On the Need to be Beguiled
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free
John Donne (Holy Sonnets XIV)
Hearts not averse to being beguiled
Beguile us in the way you know
Praised be the love wherein there is no possessor
and no possessed, because both surrender.
J. L. Borges
Freud’s statement regarding the “repudiation of the feminine” is so deeply ingrained in our psychoanalytic thinking, that it is easy to overlook its inevitable corollary, i.e. that according to an inherent psychic homeostatic symmetry, the very opposite must also be true : that the Unconscious must needs harbor a deep instinctual desire for “the feminine” as well. In other words, theoretical consistency would behoove, that in tandem with the necessity and vitality of the ‘active’ which would correspond to an anxiety linked to the passive, one must conceptualize the intrinsic presence of an equivalent necessity and strength of the ‘passive and receptive’ : an impulse to surrender, to take in, to be fed, to be penetrated ….
Amongst contemporary philosophical positions touching upon similar issues, that of Heidegger stands out. He puts forward the notion of a non-active “being thrown (geworfen sein)” state, which is supposed to act as a foundational condition of human existence, and which is intricately linked to the actively passive notion of “letting / releasing (Gelassenheit)” that is derived from the theoretical tradition of mysticism (Heidegger, 1992, 2006). In resonance with such views, post-freudian thinking has naturally been preoccupied with trying to elaborate on and deepen the understanding of the vicissitudes and consequences of these dimensions in the structuring of the human psyche.
Over the years, the emergence of the feminine dimension in the adult – irrespective of gender – has been attributed both to a) instinctual sources and to b) externally imposed existential object-relational circumstances. Prominent amongst the latter, stands primarily the pervasive ‘sense of helplessness (Hilflosigkeit)’ encountered in the face of the world at large or more specifically in the face of the adult Other – a situation that self-evidently characterizes the infantile experience. (André, 1994) This inchoate condition of passivity has been characterized by some as “the bedrock of the ego” (Hinshelwood, 1997 p.309), albeit not a biological one, which is the characterization Freud reserves for the ‘repudiation’ of what he calls the ‘feminine’. Secondly, the feminine dimension is naturally linked to the notion of primary identification. One’s not referring here, to Freud’s suggestion regarding the identification with the father of one’s own personal prehistory, but the experience at the empirical level, of the fact that the primary object of the infant, is in most cases a mother. A rather straight forward argument, would propose that, as the primary object of identification is a female, female elements are inevitably identified with by the baby, irrespective of its gender (Godfrind, 1993). Finally a third theoretical interpretation of the external imposition and infiltration of the primary feminine into the psyche, points to the determining presence of the power of the maternal Unconscious, irrespective of whether it is the enigmatic sexuality of the mother (Laplanche, 1987), or the mother’s fantasy conceptualization of the baby’s gender (Stoller,1985), or indeed the structuring potential of mother’s communicating vehicle – initially preverbal and subsequently language itself (Aulagnier, 1975).
Focusing now on the instinctual component, one could argue that all the various adult phenomenological renditions of this psychic dynamic, fall under the category of a ‘desire for a return to the womb’ fantasy, endlessly encountered in clinical practice and variously described in the literature, most particularly a fantasy of fusion-union with the object (be it human or divine). The most convincing theoretical documentations that try to link this impulse, to its initial manifestations, i.e. the experience of being passionately attracted to an object – something which will henceforth act as blueprint – can be found in the writings of two American analysts living contemporaneously in Britain. Both seem to be working on and trying to further Freud’s view that the primary sexual experiences of the baby in its relationship to the mother, are inevitably “of a passive nature” (Freud, 1931)
One of them is D. Meltzer, who writes : “…..when the ordinary beautiful devoted mother, holds her ordinary beautiful baby and are [together] lost in the aesthetic impact on one another…..” (Meltzer, D. et al., 1988, p. 26). This aesthetic imprint created by the beautiful mother’s exterior – as this is received by the baby’s perceptual system – dovetails with a concurrent mysterious interior, something that has to be conceptualized and integrated through the creative imagination of the baby. Drawing attention to the mutuality that such an occurrence entails, a student of his writes “…..the baby captivates the mother by his exclusive need for her and her alone, and she responds by being seduced. With her total commitment to the physical care and feeding of the infant, she seduces him with the belief that he is the only one for her.” (Steiner, 1997 p.166)
This condition underlies, according Meltzer, a so called “aesthetic conflict”, derivatives of which, are easily detected in the adult. One such is the subjective quality of any subsequent aesthetic experience, or in unconscious terms, a re-finding of the aesthetic object, as this will depend on the development of a very individual ability to perceive aesthetic beauty, despite its mysteriously threatening elements.
