Presented at the Gandhi: The person and his Philosophy National seminar of the ips, March 2019
Gandhiji is at the street corners on bird-shit covered pedestals, in the names of train stations that have, as of yet, remained unchanged, of roads well-travelled, of parks that fight hopelessly against the trash he sought to clear, of universities that teach how to spin a different yarn, on government office walls-bearing with a toothy grin-all that goes on below, and even on the currency note in memoriam to his anal character -his stubbornness, orderliness and of course his preoccupation with faeces. He is everywhere. Omnipresent in impotence. Even on days dedicated to talking about him. Over the years I have heard stories of him, seen him in biopics, heard his tremulous voice firmed with conviction but strangely have no memory of reading him. My consciousness is suffused with his ideas of Satyagrha, Ahimsa, Swarajya. His political actions; Dandi March, protests, jail terms, fasts, the train ride across the length and breadth of India and his death. His character traits; a tenaciousness, shrewdness, and his wicked sense of humour. And despite not practicing anything of what he stood for, the guilt inducing idealisation exists.
So how do I separate the man from the great man? Separate Mohandas Gandhi from Mahatma Gandhiji. Hive him off me so I can look at him objectively, study him, understand him maybe. Without the troubling feeling of arrogance that comes with objectification, of the subject-object relationship. Or maybe I don’t need to do that. Maybe I can absolve myself of this anxiety inducing burden? Through some magical identification process. What if I gave him his own voice? A voice informed by a psychoanalytic framework. Through which to speak with us. After all, much like the prolific Freud, he too was “in search of what he called Truth...constantly trying to explain it all to himself and others” (Gandhi, 2002, p. x), through his writings and conversations that fill a hundred volumes. Freud found his Truth, however manipulated, through his dreams. One that eventually lead to the discipline of psychoanalysis. I believe Gandhi first glimpsed his Truth through the terror he experienced at the hands of the colonials in South Africa. A Truth that drove him in his fight for India’s freedom. But would this identification be an exercise in my narcissism, or would it connect me to “the seeker after truth...so humble himself that even the dust could crush him” (Gandhi, 2018, p. 15)? So far all I seem to have for my introjections is only a weak stomach. And none of the discipline, courage or faith. Nevertheless, let me soldier on. The Mahatma would have wanted nothing less.
In a psychoanalytic conference I don’t think there could be a better format than a narrative, that picks a moment in time, for raising questions that have been dogging me for a while now. Given the shortened session time a biography is, thankfully, out of the question. Besides which there are far too many out there already. And they seem to be attracting dust and not eyeballs. I must admit I have leafed through a few of these. To remember who I was. To understand how I was remembered. I will not comment on those written by others. But my own, I must admit reluctantly, dry, pedantic stuff. Earnest though. Honest, I think. Although maybe a bit too eager to be truthful. Not real literature of course. But remember those were different times. And my purpose was different. An attempt to connect with my people. A catharsis. To look at myself from the outside. And jail terms do take the phansiful prose, poetry and rhythm out of one. Replacing them with staccato days that turn into nights filled with omnipotent hope and wild despair. Hopefully, some of you, who have read my autobiography, have already noticed the difference in writing style here. Another experiment. To keep up with the times. An attempt at keeping sentences short. Apparently, attention spans even among those trained to listen are severely limited. Though, I do want to rid myself of the Macaulay English or ideally be rid of English entirely. But alas! Even after 70 years of freedom, we seem to dwell in the alienating Imaginary. An Image of our selves divorced from our reality. Language, even our “mOther’s tongue” is the Other for all of us are born into a “linguistic universe” (Fink, 1995, pp. 5-7). The early cries of the child are interpreted and given meaning by parents “who attempt to name the pain…(e.g. “she must be hungry”)” (Fink, 1995, p. 6). Language speaking the subject. Casting in stone the experience of the body. An act that moulds the very desire of the infant making it that of the Other. An alienation from the completeness of our basic nature. If our mother-tongue is thus a foreign body thrust upon us, what is the level of alienation an insidious English can perpetuate? And yet we persist today. Is this a phylogenetic disposition towards self-castration? Or is it a mature ego driven recognition of current reality? I am eager to listen to your perspectives.
