THE PRESENT-DAY FORMS OF DISCONTENT IN CULTURE

François Richard Association Recherches en psychanalyse | Recherches en psychanalyse
2011/1 - n° 11 pages 6a à 17a

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis

11│2011

11│2011 – Current Perspectives
Perspectives contemporaines

The Present-Day Forms of Discontent in Culture
Les formes actuelles du malaise dans la culture
[Online] June 15, 2011 François Richard

Abstract:
Is the present-day discontent in culture an extension of the one described by Freud, or does it constitute something altogether different? This article takes up the Freudian idea of a contradiction between barbarism and civilization when it is active at the very heart of the collective cultural Superego. This notion sheds light on the contemporary transformations, on condition that we supplement the notion of the death drive by that of subjective disengagement; that we understand that Freud's “actual neurosis” has been replaced by a new modality of dissatisfaction; and finally that we entertain the complexity of a situation in which we find both mounting moral concern and the brazen expression of shameless cynicism.

Résumé :
Le malaise actuel dans la culture est-il la continuation de celui dépeint par Freud ou constitue-t-il quelque chose de différent ? Cet article reprend l’idée freudienne sur la contradiction entre barbarie et civilisation lorsqu’elle agit à l’intérieur même du Surmoi culturel collectif. Ceci éclaire les évolutions contemporaines, à condition de compléter la notion de pulsion de mort par celle de désengagement subjectal, de comprendre qu’à la névrose actuelle s’est substituée une modalité nouvelle de l’insatisfaction, et enfin d’envisager la complexité d’une situation où l’on trouve à la fois un souci moral croissant et l’expression d’un cynisme sans vergogne.

Keywords: adolescence, borderline cases, subjective disengagement, civilization and its discontents,
primary processes, group psychology, sexuality, superego Mots-clefs : adolescence, sexualité, cas-limites, désengagement subjectal, malaise dans la culture, processus primaires, psychologie des masses, surmoi

Plan:
From Freud’s (1929) “Cultural Discontents” to Those of Today (2011) The Specificity of the Present-Day Cultural Discontents Disturbances of Sexuality in Today’s Cultural Discontents Conclusion: Group Psychology Today

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis

11│2011

In the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponent; and so from the very first, individual psychology, in this extended but entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social 2 psychology as well.

This sentence presupposes a metapsychology of identification, of anaclisis, and of inter-psychical

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The force of Freud’s 1929 idea of “discontent in civilization”1 is surely due to its combination of straightforward assertions and complex hypotheses. The affect of discontent is anything but simple: it is an anxiety generated by an insufficient satisfaction of the drive, mixed with guilt pertaining to an aggressiveness that is not experienced as such, further combined with an extreme ambivalence that is frozen betwixt two equal yet opposing forces, all of which is bound up with an attempt to give in to desubjectivation and effectively eject the subject. Here in this article we shall follow the 1929 text in its ascent towards increasingly paradoxical aporias with a view to posing the following question: Is the present-day (2011) discontent the extension (albeit somewhat transformed) of the one Freud described eighty-two years ago, or does it constitute something utterly new and different? In the present-day forms of discontent in civilization, a tyrannical Ideal ego is tending to replace the structuring superego and excitation is struggling to be organized into drive due to the lack of any structuring of the subject through by prohibitions and limits, and the lack of a reliable and ascertainable object. In their clinical practice, psychoanalysts encounter various difficulties of Being and pains of existence from which their patients suffer as a result of failings in mutual recognition with their first interlocutors, i.e. failings in the very infrastructure of the social bond: It is not surprising therefore that in setting down to the task of theoretical and technical re-hauling that is required by their clinic, psychoanalysts are find themselves contending with the complex of discontent in culture.

conflict. Above all else it introduces the now classic motivations behind the individual’s regression into the group, the mass, which denotes a crowd but also a singular psychical state, one that is contradictory, of a strong identification with an inductive form that leads to an undoing of the previous identifications. This topography should not mask over the prevalence of economy (an economy of both affects and drives), which stands at the heart of discontent, in the radical form of “the ubiquity of non-erotic aggressivity and destructiveness” and “the disturbance of communal life by the human drive of aggression and self-destruction.”3 How is one to free oneself from the oscillation between, on the one hand, the outward deflection of the death drive that brings the social link to the brink of barbarism, and, on the other, the censorship of this aggressiveness which generates neurosis and eventually leads to destructiveness as well? The altogether straightforward idea of a repression of instinctual needs that leads the masses to loathe the demands of culture opens out into a far more complicated perspective: if we wish to preserve civilization, this censorship cannot be entirely lifted. It is the result of an impossible equilibrium: barbarism constantly infiltrates civilization from within, social morality winding up by living in cynical cohabitation with a destructiveness that no longer even tries to conceal itself (see the striking present-day mixture of a preoccupation with respect for the other and the rise in violence in human and social relations). The present-day discontent in civilization brings the coexisting opposites discovered by Freud to boiling point, to the extent that everyone is feeling the urgent need to rethink a viable ethics. Indeed, Freud’s “paradoxical thesis” that “moral conscience is the consequence of instinctual renouncement,” finds its grounding in the theory of mimetic violence: “the original severity of the superego does not – or does not so much – represent the severity which one has experienced from it [the object], or which one attributes to it, it

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis represents rather one’s own aggressiveness towards it.”4 How is one to escape this mirrored confrontation, this immediate and wholesale projection, now that it has spread into the symptomatologies of modernity from the “nervous illness of the modern times” that Freud discusses in 1908 to the current pathologies (unbridled functioning of the primary process, phobia of psychical inwardness, and a flight into activity and externalization)? Let’s take up Freud’s sentence again, condensing it: “The severity of the superego represents our aggressiveness towards it.” What is to be done in the face of such immediate and wholesale projection? That is the question, our question, the question of our day and age. There exists a certain, so to speak, normal negativity of the psyche, when it discovers that the other does not immediately respond to its demand. There also exists a radicalness of the negativity linked to the death drive, linked to the hypothesis of a kind of originative (and, equally, final) fracture, and linked too to the trace of an emptiness which keeps on reverberating in various forms throughout the fabric of life:
In its extreme form we must postulate a dissociation between the ego and the subject – in which the investment accomplished in the name of the former frees itself from the second, that is, it withdraws investment from the adhesive function of the attachment which is a sign of involvement. The attachment is maintained, so we are not dealing with an attack on linking; neither is there a withdrawal of investment – on the contrary, it can be strongly invested - but it is the involvement with the object through the drive which comes undone. Involvement… which recognizes itself in this realization of desire and goes on to recognize itself.

11│2011 subjectivity, an ordeal which will be on par with desire. What gives the illusion that these subjects remain involved in the ups and downs of which life provides endless varieties, is that they appear to be playing the social game like everyone else. With one difference: they obscure (without realizing the difference) the distinction between desiring and being desired and 5 assume that they are both the same.”

and which is enigmatically inverted into a
subjectal disengagement […] a fantasy of the subjectal unbinding of the ego […] This situation obliges the ego, while continuing to follow the normal “course of things,” to disconnect itself from the grounds of its

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Isn’t this kind of duplicity of the ego (yet can unconscious duplicity be intentional?) in the tactics and strategies of disengagement characteristic of the avatars of the ordinary social bond in contemporary society? In what appears as a phobia of inwardness, the self’s confrontation with it-self seems to be avoided, including – and perhaps especially – in the field of normality. The inhibition of the openness to otherness which follows from this leads the puerile ego, hungry for immediate gratifications and intolerant of any withholding of its needs or resistance from the partner, to alternate between passionate infatuations and relational disappointments. The modern crowd of individuals, who believe themselves to be autonomous, is far closer to the “masses” discussed by Freud than to the educated participative citizen, who is today being singled out for supposedly having definitively transcended the avatars of totalitarianism, populism and even the subtle destruction of democracy by democracy itself that Tocqueville foresaw. In 1908, Freud spoke of a nervous malady proper to the modern era – and the destruction of the superego and the related difficulties of subjectifying a true desire do indeed constitute an illness! The operative modes of conformist behavior, which are quite compatible with a chronic depressive state, only offer, as everyone can see, imperfect relief, and a vague traumatic state now permeates all. Bereft of sufficient satisfaction excitability and depressiveness mount, to the point that the importance to be accorded to psychical reality is collectively denied, as is indeed apparent in today’s prevalent discourses dedicated to the well-being of one and all.

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis The old bad habit of “deriving enjoyment from our suffering,”6 which was characteristic of neurosis, now seems to have been succeeded by a strange economy where the possibility of unlimited drive fulfillment can sometimes lead to a preference for inhibition and ascetic jouissance (with its accompanying search for addictive substitutes and relations of dependence). The libidinal economy of the masses has transformed into individualist consumer economy, but one that is no less herdlike. Freud writes:

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There is certainly not a little that is ancient still buried in the soil of the city or beneath its modern buildings. (Freud, 1930: 68-9).

