02 March 2015

On Hate, Part One

For any number of good reasons, I have been thinking a great deal lately about hate. As far as I can tell at this time, D.W. Winnicott began the work to remove from the concept ‘hate’ the negative aspects associated usually with it. I am exploring . . .
            My study starts in reality Jessica Benjamin offers as a definition of objects relations as “the psychic internalization and representation of interactions between self and object.”  If Freud suggested that development could be defined as the replacement of id by the ego, then Benjamin offers, “where ego is, objects must be.” We are the sum of our object relating and use.
            I do not know enough to elaborate with even slight sophistication at this point, but I do want to begin consideration: object relating results in certain alterations in the self ( the self here defined as a consciousness and an unconsciousness), and effects what is in psychology called a cathexis: a concentration of mental energy focused on another person, an object or even on aspects of the self. For example, I might consider my hypochondria a cathectic attachment. Object relations theory might offer that I relate to this rash, that pain, this twinge, that confluence of physical feelings, every slight change in my body by drawing it (them) within and assigning to them a cathectic charge: into symptoms that troubles me. I suspect that the hypochondria is a fear of death (Freud’s death principle enacted) but the hypochondria possesses an emotional charge, a cathexis, that gives it power over me and to an extent, sometimes small and sometimes large, controls my behavior.   
            Hate is mentalized anger, and in hate I destroy those objects to which I have been relating in my internal object world. But, when those objects survive my destruction, they become elements of reality and become objects that I can now use. To gain control over my intra-psychically charged symptoms would free up a great deal of time and energy for more interesting activity. The capacity to use objects becomes the work of psychotherapy, says Winnicott. But this process of object use seems to begin with the capacity to hate. Hate appears to be a developmental aggression in the service of separation. Hate, says psychotherapist Laurence Green, is self-delineating aggression, (I choose on what to aggress) and through our capacity to hate we give up our dependence on the other. I can cease relying on my hypochondria to control my thought and behavior in this world, and through hate I can begin to engage productively with colleagues rather than remain enraged at them from a comfortable distance. “Through the experience of hating we are able to relinquish the expectation that the person changes to meet our need.” Thus, having abandoned that demand, we can accept the other as separate, and we can begin to love—a topic I’ll save for another time. Hate is the energy of destruction that we use to break through our object (intra-psychic) world to engage in reality.

            In the classroom, then, do I hate my students, and do I teach my students to hate me?

20 February 2015

First Loves

I experience a great pleasure when I have the occasion to return to original loves; or perhaps it is more exact to say that it provides me great pleasure to recover those first enchantments. Actually, I hold the memories of a great many first loves, and I consider that maybe all loves are first ones. I mean, how do I distinguish between Denise, who sat next to me in the 4th grade and to whom I gave my newly purchased ID bracelet; from the Denise with whom I flirted (and even kissed?) at summer camp not long after the end of that momentous fourth grade. And what about Denise who I have always considered my first true date in  . . . well, it must have been high school, and with whom I intentionally met (though not on a date) many years later—many, many years later—when she passed through my city with her husband. We didn’t then reminisce but it was a joy to sit for a while in the present with my past love of the past.
            And then there is Denise who was my first true love and with whom I spent my entire senior year (and senior prom) arguing to distraction about whose version of “Lemon Tree” was superior, that of Peter, Paul and Mary or that of Trini Lopez. Though then we disagreed as a prefigurement of our eventual parting, many, many years later when we met again, she had gracefully (and gratefully?) come ‘round to my position. And I was still in love and remain so, of course. And there are so many Denises along the way and even one with whom I still live—all first loves.
            But today it is Ralph Waldo Emerson to whom I return because I have been reading him in the process of preparing for participation in a symposium (how gloriously Platonic) addressing the significance of study, a subject about which I have been thinking and writing for a number of happy years. In his collected prose works in an essay called “The Natural History of Intellect” Emerson writes: “A man is intellectual in proportion as he can make an object of every sensation, perception and intuition; so long as he has no engagement in any thought or feeling which can hinder him from looking at it as somewhat foreign.” For years I have accepted the strength of objects relations theory and the idea on which it is based: that we are the sum of our relations and that every object has the potential for my relation and use. I have learned a great deal by understanding the world as filled with objects available for my use, to consider how my sensations, perceptions and intuitions are objects I employ for purpose. This ability keeps me sane, an object category I spend a great deal of time considering, using, but questioning. Indeed, Adam Phillips’ book, Going Sane presents sanity itself as an object to be used. After all, we all know what it must mean to go insane, but what does it mean to go sane? I have learned through Phillips to redefine sanity (and my sane self?) because of the ability learned to use sanity as an object. And so it is a comfort to return to Emerson, a first love, and discover in him some sources in his for his work of some current passions, even as I rediscover in my life all of my past Denises anew in the present. As if there is some arc to a life that finally reaches to the circle.
            Because contained also within that Emersonian sentence I discover other first loves, for Emerson advocates that the intellectual is one who can make every familiar strange. I have for some reason chosen the road less traveled by, and it has indeed made all the difference. Some early loves:  Terry Eagleton’s collection Against the Grain, which taught me one powerful manner of reading; and Roger Simon’s Teaching Against the Grain, which taught me a great deal about the profession I had chosen; and bell hooks’, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, that supported me in my experiences of alienation in the classroom.

