Archives for posts with tag: Repression

Alternative medicine advocates point to natural remedies opposed to mass produced medications. An interesting parallel can be found in the music industry. Many bash pop music for its simplistic, cookie-cutter style, but to spin this point on its head, pop music is denigrated for being a purer form of enjoyment, perfected through time.

Pop music stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers regardless of what a person’s intellectual opinion on the music is ( Further, simple, catchy songs result in a release of dopamine as the brain successfully anticipates melodies ( This leads to a number of interesting connections. The human mind experiences a high when it correctly anticipates the ending of a melody, which provides a disincentive to the inventive. The mind wants to hear familiar, predictable chord changes (For example,, or These familiar patterns then get used repetitively because, as “the fittest” musical ideas, they survive through many generations of memes. The question one has to ask then is what is the purpose of art. We have succeeded at discovering the formula for a musical high just as surely as we have discovered the formula for any number of mass produced medicines with few side effects which in a vast majority of cases have predictable results on the human body.

If one listens to music for enjoyment then one is, in light of this, forced to admit that pop music is the epitome of music. Any more cerebral forms are the musical equivalent of homeopathy; a rejection of systematically tested results. Alternative Medicine is medicine which lacks proven results, in the same way, perhaps, alternative music lacks the ability to efficiently stimulate the brain.

Now, certainly one can easily make the argument that music is not meant purely for enjoyment, but even a more cerebral form of music is ultimately intended to bring enjoyment to the listener, just in a different (diluted) form. By subverting predictable melodies one represses desire and furthers the chain of desire which must ultimately lead nowhere, to the hole that is the objet a. One falls prey to the hipster’s dilemma. One must not enjoy this (pop music), but instead enjoy its absence elsewhere. The superego dictates that what one should enjoy is not what immediately satisfies, but rather what sublimates, represses and turns aside enjoyment. Why else the well known saying “you probably haven’t heard of it/them.” Because the hipster denies their immediate pleasure derived from pop music so that they may later redeem it in linguistified form when they receive status for their denial of pleasure.

Here the biological connection again resurfaces with Foucault’s discussion of the history of sexuality. Briefly, only in controlling one’s impulse (to seek immediate gratification) can one be seen as having mastery. The result of avoiding pop music is not to eliminate desire, but to maintain it through the denial of consummation. Through self-control one endures the lack of the desired, and only through its lack do they heighten the excitement of the experiences that they allow themselves.

Willow bark may alleviate the pain of those who avoid the concentration of aspirin, but to do so is to abandon the enlightenment’s legacy of humanity’s ever expanding mastery over its surroundings; as is foregoing pop music in favor of more esoteric genres.

What does ‘repression’ mean today?

According to traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, repression is the Ego’s denial of the drives of the Id, which then remain latent in the unconscious. Sublimation, on the other hand, is the product of repression; it is what the Ego accomplishes in the act of repression – namely, culture. Here is Žižek’s description, from Metastases of Enjoyment:

In an alienated [i.e., modern] society, the domain of ‘culture’ is founded upon the violent exclusion (‘repression’) of man’s libidinal kernel which then assumes the form of a quasi-‘nature’: ‘second nature’ [i.e., the unconscious] is the petrified evidence of the price paid for ‘cultural progress’, the barbarity [i.e., exclusion/repression] inherent to ‘culture’ itself (11).

But because the key characteristic of both repression and sublimation is the Ego’s diverting its attention away from the immediate satisfaction of a drive, it is impossible to distinguish “in a theoretically relevant way between the repression of a drive and its sublimation” (11); the distinction is always arbitrary.

Žižek explains the consequences of this fact for psychoanalytic practice and hence for ideological critique:

[E]very sublimation (every psychic act that does not aim at the immediate satisfaction of a drive) is necessarily affected by the stigma of pathological, or at least pathogenic, repression. There is thus a radical and constitutive indecision which pertains to the fundamental intention of psychoanalytic theory and practice: it is split between the ‘liberating’ gesture of setting free repressed libidinal potential and the ‘resigned conservatism’ of accepting repression as the necessary price of the progress of civilization (12).

But because Freud thought that this ‘standard’ form of the Ego’s splitting by the Id and Superego – where the Superego (social pressure) condemns the Id (drives) – was an anthropological constant, he could not predict, says Žižek, the

paradoxical condition actualized in our century: that of the ‘repressive desublimation’, characteristic of ‘post-liberal’ societies in which ‘the triumphant archaic urges, the victory of the Id over the Ego, live in harmony with the triumph of the society over the individual’* (Metastases, 16; Žižek citing Adorno, “Zum Verhältnis,” p. 133).

That is, Žižek’s wager is that we live in a society in which Id and Superego coincide, breaking the traditional model of psychoanalytic theory:

In post-liberal societies […] the agency of social repression no longer acts in the guise of an internalized Law or Prohibition that requires renunciation and self-control; instead, it assumes the form of a hypnotic agency that imposes the attitude of ‘yielding to temptation’ – that is to say, its injunction amounts to a command: ‘Enjoy yourself!’. Such an idiotic enjoyment is dictated by the social environment which includes the Anglo-Saxon psychoanalyst whose main goal is to render the patient capable of ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ pleasures.

Society requires us to fall asleep, into a hypnotic trance, usually under the guise of just the opposite command: ‘The Nazi battle cry of “Germany awake,” hides its very opposite.’ Adorno interprets the formation of the ‘masses’ in the same sense of this ‘regression’ of the Ego towards automatic and compulsive behavior (Metastases, 17; Žižek citing Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda,” in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London: Routledge, 1991, p. 132).

The superego (culture, society) represses non-Id enjoyment; sublimation becomes repression: one is told that one must enjoy to one’s full capacity. Indeed, frequently there is the explicit injunction to directly express the (would-be) Id, to fully actualize one’s wildest fantasies and most urgent impulses, since the alternative would be a ‘repressive’ existence unacceptable to society.

I’ll end with one of Žižek’s anecdotes that illustrates the way this repression of non-enjoyment works. The following is from First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:

On the information sheet in a New York hotel, I recently read: ‘Dear guest! To guarantee that you will fully enjoy your stay with us, this hotel is totally smoke-free. For any infringement of this regulation, you will be charged $200.’ The beauty of this formulation, taken literally, is that you are to be punished for refusing to fully enjoy your stay (58).

*A note on the accuracy of society’s self-conscious gesture of admitting its mission to “liberate” the subject from the superego: crucially, once the subject is “liberated” from repression, the Id (drives) are no longer unconscious… as such, they are no longer drives. Thus what society posits as the “liberated drives” are actually pseudo-natural human constructs; they are merely the sublimation of the actual drives, i.e., the unconscious, which can’t ever be put into social circulation but rather takes the form of the unarticulated “symptom” that the analyst (ideological critic) must uncover.