Tuesday, July 10, 2012
From Genesis...A response to Dr Julie Wilson
A response to Dr Julie Wilson
In her paper, A Speculative Exploration of Childhood Remembrance in the Works of Genesis P-Orridge, Dr Julie Wilson explores aspects of the art and performance of Genesis P-Orridge through the lens of C G Jung’s Child archetype. The paper focuses in particular on the role of the child in P-Orridge’s work, and suggests that it is through this personal exploratory work that the artist’s creativity is generated and developed.
Although much of what Wilson has to say about P-Orridge demonstrates a clear and well-informed reading of his work, there are certain elements in her analysis which seem strongly Freudian in conception, and which seem to me to mis-state the artist’s intentions. I will begin by focusing on some of the primary strengths of Wilson’s arguments, and will highlight those areas where an overly Freudian perspective seems to have distorted the presentation of the artist’s art.
Wilson begins by setting out the basic premise that the Jungian archetype is ‘indigenous to each individual’ and uses this to defend (in this context, rightly) the position that not only are the archetypes in some way universal (i.e. applicable to all), but that they are also individually treated within each of us. Thus commonality and distinctiveness are brought within her paradigm, which makes the point that her analysis of P-Orridge is significant beyond the individual artist and may be available for appropriation by us all.
She continues by drawing attention to ‘the artist’s frequent visitations to the memories of his own childhood, his use of childlike states’, and takes this to suggest ‘that there is something fundamental which is buried within the philosophical and psychological dynamics of the child which P-Orridge is drawing upon.’ It is not appropriate to engage here in a public analysis of P-Orridge’s inner life, but I think it needs to be said that Wilson’s use of the term ‘buried’ reveals her approach to be significantly influenced by Freudian thinking, and this in a way which does some damage to the altogether more productive and creative Jungian treatment of the archetype. Although she touches on the ‘raw energy associated with the first time engagement with ideas, images and the environment as a whole, which is sought by the artist’ (a view with which Martin Buber would agree1, and which also supports the notion of our self-creativity within the experimental moment of self-becoming), she measures this against both Jung and Freud’s (especially Freud’s) rather negative characterization of the child as a latent force able to serve in a compensatory or corrective way.
In taking this line, Wilson undercuts her own support of Jung’s broader position that the archetype ‘anticipates a nascent, or original state of consciousness’ by relating it necessarily to the individual’s own original state of historical personhood (pure Freud). The problem here is one of mis-reading what is meant by Jung in the term ‘nascent, or original state of consciousness’. We are, with Jung, in the realm of archetypes, and the assumption is that these are perennially present (that is, they exist in a state of presentness). The nascent or original state, must therefore refer to a mode of perceptual grasp (represented and effected through the medium of the Child archetype), rather than the very Freudian concept of a regression to a previous point in time. Thus, when P-Orridge accesses the ‘Child’ it must be taken not as a retreat to a former (or ‘original’ self), but as an emergence into a state of present originality. It is this that prioritizes the creativity Wilson is seeking through the use of the archetype, and it is excellently expressed by Buber, when he writes of the child:
For all that, Wilson’s application of the Child archetype to P-Orridge represents an interesting, and a previously much under-regarded understanding of his artistic drive. It is also the case that Wilson has shown enough in her paper to suggest that it is an area which deserves further exploration. The explicit strength of her argument becomes clear when she draws on Baudrillard to suggest that ‘the nature of the child’s Being is immediate, instinctive and primary’. This strongly existential bias is central to P-Orridge’s attempts to engage utterly with his environment, and to explore and create something new out of the experience. One can witness this in his insistent use of such simple terms as ‘NOW!’, ‘PRESENT TIME’, and ‘Even Further’. However, Baudrillard himself overstates the point when he adds (and Wilson quotes) ‘Childhood haunts the adult universe as a subtle and deadly presence’. It is ingenuous to add that ‘this is not only true of real children but also of the archetype’ (emphasis added). The confusion between the archetype and the historical is explicit here, and the point is presumably to do with the tension existing between child and adult modes of experience; the considered, rationalist structures of the latter finding little or no purchase on the imaginative, creative and free-flowing world of the former. The psychological axe is sharpened by the (adult) knowledge that the child will come to rule the future. The ontological axe should, however, be blunted by the equal adult knowledge that in ruling the future the child will be not: it is in an adult mode that the former child will rule.
