Saturday, November 12, 2011

the narcissist and masochist- a summary

In Freud's middle period he elaborates the coordinates for two major poles in the personality which subsequent analysts have taken up as the basis for masculine and feminine subjectivity in his designation of narcissistic and object libido:

“We see also, broadly speaking, an antithesis between ego-libido and object-libido. The more of the one is employed, the more the other becomes depleted. The highest phase of development of which object-libido is capable is seen in the state of being in love, when the subject seems to give up his own personality in favour of an object-cathexis; while we have the opposite condition in the paranoic's phantasy (or self-perception) of the ‘end of the world’ (On Narcissism, p.76).

Freud’s use of the paranoiac as an example of narcissism illustrates how his delusional conspiracies show him to be the interest of powerful people or groups, like the CIA and the pope and therefore powerful himself. The key to narcissism is the uniqueness of self. Whether we call it narcissistic libido or phallic jouissance the defense of paranoia shows that ‘the will’ is attached to expressing one’s uniqueness and one isn’t free to not will. If one tries to get rid of ‘the will’ it will return in the form of paranoid attacks. The uniqueness of the narcissist is tied to domination, control, and power. In contrast, object-cathexis is synonymous with the masochistic or feminine pole of the personality. Uniqueness belongs to the Other and devotion, self-sacrifice, and gratitude are words that describe the relation of the masochist. In On Narcissism Freud claims that it is usually men that have a true object cathexis. However, many analysts have disagreed with him and see it as the strength of the feminine. For example, Edith Jacobson writes “In fact, extreme idealization of women, which Freud considers a characteristically masculine attitude, can in my experience be observed more frequently in men who have strong, unconscious female identifications”. (The Self and the Object World, p.120).

Karen Horney also ties masochistic object cathexis and uniqueness being in the Other with a general trend of self-effacement. She writes:

there are taboos on all that is presumptuous, selfish, and aggressive… [and they] constitute a crippling check on the person’s narcissism, his capacity for fighting and for defending himself, [and] his self-interest— on anything that might accrue to his growth or his self-esteem (Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth, p.219).

In a simple way all of this can be captured by saying that the masochist feels he or she must be “nice”. To be nice means that one shouldn’t put others out and in fact should share with them and make them comfortable and happy if possible. One shouldn’t use vulgar language, one shouldn’t draw attention to any achievement, and one shouldn’t make claims upon others. I don’t think that object-cathexis and self-effacement must go together but I understand them as masochistic features. Similarly, narcissism and ‘blame’ seem to go together. In an interesting article Bela Grunberger relates racism to the narcissistic ego ideal which would seem to put it on par with the masochistic ego ideal of self-effacement:

The anti-Semite's profound satisfaction flows from the fact that his ego is in perfect harmony with his ego-ideal. Having made his projection onto the Jew, he has found his Manichaean paradise: all that is bad is thereafter on one side—the side of the Jew—and all that is good on the other side where he himself is. The photo carries the proof. The ego-ideal is narcissistic, and the satisfaction is that of perfect narcissistic integrity recovered through the projection on to the Jew (Grunberger, The anti-semite and the Oedipus Complex, p. 382).

The masochist seems to be taking something away from the Other with her enjoyment while the narcissist feels that someone is enjoying more than his share. The narcissist who isn’t realizing his ideal of power or dominance seems to dwell on those who have got something that they don’t deserve or those who are taking away what the narcissist deserves. A further way to conceptualize these two poles comes from the basic political stance of liberal and conservative. The liberal feels that people are basically good and deserve help while the conservative feels they are basically bad and don’t deserve help. The liberal is careful not to offend any minority groups while the conservative often demonizes some of them.

Freud goes further and complicates the narcissistic and masochistic positions by adding an object position to the already elaborated subject position of will and love. In the narcissistic position he writes:

The sexual ideal may enter into an interesting auxiliary relation to the ego ideal. It may be used for substitutive satisfaction where narcissistic satisfaction encounters real hindrances. In that case a person will love in conformity with the narcissistic type of object-choice, will love what he once was and no longer is, or else what possesses the excellences which he never had at all. The formula parallel to the one there stated runs thus: what possesses the excellence which the ego lacks for making it an ideal, is loved. (On Narcissism, p.101).

The narcissistic object position means that one seeks to find a narcissistic subject who is successful, has power, or is dominant and by possessing them one becomes more valuable. Lacan elaborates on this to say that the object narcissist wants to be the cause of desire of the subject narcissist:

[Regarding] woman… in her stature as an object offered up to desire… we should not be surprised that the narcissism of desire immediately latches onto the narcissism of the ego that is its prototype (Ecrits, p. 617).

