Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sex, Death and Lies

Reading Alessandra Lemma's Introduction to the Practice of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in August 2010 was what, at one level, occasioned what has now been 15 months of exploration into psychoanalysis. This from the early pages - humans are messed up, life is pain, it goes deep, we deceive ourselves, we are not God, conflict is inescapable. It should surprise no-one that depth psychology is a fruitful line of reading for Reformed theologians.
The core message of psychoanalysis ... a rather unflattering picture: we are beings driven by sexual and aggressive urges, we are envious and rivalrous, and we may harbour murderous impulses even towards those whom we consciously say we love. This is a mirror that we would rather not look into. 
At its core, psychoanalysis is about the vagaries of desire, our recalcitrant renunciations and the inevitability of loss. It shows us that we can be our own very worst enemy ... conflict is inevitable. Whichever way you look at it, someone somewhere is always missing something in the psychoanalytic drama. Psychoanalysis suggests that disillusionment and frustration are intrinsic to development. Within Freudian theory, renunciation is a necessary evil if society is ever to survive. Freud, the bearer of bad news, starkly reminded us that we simply cannot have it all our own way. The hard lessons begin at birth. As reality impinges on us, the experiences of frustration, disappointment, loss and longing make their entry in the chronicles of our existence. The reality is that the breast - that archetypal symbol of never-ending nourishment and care - eventually dries up. These very experiences, however painful, are those that have been singled out by psychoanalysis as privileged in our development towards adaptation to the so-called real world.  Even if it were possible to create a situation in which our every need could be satisfied, this would not be desirable since it would not equip us with the resilience born of the endurance and survival of moments of frustration and disappointment. Our capacity to delay gratification, to withstand absence and loss, are hard-won lessons that challenge our omnipotent feelings while also reassuring us that we can face reality without being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
Psychoanalysis also challenges our preferred belief in conscious thought as the ultimate datum of our experience.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us prefer to believe that what we see and experience accounts for all that is important in life. All too often we rely on our sense impressions and make little or no effort to probe deeper.  Psychoanalysis, however, suggests that we are driven by conflicting thoughts, feelings and wishes that are beyond our conscious awareness but which nonetheless affect our behaviour - from behind the scenes as it were. The possibility that we may not know ourselves undermines our wish for self-determination and casts a shadow over our preferred belief that we can control the future. 
The notion of the unconscious is hard to digest not only because it suggests that we may not know ourselves but also because, even more provocatively, it proposes that we deceive ourselves and others. From the very start, psychoanalysis questioned the trustworthiness of human beings. It teaches us never to trust what appears obvious; it advocates an ironic, sceptical stance towards life and our conscious intentions.  This is because, Freud suggested, we are beings capable of self-deception.  Our mind appears to be structured in such a way that it allows for a part of it to be 'in the know' while another part is not 'in the know'. 
The picture of human beings that we see through psychoanalytic lenses is a sobering one. Strive as we might to be in control of ourselves, psychoanalysis tells us that we will never be wholly successful in this endeavour. Strive as we might to be happy and to overcome our conflicts, psychoanalysis tells us that conflict is an inescapable part of life. It reminds us that the best we can hope for is to find ways of managing, not eradicating, the conflict that is an inherent part of what it means to be human - and that will be £50 per session, [DF - published in 2003!] thank you very much.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The talking cure

There's more than talk to God's dealings with us but it starts with talk. At the beginning of everything we have (the words!), "God said ..."

The gospel is a message about Christ which comes as God's Word, announcement, demand, invitation, proclamation, and news.

It is "speaking the truth in love" that we grow up in every way into him who is the Head.

When we are filled with the Spirit then we "address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs".

When the Word of Christ dwells in us richly then we "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom".

We decline anxiety by "letting our requests be known to God".

If we want to be healed then we should "confess our sins to one another and pray for one another".

Psychoanalysis has been known for decades as "the talking cure". But is the verbal flow from the analysand's couch a contradiction, a parody, a revolt, an instantiation or a distortion of God's use of language (his and ours) to make and remake us?

Preferring the "economy of assertion over the tedium of proof", the answer is "first, distortion, and on occasion the other things". After all, as Phillips says, British "psychoanalysis is redescribed Christianity".

Falsehood is parasitical on error. There's no such thing as pure evil. Idolatry has to take something good before it can do evil with it. And so on. Psychoanalysis at its very very worst - its atheistic, blasphemous, partial, amoral worst - is still a recognition that something is wrong and an attempt to deal with it. (In a Misesian sense every human action is gospel-shaped - the endeavour to make things better.) And at its best it is a description of a mode, a style, a sequence and an arrangement of God's talking cure which is his conversation with us which has the multi-faceted and very deep Gospel announced and applied as one half and our multi-faceted and very deep confession (of sin and of Christ) as the other.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sober but unchaste

Prayerful but bad-tempered;
Busy but judgmental;
Doctrinally correct but uncharitable;
Kindly but lazy.

