יום ראשון, 16 בספטמבר 2012

Stereo Mind

This morning I went to a meditation class. A very short one. The teacher told me to sit comfortably, breath, try to count my breaths from one to ten, then count again, and if I think of something, let it be and let it go.

I had trouble counting. I started, then it got boring so I thought between breaths, of this and that, and I tried to notice when I was holding on to a thought, like the teacher's instructions, or how I really want to stop thinking, etc.. So I started debating these thoughts with two voices in my head, and so I lost the counting voice. At first I kept saying, oh, I must be somewhere around 5, and started from there. But then I noticed that by guessing I was around 5, I was holding on to the thought that maybe I was at 4 or 7, so every time i wasn't sure, I just started over from 1. I did it for a while and then time finished.

Afterwards I thought this is exactly what I was curious about when I studied about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), or when I read about The Capacity to be Alone, or what I understood from Yoda's instructions to be mindful of myself....

But I am writing this just to note in my personal growth log, that it seems I have a stereo mind. I am talking to myself. There are two time separated channels in conversation. The counting took over one of them and bored the other. The first voice is me, the second voice is my self (which is me in a moment's delay).

יום ראשון, 9 בספטמבר 2012

An Appreciation of Feminism to My Understanding of Otherness

Soon I will be 31, old, I have lived and loved, and I have just recently found out that I was mostly blind to world around me. It began with a broken heart, then there was a post I wrote about Jessica Benjamin's article, Recognition and Destruction, that made all my experiences in life so far collapse into perspective of intra-psychic experience, then there was a gender conflict group I instructed, then there were a few feminist blogs (1, 2 in Hebrew) I read recently that made AWFUL sense to me, and this post is just another attempt to regurgitate this idea in and out of my head... I will try to make it communicative, even if lengthy... 

Benjamin describes the psychological development of the capacity to recognize other people as subjects, and not as objects. She writes as a feminist, relational psychoanalyst, translating the legacy of patriarchal psychoanalysis and object-relations (how babies see moms) into critical inter-subjective terms (how people see each other). 

Now, I am sure there are intellectuals who do a better job of explaining intersubjectivity per se. Psychoanalysis is always a step behind philosophy, literature, and sociology too maybe, as it bothers with patients instead of introspection, and insists on rules instead of insights.

Also, this thing about the developmental metaphor, where psychoanalysts describe human relations as stemming from mom-kid relations is not always helpful. Yes, thinking of babies makes people less judgmental, and they can criticize social constructions this way. But this is just a rhetoric manipulation, and using the same metaphor all the time, claiming that it is the natural cause of how people grew up to be douches, is mere justification of things, or an anxious apology for thinking differently.

So, Bejamin has two very strong insights in this article, that rocked my world:

1) Objectification:
People can relate to each other as objects, or as subjects. To relate to a person as an object is to relate to a narrow aspect of that person, and deny other aspects. For example, when men treat women as sexual objects, not really caring other aspects, such as their intellectual traits. I think this is how the objectified side would experience objectification.

But Benjamin describes the psychology behind this act on the objectifying side, and helps shed light on other forms of objectification that are harder to notice. To do this, she refers to the psychoanalytic theory of object-relations. The basic idea is that people reduce reality into simple terms of good and bad. For example, when someone cuts you on the road and you curse his mother and wish him death, or when someone you like brings you coffee to bed and you wish it will always be like this and you are thinking for names for your prematurely fantasized kids. This is a dichotomous way to see the world as either completely persecuting or completely benevolent, and to see yourself as a 100% victim or 1000% wonderful.

This way, we see the world through a dichotomy of wishes and terrors. In order to see the person who cut you on the road as a persecutor, you must deny that you probably cut others all the time. In order to see that girl as the mother of your children, you really need to deny that you've been behaving like a lazy slug lately, and that she may want you to get out of bed and get a life.

So, objectification is not just the reduction of another person to a narrow aspect, such as a sexual fantasy. It is seeing another person as part of your internal reality. The reduction into a narrow aspect of that person is secondary, and happens because our internal reality is usually quite simplistic. But this allows us to examine two new forms of objectification: complex and non-sexual.

Complex objectification is something that may happen when a highly introspective person tries to fit reality into his (yes, mine..) internal schemes. After a few times of getting coffee to bed and not finding eternal love as a result, such an introspective person may learn that other people are not simple objects. A weaker mind may then be forced to give up this simplistic view of reality. But the introspective virtuoso, may create more complex objects, and try to force reality to fit them. For example, being equal and correct and making coffee too sometimes. But this is still just a way to maintain the other person as a 100% loving object. I now begin to think that there is something very controlling about making someone coffee.

It's more complex than forcing someone to make you coffee. But it's still a way to see someone as your fantasy, by compromising the fantasy a bit. It's also non-sexual. Feminists rightfully fight against sexual objectification as it relates closely to rape and harassment. But other forms of gender oppression, such as wishing someone would be your mom and bring you coffee to bed (now you get the fantasy?) work the same way. You still relate to a narrow aspect of another person.

1.5. Denying subjectivity
(Well this isn't something Benejamin said, it's more of a thought that helped me understand her.) Looking at the psychology of objectification on the objectifying side is very helpful. It helps distinguish objectification that a person performs willingly on him/her-self from objectification that serves someone else's wishes. When I say person I mean both subject and object. A person is an object as it has objective traits and functions, such as being tall or intelligent. A person is also a subject in the sense that a person can relate to its objective qualities, by judging itself, wishing to change, or just know itself. Here I really need to brush up on Kristeva's notion of subjectivity as a continuous process of relating to the formation of yourself as an object. But let's keep it simple, and say that a subject is a point of view, individual, a current reflective thought that is on the edge of your experience. For example, I am currently noticing that I am listening to the song Love is in the Air, and now I am noticing that it has something to do with my post, and now I am embarassed to think that my kitsch playlist has become public knowledge, and now I need to go the bathroom, and now I think of my previous post where I wrote about pee-anxiety, and so on and so forth. As you can see, I keep relating to myself and to the world, and this is my point of subjectivity.

To objectify a person is not only to reduce the person into one aspect, but also to deny the person's subjective point of view of him/herself. A few years ago I watched Israeli news after a bus bombing, and there was a recurring ritual of inviting an Arab Knesset Member for an interview and asking whether he denounces this act of terror or supports it. This time was like all others, only that I listened to what the Arab KM said. He said that the situation is unfortunate, that people are dying on both sides, that both sides are wishing for a change. The interviewer was discontent, insisting on a simple yes or no - do you denounce terror or not? In the national grief after a bombing, an Arab Knesset member friend or foe, and what how he relates to his being a foe, is irrelevant.

Recently I read a feminist post about consensual sex, listing the 10000 ways a woman can refuse, and 100 cases in which consent is invalid due to coercive dependency. I felt like this was a more politically correct way to insist on a simple yes or no, and denying the way a woman's subjectivity. Of course, there was a second post, for advanced readers, that discussed the dichotomy of the consent discourse, which recognized the need for a respectful dialogue, rather than an elaborate, nonetheless binary, yes/no algorithm.

But dichotomy is not all bad, or we would not agree to it, or do it to ourselves... I sometimes like it when I am perceived as an idealized,  all-good-object. It boosts my ego. To deny that people serve as sexual objects for each other would also be unrealistic. People have sexual desires, and people want to be desired sexually. People objectify themselves, when putting up a superficial persona trying to look cool, or when dressing up sexy.  This is a very crucial point for feminists then. I would have to guess that when a woman dresses up sexy, she does it for herself in a way. I mean, this is not an internalization of the male objectification of women as worth only as sex objects. It could be, but it could also be something more interesting.

It seems to me objectification got a bad reputation because of coercion. I would describe a neurotic person as superfluous with subjectivity, not willing to rest his point of view of himself, and just be as he is (yes, me). Letting go of this reflexive function of subjectivity is a goal in many religions, therapies etc.. Not to say that religions should be the benchmark of goodness, but that people do desire to stop desiring, to be still, content.  Self-objectification means enjoying the role I play for others.

2. Retaliatory VS mutual relationship
So we're back to Benjamin, and this is the real gold, so forgive me for not really having it down. She says that when we see someone else as exterior to our intra-psychic fantasies and terrors, we recognize his/her subjectivity. We listen to how that person sees him/her-self, and how he/she relates to him/her-self. Recognition is a key idea in relational psychoanalysis, so I will be very modest at trying to define it. I think it is giving validity to a person's relation to himself, to his subjectivity. For example, I could recognize that the person who cut me on the road did it because he is afraid to be late for work, or that 1000 other drivers cut him on the road, and he decided to do the same. But I would not really be recognizing anything when I am isolated in my own car. This would be similar to left-wing Israelis trying to figure out Palestinians without talking to them. You really need to roll down the window and talk. The girl who brought me coffee to bed, why did she do it? What did it mean to her?

