resistance would again exist; US/NATO imperialism could do anything it wanted to!

Military bases in Saudi Arabia, as well as such things as the US support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and the crushing economic sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq in the 1990s, meant that imperialism’s having armed bin Laden would bite the US in the ass one day–September 11th, 2001, to be exact. The biting head of imperial conquest would result in the bitten tail of American humiliation, the double emasculation of New York’s skyline.

At first, the US received some global sympathy, so there was some support of the US invasion of Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks; but it wouldn’t take long for the US to squander the sympathy she’d garnered. Dubya’s invasion of Iraq, done under protest of most of the international community (except for America’s obliging lapdog, the UK), pushed the movement past the biting head of victory (long-desired regime change) to the bitten tail of international opprobrium.

The years have gone by, though, and the world has grown desensitized to the expansion of Bush-style imperialism; it helped having a charming black Democrat to do it for eight years, of course. For this reason, the ouroboros has felt another counter-clockwise revolution…or two, or three…from its tail to its head, with little, if any, protest from bourgeois liberals. Because of how much Trump is justifiably despised, George W Bush has been unjustifiably forgiven.

Now, with Trump’s appointment of Pompeo and Bolton, we can only assume that more war-mongering is in the near future. The rise in strength of Russia and China (add to that their beneficial acts and investments [though, in China’s case, this investment can be a double-edged sword, admittedly], to contrast with the meanness of the US ruling class), as well as Iran’s getting in the way of the US’s wish to control the oil market, means the US is worried about more clockwise movements to limit her profits (as well as an end to her empire). The ruling class is hoping that more imperialist conquests will ensure more profits for Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, et al, while they all turn a blind eye to the destruction and loss of innocent life they’re causing.

Bickering between the Dems and GOP continues to blind Americans, and western liberals in general, to the real problem: the juggernaut of capitalist accumulation, the cycles of the ouroboros of capital that never stop going round and round, a counter-clockwise reaction, making us all go backwards, as against real human progress.

So, how can we break these cycles? How can we end the alienation that causes this bickering? How can we get people to recognize the value of human labour, the process of making commodities that goes along the length of the ouroboros to create value, rather than contemplate only the value of the finished product (commodity fetishism)? How can we keep people mindful of the need to change from a profit-motive mindset to one geared towards production for the sake of providing for everyone?

Can we do this before the escalations of this current Cold War result in nuclear war? The counter-clockwise clock of the ouroboros of capital is ticking. The current time appears to be two minutes past midnight.

No Boundaries

To respect one’s boundaries, you don’t have to feel familial love and affection for him or her; on the other hand, genuine love among people, family or not, necessitates a respect for boundaries. My ‘family’, while always claiming to love me, never respected my boundaries.

I’ve discussed elsewhere, in many blog posts, how the five people I was forced to share a home with in my youth and childhood emotionally abused me. This post (scroll down to VII: Conclusion) summarizes eight particularly egregious things my late (probably) narcissistic mother did to me at points spread throughout my life, right up to her death. Her flying monkeys, my brothers R. and F., and my sister J., helped her every step of the way. Though my late father did little to help them in their gaslighting of me and making me the identified patient, he did far too little to help me, either, especially with regard to Mom’s autism lie about me, of which he himself doubted the veracity.

Because I was designated the scapegoat of the family, it was assumed that I’m some kind of Untermensch utterly unworthy of respect. I find it extremely safe to assume my mother was engaging in smear campaigns against me (not only to my family, but to the staff in our restaurant in the 1980s [with ‘corroboration’ from R., F., and J., no doubt], for some of them mouthed me off, sometimes over trivial mistakes I’d made, apparently without fear of me complaining to their boss about their attitude), presenting her autism lie about me as a vice to be despised in me, rather than autism (which I assuredly don’t have, as two psychotherapists, who gave me treatment back in the mid-1990s, attested) as a mental condition to be given compassion for, as any reasonable person would do, in spite of the frustrations one may have in living with an autistic.

Often, Mom didn’t even need to smear me: just allowing R., F., and J. to bully me with nary a word of reprimand to them was enough to make their contempt of me seem justified. To this day, my siblings go to bed every night, not missing a wink of sleep in contemplating even the possibility that they may have done me wrong during the crucial, formative years of my early life, and thus emotionally scarring me for life.

