On Stranded Objects Of Post World War II Germany, The Inability to Mourn, & The Healing Found in Various Modes of Expression

Artwork Hope02
Surrealistic Artwork depicting the meaning of  “Religious Hope”

Speaking on Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia . . . .

According to Freud, morning occurs when an object that one had loved for its intrinsic qualities as separate and distinct from oneself is lost. The pleasures that derive from this form of love depend on a capacity to tolerate the potentially painful awareness that “I” and “you” have edges, and that inscribed within the space of this interval are the possibilities of misunderstanding, disappointment, even betrayal. According to Freud, the loss of an object loved in this manner typically results in mourning.

In the cases of melancholy, the pattern by which loss is worked through is different because the loved object fulfilled a rather different function in the psychological life of the bereaved. A melancholic response to loss, the symptomology of which is a severe, often suicidal depression, ensues when the object was loved not as separate and distinct from oneself, but rather as a mirror of one’s own sense of self and power. The predisposition to love in this manner obtains when the self lacks sufficient strength and cohesion to tolerate, much less comprehend, the reality of separateness (this is the situation of both the primary narcissist, the infant, and the secondary narcissist, the adult melancholic).

“The German population had narcissistically identified with Hitler and the ideology of National Socialism.” Because of this identification with an ego-ideal which re-enforced and strengthened the German population’s ego alongside that of Hitler’s, following the defeat and the collapse of Nazi Germany after World War II, the German population never mourned the loss of ‘object.’ Instead what we witnessed was a “derealization of the past, the sudden and radical shift of (narcissistic) identifications with Hitler to the democratic allies, and finally, identification with the victim.”

The German population had narcissistically identified with Hitler and the ideology of National Socialism. This globally deployed narcissism projected difference and otherness as something that intervenes from the outside, something that could and should be purged from an otherwise pure system seamlessly continuous with itself. In Lacanian terms, the Jews were assigned the role of the ones who intrude into and disrupt the Imaginary, akin to evil fathers who brutally uproot the children from their native matrix and maroon them in the cold and abstract space of the Symbolic. To eliminate the Jews would allow for a fantasy of return to the purity of a self-identity unmediated by any passage through alterity. The destruction of the Jews becomes, according to this logic, part of a broad group psychological strategy designed to “undo” or reverse the passage through that more primitive labor of mourning by which the boundaries between self and other are consolidated on the ruins of primary, that is, infantile, narcissism. The ideology of National Socialism and the narcissistic identification with Hitler thus promised a utopian world in which one was free to destroy what threatened the cloistral intimacy afforded by this narcissism. This was a world where the mournful labor that opens up the space between “I” and “thou,” “here” and “there,” “now” and “then,” could be banished as degenerate and Jewish. A “respecularization” of identity, that is, the simulation of a pure, specular reciprocity between ‘self’ and ‘other,’ was achieved by finding those one could blame for having disturbed this utopian exchange of gazes. In such a utopia, needless to say, a mature self could never really develop. The paradoxical task faced by the postwar population was thus to mourn for losses incurred in the name of a society that was in its turn founded on a fundamental denial of mourning in its (self-)constituting capacities. Germans had to mourn as Germans for those whom they had excluded and exterminated in their mad efforts to produce their “Germanness.”

In a recent text by Jean-Francois Lyotard. . . . makes the link between the inability to tolerate the nomadism characterizing the habits and habitations of postmodern selves, and an inability, symptomatic especially of German society but also reaching beyond national boundaries, to mourn the losses left in the wake of the Holocaust.. . . Lyotard remarks:

“All these wounds can be given names. Their names are strewn across the field of our unconscious like so many secret obstacles to the quiet perpetuation of the “modern project.” Under the pretense of safeguarding that project the men and women of my generation in Germany imposed on their children a forty-year silence about the “Nazi interlude.” This interdiction against anamnesis stands as a symbol for the entire Western world. Can there be progress without anamnesis? Anamnesis constitutes a painful process of working through, a work of mourning for the attachments and conflicting emotions, loves and terrors, associated with those names . . . We have only gotten as far as a vague, apparently inexplicable, end-of-the-century melancholy.”

The inability to assume the disorientations and decenteredness of the postmodern, minimally defined as the fragmentation of the modern project, is seen by Lyotard as contributing, in a fundamental way, to an inability to remember a past dismembered under the sign of Auschwitz. In other words, readers are being asked to think the “postwar” under the double sign of the postmodern and the post-Holocaust. And this double “post” is conceived in its turn as an imperative to work through – to mourn – the narcissisms that have, often with lethal consequences, tantalized the Western imagination in the modern period. These postmodern critical discourses represent a kind of translation into more global terms of Adorno’s famous dictum that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. After Auschwitz – after this trauma to European modernity – critical theory becomes in large part an ongoing elaboration of a seemingly endless series of “no longer possible.”

Central to these “no longer possible,” whether they be modes of aesthetic practice, thinking, political practice, or human interaction, is an inability to tolerate difference, heterogeneity, non-mastery. These discursive practices are founded on an inability to refusal to engage in those more primitive tasks of mourning which institute difference on the ruins of (infantile) fantasies of omnipotence.

One of the ways individuals achieve healing by a working through these psychic problems are through the various modes of expression, like, creative writing, creative visual arts which include cinamatics, photography and painting/drawings. These are modes of expression which facilitate sublimation through the creation of works which help to elevate a person’s cultural status by allowing the person to recognize their own self works as separate and apart from another, and which helps to facilitate the working through of an individual’s wounded attachment(s) through various modes of expression. Often times, people are achieve the state of catharsis, the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. In a way it is like “a purging of the past” which will ultimately allow the individual to grow and develop into full maturity.




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