My memoir and the theory behind it

An interview with Allan Shore


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.

Dead Man (1995) and BLACK SUNLIGHT (1980)

IMDb :: Boards :: Dead Man (1995) :: Symbolism and Metaphors…Help?

The more I go into this movie, Dead Man, the more I understand that its shamanism parallels that of Marechera’s short, episodic book, Black Sunlight.

Some precise parallels:

1. The extremely choppy, episodic nature of the filmic (Jarmusch) and written (Marechera) texts. This speaks to the way the mind sleeps, then wakes up and continues on its narrative. It’s the shamanistic movement between the rational daytime awareness and irrational  sleep, a dialectic necessary to keep life going. This is faithful to the way we actually experience our lives: by going to sleep and the next day necessarily recreating the original narrative of the path on which we’re bound. This pertains to the functions of our deep subjectivity and to natural bodily rhythms.

2. The encounters with extreme violence and death as a poignant and mesmerizing aspect of life. Society is changing order and there is violence all around. In Marechera’s narrative anti-colonial riots, anarchy and war relentlessly assault the psyche as expressions of violence and resistance.

3. To be blind or without normal vision is represented as a different way of seeing more clearly. Lacking vision, one is dependent on the visceral senses. Instinct then predominates, after it has learned how to exert its intrinsic force. In Black Sunlight, Marie’s blindness represents a shamanic way of seeing. Death presses in more viscerally, in that it reaches on through the faculty of smell, rather than knowledge or visual perception. In Dead Man, the Indian guide Nobody suggests that his charge would see better without spectacles. This turns out to be true, in that he can use his pistol more effectively without clear vision.

4. The episodes show nothing more than several consecutive plunges into a state of greater proximity to death, matched with a greater awareness of the immediacy, strangeness and fragility of life. This polarization of the distinctive elements of life, highlighted the contrasts between life and death, is a key feature of shamanistic doubling.

5. One moves from a world of logic and violence to a world of flowing organic unity. In the Jarmusch movie, one moves from a failed attempt to integrate with socially-defined reality in a town called Machine. Since one cannot become part of The Machine, one is compelled to die. In Marechera’s novel, Chris joins with other social drop-outs at Devil’s End. Jarmusch’s protagonist, William Blake, meets his Indian protector, Nobody, only after receiving a bullet close to his heart. Thus, a shamanic wound sets the protagonist apart from the rest of society in each case. He starts to see reality differently, above all historical reality, through his wound.

6. In Jarmusch’s film, Nobody gives Blake the initiatory drug, Peyote. After this, Blake sees the effects of the colonial war against the Indians all around him, but the violence cannot touch him as he is impermeable. In Black Sunlight, apocalyptic shamanic visions at the climax of the novel. They are later explained, as if denied, by the protagonist, who had become the double of himself, Christian, having taken “Chris’ psychiatric drugs”.

7. Marechera’s protagonist is represented early in the book as a court jester, hanging upside down in a chicken-coup due to having offended the Great Chief. This is political satire, but is also a way of depicting the state of the uninitiated soul with his own superego. The author views himself as being condemned to be tortured and the source of this condemnation is political. The refrain of “stupid white man” expresses the political irony of Dead Man.

8. In Marechera’s novel, the protagonist-author, reunited with himself finally, as one, ends up showing the whiteness of his bones by effectively releasing all the words out of his body through his wrists. Rain pours down as overabundant meaning. Everything is liquefied  This is indicative of shamanic ritual in facing death and finding unity with oneself through resignation. In Dead Man, Indians dress up Blake’s dying body after he has been shot a second time, so that he can complete his journey on the other side of the mirror image of reality he has entered. This signifies that he can become one with himself again, on the surface of liquid (unconscious) (mental) processes.

9. Both texts suggest solutions to political and social problems (colonial domination and machine-like attitudes) by going more deeply into death. This is a means for detachment and shamanistic dissociation, by virtue of which, one sees historical reality more clearly.

10. In both texts, transgression of the normal social law is a result of accident, not deliberate. Blake’s killing of a member of the Town of Machine (a mechanistic world) is an act of self-defense. In addition, his being framed for the murder of another member of the town gave him an outlaw identity that was incongruous with his inner attitude or intent. Marechera similarly shows how his protagonist becomes a revolutionary despite himself, because he has been driven mad by social norms. Shamanism is thus shown to be a state of primeval (but not historical) innocence, in the face of attributed social and political guilt.

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.

