BACK INTO THE OCEAN  

Music, identification, and the oceanic feeling


I.  Oceanic Beloved

To write a life is, for a journalist like William Finnegan, to recount a life that has already been lived. One of Freud’s greatest contributions to our ways of describing lives is his discovery that in recounting it to another person the story of one's life becomes indistinguishable from the living itself, lives not being lived until they have been told to someone else.  We free associate, Adam Phillips suggests in his fourth life-story to date, Becoming Freud (2014), to find out about the life that we have otherwise only technically, supposedly, been living; analytic patients “tell the story of their lives by saying whatever comes into their heads” (p. 6).  Finnegan can clearly write and has written about countless lives embroiled in the brutal struggles, the histories-in-the-making, of many of the most troubled and dangerous regions on the geopolitical map in his long and storied career at The New Yorker, but he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for a book about one of his own lives, “A Surfing Life,” the life lived before and between those perilous, journalistic beats; a life of chasing perfect waves, reading the breaks and tides for news of the day’s fate, for moments of fleeting yet unmistakable divinity in the hollows of aquatic, tubular rushes.  This life-telling reveals to Finnegan and his reader (as it did to Freud and his) that there are other lives, more living, in the telling of one’s life than one knows at the outset; that the life conjured up in this telling, the life in the ear of the analyst, who Phillips designates “a new kind of attentive listener” (17) always has more to it than the story one thinks is being told.  What is intended, and brilliantly succeeds, as a document of a surfing life becomes, I want to suggest, two other lives as it is told to its attentive analyst-reader. The first is an oceanic life; the second is a life spent with other men, a life of male companionship. (Finnegan is nearly always romantically paired with a woman throughout the life he records, but she is rarely in the water with him.)

Finnegan’s life, or the life that he relates in Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (2015), is little more, and needs be nothing more, than a glorious archive of waves, and the surfers with whom he shared them.  These men, almost always identified by a single name, are discussed as frequently as the waves themselves; each companion sets the tone for the months or years or life-era they spend together.  (An exception is a man called Bryan Di Salvatore, who gets a last name and is pictured with the author on the jacket cover.) And while Finnegan uses words like “domesticity” and “sensuality” rather than “love” to describe these relationships, the strength of the bonds is unmistakable and, at times, beyond language altogether.  When Finnegan looks back at his mate after catching a particularly sublime surf, the latter’s raised fist is the maximum volume of acknowledgement offered, lest he intrude on the privacy, the hallucinosis, of what Finnegan at one point calls “touching God.” Whenever the mates separate, when their surfing life together is torn apart by those other lives they are writing — starting families, building careers, losing parents — they continue their shared living by post; each section of the book is in fact substantially constituted by these now-retrieved correspondences, the writers’ dedication to which easily recalls Freud’s own epistolary devotion.  In fact, I would like to explore the ways in which Finnegan’s intended, surfing life-story was substantiated by these two unintended lives (the ocean life and the life of male companionship), and what these two other lives might have to do with one another, by suggesting that the same could be said of Freud. “There are a few men,” Freud writes in the opening sentences of his late work, Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930), “uneasiness in the culture” (better known, through Strachey's curious translation, as Civilization and Its Discontents),

from whom their contemporaries do not withhold admiration, although their greatness rests on attributes and achievements which are completely foreign to the aims and ideals of the multitude...One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded — as it were, ‘oceanic.’ (64)

The oceanic feeling, which features prominently in this opening chapter (and nowhere else in Freud’s writing), is summoned as a representation of boundlessness, feeling which has no limit, an endlessly renewable resource.  Freud is possessed by this turn of phrase; it leaves him “no peace,” he tells the French writer Romain Rolland (the ‘exceptional man’ who calls Freud ‘friend’) in a letter requesting permission to use the term ‘oceanic feeling’ in his book.  Freud is in some sense disturbed; the phrase itself triggers a kind of signal anxiety, at least enough to subject it to some distancing, defensive process; no sooner does Freud introduce the term than he asserts, “I cannot discover this oceanic feeling in myself” (65).  Taking this assertion at face value is difficult if for no other reason than how beautifully Freud writes precisely about this category of feeling-experience. After all, what are the laws of the unconscious — condensation, timelessness, non-negation, etc. — if not a recipe for boundlessness?  What is transference if not a dipping of one’s toe in the semi-permeability of selfhood, the watery depths of otherness? Or to pose the question another way: What happened to Freud’s oceanic feeling? And why does he write an essay about it to introduce a book about uneasiness, from which it henceforth disappears?  Freud’s reader, or a Freudian reader, may perceive, as it were, anxiety talking, an anxiety about the implications for pathology that Freud associated with this part of himself, the part of himself that, among other things, makes deep contact with other people, and in particular with fellow men. “[T]oward the outside, at any rate,” he continues on the next page,

