Sunday, November 14, 2010

American Psycho: A Bloody Satisfying Challenge...

"Life remained a blank canvas, a cliche, a soap opera. I felt lethal, on the verge of frenzy. My nightly bloodlust overflowed into my days and I had to leave the city. My mask of sanity was a victim of impending slippage..." (p. 268)

Penned by Bret Easton Elis in 1991, American Psycho is notorious for being highly confrontational in matters regarding, amongst other things, sex, sexism, sadism, materialism, necrophilia and mutilation. As alluring as the R18+ classification and shrink-wrapped packaging are, the reader must be warned that due to the obsessive-compulsive nature of its protagonist, combined with a first-person perspective, the book is riddled with arduous detail. Though this accentuates the "action" scenes and definitely has its purpose in the story, it can be tiring to work through. Again, the ambiguity of the story can prove frustrating, at times leaving the reader in the lurch regarding certain plot details (note, however, that this is very likely an intentional feature).

Regardless of these potential barriers, I think the novel pays off and touches on some important social, sexual and even political issues. The potential for interpretation is, I think, an admirable feature of the novel. In reading it, an open attitude towards the conventionally "perverse" behaviour depicted is necessary to grasp the underlying themes and rich subtext of American Psycho.

Briefly: the novel follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street "yuppie" of the nineteen-nineties whose relatively-latent sadistic impulses and megalomaniacal tendencies grow more and more pervasive over a number of years, eventually reaching a crescendo of outrageous proportions. Amidst Bateman's failing attempts to suppress this aspect of his being, we are introduced to a world of immense superficiality and materialism, with the protagonist's extensive social group portrayed as, among other things, utterly misogynistic, ignorant, promiscuous, apathetic, sadistic, materialistic and, to use a contemporary derogatory term, "precious".

Though we are constantly questioning whether what is happening is real or whether it is part of Bateman's acute insanity, the superficiality of his immediate social group is accentuated in such a way that suggests satire, rather than delusion; the characters are, at times, comedic in how emphatically involved they are with themselves and their own egotistical and trivial matters. Bateman himself seems to be inextricably bound to this world, while at the same time cognizant and even abhorrent of its countless malignant features (which may be seen as a powerful contributor to his complex inner conflict).

The sheer immensity of Bateman's feelings of isolation, alongside his attitude toward seemingly impenetrable others, cannot, however, be overlooked: "This is true: the world is better off with some people gone. Our lives are not all interconnected. That theory is a crock. Some people truly do not need to be here" (p. 217). We see no sympathy in his dealings with those he murders; they exist in order to alleviate Patrick Bateman's bloodlust, to soothe something deeply psychological within him that proves, time and time again, to be utterly overpowering. Yet as clear as all this may seem, the question of whether Bateman is merely fantasising the entire time lingers throughout the book; there is unequivocal evidence, in fact, suggesting that none of the murders Bateman attributes to himself have actually occurred. This begs the question: if he is merely fantasising, what does this tell us about his condition, about the world he lives in and its effect on the individuals that dwell within it? It seems that a world in which Bateman's wealthy business associates have no qualms about teasingly holding bills over homeless people's heads, just out of their reach, is simply not enough for our protagonist, irrespective of whether his actions are fantastical or real. There is a further longing, a further expression of hate that bleeds out exponentially as the novel progresses.

Recalling that Bateman is an active agent in the world around him (exemplified, for example, by the intense jealousy he feels at having his new business card upstaged by associates, or his immense protectiveness of the music he enjoys), which he seems to despise, the question of whether he is indeed hating on himself, or more specifically his lack of self or identity, seems relatively plausible: "It's as if her mind is having a hard time communicating with her mouth, as if she is searching for a rational analysis of who I am, which is, of course, an impossibility: there" (p. 253).

A notable leitmotif in the novel is the idea of mis-identification, or perhaps more specifically, interchange-ability of identity. Characters (most often, Bateman himself) are perpetually mis-identified; it is as though the likeness of the demographic, or class portrayed causes personalities to literally slide into one another. Bateman seems to feel utterly transparent to those around him, even at times evoking a strange, counterintuitive sympathy from the reader. He repeatedly tries to confide in those "closest" to him about his vicious alter-ego, even at times explicitly stating his murderous deeds; but due to their self-involvement, or lack of attention, they fail to "hear" him.

I think this is a pivotal aspect of Bateman: he cries out to the world around him, figuratively screams into the faces of those who are supposed to care, but no one hears; they are too involved in either themselves, their plans, concerns, etc. Whatever it is that stirs inside this man, be it the Id or simply raw sadism: the world does not hear his call; and in this sense, there is no Patrick Bateman - he is as generic as the next person.

At a point in the novel, he describes his reality as though it were "happening the way it occurs in movies"; he finds himself "visualising things falling somehow into the shape of events on a screen" (p. 254). Here, one cannot help but think of the omnipotence of the camera in film; the absolute freedom the director has to create a reality which is almost euphoric in its selectivity, choosing what is to be seen and creating an impossible consciousness, a god-like method of viewing the world, flashing from one thing to another, selecting what is wanted and excluding what is not. Bateman, as a figure seemingly with no identity, is constantly creating his reality, picking and choosing what is to happen, yet inevitably hindered by agents external to his sphere of control. By literally or figuratively bringing people under his inescapable hegemony, that is, through deforming, murdering, and sexually assaulting his victims (both living and dead, in all cases), he seems to be finding an outlet for what is essentially a lack of entire control, the latter being practically impossible, but notably possible through fantasy. This gives new meaning to Bateman's allusion to screen: the reality a film creates is never representative of what is realistically possible, but rather is dictated by the director's will - it is a fantastical perspective. What Bateman sees is similarly cut and pasted into existence, raising the question of Bateman's reality to the point of utter ambiguity.

