Departures

September 2013

The Ganges roars, a wind above it in this night, dragged along with the torrent that made the hills echo only a few hours back. Nothing to be seen beyond what the floodlights show of this concrete bank, this ghat is like a train station drifting through the night. The platform where the last goodbyes are said. With a vessel in my hand, I step into the cold water – coldest thing to be out there in this summer, my bare feet are pierced by sharp rocks. There is a clinker that can be heard through as my feet drag through the steps. Bones. Thousands of pieces accumulated. The ticket stubs left by countless who left from this spot. I think of them, try to fit all their lives within a moment of closed eyes before I offer the remains to the river. The river swallows them readily into the grander offering which is the garland of bones under these muddy waters.

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Of Dogs & Mountains

Whenever I have hiked in any part of the Himalayas, there has always been a dog that tagged along. And this is something everyone experiences – anyone who has taken a trail leaving a village or a town. The reasons will not be known as to why these mountain dogs accompany travelers in their treks from one village to another, only to mysteriously disappear and reappear again. Maybe they do it as a duty or with the hope of getting some food; or for their own sense of security, to have a human to walk along with through these isolated paths that might harbor some danger. These dogs are the much-mentioned, often-photographed but seldom-discussed aspects of everyone’s Himalayan journey. Their stamina will surely surpass yours and they could do the same trek several times in a day, both ways – your challenge is their neighborhood and one should never forget that. Their friendliness comes from seeing this world right from their doorstep – these are wise beings that must be treated with respect.

Climbing right now, my legs hurt and these urban lungs gasp for the very cool air that makes my ears hurt, and I slump down on a rock to rest. If I climbed too fast, the four-legged friend will come trailing along, I ask him whether it was the flower in bloom that slowed him down or if it were the bones in the grass I had quickly glanced over; if I climbed too slow, he will be up there ahead of me, gazing from some vantage point waiting for me to start again.

In the towering silence of the mountains, away from humans, I become aware of this other being’s presence and the trust and familiarity we have in this short duration of knowing each other. Briefly, I understand what Yudhishthira might have felt when asked to let go of the dog at the end of his climb to the heaven. And maybe the dogs that climbed with me (and you) were indeed Yama in disguise – who knows? But anyway, a part of this story about the final test of a demigod repeats in each and every such climb; staying alive as long as there are dogs, mountains and men.

mount_doggo_climb

The Spirits Of Those Times

What is nostalgia? Why do images or videos from a bygone era crystallize fascination in all of us? Is it the simplicity of the lives lived back then? Is not all past looked at with some yearning for crumbs of positivity, so that our lives do not feel like an utter waste? There is always a past to look to and smile at no matter how bad and unsatisfying our lives have been. Because in it is the fleeting moment at its most familiar, that familiarity is what we relate to our present, for good or for worse.

When I come across imagery from times other than now; if it was the time when I was alive, for me, I think of where I would have been when that image was captured. How the flutter of some butterfly’s wing would have related it to my day.  I think of the objects in that image – that they were the best outcomes, a result of the apex of technology of that time. I try to remember if I had owned or used one of those objects, or if I had interacted with one and, if yes, when did I interact with one for the first time. These can be anything from telephones & chairs to electrical switches. And prior to my existence, I think of where my parents and family would have been, the fake memories from their stories I plant in space and time appropriately. Nostalgia is an expert level family puzzle game for all ages.

Whether it is a video from the 2000s or from the early 90s, there is always something to connect. Then there are the images from further back in time, and I look at all of them and think of the people in those frames – each and everyone with an important story to tell, their life central to their reality which is the most important of them all. And they walk out of the frame to their lives and days as more like them walk in – these people who are always on the way to something important.  There are ultimate geniuses, and leaders as well as complete desolates and degenerates in those crowds – some of them are now dead and some of them are still around to witness how far we have come. It would be interesting to see how they connect their youth to the media they come across from their times – how does that weigh against their childhood memories and which connections of memories survived and which ones did not? How would have the 90s’ technological boom affected their attitude compared to how our parents recalled their youth?

Seasons

In Rochester, weather is the most easiest-to-converse-about topic between strangers. Everyone and anyone can get started about their own snow and storm story. This post is based on one such discussion I had today with a Lyft driver about it – rather than the “back in ___ we got _ feet of snow”, this conversation was more about appreciating this climate, even with its extremes.

Living in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere is way different from where I have spent most of my life. Here, all the four seasons are very salient and each comes with its own intensity and beauty.  This is unlike how it is in the temperate climates, it gets hot or cold but your surroundings pretty much look the same throughout the year. Nature reminds one loudly about time as it passes and a new appreciation develops as each year ends and starts over back again.

For people like me, who arrive here in August, it is almost like starting a biography of someone from somewhere in the middle. You get to see the individual age, shrivel up and die, but you also start the book again to see what you missed. Maybe that is how I will write my autobiography, that might help me know myself better.

Fall

The colors of the summer can be found to be lingering on for a month or two and give one enough time to observe what will soon be gone. It quickly rustles away with the winds, the same omnipresent winds which once felt like a breath of life, now carry with them the remains. Life measures time with decay, but in that decay it puts on a grand show, its last colorful push of reds and yellows – maybe a struggling display that this life, these trees, these leaves and flowers, too existed in this space and time. And then they are gone.

Winter

Winters are long and unforgiving, thus meditative. They bring in that necessary pause our lives require. One can just sit for hours and look out at bare trees, with maybe an animal skipping through quickly gathering the last bits before heading home. A crow would often break the silence bragging probably about how it has braved these winds. I am always fascinated by that one leaf which is dry and dead but still clings on to the tree, as if by some miracle it will revive once again; and maybe it does, and no one notices. Even within this stagnation, one can see decay occur – in the wet ends, at doorsteps and carpets, in what happens under the snow and the salt. Life recedes back to the bare necessities, around the heart and the hearth, and the extremes and excesses are numb so we can only hold the layers tighter to our chest, bent in and closed off from the death that stands at its strongest in this veil of stagnation outside.

Spring

The burst of the spring through the sleet, wind and snow, is that reminder of life’s return which one tends to forget about in the months of the winter. This happens almost by magic, within a week or so, and you see life raise its head once again. It feels like it would only get colder there onward and it often does – the winds and the rains crush and dissolve the large chunks of snow that lay out there for months, the same winds which had suppressed life now destroy what they had set. And then, one can see the grasses rise through the snow and the flowers dot the trees. From that, which one assumes to have been dead and stagnant, comes a sign that life was always there. It only survived in decay.

Summer

Summers are absolutely beautiful here in the flower city. It never gets too hot, and rains cool down the weather whenever it gets too uncomfortable. The days are long and the sunsets at 9 pm with their long shadows and the reds make the whole place look like a few places I have seen in my dreams. There is this laze which sets in even in the life people lead here. Now at its most fertile, this is when humans come out – we are the decay which feeds on this tree from the top.

Why did I ramble about the weather of Rochester? I do not know. Maybe this is my ode to it.

 

Guitar: Giving Up To Continue

“Makes me want to quit playing the guitar.”

“I should sell my gear on eBay.”

While conversing with my roommate, KK , as Guthrie filled the apartment with his brilliance through a mere television speaker, I realized that my pessimistic approach of quitting the instrument (or at least the influence of that feeling over me) upon seeing better players is not the correct way of dealing with insanely talented guitar players. The right way would be to keep playing and gain a higher appreciation for the person and his skill. Recognition of the fact that you shall not be the best should not be the end, it should be a sigh of understanding that you are only a human not capable of yet another thing – but, so what?

The joy now comes from the discovery of a small lick or an embellishment which makes me appreciate the player even more when I understand what was overlooked for years in my favorite song. As religion seduces a new convert through its rites, the initial fascination of a player focuses on antics and speed a performer has to offer; and this matures and often slows down as he grows to seek new sources of inspiration. And he finds himself playing and enjoying music he had imagined he would never like.

No wonder they have called it a spiritual journey.

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.