Archive for the ‘psychology’ Tag

Method Madness

Hamlet is not a very Danish name. Maurits, King or Prince of Denmark, would be more like it.

Anyway with Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia, and Horatio Shakespeare really fucked up his linguistic geography. This is Denmark, old boy! Not Verona!

And a guy named after a tiny village, doesn’t make much sense either.

Might as well have called him Boardwalk. Bo, for short.

Shakespeare borrowed a lot from the Greeks Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and their treatment of the Oresteia, but Hamlet was no Orestes. Just like in a different context the Wizard’s Dorothy is no Alice in Wonderland, any more than Dan Quayle was John F. Kennedy by Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s stern yardstick.

And I know this is blasphemy but as story lines go Hamlet is a terrible play, neither head nor tail, for a normal spectator at least to follow, or else an endlessly convoluted plot with the dark Danish Prince stricken with grief, going mad, suicidal or simply cunningly paranoid. If not clarity, beauty only in its exquisite language. But even something that is said beautifully must make sense to someone like me.

Here’s the thing as Directors go, it’s dramatically very hard to demonstrate someone apparently normal, slowly going potty. It’s easier to show someone normal conniving his revenge, by faking he’s going potty. But what then is totally incongruous is his doubt about what he should do, commit suicide or not, murder or not, how and when, staging one thing, then the other, with whose help etc etc. For if there’s one thing true in this world or any other, highly motivated and morally ‘just’ counter-conspirators by temperament cannot and will never be pussy-footers or procrastinators. And that’s exactly what Hamlet’s made out to be.

And even Laurence Olivier’s steeply abbreviated cinematic version unable to cut all the fat or for that matter pass any muster. A terrible movie that refuses to fascinate and hypnotise, delivered around a dozen classic one-liners everyone knows by now. But no number of grave diggers, hip friends and ghosts, ooh, aah, woe, the fleet, the fleet…ah yes the completely redundant fleet, making this thing work.

A psychological play avant-la-lettre, dealing with moral and mental illness at the same time? Don’t you believe it, this is theatre for theatricality’s sake, sustained by overly reverent Shakespeare worship.

Growing prematurely bald himself, Hamlet could easily have looked up at the sky, sunk on one knee, stroke an even balder skull, and sigh: Toupée or no Toupée, that is the question! And be just as credible.

  1. And what’s this Laurence bit, Larry? It’s Laurent old boy, if you want to go French all the way, and with your Norman Olivier, instead of Oliver. Laurence’s a girl’s name, so be a good sod and from eternity…  change it back to Lawrence, old man. I mean, we did win at Agincourt, didn’t we? And don’t you remember the Hank Cinq you did?  (Henry V)


Freud Round the Keyhole

Subtitle: Ciao Sigmund! Thanks for the Memory

A Canadian trick when freezing and 30 below, fumbling and shivering, trying to open your front door, is to have done yourself a huge favour by placing a piece of fur round the keyhole. Because of it, wind howling, dark and anxious, you’re more apt… to quickly slipping in. In a certain way Freud was Canadian but erred in thinking this is the only way to open the door and get home, although he did manage the inevitable, first finding then attempting to figure out our invisible twin already lounging on the sofa, in certain cases one much younger than us.

Freudianism is that momentary slap in the conscience to which one says: thanks I needed that. Then walk away and never look back or dwell on it. And making some sort of misty eyed intellectual creed out of it, completely out of place. For he did err grievously of course, the girl next door having no more penis envy than I have vagina envy and Oedipus, Jocasta and Antigone merely belonging where they are i.e. in a Greek tale and seemingly resulting so-called erotic-symbolic dreams mere circuit overload. (In a dream, not long ago, I played poker with Frank Sinatra: obviously never met the man, long dead now, all of it scrambled disk surmenage, at one point probably having watched a gangster movie, I don’t remember now, but I assure you I didn’t wake up with an erection as sexuality does NOT underpin most of my actions, though my hatred for injustice may well do so!) Also, Tabula Rasa a simplistic notion most half-alert parents are unwilling to subscribe to and not even a Lebanese side dish as a friend of mine claims.

