Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't No Happy, Period

I'm just thumbing through this book on Vision and Separation Between Mother and Baby, trawling for any further in-sights into our subject.

Which is what again? I forgot.

I believe this all started with a discussion of the (temporal) cosmic journey, as outlined in Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery. This journey ends in the Person, but this latter term is full of implications. For starters, the journey from infant proto-person to adult person is teeming with hazards, many of which fall under the heading of "mom" and "dad."

For example, Wright describes how the mother's face is the child's first "emotional mirror" through which he "is able to come to understand his own emotions."

Of course, it goes much deeper than the word "understanding" implies, because this is not a question of epistemology. Rather, it reaches all the way down to ontology, to the level of being.

In this regard, it seems that "I AM" is posterior to "YOU ARE" (or at least they "eternally co-arise," so to speak).

But this is consistent with biblical metaphysics, where man's being is wholly dependent upon Being-as-such; and this Being-as-such just so happens to be person-as-such. Otherwise, I just don't see how it is possible to shoehorn personhood into the cosmos, unless one simply has blind faith in blind chance.

A brief point of order: whenever I use the word "mother" in this developmental context, I am not only referring to the exterior mother.

Rather, human beings are born with a stock of archetypal preconceptions -- or preconceptual archetypes, if you like -- through which we organize primordial experience. As such, there is an "interior mother," an empty category awaiting experience in order to assimilate content.

Again, the mother's face is the child's first emotional mirror, but experiences in this modality come to "fill out" one's interior mother.

For example, if the maternal mirror "is unreflecting, damage is done to the child, who becomes walled off from his own emotional self by a similarly rigid and impervious wall" (Wright).

Do you see how that works? It is very much as if the psyche is now inhabited by this dialectic of an unreflective mother and a rejected -- because unrecognized -- self.

This is why, as Wright explains, body-image issues are so common in psychotherapy. For example, "someone who is troubled by a negative identity or discongruent self-image may, in an almost delusional way, experience his face as disfigured."

I'm thinking of, say, Michael Jackson, whose bizarre face was the outward image of an even more bizarre internal world. He spent his life searching in vain for the right face.

But even if he had succeeded he would have failed, for the true face has to belong to someone else, and be mediated by love. You might say that Jackson attempted to transform his own face into both lover and beloved, which renders growth impossible. Thus the pathetic spectacle of a 50 year-old child.

Just last week I was talking to a neighbor -- an old-timer who knows where all the bodies are buried -- who mentioned that someone I went to high school with had died of anorexia (probably a couple of decades ago). Anorexia is the sine qua non of a delusional body image.

I haven't studied the subject for a while, but back when I was in graduate school, it was thought to be related to deep ambivalence around primitive images of the mother, who is completely entangled with food, mouth, nourishment and digestion.

In other words, "primitive mother" and "food" are essentially indistinguishable at that level, hence the "oral stage" of development, which lasts from birth to... well, until it kills you, if you're not careful.

Actually, it does last to the end of one's life, only in a mature person it doesn't predominate. We all retain a healthy, primitive emotional attachment to food. But if you end up being reduced to a "foodie" whose life revolves around putting novel things into your mouth, you've probably got issues. But you're also harmless, so no biggie.

By the way, this whole subject has fascinating implications for theophagy, i.e., communion. "This is my body." "I am the bread and the life." "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven." Etc. Turning the cosmos right-side-up, we see that the primitive maternal relationship is our initiation into the life of the Trinity.

Again, I don't see how it would be possible to arrive at humanness -- or personhood, to be exact -- in the absence of this ontological communion, in which we interpenetrate and share being with another.

Wright calls this communion a "positively amplifying circuit mutually affirming both partners." The smiling infant fills the mother with joy, and the joyous mother presumably fills the infant with unspeakably juicy goodness. The mother's happy face is the deepest hint that the world is a good place, and doggonit, I'm good too.

For you gents out there, have you ever noticed the relationship between Happy Wife and Happy Life? It is quite true that When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.

But a bright and happy mama is like the sun shining indoors. Indeed, men have a deep need to make mama happy, in the absence of which we feel quite powerless, or puzzled, or despairing. Or maybe I just have issues.

Anybody got a doughnut?

