10 April 2016


I think Winnicott has returned me to Spinoza and perhaps even to myself. I recall at some point that Spinoza says that the mind is the invention of the body, I was not exactly clear what Spinoza might have meant, but my readings in Winnicott have clarified some of this for me. Winnicott theorizes that psychosomatic disorders are real afflictions that have their aetiology in psychological factors: but that the patient disassociates the somatic aspect from the psychological: the hypertension physically experienced (and for which medicines are taken) isn’t linked to an anxious state. Or a headache may be managed with medications but could be dissociated from a severe confusion in the patient of ideas and responsibilities. Any patient will play caregivers off one another by identifying some who understand (the physical aliment) and those who don’t understand it in order to maintain the dissociation—the splitting. In hypochondriacal patients sickness is invented, but in psycho-somatic patients the sickness is real though the cause remains psychological. Hence, Winnicott says, in one patient the complaints of belly-symptoms appears to be also a denial of mind symptoms. Rather pointedly in my case, Winnicott says “chronic hypertension (from which I suffer) may be the clinical equivalent of a psycho-neurotic anxiety state or of a long-continued traumatic factor, such as a parent who is loved but who is a psychiatric casualty. Alas, I have met such casualties. The mind is the product of the body.

     And as for my immediate thoughts here: Winnicott speaks to the relationship between the development of intellect and that of the False Self: that psychological component that develops to defend the True Self. Winnicott argues that when a False Step develops in an individual with a high intellectual potential (I think to consider that this might be c’est moi) and the mind becomes the location of the False Self, there develops dissociation--a splitting--between the intellectual activity and the psycho-somatic existence. That is, the mind is used to solve the physical difficulty when in fact the two realms must be seen as intimately associated. Or the physical activity is treated withut consideration of the mind. But I think Spinoza might have been correct: the mind is the idea of the body.
     Not that I don’t think I suffer from physical ailments (my family physician and I refer to my annual hysical as the A”Alan Block Death Watch); or that I do not regularly check the internet for confirmation of my symptoms: and I understand that these are the products of hypochondriacal tendencies. But of my real physical ailments thus far I have dissociated from my psychological existence: I have split off my mind from my body ignoring the latter by pretending to attend to it, even by my reading of Spinoza and Winnicott.
     I have returned to therapy.

23 March 2016

A continuation of a conversation

So here once more for me is Ralph Waldo Emerson and the essay “Compensation” (see my earlier blog post!). There I explored compensation as the ‘counterbalance, the rendering of an equivalent,” and suggested that in his essay Emerson adjudged opposites as the same. The good is contained in the bad and cannot be defined without identifying its opposite. But if the good contains evil then how does it become possible to define either good or evil?  Or I offered that compensation refers to the balancing of forces in the universe resulting in what I referred to as a cosmic equilibrium. Finally I said that compensation refers to that which is given in recompense, as some form of payment for something received. And I suggested that the implication I received was that payment must always be made: nothing happens without consequences and for those consequences  responsibility must be taken.
     I read in D.W. Winnicott’s essay “Aggression, Guilt and Reparation” an idea that seems immediately derived from (akin to) the ideas in Emerson’s “Compensation.” But Winnicott references Melanie Klein’s work, “The Depressive Position in Emotional Development,” where she situates destructiveness inherent to human nature and where Winnicott credits her with having “started to make sense of [destructiveness] in psychoanalytic terms.” Winnicott acknowledges the destructiveness in the human being and uses it as a way to discuss the development of a sense of gullt.
     Winnicott attributes the sense of guilt to the sense of destructiveness that every human inevitably experiences even from very early in a life. After all, Winnicott says, the infant does desire to ‘eat up’ the mother. Guilt arises from an acceptance of full responsibility for these destructive ideas in the development of the individual. But wonderfully Winnicott does not limit development to the child but includes the entirety of life. He says, “In dealing with this development [of the sense of guilt], we know we are talking about the whole of childhood, particularly about adolescence; and if we are talking about adolescence, we are talking about adults, because no adults are all the time adult. This is because people are not just their own age; they are to some extent every age, or no age.” Indeed!
     Winnicott argues that to be healthy, which is to say, to achieve integration, it is necessary to accept all of our feelings, even the destructive ones. Not to do so results in our need to project our destructive feelings outward and rather than accept our destructive feelings, we seek to find those objects of which we disapprove of outside of ourselves. However, there is a price to be paid for this projection: for the compensation, so to speak. “This price,” says Winnicott, “being the loss of the destructiveness which really belongs to ourselves.” That is, we lose the sense of integration that is our health.
     And so over the years and the oceans, Emerson and Winnicott suggest to me the same things. Emerson says that “every transaction must be paid for;” and Winnicott cautions that we must take responsibility for our destructiveness if we would be whole. We must take responsibility for everything, and the assumption of that responsibility is the payment we make for a healthy life.

