Twenty-seven Movies in Twenty-seven Days

Film, I think, is the most complete cultural artform of our era, expressing the spirit of our times in monuments to human endeavor worthy of comparison to the great works of art, literature and music from centuries past. I promised myself in 1978, when I finished college with a degree in humanities, that I would track and appreciate the output of the people of my own time, and not continue living mainly in the past. Now, forty years later and in my first year of graduate school, I was a little shook up when a wise confidante warned me that he remembers graduate school as “those five years when I have no knowledge of any popular culture.” Luckily, I had four weeks off for Christmas, and had a chance to catch a few movies. Ok, more than a few.

The list follows, in order from my most to least favorite. There is clearly a theme, which is human suffering, and a perspective, which I think is realism shaded with hope, although disillusion and despair are in there. There are many tales of human effort to overcome suffering, not always going according to plan. Not tragedy, not melodrama, just plain old “shit happens.” I think my own personal aha of 2016 was discovering the inner peace that shows up when I realistically accept my own suffering. I’m learning to embrace its place in the context of my whole life, of other lives, of infinity and eternity, while recognizing on a deep emotional level that these things represent something quite different from emptiness or absurdity.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Columbia), dir. Ciro Guerra, with a complete unknown from the local Amazon rain forest village as the young  Karamakate, the shaman, and another unbelievable actor as old Karamakate. I woke up in another world, back then, and before that, where everything seemed to mean something completely different from anything I was familiar with. The music and the chanting, not to mention the images, will echo for a long time to come.

Manchester by the Sea (2016), dir. Kenneth Lonegran. Casey Affleck killed it. Beautifully shot and it captured the pace of a slow painful apathetic hopeless life. I really enjoyed the hard realism. Compassion without pathos?

Guernica (2016, Spain), dir. Koldo Serra, w/James D’Arcy: the Spanish Civil War and a lame love story, but it is set in Bilbao and the Basque countryside. And nothing compares  with a cast of hundreds dying onscreen. They scream out to eternity, just like in Picasso’s painting of the same horrifying event.

La La Land (2016), w/Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone. Ok, a throwback 50’s style musical, seriously? Technicolor. Jazz. It would not have worked if it had a happy ending. Sublime.

Jackie (2016), w/Natalie Portman as Jacqueline and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy. Her husband’s dead. There’s blood all over her. Somebody cried “poor casting;” I’ve got a feeling they hadn’t seen the movie. She killed it.

Knight of Cups (2016), dir. Terence Malick, my surreal New Years eve experience. The camera tirelessly trapses after Christian Bale through six hopeless love affairs, searching for meaning in a superficial American landscape. Evocative of timeless truth and beauty, even though the film is as self-indulgent as it’s main character. Cate Blanchett was haunting, and pretty real.

99 Homes (2014), w/Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield. Garfield was good as evicted homeowner Dennis Nash who crosses over to the dark side in order to survive and provide. Picks you up and runs you through on spin cycle.

Krisha (2015), dir. Trey Edward Shults, w/Krisha Fairchild as Krisha, and Trey Edward Shults as her son, Trey. A (somewhat) recovering middle-aged alcoholic comes home for Thanksgiving. Heartbreaking, totally heartbreaking. You can’t get much more real than this.

The Accountant (2016), w/Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. I don’t know if you have to be an accountant to love this movie. First action film in 62 years where I did not get bored during the fight scenes.

Boondock Saints (1999), w/Willem Dafoe as a mean police guy. Two athletic Irish catholics kill a lot of criminals in between visits to the priest for encouragement. A genre unto itself.

The Innocents  (2016, France), dir. Anne Fontaine. A nurse is having an affair with a doctor in 1945 Poland, trying to get the French soldiers patched up and shipped home, when she runs across a convent full of pregnant nuns who need her help. Despair and redemption.

The Dynamiter (2011), dir. Mathew Gordon. A 14-year old boy become a man in rural Mississippi, and leaves the past behind, in spite of a bad start. Well acted, insightful, moving.

Marguerite (2015, France), dir. Xavier Giannoli, with Catherine Fort. Based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkens, the lady who couldn’t sing but did anyway, with a change of venue and era. Catherine Fort is incomparable, and there is cool Dadaism stuff. Made me think about being totally in the dark about how I appear to other people, and how I handle it when I learn the truth.

Complete Unknown (2016), w/Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. She left her boyfriend and her life and assumed a new identity during college, and then kept doing that over and over for twenty years.  The complete unknown makes me want to do that too, but she is very, very sad.

A Year and Change (2015), Bryan Greenberg as a loser with a heart, and a brother in trouble. Will they make it?

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), with Sam Neill. A treat. It took me beyond here and now and into the heart of some very real characters.

Dixieland (2015), dir. Hank Bedford. Real southerners playing real southerners. Drugs, violence, hope, defeat, redemption, not necessarily in that order.

Faraway, So Close! (1993, Germany), dir. Wim Wenders, with Willem Dafoe, Peter Falk, (German) others. Angels above and around about Berlin. Death and Life, and Life, and Death, etc. Pretty cool, really.

The Wailing (2016, Korea), dir. Hong-jin Na. A bunch of murders and a bunch of real people in a small town, including a memorable police detective, neither endearing nor disdainable.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), dir. Tim Burton, w/Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson (evil incarnate). Some people live forever, others don’t. In this case it comes at a price – constant uncertainty and fear.

Allied (2016), dir. Robert Zemeckis, w/Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Not as bad as I thought. Ok, it was good. Peter Sarsgaard plays a bad Nazi, but he gets gunned down by our hero and heroine.  Brad Pitt’s character dizzies around with a moral compass and his own heart.

The Age of Adaline (2015), Blake Lively as Adaline Bowman, a woman who doesn’t age, with Michael Huisman, Harrison Ford, and Ellen Burstyn. Haunting juxtaposition of then and now, especially since I lived in San Francisco, where it is set, when I was young and carefree and thought I would live forever.

Viktoria (2014, Bulgaria), dir. Maya Vitkova. Bulgaria, communism, an unwanted motherhood, a failed attempt to escape to the West. Futility. The kid is a brat, but nothing lasts forever. Long and poetic with a lot of cool songs and pensive moments.

Louder than Bombs (2015), dir. Joachim Trier, w/Isabelle Hubert, Gabriel Byrne, Jesse Eisenberg. Gruesome intrapsychic turmoil. Not her best film, but well played. Full of inconvenient truths, mostly about human cruelty, human frailty, and marriage.

The Handmaiden (2016, Korea), dir. Chan-wook Park. Explicit erotica plus history plus good storyline with twists and turns. The bad men get what they deserve.

Little Men (2016), dir. Ira Sachs, with Greg Kinnear and Pauline Garcia. Two boys make friends. Dad is kind of a shit, a second rate actor and trying to be a tough landlord. Pauline Garcia as the other kid’s mom is amazing. The teenage son of Kinnear’s character comes to accept his dad for who he really is and still loves him. Sounds melodramatic but it is adequately underplayed.

Wrong Move (1975, Germany), dir. Wim Wenders, based on a novel by Goethe but in a contemporary setting. The main character Wilhelm leaves home and hooks up, goes here and there, can’t really commit. Moves on and goes on. Flashback to my youth.

It’s Not All in the Genes

Genetic ExplanationsGenetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense, edited by Sheldon Krimsky & Jeremy Gruber. 2013, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A lot of the scientists researching epigenetics are also actively advocating for greater social responsibility in the application of genetic science to technology. This includes the editors of this volume, as well as several of the contributors.

Mendel's peasOur knowledge of genetics generally starts when we hear the story of the 19th century Austrian friar, Gregor Mendel, and his peas. Mendel gave us the notion of alleles, two copies of a gene, one on each chromosome of a chromosome pair. The different alleles produce different versions of a trait (smooth seeds/wrinkled seeds, tall plant/short plant). One or the other or both of the alleles for a particular gene can be dominant or recessive. This gives rise to simple four chambered matrices that can show us the probability of a child having one or the other of the trait, if we know the alleles possessed by each parent. Mendel’s genetics was combined with Darwin’s natural selection to give the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which was was honed in the 1960’s, and engraved in stone for all posterity.

This version of things led to an outpouring of speculative genetic explanations involving a gene for this or a gene for that, and scientists avidly searched for genes controlling particular diseases, mental conditions, or personality variables, such as shyness, aggression, and depression. The data was there, but it generally did not mean what it was portrayed to mean in the popular media.

Along came the human genome project. Scientists have started to realize that things are a lot more complicated than they had previously appeared. Even with all the new data and computer technology, there hasn’t been much success in locating the gene for this or the gene for that. Some researchers have been talking about the “hidden genes.” What this book suggests is that perhaps researchers have been asking the wrong question. Changes in perspective and a new body of theory characterized as epigenetics and evo-devo offer the promise of a new way of investigating inheritance and evolution.

Genes are part of genetic systems; genetic systems control biological systems, and traits and features, function and form, come about only as a result of developmental processes. But the neo-Darwinian synthesis is entrenched. Academics and researchers abundantly rise to defend the version of natural selection that is taught in our schools. This book includes some history and some explanation of what is happening in the realm of genetic explanation, and what some of it means. The chapter on autism by Martha R. Herbert is illustrative. She describes how we are coming to realize that there is not a gene for autism. Autism, it turns out is a complicated set of similar conditions involving, genetics, prenatal influences, environmental influences, and individual developmental history. There is no “cause” for autism, it apparently emerges from a complex web of interacting factors.

A chapter by Jonathan Beckwith has an illuminating title, “The Persistent Influence of Failed Scientific Ideas.” Beckwith gives such examples of failed attempts at genetic explanation as the relationship between the XYY chromosome condition and crime, MAOA and crime (monamine oxidase A, which has also been implicated as a suspect in other problems), as well as the ever popular boys versus girls and mathematical ability story.

