Historical forces and psychological projection

I confess to quite an acute skepticism of psychoanalysis because its terms of reference have seemed to me limited to the late capitalist nuclear family, without taking into account social or historical events.    Because this kind of psychoanalysis is worse than useless to me personally, my skepticism had continued to grow and grow. Recently, however, I found this article and considered it embrace a balanced form of humanism.

I’ve learned to steer clear of traditional psychoanalysis because the paradigm it promotes seems to encourage people to believe that is one is suffering in some way, it is likely to be because one is “projecting something”.  I developed the impression that psychoanalysis was often, if not always, a means to expressing an unwillingness to deal with historical facts.   By not dealing with these and with the impact they can have on the psyche, one preserves a sense that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that nothing  can or should be changed, apart from at the level of the individual.   That is, the person suffering should change themselves, but they should do so in a way that doesn’t implicate others or avoidable historical circumstances in the process of change.   They should just make the changes as part of their moral duty to society, above all by hardening up and not taking any nonsense from anybody.

While I’m sure that the imperatives of bourgeois society are not necessarily the imperatives of psychoanalysis, there seems to be an overlap.  According to the article I’ve linked to, the capacity to dig into emotional states, to find out what is there,  is a core part of psychoanalysis. But, psychoanalysis occurs in a context, which is that of contemporary society, the society of the bourgeois individual.  The functioning of the individual is important within this sort of system, but their individual mental states are not relevant so long as they perform their job effectively.  Forms of therapy that would try to coax a person into expressing a certain impersonal demeanor are particularly noxious, although perhaps quite common.   The article linked above outlines how psychoanalysis is supposed to simply make a person more aware of their hidden motivations, so as to have more control over their lives. The impressive aspect of the article was that it didn’t frame a person’s suffering in terms of individual moral culpability.

My resistance to psychoanalysis as a system has been on the basis that I must necessarily and rightfully defend myself against insinuations based on bourgeois concepts of moral culpability.   I don’t mean to imply that I’m a perfect little angel, in bourgeois terms.   I just want to get rid of the bourgeois framing of experience.   We are not guilty sinners, who suffer because of our mistakes or deficiencies.  This reductive way of viewing human nature does much harm.   Rather, we deal with issues the way we do, sometimes inadequately, because of emotional overload.

Sometimes the emotional overload is so strong that we demand others bear some of its weight.   That is known as ‘projective identification’.  One does not resort to this because one is immoral or lax, but more probably because one does not know how else to deal with the burning intensity of emotional pain apart from spreading it around.   By doing so, one survives, although if the emotions one has to spread are negative, this is highly costly to others.

We may often not come to  like people who project onto us, because they are giving us a burden not our own.   That tends to produce resentment and sometimes rage. If the project is negative, and not made up of overflowing joy, or if authority is not what’s being projected onto us, we may feel that we have no choice but to carry someone else’s pathology.  We might do this willingly or unwillingly, but it can be more difficult, when young, to develop the ego strength to resist powerful forms of projection.

2.

I still have the notion that disaster can strike at any time, and it will be my fault.

I think I understand how that belief came about, but I would never have reached an understanding apart from  my belated awareness of some very specific historical circumstances.

My father’s rage was lit by his mother allowing her husband, his father, to be killed on a flying jaunt in World War 2.   Participating in the war was “the thing to do,” his mother had said.  It sounded frivolous.  He didn’t have to do it, but it was the flavor of the day.  My father said he didn’t “trust her judgement”.  Of course not — because a light tone ought not to be followed by a disaster.  The two aspects of the deadly outcome, the feeling before the world fell apart and the feeling afterwards, are incongruous.  There was much to distrust, including possibly, his mother’s judgement.

All the same, I know what she was feeling, because it was how I felt when harsh and critical judgement were projected onto me.  You see, my father didn’t ‘trust my judgement’ either, on the basis that I seemed like a person not to be trusted.   When I scan the past for anything I may have done to provoke such unwarranted criticism, I do not find it.  It is likely that my gender was the fundamental element that drew this fire.

My grandmother’s internal workings have become mine, to a certain extent, as a result of my father’s issues.  It is true to say that his relationship with her became his relationship with me.  I know how it feels to be blamed for something terrible that one can’t quite put one’s finger on.  I’ve had the responsibility to rectify historical wrongs, but without understanding their specifics.   I just felt guilty.  Also, it was very important for me that the world should know that I was deeply traumatized and not ‘hysterical’ — women of my grandmother’s era were often depicted as ‘hysterical’ and my father was inclined to handle his rage by displacing it — and condemning me.

The plane that went up and never came down was all my fault.   I didn’t realize the source of all the hostility and aggression, but had I understood it all much earlier, my ego would have still needed further years to develop to be able to take the strain of being targeted in this way.

Psychoanalysis may be a useful tool, then, if it helps people to understand the sources of their pains, but it surely takes a great deal more to overcome historically inflicted blows — and, if history is out of its picture to begin with, what then …?

RHODESIA, SEX AND GENDER:  THE RIGHT-WING WAY.

3. The cure for a man who still believes in female hysteria is to wait until he has something very urgent he needs you to understand.

Then say: “I’m sorry. I’m not getting it. Would you try and say that again in a way I can understand? I encourage you to keep persisting, if you like. Or, by the same token, don’t persist. Either way, it’s all the same to me!”

Origins of my character

I’m able to make sense of some of my character in relation to how actual events occurred.  For instance, I consider how I was my mother’s strong support system whilst my father was at war.  He was often away on call up from the time I was born.

So I learned to see the ability to have the correct emotional response to every situation as a matter of life and death.  I consider emotions very, very important — but also, and above all, the non-expression of emotions if someone looks like they are flaking out.  I can distance myself very, very quickly when that happens — and always do so.   I don’t experience my emotions, using that method — but, above all, this is an act of charity, trying to prevent another person from experiencing their negative emotions.

So, stoicism is very deep in me, and it is also deep in Mike, who must have learned the same technique when he was five and his father died, crossing a road.

We both consider emotional management very important because it limits the damage that we could have caused our parents if we had not had strict control over our emotions.

I’m suited for a crisis — as is Mike.   But I’m not suited for everyday situations.  If a child cries, and it is not a matter of life and death, that doesn’t interest me.  I’ll wait until it is one, or I’ll let someone else take care of it.  I don’t have a subtle variation of emotional nurturing patterns.   It’s kind of boring.  But life and death issues pull me in.

To understand this is important, because I know I just react to emotional input differently from people who were not brought up in similarly pressing circumstances.  I don’t diagnose myself as having a problem I ought to set out to fix.  Rather, I see myself as having the capacity to adapt to extreme circumstances, but not to those where subtle and measured responses are required.   I have a character, not a pathology.

And, I think that is useful to know.

My memoir and the theory behind it

An interview with Allan Shore

QUOTE:

His training as a psychoanalyst was critical in highlighting the importance of the relationship between the mother and the infant. But there was a struggle within psychoanalysis – in particular between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein – about how much was really a creation of the infants mind., a phantasy. Bowlby began to fervently argue and bring in data from other disciplines to show that the real relationship, that the real events, not only were there but they were indelibly and permanently shaped there in a way that would affect the way that the personality would develop over the lifespan.  [EMPHASIS MINE]

This is precisely what I was interested in studying when I wrote my memoir!

 

Accepting you have become corrupted and recovery

Let’s Spread the Word: Wetiko | Reality Sandwich:

‘via Blog this’

An article, linked to above, worth reading.  It may come across as New Age, but I also arrived at the same conclusions through my careful, far more academic study and observation.

I also concluded that the patriarchal religions perpetuate this deformed state of consciousness, by encouraging men to project their darkness onto women.

Intellectual shamanism reverses this process by insisting that one develop a relationship with oneself.  As the article says:

[The pathological person’s] will becomes dedicated to hiding from the truth of what they are doing, a truth which endlessly pursues them, as they continually avoid relationship with themselves.  [Emphasis mine].