Shamanism and the reworking of memory

The shamanistic view is different from the psychoanalytic view that holds that psychological projection is an anomalous attitude of reprobates.   In terms of shamanism, absolutely everything one sees, hears or encounters is a projection.   Neurology makes it clear that perception is a function of the brain’s incorporation and rearrangement of data.  According to Atul Gawande:

Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.

The information we take in from our ears and eyes is not the same as what we experience.   The brain takes a huge amount of information from the senses and then rearranges it in such a way that a human being can gain advantage from it.  We see what makes sense to us, often by adding to incomplete information by producing information from memory, so that we often encounter precisely what we expect to see. We are the creators of our own realities.

 To go a step further, we don’t visually experience the far sides of the color spectrum that beetles and bats may do.  But, had we the needs and desires of insects, our brains would have learned to give us a different range of information.  We would have learned to sense a far wider spectrum including infra-red and ultra-violet.  Becoming aware of these light waves perhaps does not serve us as humans, since this may not give an advantage in indicating  food or sudden danger.

Humans and beetles inhabiting the same space will nonetheless experience different qualities to their environments.  What comes to the foreground and what pales into insignificance will not be the same aspects of the terrain.  A friend tells me that on taking LSD one hears all the background noises to life that would ordinarily be filtered from awareness.

 To  have the benefit of vision  enables us to navigate our human worlds effectively as humans.  A parallel world may exist for other species.  Each takes from the sensory environment what will nourish it in terms of what it is.    Taking in too much of reality would obstruct us in our normal activities.   We do well to leave a lot unnoticed.

 On the basis of being separate peoples and cultures, we also automatically impose filtering mechanisms.   I see what I need to see to nourish myself according to my particular needs, desires and capabilities.   I am convinced that others who enter the same environments would not see or experience the same network of meanings that are available to me.  I switch off when confronted with young children, for instance.  I can’t focus on them and my brain attempts to block them out.  I’m learning to notice social tensions, but they don’t intrinsically interest me, so they are about the last thing I recognize when I enter a new environment.

 When I began my life in Australia I didn’t “see” social relationships — only natural ones.   When I began a new job many years ago, I didn’t “see” institutional relationships.  I saw only postmodernist metaphysics, by virtue of which I had been trained to see the world.  I began reading Marecheralater and had to get rid of a lot of postmodernist assumptions to understand him.

 Contemporary humans get to move through their environments by throwing off one reality to enter another.   Shamanism enhances the process of gaining knowledge of our worlds by encouraging us to switch off from what we think we know, which is just a neurological projection however useful.   We can’t enter another environment so long as we are certain of what we know.   This is only possible by entering a state of uncertainty.  As Bataille says of Nietzsche, out of this striking moment of dissolution a philosophy is born:

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).

In terms of what I have described of shamanism, Nietzsche’s way of writing, whether intentionally or not, actually invites a radical rewriting of consciousness on the basis of a fundamental dissolution of reality.  By means of such shamanistic reworking, one’s existing projection gets dissolved and is replaced by another, superior reality.  This would be a result of  including a different network of memories in one’s perspectives. This adjustment in seeing, however, leads to handling life more effectively.

Altered states of consciousness

The use of psychoactive drugs enables a shaman to discover a cosmology that would make us all connected to each other, in particular via a sense of unity with organic nature, as the prime source and origin of life. The insights gained through exploring this cosmology are useful. The sources of malaise can be ascertained, observed and come to terms with.

The range of possibilities for life may be greater and more widely varied than those observable in everyday existence. Thus, a shamanic journey can lead not only to healing, but to creative solutions to life’s difficulties.

Shamanic experience could also free one from idées fixes through a baptism into new experiences.

This is of course against the grain of Nietzsche, who feared, as Luce Irigaray pointed out, the element of water, including oceanic experiences.

Have no fear that water is “feminine”,as it is only so according to essentialist notions of identity.  Patriarchal religion would urge us to see it in this way, but there is no need to trust patriarchal versions of anything, given that the patriarchal priest is invested in maintaining specific power relations.  We should rather distrust anything essentializing — at least until we can test it for ourselves and work out what its value might be.

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!

What is psychological normality in relation to artificial constructs of gender identity?

Psychological normality might be conventionally defined in terms of one’s capacity to act as if one’s social and political environment were entirely neutral. That is, one is psychologically normal if one does not react defensively in relation to one’s environment. If one does, however, have defensive reactions, then this is taken as a sign of abnormality in an individual.