“The examples presented here follow a fairly common pattern. Scientists carry out a research project producing results, conclusions, and speculations that appear relevant to questions of social importance. The authors submit a paper for publication on the work that includes speculations going substantially beyond their evidence, a reasonable practice in scientific publications. However, in these particular cases the science is weak or faulty, and the ideas presented may be used by others in socially harmful ways.” p. 183.

Eva Jablonka

Eva Jablonka

Eva Jablonka, along with Marion Lamb has described and explained some of the new information about evolution in the book, Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (revised edition 2014, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). Jablonka has contributed a chapter titled, “Some Problems with Genetic Horoscopes.”

“Very obviously, genetic astrology is in trouble–the complex relations between phenotype and genotype during development mean that the inheritance of phenotypic differences is often an attribute of differences between gene networks rather than differences in single genes. Moreover, there is more to heredity than the transmission of variation in the sequence of DNA. Hereditary variations are also the outcomes of our own experiences (beginning in the womb) and the epigenetic history of our ancestors, stemming from their past experiences and their past lifestyles.” p. 80.

mae-wan ho

Mae-wan Ho

Epigenetics is involved not only in inheritance, but also in evolution. The mechanisms of epigenetics involve some advanced biology and are only touched on in this volume. Mae-Wan Ho gives a nice introduction to the topic in her chapter, “Nurturing Nature: How Parental Care Changes Genes.” Ho was a pioneer in this field. She coauthored with P.T. Saunders, in 1979, the article “Beyond Neo-Darwinism–An Epigenetic Approach to Evolution.” Today she is more widely known as an activist, arguing for social responsibility and controls on genetic engineering. Many of her public appearance appear on YouTube.

“For as long as anyone can remember, people have been debating whether it is our genetic makeup or the environment that determines who we are. New research findings on how maternal care has a lasting influence on her offspring’s behavior that persists for generations are telling us that this is definitely not the right question to ask. The epigenetic interplay between genes and the environment puts the ball right back into our court. The question we should be asking is perhaps this: how can we give everyone the best opportunity in life?” p. 260.

BPS Research Digest: The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published

BPS Research Digest: The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.

Some of these are very familiar, such as Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s (1963) obedeince to authority study. Others, less familiar, are equally interesting.

2014.8.8 The Phenomenology of Childhood

I wrote this and posted it on the other blog for some reason. Now it’s here as well!

Deliver Daily

51cmaGy-w5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In trying to understand what a small child needs to grow up mentally healthy, and what the parent does and does not do, I got the idea that the answer involves the phenomenology of being a small child. So I googled.

And I discovered this book by Eva Simms, The Child in the World: Embodiment, Time, and Language in Early Childhood (2008, Detroit: Wayne State University Press). Simms is a psychology professor at Duquesne University. In her book, she is talking about the experienced world of the child, using insights from the existential phenomenology of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. She also draws on Piaget’s descriptions of the child’s early experience of reality.

Human experience is embodied, nondualistic, and occurs in relationship to others. We experience, space, time, and things. We do it all with language. And we are all historical beings of a culture and a certain time period.
Coexistentiality, the…

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Death and Taxes

Tax deadline is past and I now have time to write something on my blog.golfinch . . . yeah!  I read Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel, The Goldfinch, in the fleeting late night hours of April. My sincere apologies to the Washington Post reviewer who lamented this book getting the Pulitzer prize, but I thought it was great. Long, but great. I like the style of the prose and the story was engaging, though not of comparable stature to The Interestings.

Spoiler alert, the following quote is from the last paragraph of the book.

“. . . I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you . . . That life—whatever else it is—is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch. For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time—so too has love. . . . And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.” – p. 771   


On On On Narcissism

20080721-sigmund-freud1-224x300What am I trying to stay here? Narcissists go on and on in their self-absorption and self-glorification. The discussion of narcissism goes on and on over decades of contentious psychoanalytical and academic writing. What’s more, here are some words I wrote, on a book, that contains some chapters, on an essay, that grandfather Freud called, “On Narcissism.”

Freud’s “On Narcissism”: An Introduction, 1991. Joseph Sandler, Ethel Spector Person and Peter Fonagy (Eds.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

This book contains the text of Freud’s 1914 paper, and commentary by 10 authors. I had seen it cited as a reference somewhere, and was interested because I have done a lot of reading about narcissism. I have narcissism paranoia. I see it all around me. So coincidentally (or NOT!), I have a narcissistic character trait of my own. I had the call number written on a post-it and carried it around in my wallet until it became well worn. When I read Gregory Rochlin’s (1972) Man’s Aggression, and found him talking about narcissistic injury and threats to narcissism (normal or pathological) as a cause of aggression, I decided to go ahead and check the book out. The essay by Freud and the 10 commentaries are very Freudian, talking endlessly about ego, libido, primary narcissism and internal and external “objects” (people). But the book was published in 1991, relatively recently in the history of psychoanalysis. It is dry in stretches, but overall I enjoyed reading it. I really appreciated the Kernberg and Ornstein contributions, integrating the Freudian view with the self psychology of Kohut.

