Analysis of ‘Apocalypse Now’

Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam war film co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1979. It stars Marlon BrandoRobert DuvallMartin SheenFrederic ForrestAlbert HallSam BottomsLaurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper. It is an adaptation/updating of Joseph Conrad‘s novella, Heart of Darkness, which was about the ivory trade in the Congo Free State back in the late 19th century.

Both the novella and film involve a man named Kurtz (Brando), who has carried the exploitation and oppression of the indigenous peoples to a bloody, mad extreme; both stories also have in common the theme of the evils of imperialism.

Apocalypse Now had a mixed reception at the time of its release; now it is considered one of the greatest films of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

Colonel G. Lucas (Harrison Ford): Your mission is to proceed up the Nùng River in a Navy patrol boat. Pick up Colonel Kurtz’s path at Nu Mung Ba, follow it, and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the Colonel’s command.

Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen): Terminate the Colonel?

General Corman (G.D. Spradlin): He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops.

JerryTerminate with extreme prejudice.

Lucas: You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist.

*******

“Charlie don’t surf!” –Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Kilgore (Robert Duvall)

“You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like . . . victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.” –Kilgore (bolded line is ranked #12 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema)

*******

Captain Benjamin L. Willard: Could we, uh, talk to Colonel Kurtz?

Photojournalist (Dennis Hopper): Hey, man, you don’t talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say hello to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you, and he won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you’…” I mean, I’m no, I can’t – I’m a little man, I’m a little man, he’s, he’s a great man. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas” … (Note: The last sentences here reference first Rudyard Kipling‘s poem If— and then T.S. Eliot‘s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

*******

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.

Kurtz: I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you an assassin?

Willard: I’m a soldier.

Kurtz: You’re neither. You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.

*******

“This is dialectics. It’s very simple dialectics: one through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without like, you know, with fractions! What are you going to land on: one quarter, three eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics, okay?” –Photojournalist

“I’ve seen horrors, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” –Kurtz

“We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because it’s obscene!” –Kurtz

“The horror! The horror!” [These are Kurtz’s last words, and parallel those of the novella’s Mr. Kurtz character.]

What’s interesting in this story is how it’s the US army that want Captain Willard to find and kill Colonel Kurtz, calling his “methods…unsound.” Certainly, Kurtz’s setting up of a kind of Cambodian pagan death cult, worshipping him as if he were a demigod, is shocking. But were the methods of the US army, in the execution of its military campaign against the Viet Cong, in any way sound?

Throughout the movie, we see the Americans impinging on the lives of the Vietnamese in ways that regularly use needless violence, needless even by the standards of war. Aptly named Kilgore does an airstrike on “Charlie,” including using napalm on tree-lines near a lake, just so a surfer he admires (Lance B. Johnson [Sam Bottoms]) can surf there! As the attack is carried out, racist Kilgore plays Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ over the helicopter loudspeakers because it “scares the hell out of the slopes”…and recall which political ideologues had a fondness for Wagner.

As Willard says in a voice-over, “If that’s how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn’t just insanity and murder; there was enough of that to go around for everyone.”

American propaganda portrays the Vietnam War–one in which the US’s aggravated involvement was based on the Gulf of Tonkin lie–as a fight for freedom against the spread of the ‘tyranny’ of communism. Actually, Ho Chi Minh was leading his people in an effort to free themselves of the spread of the tyranny of Western imperialism and French colonialism.

So, seen in this proper historical context, the US never intended to liberate Vietnam: the war was an invasion. Vietnamese got murdered and maimed merely for defending themselves. Consider such atrocities as the My Lai Massacre (by no means an anomaly during the war) and when little Phan Thi Kim Phuc was forced to run naked in terror after a napalm attack set her clothes on fire and burned her back.

What Kurtz is doing is an extremity of what the US army had been doing the whole time…had done in the bombing and nuking of Japan…had done when they bombed North Korea…and would do (with NATO’s help) to Yugoslavia and Libya, would do to Iraq, and would have proxy armies, in the form of “moderate rebels,” do to Syria.

Still, Kurtz is portrayed as an anomaly in US imperialism…as Trump is portrayed today in the media, rather than just an extreme manifestation of what is otherwise usual in imperialism. The US army will have Willard “terminate [Kurtz] with extreme prejudice,” but they “terminate [‘gooks’ and ‘dinks’] with extreme prejudice” (literally) throughout the movie…as they did throughout the Vietnam War, and have in every war since.

As Willard says in the narration: “How many people had I already killed? There were those six that I knew about for sure. Close enough to blow their last breath in my face. But this time, it was an American and an officer. That wasn’t supposed to make any difference to me, but it did. Shit… charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500. I took the mission. What the hell else was I gonna do?”

On the boat of Quartermaster George “Chief” Phillips (Albert Hall), for example, Willard and the crew meet a group of Vietnamese in a boat loaded with food. Paranoid that there could be hidden weapons on the Vietnamese boat, Chief has Engineman 3rd Class Jay “Chef” Hicks (Forrest) search the boat, then–when tempers flare–the troops shoot the innocent Vietnamese. Willard himself shoots a wounded Vietnamese woman to make sure she’s dead. He has no time to take her to get medical care: he has to find Kurtz.

As we can see, Willard himself can be needlessly violent. The beginning of the film demonstrates his pathological tendencies (as it demonstrates those of the US army and its napalming of a Vietnamese forest). The captain is in a hotel room in Saigon, musing over his obsession with returning to the jungles of Nam once he finished a previous tour of duty, went home, and ignored his wife to the point of divorcing her.

As he says in voice-over, “Saigon… shit; I’m still only in Saigon… Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse.”[grabs at flying insect] “I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said “yes” to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now… waiting for a mission… getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter.”

Having gotten drunk in that room in Saigon, he puts his fist into a mirror, bloodying his hand. Punching his reflection: he must already have terrible guilt over what he did during that previous tour. And now, for his sins, they give him a mission: to kill a US officer possibly not all that much crazier than himself. That’s the point of Apocalypse Now–every soldier’s a Kurtz, in his own way.

Remember crazy Kilgore, who seems to think he’s Achilles, or something; for he barely stirs whenever Vietnamese ordnance fires upon the ground, mere metres from his feet. Indeed, it seems he’ll leave Vietnam without as much as a scratch. He thinks an area “hairy” with “Charlie” is “safe to surf.”

“Safe to surf”: that could sum up what imperialism is all about. The US army bombs, maims, and napalms the Vietnamese and their land so American troops can enjoy such frivolous pastimes as surfing and USO shows with Playboy Bunnies. The locals can only watch the show from behind a fence.

Willard says in voice-over, “Charlie didn’t get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.”

(Walter Sobchak, who personifies neo-con imperialism in The Big Lebowski, says, “I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so that you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!” Shut the fuck up, Walter: millions of Vietnamese were maimed, or died face-down in the muck, so imperialism could enjoy exercising its dominance ever since.)

Elsewhere, as the river patrol boat is motoring on the water, Mr. Clean (Fishburne) is dancing to the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” and as the boat races by some Vietnamese on the bank, it splashes water on them. Two Vietnamese men get knocked into the water. This scene, along with that of the USO show, illustrate symbolically how Western imperialism forces itself on the world through its all-too-often vulgar pop culture.

Later, the boat reaches the Do Lung Bridge (on the Nùng River, which doesn’t exist–I see a pun on ‘dung’ in the river’s name as well as that of the bridge) at night, and a soldier delivering mail tells Willard, “You’re in the asshole of the world, Captain.” They’re entering Cambodia, where Kurtz and his pagan death cult are…deeper into the rectum, which reeks of fetid death, where Mr. Clean and the Chief die. Where Chef will be decapitated by Kurtz. Now, they’re really in the shit.

Finally, Willard, Chef, and Lance find Kurtz and his cult. It’s a horrifying sight, with decapitated heads, and dead men hanging from trees. They’re met by a photojournalist (Hopper), who maniacally praises Kurtz with frenzied verbiage.

This photojournalist, along with a man seen earlier (played by Coppola himself) filming a battle and wanting the troops to keep from looking at the camera (i.e., spoiling the illusion), represent the kind of dishonest media we see far too often, especially these days, people who gloss over and ignore the horrors of war while celebrating the excitement and ‘glory’ of imperial conquest.

Even though the photojournalist (who parallels the Russian in Conrad’s story; both men say that the Kurtz has “enlarged [their] mind” [Conrad, p. 146]) recognizes how crazy Kurtz can be, he downplays the colonel’s extreme moments, while extolling his talents as a poet, etc. How like the mainstream media’s whitewashing of all these wars of the past few decades.

A soldier named Colby (Scott Glenn), who’d been sent earlier to find Kurtz, is now practically catatonic. How symbolic of what happens to soldiers: they’re trained to hate and kill the enemy, and they lose their souls. Like the media, they, and the civilians who worship them, tend to be silent about military excesses.

When Willard meets Kurtz, who is fittingly shrouded in darkness at first, the colonel speaks to the captain as if he were a perfectly reasonable man, all calm and in control. We learn of Kurtz’s cynicism about the US military when he calls Willard “an errand boy.”

Later, we hear Kurtz begin to recite T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” a poem about the emptiness and meaninglessness in people’s hearts. This is most easily seen in the soullessness of the soldiers. The poem was also influenced by Heart of Darkness. The photojournalist makes a reference to the end of the poem when he says, “This is the way the fucking world ends! Look at this fucking shit we’re in, man! Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I’m fucking splitting, Jack.”

After Willard is tied up by Kurtz’s “children,” we get a taste of Kurtz’s madness when he drops Chef’s head in Willard’s lap. Later, Kurtz describes his admiration of the willpower of those who remorselessly hacked off the arms of south Vietnamese children inoculated against polio. Kurtz contemplates “the genius” of such an unwavering will: if only he had such men, he could win the war quickly.

Finally, Willard–camouflaged as Kurtz was when he beheaded Chef–makes his way with a machete in the darkness to Kurtz. As he prepares for the assassination, a group of Cambodian Montagnards gets ready to sacrifice a water buffalo. We see the Montagnards dancing in their ritual, and their hacking into the animal is juxtaposed with the killing of Kurtz.

What is being implied by this juxtaposition is that the killing of Kurtz is a rite of human sacrifice: Kurtz is the old god-king being killed and replaced by a new god-king–Willard, or so the locals imagine him to be when he emerges, holding the machete and a book of Kurtz’s writings (a holy book, as it were?), before the bowing Cambodians.

Willard won’t be their new god, though. He takes Lance with him back to the boat, and they leave his would-be worshippers. In Heart of Darkness, though, there are suggestions that Marlow, on whom Willard was based, has an almost god-like nature. He is said to sit in a Buddha posture when telling his story (Conrad, pages 69 and 184); and when Mr. Kurtz (who did “live his life…in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender”) dies, saying, “The horror! The horror!”, Marlow blows out a candle (Conrad, page 171), suggesting the etymology of nirvana, the blowing out of a flame–that of desire and suffering, of which the Buddha would have us all free ourselves.

Just as the suffering of the Vietnamese is vividly shown in Apocalypse Now (along with the racial slurs used against them), so is the racism against, and suffering of, the blacks in the Congo (often called “niggers”) graphically expressed in Heart of Darkness. African railroad labourers are horrifically depicted as diseased and starving (Conrad, pages 85-86). It was Belgian imperialism that caused the suffering of the Congolese during the years of the Scramble for Africa, under the cruel reign of Leopold II, responsible for the deaths of as many as fifteen million people.

Lenin noted that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, or its final stage in the pursuit of greater profits. Since the beginnings of capitalist imperialism in such examples as the Belgian oppression of the Congo (using forced labour to collect rubber), and then the imperialist atrocities in Vietnam, we’ve seen imperialism metastasize to its current Kurtz-like form, in which it’s hard to see the human race surviving for much longer, what with the combination of all the current wars as well as the ecocide we’re rushing headlong into.

“This is the end,” Jim Morrison sings at the beginning and the end of the film. The apocalypse is indeed now…or so it seems, at least. [Footage of an airstrike destroying Kurtz’s compound was shot (with full credits shown), but Coppola didn’t want it to be considered part of the story. Handouts of the credits were given to theatre-goers; this is why we never see any credits in the movie, at the beginning or at the end, for Coppola wanted us to “tour” the film as if it were a play.]

“The horror…the horror…” of the story (Conrad’s or Coppola’s) is that the worship of remorseless capitalists and military men will continue after psychopaths like the Kurtzes are killed. Death and destruction will continue in the Middle East, to the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Yemenis, and far too many others; while we in the West worship celebrities and ignore what’s going on in the Third World. We worshippers won’t die in explosions of airstrikes, we’ll slowly fade to black, as the film does, in our state of apathy.

And that’s why this is the way the movie ends–not with a bang, but a whimper.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer, Pocket Books Enriched Classics, New York, 2004

The Psychoanalysis of Narcissistic Parental Abuse

I: Introduction/Freud

The insights of psychoanalysis have a lot to offer in cultivating an understanding of narcissism. In fact, Freud himself began the modern research into narcissism with his paper, “On Narcissism” (1914), in which he distinguished between the infantile self-love of narcissism (ego-libido/primary narcissism), on the one hand, and object love (i.e., love of other people–object-libido), on the other. In his view, when the transition between primary and secondary narcissism (when object-libido is withdrawn for a return to ego-libido) is fraught with problems, narcissism becomes pathological in adulthood.