The second author is C. Bollas, who records how the maternal idiom of care and the infant’s subjective experience of this handling is the first human aesthetic. This he claims, stands as a prototype of conditions where the content of the self is formed and transformed by the environment, in other words, where the infant’s internal world is given shape, structure and meaning by the mother. Given that aesthetic experiences are in themselves transformational, argues Bollas, the search for an aesthetic object cannot but be a search for a transformational object, an object that will somehow provide such figurational processes to the subject, that unintegrations in the self can be reshaped into integrations (Bollas, 1987).
Such an object-relational condition has as its aim, an exclusivity which will delimit the self away from all distractions. Cognitive functions and thought – should they persist – no longer reside in the self, but in the Other i.e. the aesthetic (transformational) object, which is henceforth solely responsible for attributing meaning to the experiential. In the presence of such an aesthetic object, a deep nonverbal fusion transpires between subject and object, which eventually entraps and transforms all external and internal reality of both participants. This primary aesthetic experience acts as a prototype and as aim of a life-long quest for a reliving of this ab initio psychically registered fusion with the (lost) transformational object. Marion Milner suggests that the so called aesthetic experience rests upon “…..an ability to tolerate a temporary loss of sense of self, a temporary giving up of the discriminating ego which stands apart and tries to see things objectively and rationally and without emotional colouring.” (Milner, 1987 p.97)
The above description focuses on an imaginary rudimentary infantile condition which entails spontaneous letting go and almost (mystical) internalization of that which the Other is offering, all in a state of ecstatic loss of boundaries, identities, and of both nascent as well as mature elements of the personality, and whose purpose appears to be the transformative eventuality that this existential condition will procure.
The affinity between such an experience and the universally commonplace experience of ‘praying’ is so evident that it often goes unnoticed.
It is worth noting at this juncture, that in her recent book entitled “The Unbelievable Need to Believe”, Julia Kristeva, has contributed a radical contrary viewpoint to this debate. The ‘need to believe’ is characterized by this author, as fundamentally pre-religious and linked directly to the Freudian primary identification with the father of one’s own personal prehistory. One is referring here, to the paternal representation that already pre-exists in mother’s mind as her libidinal object, an internal object that is, to be distinguished from external reality. Furthermore, this need is put forward as a precondition for all symbolization processes that are to follow, as well as the eventual emergence of language itself. The conviction / belief in a beyond and an Other – what Kristeva calls “the loving acknowledgement [bestowed by] an oblative paternity ……acting as a third party” – stands as a sine qua non element, which through the introduction of the symbolic dimension, renders the break from the archaic maternal possible, and confers upon the infant, identity and “dignity of being” (Kristeva, 2007 pp.33-35)
That which in the infantile has been called ‘the aesthetic experience’, can often be found in the adult psyche under different names. Freud describes it with notable acuity in his article Mass Psychology & the Analysis of the Ego. In this article, he mentions that the person who is in love, and who functions primarily under the influence of narcissistic processes, substitutes the object of his love with his own ego ideal. This ego ideal (a primary identification of sorts) projected onto the object of love, consumes the beloved’s ego, which – in a state of acquiescent disempowerment – surrenders unconditionally to this presence that entraps it. Whether one refers to the lover, or to the person who adheres to the dictum that says “Trust in……and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), refers to the mystic, or to the follower of a leader in the crowd, refers to the devoted disciple, or indeed to someone undergoing a therapeutic hypnotic process, the dynamics of the situation are recognizably repetitious: ... I surrender in anticipation of an affectively cataclysmic transformation. At this point we come across some validating thoughts recorded in 1909 by Ferenczi, who recognizes and proclaims that hypnosis represents a parent-child relationship, whereby the subject unconsciously assumes the position of a child and experiences the hypnotist either as a mother (a fantasy of tenderness, love, even fusion) or as a father (a fantasy of imposition via power and fear) so that the wished for deep psychic change can smoothly be achieved. A not so dissimilar experience (a reversal to a ‘child facing parent’ condition ) exists, according to Anton Kris, in the encounter of the adult with a work of art : he gives it the name ‘regression in the service of the Ego’ (Kris, 1952)
