Saturday, February 25, 2012

psychoanalytic basics: the death drive and mental bisexuality

I've posted a lot about mental bisexuality but it seems to be very difficult for a lot of people.

We're going through Beyond the Pleasure Principle in one of my classes and here's some of what I wrote:

The argument for the death drive is the “conservative nature of the drives” and the urge to restore an earlier state of things. The problem here is that Freud uses the examples of birds migrating and fish spawning in old waters but in these examples, we seem to be talking about habits or the tendency to go where satisfaction had been. This raises the issue of how the aim of life can be death when the organism was never conscious of its inanimate state. Just because organic life might end because the organism runs out of energy (i.e. starves) or because the parts begin to break down from wear and tear (i.e. one ages) this doesn’t mean that it is an aim. Freud gives examples of how animals form habits just like humans but to say we want to capture a state that was never conscious is outside of these examples of habit. It is also outside the examples of the drive. Freud quotes Schopenhauer that “[death] is the true result and to that extent the purpose of life” but it isn’t so from the individual’s own consciousness and that is what is important in the formation of a drive. Otherwise Freud is making a leap from an observation or mortality to the claim that the organism itself somehow knows it will die.

What is much more compelling here is the idea that when inside and outside are separated in the consciousness of the organism that it then would have a drive for no such distinction to exist and to return to a unity with the object. This would make the “death drive” not a biological principle but a psychological one. The separation of inside and outside would divide the energy of the organism between energy associated with homeostasis and the pleasure principle and energy associated with the object.

Fenichel, although he has some problems with the terminology of Fromm and Horney but accepts their revision of the death drive in relation to psychological separation from the mother rather than a biological theory:

“The phantasy of suicide is the last hope if all other means have not succeeded in bringing relief of the burden of aloneness.” ...people who are pathologically striving for suicide usually… have fantasies connected with the idea of “death” which, it is true, might mean overcoming “the awareness of separateness of an individual.” 145-6 Fenichel, O. Psychoanalytic Remarks on Fromm's Book “Escape from Freedom”.

Many of Freud’s later ideas seem to point to this direction of early separation being a pre-phallic factor that carries over to the phallic-oedipal conflict.

Fear of castration is not, of course, the only motive for repression: indeed, it finds no place in women, for though they have a castration complex they cannot have a fear of being castrated. Its place is taken in their sex by a fear of loss of love, which is evidently a later prolongation of the infant's anxiety if it finds its mother absent. You will realize how real a situation of danger is indicated by this anxiety. If a mother is absent or has withdrawn her love from her child, it is no longer sure of the satisfaction of its needs and is perhaps exposed to the most distressing feelings of tension (New Introductory Lectures, p.87)

Freud has always maintained that the partial drives, like the pre-oedipal components of the superego are interconnected even though the idea of the “timeless realm of the unconscious” might make them seem static and individual: “The various channels along which the libido passes are related to each other from the very first like inter-communicating pipes, and we must take the phenomenon of collateral flow into account” (Freud, Three Essays, p.151 f.).

Freud in BPP also does much to pave the way for this understanding. He mentions the myth in Plato of an original state in which both the sexes were combined before they were cut in half (which could be read as the separation of inside and outside) and puts forward the idea of aggression or sadism emerging first in the individual and indicating the path that sexuality will later enter

In the obscurity that reigns at present in the theory of the instincts, it would be unwise to reject any idea that promises to throw light on it. We started out from the great opposition between the life and death instincts. Now object-love itself presents us with a second example of a similar polarity—that between love (or affection) and hate (or aggressiveness). If only we could succeed in relating these two polarities to each other and in deriving one from the other! From the very first we recognized the presence of a sadistic component in the sexual instinct. As we know, it can make itself independent and can, in the form of a perversion, dominate an individual's entire sexual activity. It also emerges as a predominant component instinct in one of the ‘pregenital organizations’, as I have named them. But how can the sadistic instinct, whose aim it is to injure the object, be derived from Eros, the preserver of life? Is it not plausible to suppose that this sadism is in fact a death instinct which, under the influence of the narcissistic libido, has been forced away from the ego and has consequently only emerged in relation to the object? It now enters the service of the sexual function. During the oral stage of organization of the libido, the act of obtaining erotic mastery over an object coincides with that object's destruction; later, the sadistic instinct separates off, and finally, at the stage of genital primacy, it takes on, for the purposes of reproduction, the function of overpowering the sexual object to the extent necessary for carrying out the sexual act. It might indeed be said that the sadism which has been forced out of the ego has pointed the way for the libidinal components of the sexual instinct, and that these follow after it to the object. Wherever the original sadism has undergone no mitigation or intermixture, we find the familiar ambivalence of love and hate in erotic life. (BPP, 53-4)

Edith Jacobson takes Freud’s and spells it out in regards to the ego:

“So far we have neglected to consider the vicissitudes of aggression in the development of ego interests. In fact, the above-discussed energetic shifts and changes, though reinforced by the ambivalence conflict with the love objects, support also its solution. The development of ego interests calls away from the love object not only part of the libido but also part of the aggression which, after being fused with libido and likewise neutralized, can become vested in the new objects. At the same time the experience of learning how to function independently turns aggressive forces inevitably and increasingly away from the love objects toward the self, since the child in his beginning, independent activities meets with constant hurts and failures. What he once experienced as disappointments and frustrations, hurts for which he blamed the parents only, he now begins to regard partly as injuries that he has inflicted upon himself. This attitude is greatly supported by his efforts to master his aggression and to build up enduring libidinous cathexes of his love objects. Thus he is apt to undergo experiences of realistic physical and of mental hurt, accompanied by feelings of inferiority and self-criticism which clearly manifest an increasing cathexis of the self-representations with aggression turned away from the love objects. They indicate the onset of "secondary masochism" which in pathological cases may invade the psychosexual life, may color the ego attitudes and actions, or may develop mainly in the direction of moral masochism. (The Self and Object World, P. 92).

So, initially while the aggression is fused in oral and anal ego ideals that ultimately carry over (through the interconnected tubes) to the phallic ego ideal of excellence (to conquer) when they defuse they either become hate towards the object in various forms (biting, swallowing, mutilating, killing, etc.) and following the Talion rule of projection are possibly felt to be returned upon the self from the object. As Jacobson points out, the more the ego is differentiated from the id there would be a turning point in which the aggression would be directed at the self without the Talion rule. This seems to happen at the phallic stage when self-contempt or feelings of inferiority occur (although this can be disavowed and resentment and jealousy are felt towards the father) and if the genital organization is reached then guilt and moral masochism are firmly in place (i.e. the individual has a neurotic structure as opposed to a narcissistic or perverse one).

While aggression and the phallic ego ideal are detailed well in a lot of psychoanalytic thought the problem of the ego ideal of love and the “masochistic” feelings of separation from the mother that longings for tensionlessness, not wanting to be separate, the need for punishment, etc. that belong to the passive or feminine side of the personality are not. It seems to me that as opposed to the projection and Talion rule in aggression that the passive position follows externalization. In primitive passive forms of the superego there is a decathexis of the body in somato-psychic autoimmune diseases, a decathexis of the self-representation in feelings of deadness, and feelings of having a bad conscience or having sinned (i.e remorse and not guilt). These feelings would be externalized and others would seem dead or boring, others would seem bad, and the magic of the world or objects in it would be reduced. By the time of phallic stage the ability to feel aggression emerges and can result in passive aggressive behaviour (i.e. the complaining of the masochistic character) or the introjection of aggression towards the object in depression. At the genital stage just as guilt (moral masochism) is established in the active, narcissistic, or masculine individual assertiveness would be established in the passive, masochistic, or feminine individual.

Much work would have to be done to clarify the stages but many analysts, such as Klein, link both hypochondria and depression and paranoia and melancholia to different phases of the anal stage. (Depression is at the phallic stage and the delusional quality of melancholia from the earlier anal stage, similarly there is paranoia concerning one's 'image' or how one appears to others at the phallic stage and a paranoia concerning one's body or physical safety in the anal stage). But, to see the overall picture here, that sadism eventually turns into masochism and that masochism eventually turns into sadism in the course of the development of the active (masculine) and passive (feminine) sides of the personality is established. Moreover, even though everyone, as Freud says, is bisexual (has both activity and passivity in them) what is decisive are the fixations. This means that someone can have just active fixations, just passive fixations, or have both and that real bisexuality in the character is not common.

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