My intellectual shamanism is concerned with the structuring of the human psyche and with remedies through restructuring and forming a relationship with other parts of yourself, that may have become alienated from the whole.  Accepting one’s dissociated and split state, one goes looking for them.  This does not involve blind searching, but active and reasoned looking.

The moralistic tone of the article, especially where it suggests that “excess” or boundary-crossing are always “evil” reveals much of the limitations of New Age psychology.  Whether these are “evil”, or corrective of pathology depends on how you use them.  Otherwise, it’s like saying that dynamite is bad under all circumstances — because it causes destruction. Few things are intrinsically bad in and of themselves — and sometimes a degree of destruction is necessary, in order to recover full health.

After the Chimurenga

 | Clarissa’s Blog

People have tried to change me ever since the end of the Second Chimurenga, in 1980.  Both political leftists and political rightists have tried it for reasons best known to them.

This eventually caused me layer upon layer of traumatisation.

Once you get pulled into the power of evil people, the effect of their force field is hard to resist.  Other people won’t let you get away. I’ve even had people imply that because I was in such a hard place that I tried to accommodate all the demands for change, this meant I had an unstable sense of self.  If you try to give people what they’re forcing you to give, it means you had something wrong with you from the start.  The ideology of dominance and submission typically reverses cause and effect.   “If you comply with me, I will prove you are evil!” is the ideology of evil and self-hating people.

The good news is, I’ve finally found a way through — by giving up.

You know, if an assailant has you in a bear hug, you can find that difficult to resist, but if he grabs you when you have a lot of air in your chest, you can suddenly let all the air out and make your body go limp. You can then drop to the ground and escape.

This is what I’ve finally managed to do on a psychological level, because I had learned over the years that the more I resisted, the worse it would become for me.

Bullying, narratives and ideology

I’ve just read an article on Huffington Post regarding thick and thin skins. The writer was, perhaps inevitably, of a religious persuasion. He counseled prayer and dependency on “God” as a solution to stressors.

I’m inclined to think that those who differentiate between having thick or thin skins oversimplify a great deal.

For instance, there are people who do not know their own stories, and who thereby become “thin-skinned”. Their histories have been erased and they are desperate to learn their story from anyone who will give them a hint.

A fifteen-year-old Canadian girl recently committed suicide after being bullied at school and online. It seems her story was hijacked to make her look like something she was not. Since the story of the bullies became psychologically bigger than her original internal narrative, she committed suicide. She had learned from her bullies that she was a bad person. Her understanding of what sort of person she actually was had not developed sufficiently for her narrative to be the dominant one.

Being thin-skinned is a necessary part of the process we all experience in order to learn about ourselves from others. Those who are capable of the greatest learning might be the thinnest skinned of all. If their educators are ethical, educated and wise, these people can learn magnificently. If not, they will be cast onto their own resources, which may be few. They may be overwhelmed by the narratives of others, which may be false or misleading.

Being able to know how much of what others say ought to be taken to heart depends on already having a good level of knowledge about oneself. One is not born with that knowledge, and many of us are still growing and learning. We are, at least, not stagnant.

Utterly fundamental to understanding shamanism

1.  Shamanistic usages of language

Shamanisms learn to speak very indirectly about reality.  As Georges Bataille points out in his Unfinished System of Nonknowledge  verbal communication sets itself at odds with the physical body and its vicissitudes.   To communicate completely, one does not communicate with language, but non-linguistically.  “We feel each other through our wounds,” he said, thus suggesting shamanic access to  another dimension of knowledge, not through suffering as such, but through the internalization of knowledge as a result of wounding.  To draw a distinction here between two levels of communication is vital.

Crude psychoanalytic interpretations would tend to make out the shaman to be one who whines about wounding whilst justifying false ways of seeing the world, to make himself feel better.  So, psychoanalysts may set out to defeat what it sees as a competing system of interpretation of the world, by distorting its claims.  The willful nature of this misunderstanding is obvious because it does not distinguish between a wound and the person who has it.  Whereas psychoanalytic distortions would have the wound seem to speak for and on behalf of itself, in shamanism, the shaman masterfully speaks on behalf of his wounds and furthermore uses his incidental wounding and the understanding it brings to heal others.

In the case of Bataille’s form of shamanism, the “wounds” are the sexual organs, which he considered a wound to language itself, as a system that aims to be closed and complete, capable of accounting for everything and making all of reality seem rational.   The physicality of the body itself  prevents the formal dimensions of language to close the circle of meaning, in terms of giving a full account of everything in the world.

This suspicion of language is expressed in all forms of shamanism, which attempt to address the problems associated with the body in a more direct way than via language.   To the end of addressing the body and not the mind, language may be “twisted” so that the shamanic seer can use it to “look around corners”. Marechera uses this expression in The Black Insider, where he criticizes logical formulations for degrading the more human dimensions of reality.

The tyranny of straightforward things is more oppressive and more degrading than such idle monstrosities as life and death, apartheid and beer drinking, a stamp album and Jew-baiting. One plus one equals two is so irrefutably straightforward that the unborn child can see that even if man was wiped off the face of the earth one plus one would always and forever-equal two.

The “unborn child” is one who cannot yet speak, who can be readily victimized by narrow forms of logic that would easily be able to erase humanity.  The “unborn child” is also the non-rational state of the shamanistic seer.   Huge aspects of reality are more readily observable when one has learned not to depend on language.

2.  When shamans work with “energy fields”, they are referring to the ability one needs to have to defend oneself against projective identification.  This term has gained meaning in psychoanalysis as implying that someone has injected their own needs and values into another person to get them to play a particular function on their behalf.   These functions are to express emotional attitudes that area already in another person but which he doesn’t have the confidence or the courage to express.

Shamans work to develop a strong “energy vest”  for the one who has become ill, to enable her to resist future attempts to control her.   A shaman’s incantations are sung to create a sense of wholeness about identity, defined as integral bodily sensations. Future assaults against the integral wholeness of the victim will from now on be understood by her in terms of what they are, and not being unconsciously accommodated.

Having developed a sense of energy fields, one is cured, since one now understands when one’s own energy field has been violated.   Should a “dart” be fired in one’s direction, one can choose to ignore it, or to return the dart to the original owner.  There is nothing mysterious about the fact that darts and energy fields exist, except for the terminology.  The means by which assaults take place, as well as their psychological meanings,  can be accounted for in the earlier mentioned term of projective identification.

Shamans take knowledge of energy fields a step further than others do in psychoanalysis, however.   An advanced shaman will conduct effective ideological warfare by observing another’s energy field and sending “darts” into the field of another to disrupt their mental ability to work. It was said that shamans used to lob mountains at each other.

Don’t try to mold others

Clarissa’s writing yesterday got me thinking.  I hadn’t realized it was possible to suffer from formlessness.  I may have suffered from it in my early twenties, when I craved a rite of passage to test me, teach me the lessons of adulthood and what society means and how it works.   That was a period in my life when it would have been good for me to begin learning martial arts.  More generally, though, she and I are polar opposites. Whereas she agonizes over formlessness, I have had to try to find ways to escape the imposition of too much form.This is why people who come along and try to shape me for any reason earn themselves the status of my mortal enemy. I have my own internal structure and I’m capable of reaching a fever point in self-discipline.   What I don’t need is someone coming along and arbitrarily trying to impose some structure on something they can’t see.   What I need is to extract the heat, to take off some of the pressure of being fully formed and to be allowed for moments at a time to enter formlessness.I have nothing to fear from formlessness, unlike the fear I have of too much structure, especially when the new structures imposed are unrelated to my existing structures.   To calculate multiple opposing principles and conform to all of them means the temperature rises to the point that I can no longer think. I need simplicity and clarity in order to continue to achieve my tasks.

