Origen is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of Christianity. In addition to castrating himself, he also basically invented the concept of “facing-page translation” and/or “variorum edition” with his Hexapla. He is also the only “heretic” whose texts have historically been included in the writings of the Church Fathers. Origen was also, along with Plotinus, a student of Ammonias Saccas, the man whose (very odd) synthesis of Plato and Aristotle marked the beginning of Neoplatonism.
Don’t misunderstand me - I love that straight allies, especially, want to show solidarity. But I really don’t like that “solidarity” in this case means a not-very-subtle, massive cross-platform advertising campaign for the HRC.
The HRC are terrible, self-serving Washington lobbyists. If you want to give money to the Cause, find a nearby shelter for homeless LGBT youth and donate to them, instead.
Sigmund Freud, “The Splitting of the Self in the Process of Defense” (1940 , trans. FT)
I find myself for a moment in the interesting position of not knowing whether that which I wish to convey should be qualified as well-known and self-evident, or as entirely new and astonishing. I would say, more likely the latter.
It has finally come to my attention that the childhood self of the person one comes to know years later as a patient in analysis behaves in very particular ways when under specific external pressures. The requisite conditions can be stated in the most general and undetermined way if we say that this happens under the influence of a psychic trauma. I propose to focus on a particular, clearly delineated situation, which admittedly doesn’t cover every possible etiology. The child’s self finds itself serving the demands of powerful drive, which it is in the habit of satisfying, until an unexpected experience terrifies it into learning that the continued satisfaction of this drive would have as its consequence a very real and severe danger. The child is thus faced with a choice: either to recognize the real danger, to protect itself from that danger and give up the satisfaction of the drive, or to disavow reality, to convince itself that there’s no danger worth worrying about, in order to retain the satisfaction. It is, in other words, a conflict between the demands of the drive and the demands of reality. The child, however, does neither; or better said, it does both at once, which comes down to the same thing. It responds to the conflict with two opposite reactions, both seemingly valid and effective. On the one hand, certain mechanisms are engaged to help the child keep reality at bay and protect it from the prohibition; on the other hand and, with the same breath, it recognizes the danger posed by reality, accepts as a symptom of its suffering the fear produced by that danger, and waits for a later opportunity to resist it. One must admit that this is a neat resolution to the difficulty. Both belligerents have had their say; the drive is allowed to retain its satisfaction, and reality has been accorded its due respect. But only death, as they say, serves no purpose. The success has been attained at the cost of a breach in the self, which can never be healed, and which will only grow over time. The two opposing reactions to the conflict continue to exist as the nucleus of a splitting in the self. The entire process seems so peculiar to us because we take for granted the synthesis of the self’s processes. But we are often wrong to do so. The exceptionally important synthetic function of the self has its own particular conditions and is subject to an array of disturbances.
It would only be to our advantage, if I embed in this schematic presentation the data from a particular case study. A boy between the ages of three and four has become acquainted with the female genitals after being seduced by an older girl. After this relationship has been interrupted he prolongs the sexual stimulation by vigorous manual onanism, but is quickly discovered by the vigilant nanny and threatened with castration; as usual, the responsibility for carrying out the threat is shifted onto the father. The conditions for effecting a horrible fear are all in place here. The threat of castration does not necessarily, in and of itself, have a profound impact; the child refuses to believe in it, and can’t easily imagine the possibility of being separated from an organ so highly-valued. The child might have convinced himself of this possibility while looking at the female genitalia, but he didn’t draw that conclusion at the time, because the reluctance was too great and there was no motive present which might have required it. On the contrary: any unease evoked is reconciled by the knowledge that whatever is missing will come eventually, she’ll grow one – an organ – later. Anyone that has observed enough little boys can recall such a statement at the sight of a little sister’s genitals. Something different occurs, however, when both moments arrive simultaneously. In that case, the threat calls to mind a memory previously considered harmless, finding in it the dreaded confirmation. The boy now thinks he understands why the girl’s genitals showed no penis, and can’t afford to doubt any longer that the same could happen to his own organ. From this point, he must believe in the reality of the threat of castration.
The usual consequence of the castration scare, the one considered normal, is that the boy gives in to the threat, in total or at least in partial obedience, by no longer putting his hand on his genitals, either immediately or after prolonged struggle; that is, he gives up the satisfaction of the drive either in part or in whole. We have reason to expect, though, that our patient found another way to serve himself. He created for himself a substitute for the woman’s missing penis, a fetish. He disavowed reality by doing so, true, but he saved his own penis. Not being forced to recognize that the woman had lost her penis, he also didn’t need to fear for his own penis, and could continue his masturbation unpreturbed. This act on our patient’s part strikes us as a turning away from reality, a process which we usually consider the prerogative of psychosis. And it is not, in fact, very different, but we still want to suspend our judgment, since closer examination reveals to us a not-insignificant distinction. The boy has not simply contradicted his own perceptions, and hallucinated a penis in the place where there was none; rather, he has engaged in a transvaluation, transferring the importance of the penis onto another body part, aided in this process by the mechanism of repression in a manner that we won’t elaborate on here. Clearly, this displacement related only to the female body, and changed nothing in regard to his own penis.
This, shall we say, elaborate processing of reality determines the boy’s actual behavior. He continues to engage in masturbation, as if it can bring no harm to his penis, but at the same time and in direct contradiction to his apparent bravery or nonchalance he develops a symptom which proves that he does recognize the danger. He has been threatened with being castrated by his father, and shortly thereafter, simultaneous with the generation of the fetish, he begins to demonstrate an intense fear of being punished by his father, one which will occupy him for a long time, which he can defeat and overcompensate for only by a concentrated effort of his masculinity. This form of paternal anxiety says nothing about castration, either. With the aid of regression to an oral phase it appears as a fear of being eaten by the father. It is impossible at this junction to avoid recalling a primeval fragment of Greek mythology, which reports that the old father of the gods, Kronos, devoured his children and would have also devoured his youngest son, Zeus, and was later unmanned by Zeus who had been saved by the cunning of his mother. To return, though, to our case, let us add to it that he also had another, less significant symptom, which he retains to the present day, an anxious sensitivity to touch in both his small toes, as if in the back and forth of disavowal and recognition castration has, in fact, managed to express itself more clearly…
[this translation published under Creative Commons. Do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t make money off it; don’t change it without my permission; and include attribution in every reproduction by adding a link to my blog]
If I find some time between grading papers and doing the dishes, I’ll post some commentary on this text later this week.
Yep. That’s a picture of Princeton’s President Shirley Tilghman, graciously accepting congratulations on all that she’s done to promote feminism and women’s liberation at Princeton. A link to this story is on Princeton’s homepage right at this moment.
(click for the Jezebel post, and click for the original article in the Daily Princetonian)
No, really. Let’s talk about this.
I fail to understand how so many of you can be so passionately committed to the human rights of subaltern peoples all around the world but completely fail to give a fuck about the consistent - not occasional, not rare, consistent - rape of your daughters, your sisters, your cousins, and your friends. This is not to say that you should care about rape victims because they’re your daughters or your friends - people shouldn’t get raped because people shouldn’t get raped. Period. But it is to express deep puzzlement regarding how you could care less about people you know or are related to. That’s what’s mystifying to me. I’m not asking you to care about this, I’m asking why you don’t care about this but you do care about other stuff, like bus segregation in Jerusalem, which, you know, is clearly a big issue for you in your personal life.
Because here’s the thing: the most horrifying statistic isn’t that 1 in 6 undergraduates at Princeton report forcible penetration or sexual assault. It’s that the national average is 1 in 5. Yes. That’s the part that’s really shocking.
So why am I so upset about the Princeton report? The answer is the explanation given by Amanda Sandoval, the Director of the Women’s Center at Princeton, when she was asked why the report was never released. I quote Jezebel:
Amada Sandoval, Director of the Women’s Center, said the results probably weren’t released because it wouldn’t be fair for Princeton to get bad press when college campuses around the country experience the same rates of rape and sexual assault but don’t publicly announce them.
“Anything about Princeton goes international, practically, and no other universities do that, so does Princeton want to be the one to say that this many of our students are sexually assaulted? I don’t think so,” Sandoval said, adding that she thought there was no “real benefit” to releasing it because “a story that Princeton’s rates of students who have been assaulted is on line with national averages is really not a story” and “in this news environment, people would make a big deal about it.”
That seems like very faulty logic given that the point of the survey was not to encourage high school students to apply to Princeton’s awesome rape-free campus but to help the University “assess the need for survivor support and education services and to utilize the information to improve prevention techniques on the Princeton campus,” according to the data summary.
Did you all follow that? The report wasn’t released, according to the Director of the Women’s Center, because it might have accidentally brought attention to the issue that the report was intended to bring attention to. And because women are getting raped everywhere all across the country, it’s OK to be in denial about it.
Kein Bestandteil Sein - An FT Tribute to Einstürzende Neubauten
Do you know who Einstürzende Neubauten are? If not, take a minute to look them up.
The Internet will tell you all about the EN legend. The icy, post-industrial wilderness of post-WWII Berlin; the home-made instruments; the radical performances; the fierce reputation of both the music and the bandmembers, especially their notoriously temperamental leader, Blixa Bargeld. Like most genuinely radical artists, EN’s reputation far exceeds their album sales, and this band’s mythos is jam-packed with gems even by 20th-century avant-garde standards. I won’t bother to repeat these semi-apocryphal stories. Partly because they’re easily accessible with a Google search, and partly because if you weren’t there to see these things happen, no amount of language will help you understand.
Instead I’d like to talk about my Einstürzende Neubauten.
EN are my favorite band. Ever. Of all time. They are my favorite artists for two reasons. First, they make the most beautiful, radical, original, innovative, powerful, moving music I’ve ever heard in my life. Sometimes when I listen to Neubauten I just can’t breathe. Second, and just as importantly, they are the most awesome, hilarious, insane, uncompromising, real, real, real people I’ve ever met. It’s not an aggressive, “look at me!” kind of radicality. There’s nothing performative about it. They dress pretty normal, look pretty normal, talk pretty normal. But the sheer originality of everything these people do and say is awe-inspiring. I sometimes get notes from readers telling me they appreciate my honesty/realness/uncompromising bluntness. Well, folks, everything I know about standing my ground, giving the world the finger, and being passionately intense without compromise I learned from this group of musicians. You have never in your life met a more absolutely real, absolutely uncompromising group of artists. They have the highest quality-to-volume ratio of any band I know. In 35 years or so they’ve released less than a dozen albums, each one a radically different, entirely original treasure.
