Shame and the Tragic Situation

by Benjamin Kilborne

June 3, 2003


abstract

This paper probes the differences between the Oedipus of Sophocles and the Oedipus of Freud, together with their implications both for the social sciences and for a theory of tragedy. Such an inquiry, although obvious, has not to my knowledge been pursued. It leads to the provisional conclusion that by emphasizing guilt and aggression Freud avoided aspects of human conflict and tragedy associated with shame and helplessness, and with cracking ego ideals.

article

Shame and the Tragic Situation1

 

Self esteem is the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious. 

--H. L. Mencken 
 
 

At the climax of Oedipus Rex, the play of Sophocles that Aristotle uses as the prototype of tragedy in his Poetics, Oedipus, confronted with the suicide by hanging of his wife and mother Jocasta, takes the golden brooches on her robe and plunges their spikes deep into his eyes, wailing,  
 

           No longer, my eyes, shall you behold the horror

           I suffered and performed. Too long

           have you looked on those on whom you should not have looked

           while failing to see what you should have seen.

           Henceforth therefore, be dark. 

     It is this apogee of the tragic situation that we take as our starting point. Oedipus cannot stand to look at what he has done; if he does, he must suffer the agonizing and intolerable pain of having been so blind to his own fate and to himself, and having wrought destruction upon Thebes at the very time he believed he was establishing order and dominion. Having realized how blindly he has lived, in rage, humiliation, and despair he forces blindness upon himself. The tragedy of Oedipus stems not only from the horror and guilt over acts unwittingly committed (killing his father and marrying his mother); it stems also--and perhaps more fundamentally still--from his own blindness to who he is: a man who in infancy was abandoned by his parents, his feet pierced, and his death entrusted to a shepherd who, unable to execute his task, left him helpless in the wild. 

     Like Ajax, who at the opening of the Sophocles play by that name,2 is tricked by Apollo into believing that a flock of sheep are his enemies, and who when he realizes that he has been duped, cannot bear his shame, Oedipus suffers mortifying defeat. Not only has he been blind, but, worse, his blindness has made a mockery of his aspirations and appearance by showing them publicly to be vain. When Oedipus can no longer "not know" what he has done, when he becomes aware of his role in the Theban plague that as king he has publicly declared he will alleviate, he blinds himself. It is not enough that he be either ostracized or that he banish himself (i.e., that he be isolated), since the more essential conflict--and human dilemma--has to do with his relation to himself. By conflating as it does psychic and physical blindness, the self-inflicted punishment of Oedipus expresses a feeling that he cannot bear imagining himself in the eyes of others, and therefore must blot them out by "really" making himself blind. When he says "Henceforth be dark," he is expressing suicidal, annihilatory rage at others who "see through" him, and is attacking what links him to society and to other human beings.3 

     Oedipal defeat (unfair competition and humiliating impotence) cannot easily be separated from Oedipal rage, as the Sophocles play illustrates so well. Even though Oedipus is king, he still must contend with his abandonment as a child, with the shame of his Oedipal victory (killing his father and sleeping with his mother), and with the resounding defeat implicit in his inability to slay the monster of the plague and so demonstrate to the people of Thebes that he is a capable defender. His shameful defeat and humiliation as a king echoes the grief and humiliation he suffered as an infant. It is this grief, humiliation, and pain--the pain of having had cruel, abandoning parents who left him to die--which makes his Oedipal shame impossibly toxic, and that summons the depths of his rage. 

     If blindness is what is most central to the tragedy of Oedipus, it is striking that this theme (along with the intractable nature of human tragedy) has not found its way into thinking about Oedipal conflicts. Not only has it not done so, but Freud and psychoanalysts since have essentially narrowed the scope of conflict by emphasizing the power of the will and downplaying the force of human helplessness, an argument I have elaborated elsewhere.4 

     Freud interpreted Oedipus Rex to be concerned not with shame and helplessness, but rather with guilt and aggression.5 Following Freud's lead, analysts since have tended to associate the Oedipus complex with drives (i.e., the wish to sleep with Mother and murder Father along with the defenses that such impulses engender). Then in the 1970s Heinz Kohut and the Self-Psychologists emphasized deficit rather than guilt, the failure of ego-ideals rather than aggression, pre-Oedipal as opposed to Oedipal dynamics. But there is no need to look at psychodynamics as Manichean, as either one or the other, since to do so needlessly limits the scope of analytic work.6 

     In terms of sociocultural analyses, Ruth Benedict (1946), E. R. Dodds (1951), J. B. Peristiany (1965), G. Piers and M. Singer (1953), and others have pursued an either/or approach to the subject, distinguishing between guilt-based cultures and shame-based ones. This too is an unnecessary dichotomy. We will see that guilt and shame exist side by side, as do aggression and deficit, in a range of combinations. No culture is exclusively one or the other. In many recent works, for example Richard Wollheim's On The Emotions, guilt and shame as "so-called moral emotions" are treated together as a unit. 

