Monthly Archives: April 2013

A tale of two cities, Charles Dickens (1859)

04.04.2013

  • .p. 74: “Notwithstanding Miss Pross’s denial of her own imagination, there was a perception of the pain of being monotonously haunted by one sad idea, in her repetition of the phrase, walking up and down, which testified to her possessing such a thing.”

Ari: Why this quote touched me is difficult to understand without the context. What touched me is that Dickens indicates that he infers from the way Miss Pross speaks, from the form of her speech (“repetition of the phrase, walking up and down”) some knowledge about Miss Pross – even if she denies this. The strict formal way of our speech betrays us, and there is no way around it: even in denial, even in lies, we can not do without choosing words to deny or to lie: and in these choices we can not but tell about ourselves…. That’s why psychoanalysis is possible: we don’t need conscious knowledge to grasp things, we just need the subject to speak. When he/she speaks, he/she betrays him/herself, can not but betray him/herself…

  • p.81: “Doctors who made great fortunes out of dainty remedies for imaginary disorders that never existed, smiled upon their courtly patients in the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors who had discovered every kind of remedy for the little evils with which the State was touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnest to root out a single sin, poured their distracting babble into any ears they could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur. Unbelieving Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words, and making card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked with Unbelieving Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, at this wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur.”

 Ari: If we recognize a sign of o u r times in this, this might mean that what we are living at the moment is more due to the fact that, like in 1789 when this scene is taking place, we are at the eve of a paradigm change (and the disinvestment from an old system) more than to the specificities of the system in and by itself.  DvB: You sound like a true Nietzschean, my dear: “What is great in man, declares Zarathustra, “is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under.”

 

  • p. 143: “All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched.”.

Ari: The motor programs of hands and mouth are very close spatially in the motor cortex (Broca area) – together with the eye movement control, these three systems are the most elaborate motor systems on which we have fine motor control: mouth, hands and eyes. Eminently, these are the motor systems which generate consciousness. KH: Ariane, volgens mij was dat een erotische scene waar alle erotische fijngevoelige tactiele subtiele observaties en aanrakingen vertaald en gesublimeerd worden. The knitting of worthless things maakt net de erotische lading hoger juist omdat het worthless is. Ook eten en drinken, steken met de naald, opslokken en penetreren zijn erotische handelingen en zeker de verwijzing naar de maag die staat voor de vertering wat de totale overgave symboliseert.

The Circle; Our Betters; The Constant Wife, William Somerset Maugham

These three plays talk about love. They spare nothing or nobody, neither the men (stupid, hypocritical, quite unloving) nor the women (stupid also, strategic, idle). Utterly refreshing!

The Circle (1921)

17.03.2012

  • p. 71: “But you know men are very funny. Even when they are in love, they’re not in love all day long.”
  • p. 73: “One sacrifices one’s life for love and then one finds that love doesn’t last. The tragedy of love isn’t death or separation. One gets over them. The tragedy of love is indifference.”

 

Our Betters (1917)

17.03.2012

  • p. 103:  “My dear fellow, the degree of a nation’s civilization is marked by its disregard for the necessities of existence. You have gone so far as to waste money, but we have gone farther; we waste what is infinitely more precious, more transitory, more irreparable – we waste time.”
  • p. 129: “Pearl: “(…) As if anyone remembered an emotion when he no longer felt it!” Duchesse: “It’s true. I’ve been in love a dozen times, desperately, and when I’ve got over it and look back, though I remember I was in love, I can’t for the life of me remember my love.”

 

Ari: This last point is very well taken by WSM. Freud (1915) tells us in ‘The Unconscious’ that an experience is a complex of separable components, one of which is a representational component and the other one is an affective component. (This is  very much in line with the neurophysiological description of the ‘high road’ and the ‘low road’ of Joseph LeDoux.) The essential difference between both, Freud further tells us, is that the representational component leaves a ‘memory trace’ while the affect, being a mere ‘discharge process’, does not. I have proposed in my book (‘Des fantômes dans la voix’, 2007 – but probably others have proposed similar ideas) that the representational and the affective component essentially differ in the nature of their discharge or execution system. The representations have the voluntary striated muscles (the limbs, the articulation system etc.) as their execution system, the affects have the involuntary smooth muscles (delineating the inner body) as their execution system. The voluntary muscles system being so much finer organized than the smooth muscle system, this enables a finer inscription. This is why, while we can remember that we have felt a feeling, we can not remember the feeling, unless we live the feeling again – but then is it truly a memory?

 

The Constant Wife  (1927)

17.03.2012

This is a hilarious play, it is ferociously truthful.

  • p. 222. “Constance:”Now listen. If I think he’s awful we’ll just talk about the weather and the crops for a few minutes and then we’ll have an ominous pause and stare at him. That always makes a man feel a perfect fool and the moment a man feels a fool he gets up and goes.”. Mrs Culver: “Sometimes they don’t know how to, poor dears, and the earth will never open and swallow them up.”
  • p.  262: Constance: “My dear, any sensible man would rather play bridge at his club than with his wife, and he’d always rather play golf with a man than with a woman. A paid secretary is a far better helpmate than a loving spouse. When all is said and done, the modern wife is nothing but a parasite.”:
  • p. 287: John: “If you think what they call free love is fun you’re mistaken. Believe me, its the most overrated amusement that was ever invented.”
  • p. 289: Mrs Culver: “(…) Men were meant by nature to be wicked and delightful and deceive their wives, and women were meant to be virtuous, and forgiving and to suffer verbosely. (…)”

Cakes and ale, William Somerset Maugham (1930)

(novel inspired by the life of Thomas Hardy)

01-03.02.2012

  • p. 90-91: “We know of course that women are habitually constipated, but to represent them in fiction as being altogether devoid of a back passage seems to me really an excess of chivalry.”

Ari: I know nobody who is so deliciously politically incorrect as WSM.

Prose will save our souls, not poetry.

  • p. 93:  “I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. For me no poet made a falser statement than Keats when he wrote the first line of Endymion. When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of tis sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy, it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian’s ‘Entombment of Christ’, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to  beauty – sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love – because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection [such is human nature] holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: ‘Qu’est-ce que ça prouve?‘ was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.
  • p. 93: ‘From what I hear she was absolutely promiscuous.’ ‘You don’t understand,’ I said, ‘She was a very simple woman. Her instincts were healthy and ingenuous. She loved to make people happy. She loved love.’ ‘Do you call that love?’ ‘Well, then, the act of love. She was naturally affectionate. When she liked anyone it was quite natural for her to go to bed with him. She never thought twice about it. It was not vice, it wasn’t lasciviousness, it was her nature. She gave herself as naturally as the sun gives heat and she liked to give pleasure to others. It had no effect on her character, she remained sincere, unspoiled, and artless.’ Mrs Driffield looked as though she had taken a dose of castor oil and had just been trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth by sucking a lemon. (…) ‘She was like a clear, deep pole in a forest glade into which it’s heavenly to plunge, but it is neither less cool nor less crystalline because a tramp and a gipsy and a gamekeeper have plunged into it before you.’. Roy laughed again, and this time Mrs Driffield without concealment smiled thinly. ‘It’s comic to hear you so lyrical,’ said Roy. I stiffled a sigh. I have noticed that when I am most serious people are apt to laugh at me, and indeed when after a lapse of time I have read passages that I wrote from the fullness of my heart I have been tempted to laugh at myself. It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.”

The sorrows of an American, Siri Hustvedt (2008)

14.05.2010

  • p.51-52: “History is made by amnesia. In the American Civil War, they called it soldier’s heart, and over time it changed its name to shell shock, then war neurosis. Now it’s PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, the most antiseptic of the terms of what can happen to people who witness the unspeakable. During World War I, in the barracks of field hospitals French and British doctors saw them coming in droves – men blind, deaf, shaking, paralyzed, aphasic, catatonic, hallucinating, plagued by recurring nightmares and insomnia, seeing and re-seeing what no one should see, or feeling nothing at all. Clearly, they weren’t all suffering from brain lesions, so the physicians began to tag their patients NYD (not yet diagnosed) or GOK (God only knows) or Dieu seul sait quoi (God only knows what this is).”
  •  p. 278: “I thought about (…) my father and grandfather and about the earlier generations who occupy the mental terrain within us and the silences on that old ground, where shifting wraiths pass or speak in voices so low we can’t hear what they are saying.”

“Des fantomes dans la voix”

Train de nuit pour Lisbonne, Pascal Mercier (2008)

02.08.2011

Quelques passages frappants

-p. 329:  “Et qu’est-ce que vous faites ici? (…) -C’est difficile à expliquer (…). Très difficile. Vous savez ce que sont les rêves diurnes. C’est un peu comme ça. Mais c’est aussi très différent. Plus sérieux. Et plus fou. Quand le temps qu’il vous reste à vivre se réduit, il n’y a plus de règles qui tiennent. Et ensuite on a l’impression que l’on est devenu cinglé et mur pour la maison de fous. Mais au fond c’est l’inverse: ceux qui doivent aller à l’asile, ce sont ceux qui ne veulent pas comprendre que le temps raccourcit. Ceux qui continuent comme si de rien était. (…)”

