The Popes Failures

The Popes Failures

Pope John Paul II’s reaction to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is well known. Immediately after seeing it, he murmured, “It is as it was!”—a statement that was then quickly withdrawn by Vatican officials. A glimpse into the Pope’s spontaneous reaction was thus replaced by the “official,” neutral stance, corrected so as not to hurt anyone. This withdrawal, and its nod toward liberal sensibility, betrayed what was best in the late pope, his intractable ethical stance.

Today, in our era of over-sensitivity regarding “harassment” by the Other, it’s increasingly common to hear complaints about “ethical violence,” those ethical injunctions that “terrorize” us with their brutal impositions. In its place, these critics would prefer to see an “ethics without violence,” a sort of permanent (re)negotiation of ethical norms. It is here where the highest cultural critique unexpectedly meets the lowest pop psychology.

The example par excellence is John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, who, in a series of “Oprah” shows, brought this stance to its extreme logical terminus. Since we ultimately “are” the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, Gray argues, the solution to our psychic deadlock resides in creatively “rewriting” the narratives of our past with a positive twist. What Gray has in mind is not only standard cognitive therapy—that is, changing negative “false beliefs” about oneself into a more positive attitude of the assurance that one is loved by others and capable of creative achievements. He advocates a more “radical,” pseudo-Freudian notion of regressing back to the scene of the primordial traumatic wound.

Gray accepts the psychoanalytic notion of an early childhood trauma that forever marks its subject’s further development, giving that development a pathological spin. He proposes that, after regressing to this primal traumatic scene and directly confronting it, the subject should, under the guidance of a therapist, “rewrite” that experience in a more “positive,” benign and productive narrative. For example, if the traumatic scene that persists in your unconscious, deforming and inhibiting your creative attitude, is that of your father shouting at you, “You are worthless! I hate you! Nothing good will ever come out of you!,” one should simply rewrite it into a scenario where a smiling, benevolent father encouragingly tells you, “You’re OK! I trust you fully!” To play this game to its end, in Freud’s famous case of “Wolfman”—whose primal, traumatic scene was witnessing his parents’ coitus a tergo—Gray’s ostensible solution would be for Wolfman to rewrite the scene, so that what he effectively saw was merely his parents lying in bed, his father reading a newspaper and mother a sentimental novel.

The problem is that such a satirical exaggeration is actually taking place.

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on April 8th, 2005. (full text).]

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

Tell us what you think...

Related Posts

- Newspapers and Magazines

Korean nuclear tension: Apocalypse… almost now

The saber rattling and harsh rhetoric during the current nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula should remind mankind of something we have forgotten. Atomic weapons are terrifying things, and talk of using them should be Read more…

- Newspapers and Magazines

Act Globally, Think Locally!

The looming military conflict between the US and North Korea contains a double danger. Although both sides, the US and North Korea, are for sure bluffing, not counting on an actual nuclear exchange, rhetoric never Read more…

- Newspapers and Magazines

Zizek’s Newspaper and Magazine Publications

2017 2017 September 11th, Korean nuclear tension: Apocalypse… almost now, RT. 2017 August 21st, Act Globally, Think Locally! The Philosophical Salon. 2017 July 9th, The problem with Venezuela’s revolution is that it didn’t go far enough, Independent. Why Read more…

%d bloggers like this: