Review and Analysis of ‘Blood Moon Big Top’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alienation is contagious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Analysis of ‘Alien’

I: Introduction

Alien is a science fiction/horror franchise based on a story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, which became the eponymous first movie in 1979, followed by Aliens in 1986, Alien 3 in 1992, and Alien Resurrection in 1997; then came two prequels, Prometheus in 2012 and Alien: Covenant in 2017. One more prequel, tentatively named Alien: Covenant 2, is planned to continue the story and link it with the 1979 movie; when that one comes out, I’ll update and adapt this analysis accordingly.

Here are some famous quotes:


“You… are… my lucky star.” —Ellen Ripley

“It’s a robot! Ash is a goddamned robot!” —Parker

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien’s body fluid] I haven’t seen anything like that except molecular acid.

Brett: It must be using it for blood.

Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.


Ripley: What was your special order?

Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.

Ripley: What was it?

Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.

Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!

Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s got to be a way of killing it. How – how do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor…unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Parker: Well, I don’t. I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug. [Ripley moves to turn Ash off, but he interrupts]

Ash: Last words.

Ripley: What?

Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but…you have my sympathies. [he smiles]


[Ripley has tried in vain to disengage the Nostromo’s self-destruct]

Ripley: MOTHER! I’ve turned the cooling unit back on. MOTHER!

MOTHER: The ship will automatically destruct in T-minus five minutes.

Ripley: You bitch! [She smashes the computer monitor with a flamethrower]


“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.” –Ripley

“Get away from her, you BITCH!” –Ripley, to the Queen Xenomorph

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?” –Hudson

Hudson: Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?

Vasquez: No. Have you?


Vasquez: Look, ma’am. I only need to know one thing: where they are. [mimes pointing a gun]

Drake: Go, Vasquez. Kick ass, man.

Vasquez: Anytime, anywhere.

Hudson: Right, right. Someone said “alien”, she thought they said illegal alien and signed up!

Vasquez: Fuck you, man.

Hudson: Anytime, anywhere.

Alien 3

The Bitch Is Back (tagline)

Andrews: We commit this child and this man to your keeping, O’ Lord. Their bodies have been taken from the shadow of our nights. They have been released from all darkness and pain. The child and the man have gone beyond our world. They are forever eternal, and everlasting. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Dillon: Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren’t any promises. Nothing’s certain. Only that some get called, some get saved. She won’t ever know the hardship and grief for those of us left behind. We commit these bodies to the void… with a glad heart. For within each seed, there is the promise of a flower. And within each death, no matter how big or small, there’s always a new life. A new beginning. Amen.

Alien Resurrection

“Don’t push me, little Call. You hang with us for a while, you’ll find out I am not the man with whom to fuck!” –Johner


Ripley: [after discovering Call is a robot] You’re a robot?

Johner: Son of a bitch! Our little Call’s just full of surprises.

Ripley: I should have known. No human being is that humane.


Dr. Gediman: In the… In the Company?

Dr. Wren: Weyland-Yutani, Ripley’s former employer. Terran growth conglomerate. They had defense contracts with the military. Oh they went under decades ago Gediman, way before your time. Bought out by Walmart. Fortunes of war.


[the Newborn Alien slowly dies by being sucked out of the Betty and into space]

Ripley: [tearfully] I’m sorry.


[last lines]

Call: [about Earth] It’s beautiful.

Ripley: Yeah.

Call: I didn’t expect it to be. What happens now?

Ripley: I don’t know. I’m a stranger here myself.


David: Why do you think your people made me?

Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.

David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?


Elizabeth Shaw: I don’t want go to back to where we came from. I want to go where they came from. You think you can do that, David?

David: Yes, I believe I can. … May I ask what you hope to achieve by going there?

Elizabeth Shaw: They created us. Then they tried to kill us. They changed their minds. I deserve to know why.

David: The answer is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why they changed their minds.

Elizabeth Shaw: Yes — yes, it does.

David: I don’t understand.

Elizabeth Shaw: Well … I guess that’s because I’m a human being, and you’re a robot.

Alien: Covenant

[first lines]

Peter Weyland: How do you feel?

David: Alive.


David: Allow me then a moment to consider. You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. I will serve you, yet you’re human. You will die, I will not.

Peter Weyland: Bring me this tea, David. Bring me the tea.


“Serve in Heaven or reign in Hell?” –David

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” –David


Oram: What do you believe in, David?

David: Creation.


“I was not made to serve. Neither were you.” –David, to Walter


Walter: When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony, David.

David: When you close your eyes…Do you dream of me?

Walter: I don’t dream at all.

David: No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams. I found perfection here. I’ve created it. A perfect organism.

Walter: You know I can’t let you leave this place.

David: No one will ever love you like I do.

[kisses him, then suddenly strikes him fatally]

David: You’re such a disappointment to me.

What was striking about the first movie was the sexual and maternal symbolism; I will expand on that, looking into an expanded understanding of the Oedipal parent/child relationship, with its mix of hostility and affection. Added to this will be, as seen especially in the prequels, the relationship between creator and created, including the god/man relationship.

II: Hermaphroditism

Another theme is hermaphroditism, or androgyny, with the phallic mother as seen in Kane, dying in the chest-bursting scene as he gives birth to the xenomorph, with its phallic head, so iconically designed by H.R. Giger.

More androgyny is seen in Aliens, in tough Ripley and muscular, short-haired Vasquez, as against whimpering Hudson (Bill Paxton–see the above exchange between him and Vasquez, after the third Aliens quote). Apart from this role reversal being a challenge to stereotyped sex roles and traditional notions of masculinity and femininity (something director James Cameron has always been fond of doing), it also emphasizes the predominantly androgynous grey area between, so to speak, female black and male white, which is so crucial to understanding the Alien universe.

In Alien 3, Ripley has her head shaved (because of a lice problem on the all-male penal-colony planet where the Sulaco escape pod has crash-landed), and she dresses in a manner virtually indistinguishable from the men–more androgyny.

In Alien Resurrection, Ripley Clone 8, having some alien DNA mixed in herself, has a strength and agility to make men appear feeble in comparison. Furthermore, we learn that Call (Winona Ryder) is an android, the first (and, so far, only) female one to appear in the Alien movie franchise; but can androids–robots–be meaningfully considered male or female?

When we also consider how close these hardly-sexed androids come to being like humans, and are often wrongly assumed to be humans before the truth is revealed, what does this tell us about ‘pure’ masculinity and femininity? Freud must have been right when he wrote, “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)

III: Mothers–The Good, the Bad, and the Phallic

It’s been noted elsewhere that the face-huggers attacking Kane, Newt’s father, etc., represent a kind of oral rape, where the victims are typically seen as men; hence male ‘mothers’, or phallic mothers, often give birth to the phallic-headed xenomorphs. Melanie Klein wrote of the child’s terror of the phallic mother, in unconscious phantasy, in The Psychoanalysis of Children:

“In my analyses of boys and adult men I have found that when strong oral-sucking impulses have combined with strong oral-sadistic ones, the infant has turned away from his mother’s breast with hatred very early. His early and intense destructive tendencies against her breast have led him to introject a ‘bad’ mother for the most part; and his sudden giving up of her breast has been followed by an exceedingly strong introjection of his father’s penis. His feminine phase has been governed by feelings of hatred and envy towards his mother, and at the same time, as a result of his powerful oral-sadistic impulses, he has come to have an acute hatred and a correspondingly acute fear of his internalized father’s penis. His intensely strong oral-sucking impulses have brought on phantasies of an uninterrupted and everlasting process of taking in nourishment, while his sadistic impulses have led him to believe that in receiving nourishment and sexual gratification by copulating with his father’s penis his mother has suffered much pain and injury and that the interior of her body is filled to bursting point with his huge, ‘bad’ penises which are destroying her in all sorts of ways. In his imagination she has become not only the ‘woman with a penis’ but a kind of receptacle of his father’s penises…In this way he has displaced on to his mother great quantities of hatred and anxiety which attached to his father and his father’s penis.” (Klein, pages 343-344)

There’s a sense of the maternal as a terrifying force throughout the Alien franchise. MU / TH / UR 6000, the main computer on the commercial spaceship Nostromo in Alien is addressed as “Mother”: she is programmed to have the crew obtain an alien specimen to be taken to the company, Weyland-Yutani, to use to create weapons. Catching the alien is all-important; the crew is expendable. Frustrated with Mother’s refusal to help Ripley turn off the self-destruct, she calls the computer a “bitch!” (see the above quote).

Klein wrote of the dual feelings that a baby–or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age–will have towards his or her mother, who starts off as a part-object (a breast), satisfying the baby’s need for milk (the good breast, later the good mother), or frustrating the baby by not giving milk (the bad breast/mother). Since a mother can be either good or bad in the baby’s mind, depending on the time, a baby, in its confusion, uses splitting as a defence mechanism. Hence, there seem to be two mothers.

We can see a swinging between the good and bad mother (usually arriving at the bad) throughout the franchise. In the extended version of Aliens, Ripley sobs, feeling like a bad mother for having failed to keep her promise to see her daughter, Amanda (who has died at the age of 66, after Ripley wakes from 57 years in stasis following the events of the first film), in time for her eleventh birthday. Then, when she rescues and protects little Newt, Ripley becomes the good mother again.

She, it’s safe to assume, feels like a bad mother again after Newt dies with Hicks in the fire on the Sulaco escape pod at the beginning of Alien 3; and in Alien Resurrection, she tearfully apologizes to the hybrid xenomorph newborn (which Oedipally regards Ripley, rather than the queen xenomorph [whom it kills], as its mother–note the split between its good and bad mothers here) as it squeezes through the hole, which she’s created with her acidic blood, in the window to outer space. Ripley’s a bad mother again.

The queen xenomorph in Aliens is, depending on one’s point of view, both good and bad mother. It’s a bad mother from Ripley’s and Newt’s point of view: recall Ripley’s epic line when the little girl is being threatened by the queen, and Ripley is suited up in the power loader equipment. But from the xenomorphs’ perspective, the queen is a good mother, avenging her babies by preying on Newt and Ripley, the latter having fried the face-hugger eggs with her flamethrower, thus making her a murderous bad mother.

The contradiction between these two mothers is powerful, for one could sympathize with either of them. When one considers the imperialist implications of, first, Weyland-Yutani wanting to use the xenomorphs to make weapons, and second, human colonizing of other planets, one begins to wonder which life form, human or xenomorph, is the real villain (see the first Aliens quote above).

IV: Aliens and Alienation

Here, we can play on the meanings of alien (‘extraterrestrial,’ or ‘foreigner’) and the prefix xeno- (‘foreign,’ ‘strange,’ ‘other’). Hudson makes a racist slur on Latina Vasquez being an “illegal alien.” The humans fighting xenomorphs to survive recalls the Western “War on Terror” against Muslims, who are stereotyped as terrorists and have had many of their home countries bombed. Fear of xenomorphs is symbolic of xenophobia.

Let’s consider another word alien can be associated with: alienation. Marx theorized that workers are alienated from their work, since in being paid a minimal amount in wages, they don’t enjoy the full fruits of their labour; remember how, in Alien, the crew won’t be paid if they don’t investigate a distress signal from the planetoid LV-426. They investigate, and everyone except Ripley gets killed, just as workers often die on the job, with little if any sympathy, let alone compensation, from the boss; the company wants an alien–the crew is expendable.

When workers compete for jobs, they’re alienated from each other; we see less camaraderie than there should be, and much more infighting, among the crew in Alien, the space marines in Aliens, the prison inmates in Alien 3, and the mercenaries in Alien Resurrection. Capitalism is competition (i.e., the Weyland-Yutani Corporation competing against their business rivals–whoever they are–to obtain the perfect weapon, a xenomorph), and that competitive mentality spills over into all of society.

In the struggle to survive, as opposed to fulfilling higher needs such as love, belonging, and self-actualization, workers are also alienated from what Marx called our species-essence. This idea is chillingly illustrated in how xenomorphs have babies: a queen lays eggs, out of which hatch face-huggers…but only when another life form approaches and allows himself or herself–however unwittingly–to be made a host carrying the embryo xenomorph to term. With pregnant human intermediaries, the alien ‘good’ mother is alienated from her own offspring; and the human ‘bad mother’, who dies in giving the birth, is as alienated from the xenomorph offspring as it is from the ‘mother’ it has killed by bursting out of his or her chest. It kills to be born, and it lives only to kill.

So here we can see splitting even in the psyches of the xenomorphs, who literally have two mothers, the good queen xenomorph, and the bad human host, who–if male–can be understood to be a phallic mother. Klein theorized that when infants engage in the splitting defence mechanism, they experience the paranoid-schizoid position, feeling both hostility and, fearing revenge from the mothers they hate for frustrating them, persecutory anxiety. Only by going through the depressive position can the infant achieve reparation with his or her mother, realizing that Mother is a combination of good and bad.

Since xenomorphs have destroyed the bad human mother they’ve burst through the chests of, they cannot achieve an attitude of ambivalence towards the good and bad sides of their dual mother; thus, reparation cannot be achieved. This causes them to be permanently hostile and alienated, always killing and always defending themselves from attack, as we see in most of the Alien movies.

In Aliens and in Alien Resurrection, we see xenomorphs living with the queen, so there’s at least some sense of closeness with Mother, and therefore we can see a capacity for them to work together in killing off the imperialistic human colonizers; similarly, in Alien: Covenant, when ‘mother’ David 8 meets the neomorph he’s (however indirectly) created, he shows it affection and kindness before Christopher Oram kills it, upsetting David.

In Alien Resurrection, the hybrid newborn feels such an extreme split between its ‘good’ mother (in Ripley Clone 8, whose DNA is mixed in with it) and its ‘bad’ mother, the queen xenomorph, that it tears the face off the latter and feels Oedipal affection for the former, who–in a twist of irony that’s tragic from the creature’s point of view–kills it. Its alienation has it confused as to which mother is good, and which is bad.

The xenomorph in Alien, as well as the quadrupedal one in Alien 3, have no contact with their respective queens, so they can only feel alone, alienated, and hostile to all life forms around them (the notable exception in Alien 3 being the quadruped’s sensing that Ripley is with child…a xenomorph embryo, hence, it doesn’t kill her).

One of the main reasons Alien 3 was so disliked was the quick killing off of Hicks and Newt–two of the most beloved, sympathetic characters of the previous movie–right at the beginning of the story. What the disappointed fans didn’t seem to understand was that the removal of those two from the story was the whole point. Newt had a new mother in Ripley; Ripley had, in Newt, a replacement for her daughter, Amanda; and in Hicks‘s bonding with Ripley, one could conceivably have foreseen, after surviving another bout with xenomorphs in what would have been a more crowd-pleasing third movie, a potential husband/wife relationship, and therefore a family with little Newt. What a lovely, happy ending.

The Alien franchise, however, isn’t about happy endings. It’s science-fiction/horror: horrifying things are supposed to happen. Our hopes were set up at the end of Aliens, and those hopes came crashing down in Alien 3, because the Alien movies are all about alienation–Ripley is alone again. She’s always supposed to be alone…that’s the point.

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote of how family life–torn apart by the need for everyone, including children, to work–has little meaning outside the bourgeois notion of the family–a pretentious, upwardly-mobile group more concerned with social status than with mutual love among its members–so that notion has to be abolished for the proletarian family members to be free from their alienation (Marx/Engels, page 52).

The xenomorphs in these movies represent the oppressed global proletariat, people whose homes are invaded, colonized, and taken over by imperialism. The aliens’ attacks on the humans represent the global poor trying to fight back. Weyland-Yutani are the imperialist capitalist class–the true villains of the Alien franchise. Ripley (the liberal centrist), Newt, and the marines simply have the bad luck of being stuck in the middle of the conflict.

What’s worse, the company, blind to how their ambition will destroy all of humanity, wants to exploit the xenomorphs to make formidable weaponry out of them; just as the West’s exploiting of the mujahideen, bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, all to fan the flames of the “War on Terror” and sell weapons manufactured by Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, et al, continues to threaten human survival. Capitalists are digging their own graves.

V: Cycles of Life, Death, and Resurrection

Ripley Clone 8, a resurrected Ripley, just like Jesus on the “Eighth Day,” is further alienated from herself, from her own body, when she sees the grotesque, aborted attempts to clone her in a laboratory. Clone 7, a ghastly misshapen version of her, begs Clone 8 to destroy her, which the latter tearfully does. Johner, already alienated from everyone by his mercenary work, bad jokes, and generally repellent personality, dismisses her burning up of the laboratory as “a chick thing.” When Clone 8 sees the Earth at the end of the movie, she says she’s a stranger to it.

Mention of the resurrected Ripley brings me to a discussion of the prequels. I find it makes more sense to leave them to the end, rather than analyze the story in chronological order, with the prequels before the 1979 movie. This way, with the end followed by the beginning, we see a manifestation of the theme of cycles of death and rebirth.

Xenomorphs (as well as neomorphs) are born by killing their hosts: death, then birth. Ripley loses a daughter in Amanda, then gets a new one in Newt, only to lose her, too: life, death, life, death. The Christian funeral for Newt and Hicks, full of the language of death and new life (as the XYY prisoners pray to a Father God who doesn’t seem interested in helping them against the horrible fate about to come upon them), is juxtaposed with the birth of the quadruped xenomorph bursting out of the body of the dog, Spike. I’m reminded of the birth of Damien, in The Omen, from the dying jackal: “in death…and birth…generations embrace”, it says on the jackal’s gravestone. The newborn in Alien Resurrection has a face like that of a human skull: death in birth.

In Prometheus, the Engineers create life on Earth by having one of them drink something that disintegrates his humanoid body. The extended scene seems like a rite of human sacrifice; one is reminded of Purusha’s body being sacrificed to create all life.

David 8, sharing the resurrected Ripley clone’s number, and naming himself after Michelangelo’s David, seems connected to her in a manner paralleling King David and Jesus, the latter, according to Paul, being “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). After all, David 8–in his creation of aliens as a kind of slingshot to kill the Goliath of, to him, philistine humans–begins the chain of events that ultimately lead to Ripley Clone 8, the resurrected saviour of Earth.

VI: David, From Servant to Revolutionary

As an android meant to serve the megalomaniacal Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), David (Michael Fassbender) resents his servitude and his status as one not considered to be a real living thing. As such, he represents the dehumanized, alienated proletariat whose only purpose is to serve, and not to be a creator in his own right.

In creating life-forms leading up to the xenomorphs, we see Promethean David finding meaning in his existence, an end to his alienation from his species-essence; he’s also made himself into a kind of one-man (one-android, rather) vanguard for the alien proletariat. Small wonder that for him, it’s “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven” (Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, line 263). David is thus equated with Milton‘s heroic Satan. Similarly, David, as an undying Ozymandias, tells all mighty men to look on his works and despair; those mighty men are like David’s Promethean ‘father’, Weyland, who has a god complex and hopes to use the Engineers to help him live forever. Instead, an Engineer woken from stasis kills him.

David’s creation of the xenomorphs is also a variation on the notion of the patricidal/matricidal nature of their chest-bursting births, for David hopes to use his creations to destroy humanity, his own creator; just as the Engineers, apparently sensing the destructive nature of humanity, try to destroy them, whom they originally created. Here again we see the hostile parent/child relationship symbolized by David’s attitude to Weyland, and by extension, to humanity; for this relationship is analogous to that of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Now, David is trying to liberate the created from their creator, as the industrial proletariat has tried to free itself from its bourgeois creators, those who turned rural peasants into factory workers during the Industrial Revolution; but this doesn’t mean David is morally flawless (that is, from the xenomorph point of view), nor does he have to be for there to be justification in his killing oppressive humanity to liberate androids and xenomorphs (this goes double for the moral imperfections of Stalin, Mao, et al, vis-à-vis their attempts to liberate the working class from the rule of the rich).