Psychological structure  has always been a part of my life to the extent that I’ve internalized a sense of structure fully.  I never have to fear losing control or devolving into a state of formlessness, because my early childhood life had more structure in it than I’ve experienced since.   Above all, my primary school had an extremely military structure.  We marched everywhere in single file, recited our times table and greeted our teachers by standing up whenever one entered the room.   We were yelled at, threatened and sometimes subjected to corporal punishment — a ruler on the knuckles for inattentiveness.  That was how I grew up, by internalizing the necessity for such discipline.  Should I drink alcohol or move away from places where form is directly imposed, I still retain this form within myself.

But impose yet another layer of form on me that takes no account of my early training, and I’m in danger of losing my cool.   I have a form of my own and I don’t need two or three more layers of someone else’s necessities imposed on top of that.  A Christian cultural tendency for strangers to come along and morally shape others I find reprehensible. Let people be as they are and function according to their identities.   Don’t come along and try to mold or rearrange them!

Biologism

The capacity for intellectual shamanism is based on having superfluous energy to spend on exploring inner, psychological dimensions.   The prerequisite for engagement puts intellectual shamanism at odds with many, perhaps most, other philosophies of life that demand one’s time and commitment in other ways.  Even holding other implicit philosophies, such as a prevalent one of our age — biological determinism — moves one several steps away from understanding how intellectual shamanism is expressed.  Those whose purpose in life is sex and reproduction will not find anything of value in this paradigm.

Somebody whose life is guided and determined by biological imperatives would experience intellectual shamanism as only threatening to take them away from their allotted tasks.   A typical misunderstanding I have found in those who read Nietzsche is in the idea that one can use one’s reading as a means to gain the kind of “wisdom” that would enable one to fully express one’s innate biological urges.   Yet, the desire to move in a direction that fulfills one’s needs as a creature of one’s biology is exactly opposed to the desire to further one’s knowledge about subjectivity and inner worlds.   To follow a biological deterministic path requires a calm and yielding disposition.   Any emotion or sensation that is not in this vein is a threat to one’s determined destiny.

By contrast, with regard to shamanism a lot of actions may be done and a lot of words spent, which have no biological purpose whatsoever.   The meaning of looking into one’s inner worlds is not to lament anything, but simply to look around at one’s leisure.  There is nothing to win or lose here, in terms of any sense of necessary or inevitable destinies.   One has all the time in the world to waste and no purpose to achieve except that intrinsic to looking.  One can scream and shout all one likes.   This is actually encouraged.

At the same time, those in a hurry to take things in the opposite direction will, of course, not find anything here.

Morality and the shamanic void

In much of my experience, I haven’t been a “valid human being” at all. I think that is the starting point for shamanic initiation — where one recognizes that one is not a valid human being in some sense. Then one loses one’s humanity and regains it — that is the definition of initiation.

You have to enter non-being. Then, that kind of sticks with you, and you don’t employ moral categories so readily.  There are no longer any ““valid human beings”, just the totality of human experience, for better or worse.

A “valid human being”, for instance, is a moral category implying person-hood, with all that this entails according to people’s trained or educated notions as to what differentiates people from each other. So, on the basis of my education and training concerning “validity” I may come to certain conclusions about the kind of person who is valid, what characteristics they have, how they conduct themselves, their ontological status (as being redeemed by “God” or by morality, or by virtue of the state granting them their “rights”) or what have you. So, I’ll have a certain image of that person, perhaps very distinct, or perhaps rather fuzzy. In any case, I’ve created a categorical demarcation as to what constitutes validity in a human being.

This logically and practically also implies that I have it in the back of my mind as to what would make a human being “invalid”. So, maybe that kind of person would be immoral, evil, strange, not my color of skin, or whatever. In any case, I’ve set up a mental barrier that mediates my experience of the world on the basis of categories of “valid” or “invalid”.

For instance, like a certain male feminist writer does, I might mentally erect a category of oppressed people who have great validity as human beings. On the basis of that, I’d start to show great indulgence and forbearance in relation to these oppressed people. It may happen, though, that mediation of reality through defining a category of oppressed (versus less oppressed or not oppressed) means I can’t experience the shades of grey that make up the world as it actually is. There’s too much mediation of reality and not enough direct experience of it. That’s what moral categorizing does.

By contrast, entering non-being means we can open our minds a bit more, after we are not afraid of losing some structure and entering the void.

The meaning of amoralism, according to Nietzsche and Bataille is to become wilder, stronger in oneself, more independent and less tame. This is not a moral injunction that everybody has to do it. You can try it or not attempt it. It’s not even an issue of having the power of free choice. One can be seduced into trying shamanism, or one can avoid it. There are no transcendental principles governing this choice.

***

NOTE: Nietzsche’s amoralism is viewed most commonly as lauding the rights of the oppressors to oppressor whomever they please. But that view assumes a very morally delimiting perspective, as it makes it out that he was maintaining a moral position on who gets to oppress who. He isn’t.
Bataille’s dalliances with prostitutes have also been criticized for their immorality. But that was precisely the point of Bataille’s actions, to slip out of the grasp of morality.
Thirdly, the idea of renouncing judgement on people would need to acquire a moral motivation since it is a categorical distinction — i.e. that it is a good idea to renounce judgement on others.

Shamanism is not about establishing a moral position but about exploring a psychological void where making moral distinctions has not yet become automatic for you.

 

Communism flirting on our borders

I was supposed to be an extremely conservative young lady, very oriented toward the family and warm and deferential — conservative.  Oh, and dutiful.   I have the opposite personality, which would have meant trouble enough, except that my parents (especially my father) also attached profound importance to bringing me up all Bible reading and unreasoning.   I’m convinced this was because of the war and what it cost him.  This was how the war has started:

“We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization, and Christianity; and in the spirit of this belief we have this day assumed our sovereign independence. God bless you all.”  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1965Rhodesia-UDI.html

So, Christian belief and a certain idea of “civilization” became a huge factor in my parents’ consciousness, whether they were aware of that.

When we migrated I was fifteen.  That was when the battle started to keep me on the straight and narrow.  I had entered a society that was much more liberal in many ways, and I’m sure this represented the “communism” my father had fought against, in the war, to keep outside of our borders.

As a funny aside that confirms my thesis, about five years ago, I came across a badly written  blurb on a free publishing site a while back.   The writing was by an ex-Rhodesian, who spoke of “Communism hovering on our borders”.  Actually, the phrasing was worse than this, something more clumsy and funnier.   So amusing was it that I used the sentence in my Facebook update and immediately some guy living in Johannesburg (in exile from Zimbabwe’s poor economy) popped up in chat and said, “It’s me!  I’m the communism lingering on the border!”   This was how I got introduced to the members of the Zimbabwean Revolutionary Youth movement, who turned out to be two in number.

It seemed to some people, including myself, that I may have become the betrayer of the war and everything “Rhodesia” stood for, the more I adapted to liberal ways.  My parents waged a really strong psychological battle against me.   It was quite extreme, involving physical “discipline” at times, but mostly chasing me around and attempting to undermine my self-esteem by telling me I was “grotty”.

Such is life.

The destructive effect of the gendered division of mental labor

I made this exploration in my memoir — how was it that I came to be so divorced from so much of practical reality? Well, we can investigate that as an imposition of social norms. But don’t forget, whilst you are investigating it, to investigate the suffering this produces. And the confusion. And the immature status this imposes on both men and women alike, since where nobody is a complete person because everybody accepts a different division of labor, nobody can make rational, adult judgments about anything at all — and this includes men, too.

If “rationality is male” according to a division of labor, then men are deprived of their full humanity and are not so much rational as wooden, devitalized, robotic and insane.

How can you even test reality to work out what is there if you require another person to be a function for you, in order for you to be whole? You can’t do any trial and error because the other part of you — either your emotional function or your rational function — is somewhere else.

Because I was the eldest, but also because my father had a lot of mistreatment as a child as well as abandonment issues, I was allocated to:

1. express the emotions he had because of his anger at the world for being abandoned early on.

2. express his sadness and anger for the demise of Rhodesia after the government capitulated to outside demands.