the ego seems to maintain clear and sharp lines of demarcation. There is only one state—admittedly an unusual state—in which it does not do this. At the height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt away. (66)

Freud is claiming that in a particular state, “the height of being in love,” that precious apex, the ego transcends its own limits, mere moments after declaring that he cannot find this feeling in himself. Surely Freud is not declaring that he has never experienced this “admittedly…unusual state”; his copious letter-writing to his wife, Martha Bernays — to say nothing of their copious copulating (six children in 8 years) — are indications to the contrary, for starters, to say nothing of the knowingness with which he wrote extensively about the subject.  Yet if both of his assertions hold, along with the most basic tenets of his metapsychology, we are left to conclude that in the writing of this passage Freud’s lover-self is being kept out of his awareness; that he is, as it were, resisting. (“Let me admit once more that it is very difficult for me to work with these almost intangible quantities,” adds too insistently the author of none other than The Interpretation of Dreams, the inventor of no-touching medicine.)  Something threatening, some uneasiness, is being circumnavigated as it appears and emerges from the depths, not quite breaking the surface.

In the third act of David Cronenberg’s (2011) stirring film, A Dangerous Method, Freud joins his most famous one-time companion, Carl Jung, on the balcony of the ship they are taking to America to lecture on psychoanalysis, pitch-black waves lapping against the side of the boat.  Freud is reminded of a dream from the previous night which he starts to report to Jung before stopping abruptly. Jung invites him to continue, Freud demurs. “I cannot risk my authority,” he replies dejectedly.  (The men do not appear together onscreen for the rest of the film.) In Cronenberg’s vision, it is fruitfully unclear which of them is put at risk by this temptation to dream-tell, for whose benefit Freud is apparently restraining himself.  Part of what is being negotiated between these companions at sea is the relationship between psychoanalysis as a form of asymmetrical dream-telling and psychoanalysis as a form of accompanied dream-making. [“A good place to dream,” Freud (1899) writes in a letter to Fleiss while vacationing on the beach.]  And while Freud takes no issue with the proposition that the oceanic feeling, in all of its aqueous comforts and horrors, is essentially a memory-trace from infant mental life — the mother having been experienced, as Winnicott later elaborated, as an unbounded extension of the infant’s special or specific action, a consequence of one’s imagination — he does not apparently allow himself to be aware of any such remnants of this early feeling in himself, let alone to engage creatively with such aspects of his own psychical life, an activity he preferred to do alone.

What Freud does make clear before he ends this remarkable opening chapter is the primacy of this authority-bound restraint, the absolute imperative of this parental limit (which Lacan would  eventually call the paternal metaphor) in the structuring of psychical life.

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for the father’s protection. Thus the part played by the oceanic feeling, which might seek something like the restoration of limitless narcissism, is ousted from a place in the foreground. (72)

One reason this passage is especially devastating is that if being in love is for Freud the oceanic feeling par excellence, the memory of which from one’s infant-mother experience forever reverberates through all subsequent iterations, then the introduction of the “father’s protection,” the ousting of this transcendent involvement with what Laplanche once called a “body-mate” from the foreground of psychical life, is our introduction to heartbreak. The arrival of paternal authority confers an excommunication, a damming up, of oceanic feeling.  Safety from incestuous catastrophe is the first limit, the bounding of infinity, the beginning of the end of love.

