Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lazy Man's Way to Hell, or Don't be Astoneaged at All the Meandertale Men

Now joined by his faithful sidekick Virgil, Dante ventures in Canto III into the antechamber of the underworld, which will reveal nine concentric circles, each housing a different type of offender. There is an upper and lower hell, the former being more of a minimum security prison, the latter housing the real sociopaths.

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.

20 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

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.

To switch classic poets for a moment:

Here at least
we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven


I suppose we could blame Milton for the attitude evidenced by so many, that "a little evil is liberating" (I think I am quoting Lewis there). But, in Milton's defense, he was merely presenting the belief that echoes in a deceived mind. Satan is the Great Deceiver because first he greatly deceived himself.

1/27/2011 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Now joined by his faithful sidekick Virgil

I Love Lucifer


Just those two are worth the price of admission.

1/27/2011 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Freud largely medicalized and secularized ideas that had been circulating in the collective psyche for centuries."

You mean the Early Fathers thought as much but used different terms?
I mean, that's what I mean.

I tell you, the whole notion of demons and possession seem to become more "reasonable" the more you learn about and compare the "languages" (of the Early fathers and of psychology). Possession, mind parasites. Tomato, tomahto. Hakuna, matata.

1/27/2011 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Speaking of movies, reading the Upton book the other night, forgot where, but anyway, reading this...

"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."

..again reminds of the movie Sybil.
Haven't seen it since I was a kit, but I think I read recently that the personalities sort of arrived on her "over time". In other worlds, not all at once. Maybe as, along the way, desires were met or found to not meet...and so another was added and so on..

1/27/2011 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Rick:

I have a friend at the Vatican who is very much involved with exorcism. He's modern and well-educated in most things, and he can discourse at length about the interplay between psychiatry and the rite.

He gave me a cool book which is sort of a Field Guide to the Democr... er, I mean Demons.

1/27/2011 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Came across this site last night: Monachos.net - Orthodoxy through Patristic, Monastic & Liturgical Study which I thought might be of interest to someone 'round here.

1/27/2011 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

D'oh!

Try again:

http://www.monachos.net/

1/27/2011 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

NB,
"He's modern and well-educated in most things, and he can discourse at length about the interplay between psychiatry and the rite."

I don't doubt it.

I hope my comment didn't come across as slighting either institution's approach (theology and psychology). I think they are climbing the same mountain but on opposite sides. And not even always. I think there's much overlap. Certainly the Early Fathers recognized when a person suffered due to problems with his body. And that the vertical and horizontal aspects can affect each other. Sometimes just the former, sometimes both are ill.
I believe the Early Fathers had a head start (thank God, besides someone needed to) and used language people could relate to. Of course when you get into problems of the spirit, psychology seems to be getting there, but isn't there yet. Is it? That's likely too broad a brush.

I think each institution likely supports and contributes to each other. At least when both are well.

I have this theory that psychology (therapy) was "chosen" because many did not want to accept the medicine offered by religion. Can't put the science back in the test tube. A side-affect of the evolving culture. Science was coming. Whatever the cause, the science was there to pick up the load. (When science is well.) But it can't do it all.

1/27/2011 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

RE Sybil:

"The book begins with a list of Sybil's "alters", together with the year in which each appeared to have dissociated from the central personality. The names of these selves were also changed to ensure privacy.

* Sybil Isabel Dorsett (1923), the main personality
* Victoria Antoinette Scharleau (1926), nicknamed Vicky, self-assured and sophisticated
* Peggy Lou Baldwin (1926), assertive, enthusiastic, and often angry
* Peggy Ann Baldwin (1926), a counterpart of Peggy Lou but more fearful than angry
* Mary Lucinda Saunders Dorsett (1933), a thoughtful, contemplative, and maternal homebody
* Marcia Lynn Dorsett (1927), an extremely emotional writer and painter
* Vanessa Gail Dorsett (1935), intensely dramatic
* Mike Dorsett (1928), one of Sybil's two male selves, a builder and a carpenter
* Sid Dorsett (1928), the second of Sybil's two male selves, a carpenter and a general handyman
* Nancy Lou Ann Baldwin (date undetermined), interested in politics as fulfillment of biblical prophecy and intensely afraid of Roman Catholics
* Sybil Ann Dorsett (1928), listless to the point of neurasthenia
* Ruthie Dorsett (date undetermined), a baby and one of the less developed selves
* Clara Dorsett (date undetermined), intensely religious and highly critical of Sybil
* Helen Dorsett (1929), intensely afraid but determined to achieve fulfillment
* Marjorie Dorsett (1928), serene, vivacious, and quick to laugh
* The Blonde (1946), a nameless perpetual teenager with an optimistic outlook