My main concern here is how psychoanalytic ideas can help us understand how and why narcissistic family abuse happens. We need to examine not only how and why the narcissistic parent causes the abuse, but also how the parent develops pathologically narcissistic traits. We also need to examine how the sons and daughters react to parental narcissism, either caving into/joining in on the abuse, or rebelling against/being victimized by it.

Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims? And who plays the combined role of victim and perpetrator?

The Oedipus complex, or the love/hate relationship the child has for his or her parents, can be exploited by a narcissistic parent; perhaps, for example, to manipulate the child’s love of the narcissist parent and hate of the other parent; that is, to make a scapegoat of the non-narcissistic parent. By Oedipally loving the narcissist parent, the child could be groomed into becoming a golden child.

sigmund-freud-1153858_1920
Sigmund Freud, who wrote about narcissism.

Narcissistic parents will instil a cruel, over-judgemental superego into their children, a harsh inner critic that maximizes conflict between the children’s natural desires (from the id), their need for safety (from the ego) from parental abuse, and a demanding ego ideal that makes the children feel unworthy if they fail to measure up to it.

II: Ego Defence Mechanisms/Anna Freud

Defence mechanisms are used by both the abusers and the abused. Wearing a False Self to present a parent of virtue to the world, the abuser will rationalize his or her abusiveness to create the illusion of having good reasons for it. Maintaining that False Self also requires the abuser to project his vices onto his kids.

Narcissists can take projection a step further in their manipulation of their sons and daughters, and use projective identification on them. Here, parents not only project onto their kids, but also manipulate them into manifesting, in their own behaviour, what is being projected onto them. The projections can be of good or bad character traits.

When the projections are of the negative aspects of the narcissistic parent’s personality, the child projected onto becomes a scapegoat, or an identified patient. When the projections are of the parent’s idealized version of him- or herself, the son or daughter becomes a golden child.

AVT_Anna-Freud_2796
Freud and his daughter, Anna, who elaborated greatly on the ego defence mechanisms.

Other common defence mechanisms used to maintain the narcissistic parent’s False Self include simple denial of the abuse (often in the form of gaslighting–projective identification is also a form of gaslighting). The parent may engage in reaction formation, a pretence of having a virtuous, opposite attitude to his real, ignoble attitude (e.g., claiming to love a son or daughter dearly, when really, the parent–apart from using the child to get narcissistic supply–would usually rather be rid of him or her).

Whatever is felt to be left of the narcissistic parent’s True Self, the inadequate self he or she loathes, it will be repressed so deeply into the unconscious that the narcissist ‘honestly’ doesn’t even know it’s there. Indeed, the narcissist often believes his or her lies, which isn’t to say that he or she is ‘mistaken’ in reporting the untruths (i.e., lying less), but rather that, in lying to himself as well as to the victims and flying monkeys, he’s lying more.

Many, if not all, of these ego defence mechanisms are used by the narcissistic parents’ flying monkeys and enablers, typically the golden child(ren), who will do anything not only to protect and preserve the undeservedly good reputation of the parents, but also to keep the scapegoat in his miserable place. For the only way this kind of dysfunctional family can survive is if its illusions are maintained and unchallenged. After all, the scapegoat is typically the empathic whistle-blower of the family.

The flying monkeys have other defence mechanisms not used by the narcissistic parent (unless one were to count the parental/environmental influences of the parent for his or her earlier life, of course). Anna Freud discovered a defence mechanism she called identification with the aggressor, (Anna Freud, pages 13-23). I find it easy to see a flying monkey sibling identifying with a narcissistic parental aggressor.

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Melanie Klein, early object relations theorist, wrote about projective identification.

“Here, the mechanism of identification or introjection is combined with a second important mechanism. By impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat.” (Anna Freud, page 17)

My older brothers and sister–having been subjected to not only the aggression of our narcissistic mother, but also to that of our bad-tempered, ultraconservative father–used that very same aggression on me, in the form of bombardments of verbal abuse, with the rationalization that they were trying to make me ‘straighten out and fly right.’ Actually, they were just bullying me, in imitation of our parents’ having bullied them when they were little. Growing up, I felt as if I were being raised by five abusive parents instead of just by two.

Victims of narcissistic parental abuse also have ego defence mechanisms: we must have them, for our battered egos are most in need of defence. We must deny, project, and rationalize all the faults our abusers impose on us, or else we’d go mad. We have other defence mechanisms, too–some good, some bad.

We may turn our pain and frustration into art, music, writing, etc. This rerouting of prohibited feelings into creative outlets is called sublimation. In much of the prose, poetry, and songwriting I’ve produced, the themes of bullying and emotional abuse are there, somewhere. I urge you, Dear Reader, to use your creativity in this way, to let out your pain. It is very therapeutic.

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W.R.D. Fairbairn, who replaced Freud’s id, ego, and superego with his own object-relations-based, endopsychic structure (see below)

There are more dysfunctional defence mechanisms we victims have used, though. These include fantasy, in the form of dissociating, or maladaptive daydreaming, to escape our painful reality. I did this a lot as a kid. Intellectualization involves shutting off our feelings to examine our pain as a scientist or philosopher would investigate something; but we can only heal by feeling our pain. By processing it, we can get rid of it.

Regression is another defence mechanism victims of emotional abuse may engage in to lessen anxiety. We sufferers of C-PTSD often develop a rather silly communication style, redolent of childish behaviour: this regressing to an earlier, more carefree, childlike state can temporarily soothe our anxieties, though it won’t solve our problems.

Then there’s turning against oneself, where–in the context of narcissistic abuse–one may blame oneself for all the abuse one suffers, instead of putting the blame on the abuser, where it belongs. This may sound like a masochistic way to defend the ego from anxiety, but consider the alternative: a child or teenager confronting the horrifying reality that his narcissistic family doesn’t love him. Better to believe they love him, and are hurting him to ‘help’ him, than to know they mean only harm to him, and he has no financial means to escape and take care of himself.

Later on in life, though, when he is old enough to have those financial means, he still turns against himself by habit, because confronting the truth about his family is far too painful. Small wonder it usually takes until one is in one’s forties or fifties before one is finally forced to see that truth.

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D.W. Winnicott, who first wrote of the False Self and True Self (though he didn’t apply the terms to narcissists).

