Rendered Errors

Spent a few hours tonight playing around with Fusion360’s rendering service on the lattice I have been trying to create (and print). The results were impressive, especially with all of the reflective surfaces and the ever repeating geometries. One of the renders did fail. It left me mid-way, after an hour’s wait, with something that was incomplete yet cool – straight out of a high school NCERT Physics or Math book!

I will try to post more updates on the project as well.

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Printing That Shit

‘Are you friggin’ kidding me?’

This was the usual response of friends and teachers to one of the main ideas I was considering for my thesis. And I cannot blame them either, because the concern was legit – shit was involved, literally. After many discussions, I finally told myself that additive manufacturing with human feces would be a project I must save for another lifetime. In retrospection though, I too agree that it would have been a bit too much – I saw myself, a year from then, clutching at whatever little that remains of my hair staring at a brutally hacked filament extruder which was either: a. unable to extrude the material (aka constipation) OR b. extruding it at undesirable rates (aka diarrhea). Either one of that happening, and that too at a graduate thesis exhibition show in a crowded art gallery, would make it the perfect disaster.

‘Dude, as if shitting on the streets for you guys (Indians) was not enough..’

Though the highly sanitized modern societies manage to project the image of the penultimate pristine very well by pushing the excrement under the rug (or the streets), the problem is not really gone and it re-surfaces every now and then in every corner of the world (usually happens when it rains a lot). The attitudes towards management and handling waste vary but all in all, it is looked at as a thing that must be immediately gotten rid of. The truth is, all of our civilization and us are covered in filth – of our own excretions and those of others. Come to think of it, societies are the best way to come into direct and indirect contact with the excrement of others. What was once limited to probably the animals and the family on the farm now extends to everyone who sat on that toilet seat or touched the door knob of that high-society lounge you and I might wish to visit. With that at their core, societies strive for ‘cleanliness’. Over hundreds of years, we have solved certain problems and introduced practices that positively transformed health and hygiene at a global level, but with that attitude we are also flushing the baby out with the bathwater.

Building Material Of The Future – Here and Beyond

Used as a fertilizer, fuel and a construction material regardless of time and place – it is only sensible to see it as the next big problem as well as the answer to the mounting pile of humans and their excreta. A few efforts have briefly brought some attention to the potential of feces as a construction material but the stigma is an understandably great one to overcome. This also prevents further work towards solutions that will help, and the reactions I experienced, ranging from understandingly disagreeing to extreme mockery, were a good example of that. The common concern of biological hazard and odors has been addressed long ago and the only thing that requires work is our perception. Think of it – an abundantly available ecologically friendly material that can and has been used to create strong composites!

As we are expanding our reaches into the space, talks about colonizing Mars are getting serious with every passing day. Dealing with humans and their waste will thus be more important than ever. Since energy efficiency is of utmost importance in space missions, researchers are exploring ways to fully utilize this space poop (as an energy source), which would otherwise be stored and hauled back to earth. They have been doing that with urine and astronauts already get enough questions on that. Also, no matter how tempting it sounds, we cannot just let packets of frozen human feces drift for a millennia until they land on a planet wiping out an alien life (or even birthing it). So, the solution will be simple for us – we will have to figure out a way to use our own feces to construct these new worlds. And when it is 3D printed (ie. if my hypothetical extruder works by then in Mars’ gravity, I am also fine with throwing lasers at sewage sludge blended with a photo-polymer if that looks cooler) and setup by an army of robots, the possibilities can be endless. All humans would need to do would be to wake up from their deep sleep upon their arrival and move into their new Martian homes made out of waste collected from the previous missions. As they live, they shall also contribute their bit for the future occupants of that community. Will be just like the stories where the filth off one’s body was used to create heroes and their armor.

Suggested Links:

https://www.economist.com/prospero/2016/05/09/merdacotta-domestic-objects-made-from-dung
https://www.citylab.com/design/2013/04/sustainable-furniture-line-made-agricultural-waste/5270/
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/dec/04/art
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/18/president-trump-directs-pentagon-defense-department-to-immediately-being-the-process-of-establishing-space-force-as-sixth-military-branch.html
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/11/elon-musk-colonise-mars-third-world-war
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/winners-of-space-poop-challenge-receive-30000
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/08/nasa-chief-says-2018-budget-ensures-mars-mission-still-track-2033/102642420/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221455241730041X
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/04/02/288746.full.pdf

On Freud & Jung

Dreams play a key role in the respective psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  Freud argued that dreams are “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious,” whereas Jung asserted that “dreams are the fertile soil from which most symbols grow.”  Each adopted very different theories about the nature and significance of the dream, however, and very diverging strategies for interpreting them. Compare and contrast Freud and Jung’s ideas regarding the nature of dreams.  Which do you find most appealing and why? Which has the most efficacy for interpreting works of art? Finally, above all, which theory best acknowledges the ethical or moral dimension, that is, the act of taking responsibility for one’s own dreams?

With the end of the 19th century, dreams had lost their mythical qualities as messages of impending doom from the divine. The Interpretation of Dreams sealed this by questioning the composition and the reasons for the dreams we have, it also set the foundation for psychoanalysts to develop and to disagree on. Freud’s analysis of dreams came from the core belief of there being an unconscious which controls one’s perceptions, actions and thoughts. Though Jung and Freud ascribed to different frameworks for their psychoanalytic methods, their ideas were grounded in the fact that there is an unconscious and a conscious mind. In 1913, Carl Jung parted ways with Freud and the conflict was mainly because of his rejection of Freud’s idea of life energy being a purely sexual one. What Jung did, I feel, is that he questioned Freud’s own confirmation biases by putting them into a more encompassing box for which Freud was not ready. This is a commonly seen confrontation between geniuses, where two rigid worlds collide on the same ground they stand upon.

