Gluttons for Punishment and Punishment for Gluttons
Or, put it this way: if you're not rising, then you're falling. Trying to maintain a static balance between those two cosmic tendencies is like trying to stand perfectly still on a tightrope. We can will upward or downward, but we cannot will stasis, - which is really a kind of deadness -- so long as we are in the world.
We think of hell as a fiery place, but this particular corner is said to be cold, wet and sodden: eternal rain / Accursed, cold and heavy / Thick hail, dark water, and unending snow / Come pouring down athwart the murky air -- / Their quality and cadence never changing -- / Upon the putrid earth.
Upton writes that "the punishing rain is a parody of real mercy," and that the gluttons "experience God's mercy and grace as dirty kitchen water; they reject mercy because they are disgusted by it."
In psychoanalytic parlance, this is the realm of orality, which is our first post-uterine neuro-developmental stage. Clearly, our first orientation to the world is via the mouth. Freud, because of his positivistic and scientistic bias, looked at this stage in wholly mechanistic terms, as if it were just a question of instinctual discharge. In other words: baby is hungry; baby seeks breast; baby suckles; baby is content, or at equilibrium (or alternatively, frustrated, enraged, and at disequilibrium, which an infant cannot long tolerate without blowing a circuit).
Long story short, this view has evolved considerably over the decades. First of all, babies are not machines that seek dissipation of tension. Rather, they are persons right from the start. That being the case, they primarily seek a relationship (one cannot say "relationships" at this early stage, since the infant does not have the capacity to abstract from the flow of experience as such). Thus, our first relationship is via the mouth, but a relationship is very different from an instinctual discharge.
D.W. Winnicott was perhaps the most sensitive theorist of infant development. Long story shorter, it is not just food that is imported during the oral stage, but love, trust, containment, taking and giving pleasure, and the general ability to dissolve into boundary-less love in an interpersonal context -- all is symbolically attached to the food, which is precisely what makes food so much more than it is.
I haven't kept up with the research, but in graduate school, things like anorexia and bulimia -- and disordered relationships to food in general -- could be easily traced to profound disturbances in the mother-infant dyad (for example, the aptly titled Starving to Death in a Sea of Objects: The Anorexia Nervosa Syndrome).
Now, there is no question that a kind of grace is operative in infancy. But the grace flows in two directions, a fact to which any normal mother can attest. There is a flow of grace, a "reciprocity dance," between the partners, in a kind of expanding circle of love. And importantly, all of this takes place in the realm of being, which will become the background of any later "knowing."
Another important theorist, R.D. Fairbairn, discussed what occurs as a result of maternal deprivation or impingement during this phase. He called it the "schizoid position," which may essentially be thought of as a private, closed-off world that serves as a kind of defensive sanctuary.
Importantly, when he is "rejected" by the mother, the infant feels that his own love is bad or tainted. Thus, this defense actually defends others from one's own "toxic" love. In other words, the emotionally enclosed schizoid person is not primarily protecting himself, but others. Their love feels "damaging" to them.
Another outcome of problems at this stage can be the false self, which one might think of as a self-created maternal container for the true self. The false self hovers over and protects the vulnerable true self (all unconsciously, of course). It is an adaptation to a disappointing or frightening world.
If all goes relatively well (or "well enough"), the infant is ushered into an expansive but non-persecutory space, which becomes the background of being. Grotstein describes it as
"a joint enterprise from the mother's and infant's imagination to allow for the latter's playing and imagining. It is vouchsafed [a] space which is both guaranteed and protected but is also free for playful expansion, discovery, and rehearsal. Later it becomes internalized as a space between the world of internal objects and of symbolic object representations. Utmostly, it is the place where illusion... occurs. It is the locale of the creative act and the 'spontaneous gesture.'"
Here is a slightly more mythopoetic description by the same author:
"The 'blessed' infant shoves his playful little hands into the primal soil of nothingness and chaos and, in time, he imagines forms emerging from them which he claims as his own unique creation.... The sense of secure 'I'ness is thus launched, and the infant can claim his own existence, history, and destiny. That is, by creating the world and then exploring what he has created -- and then discovered -- in it, he has developed an origin, a self-continuity, a 'going-on-being.' He is then ready for the world he did not create but which created him..."
In contrast, the "cursed infant" is victimized by "the intergenerational strife which mother (and father) project into him, 'cursed' by lacking a holding-containing environment, a matrix, a background presence of primary identification, 'cursed' by a heredity of perverse chromosomes, and/or 'cursed' by the failure of his imaginary mental life to make benevolent mythical sense of his dilemma." This is the mind-parasite infested person, whose freedom is sharply curtailed.
Such a person may alternatively "own" a sense of being evil or malevolent in order to "protect" the mother, or plummet "into the abyss," the "'black hole' where he is forever transformed, stigmatized, and doomed."
In other words, these people tend to become either victims or victimizers. Or, they can just become liberals and be both. For the victim feels he has moral license to victimize, while the victimizer must create new sacrificial victims to feed his vampiristic soul. The creation of victims by liberal policy is not a bug but a feature. Without victims, the liberal is stuck in his own private hell.
Way out of time. Time only for a question and a comment. First, could there be a relationship between inadequate parenting -- especially infant daycare -- and a disordered relationship to food, ending in obesity?
And second, I intuited long ago that psychoanalysis was a kind of modern pseudo-religion that provides a new way of talking about some very old realities that were already discussed by great spiritual thinkers of the past. In short, you can really see that Grotstein is talking about a kind of heaven and hell.