Analysis of ‘Viridiana’

Viridiana is a 1961 Spanish-Mexican film by Luis Buñuel, loosely based on the novel Halma by Benito Pérez Galdós, and starring Silvia Pinal in the title role, as well as Fernando Rey, Margarita Lozano, and Francisco Rabal. As usual, Buñuel criticizes the Church and bourgeois society in this film. It is about a novice soon to take her vows as a nun, but who finds it increasingly difficult–due to external pressure, or internal?–to reconcile herself with the moral ideals of the Church.

Viridiana was the co-winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.

Here are a few quotes in English translation:

Viridiana: I know my own weakness, and whatever I do will be humble. But, however little it is, I want to do it alone.

Jorge: I always knew that you and I were going to end up playing cards together!

Verdiana was the name of a generous, charitable saint who secluded herself for 34 years to focus on her faith. The Viridiana of this film is similarly, if not so extremely, reclusive, but just as generous and charitable. Her name comes from a word meaning ‘green’: I think of an old meaning of green, from back in Shakespeare’s time, meaning ‘youthful, inexperienced, immature’; but also, ‘fresh, recent, new’ (Crystal and Crystal, page 205), strongly implying ‘pure.’ There is, indeed, a strong sense that this novice embodies all of these definitions, in more ways than one.

She also happens to be a beautiful young blonde, most desirable to men; her choice to become a nun seems to be, at least in part, motivated by a fear of sexually predatory men. Her virgin purity makes her all the more attractive to her uncle, Don Jaime (Rey), who finds that she reminds him of his late bride, who died before he could even consummate their marriage.

When devotion is carried too far.

His preoccupation with her beauty and purity reminds me of Heinrich Heine‘s poem:

Du bist wie eine Blume,
So hold und schön und rein;
Ich schau’ dich an, und Wehmut
Schleicht mir ins Herz hinein.

Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt’,
Betend, dass Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.
You are like a flower,
So lovely, fair and pure;
I gaze at you and wistful
Melancholy slips into my heart.

It’s as though I ought to place
My hands upon your head
And pray God to ever keep you
So pure, fair, and lovely.

This notion of extreme purity leads to an exploration of the themes of modesty, humility, and every other point on the circular continuum I symbolize with the ouroboros, including the dialectical opposites of pride (the serpent’s biting head) vs. shame (the bitten tail). Viridiana is so particular about her maidenly modesty, it’s a source of narcissistic pride for her. Thus, even the mere suggestion of male physical closeness feels like a violation to her.

This excessive modesty comes from her stern Catholic upbringing, once again Buñuel’s satirical target. She has no interest in visiting her Uncle Jaime, whom she’s met only once; but she’s pressured into visiting him by her mother superior. She’d rather stay secluded and cloistered, suggesting she regards the Church as more of a family than her biological one. I suspect she had an unhappy family upbringing, driving her to the Church for a replacement.

Viridiana, the Mary wanna-be.

The Virgin Mary seems to be an idealized parental imago for Viridiana, the perfect mother who represents an ego ideal to which she aspires. We get a sense of this when she prays the Angelus with the homeless people. Mary is “full of grace” (κεχαριτωμένη), which the Catholic Church interprets as a kind of purity existing from birth, the Immaculate Conception. Viridiana would thus want to identify with Mary, for narcissistic reasons.

Any man even making a pass at her threatens this purity she so covets, causing her narcissistic injury. Viridiana, I suspect, has transferred her feelings of maternal love to Mary, just as Don Jaime, admiring Viridiana’s beauty and purity, transfers his love of his deceased bride onto her, especially since the two women look so alike. Indeed, transference is a major theme in this Freudo-Marxist film.

Normally, one thinks of transference in the psychoanalytical setting; the patient transfers the feelings of a powerful emotional bond, especially one from childhood, onto the therapist. Viridiana has made this kind of transference onto Mary, her ‘therapist.’ Similarly, Viridiana has become, however unwittingly, Jaime’s ‘therapist.’ They are using their transferences in an attempt to heal, though these attempts ultimately fail.

On the first night of Viridiana’s visit, we see her in her bedroom, taking off black stockings to reveal her delicious legs; Buñuel’s lustful camera does a closeup on them, another example of his irreverence towards Church authority. She unpacks a large wooden crucifix and a crown of thorns. She’s so devoted to her faith, she’d rather sleep on the hard floor, as Jaime’s servant, Ramona, notes.

Sleepwalking Viridiana tosses yarn into the fire.

Now, Ramona is an interesting character to compare and contrast with Viridiana. Jaime’s servant is dutiful, bashful, and modest, but also lacking in the novice’s religious pretensions. This is another of Buñuel’s jabs at the Church. And who, I’m curious, is the father of Ramona’s naughty, nosy daughter Rita? Jaime has been kind enough to take mother and daughter in: is the girl an illegitimate child, as Jaime’s son, Jorge, is? Again, we see Buñuel’s alternative morality to the hypocritical one of the Church.

I suspect that Ramona has a secret love for Jaime, an Oedipal feeling, perhaps, transferred from her father onto her master, but a feeling she’s too shy to express openly. In any case, after he hangs himself and she meets Jorge, she transfers her love from father to handsome son…and feels that love more overtly, this time.

The morning of the second day of Viridiana’s visit, she goes to a servant milking a cow. She tries pulling on one of the cow’s teats; but they are long, even phallic in length. She can’t bring herself to handle them, as doing so, it seems, far too much resembles masturbating a man to orgasm (i.e., the squirting out of the milk). Her pious modesty is so extreme, she cannot do anything even vaguely redolent of sexuality.

Then, naughty Rita agitates her by saying she saw her in her nightgown the night before, having sneaked a peek from a nearby terrace. Viridiana blenches at even having been spied on by a pre-teen girl.

That night, Jaime has been fetishizing the bridal clothes of his deceased wife; he puts his too-large foot into one of her high heels (symbolic intercourse wish-fulfillment), then stands before a mirror while almost trying on her girdle. Apart from the erotic overtones of these actions, we sense his pathetic yearning for his lost love, his unfulfillable wish to be at one with her.

Then he sees Viridiana sleepwalking in that white nightgown, with her pretty bare feet and lower legs exposed. She is doubly vulnerable before him, in a relative state of undress, and unaware of it. The thought of his predatory eyes on her will terrify her when he tells her what he’s seen the next morning.

During her sleepwalking, she’s also psychologically naked and vulnerable, for her unconscious is let loose, expressing her hidden desires, if only symbolically. Kneeling at his fireplace, she empties a basket of yarn and needles into the fire, representing an unconscious wish to be rid of clothing, the antithesis of a nun’s modesty. She has a bad habit, it seems.

Don Jaime (Rey) and his niece, Viridiana (Pinal)

Then she gathers ashes in the basket and takes them to his bedroom, then sprinkles them on his bed; the ashes, we learn the next day, are a symbol of penitence…and death. What has she to repent of…secret, repressed sexual desires? Death associated with his bed suggests once again the marriage of the life (e.g., sex) and death drives.

The next day, Don Jaime, so captivated by Viridiana’s beauty, her purity (So hold und schön und rein), and of course her resemblance to her deceased aunt, asks her to dress up in her bridal gown, another shocking thing to do, in Viridiana’s view. The deceased bride, having worn white to the wedding, was in all probability a virgin (especially given the conservative mores of the time); but Viridiana–though complying–still feels uncomfortable doing it, as she feels like a sex object.

She of course is being objectified and ogled by her uncle, who has Ramona drug Viridiana’s coffee. Ramona, wholly devoted to her master, will do whatever he wants her to do, even as wicked a thing as helping him take advantage of his unconscious niece! Why? I suspect because Ramona secretly wishes Jaime desired her in the same way…also, allowing Viridiana to be deflowered–and thus, shamed–would serve Ramona because of sexual jealousy. Hence, she doesn’t mind telling Viridiana of Jaime’s shameful wish to marry his niece. Still, he’s a good man, in Ramona’s mind.

Don Jaime, Viridiana, and Ramona (Lozano)

Viridiana is already uneasy enough knowing her uncle is the father of an illegitimate child (Jorge), for such is her lofty moral ideal. Her purity is part of what makes her so attractive to him; she looks so sexy in that virginal white dress…and she knows exactly how he feels about her.

Being in that dress with him at night is, of course, a reenacting of his wedding night with her aunt, when she died of a heart attack before he could consummate the marriage. This lonely, reclusive man has yearned to have that night given back to him, and now he can have it back through Viridiana.

Even before Ramona has given her the drugged coffee, Viridiana can sense her uncle’s lust; wearing that bridal gown strongly implies a soon-t0-be-lost virginity, which is anathema, horrifying to her. By helping Jaime satisfy his desire, though, Ramona can satisfy hers vicariously through Viridiana. Meanwhile, little Rita is frightened by a bull she claims entered her bedroom; the animal represents a sexually predatory male…is this an omen of what’s to come between Jaime and Viridiana?

While sexual assault (of anyone, woman, man, or child) is of course never defensible, especially to a communist like Buñuel, Viridiana’s predicament can be seen unconsciously, symbolically as a wish-fulfillment in that it desecrates the Catholic ideal of sexual purity in a woman. Destroying this impossible ideal by demonstrating its unattainability can liberate women sexually, by making them give up on it. Indeed, Viridiana will be so liberated at the end of the film.

Note that Jaime never carries out his plan to deflower her. While she’s unconscious, and Mozart‘s Requiem Mass is playing (symbolizing a fusion of the libido and death drive), he kisses her on the lips, unbuttons her top to reveal her creamy cleavage, then kisses her there (and naughty Rita spies on them); but moral scruple makes him come to his senses, and he stops. He mustn’t stain such divine purity.

Jaime burns with lust…and love…for his niece.

So hold und schön und rein.

The next morning, when he tells her he took advantage of her while she was out cold, even when he later insists he never actually penetrated her, she can’t be certain of which statement is the truth, and which the lie–has he, or has he not raped her? So she, “for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety,” and imagine the worst. But how can she be unsure of what’s happened? Surely she knows that she will feel vaginal soreness, pain from a ruptured hymen, that there will be blood, if he’s had her.

He lies about having intercourse with her while she slept (later admitting he’s lied) so she’ll think her ‘stained’ body will make her unworthy of being a nun, then she’ll have nowhere else to go but to live with him. She’s afraid of male sexual predation to a far greater degree than the average woman, religiously devoted or not—why?

I don’t think we’re supposed to believe she was sexually abused at an earlier period of her life (though she, in all likelihood, has endured men’s leers and groping hands on many occasions throughout her life); for if she was raped, given the strict Catholic morality of her world, she surely would have already considered herself too ‘unclean’ to be a nun.

Now, for her, the meaning of sexual assault is expanded to mean “that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Furthermore, given the way rape victims tend to be slut-shamed, especially in Viridiana’s prudish world, she will feel as guilty, however unjustifiably, of having ‘tempted’ her attackers as they are of attacking her.

So hold, und schön, und rein…und schlafend.

So her fears about whatever Don Jaime has done while she’s been unconscious are not based on a fear of possibly having been penetrated, nor do they seem to be a kind of PTSD reliving of what may have happened to her sometime before the beginning of this film. His having touched her, kissed her, and partially undressed her are rape enough. 

And how far did he undress her? She has no idea. We know he only unbuttoned her top: he saw her cleavage, but not her whole breasts. Still, how does she know he didn’t undress her further? Does he know what her whole naked body looks like? Did he fondle her nakedness? Taste it? How many of her anatomical secrets does he know of?

Even the few of those secrets that Don Jaime knows would be enough to make any woman cringe, because they have been divulged without consent (consider the complaints against lecherous Bill Cosby to see my point). But for a woman as proud of keeping her secrets hidden as Viridiana is, her uncle’s–however slight–‘breaking and entering,’ as it were, is all the more outrageous and unbearable.

She feels the shame, but don’t forget that he does, too. After all, he’s the sinner, not she…and no one is more aware of his exclusive guilt than he is. He’s so tearfully desperate to get her forgiveness that, when he doesn’t get it, he hangs himself.

What we must remember is that he doesn’t merely lust after her–he’s fallen in love with her (which is not to excuse him for his scurrilous scheming), out of her resemblance, in her looks, her walk, her voice, in every way, to his beloved late bride. He’s transferred that deep passion onto Viridiana.

Buñuel has been said to have valued sex over love: this seems to be a vulgar, bourgeois interpretation of his frank depiction of sexuality in his films, and it’s utter nonsense. Buñuel uses sex to enhance love, to free it from the bourgeois chains of Church morality.

Jorge (Rabal), his girlfriend Lucia (Victoria Zinny), and Buñuel.

Another theme in this film is that of solitude. Viridiana prefers being cut off from the larger society: if not hidden from it in the convent, then in the outbuilding section of late Jaime’s estate, which he’s left to her and Jorge. Her religious solitude, as I’ve said above, echoes that of the saint who shares her name; but is this solitude out of spiritual conviction, or social alienation?

Jaime’s solitude is certainly out of alienation, for he, as a bourgeois, rentier capitalist, is inevitably affected by the estrangement that capitalism causes. He has some goodness, though, as all the characters in Viridiana are each a mix of good and bad. For example, Jaime has taken in Ramona and Rita, and he even saves a bee from drowning.

His illegitimate son, Jorge, has a sexual interest in Viridiana that bothers both her and his jealous, live-in girlfriend, Lucia, who soon leaves him; but he isn’t the type to rape a woman. The worst he does is to walk into Viridiana’s bedroom without her permission. He kisses Ramona on the lips only because he knows, from the longing in her eyes, that she is aching for his kiss.

Still yearning to be a good Christian even though she feels unworthy of being a nun, Viridiana takes in a group of beggars to live in the outbuilding part of the house. As pitiable as these wretches are, though, they’re far from virtuous; they make one of them, a bald fellow without his upper front teeth, into a pariah because his varicose veins seem to them to be a symptom of leprosy.

Out in the field with Viridiana, they pray the Angelus with her while Jorge’s hired workers are renovating the house and surrounding area; in other words, the first group is engaging in faith, while the second group is actually working. Here is another example of Buñuel taking a jab at the Church, which values grace through faith over good works. She and the beggars are praying a useless prayer to her idol, Mary, while Jorge’s men are making themselves useful–working, because il faut cultiver notre jardin.

One of the beggars, El Cojo (‘the lame one,’ played by José Manuel Martin), fancies himself a faithful Catholic and not only helps Viridiana in leading the Angelus prayer, but also paints a portrait of the Madonna; still, he’s a bad, even violent fellow, for he threatens the ‘leper,’ and later Jorge, with a knife, and even tries to rape Viridiana toward the end of the film. Again, Buñuel demonstrates the emptiness of faith as against good works.

The Least (of His Brethren’s) Supper.

When she, Jorge, Ramona, and Rita leave the house on business (the servants have also left, out of disgust with the beggars), the beggars decide to go in the house and have a party. They’ll clean up after, and no one will be the wiser…or so they imagine.

This party symbolizes a proletarian seizing of the means of production…though it’s a poorly planned ‘revolution,’ more like anarchist Catalonia, or the Ukrainian Free Territory under Makhno, than anything like the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. Accordingly, their ‘insurrection’ doesn’t last.

During their dinner, they take a group photo at the long table. Buñuel deliberately has the actors pose in a manner parodying Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, with the blind Don Amalio (played by José Calvo) in the middle, in Christ’s place. When Enedina (played by Lola Gaos) takes the photo, her lifting up of her dress is the ‘flash!’

After that, the ‘leper’ puts on a record of Händel‘s Hallelujah Chorus, and he dresses up in some of Jaime’s bride’s clothing, repeating the suicide’s cross-dressing, though in a comical, rather than pathetic, way.  His dancing around to the music is more of Buñuel making fun of religious piety. He tosses to the floor the feathers of a dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, he found earlier.

The ‘leper’ in drag.

Furthermore, this juxtaposition of these would-be lumpenproletariat revolutionaries with Christian music and iconography represents how the infantile disorder of ‘left’ communism is as unrealistic as is Viridiana’s idealization of Marian Catholicism. Just as there is no way to be a morally perfect woman, there is also no way to have a perfect communist revolution, all in one fell swoop. The beggars have no vanguard to educate and organize them, so their ‘revolution’ is practically still-born.

And so, because these people are, in varying degrees, degenerates, their party degenerates, too. A man takes Enedina behind the sofa and has her. An older beggar, Manuel, who has a penchant for gossip, tells Don Amalio about the screwing around, but he won’t lead the jealous blind man over to the sofa to beat the man for taking his woman; so Don Amalio smashes his cane on the dinner table, destroying the dishes.

As we can see, their ‘revolution’ is a bit too Makhnovist for comfort. Jorge, Viridiana, Ramona, and Rita return early to find out what’s been happening. El Cojo and the “leper” subdue Jorge while Ramona goes off in the car to get the police; this leaves Viridiana to the mercy of El Cojo’s lust. She fights the good fight to get him off of her.