-p. 369: “Tu as réalisé sur moi un tour d’adresse, Mamã, et j’écris maintenant ce que j’aurais dû te dire depuis longtemps: c’était un tour d’adresse perfide, qui a pesé sur ma vie comme rien d’autre. En effet, tu m’as fait savoir – et le moindre doute sur le contenu de ce message n’était pas possible – que tu n’attendais de mon ton fils – ton fils -, rien de moins que ceci: qu’il soit le meilleur. Le meilleur en quoi, ce n’était pas là l’important, mais les prestations qu’il me faudrait réaliser devraient surpasser celles de tous les autres, et non seulement les surpasser d’une manière quelconque, mais les dominer de très haut. Ta perfidie, c’est de ne me l’avoir jamais dit. Ton attente ne s’est jamais formulée de manière à me permettre de prendre position, d’y réfléchir et de me confronter aux sentiments que cela m’inspirait. Et pourtant je le savais, car cela existe: un savoir que l’on instille à un enfant sans défense, goutte après goutte, jour après jour, sans qu’il remarque le moins du monde ce savoir silencieux toujours grandissant. Le savoir invisible se répand en lui comme un poison sournois, s’infiltre dans les tissus du corps et de l’âme et détermine la couleur et les nuances de sa vie. A partir de ce savoir agissant incognito, dont la puissance résidait dans son caractère secret, naquit en moi un réseau invisible, indétectable, fait d’attentes inflexibles et impitoyables envers moi, tissé par les cruelles araignées d’une ambition née de la peur. Combien de fois, avec quel désespoir et dans quel comique grotesque me suis-je plus tard débattu en moi pour me libérer – rien que pour m’emmêler plus encore! Il était impossible de me défendre contre ta présence en moi: ton tour d’adresse était trop parfait, un chef-d’œuvre sans défaut, d’une perfection écrasante, à couper le souffle. Dans sa perfection, entrait le fait que non seulement tu laissais inexprimées tes attentes étouffantes, mais que tue les cachais sous des paroles et des gestes qui exprimaient le contraire. Je ne dis pas qu’il s’agissait là d’un plan conscient, rusé, sournois. Non, tu as toi-même accordé foi à tes paroles trompeuses et tu as été la victime d’un travestissement dont l’intelligence dépassait de loin la tienne. Depuis lors, je sais combien les êtres humains peuvent être jusqu’au pus profond d’eux-mêmes liés les uns aux autres et présents les uns dans les autres, sans s’en douter le moins du monde.”

-p. 408:  “Les contours de la volonté des parents et de la crainte qu’ils inspirent s’inscrivent avec un crayon de feu dans les âmes des petits, qui sont pleins d’impuissance et pleins d’ignorance sur ce qui leur arrive. Nous avons besoin de toute une vie pour trouver le texte gravé au fer rouge et pour le déchiffrer, et nous ne pouvons jamais être sûrs de l’avoir compris.”

-p. 410: “Car c’est un fait: on ne sait pas ce qui manque à quelqu’un, jusqu’à ce qu’il l’obtienne, et alors d’un seul coup, c’est très clair, c’était cela.”

-p. 427: “Quand nous parlons de nous-mêmes, d’autres personnes ou simplement d’objets, nous voulons (…) nous révéler dans nos paroles: nous voulons faire connaître ce que nous pensons et sentons. Nous laissons les autres jeter un regard dans notre âme. (…) Selon cette conception, nous sommes les metteurs en scène souverains, les dramaturges autodéterminés de notre ouverture aux autres. Mais peut-être cela est-il totalement faux? Une illusions que nous nous créons nous-mêmes? Car nous ne faisons pas que nous révéler par nos paroles, nous nous trahissons aussi. Nous livrons beaucoup plus que ce que nous voulions révéler, et parfois c’en est exactement le contraire. Et les autres peuvent interpréter nos paroles comme des symptômes dont nous ignorons peut-être la cause. Comme des symptômes de la maladie d’être nous. Cela peut être amusant si nous considérons les autres ainsi, cela peut nous rendre plus tolérants, mais aussi nous donner des munitions. Et si, à l’instant où nous commençons à parler, nous pensons que les autres en font autant avec nous, le mot peut nous rester coincé dans la gorge et l’effroi nous rendre muet pour toujours.”

 

Essays in love, Alain de Botton (1993)

15.01.2012

See my comments to some striking excerpts:

  • p. 68-69: “There is usually a Marxist moment in most relationships [the moment when it becomes clear that love is reciprocated] and the way it is resolved depends on the balance between self-love and self-hatred. If self-hatred gains the upper hand, then the one who has received love will declare that the beloved [on some excuse or other] is not good enough for them [not good enough by virtue of association with no-goods]. But if self-love gains the upper hand, both partners may accept that seeing their love reciprocated is not proof of how low the beloved is, but of how lovable they have themselves turned out to be.”
  •  p. 99: “Beauty was to be found in the area of oscillation between ugliness and classical perfection. A face that launches a thousand ships is not always architecturally formal: it can be as unstable as an object that is spinning between two colours and that gives rise to a third shade so long as it is moving. There is a certain tyranny about perfection, a certain exhaustion about it even, something that denies the viewer a role in its creation and that asserts itself with all the dogmatism of an unambiguous statement. True beauty cannot be measured because it is fluctuating, it has only a few angles from which it may be seen, and then not in all lights and at all times. It flirts dangerously with ugliness, it takes risks with itself, it does not side comfortably with mathematical rules of proportion, it draws its appeal from precisely those areas that will also lend themselves to ugliness. Beauty may need to take a calculated risk with ugliness.”
  •  p. 152-154: “1. Language flatters our indecisions with its stability. It allows us to hide under an illusory permanence and fixity while the world changes minute by minute. ‘No man steps into the same river twice’, said Heraclitus, pointing to the inevitable flux yet ignoring the fact that if the word for river does not change, then in an important sense, it is the same river we appear to have stepped into. I was a man in love with a woman, but how much of the mobility and inconstancy of my emotions could such words hope to carry? Was there room in them for all the infidelity, boredom, irritation, and indifference that often found themselves knitted together with this love? Could any words hope to accurately reflect the degree of ambivalence to which my emotions seemed fated? 2. I call myself a name, and the name stays with me throughout my life – the ‘I’ that I see in a picture of myself at the age of six and that I will perhaps see in a picture of myself at sixty will both be framed by the same letters, though time will have altered me almost unrecognizably. I call a tree a tree, though throughout the year, the tree changes. To rename the tree at every season would be too confusing, so language settles on the continuity, forgetting that in one season there are leaves that in another will be absent. 3. We hence proceed by abbreviation, we take the dominant feature [of a tree, of an emotional state] and label as the whole something that is only a part. Similarly, the story we tell of an event remains a segment of the totality the moment comprised; as soon as the moment is narrated, it loses its multiplicity and ambivalence in the name of abstracted meaning and authorial intent. The story embodies the poverty of the remembered moment.

Ari: This is what Freud calls the ‘primary process’, or probably what Lacan calls the ‘Imaginary’. During a psychoanalytic session it is often an ‘easy’  (but nonetheless important) intervention of the analyst to pay attention to these moments when the analysand uses this kind of ellipses or labels and to invite him or her to deconstruct the ellipses ‘back’ to the complexity of the experiences.

  • Chloe and I lived a love story stretching over an expanse of time during which my feelings moved so far across the emotional scale that to talk of being simply in love seems a brutal foreshortening of events. Pressed for time and eager to simplify, we are forced to narrate and remember things by ellipsis, or we would be overwhelmed by both our ambivalence and our instability. The present becomes degraded, first into history, then into nostalgia. […]

Ari: ‘psychotics’ have another position in language, language functions differently in the total mental system, and indeed ‘they’ are more easily “overwhelmed by both ambivalence and instability”.

  • 5. Perhaps we can forgive language its hypocrisy because it enables us to recall a weekend in Bath with one word, pleasant, hence creating a manageable order and identity. Yet at times one is brought face to face with the flux beneath the word, the water flowing beneath Heraclitus’ river – and one longs for the simplicity things assume when letters are the only guardians of their borders. I loved Chloe – how easy it sounds, like someone saying they love apple juice or Marcel Proust. And yet how much more complex the reality was, so complex that I struggle against saying anything conclusive of any one moment, for to say one thing is automatically to miss out on another – every assertions symbolizing the repression of a thousand counter-assertions.

see Bazan, A. (2012). From sensorimotor inhibition to Freudian repression. Frontiers in Psychology.

  •  p. 161: [We could perhaps define maturity – that ever-elusive goal – as the ability to give everyone what they deserve when they deserve it, to separate the emotions that belong and should be restricted to oneself from those that should at once be expressed to their initiators, rather than passed on to later and more innocent arrivals.]
  •  p. 194: “At the basis of all sulks lies a wrong that might have been addressed and disappeared at once, but that instead is taken by the injured partner and stored for later and more painful detonation. Delays in explanation give grievances a weight that they would lack if the matter had been addressed as soon as it had arisen. To display anger shortly after an offense occurs is the most generous thing one may do, for it saves the sulked from the burgeoning of guilt and the need to talk the sulker down from his or her battlement.”

Ari: This is major point both in life and in analysis: the ability to display anger and finding ways (forms) to do so. And very rightly so, it is a token of respect, and even of love, to ‘give’ the ‘honor’ of one’s anger to the other: it signals the fact that the other one is considered having the ability to receive the anger and it gives him or her the chance to reply. It is often more violent, both for oneself and for the other, to keep the anger for oneself. In fact, it is not seldom a sign of a far greater aggressiveness than would be the anger displayed. Only displayed anger opens a way to something beyond anger. Now, of course, not all situations are the same and there are inherent situational limits to displaying anger which one has to take into account.