To conclude, I will quickly compare my thoughts on the contrast between the novel and the film adaptation. For those who, like myself, saw the film version of Elis' novel first, I think it is necessary to note the contrast between the two formats. The novel is necessarily far denser than the film, causing the film to be (retrospectively) lacking in my opinion. Whereas in the novel we have endless chaos, leaving endless potential for speculation regarding the nature of the narrator's reality, the film attempts to enforce some sort of order (though admittedly not much) onto the sea of psychotic episodes, social situations, personal insights, etc., that make up Patrick Bateman's life.

In reading the book, I saw his reality as almost undoubtedly questionable and ambiguous; there was less urge to actually know whether what was happening was real or not, and more intrigue into the powerful ideas being expressed about human nature, materialism and so forth.

Necessarily, the film adaptation was forced to compress these ideas by selecting certain passages, particularly salient scenes, which would suit the screen and create an audience accessibility beyond that which the density of the novel provides in its raw form. Despite the setbacks this brings about, I think the film was extremely well directed and cast (Christian Bale depicts Pat Bateman's psychotic behaviour brilliantly). Overall, however, I do not think the film does justice to the complexity of the novel. Whether this is a necessary feature in any film adaptation of a novel is, however, completely up for debate, though I'm sure the nature of the story being told is a vital factor in determining how a given book is adapted.

Overall (generalisation): a book which the reader will have to work through, but which will also pay off. The themes are relevant to the modern age, which appears to be slipping further and further into materialism, and arguably individual isolation, egoism, etc. The notion of suppressed urges was prominent throughout the 20th century, and I do not think the 21st is any exception; the abusive, sado-masochistic aspects of modern pornography and sexuality in general seem to provide evidence for this, alongside the ever-increasing forms and incidences of violence emerging on both a local and global scale. The questions Elis raises, I think, will be relevant as long as civilisation it is generally defined remains the dominant realm of human life.

Easton Elis, B, American Psycho, Picador, 1991

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Emerald Bun Newspaper, reporting...

Chris Emmerson
November 6, 2010
A seventy-five year old woman was lucky to escape certain death last week when she was allegedly set upon by an agitated flock of birds outside her Del Grandeur home.

Nancy Reich was making her way to the mailbox when the incident occurred, early last Monday morning. Luckily for Nancy, grandmother to fifteen children, the door to her home was left slightly ajar. It was this twist of fate that allowed Spoof, Nancy's courageous two-year-old fox terrier, to follow her into the soon-to-be war zone.

Nancy was attacked as she approached the mid-point between her front door and mailbox,, the birds allegedly "emerging from fiery pits in the ground nearby." Due to her severe lack of agility, Nancy was easy prey for these "beligerent, airborne helmsmen, sent from Satan's realm."

Witnesses say that at no point did anything suggest a supernatural presence and that the birds, who had nested in a nearby shrub, appeared relatively harmless. Nancy's frequent allusions to Satan and the satanic realm have caused neighbours to question her account, with claims emerging that Nancy is actually "mentally ill" and should be put "into an insane asylum." Evidence of this is yet to be substantiated, suggesting that the possibility of Nancy being specifically targeted by Satan is quite high.

Nancy rejects all alternative accounts, claiming that the birds were "on fire, but felt no pain; yes, they were sent from the devil himself, but were no match for my angel Spoof." Spoof, she says, barked relentlessly at the birds, not only allowing Nancy safe passage to the mailbox, but also scaring the avian predators away for the entire afternoon. However, Spoof did not get away unharmed, receiving several small but deep peck-wounds which Nancy refers to as "holy collateral".

Ironically, upon reaching the mailbox, Nancy found that there was in fact no mail. Sources later informed us that the postman hadn't even begun his rounds at the time Nancy was attacked, due to the extremely early hour at which Nancy had decided to check for the mail.

Spoof's wounds healed several days later, due to "divine intervention" according to Nancy. Common sense, however, tells us the wounds healed as part of a natural process, and that Spoof is a silly name for a dog.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Girls (a short dialogue)

