The Lazy Man's Way to Hell, or Don't be Astoneaged at All the Meandertale Men
This reminds me. Shortly after I completed graduate school and was trying to start a private practice, I thought about hanging a notice above the door, the same inscription Dante places above the Gate of Hell: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. But how many people would get the comedic reference, or appreciate it if they did? (Speaking of comedy, I did not know this, but the working title for the Divine Comedy was I Love Lucifer. Not surprisingly, the suits at DanteLu nixed the idea.)
Not to make too much of the comparison -- which is a little too romantic for my taste -- but there is an obvious resonance between the psychoanalytic journey and the cartography of hell. This will become more clear as we proceed, but it is easy to see how Freud largely medicalized and secularized ideas that had been circulating in the collective psyche for centuries.
Heh. I was just trying to find a reference to this in a book by the psychoanalyst James Grotstein, and found this in the foreword: "In... attempting to speak about [this book], I feel a bit like humble Dante being guided through the underworld by Virgil. The wonder, the marvel, the splendor, and the terror of the unconscious as portrayed by Grotstein is reminiscent of Dante's portrayal of the underworld in The Inferno. Grotstein brings to life for the reader the excitement that Freud must have experienced as the immanence of another order of experience first began to reveal itself to him through his exciting/frightening encounters with the female hysterics who had overwhelmed Breuer [an early influence on Freud].
"The mystery and the awe became all the greater as Freud followed the trail of his thoughts and feelings in his journey into the underworld of his own mind and body and spirit, an underworld occupied with subjects and objects and invisible presences with their own utterly alien and utterly familiar subjects and objects and history and sense of time and space."
Or as we call them, mind parasites. One purpose of therapy is to "turn ghosts into ancestors," or parasites into fossils and artifacts. Drained of their numinous power -- which can only be appropriated from the central self -- they can no longer fascin-ate, which is etymologically linked to fascinum, or witchcraft. They are also linked to fascism, but that's another storey. We're only on the first.
Regarding the journey into the unconscious/underworld, Grotstein writes of wanting "to bring psychic entities, the unconscious and its denizens (its internal subject and internal objects), as well as the ego and id, out of the shadows and mists that have enveloped and obscured them in the misleading garb of deterministic science, which was Freud's oeuvre, and restore them to their true aliveness."
For Freud, the unconscious was structured around unrecognized and mis-recognized desire. Similarly, in hell "The soul travels quickly to the place of its desire" (Upton).
In the words of Joyce, the nightworld of the unconscious is a primitive meandertale where "the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality."
But who hasn't thought that?
Upton notes that we assume every soul "would automatically choose Paradise," but this turns out to be as wrong as the notion that human beings will choose the Good in this life.
When a person comes in for therapy, it is generally because of some form of self-defeating thought and/or behavior that precludes happiness. This is a result not just of faulty ideas that can be eliminated through reason, but of internalized mind parasites with agendas all their own. And again, this is hardly a new idea, just a modern way to talk about a truth that was clearly recognized by Dante, only expressed in a different framework.
Upton observes that "in order to desire Paradise, one must possess a soul which resembles it." In short, one must purify and purge (as in purgatory) those elements that are incompatible with, and turn away from, the Life Divine.
But the first circle of hell is reserved for souls who didn't so much actively turn from God as passively drift -- one might say "Fall" -- away from him: "The souls in this circle, the circle of the whirlwind, are damned because they simply went along with circumstances..." (Upton). Heaven expelled them... / And yet deep hell refuses to receive them.
One thinks of the impressionable and emptyheaded "independent voters" who decide our elections and usher in a nightmarish future that none of them intended. But because of their spiritual and intellectual passivity, they open the way for political actors with very bad intentions indeed. For Dante, these are souls Who mourn the lack of intellect's true light.
Thus, this is also "the circle of the Cowards who, ironically, are also in another way fearless" (ibid). As Upton explains, since they "have no fear of God" they "are complacent," most especially about the evils in our midst. Not for nothing does wisdom begin in the fear of God, for this fear is a natural consequence of understanding what is at stake. Importantly, the fear emanates from love, not vice versa.
Upton makes another critical point, that to drift along with the tide of the world is to reject one's most precious gift, which is the unique self. When this occurs, it leaves an empty core of gnawing, existential envy. As Dante says, these are people who had never lived, so they are naturally envious of the living. (It is striking how much envy Sarah Palin provokes in the dead. Indifference I can understand, but why the delusional frenzy of hatred?)
As I discussed in the book (p. 243-44), envy might be thought of as a kind of psychic "referral pain," which transforms inner emptiness into a painful longing for what others seem to have.
Thus, the diminution of envy is both a commandment and a gift. It is a gift, because it is a natural result of recognition of one's true self -- i.e., the O <---> (¶) axis -- which is the only way to spiritual contentment. As the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein recognized, Envy <---> Gratitude are located along a continuum. Thus, as Upton explains, souls in paradise "envy no one," even when "they occupy the lowest level among the saved," while the envious are perpetually driven forward in an endless quest to find and fill themselves.