A Knot to Know
Anna Freudenthaler Garza
August 5, 2023
A Knot to Know Anna Freudenthaler Garza 10 August 2023 As we move through the first tender years of the new decade of the 2020s, in the West we yearn for the 90’s. Millennials show off their bellybuttons in crop tops again, they swagger in chunky platform boots and faded ripped jeans, they don tattoo chokers and dangle earrings swing from the pierced earlobes of all genders alike. Walking the streets of Vienna in summertime after the first year of the pandemic, I wondered if these youngsters time travelled from some love parade of the last century. Yet, I understood their longing. Retrospectively, the 1990’s were a time of great promise: the Cold War was over, Apartheid had ended, independent media was a thing and bioengineering had major breakthroughs not only in medicine but also in agriculture. The U.S. president curiously ventured into “the Google” like any other citizen, rap songs were about pagers, leisure time was spent with tamagochis and playing Nintendo, and you could still go out rollerblading or on raves without being bothered by security staff. Connecting was written in bold letters before cell phones became a prosthesis for humanity. Even the concept of “the West” faded into the rest of the world indicating more equality in the bright future. Sure, the 90’s left a lot to be desired but that is exactly why they spark our Utopian imagination and why they are able to contain the nostalgic fantasy of an alternate present in which we could have found ourselves today. The age of seeing slipped into society and blew up naturally. We have always loved to consume with our greedy eyes, the scopic drive is a human condition. Today, I can tiktok on my couch, swiping from this world’s most stupid and life-threatening challenges that everyone can reproduce in their homes, to witnessing a soldier having lunch at the Ukrainian war front, back to a skinny girl eating some rare species, straight into a neo- Nazi gathering before a concert, back again to a useless life-hack I might try out later. The choices are endless before I have even opened Tor to go beyond the world wide web into the darknet. The world under my thumbs. Where are the restraints? One can easily lose faith in humanity by looking at the most viewed videos. Fascinated by the deceits of the visual field, optical illusions top the list with more than two billion viewers. A couple of seconds of brainfuck and the next short video pops up. Nothing of substance. The narrative is snatched from us, context is murdered to create entertainment, we currently live in the age of collage, whereas deep fakes and virtual reality have only given us a glimpse of the next brave new world on the brink of our screens. The cracks of these fantastic images are embodied by substance use, attention deficits, depression. Trendy diagnoses such as narcissistic personality disorder tag the villain and disjoint the abominable from our society. The West has sharp contours again, walls are erected out of fear of the unfamiliar. The threat of difference has replaced the threat of castration, and we hold onto the idea of exiling the other in order to negate it. The symptoms of today’s mental health problems do not only hint at the repressed sexuality of the early 20th century but paint a picture of seemingly lacking lack. The anorexic’s obsession with nothing can be understood as the hunger for something that is missing. It is here that natural science fails. The serotonin imbalance as cause for depression, the power of dopamine as the curse of addictions, altered and sick brains explaining away any possible meaning, filling in the gaps and paradoxically invoking nihilism. On the other hand we find an overload of meaning: Bill Gates put microchips in vaccines to enhance his control; the youth cult of Hollywood feeds off of children’s blood; that choker-wearing 15-year old girl must be a submissive sex slave; because the president is not re-elected we have rigged elections; my partner choice is determined by the compatibility of our immune systems. The despair in these all-too- logical but nonsensical shortcuts is palpable and erupts in violence as they collapse. The threat of difference has replaced the threat of castration, and we hold onto the idea of exiling the other in order to negate it. When the empty place is not upheld, anything can be everything and will be discarded just as quickly as it came to be of importance. In search of exuberance one may plunge into toxic relationships to prove again and again that it will never be enough. The repetition compulsion becomes so strong that the death drive segregates from its alloy with Eros. The band aid of security and surveillance that fixed the Unbehagen (discomfort) that terrorism re-invoked in our society in the last decade has been ripped off. We see Covid measures come and go and develop anxiety as we realize that the decision-making authority is just as clueless as the rest of us. There is no guarantee of security even though young couples are getting married again. God has been dead for a while now. On one hand, young men hesitate to show their sexual interest out of fear of being regarded as anti-feminist, and on the other hand we find strong misogynistic convictions of the “oversexed and underfucked” men, and women as well. Manically looking for a master to bind the aggression set free from the segregation of the drives, sadomasochistic practices propagate as a staple. A corset for the confusing relations between the sexes. Bondage to restrict gender concepts that have become too fluid to anchor in. Andrew Tate's around the world brace themselves with knowing what a woman wants and offering them bait, which, when rejected, erupts in narcissistic anger due to not having been right in their assumptions. The level of entitlement of these men seems delusional and collapses when its self-reinforcing echo of internet platforms hits a wall of otherness and subsides. So, the more violent resolve to mass shootings to exit involuntary celibacy in a frantic effort to extinguish the society that disgorged them. Shallow figures like Marilyn Manson and Till Lindeman are the last representatives of some mimicry of controversy in our age of cynical ideology which is heavily laced with consumerism (just as Paganism was first infiltrated and then eaten by the Catholic Church during Antiquity and the Middle Ages). As we facetime with Jesus, humans are as close to and as far apart from each other as they have never been. The virus of our age imposes face masks instead of condoms which suggests that danger does not stem from sexuality alone but from breathing next to each other. This form of protection could be the first step in an increasingly contaminated environment where UV light, gases and other invisible particles penetrate and poison our bodies. More heat for the planet as glaciers melt into the oceans and the storm gathers power to blow us all away. The limits to growth were known in the 70’s. They knew but didn’t see. Now we see and seem to know. This plethora veils the unknown. Namely, the unconscious. It is symptomatic that the difference between unconscious, subconscious and subliminal perception is almost unheard of outside philosophy these days. The “un” neither is nor is it not, it is not scientific in the classical sense and yet a lot of knowledge may spring from it. We tend to foreclose the empty space in the psyche, the place where we as subjects sprout.