All her efforts to be a good Christian, to show charity and compassion to the beggars and to give them moral instruction, have been for naught. Jorge, however, promises money to the “leper” if he’ll beat El Cojo on the head with a small shovel to stop him from raping her. Though El Cojo is stopped, she, overwhelmed with trauma, faints…just as she was unconscious when Jaime–almost–had her.

Viridiana’s neurotic moral perfectionism, vs. Jorge’s laid-back, realistic morality.

Note how, only when unconscious, will she allow any man to touch her. This shows how, only in her unconscious mind, will she allow herself any expression of sexuality. The conscious wish to be an imitator of Christ, of Mary, is clearly a reaction formation against her deepest, most repressed desires, expressed when she was sleepwalking.

The wish to lead a life of chastity rubs against its dialectical opposite, the secret wish to be sexual. Jorge, in contrast, is neither extreme: he accepts the ephemeral nature of sexual relationships, and is none too upset when Lucia leaves him. At the same time, he doesn’t force sex on anyone, unlike El Cojo, the ‘good Catholic.’

Viridiana’s trauma from the attempted rape has, for what it’s worth, one good side effect: she’s been liberated from her attachment to an impossible moral ideal–perfect chastity. As painful as this has been for her, at least she can now get off her high horse and join humanity…and become truly humble, not affectedly so.

She looks at herself in a small mirror, Lacan‘s mirror, as a tear runs down her cheek. That nun she’s seen in the reflection was an illusion, not the real her, but an idealization that has alienated her from herself. Her ability to be ‘pure’ cannot be eternal and unchanging. She must accept this painful truth.

She joins Jorge and Ramona in the main part of the house. He’s pleasantly surprised to see Viridiana at the door. Since Ramona is already his lover, Viridiana’s involvement is implying a ménage à trois, surely to the chagrin of the Francoist censors, but this ending was allowed nonetheless. Instead of listening to pompous religious music, the three would rather hear some fun popular music, Ashley Beaumont’s Shimmy Doll

Their sitting at table together to play cards suggests an equality the beggars couldn’t attain: that of male and female, of master and servant. Jorge’s moderate ‘socialism,’ if you will, is rather like Dengism; one incrementally moves from capitalism to communism, as Xi Jinping‘s government is doing. His sexuality is similarly neither prudish nor overly licentious. No idealistic rushes to extremes here, but rather a cautious creeping ahead.

Jorge doesn’t like the degenerate beggars any more than the other workers in his home. He considers Viridiana’s charitable duties to them pointless; he does, however, tolerate them for a while…until they commit their crimes on him and her. He also takes compassion on a dog, Canelo, and he offers money to the “leper” to stop lustful El Cojo. Though Jorge, representing industrial capitalism, is the bourgeois owner of the house given to him by his father, he’s clearly more generous than the average capitalist.

So, Jorge’s morality is a comfortable middle ground between Viridiana’s Catholic idealism and the reckless anarchism of the beggars. It’s like a Marxist sublation of the Christian thesis of an unattainable moral perfection, and its Makhnovist negation. This is the alternative morality Buñuel is proposing, and it’s a refreshing alternative to all the rubbish we’ve had thrown in our faces for so long.

Analysis of ‘L’Age d’Or’

L’Age d’Or is an hour-long French surrealist film made in 1930 by Luis Buñuel and written by him and Salvador Dalí. Since Buñuel had a falling out with right-wing leaning Dalí, his collaborator on Un Chien Andalou, leftist Buñuel was now free to finish this new movie by attacking the bourgeoisie and the Church as much as he liked.

The movie’s title, “The Golden Age,” is surely ironic given his attitude towards capitalism, then in a great state of crisis with the Great Depression, as well as with the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, and his native Spain, where clashes between right-wing tradition and the left were soon to reach a boiling point.

Though not as famous as Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or is nonetheless considered another landmark in surrealist cinema, and because of Buñuel’s liberation from the fascist-tending Dalí, this film perhaps deserves even more attention.

Here’s an interesting quote from the film, in English translation: “I have waited for a long time for him. What joy to have our children murdered!” –young girl, to her lover

As with Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or is a set of vignettes that seem unrelated; if seen, however, as a series of free associations and dreams put up on the silver screen, one can play the role of psychoanalyst and link the apparently random visuals to show a coherent chain of themes, revealing the meaningful world of the unconscious.

Scorpions, crawling phalli that sting you with an ejaculation of death!

The film begins with a kind of short documentary on scorpions. These vicious, phallic, predatory arachnids–which attack with lightning speed, are unsociable, and prefer hiding in darkness to being seen in the light of day–set the tone of this film, with its themes of quick, impulsive violence and sudden deaths. Therefore, it shouldn’t be dismissed as an unintelligible opening to the film.

“Several hours later,” we see a beggar-soldier up high on the rocks of an inlet, watching some archbishops chanting among the rocks. (An instrumental rendition of Mozart‘s Ave Verum Corpus is playing; knowing Buñuel, the inclusion of this music, significantly excluding the Latin text, is ironic.) The man goes back to his hideout to tell his fellow beggar-soldiers that the Majorcans have arrived, so their leader (played by Max Ernst) tells them to get up and go fight them. Part of the scherzo of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is played during this scene; scherzo in Italian means, ‘joke,’ suggesting the pitiful condition of these beggar-soldiers.

Here we see a representation of the revolutionary proletariat, starving and weakened, yet ready to fight the bourgeoisie and Church authoritarianism. The archbishops are on the rocks, for the Church was built on a rock.

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [Πέτρος], and upon this rock [πέτρα] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

The hardness of the inlet rocks suggest the stony rigidity of Church dogma, as opposed to the mystical peace of the sea, as I’ve described it elsewhere. Indeed, it’s easy for many to go from the heavenly bliss of having been ‘touched by God’ to the hell of being forced to obey the dictates of religious authority…a dialectical shift from freedom to slavery.

Upon these rocks, they’ve built their church.

This preoccupation with Peter, the Rock and the first Pope, is a statement on the establishment of the papacy, the head of the authoritarian hierarchy of the Church that Buñuel so despised. Hence the use of rocks and rocky ground as motifs in the film, as well as any variation on them and their hardness–mud (a mixture of water with loam, silt, or clay–tiny, granular rocks), dirt (tiny rocks and sand), statues of marble (limestone), brick buildings reduced to rubble, even the hard, rocky background of the warring scorpions. The clergy and bourgeois are our stinging human scorpions.

A fleet of boats carrying bourgeois arrives on the inlet, the people aboard disembark, and they go up and down the rocky hill (symbolically rising and descending a hierarchy) to meet with the chanting archbishops, who are now a group of skeletons. When Nietzsche’s message in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Gay Science has reached the ears of the ruling class, they carry on with their ceremonies as if God were still alive. After all, such religious authority is still politically useful.

As the bourgeois are about to begin their ceremony, they suddenly hear a woman’s scream of pleasure. They look over and see her and a man making love in the mud. They go over and separate the two lovers.

The two are fully clothed at the time, so what’s the problem? Oh, yes, we always forget: public expressions of affection aren’t to be encouraged in polite, bourgeois society, especially during a religious ceremony.

The man and woman, making love in the mud during the ceremony.

Since the man and woman aren’t married, their lovemaking is tantamount to adultery. The repeated frustrating of their attempts to be together reminds one of the myth of those fated adulterers, Tristan and Isolde: indeed, both when they’re separated, then reunited about twenty to thirty minutes later in the film, we hear Wagner‘s Liebestod

This urge to be together in love, a union constantly being thwarted in the film, represents capitalist alienation. Since Church hierarchy helps the ruling class keep the people in their place, it’s appropriate in this film to see the symbolism of the rocky Church juxtaposed with symbolism of the people’s plight.

The ceremony involves a huge brick as a symbol to commemorate the Church’s rule–that brick, a rectangular rock, essentially–a man-made rigidity. The removal of the young woman from the man’s arms is followed by a scene of her at home; then we see a toilet, we hear a flushing, then slimy mud slobbering on the ground, suggestive of diarrhea flushed away, just as his love has been flushed down the toilet by a prudish Church, an ecclesiastical excrement that projects its own filthiness onto others.

The movie narrates the establishment of the rock of the Church of “imperial Rome,” once a pagan dominion, now a Christian one. We communists know what to think about the imperial world, past and present.

The man (Gaston Modot), after his lover has been taken from him.

The present-day Rome of the movie shows us a number of odd but explicable visuals. A man walking out of a café brushes dirt off his suit jacket: as with the two muddy lovers, capitalist society and Church morality makes all ordinary people feel soiled and unclean.

“Sometimes, on Sunday,” we see the demolition of a few houses on a street. Families’ homes reduced to rubble, to a mess of rock: this is what Peter the Rock does to families and communities with his repressive religious authority, backed by the bourgeoisie. 

Recall Marx’s words: “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among proletarians, and in public prostitution…Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.” (Marx, page 52)

A man walks on a sidewalk, kicking a violin, then smashing it under his shoe; the profit motive commodifies, cheapens, and ultimately destroys art.

The rock of St. Peter’s Church, weighing down on the heads of the people.

Elsewhere, in a park we see a statue of a man wearing a crucifix, holding a large book (presumably the Bible), and oddly, he has a long, flat, almost rectangular block of stone balancing on his head (reminding us a bit of the rectangular clay cube we saw during the religious ceremony). A man is passing by the statue with an almost identical rock balanced on his head. The rock of the Church rules over idealized religious figures, so naturally that rock will rule over the average man, too.

On the streets of Rome, we see the man being escorted by two agents. Separated from his love, he has already demonstrated an angry, aggressive, even violent disposition (kicking a small dog, stepping on an insect). This viciousness is what we all too often resort to when we’ve been denied love. Class antagonism makes scorpions of all of us.

WRD Fairbairn described this splitting of the personality with his replacement of Freud‘s id/ego/superego structure–a structure of pleasure-seeking drives,–with an object-seeking endopsychic structure. Fairbairn’s approximate equivalent to the id is  the Libidinal Ego, linked to an Exciting Object. In the film, we see this configuration whenever the escorted man stops at the sight of advertisements of such things as silk stockings, etc., which remind him of his lover.

Fairbairn replaced Freud’s ego with the Central Ego and Ideal Object: these are respectively represented in the film by the man and his beloved whenever they are together, for they represent an ideal relationship between two people in the real world. 

Fairbairn replaced the superego with something only vaguely similar, the Anti-libidinal Ego (originally, the Internal Saboteur) and its Rejecting Object. This configuration is the internalized part of us that hates and rejects others. We see this aspect of the man whenever he’s violent to others.

WRD Fairbairn, who replaced Freud’s id, ego, and superego with an object-seeking endopsychic personality structure: the Central Ego/Ideal Object, the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object, and the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object.

Lavinia Gomez, in An Introduction to Object Relations, explains that the “anti-libidinal ego is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego, as explained above] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez, p. 63-64)

For Fairbairn, a healthy libido seeks objects (i.e., people other than oneself, the subject), rather than seeking mere pleasure (as Freud had maintained); pleasure-seeking becomes a main pursuit only when there’s been a failure in object relationships. In Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Fairbairn elaborates: “…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)

When one cannot enjoy loving relationships with others (i.e., the Central Ego/Ideal Object configuration), one resorts either to mere pleasure-seeking (drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, pornography), a province of the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object; or one becomes hostile, rejecting, and adversarial, the domain of the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object.

Back to the movie. As the man is escorted down the street, he is confronted with, and momentarily mesmerized by, a number of advertisements: apart from their reminding him of his girl, they also represent our being manipulated by the allures of commodity fetishism and the media, a tried-and-true tactic used by the ruling classes to hypnotize us, and make us forget about taking our world back for our own rightful use.

The young woman (Lya Lys) the man yearns to be with again.

Erich Fromm once said in To Have Or to Be, “The puzzling question why contemporary human beings love to buy and to consume, and yet are so little attached to what they buy, finds its most significant answer in the marketing character phenomenon. The marketing characters’ lack of attachment also makes them indifferent to things. What matters is perhaps the prestige or the comfort that things give, but things per se have no substance. They are utterly expendable, along with friends or lovers, who are expendable, too, since no deeper tie exists to any of them.” (Fromm, page 34)

Back to the film. In the young woman’s home, she and her mother are planning a large party that evening. Some more incongruous, but explicable (in terms of Freudo-Marxism), things are seen. One of them is a cow on the young woman’s bed, which she shoos away. Apart from the cruel commodification of farm animals (especially in today’s world), we can see in the cow a representation of the Third World proletariat, always seen as animals from the bourgeois and First World perspective. We try to ignore their plight, and put them out of our sight…thus, out of mind. 

Other such odd scenes include, during the party, a large horse-drawn wagon going across a large room filled with guests in tuxedos and evening gowns. Later, a maid screams leaving a fire in the kitchen. The guests show no interest in either of these strange occurrences, which represent how the ruling class refuses to acknowledge the very existence, therefore also the suffering (for existence is suffering, according to the Buddhists), of workers and peasants. The girl’s father has flies on his face: the bourgeois pretend to be above us, but underneath it all, they are filthier than we could ever be.

Back on the streets, the man manages to get rid of the two men escorting him by showing them a document proving he’s a member of ‘the international goodwill society.’ We see a memory of his, when he has been assigned a mission from this society to protect the men, women, and children of his ‘Fatherland.’ He speaks of his mission to the two agents in a visibly insincere tone, as if making fun of the mission; this suggests that this is his False Self, a socially acceptable front he puts on so he can mix in capitalist society…however unwilling he is to do it.

The cow in the young woman’s house.

The insincerity of his commitment to this mission is evident (as it will be again, later) when he hails a taxi near a blind man, leaves the agents, and just before getting into the cab, kicks the blind man. Here we see a fusion of Freud’s moralistic superego, which inspires hypocrisy, with the antisocial nastiness of Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configuration.

The man arrives at the party in a clean, new suit, and he’s delighted to see his love there. The Anti-libidinal Ego in him, however, causes him to be rude to some of the other guests, him brusquely shooing them away or grudgingly tolerating them, as he does her mother, for a while. The ruling classes reject the poor, and they often reject each other, so bad is capitalist alienation in our society.

This alienation extends even to family relationships (recall the quote above, from The Communist Manifesto). Outside the house, we see an armed man and his son, a little boy. At first, they seem affectionate, but then a small prank by the boy provokes his scorpion father to shoot him, to sting him with the phallic rifle. Similarly, back inside the house, one would expect the amorous man to want to get the good graces of the mother of the woman he loves; but a mere spilling of wine on his clothes, from a glass the kind old lady gets for him, provokes his Anti-libidinal Ego to slap her. The scorpion in him strikes again!

Finally, he and the girl go outside to have some time alone together (for they are as antisocial as the scorpions), to get away from all the other pesky guests, who go elsewhere outside to hear an orchestra perform the Liebestod…appropriate music for the two lovers.

‘Tristan,’ as it were, sucking on those clitoral fingers.

Their lovemaking includes sucking on each other’s fingers, which are symbolic of genitalia. Indeed, this scene is like a non-pornographic version of the sixty-nine position. This mutual introjection/projection of digits also suggests their wish to be at one with each other, physically and spiritually. In other words, their desire for each other is much deeper than mere lust. 

Yet again, our twentieth century Tristan and Isolde are frustrated in their efforts to be together when a man comes over and tells ‘Tristan’ he has a telephone call. Annoyed, he leaves her to receive the call. 

Meanwhile, she–her Central Ego being deprived of its Ideal Object–begins fellating the phallic toes of a nearby statue, her Libidinal Ego getting off on an Exciting Object. When we lose human relationships, we’re reduced to using things, including things that have an idealized human form, like the statue, or like objectified pornographic models, who today are photoshopped so consummately, we see no bodily imperfections.

‘Tristan’ is in Anti-libidinal Ego mode again, the dialectical opposite of his lover, and on the phone, he’s being barked at by the Rejecting Object, the man from ‘the international goodwill society.’ He’s angry with ‘Tristan’ for his dereliction of duty, for having neglected his mission to protect the people.

‘Isolde,’ as it were, performing fellatio on a statue’s toes.

When the angry caller, the minister of the interior and head of “the international goodwill society,” is complaining about the deaths of the people, we see an army of people rushing in to a city area and causing the death and destruction. Should we connect this violence with the beggar-soldiers towards the beginning of the film, those weakened men who go off to fight the arriving Majorcan bourgeois? Is this violence, from which ‘Tristan’ was supposed to defend the people, actually a proletarian revolution? Were ‘the people’ actually bourgeois?

As a surrealist film, L’Age d’Or can be considered more dreams projected onto the silver screen, as Un Chien Andalou and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie were. Thus, it can be seen as Freudian wish-fulfillment for Buñuel; and so this violence, which so upsets the bourgeois telephone caller, can represent the insurrection of a strengthened working class, led by a revolutionary vanguard of the kind that defeated the Nazis, rather than the weakened beggar-soldiers from earlier, men who seem more like the anarchists of Catalonia, who weren’t strong enough to fight off Franco’s fascism.