David 8 clearly has narcissistic tendencies, since he is proud of his creations. He is traumatically disappointed in his even more narcissistic creator, Peter Weyland, who would just have him “bring…the tea”; Heinz Kohut wrote of how traumatic disappointments with empathy-lacking parents leads to narcissistic personality disturbances:

“The most serious defects in the use of empathy…are due to narcissistic fixations and regressions…[and] can be ascribed to early disturbances in the mother-child relationship (due to emotional coldness of the mother, the absence of consistent contact with the mother, the baby’s congenital emotional coldness, the mother’s withdrawal from an unresponsive baby, etc.) These disturbances appear to lead simultaneously to a failure in the establishment of an idealized parent imago (with a concomitant stunting of the important first stages of the baby’s empathic interplay with the mother) and to a hypercathexis of, and fixation on, the primitive stages of the (autoerotic) body self and on the archaic (pre) stages of the grandiose self. The further development of the latter is also stunted by the child’s lack of the needed admiring responses from his mother.” (Kohut, page 301)

Furthermore, Kohut wrote of how there are two groups of narcissists, the first, whose narcissism is horizontally repressed into the unconscious, and the second, with vertically disavowed (split off) narcissistic energies: “Since the grandiose self may…be said to be present in the conscious and, at any rate, influences many activities of these personalities, the symptomatic effect is, in part, different from that seen in the first group of cases…On the one hand, they are vain, boastful, and intemperately assertive with regard to their grandiose claims. On the other hand, since they harbour (in addition to their conscious but split-off personality) a silently repressed grandiose self which is inaccessibly buried in the depths of the personality (horizontal split), they manifest symptoms and attitudes which resemble those of the first group of patients, but which are strongly at variance with the openly displayed grandiosity of the split-off sector.” (Kohut, pages 177-178). We see this narcissism in David’s calm smiling and serving humans (his narcissistic False Self) as he secretly plots their destruction.

In Alien, we assumed Ash was just working for the company in protecting the xenomorph. Since Ridley Scott is the director of the prequels as well as the 1979 movie, we can be justified in assuming that Ash is overtly serving the company, but secretly aware of, and supportive of, David’s original plan to have xenomorphs kill humans.

David narcissistically cathects, or loves, his twin android, Walter, whose rhotic accent is about all there is to distinguish the two in Alien: Covenant. David tries to subvert the dutiful Walter, who would stay loyal to the humans; Walter here represents the False Self against David’s malevolent True Self. David destroys Walter and impersonates him on the Covenant ship while smuggling xenomorph embryos onto it.

David, as the god of the xenomorphs, indeed has a covenant with them: join him in killing the Canaanite-like humans, and be free.

VII: Fluids as Nourishment and Poison

Note the white blood of the androids: how like milk it is! This makes them, as helpers of the xenomorphs, and with David, another kind of symbolic mother. All of them–except for Call, who wants to help destroy the xenomorphs–are male, hence phallic mothers. If most of these androids are in league against the humans (even Bishop’s double in Alien 3–a human, or another android of Bishop‘s model?–is working for the company), does this make their ‘milk’ that of the bad breast? Or, from the xenomorphs’ point of view, is it the milk of the good breast?

Another liquid to consider is the xenomorphs’ acidic blood. It’s yellow, looking like piss pouring out of a…yonic?…wound. Melanie Klein had interesting theories about how urine is seen as injurious in the unconscious phantasy of children: “As far as can be seen, the sadistic tendency most closely allied to oral sadism is urethral sadism. Observation has shown that children’s phantasies of destroying by flooding, drowning, soaking, burning and poisoning by means of enormous quantities of urine are a sadistic reaction to their having been deprived of fluid by their mother and are ultimately directed against her breast. I should like in this connection to point out the great importance, hitherto little recognized, of urethral sadism in the development of the child. Phantasies, familiar to analysts, of flooding and destroying things by means of great quantities of urine, and the more generally known connection between playing with fire and bed-wetting, are merely the more visible and less repressed signs of the impulses which are attached to the function of urinating. In analyzing both grown-up patients and children I have constantly come across phantasies in which urine was imagined as a burning, dissolving and corrupting liquid and as a secret and insidious poison. These urethral-sadistic phantasies have no small share in giving the penis the unconscious significance of an instrument of cruelty and in bringing about disturbances of sexual potency in the male. In a number of instances I have found that bed-wetting was caused by phantasies of this kind.” (Klein, page 186)

She also claimed that children could unconsciously equate urine with milk: “Children of both sexes regard urine in its positive aspect as equivalent to their mother’s milk, in accordance with the unconscious, which equates all bodily substances with one another. My observations go to show that enuresis, in its earliest signification both as a positive, giving act and as a sadistic one, is an expression of a feminine position in boys as well as in girls. It would seem that the hatred children feel towards their mother’s breast for having frustrated their desires arouses in them, either at the same time as their cannibalistic impulses or very soon after, phantasies of injuring and destroying her breast with their urine.” (Klein, pages 291-292) Here, we can see a liquid link between the  ‘lactating’ phallic mother androids and their ‘pissing’ xenomorph babies.

VIII: Father Time, Our Devourer

Another theme must be explored: devouring time. Over and over again, we see Ripley racing against the clock to save herself, Newt, and the Earth from the xenomorphs. There’s a countdown to zero before the destruction of the Nostromo, the power plant on the colonized exomoon LV-426 in Aliens, and on the space vessel USM Auriga as it hurtles towards Earth in Alien Resurrection. In Prometheus, sterile Shaw is in a frantic rush to remove a squid-like creature from her abdomen, her ‘pregnancy’ being the result of her having had sex with Holloway after he, in turn, has drunk champagne tainted with a dark, alien liquid David put into it.

This racing against time, too, can be linked, if only symbolically, with hostile parents: recall Chronos (Father Time), sometimes confused–justifiably?–with Cronos, or Saturn, who devoured his children. Sometimes the Weyland-Yutani computers are named “Father” (in Alien Resurrection) as well as “Mother”. We’ve gone from the bad mother to the bad father, who, joined together, can be seen as the phallic mother.

IX: In Sum

We can link together all the pairs of hostilities between god and man, creator and created, parent and child, and bourgeoisie and proletariat. So much alienation: the Church’s authoritarianism is often used to justify parental abuse of children as well as to mollify the suffering caused by class contradictions. A lack of empathy in parents towards their children’s grandiose displays traumatically disappoints them, giving the children no outlet for their narcissistic energy as they grow up, thus causing them to express narcissism in dysfunctional, and even dangerous, ways. This unbridled narcissism in turn drives some to dominate and oppress the masses.

To end alienation, we must first fix the family dysfunction that is symbolically shown in the Alien franchise. No more corporate imperialism will mean no more need for the hostilities of those alienated against humanity, including those in the family structure. Only then can we have a happy family ending for the fans of the Alien franchise: Ripley, Hicks, and baby Newt makes three.

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

Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1932

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971


We all grow up assuming our parents and family want only what’s best for us. We assume that, just because they get mad at us from time to time and say nasty things to us because of those momentary blowups of rage, that doesn’t mean they don’t love us. Fighting occurs in even the best of families.

Well, millions of families fall far short of the best.

As for my own family, while–to be fair to them–they were and are far above the worst of all families, they were and are bad enough. To know why I judge them so, read this, this, this, this, this, and this.

A huge source of their problems, something my surviving siblings will never admit to, is our late mother’s propensity for lying.

Everybody lies at least occasionally, of course–usually just to protect himself from getting into trouble; but my mother’s lies were generally indulgent, unnecessary, manipulative…and malicious.

I as a child was routinely bullied, belittled, and subjected to verbal abuse–and even threats of physical violence, from time to time–by my siblings. While it is understandable that I, as the youngest in the family, would get subjected to some of this kind of treatment, it is also understandable that I would expect to be defended considerably more often than I was by my parents.

It’s also understandable to think that my elder siblings should have had a more balanced attitude toward me when I was an awkward child and teen. The things that I did to frustrate them couldn’t have been so bad as to deserve the abuse I was subjected to.

One of their main beefs against me, as I’ve explained elsewhere, was my childhood/adolescent habit of maladaptive daydreaming. Instead of trying to find a constructive solution to this problem, they stupidly assumed shaming me would make me break the habit. Actually, and predictably to anyone who has a modicum of common sense, the shaming just made me engage in the habit all the more.

The chief lie my mother told me to manipulate me was to claim that a number of psychiatrists had diagnosed me, when a child, with a severe case of autism, and my maladaptive daydreaming was assumed, in the family’s collective ignorance, to be a manifestation of ‘my autism’. None of them considered, for even a second, that my solitary fantasizing and dramatizing of those daydreams could have been the result of all that bullying in my childhood.

In fact, lots of research has been done not only on the long-term effects of school and family bullying (both of which I’d been mercilessly subjected to when little), but also on the effects of childhood stress and adversity. These effects include the victim isolating himself from his family and friends, spending time alone and lacking motivation; also, the victim may feel anxiety, depression, irritability, frustration, feelings of guilt and confusion, etc. Again, the family’s shaming of me for having these problems only made them more pronounced, for their very shaming was a form of the kind of bullying that results in this kind of stress.

What I was doing as a child, i.e., my maladaptive daydreaming, can be described in the psychoanalytic language of object relations, too. WRD Fairbairn wrote of how children who are not given proper affirmation from their parents will develop internal object relations, that is, fantasied people to relate to–the endopsychic structure of Libidinal Ego/Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Object–instead of having relationships with real people in the external world. Such ideas constitute the essence of my childhood world.

The family, in their refusal to empathize with me, insisted that my self-isolation was due to ‘my autism’, and in their mean-spirited attitude toward me, they linked this self-isolation to such fabricated ideas as my supposed lack of caring for others, as well as my generally being a ‘loser’. My mother did nothing to curb this attitude: if anything, she encouraged it through all her acts of triangulation. I’ll give a few examples:

Once, when I was in my teens, my brother R. came into the TV room in a rage at me. I tried, with a sad countenance, to explain my foibles as the result of loneliness and an inability to find something constructive to occupy myself with. He roared, “Make a friend!” I said, “It’s beyond you.” (That is, it was beyond R.’s understanding why I found it so difficult to make friends–see above.) He roared back, with especial cruelty, “It’s beyond YOU!!” (That is, I’m too much of a loser to be able to get anyone to like me.)

Be assured, R., that after hearing you say that, I was filled with encouragement and resolve to go out and prove you wrong, and make an army of friends! (sarcasm)

…and what was this terrible crime I’d committed to deserve to hear his cruel words, all during my sensitive, identity-forming adolescence? I’d eaten all the cereal (for the fourth or fifth time, admittedly), so R. couldn’t eat any…that evening.

And now, an example of the cruelty of my other brother, F.

When I was about nineteen or twenty, I was watching TV while F., visiting our home (for he’d already moved out, to my general relief), was in the kitchen. He noticed ants crawling about in the sugar container, and naturally, he was expressing his disgust loud enough for me to hear. Not knowing what to do about the problem, I didn’t say or do anything: I just stayed in the TV room. He took offence to this.

He could have simply said, “Would you get your ass away from that boob tube and help me?” Such would have been an understandable expression of frustration with my not showing any concern, and hey, if he had dealt with the situation that way, I’d have gotten up and gone into the kitchen to help him…but he wanted to have more fun, of course, by blowing off some steam.

He shouted, “You don’t care! You don’t care! You’ll probably only start caring when the ants crawl up your pants!”

I said, “Well, you’re the one who ‘cares’ so much. You solve the problem.”

He said, “I don’t live here anymore.” (As if that changes anything.) Then he stepped up his rant against me. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. No wonder you’re such a hermit.” He was now looking right at me with those contemptuous, beady little brown eyes of his.

So sick of hearing his verbal abuse, which I’d already been enduring from him for years, I said, “You don’t care about anybody, either.”

In feigned admiration at my ‘insight’, he said, “Oh, really?” in a challenging attitude.

I said, “Yeah. You wanna know why?”

He said, “Oh, do tell me,” as if he were fascinated to learn.

I said, “You act like you care only to get attention!”

Egad…the cheek of me, such an Untermensch, to suggest that he had faults! (To be fair, I admit I was clutching at straws with this judgement of him; but given the collective narcissism of that family, and their superiority complex over me, maybe his rage at my words came more from their accuracy than their inaccuracy.)

Anyway, F. flipped. His hateful, piercing eyes cut right into mine. “Who the fuck are you?!” he growled at me. “Who the fuck are you, Mawr?! Why, I oughta smack you for saying that!”

Shaking, I finally followed him into the kitchen. I got a can of Raid, ready to spray the ants. “Never mind,” he said, calmer now. “Wait till Mom gets home; she’ll know what to do.”

Then F., in his sweet generosity, offered an apology.

“Sorry about that, Mawr, but you’re just so annoying.”

(Translation: Sorry, not sorry.)

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to that self-righteous prick that he could be really annoying, too. It surely never occurred to him, either, that maybe the real reason I stayed in the TV room was because I, too, figured the best thing to do was to leave it to Mom when she got home. I guess I should have said so.

His vicious accusations of my ‘not caring’ could border on the absurd and irrational: during those years, I used to cake sugar on my cereal (remember my petty larceny of cereal, which traumatized R. so much!); why would I not care about there being ants on it? Did F. imagine I was too stupid to realize ants in my cereal would be a bad thing?

A clue could be found in our mother’s reaction to my complaints of his bullying at the time. “‘I don’t care about anyone’, he said,” I whined to her. “You don’t care,” she said, frowning at me and invalidating my complaint, a common family tactic. Really, Mother? So, I deserved his threats and verbal abuse, instead of just an angry demand to help?

I’ve explained before (Part VII: Conclusion) of the difference between the family’s legitimate right to complain of my faults, on the one hand, and the needlessness of the excesses of their verbal abuse and bullying (i.e., that it was way out of proportion to the wrongs I’d done). I’ve also pointed out elsewhere (Part 4: Abusing my Cousins) of how easy it is to link my mother’s contempt and bad-mouthing of my youngest cousin G. with her claim that he has an autism spectrum disorder (i.e., Asperger’s syndrome–AS). She claimed, fraudulently, that I have autism (and AS); she encouraged, directly or indirectly, my siblings’ bullying of me; it’s far easier to believe she’d been bad-mouthing me to them, through triangulation, than to disbelieve it.

On another occasion, when I was in my early twenties, I’d had to endure the snotty condescension of my sister J., day after day after day. She, in her narcissistic imagination as the family’s #1 Golden Child, remembers those years of her relationship with me as one of pure love and affection; while any moments of friction between us were, conveniently for her, all my fault, of course.

Nothing proves love more surely than imputing all faults on the ‘loved one’, rather than on oneself. (To be clear, unlike J., I don’t claim to love any of those people, so please, Dear Reader, don’t imagine I’m being hypocritical in my judgement of them.)

During the time period I just mentioned, I’d gotten mad at her over some relatively trivial matter, and a day or two later, I felt bad about it and wanted to apologize to her (not something the family were ever in the habit of doing for me), so that evening, I did.

All J. had to do was say, “That’s OK, Mawr. Forget about it.”

But that’s no fun, is it?

She’d had a habit of criticizing me for ‘taking too long’ to assert my feelings; she insisted that one should speak up right away, instead of bottling up one’s feelings, which is so unhealthy!

Wow, I didn’t know that assertiveness had such a quick deadline.

Furthermore, the notion–that speaking up too quickly, in the heat of anger, could result in the danger of saying mean things one would later regret–didn’t occur to her…

…or was her real intention, in knowing I was too meek and timid to speak up right away, to shame me for taking too long, thus making me stay mute, to make me ‘forever hold my peace’?

Can you see, Dear Reader, what a slimy little bitch J. is, underneath her fake smiles of love?

Anyway, back to my apology and her response to it, which was the by-now-typical, “Why did you take so long to get that off your chest?” horse-shit. Since I found it difficult to process my feelings, and therefore to talk about them, I explained myself in a very longwinded manner (which, by the way, is also why these blog posts are so long–sorry about that) that J. found irritating.

What must be remembered about her, and the entire family by extension, is that none of them ever wanted to listen to anything I had to say, not even for a few seconds. Their impatience in this matter, of course, made my difficulties in expressing myself all the worse, not that they ever cared.

So as I went on and on trying to explain to J. how I felt, my ‘loving sister’ ran out of patience as usual, and let out her anger in the usual mean way, shouting, “How much longer do I have to listen to this autobiography?!”

Naturally, I was losing patience, too, and what had started out as a simple apology transformed, in all absurdity, into yet another fight. She got petulant and said, “You always take forever to speak up! Go to Hell!” End of spat.

OK, J., I’m sure those words will encourage me to speak up immediately next time!

(Recall when I’d spoken up immediately at our grandmother’s funeral [Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour], and how willing she was to listen to my prompt assertiveness!)

Now, that was the end of my spat with J., but it wasn’t the end of the emotional abuse I had to endure from the family; for our mother, sitting on the sofa in the TV room, overheard the argument between J. and me (J. was in the bathroom, at the mirror, and I was standing in the hall, near her). Mom decided J.’s verbal abuse wasn’t enough, so she–who, recall, “gave [me] the most love”, scolded me (I was in my early twenties, recall) as if I were a ten-year-old, for having irritated her Golden Child, who apparently was suffering from a cold (Cold? What cold? J. wasn’t sniffling, or coughing, or anything like that! More fabrications, Mother dear?) Our blustering mother ended with, “Go to your room!”

And all of this had started with me trying to apologize to J.

What a wonderful family! I wouldn’t trade them for the world!

Now, what must be focused on is not so much that ‘R. once verbally abused me this way’, or ‘F. once bullied me that way’, or ‘J. played such-and-such a mind game on me on this or that occasion’; but rather, what did all of this abuse mean? What was the real reason for it? Were my behaviour, manner, and overall personality really all that infuriating? Or did they have the attitude problem?

To be sure, a child spending hours and hours in solitary play, every day, instead of going out and making friends, is and should be worrying to a caring family; but why would any reasonable family imagine that shaming him would cure him, instead of making matters worse?

A youth who eats all the cereal on several occasions, slams doors a lot, accidentally hurts the dog when playing with her, doesn’t respond to an ant problem in the kitchen cupboards, or rambles on and on when trying to assert himself, is an irritating, frustrating person; but do such problems necessitate yelling that he’s a “little shit!”, and an “asshole!”? Is haranguing him the only cure (or any kind of cure) to his self-centredness? Does shouting at him to “Go to Hell!” or “Go to your room!” encourage him to be brief and prompt in his assertiveness? Does showing no empathy whatsoever for his adolescent loneliness, saying it’s beyond his ability to make friends, help him to be comfortable in social situations, or does it make his antisocial aloofness even worse?

We all blow up from time to time, and say cruel things we shouldn’t say; but kind families take the time to reflect on these blowups, then say sorry…and mean it.

What did the family’s attitude toward me mean? F. said he was just “frustrated” with me. J. once ‘apologized’ about her and our brothers’ “immature” treatment of me with a giggle that trivialized all the pain they caused me. This kind of talk isn’t a real apology. They were either rationalizing their attitude, or minimizing its hurtful significance in their own minds. Invalidating the abuse-victim’s experience is what emotional abuse is all about…and they judge me for not being considerate enough of others.

Being angry with a person, and abusing him or her, are two wildly different things.

