Monday, March 19, 2012

egoism and altruism/ narcissism and masochism

Some people have been confused about my use of narcissism and masochism.

Freud’s concept of narcissism in its ontogenetic form:

In estimating the influence of organic disease upon the distribution of libido, I follow a suggestion made to me orally by Sándor Ferenczi. It is universally known, and we take it as a matter of course, that a person who is tormented by organic pain and discomfort gives up his interest in the things of the external world, in so far as they do not concern his suffering. Closer observation teaches us that he also withdraws libidinal interest from his love-objects: so long as he suffers, he ceases to love. The commonplace nature of this fact is no reason why we should be deterred from translating it into terms of the libido theory. We should then say: the sick man withdraws his libidinal cathexes back upon his own ego, and sends them out again when he recovers. ‘Concentrated is his soul’, says Wilhelm Busch of the poet suffering from toothache, ‘in his molar's narrow hole.’ Here libido and ego-interest share the same fate and are once more indistinguishable from each other. The familiar egoism of the sick person covers both. We find it so natural because we are certain that in the same situation we should behave in just the same way. The way in which a lover's feelings, however strong, are banished by bodily ailments, and suddenly replaced by complete indifference, is a theme which has been exploited by comic writers to an appropriate extent. (On Narcissism 82-3)

Freud solidifies this point when he writes:

Hypochondria, like organic disease, manifests itself in distressing and painful bodily sensations, and it has the same effect as organic disease on the distribution of libido. The hypochondriac withdraws both interest and libido—the latter specially markedly—from the objects of the external world and concentrates both of them upon the organ that is engaging his attention (on narcissism 83)

Freud uses ego interest to talk about ego drives which are different than narcissism, not in the ontogenetic sense but a bisexual sense, and discusses this plainly in The Introductory Lectures:

This is the place for two remarks. First, how do we differentiate between the concepts of narcissism and egoism? Well, narcissism, I believe, is the libidinal complement to egoism. When we speak of egoism, we have in view only the individual's advantage; when we talk of narcissism we are also taking his libidinal satisfaction into account. As practical motives the two can be traced separately for quite a distance. It is possible to be absolutely egoistic and yet maintain powerful object-cathexes, in so far as libidinal satisfaction in relation to the object forms part of the ego's needs. In that case, egoism will see to it that striving for the object involves no damage to the ego. It is possible to be egoistic and at the same time to be excessively narcissistic—that is to say, to have very little need for an object, whether, once more, for the purpose of direct sexual satisfaction, or in connection with the higher aspirations, derived from sexual need, which we are occasionally in the habit of contrasting with ‘sensuality’ under the name of ‘love’. In all these connections egoism is what is self-evident and constant, while narcissism is the variable element. The opposite to egoism, altruism, does not, as a concept, coincide with libidinal object-cathexis, but is distinguished from it by the absence of longings for sexual satisfaction. When someone is completely in love, however, altruism converges with libidinal object-cathexis. As a rule the sexual object attracts a portion of the ego's narcissism to itself, and this becomes noticeable as what is known as the ‘sexual overvaluation’ of the object. If in addition there is an altruistic transposition of egoism on to the sexual object, the object becomes supremely powerful; it has, as it were, absorbed the ego. (Introductory Lectures, p.417-8)

So there is an active egoistic side and a passive and altruistic side which would correspond to the feminine masochism talked about in the Economic Problem of Masochism in the sense of “turning the other cheek” and not self-mutilation or humiliation which are defences against the superego sense of aloneness and depressive anxiety as opposed to the persecutory anxiety of the narcissist.

Narcissism seems to be a closing down of one’s passive or feminine side and turning that energy upon the ego while the idealization of the object is treated as a closing down of the active or masculine egoism. The latter is shown when Freud talks about hypnotism being related to masochism in the 3 Essays.

After Freud introduces the structural model everything that was previously an ego drive and built around ego interest becomes related to the superego. The superego, as a structural relation, gives the ego the ideal to be superior to others or, suffer from superego inferiority feelings. There are other ego ideals that can be gleaned from Freud’s work that I've posted on before. Anyway, I hope to have shown that Freud uses narcissism as both an ontogenetic or vertical level of development (to which one regresses) as well as a bisexual or horizontal level in which the passive is reinforced by the active and vice versa.

Freud’s point about having two main instincts becomes very clear with this ontogenetic picture because at each stage of development in which a new object is internalized/the ego is split it is the same aggressive reaction but with the enhancement of the current level of ego functioning:

“It is thus possible to distinguish an indeterminate number of instincts, and in common practice this is in fact done- For us, however, the important question arises whether it may not be possible to trace all these numerous instincts back to a few basic ones… after long hesitancies and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct” (Outline, p.148)

So, as I’ve said several times, the determinate destructive drives of biting, swallowing, cannibalism, beating, mutilation, killing, murdering, etc. are all the destructive instinct at different levels of ontological development. For example, mutilation can be a drive once the child is able to conceive of its parents as built up of different body parts (i.e. arms, legs, head, etc.). Killing betrays the knowledge that death is permanent while murder betrays the knowledge that it is wrong (i.e. superego after the Oedipus complex).

However, just as destructiveness always takes an object eros too must have an object. I’ve pointed out in previous posts that Freud talks about both an active and a passive relation of the ego. The active egoistic side deals with a conflict with the object through destruction but the passive altruistic side must deal with aloneness or absence of the object. This means that along with the various forms of aggression there are forms of longing which would be the best way to represent it.

Freud’s error then is captured most clearly here in what would be a reversal of his judgment on the life and death drives:

“If we assume that living things came later than animate ones and arose from them, then the death instinct fits in with the formula we have proposed to the effect that instincts tend towards a return to an earlier state. In the case of Eros (or the love instinct) we cannot apply this formula. To do so would presuppose that living substance was once a unity which had later been torn apart and was now striving towards re-union” (Outline, p.248-9)

Once again, how can an instinct aim to conserve something it has never experienced? And, in contrast, since the ego has to be derived from the id is there not a period in which there is no differentiation of inside and outside in the baby and therefore the child takes the universe as a piece of itself? Then through the consecutive imagos of the caregiver the child slowly internalizes the universe first as amodal lights and smells, then as mnemic traces, and so on…

Anyway, this longing for the original union and the aloneness felt in response to it would mean drives that were based upon the longing to be touch, to be held, to have someone do something for you, to have tenderness, to bask in the presence of, sexual contact, etc. and ego ideals the are based upon trying to re-unite with the object based upon impressions of it, i.e. fantasy, symbols, mimetic impressions, telling stories, rescuing the object, etc.

We find all these drives in pop songs or other forms of art or entertainment when people say “I almost died in your arms tonight”, or “I just want you to pull over and hold me, until I can’t remember my own name” etc. or drug users searching for oblivion of their egos so at to unite with the object.

The "classical" analyst, by dealing with the objectless erogenous zones is dealing with a secondary phenomenon. As I’ve pointed out before… primary repression of an destructive or longing expression requires not just that the child repress the impulse mentally but also physically suppress it. Additionally, the child can externalize his aggression onto feces and consider it a weapon, as Klein amply points out, and he can also externalize his longing onto it and become a coprophiliac. However, these impulses were originally towards an object.

Ultimately, narcissism and masochism are dynamic functions related to bisexuality. Egoism and altruism are a better way to characterize the positions but they too only relate to the anal and phallic levels in which enough cognition exists to have these relations to objects. The same relation of antagonism with the object or resonance with the object exists earlier than this because the ego is derived from the id dynamically (i.e. intersubjectively) from the very beginning.

When Freud makes masochism primary and talks about narcissism directing the self-destruction outward towards the object and taking libido from the object cathexis and making it into an ego cathexis he uses narcissism in the sense in which he had previously used egoism. This is why I have called the active or masculine subject the narcissist and the passive or feminine subject the masochist (and merely following Edith Jacobson who already did so).

If we get rid of deriving active from passive or passive from active and have them as two fundamental stances that are on their own then narcissism and masochism shouldn't be used and egoism and altruism shouldn't be used either.

But why these semantic issues? Why aren't we talking about the different ego ideals and dynamic issues that matter in dealing with a patient?

An update of this post is here

No comments:

Post a Comment