"Some of the familiar psychoanalytic categories in terms of the subject's conscious and unconscious attitudes to his or her composure: the "pervert" flirts with his composure; the "hysteric" simulates its absence; the "obsessional" parodies it; and so on. The idea of composure can be seen as integral to Freud's fiction of the ego. Just as the ego is the "seat of anxiety, " so, by the same token, it is the seat of composure. The ego composes the body in fantasy. So those most furtively absorb ing and exciting ideas, masturbation fantasies, can be seen as stories or scenarios in which, through careful disguise, one makes it safe to have an excited body; or rather, the spectacle of an excited body. Desire is always staged, as it were, by the ego.
For Freud stimulation was impingement, instinctual life sustaining the organism and yet throwing it into disarray. As he wrote in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, with characteristic mis giving, "Protection against stimuli is an almost more important function for the living organism than reception of stimuli"; 1 as though what is to be received is always potentially in excess.
Jean Laplanche has extended Freud's sense of the individual's radical besiegement with his concept of "the attack of the drives on the ego. " The ego is appointed, in the Freudian story, some how to diminish the trauma of the body, but the body has no time for the ego's rage for order. Composure becomes a pre emptive strike-a kind of machine inside the ghost-against this fundamental disarray.
In the course of development, and apparently to differing degrees, the body has to lose its overwhelming immediacy for the child, to become the child's most paradoxical belonging. Composure would begin as the way the child responds, at least initially, to the intimated demand by the mother, in the face of the child's desire for her, that the child alter the form of its self presentation. An original clamorousness becomes a calculated social poise, a distinctive awkwardness that bears witness to the child's struggle for acceptable forms of excitement, for ways in which he can be seen to be a desiring subject without losing face.
In Freudian terms composure would be a form, largely unconscious, of vigilant self-control. But with his flair for the ingenuous-a characteristic disregard for the special language of psychoanalysis-Winnicott gives us a different way of con sidering the idea of composure. Where Freud sees the possibility for mastery, Winnicott sees the possibility for surprise. Where Freud is preoccupied with defensive forms of control, Winnicott emphasizes something less virile, which he calls "holding." Holding describes the early maternal care that makes possible the infant's psychosomatic integration; and holding implies reciprocal accommodations, exactly what one observes in the subtle process of someone's carrying or picking up a child. In Winnicott's terms, composure can be seen as a deferral, a kind of self-holding that keeps open the possibility of finding an environment in which the composure itself could be relin quished. Composure would, by definition, seek its own nega tion. It might, in other words, be part of a person's develop mental project to create or find an environment in which his composure was of no use, and in which this fact was no longer a problem (sadomasochism, one could say, is the endlessly orchestrated disappointment of this wish).
In a remarkable early paper Winnicott implicitly addresses the question, What use does one want to make of the idea of mind?-an idea conspicuous by its absence in British writing on Freud. In "The Mind and Its Relation to the Psyche-Soma" (1949), Winnicott suggests, neglecting Freud's metapsychol ogy, that the individual uses what he calls "mental functioning" in order to make up for failures of mothering. One mothers oneself, or rather, foster-mothers one's self, with one's mind. Ordinarily the mind is "no more than a special case of the functioning of the psyche-soma . . . the imaginative elabora tion of somatic parts, feelings and functions, that is, of physical aliveness.
It is an expression of the body-self through fantasy. As he writes elsewhere, in normal development "the infant's mind [is] able to account for and so to allow for failures of adaptation. In this way the mind is allied to the mother and takes over part of her function." Bad mind, or what Winnicott would call the precocious mind, quickens in reaction to exces sive maternal unpredictability. "As a more common result of the lesser degrees of tantalizing infant care in the earliest stages we find mental functioning becoming a thing in itself, practi cally replacing the good mother and making her unnecessary. " The tantalized child turns away from the mother in a bewilder ment that he will organize into a diffuse resentment. Engen dered by a grudge, the precocious mind of the child stops him from depending, or rather, enables him to simulate indepen dence. For the child, like the adult, there is always the anony mous company of thoughts. And there is always the mind as the theater of revenge. In fact Winnicott seems to imply that the figure he calls "the intellectual" is always retaliating, always backing a grudge.
There is, then, a familiar type of composure that creates an appearance of self-possession, based on a kind of psycho somatic dissociation. The mind creates a distance in the self often in the form of an irony-from its own desire, from the affective core of the self, and manages, by the same token, a distance from everybody else. A sometimes compelling but ambiguous aura, by communicating a relative absence of needi ness, renders the other dispensable. And this is done partly through projection; at its most extreme, the neediness is evoked in the other people around and then treated with sadistic dis may, as though it were an obnoxious stranger. Hell is not other people but one's need for other people.