Babies hold a secret about the human mind that has been hidden for millennia. They are our double. They have a primordial drive to understand us that advances their development; we have a desire to understand them that propels social science and philosophy. By examining the minds and hearts of children, we illuminate ourselves. --Andrew Meltzoff (in Garrels)


julie said...

By the way, this whole subject has fascinating implications for theophagy, i.e., communion.

Good point - also why it was so important for Christ to have been born of a woman, as opposed to just appearing fully-formed as an adult.

For you gents out there, have you ever noticed the relationship between Happy Wife and Happy Life? It is quite true that When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.

And here we go back to a common theme of Prager's, the importance of happiness. Specifically, the idea that each person has a responsibility to be - or at least act - happy, for the same reason each person has a responsibility to practice good personal hygiene.

One of the sad facts of modern life, it seems, is that a couple of generations of women have been raised on the idea that they have a right to be angry pretty much all the time, particularly at men. Not that there haven't always been angry women making their husbands miserable, but at least until the sixties there was a cultural understanding that a happy woman meant a happy home - and that the responsibility for that happiness was as much hers as his. Too many women of my generation seem to believe instead that it's entirely somebody else's job to make them happy, or else. And of course, nobody else can make them happy. Then they wonder why they can't keep a relationship.

Gagdad Bob said...

I first picked up that idea from one of his frequent guests, Allison Armstrong, the relationship expert. She once mentioned how hopeless and powerless men feel when they can't make their wives happy. It feels like a rejection. For women, it seems that the issue is more the need to feel loved and appreciated. Thus, it is often the case that the Unhappy Mama is the Unloved Mama.

julie said...

" hopeless and powerless men feel when they can't make their wives happy."

True, and a very good point. In my experience, men generally tend to be much more wounded by their wives' anger than the wives realize. As to the Unloved Mama, sometimes the reason for her feeling unloved and unappreciated has little to do with the husband; he just gets stuck with the aftermath of whatever unresolved trauma she's reenacting.

shoprat said...

I regularly read but seldom comment here.

As I read of the "face of the mother" and normal development, my mind flashed to the nightmare world of Huxley's Brave New World and how being impersonally raised in one of their baby factories would render a human world impossible. What is truly scary is that there are those who desire such a world and such a "civilization".

Magnus Itland said...

Baby factories won't work: Babies die if raised robotically. It was tested in Rumenia during the communist dictatorship - not on a large scale, just in orphanages. Without human interaction, the babies stopped growing, even with plenty of food, then sickened and died. So they had to give up that.

mushroom said...

Yes, about baby factories -- I seem to recall one of those '50s-era monkey experiments where baby monkeys were raised on the bottle either by wire "mothers" or terry cloth-covered "mothers". The wire-mother monkeys were more fearful and less able to adapt.

It makes one wonder if daycare won't at the root of a cataclysmic failure of civilization.

mushroom said...

According to the popular concept, "acting happy" is hypocrisy. If that's the case, the world could use a lot more hypocrites.

When somebody says, "I have to be honest ...", I can't help thinking a) they probably aren't, and b) why can't they just keep it to themselves.

What they are generally "honest" about is not an objective truth but their preferences and feelings. Let your feelings follow, not lead. We can all do that on the job -- else I would have been in prison years ago. Why not be at least as courteous to your family?

mushroom said...

And one more sign of the Apocalypse -- universal DH.

Hey, maybe we could just go to offense/defense platooning like football.

ted said...

My last girlfriend was borderline. Ok, maybe that says more about me for getting in to a relationship with this sort of individual, but it's amazing what we can rationalize to ourselves when it comes to the heart and soul-loins. Needless to say, I was elevated to messianic status at the beginning, and demoted to the leader of Dante's Inferno towards the end. I could not make her happy, because she was wounded and projected all those wounds on to me. And yet, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. It was such a good teaching. Next time will be different, and more vertical.

julie said...

On the topic of mirroring, this is interesting.

And yet, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. It was such a good teaching.

You can't see it, but I just gave you a standing ovation. Lots of people make the same mistake, but very few that I know of manage to learn from it, or else they learn the wrong lessons. Best of luck to you on your next adventure!

O'pinion said...

Have you ever read the acim urtext?

I'm interested in your take on it, if you would

ted said...

@Julie: Yes, thank you for your encouragement!

ge said...

President Romney