Yet, it is neither philosophically necessary nor justified that one must see normality in these terms. Rarely are experiments performed to determine whether the status quo is in fact rational, rather than being insane. The status quo is indeed, normative — but only in the tautological sense that it is the status quo. This by no means indicates that it is healthy, or even reasonable, to embrace the status quo.

When discussing the need for feminism with men, I generally find that most men see no need for it. Their own experiences tell them that their social environments are generally impartial (to them, as men). They do not feel the discriminatory practices that are leveled against women. Therefore, they can’t imagine that these practices are taking place.

Men who are skeptical about the existence of gender bias in the general social environment assume that men and women inhabit the same social realm, where attitudes are gender neutral. But this is only because men experience social attitudes towards them — as men — to be gender neutral. In reality, men and women do not actually experience the same social realm, even though it may seem the same in all sorts of concrete and tangible respects, for what seems to be the “same” social environment is one that simultaneously treats men in a gender-neutral fashion whilst treating women in a gender-biased fashion.

A psychologically “normal” man would be one who views his environment as being neutral toward him. A “normal” woman would be, in the tautological sense, one who sees her environment as being neutral toward her. Herein lies the problem because a woman who experiences a gender-biased environment as being neutral is not, in fact, normal in the sense of being psychologically healthy.  Rather she is somebody in extreme denial about the nature of a patriarchal society.

Psychological projection as political attack

Yesterday, I spent the largest part of my day loafing in the bed, in retreat from the cold, and reading Teresa Brennan’s book, The interpretation of the flesh: Freud and femininity.I must say that in her conclusions, she agrees with something I had been contending all along, that the manner of treatment of adult women in the public sphere can have a profound ontological effect on them.

Here is what she says:
“Of course the notion that this projection can castrate the other presupposes that psychical energetic connections work not only within but between beings. […] For the subject, the advantage of this projection is that it disposes of the affects and anxiety that otherwise inhibit his ability to follow a train of thought, and/or linguistic chain of association; the disadvantage is that this ability depends on maintaining critical blind spots.” ( p 233)
Here we have an example of the way that psychology can assert itself into the realm of the political. Brennan certainly sees that there are cultural-historical influences that determine how masculinity and femininity are constructed in the society, but she does not go so far as to label these constructions as being also political.
That does not mean that these projections onto the other of a state of “castration” — which we can understand as mental and political helplessness — are not facilitated by political mechanisms, making them profoundly political. Rather, Brennan is writing in 1992, and advancing a novel thesis about psychological intersubjectivity, that was hardly recognised at that time. Seventeen years later, we are more familiar with post-Kleinian theory, and we are able to draw more conclusions concerning the interlinking of the political sphere with our inherent psychological mechanisms.
It becomes clearer after reading Brennan’s book that the projection of “castration” onto an other — which, as Brennan points out, can be one who is biologically male or female, but for psychoanalytical reasons, is generally a woman — is a political feature of the psychological division of necessary labour.
This is because, as humans, we are all physiologically complex — which is to say, made up of both rational and irrational drives. So it is that if one is to politically represent and uphold exclusively the rational side of one’s identity, it is necessary for one to somehow do away with the irrational side of one’s self (both as representation and as, far as possible, as conscious experience).
To maintain a rational self-image, the inherent irrational aspects of human psychology — (those which intrude at times to seem to prevent the work of narrow rational thinking) — will be denied, or sublimated of projected, depending on the level of the level of the psychological resources and skill of the subject.
Brennan deals with the issue of projection in the last few pages of her book, and it is fortunate that she does so, since these days it is tacitly acceptable, within the Western socio-political complex, for projections to flow from male to female, but not for them to flow the other way around: That is, the political rhetoric that maintains ideologies imputes that “it is irrational to impute irrational characteristics to men.” It does not seem to be irrational to impute them to women, however. So it is that individual men are lifted above the possibility of criticism, by virtue of the tacit acceptability of the logic of projection.
But projection isn’t merely rhetorical: that is, there is more to it than expressing the idea that “it isn’t me, its you!” as a way of putting women back into their (traditional) places. Rather, at a deep psychological level, the subject who projects also actually believes that it is not he, but her, who is responsible for a hole in his otherwise far too fluid and facile chain of thought.
Consider the nature of the political divide in terms of this tacit division of psychological labour: Phenomenologically, those positioned as “masculine” (which can be upper division women as well as men, in the managerial classes) experience only annoying interruptions to their rational train of thought, which seem to come from the outside of their own psyches, and need to be crushed or put down. Meanwhile, those positioned on the alternative side of the political divide, those allocated to do “feminine” work, will have a variety of experiences depending on their degree of psychological and political awareness.
The end result is that those who find themselves positionally on the “feminine” side of power systems will often tend not have the same view of the world and of established systems of morality as those who find themselves on the “masculine” side (due to factors dominated by psychological symbolisations of gender and social status). At the lowest level of consciousness, women who are projected upon will find a certain need fulfilled, in that an identity — albeit a weak and shaky one — is projected upon them. Their narcissistic sensibilities (whether weak or strong) are enhanced.
At a higher level of developed recognition of what is taking place, one can openly acknowledge male projection of castration anxieties as a constant assault on one’s processes of thinking, as well as on one’s capacity to maintain a sense of identity. The males who project are inclined to expect women to identify with all of their failed processes of thinking, as if they had originated from the women themselves. In the case of ongoing assaults of this projective sort (which I have experienced), which sometimes appear to be specifically designed to weaken one’s resolve, I find the only solution is to get away from the situations that allow for these power dynamics, and to take refuge as a hermit. Otherwise, one will not be able to think very much, if at all.
When one has no choice but to associate with those (including organisations and systems) which engage in this process of projection, it does feel masochistic, despite the fact that one is on red alert for combat, and is not masochistic at all. This is because these projective attacks work against one’s inner ontological awareness — the part of the self that governs a stable and healthy sense of identity.