The verbs that weave this dynamic (verbs like surrender, give in, be known [as in Corinthians II: 13], submit, comply, give up, etc.) even if they all come under the same wider category of identificatory processes, need to be carefully indeed meticulously, differentiated from one another, so that their unique particularities and affective fantasy constellations can be highlighted. In his seminal paper on this subject (Ghent, 1990, pp. 110-111), E. Ghent defines ‘surrender’ – a primary libidinal impulse – thus: surrender is not a voluntary activity, nor is it directed to ‘another’, on the contrary, one cannot make it happen as it is a free force towards growth, and it only emerges ‘in the presence of another’ It is an experience of being ‘in the moment’, where the tenses of past and future requiring the mind of the secondary process have temporarily receded from consciousness. Whereas in submitting there exists domination, control and resignation, in surrendering there exists recognition as well as loosening of the boundaries of the self, so that reception and internalization is made possible. As an adult experience, this would be an instance of what Winnicott describes as regression in the service of finding new opportunities for reparation and re-birth of the self. Defensive processes and resistances occasionally interrupt this progression towards growth, and one ends up with perverse deviations of the natural impulse ‘to surrender’. These deviations manifest themselves in forms of relating that entail varieties of power differentials that lead to submission, resignation, being controlled, being entrapped, or indeed being made suggestible enough to allow for the eventuality of being manipulated and exploited by an Other for their own narcissistic purposes. In deviations like these, components of the Death Drive gradually gain the upper hand and soon the ‘seduction of pain’ will run through the entire relational dynamic. The contrast between the dynamics underlying the conditions of surrendering and those of submitting, cannot be stressed strongly enough.
The psychic sadism-masochism twinship, one of the most common illustrations of this deviation, is based on the de-fusion of the libidinal from the aggressive elements via unconscious mechanisms like splitting, denial, projective identification and omnipotence. Superego omnipotence existing latently in both partners of the relating couple, is vertically split and is being placed solely on one member, whereas the corresponding latent subservience, weakness and dependency of both, is solely placed on the other. The horizontal line of ambivalence characterizing a whole object, which would have allowed for both subjects to carry within them a combination of these instinctual elements, has been replaced by a vertical and absolute de-fusion, deceptively intimating purity of motivation. What one is faced with here, is a deadly interlocking par excellence, of the famous Hegelian ‘master-slave’ dynamic. Under such circumstances, one can easily observe the insidious pervasiveness of massive projective identifications that contribute to the establishment of mutually beneficial balancing constants needed by both participants. One figure fulfills (for the sake of both) the superego role i.e representations of an ideal ego, of domination, aggression, persecution etc., whereas the other (for the sake of both, once again) fulfills the role of passivity and lack. The deep sense of satisfaction, even ecstasy, that can be derived from such an object-relational configuration, adduces both a) regressive movements towards autoerotic fusion-with-the-object fantasies and b) manic defences against the destructive violence that is inherent in the invalidation of the otherness of the Other, and the often unbearable guilt that inevitably ensues.
Psychic processes such as these, are encountered in a variety of relationships. They are particularly prominent in cases of erotic passion, of ideological or religious indoctrination which results in rigidity of thinking akin to brainwashing, in cases of incarcerations that engender a powerful identification with the aggressor mechanism known as the Stockholm Syndrome, as well as in a condition in politics, often referred to, by its 16th century label as ‘voluntary servitude’. Clinical manifestations of this dynamic can of course be found in hypnosis, but also as challenges, risks and defensive intellectualizations in the psychoanalytic situation itself.