  • p. 174: ,”The strength of the accusations we made, their sheer implausibility, showed that we argued not because we hated one another, but because we loved one another too much – or, to risk confusing things, because we hated loving one another to the extent we did. Our accusations were loaded with a complicated subtext, I hate you, because I love you. It amounted to a fundamental protest, I hate having no choice but to risk loving you like this. The pleasures of depending on someone pale next to the paralysing fears that such dependence involves. Our occasionally fierce and somewhat inexplicable arguments during our trip through Valencia were nothing but a necessary release of tension that came from realizing that each one had placed all their eggs in the other’s basket – and was helpless to aim for more sound household management.”
  •  p. 213: “I was labouring under the curse of fate, not an external one, but a  psycho-face: a fate from within. 6. In an age of science, psychoanalysis provided names for my demons. Though itself a science, it retained the dynamic [if not the substance] of superstition, the belief that the majority of life unfolds without adherence to rational control. In the stories of manias and unconscious motivations, compulsions and visitations, I recognized the world of Zeus and his colleagues, the Mediterranean transported to late-nineteenth-century Vienna, a secularized, sanitized view of much of the same picture. Completing the revolution of Galileo and Darwin, Freud returned man to the initial humbleness of the Greek forefathers, the acted-upon rather than the actors. The Freudian world was made of double-sided coins one of whose sides we could never see, a world where hate could hide great love and great love hate, where a man might try to love a woman, but unconsciously be doing everything to drive her into another’s arms. From within a scientific field that had for so long made the case for free will, Freud presented a return to a form of psychic determinism. It was an ironic twist to the history of science, Freudians questioned the dominance of the thinking ‘I’ from within science itself. ‘I think, therefore I am,’ had metamorphosed into Lacan’s ‘I am not where I think, and I think where I am not.’.”
  •  p. 217: “11. The essence of a curse is that the person labouring under it cannot know of its existence. It is a secret code within the individual writing itself over a lifetime, but unable to find rational, preemptive articulation. Oedipus is warned by the Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother – but conscious warnings serve no purpose, they alert only the thinking ‘I’, they cannot defuse the coded curse. Oedipus is cast out from home in order to avoid the Oracle’s prediction, but ends up marrying Jocasta nevertheless: his story is told form him, not by him. He knows the possible outcome, he knows the dangers, yet can change nothing: the curse defies the will. 12. But what curse did I labour under? Nothing other than an inability to form happy relationships, the greatest misfortune known in modern society. Exiled from the shaded grove of love, I would be compelled to wander the earth till the day of my death, unable to shake of my compulsion to make those I loved flee from me. I sought a name for this evil, and found it contained in the psychoanalytic description of repetition compulsion, defined as: ….an ungovernable process originating in the unconscious. As a result of its actions, the subject deliberately places himself in distressing situations, thereby repeating an old experience, but he does not recall this prototype; on the contrary, he has the strong impression that the situation is fully determine by the circumstances of the moment. (The Language of Psychoanalysis, J. Laplanche, J.B. Pontalis, Karnac Books, 1988). 13. The comforting aspect of psychoanalysis [if one can talk so optimistically] is the meaningful world it suggests we live in. No philosophy is further from the thought that it is all a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing [even to deny meaning is meaningful]. Yet the meaning is never light: the psycho-fatalist’s spell subtly replaced the words and then with the words In order that, thereby identifying a paralysing causal link. I did not simply love Chloe and then she left me. I loved Chloe in order that, she leave me. The painful tale of loving her appeared as a palimpsest, beneath which another story had been written. Buried deep in the unconscious, a pattern had been forged, in the early months ors years. The baby had driven away the mother, or the mother had left the baby, and now baby/man recreated the same scenario, different actors but the same plot, Chloe fitting into the clothes worn by another. Why had I even chosen her? It was not the shape of her smile or the liveliness of her mind. It was because the unconscious, the casting director of the inner drama, recognized in her a suitable character to fill the role in the mother/infant script, someone who would oblige the playwright by leaving the stage at just the right time with the requisite wreckage and pain. 14. Unlike the curses of the Greek gods, psycho-fatalism at least held out the promise it could be escaped. Where the id was, ego might be – if only ego had not been so crushed by pain, bruised, bleeding, punctured, unable to plan the day let alone the life.

 Ari: The compulsion to repeat is of course another major point of psychoanalysis. It is close to Lacan’s concept of ‘jouissance’. I will come back to it.

Of human bondage, William Somerset Maugham, 1915

06/26.05.2012

“Of human bondage” is first and foremost a book about jouissance, jouissance in the Lacanian sense. How it shapes human nature, but is seldom spoken about or discussed in any great work of philosophy. How it takes over one’s life, or threatens to. How you can’t fight it, not by any means of will or reason. But how you learn to do with it, with time and with damage, but with perspective nevertheless.

of human bondage

  • p. 127-128: “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the ruthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy, for the books they read, ideal by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life. They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all hey have been told are lies, lies, lies (…). The strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself.”
  • p. 228: “The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I were a free agent. But when an action is performed it is clear that all forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it, and nothing I could do  could have prevented it. It was inevitable. If it was good I can claim no merit; if it was bad I can accept no censure.”

voir Freud à propos du bonheur “Tout l’ordre de l’univers si oppose” (Malaise dans la civilisation)

Freud (1929: 20) dans Malaise dans la Civilisation[1]: « L’univers entier – le macrocosme aussi bien que le microcosme – cherche querelle à son programme [celui du principe du plaisir]. Celui-ci est absolument irréalisable; tout l’ordre de l’univers s’y oppose; on serait tenté de dire qu’il n’est point entré dans le plan de la « création » que l’homme soit heureux. ».



[1] Freud, S. (1929/1970). Malaise dans la Civilisation. traduction de Ch. et I. Odier, Revue Française de Psychanalyse, Tome XXXIV, PUF : 9-80.