Rajaji says I was “starved for good conversation” (Mehta, 2013). He probably means that people idealised me. Never a great context for Truth seeking. So, maybe, this conversation is an opportunity for yet another experiment with Truth. After all isn’t the purpose of psychoanalysis an evolution towards it (Truth). One, I believe, I left incomplete because of “the evil passions within that keep me so far from HIM” (Gandhi, 2018, p. 16). Although, I must be candid, I do have some misgivings about your abilities to be open to it. Why? Indian psychoanalysis traces its origins to the pioneering spirit of a Girindrasekhar Bose. A person to be admired for his rejection of defining one’s worth through a western education. But it also includes the hostility of Berkeley-Hill and Daly who “saw psychoanalysis as a state-of-the-art therapeutic device and hoped to introduce it with minor modifications into India as a partial cure for the worst affliction Indians suffered from-Indianness” (Nandy, 2000, pp. 95-99). Then there is the idealisation I sense. An Echo, for the progenitor of the discipline. For his ideas, theories and no doubt for his prejudices too. Especially regarding his rather derisive view of the “oceanic feeling” (Freud, 1989, p. 723) as a regressive state of limitless narcissism. A view I find ill-considered for a discipline that purports to study the mind in all its states. Especially of one such as this which many consider as the pinnacle of human development and “a biological imperative that drives us from the moment we are born” (Andrew Newberg, 2017, p. 15). I find the reason for this mystifying. Could it be that Freud the scientist, the rationalist was unwilling to move beyond science’s narrow prisms which are “not yet equal to the task of accommodating psychoanalysis” (Fink, 1995, p. 140)? Could it be his need to always consider a material foundation, despite his formulation of the Unconscious, the seat of motivation, as the container within which psychic reality takes precedence over external reality? Could it be his distaste for religion that he considered a neurosis and the residue of a primitive stage in man’s history? But no matter, I will not let his views beat me into silence. Instead, I will take support both, from the fact that Tagore, a man I admired much despite our differences, was appreciative of psychoanalytic thought, and from the generosity of your carving out an entire two days to remember me. Further, I have long believed in language as therapeutic. My daily outpourings are a testimony to that. And while there is no turning away from Freud, such is the breadth and genius of his ideas, I will take my place within a more radical Lacanian framework, with its concepts of the Real, Imaginary, Symbolic and Jouissance. One within which my Indian mind senses faint echoes of the sublimity of the Gita.
Trauma! That is the trigger event for psychoanalysts. Life emerges from the trauma of birth. And sets the prototype for every other possibility. For Lacan trauma is one of the faces of the Real. The Real is what comes “before the letter, before words” (Fink, 1995, p. 24) b. And before language obfuscates it. Hides it from view. It cannot be symbolised. It is the undifferentiated fabric of non-existence from which existence emerges, is carved out. Woven in such a way as to be “full everywhere, there being no space between the threads that are its stuff.” (Fink, 1995, p. 24). It is the infant before its body “comes under the sway of the Symbolic order” (Fink, 1995, p. 24); all that conditions it. Claiming it. Bringing it into existence. Placing it within a socially constructed reality. Aided by the infant’s desire for coherence, unity as a defence against the feelings of disintegration. The Real is before the “mirror stage” (Lacan, 2006, p. 93) in which the infant takes as himself the Image in the mirror, real or metaphorical-the eyes of the mother. A whole being. A specious integrity. An unholy lie. Useful, no doubt. Delivering hope where there is fragmentation. But in reality, it is a splitting giving rise to the incompleteness of a divided self. To an experience of non-being and lack. Paradoxical boundaries; That contain, even as they limit; That castrate even as they protect; That give life even as they obscure Truth.
Imagine a 24-year-old England returned lawyer on his way to another country. An escape from the disappointment of several professional failures, borne of both inability and an adherence to scruples. But one who believes his English degree entitles him to a first-class berth. Imagine this 24-year-old becoming the talk of the town in a few days of his arrival in SA. For fighting the might of the empire and winning to keep his turban on. And then earning, through patience and a shrewd understanding of his suspicious and doubtful patron, the trust to represent him at a court in another city. What you have is one whose faith in himself, in his specialness, though temporarily beaten, never left him. On the contrary it was now further strengthened. Now imagine his bodily removal for occupying what he was entitled to, followed by a merciless pummelling. Yes, there was humiliation felt within the context of the Image. But the abject helplessness went deeper. Provoking an unnameable terror that rendered me immobile even as it seemed to fuel the large looming man into a greater frenzy. It was the terror of total annihilation in the depths of my being and reflected in the face of the aggressor. I felt myself disintegrate. Return to the terrifying moment of birth. Fragment into a thousand little pieces like a mirror smashed in rage. Held together only by the violence of the Other as each fist pushed me further into the dark bottomless and strangely liberating abyss. But in that moment when I felt the veil descend, drape itself like a shroud, I sensed the warmth of gossamer threads, like the web of a spider, envelop me. Each thread a memory that clung to me, embracing me, holding me to its bosom. There was my mother that gentle sacrificing woman whose reparative love was embedded in my DNA together with the thorny guilt, I carried, of not nursing my father in his dying moments. My father, a redeeming love dripping from his eyes on reading my confession of theft. The love of my brother that sent me to England even as he struggled to make ends meet. The power and strength of my guru’s Lakshman Rekhas that held me together through my stay in that foreign land. And intertwined with these regenerative warps of a conscience formed “in the first year of life through identification with the nurturer” (Carveth, 2013, p. 20) came others. Inextricable wefts of the harsh Superego that represents the “ethical standards of mankind” (Freud, 1989, p. 37) and manifests as a soul numbing self-reproach. Of being denied support from the state for my education. Of being excommunicated by my sanctimonious narrowminded community for traveling abroad. Of being bodily thrown out by an acquaintance from England who sat unforgivingly in his position of power. Of wanting to commit suicide to escape social constraints. Of my cowardice and terror in the face of an overwhelming force.
Floodgates opened releasing this spirit regenerating glue that with infinite patience and compassion pieced together the fragments of my shattered self. Making me almost whole again. Enabling me to muster enough strength to hold on to the bar and look at the aggressor with a defiance laced with curiosity. A defiance that refused to avoid reality, to blind itself to the hatred, aggression and violence that was directed at me, and lived in me. To enable a movement through which “the subject comes into being as a form of attraction toward and defence against a primordial overwhelming experience of what the French call Jouissance: ” (Fink, 1995, p. xii). An intensity of exquisite sensation. Not bound by pleasure and therefore without limits. A temporary transgression of the laws that bind the socially constructed human. Beyond sin and virtue. Beyond desire and loathing. Beyond pleasure and pain. But encompassing both in the same way as a birthing mother does. A moment beyond the castration by language. Shattering the neurotic confines of man’s inflicted morality. Beyond the desire shaped by the Other an on to the path to subjectivization. In which the Other’s desire becomes one’s own. Through which one becomes the master of one’s own destiny. From a victim of fate to “I saw, I heard, I acted” (Fink, 1995, p. xiii). But this ‘I’ is not the individual that capitalism has so neatly carved out for domination. Nor conscious thought. Nor the distortion we call the ego, the Image created in the mirror-stage through the desire of the Other, and the location of our narcissistic fixation. On the contrary the I, the subject is only assumed. A signifier from the outside by the observer to make understanding possible. More appropriately described using the French word “ne, literally ‘not’” (Fink, 1995, p. 39). The subject as ‘Not I’. A fleeting irruption of the Unconscious. From within which emerges a