Melanie, do you know where dad is?
But how come you said dad would be back soon? Ages ago you said that, Melanie.
Dad’s gone, Peg; he’s not coming back. I just told you that so you would co-operate with me for once.
But I’m sore and dad used to help me when I was-
Where are you sore?
Are you pointing at your stomach, or at your chest, Peg?
In my chest, where I breathe.
What’s wrong? Why is it sore?
I can’t always breathe well, Melanie. It sometimes takes aaaaages to breathe properly and I start to breathe really quickly like this.
Ok, ok, you can stop now I know what you mean.
So can we make it stop?
I don’t know how, Peg.
What is it?
I don’t know.
I’m hungry.
I know, Peg. But we don’t have any food right now. I’ll go and get some in the-
But I’m reeeaaaally hungry, Melanie. It hurts in my stomach.
I thought you said it was your chest?
No, that only happens sometimes. It happens when I forget about things that are happening and start thinking about other things, like the time when-
Quiet, Peg. I’m really tired.
But you asked me about-
Yes, I know that. But I am really tired, so can you just go over to your bed and maybe sleep a while?
It isn’t a real bed. Don’t sigh, it’s not!
I know.
Can we get a real bed, maybe?
I don’t know, Peg.
Maybe we can find pieces of different beds and put them together. That’d be nice.
Peg, didn’t you hear what I said?
Oh, yeah. Sorry, Melanie. I’ll stop talking now. I know I talk a lot but it’s because I don’t get to- Oh, yeah. Sorry. Goodnight, Melanie.
Goodnight, Peg.
Hey Melanie?
Yes, Peg?
Do you dream much?
What do you dream about?
I never remember. I just know I dream a lot. Do you?
Yes. I dream about dad. I wonder where he is.
So do I, Peg. Goodnight.
Dream about dad, or wonder where he is? –Oh, sorry Melanie. Goodnight, then. I love you. I’m sorry for talking so much.
It’s OK, Peg. I love you too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From the Inside, I feel the Rain

The class laugh while the teacher fumbles around, but I can’t laugh—in fact, I feel like crying because I can’t stand this type of humiliation, this loss of dignity; there aren’t even words to describe what it is that I feel at times like this, it’s just a kind of deep sorrow for someone else who isn’t aware of what’s happening around them; a kind of obliviousness I guess, that eats away at me even though I’m not the victim here—but is anyone the victim here?—I look around and see raw arrogance, like people have no sense of compassion for each other, they just want to humiliate people to satisfy some deep-seated need, somewhere within them, that sates their sadistic desires; the same feeling emerges when I here other people trying to express the inner devastation I’m feeling right now, who try to inform the world that this place is messy and cruel and that there’s a certain point in contemplative thought where the mind just goes numb and screams incessantly, through song, written words, spoken words, through screen and even action; it’s like the climax of absurdity, which one simply cannot fathom and thus their imagination takes over—but I am no artist, no creator of sorts; and thus I must sit here and watch a man become a victim to throngs of rapacious, ignorant, grinning vermin who have no respect for emotion whatever; who trot around every day as if it will last forever, fueling their superficial experience of life until the End of Days. But not me; no, I have to face it and try to explain it to myself and question myself as to whether what is happening and what it evokes are really valid, as if some sorceress may have veiled my world-stage in an act of fruitless, reckless deception; I have to get that tugging feeling in my stomach when I see people reproaching others unnecessarily, or making derogatory remarks because it gets them off somehow; this world, for me, is just tears waiting to flow down my cheeks, as if there are tiny trenches already there, awaiting the inevitable deluge—the river that flows all year round, and that only flows harder when I attempt to dam it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quite a Mutation: Humans and Symbolic Thought

In An Essay on Man, Ernst Cassirer proclaims that "instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself." This remark is in relation to human beings' identifying characteristics among other animals, namely the ability to reflect, the capacity to think before responding to external stimuli, rather than being limited to instantaneous, instinctive reactions, such as other animals are. Cassirer stresses the role of the human-symbol systems inherent in religion, art, myth, and so forth, also pointing out that humans have no choice in their condition as reflective, symbol-using beings; this, he remarks, could even prove to be a great disadvantage for the species.

The sense in which Cassirer talks of the distinction between humans and other animals regarding symbolic systems seems clear enough: animals, in a different sense, may be seen to have symbol systems, but they do not invest reflective thought into these systems, which makes me more inclined to call the animals' systems sign systems. Upon facing an external stimulus, an animal will react instinctively; there is no linguistic system whereby the animal will mentally consider it's options of, say, "escape", "fight", or "camouflage". These decisions will be made more or less straight away, as far as observance tells us. Humans, on the other hand, have such complex reflective processes that when faced with an external stimulus, they can be overwhelmed with options, indecision or apprehension. What is this creature attacking me? Why is it attacking me? In what way can I appease it/escape from it?

And so humans are in a "new dimension" of existence to animals. But why is this so? In the evolutionary paradigm, this seems an intereresting and challenging query. What function does our ability to invest complicated symbolic thought into our actions, our thoughts - indeed, our existence - have in a surivival sense? Questions relating to the importance of language and its relationship to human experience and reality arise in abundance from this enquiry. The development of consciousness and all that it entails seems to be a great flaw in the evolution of the species, when we think of humanity's destructive traits as compared to those of other animals. Countering this idea, the potential which symbolic thought has to create communal benefits has proven a great benefit to humans through religion, art, myth, and so on. But does this outweigh the concomitant destruction which humanity's ability to create symbols has brought with it? Without the ability to imaginatively create, to invest meaning into things via words, symbols, etc., human's would be unable to create the destructive forces we see around the world today. The question is an intriguing one, but overwhelming evidence suggests that the human animal is by far the most destructive, leaving a rather contentious hole in evolutionary theory.

And of course, the absurd nature of human existence is yet another byproduct of the development of a reflective mind. The "lower" creatures of the world, whom we say have no intelligence comparable to ours, do not have to face their inevitable end (death, as an existential notion) throughout the span of their lives; this is an endurance reserved for the human animal alone. In themselves, the decision-making processes of animals induce no obvious frustration, anxiety, or fear - this, again, is peculiar only to the human species (even when an animal is hunted, or in fear of being hurt, it presumably does not fear death itself, but rather the imminent danger of pain).