3. act as the whipping girl on a practical/emotional level for everything that went wrong in his later stage of life, when he began to succumb to his lifelong traumas.

4. Accept the blame, publicly, too, for women are “the weak ones”, not men.

5. Act as “the good mother” (or else) and teach my father how to operate within the culture we had entered as migrants.

6. Accept the guilt of “the bad mother”.

* The problems I have had with my father have been endless and only ended with his stroke, which destroyed much of the creative/intuitive/emotional side of his brain. I’m sure he is also thankful for its removal of his trauma, even though it has left his with a severe disability.

He can now speak logically, rather than manipulatively, about what went wrong in his life. For the first time, we have a good relationship, where he isn’t trying to sabotage me all the way.

questions, questions, questions

My father’s madness involved a reversal of typical parent-child relations, where I was held responsible for all sorts of things that seemed to have gone wrong, in the eyes of my father.   I didn’t know what these things were.  It has taken me about twenty years to find them out.

This short paragraph encapsulates the issue I kept trying to ask authorities about, including anyone older than I, or more experienced.  I didn’t have a way to articulate the nature of the problem then, because I hadn’t studied enough psychology or heard enough of the facts, to be able to piece everything together, until after my PhD.

Basically, I wanted to know what was the dimension of emotional meaning that would make sense of the experiences I’d had in my life, in particular in relation to my father.  Even after writing my memoir and sticking plainly to the facts, without attempting very much direct interpretation, or going beyond what I knew at that time, I was unable to articulate the core of the matter I was trying to describe — which is now outlined neatly above.

There were all sorts of questions I wanted answered.

1.  Was/is my father mad?

2.  What went wrong?

3.  Specifically what was I being held responsible for, in terms of what went wrong?

4.  How does that “work” anyway, that I’m blamed for things that happened before I knew about them taking place?

I now have satisfying answers to all these questions.

With regard to number one:  Yes, my father suffered from an accumulation of traumas, very closely related to the history of Rhodesia and its past.   Thus that he did go mad, and blame me for things I never could have done.

2.  What went wrong was related to my father’s very early childhood experience and ongoing sense of abandonment by his parents.   His father was killed in WW2, and due to the pressures of patriarchal society and the need to remarry, his mother had to marry too soon, and into unfavorable circumstances.

3.  Specifically I was held responsible for giving my father the unconditional approval he had lacked from his parents.   When his unconditional trust for his country’s authorities backfired, and he was left in the lurch, he blamed his mother for making him unconditionally trust an adoptive father, whom he never really liked in the first place.  As I was the eldest, and female, I came to represent his mother to him, and above all her “poor choices”.   So, he blamed me for the demise of Rhodesia, after he had been led to believe the country would not be overturned.

4.  How does that “work”?   It works through early childhood psychological dynamics, where the mother and child share the same psychological unity and interact as one entity.   My father had unfinished work to do at this level, because his mother had been suffering from bereavement trauma and associated denial, so seems not to have brought my father to full emotional independence.   He blamed me for what went wrong in his life, because he blamed his mother for what went wrong in his life.   Blaming others is a primitive way of coping, under extreme stress — and one woman (me) is the same as any another woman from the perspective of such a one who feels everything has turned out badly.  Thus I became the one to blame for emotions (both familial and historical) I had not been in a position to understand.

This was why I kept trying to ask those whom I thought might have been better positioned than I, to read and understand my father’s strange behavior, what his behavior meant.

Unfortunately, because we have a misogynist society, those I tried to ask suggested that I had actually been the cause of my father’s emotional distress, since the logic of cause and effect pointed in my direction as the “cause” of all these problems.

More logically, though, a child of fifteen cannot be the cause of parental trauma.   That’s getting things back to front and twisted.  It also has too much about it of the Judeo-Christian ideological residue of “women as eternal sinner”.

Living the moment of dissolution

I’m reading Nietzsche’s ANTICHRIST again.  I find it perfectly logical.  What can make a difference is the perspective of the reader.   It takes a while to develop the capacity to read it without the lens of contemporary ideologies.   I remember being very much enmeshed in some of the contemporary era ideologies that were invented to smash the left.  You were either on the side of “civilization” or against it.   This kind of reading distorts Nietzsche’s writing so that instead of making logical points, he seems to be taking sides in a political struggle.  To read Nietzsche as making psychological observations, not political ones, gives coherence and intelligibility to his whole approach.

When I consider his opposition to the anarchists, I can reflect from the standpoint of today that I have met many left wingers who seem emotionally weak.  I’ve also met their equivalents on the right.   Nietzsche thought that the disruptive people, who looked to undermine society, were intent to undermine a structure which they could not enjoy anyway, due to their dependent natures.    It wasn’t the society that had something wrong with it, but these agitators themselves did.   Psychologically speaking, I have found this is often true.  It doesn’t work to condemn all agitators as weak personalities, though, because to generalize in that way is only possible by invoking metaphysical — that is theological — principles.   That’s exactly what Nietzsche’s writing wants to avoid.  Rather it seems one should exercise intellectual caution and view everyone on their own merits.

From my point of view, I find Nietzsche’s commentary on those who want to overthrow the established order to have incredibly complex ramifications.   Consider that I had barely become an adult, when my own established order was completely overthrown.   Almost nothing remained, except for a small core of agitators for the extreme right and another skeleton group taking refuge in denial within the protective bubbles of their Christian ideologies.   For me, life itself, in almost every sense that I had known it, had been completely overturned:

Let no one doubt for an instant! One has truly not heard a single word of Nietzsche’s unless one has lived this signal dissolution in totality; without it, this philosophy is a mere labyrinth of contradictions, and worse; the pretext for lying by omission (if, like the fascists, one isolates passages for purposes which
negate the rest of the work).[“will to chance,” Bataille]

I immediately saw through the ideological, defensive response, and I only considered the alternative — the hive of right-wing agitators — when the aggressive people of the left had begun attacking me too much.  Primitive emotional responses are common when a defeated enemy (me) is in your grasp.  They’re also common when the prior rulers realize they have been defeated and seek to take revenge for their humiliation.  I’ve experienced this aggression from both sides of politics.   Both have seen me, somehow, as their enemy — someone whom they need to pick on to score points, or prove themselves worthy of their particular political ideologies.

Handling it on one’s own

After migration, there was an  issue of weird and confusing stereotyping, which fed me the wrong sort of information.  I have since been led to understand that PROBABLY a cultural stereotype was at work, as well as most certainly a gender stereotype.  This information I received, fundamentally another culture’s stereotypes about my identity, made it very difficult for me to get the information I needed to make the necessary cultural adjustments.

It didn’t help too much that I spent the first few post-migratory years not communicating, and then when I did, I spoke about my problems, which had become substantial by then.  I couldn’t understand things fundamentally.  That was my most significant issue. I hadn’t been brought up to understand the world I’d been transferred into.   I spoke English and was white, so I didn’t look like I should be having cultural problems, yet I was.

Ten years down the track and it was becoming clear that I was out of step with all sorts of cultural expectations.   Actually, this may or may not have been true, but it was my sudden analysis, bought on by a heavy episode of dysfunctional workplace exposure.   My project to adapt and adjust, in order to “save myself” became extreme — my motivations became extremely energized.  I looked around for all sorts of advice. I mean, how does one stop the abuse?  Is there some form of conformity that assures it comes to an end?

People told me that there surely was:  I had to get off my high horse and stop being so “sensitive”.   So I took that lesson to heart.  I developed a rude and abrasive manner.  I also tried not to feel anything much at all, unless it was the anger and aggression that had been building up over a number of years.   I sought the ideal solution to defuse this anger and aggression, by joining the army.  I would blow up people, and then the anger and aggression would be out of me and into them.  It was uncomfortable to have so much rage building up, but if I got off my high horse and mixed it with the worst of them, I would surely find a way to move beyond such an uncomfortable inner state.

I learned a great deal from this period of time how it is possible to be extremely calm whilst enduring a state of rage.  I had a bomb ticking inside me and I had to find a way to manually defuse it.  If it did harm in a socially acceptable way, I was fine with that.

