Monday, August 20, 2012

Absent Presences and Present Absences

Continuing with Friday's post, we were discussing the psychological phenomenon of the "scotoma," which essentially involves the development of a lacunae, or hole, in the fabric of reality: something that is there and should be seen, isn't seen. But no one leaves their hole empty. Rather, it is unconsciously filled with content of various kinds, emanating from various levels of the psyche.

Scotosis refers to the resulting form of pneumapathology, in which "the deformed sectors of the field acquire the status of true reality, while the sectors of true existence are eclipsed by the imagery of deformation" (Voegelin).

Now, it is the work of an instant for the leftist to dismiss the entire idea of scotosis, because if there is no objective reality, there can be no holes in it. Multiculturalists, for example, insists that no one's version of reality is any better or worse than anyone else's, and that there exists no standard to make such a determination anyway. Likewise moral relativism.

But ironically, if you should fail to acquiesce to this doctrine, you will find yourself being accused of having a gaping hole in your own sensibilities. Or in other words, if you imagine that your vision is superior -- that it has fewer holes than the other guy's -- then you are what is known as a fascist.

BTW, a commenter asked, "How does a scotoma relate to a mind parasite?" This is a good question, and there is no simple way to answer it, since there are different kinds of holes and parasites at different levels of the psyche, and the hole itself can take on the attributes of a parasite.

As I mentioned in a comment, it is literally a kind of "present absence," or perhaps "nameless dread." Its annoying child is anxiety, apprehension, foreboding, or heebie-jeebies. Without them there would probably be no such thing as ghost stories and the like, because we would have no subjective frame of reference.

How to summarize without getting too sidetracked?

First of all, bear in mind that what follows is a model, not the thing itself -- a useful way to organize and think about reality, analogous to, say, the theory of natural selection. No need to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion developed a theory of thinking and knowing in which knowledge first arises "in primitive emotional experiences related to the absence of the object," i.e., the mother, or even prior to that, the subjective experience of the "good breast." Imagine an infant whose every need is met in a seamless and harmonious way. But under the best of circumstances, the baby will eventually have the disturbing experience of a lack, an absence of food, of comfort, of warmth, of emotional connection, of predictability, whatever.

Note that the infant has no concept of hunger, let alone the word. Rather, the absence -- hunger -- will be experienced as a presence within the field of awareness. Only much later will this experience acquire the name "hunger." And even then, for many people, emotional absence (alone-ness) easily translates to physical hunger; or hunger -- say, in an anorectic -- becomes a way to deny the need for others; for the anorectic, to be hungry is to maintain an omnipotent denial of dependence upon others.

Let's fast forward to adulthood. Take the example of love. In a certain sense, love is a name we give to an absence we feel at the center of our being. Orthoparadoxically, only the loveless -- those aware of the hole, and capable of tolerating it -- can both love and be truly grateful for the love received.

There are two common forms of psychopathology that revolve around this hole. On the one hand, there are people who have what is called borderline personality structure, who essentially cannot tolerate separation and therefore catastrophize it into abandonment. At the other end (but really, it's just an iteration of the same situation) are narcissistic personalities who cannot tolerate real intimacy, and who use and discard people without a backward glance.

As it so happens, borderline and narcissistic folks often get together, and that is when you see the sparks -- or dinner plates, or fists, or bullets -- fly.

A quintessential example is the insanely intense -- or intensely insane -- relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. It's been a long time, but I remember the film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf being a depressingly vivid depiction of the dynamic. In fact, some might ask of the Burton & Taylor performances: what acting?

A somewhat frivolous but illustrative example comes to mind. It must have been at least a decade ago, but I remember seeing Angelina Jolie being interviewed by Larry King, and revealing to him that she had suffered a kind of nervous breakdown -- a psychotic break -- when her then boyfriend Billy Bob Thornton had to absent himself in order to film a picture.

And now that I review her wikipedia page, I see that there is quite a bit of evidence of a primitive borderline personality (unless, of course, she just wishes to be known as a psycho). For example, for one of her weddings she wore a t-shirt with the groom's name written in her blood; she acknowledges her confused sexual identity (bisexuality); she impulsively married old Billy Bob, and sealed the deal by "wearing one another's blood in vials around their necks"; she and BB then abruptly separated -- as borderlines are wont to do -- "because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common."

