Masochism is the love of self turned inward as hate to the point that it flirts with or succumbs to the death instinct.
Sadism is the love of self directed outward as hate at a love object that flirts with or inflicts the destruction of ‘other.’
The Masochistic Element and Ovid’s Metamorphosis
Ovid, one of Rome’s greatest poets, predicted that his fame would live on forever and he was right. It is the poem used to describe the highly narcissistic state of masochism found in childhood development. And so, at the heart of the narcissistic position of ego formation lies this very poem. It is a story that describes the life of Narcissus, a handsome young man who is self consumed with his own image and idea of self. When he spurns the love of a wood nymph who secretly tries to embrace him, she recedes into the woods and virtually disappears unable to speak and turns into the mythical creature known as Echo. The wood nymph pleads with the gods before her retreat to curse Narcissus, and so they do. One day after a particularly active hunt, Narcissus rests upon a shore and peers into the water. He sees his own reflection but does not realize it is his own. He believes it is a water nymph and pleads with her for her embrace. When the water nymph does not return the embrace, he slowly dies of starvation and thirst. Unrequited love and the misguided believe that he was not good enough for the water nymph causes Narcissus’ to self inflict pain (hatred of self) in the form of a masochistic tendency, starvation. Winnicott (1953) went on to describe “the not good enough” mothering that can create this ego state of the “not good enough realized self” and Spotnitz (1972) used the myth of Narcissus to counter Freud’s (1914) interpretation and description of narcissism. What it does not describe, and what further investigations in psychoanalytic study have shown, is that there are two character traits tied closely to primary narcissism and which can be prominently displayed in the secondary narcissistic phase of development known as adolescence; sadism and masochism. Common to all individuals is the formation of narcissism which results in formation of the ego, as well as the development of variant levels of both sadism and masochism. These two states, masochism and sadism, have been described by two completely different plays as far as there variant levels and fatality. It should be noted that these two traits, masochism and sadism, can become perverse if disturbances in early childhood are pronounced enough to cause the infliction of psychic pain to such a degree that the ego, acting out dysfunctional defenses and fantasies, allow for there entertainment.
“By contrast, Spotnitz believes that narcissism represents hatred for the outside world, or object, that is not permitted expression. The narcissist fears the consequences if that hate is ever permitted to be discharged outwardly [the roots of these fears lie in child rearing practices, social laws, and religious beliefs]; that it will kill.”
Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Masochistic Elements Found in Mental Illnesses; Cutting; Trichotillomania; Obsessive Compulsive Disorders; Self Mastication; Anorexia; Bulimia; Other Somatic Disorder; Delinquency in Adolescence and Certain Criminal Behaviors; Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Bondage and Torture in Sex Games (50 Shades of Gray).
The Sadistic Element and Aeschylus’ Oresteia
The other poem that has been used to describe the perverse state of the highly narcissistic ego with strongly influenced tendencies towards sadism is Aeschylus’ Oresteia. The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra, the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse brought upon the house of Atreus. It describes the greatest repetition behavior known to man; War, and it is the Oresteia poem that is believed to help describe the state of matricide, the dead mother, at least according to Amber Jacobs’ theory (2007).
Aeschylus’ Oresteian trilogy opens in the royal palace of Argos, home of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and their four children. Agamemnon has been away for ten years leading the Greek army in the war against Troy, leaving Clytemnestra ruling in his absence. The first play dramatizes Agamemnon’s homecoming after the Greeks have successfully sacked Troy. Clytemnestra, who had taken a lover in her husband’s absence, murders Agamemnon on his return as an act o revenge for his murder of their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, at the beginning of the Trojan War. The second play in the trilogy dramatizes the return of Orestes, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s son, whom Clytemnestra had banished from Argos when he was a baby, afraid that he would avenge his father’s death. Orestes’ sister Electra has been waiting for her brother’s return in a state of excessive mourning for her father and hatred for her mother, her only hope being that Orestes will return and kill their mother. Orestes returns, and Electra helps him plan the matricide, which Orestes has been ordered to commit by the god Apollo. Orestes kills Clytemnestra and is immediately hounded by the Furies and flees Argos in a state of insanity and guilt. He seeks help from the goddess Athena, who establishes the first court of democratic justice, where Orestes is put on trial. The court case results in a split vote, and Athena is given the crucial casting vote. She sides with Orestes, and he is absolved from his crime. Athena persuades the Furies to give up their cause of fighting for the mother’s rights and instead become “the Kindly Ones” who will protect Athens and support Orestes’ rule.