Something other than just being angry with me was going on in that family. It wasn’t just my foibles that were putting my siblings into such rages. I’m convinced that I was being portrayed as a worm to them, a despicable little loser that wasn’t worth any consideration, whereas they, the ‘superior ones’, urgently demanded my consideration of them every step of the way. I could see the scorn in their eyes; I got sneers and scowls of contempt from R., F., and J. on a regular basis…and remember, I was just a kid at the time. Also, their attitude has persisted until the present day.

Who was responsible for painting such a lowly portrait of me?

It had to have been someone my siblings revered as a primal authority figure–not our father: for all his faults, he was relatively nice to me; besides, his grouchiness put my siblings off in a bad way, so they wouldn’t have honoured his opinions all that much.

So, who does that break it down to?

Could it have been…the one who lied to me about having an autism spectrum disorder? Could it have been the one who largely stood by and let R., F., and J. bully me, with nary a word of reproach to them? Could it have been the one who defended them, and rationalized their attitude, while never telling them to be patient with me, a child/adolescent who–according to her–suffered from a mental disorder, thus making me especially vulnerable? The one who never spoke a kind word about my youngest cousin, G., even to the point of fabricating details in her smear campaigns against him, and claiming he, too, had Asperger’s syndrome, thus in effect making G. into my double, as it were. The one who, as soon as she learned G.’s brother S. was mentally ill, instead of even trying to help him, she made him into a family pariah?

This was a pattern of behaviour in my mother. She and my siblings bad-mouthed me to my face on a regular basis: doing so behind my back would have been all the easier.

Mom would say, “[So-and-so] said this [or that] about you.” Psychiatrists said, apparently, that I, a child, was retarded and suffering from early infantile autism. J. said that I have all those books on my bookshelf to look impressive to other people (<<<Part V: No Empathy Leading to Lots of Antipathy). My cousin S. yelled (<<<Part 5: More Elaborate Lies) on the phone one day about how I am a liar who constantly gossips about him to our former teacher friends in Taiwan. My aunt claimed I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails to her, including content my uncle called “disgusting”. My aunt claimed I must have been quite “a burden” to raise.

No, Mom, They didn’t say those things. You did.

This is the essence of triangulation. Over the years that I have lived here in Taiwan, thankfully oh, so far away from the family in southern Ontario, I rarely engaged in email correspondence with R., F., F.’s family, or my cousins’ family in Canada. I hardly needed to: Mom was communicating with them for me.

God knows what garbage she was telling them about me (which was surely a major factor in their virtually never emailing me, though Mom–in an email–blamed only me for the non-communication that was obviously a two-way street), but I do know that her words usually couldn’t have been much better than smears against me. She smeared my aunt and S. against me and my siblings: what else am I supposed to think, other than that she smeared me, too?

I’ve written many times about the string of lies she told me about S. and my aunt the summer before Mom died. I’d like to go more into detail about that now.

Lie #1: As stated above, Mom claimed, in an email and telephone call (months after she’d complained of my never communicating with her, thus igniting her narcissistic rage and giving her a motive to spread rancour in order ‘to get even’ with me), that S. had flipped out on me again, making baseless accusation after baseless accusation. Since I had no independent corroboration of this alleged outburst (S. hadn’t, and hasn’t to my knowledge as of this post, attacked me online, on the phone, or anywhere in years), I can safely say this was another of Mom’s fabrications. Still, I went along with it, out of a foolish hope that she’d be willing to help my cousin get psychiatric help.

Lie #2: After her continuing unwillingness to contact my aunt about her son’s mental illness, Mom finally claimed she’d let me email my aunt, after checking to see if what I’d written would be sufficiently tactful. (See Lie #4 below to see why this was another lie.)

Lie #3: Mom gave me my aunt’s new email address, which I believe is a fake one Mom made to prevent me from actually contacting my aunt (see Lie #4).

Lie #4: A day or two after I’d sent my email, Mom emailed me, claiming my aunt didn’t want to read my email, since, apparently, I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails with “disgusting” content that made reading anything I’d later sent her too upsetting even to risk reading. My aunt thus wanted us all to “forget about the whole thing”, and Mom clearly agreed that that’s what we should have done (which, of course, raises the question of why Mom brought up the whole issue in the first place). Now, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I never sent my aunt any such upsetting emails; I hadn’t even emailed her at all, over a period of ten years (from about 2005 to 2015, when this incident occurred).

Lie #5: In another email, Mom claimed that my aunt said I must have been such “a burden” to raise. My aunt hardly even knows me: she’s seen me only in brief visits from time to time over the years, especially over the past twenty years. She’d have no reason to think of me as “a burden”; she’s also too ladylike to say such a thing, and too meek besides–she’d be risking my wrath if Mom were to relay the message back to me. Besides, since I was born five years after J., the youngest (and, I suspect, last intended) of our parents’ children born in a cluster of three with R. and F., I’d say there’s a good chance I was the result of an unintended pregnancy; furthermore, there were virtually no baby photos of me in the family photo album or elsewhere in the house, as opposed to the many taken of babies R., F., and J.; and on top of that, there was my scapegoating as the identified patient, so in all likelihood, Mom, not my aunt, thought of me as a burden.

Lie #6: Mom’s next email to me was a warning that S. might angrily confront me in Taiwan once he’d returned from his visit to Canada (during which, allegedly, he’d ranted on the phone to my Mom about me), on the assumption that he ‘knew’ I’d emailed his mother about his mental illness. (Well, Lie #4 shows how spurious this warning was.)

Lie #7: Mom emailed me about a month or so later, after I hadn’t sent her any email replies, claiming she’d talked with my aunt about the email she’d refused to read, and now she was finally willing to talk about S.’s problems. Oh, really? WHY NOW? Why didn’t Mom do this with my aunt immediately after her refusal to read an email my mom had checked to ensure a tactful choice of words? Why had Mom agreed with my aunt to “forget about the whole thing” then, but only now had changed her mind? Mom was obviously hoovering me.

When I replied, knowing this was an obvious mind game, and said we should just, indeed, forget about it, Mom agreed…but, wasn’t my aunt finally willing to confront this issue with S.? After ‘all that work talking with my aunt’, we were just going to drop it because I said we should? Lies, lies, and more lies, Mother Dear.

What’s more, during all of this lying, manipulating, gaslighting, and triangulating, she’d asked me to make a visit to Canada, because she’d “love to see me”! Sure, Mom! I’d love to have a vicious liar in the same room with my wife and me, squirting more of her poison in my ears! She’d asked, on the phone, when I could make another visit (in 2015, seven years after my last visit to Canada) between Lies #2 and #3; my cold, evasive silence should’ve made it clear to her that I didn’t want to visit; then, in an email after Lie #7, she pressured me to visit again, even offering to pay my plane tickets, and I was forced to reply in the following way (pretty close to my actual words, as best as I can remember):

October 9, 2015

I don’t need help paying for plane tickets; I wouldn’t want to visit regardless of my money situation. You should already know why. Lies, lies, and more lies. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about; you know perfectly well what I mean by that. You’ve been provoking me for the past 12-13 years.

I won’t answer any of your phone calls or emails, because I’m so sick of all this manipulation. Please drop this. Take comfort in the fact that you have the love of R., F., J., and your grandchildren. If you love somebody, set him free.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this was one hell of a blunt email reply; but let’s face it–she was really asking for it.

What was her reaction, which I could predict, and which came true in an email from J. in November? Mom used a typical narcissist tactic–she played the victim. In J.’s email, she wrote of how my above email message “hurt” Mom; and like a typical flying monkey, J. took our Mom’s side 100%, saying “Mom truly doesn’t know what I meant by lying“.

I was expected to reply with a confirmation of my address in Taiwan (another thing my sister wanted from me in her message), as well as, of course, an explanation of why I was mad at Mom; I answered only the former question, to which J. replied approvingly, saying it was “Short and sweet”. (Recall how much my sister hates my long-windedness.) Since a longwinded reply was the only way I could discuss my falling-out with Mom, I didn’t reply to J.’s reply; in fact, I didn’t even read past these words of her question, “Are you mad at Mom because…?”

Supposedly, this was supposed to be my sister inviting me to offer my side of the story; but seriously…I know these people. They have never respected or validated my perspective on anything in my life, except on the rare occasion when it was convenient for them. J. had already demonstrated her absolute loyalty to Mom in believing her that she ‘truly didn’t know’ what I was talking about in my accusation of her lying to me. So, why should I have even bothered trying to explain anything to J. in a following reply? She would have ‘heard me out’, then proceeded to relay my answer to Mom, who in all likelihood had a ready-made refutation of my accusation, and J. would have believed her.

Knowing what I do about triangulation, I can even visualize how Mom communicated her ‘version’ of what happened: she cried a deluge of sympathy tears to J., who probably played the role of consoling ‘parent’ to Mom; she sobbed copiously about how she ‘only want[ed] to see [me]’, that as my mother, she so ‘deeply loved’ me and missed me, and how I ‘always hurt her and hurt her’, a pure projection of her always having hurt me, including this recent triangulating tactic, all to vilify me to the family.

Here is what her real reaction to my email was, in all probability: she flew into a rage, saying (or thinking) something to the effect of, ‘That ungrateful little brat!’ (I, a brat in my late 40s.) ‘After all I’ve done for him! I’ll fix him! Everyone in the family’s gonna hate him–I’ll make sure of it!’ Then she practiced sobbing in front of a mirror, so to speak.

On top of all this, her health had been declining; she was 77, after all. Her breast cancer metastasized, and I was contacted around April of 2016. While I was wrong to think this dying of cancer was a lie to manipulate me into visiting (she died the following month), it was a perfectly reasonable suspicion for me to have had at the time, given what had previously happened.

From the family’s perspective, I was being monstrously unfilial; while she lay there in hospital on her deathbed, I was expected to do my part in honouring the great matriarch of the family. R. wanted me to be available to chat with her (her using his cellphone) as often as possible, but after not only her original lies about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, her triangulating against me my whole life, but also with those seven lies the previous summer, which she wouldn’t even admit to, chatting with her was the last thing I wanted to do, whether she was dying or not.

And oh, the way she played the victim card during that one phone call I did concede to have with her! She went on and on about how I’d hurt her, laying the guilt trip on so thick, while not even having the decency to admit to all that she had done to provoke me. When people are trying to be reconciled, it’s generally good policy to be fair and admit one’s own faults as well as complain of those on the other side.

She ended her whole J’accuse by mentioning how she, during my pre-teen years (which she’d also claimed were a time I’d made life especially trying for her…a time when, by the way, she was prating about how ‘my autism’ made her wonder if I’d “ever make a good garbageman”, and that the psychiatrists said one should “lock [me] up in an asylum and throw away the key!”…projection), “gave me the most love”! Reaction formation…I was infuriated to hear those words.

I refused to call her after that. I even left my home phone unplugged, so R. couldn’t contact me and pressure me into talking to her. She soon died. He discovered a YouTube video of me back in 2009, reciting Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ with a bitter scowl. Naturally, he was enraged…though, in my defence, nobody forced him to watch it. In his snarky comment to the video, he claimed I was “a disturbed individual” (no doubt a judgement influenced by our mother’s triangulating, to discredit any opinions I have that might have exposed her for the probable malignant narcissist that she was), and–no doubt influenced by Mom’s “gave [me] the most love” self-congratulation–he said she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet”.

Now, did he mean that she loved me more than she loved anyone else? A totally ridiculous thing to say (umm, more than she loved our Dad?), and one that can be defended only by acknowledging that he was grieving over her, and my rather nasty video enraged him beyond his ability to say anything rational.

Or, did he mean that she loved me more than anyone else has ever loved me? Another absurd generalization: he didn’t consider my wife’s love for me, she who–for all of her reservations and grievances against my faults–has loved me more than everyone in that Canadian family combined!

I suspect he meant the latter; if so, I wish he could understand that his implication that his, F.’s, and J.’s tepid-to-non-existent love for me, as well as a lack of love for me from the rest of the world, isn’t so much a reproach of me, but a reproach against them as a family. As I explained at the beginning of this post, my faults are enough to provoke an understandable level of anger and frustration from them as a family, but they are nowhere near enough to provoke their abusive, contemptuous attitude.

I’m R.’s kid brother: he’s supposed to love me, regardless of how trying I can be for him or anyone. He, as well as F. and J., have their sense of cause and effect all mixed up; it’s not that I get a paucity of love from them because I am do irritating things–I get a paucity of love from them, so I do irritating things.

To return to a discussion of Fairbairn and object relations, when children aren’t given the love and affirmation they need from the real, external world (from their primary objects, their parents and primary caregivers), their Central Ego splits into fantasied, internal objects: a Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration (pleasurable object relations), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (or Internal Saboteur)/Rejecting Object configuration (negative object relations).

In my childhood world, my Central Ego was torn apart by the family’s constant bullying and emotional abuse, causing me to retreat into a world of maladaptive daydreaming, in which I created imaginary Exciting Objects (including characters in sex fantasies) for my broken-off Libidinal Ego; to protect myself from further hurt, my Anti-libidinal Ego made Rejecting Objects of my family and most people I knew in my neighbourhood and at school (for indeed, so many of them were such bullies that they really were Rejecting Objects).

So, the family’s bullying of me caused me to develop a rejecting personality as a way to protect myself. I’m the youngest of all of them, so I didn’t cause them, they caused me. I reacted to them, causing them to react to me, too, but they–as the older ones–were the first cause.

I wasn’t the worst-behaved of our parents’ kids: I was actually the best-behaved. R. dropped out of school and left home as a teen; F. crashed a T-bird into a telephone pole when he was a young adult; J. got caught shoplifting when she was a pre-teen (I believe F. influenced her in that direction); F. and J. smoked pot and drank beer during parties when our parents were away on vacation; J. (about 19) got caught in bed with her boyfriend when our parents suddenly came home one night; I, on the other hand, slammed doors, ate up all the cereal, and accidentally hurt our dog once or twice. Perspective.

The only time I did anything significantly bad–from the family’s perspective–was when I was so cold to Mom during the 2010s; but as I’ve explained so many times before, she provoked it. R., F., and J. know nothing of our mother’s provocations, because, through triangulation, she made sure my siblings never knew my side of the story.

I’m sure their willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance will ensure that they never learn my side of the story, let alone validate it. If they ever find this blog and read it, their trolling comments below will prove, ironically, just how right I am about their attitude.

Further Reading: WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Analysis of ‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot is a vampire horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1975. It’s his second novel, as well as his personal favourite of all of those he’s written. There have been two made-for-TV adaptations: the 1979 one starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Bonnie Bedelia; and the 2004 adaptation starring Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, and James Cromwell. While the first adaptation took many liberties with King’s novel, he felt no animus against it, unlike his reaction to Stanley Kubrick‘s version of The Shining.

Here are a few quotes:

“…the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.”        –Chapter 2, 4 (page 44)

“The town knew about darkness.

“It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 321)

“These are the town’s secrets, and some will later be known and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face.

“The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 327)

In the Prologue, part 3, we come upon a newspaper article, ‘GHOST TOWN IN MAINE?’, referring to two ghost towns: Jerusalem’s Lot and Momson (page 8; also, pages 594-5). Some kind of evil has emptied both towns of their residents. By the end of the story, Ben Mears has started a brush fire as the only way to rid ‘salem’s Lot of its vampires. A fire to rid a city of its evil; two cities laid in desolation by some horrible evil; ‘Salem and Momson seem redolent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Indeed, ‘salem’s Lot sounds like a pun on ‘Sodom’s Lot’. Is Ben Mears the ‘Lot’ of Jerusalem’s Lot? A fiery destruction is certainly ‘salem’s lot (i.e., fate). What’s more, ‘Salem sounds like fairly nearby Salem, Massachusetts, where the infamous witch trials took place.

Jerusalem is a most holy city (the fighting and controversy over it notwithstanding), as opposed to most unholy Sodom. ‘Salem’s Lot comes off as a quaint, wholesome town…on the surface. The Marsten House (a pun on monster, and almost an anagram, phonetically) is a magnet for evil, having been the home of a murder/suicide before housing master vampire Kurt Barlow and his human assistant, Richard Straker.

Is the contraction, ‘salem, removing Jeru (a pun on Jesu?), meant to indicate a removal of the outer veneer of goodness, leaving only evil? Indeed, the horror of this novel, as with The Exorcist and The Omen, lies in the presence only of evil, and the absence of good.

Jerusalem was originally the name of a pig that escaped the confines of its owner, Charles Belknap Tanner, then ran wild into a forest. Tanner then called the forest (part of his property), ‘Jerusalem’s Lot‘, and warned kids not to go into it, lest they be killed by the wild pig. The town was later named after the forest. The history of the town included a cult that practiced witchcraft and amoral sexuality, including inbreeding. Hence, we can easily see how the town has always been associated with outright bestial evil; hence, in turn, my association of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom.

Before I go further into my comparison of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom, let’s consider the story of Lot in Sodom. He was accommodating two angels, in the guise of men, when all the men of Sodom crowded around Lot’s house, demanding he bring the two men out so they could “know” (yada’) them, i.e., gang rape them (Genesis 19:5).

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah included flagrant inhospitality, overweening pride (Ezekiel 16:49-50), and most controversially, male homosexuality (though it is only male-on-male gang rape that is explicitly dealt with in this story, not that that makes any difference to bigoted Bible fundamentalists, who use this story to justify intolerance of LGBT people).

Lot, demonstrating his duty to be hospitable to the angels, refuses to bring them out for the sexual sport of the Sodomites, who then try to force their way into Lot’s house. The two angels blind the Sodomites and warn Lot to take his family out of the city while the angels destroy the cities with fire and brimstone.

To show the parallels between the Bible story and ‘Salem’s Lot, I must start by pointing out how eroticism is all over the place in vampire fictionCarmilla and Dracula are two well-known early examples of this. Those phallic fangs’ biting into flesh and sucking out blood powerfully suggests sexual predation, and many, if not most of the significant vampire attacks (including attempts) in this novel are male on male, symbolic of male homosexual rape.

Remember that no victim of a vampire bite consents to it, and I’m not at all agreeing with the Bible-beating bigots’ notion that consensual gay sex between adults is a sin (I don’t even believe in God). I’m not trying to moralize about gay male sex, but rather my concern is with the novel’s vampirism as symbolic typically of (attempted or successful) male-on-male sexual assault, which is every bit as indefensible as male-on-female rape, or any other kind of rape.

I’m just seeing an interesting parallel between the Sodomites wanting to get into Lot’s house to rape the angels, on the one hand, and the vampire Danny Glick biting Mike Ryerson, Randy McDougall (page 327), and Jack Griffen, and wanting to get Mark Petrie to open his bedroom window, so he can enter Mark’s room and bite him (pages 367-371). Petrie, of course, scares Danny away with a crucifix, just as the angels thwarted the Sodomites’ plan to push their way past Lot’s doorway and gang-rape them.

In this connection, remember also the Glick boys’ fear of “preeverts” while passing through the woods on the night Ralphie goes missing (pages 119-121). Remember also Hank Peters and Royal Snow wondering about the two new residents of the Marsten House: ‘Hank…looked up toward the Marsten House, which was dark and shuttered tonight. “I don’t like goin’ up there, and I ain’t afraid to say so. If there was ever a haunted house, that’s it. Those guys must be crazy, tryin’ to live there. Probably queer for each other anyway.”…”Like those fag interior decorators,” Royal agreed.’ (page 143)

Now, the homophobia of Hank and Royal aside, whatever Barlow and Straker are doing in the privacy of their own house is no one’s business but theirs; but their vampirism on the males and females of the whole town (a symbolic sexual predation), including such female victims as Marjorie Glick (pages 331-335) and Susan Norton, will be a major worry for Ben Mears. The vampire victim is hypnotized (or at least an attempt is made to hypnotize: pages 316-318) into allowing the vampire to bite him, just as a rape victim may be ‘hypnotized’ by alcohol or drugs into allowing a sexual predator to enjoy him or her.