Benjamin refers to Hegglian Master-Slave dialectics to explain this, and I really think you should read Heggel or Benjamin's explanation, but if you're lazy, I will give it a shot.  A person wishes to be recognized a point of subjectivity, that relates to the world. But the world as an object cannot give recognition. Only when you are met with another person's subjectivity you realize that you are a subject. When you see the depth and confusion, the way a person relates to itself, self-estranged, blind to itself, only then you understand that the mess you feel is what you are, and that you may also be blind to yourself.

Only a subject can recognize a subject. This leads to some sort of a loop: you use someone as a mirror, this is objectification, like asking for someone to tell you how great you are, But then, you realize that the mirror function doesn't work as a function, because in order to mirror a spontaneous source of reflexive desire, the other person must not obey predefined rules, like needing the compliment to come without you asking for it. So you have two subjects using each other, one on the expense of the other. This is a retaliatory relationship, where you make someone coffee so that they will make you coffee later, where you deny someone a compliment just so they will not take you for granted. This is similar to how Israelis drive, always one on the expense of the other. And the worst thing is to be taken advantage of. An eye for an eye, just not to have less eyes than the other guy.

Ben Kingsley's Gandhi movie was also influential for me, as I understood how Gandhi recognized what makes the British tick, that with all their violence they think they are civilized, and his non-violent resistence forced them to act in an uncivilized way and shoot innocents, which was a way to deny them recognition as good guys...

But then Benjamin describes a moment of mutual recognition tht happens just at the switch, when the user becomes the used, and vice versa. Like in WWF tag team matches, where one wrestler tags his buddy for a substitution, and for a minute they are in the ring together. Or like two drivers cutting each other and realizing that they know exactly why the other guy is behaving like a douche. That moment of mutual eye gouging when you see through another person's eyes. It's just a fading moment, that collapses very quickly into retaliatory relationship again. But this is the moment I have been searching for. It has to do with dialogue. Not being correct, or justified, or a nice guy, out of my own oedipal guilt or out of a narcissistic wish to be 1000% loved. It has to do with taking responsibility, owning my role to other people, being fair and recognizing my power, listening, putting my fears and wishes aside, thinking less, and the hardsest thing, as if those were not enough, is being here and now, in touch with how things really are and how they keep switching and nothing is definitive... I'd rather not be too definitive, as I won't be able to take responsibility for some sort of final take on things, so this maybe a verbose start of a dialogue I guess..

But I'm really hungry now, and I need to ask someone some questions about coffee and stuff....

I always think of intersubjectivity as mixing concentric Hora circles, here's something close...

Of course, there is something to gain from mutuality, other than moral peace of mind, which is kind of a retaliatory motivation... Instead of using the other to see yourself, you look at the other for him/her-self, and the more profound you look into the other, the more you can see yourself, in ways not limited by what you are afraid/wish to find out.

יום רביעי, 5 בספטמבר 2012

Notes on The Capacity to be Alone by DW Winnicott (1958)

Yesterday I read Winnicott's essay The Capacity to be Alone (1958, here in Hebrew), describing the ability of an individual to be quiet. I'll try to explain it here in my own vulgar terms.

So, as it is commonly known, the ego's function is to be the mediator of id drives and the environment's demands. For example, to want to go to the bathroom, but to understand that the bathroom is taken, and to keep typing for a bit longer until the need to pee can be met. I would describe the capacity to be alone as the ego's ability to rest from this mediation task. Winnicott gives the example of two lovers laying side by side after sexual climax. They are mutually fulfilled, not needing to satisfy themselves nor to satisfy the other, they can just wander in thoughts, resting in cool sweat, each to his (or her) own. They are together alone, their capacity to be alone comes from their fulfillment and exhaustion, of their need for each other, and for sexual gratification. This is how the ego rests.

Now forget about sex and think about a tiny little baby, laying, wrapped in a tight bundle. The internal drives of the id may be pre-verbal hunger. Try and imagine that hunger before you understand what hunger is (like in the film Wings of Desire, where an angel falls to the ground and feels hungry for the first time, and cannot describe it, though he knows how to speak). Imagine the helplessness when you are laying in your shit, and it stings and itches, and you don't know if it will ever stop. These sensations are exciting and overwhelming, drawing all the baby ego's attention to them. In adult terms, think that you are so anxious about eating or peeing that you have to do it all the time, just fearing that you will need it later and won't be able to, or that if you don't pee or eat, and you will have to sit in class or in a meeting, and be hungry or have to pee, it would be a stimulus too strong to ignore, because your ego is completely drawn, to your internal states and needs.

On the other hand, there's the environment, that keeps infringing on the ego with noise, demanding response to a smile, interrupting with untimely feeding. Winnicott does a great job in other essays (which I didn't REALLY read) in describing love and nurturing as something that should be balanced, somewhere between neglect and imposition. His popular term, the good-enough mother, refers to a caretaker that gives the right degree of space for the infant, to learn that he (or she!) will survive a minute of hunger, but not too much space, so the infant won't lose the association between his (or her) needs and their fulfillment (and then forever fall into dark loneliness, with needs that can never be satisfied, and love that can never be absorbed!! behhh!!!!). On the other side of that, relating to the infant should be balanced with the right degree of warmth and closeness, to comfort the infant, and give him (or her...) the basic feeling that the world is good and sweet, but not too much, not to interrupt him, with overbearing love, that impinges on his quiet, demanding him (or her...) to accept a nipple, or to be tossed around, when he (or she) is not ready for it (and then be coerced into compliance with the caregiver needs, losing touch with his (or her) own needs, creating a false persona that aims to please mom forever, getting good grades, eating everything off the plate, studying medicine and marrying a Jewish doctor, only to feel empty and void of personal meaning and vitality, as his (or her) needs were neglected a long way back, and can no longer be fulfilled by achievements that are meant to please the caregiver, and not the authentic self!!! ouch!).

So you have this baby, as I said, wrapped in a tight bundle, with his raging internal sensations, and his (or her) mom and dad fussing around him (or her), and in between his baby-ego is trying to make sense of things. What is going on? Is this gas? Is mom holding me too tight? What how why? And, probably more interesting to a tormented gassy babies, and later to accomplished adults: what can I do about it? Kicking, crying, smiling, blabbering, burping, maybe going to the library to sit quietly and getting some work done, or whatever is in the baby's power to do. I really wanted to get to the point of the bundle: it isolates the baby from the environment, and doesn't let it influence it by moving, forcing it to attend to its internal states and sensations. The bundled baby has a fresh diaper with some balm, and a full stomach after burping, and he (or she) is laying with no overwhelming internal sensations. No breeze, no fussing around him (or her). The emerging ego function learns what quiet is (This will take the anxious, over attentive ego years of meditation and/or good therapy to learn when he (or she) becomes an overworked desensitized self-estranged yuppie adult). 

So let's summarize:
1) The ego is the mediator of internal and external states.
2) The ego should be taught to rest.
3) The ego can rest when it is well nurtured and fulfilled - in relation to internal and external sensations and demands.
4) This rest is a form of self-calibration, which allows later interactions with the environment or later internal needs to be fulfilled and experienced as relating to the self (not as false self that is attuned to the environment, nor as a desperate attempt to quiet overbearing internal urges). I didn't say this before, so it's good I summarized.

Here's Hedwig's song about the origin of love as a desperate chase of a completing other. Remember that Socrates describes the higher form of love as non functional, like the satisfied lovers in bed:

My comments and personal highlights are:
0.5) Baby mental life is a metaphor for me, I don't care for the pathogenesis...
1) Love can be an interruption.
2) To be alone and quiet, a person's needs must be nurtured and his (or her) relationship with others must be fulfilled. To be together and always missing each other, or frustrating yourself, is a form of loneliness.
3) Fulfillment is not objective, nor absolute. It's a sort of magic that happens when a deeper level of your existence is recognized. We do not chase fulfillment, that would be desperate if we are far from it, and depressive after we get it. We are in search of self actualization. To find a fitting challenge, to be recognized for strengths and shortcomings.
3.5) Exhaustion is another form of fulfillment that has to do with changing our expectations and meeting our limits. What makes exhaustion meaningful and not depressive? That it follows an authentic-self's wish.  
3.75) It is only after we are quiet that we can feel ourselves as autonomous, not as vessels of desires, or as pleasing robots. If we are autonomous, then we are authentic, since we do what we want, we influence the world in our way, our relationships are deeper and more meaningful than functional relations, and what we have done, we have done ourselves. Not to know what quiet is, means that we are always driven by something else, from within or without. We may get everything we want, we may be loved by all, but we will not be satisfied, as our selves are missing in the middle.
4) The unbearable tension circumscribed here is between subject and object. The ego's ability to rest is our ability to be an object, subjectivity as the point of view to nothing, to be still and not to be depressed or desperate.

PS: if anything in my account of Winnicott is wrong, I'd appreciate a reference to what he really says, and a reference to someone who says what I said better, but no need for "oh this is inaccurate" coz I know this already...