While Freud believed in a primal libidinal unconscious to be the sole explanation of human action, Jung saw it as an important force, but that which was not alone in shaping our minds. He went on to further subdivide the unconscious into the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Unlike Freud, who believed neuroses to be only rooted in childhood trauma, Jung also believed that the repression of traits by the individual themself, as the ego wishes no association with that thing or trait, caused neuroses – thus repressions can happen throughout one’s life. Another reason for what might have led to these differences can be seen in the interesting parallel of both Freud and Jung being the sons of men who were a religious authority in some capacity, the former’s father was a Rabbi and the latter’s was a pastor – their relationships with their mothers also differed. A maternal authority in the case of Freud and the lack of, which Jung substituted with his own understanding or anima, explains exactly (in a very Freudian way) as to why the two men might have differed. The inclination of Jung towards Eastern religions is his anima, which could identify and relate to,  and thus sought, its presence in the Eastern cultures where gods exist in both masculine and the feminine forms. This was something completely neglected by Freud to the point where one could safely say that most of his observations were Eurocentric. Though, Jung was more accommodating to the other views, Freud’s views formed a stepping stone without which probably we won’t have had the clarity to grasp Jung’s ideas.

On Dreams:

According to Freud, dreams are a wish-fulfilment, which is a response to the repression of our unconscious primal urges – these sexual urges are kept in check by the society but are always present in our minds. The dream-work must allow the release of this pressure of repression, which the censor tries to regulate, else it would lead to neuroses. Dreams address to these these developmental milestones by making it possible, as an interface, for these thoughts to be comprehensible. Anything and everything was grounded in the Freudian idea of the Oedipus Complex, but these had to be first dug out, identified and ‘cleaned’ to be understood as the symbols that they are. The experiences of the day, which condense into imagery (an individual imagery compared to a symbolic one) in the mind, hold some meaning which points back at what went wrong. A psychoanalyst would, thus, interpret these symbols and almost reverse-engineer it down to what might have been the cause and put it in a way that is tangible to the patient – it is a dive from a leaky boat of this real world into the sea of dreams to bring back up what might have caused the holes. Meanwhile, Jung’s idea of the dreams included the collective unconscious which he believed to be the instinctual element we have inherited from our ancestors. What we see in our dreams are symbolic representations, not of the Oedipal kind, but instinctual. These go much deeper into the humanity’s heritage and thus span culture. While Freud, for example, would look at anything in a dream that was pointed as a representation of the penis; Jung would add more room to think by saying that the penis in itself could be a representation of something else. The personal unconscious would thus work with the symbols from the collective to hint at what was wrong and would also try to fix it. Freud saw dreams as a day residue from previous day, integrating the information as a continuation of life while Jung saw dreams as a separate integration not related to real life with new areas of psychic exploration that could provide sudden burst of personal insight. But giving Freud his due credit, the Jungian instinct could be seen as a more developed form of the primal unconscious which he talks about. Freud’s only mistake was that he focused solely on the sexual element of it.

Religion & Dreams:

Both Freud and Jung also had differing opinions on religion – Freud, being anti-religious, saw it as a mass neuroses which sought to establish a parental figure for an individual. Jung saw religion as the tool to reach self-realization, which was also a form of psychotherapy. The knowledge that had enlightened Siddhartha to become the Buddha was this Jungian self-awareness and management of mental suffering.

He went beyond the scope of Abrahamic faiths and Graeco-European myths which influenced them to study Eastern philosophies and faiths. And being the rational man that he was, he did disagree with certain aspects of them, (as grounding one’s beliefs completely in one story or fable can yield to biases as held by Freud), his ideas encompassed their teachings as well. Studying the symbols from the East, he could, in a way, back his theory of there being a universal collective unconsciousness. Thus, the Jungian individual as being a loose collection of living sub-personalities – as a plurality loosely linked into a unity – could be one of the reasons why pagan cultures had gods for such human attributes. Emotions had always been personified as gods that transcend the psychological entity. Jung saw a constant interaction between dream and the reality where dream occupies uncertainty and fleshes out an unknown reality. Dream does its best to express a reality that is beyond conscious comprehension. And as all of this is very real when we are asleep, dreams might just be the temporary oceanic feeling of oneness Freud addresses to, where both matter and the mind are united.

Science of Dreams:

Freud had a hardline physiological explanation for his hypothesis of dreams, which relied on the presence of electrical activity in the brain during sleep. It must be noted that until then the existence of electric activity was known, but its behavior had not been studied until much later. Freud thought that dreams function by keeping us asleep for longer whereas Jung saw them as a way to reintegrate the traits to be reassessed. Sleep, according to Freud, was the best when it was completely dreamless –  ie. there ought to be no mental activity but modern day studies have shown otherwise. Jung’s explanation was beyond what can be called scientific at that time, he believed in there being more to just than the firing of the neurons. The firing of the neurons in the brain was not random but was something that generated an abstract structure. Now, we can see how science has taken us to a point where we question reality itself through the existence of multiverses. There is another theory which brings back some science into Jung’s ideas. It has been suggested that sleeping provided us an evolutionary advantage. People who get adequate sleep live healthier and have lesser chances of developing mental problems. The explanation is that the ancestors would dream up the anxieties which would influence their decision making in the real world, thus increasing the chances of their survival. And perhaps this is why a collective unconscious exists that stays omnipresent in the realm of dreams. Another interesting thing is that the influence of Jung’s thoughts on this collective unconscious memory is also visible in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. It is just that Freud saw it as an anxiety that society banked upon to survive while Jung could have seen it as what had made the human society survive – two sides to the same coin.

