Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reflections: BUSTED!

Sitting alone in my new apartment, to which I was driven by the dissolution of my third marriage, wondering vaguely in the pain of separation why it is that I can’t seem to make it with anybody—all three of my wives left me; two of them after a considerable number of years—even though I seem to be trying, I came across the following excerpt on page 78 of a book club edition of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Valis:

In his study of the form that masochism takes in modern man, Theodor Reik puts forth an interesting view. Masochism is more widespread than we realize because it takes an attenuated form. The basic dynamism is as follows: a human being sees something bad which is coming as inevitable. There is no way he can halt the process; he is helpless. This sense of helplessness generates a need to gain some control over the impending pain—any kind of control will do. This makes sense; the subjective feeling of helplessness is more painful than the impending misery. So the person seizes control over the situation in the only way open to him; he connives to bring on the impending misery; he hastens it. This activity on his part promotes the false impression that he enjoys pain. Not so. It is simply that he cannot any longer endure the helplessness or the supposed helplessness. But in the process of gaining control over the inevitable misery he becomes, automatically, anhedonic (which means being unable or unwilling to enjoy pleasure). Anhedonia sets in stealthily. Over the years it takes control of him. For example, he learns to defer gratification; this is a step in the dismal process of anhedonia. In learning to defer gratification he experiences a sense of self-mastery; he has become stoic, disciplined; he does not give way to impulse. He has control. Control over himself in terms of his impulses and control over the external situation. He is a controlled and controlling person. Pretty soon he has branched out and is controlling other people, as part of the situation. He becomes a manipulator. Of course, he is not consciously aware of this; all he intends to do is lessen his own sense of impotence. But in his task of lessening this sense, he insidiously overpowers the freedom of others. Yet, he derives no pleasure from this, no positive psychological gain; all his gains are essentially negative.

If Reik had been using my case history as his model for this theory it would not be necessary to alter a word of Dick’s description of it. This is me, to a tee. I have seen bits and pieces of these truths about myself in flashes of insight over the years -- particularly since my daughters have been college age and out of the house and I’ve been forced by default to spend more time contemplating myself – but here it is, laid out stark and bare in a novel. I recognized myself in it instantly, and without a speck of doubt, as I read it. Now it has become a fully conscious insight into my predicament, my pathology, my existential angst. Will that make any difference?