‘Tristan’ no longer wishes to listen to the caller. He yanks the telephone cord off the wall, and so leaves without letting the caller finish the conversation. The screen is black and void for a few seconds, we hear a gunshot; then we see the caller’s shoes on the floor, then his dead body (after having shot himself in the head)…on the ceiling.

As with Hitler’s suicide, this is how those at the top die: never wishing to come down to the level of the people, they destroy themselves, for all they are is a black void of nothingness without the backing of the masses.

The bourgeois at the top ultimately destroy themselves.

‘Tristan’ returns to ‘Isolde,’ and we hear more of the Liebestod. They hold each other, and we can see their love is more than merely physical. Though they’re as bourgeois as all the others at the party, they feel stifled by the capitalist system, too. They don’t want to have to keep maintaining the system; they just want to be together. He shows uncharacteristic tenderness to her, asking if she’s cold; for the moment, he isn’t a scorpion.

They’re now, if only momentarily, in a mentally healthy state. Their Central Egos are enjoying each other’s Ideal Objects, a proper relation with the external world, rather than the unhealthy, inner phantasy world of splitting, the world of the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration, or that of the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object.

Though Fairbairn’s reworking of Freud’s id/ego/superego structure wouldn’t come until about twenty years after L’Age d’Or was made, we can still see how Fairbairn’s theories can explain the actions, thoughts, and feelings of the man and woman.

When she speaks of the joy of having murdered their children, and when we see blood all over his face, as he says, “Mon amour,” we can interpret the ‘murdered children’ and blood as their ridding of, and projection of, their bad internal objects, those ‘children’ they created in their minds, which caused the lovers to replace each other with Exciting Objects to suck on the toes of, or Rejecting Objects to do violence to.

Finally reunited with his love, he can release his bad internal objects, symbolized by blood on his face. His wounds are thus, paradoxically, a symbol of his emotional healing.

The conductor of the Liebestod gets a headache and has to stop the performance (understandable: he’s been playing the interminable, syrupy chromaticism of Wagner). Holding his head in agony, he walks out of the performing area, leaves the audience, and finds the garden where the lovers are.

The girl sees the aching old man and feels compassion for him; but this is a misguided pity, for it’s directed at someone she doesn’t know, making her abandon her lover, who should have all of her attention at the moment. Fromm had some relevant points about this kind of situation:

“In this situation there is one other thing we do: we are sentimental. Sentimentality is feeling under the condition of complete detachment...You have feelings, but you do not refer really, concretely to something that is the reality. You are sentimental. Your feelings overflow. They appear somewhere…They are stimulation words, which make you weep, which make you howl, which make you do anything, and yet it is a performance in which the feeling is not really related to something with which you are concerned, but which is an empty thing.” (Fromm, page 31)

The young man, overcome with jealousy at seeing his lover go over to the conductor and kiss him, is furious. He gets up and hits his head on an overhanging flowerpot, making him hold his head in pain as the conductor is. We hear drums playing a military beat in triple time, suggestive of wartime aggression, and expressive of his anger. He leaves the garden, goes into the house and into a bedroom on an upper floor. He grabs random things and throws them out the window: a burning fir tree, a bishop, a plow, the bishop’s staff, a giraffe statue, and pillow feathers.

The jealous lover, his mind in the Anti-libidinal Ego mode, grabs onto a phallic plow, symbolic of the libidinal desire he’s rejecting.

This splitting of the lovers symbolizes the split in the personality when the search for healthy object relations is frustrated. The Central Ego/Ideal Object (‘Tristan’ and ‘Isolde’) configuration gives way to, on the one side, the Libidinal Ego (‘Isolde’) and the Exciting Object (the conductor), and on the other side, the Anti-libidinal Ego (‘Tristan’) and the Rejecting Object (everything he throws out the window, largely phallic symbols–a rejection of his erotic desire to be with her–and symbols of the Church that Buñuel hated so much).

Finally, the last vignette of the film takes us from Rome to Paris, on the last of the 12o Days of Sodom (of which Sade‘s novel, by the way, took place in the Black Forest). We’ve encountered the oppositions between the Libidinal and Anti-libidinal Egos, and between the life (e.g. sex) and death drives (as explored in my two previous Buñuel analyses); now we see these oppositions dialectically fused in the sexual sadism of the four libertines, as graphically depicted in Sade’s most notorious novel.

The duc de Blangis walks out of the Château de Silling (Selliny, as given in the film’s subtitles) on a snowy, wintery day at the end of February. Oddly, his long dark hair and beard, white-robed attire, and ‘pious’ manner make him look like Christ, the dialectical opposite of the sadist of the novel. This is obviously another of Buñuel’s attacks on the hypocrisy and abuses of the Church.

One of the eight female victims of the libertines also emerges from the castle, with blood on her chest (in Sade’s novel, there are eight girls and eight boys as victims, as well as the libertines’ four daughters, who are also sexually abused). Blangis goes back to her, seeming to comfort her (representing the outside display of the Church’s love for its flock), then takes her back inside the castle, the Hell of her torments. We hear her scream (representing the inside, hidden reality of historical Church abuses, including the largely unpunished sexual abuse).

The Duke of Jesus…er, Blangis.

Blangis comes back outside, but now he’s beardless. His beard was a mask of virtue; with it removed, his wickedness is revealed–he has a frown of shame on his face. The loss of his hair also reminds one of Samson‘s lost source of strength; knowledge of the Church’s crimes weakens it. All this time, we’ve heard the banging of military drums, suggestive of war and death…an appropriate juxtaposition with a corrupt Church.

The film ends with the sight of scalps of hair hanging on a cross, blasphemously transforming it into a phallus with symbolic pubic hair. The Church is a stinging, phallic scorpion. The jaunty, merry music heard during this display adds to its absurdity.

Just as Martin Luther advised us to laugh at the devil, Buñuel advises us to laugh at the absurdity of the demonic Church; for there is nothing that makes the Church so angry as when we attack it to its face, and tell it that through dialectical materialism, we are more than a match for it.

How are we more than a match for Church and capitalist authoritarianism? Those scalps, hanging on the cross and blowing in the wind, seem to be those of six of the victims. As the loss of Blangis’s beard suggests a loss of his power, the accumulation of scalp hair, that of his victims, suggests the rise of the oppressed, Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, but in materialist form. We suffer, we rise, then we conquer. The scorpions that stung before will now be stung. The bourgeois will lie dead on the ceiling of their arrogance.

Analysis of ‘Un Chien Andalou’

Un Chien Andalou (“An Andalusian Dog”) is a 1929 French surrealist short silent film directed by Luis Buñuel and written by him and Salvador Dali. It launched the careers of these two Spaniards, though they’d been expecting a scandalized reaction from their bourgeois Parisian audience; Buñuel even had his pockets filled with rocks to throw at an audience he’d thought would be so outraged that they’d want to attack the filmmakers. Instead, the bourgeois audience loved the twenty-minute short.

Buñuel’s and Dali’s intention had been to shock their audience with images of blatant sexuality and violence; Buñuel called the film an “impassioned call for murder.” As a communist, Buñuel despised the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and the Church; accordingly, he went out of his way to expose, ridicule, and offend that sanctimonious establishment in all the films of his career. 

Sadly, Dali went in the opposite political direction of Buñuel, instead following that of fellow Spanish shocker Camilo José Cela, embracing Franco‘s fascism after having had a falling out with Buñuel before they could finish L’Age d’Or, originally meant to be another collaboration, but a movie Buñuel would finish without Dali. What a shame it is when talent is misused for reactionary purposes.

Two of the most famous images in Un Chien Andalou were inspired by dreams Buñuel and Dali had had, the former dreaming of a cloud cutting through the moon like a razor slicing an eye, and the latter dreaming of ants crawling on a man’s hand.

As a surrealist film, it was meant to be only one of random, shocking images with no consciously intended story or meaning. Indeed, if Buñuel and Dali were to come back from the dead and read this analysis, they doubtless would scoff at the meanings my interpretation here will impose on their fanciful flashes of black and white vignettes.

Nonetheless, the unconscious has meanings and intentions of its own, however non-rational and obscure they may be. Surrealism as an art form expresses unconscious meaning, a reality above our normal reality, hence the name of the movement. Since psychoanalysis is centred on an understanding of the unconscious, explored through dreams, free association, and the transference, a classical Freudian psychoanalytic interpretation is not only a possible way of making sense out of Un Chien Andalou: it’s the way, the royal road, even, for understanding the movie. 

Il était une fois, a man (Buñuel) sharpens a razor, then goes out onto a balcony and looks up at the moon. A greyish cloud is about to cut across the full moon, just as his razor will cut through the black iris of a young woman (Simone Mareuil).

The contrast of the black sky surrounding the white circle of the moon is like a photographic negative of her white eyeball surrounding her black iris. The greyish cloud is the silver, phallic razor.

This opening scene establishes the theme of the yin-and-yang-like, dialectical relationship between opposites, here symbolized by black and white, the thesis and negation, and by the sublation of the opposites with the grey cloud and razor. We will see many manifestations of the conflict and interaction between opposites in this film.

The man in the nun’s habit, riding a bicycle.

Huit ans après,” a man (Pierre Batcheff) is riding a bicycle down a street approaching her apartment building. He’s wearing a nun’s habit, and a box hangs by a strap around his neck. Here we see a fusion of masculinity and femininity, not only through his crossdressing, but also through the yonic symbolism of the box, which dangles like a penis…or a breast.

She goes to the window to watch him. He falls and lies on the curb in front of her apartment building; she empathizes, and rushes down to help him. Back in her apartment, she arranges the nun’s habit on a bed while he, in a dark suit, stands by a door looking at the palm of his hand. The juxtaposition of a nun’s habit on a bed suggests the meeting opposites of piety vs. sexual indulgence (as does her unlocking of the box). We’ll get more of the opposition between piety and lust soon after.

He’s looking at his hand because ants are crawling out of a yonic wound on his palm–more androgyny. The emerging ants suggest a projection outward of what’s wrong with him inside, the myrmidons (Greek: μύρμηξ, ‘ant’) of destruction. His fixed stare at the projection suggests a wish to see the bad inside him get out.

Next, we see her lying on the beach, with a closeup on her hairy armpit, which dissolves into a spherical sea urchin lying on the sand, its roundness reminding us of her eye just before it had been ‘raped,’ as it were, by the phallic razor. The armpit is a yoni, like the eyeball and the cloud-raped moon; the spiny, dark sea urchin is associated with both the yoni and a testicle, suggesting more androgyny, more unity of opposites.

The androgynous woman, holding the man’s box.

The urchin dissolves into the bird’s-eye-view of the head of a short-haired woman dressed rather mannishly–yet more androgyny. Holding a phallic cane, she pokes at a severed hand, which symbolizes castration, a reminder of the ‘yonic’ wounds of the slit eye and the wound on the man’s hand. With both injured hands, we once again see a unity of male and female through the castration complex.

The androgyny of the man and this woman in the street suggests Freud’s notion of the inherent ‘bisexuality’ of both sexes: ““we shall, of course, willingly agree that the majority of men are…far behind the masculine ideal and that all human individuals, as a result of their bisexual disposition and of cross-inheritance, combine in themselves both masculine and feminine characteristics, so that pure masculinity and femininity remain theoretical constructions of uncertain content.” (Freud, ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,’ p. 342)

Let’s now contrast the scenes of both gender-benders on the street, what unifies them and what makes them opposites. He rides a bike alone, but she stands surrounded by people. He has the yonic box, she the phallic cane…though a policeman later gives her the box to put the hand inside–symbolic of sexual union as well as androgyny.

He falls to the ground, causing the woman in the apartment to feel compassion for him and help him; the androgynous woman is hit by a car, while the man in the apartment grins, sadistically enjoying watching her get hurt, possibly killed, and neither he nor the woman with him in the room go down to help the injured woman. Note the merging of pleasure and pain, not only in his sadism, but also her smile of pleasure from having the hand in the box (representing intercourse and androgyny), and this happens just before she’s hit by the car.

The man (Batcheff) and woman (Mareuil) watch the androgynous woman, just before she’s hit by the car.

Now the man looks lustfully at the woman in the apartment. After having been aroused by the injury/death of the androgynous woman below, he’s now desiring this woman in the room with him. He grabs her breasts and imagines her nude, her breasts dissolving into her buttocks. We go from symbolic rape (the razor slicing the eye) to literal, attempted rape.

Remember that, as a surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou depicts the world of the unconscious, a realm of unbridled id impulses. Here, the pleasure principle rules, an ending of tension or excitation. Now, excitation can be ended by either pleasure (libido) or death, Thanatos. “We have decided to relate pleasure and unpleasure to the quantity of excitation that is present in the mind…and to relate them in such a manner that unpleasure corresponds to an increase in the quantity of excitation and pleasure to a diminution.” (Freud, page 276, his emphasis)

The man’s enjoyment of watching the androgynous woman hit by a car is an indication of his death drive, directed outwards, wished on another. His libidinous pawing at the first woman’s breasts suggest a fusion of the life instinct, Eros (of which the sex drive is a manifestation) with Thanatos (his rapist aggression), another fusion of opposites.

In light of this fusion of the life (i.e., sex) and death drives, it is significant that Buñuel chose, in 1960, Wagner‘s Liebestod (“love-death”) as part of the soundtrack for the movie. This was music he’d also used in L’Age d’Or, incidentally. The fused sex and death drives seem to be represented in many of his films, including these two early ones, as well as in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (see my analysis for that movie), Viridiana (<<her uncle’s suicide happening so soon after his having her dress in his dead wife’s bridal gown, then drugging her so he could have her in bed), and even Belle de Jour (consider this scene).

The man attempts to rape the woman while carrying his unconscious ‘baggage,’ if you will.

Unconscious id impulses are represented in the man’s attack on the woman; unconscious ego defence is seen in her attempt to defend herself with a tennis racquet when he has her cornered. So she, symbolically, is the ego, and he represents the id.

He grabs onto ropes linking Moses’ tablets of the Ten Commandments with pairs of pumpkins, seminarists (Dali himself being one of them), and pianos, each with a bloody, slaughtered donkey lying on the inner strings. These together represent his superego in their attempt to restrain him. He pulls on them and falls, then gets up and pulls again, all that weight slowing him down as he tries to get closer to her in the corner.

Note how the id, ego, and superego are all unconscious here. While the ego and superego are partly conscious, as opposed to the completely unconscious id, much, if not most, of the ego and superego are either unconscious or at least preconscious; so much of their activity is unknown, at least at the time, to the mind controlled by them. To understand the true feelings of the aggressive man here, since this is a surrealist film, we should see his scurrilous aggression thus as unconscious phantasy in his mind, not his actual treatment of the woman.

The decalogue tablets and seminarists represent the ego ideal that he is required by society to approach as best he can. Of course, neither the Bible nor the Catholic priesthood have ever set a good example for preventing rape, as seen in priests’ largely unpunished sexual abuse of children over the years, or in such Bible verses as these: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers 31: 17-18)

Two seminarists (Dali on the right) being dragged by the man in his attempt to rape the woman.

The pianos represent society’s use of culture in taming the beast; their weight slows the man down much better than clergy or tablets could. The slaughtered donkeys represent the killing of man’s bestial nature in order to civilize him. The pumpkins seem testicular to me, perhaps a reminder from society that sex is for procreation, not for mere pleasure, especially not for a man’s pleasure at the expense of a woman.

In any case, she fortunately gets away from him, slamming the door on his hand (a symbolic castration of a phallus) and reopening the yonic would from which the ants emerge, another projective ridding of the myrmidon killer within him…or is it an ejaculation (a fusion of sex with death), a masochistic pleasure from a previously rape-inclined sadist? “A person who feels pleasure in producing pain in someone else in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure any pain which he may himself derive from sexual relations. A sadist is always at the same time a masochist.”  (Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, page 73)

On the bed in the room she’s entered is the man, now wearing the nun’s habit and box, and behaving much better. Is this the moralizing influence of religion that’s taming his lust, or is it the feminine inside him, making him more respectful to her?

Speaking of moralizing influences, “around three in the morning,” she hears a door-bell (represented by two hands poking out of holes in a wall and shaking a Martini-shaker–symbolic of masturbation) and lets a man in who, as it eventually turns out, is also played by Batcheff. Wearing a lighter-coloured suit this time, he berates the first man for wearing the habit, demanding that he remove it, then throwing the clothing out the window. This second version of the man, now making the first version of him (in his darker suit) stand in the corner shamefacedly, represents the superego, the inner critic, chiding the dark-suited id.

(Compare the superego-man, making the id-man stand in the corner, to the id-man rapist making the ego-woman stand in the corner. These are, respectively, the conflict between the pleasure principle and the ego ideal, and the conflict between the pleasure and reality principles, intensified with the ego ideal being dragged by the id-man.)

The man, in his nun-habit again, lying in bed.

What form of morality is being promoted in getting rid of the nun’s habit? Is it a conservative morality, telling the crossdresser that ‘real men’ never wear women’s clothes? Or is it a progressive morality, telling the man to do away with the shackles, as it were, of the hypocritical trappings of religion? Given Buñuel’s attitude towards the Church, the latter explanation seems more likely.

The lighter-suited man, “sixteen years earlier,” shows an interest in art supplies and books lying on a table, and he gives the darker-suited man in the corner two books to hold in his hands as he stays in the corner. This love of art and culture, like the dragged pianos mentioned above, and its imposition on the man standing in the corner, suggests the use of sublimation as a way of redirecting id drives down more socially desirable paths.

The id-man in the corner, though, would rather be destructive than creative (yet another juxtaposition of opposites), and so the books he’s holding transform into phallic pistols, which he causes to ejaculate bullets at the lighter-suited superego-man, killing him. He falls down dead…but in a forest, his body brushing against the nude back of the woman: another juxtaposition of opposites–the life instinct’s libido and the death drive.

Let’s compare this death with that of the androgynous woman and the fall off the bike of the man in the nun’s habit. In many ways, these first two accidents were mutually antithetical, as described above. This new death is comparable and contrasting to the previous two incidents, suggesting a sublation of the previous two.

Pierre Batcheff, the ‘id-man,’ as I’m calling him.

This superego-man is played by the same actor, Batcheff, as the id-man, but the superego-man isn’t a crossdresser. The antithetical androgynes are male and female; the third man’s lighter-coloured suit is a bit effeminate looking, though. The first two fall on a street (i.e., a man-made ground); the third one falls on the ground of Mother Nature, in a forest.

Only the woman in the apartment helps the crossdressing man; several people, mostly men, go to help the fallen androgynous woman; and a group of men, including a man with a cane, reminding us of the androgynous woman’s cane, find and pick up the body of the dead third person. The Liebestod is played during all three incidents.

Sublation, or Aufhebung, is a better word to use than ‘synthesis’ to describe how contradictions are resolved in dialectical thinking. One doesn’t merely combine the opposites: one refines one’s originally proposed idea by considering the opposition’s point of view. Some of the original ideas of the thesis remain; aspects of the negation are acknowledged; some contradictory aspects cancel each other out in the sublation. Then the refined idea becomes a new thesis to be negated and sublated, all over again.

This process can repeat itself again and again in a cycle, like the ouroboros: the thesis is the bitten tail, the negation is the biting head, and the coiled body of the serpent is the sublation. This dialectic can be symbolized by these three incidents in the film.

The ouroboros can symbolize the dialectic: the bitten tail is the thesis, the biting head is the negation of that thesis, and the coiled length of the serpent’s body–symbolizing a circular continuum of everything between the extremes of the biting at the top–is the sublation.

Another thing to note about all the film’s dialectical opposites is their physicality, their materiality. Conflict and contradiction are expressed in the forms of violence (as in The Omen) and sexuality (as in Caligula), a most material expression; so these aren’t the idealist dialectics of Hegel, but the materialist ones of Marx. (“Seize ans avant” suggests an association with historical materialism, too.)

This Marxism is Buñuel’s leftism shining through, though Dali’s right-wing tendencies would limit how far Buñuel could go with his leftism. Hence, there’s very little criticism of the bourgeoisie here. His “impassioned call for murder” (I find it fairly safe to assume that, by “murder,” Buñuel meant communist revolution–that is, killing off the bourgeoisie) fell largely on deaf ears.

In the next scene, the woman that the man tried to rape enters a room and sees a death’s head hawkmoth on a wall. This, a mature creature fully bloomed into life as an imago, but with a marking like a skull on its thorax, is yet another symbol of the merging of the life and death drives.

She sees the man who tried to rape her. He rubs his mouth, erasing it from his face. Disquieted by this, she applies lipstick to herself, as if wishing to draw his mouth back on his face by sympathetic magic, or what Melanie Klein called projective identification. Instead, her armpit hair appears on his face, as if a beard! She sticks her tongue out at him several times, then leaves.

There are multiple possible meanings here. Since she’s resisted his sexual advances, he, annoyed with her, wishes no longer to communicate with her. No longer having his empathy-prompting feminine symbols (the nun’s habit and yonic box), he’s gone from lecher to woman-hating incel. Her applying of lipstick, intended to be a projected drawing of a mouth back on his face, represents a wish to restore communication.

His erased mouth is another yoni, a rejection of the feminine. Her phallic lipstick, applied to her yonic mouth, suggests a wish for sexual union and restored androgyny. Above, I showed how her armpit hair suggests her pubic hair. Instead of projecting a mouth (symbolic yoni) onto his face, she accidentally projects her symbolic pubic hair…and pubic hair can be male or female. In having her hair on his face, he’s mirroring back to her how unattractive he now finds her. Hurt, she rejects him, too.

The removal of her armpit hair and her applying of lipstick suggest something that has upset feminists for a long time: the lofty standards of beauty women are societally expected to attain. (In contemporary pornography, it is standard to remove the models’ pubic hair, too.) In sticking out her phallic tongue at him several times, she’s defying his misogyny while reaffirming androgyny.

The woman and her boyfriend on the beach in the final scene.

In the final scene, she leaves her apartment building not to see the street, but a beach. A handsome young man by the shore turns and sees her; he seems to be her boyfriend, for she grins in delight to see him, and she hangs affectionately on his shoulder. They kiss.

I have elsewhere associated the sea or ocean with a state of nirvana. I’ve also associated a nirvana-like state with the biting head of the ouroboros, yet also with the danger of hellish samsara close by, on the sands of the beach, as when Luther confronts Swan on the beach at the end of The Warriors.

The woman and her boyfriend enjoy walking on the beach together, in each other’s arms; but they find the nun’s habit and box, broken and messy with sand, having washed on the shore after the superego-man threw them out the window. They represent the misogynistic id-man’s rejected feminine side as well as his rejected religious upbringing. The hostility they represent seems a danger to the man, who tosses the things aside so he and the girl can continue their blissful walk along the shore.

Au printemps,” a time of renewed life, shows the two lovers buried almost to their chests in the sand, presumably dead. Again, Eros and Thanatos unite: “these guardians of life…were originally the myrmidons of death” (Freud, page 312). The Myrmidons, incidentally, were created by Zeus from a colony of…ants!

The razor rapes her eye, as the passing cloud rapes the moon.

Freud had more to say about the interaction between the opposing life and death drives, that is to say, the pleasure principle on the one hand, and the drive to return to an inorganic state, on the other: “The pleasure principle…is a tendency operating in the service of a function whose business it is to free the mental apparatus entirely from excitation or to keep the amount of excitation in it constant or to keep it as low as possible…it is clear that the function thus described would be concerned with the most universal endeavour of all living substance–namely to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world. We have all experienced how the greatest pleasure attainable by us, that of the sexual act, is associated with a momentary extinction of a highly intensified excitation…The pleasure principle seems actually to serve the death instincts.” (Freud, 336-337, 338)

As we can see, Un Chien Andalou isn’t just a random jumble of vignettes, even if its creators insisted that it was. Like any great work of art, there are consistent themes to be explored: its surrealism merely means that one must be something of a psychoanalyst to uncover its secrets. Using free association, one looks at the freely given images and associates them to reveal the unconscious meanings within. 

…and what are those unconscious meanings? The interaction and unity of opposites: male/female, life/death, pleasure/pain, sex/violence, projection/introjection. I harp on the interconnection of opposites quite a lot, but that’s because in all this dialectical intermixing, we find a deeper truth, a truth that encapsulates everything. That universal truth is what makes films like Un Chien Andalou so great.

Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (The Pelican Freud Library, #7), Penguin Books, London, 1977

Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology; The Theory of Psychoanalysis (The Pelican Freud Library, #11), Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1984

Analysis of ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie) is a 1972 French language surrealist film (with some Spanish) directed by Luis Buñuel and written by him and Jean-Claude Carrière. It stars Fernando Rey as Rafael Acosta, ambassador of the (fictional) Republic of Miranda. He and his upper middle class friends keep trying to have dinner together, but one form of ill fortune or another keeps thwarting their plans.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and was a hit with filmgoers in Europe and the US. As a surrealist film made by a communist director satirizing bourgeois hypocrisy, it can be seen as an example of a kind of Freudo-Marxism.

Here are some quotes in English translation:

“You’re better suited for making love than for making war.” –Rafael, to Guerrilla Woman

“Finally, if you think about it, the only solution to starvation and poverty is in the hands of the army. You’ll realize it in Miranda, when you have to open your pretty thighs to an infantry battalion.” –Rafael, to Guerrilla Woman

[the Senechals are preparing to make love. There is a knock at the door]

Henri Sénéchal: What is it?

Ines: The guests are here, sir.

Henri Sénéchal: Tell them we’ll be down. Serve them drinks.

Alice Sénéchal: They can wait five minutes. Come on.

Henri Sénéchal: No, no, not here. We can’t.

Alice Sénéchal: But why?

Henri Sénéchal: You scream too loud. You know it.

Henri Sénéchal: Any news from Miranda?

Rafael Acosta: Yes.

Henri Sénéchal: The situation?

Rafael Acosta: Quite calm.

Henri Sénéchal: And the guerrillas?

Rafael Acosta: There are a few left. They are a part of our folklore.

Alice Sénéchal: You have problems with the students?

Rafael Acosta: Students are young. They must have some fun.

Simone Thévenot: How’s your government treating them?

Rafael Acosta: We are not against the students, but what can you do with a room full of flies? You take a fly-swatter and Bang! Bang!

Colonel: Marijuana isn’t a drug. Look at what goes on in Vietnam. From the general down to the private, they all smoke.

Simone Thévenot: As a result, once a week they bomb their own troops.

Colonel: If they bomb their own troops, they must have their reasons.

Colonel: I didn’t know that chivalry still existed in your semi-savage country.

Rafael Acosta: Sir, you just insulted the Republic of Miranda!

Colonel: I don’t give a damn about the Republic of Miranda!

Rafael Acosta: And I shit on your entire army!

Peasant: Father? I want to tell you something.

Bishop Dufour: Then tell me, my child.

Peasant: I really don’t like Jesus Christ. Even as a little girl I hated him.

Bishop Dufour: Such a good, gentle God? How is it possible?

Peasant: Want to know why?

Bishop Dufour: Let me tend to this sick man first, then we’ll talk.

The opening credits are shown with a shot from the point of view of a chauffeur driving Rafael, the Thévenots, and Florence (Mme Thévenot’s younger sister) to the Sénéchals’ home at night. We see through the windshield the black of night and of the road.

They’re all going to a definite destination (though on the wrong night), driven by their chauffeur (i.e., a proletarian working for them). Contrast this with the sextet of bourgeois protagonists (three men–played by Rey, Paul Frankeur, and Jean-Pierre Cassel; and three women–played by Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, and Stéphane Audran) sporadically seen walking down a lonely country road during the day, with no apparent destination. Without workers to help them, or the luxury of transportation, they seem aimless, almost helpless.

Left to right: Florence (Ogier), Mme. Thévenot (Seyrig), Rafael (Rey), M. Thévenot (Frankeur), Alice (Audran) and Henri Sénéchal (Cassel).

Twice in one night is their plan for dinner together thwarted: the first time because Rafael and his friends visit the Sénéchals on the wrong night, the night before the actual agreed dinner date (Henri is away on business); and the second, because they go to a disappointing restaurant (i.e., cheap food and void of diners, implying poor quality, which gives the five bourgeois no narcissistic supply; I’ve discussed elsewhere how close the link is between narcissism and capitalism) where they hear the moans of mourners for the recently deceased manager, whose body is in the next room. Their appetite ruined by such a disconcerting sight, the five of them immediately leave.

This recurring frustration of their plans to dine together gives them all a taste (pardon the pun) of what it is like to go without food–for the six of them, a brief inconvenience, but for the people of the Third World, this is an everyday reality.

The bourgeois sextet is confronted with the reality of human suffering (hunger, death, disease, aging); but they are never edified. Contrast this with the life story of Siddartha Gautama (how much of the traditional telling of the Buddha’s biography is myth, and how much is history, is irrelevant for our purposes; after all, this movie is fiction, too), who as a prince encountered an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man, and thus was inspired to renounce his life of privilege and search for a way to end suffering.

Even the holy man who joins the six bourgeois is neither an inspiration nor himself inspired to righteousness. As contemptuous of the Church as Buñuel was of capitalism, here he takes every opportunity to show how hypocritical the priest is.

Suffering is seen in a variety of forms in this film, from the mildest inconvenience (as the six typically suffer) to the harshest pain (soldiers’ recounting of moments of the loss of loved ones in their lives…in dream or in reality; also, a woman leftist freedom fighter being abducted, and the six being murdered…though in Rafael’s dream). The Buddhist concept of dukkha encapsulates the whole gamut of suffering, from the mildest to the greatest. The whole problem of class is how the bourgeoisie tend to suffer far fewer of the greatest sorrows, on average, than the global proletariat do.

Buddhism links suffering with selfish desire, craving, or attachment, the fire to be blown out by nirvana. Accordingly, the third get-together to eat is thwarted by the sudden urge of Alice and Henri Sénéchal to have a quickie in their bedroom, and they’re about to get it on right when their guests have arrived. Afraid the guests will hear Alice’s squeals of pleasure, she and Henri opt for the absurd alternative of sneaking out the bedroom window, going into the bushes behind the house, and screwing there.

The two lovers have, in effect, subjected themselves–however briefly–to homelessness, rather like a comical version of what happens to King Lear in the play’s third act. Like the vain, proud king, these two bourgeois–examples of the modern version of royalty–would rather “feel what wretches feel” than be embarrassed before their peers.

They sneak back into their house, with pieces of grass in their hair and their clothes needing a few adjustments (reminding us of the untidiness of the homeless), and they’re annoyed to learn that the other four have left (out of a paranoid fear they’ve been found out by the police to be guilty of cocaine possession, as seen in a previous scene).

The priest picks a piece of grass out of Henri’s hair.

The priest appears to the Sénéchals, but dressed as a gardener, because he wishes to do this job for them. Looking like a working class type, he is thrown out of the house; then, back in his priest’s attire, he’s let back in and hypocritically apologized to. The well-off tend thus to judge people by their appearance.

The priest’s desire to be a gardener is an interesting one. He has been inspired by the gardener his late parents had when he was a boy; yet we also learn, by the end of the movie, that it was this beloved gardener who murdered the priest’s parents for having mistreated him while he was in their employ.

The priest’s wish to emulate the man who taught him gardening seems also to be a wish to be like other pious gardeners: Adam, before the Fall, and Candide, who in resisting Pangloss’s absurd attempts to rationalize the capricious ways of the world, knows that “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” We see here the hypocritical false modesty of the priest, who will kill the sick, aging, dying gardener for having killed his parents without ever having been brought to justice.

His change of attitude–from loving and identifying with the man who inspired a wish in him to be a gardener, to hating the man who killed his parents–seems too sudden. The priest must have made a vow, years ago, to kill his parents’ murderer if ever he found him. If my speculation of his commitment to revenge is correct (and this speculation is more than reasonable), it proves the priest’s hypocrisy, for his absolving the dying gardener is nothing more than an outward show of piety.

The choice of name for the fictional country of which Rafael is ambassador–Miranda–is an interesting one. It reminds me of Prospero‘s ingénue daughter, whom he–an imperialist colonizer of Caliban‘s island–jealously protects from the violation of lustful men like Caliban or (Prospero imagines) Ferdinand. Imperialist Rafael is to his country like Prospero: Miranda is like an innocent, virgin daughter being–in one scene–assailed and defiled with, to him, slanders of corruption, wealth inequality, and crime. 

Rafael thus is like any bourgeois who uses nationalism to deflect criticisms of imperialism and class conflict. At the final dinner, he even considers the epithet of ‘butcher’ given to a Nazi found in his country (one Rafael has personally met, also, and considers a gentleman) to be a tad extreme.

Rafael Acosta (Fernando Rey), ambassador of the Republic of Miranda.

The presentation of a number of dreams in the film means we are going down Freud‘s “royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious.” Buñuel’s dream, as wish-fulfillment, is clearly to have the bourgeoisie experience, if only briefly, some of the suffering of the poor: hunger, death, wrongs uncompensated for, humiliation, unjust imprisonment, and fury driving one to violence.

Since dreams lead us into the land of the unconscious, we also see, in the dreams of this film, the inner workings of the unconscious, including unconscious ego defence. This is seen when, as stated above, Rafael is pressured into defending the honour of his country from criticism after criticism, each of which gets more and more intolerable, until Rafael curses at, then shoots, the Colonel (Claude Piéplu). 

M. Thévenot, however, wakes from the dream, not Rafael. This doesn’t matter for the purposes of my analysis, since national differences don’t so much matter to the ruling classes: only the protection of their class interests does. Nationalism, as I mentioned above, is only useful as a deflection of our attention from class war. Thus, it doesn’t matter if a bourgeois from Miranda or one from France has had the dream, and has thus been unconsciously using defence mechanisms against criticisms of Miranda. A bourgeois is a bourgeois, no matter who he is or what country he’s from, for all capitalist countries share Miranda’s vices, to at least some extent, and all bourgeois share the same class interests.