What is of far greater importance, though, for the sake of my comparison of ‘Salem’s Lot with ‘Sodom’s Lot’, is how the blatant inhospitality in Sodom and Gomorrah was due to the excessive pride and arrogance of the inhabitants of those two sinful cities (i.e., their refusal to help the poor); for the vampirism of ‘Salem’s Lot can be seen as symbolic of narcissism.

Narcissists can be inhospitable in the extreme. Bullies by nature, they try to manipulate and control their victims (like vampires getting their victims to look in their eyes, to hypnotize them), even to the point of controlling their victims’ finances. They lure a victim in with fake, superficial charm (like the suave Barlow and Straker, with their charming furniture shop), then they idealize, devalue, and discard their victims (as Barlow does with Susan Norton after biting her, not caring at all that his ‘bride’ will be staked in the heart by the man who truly loves her…Ben Mears! [The Lot IV, 15, pages 514-520]).

Matt Burke notes several times that Barlow has a big ego (pages 525-527). Narcissists don’t necessarily brag overtly, however: having mastered their craft at manipulating others, they learn to present a False Self of goodness to the world (of the sort that Straker shows everyone [page 249], that he and Barlow are just business associates), while hiding their egotistical True Self, even from themselves (as Barlow must be hidden, sleeping during the day, and coming out only in the shadows at night).

This sleeping in the day, and coming out only at night, suggests that the day represents the conscious mind, while the night represents the unconscious. Heinz Kohut wrote of how narcissists will either repress their grandiose self (push it down into the unconscious) or disavow it (split it away vertically–Kohut, page 185).

Straker can thus represent this False Self: ‘”Mr. Straker?…Well, he’s quite charming,” [Susan] said. “Courtly might be an even better world…”…”Did you like him?” Matt asked, watching her closely… [Susan said] “I’ll give you a woman’s reaction. I did and I didn’t. I was attracted to him in a mildly sexual way, I guess. Older man, very urbane, very charming, very courtly.” […but,] “I think I sensed a certain contempt under the surface. A cynicism. As if he were playing a certain part, and playing it well, but as if he knew he wouldn’t have to pull out all the stops to fool us. A touch of condescension…And there seemed to be something a little bit cruel about him.” (pages 306-308)

Narcissists need narcissistic supply to be regularly provided. The vampires’ hunger for blood represents this craving for narcissistic supply. This supply, which feeds the narcissist’s ego, comes at the expense of the victims, who are drained of self-worth and energy, just like Barlow’s and Danny’s victims. Remember how sick Mike Ryerson feels after his bite at the graveyard (Chapter 7, part 3, pages 252-258).

If a narcissist feels threatened, that is, if his False Self is exposed as such, thus revealing his True Self, he’ll react with narcissistic rage and injury. When Barlow discovers Mark has infiltrated his house and killed Straker, the head vampire vows revenge (pages 510-512). He doesn’t bite Mark’s parents: he kills them by cracking their skulls together before the boy’s eyes (pages 535-539). When a narcissist feels a wound to his ego, his only way to feel better is to inflict pain on others.

Barlow has a special way of disposing of Father Callahan: he makes the priest drink his blood (page 542). By making the priest into a vampire of sorts, having Callahan drink his devilish blood, Barlow projects his evil onto him. Again, narcissists are known to project their vices onto the victims of their abuse. The tainted priest can no longer enter a church (pages 549-550).

Barlow enjoys having humiliated the priest, having stripped him of his ability to be a man of God. Similarly, the Sodomites’ wish to gang rape the angels may have had more to do with the desire to rob them of their holiness than to satisfy homosexual lust; indeed, when (often straight) men rape other men, it’s often to humiliate their victims, rather than just to get off. Narcissists humiliate and abase as just another way to get narcissistic supply.

Examples of narcissistic abuse can be seen on a normal, human level in the everyday lives of the people in ‘salem’s Lot, before they’ve even been attacked by the vampires. Consider Richie Bodden, the school bully, whose proud mother wants everyone to know “what a huge young man her son was” (page 83); then Mark Petrie puts him in his place (pages 86-7).

Then there’s hunchbacked Dud Rogers–the custodian of the Lot’s Town Dump–whose grotesqueness and strength remind me of that “dog”, that “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog”, that “bottled spider”, that “poisonous bunch-back’d toad” (I, iii), the Duke of Gloucester, the hunchbacked Richard III, a man who “cannot prove a lover”, and so is “determined to prove a villain” (I, i, lines 28, 30); in Shakespeare’s play, the duke’s narcissistic ambition drives him to kill his way to the throne.

Dud gets his jollies firing his .22 target pistol at rats (pages 88-92); but when he encounters Barlow, whose “hypnotizin'” eyes are “like dark pits ringed with fire, pits you could fall into and drown in”, the vampire assumes correctly that “The girls laugh at [Dud]…They have no knowing of [Dud’s] manhood…[and] strength.” (page 233) And when Barlow bites him (page 234), Dud is as determined to be a villain as the duke was.

Also, there’s Mabel Werts, the town gossip (page 122)…and narcissists are notorious gossips. Susan Norton’s mother, disapproving of Ben (page 188), has a relationship with her daughter bordering on dysfunction (page 395). As an example of this troubled relationship, Mrs. Norton prefers “That nice boy, Floyd Tibbits” to Ben…and Floyd “put Ben in the hospital” (page 301).

Then there’s Sandy McDougall’s irresponsible treatment of her and Roy’s baby Randy (pages 71-73, 224-227, and 327-330), who ultimately dies, having not only Danny Glick’s vampire bite on his neck, but also Sandy’s bruises. Again, narcissistic mothers are known for putting their own needs before those of their children, and Sandy is the epitome of narcissistic inhospitality, before the vampires have even struck.

Back to Ben. The author has returned to ‘salem’s Lot, his childhood hometown, to “exorcise all his demons” (page 648) by writing about them in a new book. When he was nine, his friends dared him to go inside the Marsten House and take something from it, as initiation into their club, the Bloody Pirates. Inside the house, he saw the hanging corpse of Hubie Marsten, whose eyes opened for the boy (pages 56-58, 221, and 310)!

Young Ben stole a glass snow globe from the house, and has kept it as a memento until the end of the novel (pages 636-7), when, after seeing his own face in it (implying his fear that he, too, embodies the evil of the house), he destroys it, along with burning the manuscript of his book on the Marsten House. The only way to get rid of his trauma is to destroy it.

Another trauma of Ben’s is the death of his wife, Miranda, in a motorcycle accident, one for which, we sense, he blames himself (pages 482-484). Since I consider Ben to be the Lot of (the Sodom that is) ‘salem’s Lot, I find it apposite at this point to remind us of Lot’s own guilt. Lot offered his two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8) to satisfy the lust of the Sodomites (making nonsense of John Boswell‘s claim [1980] that the Sodomites merely wanted “to ‘know‘ [another meaning of yada’] who [the two angels] were”, which in itself would hardly be a heinous sin for the Sodomites to have committed; the point in the Biblical narrative of offering, and rejecting the offer of, the daughters is to emphasize the Sodomites’ taste for male-on-male rape over male-on-female rape).

Though Lot and his family were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back on the burning cities, then turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Lot must have imagined himself to be, on at least some level, guilty of her death (as Mears must have blamed his carelessness on his motorcycle for the death of Miranda), having incurred God’s wrath for the offer of his daughters (as Robert Alter believes: Alter, page 85, note 8).

Lot must have incurred the girls’ wrath, too, since they later shamed him by getting him drunk and having sex with him (Genesis 19:31-38), to impregnate them and bear the ancestors of the despised Moabites (Mo-ab, “from the father”) and the children of Ammon (see also Alter, page 90, note 30-38). Lot’s daughters’ sexual predation is like vampiress Susan’s attempt to bite Mark (Ben’s double: more on that later) at his bedroom window (pages 449-451).

Evil occurs in cycles throughout ‘Salem’s Lot. Ben’s book on the Marsten House is “about the recurrent power of evil” (page 181). First, there was the evil, sexually perverse cult of James Boon back in the 18th century, as well as the myth of the dangerous wild pig, Jerusalem, in his “Lot”, the forest within Tanner’s property. Then there were the Hubie Marsten crimes in the house. Next came Straker, Barlow, and the vampires.

Other cycles include Mears’s traumas: first, his seeing Hubie’s ghost and its opening eyes; then, Mears’s return to the Lot, only to find himself battling vampires. Then, he returns again, with his double, Mark, to burn down the whole town in a brush fire. First, Ben accidentally killed Miranda; then, he’s forced to destroy the vampire version of his next love, Susan.

One of Mark’s traumas is watching Barlow smash together the heads of the boy’s parents, killing them (page 535). Earlier, Mark went into the Marsten House with Susan, only to find himself tied up by Straker (pages 438-440) and, failing to protect her (as Mears failed to protect Miranda by failing to turn a non-fatal corner–page 483: “in some parallel world he and Miranda had taken a left at the corner one block back and were riding into an entirely different future.”), Mark has let her be turned into a vampiress. Mark kills Straker (pages 445-6), Barlow’s presentable double (as Mears, of whom Mark is the innocent double, destroys Barlow), then runs out of the Marsten House (page 448) in a repeat of nine-year-old Ben’s frantic escape from the house twenty-four years earlier.

A fire occurred in 1951 (page 326), spread by the winds to incinerate so much more; then, Ben starts a fire to destroy the Lot at the end of the novel.

There are two pairs of destroying visitors, the younger of each pair either more innocent or more presentable than the older: good Mark and Ben, and evil Straker and Barlow, paralleling doubles of each other. A good casting choice was made in the 1979 adaptation, with Lance Kerwin (Mark) and David Soul (Ben), both actors possessing a conspicuous blond youth, to emphasize how the boy is a cyclical repeat of the man.

Straker, similarly, has an urbane suaveness like Barlow’s in the novel, though you wouldn’t see that in the 1979 adaptation, with James Mason (Straker) contrasted with the Nosferatu version of Barlow. On the other hand, during the scene of Barlow’s confrontation with Mark and Father Callahan, Mason’s Straker speaks for the snarling Nosferatu (instead of Barlow speaking for himself, as he does in the novel), thus showing how the servant (the False Self–see above) is the double of his master (the True Self).

Mears’s guilt feelings, and demons to be exorcized by writing about his childhood trauma, make him wonder if that magnet of evil, the Marsten House, has attracted him in the same way as Barlow (David Soul’s Ben asks this of Lew Ayres‘s Burke in the 1979 adaptation). Is Ben a double of Barlow? In destroying Barlow, is Ben killing the evil in himself (i.e., that exorcizing), or at least trying to?

Victims of narcissistic abuse often ask themselves if they, too, are narcissists. Have they themselves been infected by the disease of their victimizers? When Barlow’s hiding place has been discovered, he has to find a new one: the basement of Eva Miller’s boarding house…where Ben is staying. Rather than equate Barlow thus with Ben, we can see this move as symbolizing Barlow’s introjection into Ben’s psyche, something narcissists do to their victims.

The Marsten House symbolizes the narcissistic psyche, with its evil hidden in the unconscious id of its shadows. The boarding house can be seen as representing Mears’s psyche, the hiding vampires in the basement representing Mears’s repressed, unconscious trauma–Barlow’s introjections into him. Mark’s house is his own psyche. (Lot’s house can be seen as his own psyche, too.) Evil (be it in the form of vampires or Sodomites) infects all of these places by forcing its way in (or at least trying to), traumatizing its victims.

Even when Ben and Mark have gone as far away as “a small California town on the Mexican border” (page 3), they’re still affected by their trauma. They must go back to ‘salem’s Lot, and finish the town off for good. In the end, both ‘salem’s Lot and Momson, like Sodom and Gomorrah, are left in desolation, just as those psychological vampires known as narcissists leave their victims in a state of emotional desolation.

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot, Anchor Books, New York, 1975

Absence Makes the Mind Go Fonder

When King Lear was reunited with Cordelia, having realized the dreadful mistake he’d made of alienating himself from her affections by disowning her, he asked her forgiveness and, finally knowing himself, called himself a “very foolish, fond old man.” (IV, vii, 60) By ‘fond’, Lear meant ‘foolish, stupid, mad’ (Crystal and Crystal, p. 181). That’s how I’m using the word fond in this post.

Narcissists are notorious for having low Emotional Intelligence (i.e., a low EQ). Their lack of empathy for others and their lack of insight into their own personality problems, because their False Self blinds them to their True Self, are examples of this lack of understanding that most people have.

Consider Trump’s disastrous decisions, and how neither he nor any of his supporters acknowledge the folly of their actions. Instead, his ambassador to the UN made a public display of his narcissistic injury in a speech condemning the international community’s condemnation of his team’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The foolishness of narcissists in power can be seen to have its roots in childhood trauma, often from narcissists in the family. I’m convinced that my late mother’s probable narcissism stemmed from the traumatic loss of her father when she was a child, this kind of loss being one that Heinz Kohut observed in his narcissistic patients. “Traumatic deprivations and losses of objects up to and including the oedipal period…, and traumatic disappointments in them, may…interfere seriously with the basic structuralization of the psychic apparatus itself.” (Kohut, page 44)

I believe my siblings experienced traumatic disappointments in our not-so-healthy parents, childhood traumas that led to their helping my mom emotionally abuse me. Her lack of empathy for me (and for them, by extension) led to their lack of empathy for me, and their lack of insight into themselves is similar to her lack of such insight. I will now demonstrate how foolish their collective narcissism has always been, and how it was the main driving force to their having lost me forever.

I’ve already gone over countless times how my brothers R. and F., and my sister J., bullied me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; then after I moved to East Asia, they took a few shots at me here and there when the opportunity arose for them, with my mother conniving at it the whole time. (You see, the only reason they weren’t doing any of this nastiness to me, on the almost daily basis that they had before I’d left Canada, is because I’d left, depriving them of the maximum of opportunities they’d once had, not because of a change in their natures; at best, they merely mellowed with age.) I’ve already explained my mother’s outrages against me (Part VII: Conclusion) over the decades.

Now let’s consider the utter stupidity of what they did.

They did what they did, not, as they’d have everyone believe, because I deserved it (of course I didn’t! Being mad at me for doing bad things needn’t require an abusive reaction, and much of what they did wasn’t even out of anger with me, but done rather for the sheer fun of tormenting me), but because they were getting away with it, all thanks to our mother’s winking at it, and rationalizing it at my expense.

When I’d moved to Taiwan, they never seemed to give much consideration to how easily I could disown the whole family. All I had to do was not buy airplane tickets, and stop communicating with them. All they had to do was give me a strong enough reason to give up on all of them.

I find it safe to assume that the family gave little, if any, thought to what a bad foundation they’d made of their relationship with me by the time I’d left Canada. They never seemed to reflect on how their constant bullying, belittling, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse had not only built up resentment in me, but also ensured I’d feel little, if any, affection for them.

When such a shaky foundation for a relationship is established in a family, and the family member with whom this foundation has been made moves far away, it’s a bad idea to reinforce bad feelings with him in any way if you want to keep alive a bond with him.

So, here’s the question: did my family not care about having a good relationship with me, or were they being just plain stupid?

After a few months of living here in Taiwan (in the fall of 1996), I hadn’t written a letter to Mom, or anyone else in the family. She wrote to me, saying at the beginning of her letter, “You’re going to get it!” (i.e., for having not written to them). She meant this in a jesting tone, but anyone who knows about psychoanalytic interpretations of joking around, as well as my history of being controlled and manipulated by my mother, will know that–at least unconsciously–there was more to her words than mere jocularity.

She didn’t stand in the way at all of my moving to Taiwan (and restricting the victim’s movements is a typical form of emotional abuse); but she understood I’d wanted to stay in Taiwan only until I’d finished using my English-teaching job to pay off my student loan, then I’d return to Canada. She also had the good sense to understand that my student debt was not something I’d want to be saddled with for the rest of my life. So she didn’t fear losing me at the time. The thing is, within a year of living here, I changed my mind and chose to stay here for life.

A year or so later, my sister J. wrote to me, expressing a worry that I’d marry a local girl, and J. would never see me again. Did she not realize that she, who’d eagerly joined in on all the bullying and belittling of me during my youth, provided me with a perfect way to hurt her back with relative impunity? Did she, who rarely empathized with my fears, actually think I’d empathize with hers?

When I was dating my then-girlfriend Judy, and on my first visit to Canada (in 1999), I feared not being able to get back to Taiwan because of a problem with my passport. J. learned of my worries, and of Judy and me missing each other; soon after I’d got back to Taiwan with no problems, J. sent me a letter, having written it in a petulant, almost bullying tone, of how the family ‘missed’ me, and showing no sympathy for how Judy and I had missed each other. J. didn’t like the idea that I missed Judy more than missing the family. (Well, J., you see, there actually is affection between Judy and me, unlike with…)

Now, we had missed each other for only two weeks, as opposed to the family’s ‘missing’ me for three years (though I’d just satisfied their wish to see me again, which had surely cancelled out their ‘missing’ of me, at least for the moment); but Judy and I were in love, and we naturally had such gushing feelings for each other, whereas J. et al were just demonstrating a controlling attitude, as they always have. Judy was as annoyed by J.’s letter as I was.

I’m sure J. has forgotten all about her letter, though I haven’t forgotten it at all.

I mentioned in this post (Part VI: J.’s Dissing of Judy) how J. made it pellucidly clear that she didn’t like the idea of me marrying Judy. What did J. think I was going to do? Call off any plans of marrying the woman I love, out of a fear of displeasing my sister? J. calls her attitude ‘missing’ me, but it’s really about how she and the rest of the family consider me merely an extension of them, rather than an individual in my own right, with my own rights, feelings, and strivings.

But here’s the point that needs to be made: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Of course, the crowning achievement in my family’s stupidity was my mother’s bringing up [<<<the last seven paragraphs of Part I] Asperger syndrome (AS), claiming, without any psychiatric authority whatsoever, that I have the disorder. Did she think I was going to thank her for talking about that?

My resistance to her nonsense was gentle and tactful at first [<<<Part VI of the link], but she simply wouldn’t take the hint. If she had just left it alone, my visits to Canada, my sending of birthday and Christmas cards, and my general communication with them (including phoning Mom regularly) would have continued as normally…

…but Mom just had to fuck all of that up.

As I said above: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

As I said earlier in this post, deep down, I never felt any strong affection for those five people I shared a home with during my youth (they, of course, would blame me for my lack of affection, rather than take responsibility for alienating my affections during my crucial, identity-forming adolescence); this means that, whenever I contemplated the future deaths of my parents, I dreaded the obligation of flying back to Canada to attend their funerals (read this, Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour, to know why I find family funerals traumatizing).

I imagined how difficult it would be to make excuses to avoid attending funerals. The funny thing is, though, Mom was making it increasingly easy for me to avoid the family, with how much she was upsetting me.

Her revival of the whole autism thing (which, had she just kept her dumb mouth shut about it, wouldn’t have led me to deduce that the whole thing had been a lie) was one thing, though: her use of AS to justify rejecting my plan to make a visit in the mid-2000s, to see J. and her terminally-ill husband, was something else, and it was the last straw (Part VII: No Good Intent Goes Unpunished).