knowledge, an awareness of the cracks in the Mirror. Bringing with it an understanding of repression. To prevent me from knowing the Truth that I had vowed to follow, like Harischandra my ideal, through every ordeal. It was a moment of liberation. I was not the Image. Neither the one the British sought to create nor the one pieced together by my own people. Not as a revelation from some force above. But a recognition. A remembrance. A deconstruction. Of the ego. Of the Image. And with that for the first time I glimpsed the inexpressible Truth. A moment of oneness. Beyond the Symbolic. Beyond the narcissism of the Image. Not as some psychotic breakdown of boundaries to some regressive state as Freud believed, and some analysts still do despite the evidence that neuroscientists have researched extensively. With it came the knowledge that the search for Truth was a subjective endeavour that mandated non-violence because violence splits, divides, fragments. Emanates from a sadistic death wish. From the false idea that we are the Image. A million myriad reflections in the Mirror deluding us into a cohesive whole. A coverup. A shunning of the Truth. That disassociates us from the experience in and of the body, of an engagement with our intrinsic reality. Divorces us from the Real. Manufacturing an alienation and a narcissism. Making this Truth a space from within which to reimagine the myth of Narcissus. Not as an individual obsessed with his Image but as one eager to escape the Echo that is constantly defining him. Eagerly looking for the cracks in the mirror through which to slip away. Towards a collaborative, creative, happier and more satisfied sense of being as discovered in conversations with over two thousand people and through their “brain scans” (Andrew Newberg, 2017, p. 4). All of which tell a story, not of a narcissistic regression but one in aid of the development of subjectivity, “of connectedness and purpose that gives life meaning and fulfilment” (Andrew Newberg, 2017, p. 69) expressed in improved relationships to people and work. An experience that finds an echo in the “significant changes we see in the thalamus” (Andrew Newberg, 2017, p. 62), and a decreased activity in the parietal lobe, the seat of spatial orientation and language processing.
It was a moment of penetrating clarity which brought with it the realisation the aggressor was not a man, not an individual. It was the Other, the Symbolic Order. Embodied in an empire that used psychoanalysis to understand and control its subjects better. Collecting dreams from across the colonies in a vain attempt to prove the superiority of the civilised colonial mind and the savagery of a primitive colonised one. A racist initiative that despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, was clung to by the colonists and ignored by psychoanalysts for disproving their many pet theories; The Oedipal complex, not as a father-son conflict but as one against the stifling, repressive and unjust empire; Sexual development that neither experienced a latency period nor a fascination with excretory functions. Projections of “status anxieties, sexual hang-ups, and feelings of insecurity” (Linstrum, 2017) backed by so violent and oppressive a regime that their affects exist even after so many years of independence. An empire built on and drawing its strength from selfishness and materialism. Keen to define me and my fellow Indians through the raw demonstration of power. Knees bent at the “mercy of language, at the mercy of the symbolic order” (Fink, 1995, p. 11), that constructed our very bodies as Coolies, bearers of a physical, emotional and a psychic burden; weak, dirty, uncivilised needing to be saved from ourselves. Filling us with fear and self-disgust. Aggression turned inward. Casting us in a perpetual violent “Lack” (Lacan, 2006, p. 524) of non-being. Bodies without passion. Neither love nor hate. Numb with desires misaligned with self-interest. A restrictive set of patterns that were all meant to serve the empire. Us the subjects in constant homage to them the rulers. Making the Image a site of pain and un-wholeness. With the fantasy of redemption possible only through identification with the oppressor. Their clothes, mannerisms, education, religion, roles in life and a cognition of them as manly bearers of the white man’s burden. An arrogant race eager to become the God in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. There flashed in my mind’s eye my, thankfully, unsuccessful attempts at becoming British during my stay in England. Just as, in the not-so-distant future, I would be witness to the less successful of my people; The royalty that was forced to parade in a finery they despised. Unsmiling clowns in a grotesque pantomime. In a macabre dance of death.