From Freud’s (1929) “Cultural Discontents” to Those of Today (2011)
The new pathologies that externalize intrapsychical conflict, the tendency towards an immediate expression of the movements of the drive, and a generalized edginess (all of which is accompanied by dissatisfaction), as well as their reversal into destructiveness aimed at one’s own self but also to a large extent at others: do they constitute a break within the cultural discontent analyzed by Freud, or a break away from this discontent, which is then necessarily followed by something utterly different? Today’s discontent does indeed result from a conflict between the socialized human community and sexual drives, but also from a conflict between this community and the aggressive and destructive drives (which is not the same thing). It is however a discontent that is being exacerbated to such a degree that it has become a much more complicated malady, and without doubt a more dreadful one. Freud hesitates between “Happiness in Culture” and “Unhappiness in Culture,” before introducing the notion of malaise or discontents [Unbehagen] into the title of his essay, as a specific experience resulting, he argues, from unrecognized anxiety and a sense of guilt. Today, many subjects complain of suffering from a kind of existential pain, a void in the midst of their existence; they have difficultly explaining it or clearly defining it: typically, the specific experience in question has the same vague character that led Freud to coin his new term.

Where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we should find not only the Pantheon of to-day… but, on the same site, the original edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built... There is clearly no point in spinning our phantasy any further, for it leads to things that are unimaginable. (p. 69)

Isn’t this vertigo of wandering through Ancient Rome, imagining the unimaginable “spatial juxtaposition” (in fact, an unimaginable overlapping) of distinct buildings, emblematic of
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We can see that this daydream is entirely driven by a belief in the long-term “preservation of the what came to pass” in the history of human societies, underpinning the more rapid and visible regimes of historicity which Freud points out only in passing (“It is hardly necessary to remark that all these remains of ancient Rome are found dovetailed into the jumble of a great metropolis which has grown up in the last few centuries since the Renaissance”) as strongly entwined as it is with the view that “in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish.” The intuition of a dialectics between the historical long haul (F. Braudel) and regimes of historicity of varying speeds (F. Hartog), is here absorbed back into the expression of a need for a sufficiently stable perceptive framework, the very same that the cultural discontents, as the result of a social evolution gone mad, have undermined. Freud’s Roman daydream shows another aspect of this “malaise”: no longer merely its dimension of drive anxiety, but also its subjective disorientation; indeed, Freud wonders what the visitor would be able to see, had the “not a little that is ancient” been spared the entropic erosion of time:

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis the cultural discontent of today, where the ego’s anxiety, generated by the conflict between the superego and the id, has been replaced by an anxiety adjacent to the primary processes, stripped of their without limits, and thus leading to the madness of multiple desires being simultaneously represented, desires which are either incompatible with one another or too numerous each to be possibly satisfied? Since aggressiveness is a mixture of drives belonging to erotic life and the purely destructive death drive, we can see the quandary faced by any ethics that might aspire to separate the good drives from the bad – a quandary whose vicissitudes we can observe in “Discontent, version 2011” (the phobia of gay sexuality has diminished, but a panic anxiety about pedophilia has emerged; social relations have improved in many respects, yet the old blind paranoiac hate has been displaced into a resurgence of racism and strict communitarianism, etc.). In the Freudian view, only a small minority of strong individuals can hope to escape the collective anxiety of modernity and still believe in a safeguarding of subjective interiority in the face of disappointing and mutilating social relations. The majority is reportedly condemned to the kind of fear outlined by Gustave Le Bon’s 1895 The Crowd, which as we know captivated Freud’s attention. The individual of the era of the great crowds, Marcel Gauchet writes, demonstrates
the troubling characteristics of not fitting into the social Whole, while at the same time clinging to society by every fibre of his being. He separates himself from it instead of projecting himself in it. Hence the fears that are heaped onto this factor of dissociation, which should in fact be a factor of integration. The search for the incomprehensibly lost identification, the reconquest of the relationship of recognition which allows an individual to embrace his community, to find his feet in it entirely, will be one of the great driving 7 forces behind the follies to come.