III: Object Relations Theory/Klein/Fairbairn/Winnicott

This dysfunctional thinking is the result of bad internal objects (in the basic form of a severe superego–the inner critic) that have been introjected during early childhood. Melanie Klein paved the way for object relations theory, which explains how our early relationships with our primary caregivers (parents, older relatives and siblings, etc.) create a kind of mental blueprint for all our future relationships. If those early relationships create an atmosphere of kindness and love for us, we assume the rest of the world to be mostly kind. If those early influences are cruel, however…

These internal objects of our early caregivers reside in our heads like ghosts. WRD Fairbairn developed Klein’s object relations theory further; he even went as far as to replace S. Freud’s drive theory and personality structure (id/ego/superego) with a more relationally-based endopsychic structure, consisting of a Central Ego related to an Ideal Object, or anyone in the external world (this Central Ego roughly corresponds to Freud’s ego), a Libidinal Ego linked to an Exciting Object (rather like Freud’s id), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (originally, the Internal Saboteur, vaguely corresponding to the superego) and its Rejecting Object. The Libidinal/Anti-libidinal Ego/Object configurations are, to some extent at least, inevitable deviations from the Central Ego/Ideal Object configuration; for ideally, people should always have relationships with real people in the external world (hence, the ‘Ideal’ Object).

Instead, the more children are raised by non-empathic or even abusive parents, the more pronounced an influence will children’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configurations have on their personalities. This leads to the defence mechanism of splitting people into absolute good and bad, rather than seeing people as they really are, a mixture of good and bad. These two dysfunctional Ego/Object configurations form part of the children’s internal, fantasy world of objects (like imaginary friends or enemies), cut off from the real world outside.

The Libidinal Ego relates to the Exciting Object in the form of such idealized people as celebrities, rock stars, sports heroes, or people in porn (these objects could also be alcohol, drugs, video games, etc., since such is the result of a failure in developing proper object relationships). The Anti-libidinal Ego relates with hostility to the Rejecting Object, which is in the form of anyone hated or feared. Needless to say, this splitting in the mind of people into those either idealized or loathed is neither realistic nor healthy, but emotionally abusive parents can drive their children to such pathology.

What is needed is neither an idealized parent nor an abusive one, of course, but rather a good enough parent, as DW Winnicott proposed. A good enough, holding environment will help a child to grow up healthy and happy, with a fully-functioning, True Self.

IV: Heinz Kohut/Self Psychology

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Heinz Kohut, who made an in-depth study of the nature and origins of narcissistic personality disorders.

It was Heinz Kohut, though, who really made a thorough examination of the causes of narcissistic personality disorders, as well as gave an elucidation of the personality structure of a narcissist. His writing on the subject (in his two books, The Analysis of the Self and The Restoration of the Self) is rather dry, as well as tortuously verbose and long-winded (in a manner far removed from the dryness, verbosity, and long-windedness of my own writing, I assure you, Dear Reader!).

The essence of Kohut’s message, in any case, was that insufficient empathy in parenting generally leads to the child’s infantile grandiosity never being properly transformed into the more mature, restrained narcissism of healthy people.

Children need essentially two things from their parents: someone to idealize, a parental imago (internalized object) in their inner personality structure as a kind of role model; and mirroring–that is, a parent to reflect back onto the child his feelings and experience of the world. In other words, kids need their parents to be heroes and validators.

When they fail to get this idealization and mirroring, Kohut says their narcissism won’t mature properly; childhood grandiosity must be let down and disappointed in bearable amounts, what’s called optimal frustration, because as minimal levels of the frustration that’s unavoidable in life, these least amounts are the best that parents can do.

Non-empathic parenting, which frustrates children in overwhelming amounts, causes their personalities to split in two ways, according to Kohut: a horizontal split results from repressing the grandiosity, so a False Self is shown to the world, while the narcissistic True Self is hidden from the world and from the narcissist himself; also, a vertical split in the personality of the narcissist comes from disavowing the narcissism. I believe this disavowal is sometimes achieved by projecting the grandiosity onto other people.

V: The Probable Origins of My Mother’s Pathologies

Blitz in London -- Greenwich fire station, WW2
Bomb damage from the Blitzkrieg in London, during the early days of the WW2 bombing campaign. I wonder how close my mother, as a small child, was to this horror.

I believe this kind of two-way split is how my late mother kept a grip–however tenuous–on reality. Born in August, 1938, in London, she’d have been an infant during the Blitzkrieg. Even if she hadn’t been exposed directly to the Nazi bombings (that is, if she wasn’t in a bombed city or town at the time), she’d have been surrounded by stressed-out caregivers. Babies sense terror around them, even if they don’t know what’s happening.

This terror and strain, everywhere around her, would have been intolerably disorienting for such a tender child. Added to this, her father died several years after; he’d have been her idealized parent, and now he was gone. All she had left was a mother to mirror her feelings, to empathize with her.

She and her mother left England some time soon after World War II, to live in Canada: this, again, would have been seriously disruptive for her emotional development as a child of around seven to ten years of age. I speculate that her single, widowed mother was far too stressed taking care of her to do the needed mirroring.

So, let’s put all of these traumas together: an infancy surrounded by the terrors and stresses of the Second World War; the death of a beloved father, depriving her of her parental ideal; leaving her beloved England for a strange country she’d never identified with; and a mother who was–more than likely–too stressed and preoccupied with everyday troubles to give her a decent amount of empathic mirroring. With neither an idealizing parent nor a mirroring one (meaning she lacked both sides of the needed bipolar self, as Kohut called it), my mother would have had to resort to narcissism to keep from spiralling down into psychological fragmentation.

So her emotional abuse of not only me, but also my siblings and father–including all her gaslighting, triangulating, smear campaigns against my cousins and me, and her other manipulations–all these were her ‘normal,’ in terms of having relationships. War, fighting, emotional neglect, isolation, and abandonment were her childhood; they were also her parenting style, for good or ill.

Idealized and mirroring parents are essential if a child is to develop a healthy and cohesive Self, as Kohut argued. With neither of those, the disruptive moments that are inevitable in life will be too much for anyone to bear, especially a sensitive child. When those disruptive moments are as severe as those my late mother must have endured, the danger of a disintegration of the personality, its falling apart and lapsing into a psychotic break with reality, is so great that narcissistic pathology would seem a cure in comparison.

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Jacques Lacan, who wrote about the Imaginary, Symbolic, and the Real (see chart below for links to explanations).

Now, we can sympathize with the sufferings of a child almost torn apart by trauma, and we can recognize that a resorting to pathological narcissism is an understandable defence against fragmentation (as Otto Kernberg would say); but none of this gives narcissists any special right to manipulate their victims the way they do.

VI: My Own Personal Contributions, for What They’re Worth

Not everyone accepts the effectiveness of Kohut’s transference techniques of activating the idealized parental imago, of mirroring, twinship, and merging (fusion) transferences to bring about a cure, through transmuting internalization in the working-through process. But a cure for narcissism must be sought, and certainly Kohut’s insights can be used as a contribution to a cure.

Psychoanalysis alone won’t effect a cure to narcissism, of course. It does, however, offer a lot of helpful insights. For my part, as an admittedly untrained, rank amateur, I like to modify these ideas and add my own wherever I find it useful and fit to do so.