The concept of narcissism as we know it today encompasses several different things. It can be self-love, which sounds like high self esteem, and can be a good thing. It the opposite extreme it can mean self-absorption and self-obsession, which is usually a bad thing. It can be healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal, pleasant or annoying. Unhealthy, pathological narcissism is especially annoying when we encounter it in other people. By covering some of the early history of narcissism and many later developments, this book has helped me unravel some of this complexity. Yes, it’s psychoanalytical stuff, which can be highly speculative and abstract, self-indulgently terminological, even though confidently stated. But psychoanalysis is based on observation, and the truth is in there somewhere, sometimes truth that empirical psychology doesn’t get to.
Freud’s paper includes an expansion of libido theory separating ego-libido and object-libido and presents a “normal” developmental sequence from autoeroticism through primary narcisisim then secondary narcissism. The paper distinguishes two types of object choice, one anaclitic and one narcissistic, being drawn towards objects that are opposite are similar to the self. Freud also makes a significant movement towards his three part structural theory of the mind, exploring ego ideal and conscience and foreshadowing his later presentation of the superego. Freud tries to provide insight into the cause of psychoses. The paper was partially a response to Jung’s and Adler’s criticism of Freud’s libido theory.

What appears hear is more “raw data” than an actual review. These are notes and quotes. Some of my commentary and “asides” appear in brackets.

Clifford Yorke (Anna Freud Centre; British Psychoanalytical Society), “Freud’s “On Narcissism”: A Teaching Text.”

Sigmund Freud doesn’t mention the ‘ego.’ He talked about ‘das ich’, the ‘me’. The English translator, Strachey translates ‘das Ich’ as ‘the ego.’ In the early papers das Ich usually stands for the self. From 1923 (The Ego and the Id ) onward it has a restricted meaning and refers to a “mental agency with its own attributes and functions.” We can think of it as “the executive apparatus of the mind, holding the balance among the often conflicting demands of the instinctual dries, the superego, and external reality.” In the 1914 paper the concept of das Ich was in a transitional phase.

R. Horacio Etchegoyen (Buenos Aires Psychoanalytic Association), “ ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’: Text and Context.”

Rank (1911) thought narcissistic allocations of libido could be part of normal development. Freud(1914) went further and said narcissism could be “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation.” The 1914 paper introduces a major change in libido theory: “between autoerotism and alloerotism, he has interpolated a stage in which the libido is applied to the ego, which is thereby constituted.” The paper for the first time distinguishes between object-libido and ego-libido.

Anaclitic object choice (we marry our parent) vs. narcissistic object choice (we marry ourselves). People may exhibit both tendencies.

“Freud tells us that the development of the ego consists in a departure from primary narcissism, which at the same time gives rise to a vigorous attempt to recover it. Primary narcissism is abandoned by displacement of libido onto an ego ideal imposed from without; at the same time the ego has sent out libidinal object cathexes. If the ego has become impoverished in this way, it enriches itself once more from its satisfactions in respect of the object and by fulfilling its ideal. Self-regard thus has three sources: the residue of infantile narcissism, fulfillment of the ideal, and satisfaction of object-libido. All analysts will agree with this summing up, although some (including myself) believe that megalomania and self-regard do not belong to the same class of psychological facts.” pp. 68-69.

Nikolaas Treurniet (Dutch Psychoanalytical Society), “Introduction to “On Narcissism.”

“Elements of caretaking functions, implicit in the narcissistic tie of the patient to the analyst, are by now part of ordinary psychoanalytic technique. This implies that a not inconsiderable share of the analytic works consists of confronting the patient with the needs of his narcissistic transference and the defensive function of his narcissism vis-à-vis his rage. This includes, however, integrating failure with success through pointing out the constructive aspects of the patient’s failure, discovering the strengths lying behind his weakness as a negative image of a growth-need, sometimes to be seen as a quest for cohesion, instead of envy or desire for affection. As far as the patient is concerned, this validation has been compared to the function of a mirror. It is central to the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, in the sense that the analyst communicates to the patient an image of the person he can become instead of the drive-catheter monster he fears he is (Loewald, 1960). Interpretation “upward” is often necessary to correct the results of the parents’ misnaming of affects. If the need for growth, initiative, and individuality and the wish to be “different” are interpreted as oedipal rivalry, the analyst degrades the quest for a healthy self-experience into a destructive part-impulse, thus attacking the patient’s sense of the value of his self. This is often a repetition of the narcissistic rage of a parent who could not bear the child’s individuality and thus promoted the child’s development of a rigid, false self.” (pp. 84-85).

[How did we get this way (shame-based, low self-esteem, critical inner voices)? How did our parents treat us and why (narcissistic injury, competition, anger, scape-goating).]