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“find one’s feet entirely” in a community with which one identifies as the result of a childhood subjection to Ideals (Father, Mother, God); ideals which are no doubt structuring, but which should be approached critically rather than taken as a self-evident anthropological fact:
With these forces nature rises up against us, majestic, cruel and inexorable; she brings to our mind once more our weakness and helplessness… For once before one found oneself in a similar state of helplessness: as a small child, in relation to one's parents. […] Man […] gives [the forces of nature] the character of a father. He turns them into gods… man’s helplessness remains and along with it his longing for his father, and the gods.

If you want to expel religion from our European civilization, you can only do it by means of another system of doctrines; and such a system would from the outset take over all the psychological characteristics of religion (Freud, 1927:50).

This discourse runs parallel to that of psychoanalysis, which interprets the wish to

These prophetic words anticipating the engulfment by the twentieth-century totalitarianisms are taken up by Marcel Gauchet when he considers totalitarian regimes as attempts to create new religions,9 in a way that is typical of how modern thought has been permeated by psychoanalysis. There is nevertheless a difference between Freud’s argument and Gauchet’s: the former seeks to explain the persistence of religion based on the individual’s psychical and libidinal economy, while the latter follows a logic of the superstructures (a relation to a transcendental totality). As to the communist and American attempts at solving the question, Freud tells us a great deal
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So says Freud says in The Future of an Illusion,8 emphasizing the fragility of this line of conduct resort when he adds that the gods slowly “withdraw,” abandoning the human being to his Hilflosigkeit. Freud is not immune to the avatars of historicity. Thus, when discussing the hypothesis of collective emancipation, again in The Future of an Illusion, he imagines a possible change, however one that would not eradicate the need for subjection:

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis in very few words: “One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after they have wiped out their bourgeois” and
[We] notice the danger of a state of things which might be termed “the psychological poverty of groups.” This danger is most threatening where the bonds of a society are chiefly constituted by the identification of its members with one another […]. The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage.

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The Specificity of Cultural Discontents

the

Present-Day

Analysis of the “Discontent, version 1929” leads us to a remarkable fact, which we can, at least in my view, identify as central to the discontent of today. A mechanism of the (re)sexualization of civilized cultural morality, the taking over of individual and collective agencies of the superego by the (repressed) needs of the drive, both sexual and those connected to the death drive, results in a weakening of the figure of
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If we combine these two premonitions, we get “Discontent, version 2011”: deprived of clearly designated scapegoats, left to a libidinal economy this is both depressive and repressive, “culture” sees the relationships of reciprocity and solidarity between its citizens disintegrating and being replaced by much more fragile links of narcissistic identification, typical of the mass and reducing everyone to a single dimension (we thinks here of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man), well beyond what Tocqueville described in Democracy in America, in terms similar to those of Freud. I have alluded to quandaries: we should add the perplexity and vacillation of contemporary ethics, desperately trying to pursue and banish Evil right down to its tiniest details (legislating and outlawing the most minor elements of behavior and speech), while parallel to this we see an increase in “incivility,” aggressiveness and disrespect. It is not that prohibitions are no longer accepted – rather the question is now doubtless one of a split which separates, further and further each day, the psychical and social space where civilized morality triumphs, adapted to current tastes (a more egalitarian civility between men and women as well as between generations, new forms of kinship and parenthood, a principle of collective deliberation in the organization of labor, which in actual fact is often purely formal), from another psychical and social space, embedded in the first but separated from it by an invisible frontier, a space of violence and transgression, which are frequently extreme yet most often trivialized and not perceived as such – violence of which

everyday life and work relations constantly supply us with examples, while their psychopathic or perverse character remains unperceived. As early as 1908, in his article “Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness”, Freud became interested in the entanglement of individual neuroses with the pathologies of social relations. Here, his hesitation over whether or not neurosis is related to social factors is more pronounced than in the 1929 text. Freud begins by referring to a “modern” Nervosität (edginess, nervousness, neurosis, nervous illness), “which is rapidly spreading in our present-day society,”10 and to the constant acceleration of human activity in the major cities of the twentieth century, using terms virtually identical to those of today’s authors such as H. Rosa or P. Virilio. The 1908 deduction of the hypothesis of an intra-psychical causality of this Nervosität from a phenomenological description of the “nervous” style of modern social life introduces a perspective which remains heuristic even today: the problem does not lie solely in the manifest disturbance, instead we must look for its cause in the repression of the sexual drives which is the source of the anxiety of cultural discontent. In today’s world, this repression obviously takes on a new and paradoxical form (a pseudo-liberation of sexual practices, which is subtly obstructed by the requirement of the transparency of good intentions and often separated off from subjectal investment).