The precocious mind in its struggle for composure is sus tained by a militant fantasy of self-sufficiency, in which desire for the other is interpreted as concession to the other, a conces sion to possible misrecognition-misrecognition as appropria tion-that most primitive, that most essentially perplexing form of power. In the child's early life the problem becomes that although the mother has the capacity to recognize the need of her infant, she exhibits a relative incapacity to do this in any reliable way. For her own good reasons she too often puts her desire in place of the infant's desire, and early states of excitement and quiescence, instead of being met as such by the mother, go unreciprocated or unacknowledged. An accumulation of such misleading experiences prompts a precocious mental develop ment designed to make the child self-satisfying. This is what Winnicott calls "the over-growth of the mental function re active to erratic mothering."
"In the development of every individual, " Winnicott writes, "the mind has a root . . . in the need of the individual, at the core of the self, for a perfect environment." Perfect, of course, is a word that psychoanalysis has ironized, though the pun on root here leads us in different directions. What Winnicott means here by "the perfect environment" is, I think, a state of virtual mutuality of recognition and desire that would make possible the child's and the parent's optimal development. But Winnicott idealizes here the wish to be understood; because the other thing that the child is always trying to reestablish in his own eyes and that always already exists-is his own opaqueness. Compo sure, like a dare, sustains and challenges the idea of accurate recognition. (Winnicott's notion of the True Self instates the possibility of accurate recognition by giving it a target; this is the tautology that sustains the terms). So from Winnicott's point of view, one function of the precocious mind is to maintain composure while protecting, in fantasy, the desiring self that seeks such recognition. The desiring self is isolated by the dread of being undermined by the misrecognition of the other. The composure is organized to preclude the repetition of this experience of traumatic, exploitative, seduction of the affective core of the self, of the ordinary self that is deeply unenchanted by the spurious forms of its own specialness.
The quest for the perfect environment through the self holding and self-hiding of composure, at its most excessive, insulates the individual from ever allowing the recognition he seeks. As Georg Groddeck, the great master of psychosomatic caricature, once wrote, "There are strange courses in life, some of which look like circles." [On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life]
And in their triumph die like fire and powder, Which as they kiss consume."
- Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet
In 1930 Sandor Ferenczi, speculating along what were by then traditional psychoanalytic lines about what he called "oral eroticism in education, " wrote in his journal: "It is not impos sible that the question ofhow much oral eroticism (sucking the breasts, the thumb, the dummy-kissing) should be allowed or even offered to the suckling, and later in the period ofweaning, is ofparamount importance for the development ofcharacter. " 1 In his repertoire of the infant's oral eroticism kissing, placed at the end of the list, is the anomalous element. It includes sucking, of course, but this is not its definitive characteristic. With the mouth's extraordinary virtuosity, it involves some of the plea sures of eating in the absence of nourishment. But of all self comforting or autoerotic activities the most ludicrous, the most obviously unsatisfying and therefore infrequent, is kissing oneself.
In the same entry Ferenczi goes on to reconstruct the trauma that certain oral activities try to undo:
Obviously the love life ofthe newly born begins as com plete passivity. Withdrawal of love leads to undeniable feelings of being deserted. The consequence is the split ting of the personality into two halves, one of which plays the role of the mother (thumb sucking: thumb is equalled with mother's breast). Prior to the splitting there is probably a tendency to self-destruction caused by the trauma, which tendency, however, can still be inhib ited-so to speak-on its way: out of the chaos a new kind of order is created which is then adapted to the precarious external circumstances.
Ferenczi imagines the terror-the invisible history-out of which such banal, self-comforting behavior as thumb sucking may arise. He assumes that the infant must in a sense choose in this primal crisis between self-destruction or a new kind of relationship with himself by taking flight to his own body. Bereft and relatively powerless, in a precocious, desperate attempt to become for the time being his own mother, the infant splits his personality and sucks his thumb. His body then becomes, in a familiar cliche, the first mother-substitute. The child will develop more-sophisticated ways of dealing with his own insufficiency, but there is one thing he will not do, one thing it is as though, Freud suggests, he will defer until adoles cence. The child may stroke or suck himself, or kiss other people and things, but he will not kiss himself. Eventually, Freud writes in the Three Essays on the Theory ofSexuality, he will kiss other people on the mouth because he is unable to kiss himself there. Kissing, as we shall see - and it is hardly surprising in retrospect - is central in an oblique way to Freud's theory of sexual development. One way out of the chaos Ferenczi describes, part of the new order, is the belated desire to kiss another person on the mouth.