Realizations from meanings:

Freudian interpretation of dreams is more about looking into the past to explain what was while Jung uses it to pave way into a productive future. I feel more in line with Jung’s ideas, though both the individuals were in their own way trying to help people out – I feel that dreams hold some key to a future. One such personal experience has been of a recurring dream I had had of my teeth falling in clumps, which I immediately informed my parents about. They were shocked and the fear was very much visible on their faces, because for them, this meant that a harm would come to the head of the household. My father, who at that time had been battling cancer during that time, died a month later. I think of this dream again and again, as it holds both a Jungian facet as well as a Freudian one. The hardships a family must face for a long period of time when a member suffers from an illness, such as cancer, provides so many inputs that get repressed over time. Looking up the meaning of this dream tells us that it commonly hints at illness in the family – I see it as one such symbol from the collective unconscious. The question is, as Jung might have put it, was I awake back then to realize and learn from it?

Creativity & Art:

Humans are bound to interpret symbols, we seek patterns in everything and that is what sets us apart from rest of the animals. This is both a boon and a bane. While we process a vast amount of information on a daily basis to survive, the intake also consists of what we have not used. It needs to be explained. And dreams do just that. Rightly so, Freud believed that there was something really informative to dreams. In the generation of these explanations and ideas lies creativity and thus comes the influence of dreams on the arts. While Freud believed that the dream had to be a slip through the censor (thus almost having a attribute to its nature), Jung believed that the dream tries to communicate with the individual as clear as it can. The dream, thus, can be considered to be the birthplace of thought just as how the artist is the birthplace of culture. Jung saw creativity as the push towards the unexplored which was sourced in the realm of dreams. It is supposed to be a place where anyone and everyone (regardless of how they are in waking life) thinks in images.

Ancient cultures did so by attributing these dreams to a power that was beyond their explanation, and this might have been the very source of myths and stories which were later represented through various paintings, stories, plays and sculptures. Both Freud and Jung believed that the birth of mythology and literature was from the dream and that they shared the mode of information presentation through a narrative structure. Though dreams bear a relationship to how one’s day has been, it is also nature speaking of its own accord. Jung believes that the dream happens to you because nature creates it – that means something is thinking within us. But once, the myths and stories were found have much more than what the gods would engage in, a new approach was presented where dreams and the recurring themes within them were discussed differently by creatives.  Dali and Hitchcock immediately come to mind when it comes to artistically exploring the inner facets of the mind through this non-religious Freudian lens. An example, that too an extreme one, is of the mythological stories across cultures with the theme where a mortal woman gets raped by a god. The symbol, though explained back then through stories of gods, still lives in the form of women having dreams of being sexually assaulted. Cultural norms also play into account on how the dream in itself gets interpreted – and this includes Freud himself. And as we know that most of his patients were not completely cured of their neuroses, it does tell us a lot about how at that time, an interest in the topic of childhood abuse and whatever piqued the interest of the times was used as an explanation of dreams. This is also a point that Jung in a way frees his postulate from.

Freud sees art as having no value but yet being something which we could not do without. Art, through a Jungian lens, is what our dreams have made out from the massive inputs we receive both as individuals and as a collective. It needs to be analysed by the mind  and this analysis can lead to a spiritual self realization, but also shake one’s grounds of belief entirely. This self realization can be therapeutic and thus art can address to this, which is a release by itself of the images in one’s mind that need to be shown. The Jungian theory gives a more responsible approach to the individual by putting the power back into the hands of the person, they can learn from their dreams themselves and use it as a way to better themselves. It hints at action rather than reliance on someone else’s explanation of one’s own reality. This process can be spiritual or religious but it is creative nonetheless – we might think of creativity in a very traditional mindset as being able to write or draw but there is much more to that. Creativity exists in all forms of work. There have been countless cases of mathematicians dreaming up solutions to the most impossible problems, at times with a divine intervention – the genius Ramanujam would often attribute the knowing the answers to the toughest mathematical problems to the Goddess of Learning, who would tell him the solution in his dreams. And in other cases, people try to achieve these states, to learn more about themselves through meditation or medication.

Numerous writers, philosophers and artists have tried to explore the realm of dreams but none can be sure except for that it is yet something really uncanny and subjective about our lives which we have become completely used to. What might be someone else’s dream is either a very unpleasant or intriguing experience for the other – and that is what, I feel, certain art films and artworks aim to address. Jung’s mere realization of there being a self which spread beyond this mind and that there is an collective unconscious that connects us might just explain for this fascination with dreams and all that is dream like. Then again, the ideas of Freud (as he had postulated for the human mind), stand in between and within these newer like in a city with an ancient past.