Their contempt for me often manifested itself in a total disregard for my basic right to have boundaries. F. was typically the worst offender. When I was a teenager/pre-teen, he’d often barge into my room without any respect for my right to privacy. I could have been undressed; he didn’t care.

On one occasion, when I was about twelve and F. was about eighteen (and therefore old enough to be responsible for his actions), I was using the toilet, and he, also needing to use it and in a pissy mood for God-knows-what reason, decided that my having gotten there first wasn’t a good enough reason to let me finish. In a rage, he barged in and yanked me out of the bathroom. (Yet, according to him, I’m the one who doesn’t think about other people.)

On other occasions, around the same time, I’d have been in my room, engaging in maladaptive daydreaming, and F. would barge in, either mocking me or doing some otherwise immature thing (like playing with our dog); and if I gave the perfectly understandable reaction of complaining about his lack of respect for my right to privacy, he’d rationalize his rudeness by going into a snit about my not going outside and making friends.

Of course, he never gave a split second of consideration as to how his constant bullying of me–combined with our brother’s and sister’s bullying of me, Mom’s defence of them (and gaslighting me with the autism lie), and of course, the bullying I’d suffered in school–was poisoning my mind against the very idea of seeking out friends (furthermore, in spite of all the psychological hindrances they’d all afflicted me with, I still managed to make a few friends here and there in my youth).

F. wasn’t the only family member to come into my room uninvited. On one occasion, I’d posted some writing on my wall, ideas reflecting certain personal beliefs I’d been cultivating. I’d have been about nineteen or twenty at the time. I wrote up a list of “Virtues” and “Vices”, meant for my personal reflection. One of those people (probably my mother or my sister, J.–their personalities are practically interchangeable) went into my room and saw what I’d written, for now, scribbled under the list of my “Virtues”, was the word “MANNERS”.

Those two self-righteous busybodies were always griping about my rudeness (which, I admit, has been a problem of mine: consider the non-empathetic family I grew up with to get an idea why), while forgetting how they were often not all that much more polite.

I can imagine their probable reaction to “The Virtues” as I’d written them: “What an arrogant little prick that Mawr is! What does he know about virtue? Who is he to pretend he has wisdom in ethics? Who is he to push his ignorant ideas about right and wrong on the world? [Recall that I was ‘pushing my morality’ in the would-have-been privacy of my bedroom!] I’ll teach him a lesson: here’s a basic virtue he has no grip on at all!” She writes MANNERS. “There!” She walks out in a triumphant huff of pride, giving no thought to how she, in fact, was forcing her ‘superior’ ethics onto me, while rudely invading my privacy.

Many years later, Mom’s incessant prating about Asperger Syndrome, insisting I have it, without any need to consult psychiatrists to make sure, drove me to re-examine my childhood and conclude (as described here, Part 3–The Dawn of Realization) that she’d been gaslighting me with autism lies right from my childhood.

I began distancing myself from the family, starting at the beginning of the 2010s and continuing–and intensifying–up until her death in 2016: I did this partly to punish them, and partly to establish those ever-so-needed protective boundaries, which, of course, they never wanted to respect, as evidenced by, firstly, Mom’s string of seven lies (scroll down halfway on the link to find them listed), told to me the summer before she died; and secondly, by R.’s cyberstalking of me in May 2016, when she died, and I’d left my landline telephone unplugged to stop them from bothering me.

Recall R.’s livid reaction to my YouTube video, in which I recited Philip Larkin’s poem, “This Be the Verse” (Emotional Abuse (Part 6–Is My Mother Dead?). Had he just minded his own business, though, he could have spared himself the pain of hearing my bitter reading, right when he was in the middle of grieving our mother’s death. He may think I “misunderstand” our mother, but he misunderstands the true nature of my relationship with her, in his smug delusion that she “loved me more than anyone else on the planet”.

For fuck’s sake, R.!

During his cyberstalking of me in that May of 2016, R. also found me on the PsychopathFree website, where I’d posted a shorter version of my story. I’d made the mistake of adding a photo of myself on the page, thus making it easy for R. to find me. My account was removed when he tried to contact me there, to tell me that Mom had died; I suspect he gave an ever-so-cursory reading of what I’d written, smugly called ‘bullshit’ on it, then told me of her death in the nastiest, most guilt-tripping language he could muster (Similar to his snarky reaction to my YouTube video: recall how I wouldn’t call Mom at the hospital as he’d hoped I would; but after her refusal to admit to the string of seven disgusting lies she’d told me, what else would I have done?), thus shocking the admins on the website, and making them close my account.