"As we see, it is simply the pleasure-principle which draws up the programme of life’’s purpose. This
principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the very beginning; there can be no doubt
about its efficiency, and yet its programme is in conflict with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much
as with the microcosm. It simply cannot be put into execution, the whole constitution of things runs counter
to it; one might say the intention that man should be happy is not included in the scheme of Creation. What
is called happiness in its narrowest sense comes from the satisfaction——most often instantaneous——of pent-up
needs which have reached great intensity, and by its very nature can only be a transitory experience. When
any condition desired by the pleasure-principle is protracted, it results in a feeling only of mild comfort; we
are so constituted that we can only intensely enjoy contrasts, much less intensely states in themselves"

Freud, S.(1929/2000-2005). Civilization and its discontents, Chrysoma Associates Limited.
  • p. 245:”(…) he felt himself a fool not to have seen she was attractive. He thought he detected in her a touch of contempt for him, because he had not had the sense to see she was there (…)”
  •  p. 261:”They danced furiously. They danced round the room, slowly, talking very little, with all their attention given to the dance. The room was hot, and their faces shone with sweat. It seemed to Philip that they had throw off the guard which people wear on their expression, the homage to convention, and he saw them now as they really were, some were foxy and some were wolflike; and other had the long, foolish face of sheep. Their skins were sallow from the unhealthy life they led and the poor food they ate. Their  features were blunted by mean interests, and their little eyes were shifty and cunning. There was nothing of nobility in their bearing, and you felt that for all of them life was a long succession of petty concerns and sordid thoughts. The air was heavy with the musty smell of humanity. But they danced furiously as though impelled by some strange power within them, and it seemed to Philip that they were driven forward by a rage for enjoyment. They were seeking desperately to escape from a world of horror. The desire for pleasure which Cronshaw said was the only motive of human action urged them blindly on, and the very vehemence of the desire seemed to rob it of all pleasure. They were hurried by a great wind, helplessly, they knew not why and they know not whither. Fate seemed to tower above them, and they danced as though everlasting darkness were beneath their feet. Their silence was vaguely alarming. It was as if life terrified them and robbed them of power of speech so that the shriek which was in their hearts died at their throats. Their eyes were haggard and grim; and notwithstanding the beastly lust that disfigured them, and the meanness of their faces, and the cruelty, notwithstanding the stupidness which was worst of all, the anguish of those fixed eyes made all that crowd terrible and pathetic.”
  •  p. 265: “It seemed to Philip […] that in the true painters, writers, musicians there was a power which drove them to such complete absorption in their work as to make it inevitable for them to subordinate life to art. Succumbing to an influence they never realized, they were merely dupes of the instinct that possessed them, and life slipped through their fingers unlived.”
  •  p. 306: “He had thought of love as a rapture which seized one so that all the world seemed spring-like, he had looked forward to an ecstatic happiness; but this was not happiness; it was a hunger of the soul, it was painful yearning, it was a bitter anguish, he had never known before”
  •  p. 314: “He could not tell why he loved her. He had read of the idealization that takes place in love, but he saw her exactly as she was. She was not amusing or clever, her mind was common; she had a vulgar shrewdness. […] Philip laughed savagely as he thought of her gentility […] she could not bear a coarse word […] and she scented indecency everywhere […] she thought it slightly indelicate to blow her nose and did it in a deprecating way. She was dreadfully anemic and suffered from the dyspepsia which accompanied that ailing. Philip was repelled by her flat breast and narrow hips, and he hated the vulgar way in which she did her hair. He loathed and despised himself for loving her. The fact remained that he was helpless. He felt just as he had felt sometimes in the hands of a bigger boy at school. He had struggled against the superior strength till his own strength was gone, and he was rendered quite powerless – he remembered the peculiar languor he had felt in his limbs, almost as though he were paralysed – so that he could not help himself at all. He might have been dead. He felt just that same weakness now. He loved the woman so that he knew he had never loved before. He did not mind her faults of person or of character, he thought he loved them too: at all events they meant nothing to him. It did no seem himself that was concerned; he felt that he had been seized by some strange force that moved him against his will, contrary to his interests; and because he had a passion for freedom he hated the chains which bound him. He laughed at himself when he thought how often he had longed to experience the overwhelming passion. He cursed himself because he had given way to it.[…] The whole thing was his own fault. Except for his ridiculous vanity he would never have troubled himself with that ill-mannered slut.”
  •  p. 316-317: (as he is trying to take distance from his humiliating love for Mildred) “One thing that struck him was how little under those circumstances it mattered what one thought; the system of personal philosophy, which had given him great satisfaction to devise, had not served him. He was puzzled by this. (…) His instinct was not to go near the hospital for a week, when the affair would be no more thought of, but, because he hated so much to go just then, he went: he wanted to inflict suffering upon himself. He forgot for the moment his maxim of life to follow his inclinations with due regard for the policeman round the corner; or, if he acted in accordance with it, there must have been some strange morbidity in his nature which made him take a grim pleasure in self-torture.”
  •  p. 328: “It’s not much fun to be in love with a girl who has no imagination and no sense of humor,’ he thought, as he listened [to her].
  •  p. 330: “Though he yearned for Mildred so madly he despised her. He thought to himself that there could be no greater torture in the world than at the same time to love and to contemn.”
  •  p. 332: “He foresaw what Mildred, with her genteel ideas and her mean mind, would become: it was impossible for him to marry her. But he decided only with his reason; he felt that he must have her whatever happened; and if he could not get her without marrying her he would do that; the future could look after itself. It might end in disaster; he did not care. When he got hold of an idea it obsessed him, he could think of nothing else, and he had a more than common power to persuade himself of the reasonableness of what he wished to do. He found himself overthrowing all the sensible arguments which had occurred to him against marriage. Each day he found that he was more passionately devoted to her; and his unsatisfied love become angry and resentful.” (…)of-human-bondage

Philip: “You will marry me, won’t you?”

