“Every time that the subject acts, the unconscious hijacks the subject’s conscious intentions…Even realized intentions become other than what the subject intends because of the unconscious, which adds a surplus enjoyment to the subject’s plans.”Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel
What unconscious truths are revealed in the performance of consciously desired outcomes?
I chose to photograph myself while preparing a celebratory New Year’s meal. I wanted to capture a flattering self portrait, while engaged in a routine task. My props are tools I use on the regular—a stainless steel pot, wooden spoon, and electric stovetop. The contents within the pot consist of a slowly simmering gumbo, a labor intensive concoction, reserved only for special occasions. The meal was intended as a ritual to usher in a new year, a new decade, on January 1, 2020. After taking some less than flattering shots, I decided to step away from the stove top, to extend the arm engaged in the act of stirring the pot.
While this action was born of a conscious choice, with the intention of producing a more flattering image of myself, I now see the broadcast of my unconscious, demanding I attend to its message.
The Unconscious Transmission
This movement away from the pot reveals an unfortunate truth of my existence. My relationship to food prep is fraught with derision. In fact, meal preparation is one of the most stressful facets of my life. This is because both of my children present with sensory processing challenges; therefore, their diets are limited, which means that for every meal, I must prepare three separate dishes—one for each child and one for my husband and myself.
Before you get all judgy about how your kids eat what’s prepared or they don’t eat at all, I want you to consider that not all kids respond in a normative fashion to tough love. Watch a few episodes of the Netflix series Atypical, and you may gain some insight into the daily experience of families raising neurodiverse kids. The main character, Sam, is a high functioning teenager with autism spectrum disorder. Neither of my children are autistic, but they both present with ADHD, and many of the sensory challenges portrayed in Sam’s characterization are difficulties with which my kids are well acquainted. The anxiety, impulsivity, and strong will that manifests in people on the autism spectrum likewise manifest in those with ADHD. This is to say, I cannot control the emotional responses elicited by my children in the face of undesired foods (or any other overwhelming sensory stimuli, for that matter).
Add to that my own aversion to/intolerance for frustration (because ADHD) and meal times become a contest of wills wherein we all get what we want, as opposed to what we need. In short, while there was once a time in my life wherein cooking brought me pleasure, it is now the BANE of my existence.
Hence, the self-portrait reveals the distance I feel, the dissociation I enact, with regard to this routine task, which I have grown to loathe and which now occupies an exorbitant amount of my lifetime and effort.
To conclude, even the most mundane and menial volitional choices reveal something of the unconscious. My decision to step back from the stove top for this self portrait was the consequence of my conscious desire to take a more flattering picture. The unconscious implication is that my stance reveals a truth of my very existence—one which I’d prefer not to face.