The force of these characterizations may alert us to the polarization of the phenomenon they describe, the absence (rare in Freud) of dialectical complexity and contradiction at the launching dock of his notorious, uneasy discontents.  And the culprit for this diminishing of imaginative scope may be an anxiety about the ocean of feeling in which (and the men with whom) it would otherwise immerse him; in effect, what Adler, another former Freud fellow, would refer to as ‘masculine protest’ (403), or what Ferenczi (1911) once poignantly anticipated (perhaps in tribute to his then-diminished connection to Freud) as “losing the love of friends” (315).  Freud is notably unable to imagine here (and elsewhere) a love that is not based on the reciprocity of demarcated differences, on procreative complementarity, frustration and satisfaction; or that the satisfying of bodily (and all its ego-derivative) needs through the supplementing of that which is absent in one’s own body through the loving of another person is only one kind of relatedness, one way to love. This thought-limiting anxiety may partially account not only for the confusion and double-speak in the discussion of homosexuality in Freud’s writing — the paradox of his revolutionary consideration of its universality alongside an enduring assumption as to its inverted and diminished status relative to instinctual, heterosexual, genital love — but also for his explicit disavowal of his clearly ample oceanic feeling; the one he shared, like Finnegan, with other men.

But thanks to Freud, we know that paradox is not actually a problem but a natural result of the logical mode of the unconscious; not the end of the conversation, but the beginning of the rest of it.  And the paradox here has to do with what people are able to feel with one another and, more specifically, how they are able to love. For child and mother, this love, in more than one psychoanalytic description, has to do with the meeting of needs, the bonds of love, dependence, desire, envy, hate, and gratitude that form between the infant and the “object” — the psychological entity more than the separate person — that endures this needfulness and, to use Winnicott’s exquisite terms, survives the infant’s ruthlessness.  This relationship, we are told, is primary, is first; and yet, in Freud’s original and revolutionary formulation of constitutional bisexuality, it happens both twice and first at the same time, with two people, mother and father. And this other, fatherly love, which he calls “negative,” is, in the same fairy tale, renounced in favor of something called identification, which sounds here like nothing so much as a consolation prize. You can’t have what you want, but you can be like someone (your father) who can.  (You can even be like the very someone, your mother, that you actually want, though for Freud this latter option will always bear the mark of incompletion, of femininity, which was a sure way of giving it short shrift.)  We get out of heartbreak, in this schematic, by disavowing who we love, who we’ve lost. “Disavowal,” Andre Green (1994) writes in his diligently Freudian book, The Work of the Negative,

cancels out the feeling of the loss of having, whereas identification, itself seeking to make up for this loss of having, pushes for ‘common’ being with the object, now identified as a souvenir of the time when having and being were one. (78, italics in original)

This brings us back to a beginning before the uneasiness of culture, a phenomenological prologue to the aforementioned infant-mother situation, to something more like what Matte-Blanco would call undifferentiation in his reframing of the Freudian unconscious in formal logical terms; what he called, as a surfer might, ‘infinite sets,’ endless curls peeling out of perpetual swells.  And if this mathematical description helps us to imagine a kind of Edenic prequel to the more familiar infantile dramas of frustration and envy, we have Laplanche and Pontalis, the great best buds of psychoanalysis, and great oceanographers of Freud’s sea-change theory of sexuality, to thank for finding a crucial break to which they endlessly return: The abandonment of the seduction theory.  As Freud struggled with and gradually relinquished, under pressure, his original idea — that sexuality is introduced to the infant by the caregiver — he was left to construct his metapsychology on an assumption of endogeneity; if sexuality didn’t come from the parent, it must have been endowed by nature itself, as instinct. But for Laplanche especially, this move constitutes an error, what he calls a ‘dis-aster,’ a star knocked out of orbit.  It’s not that everyone is seduced as a child into a form of adult sex (though tragically many are), but that all contact with adults is excessively, enigmatically sexual, the infant having no hardware or software with which to conduct or integrate this strange psyche-somatic energy into a kind of meaningfulness, resulting in what Laplanche calls ‘failures in translation’ — better known, in aggregate, as the unconscious. We will return to Laplanche’s remapping of the ocean floor of psychoanalysis, but the relevant detail here is that the longing we associate with romantic and sexual feelings is not simply, for Laplanche, a wish to get ourselves back to the garden but at its origin a fascination with one’s mother’s own longing, two lovelorn lookers gazing toward their shared beyond, the reason to leave the garden in the first place.  For Laplanche, in other words, the generative kernel of desire is found not in the infant’s gaze at the mother herself, but the moment when the infant turns his gaze to see what his mother is looking at.  (As the psychoanalyst Michael Levin has noted, the original erotic object is not the mother's breast but her mind.)  And the infinite regress of this telescoping constellation, this tesselation, is nothing other than oceanic in its vanishing horizonality.