Thanks a lot, R.! Stalk me on a website where I was getting the emotional support I’d never gotten from you, F., or J., and make them kill my account! No boundaries!

Have I no right to vent my frustrations with all of you, R.? You don’t have to expose yourself to my ramblings if you don’t want to.

As I’ve complained so many times before, Mom and her flying monkeys regarded me as little more than an extension of themselves, hence the lack of respect for my boundaries. I was supposed to be only the brother/son they wanted me to be: Mom’s identified patient, the sports player F. wanted me to be, the social conformist J. wanted me to be, and the emotional punching bag all of them wanted me to be. Creating this kind of artificial self is the kind of thing that leads to toxic shame and the danger of psychological fragmentation (scroll down to “The False Self” on this link).

Yet, remember: the family all love me!

I refuse to allow my siblings, the three surviving members of that family, to infiltrate my life anymore. They can carp and complain all they want about what an ‘unfilial’ son I am, but NO CONTACT is a perfectly reasonable way to deal with a family of emotional abusers who think they not only have the right to manipulate, bully, mock, and verbally abuse me, but also imagine that I have no right to complain about their attitude.

And now, Dear Reader, after tolerating all my complaining about my family, I’d like to reward your patience with a little advice, in case you’re going through similar problems with your family, boyfriend/girlfriend, or spouse. If people won’t respect your right to have boundaries, then you not only have the right to impose extra-strong boundaries that keep toxic people from continuing to hurt you; you also have the duty to do so, for the sake of preserving your mental health. It’s called self-care, NOT selfishness.

Here’s the thing about emotional abusers: their behaviour doesn’t improve over time–it gets worse. My mother’s attitude deteriorated with age, as typically happens with narcissists. You can try to stand up for your rights, but they won’t listen: they may physically hear you, but nothing you say will ever register in their brains, for they cannot take criticism as well as they can dish it out. Cut them out of your life, for the sake of your sanity. You deserve better.

I’m sure that if R., F., and/or J. ever find my blog and read any of what I’ve written about them, they’ll troll me in the comments, saying how ‘wrong’ I am about everything (conveniently for them), then make vicious slurs on my character.

Ironically, they’ll be proving how right I am about them.

It will never occur to them, in a million years, to comment by saying, “Wow, Mawr, I never thought about our relationship this way. I have issues with some of the points you’ve made here [fair is fair], but a lot of what you’ve said here has given me food for thought. I don’t even know how to begin to apologize to you for all that we and Mom did to you. I really hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us, then one day, we can fix everything between us and be a family again.”

If they were to say something like that in the comments, they would, in all irony, prove me wrong. Dialectics (i.e., the unity of opposites): sometimes, in order to be right, you have to be wrong yourself. I have been wrong in their eyes for decades; maybe, R., F., and J., the three of you can switch roles with me, for a change.

Analysis of ‘Slutlips’

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Slutlips is an album by Cat Corelli, which she released in 2017. It isn’t exactly a rock opera, since much, if not most, of the music isn’t even rock (you’ll hear an eclectic switching back and forth between neo-Baroque, jazz, rock [i.e., a kind of symphonic metalcore], and electronic styles, as well as dreamy, almost psychedelic passages, music reminiscent of the soundtracks of noir films, and even a piano waltz). You’ve heard of silent films; Slutlips is like a film without visuals. As the Chorus of Henry V advised us, we have to use our imaginations to fill in the visual details.

The first link above is to the entire playlist of songs/story scenes; I recommend listening to it all in order for the following analysis to make sense. Here is a link to the lyrics/script.

The story is non-linear, with flashbacks of Lily, one of the main characters, who was sexually abused by her father, Daniel (“Danny”) Torrance. The other main character is Alice, who sees herself in a mirror and imagines herself to be “a slut” (as is her reputation); she’s also a murderess, having bitten into the neck of Roy Torrance, sucked his blood like a vampiress, and slit his throat with a machete (we learn from the police investigation that Roy is Daniel’s brother). Daisy is another significant female character in the story, a nicer, more socially conforming type of girl, what I suspect Lily could have been had she not been abused.