Mildred: “D’you think we should be happy?”

Philip: “No. But what does that matter?”

  •  p. 356-358: “He had long come to the conclusion that nothing amused him more than metaphysics, but he was not sure of their efficacy in the affairs of life. The neat little system which he had formed as a result of his meditations at Blackstable had not been of conspicuous use during his infatuation with Mildred. He could not be positive that reason was much of help in the conduct of life. It seemed to him that life lived itself. He remembered very vividly the violence of emotion which had possessed him and his inability, as if he were tied down to the ground with ropes, to react against it. He read many wise things in books, but he could only judge from his own experience (…); he did not calculate the pros and cons of an action, the benefits which must befall him if he did it, the harm which might result from the omission; but his whole being was urged on irresistibly. (…) The power that possessed him seemed to have nothing to do with reason; all that reason did was to point out the methods of obtaining what his whole soul was striving for.

Macalister reminded him of the Categorical Imperative:

“Act so that every action of yours should be capable of becoming  a universal rule of action for all men.”

“That seems to me perfect nonsense (…) It suggests that one choose one’s course by an effort of will. And it suggests that reason is the surest guide. (…)”

“You seem to be a contented slave of your passions.”

“A slave because I can’t help myself, but not a contented one,” laughed Philip.

  • While he spoke he thought of that hot madness which had driven him in pursuit of Mildred. He remembered how he had chafed against it and how he had felt the degradation of it. (…) When he was under the influence of passion he had felt a singular vigour, and his mind had worked with unwonted force. He was more alive, there was an excitement in sheer being, an eager vehemence of soul, which made life now a trifle dull. For all the misery he had endured there was a compensation in that sens of rushing, overwhelming existence. (…) “Well, I can’t say anything about other people. I can only speak for myself. The illusion of free will is so strong in my mind that I can’t get away from it, but I believe it is only an illusion. But it is an illusion which is one of the strongest motives om my actions. Before I do anything I feel that I  have choice, and that influences what I do, but afterward, when the thing is done, I believe it was inevitable from all eternity.”
  •  p. 372: “If he had any sense he would stick to Norah, she would make him much happier than he would ever be with Mildred; after all she loved him, and Mildred was only grateful for his help. But when all was said the important thing was to love rather than to be loved; and he yearned for Mildred with his whole soul. He would sooner have ten minutes with her than a whole afternoon with Norah, he prized one kiss of her cold lips more than all Norah could give him. “I can’t help myself,” he thought, “I’ve just got her in my bones.” He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would rather have misery with one than happiness with the other.”
  •  p. 403: “I wonder what it is I see in you,” he smiled. “That’s a nice thing to say,” she answered. Her body was so thin that one could almost see her skeleton. Her chest was as flat as a boy’s. Her mouth, with its narrow pale lips, was ugly, and her skin was faintly green.”
  • p. 424: “He did not know what it was that passed from a man to a woman, from a woman to a man, and made one of them a slave: it was convenient to call it the sexual instinct; but if it was no more than that, he did not understand why it should occasion so vehement an attraction to one person rather than another. It was irresistible: the mind could not battle with it; friendship, gratitude, interest, had no power beside it. Because he had not attracted Mildred sexually, nothing that he did had any effect upon her. The idea revolted him; it made human nature beastly; and he felt suddenly that the hearts of men were full of dark places.”
  •  p. 425: “She had a genteel refinement which shuddered at the facts of life, she looked upon the bodily functions as indecent, she had all sorts of euphemisms for common objects, she always chose an elaborate word as more becoming than a simple one: the brutality of these men was like a whip on her thin wide shoulders, and she shuddered with voluptuous pain.”
  •  p. 433: “It was not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one’s own absurdity.”
  •  p. 435: “It makes him feel rather wretched, you know.” “I can bear the trifling inconvenience that he feels with a good deal of fortitude.”, said Philip. “He’ll do anything he can to make it up.” “How childish and hysterical! Why should he care? I’m a very insignificant person, and he can do very well without my company.”
  • p. 485: “Philip had cultivated a certain disdain for idealism. He had always had a passion for life, and the idealism he had come across seemed to him for the most part a cowardly shrinking from it. The idealist withdrew himself, because he could not suffer the jostling of the human crowd; he had not the strength to fight and so called the battle vulgar; he was vain, and since his fellows would not take him at his own estimate, consoled himself with despising his fellows. For Philip this type was Hayward, fair, languid, too fat now and rather bald, still cherishing the remains of his good looks and still delicately proposing to do exquisite things in the uncertain future; and at the back of this were whisky and vulgar amours of the street. It was in reaction from what Hayward represented that Philip clamored for life as it stood; sordidness, vice, deformity, did not offed him; he declared that he wanted man in his nakedness; and he rubbed his hands when an instance came before him of meanness, cruelty, selfishness, or lust: that was the real thing. In Paris he had learned that there was neither ugliness nor beauty, but only truth: the search after beauty was sentimental. Had he not painted an advertisement of chocolat Menier in a landscape in order to escape from the tyranny of prettiness?  But here [the pictures of El Greco] he seemed to divine something new. He had been coming to it, all hesitating, for some time, but only now was conscious of the fact; he felt himself on the brink of a discovery. He felt vaguely that here was something better than the realism which he had adored; but certainly it was not the bloodless idealism which stepped aside from life in weakness; it was too strong; it was virile; it accepted life in all its vivacity, ugliness an beauty, squalor and heroism; it was realism still; but it was realism carried to some higher pitch, in which facts were transformed by the more vivid light in which they were seen. He seemed to see things more profoundly through the grave eyes of those dead noblemen of Castille; and the gestures of the saints, which at first had seemed wild and distorted, appeared to have some mysterious significance. But he could not tell what that significance was. It was like a message which it was very important to receive, but it was given him in an unknown tongue, and he could not understand. He was always seeking for a meaning in life, and here it seemed to him that a meaning was offered; but it was obscure and vague. He was profoundly troubled. He saw what looked like the truth by flashes of lightning on a dark, stormy night you might see a mountain range. He seemed to see that a man need not leave his life to chance, but that his will was powerful; he seemed to see that self-control might be as passionate and as active as the surrender to passion; he seemed to see that the inward life might be as manifold, as varied, as rich with experience, as the life of one who conquered realms and explored unknown lands.”