At what point in evolution was it beneficial to know one is going to die, or more importantly, to not know what death is or even, arguably, what life is? Symbolic institutions, in particular religion, function not only to bind the follower to a set of beliefs, but to explain his or her entire existence - and this applies generally to primitive and modern religion alike, as well as the more spiritual traditions. So here we see symbols functioning as explanations for thoughts humans may never have had without symbols; an interesting full circle: development of symbolic form leads to recognition of the absurdity of the human enigma of life, which in turn leads to institutionalised symbolism to explain the absurd (incomprehendable) nature of life. Surely, says the man of faith, only God could orchestrate such an impressive path to enlightenment. Without drawing any outlandish conclusions, nor inclining strictly to either side of a complex dichotomy (integration of thought is my general approach, rather than warring factions, but that is for another article...), I simply ask: what is the evolutionist's rebuttal?

To be sure, the topic is more complicated than my limited knowledge has made it appear; nonetheless, I hope that - despite its being a meagre abstract - the piece has aroused some thought.


Cassirer, E, A Clue to the Nature of Man: the Symbol in An Essay on Man, 1972

Sunday, February 28, 2010


The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy defines solipsism, in the ontological sense, as the view that nothing exists except one's own self and the contents of its consciousness. The word is also used epistimologically to describe the claim that nothing can be known but oneself and the contents of one's consciousness.

An obvious response to the notion of solipsism might be that others clearly exist, whether we can know them or not; or again, that because one can discern the observable universe, objects within it are necessarily real and existent. It is easy to assume that because we, as humans, can observe others with similar qualities to our own, that others exist; it is the quality of this knowledge, however, which can be brought into question.

As I sit here, watching this computer screen, light in the form of photons is hitting my eyes and travelling as neural impulses to my brain. My brain then interprets these signals and creates for me a picture of my ever changing reality. The essential point here (and I'm aware of my incompitent knowledge of neurology) is that what I see is a representation of reality, created by me; it is not reality itself. The seems to have profound phenomenological implications, seeing that the world we accept as authentic is, in fact, our very own unique interpretation. If all we experience is our own, subjective recreation, then what exactly is "the world"? How can there be a confirmation of the existence of both objects and things in the external world if our method of verification involves an arguably biased re-creation?

Alterations in consciousness arise from abnormal fluctuations in certain neurotransmitter levels. There are four neurotransmitters responsible for all altered states of consciousness (acetylcholine, seretonin, dopamine and norepinephrine...I think!). The myriad studies undertaken to determine how various things affect changes in consciousness are essentially measuring the degrees to which humans vary their representations of the world. But is this just measuring the alterations of an already questionable reality? The foundations on which consciousness as it is conventionally accepted seem to shake lightly when it is seen from this vantage. Could altered states in fact bring us closer to a "real" reality, or do they take us further from it (whatever "it" is)?

The brain is the centre for interpretation in this sense. If it re-creates or reinterprets all external stimuli, then subjective reality, as a unique and individual phenomenon, falls into solipsism. All that we can know comes from our brains' calculations, which are assumably very subjective and thus unique, and which are approximations as opposed to exact empirical measurements. Essentially, it could be argued, each individual experiences a vastly different reality, which is based not on a certain universal reality we all partake in, but an interpretation of a reality which is unable to be grasped by human beings.

This perhaps brings into question the veritability of scientific/empirical findings. It also has profound existential effects; it leaves the human in his/her lonely existence, unable to verify others, or to know that what they see is the same as what others see. Sounds, images, sensations: all such stimuli are naturally refined in the process of interpretation, leaving the subject with knowledge only of their own, subjective phenomena, not of what truly is. A bundle of external data, garbled into what we call consciousness.

And implications thus arise, as previously mentioned, regarding altered states of consciousness. These altered states include sleep, hypnagogy (period between wakefulness and sleep), hypnapompy (period between sleep and wakefulness), drug-induced altered states as well as those that result from mental illness. It has been explained (See Hobson, The Dream Drugstore) how all of these states essentially work via the four neurotransmitters mentioned earlier. The brain chemicals associated with REM sleep, which is the primary dreaming state, have also been shown to be associated with other altered states, such as those induced by certain hallucinogens; and dopamine is linked with both mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, as well as marijuana and other drug usage. Though my knowledge of these associations is limited, many other links have been found. It is extremely important to note that the quality of the fluctuations in consciousness is dependent not only on the links mentioned; many, many variables affect exactly how one's consciousness is affected and changed (for example, marijuana use obviously does not reproduce the experience of a schizophrenic).

So, what does this imply? Not only is solipsism an intriguing and plausible notion, but through power and authority humans are, in a way, prohibiting and promoting certain kinds of realities, none of which we can claim to be authentic (seeing as there is no way of knowing what an authentic reality is). By allowing prohibitions of consciousness-altering drugs, while advocating other drugs which have relatively similar effects but which have been deemed therapeutic in some way, people are being guided in how they interpret the world. In both cases, the same chemicals are being affected, just to different degrees. It could even be daringly said that convention, social mores, etc. are another method whereby what we select to interpret to create our world is being controlled by an external agent. Foucault was one of the first to see the conceptions of things like modern health and sexuality as ways of controlling the masses (i.e. through institutions); was this observation, perhaps, a way to modulate human consciousness and thus peoples' experience of reality?

This argument is not extensive, but it helps put into perspective the human accounts of reality. Orwellian thought-control becomes a very real thing when consciousness is seen as controlled by authorities, who could very well have sinister motives for allowing or disallowing substances. Perhaps this is the way of exploiting a ubiquitous unstable reality, one in which all we have is our own conceptions, our own calculations and selective re-creations of things. Existentially, solipsism leaves us isolated and alone - what if we could attain some form of collective consciousness through organic hallucinogens or other means? Is this being prohibited so as we can serve as the means to an end for those in power? The very comment seems so far-fetched, so counter-intuitive that the average reader will turn away, perhaps even laugh, at the prospect of drug promotion; this, when it is considered that plants have been an integral part of human communities for thousands fo years, simply demonstrates just how conditioned peoples' thoughts are in the modern era. But, to move on to a conclusion: the networks of thought and ideas this topic creates are endless and leave us baffled and alone in a world of our own creation; it does, however, raise important questions, which I think more people should address. To do this, humans en masse need to look past the universal social mores they have clung to for so long, and perhaps ask themselves what is really absurd in this existence.


T. Mautner, Dictionary of Philosophy, Penguin, 2005

A. Hobson, The Dream Drugstore: chemically altered states of consciousness, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001

Friday, February 26, 2010

Me, Talking to You

T o converse and to convey ideas to one another; to feel the direct emotional chemistry between you and them and to intuit all that you can and to feel them doing the same toward you. This is, essentially, all there is - and in a very literal sense. Caught up in the distant and not so distant past, brooding over the vast future; this is how many of our lives have been constructed. But as I talk to you you listen to my words, or in this case read them, and as they enter your mind they rise and then fall away again, becoming only the thin mist that constitutes human communication. The memory of a conversation can take many routes, but not matter which it chooses it will never be a recitation; it will only be a reconstruction of what once was: of a moment that arose and fell. Right now, this is happening; and as soon as you dispose of each word I write, it too is released from the moment. It is no longer. You can read back on the words and convince yourself that it's the same; but it isn't, for the moment has changes as it always does. A series of moments unto death, each moment determined in somewhat chaotic fashion by you. Or perhaps not - this is debatable. Undeniable is the instant, the flow of time which cannot be separated, cannot be truly divided. It would be like dividing portions of a river. Abstractions are hours, minutes, even moments - for conventionally, these words must be used to convey ideas. Without them there is simply a feeling, perhaps a knowing, perhaps more. It seems plausible that, today, we have been removed from the moment. Though this is an illusion. We cannot be removed from it; what we can do is deny ourselves the truth of this moment; we can think we are not in it except when we're immersed in some activity, or we can say we're far from it when we're bored or have time to "waste" - but these are abstractions. Always we are there, following the flow of what we have deemed "time". All is constantly falling and rising up, being and not-being, becoming and dying: me, talking to you. Something to ponder, perhaps.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stream of Consciousness (I)