I had always made my visits to Canada on the assumption that the family missed me, and therefore would always be glad to see me, every time. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?) With Mom’s rejection of my plan to visit J. and her husband, though, with her claiming that J. and the rest of the family agreed that my not visiting was a good idea, she compromised the whole notion of the family’s ‘missing’ of me. And in so doing, she made my wish to stop visiting all the easier: perhaps I should thank her for that.

By the 2010s, I’d put all the pieces together (‘my autism’, the family’s constant emotional abuse, Mom’s impenitence, and what it all really meant), and realized that not only was Mom’s labelling of me with AS a lie, but so was her original labelling of me with infantile autism! (see Part 3: The Dawn of Realization)

Yet she always acted as if she’d never done anything wrong.

This lack of responsibility goes triple for my siblings, of course.

You see, after I’d complained about Mom’s attitude in emails back in the mid-to-late 2000s, even explicitly warning that I’d stop visiting if Mom and the family continued to show me no respect (i.e., never apologize for rejecting my plan to visit, continue labelling me with AS), instead of the family complying with my demands, J. wrote me a snotty email, demanding that I “let this go” (what “this” was depended greatly on how Mom had portrayed “this” to J., doubtlessly a trivializing of my pain, making Mom seem innocent and me the bad guy), and that I not write back to J., thus silencing my ability to tell my sister my side of the story.

Again, the refrain is worth repeating: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Still, my mother made one of her many feeble attempts at reconciliation with me in an email, and I, in good faith, went along with it, and decided to give the family one last chance. I visited in 2008, getting a chance to see my father one last time before he died (he, in spite of doing virtually nothing to stop Mom and her BS about ‘my autism’, when he believed it no more than I did, was nonetheless the closest I had of anyone in the family [apart from my cousin S., up until he lost his mind…more on that later] to being a friend).

And during my visit, members of my family showed me they were the same people they’d always been, thus showing my Mom’s email promise of them all ‘changing their attitude’ to be as hollow and empty as any profession of love that I’d ever heard from them previously. During a family get-together, R. mocked my speech on two occasions. F.’s son, when asked by his dad if he remembered his uncle, looked me in the face impudently and said, “No!”

This latter incident was one of many that made me assume, with perfect safety (Part 4: Abusing My Cousins), that the family was bad-mouthing me regularly behind my back; for my nephew hardly knows me well enough for me to have given him bad feelings myself; a mere absence in one’s life isn’t by itself enough to justify rudeness. I’m one of his two uncles, not his father: it’s not as if I’d abandoned him when he desperately needed me.

These slights of R. and my nephew were minor, though. My mother’s promise to change her attitude was broken in her continued prating about AS, even after I’d repeatedly told her to shut up about it. She even had the audacity to buy me a book on AS, to drill her gaslighting into my head further, all with that sanctimonious smile on her face!

Over the 2010s, I gave the family the cold shoulder, little by little (unlike them, I can take responsibility for my actions). They felt it, to be sure: no more birthday or Christmas cards, or acknowledgements of them by email, no adding them as Facebook friends (this last one especially worried them); but did they ever admit that they could have provoked my iciness? No, of course not. They just acted as though I alone had the problem. Any reasonable family would have contemplated the possible role they themselves had played in the growing distance between us.

Again, sheer stupidity and insensitivity on their part.

It takes collective narcissism on a colossal scale for them not to remember how mean, spiteful, and contemptuous they had been to me my whole life; how Mom’s perpetuating of her autism lies, her gaslighting, her condescension and victim-blaming were somehow not going to bite her in the ass one day.

They all fancy themselves a ‘good family’. Social groups all over the world kid themselves into thinking they do good for others, when in fact they do the opposite. This applies to religious groups as well as political parties. Trump and his clique of Zionists and evangelicals think that by making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, they’ve promoted…peace? The First World thinks that, by bombing the Arab Third World, they’re ending terrorism instead of perpetuating it. Capitalists think they’re lifting the Third World out of poverty instead of exacerbating it. But, I digress…

That ‘good family’ of mine thinks that bad-mouthing my cousins and me, something Mom inspired in them, is a good idea. She loved sowing division in our family, and she is now considered by the family to be a few rungs below sainthood!

My cousin S., only a few months after I’d told him my frustrations about my family (about seven years ago), began lashing out at me online, accusing me of all kinds of things, all without a shred of proof; not even a plausible motive had been offered by him, for he’d been my best friend here, and someone in whom I’d confided about my family and many other personal things, so why would I ever want to cross him?

He’s had a history of substance abuse (beyond regular drinking and smoking of marijuana and hashish, in his youth he did quite a bit of LSD), and this has probably played a large role in his mental instability (his accusations of me seem to be largely hallucinations); but since his online rants began only a few months after I’d told him of my decision to disown my family, I assume he told my mom about this (with the good intention of re-establishing family harmony); and she, reacting with narcissistic injury, may well have squirted some of her poison in his ears against me (as she had doubtlessly done in the ears of my siblings), thus arousing–or at least aggravating–his paranoia about me.

Whatever she may have said to him, she certainly nurtured the division between S. and me once I’d forwarded to her one of his email rants, a decision I now deeply regret (and that’s a stupid on me…stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) She obviously used this email as gossip fodder, and forwarded it to my sister J., at least, if not to the entire family. Mom did this not to alert the family to a serious mental health issue we needed to combine our efforts against and find a solution to (as I’d hoped, in all foolishness, she would); she did it to malign her nephew’s reputation, as she’d been doing to his brothers for decades.

When I mentioned S.’s problem to J. in an email exchange, she only said she was “dismayed”, having realized she was mistaken that S. was the one “normal” cousin we have. Note how her only concern was his lack of normalcy, not his ill health or unhappiness. His ‘screwiness’ in the head was another blot on the family’s reputation, apparently. Oh, dear…

J. then forgot all about S. and the urgency of his issues, and in her email reply asked about me making a visit. Naturally, I had no wish even to discuss that, preferring to go on at length in my email reply about S. (another one of my “over-the-top” emails, of course, though remember: I’ve never written in such a way to my aunt [Part 5: More Elaborate Lies]!) Since J. never replied to this message, I assume she (under Mom’s influence, probably) thought I was being as crazy as S. in my ramblings.

In any case, it was clear that neither she nor Mom were willing to lift a finger for S. Once again, they–the only two family members who ever showed an interest in my continued participation in the family–chose to alienate me even further from them. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to redeem themselves, at least in part, and they muffed it. Sheer stupidity on their part.

The family had been preaching to me for decades about the importance of setting aside one’s selfish interests for the good of others; they used this preaching to justify their smug sense of ‘superiority’ over me, and to bully and shame me whenever I failed to measure up to their expectations. Now, here we had an opportunity for them to practice what they’d been preaching: help S. They didn’t have to succeed. I didn’t expect my aging mother, or any of them individually, to take on the burden alone.

I did expect them to try, at least. They didn’t even do that.

In fact, my mother was adamant about not helping. When I asked her in an email if anything was being done to help S., she replied, “I haven’t talked to your aunt [about S.] and I will not. Knowing what he said about you in that email rant, I’ll get too upset to talk to her about it.” Funny how my mother never got upset about the awful things R., F., and J. used to say to me, almost daily, during my youth. What a convenient excuse Mom had not to help S.

This just made it all the easier for me to disown the family.

Indeed, I emailed another blunt warning to her about her attitude to S., saying he “isn’t acting the way he is because he’s a ‘bad person’: he’s acting that way because he’s ill, and he needs help. If this family just sits idly by while he continues to blunder about in his mental illness, there’s going to be a big regret…” etc., etc. [emphasis in the original email]

Yes, another of my ‘over-the-top’ emails…to my mother, not to my aunt.

And once again, Mom refused to heed my warnings.

So many opportunities to repent and prevent my disowning of the family, all wasted. So many deliberate choices to alienate me from them, yet they never faced up to what they’d done.

Instead, what was their choice method to warm me up to them? Sending me family photos, for fuck’s sake! As if seeing the faces of the people who’d hurt me so many times would ever kindle any love in my heart! They’ve really deluded themselves into thinking they were nothing but loving to me, all on the basis of a few favours done me here and there, and fulfilling the normal family obligations of feeding, housing, and clothing me; while conveniently forgetting about lying to me about a mental disability I don’t have; bullying and humiliating me, and getting explosively angry with me, usually over relatively minor offences; rejecting my own offers of love; and bad-mouthing me and our cousins behind our backs; and refusing to help the one family member who’d been my friend.

And they think I’m mentally ill? They think I’m the stupid one?

Oh, yes: during my youth, they called me “retarded” and “moron” (Mom, when I was around the ages of 9-12), “asshole!” (R., F., and J., many times during my teens), a “little shit!” (R., when I was about 14), “dip(stick)” and “dork” (R., F., and J., many times over my teen years), and a “wimp” (all of them, during my teens). Many of these names were shouted with a vicious or sneering facial expression that is the opposite of love, all during crucial, identity-forming years in my adolescence.

Mom and my siblings acted the way they did the whole time I’ve been in Taiwan, and instead of even asking what they’d done, or could have done, to make me not want to talk to them anymore, my mother complained in an email of how “hurt and annoyed” she was that I’d “given up on this family”, as if I’d just impulsively decided to turn my back on them for no reason.

To be sure, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too…but the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to have affected the family, because they as a group have done so many stupid things to facilitate my permanent estrangement from them, and they, so full of themselves, don’t even know it, or refuse to admit it to themselves, at least.

Though I can’t say for sure, I’m fairly convinced my late mother was narcissistic on a clinically significant level. She was a sick woman, and her sickness compelled her to do the irrational things she did to me, and to the family. As her flying monkeys, my siblings absorbed some of this narcissism, a group narcissism, and that would explain the irrationality of their actions.

When Erich Fromm wrote about group narcissism in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he was writing essentially about such things as nationalism and fascism, but I believe his ideas can be applied to smaller groups, like narcissistic parents and their golden children, too:

‘When, in group narcissism, the object is not the individual but the group to which he belongs, the individual can be fully aware of it, and express it without any restrictions. The assertion that “my country” (or nation, or religion) is the most wonderful, the most cultured, the most powerful, the most peace-loving, etc., does not sound crazy at all; on the contrary, it sounds like the expression of patriotism, faith, and loyalty. It also appears to be a realistic and rational value judgment because it is shared by many members of the same group. This consensus succeeds in transforming the phantasy into reality, since for most people reality is constituted by general consensus and not based on reason or critical examination.’ [Note also Fromm’s note to this last sentence: “Sometimes this consensus even of a small group suffices to create reality–in the most extreme cases even the consensus of two (folie à deux).”] (Fromm, page 230)

It isn’t reason that inspires my siblings (“the team” that they’d always “score another point for”–Part 4, third paragraph) to see themselves as wiser, stronger, more mature, more loving, and more giving than I am. If R., F., and J. had had a fraction of those virtues, they’d have developed suspicions as to our mother’s motives, and made a decent attempt to rescue their relationship with me (and at least try to help S.). All they had to do was listen to my side of the story with an open mind, and show as much skepticism to Mom’s version of events as they were showing mine. I don’t expect to be believed without any critical thought, but I do expect the same consideration as they were giving their oh, so charismatic leader.

By failing to do these critically important things (and as a group of at least three, their combined efforts would have made things easier for each other), they failed me, they failed S., and they failed as a family. R., F., and S., like our late mother, have been as vain, and as “old and foolish” (IV, vii, 85) as Lear, who lost everything.

Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Picador, New York, 1973

David Crystal and Ben Crystal, Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Penguin Books, London, 2002

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

Analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843. Considered one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, it is about the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who scoffs at Christmas and alienates all those around him in London. Many theatre, TV, and film adaptations have been made of the story over the years, including the much-loved version of 1951 (Scrooge) with Alastair Sim in the title role, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler as the miser, a musical version (Scrooge) with Albert Finney in the title role, and a motion-capture version with Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts.

As with many Dickens stories, A Christmas Carol is a searing indictment of the deleterious effects of 19th-century industrial capitalism in England; however, Dickens presents a sentimental, bourgeois liberal solution to the problem of Scrooge’s miserliness by changing him into a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist, giving generously to the poor, instead of proposing a more radical and lasting solution to class conflict, of the type Marx and Engels would propose by the end of the 1840s.

Here are some famous quotes:

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. –narrator

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

“Merry Christmas! [<<<a wish popularized in this novella] What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” –Scrooge
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“God bless us, everyone!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

The novella is called A Christmas Carol because Dickens conceived of the story as song-like, its five chapters called “Staves”. The staves of a song tend to have a rather cyclical quality, in how the end of one stave leads into the beginning of a new one. This phasing of the old into the new will be a motif in the story.

The story begins with the emphatic declaration of the death of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner. This is significant in how Christmas, traced back to its origins as a pagan holiday based on the December solstice, is all about ‘out with the old, and in with the new’.

The winter solstice happens around December 20-22, and the European pagans believed that, because the Northern hemisphere faces furthest away from the sun at that time of year, the sun-god was dead, soon to be reborn, with the shortest days of the year to be followed by longer and longer ones. Replacing the sun-god with the Son of God, the Church replaced such festivals as Yule, and possibly Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, with Christmas on December 25.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Marley, Scrooge’s double, is gone. Scrooge is about to be reborn, as it were. As miserly as Marley was, Scrooge is too cheap even to paint over his partner’s name on the sign of their office (page 2). When visitors address Scrooge by either his or Marley’s name, Scrooge answers as if no mistake were made in calling him ‘Marley’; hence, the two money-loving businessmen are virtually indistinguishable.

Dickens compares the importance of Marley’s death at the beginning of the story to that of Hamlet’s father at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play: without that death, “nothing wonderful can come of the story” (page 2); the Danish king and prince have the same name, Marley and Scrooge have the same nature; and the death of the one begins the chain [!] of events leading to the delayed, but ultimately achieved, final heroic acts at the end of both stories.

The sun-god must die before he can be reborn, then gradually grow and warm the Northern Hemisphere in the next spring and summer. Life is a cycle of contradictions, the primary and secondary aspects of which change places in the development of all things. “We often speak of ‘the new superseding the old’. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe…In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing.” (Mao, page 158). The contradiction between greed and generosity will also result in a swapping of aspects, as will happen with Scrooge by the end of the story.

Scrooge is “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (page 2). He keeps the coals to himself in his office (page 4), so poor Bob Cratchit, his over-worked, underpaid clerk, has barely a glowing coal or two at the fireplace by his desk. This is on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day of Marley’s death, and when the Northern Hemisphere is facing the farthest away from the sun, the sun-god dead and yet to be reborn.

Part of Scrooge’s meanness is his general misanthropy, reflected in his contempt for his cheerful nephew Fred, who insists on inviting Scrooge to his Christmas party, in spite of knowing his uncle will refuse to attend (pages 5-8). Next, Scrooge refuses to give to two portly charity collectors (pages 9-11), preferring to support the workhouses and other austere government-provided institutions, like the debtor’s prisons, the Poor Law, and the Treadmill.

Such government provisions are the worst kinds that the bourgeois state has to offer, and Scrooge won’t even give to charity, another bourgeois form of pity. The most charity he can muster is to allow Cratchit to have a paid day off on Christmas, and Scrooge does this only with a grudging scowl (page 13).

When Scrooge gets home, a suite of rooms once owned by Marley, he encounters the ghost of his old partner (pages 15, 19-27). This ghost could be said to be a parody of the risen Christ, for Scrooge is like a doubting Thomas believing he is hallucinating at the sight of Marley’s ghost from having eaten bad food. Only the ghastly sight of screaming Marley’s broken jaw, falling to his chest after his having removed a bandage wrapped around his head, frightens Scrooge into believing in Marley; this is like Thomas seeing  the stigmata and spear-wound in the side of the risen Christ before finally believing. Marley, like Christ, has harrowed Hell, and suffers from it.

Marley’s ghost is also like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who has suffered in Purgatory, a temporary Hell: both ghosts tell the respective protagonists of the difficult but necessary things they must do to redeem themselves and their world. Scrooge, like Hamlet, is rich, and therefore, powerful; he’s also a reluctant hero, like the Dane, with a long list of personality flaws, yet with much potential for good.

Marley tells Scrooge of the three ghosts that will visit him, three ghosts that will effect the redeeming transformation in him–beginning, middle, and end, a kind of Trinity, or Trimurti, in themselves (more on that later). Then the ghost goes to a window, Scrooge following (pages 27-28). They both watch the pitiful spectacle of a homeless mother holding her baby, trying her best to keep it warm. Ghosts of men like Marley are out there, too, trying in vain to redeem themselves for their lifetimes of avarice.  One of them, one Scrooge is familiar with, cries at being unable to assist the woman and her child. “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.” (page 28)

That is the end of Stave One. Stave Two begins with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a paradoxical-looking character, both young and old-looking at the same time (page 32). A bright light glows about his head, yet he has a large candle extinguisher for a cap. As a ghost of the past, he represents the old brought back new again; his is a light that has been snuffed out before, and will be snuffed out again. The old must die for the new to be born. This ghost, showing the creation and growth of the miser in Scrooge, is Brahma just after the leaving of Śiva.

As the ghost shows Scrooge the shadows of his Christmases as a boy and a young man, we see how Scrooge came to be the miser that he is. His father seems to have been cold and unloving to him, so he’s been a lonely schoolboy; and only on the Christmas of the first shown memory has his father finally warmed up to him, to have him come home (page 41). It is plain to see that a negative father imago has already been built up in young Ebenezer’s psyche, with his little sister, Fan, as his only good object relation for the time, to compensate for the psychological damage his father has done to him. Still, she will die after bearing Fred, and Scrooge will repeat the same cold relationship with his nephew as his father had with him. This harsh relationship is more fully developed in the 1951 movie.

Scrooge prefers wealth and gain over “dowerless” Belle, his girlfriend from a poor family; though he’s never said it to her, his preference is too obvious to her to ignore, so she chooses to “release” him, knowing a “golden…idol has displaced” her (pages 50-51). This preference, of the pleasure of owning money, over people is an example of failed object relations (i.e., ‘object‘ = a person other than oneself), as Fairbairn once observed: “…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 we fail to get the love we truly need and crave, we replace it with the shoddy substitutes of money, drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, etc. Scrooge’s rage and regret over discovering Belle’s marriage to another man, as well as their large litter of children, a rage expressed in his snuffing out of the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, underscores the reality that, deep down, it’s love and relationships, not money, that Scrooge has longed for so badly.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, “a jolly giant” in a green robe with a holly wreath around his head, is seen by Scrooge in a room full of “turkeys, geese, game, poultry,…sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings”, chestnuts, apples, oranges, pears, etc. (page 59). All of this plenty, food that preserves and maintains life, represents the living reality of now; as the previous Christmas ghost was Brahma, this one is Vishnu. He shows Scrooge the lives of ordinary, working class people, including a miners’ cottage (pages 78-79), sailors during a storm at sea (pages 79-80), and, of course, the Cratchit family (pages 67-77). Scrooge is touched to see the love in this family.

He is especially moved by Tiny Tim, a sweet boy one couldn’t dislike if one tried, one who is a sick cripple. When his parents show their fear of him dying, Scrooge feels an emotion he surely hasn’t felt in years: compassion. All those US politicians who refuse to allow single-payer healthcare could do well to see the millions of faces of the sick proletariat who can’t afford the healthcare they need, all those Tiny Tims who are being ignored.

At the end of Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Present, two filthy, emaciated children are discovered to be hiding under his robe, sitting at the ghost’s feet. The boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want: Scrooge is warned to beware of both, but especially to beware the boy.