Adults tend to have strong, mostly private and embarrassed feelings about kissing. But this squeamishness-it would be silly or arch to be interested in kisses-conceals an intense, originally infantile curiosity about kissing and a repertoire of different kinds of kisses. It is, for example, one of the com monest infantile sexual theories that babies are conceived by kissing; like most infantile sexual theories, this is anatomically inaccurate but suggestive and metonymically correct. Children are right by implication about kissing. And as Freud recognized, these infantile sexual theories are not relinquished after children are told the so-called facts of life. "After such enlightenment, " he writes,
"children know something that they did not know before, but they make no use of the new knowledge that has been presented to them . . . They behave like primitive races who have had Christianity thrust upon them and who continue to worship their old idols in secret."
It is worth wondering, perhaps, what the wishes arein kissing. At certain periods of our lives we spend a lot of time plot ting for kisses, not only as foreplay but also as ends in them selves. It is of course considered adolescent-and by adolescent boys effeminate-to be a connoisseur of such things, although adolescence too easily involves, as only adults can know, the putting away ofthe wrong childish things. Ostentatious kisses are usually represented in the most popular and once intellec tually disparaged genres, romantic novels and films. And although there are clearly conventions in literature and life gov erning the giving and getting of kisses, it is really only from films that we can learn what the contemporary conventions might be for kissing itself. Styles of kissing can be seen but not
easily described, as though kissing resists verbal representation. It is striking that, unlike other forms of sexuality, there is little synonymy ofkissing. It has generated no familiar slang, acquired virtually no language in which it can be redescribed. It is not merely that in the romance of appetite the details of salivation are not compelling. Apparently for the sake of interest stories often ignore, in a way films do not, the fact that the kiss itself is a story in miniature, a subplot.
From a psychoanalytic point ofview, the kiss is a revealing sequence containing a personal history. The way a person kisses and likes to be kissed shows in condensed form something about that person's character. In what Freud saw as the individual's biphasic sexual development, kissing, as a relatively late version of oral eroticism, links us to our earliest relationship with our selves and other people. It is integral to the individual's ongoing project ofworking out what mouths are for. In that craving for other mouths that is central to the experience of adolescence and seems to begin then, the individual resumes with newfound intensity ofappetite and inhibition his oral education, connected now with an emerging capacity for genital sexuality. There is the return ofthe primary sensuous experience oftasting another person, one in which the difference between the sexes can supposedly be attenuated-the kiss is the image of reciprocity, not of domination-but one that is also unprecedented devel opmentally, since it includes tasting someone else's mouth.
Although this is prefigured in the childhood game of touching tongues, children are usually appalled at the idea ofputting their tongues in each other's mouths; partly because kissing signifies an inhibited rehearsal for intercourse and other sexual practices, with all the attendant anxieties. Through kissing the erotics of greed contend again, as in childhood, with the reassurances of concern; and again, directly in relation to another person's body. "Animals can be tamed," Winnicott wrote ominously, "but not mouths. "
Kissing, though, is the sign of taming, of controlling the potential-at least in fantasy-to bite up and ingest the other person. Lips, as it were, are the next thing to teeth, and teeth are great educators.
Mouths learn to kiss. So in psychoanalytic terms kissing may be, among other things, a compromise solution to what Freud saw as the individual's primary ambivalence, and a way of gratifying that other appetite he recognized: the appetite for pleasure independent ofthe desire for nourishment or reproduc tion. When we kiss we devour the object by caressing it; we eat it, in a sense, but sustain its presence. Kissing on the mouth can have a mutuality that blurs the distinctions between giving and taking ("In kissing do you render or receive?" Cressida asks in Troilus and Cressida) . If in a crude psychoanalytic interpreta tion kissing could be described as aim-inhibited eating, we should also consider the more nonsensical option that eating can also be, as Freud will imply, aim-inhibited kissing.
In the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality Freud emphasizes the significance of the fact that the individual's first and most formative relationship to the world is an oral one, that "sucking at his mother's breast has become the prototype ofevery relation oflove. " He describes kissing in his master-plot of development as what might be called a normal perversion, an ordinary sexual activity that is perverse only in the psycho analytic sense that it can be used as, or become, a substitute for genital intercourse (it is of interest that there are no common sexual perversions involving kissing as opposed to licking, sucking, or eating). "Even a kiss," Freud writes,
"can claim to be described as a perverse act, since it con sists in the bringing together of two oral erotogenic zones instead of two genitals. Yet no one rejects it as perverse; on the contrary it is permitted in theatrical performances as a softened hint at the sexual act."
The kiss, blurring the boundary between the normal and the perverse, is-perhaps for that same reason-the publicly acceptable representation ofprivate sexual life, a performed allu sion to it. Revealing like no other oral activity the powerful connection, in fantasy and physiology, between mouths and gen itals, kissing is indeed a "softened hint" at the sexual act. When Bob Dylan sings of a kiss, "her mouth was watery and wet," he is referring to the fact that not everything that is wet is watery.