“The discovery that man was not master in his own mind was added to the realization that the earth was not the center of the universe and that man was descended from animals. There is, however, a fourth narcissistic mortification that is undeniably connected with the discoveries made both in and outside analysis in recent decades: not only is man not master of his own mind; he is also far less “autonomous” in his social reality than he would like to believe. Man’s social anxiety (and with it his corruptibility) is much greater than Freud thought–perhaps because he himself had such an immense reservoir of social courage.” p. 86.

[We are all pretty worried about what other people think and this makes us susceptible to undue or unseen influence.]

Otto F. Kernberg (Professor of psychiatry, Cornell University Medical College; training analyst at Columbia), “A Contemporary Reading of “On Narcissism”.”

“[Freud] explores narcissism as a phase of psychic development, as a crucial aspect of normal love life, as a central dynamic of several types of psychopathology (schizophrenia, perversion, homosexuality, hypochondriasis), in terms of the regulation of self-esteem, as the origin of the ego-ideal, and–by way of the ego-ideal–as an aspect of mass psychology.”

Does not look at pathological narcissism as a character pathology or narcissistic resistances.  New outpouring of contributions on the psychology of love, particularly French: Braunschweig and Fain (1971), David (1971), Aulagnier (1979), Gantheret (1984), Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985), etc. “Narcissism” refers both “to the libidinal investment of the self (Hartmann, 1950) and to the clinical process of (normal or abnormal) self-esteem regulation.” p 141. Kernberg sees “self” as self images and self representations developed through real or fantasied interactions with others (objects). He sees “object-libido and self-libido as intimately related to each other and also intimately related to the parallel investments of self and object representations by aggression.”  Pathological, grandiose self “implies a failure or incapacity for [such] an integration of aggressively invested self representations and a corresponding failure to integrate libidinal and aggressively invested object representations as well.” p.l41. Freud believed that self-regard suffers with investment of libido in the object, which must be replaced by love returned by the object (idea questioned by Chasseguet-Smirgel 1985). Kernberg believes love of another raises self-esteem when  mature ego-ideal is projected onto loved and idealized object. Neurotic love involves primitive idealization and other sources of feeling of inferiority. Normally unrequited dissolves without lowering self-esteem as it “enriches the experience of the self and opens new channels of sublimation.” Neurotic love when unrequited lowers self-esteem. Freud discusses who inability to love lowers self-esteem.  Kernberg believes “that loved objects are normally internalized in the ego,” and the love received increases self-esteem. P 142.

“Elaborating on Freud’s thinking in the light of the contributions to this subject by later generations of psychoanalysts, we might say that self-esteem fluctuates according to gratifying or frustrating experiences in relationships with others and a person’s sense of being appreciated or rejected by others, as well as according to the evaluation by the ego-ideal of the distance between goals and aspirations, on the one hand, and achievements and success, on the other.

“Self-esteem also depends on the pressures that the superego exerts on the ego: the stricter the superego, the more self-esteem is lowered, and at bottom, such lowering of self-esteem would reflected a predominance of self-directed aggression (stemming from the superego) over the libidinal investment of the self. Self-esteem may also be lowered by lack of gratification of instinctual needs of both a libidinal and an aggressive nature, so that unconscious ego defenses that repress awareness and expression of such instinctual libidinal needs will impoverish the ego of gratifying experiences and thus “deplete” libidinal self-investment and diminish self-esteem. Finally, the internalization of libidinal invested objects in the form of libidinal invested object representations greatly reinforces the libidinal investment of the self; in other words, the images in our mind of those we love and by whom we feel loved strengthen our self-love. In contrast, when excessive conflicts around aggression override libidinal investment of others and, secondarily, their corresponding object representations, the libidinal investments of the self and self-love also suffer.”

“These observations regarding self-esteem regulation point once more to the intimate and complex relation between narcissistic and object-libido, and between libido and aggression.”

[Frustration of wants and desires for pleasure can be a problem leading to lowered self-esteem. But what happens when wants and desires are out of synch with reality and lead us down the garden path to self destruction. Can this only occur when a self-destructive urge leads to selective attention and cognitive distortions? What about impulse control and emotional self-regulation?]

Selected references:
Aulagnier, P. (1979). Les destins du plaisir. Paris; Presses Universitaires De France.
Braunschweig, D., and Fain, M (1971). Eros et Anteros: Feflexions psychanalytiques sur la sexualite. Paris: Payot.
Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1985). The Ego Ideal: A Psychoanalytic Essay on the Malady of the Ideal. New York: W.W. Norton.
David, C. (1971) L’Etat amoureux: Essais psychanalytiques. Paris: Payot.
Gantheret, F. (1984). Incertitude d’Eros. Paris: Gallimard.

Hanna Segal & David Bell(British Psychoanalytical Society). “The theory of narcissism in the work of Freud and Klein.”