Handing out and taking criticism

I will be interested in taking a lot of criticism in order to improve for my grading coming up.  I’m already making videos to determine the substantive areas where I need to improve.

In individualistic cultures, you are taught to believe that you have a certain amount of inherent genius, AKA “potential” that has to be liberated. Instructors thus become the means to liberate that mysterious, precious, hidden capacity.

A very different way of looking at the situation — my way — is that each person has an inherent value, but this is not in what they can do, but in what they already are. Their ability to walk on the face of the Earth is the fundamental miracle, irrevocable and perfect in itself. Beyond this, what a person has to do is develop a skill, a field of knowledge, some capability. An instructor helps you to do that. Understanding it in this way, no matter how harsh the criticism, it ought not to impact on the ego.

This is the state of mind that I am returning to, having been brought up with it. You do need to accept your inherent value as a given, and then work on improving what is wrong. The alternative idea, of working to gratify or establish your ego, puts too much at stake and makes improvement psychologically fraught.

It’s also perfectly fine to say that something you are doing or have done is crap. It’s better than the sadomasochistic surprise when suddenly people alight upon you and proclaim that you might have thought you were great, but really you are crap. Communication opportunities shouldn’t go wasted.

One of the main problems with contemporary, Western society is too much of our involvement being ego-based, rather than skill-based or knowledge-based at their core. I always want to be told how to do something, but in contemporary culture it’s always too little and then too much. There are only two roles available for anyone. You are either “the consumer” who must not be criticized, or you are the provider of a service, who can be criticized to death. There are no gradations and no other optional roles. This means if you are providing a service, say some sort of education, you don’t get to criticize those receiving the service, even if it is constructive criticism. You will lose business if you slightly overstep the lines. Service providers are afraid of taking initiatives, because they know they are being policed by the consumers. Consumers don’t really get what they are paying for, in turn, but at least they keep their egos intact.

But what about egos anyway?

In my experience, an ego can be kept intact even despite harsh criticism if the criticism is delivered in a measured fashion and with good intent.

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.


Mass “morality” and the mob mentality

Nietzsche understood correctly that so much of the mass indoctrination into modes of morality is about moving the swamps. In making this judgement, Nietzsche was drawing on his understanding of mass psychology — that the masses regularly feel a need to release the tensions that come from being squeezed together into a massive conglomeration of human feelings, needs and desires. When the tension starts to build because of the pressures exerted on individual minds in relation to the cause of becoming massively ONE (one state, one national identity, one Führer), another force starts to demand its recompense. It achieves the alleviation of tension through blaming others. “Since I have had to sacrifice so much, to become one in mind and heart and soul with my community, others who seem different from me and who may not have suffered as I have, will now also have to suffer.”

Thus the nature of so much of mass morality is to reward oneself for all of the efforts of delayed gratification by going on a psychologically bloodthirsty rampage to impugn outsiders — those whom, presumably, have not conformed to the programme quite as well as Thou has. Or maybe the masses vote out one governmental party and put another into power to express their moral indignation.

The left is as guilty of this as the right, although in some ways the aspect of oneness and collective action belongs to the right, whilst the aspects of scattered moral indignation and infighting belong to the left.