As the curtain came down on this direct experience of Truth, I grasped desperately to hold on to something of its ephemeral vision. It was futile. But not hopeless. For I had been marked. I had bitten from the apple. There were residues seared across my psyche. Imprints from which I could draw succour even in my darkest moments. But work would need to be done to keep the memory alive. A Himalayan effort. That would require the support of the Symbolic to unshackle the chains of reality of another Symbolic order. An effort to deconstruct an introjected foreign body to bring me closer to the skin I was born with. Closer to the Real. To my Truth. For it to be able to speak to power. To discard, throw off, the mantle of slavery the Indian mind had been suffocated by. Words and actions would need to emerge from within the collective Indian Unconscious. Based on its cultural motifs, contexts, and reference points. Narcissus would need to be replaced by a fearful and confused Duryodhana mercilessly mocked, in the palace built by Maya. Michelangelo’s God, arrogantly created in man’s image, would need to be subsumed within the infinite possibilities emerging from the darkness of Krishna. The scorching fury of guilt and the inevitable Christian hell would need to be exchanged for the dispassion of the Gita’s Self. The punitive Superego would need to be transformed into a more benign and co-created Swarajya. The voracious greed for consumption, dominion would have to be counteracted through fasting and non-cooperation. Clothes that attempted to dress us up like mannequins in a dollar shop would need to be replaced by Swadeshi, the simplicity of khadi spun at home, gently freeing the Indian body from the grip of a rapacious and nihilistic British Capitalism. Law as a controlling force, demanding obedience and subservience, would need to be replaced by an individually sought-after spirituality, practiced through Satyagraha, “love in action”. The rage of a traumatised people would no longer be repressed by a suffered, despondent passivity turned inwards but acted out in the filling up of jails. A symbolic show of incarceration that would shock and awaken the conscience of the global community. Wilful acts of rebellion that would refuse to feed the Lack and violence, experienced` within. A resounding, unequivocal ‘No’ not to the actual father but to the British empire that constantly gave life to this Lack. But at the heart there would be non-violence. Ahimsa, unconditional love. Not as a tactic but as an art. Not realised in some remote mountain monastery. But in the thick of life. Of conflict. Of hatred. In the service of the Other and Self. Practiced with a contradictory ruthlessness on the Image. On the illusion. To demolish it. Break it to a will that belongs, is beholden, to a Truth that demands much. No subterfuge, no secrets, no repression. Complete and honest revelation. No idealisation. I tried. To enable people to understand this. By coaxing, nay forcing, them, to work with, as I willingly did, the rawness of each other’s bodies.
And yet, despite my single mindedness, I failed! To attain Moksha. Enlightenment. Personal liberation. Why? It is a question that plagues me night and day. Why after that one glimpse, that breach in the discourse of the Unconscious from which the Real emerged as the subject, did I never feel the oneness again? Did I desire it too much? Did desire make me impervious to everything else? Was it a mirage I had dreamed up as a defence against the utter annihilation and terror I had felt? Or did my desire mirror the “surplus value” (Fink, 1995, p. 96) created through the British exploitation of India and siphoned off to make rich their own country while ostensibly seeking to bring civilization to the natives. Was then my desire nothing but “surplus enjoyment” (Fink, 1995, p. 96) the entity that always remains hidden beneath the surface; the product or a profit that can’t be seen. Was it concealed in the seduction of the many to become my secretaries, my followers, the keepers of my memoirs? Was it in a desire for power, for revenge, for adulation? Was it in the nationalism Tagore referred to as “pugnacious” and stemming from the “business instincts of patriotism” (Gandhi, 2018)? Did I revel in becoming the Oedipal father I was intent on getting rid of? Did I get wedded, begin to enjoy the idea of being a Mahatma? Did I become part of, an unwitting contributor to the prevalent discourse, as recent conversations around my racism suggest? Was I too focused on freedom in and not off the world? Were my passions merely repressed rather than controlled? Was it the natural desire for homosexuality, supressed by a vapid Victorian morality, despite the belief in revealing all? Or the desire for youth that I surrounded myself with? Did my ruthlessness lead to a mere displacement of instincts rather than a liberating sublimation? Did it become a conceited high ground that invited idealisation? Did I constantly attempt to construct from memory a desire for another spirit destroying and uplifting trauma through the violence my political actions invited? Was my obsession with non-violence an escape into fantasy, an avoidance of psychic reality? Or had I reached the essence of my being and all that was needed was an identification with it. An acceptance. Did I instead, foolishly, try to bring Jouissance down to the level of language and worse still in acting it out?
Where, in the Mirror, did I leave residues I could not free myself from? Where in the cracks was the Image kept safe? Where was the Lack hidden?
Maybe you can shed some light?
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