There are the dreams of the bourgeois and there are also those of the common man, the soldier, as in the case of the sergeant’s dream, which he describes when the Colonel and his army interrupt the six bourgeois’ dinner. The sergeant dreams of walking about the streets of what seems to be almost a ghost town, its emptiness (save two men and his mother, with each of whom he chats briefly) and shadows suggesting the desolation that war causes. The first man he chats with, Ramirez, leaves him to enter a store to buy something, but when the soldier goes in later, the interior looks abandoned and dilapidated, again suggesting war’s desolation. We also learn that Ramirez has been dead for the past six years, just as his mother has been long dead. War benefits the bourgeois, but it tears away, from us ordinary people, all of those we care about.

The sergeant then goes back out on the streets, searching for (and not finding) his mother. The other soldiers, Colonel, and six bourgeois listening to the narration of the dream all suggest Buñuel’s wish-fulfillment that the ruling classes would actually listen to, and empathize with, the desires and needs of the ordinary working man.

Rafael enjoys frisking a leftist from Miranda.

This fulfillment of the wish for people’s pain to be heard and cared about happens at another point, earlier in the film, when a young lieutenant joins the three bourgeois women’s table in a café (where…alas! there’s only water to be served) to tell them his tragic life story. His story involves his Oedipal longing for his mother, who appears as a ghost, and tells him (when he’s an eleven-year-old boy about to be sent to a strict military school) his severe male guardian isn’t his biological father, but actually his father’s murderer. The boy then gets his revenge by poisoning the man’s milk, which he drinks at night, then dies in bed.

Since the soldier has still gone to military school (the boy’s listing from side to side as he goes from the study of his strict guardian to his mother’s bedroom, his hands touching the furniture and walls in the hallway, suggests his dislike of any form of discipline), and since his story of seeing his mother’s ghost sounds improbable, it seems safe to assume that the poisoning is more wish-fulfillment, a variant of Freud’s family romance.

The boy’s writing “Maman, je t’…(aime) with her lipstick on the dresser mirror suggests a fusion of the Oedipus complex with Lacan‘s mirror stage: the boy’s reflected False Self in a military uniform is wished to be an illusion; and his reunion with his mother’s ghost, and his learning that his real father is a different, presumably kinder man (this would be what Melanie Klein called the ‘good father’ versus the ‘bad father’) seem to be illusions. And if the man poisoned was the boy’s real father, then we see in this murder the fulfilled Oedipal wish to remove the father, so the boy can have his mother.

On several occasions, we hear the sound of an airplane flying overhead (also, loud typing on one occasion, and on another, a siren) and drowning out the sound of people speaking. What is said is something the bourgeois don’t wish to be heard (the woman ‘terrorist’ discussing Mao, a corrupt politician explaining to the police why the six bourgeois are to be released from jail after being charged, rightly, with cocaine trafficking). The sounds of the airplane, siren, etc., are surrealistically heard at high volumes in indoor places, again suggesting the wish-fulfillment of the non-rational unconscious in dreams, all for the convenience of the bourgeoisie.

Here again, we see the conscious and unconscious manifestations of ego defence. Ego psychology shows us how defence mechanisms, like denial or splitting, sometimes have to be unconscious to avoid detection during therapy. The guilty bourgeois would especially like to keep their secrets undisclosed…including drug trafficking (of which, incidentally, another character played by Rey, only a year earlier in The French Connection, was guilty).

As explained in Freud and Beyond: a History of Psychoanalytic Thought, “…the ego also contains complex unconscious defensive arrangements that have evolved to satisfy the demands of neurotic compromise, ways of thinking that keep repressed impulses out of conscious awareness in an ongoing way…unconscious ego defenses gain nothing from being exposed…The ego, charged with the daunting task of keeping the peace between warring internal parties and ensuring socially acceptable functioning, works more effectively if it works undercover.” (Mitchell and Black, page 26)

Now, there is the life instinct, Eros, expressed by the six bourgeois’ desire to eat and drink socially (being together is an example of their object-seeking–and Fairbairn insisted we all, at our core, seek objects, that is, other people to connect with–and object-seeking is also what the lieutenant, telling the three bourgeois women in the café about his sad life, is doing), as well as in their libido (Alice and Henri screwing in the bushes; Rafael wanting to screw Mme. Thévenot behind her husband’s back). But there’s also Thanatos, the death drive.

Not all dreams are wish-fulfillments, as Freud finally admitted (Freud, page 304) in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in which he dealt with such issues as the death drive and “the compulsion to repeat” (in the film, there’s the compulsion to repeat the futile attempt to dine together). There’s the urge to put others to death (Rafael, when he shoots the Colonel in M. Thévenot’s dream; the bishop, shooting the gardener; the boy cadet, poisoning his step-father; and Rafael, shooting at the clockwork animal toys of, as well as pointing a pistol at, the leftist woman from Miranda), and there’s also the unconscious drive to bring about one’s own death, as seen in Rafael’s dream of the gunmen shooting all six bourgeois.

Both pleasure and death bring about a relaxation of tension, or of excitation (Freud, page 276), though in opposing ways, like the ouroboros biting its tail, the head and tail symbolizing meeting extreme opposites on a circular continuum, as I’ve argued elsewhere. Death’s relaxation of that tension (“To die, to sleep,–/ No more”) is similar to nirvana, a state of bliss that negates all forms of existence, or paradoxically, of non-existence.

The social bourgeois dinner ought to be thwarted: not only so the ruling classes can begin to understand what it is to go hungry; but also because their every get-together is a façade, a performance of hypocritical, sanctimonious morality. It’s theatre, as literally displayed when the six think they’re dining chez the Colonel, but find themselves on a stage. This phoniness–as shown in them giving a glass of champagne to their chauffeur (then sneering at him, a mere uneducated commoner), disapproving of the smoking of marijuana while dealing in cocaine, asking about the maid’s ex-fiancé who dumped her for being too old (as if the six even care), discussing how Rafael’s sun sign, Pisces–Sagittarius ascendant, reveals his ‘virtues’–is the essence of, sarcastically expressed, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.

I’m no Buddhist, but I think we can gain a few insights here and there from the philosophy. Instead of our endless ego defence, which tends in a narcissistic direction, we need to be selfless, abandoning the illusion of an ego. To end the suffering of humanity, we need to end the selfish lust not only for sex, but also for money, especially the money that is gained by addicting people to superficial forms of gratification, like porn, or the cocaine in the film. Giving up on the self means especially giving up on the narcissistic False Self, the person we think we see as ourselves in the mirror. 

Instead of aching and griping about our own inconveniences, we need to feel compassion for the sufferings of others, to listen when they try to tell us what’s hurting them, as the soldiers do. But we should really listen, not just pretend to, as the six bourgeois do. When we can do this, we can really break out of the chains the bourgeoisie has put us all in. For compassion, at the risk of sounding overly sentimental, is what love is all about.

As Che Guevara once said, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Love will be a road that we as comrades can walk on together, leading to a definite destination, not as the bourgeois, who look foolish walking along a country road to nowhere.

Everything Flows

 

cascade creek environment fern
Everything flows, like the rippling waves of a river.

As I’ve written before here on this blog, in the middle of our healing journey we have a tendency to backslide when times are good (crests of the waves of life), and forget to be mindful in our need to keep on working on our self-care, writing therapy, meditations, etc. Then the bad times flow back, those troughs on life’s waves, and we’re unprepared.

Just as the bad times don’t last, neither do the good times. The good flow into the bad, then the bad into the good, like the waves of the ocean. We have to embrace change, as it exists everywhere, at all times.

Heraclitus, famous for saying, “Everything flows,” was one of many philosophers throughout history, across cultures, who recognized change as an inevitability, as well as the unifying shift from any one opposite to the other.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,/Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in,” said Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching (58). “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 5:4) says Jesus in the Beatitudes. Fortune and misfortune flow back and forth into each other in a cyclical Unity of Action, as do health and ill health.

AdobeStock_3227654_Preview.jpeg
Opposites are unified, like yin and yang. The one flows into the other.

I discussed impermanence, and the crests of good luck flowing into the troughs of bad luck, in my analysis of Moby-Dick. As we try to heal our pain, we must guard against the sentimentality of thinking that there will ever be a flow from sadness to everlasting happiness. There is a never-ending dialectical swing back and forth between all things, including good and bad luck.

There’s also a dialectic between health and ill health. About a week before the publishing of this post, someone read this post of mine and, apparently misunderstanding my meaning when I wrote of being ‘a little too healthy,’ thought what I’d written made no sense. (Another reader stopped at about the third paragraph because she had no idea what I was talking about. I admit, that post was a little too abstract for its own good.)

The quotations around ‘too healthy’ were put there on purpose, for I never meant the idea to be taken at face value. By ‘too healthy,’ I meant the smug overconfidence, complacency, and sense of entitlement we may feel when things are going a little too conveniently for us.

True health is a proper balance of bliss and pain. We all have pain: even the healthiest of people do. Happiness isn’t the absence of pain; it’s having the emotional tools, if you will, to deal with pain. People who are ‘too healthy,’ that is, too comfortable, often aren’t emotionally prepared when the bad times come–then they slip into suffering.

man person people emotions
“Misery!–happiness is to be found by its side! Happiness!–misery
lurks beneath it!” (Tao Te Ching, 58)

So as all opposites are in some sense combined or intermixed, so are emotional health and ill health. The healthiest of people experience pain, sorrow, and unresolved frustrations. The mentally unhealthy also use their delusions to shield themselves from greater pain: this is not to say that using their delusions in this way is a good idea, of course, but just that their disconnect with reality is an attempt–however foolish–to protect themselves; it serves a psychological purpose, however dysfunctional it may be.

To use an example from fiction, Norman Bates deludes himself from the overwhelming, unbearable pain of confronting his murder of his mother, by imagining she’s still alive…even to the point of giving her half of his life, speaking for her, dressing up as her, having her personality in his mind. This delusion in no way cures him of his madness, of course–it only intensifies it in the long run; but the delusion does allow him, at least in the short term, to be able to function socially. In this way, we can see the admixture of ‘health’ (<<note the quotes, please) into ill health.

Sigmund and Anna Freud detailed all the defence mechanisms we use to protect ourselves from anxiety and guilt. Many, if not most of these (repression, denial, projection, reaction formation, fantasy, intellectualization, displacement, turning against oneself, rationalization, etc.) aren’t very mature, and certainly aren’t in themselves healthy. But they do serve a purpose in helping people pull themselves together, and to keep them from falling apart; otherwise, we’d never use them. As hypocritical as most of them make us, we do need them to function in society.

Even something as odious and poisonous as pathological narcissism is a defence against psychological fragmentation and disintegration, a falling apart and losing of one’s mind, as Otto Kernberg pointed out. Certainly, Heinz Kohut believed that, in the transference, a temporary indulgence of narcissistic patients’ grandiosity and idealizations is necessary before ridding them of their pathological aspects, through transmuting internalization.

AVT_Anna-Freud_2796
Sigmund Freud and his daughter, Anna, who both wrote about ego defence mechanisms.

We suffer pain because we imagine states of being to persist in more or less permanent forms. We need to be mindful, as the Buddhists are, of the one and only permanent state of being: change. Happiness and sorrow flow into each other like the waves of the ocean.

People indulge in porn, drinking, sexual promiscuity, and drugs as a way to experience a brief high of ‘happiness’ to stave off dealing with their real problem: sadness–loneliness. People gain “neurotic dividends,” as (if I remember correctly) Wayne W. Dyer called them in Your Erroneous Zones, by engaging in dysfunctional behaviour because that’s easier than coping with life. This is the ‘health’ in ill health, the ‘happiness’ in sadness.

I’d like to propose another idea for coping with sadness, an idea I got from Richard Grannon in his “Silence the Inner Critic” course: just make yourself feel good for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Do we need to have a reason for feeling good?

I know, I know: at first glance, this sounds like a silly idea. Hear me out, please.

Say the quote below to yourself regularly, regardless of your actual mood, and say it with vigorous body movements, to help you feel it–because you have to try to feel it as well as say it: “I am assuming control of my physical, mental, and emotional state…and I feel good! I feel good…because I should! I feel good because being in a good psychological state helps me to function better in life, to handle my difficulties and challenges better. Indeed, I feel good for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I feel good because, even though I could be going through the worst of calamities now, feeling good can help me pull out of the trough I’m in, and bring me up faster to a crest of good times. And if I do have reason to feel good now, well, that’s all the easier for me.”

adventure beach camera casual
Striving to go from a long face to a smile, from troughs of sadness to crests of happiness.

Again, I know what you’re thinking, Dear Reader: easier said than done. I sympathize with you, especially if you’re going through Hell right now, and I agree that it’s hard to do this if, say, you’re in hospital, sick as a dog, depressed, going through emotional flashbacks, crying because someone verbally abused you, etc. I’ve been in many bad situations when, had I heard such sunny advice, I’d want to tell the speaker to f— right off, too.

But consider the more habitual reaction to such troubles: seriously, will moping in hopelessness help you any better? Will escaping into drugs, drinking, or porn?

When I say, ‘feel good for no reason whatsoever,’ I’m not talking about deluding yourself into thinking that everything’s fine when it so obviously isn’t; I’m talking about how you choose to react to your troubles. A hopeful mindset will help you deal with those very real sorrows much better than a pessimistic one will, because you’ll be in a better emotional state to think–with clarity–of a solution to your problems.

Consider the philosophy of Epictetus: we cannot control what happens outside of us (including our bodily ailments), but we can control how we choose to feel about it (i.e., we must give up our attachment to material possessions, a good reputation, a reliance on fortunate events, etc.). I’m not saying that by affirming happy feelings, we’ll make all our sorrows magically go away, in the blink of an eye; I’m saying that we can learn to bear what we suffer better by focusing on what we can control–our feelings.

Epictetus
Epictetus.

As I’ve conceptualized this issue before: the problem is the thesis; the solution is the antithesis, or negation of the problem; and the long and winding road from the problem to the solution is the sublation, the resolution of the contradiction, the unity between the opposites of problem/solution that shows there’s no difficulty that’s utterly cut off from a way out of it.

We cannot solve our problems by getting upset. The best thing to do–to express my proposed solution in another way–is first to regather our forces (what I’d consider to be those good, encouraging internalized objects I wrote about having been put inside our minds through self-hypnosis), then to take a deep, relaxing breath, then to work out a rational solution to our problem (thesis/negation/sublation).

So, the waves go down into a trough (the problem, or thesis), then they rise (sublation) into a solution (the negation of the problem). Now, that sublated solution will dip into a new problem to be sublated again…and this will happen again and again, ad infinitum. These cycles can be compared to the rolling ocean’s waves, or to the cycle of eternity that is the ouroboros, as I’ve written about so many times before.

The point is that whatever is troubling you now–your current trough–is something that will flow upwards into a crest…of some kind or another. So even if this thought experiment (‘feel good for no reason whatsoever’) doesn’t work for you, at least remember that whatever your problem is, this, too, will pass. All troubles come and go, as do moments of joy. Watch those moving waves of fortune, be patient, endure, and in one form or another, the troughs will change back into crests…which in turn will become troughs, then crests, troughs, crests…

clear body of water between yellow and green leaved trees
Panta rhei: ‘everything flows.’

C’est la vie.

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.

1_GS9zzNl4kvmRGZLs8WnUfw
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.

image_0
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.

winnicottt
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

heinz_kohut_2
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.

cbzxp31cwkj3bokbrne0
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).

AdobeStock_164300164_Preview
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.

Analysis of ‘The Big Lebowski’

Introduction

The Big Lebowski is a 1998 comedy written, produced, and directed by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Julianne Moore, and with Steve BuscemiJohn Turturro, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, and David Huddleston. The story was inspired by the complex plots of Raymond Chandler stories, especially The Big Sleep; indeed, one joke of the story is its wildly intricate plot, which ends with a conclusion of no consequence and no fundamental change in the characters.

Though the movie did poorly at the box office, it has since then grown into a cult classic, with fans of the movie dressing up as their favourite characters at Lebowski Fests; there’s even a Taoist-oriented religion based on the wisdom of the Dude (Bridges).

Quotes

“Well, sir, it’s this rug I had. It really tied the room together.” –the Dude (Jeffrey Lebowski)

“Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.” –the Dude

“This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.” –the Dude

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” –the Dude

“Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” –the Dude

“Well, you know, the Dude abides.” –the Dude

Nihilists! ..Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos” –Walter Sobchak

“You see what happens, Larry?! Do you see what happens, Larry, when you fuck a stranger in the ass?! This is what happens, Larry! This is what happens, Larry!” –Sobchak

“Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.” –Sobchak

“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!” –Sobchak

“Shut the fuck up, Donny.” –Sobchak

“Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!” –Sobchak

“HEY! What’s this day of rest shit?! What’s this bullshit?! I don’t fuckin’ care! It don’t matter to Jesus. But you’re not foolin’ me, man. You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus. This bush league psych out stuff. Laughable, man – HA HA! I would have fucked you in the ass Saturday. I fuck you in the ass next Wednesday instead. Wooo! You got a date Wednesday, baby!” –Jesus Quintana

“You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.” –Quintana

“What the fuck are you talking about? The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude! I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you do not… Also, Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. ‘Asian-American,’ please.” –Sobchak

Brandt: Uh, our guest needs to be going now, Mrs. Lebowski.