Shamanism and Buddhism are sisters

Shamanism has an affinity with Buddhism, due to the fact that both aim to achieve a state of tolerance of life without metaphysics (at least, for moments at a time). In the case of Buddhism, one transcends the ego. In the case of shamanism, one trains to tolerate the ambiguities inherent in immanence (nature, animality, chaos, states involving various forms of destruction). 

The point is not to become animal or destructive principle permanently, but to learn something from these states. Obviously, there is nothing transcendentally positive about tolerating immanence, or indeed, about various manifestations of immanence. 

Precisely what one may learn from shamanistic immersion is that morality is in fact needed under certain circumstances. The point here is that one learns one’s lessons for oneself. Indeed, one initiates one’s own lessons for self-teaching. From an intellectual shamanistic point of view, this is better than simply adapting to the demands of authorities and trusting them implicitly. There’s more honor to be had — and possibly more rigor.


Object relations and shamanism: two theories of a kind

If Marechera’as self-exile from the world of conventional mores had a reason, then that reason was to repair an internal sense of loss. According to Alan Collier Ostby, H. Ellenberger (The Discovery of the Unconscious, 1970) says traditional healers saw psychological problems in terms of “soul loss” (Otsby p 166). Contemporary object relations thinking of the psychoanalytic school speaks, instead, in terms of “object loss”, however the qualities of sickness they are describing are, in phenomenological terms,  similar, one presumes, apart from the obvious cause of cultural differences, which contextualise this inner sense of loss in different ways. To place oneself into a mode of temporary exile facilitates an opportunity to recover the lost “object” that is experienced as a lost part of one’s self. The partially regressive return to the “womb” — that is to a state of mind where reality is dealt with on simpler terms than those on which a healthy adult would normally be inclined to deal with it — can facilitate healing. Restoration of the lost object would restore one’s hope in humanity, enabling re-integration into the social realm of everyday human relations.

Such psychological regression turns toward the psychologically receptive mode of the pre-oedipal field, wherein reality appears to be defined less by society and more by one’s internal object relations. This state of being involves the apertures of the mind narrowing to limit the data taken in from the outside world, to emphasise the particular nature of the internal dynamics of love, hate and knowledge (ref. Bion) that give one one’s idiosyncratic design, thus make one who one is. Marechera’s refusal to adopt the mantle of social conformity, to fit into his society, was based on his need to continue his “soul journey” to find the lost parts of his being that would enable him to feel whole.

What were these parts in particular, that he felt he had lost? Indications from reading his book of Hararean exile, Mindblast, give the strong impression, through many different textual “clues”, that what he sought was to continue his life in a peaceful Zimbabwean society, from childhood on up, that would have nurtured him as part of it. The breakout of civil war (the Second Chimurenga), which began in earnest around 1966, around the time that Marechera’s father was suddenly killed in a road accident, destroyed the sense of normal everyday life for the teenage Marechera. This loss of internal security, a loss emphasized still more in his mind through the increasing intensity of war in the society at large, robbed him of the sense of security he required to feel “at one” with himself. Henceforth, he could no longer believe in “society” and had lost it as an object of love.

Having lost his belief in this object – society – he also lost his feeling of security that would have enabled him to be at peace with himself. In a shamanistic sense, Marechera was suffering from “soul loss”. His stint as a tramp on the streets of Harare was designed to simplify life in such a way that he would be able to focus his mind on finding something valuable and emotionally precious that would stand in as a replacement for that original loss, and would have enabled him to integrate himself more effectively into society.

In Mindblast, Harare is a “womb” for Marechera not just in the sense that it is the place with which he identifies as the core and origin of his Zimbabwean identity.  Like Orpheus, he is in search of his lost other half, and he hopes to find in the world of the dead. In Harare is both a place of psychical regression and a “hell” — where the author struggles with a sense of the ethereal nature of his art against a countervailing reality of middle-class lifestyles, devoid of meaning or depth.

European and African shamanistic philosophers/writers

I’ve virtually read every book in the house. That would be about 800 books.  Mike had his collection, which he shipped over from the US in sea bags.  I also accumulated mine, particularly as I wrote my PhD.

Mike’s books consist of heavy historical tomes describing and analyzing the nature of communism in the 20th Century and its shortfalls.    My books tend to be by Nietzsche, Bataille, Marechera and assorted other African writers who give a historical context to my thesis.   Mike’s literary interests include the Beat Poets and texts by classical Greek and Roman authors.   My interests are more contemporary, although I don’t read literature these days.   I stopped reading literature after Black Sunlight blew my mind.   Now I rarely read theory, either.

