Civilization and its discontents: Mourning.

Recuerde el alma dormida,
avive el seso y despierte
cómo se pasa la vida,
cómo se viene la muerte 5
tan callando,
cuán presto se va el placer,
cómo, después de acordado,
da dolor;
cómo, a nuestro parecer, 10
cualquiera tiempo pasado
fue mejor.”

Jorge Manrique ca 1450, Coplas por la muerte de su padre

Sigmund Freud in 1929 in page 24 and later in C. III, wrote this elegant and eloquent summary of the human condition in “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (“The Uneasiness in Culture”)” (Civilizations and its discontents).

“The three sources from which our suffering comes: the superior power of nature; the feebleness of our bodies and the inadequacy of the relationships which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society”.

Little else can be added to our condition beyond this statement. Siggies’ theme was the conflict between our biology and “civilization” (where the biology unfolds).

Wikipedia offers this modicum for the user: “In this seminal book, Sigmund Freud propounds his perspective by enumerating what he sees as the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The primary friction, he asserts, stems from the individual’s quest for instinctual freedom and civilization’s contrary demand for conformity and instinctual repression. Many of humankind’s primitive instincts (for example, the desire to kill and the insatiable craving for sexual gratification) are clearly harmful to the well-being of a human community. As a result, civilization creates laws that prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and it implements severe punishments if such rules are broken. This process, argues Freud, is an inherent quality of civilization that instills perpetual feelings of discontent in its citizens” Well, kinda wellput.

The point being that the discussion of our evolutionary fate-remember 2012 is next year- rests on a compassionate discussion of liberating, sensible, paths of behaviour leading to mitigation of suffering, pain, personally and socially. The mitigation of suffering is a good project. Maybe the only project. ( Opposite of being the cacophonic sophistai most are, including the cuasi-demential messianic claims of Kurzweil, which have more followers than several cults and go nowhere). (Somehow Kurzweil reminds me of Harris, the robot).

Dr Otto Dorr, a chilean psychiatrist, last book: The word and the music (La palabra y la musica) reflexiones on the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke (the powerful german poet) braids poetry, psychiatry and some evolution in a beautiful, poignant argument: how mourning is “adaptive”. The book arrived via Steam Boat sent by a dear gracious ladyfriend through her son. Thank you M. One concern in Dr Dorrs’ work is the biological/psychological contexts of “mourning”-‘grief’. Mourning to deal with unmitigated suffering, with pain. Void. Angst. Mourning is easily grasped when we think of grieving a lost child, a lost-“naturally”-spouse, a dead parent (not euthanasic tricks involved). Building on previous work Don Otto adresses how the death of a child is a form of extreme bereavement, perhaps unbearable for some. Darwin reflected on mourning in his Expression of Emotions and Freud did too in “Mourning and melancholia”. It has been hard (for me at least) to trace the original observations in CD Expressions regarding mourning among the animals, nonetheless the idea that Darwin considered “grief and mourning” (not the same really) adaptive is clear. And clearly grief, impacted his work and life when he lost Annie. The impact in his work likely positive, as Dorr argues, with others, for an increase in mental acuity after loss, and his life, physical and animical, negatively, as he could not deal with the monstrosity of her childs death: life unmanifested. Unrealized natural process, unlike the death of parents, which are “natural”.

In: Normal Grief: Good or Bad? Health or Disease? ,Loretta M. Kopelman, Philosophy, Psychiatry, Psychology, Volume 1, Number 4, December 1994, pp. 209-223 argues:

“It might seem rather
easy to make the case that grief is instrumentally
bad or not useful, since it is associated with pain,
morbidity, mortality and loss of function. Yet
Darwin (1955 [1872]), Freud (1959 [1917]) and
Pollock (1978) argue that the capacity for normal
grief, overall, is useful and adaptive. The
good of normal grief generally outweighs the bad
when we consider its meaning in the life of a person
or animal. In describing the similarities in
how animals, adults, and infants react to grief,
Darwin suggests that grief reactions may be
instinctive, and the grieving process may have
evolved because it is adaptive for animals”.

Back to Dorr. Lucidly, Don Otto discusses how mourning, helps restructuring “personality” (psyche) to confront the weight of the loss of the loved ones. But this not always happens, especially in the case of extreme grief, i.e.: the loss of a child, or when facing the sucide of a loved one. It crossed my mind that CD never ‘recovered’ from the death of 10 year old Annie. He couldnt mourn her in a way to reach atonement. Although he wrote a ‘pious’ eulogy for his daughter there was always the underlying theme of unavoidable anger and wrath.

When confronted with the question of God, his argument from suffering defines his existencial pain as a father, without recourse facing the death of his child.
In a 1873 letter to N.D. Doedes,CD writes:
….” I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is”.

Dr Dorr makes a cogent review of pain/grief/mourning in the face of the death of a child, and he ‘disgresses’ into suicide with a fascinating overview of the pertinent psychiatry. Painful to read if it is a “close” subject.

Thus, CD, concern was inmense suffering (his own) as a landmark discussing the possibility of God, chained to his analysis of suffering. The point here is not his belief, but the fact that Annie’s loss threw him in an irreversible journey of pain and suffering, unmitigated by a divine hand or for that matter nobodys’. (or is it anybodys?).

PS: Today is year 1 of the 8.5 earthquake in Chile. Many testimonies were recorded. The testimonies of loosing children were unbereably painful.


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