From Samson Agonistes:
But what avail'd this temperance, not compleat
Against another object more enticing?
What boots it at one gate to make defence
And at another to let in the foe
Effeminatly vanquish't?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sense and surprise

At one and the same time, God's ways make perfect sense and yet may surprise us. From Samson Agonistes:

And I perswade me God had not permitted
His strength again to grow up with his hair
Garrison'd round about him like a Camp
Of faithful Souldiery, were not his purpose
To use him further yet in some great service,
Not to sit idle with so great a gift
Useless, and thence ridiculous about him.

Oft he seems to hide his face,
But unexpectedly returns

Friday, July 01, 2011

Not whether but how

Cawdor and Samson both: "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it; he died as one that had been studied in his death ... ". From Samson Agonistes:
Yet e're I give the rains to grief, say first,
How dy'd he? death to life is crown or shame.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strengths, weaknesses, turning points

From Samson Agonistes:
O miserable change! is this the man,
That invincible Samson, far renown'd,
The dread of Israel's foes, who with a strength
Equivalent to Angels walk'd their streets,
None offering fight; who single combatant
Duell'd their Armies rank't in proud array,
Himself an Army, now unequal match
To save himself against a coward arm'd
At one spears length. O ever failing trust
In mortal strength! and oh what not in man
Deceivable and vain! Nay what thing good
Pray'd for, but often proves our woe, our bane?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Divided against ourselves

This is how Adam Phillips puts it in Side Effects:
It is Freud’s view that we are ineluctably averse to ourselves (and others) because our desire is fundamentally transgressive. If what we want is what we must not have we are going to be, to put it as mildly as possible, divided against ourselves.

And this is the diagram and the text for how I put it in Radical Disorientation a while back:

Loving and hating God; loving and hating loving self

For Adam, to love God’s character, recognise his authority and embrace his purpose would have meant that he rejected sin. He would need and desire no other standard and calling than God’s loving holiness expressed in his good and righteous commands and promises. He would not want to do away with or replace God. Rather, he would love God with his whole being. And, vitally, this in turn means that he would love himself.

But, as we have seen, Adam, as sinner, hated God. Ironically, made in the image of God, Adam was already ‘like God’. But not content at bearing God’s glory, reflecting and representing God’s character, recognising God’s authority, embracing God’s purpose and obeying God’s commands, he grasped at equality with God. And this was his fall, his shame. Determined to do away with God and seeing the reflection of God in his own being and calling, he took a hammer to himself as mirror and shattered the image of God. And when, in sin, he looked at himself and saw the image of God, shattered yet not obliterated, he hated himself as he hated God. Designed perfectly in the image of God, so far as Adam loved God, he would love himself as the mirror of God. Embracing sin, the situation was reversed. Looking at himself as a sinner, he hated what remained of the image of God and thus hated himself. And all in Adam die the same death.

Consistency in sin would be murder, madness and suicide

The unregenerate, true to himself, that is to say fully consistent as a God-hater, would sin without limit. But unlimited sin would be simultaneous madness, murder and suicide. Madness, because reality is filled with God and the consistent sinner flees from reality: God is truth and the consistent sinner, endeavouring to do away with God, would reject truth. Yet truth is one, though lies are many, and so the rejection of truth, consistently worked through, would be a complete disconnection with reality. Murder, because all other human persons are image-bearers and the consistent sinner, seeking to murder God and yet unable to do so, would, instead and as well, do all in his power to cleanse the planet of every sign of God. Every other human person must be killed. Suicide because the fully consistent sinner would, regarding the remaining image of God upon himself and hating that image, seek to destroy himself. Hating God, the sinner hates truth, love and life, embraces falsehood, hatred and death and so, unrestrained, would plunge into madness, murder and suicide.

God keeps us from consistency

God’s mercy is such, however, that he restrains the sin of those who hate him, holding them back from full consistency. Thus, all around us, though only in part, the unregenerate accept truth, obey commands, reject evil, love others, and cherish life. The Christian doctrine of ‘total depravity’ teaches that sin has corrupted every dimension and faculty of human life: it does not teach that every sinner is as evil as he or she could possibly be.