The patients I see who seek help because of their various addictions explain to me that their problem lies in the addictiveness of their substance of choice. For many of them, it takes at least a year of intensive therapy to start giving relevance to their inner worlds instead of blaming the mechanics. Observing their inner musings, fantasies and dreams, they slowly start creating their own narrative and begin to trust subjective significance. Symptoms are not there to be brushed away or explained by a molecule. It cannot stop there, as a segregated answer floating in time and space, easily suspended and easily lost. Instead, the patients start spinning webs with their words, fragile at first, but later they become capable of bearing weight. Not everything will be connected, blank spots remain even after years of psychoanalysis. It is exactly in these empty spaces where new stories take root. No, Freud will not be reincarnated to save the planet. It will not be possible to integrate it all; that would just be the next seducing image that explains everything. Taking a position has the consequence of not tolerating every so-called truth out there. It calls for clear lines. Yes, we should be outraged by corruption scandals and environmental issues and we should critically reflect how the pandemic was dealt with. We should involve ourselves in discussions about taxes and social security systems in our countries and we may even take a critical stance on gender and identity politics. But no, this does not mean that governments should be overthrown because they are liars and we think they have manipulated us. The recent seizures of illegal weapon arsenals and Nazi paraphenalia (in Austria) show how easily ideologies wedge their way into the confused and fearful population. For some, it is hard to bear that there is not one all-knowing super mind to blame behind it all but that there is a complex system of many elements at play. Everybody has the option to think for themselves and listen to the different narrations around the traumatising Real before lodging onto racism, sexism, or any other conspiracy theory. Cultivating the humility of not knowing and the ability of knot making can help navigate the world in an ethical way without the perverse dominance of an all-knowing god or science or prophet. Yes, even fashion come-backs have a story to tell. The idea of the internet gave us some utopian fantasy of connecting with each other feely in the 90's, before there was even a single advertisement on the www. What happened? What happened after the 70's with the idea of the communes? Today I can buy a Greatful Dead's T-Shirt made in Bangladesh at H&M. It is not about reading the signs as if there was one true hidden meaning to unmask, for example: capitalism is the villain. It is about letting them speak to us, it is about posing questions and attempting answers. Where do the associations take us, what do they do to our bodies? I am not talking about awareness here; that is a consciousness technique. Even empathy and intuition are to be handled carefully, for they too often fall into the traps of the imaginary and can lead us into a mirror maze. Look for the blind spot: that is where we will find the unconscious. There, where the tongue slips, the image is brittle. It takes courage to admit relevance to a lapsus and stay open as to what it might mean. Sometimes it may be clear as day.
What is left to be desired in our times? Besides the fire extinguishing that needs to be done urgently, there is a driving force that can take us beyond our habits and indoctrinated conditions. It enables us to bear the losses and move forward. For there will be losses and there is no use in taking shelter in negation, as tempting as it may seem to us. Preppers may calm themselves by counting their supplies but hasn't solidarity been the most powerful tool during crisis times? We see how Poland took up Ukrainian refugees last year, reminding us of the power of Solidarność. We can encounter the driving force of the unconscious in our dreams and we can feel its pertinacity. It calls on us to work on it. It originates in the world that we perceive with our bodies but it has been tainted with our desire and that is where it gains significance and also where we understand the importance of taking resposibility. Some loose ends will never meet, but we have to continue spinning the web of words around the well that springs from the empty space that lies in every human subject. Not being fixated on one diagnosis, on one identity, on one product, on knowledge that fills up all your being, but being aware of the split in the subject keeps us learning and produces truth. How to move forward here when we cannot agree on one reality? Can we define rules such as human values and impose them on everyone? Freud knew about the alignment problem of the human psyche, even though he did not call it that. That is to say, even human beings have to learn human values, they are not intrinsic and dependent on the culture (Freud called it Superego). We have recently externalized "human values" by teaching artificial intelligence which in turn confronts us with the most intimate human questions about ethics and culture. The question of how to proceed is tricky. What to do with the body that AI lacks? What to do with the drooling, unsaturable jouissance that makes some of us scratch to the bone? Isolation is not the way to go.There are many ways to make knots. We need to anchor our speaking bodies in society, relate to each other in work and projects and at parties, but beware of too much identification. There has to be space for otherness. Knowing about one's own otherness helps to take responsibility. Studying history, its revivals and its repetitions could empower us not to repeat cathastrophic mistakes.