Other characters include Morgan, who plays the piano waltz, Investigator Andy Trudeau and Agent Matt Curtis, who aren’t able to find Roy’s killer, and who expect more killings in the future. There’s also a “Mystery Girl” (Alice? Or, perhaps, the ‘unknown self’ described in the concluding section of this link?), who speaks in an electronically altered voice. There is much mystery in this story, without any real resolution…but this all seems to be deliberate, for the plot is of secondary importance. Slutlips is, essentially, a character study, an exploration of the mind of a victim of child sexual abuse.

Everything about this album involves disjointed elements, with a sudden switching from one idea to another, in terms of the music and the non-linear story. In fact, the whole album began as a number of separate songs written and recorded years back, then later incorporated into the story. This sense of disjointedness shouldn’t deter the listener from enjoying the story, though, for it all serves a purpose in expressing the main theme of Slutlips: psychological fragmentation resulting from childhood trauma.

Much of the story involves Lily’s childhood memories of being dominated by her beast of a father, who, far from giving her the empathic mirroring and love she needed, sexually abused her, then hypocritically imposed the sanctimonious morality of the Church onto her.

Young children, whose personalities are only just forming, need psychological structure and cohesion, which can come only from empathic parents mirroring their kids’ grandiosity in the form of an idealized parent imago. Such mirroring, coupled with optimal frustrations of the dual narcissistic configuration (i.e., grandiose self/idealized parent imago), will help the child mature by taming his narcissism and transforming it, by transmuting internalization, into healthier, more restrained and realistic self-esteem, the sort that allows one to blend in comfortably with society.

Heinz Kohut explained it thus: “The child that is to survive psychologically is born into an empathic-responsive human milieu (of self-objects) just as he is born into an atmosphere that contains an optimal amount of oxygen if he is to survive physically. And his nascent self “expects”…an empathic environment to be in tune with his psychological need-wishes with the same unquestioning certitude as the respiratory apparatus of the newborn infant may be said to “expect” oxygen to be contained in the surrounding atmosphere. When the child’s psychological balance is disturbed, the child’s tensions are, under normal circumstances, empathically perceived and responded to by the self-object. The self-object, equipped with a mature psychological organization that can realistically assess the child’s need and what is to be done about it, will include the child into its own psychological organization and will remedy the child’s homeostatic imbalance through actions.” (Kohut, page 85)

Without that needed structure and cohesion, the child is in danger of fragmentation, which leads, in extreme cases, to psychosis and a detachment from reality. The unhealthy form of narcissism is a dysfunctional attempt at structure and cohesion, in the form of a False Self.

According to Kohut: “I believe…that defects in the self occur mainly as the result of empathy failures from the side of the self-objects–due to narcissistic disturbances of the self-object; especially, and I think, more frequently than analysts realize, due to the self-object’s latent psychosis…” (Kohut, page 87)

Because of the trauma Lily suffered as a child from her narcissistic father, she feels her personality in danger of disintegration, a fragmentation into separate selves, a psychotic falling apart of the personality. I’m not saying she suffers from dissociative identity disorder, but all the female characters in the story–Lily, Alice, Daisy, and the Mystery Girl–seem to represent different aspects of her fragmented self: respectively, the innocent victim, the slut/murderess, the nice girl, and the ‘unknown self’.

The men in the story, paired as Daniel/Roy/Morgan, and the detectives, all seem to be repeats of each other, too; for splitting into good and bad versions of people (the detectives and the Torrance brothers/Morgan, respectively, as the good and bad father) is a common defence mechanism. Also, Alice’s killing of Daniel’s brother, Roy, can represent a displaced wish to kill Daniel himself (in unconscious phantasy); remember that Alice is another version of Lily, slut-shamed as a result of her trauma from the child sexual abuse, and thus–to ease guilt and anxiety–Lily projects the murder phantasy (and sluttishness) onto Alice.

Alice seeing herself in the mirror can be seen as another manifestation of fragmentation, since Lacan‘s mirror stage, not limited to the spastic years of infancy, results in a fragmented body, an alienation of oneself from the ideal-I in the mirror reflection. The clumsy baby senses a discord between himself and the unified, coherent image in the mirror; just as Lily–with only one leg, it would seem–can’t even stand up or dance; while the image Alice sees in the mirror, “a slut” and a killer, can be the ideal-I (Lily’s other self) only of someone having suffered terrible childhood traumas.