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis legitimate authority: it is no longer applicable to everyone in the same way, in certain places leading to laxity and complacency, in others to the sadistic and the grotesque. Until recently, this mechanism still lay concealed behind the veil of a maintained moral pretension (the “major narratives” whose disappearance is supposedly responsible for the collective psychical misery of J.-F. Lyotard’s “post-modern condition”), while simultaneously provoking a return to barbarism. Freud himself was thinking of the rise of European fascism and more specifically of Nazism, where we see morality and even ideology regress into pure pretexts for destructive repression, which itself eventually becomes chaos and disorganization (the death drive). The Freudian thesis that civilized cultural morality is colonized from within, firstly in a veiled way but later shamelessly, by a real collaboration between the sexual drives and the death drive, illuminates the nodal structure of today’s discontent, an alliance between the superego’s perversification and the full-scale return of barbarism under the effect of an extremely simple mechanism of displacing en bloc onto themes which we previously believed to have been historically overcome (intolerant religious forms, the slide of collective fear into racism or xenophobia), or further still into antisocial acts which strike us by the unexpected nature of their protagonists, such as the sensational news of teenagers who ferociously torture their peers without even trying afterwards to mitigate the gravity of their act by any kind of discourse. What we see here is the death drive in action, liberated by the failure of the adolescent processes of elaborating the drives of puberty, in which M. Gribinski sees a “defense by disengagement”11 which is employed when the tension between the ideal and disappointment is resolved by a “suspension of judgment,” a mechanism different from both repression and splitting. Indeed, isn’t this suspension of judgment precisely the specific dysfunction of the superego that we are seeing at work in the cultural discontent of today?

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Never before have we seen such a condensation, and therefore such a tension, between, on the one hand, the ideals of the respect for others and mastery over the drives, and, on the other hand, the apology of an individual freedom that is supposed to able to entertain, experiment with, and fully experience the most varied movements of the drives. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud is trying to ascertain the contradiction of an excessive requirement to repress needs of the drive which results in their return in a perverse form, as a kind of neo-barbarism, but also within the civilized institutions themselves, as the sadism of the collective cultural superego or as its fragmentation. He adds that a collective psychoanalytic prophylaxis of this situation is certainly desirable – yet it is also impossible since there no longer exists a place of legitimate authority from which one could edict this, for it is precisely the collective civilized cultural superego that is afflicted by the “malaise”. The current developments are only giving further evidence to this hypothesis. However, the conflict has today become so complex that we can no longer even be sure that we are recognizing it: is civilization itself inventing new modalities of compromise? Or are we instead witnessing the triumph of a barbarism with a human face, where it is no longer civilization that fails to overcome the animalism of human beings but age-old barbarism which in its arrogance borrows “politically correct” discourse in order better to show its inanity? By eventually removing all the masks, barbarism seems to be admitting that progress had only ever been a cover, which it can now do without – hence today’s explosive mix of collective educational will (respect for the singularity of everyone’s desires, for nature, for different cultures, for the child emerging as a subject into the system of kinship, provided that good parenting is ensured) and an absence of limits to the representation of perverse and psychopathological violence, which has obvious correlations with the upsurge in private interindividual and intra-familial violence, whereby

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis the ordinary social bond is subtly fragmented, as well as with the psychopathological character of antisocial behavior in the “suburbs” (the alternation between calm and violence, the unrealistic feelings of both omnipotence and desperation), which naturally also obey specifically societal causes.
Until recently, the control over the process of primary identification remained under the authority of the parental imago and, through parental mediation, of all those ghosts that make up a spiritual legacy. It has now been largely taken over, along with its ghosts and demons, by the flux of temporal industrial objects, especially those of television.

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potentially leading to an excessively rigid and severe superego (compensating for the weakened paternal function), but also to totallyunrestrained behavior, depending on whether or not love is present:
The “unduly lenient and indulgent father” is the cause behind children forming an overly severe super-ego, because, under the impression of the love that they receive, they have no other outlet for their aggressiveness but turning it inwards. In delinquent children, who have been brought up without love, the tension between ego and super-ego is lacking, and the whole of their aggressiveness can be directed outwards. (1930: 129, n2)

