Tag Archives: freud

Where The Wild Things Are

Children of divorce, loneliness and other magical things

It might be a children’s book, but this is no film for children. I walked into the movie theatre thinking it would make me feel like a child again, but instead I was presented with a familiar vision of childhood divorce, neglect and naivety, without the Freudian psychobabble.

Inspired by Maurice Sendak’s quintessential book, Where The Wild Things Are reminds us of what it’s like to be a lonely, confused albeit imaginative child. Through ten years in the making, the book’s ten sentences drawn from the alter-egos of innovative director Spike Jonze haven’t lead us to naught.

Monsters make it right

It’s been a while since Jonze showed us the dysfunction and authenticity-grabbing tendencies of the human mind, but Where The Wild Things Are shows off his greatest talent: it’s a convincing delivery of a more tender childhood experience sure to make most grown-ups weep. Like in Being John Malkovich, it’s a portal into the quirky mind and suggestive consciousness of the nine-year-old Max (Max Records), the universal only child, lover of forts and make-believe.

Where’s your daddy?

I read this book to death when I was a child. Most people under fifty have held the beloved story in their hands, heads and hearts. Max’s cheeky mischief leads his mother to banish him to his room, a familiar punishment we’ve all had. If you were an only child like Max and I, you’d have to come up with a way to entertain yourself. You’d never stray too far from home though, away from your mother’s blanketing love and the hot dinner waiting for you.

My parents separated in 1992 during the second highest peak in divorce records during the 20th century. It was more or less a statistical inevitability that it would be my family, aside from the fact that my parents didn’t get along anymore. I remember being whisked away by my mother. I didn’t rebel in the ordinary ways, by getting in trouble at school or acting out at home. Instead, I became the laziest eight-year-old child in the world. It was impossible to rouse me from my room or the little reading forts I made out of blankets in the den. Those covers blinded me from an outside world I didn’t understand, and helped muffle out the loud, operatic movements of my parents’ feuding. I don’t remember playing outside with many children, or even seeing the sky very often. That book was my medicine for loneliness.

Max is like that too. Who is this stranger kissing my mom in the living room? The rage and sense of betrayal carry through cinematically, intimately as Max peers cautiously over the door frame, shouldering the curiosity mingled with confusion. Like a lot of children of divorce, I saw very similar things, but didn’t understand them. Back into the reading fort I went.

A little bit of loneliness is good

When Judith (Catherine O’Hara) asks Max what the cure for loneliness is, his reply is both beautifully and simple, that “a little loneliness is good.”

The Jonzeian vision of this kind of childhood is powerful, because he side-steps the complexity of broken family life by diverting us to the realm of endless imagination. There’s a sadness and beauty in the way Max’s loneliness makes its way into his imagination. He’s in a place we’ve all been to, where your greatest defence was being bigger than anyone around you. After all, what greater fear was there than getting gobbled up by a monster?

Freud and other monsters

When Sendak’s book was published in 1964, a dumpster bin-sized amount of literature spewed out, upchucking explanations for the monsters as oversized, morality play characters, each representing a basic human emotion. Monster Carol (James Gandolfini) could easily be read as a transvestite with an insatiable sexual hunger, hence his voracious appetite for past kings. The asexuality of these creatures could be a Freudian buffet of psychoanalytic opinion. Enough is enough.

Jonze has no patience for this either, and the film manages to bypass the usual jargon of theory. He’s not showing us anything about children because we see them traumatized by the actions of their desperately lonely parents, but rather, the states of play Max delves into.

In the end, this film wasn’t so much about wanting to reconstruct the idea of childhood. Some Freudian theories might explain that as the crux of the book, as some digestible symbol for the fine line between fear, comfort and some deep-seated desire to gobble up your own mother. In reality, you just wanted her to pay more attention to you.

Check out the trailer. It should warm your heart.

“twilight” shows how abstinence is sexy

In a world where people are constantly being bombarded by images of perfect bodies and voracious, sexual tendencies, Twilight offers a remedy to this by reinventing the modern romantic relationship through the fetishization of sexual abstinence. 

The combination of hatred, the sensuality of physical attraction and the violence of drinking blood create a titillating, almost pornographic story about two lovers who abstain from anything sexual despite their unique and passionate bond.

The film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown), takes place in a little Washington town. While the time setting is current, the small-town vibe adds to the quasi-Biblical sense of morality, citizenship and propriety. 

Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a sharply attractive but anti-social vampire falls in love with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), the shy new girl. While vampires can read other people’s thoughts, Edward is inexorably drawn to Bella because he cannot read hers. She’s the female vixen who draws him in, challenges him, and makes him question his ability to restrain his appetites.

Abstinence is sexy
Abstinence is sexy

Diffused with moral paradigms that dictate the reasons why they can’t act on their attraction, the relationship is highly sexualized at the same time. Its like the lion who fell in love with a lamb.

