Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Break From Dreaming

I have had over a week's break from writing in these pages.  There simply was too much work to be done at school and on the domestic front.  The amount of that work kept me away from my word processor.  I think a break from The Interpretation is needed also, but I shall return to my summarising and critique of the same at a later time.  However, as I am never too far away from books, I must mention that I came across a wonderful book in the Central Library here in Dublin, viz., The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have shaped our World View by Dr Richard Tarnas (Ballantine Books, New York, 1991).  It makes for a wonderful read for anyone interested in the history of ideas that have shaped our world.  While I read the library copy, I think I will still buy my own copy as it is a veritable classic with absolute gems of insight.  With my current interest in Freud, needless to say I turned to the index to see what Dr. Tarnas has to say on our hero Freud.  Indeed he has quite a bit, and thankfully all of this very insightful indeed.

I have referred many times before in these pages to that pervasive and often unexamined Cartesian dualism to which we in the West almost all subscribe to unconsciously most of the time.  Not just the religious amongst us, but also the more spiritual (in the general non-religious sense of that word) and even the scientific among our numbers often unwittingly display a Cartesian dualistic mind-set.  In other words we make the naive assumption that somehow there is a disembodied soul or spirit or psyche or mind somehow held captive in the shell of our bodies.

Personally I subscribe to a dynamic union of both, and love the term coined by many modern writers, namely our Mind-Body - in this way these thinkers and writers and therapists preserve a unity of being at the heart of what it means to be human.  Likewise, I think and feel, that we in the West are often uncritical receivers of a negative view of the body which we have received originally from Manichaeism [A Gnostic religion founded by Mani (210-276 A.D.) who lived in Babylon, then a province of the Persian Empire] through St Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) and so on down through the ages through St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and further down through the centuries to the unofficial heresy of Jansenism which held sway in the Roman Catholic Church from the 16th to the 18th centuries.  Jansenism emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination.  Its critics highlighted how near to Calvinism was the severity of its teachings teachings. [Jansenism originated in the writings of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Otto Jansen, (1585-1638), after whom Jansenism was named.]  Indeed all major Christian religions, Judaism and indeed Islam are coloured by this disgust with the degenerate body.  Modern theologians and good pastors of course have tried to go beyond their negative past with respect to the depravity and degeneracy of the human body.  I am tempted here to quote or even misquote George Orwell's wonderful Animal Farm by using the phrase "Soul Good, Body Bad" by way of summarising the Victorian attitude to the Body and Soul.

Anyway, onto this stage, entered our hero Freud.  Our man was no prisoner of contemporary society.  In fact, he was often not alone criticised but vilified for his views.  He spoke about the deep and dark passions and instincts of human beings, often tracing their neuroses back to repressed sexual urges.  Let us, in this light, look to what Dr. Tarnas has to say:

As Freud's insights were integrated into the ever-growing modern movement of personal liberation and self-realization, a powerful Dionysian impulse arose in the West.  Even for more staid sensibilities, it made little sense for human beings systematically to deny and repress that part of their being, their physical organism, that was not only their evolutionary inheritance but their existential foundation.  Modern man had committed himself to this world, with all the entailments of such a choice. (Op. cit., 318-319)

Tarnas goes on later in this wonderfully insightful book to expatiate on Freud's thinking which essentially brought to a brilliant culmination what the Enlightenment project was all about - namely that "man is the measure of all things" and that God at the very most, if he exists, is like a benign watchmaker, that is the Deistic position.  However, a lot of the Enlightenment thinkers were atheistic in tendency - they simply had no need for a "God of the gaps" as it were.  However, it is at this point that I believe Tarnas is brilliant.  Let us return to this scholar's words:

Yet on the other hand, Freud radically undermined the entire Enlightenment project by his revelation that below or beyond the rational must exist an overwhelmingly potent repository of nonrational forces which did not readily submit either to rational analysis or to conscious manipulation, and in comparison with which man's conscious ego was a frail and fragile epiphenomenon. (ibid., 328)

Then, like Nietzsche and Freud before him, Tarnas goes on to sum up on the next page what is essentially Freud's legacy to modern civilization.  I'll let Ternas' words speak for themselves:

With Freud, the Darwinian struggle with nature took on new dimensions, as man was now constrained to live in eternal struggle with his own nature.  Not only was God exposed as a primitive infantile projection, but the conscious human ego itself with its prize virtue the human reason - man's last bastion separating him from nature - was now dethroned, it too recognised as nothing more exalted than a recent and precarious development of the primordial id.  The true wellspring of human motivations was a seething cauldron of irrational, bestial impulses - and contemporary historical events began to provide distressing evidence for just such a thesis.  (ibid., 329)

Above I have uploaded a picture of our drinks on a table in an Irish Pub in Rome, May 2008.