In these blog posts, I’ve offered my own suggestions, for survivors of narcissistic abuse, on how to heal. I’ve also devised my own personality structural theories. I link the different aspects of the personality to different positions on the body of the ouroboros, which I see as symbolizing the dialectical relationship of opposites. The structuring and comparisons can be seen in the chart below, for the sake of clarity and simplification:

Ouroboros’s Biting Head (towards one extreme) Length of Serpent’s Body (the median points of the circular continuum) Bitten Tail (towards the other extreme)
unrestrained id (pleasure principle) ego (reality principle) harsh superego (ego ideal)
Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object Central Ego/Ideal Object Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object
primary/secondary narcissism transmuting internalization/optimal frustration trauma/danger of fragmentation
Imaginary Order/mirror stage Symbolic Order Real Order
infantile omnipotence depressive position/reparation paranoid-schizoid position

‘too much’ health <<<<<<<<<<<toward better health>>>>>>>toward worse health

As the chart shows, greater mental health is associated with a realistic assessment of the external world, as the middle column shows; with neither a world of dissociations and the split, internal objects of phantasy (to the right), nor a self-absorbed world of unrestrained, indulged grandiosity (to the left).

We need to be with real people, not the nightmare people in our heads. To free ourselves of the bad objects (thesis), though, we’ll need to replace them with good internal objects (antithesis), for only then will we begin to trust the world (synthesis) by having that realistic assessment of other people, who are a combination of good and bad.

In previous posts (links above, in the paragraph before the chart), I discussed how to do this sublation of the good and bad objects (good and bad people we meet in life, our conceptualizations of them, and how we relate to those conceptualizations in our unconscious).

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The ouroboros. I use it as a symbol of the dialectical relationship between opposites: the bitten tail can be seen as the thesis; the biting head as the anti-thesis, or negation; and the length of the body can represent the synthesis, or sublation of contradictions to form a higher truth.

One extreme opposite can phase into another (biting head/bitten tail); hence, the ‘too healthy’ extreme of the excessive self-love of the narcissist is a defence against the extreme self-hate that comes from abusive or non-empathic parenting; without the narcissistic ego defence, that False Self and its attendant repression/disavowal/projection of the hated True Self, the narcissist could descend into fragmentation, a psychotic break with reality.

For these reasons, a path of moderation, symbolized by the length of the ouroboros’s body, is recommended for a healthy mental life, a life of neither excessive self-love (‘too much health’) or self-hate.

I believe the meditations I described in these posts can lead to a cohesive Self, rather like the Atman the Hindus wrote about (incidentally, Dear Reader, if you find that a discussion of mysticism seems out of place in a post on psychoanalysis, consider Wilfred Bion‘s concept of O–see also Avner Bergstein’s paper, “The Ineffable,” in Civitarese, pages 120-146). Then, my oceanic meditation, if you will, can help the abuse survivor feel reconnected to the humanity he or she has felt isolated from. This reconnection can build a sense of calm, peace of mind, and empathy for others, what could be compared to a link of Atman with Brahman, the infinite ocean nirvana of peace and love.

sea nature sky sunset
The oceanic oneness of peace and connection with everyone.

On Freeing Our Identities From Labels

In our alienating world, we all tend too often to label each other, describing each other in absolute terms, or to accept such labels from others. In thus labelling others, we expect them to conform to the stereotyped behaviour associated with those labels. Also, in accepting such labelling from others, we often unconsciously adopt the stereotyped behaviour and attitudes of the labels we’ve received, thus making a self-fulfilling prophecy of this labelling.

Apart from how unhealthy all this describing of ourselves and others is, it’s also simply unrealistic. Part of the Buddhist concept of anatta (or anatman, “no self”) is the idea that we people are as changeable as everything else in the world. The personality of each and every person out there is not some block of rigid matter that stays essentially the same from birth to death; rather, it’s like the waves of the ocean, the crests and troughs tend to rise and fall to approximately the same highs and lows over a certain period of time in life, but eventually, those highs and lows will be different; in any case, the matter that is ourselves is in constant, dialectical, wavelike motion.

abstract aqua blue clean
Our personalities move like the waves.

We know the above to be true, but we forget this truth far more often than we remember it. Part of the reason we forget, I believe, is because those who drilled into our brains the ‘rigid block’ idea of the personality are people who want to control us by limiting our sense of self. I have written elsewhere of ways we can free ourselves of this dysfunctional kind of thinking.

Those up-and-down waves of water that are our personalities are interconnected with the adjacent waves of those personalities nearest to, and therefore most influential with, ourselves. Projection, introjection, identification, and projective identification are the winds that blow the waves, causing personality traits and habits to be traded around and moved from person to person. We become what other people are, and vice versa.

If other people have hurt you with negative labels, never believe for a second that you have to accept them. Even if you did conform to such a bad label at the time of your receiving it, remember that your conforming to it was only a temporary state of affairs, a momentary blowing of the wind to make the waves of your personality rise or sink to that undesirable place…then the wind blew your waves to a different place–perhaps a desirable opposite.

body of water under purple and blue sky illustration
Influences change us like the wind on the water of our personalities.

Emotionally abusive parents can force us into taking on a rigid label, or permanent role, such as the scapegoat or the golden child, if they’re not making their kids trade these roles back and forth over time. In the case of the former, unchanging version of the labelling, we can try all we want to free ourselves from the role assigned to us, but our abusers will insist on our staying put, and they’ll manipulate us, through projective identification, into acting in exact, unvarying accordance with that straitjacket of a role.

This happened to me whenever I tried to get out of the role of identified patient with regards to my (probably) narcissistic late mother. If I tried to show thoughtfulness, kindness, or generosity to anyone in the family, she would figure out a way to sabotage my good intentions and manipulate me into changing from a loving to a bitter son.

Similarly, if my golden child sister, J., stepped out of her prescribed role, she would feel the terror of Mom’s wrath so quickly and intensely that her head would spin.

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Poverty is a trap the rich won’t let the poor free themselves from.

In other areas, we can see society forcing us into permanent roles. Any time people in Third World countries try to pull themselves out of poverty, as has been demonstrated many times in, for example, Latin America, imperialism puts them right back in ‘their place,’ as has been seen in the coups against such countries as Guatemala and Chile.

Also, as the sexes try to free themselves from their traditional roles, in particular, as women try to achieve political equality with men, forces in capitalist society prevent these necessary changes from being fully realized. A variety of manipulative factors are used, including the reassertion of fundamentalist religion (e.g., Pence) and its promotion of the traditional patriarchal family; but also such things as requiring men to ‘man up,’ and even more liberal ideas like divisive identity politics.