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So writes the philosopher B. Stiegler.12 This situation, he argues, results in “the destruction of all shame,” in “negative sublimation” and the “demolition of the superego,” in a paradoxical mix of depressive guilt and the transgression of prohibitions: neurosis and barbarism. Libido is then caught up in images and consumption, “a ‘becoming nothing’ of the object, which is necessarily and certainly a ‘becoming nothing’ of the subject too” (ibid., 66). Bereft of their parents’ respect and deprived of sublimations, today’s children and adolescents invent “motives that by looking for the best lead them to the worst”: into practices of self-sabotage and suicidal tendencies, where we can discern a desperate need for the manifestation of some superegoic agency as the condition of the processes of primary identification with parental imagoes and, further on, of the processes of subjectivation. Modern “liberation” has thus turned on itself (Marcel Gauchet develops this idea in his own way in La démocratie contre elle-même) because by fighting against prohibitions it has weakened the civilized collective superego Freud speaks of in Civilization and its Discontents, bringing about mass psychical misery (a crisis of “values”, libidinal satisfaction that remains just as difficult as ever to obtain, desublimation). Freud had already identified the paradox of the insufficiently strong position of the father as

Freud uses the following strong expression: “The child’s ego has to content itself with the unhappy role of the authority – the father – who has been thus degraded.” If fear of the loss of love is behind the acceptance of the superego’s demands, the lack of love makes the superego disintegrate and opens the way for the ego’s aggressiveness against the authority that frustrates it; this description can be very well applied to some of today’s adolescents (but also preadolescents) and young adults whose behavior (attacking teachers at school, behaving antisocially in urban public spaces) provokes society’s suppressive measures, yet who are no doubt also – and especially – lacking love and in whose eyes it is the society as a whole that embodies the unhappy role of degraded authority – the father. This adolescent behavior attacks figures of authority while in fact striving to be acknowledged by the superego, by a paternal principle that could be acceptable. In so far as it seals triangulation, inter-subjective exchange and recognition, the paternal function here appears to simultaneously failing to deal with this mixture of organization and disorganization and as called upon, more than ever before, to find an answer, this time a true one, a good one – one we could roughly outline as more democratic yet not giving up on the necessary firmness of the collective cultural superego.

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Disturbances of Sexuality in Today’s Cultural Discontents
How should we understand the persistent sense of dissatisfaction experienced by many subjects at a time when “sexual liberation” has in principle been achieved? The drive’s discharge alone cannot bring true satisfaction. In certain cases, a manifest sexuality may be concealing sexual desires of a different kind or obscuring other kinds of issues, for example narcissistic ones. Let us only think of the false-self behavior of borderline personalities, of processes of secondary sexualization in reaction to unpleasure provoked by trauma, or of recourse to unlimited functioning in the primary process, as well as to excitement which is sometimes sought for its own sake, for paradoxically antisexual aims (self-exaltation, alcoholism and drug consumption, search for sensory intensity). As Freud says, the ego is constituted through an effort of “suspension, which has become necessary” or through the “postponement of discharge,”13 the secondary processes binding the flux of primary processes in a retention and interiorization necessary for desire. In one of his last texts, penned in London not long before his death, Freud develops what since then has been widely expressed: the pleasures experienced in dissatisfaction, in solitude, in the absence of encounter or in the feeling that the other is not really there, or in the painful feeling of a manifest genitality that covers over two auto-eroticisms mutually using each other:
A sense of guilt also originates from unsatisfied love. Like hate. In fact we have been obliged to derive every conceivable thing from that material: like economically self-sufficient States with their ‘Ersatz 14 [substitute] products’.

Let us look at the progression of this highly condensed phrase: unsatisfied love, guilt, then economically sufficient defenses [les défenses autarciques15] (perhaps a better term than identity-narcissistic or borderline), all the way to “their ‘substitute products’,” i.e. to the infinite