People tend to lean back, relax and say that this is this and that is that. But then we take a look at a thing called memory and it didn't make any sense because it ain't in sync with a dream because, quite frankly, dreams are as vague as memories. We look at them and say, well, this appears to be quite vague, but this on the other hand, seems to be quite, fucking, clear! Negative sense, old friend. Now my main argument: I am sick of looking at the people I love and saying you could do better. I feel ashamed, like a pretentious cunt. Fuck. But what if they could do better? I have a weird point here. What if it is your love for them that fuels the degrading notion? See, we could simply be acting, somewhat unconsciously, in favour of...the sweet sound in my ears right now. A whole new point; your intuition was correct. It vibrates in my ears, swinging back and forth in the thick trees. This is it. This is how it must be, because you have yourself arrived here. I am aware, now, that this is simply jibberish; but look closer, look me in the eyes and tell me that this isn't happening? You have nothing. "High times," this song is called. Maybe I should have used a capital in "times". Shit. Where have we found ourselves now? Which planet now, old boy? Voice floats through me via me entire system of veins. Beautiful youth and innocence, but power and beligerence at the same time. I don't want to think about his death. But it makes me so sad. Didn't even know the guy; but you could say I did in a way. The music if friggin' loud! But it's in my ears, so it can't be heard by anyone but me! How's that? A little bit softer than the old stuff; but not musically, it's just the tone of his voice. Like a kid's defence mechanisms. But there's more to it than that, Chris; how can you type so fucking fast? Tell me that. It's like in every one word you have instilled a thousand meanings, purely to befuddle me. Jesus, man. What is it that drivs you to act this way, and is it within the normal realm, or the realm outside of your conscious experience. And then, looking about so spaced, he asked himself: what was it that I was going to type here as a question that was humerous? Phew. Glad that's over. How can you radiate emotion with your fingertips? I have seen them, the great ones in my realm, and I feel them within me, consulting my morality or my love - or my death. Something is happening here. It feels like wildfire, and I do not know what to tell people when their eyes beg me so conspicuously. You know what you're doing, but I feel as a human in Ancient Greece: life orchestrated by the gods. What is this strange thing we're in? And that I quote from the collective unconscious. I swear he had reason and a point; this is not to be overlooked. You know, originally, I was just going to stick to the one topic, but then of course my neuromodulators became altered; something was inhibited, or accelerated, and then I was right there, right where I am now. Dopamine is prbobaly involved. See, there are a few neurotransmitters that are involved in all altered states of consciousness. These are acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine and another one which I can't remember quite now. All altered states. This means that what drugs essentially do is "change" our neurotransmitter intake or uptake, in an arbitrary way. Well, maybe not arbitrary, but similar to the changes that occur throughout waking life, hypnagogy, sleep and hypnopompy. So it's just a new kind of change, an unnatural one. But what is natural, or unnatural? Who are we to invest meaning into all things, like a wild tribe, like the savage past. How I would love to show people a display of myself, a person transmitting signals from the tabooed existential; like a primal person. A laugh, that would be! See, because people do not contemplate en masse. They sit back and are distracted, like other animals, and do not sit back and really think about the intricacy, inexplicability, awesome enigma of what it is that we're doing when we live. This profoundly acute glitch in thought produces some of the most awesome human affects known. Laymen do not feel that need to understand, to feel what it is when the wind hits. Who is this man in front of me? I see hands typing, but not man before them. Never will I be able to look at myself in the flesh? Fuck. I just had a fucked thought. I focussed in on the thought it my mind, the thought was of my eyes. Imagine, reader, your face. You have never seen your face. Ever. Your eyes, my friend, have never, ever laid eyes on your face. Or, for that matter, the back of your body. You have never, ever seen the back of your body. Most people, nowadays, would accuse you of insanity at this thought; but this is not a moral tug of war, it is an exposition. We seem to so often claim that what is real in the world is only real because it is observable and thus understandable. But what about ourselves? We cannot even look directly at ourselves, we can only scrutinise others with our gazes. what do we do in the face of this? No gin anymore! DO we pretend to be sane? The word that means loss of linear though (or some such thing)? I look around occasionally and think to myself, everyone seems, in a mysterious way, to be mentally ill-poised. They have a severe imbalance which impedes on their lives, but it's normal and accepted. So much pride. Why is it there? Humans seem to prefer dead bodies to conceding a point. I just thought of the love that stirs inside of me when I think of the pointlessness of a beautiful musician. I do not believe it. I know it is right, but I cannot believe it. If I did, I would see no reason to be here, owing to my inevitable destruction, so I would promptly leave. Or, as could also happen, I would fail to have the balls to leave. Oh, God; it's that masculine thing. Again, fucking evolutionary residue. Not my fault! But who am I to say. My leg hurts now, so I'm going to go ahead and sign off sometime soon. Nothing personal, baby. This one just ain't on the level. It ain't my fault.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Delivery Boy (a reconstructed and reflected-upon memory)

The porch of my home on a weekday. I'm waiting and the sun is out, people walk by but they're mainly older people or mothers with their children. I called a long time ago; the driver is late. My gut aches and groans at me, yearning for the margherita and possibly (but who really knows) the garlic bread. I grow annoyed in my naivety and curse the shop I ordered it from. Childish hissy fit. Irrational and ill-thought through.

Finally he arrives, chugging past in a noisy sedan. Finally, I think, as if it meant that much. The dog probably barked, or at least nudged the side gate. Maybe even growled at the foreign footsteps and voice.

All feelings of hunger leave me as an old man approaches me. I feel intimidating, seated comfortably on my porch like this. Some sort of primeval territorialism; defence of the home fort or some shit. Residual traits, no longer valued en masse. God, I think, staring at the hobbling old codger; this man has to be at least sixty, and he's delivering pizzas. His sunken eyes draw more than pity from me. I feel ashamed.

Gidday, he says. I return the genial greeting and continue to stare at the man, somewhat perplexed. He recites my order, probably just as he was trained to. I'm not judging you, old man. I'm searching around in your mind, trying to find the origins of what's on the outside. Something gloomy is going on here. He trembles like washing line in the wind.

I pay him and he rummages his bum-bag for change. It's taking him a long time and when I vividly imagine the reactions some people may have given this man in the past, I grow sorrowful. My compassion, at this moment, rests solely with this man; though on a grander scale, on the macrocosm mirorring this situation, I feel sadness for all those like this man. And then I regret my pity and label it presumptuous. For what if this man loves his job? Is that sadder, I think, or not?

He finally produces the right coinage before re-zipping the bum-bag, which is strapped tightly to his waist. His appearance causes strings to be pulled behind my eyes, at the top of which are puppeteers laughing at me for being so soft. Tears feel imminent, though I cannot pinpoint exactly why. In retrospect, it is far clearer; but in the right then, my intuitions had freer reign and the symptoms were barely repressable. Old man, what has landed you on my front porch, fumbling with your eye-glasses trying to read the receipt, the hat sporting your employer's logo hanging limply to the side of your head?

I give thanks and watch the figure exit my property. Just one in a sea of many, I say to myself. I feel arrogant because it feels as if I think I'm "better". I do not. But there seem faculties missing; valuable functions which so many seem to have lost or missed out on or...who knows? I cannot feel this pity any longer, I exclaim to myself. Compassion, it may be, could be the end of me. Drivelling statues in a godless world. Figures of yore would look upon these days with shame. Who fashioned this mess?