Theory has always held a fascination for me, but now I think I’ve reached it’s outer limits.  In truth, I felt that I was suffering from all the G-force I could take from theory as I approached the completion of my thesis.  I was applying my version of theory to go beyond my limits, opposing my own superego with all the force my mind could muster.  My emotions began to shatter as I made headway into the stratosphere.   My emotions and my will power became counter to each other.   I could barely keep it together as the external shell of the shuttle of my being began to quake.

Part of the reason was de Sade.  I say this now with some degree of certainty, having pulled his tome of collected works off the shelf.   I’d had to do battle with his elements in Nietzsche and Bataille, by trying to formulate a different attitude and solution, as per my “intellectual shamanism” than the woman-hating that the Nietzschean chain supplies.  Immersing oneself in the intellectual logic of woman-hating writers in order to understand them, and then attempting the difficult task of self-extrication from their zeitgeist, with a surge of woman-hating trolls forever on one’s back was not easy.   I determined, finally, that Marechera did have more insight into the psychological repercussions of woman-hating than either of these earlier authors.  In “The Alley”, a short play, he portrayed how wartime contempt for women made the self-image of the soldier as a valiant protector of women and children into a farce.

Marechera has a kind of combativeness that uses psychological insights in order to overthrow attitudes he finds contemptible.   Hierarchical domination is precisely disliked.  One must be honest about one’s psychological states and not pretend that they are other than they seem to be, otherwise one does not face the fact that war inflicts trauma that requires healing.   Of course, the use of psychologically informed political tactics is not new, for they also form a large part of Bataille’s writing.  His predominant trope of facing death, for instance, is a double-edged sword, intended to push individuals to more extreme limits, beyond the circumscribing limits of bourgeois morality.   In Nietzsche’s writing, he offered that the noble elements of European culture were those most accepting of the need to sacrifice themselves; that is, those for whom “the preaching of death was most at home”.   The other edge of the sword is that the subjugated classes would become ungovernable if they effectively (in my terms) “shamanized” and had strange visions.   They could overcome their fear of death and therefore fear no punishment for their behavour.

If Nietzsche was defender of the aristocracy, Bataille wanted revolution for the working class.  Marechera was in some ways more extreme than either of these writers, more aligned with the lumpen proletariat, at least in terms of choice of lifestyle (vagrancy, petty crime).   For all that, Marechera was more deeply shamanistic in his insights — that is, more aware of the degree to which psychology can be used to manipulate political perceptions.    He was also a master of disguises in his own way.   He thought that one could simply become what one imagined being, for instance a Fleet Street photographer (you just need to wear a number of cameras around your neck and pass yourself off as one).

Marechera was also the least sadistic of the chain of writers.    He had no stake in maintaining any form of social hierarchy whatsoever, so there was no need to try to distort perceptions in any way.  He just had to show up the aspects of the psychologies of groups that they were trying to hide.   For instance, the cost of going to war is that one must live with the knowledge of what war does to women.

Although the European writers mentioned are sadistic, Marechera’s writing isn’t, at least it’s far from being so at bottom.   Despite this, his style finds its place in a historical continuum with Bataille’s perspectives.  That is, he uses politically motivated psychological writing in a surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness form.   His writing has the effect of making one feel like one has entered a privileged realm where one is aware of the glorious fragility of life and its sacred nature.

Even if you are atheistic, you can be in awe of what it means to live and breathe and have existence — life may be being squeezed out of you, but you are still here, to watch it and record it.   At this most reductive level, which is where Marechera takes you, there is the quintessence of life.

Such is the author’s shamanistic propensity, that we can eschew sadism from our psychological vocabularies, and still be sure to have adventures and dare ourselves.  Read, for instance, Black Sunlight.

Nietzsche and Bataille: motifs of sacrifice

Bataille’s conception of sacrifice makes clear his own view of the overwrought nature of the human condition — at least as he and Lacan experienced it in 20th Century France.  Conforming is always a concession to impersonality, in both Bataille and Lacan.   Conforming preserves the bourgeois person.    The cost is impersonality; the benefit is preservation of oneself via creature comforts, bourgeois status and (impersonal) identity.   The practical opposite to this norm of bourgeois conformity is personal self-actualisation.    Herein is the Nietzschean paradox (and it also depicts what I call “intellectual shamanism”).   To self-actualize is to give up the benefits of self-preservation:

I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge.  (Nietzsche)

Bataille takes up a Nietzschean perspective when he associates self-actualization with sacrifice.   He is also Freudian (and was used by Lacan to develop his perspectives), for he views sacrifice in terms of psychological deviance, on the basis of one’s circumstances being untenable (the need to represent impersonality in the workplace leads to an opposite, reactive attitude, once one has time to oneself).   In his essay in book form, Theory of Religion,  Bataille portrays the worker in a state of destructive reverie.   Bourgeois form and sobriety are sacrificed to despair.   This structurally determined polarization of the worker’s consciousness is between the profane (one’s experience of work) and the sacred (one’s experience of free time,   expressed as a frenzy of destructiveness.)  Free time and money to spend purely to satisfy one’s appetites are the worker’s accursed share.