     Bearing in mind the shame/guilt continuum, and how much one can hide the other, it is necessary to focus on the spectrum of shame phenomena, particularly on Oedipal shame: on feelings of profound defeat (failed competition), annihilatory self-criticism (failed self-worth), helplessness (failed cries for help), rage, and basic threats to self-image and psychic viability.7 An exploration of relationship between Oedipal shame and appearance anxiety requires an analysis which moves easily and freely from individual psychodynamics to cultural phenomena and back again. This is not applied analysis in the usual sense. Rather, it is a kind of analysis which begins with the phenomenology of the tragic situation, and then stretches out to include whatever materials might elucidate tragic conflicts. 
 

Oedipal Shame and the Origins of Appearance Anxiety 

     Oedipus puts out his eyes because he cannot tolerate seeing others looking at him in scorn and derision; he cannot bear having failed in so monumental a fashion, and wishes never again to see himself. The appearance he has wished to convey has failed miserably; he is shown up to be altogether other than what he pretended to be. Instead of feeling victorious over his father (whom he did not know was his father) and triumphant that he has possessed his mother (whom he did not know was his mother), he is held up to the eyes of the multitude as a pawn of fate. Is there not far more to Oedipal conflict than an internalized conflict between parents, one of whom is a sexual object and the other a rival? 

     Why does Oedipus attack his own eyes? In the studies of infant development, the infant looks into his mother's eyes, depending upon her responses in order to feel at ease in the world. If the mother does not respond, the infant bursts into tears. Brazelton and others8 have demonstrated that a lack of response on the part of the mother produces first anger, then depression as the infant gives up and turns against the wall.  

     What is the mother responding (or not responding) to? Mothers are not likely to ever provide satisfactory answers. Clearly the infants can never tell us. As soon as the infant can look in the direction of his mother, she fantasizes what he sees, who he is, and who he will become. The infant responds to his mother's fantasies of how she appears to him, fantasies that ineluctably become a part of infant's world, and with respect to which he must get his bearings. Correspondingly the infant struggles to know what his mother is experiencing, and the infant's struggles are picked up consciously and unconsciously by his mother. In this way, the infant's responses contribute to the shaping of the mother's fantasies about him and about herself as a mother.9 

      By the time the infant is four or five months old, the mother already has a history of her fantasies about how she is being looked at by her child, and already has a history of her attempts to control how she is being seen so as to control her own feelings toward her child and toward herself. And by this time the infant has a stake in helping his mother feel as she wants to feel in relation to him. This is the infant's way of trying to make the world a safe place. 

     In short, on the basis of innate strivings the infant "invents" his mother at the same time as he "invents" himself and the world. Out of the bits and pieces of his interactions with her, using what he can understand (this includes what he can imagine) of his mother's values and fears as she relates to him, the child cobbles together a sense of himself and the world. And where his mother fails to provide the child with the necessary comfort and security, the child fantasizes the circumstances under which she might give him what he needs. The infant's sense of self thus includes both perceptions and fantasies of himself and his world, and of his mother. The inventions and fantasies of parent and child lay the groundwork for feelings and ideals of beauty, order, and well-being. Psychoanalysts have long spoken of the relation between idealization and shame. Shame can motivate children to idealize their parents, and shame can result if they cannot do so (i.e., by making parents better than they are). 

     When Oedipus blinds himself, he disappears from his own sight by making the world dark. Like Oedipus, those who cannot tolerate the shame of their injuries and grief doom themselves to cycles of shame, imposture, and rage. The angrier they become about their shame, the more flagrant will discrepancies between views and versions of who they are appear to them.10 And the more obsessed they will become with fantasies of appearance and anxiety over disappearing. 
 

     For a number of cultural and historical reasons in both the United States and in the West there is increasing anxiety about appearances, and there are, inevitably, cultural responses to such anxieties.11 Anxiety over appearance has often been related to photography and the media, to the world of fashion, public relations and image making, plastic surgery, bodybuilding, cosmetics, television, and all those means on which we rely to appear as we wish, to give ourselves the feeling that we control the way others see us. By controlling how we appear to others, we try to control how we appear (and feel) to ourselves. In one sense the dichotomies between public and private spheres of our lives may be said to depend upon culturally shared illusions of mastery, and these, in turn, upon appearances. Paradoxically, the very effectiveness of technology and medicine, the very power produced by painkilling drugs and anesthesia, contributes to illusions of power and permanence that hold at bay the fears of pain, helplessness, need, vulnerability, and shame required for responsive, responsible human interactions.  
 