On ‘The Uncanny’

In his 1919 essay titled ‘The Uncanny’, Freud describes the notion as a ‘hidden yet a familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it’. It is a confrontation of the subject and the unconscious, and the repressed impulses which reflect as an irreducible anxiety back at the real world. Freud was one of the first few to discuss the concept of the uncanny – here, he starts by analyzing the word itself and the various meanings it might carry. Both the German words, unheimlich and heimlich could be considered to be the two faces of the same coin wherein their meanings almost blur over each other. The essay further delves into the myths and fables with themes that are known to cause this feeling of uncanniness. But as it could be easy to make vast generalizations from a handful of examples, Freud also draws very clear lines through careful explanations for different situations where the same situation might not be uncanny. He also states that the uncanniness is what pushes the set reality of that experience or story towards what it shouldn’t be – the formative elements which pull the observer in through the details which reinforce a reality can only then be broken down by the dissonance that results in uncanniness. In ‘Playing with Dead Things’, Mike Kelley adds more color to Freud’s ideas by putting it in the context of the realist figurative sculpture and how it has been perceived and what it has stood for. He refines the concept by studying the representation of the human form in sculpture, and our interaction with the inanimate through lenses that cover religion, death, aesthetics, fetishes and culture. Each one of the causes given by Freud for this uncanniness, is demonstrated by Kelley through examples from human history spanning cultures. While Freud looks at this uncanniness caused by us being reminded of our mortality & a challenge to our expectations, it could be said that Kelley directs the dialogue ahead, beyond mortality and to the building of such expectations.

Kelley’s assertion encapsulates both the characterizations of the uncanny presented by Freud, where they arise either from what our ancestors have experienced or what one has experienced in the childhood. The ‘uncanny’ is supposed to remind us of our own Id, our forbidden and thus repressed impulses which when placed in uncertain situations remind us of infantile beliefs in the omnipotence of thought. The super-ego, ridden with Oedipal guilt, feels threatened by this as it fears symbolic castration via punishment. Also, the example given by Kelley about the Church trying to discourage the use of sculpture was in a way this very uncanny feeling it had towards the pagan relics of one’s mortality. Though, the Church in itself would also thrive on the fear of one’s own mortality, it could not comprehend in the same way how pre-Abrahamic cultures had used sculpture. Thus, a super ego at a cultural level was now trying to check whatever remained from the early stages of this ego’s development. Though, it eventually had to come to terms with the use of sculpture for religious purposes, one could safely say that its attention might have shifted on another such pagan issue. I think Kelley’s examples include much more than what Freud was trying to demonstrate through the folklore. The mention of ‘unfamiliar familiarity’ and ‘familiar unfamiliarity’ also ignites countless examples in one’s mind that must be mentioned in brief. This goes beyond the arts and into the sciences where discoveries of ancient artefacts are still met with speculation and fears regarding their origin and working – an uncanny feeling wraps such findings. Another example would be of the uncanniness that is felt usually by newer cultures towards the traditions and customs of the older cultures – there might have been remnants of it within these newer societies that give rise to fear. One could even attribute this to be one of the reasons for the Oedipal Complex, where the child experiences what his father did, through him, and ends up in conflict with him.

The infantile narcissism, which still holds ground in the mind of the adult, projects itself onto other objects as it tries to form doubles that give it the assurance of immortality. It mutates, with age, into a recessed space where its own assurance turns into constant reminders of its mortality. This struggle of the self, to stay alive, question reality while also constantly being aware of its own fragility, keeps it torn between inevitable death and the constant desire to create its doubles. These doubles can range subjectively for people, some may wish to live through their artistic work while others would strive to get statues of themselves made. Others might wish to be immortalized (or at least preserved) through their collections, which for them, capture the time and the intangible aspect of their lives. Society in itself pushes this conflict further, especially when it pertains to the aspect of death and birth. We still follow certain rites, across cultures, that hold some primitive ground in them. Thus, there arises usually a feeling of uncanniness related to these topics. The desire to get an expensive coffin or a well crafted tombstone is just another manifestation of what the Pharaohs thought when they witnessed the pyramids being erected. Only the expectation of an afterlife has turned into a wait for resurrection, but there is always this will to still live, somewhere after and in between. And while we are struggling in between this conflict, I feel, we end up creating something.

On ‘The Ego & The Id’

The first statement, from “The Ego & the Id” (on the ego being primarily a bodily ego), makes the point that the ego is dependent on the external world, ie. the conscious self that observes, processes and responds cannot exist without the constant stimulation presented to it. It must rationalize whatever it receives from the real world. But then again, the self should also view itself separate from the outside world so as to preserve itself and not ‘dissolve’ into it. The ego, thus, an organization of the mental process, must arise from the Id itself.

Since the ego forms the interface from where an individual responds to and gets stimulation from the outer world, consciousness could be considered to be what covers this interface. All of this, as it rests on the Id, is in fact the part of it that has modified itself after interacting with the external world. Though ego’s development comes from the nucleus which is the perception system – the development of Id from the instinct, and ego being built on the Id, introduces some room for unconscious to exist within the ego’s reach. Since the consciousness which ego puts forth to the outer world is indeed standing on the boundless unconscious, it affects whatever the Id eventually responds to. Though the ego feels that it is an independent entity, its actions and desires are always in line with that the Id wants. The ego must also operate according to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the Id’s demands, often also compromising on satisfaction to avoid negative consequences. It stands on a middle ground between the Id and the outside world (and its stronger manifestation existing within as the superego), trying to make the Id conform to societal rules, while also trying to make the world conform to the Id’s innermost passions. This conflict often leads ego to an anxious place, if not a guilt ridden one. For the human race, our instincts work to preserve oneself, survive and procreate – these are hard wired into our unconscious. Put simply, when we assume that we have made a rational choice, several layers below, it is nothing but a primal desire we are responding to by assigning a rational meaning to it.

The perception here refers to external input and whatever the ego has tried to understand of it. Any lack of such, that is, an ego which leans more toward the super-ego or is unable to explain these actions to itself results in psychological problems and/or coping mechanisms. I feel that the implications of this claim are a validation to Darwin’s then-recent work from a psychoanalytical perspective.

Through the oral and anal stages of the psychosexual development of an individual, the faces of superego and the ego show up and cause early conflicts with what the Id has set up for itself up until then. These have been observed by Freud as the Oedipus/Electra Complex where the parent is seen as a competition for what provides pleasure and even preservation.