Thomas Mann already suggested as much when Freud was still alive, saying that as science goes the ambitious doctor wasn’t up to much, but what a great novelist he would have made had he taken himself and psychology less seriously. Because he wrote beautifully and even though there does exists a whole lot of unprocessed extra information, sneaking into our head by the back door, leading to non-verbal, hidden and unacknowledged knowledge a.k.a as instinct, intuition, sub-conscience or inner voice, this doesn’t have to point to illness.

So yes, there definitely is such a thing as a mind having a mind of its own, making up the complete person. Our genetically transferred properties augmented by cognitive & non-cognitive exposure and/or experience. And true enough Freud the guy who divined there exists this other layer deep inside our interior. The visceral layer of knowledge and above all emotional intelligence or disarray that may cause or lead to what sometimes appear to be involuntary actions. Brought on by nebulous pressures caused by repression of this knowledge. The key to the release of which quite simply: opening the hatch (talking, screaming, orgasmic action or their equivalence). And all of it break-through theory at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries to be sure, just like only two centuries earlier, man at last discovered that women actually carry eggs.

And yes, beside real, mechanical shortcomings of the brain needing to be fixed, we all have hidden frustrations, unrealistic hopes and nasty betrayals in our baggage. And if any of these lead to personal aberration and unbalanced behaviour counsel may help with digging up the hurt (though best not any euphoria), putting a scream of release, that certain jolt to work. Like Richard Pryor, the black comedian, at the top of his lungs, suddenly, when asked why he thought American society had taken such pleasure in making him feel inadequate, yelling this single word:


…without help of a psycho-therapist, pissed off with the insidious inequalities of his day, none caused by him and a circumstance wholly different from the bankrupt preoccupations of the self-absorbed fashionable patient, using the shrink as an expensive mind plumber and ego-masseur.

And thanks to the Sig’s early work there do exist some useful therapy techniques and genuine cases, though the entire discipline by a suitable number of people is now considered…‘old hat’ and on the level of mental palm-reading: working the calluses and the deep grooves of the mind, almost relieving lingering doubts, pain or perversions with the use of someone’s cunning, well-aimed words, but solving less than we had all been made to believe.

Because while the mind is like a country with a vast underground economy vital to that entity, making a mockery of statistics and other data, just don’t become a citizen of such a place until you sense its underlying truth. A place where all of us should be shrinks or at least receiving some very basic training in this area, without for a moment calling it a science. Like the simple spotting of a spotted dick, transferring diagnosis and treatment from high-brow to a much more pragmatic low-brow level. Teaching basic insights to twelve year olds, only so on one level they don’t remain twelve forever. Urgent curricular revision, for instance including courses on the importance of humour.

Making ‘understanding’ of motivation, cause and mental effect a common good, rather than a rarified quantity seemingly acquisitioned by Freudian ‘experts’. In the further hope of finding if not cure, some relief and far less misery caused by the actions (or absence of these) grown from mass psychology. Too often expressed as apathy and dreadful conformity, identified by Machiavelli well before Freud for its political impact. All of it of a nature perhaps far more insidious than the despicable but incidental hatred dear old Richard Pryor was subjected to. Because much like its citizens, governments tending to be guilty of painful excess… by absence.

So that now, more than a century after Freud, hasn’t the time come to de-mystify that other non-cognitive part of human conduct, the one of instinctive adolescent position taking? The one of herd behaviour? The one whereby people somehow conclude they must belong and must believe, because there’s nothing else, you see, and that of course there has to be something to what all the others think… The one whereby and in the same breath they silently assume they can’t ‘believe’ on their own, because, you see, who do they think they are… The same silent notion whereby and as a consequence, they accept with exalting docility and apathy what to have to believe in… Because of it, instantly becoming secure and overbearing, thinking they’re not only safe now but suddenly stronger and even superior. Always thinking they’re the better for aping acquired notions, allowing themselves to be shepherded without qualms, always without qualms. Nothing getting questioned any more from that point on, all dangerous terrain staked out, the universe before them suddenly a calm lake, theirs. Impostors of decency automatically arriving at moral and political choices, viscerally they claim, but for no particular good reason leaning left or right, being of the center, liberal, conservative, revolutionary, populist fodder, Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Shintoist etc etc and somehow always in favour of… what they really don’t know much about!