“The Oresteia is the myth that can function as an analytic tool for women in its capacity to act as a structure that can be used to both interpret and counter the projections systematically forced on women through the workings of the male imaginary. The Oresteia has the potential to be used to analyze the male fantasies surrounding the mother and matricide, so that those fantasies are not repeatedly acted out and projected into women.” (Jacobs 2007) It is theorized to be at the heart of the paranoid schizoid personality constellation, the malevolent psychopathic serial rapist. Men who rape and kill women like the Atlantic City Eastbound Strangler.
Aeschylus’ Oresteia and the Sadistic Elements Found in Mental Illnesses; War; Murder; Rape; Battering of Women; Various Other Violent Crimes Against Women; Delinquency in Adolescence and Certain Criminal Behaviors; Anti-Social Personality Disorder; Variants in Psychopathy (paranoid schizoid position and the malevolent psychopathic killer); Bondage and Torture in Sex Games (50 Shades of Gray).
The normal psyche has an equal distribution and balance between these two tendencies, masochism and sadism in normal ego formation. However, no where near to the point of when it approaches the death instinct or the belief in the concept of self-preservation and defenses where these instincts and fantasies are acted out in completion. However, I believe there to exist an overlapping between the two myths, and one in which, the overlapping tendencies can seem to converge.
Carol Kohn “lucidly demonstrates an aspect of the lethal results of the social embodiment, or the acting-out, of unanalyzed phantasies belonging to the male imaginary. Writing the article after she attended a workshop on nuclear weapons, nuclear strategic doctrine, and arms control conducted by distinguished “defense intellectuals,” Kohn shows how the “rational” language of nuclear strategic analysis is blind to its source in unconcscious phantasies arsing from a male wish for parthenogenesis.” (Jacobs 2007)
“There is one set of domestic images that demands separate attention – images that suggest men’s desire to appropriate from women the power of giving life and conflate creation and destruction. The bomb project is rife with images of male birth….This idea of male birth and its accompanying belittling of maternity – the denial of women’s role in the process of creation and the reduction of “motherhood” to the provision of nurturance – seems thoroughly incorporated into the nuclear mentality….In light of the imagery of male birth, the extraordinary names given to the bombs that reduced Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ash and rubble – “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” – at last became intelligible. These ultimate destroyers were the progeny of the atomic scientists – and emphatically not just any progeny but male progeny. In early tests, before they were certain that the bombs would work, the scientists expressed their concern by saying they hoped the baby was a boy, not a girl – that is, not a dud….The entire history of the bomb project, in fact, seems permeated with imagery that confounds man’s overwhelming technological power to destroy nature with the power to create – imagery that inverts men’s destruction and asserts in its place the power to create new life and a new world. It converts men’s destruction into their rebirth.”
Since Freud’s issuing a navel as signifier or metaphor for the blind spot of the unconscious is of great significance when we think about the navel as the scar that signifies the cutting of the umbilical cord. It is the point of connection and disconnection with the maternal body – that is, it is the point of contact and severance with the unknown.
“Interpreting the [primitive] register of mythical delirium in the embodied social [patriarchal] world aims to put the world back in touch with what has been split off, disavowed, and repressed, with a view to countering the effects of those unconscious mechanisms that result in the denial of women’s ontological status, if not the destruction of the planet.” (Jacobs 2007)
It is these very unconscious primal, bloody, aggressive, fantasies and imaginaries towards women that are played out, in either defense of the ego, or in conscious fantasies stemming from this disconnection as Carol Kohn had observed in the rational world of defense intellectuals. From this idea a whole range of ideas could be inferred and interpreted. I certainly can see where these primal bloody roots of rage in unconscious fantasy can be inferred not just in men, but in women as well. There lies a marginalized group of women, that is ever growing larger today, who by all accounts share similar fantasies. They have been termed by some social scientists and psychologists as “Deadly Women.”