Life Against Death - Synopsis


"Brown begins his Life Against Death with the riddle that haunts all romantics: Why does man who is born into a garden of innocent delight create a culture in which he is alienated from himself, his fellows, and nature? Why civilization and its discontents instead of paradise? In the tradition of Nietzsche and Freud, Brown considers man a diseased animal. Culture emerges when erotic energy is sublimated and turned to the production of objects, character structures and political organizations that yield little pleasure. Man alone of all the animals represses his true desires, lives in continual conflict and guilt, and constructs for himself a corporate neurosis that he calls civilization."

Sam Keen, 1974.

Brown offers what Robinson sees as a unique analysis of the problems associated with sexuality and human mortality, and equally distinctive solutions to them. Brown expounded "the underlying ambivalence of Freud's late instinctual dualism", in which "Eros and Death were seen as antagonistic psychological principles which constantly threatened to collapse into one another." Unlike Marcuse, however, who emphasized the antithetical nature of the two instincts, Brown stressed their underlying unity, since this approach suggested a way of escaping Freud's conclusion that aggression was inevitable. Brown argued that Freud did not consider aggression a basic psychological fact, but rather a secondary manifestation of a more fundamental instinctual force, the death instinct: it was "the external expression of an impulse originally directed against the self". In Brown's interpretation of Freud, aggression becomes a problem "because Eros could carry out its project of creating life only when the death instinct was frustrated in its original enterprise. In order that men might live (and love), they were inevitably forced to destroy, to direct the energies of the death instinct away from themselves onto their fellowmen."

Freud's analysis of the dynamics of Life and Death was mistaken, according to Brown, since Freud's discovery of the ultimate identity of the two instincts implied that there is no necessary antagonism between Eros and Thanatos: they exist in harmony at a deeper level of psychic life and aggression was therefore not inevitable. Brown believed that the death instinct need not be externalized in the form of aggression if "men could recapture the original undifferentiated harmony of Life and Death." Brown therefore called for an end to the "repression of death" that perpetuated aggression. People had to learn "how to die" or, more concretely, to learn "how to grow old." Robinson calls Brown's argument "daring", and stresses that it is a very different solution to the problem of aggression than that proposed by Marcuse, since it was a psychological solution that involved adopting a new attitude toward death and did not involve political or economic revolution. Robinson compares Brown and Marcuse's treatment of Reich: both criticize him for "misrepresenting the problem of repression as one of genital sexuality" and advocated polymorphous perversity instead, but Brown again provided an exclusively psychological argument.

Brown concluded that if undifferentiated sexuality is the ultimate measure of human happiness, then any form of sexual organization is already repressive. While Marcuse had in general "complained only of the tyranny of genital sexuality" and suggested that "the pregenital libidinal had to be reactivated in a nonrepressive civilization", Brown maintained that the pregenital organizations were "just as tyrannical as adult sexuality" and that the earlier organization of libidinal energy into oral, anal, phallic syndromes was "as foreign to the undifferentiated eroticism of early infancy" as genital sexuality. Brown thus did not accept Marcuse's "characterization of the sexual deviant as a prophet of polymorphous perversity". In a truly nonrepressive civilization, "sexuality would be completely undifferentiated" and even the distinction between the sexes would become insignificant.

Brown did not accept Freud's theory of an innate biological dynamic leading from undifferentiated sexuality to adult genitality, and suggested instead that the explanation of how mankind abandoned the "primeval happiness" of polymorphous perversity was to be found through an analysis of social history. Robinson comments that Brown in fact offered no such analysis, and instead produced an "exclusively ontogentic explanation", one he finds inconsistent with "the prophetic intentions" of Brown's larger argument. Brown explained repressive differentiation in terms of Freud's revised theory of anxiety, according to which anxiety produces repression rather than the reverse. Brown, like Róheim, saw the basic form of anxiety as separation anxiety, and also identified separation with death, a breakdown of the union of mother and child that he saw as "the essence of life." Robinson finds the identification of life with union and death with separation neither easy to understand nor essential to Brown's argument. Brown's crucial point according to Robinson is that anxiety can be identified with separation, and that separation causes anxiety because the union between mother and child had been so long and lovingly indulged.

Children respond to the anxiety caused by separation through various projects to reestablish the original unity, projects Brown identified as "flights from death", but which Robinson believes could have been described more simply as flights from separation. These projects involve various organizations of the libido that Brown characterizes as repressive and which required abandoning the polymorphous perversity of earliest infancy. Examples are the oral project, in which children try to overcome separation through "the hypercathexis of the act of sucking", reuniting themselves with their mothers through the mouth (and in fantasy, ingesting them entirely), the anal project, in which children engage in "symbolic manipulation of feces as a magic instrument for restoring communion with the mother", and the phallic project, which is the attempt to reunite with the mother through the penis, identified with the entire body. These projects all involve reorganization of the libidinal economy, transferring sexual energy from the entire body to particular organs, and in all of them repression is self-imposed. The differentiation of sexuality occurs not because of an external force such as social or economic exigency, but because of "self-repression."

Read more about this topic:  Life Against Death

Other articles related to "synopsis":

Henry IV, Part 1 - Synopsis
... Adding to King Henry's troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, the Prince of Wales ... Hal (the future Henry V) has forsaken the Royal Court to waste his time in taverns with low companions ...
The Sword Of Truth - Synopsis - Journey Through The Old World
... In the eighth novel, Naked Empire, Richard and Kahlan are interrupted from their journey home to the New World to help free the Bandakar Empire, deep in the Old World, from the Imperial Order ... They learn that the people of Bandakar are pristinely ungifted like Jennsen and Oba, and have been overrun by the Order because they have shunned all forms of violence, refusing to fight for their own lives ...
Johann Jakob Griesbach - Gospel Synopsis
... In 1776 Griesbach published his Greek Gospel synopsis of Matthew, Mark and Luke as a volume separate from his critical edition of the New Testament (cf ... part, and thereby established the tool of a synopsis as an essential research aid in New Testament studies ...
The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. - Plot - Synopsis
... In the pilot episode, Brisco tracks John Bly's second-in-command, Big Smith (M.C ... Gainey) ...
Why We Fight - Description of Films
... Capra's synopsis "Showing the gallant and victorious defense of Britain by Royal Air Force, at a time when shattered but unbeaten British were only people fighting Nazis." The Battle of ... Capra's synopsis "History of Russia people, size, resources, wars ... Capra's synopsis "Japan's warlords commit total effort to conquest of China ...