Kant also already recognizing there’s a private and a public use of one’s reason, but with typical Prussian precision coming down on the side of obedience towards achieving ends predetermined by others, not making better use of the old bean after all. So that what’s really needed now a Freud II high-school and college level instructor, never mind the Ph. Ds. Pragmatically dealing with a thus far missing branch of civic psychiatry, healing from the bottom up, evoking mass-hypnotism of a different kind. Education as it’s sometimes called, by first educating the educators. Seeking cures for not so much the over-rated Oedipus’ affliction as public infantilism, hysterical public paralysis and indifference, national melancholy, schizophrenia, paranoia, manic euphoria, obsessive/impulsive neurosis followed by misreading of events, egocentric dreams and what have you, by showing the end result of all this rot.

Nothing so serious though as to create yet another deliberately obscure discipline than the one already prevailing beside that couch. But a sort of Liberation of Mass Reasoning, as simple as a variation on Golf For Dummies, Civic Living for Dummies. Giving society itself some Gestalt. Treating itself like a single being rather than an ant hill, of a body and of a mind needing to get well. Nobody I know of having sat down to tackle instances of deliberate mass-ignorance, of moral phlegmaticalness, a need for public therapy of a different stripe. A mild exorcism, the de-programming of militant fanatics as well as the even more dangerous humble-pie proponents of life’s most worrisome, completely artificial precepts. Having analyzed and now convincing these folks that on a personal level they didn’t really ever dream of sleeping with their mothers or suffer from a loss-of-vagina syndrome and can face life dismissing a good number of questionable conventions without descending into depravity and depression. That what, subconsciously and thus irrationally, but nevertheless unsuccessfully they’ve been protecting all along is the reppression of their fears. Now instilling in them a healthy dose of irreverence, the teaching of facing the core of a truth, finding a place between State and Church, between Parliament or Congress and Justice, between Academia and Media, ceasing to be stable ‘belongers’, turning into smart ‘floaters’, weighing issue by issue, point by point, courageous diviners of the essence, differentiating between discipline and dark, stark obedience, not as tiresome iconoclastic anarchists but simply as every day contributors, getting rid, in other words, of their complex of… insignificance.

People having to understand that it doesn’t pay to be a clone on auto-pilot with a mechanized out-sourced conscience. That lethal 1984 or Brave New World syndrome they now have, sooner than later leading to real devastation unless they break certain spells. All of it… a passive form of iniquity overcome by discussion, free debate, coffee house engagement, not places of sedition and anarchy these, but most effective pre-Freudian places of healing. (There are no coffee houses in totalitarian environments and vice versa)

Though NOT again doing it this way:

“Now Richard, having established you weren’t abused as an infant and that you have no uterus, on your income, how long have you had the urge to vote Republican?”


“I think what’s tearing you apart, Jens, is that your latent homo-sexuality prevents you from seeing your way clear on the European Constitution. You have to come to grips with that, deal with it as if you were a native Mexican, not a stammering waiter in Copenhagen. Now, laddie, are you still prone to seizures?”

or even better

“You realize of course that your academic tenure and obstinate conformism to hierarchy and self-serving interpretation have nothing to do with intelligence. That your denigration of those fighting to widen horizons is an unhealthy expression of cowardice, envy and laziness: Tell me, in what kindergarten did resentment first give you a little kick? When ‘Teach’ took another child to the Fair, its mother giggling her weak consent but you getting taken home instead? Angry only till you learnt… the bastards had rained out? Ever heard of Schadenfreude, old man?”

(May 2006)

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