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PSYCHOANALYTIC REFLECTIONS

Shame

 

In the ‘Interpretation of dreams’ (1899) Freud described shame as an affect, a lived experience, caused by the reaction to the external environment, to the gaze of the other. Dreams about shame leave one “incapable of altering the disagreeable situation”, naked of scantly clothes in front of “…almost always strangers with faces that have been left undetermined.” Incapable to tolerate the gaze of people known to them, the shamed transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, through “magical transformations of the world” (Sartre, 1939), emotions and affective experiences. What is considered shameful and what makes one feel ashamed varies across time and space, but the core of what it means to experience shame and to live with it and with its consequences runs deep in both the body and the mind beyond time and space.  
Phenomenologically, shame is a relational and intersubjective experience. As I write and I see the letters that, one by one, appear on the screen a fraction of a second after I type them, I can see clearly how the way we understand ourselves is shaped in relation to others, as these letters, one by one, create words and meaning according to their order, their proximity to each other and the meaning that the reader attributes to them. Shame is a relational experience, that connects individuals to the external world whilst paradoxically, excluding them from it, as it manifests as an attack to the identity system and to the order they have become accustomed to.

La Chimera

Reflections on Alice Rohrwacher’s film

Myths always tell us something that is sufficiently universal about ourselves, without becoming fables, where the illusional reality is aimed at assuring always one is never disappointed when the end comes. On the contrary, myths, despite also using fantasised depictions of reality, ensure we remain in touch with what collectively makes us human and as such, fallible, vulnerable, and scared.

The chimera belongs to the mythological world, a fantastical (belonging to the world of fantasy) creature composed of different animal parts. A lion, with the head of a goat protruding from its back, sometimes with wings, also a bit woman, (the daughter of Typhon and Echidna) and always a monster. An implausible hybrid human/animal made up of parts that are not supposed to be together and yet – they are.

In the Jungian world, chimera would be an archetype – the archetype of the primitive omnipotent mother who – in the mind of the infant – has yet to be differentiated from the male father, but who has already stopped being the illusionary, all good, available, giving mother. Similarly, in Kleinian terms, she would be a primitive, frightening, unconscious phantasy inhabiting infants’ minds – the image of the parents together, merged, fantasised as an unknown, unknowable, excluding and disturbing monster who repels as well as attracting.

However, in the modern collective mind – the word “chimera” doesn’t immediately recall the mythological monster described by Homer, or an archetype, or even a terrifying primary unconscious phantasy. It is rather a signifier of unfulfillable wishes, desires, defined by the frustration of their impossibility.

Alice Rohrwacher’s choice of calling her latest film “La Chimera” probably stems from what “chimera” has come to symbolise in modern times. It is a film about the impossible, longing for what lost and that can never be returned, reaching its peak when the beautiful, 2000 years old and fully intact and preserved statue of an Etruscan goddess is found by chance by the tombaroli and cruelly beheaded, never to be returned to her original state.

 

It is a revelatory and often painful moment when one realises that nothing can be returned to its original state once that original state has been altered. The delusion and denial perpetuated by Arthur and Flora, for example, aim at removing the intolerable – the chimera has to lose its frightening, monstrous parts and maintain only the good ones. The frightening mythological chimera reappears to be quickly replaced by the longing for the return of what it once was: an ideal state of bliss and love instead of welcoming a new and different path that integrates elements of that original state into a new life – in an abandoned train station oozing new life and possibilities. 

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