17 March 2016

From Emerson's "Compensation"

I’m not exactly certain how I came to purchase the two volume complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1929), containing “all of his inspiring Essays, Lectures, Poems, Addresses, Studies, Biographical Sketches and Miscellaneous Works.” I am certain it was in the Used Books section of amazon.com and I think I must have needed it for some reason. Somewhere I quote something from the two volumes, but I can’t recall for what reason. I think it was the essay on Intellect . . .
     But I felt this week that I might return to him—if I could choose another moment to live in that my present one I would reside in Concord, Massachusetts when the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Channing roamed the town and woods. I experience such pleasure in the time I spend there now in my imagination and intellect. And so yesterday I devoted a bit of the cloudy afternoon in “Compensation,” an essay in Emerson’s First Series. No particular reason for choosing that essay . . . but it satisfied.
     I want to think of two moments in the essay that struck me: I read best when I am struck by moments in the text. Usually these are moments when the text offers what I oft thought myself but ne’er so well expressed; or when the text contradicts my thought. Sometimes a thought burrows through some thickness to shed light on something about which I might have been considering or even dreaming. These fragments seemed to do it all. Emerson writes: “Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse.”  Nothing is without its other, its opposite: nothing exists by itself. Emerson calls this state of things a dualism, suggesting that the world is split into Manichean opposites, but then it must also be true that nothing is what it seems to be but already contains its other. Everything is somehow connected to everything else even if only in language. Spinoza might have referred to these seeming opposites as various modes of substance: that substance is a unity. For Spinoza substance that which cannot be other: God.
     And the second moment in the essay continues this theme that I want to almost border on the ironic: if nothing is itself then what is it? Georgia Albert suggests that irony is the “simultaneous presence of two meanings between which it is not possible to decide.” Irony is not saying one thing and meaning its opposite: here irony is simultaneously the thing and its opposite. Its identity derives from its other. So if within sweet is the sour, then I have to ask of what does sweet consist? And vice versa. And then Emerson says, “There is a crack in everything God has made.” There is no perfection in the world, and everything comes with a price. This law is fatal, Emerson declares: “that in nature nothing can be given, all things are sold.” We must purchase those things we would have: we are not in Eden. Compensation.
     The OED says that compensation refers to “counterbalance, the rendering of an equivalent.” Here Emerson’s title refers to the balancing of what are considered opposites and rendering them the same. If compensation means the rendering of an equivalent, then good and bad are the same! Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” And the OED says that in the field of Mechanics compensation refers to the balancing of forces, and the idea of compensation in Emerson’s essay might mean that though there is in the universe no perfection, the imperfections all result in some cosmic equilibrium. “The world looks like a multiplication table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself,” Emerson writes. Interestingly, perhaps, whereas Einstein said that God does not play dice with the universe, Emerson says “The dice of God are always loaded.” The number always comes up the same.
     Finally, as Shakespeare developed the word (1606), compensation meant “That which is given in recompense, an equivalent rendered . . .” And this accords with Emerson’s belief that “every new transaction alters according to its nature their relation to each other.” No deed is pure: every transaction must be paid for: hence, the crack in everything. Every deed demands compensation: nothing happens without consequences for which responsibility must be taken.