I also found it was quite possible to be comfortably alone with my inner state, with no sensitivity at all.  I could respond to people and at times present outward emotions without feeling any inner change at all.

I never forgot, even for a moment, that I had only one goal — and that was an issue of my life and death — to defuse this inner dynamite in the safest way possible.

The trope of re-training

As you can read in my recent posts,  I have become much more aware of the nature of reality and less bedazzled by the promises of benefits in “fitting in”.

To recap:   It was the project my father place on my shoulders, when I first alighted from the plane as a new migrant.   Your task is to “fit in” and to show delight and approval at anything you see, because that’s what people want to hear from you.

So, I was led to understand that I could not express my genuine reactions to anything, because that would jeopardize the all-important, overarching project, which was to appear to conform with everybody else.   Note that I never had an emotional need to “fit in”.   I always strove for independence.   However, I believed  I ought to obey the advice entailed in my father’s stratagem.   I’m not sure why I took his advice so literally to heart, but probably it was due to the absence of other forms of advice, and probably because I am my father’s daughter, and neither of us would bother to fit in too much, unless we were commanded.

City culture had no appeal to me — especially the culture of the eighties.   I didn’t strive to fit in for the first ten years after my arrival.  Instead I often pursued an avoidance strategy.   I tried to grasp little moments of country atmosphere as much as possible, and sought — and failed — to find excitement in art.   (Even art had been tamed into “graphic design” in my new social setting.)

I constantly pursued those things I had already known from my African experience, and tried to expand on those — first by running around the oval field twice a day, then horse-riding, then SCUBA diving.  Martial arts, belatedly came next, and then sky diving.   All this time, I was trying to recapture my earlier relationship with nature as a source of danger and adventure.

The idea that I ought to “fit in” had not yet become a serious project.   That only took on a life of its own after I came to the shocking and traumatic conclusion that the language I’d been speaking to those in the workplace had a different meaning in their ears to the ones I had expected and intended.   I realized I’d better learn to understand how others understood me, otherwise I’d face a tremendous amount of aggression for the rest of my life, and I’d never understand why.

I must say, the sense of humor I still have today is not all that peculiarly African.   At the gym today, I washed my hands, as usual, after training, since we must shake hands with everybody in the class, and this is how colds and ‘flus are spread.   There’s another guy from the class, who always meets me at the basin.  We know we look a little bit aloof, washing our hands, after shaking them with everyone, so we make jokes acknowledging this fact.   “Gotta get those germs off!” we say glibly.   We imply, with our sly smiles, that others are the carriers of all sorts of diseases we don’t want.   After today’s class, this guy smiled and said we had to “remove the gangrene”.  “Yes,” I said.  “We don’t want that slime!”

So it goes, every week.  It’s easy to joke around with someone with whom you have exchanged some sparring blows and demonstrated stoicism and restraint.   These kinds of experiences build trust and an underlying understanding.   By contrast, joking around when one still has the status of “a foreigner”, moreover from a politically dubious country, leads to different effects.   Then, one is retained in quarantine and has to continue to show restraint and seriousness for many years.   Trust has to be earned, my masters taught me, and it doesn’t come that easily.

Along with ongoing trial and error, I learned never to relax and take it easy.  My status was always probationary, and tenuous trust would be withdrawn at a moments’ notice, on the basis of just one error of judgement — for instance, being humorous when seriousness was implicitly required.

Walking on eggshells doesn’t begin to describe my sensations.  I was deeply traumatized by my inability to find a situation where I could simply let down my guard, be myself and expect reciprocal trust.

Then there was the aspect of those who wanted to “shape” me for the kind of clerical position I had entered. I’ve since understood that “to shape” means to break down somebody’s character, in order to form it differently in a way that is more subservient to the structure of the organization one has entered.   I understand implicitly these days what “more training” means, especially when the goals of such training are not overtly or clearly stated:  someone requires and expects the restructuring of your character, and this is not achievable without first breaking down the character in order to make it different.

I’ve studied very hard this sado-masochistic dynamic of contemporary culture, and although I believe I understand it theoretically, I could never find a way to bypass it, to get around it adequately, in order to “fit in”.

Therefore, I’m giving up the project after twenty years, and casting caution to the winds.  I can’t make sense of all these barriers, but that’s because I’m not supposed to.  Or, it doesn’t matter.   Or, my life simply consists upon a different plane.   In any case I won’t be “fitting in”.

Shamanistic learning: my stages of progress

Often I’ve been my own worst enemy in life, because of my intense need for the world to simply make sense to me.   When we are in situations where we are really vulnerable, as I was for a long time as a new migrant,  we have one primary need, that is the need to understand how things work.   To have no control over one’s circumstances whatsoever is extremely frightening.  To have a little control, through understanding how things work, can often mean the difference between keeping one’s head above water and the sensation that one is sinking rather dramatically.

Thus, one tries to read purposes and reasons into people’s actions when one can’t directly make sense of them.    That way, one feels a little “in control” even when the reasons one furnishes to explain the negative situations are themselves of a negative nature.   At least, now, there is an internal logic to the situation, even if the logic one is able to discern seems to be acting against one’s well-being.  Making sense of reasons means one can work within a situation that would otherwise simply be too shocking — not just for its hostile character, but for it unintelligibly.

Reading meaning into situations where one is not really sure of what the situation means, because nobody has  explained it to you, has a downside.   One ends up making people’s hostility seem more logical than it is.   I realize that as a white migrant from Zimbabwe, I attracted a lot of politically motivated hostility.   The trouble was I couldn’t see it for what it was — an abstract style of aggression against someone of my origins.   Instead, I tried to find a personal angle, because if it was related to something I was doing personally, I could  correct that.    To see things in a personal light meant I had more chance of taking control.  And I needed that sense of control more than air itself.

My habit of trying to discern reasons, where there were none, began out of this original state of migrant trauma.    Somehow, my capacity to generate reasons generated a very positive outcome.  I began to see the world as being much more intelligent than it was.  Indeed, everything I encountered seemed to be animated by a very high level of intelligence.   Barring the moments when someone lets you down by failing to live up to the wonderful expectations of high intelligence, the world seemed to reverberate with a sense of living being.   As I was becoming more aware of everything around me, I was projecting my own intelligence and being into things.   Those things radiated back to me my own intelligence, in a way that made all sorts of actions seem to be noble, and striving for something higher.

I still didn’t have explanations for some forms of behavior I’d experienced in my past, but now almost everything seemed to have a logical reason and purpose behind it.   That I was the originator of my sense of  there being reason and purpose in all things escaped me.

This changed as I completed my thesis, and learned about the wide variations of experience that come from altered states of consciousness.  We experience the world as we are, not as it actually is.   Of course, this doesn’t mean good or bad experiences originate from us, but rather that we can develop different ways of coping with those aspects, be they good or bad.

Nowadays, I’m inclined to withdraw my intellectual projections from the world at large.  I see it more as it is — that is, there is a lot of randomness and a lot of people rushing around who sometimes make errors of judgement, since the world obeys no metaphysical principles, as such.

I’m not sure what intellectual shamanism has taught me. I know myself better — but that self is always subject to change.   More generally, I’m not threatened by anything anymore.  I realize that what I was most threatened by before was (1) not understanding anything (2) my own intelligence, projected into others, that then began working against me.

I consider I’ve made satisfactory progress for my age.

Gaining independence from an early age

In attempting to fill in the areas of psychology that Freud left blank, Samuel Slipp considers the writings of those who came after Freud, who are concerned with very early childhood psychology and female identity as other than a form of deviance from a putative “normative” masculinity. The attempts by Nancy Chodorow and others to formulate a “psychology of the feminine” are presumably well-known.

