Slipping Through the Net of Normality: It's Always a Midwife Crisis
Continuing with yesterday's line of thought: just what causes the tragedy of normality? You might say that it is the result of an immaculate conception, minus the conception part. Thus, it is a misconception. Except it isn't immaculate. A dirty misconception, I guess. A misbegotten bastard. Or, bitter yet, let's call it a postnatal abortion, because that's what it is -- unless, of course, man isn't subject to a series of births that constitute the totality of his life. But that would be absurd. We're all bornagain annagain annagain, 'til weewakes and our soily river finds its salty sea.
As Christopher Bollas explains, "it is striking how this person [the Normal] seems to be unborn" (emphasis mine). Such individuals -- and you all know at least one, probably more than one -- often appear to be "content and happy" on the surface, but are in fact "lost in the concrete," and therefore never make the full leap into what Bollas calls the "originating subjectivity which informs our use of the symbolic."
I hope that isn't too jargony, because Bollas is an exceptionally deep and lucid thinker who is as clear as it is possible to be in these dark maters. The takeaway point is that our originating subjectivity is prior to the symbolic (which is the realm of the Father). This flies in the farce of most contemporary thought, which essentially equates the two: in this metaphysic, we can have no stable or enduring essence, only a contingent bagful of symbols -- somewhat like an inescapable kaleidescope, in which a new image appears merely by rearranging the particles. While this is true of the tenured -- hence the compulsion to publish their ephemeral patterns -- it is not a general principle that applies to everyone.
Bollas goes on to say that since the Normal doesn't "perceive himself as a subject, he does not ask to be seen by the other," nor is he able to look deeply into the other. That italicized part is key, for these people have no conscious desire for true subject-to-subject contact. They cannot make real contact with themselves, and therefore, others.
But real contact always involves this two-way -- actually, three-way -- contact, consisting of knower-known-knowledge. Not only is it a kind of in-spiraling process, but -- as you might have anticipated -- none of the three can be radically separated from each other. They are siblings, as it were -- triplets.
This can be formulated in various ways. For example, it is a true Ism and Usm that knowledge of others is limited by self-knowledge. Indeed, we can go beyond this, and affirm that knowledge of anything is limited by self-knowledge, because if one doesn't even know what the self is, why should we care about what it pretends to know? And I'm talkin' to you, Charles Rhesus Darwin!
(As we've mentioned before, one of the reasons the Constitution is so durable -- why it amounts to "political scripture" -- is that it is rooted in a sober and accurate assessment of that scoundrel, human nature. Which is why job one of the left is to attack human nature as a means to change the plain meaning of the document.)
We can also look at it from the other angle, from the perspective of the known. This is one of the ways faith operates, in that it involves acceptance of truths that have the effect of shaping the knower, and saving him from all manner of potential falls. This type of truth is like the yeast in the bread, or better, the pesticide in the rathole of the skull.
In the past, we have discussed how rapidly one may determine the intersubjective depth -- or crapacity -- of the other, which will be felt as an almost physical constraint one cannot get past -- or, alternatively, a kind of expansive and liberating space. The latter type of relationship is quite literally a blessing, and in fact, the first blessing is the infinite com-passion of the m-Other, who reaches into us as we reach into her. It is within this fertile space that we are subjectively "con-ceived" (or in which our potential subject is first actual-ized).
Yesterday I cited the example of Tristan's friend, whose mother is slowly driving him insane. To be in her presence is to confront a wall -- a wall which her son will have to try to somehow get beyond later in life, by which time the damage will have been done. His growth will be stunted until he can have an intimate bond with an other who can relate to who he actually is. As things stand, his mother only relates to what she projects into him, which will be internalized as a bad and rejected self. Such a person will have difficulty loving others, because he will want to protect others from his bad and unlovable self.
The real tragedy is that in order to adapt to this kind of parent, the child must excise parts of himself, so that he too becomes a psychic stillborn.
Luckily for me -- although it was painful at the time -- I was consciously aware from an early age that my parents mostly interacted with an image of me instead of the actual me, and I think this is what saved me. Had I not been aware of this empathic failure on their part, I too may have met the fate of the unborn. Or, let us say that I suffered only a partial birth abortion, in that part of me survived the procedure and was able to resuscitate the rest.
Here is how Bollas describes it: "At the most fundamental level, the normotic was only partly seen by the mother and father, mirrored by parents whose reflective ability was dulled, yielding only the glimmer of an outline of self to a child." This is an example of something that is as deeply problematic as, say, the need to vaccinate all children against various diseases. But because it is in the realm of the subjective, no one really talks about it. Obviously, it is not as dramatic or visible as material deprivation, i.e., mere exterior poverty. Imagine a UN commission on the interior poverty of children. You know, since they've done such a good job with material poverty.
In terms of psychospiritual development, the problem is that "neither of the parents is inclined towards the celebration of the child's imaginative life." And when they do enter play, it has a kind of covert sadism that terminates the play and brings the child back to reality instead of further into imagination.
When the parent fails to respond to who the child actually is, the unrecognized parts become "negative hallucinations," or "not there" particles that float aimlessly around the psyche in search of being. Then, when the child reaches adolescence, he is suddenly thrust into "the horrifying dilemma of being unable to symbolize his pain." Predictable consequences follow, because the homeless pain will soon enough incarnate via the sexlink.
Surely you have been witness to an aggravating soul murder? As I've mentioned in the past, we've already lost friends because we not only allow but encourage Tristan's natural inclination to use imaginary guns to shoot real bad guys. With relish. To deny a boy his manly aggressiveness is a psychic castration. One may try, but the aggression won't just magically disappear; rather, it will return in a disguised and dysfunctional form. Imagine someone like a Keith Olbermann or Howard Dean or Paul Krugman, who just bristle with a kind of toxic, infantile rage. These shrill bullies are emblematic of the "new castrati" (as Vanderleun dubbed them), who make up for in hysteria what they lack in male logos. They are always "premenstrual," which is why they cannot conceive themselves and we must bear them.
There is a "dialectic of death" between the normotic parent and child, which results in suppression of "the creative expression of the inner core of the self." Bollas says he doesn't fully understand "why some children give in to such a family atmosphere and become normotic, and why others do not."
But psychology is not deterministic, nor can we account for the workings of grace. While most children are traumatized in varying degrees by abuse (both positive and "negative" abuse), some children seem to emerge unscathed. Conversely, some children are just so temperamentally sensitive that they are crushed by the most benign empathic failures on the part of the parents. Others are born with such a robust "destiny drive," that it seems that nothing can stop them from becoming what they were meant to be. Other people can be blessed with what looks like abundance and become nothing, like so many victims of graduate school.
Here is another subtle point that I am sure is accurate: "I think it is highly likely that the children who give in to the normotic element perceive in the parents' way of being a form of hate that we might conceptualize as a death instinct." It is not necessarily the case that the child feels hated by, or hatred for, the parent. Rather, "it may be more accurate to say that the child experiences the parents' attack on life itself, and that such a parent is trying to squeeze the life out of existence."
Bollas suggests that perhaps the children who escape normotic parents "find a way to be mirrored even if the parents are not providing this." I believe this is what happened with me. I found other models that served this mirroring function, and in looking back on it, I can see that it clearly wasn't a chance phenomenon, at least not totally.
That is, my unborns were looking for particular exemplars to assist in their own birth. A fair number of people have testified that this very blog you are now reading or more likely ignoring has been instrumental in helping to bring their unborns into the world, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Didn't Socrates consider himself to be nothing more than a humble midwife? So if anyone feels spanked along the way, that's why. Nothing personal. We just want you to breath the celestial air.
I am passing out. O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! --From the last paragraph of Finnegans Wake, which, if it means what I think it means, well...