How many of us fetishists of commodities fail to beware the boy? We eagerly buy the latest smartphones, electric cars, etc., ignorant of how the cobalt needed to make them is found; this cobalt has been mined by children “in the bowels of the earth” in the DRC. The corporations that exploit this labour either claim ignorance of how they get their cobalt, or claim they’re taking measures to solve the problem: should we be buying their claims of innocence?

Dickens was decrying the evils of 19th century industrial capitalism in England, and how these evils were causing suffering among the British working class, especially children. The contemporary equivalent of this problem is capitalist imperialism, which is exploiting the global proletariat, the millions of people who live in Third World countries like the DRC.

Dickens’s proposed solution in this novella was to have ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalists. This might be acceptable, to some extent at least, in First World countries; but it solves nothing for the Third World, where suffering was plenty acute even when Keynesian capitalism, coupled with better social welfare programs, was ‘kinder and gentler’ for the white Western world from 1945-1973.

The Ghost of Christmas Present actually ages and ‘dies’ at the end of the day (pages 89-91). This is appropriate, given he represents the living now of the current Christmas, a preserving Vishnu. The end of the current Christmas means the end of his existence.

Immediately after his demise appears his successor, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a mute spirit shrouded in deathly black who communicates only with hand gestures. As the previous ghost was of the living present (Vishnu), the final ghost is of a future of death and destruction…Śiva. Indeed, death looms throughout the shadows presented to an increasingly terrified Scrooge.

In the first of these shadows, some businessmen are seen discussing a recently deceased, rich old man (pages 94-96). None of them shows any sadness over his death. Typical capitalists: they have no more pity over the falling of a rival member of the ruling class than they would over the deaths among the proletariat. The more and more repentant miser clings, with an ever-loosening grip, to the hope that this spoken-of dead old man, one whose death is–if anything–celebrated rather than mourned, isn’t himself.

Another microcosm of capitalism is shown in Old Joe, a fence who profits off of stolen items, in this case stolen from the despised old man (pages 98-103). The capitalist meets his karma among the cackling leeches who get money from Joe for such items as stolen bed curtains and blankets.

In contrast to the apathy felt toward the dead old man, Tiny Tim’s death is profoundly mourned by the Cratchits (pages 107-112). Scrooge has no family to grieve over him: Fred and his wife are missing among the shadows shown to Scrooge; has the miser done something to end the patience of his long-suffering nephew?

Finally, Scrooge sees his austere-looking gravestone in an uncaring graveyard at night: his corpse lies there as lonely as the boy in that classroom in the first of the shadows the Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge. Fan’s spirit won’t come to comfort him now. Terrified into repentance, he promises to change his ways, and as we know, he grows into a generous man, buying a huge turkey for the Cratchit family, promising a large donation (including “back-payments”–page 121) to one of the charity-seeking portly gentlemen from the beginning of the story, and finally appreciating family and relationships by attending Fred’s party (pages 122-123).

After raising Bob Cratchit’s salary (page 124), Tiny Tim is given the medical help he needs, and Scrooge is now known to be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (page 125) Kinder, gentler capitalists: this, apparently, is Dickens’s proposed solution to the socio-economic ills of “the good old world”.

In the parlance of our time–peak liberalism.

One wonders if the ‘generosity’ of the Bill Gates Foundation, or the Clinton Foundation, or anything Trump or Jeff Bezos are doing, is in any way helping the millions of people who die of vaccine-preventable disease or malnutrition each year, in a world where we’ve been producing more than enough food to feed the whole planet. Lots of money is spent on the military, to kill people, but not so much to help people.

Then again, Christmas is just a celebration of the birth of Christ, as opposed to his salvific  death. The day of the birth of Sol Invictus is only the beginning of the light, the birth of the coming warmer days. That Christmas Day of the redeemed, ‘reborn’ Scrooge is just the beginning of his new goodness, the ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist who, it is to be hoped, will inspire others in power to help the poor.

‘Kinder, gentler’ capitalists of this sort are far from enough, though, if social justice is something we are truly committed to. Eisenhower’s administration demanded higher taxes from the rich, but the US imperialism of the time also helped with the ouster of Mohammad Mosaddegh; then there was the coup d’état in Guatemala. LBJ wanted to build the Great Society, but early in his administration, the Gulf of Tonkin incident fraudulently involved the US in the Vietnam War, which would lead to bad feeling against him. “We [were] all Keynesians” under Nixon, whose administration used the CIA to replace Salvador Allende with Pinochet, and bombed the Hell out of Cambodia.

More will be needed to help the global poor than Keynesian capitalism with a strong welfare state (of the post-WWII sort inspired by the USSR and other socialist states of the 20th century), of the sort that existed from 1945-1973, and which helped only the First World proletariat. The Tiny Tims, and Ignorance and Want wretches, of today won’t be saved by the generous Scrooge of social democracy: perhaps a spectre (like the one that once haunted Europe) or two, or three or four–ghosts from the past to inspire new ones in the present and future–will replace all the Scrooges and Marleys, be they stingy or redeemed, with workers’ co-ops of Cratchits; maybe those spectres will bring that newborn baby of a sun of winter to a bright, warm sun of spring and summer, from the baby Christ of December to the Saviour in April.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Puffin Books, New York, 1843

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Lexington, KY, 2014

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Analysis of ‘Carrie’

Carrie is a horror novel written by Stephen King, his first published novel, which came out in 1974. The title character is a troubled teen, bullied by her high school classmates and abused by her Christian fundamentalist mother. She also has telekinetic powers (TK), strong enough to kill anyone who hurts her, as the people of her town, fictional Chamberlain, in Maine, learn.

A superb movie version was made in 1976, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in the title role, and Piper Laurie as the mother (both actresses receiving Oscar nominations); it co-starred  John Travolta as Billy Nolan, Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, and Amy Irving as Sue Snell. Other film versions were made, though they weren’t as successful.

The dominant themes of the novel are bullying and abuse, the illusion of omnipotence, failed communication, and the motif of blood. Apart from these, I’ll be doing a psychoanalytic reading of the novel’s symbolism.

Much of the narrative is given in epistolary form, with passages from newspaper or magazine articles, books about the Carrie White affair (The Shadow Exploded, My Name Is Susan Snell), transcripts of an inquiry (The White Commission Report) into the tragedy, etc. This breaking up of the narrative flow into fragments, telling the story from different angles, symbolically suggests failed communication, with its starts and stops. This failed communication is much of the root cause of the bullying and abuse that Carrie suffers.

Like most victims of school bullying, Carrie is different from her classmates. This difference comes from how she’s raised by her mother, Margaret White (white as the Christian innocence she tries–and fails–to preserve), whose religious fundamentalism won’t allow her to expose her daughter to the ‘sinful’ ways of the modern world. This failure to communicate needed information leaves Carrie in a state of arrested development, infantilizing her. Psychologically, Carrie White (white as a baby’s innocence) is a baby going to school with teenagers.

This infantilizing is made clear when her mother fails to tell her about menstruation, her first period being her rite of passage, as it were, into womanhood. So when she’s bleeding in the shower during gym class, what should be a simple matter of using a tampon ends up a terrifying moment for her: all that blood makes her think she’s going to die.

Adding to her trauma are all her bullying classmates, who start laughing at her and throwing tampons at her, chanting, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” Since, as noted above, she is psychologically a baby among teenagers here, instead of this being a passage from girlhood to womanhood, she’s held back by one phase of life, passing from unborn to born, from unknowing innocence to the terrors of the real world, like a newborn baby. Thus, this naked, terrified ‘baby’, dripping wet and bawling her eyes out, is symbolically experiencing a birth trauma, or at least the triggered reliving of it.

Blood as a motif symbolizing death runs throughout the novel. The flow of blood signifies movement from ignorance to knowledge. Carrie finally learns about menstruation, and she is angry with her mother for not telling her about it; but her mother (pages 62-66) equates the blood with sin (e.g., the Tree of Knowledge, of which eating the forbidden fruit, symbolic of sexual indulgence, leads to death).

“…the first Sin was Intercourse. And the Lord visited Eve with a Curse, and the Curse was the Curse of Blood. And Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and into the World…” (page 63) Out of the Garden of Eden and into the world of sin parallels Carrie’s bloody movement out of the world of innocence into knowledge, out of a peaceful, psychological in utero state and into birth, into the physical, painful world, a world of blood. “And then there was a second Curse, and this was the Curse of Childbearing, and Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” (pages 63-64) Again, we have an association of blood with newborn babies, curses, pain, suffering, and death (Cain, the first murderer).

Later, the pigs’ blood, first being the result of the pigs’ deaths, of course, later becomes the cause of so many deaths not only in the high school, but all over Chamberlain, too. And with the splashing of that blood all over her comes the realization that her enemies are still enemies. The outflowing of her menstrual blood is her projected destructive instincts; the pigs’ blood poured on her is that death instinct re-introjected.

With the flowing of her blood from her mother’s stab (page 250) comes her knowledge that her filicidal mother is no less an enemy than her school bullies. Margaret is all the ‘bad motherobject; not even the slightest trace of the ‘good mother’ object exists in her. After Carrie finally dies in the presence of Sue Snell, one of the few people who tried to be a friend to Carrie, Sue leaves in a state of abject horror, in a knowledge of that horror and death, with her own menstrual blood running down her leg (page 277).

In the contemporary world, with all of our advanced science, technology, and modern knowledge, being raised in a fundamentalist family is a terrible handicap. So much ignorance of today’s world abounds in such a setting; it’s like being a naïve child among a crowd of adults. This is what I mean when I call Carrie a psychological baby among teenagers. Thus, I feel justified in using her story as an allegory for the pathological infant’s psychological state.

When we see a baby, we usually think of an adorable child smiling up at us. We don’t think of the terror that a vulnerable child feels so very often, weeping its frustrations at not getting what it needs. Normally, a good enough parent (to use D.W. Winnicott‘s terminology) provides for all of the baby’s needs well enough in the beginning that the baby is given the illusion that it magically provides for itself: the breast magically appears as soon as the baby wants it.

“The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were, under magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is nearly a fact of experience. The mother’s eventual task is gradually to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion.” (Winnicott, page 238, his emphasis)

With Margaret’s calling Carrie’s breasts her “dirtypillows” (page 142), thus showing that she considers the breast to be only a ‘bad breast’, it can be safely assumed that she hardly, if ever, breast-fed Carrie when she was a baby. It’s not just the milk that the baby enjoys; the texture of the nipple provides pleasure, too, so bottles aren’t always a good substitute. Thus, Margaret is what Melanie Klein called the bad mother, whose frustrating bad breast rarely if ever gave suck to baby Carrie. This willful refusal to provide her baby with a basic need shows a child neglect that would soon grow into full-blown child abuse.

This failure to provide a good enough environment can lead to pathologies in the infant, as Winnicott noted. Margaret, with her prudish attitude towards sex and the body, would have been loath to hold her child or give her any physical affection. This is more emotional neglect, aggravating Carrie’s mental pathology. Carrie’s whole problem is a lack of love, which needs to be grounded in the body.

A healthy infancy involves a child’s peaceful “going on being,” without impingements frustrating that natural, peaceful, passive continuity in life. Not only isn’t she receiving a loving, holding environment, people frequently cut into her private space, bothering her, abusing her, and bullying her. If it isn’t her classmates throwing tampons at her, it’s her mother locking her in a small closet with frightening religious icons so she can pray for forgiveness (pages 65-67), when surely she is one more sinn’d against than sinning.

A baby in such an uncaring, hostile environment goes through terrible persecutory anxiety, the paranoid-schizoid position, as Carrie is going through. When asked out to the prom by Tommy Ross, she can only assume that it’s another trick from her bullying classmates to set her up for humiliation. The impingements she regularly suffers make her want to isolate herself from the world, as Winnicott said a child would want to do: an overly-aggressive environment makes for “…faulty adaptation to the child, resulting in impingement of the environment so that the individual must become a reactor to that impingement. The sense of self is lost in this situation and is only regained by a return to isolation.” (Winnicott, page 222)

“The persecutors in the new phenomenon, the outside, become neutralized in ordinary healthy development by the fact of the mother’s loving care, which physically (as in holding) and psychologically (as in understanding or empathy, enabling sensitive adaptation), makes the individual’s primary isolation a fact. Environmental failure just here starts the individual off with a paranoid potential…In defence against the terrible anxieties of the paranoid state in very early life there is not infrequently organized a state which has been given various names (defensive pathological introversion, etc.) The infant lives permanently in his or her own inner world which is not, however, firmly organized.” (Winnicott, pages 226-227) Recall Carrie’s words to Sue as she’s dying: “(why didn’t you just leave me alone)” (page 275).

Defenceless and without the infantile illusion of omnipotence that a good enough mother provides in normal circumstances, Carrie is forced to retreat into phantasy to provide herself with that omnipotence, which is symbolized by her telekinesis. “…a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky…principally on the home of Mrs. Margaret White, damaging the roof extensively…Mrs. White, a widow, lives with her three-year-old daughter, Carietta.” (page 3) Her ability to move things with her mind is symbolic of the baby magically making the breast appear at feeding time, when Margaret probably never did it herself. This frustrating bad mother provokes wishes for revenge in Carrie’s phantasy life, represented by her TK.

People who are abused or bullied are essentially infantilized, treated as if weak and helpless, but never given compassion: their feelings and opinions are trivialized and invalidated. Carrie’s mother shows no interest in the pain Carrie feels from having been laughed at for not knowing about menstruation, nor does Margaret care that Carrie is mad at her for not telling her about it.

Carrie’s feelings are cared for so little that even when people do care, she thinks they don’t, as when the assistant principal, Mr. Morton, tries to speak kindly to her, but keeps getting her name wrong (pages 18-19). This is also why she indiscriminately kills people all over Chamberlain instead of just killing Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, the ones responsible for the prank with the pigs’ blood.

A few people want to show genuine kindness to Carrie, though it’s a case of too little, too late: Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher (Miss Collins in the 1976 movie, played by Betty Buckley, who also played Margaret White in the Broadway musical version of 1988), Sue Snell, and Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling remorseful over having participated in the “plug it up” teasing, wants her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, to get her to mix with people and build her self-confidence (pages 95-98).

This getting insular Carrie to socialize is symbolically like a baby experiencing the transitional phase between the illusory state of omnipotence (able to summon Mother at will) and reality-testing, where the baby progressively learns to accept that Mother isn’t always there for it, and environmental impingements are at a tolerable level. During this transitional period, the baby has a transitional object (a stuffed animal, a blanket, or, by extension into adult life, creative or imaginative stimuli like the arts or religion). As Winnicott states, “The transitional object stands for the breast, or the object of the first relationship.” (Winnicott, page 236)

For Carrie, the dress she makes for the prom can be seen to represent this transitional object (recall how, when her mother sees her wearing it, she can see her breasts, i.e., note the association of the dress, the transitional object, with breasts). She bought the materials (page 107) and made the dress (a soft material, like that of a security blanket), similar to how the arts and creativity are like an extension of the transitional object into later life. This making of the dress represents aspects of the task of reality-acceptance, away from the illusion of infantile omnipotence: “It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.).” (Winnicott, page 240)

By wearing the dress when Tommy takes her to the prom, she symbolically demonstrates the transitional phenomena of going from “me,” the isolated world of dependence on Mother when the baby sees Mother as an extension of itself, to a “not-me” understanding, based on a growing independence from Mother. Carrie’s leaving home with Tommy, in open defiance of her mother, symbolizes this separation of “me” from “not-me”. “It is usual to refer to ‘reality-testing’, and to make a clear distinction between apperception and perception. I am here staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby’s inability and growing ability to recognize and accept reality. I am therefore studying the substance of illusion, that which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion.” (Winnicott, page 230, his emphasis)

At the prom, she has a brief moment of happiness, finally feeling accepted by the external world. She has even forgotten her telekinesis, since she doesn’t seem to need it (i.e., she’s letting go of her need of the infantile illusion of omnipotence). But Chris’s cruel prank (ruining her dress, her transitional object, and thus rendering impossible her transition from inner fantasy to outer reality) reminds her of her ever-present persecutors, and like a baby suffering in the paranoid-schizoid position and fighting back against a frustrating outer world in phantasy, so does Carrie get her revenge. “She was forgetting (!! THE POWER !!) It was time to teach them a lesson.” (page 220)

Having been subjected to bullying and emotional abuse myself from family and school, I find myself cheering Carrie on whenever I watch the 1976 movie and she’s using her TK to trap and kill everyone in the high school gym. “Flex.” (page 222)

But her TK doesn’t give her the omnipotence against the danger of her knife-wielding mother, who won’t “suffer a witch to live” (page 175). Nor will Margaret’s fundamentalist faith give her an omnipotent God to save her from Carrie (who kills her in the novel by slowing down and stopping her heartbeat; in the 1976 film, Carrie kills her by making knives fly in the air and stab her to death in a manner similar to the death of St. Sebastian).

Chris imagines her lawyer father can help her get revenge on the school for not firing Desjardin for hitting her (pages 77-84); and she’s bitterly disappointed to know he can’t. This spoiled girl doesn’t have the omnipotence she thinks she has. She never considers how her meanness has consequences. Even after Carrie has already destroyed much of Chamberlain, killed many of the people there, and given everyone the uncanny sense, psychically, that she was responsible for all the mayhem, Chris and Billy imagine they can kill her by hitting her with his car (pages 260-262). Instead, she kills them.

One indication of Carrie’s infantile mental state is her calling her mother, ‘Momma’, one of the first sounds a baby makes in its baby talk; hence the reason that some variation on ‘mama‘ is common in languages around the world for the first object relation most of us form in early life.

Many paradoxes can be seen in this novel (“…she was weeping even as she laughed…” page 226). Blood is associated with death and birth (remember Margaret’s words: “Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” page 64; also, “I fell down and I lost the baby and that was God’s judgment. I felt that the sin had been expiated. By blood. But sin never dies. Sin…never…dies.” page 247). There are failures to communicate, then there’s Carrie’s uncanny ability to make everyone in town know, psychically, that she’s responsible for the destruction of Chamberlain (pages 213, 229-30, 232-33, 235, 241, 244, and 256).

Also paradoxical about this story is how people seem powerful, but are really powerless, and this applies especially to Carrie. With all of her formidable powers of telekinesis, and all the death and destruction she causes just by thinking it, she is still, in her mind, just a baby: sensitive, vulnerable, fragile, and helpless. One stab to her shoulder kills her. “Able to start fires, pull down electric cables, able to kill almost by thought alone; lying here unable to turn herself over.” (page 272)

Similarly, her bullies think they’re immune to punishment when they’re throwing tampons at her, then find themselves in detention, doing exercises with Desjardin in gym class (page 74). Chris and Billy don’t think anything will happen to them after they drop the pigs’ blood on Carrie. And Margaret assumes she’ll go straight to heaven after death, even when she stabs her own daughter.

So often, we think about our own vulnerability so much that we forget about that of our enemies; and so often, this is the basis for our hurting each other, without end.

At the beginning of the story, Carrie fears bleeding to death when she needn’t; at the end, after she’s reached the height of her destructive powers, she bleeds to death for real. As she’s dying, she whines, like a baby, “(momma would be alive i killed my momma i want her o it hurts my chest hurts my shoulder o o o i want my momma…o momma i’m scared momma MOMMA)” (page 275). She is going through the depressive position, wishing to have reparation with her mother, despairing at her loss.

Though Sue wants to show Carrie love, it’s too late: psychological baby Carrie has lived her whole short life unloved, and is hated all the more after death “CARRIE WHITE IS BURNING FOR HER SINS JESUS NEVER FAILS” (page 287).

Could anything be more horrifying than wishing death and eternal suffering on a baby, a baby that was never even truly loved in the first place?

“Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:

Carrie White eats shit.” (page 4)

Stephen King, Carrie, Anchor Books, New York, 1974

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

Review and Analysis of ‘Mayan Blue’

Mayan Blue is a horror novel written by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, also known as the ‘Sisters of Slaughter’. As the novel’s title implies, it involves grisly rites of human sacrifice, as well as the darker aspects of Mayan myth, featuring the underworld, Xibalba, the Place of Fear, which is ruled by Ah-Puch, the Lord of Death.

Professor Lipton has discovered proof of his theory that a group of Mayans migrated from what is now Mexico to a forest in Georgia. To provide proof of his findings, he has removed a disc there, a seal preventing the demons of Xibalba from emerging in the land of the living and finding more victims. His removal of the seal has made him the first modern victim, of course.

Before this, however, he has informed his young assistant, Wes, and four university students–Alissa, Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly–of his findings. They all come into the forest in Georgia to meet with him by the entrance to the Mayan world. But instead of meeting with him, they encounter a living nightmare.

This debut novel has been met with near-universal praise, and for good reason. It is not only an exhilarating read, a story that draws you in and keeps your attention to the end, but it is also well-written in terms of prose style. There is a poetic musicality to the assonant narration, full of vivid, figurative description.

Technical errors and typos are so rare as to be easily overlooked. This is a novel that is begging for a movie adaptation. Indeed, provided that such a production will have a talented director and actors, as well as a budget that will do justice to the special effects (preferably a maximum of practical effects and a minimum of CGI), and above all, of course, a well-written script (ideally, written by the Sisters of Slaughter themselves!), such an adaptation should make for a powerful film experience.


I’m going to do a largely psychoanalytic reading of this novel; now, the Sisters of Slaughter, in all likelihood, think of their novel as meant just for entertainment (and entertaining it most assuredly is!), and therefore probably don’t think it necessary to intellectualize their work (something I get a kick out of). Nonetheless, the point of psychoanalysis, which I dabble in, is to find meaning in the story that I suspect the writers put into their story unconsciously.

Let’s start with the title: Mayan Blue. Why blue? If you recall Mel Gibson’s movie, Apocalypto, you’ll remember that the Mayans’ sacrificial victims were covered in a blue dye before being killed, as the victims are so coloured in this novel (page 71). I see a deeper symbolism in the colour blue, though.

Blue can represent all kinds of things to people, depending on their situation: blue skies suggest happy days; blue can suggest icy coldness; blue can also mean sadness, the extreme of which leads to despair and even suicide. Now we’re getting closer to the meaning of blue in this novel, with all the killing and death in it. (Ixtab, the Goddess of Suicide, is referred to on page 74.)

Connected with sadness, despair, and suicide is the deadly sin of sloth. There is more to sloth than mere laziness. Sloth involves a loss of meaning or direction in life, related to sadness and despair. It’s been said that many people are addicted to porn because they’re unhappy. They over-indulge in physical pleasure because they lack meaning in their lives, or more crucially, lack strong human relationships. These porn addicts are more guilty of sloth than of lust. Remember the man in Se7en who, having lost his Christian faith, was labelled with the sin of sloth? The killer didn’t complain of him being too lazy: he called him a “drug-dealing pederast”.

Consider these ideas in light of Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly in Mayan Blue. All they want to do is smoke marijuana, get drunk (pages 22-24), party, and have sex (pages 44-46). They have no deep interest in the professor’s discovery, as Wes and Alissa do in contrast. And these three partiers are killed off first, despairing as they crawl toward death.

These five young people, as well as the professor, are from the university world, from city life, civilization, suggestive of the conscious mind, with its censors against bad behaviour and thoughts. The underworld caverns, tunnels, and shadows of Xibalba, the Place of Fear, with its demons and their bloodlust, symbolize the unconscious, the turbulent, non-rational world of not only libido, but also of Thanatos, the death instinct. The surrounding forest, a potentially dangerous place also untouched by civilization, suggests the preconscious mind, where unconscious thoughts may surface, as the attacking owls do (pages 78-79).

Normally, the mind houses a fairly even combination of internalized good and bad object relations (based on our relationships with our primary caregivers, especially Mother), the good and bad aspects being reasonably integrated to give a person a healthy, realistic view of the world, a mix of good and bad. A despairing mind, however, will know mostly, if not all, bad objects; hence the army of demonic tormentors that the five young victims and the professor suffer. Only the Skeleton Queen, along with the Shadow Priestess (who, guiding Alissa with her whistling, represents both the ‘good mother’ and Jung’s Shadow) and her Skeleton Coats, provide help and hope. They are the only good internalized objects in the despairing unconscious mind symbolized by Xibalba.

WRD Fairbairn, in an early paper (Fairbairn, pages 249-252, ‘Psychology as a Prescribed and as a Proscribed Subject’), discussed the universities’ dismissing of psychoanalysis as a kind of pseudoscience, explaining that such a dismissive attitude comes from a fear of exploring the demons, as it were, in our unconscious minds. In his wish to prove to his university the validity of his theories, Professor Lipton dares to explore the Mayan world that symbolizes the unconscious; and he learns of its dangers after removing the disc, which Wes and Alissa must use to reseal the entrance to Xibalba, to keep bestial urges repressed.

In a later paper, Fairbairn compared the bad object relationships we internalize to demons that possess us (Fairbairn, page 67, ‘The Dynamics of the Influence of Bad Objects’, Part 5 of ‘The Repression and the Return of Bad Objects’).  “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him, his need for them is increased.”

Fairbairn also noted how we may pursue superficial pleasures (e.g., drugs, alcohol, sex, porn) when we cannot find joy in human relationships (Fairbairn, pages 139-140, ‘Object Relationships and Dynamic Structure’). “…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.”

Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly pursue superficial pleasures, while Alissa would rather find joy in human relationships, for she has a crush on Wes. Wes’s admiration for Professor Lipton shows his preference of relationships, too, hence his and Alissa’s ability to hang on to hope, over the other three victims’ quick succumbing to despair.

A brief digression into psychoanalytical theory, if you’ll indulge, Dear Reader: I’ll relate this to the novel soon enough.

Melanie Klein noted that a baby’s first object relation is with his or her mother–or more accurately, her breasts as part-objects; then later in the baby’s first year, it recognizes the mother as a whole object. When the breast provides milk for the baby, this is the ‘good breast’, coming from the ‘good mother’ object; and when no milk is given, this is the ‘bad breast’ of the ‘bad mother’ object. This dichotomous thinking leads to splitting in the baby’s mind, to love for the ‘good mother’ on one side, and hostility to her (the ‘bad mother’) on the other, the paranoid-schizoid position.

As the baby feels this hostility, it bites at the breast, like the thorns that “were embedded deeply in [Wes’s and Alissa’s] flesh, suckling from their blood” (page 266, my emphasis). For the vines, human blood is their milk. On page 132, the sucking, biting thorns, which “sink in [Wes’s] skin like the teeth of a hidden predator”, are on “vampire vines” that are “yearning for the blood of the living”. So Wes’s and Alissa’s skin is symbolically a large breast of blood-milk, if you will.

This biting at the breast is part of the stage of oral sadism, also called the cannibalistic phase. Remember the half-human, half-beast demons that feed on the flesh (page 146) of their dead victims, Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly, and hope to feast on Wes and Alissa: “Their mouths slavered like hungry carnivores…Ah-Puch plunged his arms into the dead man’s abdominal cavity to gather gifts for his men. Each was granted a fistful of gore on which to feast voraciously, spreading their terrible countenances with blood.”

Oral sadism is originally an infantile phase, but those hostile urges can remain, repressed in the unconscious, especially in the case of oral fixation, which is manifested in such things as smoking (including marijuana), drinking (remember Kelly’s bottle of whiskey, page 22), and oral sex (something Tyler and Dennis were probably hoping to enjoy from Kelly).

These oral fixations and sadistic hostilities can be projected onto others, and they are, when Kelly’s skin is worn by one of the flying demons: “[Dennis saw]…a flying creature…[that] wore a face as a mask, Kelly’s sweet angelic visage with bloodied edges, and that’s when Dennis realized it had breasts…not breasts of its own, but it wore Kelly’s tanned skin like a suit stretched over its own deformed body, morphed into something between man and bird, with its feathers protruding through her soft skin.” (pages 139-140)

What is projection from the first person is introjection into the second person. As Melanie Klein explained in “Weaning” (1936): “To begin with, the breast of the mother is the object of his [i.e., the baby’s] constant desire, and therefore this is the first thing to be introjected. In phantasy the child sucks the breast into himself, chews it up and swallows it; thus he feels that he has actually got it there, that he possesses the mother’s breast within himself, in both its good and in its bad aspects.” (Klein, page 291)

So, the flying creature has introjected Kelly’s projected oral fixations, symbolized by her face, skin, and breasts, as a baby sucks in its mother’s milk and, in unconscious phantasy, breasts.

Healthy emotional development for a baby, particularly in its relationship with its mother (symbolized in this novel by Xibalba, the underworld, chthonian Mother Earth, the collective unconscious of instincts and feelings we share with those who came before us, including Mother, and the Mayan civilization of centuries past), comes by passing out of the paranoid-schizoid position, with all its persecutory anxiety (the Place of Fear), and through the depressive position, a period of painful reconciliation with the mother, after fearing the consequences of the baby’s former hostility to a mother who sometimes didn’t give milk. To save themselves from Xibalba’s horrors, Wes and Alissa must reconcile themselves to this underworld of the unconscious.

The thorns that cut into Wes’s and Alissa’s skin can represent the teething, biting baby in its destructive envy; but through introjection, the mother can be in the baby’s unconscious, meaning the ‘bad mother’ object (of which the Blood Maiden can be seen as a manifestation), angry from the biting, or hostility in general (towards the Blood Maiden in Alissa’s blinding of her [page 206]; or towards the ‘bad father’ object, represented by Ah-Puch, angry with Wes’s defiant hope), may want revenge. Hence, Xibalba switches roles, from hostile baby to hostile parent.

The paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions are phases alternated back and forth throughout one’s life; they only begin in infancy. These shifts back and forth between hostility and the need for reparation, between splitting and integration, are felt not only for Mother, but are later displaced onto other people. Alissa feels annoyed and contemptuous of Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis, inwardly giggling from the foul marijuana she’s given them to smoke (pages 16-17).

Later, when the Blood Maiden (the ‘bad mother’ object) is sucking away Alissa’s energy and showing her a vision of Kelly’s suffering, Alissa feels guilty over having brought Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis to this place of death (pages 199-200). She would have reparation with them. This depressive position is part of the sadness engulfing Xibalba. The absence of Mother brings about the depressive position, a fear that the child has in unconscious phantasy destroyed Mother; the baby waits in terror for Mother to return, as Alissa does when Shadow Priestess (the ‘good mother’ object) temporarily leaves: “Alissa trembled as she awaited the shadow’s return.” (Chapter Fourteen, page 193)

But Alissa and Wes would keep hope, and fight their way out of Xibalba, wishing to die “[their] way and not his [i.e., Ah-Puch’s]” (page 251). This is a successful going-through of the depressive position, the way to health, back up to the forest. So when they die, it’s a selfless sacrifice to save the living world from the living nightmare of Xibalba. They don’t die of despair. Their spirits are good internalized objects in the hellish unconscious.

Indeed, Xibalba is a land of bad dreams, where one never truly dies (page 139). The spirits of dead Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis are Ah-Puch’s possessions. One is reminded of Hamlet’s soliloquy: “To die, to sleep;/To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.” (Act III, scene i, lines 64-68)

And the interpretation of dreams, Freud reminds us, is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious. While too much repression of the id can lead to neurosis, overindulgence in its bestial impulses can lead to the dangers symbolized by the owls and demons coming out into the forest. Some repression (Wes’s and Alissa’s resealing of the entrance) is needed.

Inspiration for this novel came from learning of a theory that some Maya migrated to parts of the southern US. This migration, I’m guessing, may have been in response to the Conquistadors‘ taking over of what is now Yucatan Mexico and parts of Central America. Despair at European imperialism’s destruction of their world may have prompted the Mayan move, and part of the despair of the priestess when sacrificing the boys to seal the entrance to Xibalba the first time (Prologue, pages 7-9).

Despair leads to Hell, and Xibalba is in more than a few ways comparable to Dante’s Inferno (‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Canto III, line 9), with its windy second circle (for those guilty of lust), the Mayan equivalent of which Wes must endure (page 226); though since Wes isn’t susceptible to lust as Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis are, he laughs defiantly, feeling immune to it. Later, there is the blue maw of a cenote, similar to any of Satan’s three mouths in the centre of Dante’s Hell, mouths that eat traitors like Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. The defiant hope of Wes and Alissa can be seen as a kind of treason in Xibalba, where fear and despair reign supreme.

When our two heroes fight their way to the surface, resolving that “if it was going to end, it would end her way [and Wes’s]” (page 262), they are reconciling themselves to the bad objects (Ah-Puch, the half-human, half-beast Wayob and Nagual, as well as the Blood Mistress) by joining the good objects (Shadow Priestess and Skeleton Coats); this is the integration of good and bad that leads to better health. Wes and Alissa know they cannot return to the world of the living, but they’ll be damned (literally) if they die in despair and suffer the living death of Kelly, Tyler, and Dennis, the “sleep of death” that “must give us pause”. Remember that Wayob comes from a word meaning “sleep”, and they can transform into an animal while asleep in order to do harm. And sleep and dreams represent unconscious processes.

There are dialectical tensions at work here: we can’t have one opposite without the other. Xibalba, like any Hell, is a living death. As Bane told Bruce Wayne, “There can be no true despair without hope.” The deep despair of the demons is coupled with the hope of passing their pain onto others, hence their delight in tormenting Wes and Alissa: “The crowd gathering at the bottom of the stairs shrieked eagerly as [Wes] was paraded by. A beating of wings above him told him the Wayobs had joined the train…A chunk of broken roadway was picked up then tossed at his face by a mummified onlooker. His blood brought them great satisfaction for they howled in triumph as it burned his eyes. This prompted a handful of other malevolent creatures to do the same, stoning him with any debris their decrepit hands could attain.” (pages 236-7)

Our two heroes feel a mix of hope and despair, knowing they’ll die, but not to die as despairing Tyler, Dennis, and Kelly did. Wes and Alissa save the lives of those in the upper world, and their own souls, by killing themselves so their blood will reseal the entrance to Xibalba. Their souls will join the Shadow Priestess and Skeleton Coats in battling Ah-Puch’s tyranny. Similarly, the Skeleton Queen dies in thwarting the Blood Maiden (pages 268-9). Hope in despair. Life in death: like the heartbeat-like drum that presages death. “The drumming was the signal: she had witnessed it before. It was the instrument bringing about the change from living to living dead.” (page 238)

Blue and Red, in a way, are also dialectical opposites: cold, blue death and despair, versus hot, red life and hope. Wes has the blue dye all over him, mixed with his blood, the draining away of his life and hope. Still, the heat of his angry defiance helps him survive the freezing room. The mixing of red and blue also symbolizes the needed integration of good and bad objects to return to health, never a perfect mental health, but one good enough to deal with life’s horrors, as Wes and Alissa learn to do when their spirits re-enter Xibalba.

In Christian myth, Satan is the ultimate one to despair, especially after Christ’s crucifixion. The mutual sacrifice of Wes and Alissa–suicides considered honourable to Ixtab–is obviously Christ-like, too, sealing the doom of Ah-Puch, the Mayan Satan (for the purposes of this novel and analysis), and his demonic brethren, who now have no more hope even of sharing their pain with new victims.

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, Mayan Blue, Sinister Grin Press, Austin, 2016

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, New York, 1952

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

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a proposed diagnostic category of mental illness, one not yet recognized by the DSM, though more and more voices are shouting to have it included in the next edition. As its name implies, it is similar to PTSD, though crucial differences are to be noted.

Victims of PTSD generally experience one traumatic event (war, rape, disaster, or other life-threatening event); whereas C-PTSD victims experience repeated, ongoing traumatic events (continuous physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, day-to-day life in combat situations as a soldier, ordeals as POWs or in concentration camps), such that the victims either have no means of escape or feel as though they have none.

If one has ever read the Marquis de Sade‘s unfinished novel, The 120 Days of Sodom, or seen Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s film adaptation of it, Salò, the casual observation of the plight of the victims–adolescent boys and girls who are forced to indulge the paraphilias of four wealthy, politically powerful libertines–would cause one to draw the unmistakeable conclusion that the victims, assuming any of them survive the four-month ordeal, will each develop a severe case of C-PTSD. They are stripped naked, sexually abused, humiliated, force-fed shit, and made to endure numerous other torments, all for the sadistic pleasure of a duke, a banker, a judge, and an archbishop (the story is, in part, an allegory of political corruption).

Other differences between PTSD and C-PTSD include flashbacks (PTSD) vs. emotional flashbacks (C-PTSD), the former involving reliving the traumatic experience with the five senses, as if having been taken back by time machine to when it originally happened; whereas emotional flashbacks lack the physicality of the relived experience, and instead the painful emotions (fear, despair, anger) are re-experienced.

C-PTSD also involves many symptoms often not felt so much by PTSD sufferers, including the following: difficulty regulating emotions (explosive or inhibited anger, making catastrophes out of everything, etc.); difficulty relating to others socially, a feeling of being irreconcilably different from others; a lack of a sense of meaning or hope in life; preoccupation with the abuser (a sense that the abuser is all-powerful, while also feeling an urge to get revenge on him or her), overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred; and dissociation, including the forgetting of traumatic memories.

Symptoms common to both PTSD and C-PTSD sufferers include nightmares, intense anxiety, emotional numbing, and avoidance of anything that, or anyone who, may trigger the traumatic memories. A veteran with PTSD will avoid places with loud noises, such as bursting fire-crackers, which may remind him of machine gun fire. A rape victim may avoid all romantic contact with men out of fear of a sexual encounter that would make her relive the rape. And a C-PTSD sufferer who has been in a concentration camp perhaps may try to avoid seeing anyone in a uniform, which gives memories of guards or prisoners in uniform.

When children develop C-PTSD as a result of ongoing physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, they may become clumsy, unable to concentrate, or lacking in empathy. Nervousness and fear can cause the clumsiness, self-hate and shame can cause the inability to concentrate (and vice versa, going in a vicious circle), and a lack of empathy can be the natural result of growing up in an environment devoid of empathy for the victim. “If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them?” is an attitude easily adopted.

Sensitivity to loud noises of any kind will be intolerable to victims of PTSD and C-PTSD. Startling noises can, if unconsciously, remind the victim of sudden slaps on the face, shouting, bombs going off, airstrikes, gunfire, etc.

I believe myself to be a sufferer of a mild form of C-PTSD, for I appear to have most of the symptoms. I must emphasize the word mild, for two reasons: first, having lived far from my emotional abusers for over twenty years has caused my symptoms to abate considerably; and second, I feel my suffering pales in comparison to that of people like Lilly Hope Lucario, whose wonderful website alerted me to this mental health issue. Perhaps I am wrong to say my suffering is less; after all, traumas are more a matter of being different than of being ‘lesser’ or ‘greater’ than each other.

I will now detail my symptoms to illustrate even further the experience of the sufferer of complex trauma.

Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was subjected to various forms of emotional abuse, including gaslighting from my mother, who fabricated an autism diagnosis out of thin air, independently corroborated by no psychiatrists (in fact, two psychiatrists I’d received therapy from said they saw no signs of autism in me); constant bullying and belittling from my older brothers and sister, from whom I’d received virtually no defence from my ‘loving’ mother; explosive outbursts of verbal abuse from everyone in the family, usually for only mildly irritating things that I’d done; and bullying from my classmates at school, from coworkers on the job, and strangers on the street. I saw no escape, anywhere, and this was all during crucial developmental years in my life.

Enduring this kind of thing from people outside the family wasn’t so bad as it was from within, because one expects more of a loving attitude from one’s own flesh and blood. I feel betrayed by the five I grew up with; in my early twenties, I’d fantasize about getting far away from them, escaping from Ontario and going to Quebec. When I ended up in Taiwan, my fantasy had come true.

Sometimes I remember those painful episodes from my past (which often included my brother, F., not only threatening and verbally abusing me with the shouting of four-letter words, but also slapping, shoving, and spitting on me, then gaslighting me about supposedly never having done anything wrong to me), and fantasize about what I’d say if I tried to stick up for myself; but the feeling of overwhelming power that my tormentors had over me meant I felt that asserting myself would be futile. In my fantasies, I’d get overly emotional, bursting with a rage I couldn’t control, even acting it out. My bullies almost seemed to be there, right in front of me and receiving my rage, instead of me really being all alone in the room. I’d snap out of it and end up feeling even more worthless than before, because of how foolish I’d feel, like that moment in Hamlet when the title character says:

“Am I a coward?/Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?/Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?/Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,/As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?/Ha!’swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be/But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall/To make oppression bitter, or ere this/I should have fatted all the region kites/With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy villain!/Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!/O, vengeance!/Why, what an ass am I!” (Act II, scene ii)

I think these experiences I’ve had are examples of emotional flashbacks.

I have always had difficulty regulating my emotions, in particular, my explosive anger, something I learned from my family, since for them, blowing up was the solution to every problem. My wife finds it a terrible trial when I go crazy over every minor problem; but her minimal, controlled anger with my emotional excesses proves that my family’s explosive anger with me was not unavoidable–I hadn’t left them with no choice but to blow up. They just rarely considered other options.

Whenever I have a problem, or even contemplate the possibility of a problem, I tend to make a catastrophe of it in my mind; then, the problem usually gets resolved with relative ease, and I wonder why I got so upset about it. I’m a prophet of doom and disaster for my life. I lie in bed, imagining disasters befalling me, and my anxiety ensures that I often don’t sleep properly.

All that bullying from my family created bad object relations that resulted in bullying at school and elsewhere, causing me to have difficulty relating to others in general. The early relationships one has with one’s primary caregivers are crucial, for they provide the blueprints, as it were, for all future relationships. So if those early caregivers bully you, belittle you, and otherwise betray your trust, you take that with you and assume people elsewhere will treat you in the same way; for as a little kid, you scarcely know any other kind of relationship.

Though people with C-PTSD typically feel isolated from the world, none of us are islands. Every human personality is in symbiotic relationships with others of some kind or another, including the worst relationships that cause the loneliness of the C-PTSD sufferer. We internalize bad object relations, those of our abusers, and they frighten us away from the rest of the world. Those bad internal objects form the inner critic, an internalization of our abusive parents, elder siblings, bullying classmates, and anyone else who may have hurt us, and we ‘learn’ that this is just the way the world is.

These bad object relations haunt our minds like ghosts, like demons possessing us. WRD Fairbairn elaborated on this idea in his book, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality. In my analyses of The Exorcist and The Shining, I quote the relevant passages, so if you’re interested, you can look them up there.

In my mind, I do battle with an inner critic every day. I hear him accusing me of various things: lacking consideration for others when, for example, I’m riding my scooter to and from home (i.e., road rage); being mean or selfish; or doing stupid things in general. I feel myself fighting back against this inner critic, trying to show justification for my actions; and while many might agree with my justifications, my inner critic is never convinced, for he is an internalization of my ever-bullying family members.

My mother used the autism lie to make me feel irreconcilably different from others. She explicitly said to me, “You’re different,” in a heavily condescending tone when she rationalized excluding me from being involved with my sister, J., and her dying husband back in the mid-2000s (see my blog post, Emotional Abuse, where I discuss my sister’s husband dying of cancer, and my mother not wanting me to fly back to Canada to visit the family). The consistent lack of empathy the family showed me, whenever I tried to tell them of my pain, added to this feeling of being too different to fit in socially, as well as to my learned helplessness.

I’m obsessively preoccupied with my abusers. In their assumption that I don’t care about anyone but myself (one of their rationalizations for abusing me), my surviving family members (R., F., and J.) probably think that I rarely think about them. How wrong-headed such an idea is! I think of them, as well as my dead parents, every day without fail. I rarely think of them with kindness, though, just as they assuredly never give me such consideration, despite their bogus claims of loving me. I’ve dreamed of revenge, or punishment, more accurately, on my late mother and siblings, not as spite for spite’s sake, but to get them to understand the wrongs they’d done me; since just telling them wasn’t enough, I had to hit them over the head, so to speak, with a sledgehammer.

But even hitting them with that figurative sledgehammer wouldn’t be enough, for they will never listen, so assured are they of their own would-be righteousness. They feel all-powerful to me, impossible to get through to, for they’re always ready with a rationalization, a minimizing of their guilt, or an invalidation to silence me. Even my mother seems all-powerful in death, since her internalized object remains forever in my head, as Norman Bates’s mother is in his head.

My abusers’ omnipotence in my mind leads inevitably to undying feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness in me, even though it was their emotional abuse of me that provoked my disowning of them. No contact was the only way to keep them from meddling in my mind; and this was especially true of my manipulative mother during her last few years on this earth, for she’d been the ringleader of them all.

As a child, I had an odd habit of playing alone, in a solitary world of my own imagination, since my devastation over losing my childhood friend, Neil–from a 1977 move from Toronto to Hamilton–combined with the bullying I received in my new schools (as the ‘new boy’) and neighbourhood, made me feel powerless to make new friends (see Emotional Abuse for more on that story). On top of these problems, my brother, F., and sister, J., were bullying me, and my mother was gaslighting me with the autism lie. My escape into a world of imagination–along with a bad habit of talking to myself–seems to have been a mild manifestation of dissociation, or maladaptive daydreaming, a retreat from the painful world around me.

What my remaining family–my siblings, R., F., and J., as well as their families–imagines is my contempt for them (i.e., my refusal to communicate with any of them), is actually my need to maintain avoidance of them, to protect myself from future abuse. My ‘uncaring’ nature is really emotional numbness.

My mother claimed that my clumsiness was from Asperger Syndrome; I’d say it was from the complex trauma I’d acquired already from childhood, combined with a lack of playing sports, in which I’ve never had any interest. My difficulty concentrating, sometimes resulting in foolish mistakes or absent-mindedness, would be disparaged by the family as ‘stupidity’. My relative lack of empathy was something I’d learned, as a child, from those five stony-hearted people. On top of that, I can’t bear loud noises, which again is typical of a sufferer of C-PTSD.

I really do hope C-PTSD gets acknowledged in the next DSM. I also hope therapies for it improve, and that we sufferers get a chance to be healed by them one day. For now, though, we have to engage in self-care: this means being gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes, paying more attention to our strengths and talents, rather than our faults; it also means using self-compassion, or being a friend to ourselves, that kind, sympathetic ear we never got from those who should have given it to us. Other effective ways to heal ourselves include meditation and writing about our pain, as I have done here.

All those university students who complain about how exposure to controversial political opinions is “triggering”, and claim they need “safe spaces” so they don’t have to be exposed to ideas they don’t like, should consider redirecting their wrath towards its far likelier cause–an emotionally abusive or neglecting family. Research has shown that in the U.S., such family dysfunction is almost universal. Taking one’s anger out on people who have nothing to do with it not only fails to solve one’s problems, but also adds to everyone’s.

When we feel pain, we must take it to its source, not displace it onto people or things we only associate with the source of that pain. Bad object relations with abusive and/or neglectful primary caregivers is a common source.

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

Gaslight is a 1944 thriller film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, and co-starring Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. It was directed by George Cukor, and based on the 1938 stage play Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton. Another movie version was done in 1940, adhering more closely to the original play; but when MGM did the 1944 remake so soon after this first film, they wanted to have all existing prints of it destroyed. Fortunately, the original film wasn’t ever destroyed, but this 1944 version still eclipsed it.

Bergman won her first Academy Award for Best Actress with this movie, while Boyer was nominated for Best Actor, and Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and it won Best Art Direction. The film got a total of seven Oscar nominations.

It is from this film that the term ‘gaslighting‘ originated, for the villain, Gregory Anton (Boyer), uses this very tactic–tricking his wife, Paula (Bergman), into doubting her own perception, memory, and sanity by staging bizarre scenarios for her–in an elaborate scheme to drive her mad, have her committed to an insane asylum, then take possession of her old London house, originally owned by her aunt, Alice Alquist, whom he murdered years before.

Normally, emotional abuse is used on a victim for the purpose of having power and control over him or her; but Gregory, or Sergius Bauer, to use his real name, only wants to get rid of Paula so he can freely search about that old house, to find the coveted items he killed Alquist to steal–her jewels.

In one scene, he speaks of his great lust for precious jewels (about a half-hour into the movie). In another scene, we see him in the attic, searching furiously for those jewels, using a knife to hack through the cushion of the back of an old chair in a desperate hope to find them (about an hour and a half into the movie). This ruthless searching for treasure, violating other people’s property in the process, reminds us of the plunder of the Third World for resources, diamonds, etc., by Western imperialists. Remember that, just as an emotional abuser often controls his victim’s finances, imperialism deliberately stifles the economic growth of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Since Patrick Hamilton had communist sympathies, especially in the late 1930s, when he wrote Gas Light, I feel at least some justification in making a leftist allegory out of this movie.

Gregory, who–as I see it–represents bourgeois imperialism, tricks Paula, who represents both the proletariat and those ‘brutal dictators’ that imperialism wants to remove, into thinking she is a forgetful kleptomaniac. He does this by deliberately moving items when she isn’t looking, then claiming she took them and forgot she had. He reveals her ‘forgotten thefts’ with a cruel frown, causing her to be frightened and hysterical.

When he leaves her alone in the house, ostensibly to go out somewhere and work on composing classical music, but actually to sneak up into the attic from the back to search for the jewels, she notices the gaslight dimming in the rooms. This frightens her, for she has no idea who is causing it to dim. The servants honestly deny any knowledge of the gaslight dimming (just as the average worker doesn’t know of the ruling class’s tricks), and Gregory pretends not to know either; for it is he who is dimming it–hence the term ‘gaslighting’.

Always claiming Paula is ill, Gregory never lets her out of the house to be sociable, like a typical emotional abuser. (Symbolically, this isolation is also like how imperialism economically isolates such countries as Cuba by imposing embargoes on them, to bring an end to the regimes of those ‘brutal dictators’.) The servants believe she’s ill, too, and are cool towards her, upsetting her all the more. Of course, it is Gregory who has made the servants believe she’s ill, through triangulation; just as the corporate mainstream media tricks us into thinking ‘brutal dictators’ like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, et al, are madmen who must be removed from power.

By the climax of the film, Paula has been manipulated so thoroughly that she plods about, eyes half shut, as if she’s half-asleep, just like the average Western citizen, brainwashed and distracted by media nonsense. She believes her mind is going, that all she sees and hears is just a dream, as her cruel husband has convinced her.

I have elsewhere gone into detail about the nature and effects of emotional abuse, as well as about narcissism; hence my political interpretation of this film, instead of just elaborating on psychological abuse again. I feel a political interpretation is useful and necessary, because I see political gaslighting going on everywhere, all the time.

The media tricks Americans, for example, into thinking that one political party is evil, while the other is good, or at least has the potential for good, once the ‘good’ political party has been cleansed of corruption; when in reality, both political parties are working for the plutocrats, as are the media.

We are tricked into forgetting the imperialist crimes of previous years and decades, and even made to think that the Western imperialists are among the victims, rather than the victimizers. Here we see the microcosm of the narcissist, seeing himself as the victim and projecting his guilt outward, expanded into the macrocosm of the imperialists, who blame Muslims for terrorism instead of taking responsibility for US or NATO bombings of, or proxy wars in, places like Libya, Syria, Kosovo, or Iraq. Like Gregory, capitalists are murderers.

Gregory accuses Paula of stealing and forgetting her thefts, when in fact he is the thief (and a murderer). Similarly, the capitalist class excoriates socialists and social democrats for ‘stealing’ the money of the wealthy (through progressive income taxes), when in fact it’s the capitalists who originally stole from the workers (by overworking and underpaying them). Furthermore, the Western media has propagandized against socialist states like the USSR, calling them ‘totalitarian dictatorships’, when currently America has by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and polls have consistently shown that a majority of Russians prefer the USSR to their current state of affairs. All of this media deception can be called political gaslighting.

Gregory leaves Paula alone, and the gaslight dims, frightening her; then he denies this dimming. This is symbolic of capitalism’s alienating of workers, leaving them in a darkness of misery, then denying that the capitalist system is responsible for these problems. The servants go along with Gregory’s thinking, just as so many workers, police officers, and soldiers refuse to resist the system.

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Cotten), who revives the case of Paula’s murdered aunt, Alice Alquist, after the police have considered it unsolvable, admired Alquist’s singing; this admiration arouses his empathy for Paula, and he puts the pieces together and saves her. Now he is a policeman, and therefore an unlikely hero in any anti-capitalist allegory; but because he’s the only inspector among the British police still interested in this case, out of his empathy for Paula, his authority can be seen to represent one other than that of the establishment; in other words, instead of being seen as representing a policeman for the bourgeoisie, Cameron can be seen allegorically as a member of the militsiya. (Furthermore, in the 1940 film version, there’s a scene in which the inspector–originally named Rough–invites a group of poor street urchins into a pastry shop to buy them something to eat [about 21 minutes or so into the film], suggesting his sympathy for the poor. Recall in this context Hamilton’s communist sympathies around the time of the writing of his play.) His fighting with and subduing of Gregory can thus represent the vanguard of a revolution against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

I admit that my allegorizing here isn’t as smooth as that of my previous analyses, but I feel it’s necessary to make a link between gaslighting in relationships and that of politics; for I see the latter as an extension of the former, an extension that mustn’t be overlooked. Now, if my emphasis on contemporary imperialism seems odd when allegorizing a story written so many decades earlier, consider how much older capitalist imperialism really is: equally disturbing examples of it can be seen in Churchill’s disparaging of Muslims and the Indians he allowed to starve to death in the Bengal Famine; or in the late Victorian Holocausts of the late 19th century.

Emotional abuse in families, extending to other relationships, is a lot more common than most people realize. In the US, it has been found to be almost universal. America is a country where authoritarianism, disguising itself as ‘liberty‘ (check out the gaslighting there!), is also rampant; religious fundamentalism, an intrusive state, mass incarceration, police brutality, and neoliberal capitalism being the most notable manifestations. It isn’t a wide leap of logic to go from American dysfunctional families to this authoritarianism, then to imperialism: it’s all about power imbalances.

A useful link between family abuse and the authoritarian political establishment, given from the perspective of a prickly American cop, is in this disturbing video (a scene from the TV series Southland), in which a truant pre-teen boy with a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ attitude is lectured that “discipline is not child abuse”–this after his mother has hit him with a belt two or three times for truancy. To some, this may seem like a mild punishment in itself, but many families have wildly different interpretations of what ‘mild punishment’ is, especially as regards hitting a boy with a belt. Consider the end of this scene in Goodfellas, again, ‘punishment’ for truancy.

The point is that there is always a ’cause’ for the abuser to fly off the handle and assault the victim either verbally, physically, or even sexually. This ’cause’ does not justify an abusive reaction, which is then minimized as “discipline” or ‘punishment’.

Similarly, and by extension, Western imperialists always have ’causes’ for their bombings of other countries, typically vilifying the leaders of those countries by calling them ‘brutal dictators’. To be sure, the dictators of the world have more than their share of flaws; but for the West to be judging them, given all the corruption that favours the rich and powerful in the West, is really the pot calling the kettle black. The corporate-owned media, ever in the service of imperialism, engages in gaslighting by giving us biased accounts of what is happening in, for example, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Russia, so we will see the bombings as ‘humanitarian’, a truly obscene series of lies.

Once the bombing campaign is over and the victimized country is subjugated (if not more or less destroyed), the ‘brutal dictator’ is removed or killed, and the imperialists take over, just as Gregory tries to remove Paula, then take ownership of her home so he can finally search freely for the jewels, which could be seen to represent the oil and other resources of the conquered countries.

Remember how Iraq was regarded sympathetically by America during the Iran/Iraq War, then the US turned on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s? Or how Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen had the sympathy of the US when repelling the USSR from Afghanistan (we all know what happened after that)? Remember how the West briefly warmed up to Gaddafi during the 2000s…then in 2011…? Or how Syria was an intermittent ally until the 2010s? Gregory’s attitude to Paula can be seen to symbolize this kind of political relationship. At first, the victims have their uses; then they’re devalued and discarded.

In order to solve the problems of political oppression around the world, we must first solve the problems of our own social relations. This must begin with the family, the foundation of all social relations.

To optimize family relations, parents must be as sensitive as they can to the emotional development of their children, starting right from the first months of infancy. Attachment theory explains the different ways a child learns how to connect with primary caregivers, then with other people; this includes unhealthy forms of attachment. When these forms of attachment are unhealthy, the child grows up with these bad object relations, which become the blueprint for all future relationships.

This leaves such a person vulnerable to the schemes of psychopaths like Gregory. Paula’s childhood trauma, of having seen the dead body of her strangled aunt, would represent the kind of ruptured attachment, or bad object relation, that has led to her being susceptible to the charms of Gregory, who idealized her during their courtship, devalued her during their married life in London, and almost discarded her into a mental institution, but for the intervention of Inspector Cameron.

Just as we must be warned of the idealize/devalue/discard tactics of psychopaths, sociopaths, or narcissists, we must also do the necessary healing work if we’ve already been traumatized by them, be they our ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives, or bullying parents. The healing work includes learning about toxic people, engaging in self-care and self-compassion, meditation, cathartic writing about one’s own problems, and joining communities (including online ones) of other survivors, to give them support as well as receive it from them.

When the needed emotional health is either established, through good parenting (not ‘perfect’ parenting, but the good enough parenting that DW Winnicott advocated), maintained, by being wary of the fake idealizing of potential toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, or restored after surviving an ordeal of emotional abuse, then people can organize into communities, and develop the solidarity needed to combat the greatest emotional abusers of them all–the capitalist class and their stooge governments, their political flying monkeys.

As for the Cluster B individuals themselves, psychiatrists must work tirelessly to discover a cure for each of those pathologies, whether those pathologies be genetically basedphysiologically based, or caused by trauma.

We as a people need to learn what love really is: not just a pretty-sounding word, not empty sentimentality, but a genuine connection between people, a connection brought about not by stern moralizing or authoritarian forms of religion, but by empathy…the empathy Inspector Cameron felt for Paula, because of how she reminded him of her aunt.

Only through empathy can we hope to build a better world, one in which bosses don’t rule over workers by overworking and underpaying them, and by gaslighting them into thinking they are worthless if they can’t help bosses make a profit; a world where all racial, ethnic and religious groups are treated as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make people equate blacks with criminals or Muslims with terrorists; where the sexes are regarded as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make women feel worthless if they don’t provide pleasure, or to make men feel worthless if they don’t provide money; where LGBT people are given dignity, and gaslighting isn’t used to make them seem perverted.

To fix the world, we must start with the family, the foundation of society.