As Freud develops the concept of identification throughout his career — from his early letters to Fleiss through his formulations of narcissism, mourning and group psychology — he reveals (and then mysteriously occludes) that there is more that people can do with one another — more specifically, that there is more to want from other people — than to possess them, and to suffer the inevitable partiality and loss of this possession.  While the rationing, the very physics, of that which satisfies our instinctual needs is always inherently and imminently depletable, the plenitude of identification potentiates an altogether greener economy. Possession presumes finitude; identification, by contrast, is oceanic. [“Love isn’t just a matter of looking at someone, I think now,” Garth Greenwell (2016) writes in his agonizing novel, What Belongs To You, “but also of looking with them, of facing what they face” (180).]  The whole of Harold Boris’ deeply affecting collection, Envy (1994), is devoted to the distinction between the union formed through identificatory experience, which he calls a “pair,” and what he calls “couple” experience, which trades in desire and satisfaction.  Whereas the couple moves resources back and forth between its members, the pair moves backward and forward through the world together. Couples compete while pairs collaborate; couples want from each other while pairs want for each other; couples survive while pairs “select.”  Couples want; pairs hope. (Loss in the pair mode feels less like losing another person and more like losing a part of one’s own body.)  Both of these modes are at work in the psychoanalytic situation, which Boris describes pithily as “the pair talking about the couple.” In presenting oneself to the patient — which, both ideally and tantalizingly, the analyst is always doing — the analytic situation, the frame, configures a therapeutic seduction toward what will hopefully become a more meaningful, less traumatic experience of previously intolerable relational need.  At the same time, the analyst becomes a collaborator in the creation of the new experience that has never existed before the clinical moment in which the pair-members find themselves, looking at something together, from which new possibilities of self- and other-experience can begin to emerge. When Boris writes that “[t]he analyst is the medium in which the patient happens” (173), he is emphasizing the pliability, the fluidity, that is necessary to incorporate into the analytic relationship not only the couple-transference but also the pair-transference — what Christopher Bollas (1987) once described as “two fundamental genres of transference” (one to the object, the other to the self in the company of another person).  And while the indispensability of each of these modes is implicitly clear in Freud, it took subsequent Freud scholars to notice their potential simultaneity, the capacity to keep them both in mind, to become minded in each at the same time; the capacity for what Leo Bersani (2009) calls “identification as libidinal recognition” (53, italics in original).  A young man — a survivor of horrifically non-enigmatic, incestuous assault as a child — spends hours online asking other young men what they would like to do with his girlfriend; he stores their answers as fuel for potential potency in otherwise failed sexual encounters with her on the rare occasion that she initiates contact.  He stutters with rage when inhabiting memories of carrying his drunken father from the living room couch to bed, silently screaming, "Get up! Be a dad!" When the patient, as a teenager, approaches what would have been his first sexual encounter with a peer, he aborts when he notices the time, the curfew that his father reiterated after dropping him off to meet his would-have-been lover.  It is relevant, of course, to hear this interruption from the perspective of the Oedipal (and Borisian) couple, the desperate need for any kind of structuring, paternal prohibition of incestuous collapse being more precious than some abstract allure of becoming an adult. But from the perspective of the pair, there is a different treasure, a priceless unity, that is more desperately needed, selected and guarded, as if to say, There is only one world, one Mother, one nature, for both of us; and we will look toward her together, sensing her dreams, reading her waves, until we find our attention has transitioned, our gazes parted, our fascinations shifted.  “When the surf is big, or in some other way humbling,” Finnegan writes,

the heightened sense of a vast, unknowable design silences the effort to understand.  You feel honored simply to be out there. I’ve been reduced on certain magnificent days...to just drifting on the shoulder, gawking at the transformation of ordinary seawater into beautifully muscled swell, into feathering urgency, into pure energy, impossibly sculpted, ecstatically edged, and finally into violent foam. (335)

II.  Inexorable

I have seen a bit of the ocean, but not enough.