Unfortunately, these efforts end up essentializing gender, since they deny, in their calculations, any variables that could influence childhood development apart from the basic binaries of “male and female”, which they take for granted.   The polarities of physics are seemingly invoked in the idea that there exists a stronger repulsive force of the male child with his mother than in there is between the female child and hers.   Separation is hard, apparently, if you are female.   This is a categorical oversimplification, all the same.   There are many other factors, apart from those relating to biology, sexuality or anatomy, that could lead to results other than those assumed.   My experience was of having to get away from both parents, because they often fought, in front of me, about what perceptions they were causing me to have, and how I should be raised.  I was extremely alert to the contradictions that came as reversals – the noisy resolutions that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  First it was not okay to sit on a wall marked private property, and then it was necessary to do so, so that I could have my photo taken.

I learned to escape my parents control whenever  possible.  Both were too full of tricks and told me little of what I needed to know.   One may also want to escape from painful emotional contradictions, such as hearing what’s not allowed without a doubt, and then trying to understand how the idea of what’s permitted was turned on its end.  Within two painful minutes,”expressly forbidden” had become “necessary and compulsory for you.”

Having very young parents who weren’t quite sure what “impression” they ought to create for me, who thought it important to build one, and who nonetheless vastly underestimated my capacity to watch and understand their vacillations, meant I sought freedom from control whenever possible.   I became a loner,  quite happily involved with my own games.

I never had any doubt that my parents deeply cared for me. Apart from these troubling moments, I felt very secure.  I remember my father walking ten or eleven paced behind me shouting, “She’s getting away, she’s getting away!”  Even if I succeeded in running away from them (which they literally tricked me into thinking I was doing on the beach at Beira, aged about 2),  I felt sure I would end up somewhere interesting and safe.

Neither my biology nor my gender caused me to seek independence from my caregivers, ultimately. That was down to  the positive and negative aspects in my upbringing.  These feelings and support fired my quest for freedom at a very early age.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Patriarchal power has been normalized to date, and not critiqued by the important figures of Western intellectual culture.

One reason for this is suggested by writer, Samuel Slipp*, who holds that it was because Freud had abandonment issues with his mother, which prevented him from viewing his relationship with his mother in a logical, correct and consistent way. Due to his unstable connection with his mother, he was unable to make any inroads into “feminine psychology“.  Perhaps “human psychology as it pertains to women” would have been a better term.

In any case, from a young age Freud’s psyche was split between seeing his mother in a wholly positive and wholly negative light. He would have had to understand his own psychology in relation to his mother to make sense of hers, but the “light” kept changing on him, due to early developmental issues.

As an important side note: It is my considered view that “feminine psychology” is a practical outcome of patriarchal power dynamics. In my view, an understanding of social dimensions and their changing nature is vital, or else one ends up with the metaphysical postulates one had started with. If women are necessarily “passive” — so be it. That is a fundamental truth of metaphysics. If one has accepts this, one will not be able to turn up any evidence to the contrary, no matter how widely one may look. It is of vital importance, therefore, to differentiate metaphysics (with its religious basis) from genuine science, which is always alert to measuring the changing world “out there”.

But, patriarchal approaches to psychology have ruled supreme, even up until today. What this means is that a certain degree of pathology — including Freud’s own, indicated by a lack of knowledge of “the psychology of the feminine” — has become normalized. Patriarchal dynamics, insofar as they exert a negative and pathological effect on those who come under them, have not at all been understood. Although feminists and sociologists are well aware of the negative outcomes of power as suppression, psychologists, in my experience, lag behind.

I have already written broadly about my father’s experiences with his mother. His father had been shot down in a plane over the ocean, during World War Two. I’m uncertain of the details, except that he was a radio-man in the back of the plane and was fighting on the British side of the war. My father grew up to hate his mother, due to similar abandonment issues to those Slipp describes with regard to Freud. Only, my father’s abandonment issues were more extreme. He also dealt with them differently from Freud. Rather than retaining an unconscious (that is, not intellectually integrated) ambivalence toward his mother, he developed contradictory principles to live by.

The first principle my father internalized was that one must, unconditionally, obey authorities to gain permission to thrive. This was a message from his mother, whose marriage of convenience had allowed my father to have a source of financial sustenance. She had obeyed the patriarchal principle of finding a male breadwinner, in order to support her child, my father.   There was no social security system in Rhodesia   Consequently, he had to also learn to obey this principle of necessity unconditionally. “Even though this new power over you is arbitrary and alien, you must obey it unconditionally.”

The second principle my father had internalized was that unconditional obedience leads to pain, abandonment and a life where one doesn’t get to decide the final meaning of anything. It’s inadvisable to follow this path. My father, in many unguarded moments, made it extremely clear to me that the path of unconditional obedience also leads to relentless, inescapable misery.

My father’s subconscious communication to me has always been in terms of two opposing principles: I command you to submit to all authorities without condition. I also caution you that this path leads to the most extreme form of unhappiness there is on Earth. If you do accept this formula for living, be aware that you will be extremely miserable. Nobody can help you here.”

So I learned a great deal from my father about how not to conform, under pain of risking my very sense of being.

My father’s principles were tricky, though. He’d placed a great deal of emphasis on the side of unconditional obedience. Indeed, he’d label any difficulties in life as being related to an inability to unconditionally trust.

Thus, when I faced some problems in my life, due to taking others at their word too much, which is related to my right-wing culturally conditioned naiveté,  he would always label the problem in the exact opposite terms. “You’re not trusting enough! Your belief in authorities is too conditional.” I learned that this wasn’t so when my father tried to break down my sense of independence, to teach me to “trust”. Once again, it was a contradictory message: “If you give up your power to authorities, you will lose the pain that’s brought about by separateness.” The addendum was: “Only — from experience, I can tell you that this solution to your problems will induct you into desperate and suicidal misery!”

Of course, I decided not to trust my father on this. It was not only his logical consistencies, but his emotional urgency that persuaded me against developing too deep a trust.

Still, there were people who could not help but see things entirely his way. They were people who thought they were on his side, but were actually working against him, because they sided with unconditional trust of all authorities, no matter who they were. That is, they supported the idea that no matter what troubles it had already bought us, the patriarchal structure of paternal authority was correct.  Thus they made the faith-based assumption that if I conformed to my father’s requirements, all would be well. But his own experience, as it had become semi-articulate, had warned me against this.

To trust unconditionally is to cast one’s fate to the winds:  It is to open oneself to any violent storm that may be passing. My father’s integrity had designated this a bad option. I also couldn’t side with unconditional acceptance. This was a demand that came from my father’s would-be allies. Their demands nearly undid me. I had to fight was so fiercely to keep my sense of self.

There are those who read my memoir and decided that my fight for independence from authoritarian control was all wrong. I’ve had those who, in opposition to my father’s semi-articulate plea not to trust the formula of all-acceptance, have demanded that unconditionally I accept a new way of life in Australia. There are also those who cannot understand why I will not conform to my father’s requirements to become his unconditionally accepting mother. I should be the punching bag against which his desperate emotions raged.   It should be clear to them that any child is not equipped to be their father’s mother — to unconditionally accept them, so that they can move beyond the early childhood stage of confusion into adult maturity.

Those who would lay on me the heavy burden of being my father’s mother, correcting the past through controlling the present, have no idea what they are doing to me. A child cannot accept an adult’s burdens — and the story of my memoir is how I had accepted them for too long.

There are all sorts of situations that disturb me profoundly because they seem to be demanding of me, as a woman, that I give my trust and approval to them without nuance or critical distancing measure. I am to accept any authority without questioning or investigating whether it is good or bad.  These situations paralyze me with a threat of annihilation. I can’t engage emotionally with such demands. I’m overwhelmed with numbness.  I disengage.

For my whole life, there are those who have tried to force me to become the pre-Oedipal mother of my father, in the belief that “father knows best” and submitting to authority without question is the norm. In response, I’ve feared every situation that demanded I give my trust, without restriction. Not giving my trust in this way has been the only measure between me and my absolute destruction.  I have often saved my life that way.

Others like to assume this disengagement is related to my ego. I must have such a gigantic ego that I can’t engage with people who demand my absolute acceptance.

