Friday, April 26, 2013

Nonintegration, the Unintegrated State: the Silence of Falling Trees

One of the impressive features of Freud's "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" is the emphasis that he places on the disjuncture between individual morality and the morality of the community, a disjuncture that is also at play in his account of the ambivalence of civilization and barbarism. The difference in the matter has to do with the role and the function of instinctual renunciaton, which both "creates" civilization (per Freud), but also (per Adorno) only creates civilization (i.e. leads to the appropriation of individual interests for the sake of "humanity"). In his effort to describe the primitive attitude towards death, from which he thinks we stand to learn something, Freud digresses about the function of the artwork in representing death:
"It is an inevitable result of all this that we should seek in the world of fiction, of general literature and of the theatre compensation for the impoverishment of life. There we still find people who know how to die, indeed, who are even capable of killing someone else. There alone too we can enjoy the condition which makes it possible for us to reconcile ourselves with death—namely, that behind all the vicissitudes of life we preserve our existence intact. For it is indeed too sad that in life it should be as it is in chess, when one false move may lose us the game, but with the difference that we can have no second game, no return-match. In the realm of fiction we discover that plurality of lives for which we crave. We die in the person of a given hero, yet we survive him, and are ready to die again with the next hero just as safely."
As he describes elsewhere (primarily in "Creative Writers and Daydreaming") through the concept of forepleasure, Freud here again attempts to account for that "extra" work that the artwork does; the so-called "incentive bonus" of the artwork, which elicits--also through identification--catharsis for an observing audience. But the suggestion that "compensation for the impoverishment of life" is provided by artworks links aesthetic "forepleasure" more explicitly with the performance of instinctual renunciation, with the renounced "death wish" that there is to experience (so his narrative of the primitive attitude of death goes) that is there in the observation of the deaths of others. The secret of forepleasure, then, is that it can provide us with the experience of the "plurality of lives," and this somehow provides the "compensation" for the feeling that life is impoverished. This is a feeling that Freud finds characteristic of the modern attitude towards death and one that he is optimistic that war (via aggression) could also work against, that is, counter-intuitively, that war could enrichen the experience of life.

Winnicott's similar interpretation of a patient that "All sorts of things happen and they wither. This is the myriad deaths you have dies. But if someone is there, someone who can give you back what has happened, then the details dealt with in this way become part of you, and do not die" (Playing and Reality 82) contributes to the development of the link between forepleasure and death. In the footnote to this interpretation, he comments: "This is, the sense of self comes on the basis of an unintegrated state which, however, by definition is not observed and remembered by the individual, and which is lost unless observed and mirrored back by someone who is trusted and who justifies the trust and meets the dependence." Here, and in other essays on the maturation of infants, he writes about the "unintegrated" state which precedes the important phase of "integration" in child development. This "unintegrated state," which he describes as also existing in older children and adults as a "non-purposive state" (74) is "the opposite of integration" (86).

The value of making a distinction between the pre-integration state (which is also not disintegration) and integration lies is Winnicott's desire to say something about "what life can be about for healthy children and adults" and thus to creativity and culture (there are also things to say, he notes, about the unintegrated state in relation to infant life and schizoid disorders). In "The Concept of a Healthy Individual," he writes, "In adult life, integration is enjoyed along with the ever-extending meaning of the term right up to and including integrity. Disintegration, in resting and in relaxation and in dreaming, can be allowed by the healthy person, and the pain associated with it accepted, especially because relaxation is associated with creativity, so that it is out of the unintegrated state that the creative impulse appears and reappears. Organized defence against disintegration robs the individual of the precondition for the creative impulse and therefore prevents creative living" (Home is Where We Start From 29). In his footnote, he also gestures towards forepleasure: "It is thought by some, as in Balint's paper (in Problems of Human Pleasure and Behavior, 1952) discussing Khan, that much of the pleasure in the experience of art in one form or another arises from the nearness to unintegration to which the artist's creation may safely lead the audience or viewer. So where the artist's achievement is potentially great, failure near the point of achievement may cause great pain to the audience by bringing them close to disintegration or the memory of disintegration, and leaving them there. The appreciation of art thus keeps people on a knife-edge, because achievement is so close to painful failure. This experience must be reckoned part of health." As Winnicott suggests, like Freud, the value of art, as described, is its ability to create conditions for the experience of nonintegration, a state that is lost unless observed and reflected back by someone (or in the case of the artwork, something). Much like the question of whether a tree can be heard if it falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, the enigma lies in imagining the parameters of a state that hinges on, but does not necessarily lead to integration (to being heard). The silence of the tree that falls without being heard is nonintegration.

As suggested by Winnicott, and by Bernard Golse's definition of "integration" in the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, nonintegration is significant because it implies the trust to "yield to this regressive movement"; such a negative state occurs like depression between integration and disintegration, civilization and barbarism, and guilt and aggression to indicate the work of alternative forms of rearrangement that enhance our understanding of agency and activity--political, emotional, and otherwise.

photo: Philli Workman
Disclaimer: Above thoughts and associations might only be confused at this point...

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