“On Narcissism” needs to be considered in the context of the progression of Freud’s development of his ideas. When written (1914), he was beginning to turn from libido to the functioning of the ego and the internal world. He had already written about “self-preservative instincts” (1910). In 1915 he would write “Papers on Metapsychology,” with “Mourning and Melancholia.” In 1916 he wrote “Some character types met within psycho-analytic work.” But in 1914 he had not yet developed a theory of internalization or identification to explain the internal world. The theory of identification is in “Mourning and Melancholia.” Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) contains the second and final revision of instinct theory. The Ego and the Id (1923) contains the three part structural model.

These authors find problems with Freud’s theory of primary narcissism.
Melanie Klein did not believe there is a stage preceding object relations (neither autoeroticism or primary narcissism). “Klein emphasized the constant interplay of projection and introjection in the building up of an internal world of objects to which the ego relates . . .” p. 160. Klein’s concept of “positions” refers to “states of the ego,” with specific anxieties, defenses, and internal object relations. These include the paranoid/schizoid position and the depressive position. The child moves through these in the course of development. Paranoid/schizoid position includes narcissistic object relations, paranoid anxiets, and defenses of denial, splitting, and projection. “The basic developmental task is the building up of a secure enough good object in order for further integration to occur.” pp. 160-161. Klein’s view of narcissism is in “Notes on some schizoid mechanisms” (1946). This paper contains a description of projective identification, which involves splitting and projection of the good aspects of the self onto the object, which is idealized. Destructive aggressive impulses are projected elsewhere. Schizoid objects relations involves either remoteness or clinging compulsive ties.  The ego is depleted and the individual complains of emptiness. There can be flip from idealization to denigration, and this involves envy.  In Envy and Gratitude (1957), Klein describes envy as a manifestation of destructive impulses.  She quotes Chaucer. “It is certain that envy is the worst sin that is; for all the other sins are sins only against one virtue, whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness.” p. 165. Segal and Bell believe narcissistic rage may be an expression of envy, rather than as in Freud, the discovery of the goodness of the external object. Klein associates envy with the destructiveness of the death instinct.

“Some writers have suggested that self-esteem is a healthy remnant of primary narcissism. To our way of thinking, however, healthy feelings of self-esteem have more to do with an internal situation in which there is a secure relation to a good internal object rather than an ideal one.” p. 172.

Kleinians have elaborated on Freud’s idea of the destructiveness of narcissism.

“From this perspective, stable narcissistic object relations can be achieved only when the depressive position has been negotiated, for it is in this process that there is a differentiation of the self from object.” p. 172.

Narcissistic personality trait denies the reality of dependence on the external object in favor of a state of narcissistic self-sufficiency.

Paul H. Ornstein ( Professor of Psychiatry at  University of  Cincinnati, MD from Heidelberg University, holocaust survivor). “From Narcissism to Ego Psychology to Self Psychology.”

The concept of narcissism challenges the conflict theory of psychoanalysis and its role in treatment. This was followed by the replacement of the topographic model by the tripartite structural model, and the eclipsing of id psychology by ego psychology, with associated changes in psychoanalytic technique. A single-axis theory of narcissism (1914) was too narrow and could not accommodate the observational data. Hartmann conceptually separated the ego from the self (1950, 1956). In the 1960s narcisissim became a central piece not only in ego psychology, but in object-relations theory (Jacobson, Lichenstein, Kernberg) and self psychology (Kohut). Joffee and Sandler (1968) challenged psychoeconomic theory of the ego and shifted focus to affect states rather than drive discharge.

Symptoms were explained as effort to deal with painful affect.

[This is a good example of strikingly different conceptual systems of discource (conceptual discourse systems CDS) being applied to explain the same situation.]

Kohut found narcisstic patients used analyst as an echo and affirmation and also put him on a pedestal as all-knowing and perfect. Both types of transference lead to inevitable disappointment, triggering narcissistic rage. Kohut assumed two separate lines of development for narcissism and object-love. It was not a tradeoff. Kohut believed that “infantile and childhood traumas … left the psyche with insufficient structure or with excessive defensive structures–those characteristic manifestation of “narcissistic pathology” that he observed and described in depth.” p. 189. Mirror transference results from infantile “grandiose self” and idealizing transference from “idealized parent imago.” These result from repressed and/or disavowed infantile needs and wishes.

“Kohut considered narcissism per se as the normal ‘fuel’ for structure building. Pathology in this context is not a pathology of narcissism but a pathology of the structures of the self (deficiencies, defects, or defensive structures), owing to inadequate narcissistic cathexis, not to excessive amounts or pathological forms of narcissism.” p. 190.

The “grandiose self” and the “omnipotent, idealized object,” are both archaic structures in reponse to normal early disturbances to primary narcissism. “The archaic idealizations will later be transformed into the narcissistic dimension of the superego, ensuring the power of its values and ideals–a different way of conceiving what Freud called the ego-ideal. In describing the developmental and clinical vicissitudes of these archaic structures, Kohut offered a new view of health and illness in which self-esteem regulation plays a dominant role.” p. 191

Heinz Henseler (University of Tubingen; German Psychoanalytical Association), “Narcissism as a Form of Relationship.”