Letter from Freud to Fleiss, June 9, 1899

Freud did not feel music either, and this lack of feeling does not elude sympathy. There is music for all of us which cannot be felt.  Prior to beginning clinical training — which is, among other things, training in feeling — there was little orchestral or symphonic music that resonated with me in the way in which other music had gripped and fascinated and vibrated within me my entire life.  But as I was training to become a therapist I found myself attending performances of what is commonly referred to as Classical music, inspired and supplemented by the writing of Alex Ross, another New Yorker staffer, who in 2013 reviewed for that magazine the premiere of a piece by the contemporary composer and environmental activist John Luther Adams titled Become Ocean, a phrase he lifted from John Cage’s tribute to the music of fellow composer Lou Harrison: “Listening to it we become ocean.”  The form of the piece, Ross notes, is a palindrome; at bar 316, roughly 20 minutes in, the music begins retracing, in reverse, the material that has just been played, ending, like Freud’s libidinal subject, where it began:

Oscillogram of a recording of  Become Ocean .

Oscillogram of a recording of Become Ocean.

We are already some distance from another musical ocean, Debussy’s La Mer. Though the two pieces are in many senses (historically, structurally, stylistically) an ocean apart, they do bear a similarity, Ross notes, in their vibrant harmonies, their chords enriched by neighboring tones and glittering arpeggios in the harps.  (The latter are the defining quality of “Oceanic Beloved” from Alice Coltrane’s 1968 masterpiece, A Monastic Trio.)

But unlike La Mer, where chords peak and crash like so many of Finnegan’s waves [“quick violent events,” as Finnegan characterizes the latter, “at the end of a long chain of storm action and ocean reaction” (200), throwing him from his board, pummeling him into the ocean floor until he runs out of air], most of the time spent in Become Ocean does not evoke, as La Mer does for Ross, the shocks and astonishments that characterized music of the previous century:

Become Ocean, by contrast, is, by and large, a slow build.  The music does not arrive in an instant but seeps into existence; one does not so much behold it as dissolve into its nautical greatness.  (Where La Mer was, formally speaking, so will Become Ocean be, or become.)  

At a performance of Become Ocean in Berkeley last year, that headlining work was paired with a pair of European predecessors: The Oceanides, a tone poem by the Finnish Jean Sibelius, as well as the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from the great English opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten, which charts the tragic devolution of apprenticeship into death-driven violence under the persecuting gaze of a small seaside community:

In contrast to these deep-sea antecedents, Adams’ Ocean develops ever patiently in its epically languid ebbs and flows, layered rhythms, from undulating ripples to glacial swells, simulating the ocean’s own tidal pulse; a single, complete arc in each of its three colossal movements. The harmony of the first movement begins in a bubbling pedal of A major; when a piercing, shimmering tritone tone breaks through in the strings, like a wave cresting, the bare tension is ecstatic.  As the horns and pitched percussion form a clustered, murky floor in their lower registers, the strings spell a radiant major-seventh chord, like some water-refracted reflection of Strauss’ famous Also Sprach Zarathrustra theme (made famous by Stanley Kubrick in his immortal 2001: A Space Odyssey), before fading back into watery oblivion.

One finds similar harmonic currents in distant musical waters, transcending genre.  (Taylor Swift was moved to an impromptu donation of $50,000 following a performance of the piece by the Seattle Symphony.)  There are moments of Barbarian Days, when Finnegan and his mates are staring at the horizon together, that remind me of being in the passenger seat of my parents’ car growing up, either of them and I staring at the road ahead, probably not talking, but almost certainly listening to music, usually deferring to the driver’s choice.  These highly pleasurable and foundational musical experiences were recast in my adolescence in the aimless hours spent cruising around with my closest companion of that time. With him, there was only ever one real musical possibility: not whether we would be listening to his favorite band, Pearl Jam (especially if we were in his car), but simply which album we would choose that day.  The chorus of the song “Oceans” (from their album, Ten, which turned another Seattle-based musical dialect into an MTV-fueled global phenomenon known as grunge) is more of a cavernous gap where a chorus should be, comprised of an electric pedal point holding the bass while the piercing grain of Eddie Vedder’s croon soars in stacked overtones, as if singing two notes, an octave apart, at the same time, like a sonic totem pole of Vedder’s effortlessly masculine musicality.