The opposite is the case as I am preserving my ego when I disengage. I can’t deal with being anybody’s early childhood mother, or with giving them my wholehearted trust, regardless of their real behavior.

*  Samuel Slipp’s book, The Freudian Mystique, usefully suggests why the psycho-dynamics of patriarchal family structures did not come under scrutiny via Freud.

 

Shamanistic flows of life

I now understand that the problem I wanted to solve through writing my autobiographical thoughts was solved through shamanistic methods and strategies of recapitulating the past. It was not enough to write the thoughts down, but I had to eventually reach the point where I would be able to see myself objectively — that is, to see myself from the outside. Up until this point, the memoir wasn’t completed, at least not in my mind.

I had, for a while, a wish that others would complete it for me. My expectation was based on my social and cultural conditioning, which had been extremely idealistic, in the sense of believing that knowledge and power and goodness were absolute, and that I had only to keep struggling to be rewarded with the jackpot.

Looking back, I had anticipated that others generally knew more than I. For instance, I presumed I had only to mention a theory or a concept to any lecturer at university, and they would immediately be able to become a fountain of knowledge, filling me in on the aspects of meaning I had missed. I assumed, in short, that I was missing strategic bits of knowledge that others probably had.

This wasn’t an issue of self-esteem, since I also knew that I had a great deal of knowledge in specific subject areas, which gratified me a great deal. Nonetheless, it vexed me that I seemed to be missing some parts of emotional and historical knowledge. It perplexed me even more that I couldn’t figure out what these were.

This something essential being missing made my paragraphs seem awkward as I had to somehow cover over the elisions with words I thought probably approximated my intentions. Most of what I said I was entirely certain about, but there remained nonetheless some missing bits of knowledge — aspects of meaning, and a sense of the likely impact of my words, of which I was uncertain.

Having to take a hit or miss approach to meaning unraveled me. I had to recover knowledge about what I didn’t know — but above all, I had to find out specifically what is was I didn’t know.

I finally found out that a particular paradigm resonated with me deeply. There were others who had a similar goal and purpose in life, and were pursuing it in ways that made a lot of sense to me. Peculiarly enough, I also found that those who couldn’t understand the meaning and value of this project intuitively could not understand it at all.

Misinterpretations of Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera are common — for instance, in the idea that they were simply acting up. I perceived that they were in search of their emotions to recover them. I was doing the same. The fact that I had missing bits of awareness deeply bothered me. I had to work my way deeply into the reality I had come from to learn what these pieces were. This process was constituted by writing and researching my PhD.

My PhD research finally brought me to an understanding of a paradigm that would facilitate my task. Descent into the past to recover one’s identity is what I came to term “intellectual shamanism”. The concept of Eternal Recurrence that is at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy is also concerned with recovery of one’s self from one’s historical accidents.

I also understood what defines and separates writers like Nietzsche, Bataille and Marechera from other sorts of writers is that they are writers who have some early trauma. In the case of Nietzsche, it seems to relate to his father’s early death. Bataille’s father used to beat him. Marechera was born into a war zone, and I entered one, psychologically, when my family emigrated from a war zone. The logic of intellectual shamanism is in the recovery of the parts of oneself lost to trauma. For those who do not have to face this task, this shamanistic paradigm will make little intuitive sense. The ability to restore one’s sense of one’s life into a whole, that one approves of, is the basis for Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence:  until one can effectively manage this, one keeps reliving the original trauma.

The effect of trauma is the numbing of emotions — hence the loss of aspects of oneself to the historical past. To feel one’s emotions again, whilst recreating the historical context in which they had become numbed, is to restore one’s full sense of self, so that nothing is missing. The emotional and intellectual knowledge I’d been lacking due to episodes of numbing were restored substantially.

Still, I had not seen myself from the outside yet, which meant I retained a feeling of vulnerability in terms of overall self-knowledge. In the back of my mind I feared that there was something strange about me — a feeling confirmed by the fact that many others could not understand my sense of the issues Marechera, Bataille and Nietzsche were trying to address through their philosophies. All three of these writers have come under intense fire by moralists who thought they were engaged in nasty practices. The bourgeois moralists considered Marechera simply and straightforwardly undisciplined, Bataille as having a meaningless, but not redemptive attraction to violence, and Nietzsche as being simply ideologically fascist. In my experience, these writers were my salvation, instructing me how to repair damage to my psyche.

Just a few days ago, I finally saw myself from a detached point of view as a result of continuing to pursue self-knowledge. Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with me — except one thing: I do have a tendency to psychological numbing. I’m not always entirely present, although never out of control. At the moment of reliving an earlier trauma, I am intellectually and emotionally absent. This tendency is deeply ingrained, conditioned from childhood. The consequences of this early conditioned form of emotional self-defense is that I lose details from the present, very easily, if under stress. When my emotions temporarily switch off, I am no longer present. This in turn leads to another problem in that I’m not sure what the proper emotions or observations would be in relation to a particular situation, since although I was there, I didn’t really experience the situation fully.

Intellectual shamanism helps me to overcome this tendency to emotionally switch off. One has to face “death” in accepting the fact that all is finite. By means of fearlessly “confronting death”, one encounters reality in all of its unmediated immediacy. Shamanistic techniques thus manage to reawaken socially traumatized people’s connections with reality — which are then experienced as spontaneous flows of life.

 

The foundations of intellectual shamanism

I used myself as a guineapig for much of my investigation into the realm of the psyche. My understandings were founded on the fact of my very strange subjectivity. That is to say, I found my subjective states very strange because they didn’t seem to match other people’s states under various circumstances. Most of the time, they were the opposite to other people’s expectations. For instance, where other people took situations very personally, I didn’t — I saw what I perceived as wrong behavior as being a consequence of larger social and cultural dynamics. I took very personally my inability to fully comprehend or come to terms with these dynamics. I would sequester myself from the rest of the world for hours — and days — on end, to try to understand the meaning of these broad social movements that led to the adoption of conventional subjective postures.

I remained puzzled for an inordinately long time. I’m sure I would have given up after a few years, had not my sense of having an alien subjectivity spurred me on.

My first break-though came about after reading an article by a Jungian, which spoke of “pre-Oedipal” states. There, I encountered, for the first time, the concept of “projective identification”. This concept suggested that we do not have permanent or fixed identities, but rather identities that are permeable by others. Another person may project into us parts of themselves. We subconsciously accept the projection, perhaps out of fear or love, but most often out of necessity, in order to feel we are conforming to societal expectations. Another book, written in the style of childish analogy, offered further elucidation of this extremely complex and sophisticated psychological dimension. This was Soul Retrieval, by Sandra Ingerman. As a student of literature and cultural studies, one learns to draw knowledge and information from all sources. One doesn’t necessarily interpret a book at the intellectual level of its typical reader: one looks for any commonalities it shares with other texts, and discards whatever isn’t useful.

Ingerman’s text outlines how one may form emotional attachments to others in a way that leads to losing aspects of one’s own identity in a fundamental sense. One can also leave parts of oneself behind in the past, if an emotional relationship with a location in the past is so great that it replaces the meaning of the present.

I immediately diagnosed myself with “soul loss” — having lost parts of myself to the past. My emotions had certainly not moved into the present, through no fault of my own. The rupture with the past had been so sudden that my sense of identity had become scattered. My problems were cognitive as well as emotional. I simply couldn’t understand the present, and my emotions, being scattered to the past, gave me no inroads into the present, as they were inaccessible to me.

The metaphor of looking for my lost soul made huge sense to me. I dedicated the time spent writing my PhD to this particular task. I saw myself as an intrepid hunter on its tracks.

My first breakthrough came with understanding that typical gender relations are most often a feature of projective identification. This finding was extremely relevant in terms of ongoing communication difficulties, where I’d often been intent on pointing out that some situations I was in were unworkable. I received gender-based responses, along the lines that my suggestions that any situation was untenable or had to be changed was simply unrealistic. I was left with the untenable situations. It was as if I hadn’t bothered to communicate my views.