 

  • p. 509: Toward the end of his second term as in-patient’s clerk,

a piece of good fortune befell Philip.

 

Ari: I think there are two occurrences of this little sentence ‘a piece of good fortune befell him’ in the book (I can’t find the other one) and they always go like that: ‘on this precise place and time’, ‘a (little) piece of good fortune befell him’, and it is something not that extraordinary at first sight (here, for example, it is when he first encounters someone who’ll become a close friend). But this little sentence, which would almost go unnoticed is, what saves Philip, what saves the book and what saves mankind: we are taken by jouissance, we are under the spell of some script which was written before and for us, but then not all is said and the play is not played before we have said our last word and before we have played the play till the end. Indeed, on some precise moment and on some precise place, unforeseen by the script, a little piece of good (or sometimes also bad) luck may befell us. This pertains also to Derrida’s difference between ‘futur’ and ‘avenir’ : the future is already written, the ‘avenir’ is what will fall upon us, unforeseen.

 

  •  p. 543: “Philip wondered what it was that made people do things which were so contrary to all their theories of life. (…) It looked as though men were puppets in the hands of an unknown force, which drove them to do this and that; and sometimes they used their reason to justify their actions; and when this was impossible they did the actions in despite of reason.”
  • p. 586: “Philip thought that in throwing over the desire for happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realized that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as all the other details of his life came in, to the elaboration of the design. He seemed for an instant to stand above the accidents of his existence, and he felt that they could not affect him again as they had done before. Whatever happened to him now would be more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached he would rejoice in its completion. It would become a work of art (…).”

Ari: Mind it, it is not happiness which people strive for. A human being can stand a huge amount of unhappiness and live just as well. But what is at stake in life, is that it might make sense, that it makes sense to live. No happiness can make up for sense, but sense can make up for quite some unhappiness. To go for happiness is to make the wrong bet. Voir aussi Romain Gary (La Vie devant soi, 1975): “Mais je tiens pas tellement à être heureux, je préfère encore la vie. Le bonheur, c’est une belle ordure et une peau de vache et il faudrait lui apprendre à vivre. On est pas du même bord, lui et moi, et j’ai rien à en foutre. J’ai encore jamais fait de politique parce que ça profite toujours à quelqu’un, mais le bonheur, il devrait y avoir des lois pour l’empêcher de faire le salaud. Je dis seulement comme je le pense et j’ai peut-être tort, mais c’est pas moi qui irais me piquer pour être heureux. “.

  • p. 599: “Phlip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than unending labor, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just to be accepted in the same spirit as one accepts the changes of the seasons. Fury seized him because it all seemed useless. He could not reconcile himself to the belief that life had no meaning and yet everything he saw, all his thoughts, added to the force of his conviction.But though fury seized him it was a joyful fury. Life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and he faced it with a strange sense of power.”
  • p. 600: “A feeling of disgust surged up in him at the thought of seeing her again. He did not care if she was in distress, it served her right whatever it was; he thought of her with hatred, and the love he had had for her aroused his loathing. His recollections filled him with nausea, and as he walked across the Thames he drew himself aside in an instinctive withdrawal from his thought of her. He went to bed, but he could not sleep; he wondered what was the matter with her, and he could not get out of his head the fear that she was ill and hungry; she would not have written to him unless she was desperate. He was angry with himself for his weakness, but he knew that he would have no peace unless he saw her.”
  • p. 623: “He almost regretted the penury which he had suffered during the last two years, since the desperate struggle merely to keep body and soul together had deadened the pain of living. In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread: it was not a curse upon mankind, but the balm which reconciled it to existence. But Philip was impatient with himself; he called to mind his idea of the pattern of life: the unhappiness he had suffered was no more than part of a decoration which was elaborate and beautiful; he told himself strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the design.”.
  • p. 679: “It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”