At the very beginning, all the libido is accumulated in the Id which in itself is driven purely by the pleasure principle – the early stages are the years where the Id is ‘testing the waters’, ie. it could be considered to be reaching out, knowing and setting its outer layers (consciousness) accordingly to what works and what does not. The pleasure comes from the outside world to serve the Id, thus the pleasure arising from a satiated Id is what paves the way to the narcissism observed in children. But Freud does state that auto-eroticism precedes the formation of the ego – this is the point when the child views his or her body as a source of pleasure. Since narcissism is defined as an investment of libido in the ego, the ego and narcissism must take birth at the same time. The Id sends part of this libido out into erotic object-cathexes, whereupon the ego, now more mature than ever, tries to gain control over the object-libido and tries to force itself on the Id as a love-object. The narcissism of the ego is thus a secondary one, which has now been withdrawn from objects.

Narcissism is analyzed through examples which discuss the early hold of an ego-libido in homosexual men, how children address to the object libido demands of the parents and how love (which is an object-libido investment in an another individual) between men and narcissistic women plays out for both the parties in an imbalanced and often conflicting way; a strong emphasis on either one depletes the other and is definitely not healthy when paired against the opposite, as in the myth of Echo and Narcissus. What Freud does make clear is that love, when reciprocated back, makes up for the disappointments and vulnerabilities that come with it.

In the two essays discussed here, the development of Freud’s ideas pertaining to the structural model of the human psyche can be clearly seen to take form. Conflict is a core pillar being universal to all of Freud’s work so far. Whether it is the conflict between the individual and the herd (in Civilization & its Discontents) or the individual’s invisible war against their own self, conflict is what Freud might as well present as the element of being human. Another interesting aspect of these essays is the exploratory yet a ‘surer’ dialogue than the hypotheses Freud presents, doubts and contradicts often in his later work. The impact of Darwin’s work can also be seen where the primal Id could be the common connection to the compounded conscious experience of our ancestors. Or maybe it is another father-son conflict for yet another essay.

Originally written as a critical response paper for a course.

On Freud’s Oedipal

In the article ‘Ardent Masturbation’, Leo Bersani compares the methods by which influential thinkers of the west like Descartes and Proust presented, questioned and convinced their audience of what they thought was the truth about the world they are in. While questioning the self-appropriative nature of ontology itself in this piece, Freud is examined through his interpretation of the subject-object narrative in the Oedipus Rex. As per Freud’s view, when simply broken down, the story of Oedipus was about a son’s wish to possess his mother and eliminate his father. What was missed was that the aggression towards the parent was not directed by the child but came from the aggression and self preservation drive from the parents who abandoned him to die such that the prophecy they had known of wouldn’t come true. What Oedipus did in the years that followed was to only avoid the fate of being the one who murders his father and sleeps with his own mother. It is fate that wins, rather than anyone’s desires to preserve or to kill.

The given remark of Bersani, when thought of at the level of the civilization, sets the role of the father that protects yet also acts as a threat. This role could be best assigned to an authority such as a government. It is this authority that keeps us safe, from what could be said to be the primal within and the hostile exterior world. The survival of this authority is based on the control over the sexual urges and confusions of the society, which could be analogous to an child exploring his or her phallic stages of psychological development by seeking pleasure from and assigning it to different objects. This rivalry is at root in all conflicts at a social scale and thus the reform, where the child becomes his own the father through a sacrificial murder, is the bloody struggle of a revolution. The entire idea of questioning the established narrative to protect or lay claim to what we feel is naturally ours (resources, personal rights etc.) can be seen at the core of all revolutions and reformations that occured in Europe. Even now, in a society that has probably been at its healthiest, safest and at the peak of its freedom, we still see this in a constant strive to better and overthrow what exists.

The rivalry and challenge to authority is not exclusively directed to the male parent but also the female, as was proposed by Carl Jung through the Electra Complex. But there is another facet to the female authority in the story of Oedipus, where it doesn’t play accomplice to what the male has to say. The Sphinx is the representation of the feminine authority that dominates and punishes with much deadly a force than what the father would unwield. This female figure is not only a match when it comes to physical strengths but is also cunning. Her suicide shows the intensity of this dishonor felt after having Oedipus solve the riddle. This reveals the other controlling end of vanity that results, as Freud suggests, in females when the reverse Oedipus Complex is not properly addressed.

Bersani sees the story of Oedipus more than just a tragic story of a family but rather as a struggle by human consciousness to gain autonomy, in which it separates itself through struggle and recognizes itself as separate from the object realm, with ‘crudest sexual fantasies to the most refined scientific inquiries and philosophical investigations.’ From a Cartesian perspective, it can indeed be the individual gaining control over the forces that made him, creating that demarcation between man and nature which is ever so strong today, more so in the developed world. But then again, there is also a yearning to get back to it, which could be said to be the wish of becoming that father – the illusion of control that is laden with guilt that we as a developed society exhibit towards the world around us.

But when the child identifies with his father, this is the points where he submits to authority and gradually ends up later being a father to a child like himself, choosing a mother that emulates what he had found attracted to in his own. The conflict repeats almost like a ritual – a sign of an illness according to Freud but so essential to human existence. This is where the differences between Occidental and Oriental philosophies show their face, especially relevant to this issue.

The Oedipal Myth, in a way, does largely pertain to the thinking of the West, at least to how it works in the sub-dermal. I feel that Bersani limits his statement safely to an Occidental perspective because of the Greek influence on Abrahamic faiths, which eventually influenced the Western thought. While the Old Testament was largely about an enigmatic father figure exhibiting his authority, usually through severe punishment, things took a different turn in the Bible. Christ’s life in itself was all about questioning the establishment and his crucifixion could be an equivalent of the child murdering the father (or a part of him) thus being bound by guilt. God, or a symbol of his, was brought down from an unreachable place, humanized and murdered by his children. All of this lies at core of what Freud presents through the story of Oedipus – the fact that the son must murder his father only to be reborn again as his son. This influence from more recent and influential stories might have played some role in Freud analysing the myth in this way.

In eastern philosophies, particularly Hinduism (including Buddhism), examples of father-son conflict do exist but they go beyond the mere dialogue that revolves around the claim and access to the mother (the closest being of Ganesha being decapitated by his own father, Shiva, only to be established as a new divine entity by replacing his head with that of an elephant – an analysis of this scenario interestingly correlates the trunk of the elephant to that of the penis and discusses how Ganesha is a celibate, thus ‘put in place’ by his father’s authority) – in the rest of the cases, the father was to be obeyed and there are countless stories about sons being sacrificed for the preservation and sometimes the selfish needs of the father. This approach does show up in the passivity of the eastern thought where historic reforms at social and political level have not been as aggressive as in the west.

The Oedipal Myth, as interpreted by Freud, does not directly influence or play about in the modern Western culture but its theme of challenging an authoritative figure has the essence of what could have led to the influence of Judaeo-Christian thought. It should also be stated that the outcomes of it are not a universal phenomenon but the conflict between the parent and the child is a universal one.

On ‘Leonardo, A Memory Of His Childhood’

Provide a brief critical précis of Freud’s classic speculative essay on Leonardo. Why did Freud decide to write about Leonardo, and what evidence do you find here of Freud’s own personal feelings of ambivalence, doubt, despair and hope?   Is there any evidence that Freud identified with Leonardo? Does Freud’s mistranslation of “nibbio” undermine the entire argument according to Meyer Schapiro? What is Schapiro’s central point and does it strengthen or undermine Freud’s position?  Do you agree with Peter Gay’s remark that Freud’s reconstruction of Leonardo’s early emotional development “stands—or falls—on its own account.

In this essay published in 1910, the Renaissance polymath’s life is analysed by Freud as a puzzle with many lost pieces. Though largely speculative and even flawed in its logic and core derivations thorough mistranslation, both DaVinci’s work and accounts, of what apparently is his childhood memory, are used to construct the backbone of his personality. Surprisingly, Freud, who considers art to have no real use or value, relies mostly on Leonardo’s art to analyse him. This also amplifies Freud’s own contradictions as an individual where he surrounds himself with ancient art in his room and travels the world to see archaeological wonders and collect these artifacts yet claim all of it to hold no value in his eyes. Freud commences this essay by stating that he wishes to bring a more human face which the other historians and biographers tend to overlook when it comes to writing about greats like Da Vinci. With whatever little information he has available, he tries to fill the gaps in our understanding of the artist. Freud takes Leonardo’s childhood, of having been reared by two mothers as a huge influential factor over his sexuality and creativity. The lack of a father in the initial years of infancy and the passivity of his father towards him even after having been around also acts as an explanation to his lifelong childlike curiosity with which he pursued the phenomena of the world and the rate at which he abandoned them. Despite of Leonardo coming across as a man ahead of his time who was not understood, often accused and alone, probably like his single mother, Freud did maintain that he would not have achieved what he did without this almost tragic upbringing.

Freud considers Da Vinci to be one of the most influential and important humans to have ever lived – his outlook in the essay is of reverence and understanding. This work could also be considered as an homage by a man who wishes to seek similarities between himself and someone he admires, this he does first by bringing him to the level of a human who can be analysed (which he explains at length incase it might feel blasphemous to some) and then questioning and speculating on the aspects of his life as if he were just another subject. I feel that Freud feels a time spanning bond with Leonardo, where he sees him as a man who would have exactly understood him even when having an entirely different approach and perception towards the world. Though the essay also aims to explain Leonardo’s dormant and almost maternal homosexuality, it also defends DaVinci. Bringing Freud himself, as a writer into the analysis, one can feel an almost maternal level of understanding with which he writes about Leonardo in this which just might have been the reason why this was one of his favorite pieces.

Freud saw himself, through his analysis of society and mankind, having reached a place or a zone and now was curious to know the way which led Leonardo to the same vantage point. The essay reveals much more about Freud, to me, than it does about DaVinci. Some interesting points are that Freud directed his mental pursuits to what was within, and most of his explanations were centered around the primal facet of mankind among which sexual force was the most dominant for both the individual and the group. Leonardo’s pursuits were directed to the outer world and very visibly avoided the topic of sexuality. Also, Leonardo was met with disappointment from his peers for having abandoned many projects and his scientific pursuits were not really recognized or shared with the world back then. This was there even toward the end of his life where he had found himself to be closer to alchemists of the day than the artists. On the other hand, Freud was almost a celebrity and an influential figure in the field of psychoanalysis which in itself was swinging between a  being a largely speculative pseudoscience and a proper scientific field. While Freud claimed to not feel any use in art and considered himself to be a man of pure reason, Leonardo gravitated toward the sciences through art – the paintings led him to study light and color which ultimately led him to study the physical sciences in a greater detail. The ways with which both the individuals explained the world around them also differed, where Leonardo would try to demonstrate and explain via experiments, Freud would rely on observation and explanation. I feel that Freud was very well aware of these differences while also knowing the similarities that bound them. I would also go as far as to say that one can feel Freud seeing a more feminine side of himself in Da Vinci – the same, if not less, level of rationale and awareness that completely leaves Freud fascinated to some extent. And like Freud, Da Vinci also had some contradictions about himself – while he was a person who did not eat meat and had an almost pagan interpretation of nature and its forces (highly feminine qualities for those times), he would also design weapons of war and show an indifference towards that nature as something beyond our control.

With these differences, he also connected to Leonardo on multiple levels placing both, first and foremost, as natural scientists. Also, Freud’s own sex life was largely inactive prior to his marriage and after the birth of his children. He also was involved with Wilhelm Fliess – a romance that might not have been physical in nature but definitely was strong. Freud, in this shows Leonardo almost like a hero whose flaws and difficulties made him what he was. A childhood full of questions that cross into the realm of adults is another commonality, in a way, with Freud’s own upbringing in a conservative Jewish household, his eventual abandonment of the faith and the anti-semitic climate he grew up in Europe during those days.

Freud did indeed misread the translation of the word “nibbio” from Oskar Pfister’s work. What was meant to be a kite in Italian, Freud mistook as a vulture and continued to defend the decision to confirm to his own bias. This breaks down most of Freud’s hypothesis regarding the bird  which Peter Gay has rightly skipped in his version. The bird which was supposed to be a vulture, thus, is not Leonardo’s mother nor is it the representation of Virgin Mary. Schapiro sees this memory of a kite touching the infant Leonardo’s mouth with its tail in a much more plausible way. DaVinci had a lifelong pursuit to bring flight to mankind. Most of his designs concerned flight in some way or the other, this also meant that he closely studied the physiology and the behavior of birds in flight. The bird and its tail, which acts as a rudder, could be considered to be a manifestation of those essential actions in flight over his breathing, his life. The tail touching an infant’s mouth could also be viewed as a literary pattern that Leonardo was aware of and repeating. This pattern has been observed in various cultures where a prophecy or a blessing is handed over to a mortal by a bird’s tail touching the infant’s mouth. The works of Valerius Maximus, which employed this pattern, were also prominent around the time of Leonardo and must have had some influence over what he saw as symbolic in either memory or in dreams. Maybe, beyond Freud’s explanation of dreams of flying being a yearning for improved sexual performance, Leonardo saw himself as the forebearer of the gift of flight to mankind and this lifelong pursuit gave him these memories – the ego of the artist in him saw it more than violation by a bird but a divine message.

Freud assumes that all was well between Leonardo and his mother, which also fits well into the story he is trying to build. Schapiro points at Freud having had dismissed the contents of one of Da Vinci’s notebooks called Envy, in which the kite is the opposite of a model good mother. This brings in a fair balance to what Freud tries to push as a largely peaceful and admiring yet highly impactful relationship of the artist with his mother. All in all, if some other details about the family were considered, one could very well state that Leonardo had not forgiven his mother for his illegitimacy and abandonment at a later age. The same would also be reciprocated by the mother as the shame and burden of having reared a child out of wedlock. Once either one of these becomes possible, it isn’t important who points the barrel of hatred towards the other first. Both of these arguments by Schapiro undermine Freud’s position in a manner that is superior in its research.

I agree with Peter Gay’s statement of this reconstruction being self supported on the assumptions it makes. He mentions in his introduction that this was Freud’s favorite essay but also the one which exposes Freud’s flaws in his chain of argumentation, also thus becoming the favorite of his critics. Surprisingly, Freud was also aware of its flaws and even though it was initially claimed to be as ‘psychoanalysis’ conquest of culture’ – a large part of it was argued back into the realms of pure speculation. In my opinion, the assumptions made by Freud would have held some ground thad there been no mention of Leonardo’s memory of childhood. The symbolic interpretation of sighting that bird, and that too a wrong one was a spiral Freud chose to go down for himself. Once that was done, the vulture became obvious to spot in the painting and the mythical relations behind it could quickly be found in Semitic myths – a common parallel of this in contemporary times would be the numerous conspiracy groups for almost everything that exists. The only positive aspect I see of the essay, like the conspiracy groups, is that it opens up an alternate path that might hold true under certain circumstances for someone else. Or, at least it makes an individual on a similar path relate to a person like Da Vinci at some level, and for that, one could say that Freud succeeds in humanizing him in a way for all of us. Just by initiating this dialogue, one could say, that the legacy of Leonardo stays alive through all the absurdity and the logical reasoning – probably that is what Freud was trying to do after all in Leonardo’s own ways of play.

 

On ‘Civilization & Its Discontents’

Freud’s opinion on art and beauty in context to the culture and the civilization comes from a place of pure reason which does sound sensible at first but then later exposes the biases and assumptions which Freud himself is vulnerable to as a human being. For example, though Freud largely dismissed art and beauty, he used to keenly study the life of artists from his psychoanalytical lens – he studied, appreciated and even critiqued the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Dostoyevski. This stance softens in his statement on the description of beauty and the importance it holds to civilization – it is almost like a surrender of a very rational man to something which he cannot explain. That, and the fact that he had travelled and collected art gives, in a way, a look at how pained yet fascinated by art the man was. But, that is something which applies to all of us too at an individual level – a person who claims to appreciate the beauty in the world around themselves would have as sensible a definition of it as someone who is always dismissive of it and or is cynical about it.

He also mentions in the second chapter of Civilization & its Discontents the difference in the working of art for the creator and the viewer. While art has the tendency to sway the artist in a direction away from ‘unpleasures’ (often to places of delusion if left unchecked), the viewer experiences it from behind the safety of its temporariness. I would add to this by stating that any change in the way either of these roles work, that of the creator and the viewer, results in bad art or cult-like obsessions.

