I won’t be around much today, so don’t expect me to post outrageous comments to your blogs. LOL!
I think I’ll clean my apartment this weekend! Enjoy yours...
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-=[ Sex, Symbols & Taboos ]=-
In the classic short story, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, the inhabitants of a small town gather on a bright sunny day. It’s the day of the lottery
alluded in the title. The whole town congregates -- entire families, young and old -- everyone. As the events unfold, the reader is horrified to learn that the winner of the lottery will be stoned to death. The last words uttered by the victim, as her neighbors, family members and friends descend upon her are, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right...”
The story can be interpreted in many ways. It can be said to be an allegory on what happens when people mindlessly follow outdated cultural practices. Or it can be about mass hysteria brought upon by lack of critical thinking. I tend to see the story as an illustration of how we sometimes find destructive ways to vent drives we find abhorrent or that we fear. Holding the lottery and stoning the winner to death is symbolic of what happens when we rely on repression as a response to normal human drives.
One such drive is the sex drive, an irresistible force, if not for every individual every time, then for the species as a whole. It has to be in order for the species to survive. Such a powerful instinct often has to be repressed by the rational mind, or transformed -- sublimated into some other activity, such as art or religion, or expressed through a confusing and often contradictory code of symbols and obsessions.
Sometimes these dislocated patterns of images and activities are intensely personal, as with a fetish (ass! LOL); and an individual’s failure to indulge his or her compulsion can cause anguish and suffering. Often, such expressions of sublimated sexuality are common to an entire culture, and become the focus of social ritual -- such as initiation rituals (or witch burnings). In this case, the failure to perform them correctly can be held to blame for a whole range of personal and natural disasters.
Throughout history, great minds have explored these issues -- the mysteries of the mind and social and cultural practices. Several stand out in the Western tradition. One such figure is Sigmund Freud. Now, Freud gets a lot of bashing these days, and he was vilified during his time to dare to postulate that children were sexual creatures. Even now, 150 years later, in the face of proof, people here in the
Yes, there is much to critique about Freud, but it will not be done here. That’s another blog (even a book! LOL). I’ll give a little synopsis on Freud today because he’s such an important figure in the contemporary construction of human sexuality.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) had a huge ego and he once described himself as one of a trinity of revolutionary thinkers who deconstructed the god-like pretensions of humankind. The first was Copernicus (1473-1543) who proved that humanity was not at the center of the universe; then
In Totem and Taboo (1913), he traced the whole genesis of art, religion, and culture back to a sublimation, or redirection, of sexual motives and the resulting guilt that arises from them.
In the subconscious, Freud located the pleasure principle, a set of desires and impulses instinctually driven and mostly sexual in nature. Because these desires are disorganized and often dangerous or destructive, they have to be controlled by the rational, far-sighted reality principle of the conscious mind. The unconscious also contains a repressing mechanism, which can bury the memory of traumatic incidents with the result that, unlike ordinary memories, cannot dissipate over time. Instead, they linger as a powerful, recurring motivating force on an individual’s behavior, which can give rise to “hysterical” symptoms such as paralysis or hallucinations. (As a side note, a look at the history of the dildo lends this theory some validity.)
Often misunderstood to the point being perverted (due to Freud himself and the translation of his works from German to English), psychoanalysis is the process of uncovering these latent memories and their emotions, so that they can be experienced and forgotten normally.
According to Freud, everyone is born with a sex drive (libido) that is “polymorphously perverse” -- meaning that humans are born with unfocused sexual drives, taking sexual pleasure from any part of the body. The sex drive has no “natural”(<-- loaded word!) object: the structure of an adult’s libido is determined during the several stages of infancy, during any one of which things can go wrong, causing traumas or perversions. The oral stage is characterized by the baby’s pleasure in suckling and a sense of loss when the breast is withdrawn. The anal stage is when the child associates pleasure (and creativity) with the conscious control of its bowel (it’s not nice to call it the neocon stage!), before it enters the phallic stage and discovers genital masturbation.
At this stage, both boys and girls are supposed to feel they have phallic procreative powers, and believe they can give their mothers a child, or even produce one from their own anuses. This leads approximately at the age of five or six to the Oedipus complex, when the desire for an incestuous relationship with the mother creates a fear of (and a repressed wish to kill) the father.
Boys develop a castration fear; girls discover they are already castrated, develop penis envy, and may resent their mothers for bringing them into the world incomplete.
There’s a lot of cultural baggage in all this (especially bias against the female -- biases that were addressed by later female psychoanalytical thinkers), but many of Freud’s theories have been borne out through empirical research. Additionally, most of Freud’s theories were controversial when he named them, and some have become more controversial since, but his influence on Western thought is immeasurable.
If you would like a readable journey through contemporary psychoanalytical thought, try the excellent Freud and Beyond.
Freud saw the human personality as being composed by three distinct, but interrelated parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. He also used the metaphor of the steam engine to describe the tension caused by these three parts. My professor used characters from the popular TV series, Star Trek:
Bones, the emotional and passionate doctor, symbolizes the id. Freud described the id as “a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts... ” While poor Bones wasn’t exactly the id in that sense, he did operate from a gut instinct. “Jim! You can’t give the order to annihilate a whole planet, for god’s sake!”
Spock’s character personifies the superego, the part of our personality that strives to act in a socially appropriate manner. The Super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways. Spock’s answer to Bones would be, “But we have to destroy the planet for it is logical.” LOL
Finally, we have the ego, Captain Jim Kirk, the part of our personality that is the referee between the id and the super-ego, trying to make certain that the needs of both the id and the super-ego are fulfilled. It is said to operate on a reality principle, meaning it deals with the id and the super-ego; allowing them to express their desires, drives, and morals in realistic and socially appropriate ways. Captain Kirk would take into consideration both Bones’ plea for compassion as well as Spock’s compelling argument for logic.
And there you have it: Freud and Star trek! LOL