Friday, September 18, 2009

* Murder at Yale: Slenderly Knowing Our Selves

What the tragic murder at Yale this week tells us; what the unsolved murder of Ms. Jovin '99 a decade ago at Yale tells us; what the unsolved disappearance of Sam Todd while a student at Yale Divinity School in 1984 tells us; what the killings at Kent State in 1970 tell us: is that the human personality rests on uncertain terrain, with volcanic forces not far below.

Most people keep those forces at bay with neurotic bric-a-brac which are sometimes annoying, sometimes charming.

Occasionally those volcanic forces erupt.

In a New York Times review today of the new film about John Keats, Bright Star, A. O. Scott refers to "Sigmund Freud's 'Dark Continent, '" alluding obviously to the Id in the now largely ignored and trivialized tripartite architecture of the psyche which Freud devised more than a century ago (Superego/Ego/Id).

We trivialize at our own risk; Perhaps that is why we are so much more shocked by murder at Yale than elsewhere.

Indeed, as Yale's Harold Bloom reminds us, it was Shakespeare who first pointed to the nether regions of the soul. Regan says of Lear, "He hath ever but slenderly known himself." Freud would say that Regan's lament is an axiom of the human predicament itself.

"Where Id was, there shall Ego be" is Freud's solution to that predicament; i.e the territory of the primitive, amoral, sometimes violent Unconscious shall be reduced or neutralized ( zapped? ) by the insight and awareness brought about in the Ego by talk-therapy.

We are living in the first generation in human history of what may become an epoch in which there is no longer any culturally agreed upon definition of a man; and, likewise for woman.

Both definitions have been severed from the human body: Biological Determinism no longer reigns. *

This 'liberation' may also be dangerously re-arranging the largely abandoned Freudian architecture of the psyche, an architecture no less valid for its antique, even archaic, appearance to the modern scholar.

It may be that with the eradication of traditional definitions of manhood and womanhood, we have now made it much more difficult than it was in the past for Freud's Ego to 'invade', zap with insight, and diminish the territory of the Id.

We may indeed but slenderly know even how to begin to search for the LOCATION of our increasingly diluted and undefined Selves, let alone identify and neutralize their violent underpinnings.

This confusion ensures the volcano even more avenues for eruption.

We are unmoored.

Paul D. Keane
M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.

* When a single finger (or hand) pressed against a button (or lever) in the Enola Gay caused the annihilation of 100,000 people on Hiroshima in 9 seconds, all prior definitions of manhood were instantly and forever eradicated which depended on the Biological Determinism model: the strength and accuracy of a man's body to overhwelm another man's body (whether with sword, horse and joust, rifle, cannon, airpower, etc.) ; for, indeed, that finger could have been the finger of a woman just as well as that of a man. (It could have been the finger of a primate, for that matter.)

Man's superior body strength and its ability to target and overhwelm weakness in other combatants had been the primary ingredient in culturally agreed upon definitions of a man in the so called Biological Determinism model. Suddenly it was gone.

Anxiety over this sudden absence bubbles up ironically--and perhaps unconsciously--four years later in Arthur Millers 1949 play, Death of a Salesman: In the space of a thin 110 pages, no fewer than eleven definitions of a man appear!

Similarly, when the feminists of the 1970's divorced womanhood from all definitons which depended on the female body (i.e., the Biological Determinism model: one who makes babies; one who feeds others) all culturally agreed upon definitons of a woman were eradicated.

Thus began our unmooring.
NB: It is noteworthy in this regard that the 9/20/09 edition of New York Times Magazine has as one of its three feature articles "The Holy Grail of the Unconscious" about the work of Freud's disciple turned competitor, Carl Jung.

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