It’s Out There Somewhere
Rosebud? Maybe it’s something he couldn’t get or something he lost
Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, 1941).
The absence of the satisfaction hoped for, the continued denial of the desired baby, must in the end lead the small lover to turn away from his hopeless longing
Sigmund Freud (The Dissolution Of the Oedipus Complex, 1924).
Oedipus represents something like a high tide in the development of our capacity for frustration. It’s here that we find Freud’s small hopeless lover washed up on the shoreline, the flotsam and jetsam left with him are the tools he’ll use to get by in this new land. The land before – dwindling to the point where sea melds with horizon – was a life where a completeness of satisfaction seemed obtainable. It’s still out there somewhere.
Frustration—which in this essay I use as a polite word for oedipal rage—has an impressive provenance in psychoanalytic thinking. If we weren’t frustrated Freud’s entire theory wouldn’t get going. As Adam Phillips points out; ‘without incestuous desire the Freudian unconscious doesn’t make sense, the unacceptable has to start somewhere and it’s incest that sets it off.’ (Phillips, 1995: 10). In Freud’s scheme also, it is frustration that leads the small hopeless lover to accept reality over hoped for pleasure, establish a superego. Klein and Bion considered the ability to bear frustration, (to not do something terrible with our oedipal longings like have a jealous rage), was what enables a thinking capacity, to make connections and links, to not go mad. Our experience of frustration, which can be so maddening, might be something that saves us from insanity.This begins to sound like a cautionary tale; keep taking the medicine rather than suffer even worse consequences—castration, murder, madness. Perhaps frustration, this fundamental human experience that Freud in his Project (1950) suggests has to be felt in order to survive, has something more attractive going for it. Perhaps their betrayal of us, (our parents), our wretched casting out by them, has another function. Feeling frustrated – which here seems to be at best about being led astray, at worst duped – has another function. It’s not just about avoiding catastrophe, it’s also about the potential for pleasure; we have to be frustrated because without frustration how can we experience hope? Hope is a precondition for frustration; you have to want something to feel frustrated by not getting it. So a life that avoids frustration may also be a life that avoids hope.