I later understood that this non-responsiveness was a result of others viewing women as being primarily creatures of emotion and fantasy. Not only were we seen to be making up statements on the basis of nothing at all, we were deemed, in a sense, not to exist. This was a result of males projecting their fantasies and emotions onto women. We could no longer be taken seriously as a result of male projective identification.

The more I began to understand my experiences in this light, the more they began to make sense. I’d finally understood the way that gender was constructed in contemporary Western societies. I should have felt pretty self-satisfied at this stage, but there was still something awry. I sought confrontations in order to discover the lay of the land. For some reason, every disagreement I had with significant authorities ended with a sense of clarification of my identity. The illogical nature of reality was capable of being straightened out whenever an authority revealed his (or her) actual motivations. This was fascinating.

If I had lost a great deal of my “soul” to others through being brought up in a typical patriarchal society, I was now getting it back. Even the hostile responses to my inquiries about the nature of the world were extremely instructive. They allowed me to see more starkly the difference between other people’s perceptions of my motivations and my actual sensibilities. Thus I took back from hostile and antagonistic forces a little more of my “soul”.

In Western society, it is generally assumed that if one projects something onto others, this must necessarily be the ugly or unpleasant parts of one’s character, which one wishes to deny to oneself. In my case, I was unconsciously engaging in the opposite behavior. I was projecting all my goodness into those I deemed authoritative. My original society had been authoritarian, with some legitimately fearless and sincere authorities. I had no idea that I had internalized the cultural dynamic in such a way that I was losing my very center of gravity by projecting insight, knowledge and benevolence into certain others, whose help I could have used.

The fact that these others inevitably let me down through displaying a very high lack in all of these characteristics should have given me a clue. It was my typical experience to be let down by the authorities in whom I had invested my implicit trust.

It took me a long to realize what I was doing, mostly because the messages were so mixed. Projection is actually encouraged by this society, in order to reinforce hierarchical norms.  At the same time, people view any sort of projection or mixing of boundaries as pathological — although the fact is we all do it all the time. Our very societal structures of gender and many facets of social hierarchy are founded on the necessity of psychological projection. Without this, they start to crumble and are gone.

My advanced understanding of the inevitability of projection, as well as its political nature, gave me much of the basis for my theoretical platform of intellectual shamanism.

Gender politics and projection

It only dawned on me in the more recent years that a lot of my problems in life have come through projecting the better parts of my character out of myself and into others, particularly onto men. This is because I was brought up with the idea of the heroic male, a view which in many ways reflected reality fairly accurately. The men were all in the military and there was a war on, and many of them took great risks.

Somehow, I had essentialised this hazy childhood understanding of the world into the idea that men were necessarily fearless. I also projected out other extreme and false overestimations. I thought that people were generally truth-seeking and trustworthy. So, these were my own projections and they led to me not putting enough trust in my own capacity to be daring and honest, and trustworthy.

Now that I have reclaimed my own qualities back, I feel fully myself, more confident.  Gender- polarized society had encouraged the projection of my positive and the introjection of other negative qualities, based originally on a formal division of labor.

I learned that once we combat what has become polarized in our identities, we can reclaim these alienated qualities for ourselves.

torn apart left and right

What Rhodesian culture was is very, very, hard to understand. Even I had a hard time understanding it, because I grew up in it but didn’t recognize what either the Rhodesians or the rest of the world were reacting to. The civil war has already started by the time I was born. Then it finished when I was 12 and I emigrated to Australia with my family when I was 16. Once, I emigrated, it was the start of another war, only on a psychological level. My parents wanted me to be staunchly right-wing, but Australia was a more liberal culture, especially the university system. My tendencies were left libertarian, although I didn’t have a name for it at that time.

So, to be independent, I had to go against everything my parents had an emotional attachment to, in an ideological sense. It felt like a kind of acceptance of death — either mine or my father’s — when I eventually realized how hostile my parents had become toward me, when I reached in my late twenties. I had been bullied at work, for being from where I was from. This labour union workplace considered itself a left-wing social organisation. Someone there didn’t like me because of where I was from, and indeed I was rather socially inept in those days — too much so to see it coming or to defend myself. I had suffered from war trauma, not really my own, perhaps, but that of my father. He had been traumatized by war all of his life — first the second world war, which robbed him of his father just after he was born, and then the Rhodesian civil war, which robbed him of his younger brother and sent him on call-up duty, six months in, six months out.

After all this sacrifice and ideological indoctrination against the infiltrating “communists” (the guerilla groups were trained by USSR and China), my father hated anything remotely “left-wing”. It’s not that he took the time to understand it. He had to immediately assimilate to an entirely different culture starting from a very low status position. He had previously been a lecturer at the Polytech. So, he became even more traumatized.

It seems he attempted to solve the problems of his profound, underlying trauma from childhood and beyond and his ideological confusion by lashing out at me. His mother had always been insensitive to him, throwing him into the deep end of every new experience, and allowing others to treat him sadistically at times, without intervening. So, my father developed the view that I was in some sense his mother. He became the frightened infant lashing out at her for her insensitivity to his needs.

Needless to say, this was extremely frightening and confusing to me and made it much more difficult for me to re-orient myself in Australian culture. I’d come from a rural, tribal culture and very little about modernity made any sense to me. I found it extremely inimical.

My failure to adapt also very much angered my father. He saw his own failure (in his parents’ eyes) in me and my behavior.

However, I couldn’t adapt because I was becoming more and more traumatized. People were treating me like I was a racist and uppity, when I was just extremely shy and didn’t actually know anything about people’s subjective values or beliefs.

So the right-wingers were attacking me for adapting and the left wingers were attacking me for daring to migrate to Australia. And people were still very angry, even ten or fifteen years after the war. Family members had been killed in the war, and many Rhodesians wanted to kill anyone who expressed any left-wing tendencies. This was a primitive rage.To leave the conservative culture of Rhodesia is akin to trying to leave the Aum Supreme Truth Cult. Leftists in demand of their pound of flesh make this almost impossible to achieve. If anything, the loss of the war made my emotions of betrayal even stronger. How could you leave a situation when it was so frail and in need? The war and been tribal and personal as much as it had been ideological.

I developed chronic fatigue syndrome — which took me many years to recover from. My body had totally overheated due to this stress.

Most of the onlookers must have believed that this form of suffering was necessary and good for me, for they took the side of anyone who judged anything against me.

 

Why I write

My feelings, my emotions, like sheep, had gone astray and I had no idea where they were or what they were up to.  I was in my late twenties at this time and I knew something was wrong.   My life was dominated by attitudes of duty and hope for a better life if I pleased the correct authorities.   And I had every intention of pleasing them with all my might – so much so, I was coming apart at the seams.  I had no concept of pleasing myself.

I realize that many people would consider the attitudes I describe above to be ideal ones for a young female.  This was far from true.  My health was suffering and I would catch viruses much of the time — signs indicating that I’d become a spiritual anorexic.

So, I began writing to feast on my own lamb stew or in Jung‘s less malicious prose, “to water one’s own garden”.

All of my writing has been an attempt to track down and reintegrate my emotions.

This is why there are certain modes of critiquing any of my work that are wholly wrong.  My writing is not, for instance, inherently emotional.  I worked hard to get this feeling effect.  Also, I don’t need to be told to take a good, hard look at myself to figure out what, from a right-wing perspective, I need to change.  It should already be obvious, not least on the basis of good manners — I really don’t need to be told to go ahead and do what I’ve already been doing over all these years, to find out what needs to change.    I’m also not a female stereotype, pent-up with emotions that just want to come pouring out at the slightest touch. If that had been so, I would never have chosen the self-discipline of learning to write.

A friend from a similarly repressed culture recently told my of her disappointment in viewing a movie, Diary of a Geisha. She observed that the book had been very poorly rendered into film because the character seemed like a “Western girl”, very emotional.

“At that age,  she would not have known what she was feeling.”