     Some social theorists have suggested that shame is the social glue holding society together. In his classic study on the gift, which is implicitly a study in competition and appearance, Marcel Mauss, Emile Durkheim's nephew, speaks of shame and the loss of face for the Chinese, and American Indian of the northwest coast, the Kwakiutl, and Haida, for whom "to lose face is to lose one's spirit, which is truly the 'face,' the dancing mask, the right to incarnate a spirit and wear an emblem or totem."12 For some people and patients, it means losing the shape of an intelligible world13 and of one's own being, and therefore feeling annihilatory disorganization and isolation. For Mauss, what maintains "face" is, implicitly, the social bond, represented as what Mauss refers to as a "prestation," a mutual obligation, without which the individual disappears. 

     In their focus on individuals and on dyads, analysts try to understand how patients rely upon appearances and what this means. Naturally this includes both how they appear to their patients and how they wish to appear themselves. Unanalyzed shame in the analyst makes it difficult or impossible to interpret defensive shame spirals in the patient. Shame misunderstood or avoided contributes to destructiveness and grief in all human relations. 
 

     Seeing, Knowing, Image, and Appearance 

     Reliance upon appearances entails hiding whatever appearances one finds unacceptable, a reaction we associate with shame. Interestingly, the word shame is derived from the Indo-European root skam or skem, meaning "to hide." From this same root come our two words skin and hide. Just as the notion of "grace" designates a feeling that God approves of what he sees, the concept of "dis-grace" designates a feeling of disapproval, an experience that others--who have seen how we have disgraced ourselves--are looking on with contempt and scorn. 

     Since Plato, "seeing" has been used as a metaphor for understanding ("reflective" thinking), and has been strongly reinforced by cultural ideas of the imagination (derived from the same root as "image"), and by metaphors such as "the light of reason" or the "Enlightenment."14 In making the distinction between the visible and the invisible,15 Plato and those who followed him have been speaking not about what the eye actually sees, but rather about the imagination, or that faculty that allows us to "see." Plato's mind's eye sees only when it can imagine the ideals or essences in terms of which to make sense of perceptions, a point conveyed by the allegory of the cave in The Republic. For Plato, thinking and seeing are comparable processes; light and truth, therefore functionally equivalent.16 Along these same lines, Leonardo da Vinci believed that understanding comes to us through seeing and imagining. Leonardo's emphasis on the profound links between seeing, knowing, and the imagination, also a hallmark of Renaissance humanism, has not only influenced our artistic tradition,17 but simultaneously contributed to the rise of empiricism and to basic assumptions about scientific investigation and the nature of evidence.18 

     We can recognize the presence of appearance anxiety in debates over both the nature of perception and definitions of the mind/body problem. After Galileo, rationality and vision became peculiarly allied against bodily feelings (e.g., Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant). It became easier to put aside reverence for the human body as God's creation, and to focus more exclusively on yearnings for something pure and untainted by bodily confusion and mortality. After World War I Gestaltists reframed the mind/body problem by focusing on perception and the psychological process of closure.19 For any perception to be "significative" there must be a "ground" against which it can be perceived, and in that endeavor lie basic epistemological difficulties about which Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty disagreed all their lives. In Le Visible et l'Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes a phenomenology of the imaginary, of the hidden, of the invisible that would then be perceived as part of the phenomenology of what can be seen.20 

     Not surprisingly our Judeo-Christian tradition, which has always emphasized the eyes of the soul, has had similar difficulties with the problematic nature of seeing and being seen (e.g., the divine power of God's "all-seeing" eye, and the prohibition against looking that can be represented by the eye on our dollar bill). In ancient Judaism not only could one not look at the covenant, one was not supposed to know there was nothing in it. Taboos against graven images thus may be related to the wish to look and the vulnerability (the shame) of being humiliated in the eyes of God, whoever God is imagined to be. 
 

Oedipus, Shame, and the Void of Avoidance 

     As long as Oedipus can avoid his fate by seeing himself in the eyes of the admiring people of Thebes, as long as he can rely on others not to see what he cannot admit, he can continue to function.21 Far from being the king and savior of the Theban people, Oedipus is their scourge because of what he does not, and will not, see. Oedipus snuffs out the world by attacking his eyes; dishonored by being abandoned by his own parents, he becomes dishonorable by blindly attempting to defy fate. And the arrogance of his attempts to do so bring upon him the accusation of hubris, which is then associated with his downfall. But how could he not try to avoid a fate so horrible it would deprive him of any hope at all, and so condemn him to a position as insignificant pawn, as eviscerated and empty? 

     Within our Western tradition, ignorance, "not-seeing" is often felt to be a shameful indication of some basic flaw (e.g., Adam and Eve or Oedipus), and can be reinforced and further complicated by reliance upon someone else not to see what one does not want to acknowledge. Seen in this light, the emphasis on appearance in our culture serves to nourish the illusion that we can really control what others see and do not see of us. How much more comfortable to avoid having others see how little we know ourselves, to prevent others from seeing bits of us of which we are not aware, to disown and avoid what we do not see in ourselves, what others would not want to have us be, and what we cannot tolerate being. 