I eat the pizza and think of the old man, squinting through the windshield of his car on his way to the next delivery destination. He sees eyes in the revision mirror and the eyes return the look, which is one of suppressed pride and recognition of what supposedly must be. Did that boy look at me, an old man far his senior in both age and wisdom, with pity? And the thought gnaws away at him; it inspires rage inside of him because it is as if something has happened which is outside his own control. Posterity, he says, is doomed to arrogance. The wisdom of elders will remain obstinate until the day he dies, while I remain at my house, eating a greasy pizza and feeling sorry for an old man who has been forced into becoming a pizza delivery boy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Drug-induced Introspection

At around one o’clock this morning I decided to roll and smoke half a joint. After doing so, I sat by my computer, listening to music (mainly Elliott Smith) and thinking relatively normal thoughts . After some time (probably a few minutes), in which I mostly just stared at the computer screen, listened to the music, and fiddled with things (not uncommon, judging from my past experiences of being stoned), I found myself sinking into a trance-like state of introspection and philosophical reflection. Without realising it, my blinks grew longer and longer, until my eyes remained completely closed. This did not bring about sleep, however, but rather served to block any visual stimuli, allowing my mind, brain, mental faculty (whichever you choose to call it) to fall deeper into this euphoric, deeply-thoughtful state, unimpeded. Once or twice I snapped out of this state and found myself staring blankly at the computer screen, wondering what it was that had left me feeling so deeply affected. My short-term memory was extremely inhibited, hence why I could not recall much of what I was thinking about when my eyes had been closed. However, when I did snap out, I was immediately enticed back into it by the profound feelings of existential insight which had remained in my memory as residue. These feelings were so intense and inflicted such an impact on me that, despite their vagueness and the fear they aroused, I was inexorably drawn back to them.

I cannot recall how long I was in this state for, although I can recall—albeit with a high degree of ambiguity—the content of my thoughts. The magnitude of the ideas I was enquiring into, combined with the near-complete loss of short-term memory functioning, created an inner chaos which makes the thoughts themselves hard to recollect.

I imagined myself, eyes closed, sitting on a chair in front of my computer. I then zoomed out of this picture, imagining the house around me; after this, I imagined the city, the earth, and so forth. Eventually, I arrived at complete incomprehension; for there was no answer to space in the picture I had created. I thought of one thing next to another, next to another, until there was no more room for things; but this could not suffice, for it failed to answer the question of space and the extent of space. If the world is energy, I thought, then all things are in flux within…within what? I thought. Within what?

One of the times I snapped out, I noticed the amazing apprehension I felt when I considered returning to the introspective state. It was, in fact, more than apprehension; it was a kind of existential anxiety. To attempt to comprehend all things was not only fruitless, but had created the feeling of dread described extensively throughout philosophical/existential literature. What was I? And in retrospect, what am I? If there is a world out there which cannot be comprehended or explained—which, at the times, seemed the only answer—then how can one deal with existing in it? Then came the question of existence.

Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? As I sat, almost catatonic, thinking so deeply about these existential issues that I was barely aware of being at all, I asked these questions. In a way, they can be re-directed; it can simply be asked, why does existence exist? What exactly is it to be something?; for aren’t we simply a number of intricate processes, all happening at once and hence all working together to form what people call an “I”? But each little process is nothing; I had created a schema in my mind which stated this. I could look at my arm and know blood was pumping through the veins within it—but how could this have anything to do with me? The notion of awareness threw me into consternation.

Any teleological explanation to life ceased to exist for me at this time. The word “purpose” meant nothing at all, for there was no such notion that was plausible. Again, I thought of every thing in existence, even contemplating those which humans are not aware of, of those things beyond space which are yet to be found; and they all contributed to the despair I felt at being a living thing, let alone one as complicated as a human.

The idea of a divine architect crossed my mind at one point. But, I thought, if there were a divine architect, then what have they made, and how could they possibly have made all things? The idea of there being both “all things” as well as a “divine architect” could not logically coalesce in my reasoning. For how can “all things” be created, when at no point in time do “all things” exist? Furthermore, how could a creator create something with no bounds (which, at this time in my thought, seemed to be the case). If the realm of existence in its entirety is not boundless, then what is beyond its bounds? The answer was a question, and the question made no sense!

I was aware that the only way to attempt to explain such things was through contradictory statements. Yet my thoughts wandered on, visiting the confronting realms of death, of everyday life, of love and loss. The extent to which my mind was able to roam free cannot be adequately conveyed through writing. It is to be noted, also, that this was one of the few times I have been able to confront such disturbing concepts without falling into an anxious state, or a state of outright fear. Usually, my being would have it that I react with fright and pain—ultimately, with mental immobility, as if to ward off the incomprehensible demons of intellect. But this time I faced them with respectful awe, still feeling the horror and absolute fear but able to see past them to the ideas at hand. To accept the situation. Whether or not the drug contributed to this feeling of ease is debatable.

Part of the success of this introspection and deep thought, I believe, is to be attributed to the lack of awareness I felt. When one is so immersed in ontological and metaphysical thought, when the eyes are closed and the body unmoving, it is easier to reflect on one’s existential state without distraction. I could see myself, in that chair, with the glow of the screen on my face; but more than this, I could envision all of the things around me, extending far off into the celestial sphere and beyond. These things were, of course, ever-changing and never could I see an holistic, stable picture of existence; the earth was a mere bubble of life within a system of things that I could only touch upon, which awed me to the point of heartache.

