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Number 10: Spring 2015

It’s Out There Somewhere

Francesca Joseph

Ronald Britton explores deprivations, frustrations, intolerable thoughts, from a Kleinian perspective:

If this link between the parents can be tolerated it provides a prototype for an object relation of a third kind in which the child is witness and not a participant. A third position comes into existence providing us with a capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own. With the psychotic this may not be possible as he lacks the third position (Britton, 1989: 83).

Part of what Britton suggests here is that unless we can bear the frustration there’s an incapacity for thinking. This is one view. Lacan makes clear that the key is not in the content of the disturbing idea, but in the mechanism of its rejection, what he called foreclosure.

But without frustration there’s no need for the reality principle to triumph over the pleasure principle. I cannot have my parent as a lover so I must look elsewhere for what I can realistically get. Adam Phillips in his essay ‘Negative Capabilities’ writes:

What we never lose, Freud insists, is the wish for complete satisfaction. It is not desiring per se that’s the problem, it is being able to bear and bear with the inevitable repetition of incomplete satisfaction (Phillips, 2010). 

Unless we feel helpless we don’t stand a chance of feeling satisfaction – helplessness and the feelings of frustration invoked in turn by the state of helplessness is part of the process by which we get what we want. Being incapable ( helpless), is a negative capability because it’s something that can get us what we want. It is also a point of entry into a moral universe; the child needs and cannot get it alone and someone thinks it would be good for them and good for the child to help the child get what it wants. But how to advocate helplessness and its accompanying desperate feelings of frustration as a desirable state to be in? Why in particular, would the victims of abuse, people who seem trapped in a time warp where helplessness is linked to a horror, how might someone with this experience think helplessness might be desirable? Despite efforts to protect themselves from a place of helplessness, the feeling is repeatedly returned to – or perhaps never left. Maybe it’s a place that cannot be left because it’s only there that can be found hope. Hope that a need will be satisfied. 

In Adam Phillips’ essay on Negative Capability, (Phillips, 2010), he’s suggesting that if we can’t be helpless we cannot be satisfied, but also we cannot be frustrated. And if we cannot be frustrated, we cannot not get what we want, and if we cannot tolerate not getting what we want, we can never ever emerge on the other side of the stormy seas, the seductive paradise islands , or the deadly whirlpools of the Oedipus complex in a vessel that’s still serviceable for use and adapted to reality.

So a capacity for incapacity keeps us sane and hopeful? Frustration; hateful but vital – it kick-starts the incest taboo…it may even help us stay sane ….and it keeps hope alive. Hope after all, was all that remained in Pandora’s box.