The question resolves to one of the authenticity of experience, as Wilson makes clear. As adults we are frequently inauthentic in our self-dealings; and we adopt masks and modes of convenience which we erroneously call identity. It is the role of the Child to remind us of the need to ‘be’ authentically, and it is in drawing our attention to this in the context of P-Orridge’s work that Wilson makes a significant contribution. She writes:
I would argue that it is for this reason that P-Orridge’s work has sought to attack the ego, sought to make us question the ontological basis of who and what we are. He is attempting to draw out the multiple realities of a full-blooded event-based ontology. Hence his designation of those best able to demonstrate this as ‘hyper-quaquaversal’ (his term for an extreme and simultaneous reaching out from the centre to all possible directions). To achieve this end we cannot prioritize one element over another, but rather must allow the mutual co-existence and exchange of all the archetypes together, at the same time, in the one person4. Thus all experience adds to all previous experience in a way that is progressive, forever in the process of advancement into the new. It is an ontology reflected in our conception of the infinitely expanding universe (in contrast, Freud’s universe was developmentally static). In short, the abandonment of the primacy of the ego is not simply a means of evocation, but rather it represents a structural model of future existence. The ego is indicative of constraint by the past, and it is because of this that in P-Orridge’s work it is not ‘sedated’, but thrown to the wolves.
He has stepped out of the glowing darkness of chaos into the cool light of creation. But he does not possess it yet; he must first draw it truly out, he must make it into a reality for himself, he must find for himself his own world by seeing and hearing and touching and shaping it. Creation reveals, in meeting, its essential nature as form. It does not spill itself into expectant senses, but rises up to meet the grasping senses. (I and Thou pp25-26)
Wilson emphasizes the notion of the child as a corrective to the adult state, and adds that ‘the child therefore exists at both ends of the psychological spectrum’. However, this formulation runs counter to the sense of emergent presentness which is implicit not only in the notion of a living archetype, but also in the specifics of the performance work of P-Orridge. Instead of taking the archetype as (at least partially) a representation of the historical child (as the Freudian approach tends to do), we might do better to treat the nature of the archetype as a mode of perceptual realization which is available for immediate constructive inclusion in the self-determined act of (creative) being. This overcomes the problematic requirement of saying that we need to have been a specific child in order to enjoy the Child archetype, or that until we are old we cannot engage with the Wise Old man archetype. Freud, however, was thoroughly focused on the concept of a buried, personal history. His characterization of the psyche in The Interpretation of Dreams (which itself draws on his earlier Project for a Scientific Psychology) is of a closed system, controlled by a censor, in which past events remain latent forces seeking discharge. The image is of a mechanistic, sealed system in which the aim is to maintain a constancy of pressure. It is precisely such a world that P-Orridge consistently drives against in the formulation of his art and life.
for him the notion of identity is linked to a sensation of the authentic which the Child represents and facilitates. In other words, for P-Orridge, authenticity can be said to be, firstly, immediacy, availability, vulnerability to the sensual experience of the moment. Secondly, an openness to the possibility of any physical or psychological gesture which emanates from the moment. And Third a willingness to participate in ‘Other’ seductive narratives or what we might call organic forms which lie outside the notion of binary logic.
Developing her position, Wilson goes on to explore some of the specifics of P-Orridge’s work, focusing on selected references to childhood in his work and correspondence, and in particular on the need he has to take daily doses of adrenaline to compensate for physiological damage caused by the treatment of a childhood illness. Commenting on the positive spin that P-Orridge places on the need for daily medication (‘I choose each day to be alive for the next day, which is a good position to be in, to be really clear about…’), Wilson treats P-Orridge’s response in strictly psychological terms:
Statements such as this speak of the adult’s attempts to come to terms with the irrational and disorientating elements left over from childhood… This statement implies that the adult mentality is capable of intellectual infanticide on the child.
The argument is that a rationalization of a bad experience is needed to prevent an ‘”uncontrolled” descent into distress and forced dependency.’ Its prominence in P-Orridge is related to the daily reminder of a childhood loss of control.
I don’t think we can necessarily dismiss the influence of this aspect of P-Orridge’s life too quickly, but if we are dealing with archetypes (as opposed to Freudian complexes) we need to allow somewhat greater fluidity in our interpretation of the event and its implications. We can take it that it is correct to suggest that P-Orridge has an unusual physical link with childhood, but I don’t accept that we need treat this present emergence of the child as a ‘haunting’. Rather, the proximity of the child requires its acknowledgement by the adult in the present state of immediacy. Moreover, the need for a physical and conscious engagement with the future (taking a drug to ensure that there will be a future) leads to a recognition that we are self-creative beings. Our future is thus treated as our own construction and is drawn out of our own present. This is ontology, not psychology. Thus P-Orridge is far from attempting infanticide on his child/Child, but is instead attempting to re-inforce and re-engage it in the present. If it is anything, the preoccupation P-Orridge has with uncertainty, engagement, presentness and all the other characteristics of the child-state is a reflection of his honouring of the Child. P-Orridge is attempting both in the form and in the content of his work to ensure the continued survival of the Child (as symbolic of a New Aeon) alongside the survival of the adult. It is ultimately an act of mutuality in which the adult invites the Child to share.
It is natural that Wilson should explore the context of P-Orridge’s public work, and the close relationship he has with the ‘cultural underground’ and marginality. Explorations of identity (such as P-Orridge’s) will necessarily push against such margins, not least because of the need to express the notion of will through the transcendence of its current position. In a Nietzschean sense, the will must press beyond its own boundary in order to properly express its condition. It is here that the relevance of the ‘Even Further’ becomes clear and links with the practice of magick for which P-Orridge is well known.
Wilson makes a welcome observation, in the context of initiatory ritual and its marginalization, when she notes the distinction between the socially coherent rituals of tribal societies and the altogether more disjunctive forms practised in the West. In his public work it is very much this formal contextualization which P-Orridge seems to be hinting at, both in the early street performances (where the context is that of the viewer confronted on ‘home territory’ by the unusual), and, for example, in the networking of T.O.P.Y. through which P-Orridge constructed a context in which exploration and disorientation could be regarded as socially as well as personally significant. In referring, however, to the possibility that in such rituals the ‘concept of death is ever present’ Wilson offers a reading which is overly substance-oriented in its thinking. It might be better to regard such initiations as a structured means of confronting risk (the risk is to the ontology of self and identity, not the physical), the aim of which is that of engagement with Life. It is the risk of becoming open to a totality of presentness which brings with it a counterpoint of ‘death’, but by ‘death’ I mean here the failure to extend the boundary of possibility, the failure to enter into a true existential immediacy of self-creative expression. In P-Orridge’s terms, ‘Our aim is wakefulness. Our enemy is dreamless sleep.’
The influence of a Freudian view is again explicit when Wilson suggests that:
the re-establishment of a state of childlikeness goes much deeper than simply re-establishing a holistic sensual experience of the world. It requires the sedation of what Freud calls the basic mental mechanism of the adult psyche which attempts to ‘relieve the individual from the tension created in him by his needs’. Driving this mechanism is the ‘Pleasure principle’ and behind that the adult ego.
If we accept Wilson’s argument we are obliged also to accept the implication that we are driven by an imperative to return to an inorganic state. This is central to the mechanistic formulation of the Pleasure Principle, and it is likely that it is this which has led Wilson to derive her historicized view of an ‘original state’ to which I referred earlier. In adopting this line, Wilson endorses Freud’s negative teleology and extreme determinism. By this I mean Freud’s suggestion that not only is the aim of life to return to a state of total passivity (i.e. death), but that we can never escape our biological and historical heritage. In effect we are wedded to a form of understanding in which the present is made up entirely of that which has gone before. Agency is granted (erroneously) to the past2, and the present has no meaning except that which is pressed upon it. Thus, in the case of the artist, the present creative act is characterized by an overwhelming passivity, whereas experientially and empirically the act of the present should be one of extreme creativity.
