The Other in the Self and the Other of the Self

Image Source: Verywell Mind

After the unconscious, Sigmund Freud has to be credited with the important discovery of repression in our life. Repression is one of the most important defence mechanisms that we employ to cope with unpalatable side of life.  Freud himself brought to light the link between repression and the unconscious.  The repressed material does not stand static in the unconscious but has a life of its own. From this perspective maybe we will have to ask: Is there any archaeology of repression?  Can we catalogue it in any way? Most psychoanalysts are positive about tracing of such archaeologies. It is in the digging of the uncomfortable pasts that we repress that they find healing for us.  While Freud sees complexity of biological drives entangled in the process of repression, Jacques Lacan reads the unconscious as structured like a language. Maybe we can come to Lacan’s insight into the unconscious by way of Freud himself. Freud’s translators have used the term cathexis to catch the dynamics of repression. Catexis is a complex process of investing psychic energy and meanings to events, things, persons, signs, customs etc.  Most psychoanalysts have come to see repression as a kind of withdrawal of cathexis. This brings the semiotic or meaning dimension to the process of repression. Meaning is definitely linked to language. Hence, we have an entry point into Lacanian view of the unconscious from Freud.  

The dynamic of cathexis or the psychic investment or withdrawal of meanings (repression) may open several windows to understand our society. What are we suppressing in our country? Maybe we will have to trace suppression in the withdrawal of psychic investment of meanings. We may need to trace the dominant archaeologies of withdrawal of meanings to lay bare at least in part what we are collectively suppressing as Indians. Maybe Lacan could help us to discern and open the complex dynamic of repression in our society. While attempting a linguistic/semiotic formulation of the unconscious, Lacan makes a special distinction between metaphor and metonymy. Lacan teaches  that metaphor functions to suppress while metonymy combines.  Metaphors suppress by substitution and absentification. Metonymy combines and presentifies.   Taking our cue from Lacan, we have the difficult task of reading the reigning metaphors which will in its turn may enable us to discern that which is absentified, displaced and suppressed.  This will need also that we pay attention to that which is combined and presentified  by the  ruling metonymy. 

Lacan borrows Roman Jacobson’s linguistic frame work and might appear difficult.  Maybe if we  have to follow the linguistic perspective of Ferdinand Saussure to get some clarity.  Saussure provides us two axis of language. The horizontal axis is called the syntagmatic and the vertical is called the paradigmatic axis. The term syntax gives us the clue. It points out that syntagmatic axis follows grammar/ rules which allow the options that are available in the paradigmatic axis to be combined on the horizontal axis.  Thus, from all that we have said the horizontal axis stands for the metonym and the vertical axis stand for the metaphors. Maybe using Freud as our guide here, we can simplify the complexity of metaphor and metonym. Metaphor displaces ones emotion or desire from one idea, event or person to another and metonym condenses several people into one image or symbol.  Hence, to trace what we suppress or displace in our society, we will have to seek what we combine and condense into demonised or celebrated symbols.  We have to travel this way because what we suppress is always unpleasant and distasteful. Perhaps, the best place look at the dynamics of suppression in our society is to look at the displacing/splitting division of ‘us and them’ that has taken us captive for quite some time now. Somehow we have formed a condensed pleasant singular image or symbol of ‘us’. We largely exist as individual but enjoy a bigger identity that is formed by combination of several pleasant ideas, beliefs, memories, events etc.   To this narcissistic ‘us’, we have formed another condensed unpleased singularized image or symbol of the ‘other’.  This takes us to the primordial traumatic split or displacement between the child and mother. This split separated the mother and the child. This separation is the source of all self/ other divisions. We have the other in the (m)Other and hence, the self formation that requires a split from the mother becomes the mother of all ‘us and them’ divisions.  

The dynamics of condensations/ combinations or the symbolic forging of the concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is a site to look and find that which we suppress in our society. This site opens us to the dynamics that illumines how we buddle up and construct an ‘us’ by separating or displacing it from what we call the other/ them. The notion of collective self emerges in relation to as well as in contrast to its collective other/them.  It is the process of the emergence of the collective self / us that is being suppressed in our society. This unpleasant origin of self through it relation to the other is then projected on to the displaced other who is ortherised and set apart to be unhomed and exiled. Thus, we may have to say that it is the other in the self that is suppressed and displaced and constructed as demonised other. This is how the other in the self becomes the other of the self, an enemy that has to fought and destroyed. Maybe to understand the above, we will have to do a thought experiment. Let’s think -what will become of the making of us if there was only a self without its other? Let put this in more understandable terms. What would be us (Majority/Hindus) without the minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc.) in India?  There has been a co-emergence of self and its other in our society.  But unfortunately, we as a society seem to be suppressing the formation of self from its relation to other. This occurs even more radically in the formation of the collective self through its relation with its collective other. The collective selves and the collective other that we are talking here can be selves of the majority as well as the minority and repression of the co-emergence of self and its other occurs among majorities as well as minorities in our society.  Maybe we have to agree that we are cutting the branch on which we are sitting. Perhaps, we have to overcome this forgetting of the sources of self in our society. Repression uses amnesia as a tool.  Hence, we need to overcome forgetting in order to effectively resist repression.  Unfortunately, intolerance is written into the construction of ‘us’ and only by a profound awareness of the dynamics of repression, we can free us from this tangle.  This means we need to invest psychic energy into acceptance of the other in the self and only then we will be enabled to make peace with the other of the self.           

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao