Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Laziness versus Death Wish

Originally posted on April 25, 2014

Freud posited a death wish, Thanatos (in Latin)—what word did he use?  These other instincts beyond sexuality were needed as the theory grew: It wasn’t possible to explain everything in terms of the sex drive. But I think these terms are misleading, even were we to accept that there’s more than a germ of truth here. I think much of what Freud was dimly onto was not a death wish, but mere laziness of mind.

“To die—to sleep! No more!” Thus Shakespeare’s character Hamlet muses in his famous soliloquy, and in a way I agree: It is not death we seek—that’s too final! We want to keep our options open. Merely a sleep, and one with the delicious comfort of dreams. The un-spooling of event-ful-ness in dreams catch us up in them; they seem interesting and challenging; and yet, because the body is usually deeply relaxated, usually they occasion not a great deal of worry. (I acknowledge there are nightmares, but for most people, not very prevalent.)

Rather, I suggest that we use another duality that speaks to this human predicament—one using Sanskrit terms: tamas and rajas. Tamas refers to rest and its variants, while rajas refers to activity, engagement, and its variants. These two are always playing off each other and people find a balance.

My point is that unconscious mind is not merely repressed, but rather dominant in its power of illusion: Maya (the goddess of illusion in Hindu thought) is to be recognized. Not every god is good and benign. Many have a dark aspect. There’s wisdom in recognizing the fearful realm. The Lord giveth an the Lord taketh away. Excepting me. Surely, this does not apply to me. The prospect of my very life being taken away is intolerable. But I don’t need to think of that yet.

Ah, the foolish mind, so very willing to fool itself, to sink back into dream-like states. This morning I contemplated the seductions of mind, the protective warmth of semi-sleep-dreams, the fantastic and never-ending manipulative-ness and lure of Lethe. She’s clever, she is. I imagine Dreamy-Sleep as a person with a will, with a fantastic repertoire of tricks to lure us back into her power. (I’m drifting a little here, having awoken and still clinging in part to reflections on my dream.)

The lure of waking up has a slightly different profile. It isn’t Eros—Freud had the names slightly and misleadingly wrong here. Awakening has its own appeals: One is able to make more substantial changes, one feels and thinks with more definitiveness. When you look at or feel something, taste or move, the sensation stays with you a bit longer, you remember it more clearly.

Note that the state of being awake is itself somewhat illusory, though less so than dreams. Most memories are lost, and what are left, fade. The few that remain are vulnerable to reconstruction and illusion. (I remember a song, “I remember it well,” from the Broadway musical, “Gigi”, by Lerner & Lowe—later a 1958 movie. The older “uncle” played by Maurice Chevalier reminisced over his long-term affair with Gigi’s grandmother, played by Hermione Gingold.)

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