We find two lovers with unparalleled sexual magnetism, but the fear of spoiling the purity of their relationship sets them apart. Edward is a vampire, and Bella is a mortal. Their challenge is that of staying together despite that fundamental difference, but getting too close will be the destruction of their ideals. If Edward drinks Bella’s blood, they can be together forever. While Bella desires this equally, the drinking of her blood represents the collapse of the natural order. Edward’s ethical prerogative battles with his carnal thirst to kill Bella – and that is the irresistible magic of this story. Continue reading “twilight” shows how abstinence is sexy

freud’s mystification

freud: revolutionized psychoanalysis but had little science to back it up

In the selection “Medusa’s Head,” psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud fleshes out his interpretation of the mythological image as a deep-seated sexual issue, stemming from the human fear of their mother’s genitals devouring their own. In his analysis of the metaphorical representation of female genitalia, Freud sheds light onto the paradox of heterosexual male desire – a force which is both terrifying and undeniably attractive. Despite the comical effects and his persuasive argumentation, Freud’s assertions ultimately fail to explain the complexities of human sexual relations, as they gravitate around an ignorant male view of women’s sexuality.

For Freud, sex is attached to an unspoken, irrational fear of castration, where the vagina represents a vortex of simultaneous pleasure and horror. In the style of third person narrative, Freud creates a situation where the “other” is identified – in this case, the body of the female, represented by Medusa’s decapitated head is the center of alterity through the mystification of female sensuality. Instead of exploring the idea of its multiple possibilities, Freud articulates one, monolithic, uniform kind of female sexuality. From this position, Freud is failing to substantiate his arguments, as they are clearly seen to stem from impossible fears, and a blatant lack of understanding the fairer sex.

Mystifying the organs of female sexuality have both an amusing and a maddening effect – Freud attaches the fear of castration in sex to a boy’s glimpse of his own mother’s vagina. Yet where does this fear originate? Freud lacks an explanation for how anyone would even associate sexual pleasure with the possibility of losing one’s penis. Perhaps the most absurd tenet of his interpretation of Medusa is the idea that the snakes in her hair are “a confirmation of of the technical rule according to which a multiplication of penis symbols signifies castration.” The only technical rule which could be applied to Freud’s argumentation is that he defies every epistemological convention.

In short, Freud lacks understanding in the issue of sex – particularly of the female persuasion. However, his interpretation of the myth of Medusa and her sexual evaluations brings another, more philosophical issue to the surface. It is the displacement of social values which creates a dichotomy of sensuality: the ignorance towards the female body and its responses to sexual desire in turn becomes a symbol of both desire and fear, and even possibly hatred. According to Freud, the sight of Medusa’s head (and therefore the sapphic images associated with it) makes the man “stiff with terror…” yet at the same time “offers consolations… he is still in possession of a penis, and the stiffening reassures him of the fact.” This line is particularly absurd, since the spectator has an erection, how could he have ever feared for the loss of his member?

Ergo, Freud’s exploration of female sexuality through the literal and figurative interpretations of power in the myth of Medusa creates more ignorance on the topic instead of clarifying it. Even in this short selection, an envious, fearful misogyny resonates in this analysis. It is perhaps due to the social repression of women at this time in history that causes them to be “othered” to the point of being recognized as either a symbol of sexual desire, fear of castration, or both.

the impetus for queer theory

I just finished reading a very interesting essay called “Is There a Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Reading Straight” by Deborah P. Britzman. Modern Critical Theory has never been so good…

the three sexes
the three sexes

The concept of disavowing is traditionally viewed as an internalized, yet conscious denial of responsibility or weighing the value of an idea or concept. Indeed, the essence of disavowal lies within the paradoxical idea that although certain thoughts and situations are widely accepted as “being wrong” in political, social or moral senses, the act of disavowal itself is a silent confirmation of the socially constructed axioms.

For Deborah Britzman, the concept of disavowal in Queer Pedagogy is an extremely complicated issue due to its social, historical, and philosophic integrity. In her essay, Briztman fleshes out the discontinuity of pedagogy in relation to the “crucial cultural and historical changes that concern the constitution of bodies of knowledge and knowledge of bodies.”1 According to her argument, Queer Theory acts against the altruistic human inclination to disavow certain kinds of knowledge simply because they defy the social and cultural conventions, which are perpetually changing. 

Namely, the act of disavowal attempts to deconstruct the definitive binaries which social institutions gravitate towards. As listed in the essay, “categories like masculinity, femininity, sexuality”2 form the basis of education and the pedagogical canon which become accepted due to varying sociopolitical and cultural variables. Furthermore, the pedagogical account of knowledge fails to unify, and instead becomes divisive in its assertions of normalcy and the articulation of what the majority of society believes is “heterosexual.” Although Queer Theory is not an exploration in deviant sexuality, the example of the binaries established by defining sexuality are extremely significant in the analysis of disavowal, since these binaries are essentially universally accepted on an ontological basis. 

Going beyond the theoretical significance of disavowal, the object of Queer Theory becomes self-refuting immediately after it has been put into motion. In order for the disavowal of present binaries and cultural misconceptions, the object of defying such socially relevant issues becomes a living paradox when taken to absurd lengths. For example, to break the cycle of disavowing or becoming complacent with present social mores, Queer Theory demands a constant, perpetual turning over of new ideals. In this sense, the goal of Queer Theory reduces itself to a theoretical absurdity: it requires the constant shifting of new values within the pedagogical system, yet where exactly does the significance lie in creating new perspectives? 

Thus the goal of Queer Theory is an ironic one – it merely preserves the Nietzschean “reversal of perspectives” to the point where it becomes a foil to nihilism. As Queer Theory rejects preexisting binaries, it invents another one by defining itself on the fringes of what is culturally accepted – thus being inherently paradoxical.