I was not a happy teenager. Without too many maudlin details, suffice to say that the domestic situation I grew up in left scars quite a bit deeper than the average teenage angst. By the time I was 15, every fucking day was a wild oscillation between nuclear rage and terrible, self-loathing depression. I had all of these pent-up energies, and no idea what to do with them. And then, at the age of 14, I discovered two aesthetic investments that would change my life forever - Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs, and Einstürzende Neubauten.
I remember the first time I played an EN record. I was 14. Their legend was so intense, and I’d heard so many stories about how abrasive and uncompromising this music was. I actually turned the stereo way, way down and only slowly, incrementally turned it back up because I was afraid of damaging the speakers on my parents’ stereo in the living room. Nobody was home. And I listened to Tabula Rasa for the first time, and nothing was ever the same again.
A couple of years later, I started going to EN shows. Lots of EN shows. At first, I don’t think they quite knew what to make of me. Here was this weird kid showing up at random concerts all over Europe. I skipped school to go to Neubauten shows. I borrowed money to go to Neubauten shows. I hitchhiked to go to Neubauten shows. Two days before my high school graduation, I saw EN live in Zurich. My mother had to literally beg me on the phone to come home for graduation, because EN were playing a show in Freiburg the same night and I honestly considered that more important. Still do. I kinda wish I’d gone to the show. But I digress.
I don’t know if they were amused by me, if they pitied me, or if they just sensed the suicidal desperation of my teenage years. But, in an incredible twist of fate, my favorite band basically adopted me. Not in any kind of dramatic way. But they’d get me into shows when I couldn’t afford tickets. They’d give me the occasional piece of free merch to cheer me up. They let me come backstage and have sushi from their contract rider after the shows because I was clearly starving. I don’t really think I can express in words what that meant to me. To be a suicidal teenage fanboy and have your biggest heroes not only pay attention to you but treat you with more respect than most of the people in your daily life….Einstürzende Neubauten saved my life. They also taught me how to be creative in the most productive, problem-solving way imaginable. So if you’ve ever written me a message thanking me for helping you, you should really be thanking them. Because that was where I learned how incredibly powerful and affirming it is to get even the slightest bit of recognition from someone you respect and look up to.
Fast-forward several years to 2002. EN have just announced a radical new business model for making and selling music. They were sick, they said, of the traditional music industry model. The expensive studio time, the big record release, the bullshit that the suits kept throwing at them. So they were going rogue. Instead of a traditional record contract with a traditional record company, they were going to try out a radical new model: they would sell subscriptions to their website. The subscribers or “supporters” would basically fund the recording process. In exchange, they would not only get a copy of the finished album, but also be able to watch the recording process, through live webcasts of the recording process.
A decade later, this doesn’t seem that radical, maybe, what with all the Kickstarters and whatnot. But if you do some digging, you’ll see that this was a radical enough model that Blixa Bargeld and Erin Zhu, who came up with it, were featured in several business magazines as a result. Irony upon irony. But of course, this was just the latest of infinite table-turnings in the band’s incredibly varied history.
It goes without saying that neubauten.org is a crucial inspiration for The Nomad Foundation. But more than that - Neubauten, both as a group and as individuals, are the inspiration for my whole life. My entire ethos, my most basic mode of living, is drawn from one of their best known axioms - kein Bestandteil sein.
I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know where I’m going with this. This group of people, their music, their ethos, and their tolerance for my no-doubt overeager presence as a teenager, are so deeply intertwined in the fabric of my being that I can barely articulate their importance to my thinking, my acting, and my creating. Like Neubauten’s music, it’s just too visceral and powerful to put into words. As Nina Hagen once put it - “You can’t describe EN’s music. Only EN’s music can describe EN’s music.”
I owe Einstürzende Neubauten everything. It’s that simple. And it’s really just breaking my heart that they’re on tour without me. Because EN live is the most awe-inspiring, mind-altering, incredible musical experience I’ve ever undergone, and even after 60 or so shows it really hasn’t worn off in the slightest. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. But that’s a small price to pay.
If you’re excited about The Nomad Foundation, you need to know that this is where it started. My entire DIY ethic, my insistence on bullshit-free creativity and genuine passion, comes from 15 years of unmediated access to the most amazing artists I’ve ever known, who took me in and treated me with courtesy and respect at a time in my life where I was starved to the bone for basic human kindness. So here are a few clips to introduce you to their awesome genius:
Once you’ve watched these, if you want to see more, EN’s entire 20th Anniversary concert is on YouTube. I was at that show. It was 3.5 hours long and to this day is my favorite live show ever. In fact, I’m in quite a few of the clips from that show…and in many other clips that are on YouTube ; )