The Dude: (realizes) Ohh, you’re Bunny.

Bunny Lebowski: [takes off her sunglasses] I’ll suck your cock for a thousand dollars.

Brandt: Ah-hahahahaha! Ah – Wonderful woman. We’re all, we’re all very fond of her. Very free-spirited.

Bunny Lebowski: Brandt can’t watch, though – or he has to pay a hundred.

Brandt: Ah-haha. That’s marvelous.

The Dude: [Dude turns his head back as Brandt escorts him away] ..Uh, I’m just gonna go find a cash machine.

“Fucking dog has fucking papers—OVER THE LINE!” –Sobchak

“Has the whole world gone CRAZY?! [stands up] AM I THE ONLY ONE AROUND HERE WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT THE RULES?! MARK IT ZERO!” –Sobchak

“Lady, I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so that you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!” –Sobchak, to waitress

“Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax…You’re goddamn right I’m living in the fucking past!” –Sobchak

“You human … paraquat!” –the Dude, to the big Lebowski

“‘The Dude abides.’ I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” –the Stranger

Themes

These are the themes I’ll be examining in this analysis:

  • Taoism and Dudeism
  • Pride and Shame
  • The Castration Complex
  • Male Humiliation
  • Sexual Aggression
  • Political Allegory

I) Taoism and Dudeism

The Taoist orientation of ‘Dudeism’ is more than justified, for the Dude’s whole way of life is a passive going-with-the-flow, though this passivity is carried to a comically slothful extreme. As it says in the Tao Te Ching, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” (Chapter 48) Now, note what the Stranger says of the Dude: “And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide.”

Still, for all his faults, this White-Russian-drinking pothead represents a laid-back ideal many of the more high-strung characters would be wise to try to emulate. Indeed, between the grumpy curmudgeonliness of the big Lebowski (Huddleston), the moronic thuggery of the goons of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), the loudmouth blustering of Jesus Quintana (Turturro) and Walter Sobchak (Goodman), and the buffoonish bullying of the German nihilists (Stormare, Flea, and Torsten Voges), the Dude finds it challenging to be his normal, easy-going self.

Other parallels with Taoism are the themes of duality, dialectics, and the unity of opposites. First, we’ll deal with duality. Characters in the movie can often be paired, based on their comparable and contrasting qualities and traits. The most obvious pairing is that of the two Jeffrey Lebowskis, the millionaire in the wheelchair and the Dude. Yet apart from their shared name, the two men are opposites in almost every way.

The Dude is laid-back, while the big Lebowski is a grouch. The Dude is lazy and unemployed, possibly, if only temporarily, living off the welfare system that would continue to exist as such for another five years (the Coens’ original idea to have the Dude live off some of the wealth from a family invention, the Rubik’s Cube, wasn’t included in the movie); the big Lebowski is an “achiever”…or is he? (More on that below.)

The next pairing is that of the Dude and Walter Sobchak. They’re both bowlers, on the same team in a competition, and they’re friends…though the friendship is rather strained over the course of the movie; for Sobchak’s bad temper and asinine impulsivity are a constant source of frustration and embarrassment to the Dude, who just wants to “take it easy,” and have Sobchak do the same.

Next, there’s the pairing of Sobchak and Jesus Quintana. Both bowl, but are on rival teams. Both talk tough and indulge in outbursts in the bowling alley. A contrast, however, is Sobchak’s adopted Judaism versus the presumably lapsed Catholicism of “the Jesus,” for there’s no reason to believe that the “pederast” ever goes to church.

More pairings: Maude and Bunny Lebowski (Moore and Tara Reid, respectively). Both women are liberated and sexually aggressive in the extreme, though only Bunny is tainted with the label of “slut” for appearing in porn. Maude, in contrast, is clearly a pro-sex feminist and “vaginal” artist, though she throws herself at the Dude as blatantly as Bunny does.

Next, we must explore the dialectical relationship between these comparable/contrasting pairs, as well as other examples of the yin/yang-like unity of opposites in the movie. Like the black dot in yang, and the white dot in yin, each opposite has a bit of the other in it.

Consider who’s upset and who’s calm. Sobchak points a gun at Smokey and yells at him for stepping over the line when bowling a strike and not accepting marking it zero for committing a foul; meanwhile the Dude keeps his cool, warns Sobchak that they’re calling the cops, and tells him calmly to put the piece away. As soon as Smokey marks it zero, Sobchak calms right down and puts the gun away.

As he and the Dude leave the bowling alley and go into the latter’s car, the Dude gets increasingly agitated trying to get Sobchak to understand how excessively he reacted. After hearing the Dude yell, “Just take it easy, man,” Sobchak says, “I’m calmer than you are,” with perfect coolness.

II) Pride and Shame

Pride and shame are intermixed, which makes perfect sense, since with Sobchak, pride goes before a fall…not that he really ever notices himself fall. Apart from his explosion with Smokey in the bowling alley, Sobchak makes an absurd, Vietnam-war-esque stealing of the big Lebowski’s ‘money’ instead of tossing it over to Bunny’s ‘kidnappers.’ He imagines his plan to be brilliant, when really he’s just being “a goddamn moron.”

Then there’s his outburst about “basic freedoms” in a diner, when all he’s been asked to do is lower his voice for the sake of the other customers. The Dude is so embarrassed, he quickly pays and leaves, while Sobchak is so oblivious to what an ass he’s being, he’s proudly “staying,” “finishing,” and “enjoying [his] coffee.”

Finally, Sobchak proudly imagines he’s clever enough to know that the big Lebowski isn’t really a cripple, then picks the old man up and out of his wheelchair, imagining Lebowski will stand when he’s let go of. Of course he falls to the floor…though I can’t help suspecting–in the scene when the Dude explains to Sobchak in his van that he’s figured out how Lebowski never put money in the briefcase–that he’s actually standing in the dark, his body physically far from the back of his wheelchair, as he’s putting a phone book, etc., in the “ringer” briefcase. (Were the Coen brothers just sneaking that into the movie, to see if anyone was really watching carefully, or am I overthinking the scene?)

This leads me to the fallen pride of the big Lebowski. He presents himself as a ‘great achiever,’ but we learn from Maude that his money is actually her mother’s, he failed at running the family business, and Maude gives him an allowance. He married Bunny for the same reason Trump married Melania…as a kind of male jewellery to boost his ego. If I’m right about him actually faking as a cripple (which, by the way, doesn’t make Sobchak any less of a jackass for pulling him out of his wheelchair), is his posing as a disabled man supposed to be idpol compensation for his failures in life, a cure for the narcissistic injury of not being the ‘achiever’ he poses as? Is his falling on the floor, after Sobchak lets him go, a kind of face-saving continuation of the pretence?

III) The Castration Complex

The theme of shame is further developed in the form of the motif of Freud’s castration complex. The German nihilists threaten to castrate the Dude after dumping a marmot between his legs in his bathtub as he’s lying naked in it; he yelps as he tries to stop the animal from scratching at his balls.

The big Lebowski gives the Dude a severed toe with green nail polish on it, the same colour Bunny had on hers when she offered to perform fellatio on him. Actually, the severed toe (symbolic castration) was that of a German girlfriend of the nihilists, the only one of them in the restaurant scene who can’t speak English. Bunny’s toes, however, are all intact, and she freely expresses herself as she sings ‘Viva Las Vegas’ while driving.

When Maude meets the Dude, she mentions how the word “vagina” bothers some men. Sometimes the vulva is perceived as a wound resulting from castration, as Freud noted; consider also Camille Paglia‘s comments on the subject of the–to men, frightening–mystery surrounding the vagina, which can also be the vagina dentata (Paglia, pages 13, 22-23, 47). Furthermore, ‘nothing‘ (what the castration-threatening nihilists believe in), ‘no thing,’ or ‘an O-thing’ was slang for a woman’s genitals back in Shakespeare’s day.

Incidentally, a large painting of scissors is hanging on a wall in Maude’s studio; after saying, “dick” and “rod,” she gives a brief, uncomfortable pause before saying “Johnson,” the very word the nihilists use when threatening to emasculate the Dude. Still, “without batting an eye,” Maude can refer to Bunny’s porno film as “the beaver picture.” Maude wants to have a child; and Freud noted, in his 1917 essay “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism,” that a girl’s penis envy would transform later in life, from das Kleine (‘little one’) for the penis, to das Kleine for a baby.

Lacan said that “women don’t exist” because in the Symbolic Order, they in a sense have no language (i.e., no symbolic phallus as signifier); for him, this was the true, phallocentric meaning of Freud’s notion of penis envy, a phallogocentrism. Remember the soft-spoken German woman without a toe, who also needed the nihilists to translate her pancake order into English. Symbolically castrated, the nine-toed woman had no English signifiers to express the meaning in her mind, to order pancakes. Stifled and silenced by the three Germans, who represent fascism (as I’ll explain below), she has been subordinated just as women in Nazi Germany were.

In contrast, Maude and Bunny are liberated, expressive women each with all ten toes; their vulvas aren’t felt to be ‘wounds’ from castration, and accordingly, they’re proud, and in full control of their lives. They speak freely, in full control of linguistic signifiers: Bunny in her jouissance has a lascivious tongue, and she doesn’t care who hears it; Maude is particularly articulate. These two women aren’t thwarted by psychoanalytic sexism.

IV) Male Humiliation

Men, however, are constantly being humiliated in this movie. Sobchak destroys a beautiful, brand new car, whose infuriated owner then smashes up the Dude’s; once again, Sobchak’s idiot impulsivity makes him lose face.

Donny, who’s constantly being told to “shut the fuck up,” dies of a heart attack, and his ashes are put in a Folger’s tin; then Sobchak, after quoting Hamlet, scatters them…all over the Dude’s face.

The threat of castration is a recurring potential humiliation for him, especially in the scissors dream sequence, reminding us of Maude’s painting.

Quintana is embarrassed at having to tell everyone in his neighbourhood that he’s “a pederast.”

A major form of this theme of male humiliation is expressed in the language of male-on-male rape, a making of the victim into a passive partner in sex, his anus made into a vagina, as it were. Quintana says he’ll beat the Dude’s team so crushingly, he’ll “fuck [them] in the ass next Wednesday.”

Elsewhere, Sobchak is so enraged with mute, uncooperative Larry, who he and the Dude believe stole the money they [thought they] stole from Lebowski, that the boy shouldn’t “fuck a stranger in the ass.”

When the nihilists fight Sobchak, the Dude, and Donny, Uli brandishing a phallic sword, the Germans shout “I fuck you!” over and over. Sobchak bites off Uli’s ear, another removing of a bodily appendage symbolic of castration; and the German played by Flea is hit by Sobchak’s bowling ball, and he buckles over as if emasculated. The nihilists are now as silent as their girlfriend in the pancake restaurant.

V) Sexual Aggression

We see that sexual aggression is a major theme in this movie, one in which the word “fuck” is used more than in most others. This isn’t mere overindulgent swearing in a Hollywood movie. “Fuck,” incidentally, comes from (among other possible etymologies) Middle Dutch fokken, meaning ‘to hit,’ or ‘to strike.’ Bowling is full of sexual symbolism in this movie, the testicle-shaped ball knocking out all the phallic, penis pins in a strike; then the ball goes into a yonic hole behind the mechanical pinsetter. Bowling is a pun on balling.

The three finger holes in a bowling ball can represent a woman’s urethra, vagina, and anus, thus making the testicular ball an androgynous sexual symbol, a union of yin and yang. Similarly, in the ‘Gutterballs‘ dream sequence, the dancing ladies–under and between whose legs the Dude enjoys floating, looking up their skirts with an ear-to-ear grin–wear hats of phallic bowling pins…more androgyny.

Then there’s Maude in her Viking outfit, with the phallic horns on her helmet and her thrice-phallic trident. Since yin and yang represent the intermixing unity of opposites, it should come as no surprise that Maude and Bunny are sexually aggressive women, coming on to a very sexually passive Dude, a stoner who doesn’t seem all that interested in “coitus.”

VI) Political Allegory

Finally, we must examine the political allegory of The Big Lebowski. Appropriately, the two Lebowskis are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Here is a list of what a number of the major characters in the movie symbolize, even if they don’t necessarily espouse the political position they represent:

  • The Dude……………………..left-libertarianism
  • The Big Lebowski……….Trump-like, narcissistic capitalism
  • Maude………………………….liberal centrism
  • Jesus Quintana…………….corrupt, abusive Catholic Church
  • Walter Sobchak……………neo-con, imperialist militarism and Zionism
  • Nihilists………………………..fascism
  • Jackie Treehorn…………..exploitative capitalism

I’ll deal with each one by one, starting with the Dude.

Lying in bed with Maude, the Dude tells her he was involved in the original drafting of the Port Huron Statement, associated with the New Left. The Dude says he was also a member of the Seattle Seven (Jeff Dowd, on whom the Dude was based as a character, was an actual member of the Seven), a radical anti-Vietnam-War movement. These two facts establish his credentials as a progressive: remember the Dude’s pro-woman, “racially…cool” attitude; it also, however, shows his disengagement from the labour movement and concern for class struggle.

Indeed, his problem is that, like most libertarian leftists (myself excepted), the Dude doesn’t put enough thought into self-protection. His home is constantly broken into–fouled and ransacked. His efforts to keep intruders out are comically pathetic; and his car is progressively damaged and degraded, until finally destroyed. Left-libertarians sneer at tankiesauthoritarian measures, all the while oblivious to the need for that authoritarianism, which is for the sake of defending their ever-so-fragile revolutions. The Dude, representing the left, sees his property destroyed, which symbolizes capitalist sabotage of socialist states; his home is his own private DPRK.

In reference to the already-suspected faking of Bunny’s kidnapping, the Dude makes a reference to Lenin, whom clueless Donny confuses with Lennon. Sobchak shuts up and corrects Donny, growling “V. I. Lenin–Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!” This suggests that, apart from being annoyed at Donny being once again “out of [his] element,” Sobchak isn’t happy talking about the man famous for decrying imperialism, which Sobchak personifies (more on that below).

The big Lebowski represents the spoiled capitalist who finds himself in the upper classes by association with them (i.e., marrying a rich woman, Maude’s mother), not by having “achieved” on his own merits, as he and other capitalists like to boast. He steals from his own charity, while hypocritically pretending it’s his generosity that helps his ‘urban achievers.’

However the Dude is able to provide for himself financially–whether it be from the Rubik’s Cube fortune of his family, as originally conceived by the Coen brothers, or if it be, as I speculate, from his receiving unemployment insurance or welfare benefits–his ability to have money while not working can be seen to symbolize the socialist ideal of a Guaranteed Basic (or Universal) Income. If the Dude, thus representing the left, is a slacker, then the big Lebowski, a millionaire capitalist married into money, is a kind of corporate welfare bum. So their yin and yang opposition is also an identification, a dialectical association.

Maude is a bourgeois liberal who judges her father for his conservative posturing, but she’s sitting on all that wealth, too, rather than pushing for revolution. She is in the political centre, in control of her parents’ money (her mother’s, actually) while doing her hipster art; she also exploits the Dude (to get her pregnant) every bit as much as her father does (to act as courier to pay off Uli et al).

Thus, Maude politically represents how liberals are no better than conservatives when it comes to preserving the class structure of society, all the while acting as though such establishment thinking is solely the fault of conservatives. If the Dude represents the besieged socialist states and vulnerable Third World, she–in her seduction of him–represents the liberals who exploit such poor countries no less than those on the right do.

The last thing that Jesus Quintana comes across as is a practicing Catholic, but that doesn’t mean he can’t symbolize the corruption of the Church. Sobchak’s “day of rest shit…don’t matter to Jesus” reminds one of Christ telling the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), in response to seeing Jews working on Saturday (i.e., “to pluck the ears of corn,” Mark 2:23, presumably because of an emergency [an urgent need to feed the hungry], the only time breaking of the Sabbath is allowed in Jewish law). This scene shows the contrast between ‘Quintana’s’ Church and ‘Sobchak’s’ synagogue.

The sex offences of “the Jesus” can be seen to represent the largely unpunished Catholic priests guilty of sexually abusing boys: one is reminded of the sex perversion and wickedness of the priests in the erotic novels of the Marquis de Sade, for he, an ardent atheist, enjoyed satirizing and shaming the Church (see Sade, pages 762-798).