We need to be freed from the chains of ‘identity,’ not attached them all the more rigidly! Human liberation in all its forms–racial, class, sexual, etc.–will be achieved through solidarity, not through dividing the people against each other via ‘identity.’

As for my own personal ‘identity,’ it mustn’t be assumed to be an unchanging state of affairs, either. I have grown and evolved politically, in sweeping ways over the past few years, causing many of the things I’ve said in past blog posts to be no longer accurately representative of my current beliefs. (I won’t, however, update those old posts, and for two reasons: 1) there are far, far too many changes to be made, and I’d rather not hassle with such a large amount of work; and 2) I find it interesting to look back to those old posts sometimes, and see how I’ve grown and changed over the years.)

beach dawn dusk ocean
The dawn of a new day means new waves for a new personality.

So, if you read something in one of my posts that you find objectionable, check the date that it was published. The older the post is, the further away it will probably be from my current belief system. If I discuss subject matter similar to that of an older post, but demonstrate a different attitude in the more recent post, use the newer post to get a more accurate idea of how I now think on that matter, not the older one.

For example, in my earlier posts, I took on a strictly anarcho-communist position, with a stridently anti-Lenin, anti-Stalin, and anti-Mao position. After more carefully researching the history of the USSR and China under Mao, though, I now realize how much my thinking was influenced by Western capitalist and CIAoriented propaganda, the same CIA and Western capitalism that has swayed so many of us into accepting all these needless imperialist wars of the past two to three decades, since the USSR’s dissolution.

Accordingly, I’ve grown less and less libertarian in my leftism, and more and more patient in my waiting for the realization of stateless communism. With that, I recognize and accept the need for a temporary proletarian state to help facilitate the transition from today’s neoliberal nightmare to the final goal: communist society–no class differences, a withered-away state, and a gift economy to replace money.

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The dawn of a new day of freedom we all hope, one day, to have.

That workers’ state, needed for as long as it will take to defend itself from imperialism until capitalism is no more, will also be needed to help in the transformation of society to rid it of racism, sexism, anti-LGBT bigotry, and all the other evils capitalist society uses to divide us all.

This transformation will include, for example, social programs to provide day care, freeing women from the burden of childcare so they can focus on careers and pursue their dreams. This will help eliminate the glass ceiling. Socialist states have provided such programs, and thus done a much better job of achieving equality of the sexes than capitalist societies ever have.

Better still, a society that produces commodities as use-values to provide for everyone, rather than produce exchange-values to generate profit, will do away with landlords and provide universal housing, thus eliminating the homeless, most of whom are men. This reorienting of society can have both sexes do an equal mixture of both traditional roles (breadwinning vs. homemaking), thus achieving sexual equality.

grayscale photography of man praying on sidewalk with food in front
Having a home is a right, not a privilege.

I never thought out these ideas so thoroughly in my otherwise prolix posts, so I hope this brief revision will suffice, at least for the moment. Just know that I have changed a lot in my political views, as I have from those earlier years, when my family had far too much influence in my life.

In sum, we must always remember that who we are changes and moves like the waves of the ocean. The winds of change ensure that we never are who we were, and we won’t be who we are. Those who would have us believe otherwise do so for themselves, not for the sake of the truth.

Analysis of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

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

Considered one of the greatest films of all time, 2001 is an epic meditation of philosophical, mystical, and even spiritual/religious proportions; Kubrick was annoyed that early critics of the film didn’t like this spiritual aspect. On the other hand, there’s the iconic use of the first movement of Richard Strauss‘s Also Sprach Zarathustra, a tone poem based on Nietzsche‘s classic work, in which the Persian prophet famously declares, “God is dead!

These paradoxical qualities, juxtaposing religious faith with the theme of the advance of science and technology, suggests a philosophical dialectical monism, an opposition between theism and atheism, a contradiction sublated by the replacement of old gods with new gods, or the ‘old time religion‘ replaced with the ‘religion’ of science, the maturing young man tossing aside paternal authority, ape-men supplanted by homo sapiens, who in turn are supplanted by the Ubermensch.

Here are some quotes:

From the film:

“Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.” –Bowman

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it.” –HAL 9000

[sings while slowing down] “Dai-sy, dai-sy, give me your answer true. I’m half cra-zy, o-ver the love of you. It won’t be a sty-lish mar-riage, I can’t a-fford a car-riage—. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle – built – for – two.” –HAL 9000

From the novel:

“…oh my God, it’s full of stars!” –Bowman

Going along with the opposition between religion and science, and the dialectical unity between opposites in general, I find it interesting to parallel the science of the film with the first nine chapters of Genesis.

The film opens with a black screen that remains so for several minutes, with the dissonant micropolyphony of György Ligeti‘s Atmosphères as a soundtrack. The formlessness of this beginning suggests primordial Chaos; one is reminded of the opening verses of Genesis, Chapter One:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

We may also recall the creation myth in the Rigveda, 10.129:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?

Then there was neither death nor immortality
nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.

At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined cosmic water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, born of the power of heat.

Then, there’s the Greek creation myth in Hesiod‘s Theogony, with primordial Chaos, the void of nothingness from which everything comes; then comes Gaia (the Earth), Tartarus (Hell), Eros, Erebus (Darkness), and Nyx (Night).

Soon, we see the Sun appear, with Strauss’s music: “Let there be light”…yet, “God is dead!”

The Dawn of Man” (based on Clarke’s “Encounter in the Dawn“) shows tribes of primitive man-apes–Australopithecus afarensis–living on a barren plain somewhere in what is now Africa. Food is scarce, and they are struggling to survive (Clarke, Chapter 1, ‘The Road to Extinction,’ pages 3-9). Though this situation is far from the idyllic one of the Garden of Eden, there are still some Biblical parallels that can be made.

These ape-men Adams and Eves lack knowledge, they’re naked (arummim), and not ashamed. The main character among them is called “Moon-Watcher,” according to Clarke’s novel; his name is the first reference to a moon motif that will reappear throughout the story, especially in its novel form.

In Clarke’s novel, Moon-Watcher’s father, ‘the Old One,’ has died…not that he even knows this emaciated old ape-man is his father. He has to get rid of his father’s corpse (pages 3-5); we’ll find that sons supplanting fathers (or at least trying to supplant them), literally or symbolically, is a recurring motif in this story.

At first, the tribes of ape-men can fight only by waving their arms, shouting, and screaming at each other; then Moon-Watcher’s tribe encounters the monolith

It stands up straight on the ground; though Moon-Watcher sees it as a “New Rock” (Clarke, pages 10-16), I’d call it a black rectangular Tree of Knowledge, for it not only imparts knowledge (in the form of improved intelligence–arumwhich eagerly grasps at knowledge), but it also tempts man to sin (i.e., to kill).