Hypnosis has been the historical starting point for the development of psychoanalysis. Freud’s creative questioning of its latent dynamics, has rendered its practice (together with all forms of suggestion-based therapeutic interventions) a ‘to-be avoided’ taboo, or rather an obsessive point of negative comparison for psychoanalysis. Such strong reactions would not make much sense, were it not for the deep affinities between the two practices. Hypnosis, just like psychoanalysis, unconsciously represents a parent-child relationship (Ferenczi, 1909) where the superego of the hypnotized subject (or in analysis the analysand) is ineluctably projected onto the professional, and the child-like attributes onto the client. Equally projected are unconscious elements of power, domination, even desire for violence. In hypnosis (but hopefully not in analysis) the process can proceed only as long as the mutual projections are not withdrawn : the hypnotized patient will not own up to his own aggressiveness, nor will the hypnotist own up to his own desire for passivity and subjugation. As Freud has impressively demonstrated, the object’s existence as a separate entity, i.e. the issuing forth from the symbiosis of autoeroticism, is articulated by the emergence of hatred. It is hate that separates via processes of limit setting, which then allow for the gradual establishment of the reality principle. Hate, together with the consequent loss of characteristics that after all belong to the object and not the self, followed by the inevitable incipient mourning that accompanies it, end up leading to the only avenue through which healthy representations can be established within the ego. The difference between a possessive introjection and a representational internalization, rests exclusively on the toleration of limitations i.e. on loss/frustration tolerance. Denial of hate under the sway of the pleasure principle, which defensively attempts to retain intact a suffocating symbiosis, tends to keep the psychic structure schizoidically foreclosed to external stimuli, and hence to development. A strong motivation for such a preference, can be found in Freud’s reference (however critical) to MacDougall’s suggestion that “…..it is a pleasurable experience for those who are concerned, to surrender themselves so unreservedly to their passions and thus to become merged in the group and to lose the sense of the limits of their individuality.” (Freud, 1921, p.84) It is no surprise that the special emphasis Freud has placed on the libidinal component can also be found expressed in neo-platonic texts of the 5th century A.D. : “Divine Eros brings about a psychic displacement (ec-stasy), thereby not allowing those who are inflicted to belong to their very selves but only to the object of their love.” (D. Areopagite. On the Divine Names. 4:13)
A further major differentiation between the psychoanalytic situation and the hypnotic one, rests on the insistence of the former, on meticulously recognizing and articulating a) the latent transferential matrix that is inevitably established via mutual unconscious projections, b) the unconscious gain that such an arrangement offers, and c) the powerful drives that sustain it. The ultimate aim in psychoanalysis is often stated as being the gradual lifting of this unconsciously imposed matrix, and the establishment of the Reality Principle, which will presumably come about via the recognition and owning up of avoided impulses, limitations and of the alterity of the other, thereby achieving a truer, more integrated identity.
The polarity surrender-submit that has been referred to earlier, is a very serious tug-of-war underpinning the psychoanalytic situation. Whereas ‘surrendering’ may be a sine qua non determinant in the psyche, ‘submitting’ emerges as a perversion of it, and stands as both temptation and pollution of a commonplace libidinal psychic phenomenon. This unduly powerful admixture of death drive elements, with the clear intent to maintain a compromise psychic equilibrium, eventually results in a degeneration of everything creative in any intersubjective relating process.
Many are the voices that warn against the beguiling forces characterizing hypnosis but inevitably also encountered in psychoanalysis. They point to the temptations of: a) benevolent switching from ‘the subject who is transferentially supposed to / expected to know’ to the ‘subject who believes s/he does indeed know’, b) switching from the Unconscious-to-Unconscious communicating, to an interpersonal conscious interaction, or worse still, to a total blindness regarding the well established fact of the unconscious psychic mutuality between analyst and analysand, c) acceptance-submission to, and hence no attempts at analyzing, what is presented as external or quasi-historical reality, d) non-recognition and hence inability to analyse unconscious role rendering by the Other, for own purposes and latent irreversible use of the Other as self-object.
Equally powerful however, are the voices that focus on the benign dimension of what we have called the impulse to surrender and passivity, together with the fears and resistances it carries with it. Let us recall that the so called basic rule of analysis, the one that advocates mutual free association and evenly hovering attention, is nothing other than an invitation to a deep surrender, an invitation to a beguilement by one’s own psyche. Danielle Quinodoz writes that it is incumbent upon the analyst to be ….wise enough to dare to be mad…(Quinodoz, 2001). Lena Ehrlich (Ehrlich, 2004) suggests that amongst the analyst’s resistances to commence analysis that s/he has to struggle with, a prominent place is taken by fear of one’s own [inevitable] regression. Bion insists (by quoting the poet Keats) that the analytic stance requires the letting in of a state of toleration of uncertainties, mysteries, doubts etc., without any undue reaching after fact and reason. What they all try to highlight is the genuine, the spontaneous and creative that is bound to emerge if one were to place trust in a transitory suspension of vigilance, of rationality and of the active, i.e. if one were to lean on a beguiling questioning, an enthralling suspicion of the monopoly of the secondary process.
Analysand and analyst proceed in awe and in hope, as they commence on a pilgrimage that will swipe them off their feet, a journey that will enthrall them both. They both come endowed with a whole range of drives that they carry within themselves, and they are half aware that the route will bring them past Sirens, Circes, Laestrygones and Cyclops. Whether the journey will lead to its hoped for goal, whether it will turn out to be proper psychoanalysis or something else, is impossible for either of them to tell at this point. Part of the beguilement of this special journey is that meaning can only be arrived at après coup.