For me, all art is sourced in religion, or at least inspired from an unachievable ideal that is beyond our reach – this might be a godlike father figure for which it is created as form of reverence, or it might just be a state the artist wishes to see the world as or himself in – whether it is political in nature or a means of rebellion against the existing systems, it is an aspiration for the better even when it is showing the grim face of the society (shock art). Through Freud’s lenses, both these scenarios are states of delusion where an alternate explanation of reality aids the individual to avoid the ‘unpleasures’ offered by this world. Though initial idea of art was completely dependent on religion of that time, art has now become a tool that competes with religion in certain cases – this separation and shift in the attitudes of the societies is observable where art which exists within and without religion becomes aimed at it when it is on the outside. Though this might be because of historic events which have made art a tool to  express concerns and achieve higher levels of self awareness as a culture – one must remember that all the great works of art have arisen amidst suffering and in case that ideal is ever achieved, there will be nothing to dream of nor anything to create towards. This is similar to the example Freud presents with respect to religion, where the unpleasure needs to be for an alternate watered down path of religion to exist for the masses.

The point about art being accessible to a few is indeed a true one, though anyone can create with almost anything available as a raw material or a tool – only a few enjoy the act of this creation. The phenomenon of being in a flow state shows very clearly as to how the process of creation can be meditative. An example that immediately comes to mind, arising from the common task of writing, is shuji or Japanese calligraphy where no stroke is alike and every stroke captures the mood and emotion of the calligrapher. Though an activity requiring a high level of skill, it is described as something which is highly meditative for both the creator and the observer. As said, even when art is accessible to anyone who wishes to create, it is accessible to viewing and appreciation only to a few who can afford – I see it as something which only holds value once the bottom layers of the Maslow’s hierarchy are satisfied. An example of this is the presence of public art spaces in my city, which is the capital of the country India – these brilliant and at times expensive installations stand unnoticed, unappreciated and often vandalized. This is very much different from how public art exists in developed countries where the primal needs of the vast majority are fulfilled. Art is best appreciated when the viewer has a full stomach, a comfortable home to go back to and someone with whom he/she can discuss its meaning – only then would they stop and smell the roses. I have yet another example to back this opinion of mine, there is a huge difference in people opting for fine art education in developed countries versus the developing countries where the focus is primarily above what interests the self in fields that provide job security. Even if not wished for, this brings in the aspect of class into art and design – within these societies, art remains exclusive to the ones who have ‘self-actualized’ while outside these regions, the creative works from these societies are either often outright dismissed or presented with a blanket that keeps them separate (and at times beyond criticism – a positive bias).

But this difference also brings to mention the concept of beauty. Freud looks at beauty as an extension of the sexual, he looks at beauty positive sexual traits which we assign to objects and secondary sexual characteristics even if the primary sex organs themselves are not really considered beautiful (which does explain the development of object-fetishes for many individuals) but doesn’t fully explain the oceanic feeling of oneness in countless other situations. This explanation might just be the weakest among his attempts at explaining this beauty.

Looking away, the complexity and subjectivity of beauty and art in itself explains their purpose. Beauty is subjective not just at an individual level but at a cultural level as well. This subjectivity also influences what the art of that society addresses and considers important – in a way art does find a purpose as a documentation of history, an interpretation free from what the writers of history see the same events as, where the dreams frozen in time can be stared at long enough to view the aspirations and the spirit of those times.

Originally written as a critical response paper for a course.

Savelized!

First came their forefathers, thumping their holy books over our heads and telling us straight up but talking down atop from beasts we had never seen, that we were savages. With that they tried to save us and shape us, shave us off of our primal deeds. I was taught that what I had understood until now was wrong, that they knew better about me, my family, my faith and my people. They allowed me in places I anyway would have had been in, just that making my presence more visible to themselves is what justified the conquest that civilized savages like me. Bound but clothes removed, I was taught to teach the others like me, that only the master best knows the servant.

In a battlefield, bringing death at my own brothers, I am a weapon against the things Master says he protects me from – my roots. But I am also his shield.

Now come their children, riding high on virtue and pills, looking a bit like me this time though; telling me that I am misunderstood – pointing at my skin or hair, reassuring me that I am beautiful yet hated by others because no one understands me like they do. I am misunderstood because they know better about me, my family, my faith and my people. They still allow me in places I anyway would have been in, just that making my presence more visible among themselves is what justifies the inclusion that civilizes savages like me. Unbound but a cloth wrapped around my head now, I am taught to teach the others, that only the master best knows the victim.

Away from the carnage in a new battlefield, I am a weapon against the things he says he protects me from – this time, his own roots. But like then, and now once again, I am also his shield.

Concept: Automobile Climate Control Interface

For one of our course assignments, we were asked to choose and redesign a widget we frequently interact with. I picked the climate control dials in our cars,  which vary with different cars and take up unnecessary space on the dashboard.

 

This concept for the new widget consists of concentric dials, each of which control a parameter of the automobile’s indoor climate – the center is a scrolling sphere through which air direction mode and even vent settings in-between two modes can be chosen.

This was a quick build and I kept the explanation at its simplest with three concepts – one being the framework I started with, the other a widget made of physical dials and the third one specific to touch interfaces.

Explaining the concentric dials (outer to inner):

  • Temperature : Air conditioner/Heater/Fan
  • Fan Speed : 0 to 10, controllable from both clockwise and counterclockwise rotation
  • Air Intake Control
  • Air Direction Vent Control Trackball