Notes Psychology

Chapter 3: The Recasting of Some Basic Psychoanalytical Ideas (The Denial of Death)

Philosophers have tried to figure out the core nature of man, but perhaps this eluded them because man does not have only one core nature. As Erich Fromm put it, the essence of man is really his paradoxical nature.

One the one hand, he is a symbolic self, he can create ingenious things and speculate about atoms and the infinite. Man is like a small god and yet at the same time, he is a worm and food for worms. The paradox is that he is both a part of nature and outside of it.

We are in denial of our condition, we don’t publicize pictures of babies being born with gills and tails, instead we hush up about it.

“Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.”

– Pascal

Man does whatever he can, in the symbolic world, so that he can overcome his grotesque fate. He drives himself into a bind, with social games, psychological tricks, and personal routines far removed from the reality of his situation.

Erich Fromm wondered why most people did not become insane in the face of this existential contradiction between a symbolic self and a body that is not worth very much.

We might say that psychoanalysis revealed to us the complex penalties of denying the truth of man’s condition, what we might call the costs of pretending not to be mad.

Montaigne said that on the highest throne in the world, man sits on his ass. This statement is funny to most, since it denigrates pride and snobbery. But then when we go further, we observe that men do not only sit on their ass, but over a warm and fuming pile of their own excrement – the joke is no longer funny.

Man’s ludicrous situation becomes apparent to him.

What psychoanalysts have called “anality” or anal character traits are forms of man’s protest against accident and death. Someone who is “anal” is someone who tries too hard to protect himself against the accidents of life, trying to use the symbols of culture to triumph over natural mystery.

Sexuality is a universal problem because of man’s dualism. The person is both a self and a body. The inner self represents free thought and imagination, while the body represents boundedness and determinism. The child learns that his freedom is dragged back by the body. Becker discusses psychoanalytical concepts like “penis envy” and the “castration complex” as further proofs of this dualism and its toll on the psyche.

For this reason, sexuality is a problem for the adult and the child.

The human being wants to feel that they can discover what they are deep down, but the physical solution of sexuality points in the opposite direction, it makes human individuality redundant. It is difficult to have sex without guilt because the person’s inner freedom, or perception of it, is radically challenged when they are having sex, since they are forced into a standardized, mechanical, and biological role.

It is as if the inner self doesn’t matter at all, the body takes over completely. This guilt makes the inner self shrink and almost disappear.

This is why a woman asks for assurance that the man wants her, and not only her body – she is conscious that her inner personality can be dispensed with during sex. And the fact is, the man usually does only want the body, and so the woman’s personality is reduced to an animal role. To cope with this, one can simply allow it to happen. For a time, the person becomes merely his physical self and so absolves himself of guilt. Love is a key to this sexuality because it allows for the collapse of the individual into the animal dimension without guilt or fear.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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