Breaking Glass

When I was under the influence of Reeducation it seemed that research, teaching, and my real self had been placed in a glass case, where they were now static mementos I could not touch. I would look at them through the impregnable glass and try to break it with my head. I would turn my hand over and over and say, “They are no further away than the other side of my hand.” Why could I not get to them? Now that I have shed Reeducation they have broken through the glass themselves and are teeming in my flesh. My mind is remarkably clear, and it feels like the proverbial steel trap. I can jump hurdles and curl my spine like a cat.

*

That is how I feel some days. Other days I am as tired as I ever was. I used to wonder, how is it that, with a somewhat heavy but not utterly outrageous teaching load I can be so exhausted? The reason of course, as I always knew but which it is very helpful to articulate, is that the atmosphere in which I work is so abusive, and the workplace environment, so hostile. It is hostile not only to me, but to many, so that one must receive, witness, accept, or try to intervene in abuse for large parts of every day. Everyone is acting and reacting either like an abuser or an abuse victim and it is like being inside a Bosch painting. This is how I get so exhausted.

*

It is, however, the weekend, and although Friday is Oxalá’s day, I would like to sing now for Iansã Menina.

Ê parrei Oyá Iansã, ê parrei!

Axé.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Breaking Glass

  1. Regarding the institutionalising and conventionalising of abuse, I wonder whether it might not be, at least on some level, the result of a basic philosophical failure to add things up, as part of the culture.

    I can see the typical breakdown of expectation and intention in all sorts of ways, but the way that this failure is most often expressed is in a misunderstanding about what selfishness can achieve. One does not, for instance, benefit psychologically from selfishness, even though one might try to clutch every bit of what is “me and mine” to one’s breast with the hope of outdoing everybody else in the race to annihilation.

    It’s a gross error — as is the error in believing that if I can take something away from someone else, I ultimately gain in some hidden, mystical way.

    These are all remarkable errors of assumption that make for a dysfunctional society indeed.

  2. Yes. I shocked myself last night by doing the emotional abuse checklist about my job – got 61 affirmative answers out of 100, something like this.

    It was a real wakeup call. Yet the standard response from the culture at large is that one should just take it and wait for things to get better.

  3. When I was doing school level tutoring — and, indeed, when I was trying on the school teacher role — I was astonished at the level of abuse that one was expected to take.

    Actually such abuse seems to be a feature of a general kind of blindness (which causes one to panic and lash out). Is the blindness psychological or social? It is surely both, and seems to come down to the Western cultural assumption combined with the Modernist cultural condition of alienation that is summed up in Kant’s precept that we cannot know the “thing in itself”.

    Perhaps Kant intended this as a cautionary injunction not to go around making crude assumptions about reality, but to have a more self-reflexive approach. But, in any case, that is rarely what happens. Instead, people adopt a blind and anti-psychological approach. It is as if, should they feel uneasy, stressed, or feel that in general things are going awry, they are compelled to encounter an nefarious mystery (framed as the unknowable in principle other). They blindly assume that it is this other that is causing them their distress in life, preventing them from having a smooth journey in it. So, they blindly lash out.

  4. Joanna

    What an eloquent description of that set of feelings.

  5. servetus

    Good simile with the painting.

  6. servetus

    Watching this video is making me think twice about the hakama. Perhaps I could be impressive just with a skirt like that white one with the red flowers.

  7. Yes although the hakama is funnier! I could do martial arts on my 3 year old department chair!

  8. And on Kant and assuming that the other is the problem in life (Jennifer, up thread) – random notes:

    Where my doubts come in is that my project seems to be recognizing poor behavior for what it is and often the only way I know it is poor behavior is that it feels like it to me: i.e. I start to shake or something. Even then I tend to think the person has touched something off – I never think they are just rude, that’s my last assumption and I have to be shown they are rude or get a reality check.

    Yet in Reeducation the assumption was that all Reeducands were people who just blamed others for whatever happened.

    On depression: I seem to get it when there is something bad happening that I do not know how to name. I.E. rudeness that I have been taught is not rudeness, poor behavior that I have been taught is acceptable if others do it, although it would not be acceptable in me. I get un-depressed as soon as I figure out what is happening.

    Then there are people who do not want to know what is happening, cannot face it, so they stay depressed. And then there are other people, it seems, who just are depressed.

    It is apparently more decorous to be in one of these two groups, because then one does not have to find out what is actually happening and “blame” anyone or anything.

