“Truth arises from misrecognition. The crucial point here is the changed symbolic status of an event: when it erupts for the first time it is experienced as contingent trauma, as an intrusion of a certain non-symbolized Real; only through repetition is this event recognized in its symbolic necessity – it finds its place in the symbolic network; it is realized in the symbolic order.”Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology
I am still plugging away at this dense philosophical text, attempting to glean what I can to inform my self-awareness. This is always my goal–to know myself better–because I know that in so doing, I will strengthen my personal empathic faculties and relate better to others. (Hopefully). Today, I read a section in which Zizek discusses Hegel’s “theory of repetition.” Zizek sums up Hegel’s theory in this manner: “a political revolution…can succeed only as a repetition of a first failed attempt.” Then, he augments this theory with a Lacanian (psychoanalytic) bent. Essentially, an original event occurs. This event is “misrecognized,” and the misrecognition purveys truth, which then leads to a repetition of the initial event.
Over the past 48 hours or so, I have been laboring over the psychoanalytic concept of transference and how this mechanism works in my personal relationships and life choices. I haven’t been able to interpret the transferential experiences I have had, and it frustrates me. I know they exist/have existed, but I have been trying to understand why. Then, I read this section about repetition and its necessity in discerning truth, and I think I have begun to come closer to grasping the significance of transference in my personal experience. To follow, I intend to apply Zizek’s paradox to an anecdote from my past to illuminate for myself how these psychoanalytic principles play out for me, as well as to (maybe) help explain this insanely infinite loop of thought proposed by Zizek.
Let’s start with the original event. As a child, I was studious, rule-abiding, and rigid. I excelled academically, earning respect from my father in the process. In contrast, my older brother (5 years my senior) struggled in school. He presented signs of ADHD, but it was the early 80s, and our family structure didn’t accept the reality that this was a neurological condition he could not control. Thus, he performed poorly in school and was labeled “lazy” because he “had the potential, but didn’t apply himself.” Over time, with good reason, his self-esteem waned, and as I progressed through school, my mother began to chasten me, “Don’t make a big deal about your report card. Your brother will feel bad.” It seems innocuous, but it wasn’t. For starters, the statement was not presented as a beseeching supplication; on the contrary, it communicated a threat. Additionally, I began to internalize the idea that my academic excellence, since it posed a threat to my brother, was best left unacknowledged.
What follows is a long history of transferential experiences wherein I re-enact the original event from childhood. I assume that this repetition is indicative of a psychological symptom. I often refer to the awful, abusive relationship of my high school years. Well, my boyfriend/assailant did not share my academic aptitude. We went to college together and he floundered, while I, again, excelled. He became exceedingly jealous of me and would accuse me of “passing him up,” as though we were hiking steeply up the mountain of success. Immediately after exiting the abusive boyfriend stage of life, I entered the overzealous-campus-Christian phase of life. During this phase, I competed with all the other striving religious students for validation by the religious authorities, who, on college campuses, were simply peers– elevated with titles and responsibilities like “leader of Bible study,” or “leader of prayer group.” In effort to shape and mold and dictate the actions of others, these leaders often praised preferred students, completely ignoring the spiritual accomplishments of those less preferred (ah-hem) popular. I spent ungodly amounts of time (like what I did there?) praying and studying “the Word,” only to find myself discredited by superior specimens and completely ignored by others. To speak up for myself would be boastful, so of course, I repressed my feelings of discouragement and resentment–because those weren’t Christian. It was as though, throughout life, I accomplished and I performed as well as (if not better) than my peers, only to find the accomplishments obliterated like a line of text censored by white out.
It became clear that any expression of assurance or confidence in my intellectual agility would leave me vulnerable to dire emotional, and eventually physical, abuse. What had I misrecognized?
As an adult, I have found myself seeking validation from sources incapable of providing it. I have a few musical artists whose lyrics resonate with me deeply, and I find myself wishing they would know me and appreciate my creativity. I see a piece of my own talent oozing out of them through the message of their music, and I want them to see it, too. It’s as though a symbolic nod in my direction would somehow scratch away all the white out that has accumulated throughout the years. Or else I can somehow live vicariously through their success because I am terrified of pursuing my own.
This brings me to the past 48 hours. I have been wondering, why do I attach myself to creators? Why do I fantasize about receiving validation from them? What am I transferring onto them and why? I know it isn’t healthy. I don’t want to keep doing it, but I couldn’t seem to figure out why it keeps happening–until I read this most recent section of Zizek’s book. The chapter is called “From Symptom to Sinthome.” I think I have repeated the same transferential relationship over and over since the original event of my childhood because my psyche has been trying to communicate something to me through the repetition. I misrecognized the event, so I have reproduced it in effort to understand the truth, which is…what…?
If I apply Zizek’s reasoning, I surmise that there is a “traumatic kernel” of truth within the misrecognition. My success is a threat. My capacity for accomplishment is a danger, but all these years I have misrecognized the subject of the hazard. While in my youth, a consequence of my achievement was censorship and later emotional and physical abuse, the truth within is the fact that my achievement triggered insecurity in the respective other. What does this mean for me, now? First, it means I hold, and have held, great power—unbeknownst to me—all along. Finally, it means it is ok for me to stop running from potential success.
Will the cycle ever cease? Ha. I sort of doubt it because I am hella susceptible. Maybe I can mitigate its impact on my decisions—on my internal monologue.
Maybe it will persist. Maybe it will lead to Revolution. Maybe. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck!
I want to give credit where credit is due. I am participating in a book study facilitated by Peter Rollins. Each week, participants read a chapter from The Sublime Object of Ideology, and then Peter provides a live seminar to his Patreon supporters, which makes much of this exceedingly difficult content far more accessible to all. I read the chapters on my own and attempt to process what I have read prior to each talk by penning posts on this blog. You lucky readers! But don’t thank me, thank Peter, because if it weren’t for his influence you wouldn’t have this tricky content with which to contend.