There is an interesting extract of a letter which Wilson cites in which P-Orridge moves from a childhood description to an altogether more intense expression of his adult consciousness. Wilson correctly identifies this as an example of the co-existence of discrete streams of thought in P-Orridge’s work, and it is through this that she attempts to derive an integrative Jungian model from her material. What is equally interesting though is the unstated possibility that this form of integration (which is characterized by the notion of splintering and fragmentation by Wilson) may be expressing a quite different notion of process and creative advancement.
We can take it that Genesis chose his name carefully, and if we look to that initiatory book of the Bible we find in the first descriptions of creation a carefully laid out paradigm whereby creation is ‘creation-by-addition’3. Each day adds to the previous, but retains the previous content in equal status. It is rather more than a simple overlaying of the former with the latter. Moreover, at the end of each day there is a moment of reflection (integration) in which the distinctiveness of the new construct is primary. In drawing the Child into his work, P-Orridge is echoing this model of creative advance from an experienced present into an undetermined future. Nothing is lost in the process, but rather each moment brings with it a fresh unification of all the contributory elements. That is, each moment is new, but each moment is also fully inclusive. This is in direct contradiction of the more normative teleology we apply to the Bible and which permeates the thought of both Freud and Jung. If we revise our concept of psychical integration in this light, it becomes no longer a search for some pre-determined goal (as Freud might have it), or a drive towards some future state of passive union and fulfilment (as is implicit in Jung’s religiosity). Instead we have a vision in which integration becomes the self-creation of the future itself, and in which the seemingly disjunctive elements of the present are drawn into a true unity of the experienced event.
Because of this need to prioritize the ‘experienced event’ we cannot therefore rely on Freud’s Pleasure Principle, or simply accept the ‘”sedation” of that part of the adult psyche which seeks to relieve the individual of the tension of his needs, [and which] means the sedation or loss of the Ego.’ That the ‘ego’ is sedated (or perhaps better, annihilated) in P-Orridge’s work is not in question. It is also clear that P-Orridge works towards ‘de-programming’ as Wilson points out. However, this loss of (adult) ego and deliberate de-programming is not characterized by the replacement of the ego/programme by an earlier model (i.e., the child’s ego/lack of programmed or constructed behaviour). The apparent sedation of the ego (and I tend to believe that it is only apparent) is the result of our own misplaced assumption that a person is fully identified with their adult face. Beyond this, we also tend to see in our notion of identity a parallel concept of ‘consistency’. Thus we expect a person to be, and to behave as, the imago we project upon them. In many cases we are broadly right. Socially constructed convention dictates how people behave. Our project finds its hook; and both parties in the relationship are rewarded. In the case of P-Orridge, however, (and I take this as at the core of his philosophical direction), we are not at any essential level identified with our ego or persona. Rather, the aim of his work seems to be consistent with a model in which the ‘self’ is a construct of a particular moment of existential realization. That is, we exist as self-creating events, and life is enjoyed through the unique creativity of the present.
Wilson later cites P-Orridge:
The basic premise in all my work has always been, if I think about something and it seems to make sense, to project it into the public arena of popular culture. To see whether it survives or not in its own right, to see what happens and what is confirmed and denied and what creates interesting interactions and confrontations.
This notion of projection carries with it rather more than the psychological aspects cited by Wilson who treats the term as ‘usually associated with the manner in which people attach their fears, or dreams and aspirations to another individual.’ She continues by saying:
It is clear that he [P-Orridge] believes that by amplifying the dynamic character of a freed psyche into the public arena, in other words by projecting an idea into public space, it might metaphorically detach itself from its biological origins, expand and gather weight as other individuals attach significance to it.
There are a number of problems with this analysis, not least that it reveals Wilson to be wedded to an overly materialistic ontology in which the mind and body are treated as competing substances. Hence the psyche is described as being ‘freed into the public arena’, and an idea is only ‘metaphorically’ able to detach itself from its biological origins. Part of the problem is her reading of ‘projection’ in psychological terms, after Freud et al. A better reading would treat the ‘project’ as a constructed reality in its own right. In this way the project serves as a mediating element in the broader construction of new realities. This more radical concept requires that the project properly exists, and is as functionally effective as any more physically rendered being. If we treat projects in this way, we render the substance theories of mind and body redundant and can instead treat both conceptual and material ‘beings’ as essentially similar in type. The classic example of this was given by Ludwig Feuerbach in his attempts to treat God as the mis-appropriated manifestation of essentially human attributes. Famously, he was able to describe God as an atheist through this route5. In effect, the unassimilated essence is projected out as ‘other’, and then treated as a beacon towards which we must move. In the regaining of the project, we shift the paradigmatic nature of reality. Thus truth is movable, and relative. This process finds resonance with P-Orridge’s performance work:
Very slowly he moved about; at a barely perceptible speed, giving a sensation ov nothing changing yet investing thee tiniest change with potent resonance. He would raise thee stick with one hand until it touched a specific point, like the top of a tripod. He would lean in one position towards that spot, balance, then move one foot forward imperceptibly, freeze like a statue, move thee free arm to the knee, freeze, reach out with the stick for another point…
(From Ratio:3 Transmediators)
We can see in this description of ‘reaching out’ how the frozen moments reflect the point of integration as each subtle change takes place. In reaching out to our project, we transform the space in which we act. More significant though is that if we abandon the substance-oriented model (which erects a boundary between the mental and physical components of reality) we can grant full autonomy to the project. In projecting an idea into space, the ‘idea’ becomes an agentive reality for those who perceive it. Thus it becomes constitutive of the percipient’s existential moment of self-realization and actuality. Thus we create our own gods. And thus we can regard P-Orridge’s public work as a considered attempt to change the matrix of existence. He is literally engaged in creating new universes.
The psychological focus offered by Wilson undermines the creative reaching out implied and evidenced by the artist’s work, which is consciously ontological in its form and purpose. As a result, Wilson mis-states the case when she characterizes P-Orridge as ‘defining personal realities’. What he is in fact doing is constructing them. Moreover, by relying on a personal historical perspective (after Freud), she mistakenly treats the notion of ‘original self’ as identical with that of a ‘creative self’. In an event-based ontology, in which each moment is one of creative self-determination, the ‘self’ is newly formed in the present. Thus it is by definition ‘original’ at the moment we engage with it. The artist’s quest is therefore one of simultaneous self-realization and reflection. To equate this with a regressive journey to an historical moment (as though we can only create at the beginning and lose all power to do so subsequently) is to fundamentally undermine the raw creative instinct that drives the artist. We might wish then to consider that, like the Shaman, P-Orridge’s quest for originality is only metaphorically (to recur to Wilson’s term) a journey to a previous point in time. The image of a beginning is used simply as a lure to somewhere else, somewhere undetermined and Now! The psychological determinism of the Freudian model mistakes the method for the result, with the all too constraining implications of identifying the ‘self’ with a personal past.
Although I have focused on what I see as some of the interpretative problems in Wilson’s piece, it is nonetheless the case that in addressing the psychology of the artist she has paved the way for a long overdue critical reappraisal of P-Orridge’s work. In particular she has successfully moved the focus away from the documentation of the art and brought it to bear on the process of artistic action. In the case of an artist such as P-Orridge this shift in focus is essential to an assessment of the significance of his impact; an impact which spreads much wider than the simple appreciation of produced ‘works’.
University of Sussex
1 See Martin Buber, I and Thou, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1959 (2nd Edition)
2 Attributing agency to the past (i.e. that event A precedes event B, and that B is caused by A) is a common error of theories of causality, and relates to misplaced notions of being-as-substance. The kind of processive thinking exemplified in P- Orridge’s work is much closer to the process philosophy of A N Whitehead (Process and Reality, 1929), or the existentialist thinking of Sartre. These two 20th century philosophers emphasized the creativity of the present moment in an attempt to escape the strict determinism of earlier modes of thought.
3 See Gabriel Josipovici, The Book of God, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988.
4 There are of course implications for the very notion of person in this.
5 See Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, Prometheus Books, NY, 1989 (originally published 1841).