    That is of course unscientific and also counterrevolutionary. ;-)

  9. I don’t know really what the solution is. One of the things I did for myself was to remove the aspects from my behaviour that involved yielding. That way, you can get a much clearer vision of what is you and what is the other person in any situation. When you stop yielding to the situation you are in — I mean, stop catering to aspects of “the social”, but at each step ask yourself, “Is this what I want?” — then you can see more clearly the other person’s bad behaviour for what it is, and how women are made to pay to yield quality to the realm of ‘the social’, whereas it is never a male’s responsibility.

  10. Yes. To stop yielding / to say “Is this what I want?”

    Of course in Reeducation this would have been too controlling, and in academia I keep getting told it is “self-serving” although it is not and would not be seen as such in a man.

    Yet since childhood my assumption or training has been that what one wants, or what one’s first choice is, one will definitely not get or will be killed if one asks for. So one is to choose the best of the remaining options. If one censors the thought of one’s first choice, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember who one is.

  11. I’ll try this again:

    Yet since childhood my assumption or training has been that what one wants, or what one’s first choice is, one will definitely not get or will be killed if one asks for. So one is to choose the best of the remaining options. If one censors the thought of one’s first choice, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember who one is.

    Somehow it seems to me that you are describing a classic case of the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex. I’d like to take this metaphorically: You cannot have the first thing you want (ie. in Freudian chitter-chatter, one’s parent — for the other parent would surely kill you). So you introject the law of the father instead, as superego, and walk around in a mode of delayed gratification — in line with what you believe are society’s expectations of you.

    I like my new interpretation of Nietzsche — which involves a recipe for being shamanised (the shaman faces death). You have to get beyond yourself if you want to kill this old character structure. Well we can put a bit of Hegel in here, too: To become master, you have to face death head on.

    Your superego is keeping you a slave because you are afraid to face “death”. You fear that by doing your own thing you will surely die.

    However, you need to face that sensation of death by going beyond your present version of self. That is the way to become the Overwoman.

    —————————

  12. ON THE OEDIPUS COMPLEX: Successful resolution, that is interesting. I always thought mine was not because I am in my father’s profession for two reasons: (a) he had being, we did not, I thought it was because he had a job, so I also wanted one so as to gain being; (b) my mother respected this job and not other jobs, so I wanted this job so she would respect me. The concept was, first I must become my father, so I will have being and respect. Then, having graduated (so to speak), I would be free to move on to be myself. The problem was that one cannot just be someone else – compete with them for (their) being, as it were – and also that one’s own self asserts itself soon enough. So while I keep trying to become my father, I am also sabotaging that endeavor because it is I who wish to assert myself. This is why I have always thought I was still stuck in this Oedipal struggle I had tried, but failed to resolve in the way you suggest.

    ON SHAMANISM AND THE SPACE OF DEATH: It is strange, this is more or less the theory of it that I worked out this past Saturday (after a macabre conversation with my mother in which she seemed to be claiming suicidal tendencies were just things people had in them and I was counterarguing that the idea of death was a metaphor).

  13. I don’t know enough about the Freudian angle to say very much concerning your first paragraph. It seems to me that successful resolution of the Oedipus complex is nothing to be proud of, because it binds you to a kind of sublimated eros — instead of in relation to your actual father, in relation to patriarchy as a general ideological schema. So to the degree that you are bound to a patriarchal schema and believe that you cannot have your “first choice” but must defer to others, you have successfully resolved your Oedipus complex, dear. ;)

    On the other hand, wanting to compete in order to have being sounds pre-Oedipal.

    So maybe you need to resolve the pre-Oedipal thing in order to get to the Oedipal stage so that you can get beyond it. (I’m speaking wholly in terms of some kind of logical sequencing.)

    The facing death thing — you know the feeling, “If I have such and such an attitude to authority I will surely die!” — is something you just need to continue to work through, again and again, until you become comfortable with asserting yourself.

  14. Z

    Facing death thing, yes, precisely.

    Oedipus complex: this is interesting, it would mean I successfully resolved the Oedipus complex but not the pre-Oedipal. In the Kristeva recipe, then, I would have the semiotic order constantly interrupting the symbolic one, moreso than most people – or moreso than people who don’t have this strange combination of successful resolution of the Oedipus complex and raging pre-Oedipal battle, all at once. I of course don’t know enough of Freud, Kristeva and Lacan to be undertaking this sort of analysis but … it rings true.

    [At what age is one pre-Oedipal? Any time I faint (although I have only fainted once) or come up from anaesthesia (although that has only been a couple of times) and they ask how old I am, I say "four."]

  15. It’s interesting, but I don’t know much more than you do about these frameworks, I suspect. I think one extra idea I can bring to the mix is that the industrial (and certainly the postindustrial) societies do emphasise the importance of the symbolic way out of proportion to the semiotic.

    So, given this kind of correlation between preindustrial societies and the semiotic and industrial societies and the symbolic, one might say that third world countries have a kind of pre-oedipal quality about them.

  16. Z

    I googled the pre-oedipal age and it seems to be 6 mos. to 3 yrs. I definitely remember coming into the symbolic order at about three, realizing that the acquisition of language had changed my mode of thought and way of experiencing the world. I could now interpret but had lost immediacy. That year – from third to fourth birthdays – was very strange, as I had lost the one but not fully attained the other. I liked four because I had now mastered the symbolic order, or so it seemed – but still had memories from before and had not been crushed by the symbolic yet. I remember that I associated my father with language, which was what I wanted, and my mother with the semiotic and the abject. All of this makes me think there’s something to those frameworks, even if they are overused in lit. theory.

    Preindustrial, yes maybe.

  17. I never had such memories. I do remember walking around and when people asked me what my age was I would say, as if with magic words, “Three and three-quarters.” It seemed like I was three and three-quarters for the longest time. I never had the notion that my mother was particularly abject, nor that my father was particularly laudible in any way. When I reached the age of about 11, I realised that my parents were particularly uncool in relation to other people’s parents. I thought I had to detach myself from their immaturity and uncoolness in order to make my way in life.

  18. 3.75, it’s that age though … I think something happens around then. Abject, I mean in the Kristeva – ish sense, outside the symbolic order. My father, not laudable, just the owner of language
    (he even had dictionaries).

    I need to finish my autobiography which starts out as a children’s story. It’s in Spanish but on this it says something like: “The greatest question was whether thought existed outside language. I wanted to think it did, but my data suggested it did not.”

  19. That’s what I meant though. I didn’t think my mother was outside of the symbolic order. Actually what I’m probably moving toward getting at, in general, is that these kinds of psychodynamics were weak in my experience. I didn’t actually encounter them in a really convincing way until I migrated to the West. Actually I used to look at my female teachers are very powerful and as very much arbiters of the symbolic order. It was only when I came to Australia that I noticed the female teachers were resigned and …seemingly apathetic, damp.

  20. Yes. Women are *very* strangely disempowered in the West.

  21. That is why I am not making any particular plans professorial-wise. We shall wait and see what happens, but the West does not deserve me.

  22. However, things are different elsewhere.

  23. I’d prefer to throw my fortunes to the wind and live in a place that was at least vibrant if not always safe. I think people pay with far too much of their lives for the idea of safety (rather than its actual substance) and they are too little rewarded for their hefty investments.

    On that note, I found this article to be quite amusing.

  24. The article is great even though I have not yet finished it. The great irony is that the U.S. is not safe. And yet one is supposed to be desirous of “keeping it safe.”

    One of the better letters I got from my father was when I was a teenager living in Europe. To get to the U.S. I was proposing to travel through Europe, then to California from New York in the same rough way. His letter announced that after visiting my New York friends I *would* be boarding a flight to LAX and he was paying for it. This was for safety reasons. “Living in Europe,” he wrote, “one forgets certain realities of the United States…”

  25. A lot of places are not safe. In relation to our conversation this morning, I’ve been thinking that perhaps there is a certain amount that is dangerous to me in this culture because I am simply unable to read it in the ways I would be expected to — and this is due to my different pattern of psycho-social development.

    For instance, I cannot empathise in a genuine way with any woman who takes a passive or deferential position in relation to others. I cannot because I actually don’t understand this psycho-social state of passive femininity, but also because it makes me feel slightly creepy as if viewpoints are not sufficiently out in the open in order to make sense of our shared social realities. But if this is in fact the normative female position in our society, then you can see that I am in no position to form politically beneficial relationships in association with conventionally-minded women. So, this is isolating — not that I mind, as I am used to it. But the point is that when a dagger is coming for my back, because I am genuinely out of touch with the mental and emotional processes of feminine women, I do not see it coming.

    And that is dangerous for me. Very much so.

    And I am not kidding to say that it is often much safer for me to be in a physically threatening or materially unpredictable situation than to be in the company of such women for a prolonged duration.

    They would almost certainly tear my heart out and eat it for their breakfast in the medium duration.

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