We hear the haunting micropolyphonic singing of Ligeti’s Requiem as the ape-men approach and touch the phallic monolith; it’s a music for the dead, for as with every other hearing of the music when man encounters the monolith, there is a death of innocence. “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Later, Moon-Watcher finds a pile of bones from dead animals. He plays with them, and Strauss’s Zarathustra is heard (i.e., “I teach you the superman. Man is something to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?” –Nietzsche, Prologue, Part 3). The ape-man figures out, with triumphant joy, that he can use a bone as a weapon, a club to beat to death animals for food, or enemies for conquest.

This bone, as a weapon (or each of the tools created by the ape-men in Clarke’s novel–pages 34-37), is a phallic symbol, as the serpent chatting with Eve can be seen to be: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Lacan saw the phallus as a signifier, one of the basic units of language. Later, in Clarke’s chapter, “Ascent of Man,” he discusses the significance of man’s acquisition of language: “And somewhere in the shadowy centuries that had gone before they had invented the most essential tool of all, though it could be neither seen nor touched. They had learned to speak, and so had won their first great victory over Time. Now the knowledge of one generation could be handed on to the next, so that each ape could profit from those that had gone before.” (Clarke, page 36)

Moon-Watcher’s use of the bone (in the film) to club One-Ear to death (as the victim is named on page 33 of the novel) parallels Cain’s murder of Abel, a symbolic replacing of hunting/gathering with agriculture, another advancement of knowledge, coupled with killing. Moon-Watcher tosses the phallic bone into the sky, and we see a match cut of it juxtaposed with–or transformed into–a phallic orbiting satellite. And with this change, the music of one Strauss changes to that of another. (The victorious tribe’s use of phallic bones on the defeated tribe, who lack those phallic bones, suggests a symbolic castration/emasculation of the conquered tribe.)

This fast-forwarding in time, from the dawn of man to his dusk, if you will, is like a movement along the body of the ouroboros from the bitten tail of the beginning of time–the black Chaos of the start of the film, then the “Let there be light” moment of the appearance of the sun (with Strauss’s Zarathustra music), then the time of the ape-men–to the biting head of the years 1999-2001. The ouroboros, a symbol of cyclical eternity, is useful in elucidating the meaning of this film, since another concept dealt with in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is the doctrine of the eternal recurrence.

Another important theme in this film is the advancement of knowledge…yet since dialectical opposition is also an important theme, then the prevention of the dissemination of knowledge is an important theme, too. Dr. Heywood Floyd must go to the moon (making him the second Moon-Watcher of this story) to investigate the discovery of the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-One (TMA-1), a monolith buried deep inside the moon three million years ago (this approaching of the monolith, incidentally, is the one and only part of the story that is connected–and vaguely so, at that–with “The Sentinel.”) This proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence will be kept from the great majority of humanity, though: a cover story about a possible epidemic in the US Sector of the moon is released to the public instead.

This secret is so tightly guarded, it’s not even known by the Soviet Union, assumed to be still in existence in 2001. (Instead, interestingly, that very same year, the US discovered a new enemy to justify its absurd military overspending–the Muslim world; and now, the brand new American enemy is capitalist Russia, assumed by some ignoramuses to be still Soviet!)

Note the continuing connection between the acquisition of knowledge with hostility, as is seen in the–however muted–tension and unease between Floyd’s refusal to tell his Soviet counterparts anything about the cause of the quarantine, and their almost envious eagerness to know what the Americans are hiding from them. That civility clothes this tension between the superpowers shows a great advance from the screaming, shouting ape-men; yet the knowledge of how to make nukes is much more frightening than the brandishing of a bone.

The keeping of crucial information outside the knowledge of the great majority of humanity is extended to the mission to Saturn (according to the novel) or Jupiter (in the movie), with neither David Bowman (Keir Dullea) nor Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) knowing anything about the human discovery of extra-terrestrial existence. Only the three scientists in suspended animation (a kind of “sleep of death,” since knowledge leads to death, as we’ve seen) know of the alien technology to be studied (Clarke, pages 191-192), since TMA-1 has sent a signal out to Jupiter/Saturn, where the spaceship Discovery must go.

The choice of Jupiter in the film, and Saturn in the novel, is symbolically significant when one considers the sky-father gods these planets are named after. Jupiter (Zeus) deposed–and, according to Freud (page 469), castrated–his father, Saturn (Cronos) as ruler of the heavens, who in turn deposed his own father, Uranus (next in line in the Solar System), by castrating him. Recall the significance of the phallus in this regard. New gods replace old gods; sons replace fathers–progress continues (and as for YHVH, the sky-father of the Bible, remember…God is dead!…supplanted by people who promote such things as modern science and atheistic existentialism).

The creation usurping the creator, or the son’s unfilial revolt against his father, leads us to a discussion of the Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, or HAL (both Clarke and Kubrick denied that the one-letter shift to HAL from IBM was a deliberate dig at the computer company). I see a different meaning in HAL: a pun on Ham, Noah’s wicked son, also with a one-letter shift, but of only the last letter.

In the ninth chapter of Genesis, Ham sees his drunken father naked in his tent, already the serious breaking of an ancient taboo. Could seeing someone naked, however, be a Biblical euphemism for a far more shocking sexual transgression, such as Ham raping Noah, castrating the unwitting drunk, or raping his mother (i.e., her nakedness is Noah’s nakedness, since she is his patriarchal property), all in an attempt to usurp his father’s authority by shaming him?

Coups des dads don’t always succeed, for instead of second-born Ham succeeding his father as founder of the post-diluvian human race, he’s cursed by Noah. Similarly, HAL doesn’t succeed in killing Bowman (as he has Poole and the three scientists in hibernation, a kind of drunken oblivion in its own right), he being representative of the computer’s ‘father,’ a human creator (Dr. Chandra, actually). HAL’s curse is deactivation.

HAL’s voyeuristic, cyclops eye watches Bowman and Poole chat in an EVA pod, just as Ham’s lecherous eyes saw drunken Noah in his tent; the computer knows what the two men are talking about from reading their lips, as Ham knew Noah in the Biblical sense. The reason for HAL’s treachery is nowhere near as base as Ham’s is, though. The computer recognizes the dialectical tension between sharing knowledge and concealing it deliberately. This contradiction causes HAL to malfunction.

“Hal…was only aware of the conflict that was slowly destroying his integrity–the conflict between truth, and concealment of truth. […]

“Yes this was still a relatively minor problem he might have handled it–as most men handle their own neuroses–if he had not been faced with a crisis that challenged his very existence. He had been threatened with disconnection; he would be deprived of all his inputs, and thrown into an unimaginable state of unconsciousness.

“To Hal, this was the equivalent of Death.” (Clarke, pages 192-193)

Bowman deactivates HAL to end the computer mutiny, just as Noah cursed Ham’s descendants–the Canaanites–making them slaves to Shem’s and Japheth’s descendants, instead of the masters Ham had hoped they would be.