            These first loves remain always loved, and living again with RWE give me peace.

14 February 2015

The Library

As I unpack boxes of books I reveal an archaeology on my life. I remove the collected works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, and uncover there the gift offered me by Kenneth Bloom when I had a parentally designed cosmetic surgery to remove birth mark growths from my lips. And though Kenny was an object of some ridicule in my social group, he was also the only one of them to acknowledge my recovery. I read the book from cover to cover.
            In another box is the complete set the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a gift from the Goldbergs on the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah fifty five years ago. How did they know I would major in English when I had informed every one else that I was enrolling in a pre-med program at whatever college accepted me. This years before I had any notion of what college to which I would even apply. I read most of Poe though not in that particular connection.
            There were boxes filled with my immersion in Terry Eagleton’s wide-ranging discussion of Marxism, of literature and culture, from whose influence I have never swerved very far. And then there is the accompanying volumes of Karl himself, specifically Capital, Volume I, which I studied with Michael Harrington at the New York Marxist School, and from which one night I walked the night John Lennon was shot; the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the Communist Manifesto and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; all works from which I have drawn in my thinking and my writings. In the boxes and now on the shelvers are the books by those who developed from those of Karl Marx; George Lukacs, on the historical novel, Trotsky on literature, Hegel on the arts, Pierre Machery on literary production; and of course, of Walter Benjamin, and the many works of Raymond Williiams, including his trilogy of novels concerning the working class Welsh. And there are more.
            There were the thick tomes of literary theory that decentered me from my stance in New Criticism by the French Continental Philosophy: Jonathan Culler and Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. And more.
            I unpack a voluminous collection concerning the work of the American philosophical tradition, starting with the Puritans and Perry Miller’s two-volume study, The Puritan Mind, and the work of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, books that I have had to repurchase when the originals I originally owned began to fall apart, and from which I have never departed. And more.
            And works I bought to fuel my political awareness and rage, books, too that have begun to come unglued, like Naming Names by James Weinstein, and Democracy is in the Streets. Books that situated me in my time and defined for me the time in which I made a definition for myself. And more.
            There were boxes filled with the works of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, D.W. Winnicott and Adam Phillips, works into which I dove to pull out myself. Or to create myself, I was never quite sure in which activity I might have been engaged. And more.
            And the dozens of biographies and autobiographies that I have read over the years. Why do I read them? What did they offer me? And more.
            Alberto Manguel, in his book The Library at Night, that sits comfortably on my shelf, says “The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read inits entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion.” I stand before my library and I am comforted. There are books I do not recognize.

            And I haven’t yet opened the boxes of novels into which I poured my hopes and dreams. Or shelved the books I have soon to purchase.

