On Civilization and Its Discontents OR Freud singing, if I only had an oceanic feeling

September 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

While sipping Suffering Bastards, we discussed the shift from Ngai to Freud, and how to orientate ourselves with the latter text while considering the various analyses of affect we’ve read thus far. He describes divisive and paradoxical conditions of civilization, how the sub/components are what we (who’s we?) use to project ourselves from suffering and yet it is what retains us from happiness and/or is the source for misery. “We would be happier to abandon it”, he writes, but if we choose to do so, and construct a new social reality for ourselves this entails madness, mania, and the conditions for the paranoiac. There is no place for an intwined practice of self-conception and social-urban-global imagination.

In connection to Ngai: “It is asserted, however, that in some way each of us behaves rather like a paranoiac, employing wishful thinking to correct some unendurable aspect of the world and introducing this delusion in reality. Of special importance is the case in which substantial numbers of people, acting in concert, try to assure themselves of happiness and protection against suffering through a delusional reshaping of the reality. The religions of mankind too must be described as examples of mass delusion. Of course, no one who still shares a delusion will ever recognize it as such.”

The tricky thing is that it can be read both as the delusional consumer and the delusional free-radical. Here thinking of Richard Gilman-Opalsky’s Spectacular Capitalism where contemporary capitalism denies its internal logic and macroeconomic reality – anyone who opposes it is certifiable. Or Katherine Rowland’s interview of Gary Greenberg where he critiques the DSM as a framework for understanding mental suffering: “the social conditions under which we live are increasingly atrocious. It could be that the reason we’re all getting whatever it is we’re getting is because the world truly is in some way progressing toward catastrophe”.

The oceanic feeling as a sense of  limitlessness, wholeness, and a blurring of the Ego and Id relationship again acts as a way to deny reality but is also the root of “religious energy” prior to being captured by the Christian apparatus. Freud does not sympathize with this feeling as he does not feel it himself. We question his antiseptic disavowal and turned to other conceptions of the oceanic feeling from Buddhist tradition.

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