Sobchak, a Vietnam vet obsessed with his years fighting “Charlie, eyeball to eyeball,” represents neo-con, US imperialism and Zionism, aggressively shoving itself into other people’s business and lives, as Sobchak does. His outbursts indicate the emotional dysregulation of PTSD sufferers. He may refer to Lenin angrily, but he’s most comfortable discussing Theodor Herzl

Though born a Polish Catholic, he’s converted to Judaism, so he’s as much a lapsed Catholic as Quintana. This conversion to Judaism, constant talking about it, and his use of a spinning Uzi when he jumps out of the car during the hand-off of the money, all suggest Christian Zionism, which really is just another form of Western imperialism, rather than an inherently Jewish issue. (Indeed, legitimate anti-Zionism and illegitimate antisemitism are often wrongly conflated by, ironically, both Zionists and antisemites.)

Furthermore, consider Sobchak’s contempt for Saddam (“…look at our current situation with that camel-fucker in Iraq.”) and the Iraqis (“…what we have here, a bunch of fig-eaters, wearing towels on their heads tryin’ to find reverse on a Soviet tank. This, this is not a worthy fucking adversary.”), and therefore, of Muslims in general, all examples of neo-con/Zionist traits.

The three nihilists aren’t Nazis, of course, but their use of violence and destruction in pursuit of their goals (as well as, unfortunately, the German stereotype) shows that they represent the fascist wing of capitalism, for they cut off the toe of their German girlfriend, in hopes of getting “ze money.” (Sobchak’s confusion of the three nihilists with Nazis, as wrong as he is about that, nonetheless strengthens this symbolic association.)

That the big Lebowski seems to have cut a deal with the nihilists to give him an excuse to move some charity funds, while hoping they’ll kill Bunny, suggests a symbolizing of capitalism’s habitual cozying up to fascism, while treating its victims as contemptible and expendable. Her owing money all over town can symbolize the economic crises of capitalism that often fan the flames of fascism, hence the involvement of the nihilists.

Jackie Treehorn, as a pornographer who “treats objects like women,” consummately personifies capitalist exploitation. Of course, he has the “reactionary” and “fascist” Malibu police on his side (two epithets the Dude has for the police chief who hits him on the head with a coffee mug), for capitalists can always rely on the cops to help them, no matter how questionable their business practices may be.

Porn’s objectification of women is so obvious and oft-discussed that my elaboration on the matter would just be redundant; the fact that the “studs” of porn are every bit as exploited and shamed is worthy of note, however, since this shaming is a further developing of the theme of male humiliation.

I suspect that Treehorn’s two goons, Wu and the blond who dunks the Dude’s head in his toilet, are porn studs who double as Treehorn’s muscle, given the two men’s muscles and good looks, not to mention their vulgarity.

More importantly, consider Uli’s humiliation as “Karl Hungus” in the video “Logjammin’.” He and the other two nihilists were musicians as “Autobahn,” a synthesizer-driven “techno-pop” group modelled on such groups as Kraftwerk; the lack of Autobahn’s success, combined with presumed financial woes, has led Uli (and possibly the other two) to have to resort to doing porn in order to survive.

The nihilists’ humiliation has driven them to “takes de money” in a desperate attempt to restore their existence to its pre-porn status, back to their former glory as musicians, hence the playing of their electronic music on a tape player during the fight scene. The nihilists’ situation reminds us of German humiliation and economic woes in the 1920s…and the desperate urge felt to restore the nation’s honour led to…you know. Hence we can see a further association of the nihilists with fascism.

The political meaning behind who is most brutally made fun of in the movie (the big Lebowski, Sobchak, the nihilists, Treehorn and his goons, Quintana, and the gnomish, dancing landlord) is that what they represent is a group of establishment ideologies that deserve our contempt and loathing. Arguably, despite her bourgeois liberalism, Maude is OK–provided she relents and lets the Dude regularly see their future child; for the Dude, for all his faults, foibles, and laughable moments, is the closest the movie comes to having a character who represents a political ideal worth striving for.

As the Stranger says, “sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”

Conclusion

Finally, the whole twisting and turning plot, which has “a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s,” ends up as, really, much ado about nothing. Instead of the conflict ending with the characters changing or growing in any significant way, everything just ends up more or less the same as it was in the beginning: the tail of the ouroboros at the end of the story finds itself in the biting mouth of the story’s beginning, with no sublation.

Bunny has come back unharmed, for she never even “kidnapped herself”; she just took off without telling anyone, in her usual carefree, irresponsible way. Though they lost Donny, the Dude and Sobchak will resume their bowling tournament. There will be “a little Lebowski on the way,” since the Dude has just passively gone along with aggressive Maude’s agenda to be a mother.

Indeed, the first Dudeist is like a Taoist, who teaches us: “Know the masculine, keep to the feminine.” (Tao Te Ching, 28…and, of course, Maude and Bunny reverse the sex roles of this wisdom.) So, the story, as needlessly and comically complicated as it was, ultimately amounted to nothing, because the Dude’s philosophy is about doing nothing to leave nothing undone. Going with the flow, and following the Tao, “the Dude abides.”

Exorcising the Inner Critic Demon

All those negative voices inside your head, criticizing you, demeaning you, shaming you for every little mistake you’ve made–they are not you. They were put inside you by all the nasty people you’ve known in your life: your parents, siblings, neighbourhood and school bullies, coworkers, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, and internet trolls.

Why did they do this? Did the mistakes you made really make you deserving of that much of a shaming? I doubt it, the great majority of the time, at least. Or were those attacks generally way out of proportion to whatever human flaws or foibles you actually manifested? I’ll bet that’s far more likely.

Here’s what those abusers were probably doing most, if not virtually all, of the time: they were projecting the hated parts of themselves onto you. They were force-feeding their negative energy into you, like the sadists in this movie forcing their victims to eat shit. You were made to introject their self-hate so they could function better without it. Shame on them for that.

Some narcissistic manipulators carry the projection a step further and engage in projective identification, in which they manipulate the victim into manifesting the very traits they’re projecting onto him or her. The victim then introjects those traits, unaware he or she is being tricked into it, and then behaves in the way the victimizers wanted him or her to behave.

An understanding of object relations theory will help to make projection and introjection intelligible to you, if you’re not familiar with how narcissistic abuse works. The first internal object discovered by psychoanalysis was the superego, an amalgam of one’s childhood influences in terms of ‘morality’ (parents, primary school teachers, religious authorities, etc.) and the way one ‘ought’ to be. When we measure up to the ego ideal, we feel pride; when we fail, we feel guilt or shame.

WRD Fairbairn devised his own endopsychic structure to replace Freud’s id, ego, and superego, as he felt Freud’s reliance on drives to be inadequate in describing human libido, which Fairbairn felt to be object-seeking (i.e., seeking other people for friendships and love) rather than mere pleasure-seeking (sex, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.), the excessive pursuit of which he saw as a failure of object relationships.

Fairbairn elaborates: “…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) Enjoyment of things replaces love.

To get back to my point, Fairbairn replaced the superego with an approximate equivalent: what he called the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object, which is a pair of personae like ghosts, haunting the mind; an ego opposed to the libidinal need for friends and loving relationships, paired with an internalized imago that hates and rejects everyone.

Fairbairn originally called the Anti-libidinal Ego the “Internal Saboteur”: see how close that sounds to the “inner critic“? That’s because the two concepts are in essence very similar, if not identical. We’re talking about a bad internal object, the image of a bad person haunting one’s mind like a ghost, shaming us and making us want to reject human company. It must be expelled.

Fairbairn said the personality splits three ways after we’ve been exposed to enough bad, non-empathic parenting or other bad childhood influences. Our original ego, Fairbairn’s Central Ego (roughly equivalent to Freud’s ego, and linked with an Ideal Object), just wants to have real relationships with people in the external world (Ideal Objects, because real people are the objects we should be having relationships with–this is healthy). Whenever this wish is frustrated, the child’s mind compensates by creating fake internalized ego/object configurations, Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego (roughly equivalent to Freud’s id) and its Exciting Object (e.g., pop idols, porn stars, etc.), and the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (all the internalized people we don’t like) mentioned above.

Everybody has all three of these ego/object pairs that Fairbairn wrote of, but the worse the trauma of childhood emotional abuse and emotional neglect, the more pronounced the impact the two bad ego/object configurations will have on our lives. This also means that the inner critic will have a worse effect on us, especially if we have C-PTSD.

So these bad objects are like demons possessing us, like Pazuzu taking over Regan MacNeil‘s body in The Exorcist. (Fairbairn actually compared the bad objects to demons.) They must be cast out…but how?

Here’s a meditation/auto-hypnosis you can try. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, away from any distractions. Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly. As you do this deep breathing, begin to pay attention to what your body is doing, starting from your toes and feet, and moving up slowly to your lower and upper legs, then to your hip/thigh area. You should feel a buzzing, vibrating, relaxing feeling in all those contemplated parts of your body; imagine that relaxing vibration as water coming up to your hips, and now rising higher, relaxing your upper body. Contemplate your back, belly, chest, hands, and arms now vibrating with that relaxing ‘water’ all over them. Feel it reach your shoulders, neck, and head, relaxing you all over your face. Breathe in that ‘water’ as if you were a fish, and feel the relaxing vibrations all inside your body as well as outside.

Now that you’re relaxed all over, and still breathing deeply and slowly, in and out, count from ten to one, then zero, slowly with each breath; as, inhaling and exhaling, you reach each number in the countdown, feel your body get more and more relaxed. When you’ve reached zero, feel a maximum of peace, almost as if you’re about to fall sleep.

Now imagine each and every person who ever hurt you, one by one (briefly, of course, so it doesn’t trigger you out of your relaxation). As soon as you see their faces, imagine yourself as Father Merrin, saying “I cast you out, unclean spirit!…Be gone!” (Only, in this case, the exorcism is easy and effective, unlike in the movie.) Then, visualize each person being whisked up into the sky, far, far away from you, where you’ll never see or hear them again. Chant Merrin’s words in your mind over and over again, for each person who has emotionally abused you.

Once you’ve done all of them, imagine as vividly as you can what their opposites would be like: loving parents and siblings, true, loyal friends at school and in your childhood neighbourhood, good coworkers, good boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, and good friends on the internet. These posts I wrote have more detailed meditations on good parents. Do all these meditations/self-hypnoses as often as possible, over and over again, for the best possible effect. Focus not so much on physical details in your visualizations as on the good feeling of removing the bad people and enjoying the love of the good people. I like to imagine the good people chanting my name and cheering me on, to encourage me, the chanting getting faster and faster, and louder and louder, till it reaches a climax of joy.

Other forms of therapy you can try to help you include writing about how those bad people hurt you and gave you that inner critic (I’ve done that in many blog posts, and I can tell you, it helps). As I said at the beginning of this post, the inner critic is not you; you are not the shit they shoved in your mouth. If their pain was put into you, it can be removed from you. Using my meditations (and others you can find on YouTube), writing therapy, and the many other suggestions given by many others online, you can exorcise the inner critic demon, little by little over time, until it’s finally gone, and you are free to be who you really are, a good, loving, compassionate person.

As that good person, the real you, you can now contemplate your connection with all that is around you, all that the inner critic made you feel isolated from. Continuing in your meditation, imagine that relaxing ‘water’ no longer as merely around you and inside you, but imagine you are a part of that water, and that everything is that water, an infinite ocean in which you feel perfect peace and love. Sustain this feeling of peace–meditating on the gentle flow of waves going through you and around you, that peaceful vibration uniting you with everything–for as long as you can, staying present-minded, with your focus on the NOW. Again, do this meditation as often as you can fit it into your daily routine, to get the best effects. In time, you’ll find that inner critic demon not only exorcised, but also transformed into an angel, an inner friend.

An Attempt at Ending C-PTSD Isolation

I am attempting here to help find a cure for the feeling of self-blame and alienation we get from society because of childhood traumas, including those that cause C-PTSD. My hope is that when we see our unity with healthy people–that is, our shared experiences of suffering and struggle with those of the healthy (they may experience such problems on a far lesser scale, but they experience them all the same)–we’ll feel less isolated, less ashamed of ourselves for our struggles, and more accepted. This can help our healing.

My attempt at finding this cure will involve the creation of a new theory of personality. When we see our own position in the context of this personality theory, and see our position thus in relation to the positions of everyone else, my hope is that we will not feel there’s such an insuperable barrier between us and all the ‘normal’ people out there. People suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD often feel hopelessly different from other people; I’m hoping in this post to contribute to a feeling of not seeming so separate.

In previous posts, I’ve shown how the relative health and ill health of human psychology can be compared to all the different points along the body of the ouroboros, a unifying symbol I use to represent a circular continuum, with the polar extremes meeting where the coiled serpent’s head is seen biting its tail up in the top centre, and the length of its body representing all the intermediate points of the continuum.

Let’s imagine a large plus sign drawn over the ouroboros of the personality, with the vertical line crossing where the head bites the tail at the top (at 12:00), and crossing the middle of its body at the bottom (at 6:00); and with the horizontal line crossing the serpent’s body (at 3:00 and 9:00) where the first and last quarters of its body are above (towards the head and tail, respectively), and where the second and third quarters are below (towards the middle of its body, bisected by the vertical line).

Going clockwise from the head, we’d see the first quarter representing the highest levels of mental health (though at the neck and back of the head, one is a little ‘too healthy’, for in this area of stratospheric self-esteem, the potential of narcissism lies). The second quarter represents moderate mental health, the third moderately ill health, and the fourth severe ill mental health and neurosis, especially where we reach the bitten tail, where fragmentation, disintegration, and psychosis begin.

(In two posts where I discussed how the ouroboros can symbolize political and economic ideologies, I characterized the third quarter as the left-libertarian ideal, the fourth–approaching the bitten tail–as a temporarily necessary authoritarian communism, the second quarter as the neoliberal/libertarian right, and the first as the authoritarian right, approaching the fascist biting head. In other words, political health moves in the opposite direction of individual mental health; for resorting to fascism is the misguided attempt of mentally ill people to cure themselves through destructive politics, moving–so to speak–from 11:00 to 1:00 on the clock of the ouroboros. We can’t cure our ills by projecting them onto hated racial or ethnic minorities; we must cure them by facing what’s wrong inside ourselves, as Weiss‘s Sade advised us.)

As I said above, up at the head/neck of the ouroboros (at 1:00) is where those people who are ‘a little too healthy’ reside. Here are those who, for example, were spoiled as children, and not punished enough; those whose infantile grandiosity wasn’t let down in bearable, phase-appropriate ways. At the mild end of the narcissistic spectrum, these ones tend to have a sense of entitlement, so when bad things happen to them, they tend to fly into rages. If they’re not problematic in that way, they’re more like Ferris Bueller, totally believing in themselves, yet also sometimes taking advantage of overly-doting parents, and in danger of going too far.

Just behind the neck in the first quarter are those in a more or less ideal state of mental health (at 2:00-3:00). Calm, confident, and easy-going, these types can deal with life’s problems with patience and level-headedness.

Downhill from there, moving clockwise along the length of the ouroboros’s body to the middle, we cross the second quarter (from 3:00-6:00); here’s where people are moderately healthy, with some emotional issues of a significant sort (like Ferris Bueller’s mopey sister), but their issues are generally manageable without therapy; this is because, while their parents were flawed in notable ways, they were also nonetheless good enough parents. The same assessment goes for the environment (the neighbourhood, school, etc.) that these moderately healthy people grew up in.

Everyone experiences every point of health or ill health on the body of the ouroboros, at one point or another of his or her life; where one’s general mental health lies depends on where one finds oneself predominantly lingering on the circular continuum.

In the third quarter, we find people of moderately ill mental health: here, as well as in the second quarter, we seem to find most of the world’s population, though I suspect that more and more people have been inhabiting this third quarter over the past thirty years, given the rise of neoliberal politics and their attendant alienation. Here, parents and the general environment are bad to grow up with, but it isn’t bad on the pathological, malignant level we find in the fourth quarter, approaching the bitten tail of the serpent.

The fourth quarter is the realm of trauma, where sufferers of a variety of psychological disturbances reside. These include sufferers of PTSD, C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression, from mild to severe forms of them (depending on how awful the father of Cameron, Ferris’s uptight friend, is, Cameron’s either in this quarter or in the third). I suspect sufferers of BPD are also around here (11:00–12:00), though I also suspect that people with Cluster B personality disorders are more at the biting head than at the bitten tail.

Remember that I’m doing a lot of simplifying here, and my generalizations shouldn’t make you ignore the wide variety in all the different disorders and reactions to trauma. I just want to place everyone on a continuum to suggest the relationships between all the differing groups, so we not only see where we belong among everyone else, but also so we see that we belong; there’s no wall separating the traumatized from the rest of the world. We needn’t feel as lonely as we all too often do.

Also, I’m concerned with mental health issues resulting from trauma and environmental factors, not with biological and hereditary factors, such as those causing autism, schizophrenia, etc., which are far too complex for me to put on my simple continuum.

Finally, remember that I’m no authority on psychology or psychiatry. I just dabble in psychoanalysis and write my amateur opinions here, which you should take with a generous grain of salt.