That last quote is a giveaway, in that the "total change" of which she speaks is a result of flipping from one sub-personality to another. One side of the personality has a psychotic fear of abandonment, while the other can evacuate an intimate relationship with a chillingly instantaneous finality. If you are their unlucky therapist, you can go from Jesus to Hitler in under a second. In graduate school I learned the adage that one should never treat more than one borderline personality at a time, unless one is a masochist. Although I might make an exception for insanely wealthy celebrities who have a tendency to idealize.

Admittedly, if one is bored with life, a relationship with a borderline personality is going to spice things up. Let's just say they're on the intense side. In fact, I remember a headline on Drudge some time back, to the effect that Brad Pitt found life with Jennifer Aniston to be a bit of a snooze. Nowadays he probably has to rest -- as Big Joe Turner sang -- with "one one eye on my pistol / And the other eye on my trunk."

Rambling. I'm not sure that was helpful. Let's just say that there is and must be a genuine absence at the foundation of the personality, and that it is necessary to tolerate this absence in order to love or to know. And there is something known as the basic fault, which essentially results from the psychic hole being too vast to bridge or not being tolerated.

And of course, in the ultimate sense, we all have a "God-shaped hole" at the center of our being, and this is what Voegelin has in mind when he speaks of the "in-between" state that man inhabits here on earth and in time. Again, we symbolize this necessary hole Ø <---> O.

Let's get back on track. We're all familiar with Thomas Kuhn's idea of "paradigm shifts" in science, say, from Newtonian to quantum mechanics, or from the geocentric to the heliocentric theories of orbit.

But we all inhabit a much vaster paradigm, which we might call the "climate of opinion," or "temper of the times," or "liberal agenda." As Whitehead wrote in The S & M World, "Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into the trains of reasoning," and revolves around "intellectual positions which its exponents" do not "feel it necessary explicitly to defend."

For Voegelin, this system is the order; and naturally we want this microcosmic order to reflect the macrocosmic Order as much as possible. One thing we don't ever want to do is superimpose our own little order over the Order (which is again a kind of lunar eclipse, or the blocking of the central sun by means of lunacy, i.e., assault & moonbattery).

At no time in my life has the gulf separating the orders been more vast; for example,

--"You didn't build that!" vs. "And you built what exactly, aside from 10 trillion in debt?"

--"They gonna put y'all back in chains!" vs. "No, we actually want to deactivate that shock collar the Democratic party has around your neck."

--"If you don't spring for birth control for abortion activists, you hate women" vs. "Hey, we just want to stay out of your bedroom, and we certainly want to keep our hands off Sandra's Fluke."

--"You're anti-union" vs. "What kind of idiot is in favor of the collusion between elected officials and state employees to expand the size of government?"

--"Obama is a genius and an evolutionary lightbringer" vs. "Obama is an arrested undergrad who unfortunately took his professors seriously."

--"I need to tell a better story" vs "Don't underestimate yourself. It's not possible to be better bullshit artist."

--"Let's party now and send the bill to our great grandchildren" vs. "THERE. IS. NO. FUCKING. MONEY!"; etc.

In each case, the president and his sympathizers either see something that isn't there, or don't see something that is. Absent presences and present absences.

[F]or we all have had our encounters with men who, sternly rejecting their humanity, insist on being modern men and, in so-called discussion, try to bury us under the rhetoric of deformed existence. --Voegelin


mushroom said...

Only much later will this experience acquire the name "hunger."

From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. – Proverbs 18:20

And the next verse says, perhaps more famously, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

julie said...

Now, it is the work of an instant for the leftist to dismiss the entire idea of scotosis, because if there is no objective reality, there can be no holes in it.

It strikes me that the converse is true as well. That is, if there is no objective reality, why shouldn't it be full of holes, discontinuities, lacunae, non sequiters, etc. Since everyone's reality is equally valid, there are bound to be disagreements, but that's okay, because so long as you claim to be a part of the acceptable consensus, your truth is just as true as my truth. Hence it is okay for Warren Buffet to be rich, even though it's not okay for most people; he pays lip service to the "correct" reality, so the way he actually lives and works is irrelevant.

Or in other words, because there's no objective reality, the scotomas are rendered irrelevant to the leftist mind, even in such cases as they are openly acowledged. I suspect this may also be why the cognitive dissonance that should plague any decent person who recognizes the disparity between their utopian dreams and the human reality so rarely bothers them.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Once upon a time there was a mild debate between me and a gay man on the subject of what the word "person" meant. How I claimed it was a perfect word, how I claimed he knew what it meant and so did any one else. We were talking about abortion of course. He was defending the so-called right. My argument was that it devalued the person to call him a fetus. After much discussion about defining how a fetus was different than a person, his conclusion (despite the non-evidence of differences) was that a fetus was not a person. He could not see the elephant in the room which was that he was arguing for the arbitrary devaluing of one human life by any other man. This seemed to be a strange thing for a gay man to defend; to not see.