The Freudian influence on Bataille renders this reading of the worker and his behavior as pathological — although, like Lacan thought, necessarily so.   Civilization is not experienced by organic and instinctively driven human beings as a natural condition, thus it necessarily produces its discontents.   Bataille’s point is that society structures the psyche of the worker in terms of polarizing his consciousness, so that it swings between conformity and destructiveness.   Bataille’s views are also Marxist.

Nietzsche’s views are not at all Marxist in any way.  He expresses his views in terms of evolutionary proposals.   He expresses his ideas in terms of Darwinism.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.

This is a tragic view of the world — that in order for humanity to make progress beyond its apelike origins, many who aspire to do something great will fall along the way and not meet their goals.  Their failures, however, are necessary, because they offer the basis for others to learn and thus succeed.

Thus for Nietzsche, sacrifice for the benefit of humanity is achieved by those who attempt — (and perhaps fail) — to self-actualize:  a “down-going” is also an “over-going”.  A failure to do all that one had wanted to is nonetheless also transcendence of  humanity’s existing ape-like condition.  One advances human evolution through one’s attempts.   One sacrifices oneself to the future of humanity, rather than sacrificing the future of humanity to one’s self  to the degree that one departs from the script of an impersonal conformist who wants everything to stay just the same.

My PhD as rite of passage

I started my PhD because there were too many mysteries out there for me not to investigate them. How could I sit in an office and do anything at all when there were mysteries out there?

I continued it because the plot thickened. The mysteries became more psychological, rather than aesthetic in nature, and they made my mind ache.

I found socializing to be a huge strain in the middle of my PhD, because it took away energy I needed to crack the problem that was at the core of my thesis. It could be framed in the simplest way as “how can madness be productive?”

At one stage, I felt like I was going mad. My mind was galloping at a frenetic pace and all of the world seemed to have slowed down and gone stupid. Any part of everyday life that didn’t help me solve my problem got in my way. I couldn’t even explain the nature of my problem except in the most esoteric terms. It had to do with trying to look at the other side of trauma — at the generative side.

So many books seemed to somewhat support my thesis. Other journal articles only used part of my theoretical platform, but were more opposed to the conclusions I had drawn. Thus, I became perplexed as to how to use this more ambiguous material.

I continued to become madder and madder. I had too much information in my head and I had to make it all add up. I had read extremely widely. The literary material seemed to yield confirmation of my views in flashes of intuitive insight, but which I didn’t yet have the means to articulate. You certainly couldn’t point to the text and say, “There it is!”. Nothing was positivist about my views.

Eventually, I couldn’t look at my thesis, as I had looked at it so much, the words had stopped meaning anything. I began to wonder if in fact the words I’d written had no meaning. An old wound had started to open. My father’s words: “You’re a failure and you can’t even communicate properly!” began to resonate. I’d written the thesis to vindicate someone who also seemed to have been victimized by being denied communication — and now, the same was happening to me.

I was fighting my father through trying to complete my thesis. It was the ultimate superego battle — he didn’t want me to show him up through having an education, through not accepting a typical female role, and I wanted to complete my thesis without his interference. Yet, this battle was taking place entirely in my mind — a culmination of at least a 20 year long battle for my right to determine my own direction.

Writing my thesis was a rite of passage. The strain of going against the grain was intense. I engaged with a lot of ideas that would have been denied me had I taken the path I was supposed to. To engage intellectually with ideas of war, trauma and racism would have been one thing. I engaged with these emotionally, however, and this had been forbidden me, growing up. I wasn’t supposed to interact with the realities of the civil war surrounding me. Emotional access to these were related to age, social status and gender.

In engaging with new inner experiences, against the prohibitions that had been set up to protect me, I was destroying myself as I had been before.

The thesis became a means of self-destruction and renewal, through gaining forbidden knowledge into the interior of my cultural history.


Paradox of the psyche: at sea

A shaman is one whose life has been ‘shipwrecked’.  The victim cast to sea, only to sink to the depths and find hidden treasure.  Who would believe in this treasure, or that the meaning of the shipwreck could have turned out to be something positive? It is this paradox that we are dealing with, for instance in terms of the productive power of Zimbabwean author, Dambudzo Marechera, who was a contemporary shaman, by necessity, and not by conscious choice.

There results a self that is somewhat of a tragedian, which laments the original sense of self and its feelings of security aboard a boat with definite direction and an already furnished life-purpose, but beside that self  is another “self” that has somehow triumphed, not despite of – but because of – the chaos. This is the doubling of the self that we constantly meet within Marechera’s work. The fact that the ‘tragedy’ of one’s life produced unexpected benefits is harder to speak of in direct, everyday language, since it goes against the grain of rational expectations. This knowledge pertains to the ‘shamanic” aspect of the self, which gives the subject access to a level of reality that is generally denied by those who are uncomfortable with being “wrecked” out of one’s wounds.

N.B.  Nietzsche  experienced traumatic awakenings when his father died suddenly, an event depicted by the image of the howling dog in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  He had earlier experienced such when his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was poorly received, and when he succumbed to extreme illness and had to quit his professorial position. All these led to a sinking more deeply into the unconscious mind and resulted in aphilosophical deepening of his ideas.

Power/identity through perversion

Jennifer: The system exerts a tremendous amount of force to push us into certain roles and into adopting certain “perceptions”.
Karen: As opposed to a powerful and intrinsic knowledge of one’s own gender/race equality and right.Oh yes…prescribed or recreational drugs are certainly a big keeps of the status quo.
Jennifer:  Well the “intrinsic” knowledge can also be wrong and limiting. That’s why I propose the shamanistic thing of self-knowledge through perverting the dominant paradigm. i.e. create various perversions of it and find out if any of those are  suitable for you.

Note: The term, “perversity”, offers an ironic take on this matter above, since those who defend the dominant paradigm will always view any kind of creativity in dissent as “perverse”.

ego reification

The corrective to Nietzsche‘s self-sacrifice via elitism or “transcendence” is of course Georges Bataille, who is clearly of the left and addresses the problems of modernity as a closer contemporary to you or I.

The problem of bourgeois society IS the reification of the ego — that is, the assumption that a concept of oneself defines one’s actual identity I think that liberals in general cannot understand a critique from someone of my bent, who takes up the Nietzschean tradition. They imagine that it would be impossible not to reify the ego or to avoid doing so would mean to denigrate (perhaps even to disintegrate) the ego. This is typical bourgeois black or white thinking.

One cannot develop actual subjectivity unless one sacrifices the aggrandizement of the bourgeois ego.  Yet the (only apparent rather than actual) sacrifice does not lead to nothing or negation, although that is the danger and the threat that Bataille’s writing announces.


Identity formation as political imperative

Identity formation is really, really interesting. I studied it a great deal in my thesis, most particularly the political nature of identity formation through projective identification. I came to believe that this is the most decisive way in which our identities are formed, because it is really almost impossible to resist a particular identity if a large mass of people are projecting that identity onto you. In effect, they are requiring you to play a certain role for them — and my memoir is an exploration of this. For instance, in terms of white, Western culture, I am the dishonourable “colonial”, whom others can automatically use to mark their own superiority. For my father, who was bound to extremely antiquated and rigid standards of masculinity, I was his “emotion” and means of coping with his loss of his country. And then there are the secondary levels of interpellation and distorted interpretations, whereby my efforts to explain this situation is also seen to be a confirmatory sign that I am merely “whining”, for that is what women do, unless they are happy with the status quo, which makes them unhappy.

I am now resigned and happy that at least I understand it and that these ebbs and flows of political emotion have nothing to do with me. I ultimately disowned my subjective connection to the identity depicted in my memoir by means of an extreme kind of mockery of it at the beginning and in sections of the last few pages.

This was my intention: to rupture and a break from the past through an act of destruction: shamanistic destruction involves destroying the identities that others have projected onto you, in order to be more fully yourself.  I do not destroy the fundamentals of my experience by shamanistic destruction, but rather the false meanings attributed to those experiences.

The subject matter of colonialism clearly remains too emotionally raw for most people to address impartially. Nonetheless, I have quite a lot of confidence that in greater historical perspective,  it will be much easier to see that I am making fun of the ridiculous ideas of my identity that had been projected onto me, rather than quoting them because I thought they were true.