One thing’s for certain though, and that is that there would be no inconsistency if, when reading Wittgenstein’s aphorism which says “When you are philosophizing, you have to descend into the old chaos and feel at home there” (Wittgenstein, 1984), one were to replace the verb ‘philosophizing’ with the verb ‘psychoanalysing’.
A clinical encounter that provided space for – at least – partial elaboration of some of the issues presented above, evolved as follows: the mother superior of a catholic convent phoned to refer a novice in her flock, for psychoanalysis. The convent was prepared to cover the cost. The young woman concerned, had been intellectually confused and in incessant anguish for some time. Spiritual guidance, meditation and praying, as well as sustained counseling by a priest and subsequently by a professional counselor had been of little help.
Ms M., a woman in her late thirties, had been born the fourth of six children, to a Scottish mother and a Sicilian father. The home atmosphere had been devoutly catholic, and even though no manifest neglect or maltreatment was reported, she had grown up with the profound feeling of having been (in her words) “the ugly duckling in the family”. A drug addicted older brother had committed suicide in his late twenties. She herself, had contemplated becoming a nun throughout her adolescence, and had made her first attempt in her early twenties. That attempt had been unsuccessful because she had found the rigor of monastic life too constraining. Leaving the convent after a two year novitiate, she had gone on to train in podiatry – the religious symbolism of tending to an Other’s feet, even though unspoken, was not lost to either of us! After finishing her training, she had exercised her profession in numerous settings, always eventually resigning her post in a state of dissatisfaction and complaint, for not having been duly appreciated and supported and because of a constant feeling that her work had not been adequately valued. Her second attempt at monastic life, had taken place eighteen months ago. “All I wanted…” she would say, “…was to devote myself to God and the Mother Superior, and to serve them” The novitiate experience commenced uneventfully once again. Pretty soon however, the Mother Superior began to be increasingly idealized and the intensity of the attachment to her deepened uncontrollably. Ms M. started having fantasies of laying her head on Mother Superior’s naked breasts and being lovingly embraced and held by her. The Mother Superior who was likened to the Virgin Mary, was perceived as dazzlingly beautiful, profoundly understanding and symbolically reciprocating these gestures of devotion. “… all I wanted…” she repeated, “…was to offer myself to her and be her very best daughter-in-Christ”. Being non-delusional, these fantasies were both extremely pleasant and extremely horrifying to Ms M., at the same time.
All this remained just about containable for a while, until it began to produce eruptions of jealousy and prolonged periods of agitation and anguish. Relatively secondary matters such as who would be chosen to do the floral arrangements of the altar in the convent church would produce unbearable feelings of betrayal and rage if it were not herself and feelings of joyous exhilaration and intense nervousness if it were. Either way, this was inevitably followed by fits of penetrating guilt due to the unacceptable / sinful nature of such emotions. These preoccupations would last for weeks and no amount of prayer, meditation or ascetic exercise would assuage them.
The analytic work that due to external circumstances lasted no more than three years, was characterized by considerable resistance. The ‘secular’ that the analyst stood for, came to represent the unappreciative object, whereas the ‘religious’ remained split off as the idealized enveloping one. The phenomena that Winnicott describes as manifestations of a ‘fear of breakdown’ were clearly evident in the form of a determined anti-regression tendency that pervaded and inhibited the work. The sole, consciously expected function ascribed to the analytic process by Ms M, was to be the facilitator that would ease the longed for surrender to God. Surrendering to the analytic process itself, was inconceivable. This specific hope was succinctly stated as : “….to rid my mind of the distorting erotic sufferings and be free to give myself to godly love and servitude….”
Years later, the information reached me that Ms M. had joined a different monastic order in a far away part of the country and had taken her vows.
copyright: Chris Joannidis
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A B S T R A C T
On the Need to be Beguiled
This paper presents the view that the ‘need to be beguiled’ is a fundamental experiential dimension immanent within the drive organization of the human psyche. It is argued that as an expression of the ‘feminine’, inherent in the constitutional bisexuality of the psyche, this need makes itself felt from the very beginning of any mother infant interaction. It seems to function as a sine qua non element for the establishment of early object relationships and for the reception and incorporation of perceptual and psychic stimuli arriving from without. Developmentally this need finds expression in a variety of relational manifestations i.e. creative acceptance, receptivity and surrender at one end, all the way to abusive masochism at the other.
The position and vicissitudes of this dynamic within the psychoanalytic condition is examined with some thoroughness.
Keywords : being beguiled, surrendering, submitting, being hypnotized.