Slutlips makes allusions to several films, the noirish Mulholland Drive and Pulp Fiction (another non-linear narrative that symbolically reinforces the theme of fragmentation), and the horror classic, The Shining, also a story involving parental abuse. Slutlips‘ Daniel Torrance, who doesn’t have the psychic powers of The Shining‘s boy (Danny), or of Dick Hallorann, since Lily’s father lacks the empathy of the boy or of Dick, and is trapped in the past (as Jack Torrance is, as I argued in my analysis of The Shining [the novel]), in tradition, Daniel’s Christian heritage.

One thing deserves attention: all of the men speak in overdone, affected accents, cheesy to the point of being comically stereotyped. Rather than be irked by this, the listener should hear in these caricatured voices a manifestation of the False Self of narcissists, or of otherwise alienated members of society, alienated from themselves–more fragmentation.

Lily’s father speaks with an affected German accent, like a clownish Nazi. I say ‘Nazi’, and not German in the general sense, because of his abusiveness to her and his authoritarianism. He’s also a racist, since he doesn’t want to “risk [his] reputation” by being associated with “niggers” in being seen playing the banjo [!]. Since he has a non-German surname, Torrance, it is truly odd that he has a German accent; but that’s just part of the surreal, non-rational world of the unconscious that this story inhabits, Alice’s nonsensical Wonderland, down the rabbit hole and into a world where an authoritarian monarch threatens physical fragmentation (“Off with her head!” says the Queen in Carroll’s story [and Alice’s creator, Lewis Carroll, photographer and drawer of nude children, could have been, like Lily’s father, a pedophile], but in Slutlips, Lily’s father says, “You’re supposed to have only one leg!”). The Alices of both stories, however, remain defiant (Lily: “Daddy, you’re a moron.”) to the dictates of others.

Indeed, this is a world of dreams, dissociations, and mish-mashes of identities. Since I suspect that Slutlips is semi-autobiographical, I get the impression that Daisy, Lily, Alice, and all the other females in this story represent different aspects of Cat Corelli’s personality, the nice girl/bad girl sides, and the good and bad object relations introjected into her unconscious.

The good and bad object relations include the males in the story, too; not just Lily’s father, but also Roy and Morgan, are internalized in her unconscious. Now, the unconscious tends to make confluent mish-mashes of such things as the self and objects, or, I believe at least, between internalized objects, good or bad; just as it makes no distinction between liquids (milk, blood, urine, as Melanie Klein observed–see my analysis of Alien for more details on that).

Compare Lily’s father with Morgan. Her father poses as a good Christian, but he molests her. Morgan presents himself–as a piano player of waltzes and a connoisseur of The Shining–as at least somewhat cultured (he seems to have Lily temporarily fooled into thinking he’s a ‘good father’ substitute), but there’s something creepy in his voice. Speaking of his voice, he too has an affected, overdone accent–a southern accent, making one think of the ‘redneck’ stereotype. Morgan calls blacks “niggers”, too, though he seems to have a more ‘enlightened liberal’ attitude. He even lies to little Lily that he’s Morgan Freeman, an absurd bit of gaslighting comparable to her father’s gaslighting about her “one leg”, which supposedly wasn’t an erroneous belief he’d manipulated her into having, but one she’d pushed onto herself.

So, her father’s a quasi-Nazi bigot, and Morgan’s a redneck hick who at least seems to be a closeted bigot. Her father would have her believe he’s a good church-goer, and Morgan would have her believe he’s a well-loved movie star whose soothing voice embodies all the phoney liberal values the mainstream media promotes (too bad the real Morgan Freeman recently promoted Russophobic thinking, in aid of needlessly escalating tensions between two nuclear superpowers, in a short Rob Reiner video). More False Selves.