     The plight of Oedipus is ours. When we cannot bear our shame we too try to avoid or evacuate what we are ashamed of, and to ward off the humiliation of having been defeated in a conflict we could not understand. And when the confrontation with blindness to what others see and to what we know becomes unbearable, the result is horror, dread, rage, despair, and isolation, as it is for Oedipus. By disavowing what is shameful, our contemporary emphasis on appearance creates a void, which must be concealed all the more desperately, thereby doing profound violence to our confidence in who we are, and to our ability to see and to bear the pain and suffering inherent in the human condition. 


REFERENCES 

 
 

Adamson, Joseph (1997) Melville, Shame and the Evil Eye; a psychoanalytic reading. Albany: State University of New York Press.

------ (1999) ed. (with Hilary Clark). Scenes of Shame; psychoanalysis, shame and writing. Albany: State University of New York Press.

------ (1999) Guardian of the inmost me [In] Adamson and Clark (eds.). Scenes of Shame. 

Benedict, Ruth (1946) The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. New York: Houghton. 

Berenson, Bernard [1953 (1968)] Seeing and Knowing. London: Evelyn, Adams & Mackay. 

Bion, W. R. (1959) Attacks on linking. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 40:308-318. 

Bloomer, Kent C. and Moore, Charles W. (1977) Body, Memory and Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Bonnet, Gerard (1996) La violence de voir. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 

Brazelton, T. B., Koslowski, N., and Main, M. (1974) The Origins of Reciprocity.

    The early mother-infant interaction [In] M. Lewis and L. Rosenblum (eds.). The Effect of the Infant on Its Caregiver. New York: Wiley (pp. 49-76). 

Broucek, Frank (1991) Shame and the Self. New York: Guilford Press. 

Clair, Jean (1989) Meduse: contribution à une anthropologie des arts du visuel. Paris: Gallimard. 

Clark, Hilary (1999) Depression, shame and reparation; the case of Anne Sexton [In] Adamson and Clark (eds.). Scenes of Shame

Derrida, Jacques (1967) L'écriture de la difference. Paris: Seuil.

------ (1990) Memoires d'aveugle. Paris: Eds de la Réunion des musees nationaux. 

Devereux, George (1972) Ethnopsychanalyse complémentariste. Paris: Flamarion.

------ (1976a) From Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences. The Hague: Mouton.

------ (1976b) Dreams in Greek Tragedy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

------ (1980) Basic Problems in Ethnopsychiatry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Dodds, E. R. (1951) The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Doi, Takeo (1973) The Anatomy of Dependence. (trans. John Bester). Tokyo: KodanshaInternational. 

Ellison, Ralph (1990) The Invisible Man. New York: Random (Vintage). 

Ferenczi, Sandor (1926) Embarassed hands [In] The Selected Papers of Sandor Ferenczi. vol. 2, pp. 315-316. London: Hogarth Press.

------ (1927) Gulliver phantasies [In]

The Selected Papers of Sandor Ferenczi (1955). vol. 3, pp. 41-60. New York: Basic.

------[1933 (1955)] The confusion of tongues; the language of tenderness and passion. [In] Michael Balint (ed.). The Selected Papers of Sandor Ferenczi. vol 3. New York: Basic.

------[1985 (1988)] The Clinical Diary of Sandor Ferenczi (ed. Judith Dupont). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 

Fox, Richard P. (1998) Unobjectionable countertransference.

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 46(4):1067-1088. 

Freud, Sigmund [Standard Edition (1974). 25 vols. London: Hogarth Press.]

------ (1899) On Screen Memories. SE 3:301-322.

------ (1900-1901) The Interpretation of Dreams. SE 4-5.

------ (1914a) On Narcissism, an introduction. SE 14:73-102.

------ (1930) Civilization and Its Discontents. SE 21:64-145. 

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor. 

Gogol, Nikolai [1842a (1999)] The Nose, the Collected Tales of Nicolai Gogol (trans. Richard Peavear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Random (Vintage).

------[1842b (1999)] The Overcoat, The Collected Tales of Nicolai Gogol (trans. Richard Peavear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Random (Vintage).

------[1842c (1997)] Dead Souls (trans. Richard Peavear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Random (Vintage). 

Goldberg, Carl (1991) Understanding Shame. New York: Jason Aronson. 

Hawthorne, Nathanial [1850 (1993)] The Scarlet Letter. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Hegel, G. W. F. [1807 (1977)] Phenomenology of the Spirit (trans. A. V. Miller). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Kafka, Franz [1925 (1984)] The Trial. New York: Knopf.