River Cocytus said...


Was thinking a bit about the postmodernism problem. On the one hand, what we do could be interpreted as post-modern, since it looks at modern categories and thoughts and re-arranges them. But this is really only a shell game, since what we're trying to do is demodernize modernity constructively rather than destructively, as some traditionalists might want to do.

On the other hand, this is quite distinct from Postmodernism proper, which is as far as we're concerned within the scope and arc of modernity itself; while Postmodernism sees itself as deconstructing, overcoming or invalidating modernity, all it really is, is the logical conclusion of its errors.

ge made a list of Modern vs. Postmodern values, and what interests me is how insane the Postmodern values are if taken by themselves, but how they are simply an expression of an exhausted, failed Modernity.

A corollary may be that even though Leftists see themselves as revolutionizing and reinventing and progressing beyond anything before themselves, thus not really connecting their ideas with historical figures or treating them as the 'father' of their ideas, we see them simply as rings inside a bubble, as it were.

I've confirmed this inkling with something Bowden mentioned about Marxism. Marxism dogmatizes this idea of reification, where something is 'reversed' or turned on itself. While this is usually applied to foreign or 'class enemy' ideas, Marx and company do it to their own stuff. Statement, Reversal, Re-statement in more extreme form based on the reversal, etc.

So for a Leftist to become anti-abortion is not necessarily a swerve to the right, for instance, as it is either a step in a circular process of re-affirming abortion in a more radical form, or part of the shell-game of meanings where there 'is only the text' - being 'anti-abortion' but staunchly 'pro-choice' would be an example.

julie said...


One could argue, though, that being a gay man in the current culture pretty much requires the holding of various cognitive dissonances regarding personhood and the value of human life. On the one hand, we are told that people must be born gay because "nobody would choose to be gay," thus acknowledging in a sense that there is something inherently wrong with being gay. On the other hand, any steps taken to deal wih that wrongness in a healthy manner are treated as evil and inhumane. Any steps that bring a sexually-confused individual even further into pathology, however, are celebrated.

I wonder how the man in question would feel about abortions performed by parents trying not to have gay children? If it were as simple to determine as some other birh defects, I've no doubt gayness would be as rare in upcoming generations as Down Syndrome.

julie said...

Heh - and it occurs to me just now that if gayness ould be detected and aborted, then pro-life Christians would in fact be the greatest supporters of gay rights...

julie said...


River Cocytus said...


Yep. The irony! Thankfully though, I think we will discover that it is a combination of things and not simply a genetic condition.

RE: 'no one would choose to be gay' - the statement itself is ironic, because its original utterance comes out of the condition where people wouldn't want to be gay because of how gay people were treated. Even so, the gayness which garners such reactions is itself chosen, i.e. flamboyance and all of that. This is clear because people who were homosexual often left their sexual preference private (as many discrete people do) and thus were not treated poorly.

The modern gay movement seems to arise out of this power struggle - struggle in the Leftist sense - of the flamboyant and transgressive gay against the normative 'reaction' of society. It seems to conceive itself entirely in the language and terms of these violent Leftist movements... as such, in its more extreme forms it believes the family to be 'a gun in the hands of the bourgeoise'. And as we all know about the Left, its usually the most extreme part of it that takes over because it is the most violent and determined.

Cond0011 said...

"BTW, a commenter asked, "How does a scotoma relate to a mind parasite?""

Here is a good example:

Procrastination/Not-finishing-jobs-to-completion is a mind parasite and in its advanced stages can leave you unable to work. There is a scalar continuum of this affliction (most everybody has it to a degree) and can get better or worse depending on your state of 'happiness' (doing things you like to do).

Solution: Having a clearly defined sense of Duty: "Do your job, no matter how small or insignificant - even if you don't want to do it"

The same goes for dosages of Honor, Integrity, efficacy, etc... Apply topically as needed, but be aware that a mind parasite can permeate your entire being, in which case you may have to alter your view of reality and apply it to your life wholly. Try not to be draconian as you may cut away healthy and vibrant parts of your being (thus maiming yourself in the process - as many alcoholics do when they stop drinking cold turkey). Yes drastic measures may be necessary, otherwise you will have a relapse and bounce back to your former weight - or even fatter than before. :)

Yep. Speaking from experience.