In a well-known paragraph from the Three Essays, one that probably lingered at the back of Ferenczi's mind, Freud makes more ambitious claims for the possible significance of kissing. "To begin with," he writes of the infant, "sexual activity attaches itself to functions serving the purpose of self-preserva tion and does not become independent of them till later." A time comes for the infant when the sensual pleasure of sucking the breast is unaccompanied by the need for nourishment and can be split off from it. Through his mouth the infant experi ences a division of claims, a new quality of life. Two parallel orders of desire develop that can overlap but do not need to: one more evidently purposive and bound up with the need for nourishment; the other less easy to describe but referred to by Freud as sexual, having to do with the pleasure of pleasure:
The need for repeating the sexual satisfaction now becomes detached from the need for taking nourishment-a separation which becomes inevitable when the teeth appear and food is no longer taken in only by suck ing but is also chewed up. The child does not make use of an extraneous body for his sucking but prefers a part of his own skin because it is more convenient, because it makes him independent of the external world, which he is not yet able to control, and because in that way he provides himself, as it were, with a second erotogenic zone, though one of an inferior kind. The inferiority of this second region is among the reasons why, at a later date, he seeks the corresponding part-the lips-of another person. ("It's a pity I can't kiss myself," he seems to be saying.)
The separation becomes "inevitable," Freud surmises, when the possibility of real destructiveness enters the picture. (In 1838 Darwin had noted in his journal "one's tendency to kiss, & almost bite, that which one sexually loves.") Of neces sity the infant turns to the object for nourishment but away from the object for what Freud advertently calls "sexual satisfac tion." He cannot eat himself, although he can pleasure himself by sucking parts of his own body. But this second erotogenic zone, his own skin, is inferior to the mother's breast as a source of pleasure. It is worth noting that Freud does not say here that it is inferior because it is inedible or because it is more available; he simply states by way of conclusion that it just is less satisfying. And it is not, in his account, the breasts or the genitals ofanother person that are then immediately sought out at "a later date" but another mouth, and then not only to suck. Because the mouth, unlike the body parts it sucks, is acutely alive to its own pleasure, it therefore seeks, Freud seems to be suggesting, by that same narcissistic logic, its curious reunion through another person's lips.
It is perhaps useful to summarize the extraordinary sequence Freud proposes for the individual's primary object of being at least sexually self-satisfied, given that he cannot initially feed himself; thejourney, that is to liay, from sucking to kissing. At first pleasure and nourishment are inextricable; then the infant experiences a new pleasure that Freud calls sexual satisfaction, which is independent of nourishment but still dependent on the object. The infant then substitutes his own body as the object of this separate pleasure and later seeks, among other things, the "corresponding part" of another person's body: the mouth, the only part ofhis body he can never kiss in the mirror. Finally Freud offers by implication the intriguing, grotesque-almost unthinkable-image of a person kissing his own mouth, and suggests that it is a narcissistic blow that he is unable to do so.
This eventual kiss highlights for Freud a double disappoint ment that is integral to his conception of human development: disappointment with the object because its independence makes it, as it were, the primal inconvenience; disappointment with the self because it cannot be the original or the sufficiently gratifying object. The individual's first and forever-recurring loss, in Freud's view, is not of the object but of the fantasy of self-sufficiency, of being everything to oneself. In adolescence the individual will substitute, Freud says, the "inferiority" of his own skin for the further disillusionment that is at the same time an intensely evocative pleasure, ofkissing another person's mouth. But why does Freud draw a conclusion so unexpected, so remote from the ordinary experiences of kissing and being kissed?
For Freud, development was a process of substitution in which there were no substitutes, merely necessary alternatives. Given the hopelessness ofthe individual's attempts to be sexually self-satisfied-represented here as the impossibility of kissing one's own mouth-Freud, I think, saw kissing as confirming his sense of the narcissistic intent, the grudge at the root of sexuality: a grudge, that is to say, contingent upon the cumulative trauma that is human development. Desire, he wants us to know, is always in excess of the object's capacity to satisfy it. The object ofdesire, like the kiss that is by definition a mistake in Chekhov's story "The Kiss," is resonant, finally, because it disappoints; and because it disappoints it can be returned to. Harmless, the kiss is a symbol of betrayal, and of the revisions that betrayal always brings in its wake.
What, then, to ask the simple psychoanalytic question, are the fantasies in kissing? We usually smile beforehand, and often close our eyes. We kiss our children goodnight, although it is not immediately obvious why we do so; and we are, ofcourse, unsurprised that traditionally prostitutes never kiss their clients on the mouth. Kisses-of which it can be said, despite our misgivings, that there are many kinds and that they have always punctuated our lives-are a threat and a promise, the signature as cliche of the erotic. And therefore, as Freud knew, they involve us in the dangerous allure and confusion of mistaken identity, of getting muddled up. In The Anatomy of Melancholy Burton writes: "To kiss and be kissed, . . . amongst other things, is as a burden in a song, and a most forcible battery, as infectious, Xenophon thinks, as the poison of a spider." Truly infectious, kissing may be our most furtive, our most reticent sexual act, the mouth's elegy to itself." [On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life]
"Clearly, for many reasons, entering Freud's consulting room would have been an unusual experience; the Wolf-man was reminded, he wrote, "not of a doctor's office but rather of an archaeological study. Here were all kinds of statuettes and other unusual objects which even the layman recognised as archaeological finds from ancient Egypt." Psychoanalysis, of course, always takes place in a museum-and for the more idolatrous, usually in the Freud museum-but the museum, the stored past, comes to life in language and loses its fixity.
Hans Sachs, one of the early members of Freud's Wednes day Psychological Society in Vienna, recalls in his memoir how "under the silent stare of idols and animal-shaped gods we lis tened to some new article by Freud, or read and discussed our own products, or just talked about things that interested us. "
Presumably, the irony of the situation was not lost on them. And since Jewish thought, by definition, sets itself against idolatry, we should take this as one of the important scenes in the history of psychoanalysis: a group ofJewish men, in a room full ofidols, having a new kind ofconversation about sexuality. Even though they thought of themselves as secular Jews, it was the equivalent of putting a moustache on the Mona Usa . It was a critique oftraditional forms ofreverence; because to talk about sexuality, from a psychoanalytic point of view, was to talk about the nature of belief. As the conventions of love poetry have always insisted, it is in our erotic life that we return, so to speak, to idolatry. And our erotic life-as psychoanalysis would reveal in quite unexpected ways-is intimately con nected to our acquisitive, materialistic life.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, in the major European capitals, it was possible to purchase gods. "The ancient gods still exist, " Freud wrote to his friend Fliess in 1 899, "for I have bought one or two lately, among them a stone.
Janus, who looks down on me with his two faces in a very superior fashion. " You know the gods still exist, Freud jokes, because you can buy them. They. have become a new kind of commodity, just as the personal past was hecoming something one could buy in the form of psychoanalysis. Certainly, recent archaeological discoveries had given vivid form to the idea that the dead do not disappear. And Janus, we may remember, the Roman god of gods, was the opener and closer of all things, who looked inward and outward, before and after; a pertinent god to have acquired given Freud's newfound preoccupations at the turn of the century.
It is, of course, tendentious to refer to what Freud called his "grubby old gods" as idols. In his collection of more than two thousand pieces there were many representations ofdeities, but Freud did not worship them. He simply collected them with some relish and obviously prized them very highly; although it would not be wildly speculative, from a psycho analytic point ofview, to infer that there were powerful uncon scious identifications at work both with the people who had worshipped them and the people who had found them. If, as has been suggested, they also represented his family romance his wishful allegiance to alternative cultures-then they were also a rather grandiose parody of the idea. It would not be a family romance that could' contain Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Asian members, so much as a world-histor ical romance. "I have made many sacrifices," he writes to Stephan Zweig, and it is a telling phrase, "for my collection of Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, and actually have read more archaeology than psychology. " He couldn't, of course, have had comparable Jewish antiquities, because there could be no such thing.
It is an irony, then, of some interest that psychoanalysis in which only words and money are exchanged, in which no graven images are used, and which is carried out in an atmos phere of relative abstinence-had its beginnings in a setting populated by old...gods. Freud's consulting room, in other words, was a rather vivid representation of an old dilemma: How many gods ifany, and what are they for? None of Freud's antiquities were kept in his living quarters. So what was Freud telling his patients and himself by displaying his collection in the rooms where he practiced psychoanalysis, a theory and a therapy that was consistently an impassioned critique of reli gious belief? Certainly these antiquities in a Jewish doctor's consulting room articulated two things about culture, which had interesting implications for the new science of psycho analysis. First, that culture was history, and that this history, which was of extraordinary duration, could be preserved and thought about. The present could be a cover story for the past. And second-and more threatening to the monotheism of a putatively chosen people-that culture was plural. These figu rines from such diverse cultures, which represented what Freud called "the splendid diversity ofhuman life," "the varied types of perfection, " might suggest that the only viable notion of True Belief was of something local, provisional, and various. The figurines underlined the fact that there are all sorts ofcultural conventions and worlds elsewhere, as many as can be found.