By causing desire in the man a woman can control him. Furthermore, it is also common to say that someone can be narcissistic about their appearance or beauty and be very active in trying to appear fashionable and “hot”. Similarly, one can be masochistic subject in sacrificing one’s own growth and development for assisting the other in expressing his uniqueness, or by seeking to be liked by others or having their approval. Freud points to the object position of the masochist when he writes:

loving—being loved, corresponds exactly to the transformation from activity to passivity.… according as the object or the subject is replaced by an extraneous one, what results is the active aim of loving or the passive one of being loved—the latter remaining near to narcissism. (Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, p.133)

Freud says that being loved is “near to narcissism” but again one must pay attention to the phenomenology. Just because a person talks a lot and seems to draw a lot of attention it doesn’t mean that they are establishing their power or dominance. Rather, as the object narcissist wants to be the cause of desire in the subject, the object masochist wants to the cause of interest, delight, or fascination in the subject. Here qualities like charm, endearment, exuberance, or spiritual and depth are in order.

In sum:

Subject- the will Object- cause of desire with the 3rd term of ‘blame’ or jealousy

Subject- love Object- cause of delight with the 3rd term of ‘self-effacement’

It should be kept in mind that everyone is dynamically bisexual and it’s always a matter of emphasis on one side or another when one is economically called narcissistic or masochistic. Infantile fixations provide the foundation for one’s characterlogical or economic functioning but latter identifications with one’s parents or the values of one’s culture will also influence the outlets of pleasure and power.

In order to flesh out these two positions of narcissistic ego libido and masochistic object libido with their subject and object positions I have found it valuable to use the second generation gods in Greek mythology. I will add the further division between schizoid and neurotic in so far as schizoid represents a tendency to be more attached to the mind and have a metaphysical bent and where neurotic emphasizes a tendency to be more embodied and concerned with property. The schizoid is closer to the abstractions of math, the representations of art, or is preoccupied with things of another world, while the neurotic has more group identifications (i.e. being American, a Christian, etc.), sentimentalism concerning the family and children, or the equation of self-worth with money, recognition in groups, and family.

In narcissism we have


neurotic: Ares the physically strong and competitive god of war who is most often portrayed as a man in the prime of his life. He seeks glory in conquest and his excellence is clearly in battle but today it might be better to look at the businessman who goes to the gym.

schizoid: Hephaestus the God of metalworking and stone masonry which shows intellectual dominance as opposed to the physical dominance of Ares and whose body is crippled. His excellence is in his inventions and his trade and today it might be better to look at innovation in technology rather than carpentry.


neurotic: Aphrodite the Goddess of beauty and sexual desire. She is described as physically beautiful, sensuous, and seductive.

schizoid: Athena the Goddess of handicrafts and wisdom which shows that her interest is in secondary finery (beautiful adornments) as opposed to the physical embodiment of sexuality represented by Aphrodite. Additionally, with the focus on the mind Athena would stand back and observe desire between people, as compared to Aphrodite who lives it out, thus giving us a motivation for wisdom. This wisdom would be put to good use not just in unmasking potential rivals in love relationships but also in understanding the psychology of the enemy your state is at war with, and so I think Athena’s other facet, as the goddess of war, makes sense.

In masochism we have


neurotic: Artemis the goddess of childbirth and the hunt whose interests in this masculine occupation represents an identification with a man. Her status as virgin would indicate that she loved her father, imitated him, and has remain devoted to him ever since. Freud writes: “Analysis very often shows that a little girl, after she has had to relinquish her father as a love-object, will bring her masculinity into prominence and identify herself with her father (that is, with the object which has been lost), instead of with her mother. This will clearly depend on whether the masculinity in her disposition—whatever that may consist in—is strong enough” (The Ego and the Id, p.32).

schizoid: Hermes the messenger god of cunning wiles whose devotion is shown to an ideology or group as opposed to the identification with an individual illustrated in Artemis. He is also the psychopomp who delivers souls to Hades and this might bespeak a general kindness to people over top of any group allegiance.


neurotic: Dionysus the god of wine, parties, and festivals who in his merriment illustrates himself to be the cause of joy and love in others. I think most people know the outgoing social type who tells stories and makes jokes and though he talks a lot it isn't about how great he is (i.e. is narcissistic). For a man we might not say he's endearing and exuberant but spontaneous and fun would cover both sexes. What I want to capture is that Dionysus, in one facet, could be seen as a ‘people person’ in the archetype of the story-telling drunkard, even though other facets of his personality are very dark.

schizoid: Apollo or the god of music, healing, prophecies, and poetry who illustrates a more esoteric ability to gain the approval of others and touch something deeper in them than the Dionysian approach of merriment. Here we have someone who wants to guess your astrological sign or read your palm or write you a song to gain your approval or love. Mediated through ideas or art the Appollonian seeks to touch something in your core. In contrast to Athena, and her wisdom through reasoning things out, Apollo is intuition and energies.

These gods, of course, are over-determined and in this interpretation certain parts of their character are emphasized over others but this should help to illustrate the schema. I also think it is a strength of my interpretation that Hermes, Dionysus, and Apollo are mostly represented as beardless youths as opposed to Ares and Hephaestus who are represented as men.

No comments:

Post a Comment