The bitten tail is where psychological fragmentation occurs, the fear of disintegration, and the need to dissociate to protect oneself. Repeated exposure to stress in early life results in disturbances in, or sensitization of, the HPA axis, causing such problems as depression, anxiety, or emotional dysregulation. In this last case, feelings, during wildly emotional episodes, can be confused with rational thought, leading–if left unchecked–to delusional thinking and psychosis.

We sufferers of C-PTSD can be vulnerable to the effects of emotional dysregulation, so we have to be careful not to let our feelings lead, or take precedence over, our ability to reason and think in the needed self-critical way. We can take hope, however, in the fact that we needn’t feel trapped in a life of insanity; for as Freud noted, psychopathological thinking is on a continuum with normal thinking. I agree with that, hence my use of the ouroboros as a symbol for a circular continuum on which all mental states can be placed.

With my ouroboros schema of the human personality, I wish to give hope to all of us sufferers of C-PTSD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc., that we aren’t so walled off from the rest of the world; that with effort, we can move along the length of the serpent’s body, counter-clockwise towards its head, to greater and greater mental health.

We must start by acknowledging where we are now, in our state of ill health. We must face our pain. We have to feel it if we’re going to heal it. We can start by writing about our everyday feelings, using adjectives that go from the general to the more and more specific. Then, in our writing, we can explore where those feelings came from, what traumas in our memories caused them.

Richard Grannon created this idea, ‘Emotional Literacy’, so I must give full credit to him. He can explain how to do this writing of your emotions far better than I can, so I suggest finding his videos on YouTube, as well as his ‘Silence the Inner Critic‘ course.

[While Grannon has the formal training in psychology that I lack (I merely read a lot of books on psychoanalysis, especially those of the object relations school, and learn whatever I can about narcissistic abuse), he also endorses neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a popular self-help idea from back in the 1970s and 1980s, but one now–at best–lacking in sufficient empirical evidence to give it scientific validation, and at worst, a discredited pseudoscience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say NLP is of 0% worth (I imagine one can take a few ideas, here and there, from it and mix them with other ideas); I would say, though, that NLP–as much as my own ideas–should be taken with a big dose of salt.]

Another thing you should do, if your harsh inner critic comes from a family of narcissists (as did mine), you’ll need to replace those bad object relations with good ones. The inner critic is formed from a harsh superego, an internalized parental imago, or image of your censuring Mom and/or Dad that lives in your unconscious mind as a ghost would haunt a house. That inner critic is NOT you: it’s like a virus that has infected you, a foreign entity, and it has to be removed. I compare mine to Pazuzu, the demon that entered Regan MacNeil‘s body in The Exorcist; it must be cast out.

I wrote up meditations/auto-hypnoses at the ends of these blog posts; you can use them to visualize new, loving, accepting, and supportive parents to replace your inner critic. Imagine all the good, admirable qualities such parents would have, and visualize your ‘new parents’ embodying and demonstrating those virtues. Add to this a visualization of your abusive parents/siblings being removed from your life (I’m assuming you’re currently at least physically removed from them, as I am; if you aren’t, I hope you can get away from them if they are as traumatizing as I found my family in Canada to be).

I imagine those five people I grew up with being whisked up into the sky, gone from my life forever. I know such an image may seem harsh to you, Dear Reader, but if you’ve had a family as oppressive as mine was, you’d understand why I do such a visualization. You could try visualizing your tormentors, be they family, ex-spouses, or ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, being removed in a gentler way, if you so wish.

In those posts I mentioned two paragraphs above, as well as in other posts, I also related my ouroboros conception of the personality to the personality structures of Freud and Fairbairn, as well as to concepts from Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, and Heinz Kohut, to show that the ouroboros of the personality isn’t just some figment of my imagination; it’s grounded in well-established psychoanalytic concepts.

As I said above, where the serpent’s teeth are biting into the tail is where people with Cluster B personality disorders reside, including narcissists. As Kohut noted, these latter people are split between grandiosity (biting head) and toxic shame (bitten tail), as well as idealizing a parent (biting head) and feeling traumatically disappointed in, or having lost, a parent (bitten tail). Furthermore, as Otto Kernberg has observed, narcissism is a defence against fragmentation and BPD; it’s a maintaining of oneself at the head (12:00-1:00) to avoid sliding over to the bitten tail (11:00).

Kohut’s narcissistic transference was designed first to indulge, temporarily, the narcissistic patient’s grandiosity, then to recreate the optimal frustrations that should have occurred in childhood, the bringing down of infantile grandiosity and parental idealizing to tolerable, socially acceptable levels of narcissism. This, according to my design, is a move from the pathological biting head (12:00-1:00) to the serpent’s neck and upper body (2:00-3:00); still in the optimal first quarter, but not in ‘too much’ health.

That move from the ouroboros’s head to its neck/upper body is also reflected in Klein’s move from the paranoid-schizoid to depressive positions; the former indicating splitting (head biting tail) seen in its extreme form in BPD sufferers, with an inability to integrate the good and bad in people; and the latter position being a reconciling, an integration, of good and bad objects (i.e., loved and hated people as internalized in the unconscious), a healthy ambivalence.

As for us sufferers of complex trauma, though, a clockwise move from bitten tail to biting head (11:00-12:00), then to the neck (12:00-1:00), would be a harrowing of fragmentary Hell; As I said above, those who embrace fascism, projecting their personality problems onto others, seem to do this. A counter-clockwise movement from the fourth quarter to the third, then to the second, and finally to the first, is the wise direction to take.

So, to recap, the bitten tail area represents the inner critic, Freud’s shaming superego, the realm of trauma, disintegration, Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position, Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (as described in previous posts–see above for links), Kohut’s toxic shame and fear of fragmentation, and Lacan’s traumatizing Real Order. The biting head area symbolizes Freud’s pleasure-seeking id, Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object, Winnicott‘s False Self, Kohut’s grandiose self, and Lacan’s narcissistic Imaginary Order, with its Ideal-ego gazing into its mirror reflection and seeing an illusory unified self, a defence against fragmentation, as Kernberg called it above. The length of the serpent’s body, from its healthy neck to a nearing of that hurting tail, is the realm of reality, Freud’s ego, Klein’s depressive position, reparation, and acceptance of ambivalence, Fairbairn’s Central Ego/Ideal Object, Winnicott’s True Self, Kohut’s optimal frustration and transmuting internalization leading to a cohesive Self, and Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where language and symbols connect us with the laws and customs of our community, thus linking us with other people and ending our feelings of isolation. (The mysteries of the entire circle of the ouroboros, I believe, can be related to Wilfred Bion‘s ineffable O.)

Going back to Lacan’s Symbolic Order, while looking askance at his postmodernist, structuralist over-obsession with language (i.e., take it with a grain of salt), I can see a limited validity in how he saw language as part of the therapeutic cure, since our shared symbols (i.e., signifiers) link us with society; so, improving our skills at communication with others will be crucial in healing ourselves. Part of our healing from C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression will come from learning how to verbalize how we are feeling, in as vivid language as we can muster, over and over again. So, to move counter-clockwise along the body of the ouroboros, from the tail up to that first quarter, just by the neck at about 2:00, we should write our pain away, as I have done in all my blog posts on my family.

Whatever you do, don’t conceive of your trauma, vs. mental health, as a dichotomy cutting you and other sufferers off from ‘normal’ people; that will only make you feel worse. Remember that you’re on a circular continuum with everyone else, and you can slide along that snake-skin in the direction of healing and inner peace…if you work at it.

And with the end of internal fragmentation, you can move on to ending feelings of social alienation. Feel your sadness phase dialectically into happiness, the Unity of Action. Be happy in having gone beyond the pairs of opposites.

Recall in the meditations/self-hypnoses I wrote of above (click on the links given), that you should imagine yourself as part of the water of an infinite ocean, your cohesive Self being–as it were–Atman connected to the Brahman of everyone and everything around you, the Unity of Space. Imagine those gentle, slow-moving waves as they undulate from your left, across where your body is (remember: you are the water at that spot), and to your right. You are at one with that water, connected with all life around you. Maintain your psychological state in that sense of peace for as long as you can, focused on the present moment, the eternal NOW, the Unity of Time, feel the vibrations of oneness within and without you, and feel yourself no longer lonely.

The Inner Critic

Everyone has an inner critic to some extent, of course, but some of us–many of us–have much harsher inner critics than others. To know the difference between the milder and nastier kinds, we have to look at the family situation, at how our parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings were treating us when we were kids.

To keep things relatively simple, we’ll start with the use of Freudian terminology, which is generally well-known. Everyone starts with the id, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” (Dickens, page 2) that resides in our minds, with drives that seek out pleasure. It’s like a demanding, impulsive, selfish little brat haunting our brains.

(This id is like the biting head of the ouroboros, a serpent coiled in a circle biting its tail, which I use as a symbol for a circular continuum with the opposite extremes meeting at the head biting the tail. The ouroboros thus represents the dialectical relationship [i.e., unity] of opposites.)

It doesn’t take long for a little child to get acquainted with reality and learn he can’t always have what he wants. Thus, he develops an ego, and his id gets pushed down into the unconscious. We move from the serpent’s head along the length of its body, towards the middle, from the primary process to the secondary one.

As reality gets harsher and harsher, and ‘morality’ is imposed on the child by–all too often–angry, judgemental parents, the child develops a superego, an internalized object relation representing not only his parents, but ultimately all authority figures: teachers, religious leaders, police, politicians, etc. Now we move along the serpent’s body to its bitten tail.

The superego is associated with morality (the “ego ideal“), but if anything, the superego is pure evil, a devil inside us, for it tends to be outright sadistic in its censure of all our faults, our inevitable failure to measure up to that ego ideal. This is the inner critic, and my use of the image of the bitten tail of the ouroboros captures the pain we all feel from our cruel, biting superego.

I believe we can cross-fertilize many later psychoanalytic concepts with Freud’s three-part personality structure, using the three significant sections of the ouroboros–biting head, length of the body, and bitten tail. In previous posts, I’ve shown how WRD Fairbairn‘s endopsychic structure replaces Freud’s by largely paralleling it: ego–Central Ego/Ideal Object–length of ouroboros’s body; id–Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object–biting head; and superegoAntilibidinal Ego/Rejecting Object–bitten tail.

Interestingly, Fairbairn originally called the “Antilibidinal Ego” the “Internal Saboteur,” which–as approximately corresponding to Freud’s superego–vividly captures how this part of our personalities is the inner critic, joined to a Rejecting Object (i.e., anyone we may imagine as hostile or otherwise repellant). As we are hateful to ourselves within, so are we adversarial without. What’s inside us is outside, too.

Similar post-Freudian parallels can be seen in Melanie Klein‘s paranoid-schizoid position, at the front lines of the conflict between Freud’s id and superego, where Fairbairn’s fantasied, internal Exciting and Rejecting Objects reside (as opposed to the Central Ego and its external Ideal Object), where the sadomasochistic relationship of the serpent’s head biting the tail is. Here is where splitting into absolute good and bad objects occurs, an unhealthy, black-and-white way to think about relationships. Klein’s far healthier depressive position, where objects (i.e., other people) are seen as both good and bad at the same time, along the length of the ouroboros’s body, restores us to the grey world of reality, Freud’s ego and Fairbairn’s focus on real, external object relationships, safely away from the inner critic.

Furthermore, Lacan‘s Imaginary Order, home to the mirror stage, is where the illusory Ideal-Ego is, at the biting head, where unfulfillable desire is, and also where Kohut‘s untamed grandiosity is (see here and scroll down to find more of Heinz Kohut’s ideas). Along the length of the ouroboros’s body, we find Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where the Ego-Ideal is in rapport with the Other, linked by language; this is also where Kohut’s restrained narcissism is, resulting from optimal frustrations and transmuting internalization, a healthy state. Finally, Lacan’s terrifying, impossible Real is where the superego is, and also Kohut’s toxic shame, the bitten tail, the inner critic, the realm of trauma.

The biting head is maximum, pathological egotism and selfishness, the quest for pleasure; the bitten tail is maximum pain, self-hatred, fragmentation, disintegration, and the inner critic; and the length of the ouroboros’s body is various median levels of health and illness, the front half the realm of the good enough parent and the resulting stable, coherent self, a kind of Atman, as it were, that can be linked with the Brahman of the rest of the world, and the hind half the realm of–towards the tail–increasingly bad parents, resulting in increasingly dysfunctional families and children.

So, how do we cure ourselves of the inner critic, that reservoir of bad inner objects we got from emotionally abusive parents and other family members? We need to replace them with good inner objects…but how?

We can start by establishing what we would consider to be ideal personality traits for one’s parents to have, the idealized parental imago of Kohut’s bipolar self. For my part, I consider such admirable traits to include patience (i.e., calmness in the face of stress), tolerance, generosity, kindness, and a wish to cultivate family harmony and good (but realistic) self-esteem.

I arrived at these through a sublation of their dialectical opposites, the vices my parents actually had. My father was an ill-tempered, bigoted, stingy old fool; my mother, as you can glean from these posts, was utterly lacking in empathy, and used gaslighting and triangulating to ensure an enduring family discord.

You now can re-pattern your internalized parental imago, that harsh superego with its unattainable ego ideal, by taking all the awful things your biological parents said and did to you, and going along the length of the ouroboros, an Aufhebung, to find the dialectical opposites of those parental vices, as I described in the preceding paragraph.

Granted, no parents can ever even approach perfection, but what we’re doing here is inner child work; and children’s naïve nature is to regard their parents as godlike role models. We need to go back to those early years, to the roots of our traumas, face them bravely, and work through them.

You have to feel the pain to heal it. Write out, as vividly as you can, a description of all those awful things that happened to you as a child. Give nuanced descriptions of each and every cruelty done by every perpetrator: your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, school bullies, etc. This is how trauma is processed. I did this in all my posts on emotional abuse.

Turn these cruelties into their dialectical opposites (through sublation), and in hypnotic trance, meditate on these good traits, as vividly as you can imagine them.

Make sure you’re alone, without any distractions. Sit or lie down in a relaxed state, and close your eyes. Slowly take in a deep breath, hold it, smile, and let the breath out slowly; continue to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply as you focus your attention on your body, starting with your toes, then slowly moving up to your feet, your ankles, calves, shins, knees, and upper legs. Imagine this rising focus as if it were water rising from your feet slowly up to your waist; thus, as if your body were half-submerged in water, so is your focus on all of your lower body, at this point.

Continue bringing the focus up to your belly, back, and chest, as if that water were now rising up to your neck. Your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders are now ‘wet’ with your mind’s focus on them. Your whole body, from the neck down, should be gently vibrating with soothing relaxation.

Now bring the ‘watery’ focus up to your head. Feel gentle tingles all over your head, forehead, eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. This is a special ‘water’, though, for you can breathe it like a fish! With that ‘water’ inside you, now your insides are as soothed as your outsides. You should feel relaxed all over now.

In this peaceful state (if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to what you’ve been focusing on), slowly count down from ten to one while continuing to breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. As each number goes by, make yourself loosen up more and more, relaxing more and more, limper and limper; so by the time you reach one…then zero, you’re at a maximum state of limp relaxation.

Now, in this state of perfect calm, you’ll be more suggestible and receptive to hypnotic autosuggestion. Imagine those ideal parents, with all those virtues that are the opposite of the vices and faults of your biological parents. Imagine how those good parents would treat children, any children, then imagine yourself as the child they’re loving, caring for, and protecting.

Realize that such good parents, whose virtues you’d admire, idealize, and look up to as a child, would naturally love you and cherish you as their little boy or girl. Visualize them taking turns picking you (a child of three or four) up, holding you, grinning at you, cuddling you, and kissing you. Of course they love you! They’re your parents, your new, good internalized parents, and good parents by definition always love their kids, no matter what faults a child may have, no matter how frustrating a child may be sometimes.

In this state of hypnotic trance, in which you should feel quite good now, let that love wash all over you like the purifying waters of the Ganges, healing all your emotional wounds, freeing you from past pain. Indeed, as you’re washing all that pain away, remember you’re in that peaceful ‘water’ I mentioned above. Now, as we continue this thought experiment, imagine your new cohesive self, healed of its former, internal fragmentation, your ‘Atman’, if you will, combining with the surrounding water. Your ‘Atman’, your very body, is water, and is at one with the surrounding water. This is the Unity of Space that I’ve written about before.

No longer do you feel separate from the world: you’re one with the world, and if there’s good inside you (from your new idealized parent imago), there’s good out there, too. Feel vibrations of inner…and outer…peace, in and all over and around you. You can begin to trust the world around you. Be mindful of this new feeling of peace–NOW. Stay in that mindful state, experiencing this unity of self and other, for as long as you can sustain it. Feel gentle, slow-moving waves of the infinite ocean flowing through your body, soothing you, uniting you with the world in perfect peace.

When you’re ready to come out of trance, slowly count from one to five: as the numbers go by, wiggle your fingers and toes, take a deep breath in, stretch your spine and arms, open your eyes, and feel great for the rest of your day.

Do this meditation/autohypnosis every day, as many times as you can fit it into your daily schedule, to get maximum benefits. Over time, you’ll feel your inner critic transform into your inner friend.