Freud was obsessed by the notion of belief. Both magic and science, hysteria and common human unhappiness, delusion and psychoanalytic theory, he began tq realize, could be described as questions ofbelief. As Freud famously wrote in his conclusion to the Schreber case: " It remains for the future to decide whether there is more delusion in my theory than I should like to admit, or whether there is more truth in Schreber's delusion that other people are yet able to believe. " 5 The psycho analytic question becomes not, Is that true? but What in your personal history disposes you_ to believe that? And that, of course, could be psychoanalytic theory. In other words, from a psychoanalytic point of view, belief changes from being a question about the qualities ofthe object ofbelief, to a question about the history ofthe subject, the believer. What is the uncon scious problem that your belief solves for you, or the wishes that it satisfies? In therapy it is always an interesting question to ask someone in a state of conviction, What kind of person would you be if you no longer believed that? A symptom, of course, is always a state of conviction.
Despite Freud's endless disclaimers-his descriptions of himself, in one form or another, as a "godless Jew"-in his work the Jewish boundary, if I can put it like that, between idolatry and something else we might call True Belief, was recontested. The distinction that had organized Judaism became blurred as Freud used psychoanalysis to redescribe the roots of belief.
His interest in Moses, as many people have pointed out, was based in part on his identification with him both as an interpreter and as an abolisher of idols. In his first study of the patriarch, The Moses of Michelangelo ( 1914) , Freud tries to describe his internal reactions to the Moses idolized, so to speak, in Michelangelo's famous sculpture: "In 1913, through three lonely September weeks, I stood daily in the church in front of the statue, studied it, measured it, drew it, until that understanding came to me that I only dared to express anony mously in the paper. " There is, of course, a certain irony in Freud's devotion to this idol, in Rome, of a man whose project was the destruction of idolatry. When Ernest Jones went to Rome in 1913 Freud wrote to him: "I envy you for seeing Rome so soon and so early in life. Bring my deepest devotion to Moses and write me about him. " Jones replied obediently: "My first pilgrimage the day after my arrival, was to convey your greetings to Moses, and I think he unbent a little from his haughtiness. " It is not obvious whom the joke was on. But Freud was drawn irresistibly to this statue partly to understand why he was so drawn to it; why, that is to say, he seemed, quite unconsciously , . to have made it into an id01: "No piece of statuary, " he wrote in his essay,
has ever made.a stronger impression on .me Jhan this. How often have I mounted the steep steps Qfthe uplovely Corso Cavour to the lonely place where· the deserted church stands, and have essayed to support the angry scorn ofthe hero's glance. Sometimes I have crept cauti ously out of the half-gloom of the interior as though I myself belonged to the mob upon whom his eye is turned-the mob which can hold fast no conviction, which has neither faith nor patience and which rejoices when it has regained its illusory idols.
Freud, in this curious scene, half-identifies with the idolaters, the "mob, " as he calls them contemptuously, which has "neither faith nor patience." Freud may be guilty of abandoning the religion of his fathers, but that wouldn't necessariiy place him, a man of science, in Aaron's party, hilving to withstand "the angry scorn df the hero's glance." In this context perhaps, if you are not a Jew you are an idolater, but what are Freud's "illusory idols" that he creeps cautiously out of the church to return to? It would be glib simply to say that his idols are now Science and Psychoanalysis; but it is his psychoanalytic method that he returns to and uses to understand what we might call his transference to Michelangelo's Moses. And his interpretation of the statue, which his essay explains, is particularly interesting in the light of these considerations.
Freud is preoccupied by two things about Michelangelo's Moses. First, what is Moses' mood, the state of mind that Michelangelo has tried to represent? And second, at what point in the story is Moses portrayed? Reviewing the evidence of previous scholars, Freud begins by accepting what was then the traditional interpretation of the statue-Michelangelo shows Moses at the moment when he first sees his people worshipping the Golden Calf, the moment just before his rage. But then Freud, after his own analysis, comes up with an alternative construction. Actually, he proposes, the artist has shown Moses after his rage, in a state of recovery; that is, after the idolatry of his people has to be included in the story: not the moment of discovery, but the immediate period of realization. And this, Freud says, is what is so compelling for him about Moses:
"What we see before us is not the inception of a violent action, but the remains of a movement that has already taken place. In his first transport of fury Moses desired to act, to spring up and take vengeance and forget the Tables; but he has overcome the temptation, and he will now remain seated and still in his frozen wrath and in his pain miiIgled with contempt."
If Freud, in this highly charged scenario, finds himself identifying with the idolatrous mob, he also admires Moses because of his self control. He is an object of emulation for Freud because he does not take quick revenge on the idolaters; he suffers their difference.
This essay of Freud's, written in 1913, clearly also refers implicitly to C. G. Jung's defection; ironically, in this parallel Jung becomes the idolater, fleeing from Freud's devotion, so to speak, to sexuality. But the essay also has an intrapsychic significance that tells us something about Freud himself. It describes an internal configuration that is dramatized through out Freud's work. That is to say, a relationship is described between an inner authority that organizes and defines, and a less developed, nonheroic, idolatrous mob that is impatient and unwilling to believe in the hero. The mob is skeptical and res tive, and the hero has conviction. The hero, from the mob's point of view, is excessively demanding; the mob, from the hero's point of view, is immature, especially in its impatience. A misleadingly neat set of equations suggests itself: Moses as the superego, Aaron as the ego, and the idolatrous mob as the id. In Freud's redescription of Exodus, idolatry is infantile; it signifies a failure of renunciation. But Freud's interpretation of Michelangelo's Moses suggests that Freud is trying to contain to keep alive in himself-the relationship between the Moses figure and the idolaters.
Returning to Moses twenty years later in his weird and wonderful book Moses and Monotheism, Freud gives final form to the possible virtues-the developmental achievement-that in his view distinguish Moses and his religion from what he con temptuously calls the "mob." In crude terms it is fair to say that Freud reduces all religious belief to the longing for the father: "A child's earliest years," he writes, "are dominated by an enormous overvaluation of his father, " and this gets transfer red on to a deity. 10 But in Moses and Monotheism we find-amid much fascinating and bizarre speculation-both an enthusiastic defense of monotheism and a profound ambivalence toward it. And this ambivalence reflects the child's ambivalence about both the father and the religion of the fathers, but also Freud's ambivalence about the version of adulthood generated by psychoanalysis.
Monotheism, for example-which he explicitly links with imperialism-in Freud's view produces . intoleranct:. "Along with the beliefin a single god, " he writes, "religious intolerance was inevitably born, which had previously been alien to the ancient world-and remained so long afterwards." There is clearly an idealization of the ancient wodd here, but it is nevertheless worth bearing in mind that in what Freud calls the "ancient world" there were a large number of deities of both sexes, and that the gods of the classical ancient world were hedonists. And this point is not incidental, because for Freud, in Moses and Monotheism, monotheism seems to represent a triumph of the mind, or what Freud calls the "intellect," over the body. And this, Freud tries to say, but with considerable misgivings, is its great virtue. "For various reasons," he appar ently once remarked to Ernest Jones, "the Jews have under gone a one-sided development and admire brains more than bodies."
In what may now seem to us to be a questionable distinc tion, it is as if the body produces and worships idols, and the intellect produces the sublimated rigors of monotheism, what Freud calls the "heights of sublime abstraction. " On the one hand he criticizes monotheism for its intolerance of other peo ple, and on the other hand he praises it for its intolerance of the body. There is bodily clamor, and there is restraint. And for those like Moses and other chosen people who have man aged what Freud calls this ",triumph ofintellectuality over sen suality"-this abstinence-there is one rather dubious reward. "All such advances in intellectuality, " he writes, "have as their consequence that the individual's self-esteem is increased, that he is made proud-so that he feels superior to other people who have remained under the spell ofsensuality. " Now it is children, of course-:-whom Freud places in his alarming nineteenth-cen tury category with women, neurotics, and "primitive races" who remain under the spell of sensuality. It is they who are prone to idolatry; but by the same token, in Freud's terms, they do not get their sexual excitement from feeling superior to other people.
A believer is bound to the teachings ofreligion by certain ties of affection.
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion
Freud made no secret of his views about Chris tianity-and particularly his contempt for Catholicism.
And the history, which Freud knew only too well, made it abundantly obvious that it wasn't only "primitive races" that Christians had wanted to convert; they had wanted to convert theJews, who were, ofcourse, notorious in anti-Semitic propaganda for their sexual preoccupations. If Freud is showing us, in this example, the conflict between Christianity and infantile sexuality, then we need to remember that Freud thought of himself as the discoverer of infantile sex uality, of the significance of infantile sexual theories in adult life; and that his work was, among many other things, a fierce critique of Christianity.
Children, he writes here, confronted with the Truth, "make no use ofthe new knowledge" but "continue to worship their idols in secret." And their idols are theories; like psycho analysis, theories about sexuality. Freud, in this example, as a man of science must, ironically, side with the Christian mis sionaries; but his sympathies are manifestly with the refusal by the idolatrous children, whose sexual theories he refers to as a "natural growth. " In other words, we find once again in Freud, as we did in his accounts of Moses, the generosity of a split identification. He has internalized the ancient Jewish struggle
between idolatry and True Belief; and in each ofthese instances True Belief involves submission to a more powerful authority. The truth becomes something we give in to, something with which we have a sadomasochistic relationship.