------ (1971) The Hunger Artist [In] Natham Glazer (ed.).

Franz Kafka The Complete Stories. New York: Schoken. 

Kant, Immanuel [1790 (1978)] The Critique of Judgement (trans. James Meredith). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

------ [1781 (1896)] Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Max Muller). London: Macmillan.

------ (1977) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (trans, Paul Carus). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. 

Kilborne, Benjamin, (1987a) In memoriam: George Devereux.

Psychoanalytic Study of Society 11:1-14.

------ (1992a) Fields of shame; anthropologists abroad. Ethos 20(2): 230-253.

    ------ (1992b) Positivism and its vicissitudes: the role of faith in the social sciences. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 28(3): 352-370.

    ------ (1995a) Truths which cannot go naked; a review essay. Psychiatry 58:278-297.

    ------ (1995b) Of creatures large and small: psychic size, size anxiety, and the analytic situation. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 64: 672-690.

    ------ (1997) The hunting of the red-faced snark [In]

Melvin Lansky and Andrew Morrison (eds.). The Widening Scope of Shame. Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press.

------ (1998a) Ferenczi, regression and shame.

International Forum of Psychoanalysis 7:225-228.

------ (1998b) The disappearing who

[In] Joseph Adamson and Hilary Clark (eds.). Scenes of Shame: psychoanalysis, shame and writing. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    ------ (1999a) When trauma strikes the soul. American Journal of Psychoanalysis 59(4):385-403.

------ (1999b) Wrestling with Proteus. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 19(3): 362-372.

------ (2001) Shame deeper, deepest: shame in The Scarlet Letter (unpublished paper).

(2002) Disappearing Persons: shame and appearance. Albany: State University of New York Press.

      [2003a] Oedipal Shame (Guest Editor). American Journal of Psychoanalysis.

      (2003b) Oedipus and the Oedipal, American Journal of Psychoanalysis 

Kohut, Heinz (1971) The Analysis of the Self. New York: International Universities Press. 

Lacan, Jacques (1966) Écrits (trans. A. Sheridan). New York: Norton. 

Lansky, Melvin (1992) Fathers Who Fail. Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press.

------ (1996) Shame and suicide in Sophocles' Ajax. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 65:761-786.

------ (1997) (with Andrew Morrison, ed.). The Widening Scope of Shame. Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press. 

Lansky, Melvin and Morrison, Andrew (1997) The legacy of Freud's writings on shame [In] Melvin Lansky and Andrew Morrison (eds.). The Widening Scope of Shame. 

Leonardo Da Vinci (1938) The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci (ed. Edward MacCurdy). London: Macmillan.

------ (1945) The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (ed. A. E. Popham). New York: Harcourt.  

Lewis, Helen Block (1971) Shame and Guilt in Neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.  

Lewis, Michael (1992) Shame: the exposed self. Glencoe, Scotland: Free Press. 

Lynd, Helen (1958) On Shame and the Search for Identity. New York: Harcourt. 

Mauss, Marcel (1967) The Gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies (trans. Ian Cunnison). New York: Norton. 

Melville, Herman (1988) Moby Dick, or the Whale. Evanston Ill.: Northwestern University Press. 

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1964) Le visible et l'invisible. Paris: Tel. 

Miller, William (1993) Humiliation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

Milton, John (1640-1665) Paradise Lost.

------ (1640-1670) Samson Agonistes.

------ (1941) The Complete Poetical Works (ed. Harris Francis Fletcher). Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press. 

Morrison, Andrew (1989) Shame the Underside of Narcissism. Hillsdale, N.J.: Analytic Press.

------ (1996) The Culture of Shame. Hillsdale, N.Y.: Ballantine Books. 

Nathanson, Donald, ed. (1987) The Many Faces of Shame. New York: Guilford Press. 

Novick, K. K. and Novick, J. (1991) Some comments on masochism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 39:307-331.

------ (1992) Shame and Pride: affect, sex and the birth of the self. New York: Norton. 

Peristiany, J. B. (1965) Honour and Shame: the values of Mediterranean society.London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 

Piers, G and Singer, M [1953 (1971)] Shame and Guilt. New York: Norton. 

Pirandello, Luigi (1933) One, None and a Hundred Thousand (trans. Samuel Putnam). New York: Dutton.

------ (1952) Naked Masks; five plays by Luigi Pirandello (ed. Eric Bentley). New York: Dutton.

------ (1964) The Late Mattia Pascal (trans. William Weaver). London:

Andre Deutsch. 

Plato, The Collected Dialogues (1961) (eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntinton Cairns).

Princeton (Bollingen): Princeton University Press. 

Renik, Owen (1995) The ideal of the anonymous analyst and the problem of self-disclosure. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 64(2):466-495.

------ (1996) The perils of neutrality. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 65(3): 495-517.

------ (1998) The analyst's subjectivity and the analyst's objectivity. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 79:487-497. 

Rizzuto, Ana-Maria (1991) Shame in psychoanalysis: the function of unconscious fantasies. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 72:297-312. 

Rushdie, Salman (1983) Shame. New York: Knopf. 

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1964) Being and Nothingness (trans. Hazel E. Barnes). New York: Citadel Press.

------ (1975) The Emotions; outline of a theory. Secaucus, N.J.

------ (1983) Cahiers pour une morale. Paris: Gallimard. 

Schilder, Paul (1950) The Image and Appearance of the Human Body. New York: International Universities Press.

------ (1972) Psychoanalytic remarks on Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll [In] R. Phillips (ed.). Aspects of Alice. London: Gollanz.  

Scheff, Thomas and Retzinger, Susan (1991) Emotions and Violence. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books. 

Schneider, Carl (1977) Shame, Exposure and Privacy. Boston: Beacon. 

Sophocles (1957) "Oedipus Rex" (trans. John Morre). Sophocles II (eds. David Greene and Richmond Lattimore). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

------ (1957) "Philoctetes" (trans. David Green) Sophocles II (eds. David Greene and Richmond Lattimore). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

------ (1957) "Ajax" (trans. John Moore) Sophocles II (eds. David Greene and Richmond Lattimore). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Spitz, Rene (1950) Anxiety in infancy. a study of its manifestations in the first year of life. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 31.

------ (1957) No and Yes: on the genesis of human communication. New York: International Universities Press.

------ (1965) The First Year of Life. New York: International Universities Press. 

Starobinski, Jean (1961) L'oeil vivant. Paris: Gallimard. 

Swift, Jonathan [1726 (1967)] Gulliver's Travels. London: Penguin. 

Tisseron, Serge (1992) La Honte: psychanalyse d'un lien social. Paris: Dunod. 

Tomkins, Sylvan (1962) Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. vol. 1: The Positive Affects. New York: Springer.

------ (1963) Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. vol 2: The Negative Affects. New York: Springer.

------ (1991) Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. vol 3: The Negative Affects (Anger and Fear). New York: Springer. 

Tronick, Adamson, L, Wise, S., and Brazelton, T. (1978) The infant's response to entrapment between contradictory messages in face-to-face interaction. Journal of Child Psychiatry 17:1-13. 

Van der Velde, C. D. (1985) Body images of one's self and of others: developmental and clinical significance. American Journal of Psychiatry 142:527-537. 

Vernant, Jean-Pierre (1985) La mort dans les yeux. Paris: Hachette.

Weissman, S. (1977) Face to face: the role of vision and smiling response. Psychoanalysis Study Child 32:421-450. 

Williams, Bernard (1993) Shame and Necessity. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Winnicott, D. W. (1953) Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 34:89-97.

------ (1958) The capacity to be alone [In] The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press. 

Wollheim, Richard (1999) On the Emotions. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Wurmser, Leon (1981) The Mask of Shame. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.

------ (1987) Shame: the veiled companion of narcissism [In] Nathanson, Many Faces (pp. 64-92).

------ (1997) The shame about existing: a comment about the analysis of "moral" masochism [In] Lansky and Morrison (eds.). Widening Scope of Shame (pp. 367-382). 

Zimmer, Henri (1997) Corregio. New York Review of Books, September 25, 1997.


1 In this paper, adapted from the Introduction to my Disappearing Persons: shame and appearance (SUNY, 2002), I am drawing on a large literature on shame, including contributions by authors in a variety of fields. Building on the clinical work of H. B. Lewis (1971), Piers and Singer (1953), Wurmser (1981, 1987), Schneider (1977), and Tomkins (1962, 1963, 1991) on the one hand, and on the other hand socially oriented writers like Benedict (1946), Doi (1973), and Lynd (1958), writers of the last decade have vigorously explored the subject of shame from various perspectives. Morrison (1989, 1996) and Broucek (1991), adopting an approach inspired by self-psychology, have explored shame in its relation to narcissism, as protection against narcissistic wounding, and as the _expression of deficit and defect. Lansky (1992, 1996, 1997) has adopted a more clearly conflict-based approach informed by family dynamics. Rizzuto (1991) has explicitly emphasized unconscious conflict. M. Lewis (1992) has provided a useful overview. Nathanson (1987), following in the tradition of Tomkins, has emphasized shame as an individual product of biological hard-wiring. Bringing legal expertise to bear, Miller (1993) approaches shame as a socially constructed consequence of failed reciprocity. From philosophy come writers like Wollheim (1999), who focuses on the "so-called moral emotions"(a concept borrowed from eighteenth-century writers like Adam Smith) and Williams (1993), who emphasizes shame as a basis for responsibility and moral judgments. From literature Adamson (1997) takes up shame in the work of Melville (1988) and others, and Clark (1999) writes of Sexton's shame. From sociology, Goffman (1959) has written about the presentation of self in everyday life, and Scheff and Retzinger (1991) have stressed the social value of fears of exclusion (and shame over being excluded). Of the review essays on a range of books in different disciplines, see, for example, Kilborne 1995a, 1997. Several books in French are also worth noting, since the French bring yet another perspective to the subject. Clair in his work on the Medusa, Lacan with his work on the mirror stage, and the work of Bonnet and Tisseron. (Back to Main Text)