Henseler thinks narcissism springs not from a cathexis of libido in the ego, but from the relationship with the parents. Parents idealize the baby and idealize their relationship with the baby. Primary narcisissim was seen as oriented toward the self and toward the mother in the primary relationships; see Lou Andreas-Salome (1921), Balint (1937, 1960 The Basic Fault). Henseler describes Balint’s view, “The ultimate goal of all libidinal striving is to recover the original harmony.” p. 200.

[This is not bliss before differentiation, but harmonic fusion within the primary relationship.]

Freud later distinguishes (1921, 1923) “between object choice and identification and between the wish to have the object and the wish to be like the object.” p. 201. This leads to a distinction between two types of pleasure, “the orgiastic pleasure of  instinctual satisfaction and the pleasure of fusion with the object of identification–a pleasure characterized by security and contentment. J. Sandler has repeatedly drawn attention to this point.” p. 202.

[There is no archaic state  without relationship to others, and there is no such thing as complete withdrawal from others people, no matter how strong the individual‘s social anxiety or schizoid tendency. There are always some external relationships with people and always many relationships with people internally. Narcissism does not  represent a withdrawal from relationship to others, but rather particular forms of relationship, which may involve “disconnection”.]

Henseler says the ideal ego or ideal self is not the same as Freud’s ego-ideal. “The ego-ideal holds before us objectives of perfection to be reached, whereas the ideal self represents an ideal state that we have (or think we have) already reached.” p. 204.

Freud’s idea of group psychology involves a share identification with a shared grandiose ideal. Freud got snarled up trying to describe the relationship between narcissism and love of another.  The answer has something to do with idealization and identification. Kohut emphasized role of self love in narcissistic object. For Henseler the relation with the narcissitic object involves reality testing. The primary frustrating object experience leads to the construction of narcissism. There is no primary narcissism, only secondary narcissism.

“Paradise did not originally exist in this form but was only later constructed, composed out of memory traces of a psycho physiological state, satisfying experiences with objects, and wishful fantasies of happiness and harmony–which can be understood as reaction formations to frustrating reality.” p. 210.

The real object has a “third dimension,” involving setting of boundaries.“The otherness of the other, which is experienced as threatening, the impossibility of incorporating him either by identification or by idealization, gives rise to hatred or envy.” p. 211. Narcissism as a withdrawal from the otherness of the other, is free of agression.  Coping by withdrawal into a dual union signifies devaluation of the third party. The alternative to withdrawal is to use otherness and boundaries constructively and replace hate with respect and envy with admiration of the other. “Reality-based libidinal and aggressive (rather than destructive) sensual relationships can now come into being. Requires favorable conditions in early childhood. Access to the third dimension through the presence of a third party (father, siblings) allows for healthy  not pathological narcissism.

Henseler studied suicidal patients and believe suicide results when disappointment in a narcissistic object is eliminated by a blissful fantasy of death. Suicide is aggression turned inward. Hatred becomes unconscious and self-destructed is disguised as “narcissistic apotheosis.” p. 212. Suicidal patients have narcissistically disturbed personalities, but also “different kinds of conflicts and personality traits.”

“We regularly encounter in these patients the avoidance of hatred and envy, felt to be destructive, in favor of narcissistic object relations, high-flown ideal formations, and a tendency to regress to primary narcissistic forms of experience.” p, 213.

“The tendency of narcissistic patients to form a fantasized harmonious dual union in the transference is cut off by brutal honesty, making the analyst’s third dimension clear.  “If you are absolutely intent on killing yourself, I cannot stoop you. I do not offer to save your life. I can only offer you a chance to consider with me why you persist in thinking that you cannot continue to live.” p. 213.

“The narcissistic disturbance is also mitigated by the more anxiety-free handling of aggression.” p. 214.

Bela Grunberger, “Narcissism and the Analytic Situation.”
(Paris Psychoanalytical Society)

“[In Freud’s paper] Conscience–prefiguring the superego–observes the ego and measures it by the ideal.” This mixes “object components with components of pure narcissism.” “The incapacity and impotence affecting the subject constitute a narcissistic wound–an attack on his ideal. It may be convenient to substitute a sense of guilt for the feeling of incapacity. ‘I am the greatest sinner on earth’ may conceal the unbearable idea of being nothing at all. Conscience, which lays down boundaries and prohibitions, may save narcissism and the feeling of self-regard. The melancholic dies not of an ‘escess’ of superego but of an ‘excess’ of ideal–and the megalomaniac ideal may disguise itself as a pitiless supergo, as a last resort against a feeling of annihilating inadequacy.” p. 218.

Narcissism and its vicissitudes and instinctual conflicts can be studied separately.  In analysis, object-related and instinctual transference components can be distinguished from narcissistic transference components.  Narcissistic regression is promoted by the analytic session and the ego-ideal is projected onto the analyst.