In The Future ofan Illusion (1927), his most sustained inves tigation into the personal origins of religious belief, Freud defines religious ideas as "teachings and assertions about facts and conditions of external (or internal) reality which tells one something one has not discovered for oneself and which lay claim to one's belief." Religious ideas, in other words, are imposed, not found. And clearly, as always in Freud's writing, there is an implicit parallel being drawn with psychoanalytic ideas; the question being not, Are they true? but Why do you believe them?
A distinction is being made here by Freud that we are more familiar with from later object-relations theory; that is, the distinction between an object that can be found, and an object that is forced upon us. And pleasure, we should remember in this context, unlike pain, cannot be forced upon us.
Freud asks-in the sometimes reductive generalizations in The Future of an Illusion-what kind of objects are religious beliefs, and what are they used for? And he answers that they are paternal objects, which we invest with power and authority to console us for our original and pervasive helplessness. In fact, in Freud's terms, we don't believe, we wish; and above all we wish to believe. Because of our formative helplessness, every belief, we think, protects us from something. And in this sense a belief, for Freud, is like a symptom; we imagine that a catas trophe will ensue if we relinquish it. And again, like a symptom, religious belief, Freud says, is a way of not leaving home. Anyone who has been able to relinquish what he calls the "reli gious illusion" will "be in the same position as a child who has left the parental house where he is so warm and comfortable . . . Men cannot remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into hostile life. We may call this 'education to reality. ' " 15 Reality, we must infer from this, is that which cannot be wish fully improved; something we could, perhaps, call Nature.16
For Freud, it is the element of wish-fulfillment that makes all religious belief a childish illusion. Something called "reality" now fills the space that was once inhabited by the monotheism of Moses. And this reality is ineluctable, like death; all belief is now idolatry, and idolatry is an anaesthetic. The believer, Freud insists, is like an addict, and "the effect ofreligious consolations may be likened to that of a narcotic, " a "sleeping draught. " Religion is simply an elaborate acknowledgment of what Freud calls "the perplexity and helplessness of the human race, " but it is a "bitter-sweet poison. " 17 It is all very simple. The child believes in the father-although exactly what the child believes about the father is not spelled out-and the adult, in the same way, believes in his god because he is too frightened to grow up. But why is Freud, as many people have noticed, when he tells his own story about religion, so unusually, indeed exces sively, hostile to it? If it is so obvious what Religion, in the abstract, really is, why does he have to keep telling us? He disparages religious belief in a way that he has taught us to interpret; so we can ask a simple question: What is the doubt he is trying to stifle by his overinsistent critique?
One of the doubts, I think, was that he was talking not only about religion. About two-thirds of the way through The Future ofan Illusion Freud begins to realize that he may be using religion as a pretext to talk about belief. And this had interesting implications for psychoanalysis, because Freud had developed a treatment that made use of this infantile capacity for belief. Transference, after all, is a form of secular idolatry. Just as Freud was manifestly uncertain as to what there was beyond transference, so he begins to doubt, again, in The Future ofan Illusion, whether there is any essential or discernible difference between idolatry and true belief, and whether any area of our lives can be anything other than what he calls illusion. "May not other cultural assets, " he writes, "of which we hold a high opinion and by which we let our lives be ruled be of a similar nature? Must not the assumptions that determine our political regulations be called illusions as well? And is it not the case that in our civilisation the relations between the sexes are disturbed by an erotic illusion or a number of such illusions?" And what of psychoanalysis itself, which Freud noticeably fails to mention, but of which he, and some of us, hold a high opinion even if we don't let our lives be ruled by it?
Through psychoanalysis Freud suddenly seems to have collapsed the traditional opposition between idolatry and true belief. And he had certainly, of course, described an uncon scious that was the antithesis of an idol, that could not be wor shipped and should not be idealized. If all belief is idolatory, and even Moses was childish, what then is the alternative? And the answer, Freud states emphatically, in the conclusion to The Future ofan Illusion, is science; because in science, unlike our wishful illusions, our beliefs are subject to correction. This could, of course, be the most ironic wish of all; a wish that our wishes be correctable. But from one of Freud's many points of view, potential objects of belief were to be replaced by a method of inquiry into the personal history of belief.
The analyst, Lacan says, is the one who is supposed to know, but it is a false belief So we are left with a paradox that is integral to our present subject. With the discovery of transfer ence Freud evolved what could be called a cure by idolatry; in fact, potentially, a cure of idolatry, through idolatry. But the one thing psychoanalysis cannot cure, when it works, is belief in psychoanalysis. And that is a problem." [On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life]