31 January 2015

Circle close

As it happened (or as Bokononists say, “As it was meant to happen"), I sat down at the computer and turned on the Web-radio to hear Judy Collins’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s iconic,  “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I have lived with this song for fifty years in its multiple versions by a diversity of artists, but I have remained fixed on Dylan’s original version on Bringing it All Back Home and Judy Collins’ 1965 version of the song on her Fifth Album. The strains of the song settled me back to the summer of 1965 when I washed cars and mowed lawns and debated with my schoolmates the identity of Mr. Tambourine Man who could help me forget about today until tomorrow and who would take me “disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind.”
As it was meant to happen, I had originally sat down to write about a sense of the world that began as a significant part of my life in the 1960s, and that seems to have come around full circle last evening. In Washington State marijuana is now legal. And so last evening after a convivial dinner we sat and passed around the bong, and I considered that my life in one respect had completed. I had begun smoking dope when I was 19 years old, almost fifty years ago. Then drugs were all illegal and there was something revolutionary, anarchic, and dangerous about indulging in the weed. I remember sitting in my dormitory room with the windows flung wide open to aid the smoke disappearing out into the air, and with the heel on my bedroom doorheel opening stopped up by a towel to keep the smell of burning weed from escaping out into the hallways. I remember passing the joint down the row at concerts sharing our stash with everyone about us, and I remember sitting on the New York Subways proudly and seditiously carrying on my lap in my green back pack my recent purchase of a pound of marijuana that I would split with my dear friend and colleague. Smoking dope was a relatively dangerous and glorious experience that I associate with the generally rebellious stance I assumed in my life during those years. If they were for it, then I was opposed to it. I always voted but almost never for anyone who actually won an election; I could could not tolerate my parents bourgeois status (though I continued to benefit from it), and identified with a host of revolutionaries, starting with Ché Guevara. I read Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. I enlisted in the counterculture. I think I became a hippie, though I only owned that identity years later when the history books defined the phenomenon and I understood that I was being described.
But last evening we sat comfortably together in a magnificent home in great warmth, both real and metaphorical, and without a care in the world drank wine and got very high and talked not about how easy it was to tell black from white, or how we knew what was wrong and what was right. No, we talked about the choices we had made, the roads we had traveled, some of which had shattered and all of which had split. I was so much older then . . . but last night I was happy in my comfort even as I had been happy in my rebellion then even as I engaged in the same activity and enjoyed the same flight as I fell under the dancing spell of Mr. Tambourine Man.


27 January 2015

In these New York Times

The banner headline in today’s New York Times declares in horror that the snowstorm barreling into the Northeast will paralyze travel and severely disrupt daily life. This barreling storm threatens to crush all in its path, though unlike the barrel, the snowstorm derives from no human source. “Millions of people from New York to Maine were forced to quit work early, rush to get off roads and highways and take shelter as a snowstorm bore down on the region Monday night, bringing winds of near hurricane force and the threat of coastal flooding and more than two feet of snow,” the article screams. No doubt this storm promises to be a serious natural occurrence with very real human consequences. By Tuesday, of course, the dire predictions that this might be the worst storm in history for New York City did not prove true, and though the environs experienced ten inches or so of snow, and I am certain many suffered great inconvenience, well, the City barreled through and went about its business this Tuesday. I read that, too, in an on-line version of The New York Times.
But . . . underneath the five-column picture of passengers exiting a train at 125th Street amidst the snowfall, and in much smaller type and space, was a one column head announcing that the Koch brothers’ budget for the 2016 election campaign will be set at almost $900 million. The Koch brothers’ organization will spend as much money on the election as the Democratic and Republican parties will devote to the efforts! Two people will try to buy the next United States Government.
I always despair when the weather forecaster announces a winter storm advisory. I live in the mid-West and the winters are brutal. Only two years ago we experienced a 12” snowfall on May 2. Sometimes the temperature doesn’t get to zero for a week on end. I have no doubt that the nature of character in the populace of the upper mid-West results in some significant part from the harshness of the weather. Often, of course, the forecaster’s predictions are inaccurate and they are proven wrong: I envy their freedom!! When I err there is hell to pay and my pay is threatened.
I am appalled that The New York Times devoted five columns to a headline concerning a snowstorm—albeit it one that might affect millions of people—and prints a single-one column article reporting on the Koch brothers attempt to purchase the United States Government, an effort that will concern the daily lives of billions of people around the globe. The consequences of those actions will absolutely affect the millions yet unborn who will suffer from policies that bespeak a disregard for the welfare of those whose lack of private wealth renders them dangerously vulnerable to the barreling forces of self-serving, hateful financial resources of the filty rich and infamous. The rhetoric of such rapacious brutes rings empty even as their silver clinks loudly in their arrogant pockets.

I hold in contempt the politics of contemporary America. And despair for the children.