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range of addictive, schizoid and contradictory psychical constructions of the modern personality. In one of his final notes from 1938, Freud mentions the ego’s “weakness of power of synthesis”, related to the “retention of the characteristic of the primary processes” and adds: “Once again infantile sexuality has fixed a model in this” – asking us, I believe, to think about the avatar borderline case of the oscillation between narcissistic withdrawal of libido and objectalization (the mode of operating in the primary process, today very frequently seen in both adolescents and adults) from the perspective of the theory of sexuality. Sexual dissatisfaction is as common as ever, despite a freer exercise of sexuality. Let us remember that Freud only conceives of the psychical dimension of neurosis after having initially imagined the effect of the disturbances of life and sexual conduct in what he calls “actual” neurosis and “anxiety” neurosis. Today everything is happening as though many subjects were victims of a new actual neurosis, falling prey to an anxiety which seems to emerge from undisturbed sexuality (at least in appearance): firstly, because the discharge of the tension of the drive with neither retention nor psychical interiorization of desire cannot really be satisfying, and secondly, because an insufficient binding of the primary processes liberates what lies beneath the pleasure principle, i.e. an increasingly automatic repetitiveness of the rhythm of the drive and, related to it, its regredience towards a desexualization in the very working of the drive. Social control over sexuality is now exercized in the paradox of its liberation, yet the latter is now being cleansed of the singular relationship which each individual intimately maintains with his internal Oedipal objects and the death drive, and is consequently being promoted to transparency and banality, prescribed as belonging to a specific category of a range of pleasures or as a hygienist satisfaction of needs. There is now nothing surprising about seeing the convergence of an invasive social discourse on the Good and the liberal-libertarian

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis tolerance of anything that may come along. Both are equally suspicious of the “subjectal commitment to an object via the drives” (Green, 1993), while such an engagement is no doubt the condition of a truly shared and considered sociality. “Parenting” rather than family ties, behavioral or narcissizing therapies rather than the illumination of psychical interiority, the ideology of constant change rather than historicity: this is both a depressive and repressive desublimation, where neurotic interiority flees from itself by externalizing itself. Since in borderline cases the experience of the drive is tolerated more easily than affects, we could argue that borderline cases (with their string of perverse anti-depressive organizations) are indeed replacing the neurotic paradigm. This view seems to me not so much imprecise as insufficient; instead, the situation seems to be the following: the repression and inhibition of “true” desire (linked to a singular history and to internal and unconscious Oedipal objects) uses the mechanisms of anti-phobic expulsion in action and splitting, so that repression provides lesser protection from within. The drives, unbound by the superego, are incapable of any retention, sublimation or true desire. Here, the psychoanalyst must suppose that psychical interiority is fleeing from itself, rather than simply disappearing.

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Conclusion: Group Psychology Today
A frequent objection leveled at the psychoanalytic approach to groups is that the latter have supposedly disappeared, giving free reign to the modern individualism of the entertainment-greedy and politically indifferent consumer. However, the Freudian theory of the group sheds light on this emotional synchronization of thousands of individuals watching the same violent images on their screens, as discussed by Virilio.16 Freud’s theory of the herd-like mass does not banish all hope: despite his pessimism, Freud finds the strength to add that “the experiment has not yet been made” of truly reforming social and cultural

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relations and it is therefore “worth making.”17 According to Freud, the masses are homogenized by their regressive identification with one self-same form, yet they are also constantly on the cusp of losing belief in this hypnotizing form and are each ready to return to their individual solitary dereliction. According to Hanna Arendt, the “modern mass” corresponds to an aggregate of individuals suffering from their lack of communication in what she describes as the “dark times” – the times of the Shoah and of nuclear threat, times of wilderness: yet one which is air-conditioned with modern technology and comfort. In their mixture of quiet lucidity and deep melancholia, Arendt’s writings from the 1950s and 1960s seem strangely contemporary. Speaking about post-WWII democratic societies, about what we would call the crisis of the collective superego, Arendt argues that the “failure of standards in the modern world – the impossibility of judging anew what has happened daily happens, on the basis of firm standards recognized by everyone,”18 cannot be remedied “by any sort of return to the good old days,” nor can it be repaired, which is worse, “by some arbitrary promulgation of new standards and values,” because in that case humans become “forgetful of history.” We are familiar with the desperate question: After Auschwitz, “does politics still have meaning?” Arendt’s following words are much more rarely cited: “Only some sort of miracle might break the impasse,”19 where a certain irony tempers the messianic excitement, which after all amounts to a fairly good therapy for the melancholia that would otherwise lay waste to everything. If the danger lies in “turning the world they inhabit into a desert”, it is because the contemporary self-sufficient individuals constitute a herd which is ultimately perhaps just as mass-like as the crowds recruited by churches, armies and fascist leaders that Freud was trying to understand in 1929. In this respect, the theme of this period of “narcissistic” societies, with their ideology of permanent self-realization, simply expresses the

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis fact that society has been reorganized by modifying the principle of the superego, to the

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point of attacking the very cultural imperatives in which psychoanalysis itself has a stake.

