Dialogue on the Threshold

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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Chimerical wish-fantasies

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason's having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behaviour, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors. (...) But even if their number should amount to less than ten times that of the manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish-fantasies. In a state of "collective possession" they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. (...) Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. 

Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self (translation of Gegenwart und Zukunft, 1957), 
Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 2-3

Monday, 14 November 2016

Pseudologia phantastica

A more accurate diagnosis of Hitler's condition would be pseudologia phantastica, that form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one's own lies. For a short spell, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous. Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident. At any rate they carry far more conviction than the good man and the good deed, or even the wicked man and his purely wicked deed. Hitler's theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous. When I saw him with my own eyes, he suggested a psychic scarecrow (with a broomstick for an outstretched arm) rather than a human being. It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches, delivered in shrill, grating, womanish tones, could have made such an impression. But the German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria. It is not without serious misgivings that one ventures to pin the label of "psychopathic inferiority" on to a whole nation, and yet, heaven knows, it is the only explanation which could in any way account for the effect this scarecrow had on the masses. A sorry lack of education, conceit that bordered on madness, a very mediocre intelligence, combined with the hysteric's cunning and the power fantasies of an adolescent, were written all over this demagogue's face. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "After the Catastrophe", Essays on Contemporary Events, 1936-1946
translated by R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 70-71

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Collective narcissism

In order to allow narcissistic identification, the [fascist] leader has to appear himself as absolutely narcissistic, and it is from this insight that Freud derives the portrait of the ‘primal father of the horde’ which might as well be Hitler’s.
He, at the very beginning of the history of mankind, was the Superman whom Nietzsche only expected from the future. Even today, the members of a group stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader, but the leader himself need love no one else, he may be of a masterly nature, absolutely narcissistic, but self-confident and independent. We know that love puts a check upon narcissism, and it would be possible to show how, by operating in this way, it became a factor of civilization.

One of the most conspicuous features of the agitator’s speeches, namely the absence of a positive programme and of anything [he] might ‘give’, as well as the paradoxical prevalence of threat and denial, is thus being accounted for; the leader can be loved only if he himself does not love. Yet Freud is aware of another aspect of the leader image which apparently contradicts the first one. While appearing as a superman, the leader must at the same time work the miracle of appearing as an average person, just as Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber. […] Even the fascist leader’s startling symptoms of inferiority, his resemblance to ham actors and asocial psychopaths, is thus anticipated in Freud’s theory. For the sake of those parts of the follower’s narcissistic libido which have not been thrown into the leader image but remain attached to the follower’s own ego, the superman must still resemble the follower and appear as his ‘enlargement’. Accordingly, one of the basic devices of personalized fascist propaganda is the concept of the ‘great little man’, a person who suggests both omnipotence and the idea that he is just one of the folks, a plain, red-blooded American, untainted by material or spiritual wealth. Psychological ambivalence helps to work a social miracle. The leader image gratifies the follower’s twofold wish to submit to authority and to be the authority himself. 

Theodor W. Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda", The Culture Industry. Selected essays on mass culture, ed. J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, London, 1991, pp. 141-142

Sunday, 27 March 2016

On popping one's head up from Hades

In dialogue with Theodorus (Plato, Theaetetus, 168e-171d), Socrates criticises the philosophy of Protagoras ("man is the measure of all things") and concludes with a startling, almost cartoon-like, image, in which he pictures Protagoras popping his head up from Hades to refute his arguments and Theodorus' replies before ducking back down again:

καὶ εἰ αὐτίκα ἐντεῦθεν ἀνακύψειε (1) μέχρι τοῦ αὐχένος (2), πολλὰ (3) ἂν ἐμέ τε ἐλέγξας ληροῦντα, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καὶ  σὲ ὁμολογοῦντα, καταδὺς (4) ἂν οἴχοιτο ἀποτρέχων (5).

Plato, Theaetetus, 171d

And if he could only just get his head out of the world below, he would have overthrown both of us again and again, me for talking nonsense and you for assenting to me, and have been off and underground in a trice.
trans. Benjamin Jowett

Suppose now he were at this very moment to raise his head and shoulders up from the floor (*), he would very likely scold us roundly, me for talking nonsense and you for assenting to it, and then suddenly disappear and be off before we could stop him.
(*) Like a ghost from the ἀναπίεσμα of a theatre, or a spirit conjured up by necromancy.
trans. F. A. Paley

And if he could at this juncture poke his head up out of the under-world, he might accuse me of many foolish things and upbraid you for falling in with them, and then vanish underground again instanter.
trans. S. W. Dyde

And if he could at once pop up his head where we are, he would not sink down and run away again, until, probably, he had convicted me of talking much nonsense, and you of agreeing to it.
trans. Benjamin Hall Kennedy

And if at this moment he could pop his head up through the ground there as far as to the neck, very probably he would expose me thoroughly for talking such nonsense and you for agreeing to it, before he sank out of sight and took to his heels.  
trans. F. M. Cornford