Obviously, the drug I had taken probably contributed to my state; but to try to attribute the experience to the drug and the drug alone is insufficient, and to bring it into question is to create another train of thought which can be discussed elsewhere. The underlying theme of the state I experienced was one of human reflection, and reflection on human reflection. Why, as a species, we are able to do this is an everlasting enquiry; it leads to the same pinnacle of mystery that all other paths lead to. One cannot see this peak, however, as it is veiled by clouds. Deep reflection upon this reveals the true magnitude of the human situation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dora and thoughts on Freud's "transference"

When Freud encountered unexpected troubles with one of his neurotic female patients, eighteen-year-old Dora, he was forced to revise and reconsider his notion of transference (one of the biggest obstacles encountered by Freud and psychoanalysis in accessing unconscious material). Transference, in this sense, is “a process by which unconscious wishes and impulses show up in a social situation, most notably the analytic situation.”

Freud had interpreted Dora's dreams (unconscious material) as sexually suggestive, thus leading to Dora assigning Freud the same role as she did Mr K, a man Dora was pressured into being intimately involved with by her adulterous father (who was having an affair with Mrs K); but Dora resisted Mr K's incitements, namely by slapping him. Lear argues that the reason the analysis failed was because Freud took this erroneous approach, which led to Dora seeing Freud as sexually invasive – a seducer like Mr K.

According to Lear, Dora incorporates this seducer figure into her subjective world in a unique way. Rather than simply transferring emotional remnants and desires across from the past and into the analytic situation (as Freud saw it), she is treating the elements of her external reality as fixed. By assigning Freud a role, which he inadvertently fills, she can exercise certain anxiety defense mechanisms (anger outbursts) to impede on his attempts at analysing her (just as she did to avoid confronting the anxiety-producing situation brought on by Mr K’s advancements). Dora is unable to cope with the anxiety brought about by such situations; she has never developed this ability, and it remains as it was when she was a child – she merely averts it by reacting angrily.

Lear notes that Dora "quells her own anxiety, calms herself, by experiencing the world in a famliar pattern." So people in her life occupy fixed positions, and thus Freud is experiencing his patient projecting onto him not only single desires and emotions, but an entire paradigmatic and subjective world structure. Freud is now occupying one of those fixed positions, namely that of Mr K. Dora's creation of this "idiosyncratic world", in regards to her psychoanalysis, essentially prevents her having to face her anxieties (note that she abruptly ceased treatment from Freud some months after starting it). Dora is treating Freud in a similar way to Mr K: in response to Mr K's approaches, Dora slaps him, and this parallels Dora's breaking off from Freud's treatment; as soon as anxiety begins to seep into her fixed world, there emerges a certain defence mechanism to subdue it.

The revised form of transference, however, appreciates that an entire network, a defensive minefield for anxiety threats, is at work; and that to help the patient realise this, the analyst must let them discover - through their own associations - that they are seeing the analyst as fulfilling a certain role in their life. When this is realised, the patient brings up their own unconscious material, unimpeded by the prodding of the analyst. Dora is not transferring emotion directly, as Freud originally understood it; she is stepping in and blocking the emotion through childish outbursts, thus not allowing the emotion to emerge at all. The task Lear assigns the analyst in this new light is to incite recognition in the patient that they are in fact creating this approach and these figures, not only in the doctor, but throughout their entire world. This information is then appropriated by the patient.

What of this concept today? Despite Freud's general lack of credibility in the modern age, many of his ideas have been worked through and expanded upon, just as Lear has in his book Freud - it has even been argued that the psychoanalytic approach will eventually become substantiated through the discovery of organic bases to many of its ideas. The notion of a kind of archetypal world, one in which all things play a role assigned to them by the subject, holds some credibility in my view. Isn't stability something humans all over the world strive for? We seem to seek permanence, when there is none (see the Buddhist notion of impermanence), constantly striving to hold still that which cannot help but move. The aforementioned example of Lear's revised transference implies a pathological stabilising of the world via assigning ever-changing figures archetypal roles - roles which fit into a comfortable subjective schema of the world and thus provide a harbinger against anxiety. But this is does not come free of charge. Of course, assigning people roles which one has assigned to others will not work, because they are not this other, no matter how much they think them to be. This is why Dora slaps Mr K, and also why she breaks with Freud. The aim is for the patient to realise this for themselves by eventually seeing their own words and actions as repetitions of their worldly ideals.

Do you ever feel like you're simply filling a role someone has assigned you? Has there ever been a time when you've felt that someone has (perhaps unconsciously) judged you and placed you into a kind of category? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, which I imagine it would be in most cases, then perhaps the concept of transference is alive and kicking today, albeit in a varied form from Freud's traditional concept. By incorporating a pseudo-stable world, are people sating their anxieties, or merely conjuring a world of trouble - or both? "You are this kind of subject in my world," one says - perhaps assigning a father figure, a lover, a teacher. When transference is portrayed in this light, one cannot help but think of Sartre's "Look" from the Other, or even Jung's archetypes - but that opens up a fresh strain of thought, which is perhaps best left for another discussion. In conclusion, I think we can safely conclude that Lear's revision of transference is more feasible than Freud's, with due respect to the original conception, and that it is perhaps still an observable and important phenomenon in psychopathology.


Lear, J, Freud, Routledge, New York and London, 2005

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Test Post

To make sure ye ol' blog is working...