In Daniel and Morgan we have two oppressor stereotypes: the Nazi and the American redneck, both racist, both manipulative, the one a double of the other, a fusion of the worst kinds of German and American. The former, as Lily’s abusive father and religious authoritarian, is also representative of the traditional patriarchal family. In contemporary politics, we see Daniel representative of Donald Trump, an American ignoramus of German descent who also has creepy attitudes toward his pretty daughter (and by extension, in US politics there’s a much closer relationship with Naziism than is commonly understood).  But redneck “Morgan Freeman”, being representative of the liberal Democrat who pretends to be progressive but does nothing substantive to help the needy, is hardly an improvement on Daniel. Morgan–presumably white, and claiming he’s a famous black actor–suggests how liberals replace the legitimate proletarian struggle with divisive identity politics. Thus, Lily, representing the proletariat, is manipulated by both liberals and conservatives.

So, how do we help abuse victims like Lily? Do we leave them to their phantasy world of wishing murder on their abusers, dreaming of how Daniel, for example, descends into fragmentation and psychosis on learning of his brother’s murder? Or shall we transform society, so the Lilys of the world can “wake up” (i.e., bring their unconscious traumas into consciousness, and thus, by establishing a coherent, structured self for them, we can cure them) and become whole?

If we plan to do the latter, we can start by listening to these victims, rather than preach to them about behaving better so they won’t ‘irritate’ us so much, as Daniel demands of his daughter. Listening with an empathic ear will help restore the damaged self. Part of listening will require liberating those of colour, LGBT people, and the working class, as well as ensuring equality of the sexes in a socialist, not bourgeois, context. Putting money into childcare will liberate women from domestic burdens; it will also lessen family strain and thus allow for more empathic parenting. Putting money into healthcare–rather than into imperialist wars–must include funding for improving mental health, to provide those listening ears for victims like Lily.

But for now, before a proletarian revolution happens, I urge you, Dear Reader, to listen to Slutlips with an attentive and compassionate ear. For, apart from the pain Cat Corelli screams out on this album, and in spite of (or rather, because of) the many idiosyncratic moments you’ll hear, she is an extraordinary musical talent, capable of a wide range of colours, styles, emotions, and timbres, as well as showing a creative fusion of musical and film genres. Daniel may not have the shining, but in my opinion at least, Cat Corelli does.

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

Review and Analysis of ‘Blood Moon Big Top’

29179003_600304853639219_2885593573321867264_nBlood Moon Big Top is a horror short story by Toneye Eyenot, an Australian author and vocalist for the Death Metal band, Chaotic Impurity, and for the Black Metal band, Infinite Black. The story combines the werewolf and evil clown tropes, as the cover makes clear. If you haven’t read the story yet, you might not want to read any further, as there are spoilers below.

More importantly, though, we see in this story the problem of alienation, which I dealt with in my analysis of the Alien franchise. Here, however, I’ll be focusing on how alienation causes one to replace the need for love with mere instinctual gratification…in this case, hunger.

Kendrick, a drifter, disowns his birth name, and when he gets a job as a clown in Johann’s Family Circus, he so identifies with his job that he’d rather be known as Marbles the Clown. Already we see him alienated not only from society as a drifter, but alienated from his own identity, too, because of the job he’s chosen.

…and what an identity to attach himself to! A clown? It’s one thing to do this as a job, but to see one’s identity so fused with the job that one would prefer one’s clown name to one’s birth name?! As ‘Third Wheel’ says, “Well, what the fuck kinda name is Marbles, anyway?” (page 45)

Significantly, we don’t see Marbles ever in his clown costume and makeup until the end of the story, but he’s always known as Marbles the Clown, implying that he’s an utter fool…by choice.

A naked, feral boy bites him in the woods near the circus, giving him the curse of the werewolf. The boy is as alienated as Marbles is, and thus has chosen the perfect victim to pass the curse onto.

Alienation is contagious.

From here on out in the story, an insatiable hunger takes over Marbles, but any normal food makes him sick. Only human flesh will satisfy his needs.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, Dear Reader, I’d like to digress, and discuss a few psychoanalytic concepts that I consider relevant in my interpretation of this story. WRD Fairbairn rejected Freud’s drive theory in favour of a belief that libido is object-directed, rather than striving merely for physical pleasure (i.e., satiation of the sex-drive, hunger, etc.). By ‘objects’ is meant people other than oneself, the subject, so object-directed libido means the urge to have relationships with others–the need for friendships and love.