And if, for example, he should emerge from the ground, here at our feet, if only as far as the neck, he would prove abundantly that I was making a fool of myself by my talk, in all probability, and you by agreeing with me; then he would sink down and be off at a run. 
trans. Harold North Fowler


(1) ἀνακύπτω: raise the head (the opposite of κύπτω, hang the head). In the Phaedo (109d), Plato employs the image of a denizen of the ocean depths lifting his head (ἀνακύψας) out of the water, in order to convey the human condition of living in the lower air but not being able to lift our heads above the surface of the upper air into the realm of metaphysical reality.
Cf. comical figurative use of the same verb in Aristophanes, Ranae, 1068: περὶ τοὺς ἰχθῦς ἀνέκυψεν "he popped up around the fish markets" and van Leeuwen's note thereon (*): "Verbum ἀνακύπτειν (ut nostrum weder opduiken)" is used "de iis qui inexpectato loco vel tempore conspiciuntur" (The verb ἀνακύπτειν (like the Dutch weder opduiken) is used of those who turn up in an unexpected place or at an unexpected time). Mitchell remarks (†): "Instances of this formula are not much to be expected in the Tragic writers." 
(*) J. van Leeuwen, Aristophanis Ranae cum Prolegomenis et Commentariis
Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1896. 
(†) T. Mitchell, The Frogs of Aristophanes with Notes Critical and Explanatory,
London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, 1839, p. 235.

(2) μέχρι τοῦ αὐχένος: as far as or up to the neck or throat.

(3) Jowett, Paley, Cornford and Fowler read πολλὰ as modifying ἐλέγξας, Dyde and Kennedy as modifying ἐμέ ληροῦντα.

(4) καταδύω: go down, sink, set. Found in Homer particularly with reference to the sun: ἠέλιον κατέδυ "the sun sank", but also used of making the descent into Hades: καταδυσόμεθ' εἰς Ἀΐδαο δόμους "we shall do down into the halls of Hades" (Odyssey 10, 174). In De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet (943d), Plutarch describes not fully purged souls as reaching the Moon, the realm of Persephone, only to be repelled, as if sinking back down into the deep (εἰς βυθὸν αὖθις καταδυομένας). 

(5) ἀποτρέχω: run off or away. When referring to men, the meaning of τρέχω is "run", but when used of things it simply means "move quickly". Fowler ("be off at a run"), Cornford ("took to his heels") and Kennedy ("run away again") inappropriately apply the notion of running to the head of a shade which simply sinks down and swiftly vanishes: καταδὺς ἂν οἴχοιτο ἀποτρέχων, literally "having sunk down would depart moving off quickly". 

Monday, 1 February 2016

A man fishing behind a gas works

I discover already the first phase—Phase 23—of the last quarter in certain friends of mine, and in writers, poets and sculptors admired by these friends, who have a form of strong love and hate hitherto unknown in the arts. It is with them a matter of conscience to live in their own exact instant of time, and they defend their conscience like theologians. They are all absorbed in some technical research to the entire exclusion of the personal dream. It is as though the forms in the stone or in their reverie began to move with an energy which is not that of the human mind. Very often these forms are mechanical, are as it were the mathematical forms that sustain the physical primary—I think of the work of Mr Wyndham Lewis, his powerful ‘cacophony of sardine tins’, and of those marble eggs, or objects of burnished steel too drawn up or tapered out to be called eggs, of M. Brancusi, who has gone further than Mr Wyndham Lewis from recognisable subject matter and so from personality (…) I find at this 23rd Phase which is it is said the first where there is hatred of the abstract, where the intellect turns upon itself, Mr Ezra Pound, Mr Eliot, Mr Joyce, Signor Pirandello, who either eliminate from metaphor the poet’s phantasy and substitute a strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or who break up the logical processes of thought by flooding them with associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance; or who set side by side as in Henry IV, The Waste Land, Ulysses, the physical primary—a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing behind a gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged through 700 pages—and the spiritual primary delirium, the Fisher King, Ulysses’ wandering. It is as though myth and fact, united until the exhaustion of the Renaissance, have now fallen so far apart that man understands for the first time the rigidity of fact, and calls up, by that very recognition, myth—the Mask—which now but gropes its way out of the mind’s dark but will shortly pursue and terrify. 

W. B. Yeats,  A Vision, ed. Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper, Scribner, New York, 1925

Friday, 29 January 2016

Metaphor of a bad mind

I am inclined to suspect, that all these several finders of truth are the very identical men, who are by others called the finders of gold. The method used in both these searches after truth and after gold, being, indeed, one and the same, viz. the searching, rummaging, and examining into a nasty place; indeed, in the former instances, into the nastiest of all places, A BAD MIND.
But though in this particular, and, perhaps, in their success, the truth-finder and the gold-finder may very properly be compared together; yet, in modesty, surely, there can be no comparison between the two: for who ever heard of a gold-finder that had the impudence or folloy to assert, from the ill-success of his search, that there was no such thing as gold in the world? Whereas the truth-finder, having raked out that jakes, his own mind, and being there capable of tracing no ray of divinity, nor any thing virtuous or good, or lovely or loving, very fairly, honestly, and logically, concludes, that no such things exist in the whole creation.

Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749), Book VI, Chapter One, Of Love.

A gold-finder was one who emptied privies.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Ruin is the throne where he sits

wrd.bt ḫpṯt
nḥlth. (...)

(...) and go down to the charnel house of the / nether world. Be counted among them / that went down into the nether world. / Then, indeed, set face [towards El's son / Mot], midst his city / "Slushy". Ruin is the throne / where he sits, infernal filth / his inheritance. (...)

Fragment of an Ugaritic text from the Baal-cycle, describing the mission of Baal's two messengers to the abode of Mot, the god of death and drought, quoted and translated in:

Nicholas J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Nether World in the Old Testament, Biblica et Orientala (Sacra Scriptura Antiquitatibus Orientalibus Illustrata) 21, 
Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 1969, pp. 7-8.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Die Sprache des Traumes

Im Traume, und schon in jenem Zuſtande des Deliriums, der meiſt vor dem Einſchlafen vorhergeht, ſcheint die Seele eine ganz andre Sprache zu ſprechen als gewöhnlich. Gewiße Naturgegenſtände oder Eigenſchaften der Dinge, bedeuten jetzt auf einmal Perſonen und umgekehrt ſtellen ſich uns gewiſſe Eigenſchaften oder Handlungen, unter dem Bilde von Perſonen dar.

 Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, Die Symbolik des Traumes, Bamberg, 1814
In dream, and even in that state of delirium which generally precedes falling asleep, the soul seems to speak a very different language than usual. Certain natural objects or properties of things all of a sudden signify persons and conversely certain qualities or actions present themselves to us in the form of persons.

Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, The Symbolism of Dreams, quoted in Albert Béguin, L'Ame romantique et le rêve. Essai sur le romantisme allemand et la poesie française, Librairie José Corti, Paris, 1939

Friday, 1 January 2016

Crepitus ventris essetne spiritualis?

 Crepitus ventris essetne spiritualis?

R. Ita, probatur sic: 1. Quæ invisibilia sunt, spiritualia sunt. Atqui crepitus sunt invisibiles. Ergo spirituales sunt: minorem probo, dum vos oro ut insignem crepitum emittatis, mihique indicatis cujus coloris sit, vel metimini mihi ulnam unam, sicuti metiri solent pannus, & vobis, ut in concursu lampada tradam. [2.] Quæ habent agilitatem, ut nullus hominum possit eorum ictus evitare sunt spiritualia. Sed tale sunt crepitus. Ergo, &c. His adde, etiamsi crepitus proveniunt ex spelunca & nascantur sine visu, sicuti talpæ, attamen non sunt palpabiles, sicuti tenebræ Ægyptiorum. Ergo, &c. 3. Fides ex auditu est. Crepitus sunt ex auditu & odoratu. Ergo crepitus spirituales sunt.

Nugae Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi & Jocandi.  
Anno 1689. Prostant apud Neminem; sed tamen Ubique.  

Are farts spiritual?

Answer. Yes, proven thus: 1. That which is invisible is spiritual. Farts are invisible. Therefore they are spiritual: I prove the minor so long as I ask you to let fly with a blatant fart and you show me what colour it is or measure out an ell for me, as one might measure out a length of cloth, in which case I shall yield the point to you. [2.] That which is so swift that no man can avoid its impact is spiritual. Such are farts. Therefore, etc. Moreover, even if farts originate from a cavern and are born sightless, like moles, they are nonetheless impalpable, like the ghosts of Egypt. Therefore, etc. 3. Hearing is believing. With farts, hearing and smelling are believing. Therefore farts are spiritual.

Jokes for Sale, or Treasury of Laughing and Jesting.  
Anywhere: Nobody, 1689. Page 9.


minorem probo / I prove the minor: joco-serious parody of the language of logical disputation. The respondens (respondent) puts forward a thesis which is then contradicted by the objiciens (objector) through a syllogism. The respondent may either concede the major and/or minor premise of the syllogism, qualify them by finding both truth and falsehood therein, or deny them. If the respondent denies the major or minor premise, then the objector will proceed to prove his proposition, saying: probo majorem/minorem negatam (I prove the major/minor denied). 

Quid est crepitus?

Quid est crepitus?

R. Crepitus est flatus ventris, quem natura provida sanitatis tuendæ causa per podicem ejicit: materia ejus existens paulum crassa. Hæc est definitio essentialis & quidditativa, constat enim ex genere, quod est flatus, & differentia, quæ est ventris, nisi velis nos æque per os ac per podicem pedere.

Nugae Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi & Jocandi.  
Anno 1689. Prostant apud Neminem; sed tamen Ubique.  

What is a fart?

Answer: A fart is the breath of the belly, which provident nature expels through the arse for the sake of preserving the health, its matter being slightly dense. This is the definition according to essence and quiddity, since it corresponds to the genus, which is of the breath, and the species, which is of the belly, unless you would wish us to fart both through the mouth and through the arse.

Jokes for Sale, or Treasury of Laughing and Jesting.  
Anywhere: Nobody, 1689. Page 11.