The book's narrative describes Sybil's selves gradually becoming co-conscious, able to communicate and share responsibilities, and having musical compositions and art published under their various names. Wilbur attempts to integrate Sybil's various selves, first convincing them via hypnosis that they are all the same age, then encouraging them to merge together. At the book's end, a new, optimistic self called "The Blonde" emerges, preceding Sybil's final integration into a single, whole individual with full knowledge of her past and present life."

1/27/2011 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the Upton, it truly is a great book - thanks for sharing, Bob. It's only too bad she didn't give a similar treatment to Purgatory and Paradise.

1/27/2011 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I've always struggled with the idea of multiple personality disorder -- aside from what you see on MSNBC.

Which reminds me, Larry King is gone. Olbermann is gone. Don't these things happen in three's? Did I miss one?

I don't think Regis counts.

1/27/2011 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Mush,
The self-deceit is glaring in Book IV, which I just finished.
And like some people, he just gets mad if you point it out...

1/27/2011 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Bob,

You write:

"One thinks of the impressionable and emptyheaded "independent voters" who decide our elections and usher in a nightmarish future that none of them intended."

I beg to differ. The purpose of a republic is to hire (elect) people who will tend to the business of governing, thus freeing people to go about the business of living. Every two years they are subject to a performance review. The results of the last election clearly demonstrate the people are not "impressionable and emptyheaded", but rather quick to throw the bums out - after they've proven they're really bums.

1/27/2011 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Roy, interesting that you read it that way. Speaking as a non-party-affiliated voter, I didn't think he meant people who take the issues seriously, weigh the evidence and vote their consciences; but rather those voters, perennially "moderate," who rarely take a stand on anything and vote according to whim and to who makes them feel the most tingly.

1/27/2011 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

In fact, one could also describe Obama that way as well, in his days as a senator with a strong record of voting "present," when he could be bothered to actually show up. It doesn't get much more fearlessly cowardly than that...

1/27/2011 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Roy Lofquist said...

Julie,

If so, he might have qualified his meaning. I took it, perhaps mistakenly, that he was referring to those who are not interested in politics in general.

Don't get me wrong. I love Bob. It's just that I'm getting a bit crotchity and pedantic in my dotage.

Roy

1/27/2011 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Sal, glad to see you out and about. I hope your recovery is going well.

Yes, when you mention it, the devil is kind of a troll.

1/27/2011 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Klavan on the road to hell.

1/28/2011 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"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.)"

I thought this was an excellent set up for this,

"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."

, and probably the genesis for the gag of the ever quickening conveyor belt assembly line building the various confectionary goodies... more and more goodies... less and less time to do what you needed to do... pretty soon you've got more quantities than you know what to do with, stuffing them in the pocket, mouth & bra, anywhere to keep them from pilling up and outta sight of the One boss.

Who of course speeds up the conveyor belt to match your obvious skills.

DanteLu... comedic kings. And queens.

1/28/2011 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Moshe Ben-David said...

To Roy Lofquist:

I take Bob to mean the kind of voter I blogged about who call themselves moderates and whom I talked with who claim to "think" about issues. They voted for Obama simply because he wasn't Bush and we needed "change."

So far, every time I've talked to someone who calls themselves moderate or centrist, I find out that they haven't really looked into most of the issues, didn't really pay attention to what the candidates said they wanted to do. The day that I meet someone who calls himself a moderate who actually is aware of the players and the issues, I will faint from shock.

2/04/2011 07:37:00 AM  

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