Grunberger believes narcissism has a prenatal origin. The memory of this intrauterine state reappears as God, mystical systems, contemplation of art, immersion in music, and belief in a golden age. Analysis offers a return of fetal omnipotence to repair a “fundamental traumatic situation” (life characterized by the powerlessness/helplessness the infant eventually confronts).  At the same time the analyst is a target of object relations. Analysis can overcome the opposition between narcissism and the instincts. This integration facilitates Freud’s 1914 three sources of self-regard. “One part of self-regard is primary–the residue of infantile narcissism; another part arises out of the omnipotence which is corroborated by experience (the fulfilment of the ego ideal) [competence], whilst a third part proceeds from the satisfaction of object-libido.

Melancholia demonstrates lack of coordination between narcissism and instinctual maturation.

“. . . melancholia involves a withdrawal of narcissism from the overall ego of the subject, from his body, and from his instinctual life. The overall ego undergoes idealization with the sign reversed [devaluation]. It is focalized and identified with filth that has to be swept away.”  p. 223.

If narcissism is not carried over into instinctual life, the instinct might be “violently rejected.”

There is a difference between the narcissism  of the transference (idealization and identification) and narcissistic personality disorders, which is aggressive and blocks a therapeutic form of transference in analysis. The second kind is described by Kernberg, and results from the baby’s repeated failure to recover his lost feeling of completeness.

The highest form of love, Freud‘s “complete object-love,” conforms to the anaclitic type, represents the “lost fetal self-sufficiency recovered by fusion with the mother,” and “contains the balm . . . capable of healing the wound with which we are “plunged into the world.” p. 227.


An Idea that Came and Went

0471183431 This is a shitty book. I really don’t like this book.  What a relief it is to say that. I fall in love with so many of the books I read. I have a tendency to become infatuated with authors.That did not happen this time. Why write notes on a book I hate and barely read? Well, at least it gives me the opportunity to explore my prejudices.

Susan Greenfield (2000). The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self.

Neuroscience, emotions, consciousness, the self, sounds juicy. No. Not juicy. It started out ok. In the preface Greenfield tells us the book started life as “a neuroscientist’s exploration of pleasure.” She wanted to know what motivated her friends and colleagues to work so hard. Great topic.

Chapter one, ‘The Idea’. What is consciousness, where is it located in the brain?  Emotions, reward centers, I’m listening. A recognition that brain functions are explained best by interconnectivity and relationships, not by modules devoted to specific functions. Aversion, aversive stimuli, active avoidance, passive avoidance. Oh yeah! Please continue.

It was all downhill from there. I went from reading every word, to speed reading, to skimming the pages, to jumping to the next chapter. I didn’t like her discussion of the ‘mind’ versus the brain. Despite her efforts to describe integration of brain circuits and functions, she seems trapped in rational imperialism, the description of a tug of war between reason and the emotions. She seems to equate the prefrontal cortex and consciousness with reason. She seems unaware of the way our emotions can enslave our reason, of how concepts, objects and events are stamped with valuations arising from our appetitive and defensive systems, of how reason and emotion complement each other in a ‘self-regulating partnership’.

The following chapters go through a bit of history, discuss childhood, schizophrenia, addiction,  nightmares, depression. More and more interesting tidbits from psychology, philosophy, neuropharmacology. I especially enjoyed the description of neurotransmitters, which function both locally, in transmission of signals across the synapse, and in a broader way. I recently discovered ‘spritzing’. Serotonin from the brainstem and Dopamine from the midbrain are trucked upwards and, under certain circumstances, spritzed into brain tissue, creating changes in brain state. Greenfield tells us that Serotonin is spritzed widely, but the spritzing of Dopamine is more localized. I am very curious about the role of Dopamine spritzing in mania and in our attraction to narcissistic objects.

Chapter seven, ‘The Human Condition’. My all time favorite topic. Greenfield tries to pinpoint her view by describing its similarities and differences with Freud. Her discussion of Freud’s view on pleasure does not ring true. Her statement that “Freud saw pleasure as combating the demand of an Id, a subconscious driven to unity with others,” stuck in my craw. I haven’t read much Freud and know his theories mostly second hand. But I do know that his 1920 essay was titled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The Id is all about pleasure. And it was the Reality Principle, not the Pleasure Principle, that battles the Id as we mature. But I admit that in evaluating Greenfield’s ideas, Freud is really neither here nor there.

So. Finally. Chapter 8, ‘The Answer.’ More discussion of neural correlates of consciousness and patterns of neuronal connectivity. Then, the piece de resistance, hormones. The pituitary gland. Peptides. Ok. Very good. And? Maybe the book is just dated. Written almost 15 years ago, it suffers heavily from the ravages of time. Greenfield is onto something, but I didn’t really think she got there.

This book is not related to the PBS special, The Secret Life of the Brain (check YouTube) or to David Eagelman’s delicious, enticing 2011 bestseller, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.