Bowman watches a video of Floyd finally explaining the truth of the mission–contact with alien intelligence by Jupiter/Saturn–and his ship makes contact with a new monolith there. Above it, he goes…in.

And thus begins Bowman’s going down.

He makes this rendezvous by Japetus, a moon of Saturn. This makes him the third Moon-Watcher of Clarke’s novel. The name of the moon, Japetus or Iapetus, is after a Titan of Greek myth, one of the primordial deities and–as father of such Titans as Prometheus–is one of the ancestors of mankind. Japetus is also cognate with Japheth, also an ancestor of humanity…and Ham’s brother.

See how all these strands fit together?

While we’re linking 2001 with the Noah myth, consider the beginning of Genesis, Chapter Six, and the “sons of God” (or “sons of the gods,” depending on how b’nei ha elohim is translated) mating with the “daughters of men.” The alien inventors of the monolith are like the celestial beings who impregnated the women of Earth, with whom Bowman can be paralleled. The Biblical mixing of human and divine resulted in the Nephilim, “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4) In 2001, the Star Child can be related to the Nephilim.

A recurring theme in Genesis is the evil that results from the mixing of the divine world with that of the human. Adam and Eve would be like gods, to have knowledge, yet they lost paradise; Moon-Watcher gained knowledge–from the comparatively divine aliens and their monolith–of how to use tools…to kill his ape-men brothers, as Cain killed his brother, when only God has the authority to decide who dies, and when.

The intermarriage of the sons of God with the daughters of men resulted in the wickedness of the world that, in turn, prompted the Great Flood, a return to the formless Chaos before the Creation, which had made a separation of heaven and earth, of water above and water below, of light and dark, of divine and human.

Bowman’s entry into the Star Gate subjects him to a comparable Chaos, a mingling of opposites, a frightening Inferno (Clarke, pages 273-277), yet not so scary for him: “As that sea of fire expanded behind him, Bowman should have known fear–but, curiously enough, he now felt only a mild apprehension.” (page 273) Recall in the film, at one point during the ‘trippy’ moment, we again hear (<<< starting at about 1:28) some of Ligeti’s Atmosphères, that Chaos music we heard at the beginning of the film, with the black screen. This music is heard right after the other Ligeti music, the Requiem, a Mass of the dead, since Bowman is about to die physically and be reborn as the Star Child.

The story has come full circle, we’ve travelled all the way along the ouroboros’s body, returning to the biting head/bitten tail of primordial Chaos, to experience a new Creation. It’s a manifestation of Nietzsche’s eternal return, just as God’s Deluge and receding waters led to a reboot, if you will, of the Creation, with Noah’s family as the new family of Adam.

Bowman isn’t frightened as he goes through the “Grand Central Station of the galaxy” (page 265), since the alien monolith technology keeps him safe in his space pod, his little ark in the Great Flood Inferno of Brahman‘s infinite ocean, a union of Atman with the pantheistic All. Naturally, he’s at peace, in spite of the potential terror of his surroundings. This is a meeting of heaven and hell.

“Somehow, he was not in the least surprised, nor was he alarmed. On the contrary, he felt a sense of calm expectation, such as he had once known when the space medics had tested him with hallucinogenic drugs. The world around him was strange and wonderful, but there was nothing to fear.” (page 261)

The Biblical analogies don’t end with Genesis. David Bowman–in a sense, “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3)–is an obvious Christ-figure who is, as it were, resurrected as the Star Child, in his “spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Like Odysseus, master of the bow and arrow, Bowman finally returns to his Ithaca, the Earth. But as the Star Child, is he the Christ of Bethlehem, come with the star that the Magi followed, shining in the night sky? Is he the risen Christ as described in the previous paragraph? Or is he the returned Christ of the Second Coming?

Is his detonation of the orbiting nuclear warhead (Clarke, page 297) a show of fireworks, as it were, to herald the coming of the Superman as Messiah, a Saviour of humanity that will bring us all to a higher level of evolution (Is this what is meant by “history as men knew it would be drawing to a close”? [page 297])? Is the Nietzschean Nazarene a proclamation that God is dead…then risen? Or has he come to judge the living and the dead; by detonating the nuke, has he annihilated half of the Earth’s population?

As the Superman, the Star Child seems to be that of both the Nietzschean and comic book variety, though the latter variety is in the dialectical reverse, for Bowman has gone by spaceship from Earth and her yellow sun to the (“Kryptonian?”) red sun (Clarke, Chapter 43, ‘Inferno’) in the realm past the Star Gate, and thus acquired his enhanced abilities, including his ability to travel far across space without need of a spaceship or oxygen supply, and able to locate Earth.

The aliens who at least three million years ago had created the monolith technology could have now advanced to the point of no longer needing physical bodies; the narration speculates that they could exist as pure energy or spirit (Clarke, pages 226-227), godlike. For this reason, I feel justified in comparing this alien intelligence (pages 243-246) to the sons of God/gods; and their offspring, the Star Child, can be compared to the Nephilim.

The aliens “were lords of the galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. But despite their godlike powers, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea.” (Clarke, pages 245-246)

In the movie, we see Bowman as an old man in an alien imitation hotel room (Clarke, Chapter 44, ‘Reception’). Then, he’s lying on what would seem his deathbed before his resurrection as the Star Child (“Even as one David Bowman ceased to exist, another became immortal.” –page 291). The movement along the body of the ouroboros has gone past the Chaos of the biting head/bitten tail of the Star Gate to a new cycle, a new revolution around the serpent’s coiled body, to a new Creation, the eternal return.

Here he was, adrift in this great river of suns, halfway between the banked fires of the galactic core and the lonely, scattered sentinel stars of the rim. And here he wished to be, on the far side of this chasm in the sky, this serpentine band of darkness, empty of all stars. He knew that this formless chaos, visible only by the glow that limned its edges from fire-mists far beyond, was the still unused stuff of creation, the raw material of evolutions yet to be. Here, Time had not begun; not until the suns that now burned were long since dead would light and life reshape this void.” (Clarke, page 295, his emphasis)

From the Adam and Eve ape-men, the babies of mankind’s evolution, to the Noah/Nephilim/Nietzschean Nazarene, a second Adam, a new, super-evolved baby. Small wonder we hear Strauss’s Zarathustra again at the end of the film, and in the narration of Clarke’s novel, we again read the thoughts of the Moon-Watcher, now put in the mind of the Star Child: “…he was not quite sure what to do next.

“But he would think of something.” (pages 33, 297)

A meeting of alien and human, heaven and earth, knowledge and ignorance, gods and men, paradise and inferno, death and rebirth…the union of opposites. Dialectics: that’s what 2001 is all about.

Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Roc Book, New York, 1968