Bibliography:
Arendt, H. (1995). Introduction into Politics (1950). The Promise of Politics. New York: Schocken Books, 2005. Freud, S. (1906). Psychopathic Characters on the Stage (1942 [1905 or 1906]). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality, and Other Works), pp. 303-310. Freud, S. (1908). ‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IX (19061908): Jensen's ‘Gradiva’ and Other Works. Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 177-204. Freud, S. (1911). Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (19111913): The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works. Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 213226. Freud, S. (1921). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII (1920-1922): Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works. Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 65-144. Freud, S. (1927). The Future of an Illusion. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931): The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works). Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1-56 Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931): The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works. Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 57-146 Freud, S. (1938). Findings, Ideas, Problems. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXIII (1937-1939): Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works. Transl. by James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 299-300. Gauchet, M. (2007). L’avènement de la démocratie II. La crise du Libéralisme. Paris: Gallimard. Gauchet, M. (2010). L’avènement de la démocratie III. À l’épreuve des totalitarismes. Paris: Gallimard.

Notes:
This article takes up certain hypotheses more fully set out in Richard, F. (Forthcoming 2011). L’Actuel Malaise dans la culture. Paris: Éditions de l’Olivier. 2 Freud, S. (1921). “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego in SE, Volume, p. 68. 3 Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. SE, Volume XXI, p. 57-146 [Translation modified]. 4 Ibid., p. 128. 5 Green, A. (1999). The Work of the Negative (1993). Transl. by Andrew Weller. London: Karnac Books, p. 148149. 6 Freud, S., Psychopathic Characters on the Stage. SE, Volume, p. 306. 7 Gauchet, M. (2007). L’avènement de la démocratie II. La crise du Libéralisme, Paris: Gallimard, p. 297. The author’s expression “madness to come” refers to the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. 8 Freud, S. (1927). The Future of an Illusion. SE, Volume IX, p. 22. 9 Gauchet, M. (2010). L’avènement de la démocratie III. À l’épreuve des totalitarismes, Paris: Gallimard. 10 Freud, S. (1908). ‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness. SE, Volume IX, p. 181. 11 Gribinski, M. (2011). Fragments du monde nouveau. L’Annuel de l’A.P.F. (Idéal, déception, fictions). Paris: PUF. 12 Stiegler, B. (2012, Forthcoming). Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals: Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2. London: Polity Press.
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Green, A. (1999). The Work of the Negative (1993). Transl. by Andrew Weller. London: Karnac Books. Gribinski, M. (2011). Fragments du monde nouveau. L’Annuel de l’A.P.F. (Idéal, déception, fictions). Paris: PUF. Richard, F. (2011). L’Actuel Malaise dans la culture. Paris: Éditions de l’Olivier. Richard, F. (2011). La Rencontre psychanalytique. Paris: Dunod. Rosa, H. (2010). Accélération. Une critique sociale du temps. Paris: La Découverte. Roussillon, R. (2010). Satisfaction et plaisir partagé. Rev. Française de Psychanalyse, t. LXXIV, 1. Stiegler, B. (2012, Forthcoming). Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals: Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2. London: Polity Press. Virilio, P. (2012). The Administration of Fear. Intervention Series. Transl. by Ames Hodges and Bertrand Richard. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

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Recherches en Psychanalyse – Research in Psychoanalysis

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Freud, S. (1911). Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. SE, Volume XII, p. 220. 14 Freud, S. (1938). Findings, Ideas, Problems. SE, Volume XXIII, 299. 15 [Transl. note: The French translation of Freud’s die autarken Staaten, rendered by the Standard Edition as “self-sufficient states”]

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Virilio, P. (2012). The Administration of Fear. Intervention Series. Transl. by Ames Hodges and Bertrand Richard. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). 17 Freud, S. The Future of an Illusion. Op. cit., p. 8 & p. 47. 18 Arendt, H. (1995). Introduction into Politics (1950). The Promise of Politics. New York: Schocken Books, 2005, p. 104. 19 Ibid., p. 111.

The author:
François Richard Clinical Psychologist, Practicing Psychoanalyst. Professor, Psychopathology, Paris Diderot University at Sorbonne Paris Cité; Center for Studies in Psychoapathology and Psychoanalysis Lab (EA 2374). Campus Paris Rive Gauche Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges 11, rue Jean Antoine de Baïf 75013 Paris France Translated by Kristina Valendinova (revised translation).

Electronic reference:
François Richard, “The Present-Day Forms of Discontent in Culture”, Research of Psychoanalysis [Online], 11|2011 published June 15, 2011. This article is a translation of Les formes actuelles du malaise dans la culture

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