2 Shame-rage spirals are of fundamental importance in investigations of , and his uncanny abilities to grasp the intractable character of human tragedy were picked up by Aristotle in the Poetics. Since that time literary figures have drawn inexaustably on the tragic tradition. In my Disappearing Persons I make ample use of Pirandello, Milton, Swift, Caroll, Kafka, Gogol, Chekov and others, from whose sophistication and depth in describing shame dynamics we as analysts have a great deal to learn. In our American literary tradition figures of particular importance in describing shame dynamics include Melville, Hawthorn, and Ellison. Clearly shame-rage spirals are at work in Moby Dick.(Back to Main Text)
 

3 See, for example, the classic paper of Bion (1959) dealing with attacks on linking.(Back to Main Text)

4 See particularly my Disappearing Persons: shame and appearance. SUNY Press, 2002, and the forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Psychoanalysis of which I am guest editor on the subject of Oedipal shame.(Back to Main Text)


5 See, for example, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) in which Freud explains that because sexual and aggressive drives can override all other concerns, civilization depends upon guilt and repression. In this text, Freud holds that the socializing emotion in the face of aggression is guilt, and scarcely mentions shame and feelings of defeat at all. (Back to Main Text)


6 As should be clear implicitly, the literature on Object Relations is also indispensable for an understanding of shame dynamics, since one of the fundamental reactions to feeling ashamed (which always entails fear of being isolated and abandoned) is to want to hold onto to some transitional object in the Winnicottean sense. However, Object Relations theorists have tended to neglect the extent and intensity of shame conflicts. (Back to Main Text)


7 The subject of Oedipal shame has not, to my knowledge, been very well explored or as centrally related to the dynamics of Sophocles' plays as I believe it is. For an investigation of the concept, see Kilborne 2002 and Kilborne 2004. Oedipal shame has everything to do with failed competition, helplessness, omnipotence, and rage, dynamics often misperceived if approached in terms of the customary notions of Oedipal success and Oedipal failure.(Back to Main Text)


8 T. B. Brazelton. see Tronick, Wise, and Brazelton, 1978 and others (e.g., V. Demos, 1993)(Back to Main Text)


9 Not only do mother and child imagine seeing when they look, smelling when they smell, but they use cross-sensory fantasies: when they see, they imaging listening, when they hear, imagine touching, when they touch, imagine smelling, and so forth. See, for example, Brazelton, Koslowski, and Main (1974), Novick and Novick (1991, 1992), and Weissman (1977). The work of Spitz (1950, 1957, 1965) remains a baseline.(Back to Main Text)


10  Merleau-Ponty (1964) and the phenomenologists in general attempt an analysis of self-experience that by definition defies Cartesian logic. The methods they use rely upon Hegel's notions of negation and dialectic. Hegel (1807) and Sartre (1964, 1975, 1983) both explicitly deal with self-consciousness as a feeling and not simply as "objective" knowledge; both aim at describing phenomena underlying rationalization; both aim at analyzing interpersonal processes by casting aside the usual logical formulas; and both believe that truth belongs to what is known of the self not in isolation (e.g., Kant, 1781, 1790), but rather in relationship to others. However, both tend to reduce the irrational to something rationally comprehensible. "It is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion," quipped Twain.(Back to Main Text)


11 See, for example, Kilborne (1992a). It is natural for one who looks to want to "not see," to "not know" that he is seen to be looking, since emotions are far more difficult to describe than behaviors. In psychoanalysis, one current trend has been pursued by Renik (1995, 1996, 1998) and others. Renik has sought to describe the "perils of neutrality" making much the same point as Devereux (1972, 1976, 1980) about the necessary and inevitable effects of observer on the observed. Speaking of unobjectionable countertransference, Fox (1998) and others have widened the field of inquiry.(Back to Main Text)


12 Mauss (1967, p. 38). (Back to Main Text)


13 Sandor Ferenczi, Freud's analysand, colleague and friend, has written movingly about the dynamics of shame as they relate to trauma and feelings of profound disorganization and helplessness. It is he who speaks of the importance of "the shape, size and significance" of one's self, which can be splintered by unbearably traumatic childhood (and adult) experiences. In his correspondence with Freud, as well as in a number of his writings, his emphasis on shame and vulnerability contrasts with Freud's emphasis on guilt and mastery.(Back to Main Text)


14 Derrida writes, "Toute notre philosophie est une photologie. La metaphore de l'ombre et de la lumière (de se montrer et de se cacher) (est) la métaphore fondatrice de la philosophie occidentale comme metaphysique." "All our philosophy is a photology. The metaphor of shadow and light (revealing and hiding) is the fundamental metaphor of Occidental philosophy as metaphysics" (1967, p. 45) [my translation]. Generally speaking, there is far more literature on looking in French than there is in English. Derrida was given free reign by the Louvre to organize an exhibition (Memoires d'aveugle) in 1990-1991 that yielded a catalogue (1990). One of the best-known French texts on the subject of blindness is that of Diderot, Lettres aux aveugles à l'usage de ceux qui voient (Letters to the blind for those who see). Two other works that come to mind are those of Vernant (1985) in Classics and Starobinski (1961) in Literature. The blindness of Oedipus is all the more striking since it has as its foil the prophecy of the blind Teiresias, who knew but could not see.(Back to Main Text)


15 For the essence of Plato's theories of the visible and the invisible, see the Phaedo, pp. 79ff. and the Republic, pp. 6.509dff. (Back to Main Text)


16 When "seeing is believing" (a basic assumption of certain skeptical positions) our Greek rationalist (Platonic) tradition converges with our Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g., the light of God) in reinforcing the connections between seeing and understanding. Specifically, when Plato (e.g., The Republic) distinguishes between "the visible" and the "intelligible," the processes of sight and insight remain conceptually comparable. Berenson observes, "representation is a compromise with chaos whether visual, verbal or musical" (1953, p. 27). (Back to Main Text)


17 Painters like Correggio, following in Leonardo's tradition, sought to make the invisible visible. As Zimmer (1997) has recently written, Correggio "had the perseverance as well as the genius needed to make a fictitious world of dreams seem real." Zimmer refers to Correggio's painting of Io (now in Vienna) in which as a cloud Jupiter embraces a nymph "It makes you feel that you actually see the impossible happen in front of you."(Back to Main Text)


18 The nature of evidence is a highly complex and fascinating subject. What constitutes evidence in various fields, and why? How is evidence judged in, for example, courts of law, in opinion polls, in economic analyses, in microbiology, and in psychoanalytic writing? Devereux (1976a) has explored ways in which our perceptions of scientific problems in the social sciences affect social theories. One of the ideas I adumbrate (Kilborne 1992b) deals with the role of faith in the social sciences. Perceptions, beliefs, , and values obviously influence observation, a fact 8illustrated by the Russian saying: "he lies like an eyewitness. Speaking of the visual arts, Berenson writes that they combine what we see and what we know (and also what we don't see and what we don't know) (1953, p. 37).(Back to Main Text)


19 But a useful question to ask is, closure of what? Here it would appear that the "what" (whatever it is) is a sense of bodily self organized around some fantasized center (see, e.g., Bloomer and Moore, 1977, pp. 39ff.). Beginning just before the First World War, the Berlin school of Gestalt (form) psychologists demonstrated that our rational perception takes place against a background of irrational experiences tending to "organize" what we perceive in ways of which we are not conscious.(Back to Main Text)


20 "Faire une phénomenologie de l'autre monde comme limite d'une phénomenologie de l'imaginaire et du 'caché'. Quand je dis donc que tout visible est invisible, que la perception est imperception, que la conscience a un "punctum caecum," que voir c'est toujours voir plus qu'on ne voit--il ne faut pas le comprendre dans le sens d'une contradiction. Il ne faut pas se figurer que j'ajoute au visible . . . un non-visible. Il faut comprendre que c'est la visibilité même qui comporte une non-visibilité" (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, p. 300). [I strive] to make a phenomenology of the other world as the limit of the phenomenology of the imaginary, of the hidden. When I say that everything that's visible is invisible, that perception is imperception, that consciousness has a puctum caecum, that to see is always to see more than one sees--one must not understand this as a contradiction. Do not imagine that I am adding to the visible something not visible. Rather it is visibility itself that includes nonvisibility. [my translation](Back to Main Text)


21 Consider the image of Justice with a blindfold. Might the conflicts hidden by the blindfolds of Justice arise from conflicting claims of reason and of the heart? What of the blindness of Love? If both love and justice are imagined to be sightless, then of what use is reason? Perhaps love is blind to the defects of the individual in question, saving the loved one from the shame of feeling flawed (and the lover from the shame of loving one who is flawed).(Back to Main Text)

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Benjamin Kilborne "Shame and the Tragic Situation". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. December 15, 2009. Available http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/kilborne-shame_and_the_tragic_situation. June 3, 2003 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: May 31, 2003, Published: June 3, 2003. Copyright © 2003 Benjamin Kilborne