And thus the sinner is a divided, a self-alienated person. Put simply, the two ‘selves’ of the fallen human person are first, the sinner as sinner, the God-hating self and, second, the sinner as restrained, the residual image-bearer as self. This sets up four relationships and stances within the one human person (see fig.1):

1. Adam (for all sinners) as a God-hater perceives himself as a God-hater and loves this self.

2. Adam the God-hater perceives himself as Adam the residual image-bearer and hates this self.

3. Adam the residual image-bearer perceives himself as Adam the God-hater and hates this self.

4. Adam the residual image-bearer perceives himself as Adam the image-bearer and loves this self.

Only unfallen Adam, Jesus of Nazareth and the fully restored people of God know the undivided self. All other human experience is that of self-alienation and of consequent confusion, fear, anger, and guilt.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Servility begins at home

From Samson Agonistes:
But what more oft in Nations grown corrupt,
And by their vices brought to servitude,
Than to love Bondage more than Liberty,
Bondage with case than strenuous liberty ...

..............................................servile mind
Rewarded well with servile punishment!
The base degree to which I now am fall'n,
These rags, this grinding, is not yet so base
As was my former servitude. ignoble,
Unmanly, ignominious, infamous,
True slavery, and that blindness worse than this,
That saw not how degeneratly I serv'd.

I was no private but a person rais'd
With strength sufficient and command from Heav'n
To free my Countrey; if their servile minds
Me their Deliverer sent would not receive,
But to their Masters gave me up for nought,
Th' unworthier they; whence to this day they serve.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Genius 2

Bloom on Shakespeare with some thoughts on Freud, change, and the invention of the human ...
  • "... the largest consciousness and most incisive intellect in all literature"
  • "Hamlet, Falstaff, Lear, Iago, Cleopatra, Rosalind, and Macbeth ... [Shakepeare] fashioned women and men more real than living men and women."
His language, his transcendently, preternaturally real characters, his equal brilliance in comedy and tragedy, his craft and density such that his plays (really) are to be read - all of these are signs of genius. But, according to Bloom, his essential, world-changing contribution was his 'invention of the human'. And how does that happen? By self-overhearing.
  • "Where do our selves begin? ... Shakespeare, incomparable psychologist, invented a new origin for us in the most illuminating idea any poet ever has discovered or invented: the self-recognition of self-overhearing."
  • "... at moments we overhear ourselves and are startled. Do we awaken into a new self-awareness ...?"
  • "It is not clear to me that anyone in Shakespeare really listens to anyone else. ... Self-overhearing, in Shakespeare, is the royal road to change. Hamlet notoriously changes every time he hears himself speak [in his seven soliloquies]. ... Hamlet's self-re-creations through self-overhearing are everywhere in the play ... "
  • "To overhear oneself is to be initially unaware that one is the speaker. That unawareness is so brief that self-overhearing seems more metaphoric than not, yet the moment of literal nonrecognition is authentic. Shakespeare ... seizes upon that moment to fashion another version of the human will to change. ... To hear yourself, at least for an instant, without self-recognition, is to open your spirit to the tempests of change ... This is a new inwardness that creates rather than confronts change."
And since Freud is still following me around, then it's worth making the obvious connection that what happens in dreams and in free association is a particularly powerful form of "self-overhearing". What I have yet to clarify is the relation between these and two sorts of prayer, namely, (1) the praying of Scripture until such time as we can hear a) that Scripture's note and our inner note are discordant OR b) that they are in harmony OR c) that they are identical; and (2) whatever sort of prayer it was (something between free association and Brother Lawrence) that filled Jesus's whole nights of prayer.

This self-overhearing, therefore, takes place:

1. when I speak to myself (soliloquy)
2. when one part of me speaks to another part of me (dream)
3. when I speak to another (prayer)
4. when I speak to myself in the presence of another (free association)


5. when another speaks to me.

How can this be? How can listening to another be a form of self-overhearing? Actually, it's the simple moment of reading C S Lewis and thinking, "I have always thought that and felt like that but until reading those words I didn't know it". Or the simple moment of hearing the preacher say, "and you know how it is when you think / feel / react / wish ..." and finish the sentence in a way which makes you feel he's been inside your head and heart.

More theologically, "the invention of the human" is, of course, the outcome of the most potent "self-overhearing" of them all: when the Father speaks the Word and hears himself (recognises the exact representation of his being) then this leads to the "change" of bringing all creation into being with humankind, shaped by the mold of the flesh that the Word will one day become, perfectly "in his own image and likeness".

That is, the invention of the human, biblically, is the work of the Spirit as he makes an echo of the Word spoken by the Father which the Father overhears and chooses to repeat.