For Fairbairn, the personality is relational, giving energy to and receiving energy from other people; and the more inadequately love and empathy are provided by one’s parents, the more severely is one’s personality split into a three-part endo-psychic structure: the original, conscious Central Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s ego) relating to its Ideal Object; the unconscious Libidinal Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s id) relating to its Exciting Object; and the unconscious Anti-libidinal Ego (corresponding roughly with Freud’s superego) relating to its Rejecting Object.

So Marbles’s Central Ego has been alienated from society, one he–in childhood–would have wanted to connect with, but was hurt by so often that he gave up on it and became a drifter. His Central Ego thus made an extreme split into an Anti-libidinal Ego, for which society has largely been the Rejecting Object, and a Libidinal Ego for which the circus, and now, human flesh, have become the Exciting Object.

I see the possibility, however, of fusing Fairbairn with Freud, for when object relations radically break down, as they clearly do with Marbles (who’s losing his marbles in the process), the urge to gratify the instincts replaces object-seeking. Fairbairn wrote about this problem: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140) How often do we see people, whose relationships have broken down, turn to alcohol, drugs, or sex to give them a most inadequate solace.

And so it is with Marbles, whose severely split ego-structure, now exacerbated by his growing lycanthropy, turns into a mere instinct gratifier. To use Freudian language, his superego disintegrates after his brief spell of guilt after eating the conjoined twin babies, and he starts killing without remorse. Then, his hunger urges him to kill without any thought even of the danger of being caught by the police or killed: his ego, with its attendant reality principle, has faded away. He plans to enter the circus and enjoy a smorgasbord of human flesh: the thought of them fighting back and killing him is far from his mind.

All that’s left of his mind now is pure id, seeking to satisfy the pleasure principle–eat, eat, eat, satisfy that eternal hunger. Yet, by a strange paradox, since only human flesh will satisfy him, his instinctual drives impel him to be around people. Here we see the fusion of Freud and Fairbairn: Marbles seeks to gratify his instinct for satiation, while also seeking human objects. Furthermore, his Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object are also fused in his id, for the human flesh that excites him houses the souls of human company rejected by him (i.e., deprived of physical life).

Here we see how, in fusing object-seeking libido with pleasure-seeking libido, Marbles’s urges represent how alienation corrupts the desire for love and friendship by turning it into a mere lust of the flesh and blood. Eros phases into Thanatos, just as the moon wanes, taking away his life-essence, then it waxes, giving him back his energy, but only an energy to hunt and kill, the death instinct.

He seeks and finds people, but they’re only food to him now. “Although he saw people who once would have welcomed him with a smile and a cheerful greeting, these people were strangers to him now…he spotted his old trailer, isolated off behind the animal cages. It was a lonely sight and Marbles couldn’t look away.” (page 56) With humanity all around him, but only as food, he’s still alone.

And who is the one to stop Marbles and his bloodlust? His one true friend at the circus, Giuseppe the strongman (Gus), who beats the wolf-man/clown to death with a sledgehammer. No truer example of alienation can be seen than being brutally clubbed to death by your one and only friend.

A sad fate for Marbles, but what about Gus? “He had been fortunate to survive, but he was never the same again. He lost all purpose once the circus closed and, in a strange twist of tribute to Marbles, Gus lived out his days, drifting from place to place, avoiding the company of people and never staying in any one place for more than a few days.” (page 69)

Alienation is contagious, even without a feral boy’s bite.

I enjoyed this little horror tale; I’d give it four out of five stars (I disagree with some choices of words here and there in the narrative, but as Nigel Tufnel once said, “That’s, that’s nit-picking, isn’t it?”) Alienation is a serious problem in our world, so I can empathize with poor Marbles…and with poor Gus, too, for that matter.

In a symbolic sense, way too many of us are like Marbles, foolish clowns who can’t find a sense of community and friendship with others, and so we focus on our animal sides, gratifying instinct, our appetites, in what Melanie Klein called ‘The Manic Defence‘, which could manifest itself in, for example, a rushing towards such things as sex, pornography, prostitution, drugs, or alcohol to fill in that void in our lives, running away from depression instead of facing it…and thus trying to cure it. And in our rush to satiate mere appetite, we all lose our marbles and ultimately destroy ourselves, often harming many others along the way.

Toneye Eyenot, Blood Moon Big Top, J. Ellington Ashton Press, 2016