Hi Bob!

julie said...

On the topic of scotomas, the Sultan has a relevant observation:

"Travelers across the vast stretches of the Arabian Desert have been known to get lost and, in their thirst and exhaustion, hallucinate oases with palm trees and flowing water. Western policymakers lost in the vast stretches of madness that define the Muslim world are even more wont to hallucinate the oasis of a moderate Islam to take refuge in. Whether you're dying for a drink or a way to reaffirm your reality, a mirage is sometimes the only way you can find it."

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Wow. This post is really packed to the brim!

Gotta run (and coontemplate) but I'll be back to reread this one.

Thanks Bob. You answered my question and added several more. :^)

River Cocytus said...

Speaking of lacunae, take the response to this recent Todd Akin flap...

1. Because of statutes, even consensual relations between certain persons are legally rape.

2. Non-consensual relations are considered rape.

Now some of these folks are (and quite oddly, given the whole history of rape vis-a-vis normal behavior of invading armies) claiming that 2. doesn't cause pregnancy very often.

What is the reaction?

You would expect folks on the left to cite some study showing that in fact, the rates are somewhat similar.

Instead, I can't find a comment that isn't scaremongering against Republicans or repeating the Obama's words re 'all rape is rape'.

... But it would seem to me that these are two distinct things, and I'd like to know (personally) if there's any truth to this idea. I doubt it, given, you know, all of history.

Anyone got a clue? Or is this one of those genuine 'nobody bothered to do research because its so obvious despite the fact people have in the past believed otherwise' ?

As a people, we're so scientific all around the scotoma. ALL AROUND IT.

ge said...

Trust me to OT
Off Topic/Operating Thetan
things a moment: but
Mitt's fave book?,83934/

I'm likely the only person anyone here knows who has bought & perused more than 1 volume of his ten-volume Mission Earth opus, with memorable female characters Cun and Twa...and the strange device of generous state-censored
'Bleeps' of the novel's language, with exclamations like: "You BLEEPing BLEEPard!"

julie said...

Wow. Never read the book, but the movie was so awful not even a Rifftrax could save it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Check out this bio of Peter Sellers on wikipedia, for a good description of the borderline/narcissistic personality.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Sellers was a wreck! I reckon having no identity, or losing it would drive anyone nuts.

There was no I there, let alone an I Am.

julie said...

Yikes - naming your kid after his dead elder brother seems like an inauspicious beginning. No wonder he didn't feel like he had his own identity. As an actor, he was amazing; it's too bad his personal life was such a mess. Of course, had it not been, he probably wouldn't have been such a great actor...

EbonyRaptor said...

Do you have a reuoom?

It eez a minkey.

I was attacked by a wandering transvestite.

If Pink Panther movies were made today - Inspector Clouseau would never get away with the things he said to Kato.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Let's just say that there is and must be a genuine absence at the foundation of the personality, and that it is necessary to tolerate this absence in order to love or to know."

Hi Bob, would you say this has a direct correlation with one's ability and choice to be thankful for what one has?

IOW's, in my experience, folks who are thankfull, joyfull and consider themselves blessed, no matter what they have or don't have, don't have all the problems that people who can't accept that hole have.

And those who can't, or won't accept that hole (or as you mentioned, deny it out of hand) always seem bitter and envious of anyone better off materially than they are.

Or, if they do appear joyful it's usually not for long and is probably more of a temporary ecstasy than true joyfulness, since it doesn't last.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

EbonyRaptor, LOL! He really cracks me up in that role!

Rick said...

Got my copy of Kimball's Experiments Against Reality yesterday. I went for the $6 hardcover with dust jacket. Really nice surprise was opening to find it's signed by Roger! to some guy "Peter, fellow warrior".
Thank you, Fellow Warrior!

Hey Ben!

Magister said...

Back from vacation. Great post. Sobering.

Gagdad Bob said...

Rick -- I loved that book, but Lives of the Mind is even better. The man is freakishly erudite.

Rick said...

I need to delegate this reading business.

Van Harvey said...

Ahh... Finally some slack time for the metaphysical decompression chamber....

Van Harvey said...

River said"... take the response to this recent Todd Akin flap..."

Shhh...! You're recompressing my decompression... I've been deep down inside that for the last few days (see my last couple posts).

I really dislike politics. It's so tough not tripping & falling into your scotoma, especially while carefully stepping around the bodies of everyone else who already has.