The musical shape created between deep vibrating floor and slow-sine-waving melodic arc recalls the lyric from “Container” (2014), Fiona Apple’s brilliantly sparse theme song to the dramatic series, The Affair:

The rhythm of this lyric, like the tide itself, is irrepressible; it’s almost impossible not to speak it in a tumbling compound duple meter.  This masterpiece in miniature is certainly the best part of The Affair, and among the best moments of Apple’s astounding catalogue, which she began at age 19 with the oceanically-named Tidal.  Now I am in the backseat, a freshman in high school; a charitable ride home from a pair of senior girls, who know every lyric by heart, singing along together in front.  (“You say, ‘Love is a hell I cannot bear’ / And I say, ‘Give me mine back and then go there / For all I care…’”)  “Container” is prescient in its pairing of the dry echoes of stripped, percussive taps with the show’s eponymous theme, the harrowingly destabilizing power of sexuality in its most hungry-ghostly forms, for it is the very rhythms of one’s life that are most threatened by these disruptions, these attacks on its frame.  We cannot have both our wanting, the song warns, and the comforts of that which our wanting has already secured for us, a power Freud ultimately ascribed to the death drive (to which we shall return). “We live rhythmically only if we renounce possession,” (47) writes the literary theorist and French scholar Leo Bersani (2009) in his stunning essay, “Sociability and Cruising.”  For Bersani, to crave is to lose the beat; for Fiona Apple, as for Bion, the greatest threat to the container is that which emerges, the contained, from within. And anxiety about whether or not we can sustain these growing appetites — whether a black hole of sexual desire will consume us and everything we know — is at the same time a desperately guarded desire to be devoured, a wish to drown in a sea of undifferentiation, to transcend selfhood through immersion in perceptual unison. These tumultuous affairs — which may be, among other things, vitalizing experiments in boundlessness — are often renounced too quickly and suffocated, subjected to the same fate, in Freud’s Oedipal drama, as homosexual feelings (homo- and hetero-sexual being distinctions that at best provide some safeguard against incestuous catastrophe, being closer in origin to father- and mother-love).  And while the prospect of submersion in this awesome, oceanic mode of experience may indeed be worthy of its own anxiety — the ocean, Finnegan attests, is not for the faint of heart — the anxiety may be less about sex a tergo, to use the Wolf Man’s phrase, and more about what Foucault, Bersani notes, referred to as a “new relational mode” (59), the expansion and transcendence of the self through shared experiences of sameness.  This possibility, for Bersani, is far more destabilizing than the sexual practices which bear the brunt of the reactive violence (reductively coined “homophobia”) to its novel relational power; “homos” (which is the title of Bersani’s first collection of essays) are the real radicals, with or without the “-sexual” suffix.  And perhaps Bersani’s ultimate resignation that there is no room for this homo-relational possibility in a Freudian metapsychology relies too heavily on the manifest content of Freud’s writing and not the practical implications of whom he was most often writing to and with (not to mention what may have been mistaken or even coded as oceanic instead of erotic).  For Bersani, the erotics of sameness are less anxious, less frantic, than the erotics of difference, the latter always needing to get something that is missing, to ensure survival; the former always inspired to become more of what it already is, at the risk (or bonus) of losing one’s former sense of oneself.

Perhaps these erotics are most fluid during latency, when other forms of sexuality are less accessible, an ebb between their crashing waves; the pre-teenage love of being the same as, of being the same with.  A deeply distressed and unparented adolescent, who feels himself to be years younger than his chronological age, squiggles with me in our first meeting. He turns mine into a wave and draws two oblong boards in its soft curve.  One features, naturally, a surfer, able and upright; the other, a limp body, limbs hanging over the edges into the water. That one, he tells me, is him; he doesn’t know how to surf. To become himself, to catch up with time, he needs help becoming like someone else; not just someone he can be like, but someone with whom he can be like them, with them and like them, having them and being them, at the same time.  Like Finnegan and his mates, and like Freud and his (in their living if not always in their theories), identification is not just a substitute for having what one wants; it is the condition of becoming a new kind of wanter, a subject among other subjects, a transitional stage between being the self one has been and the self one is becoming.

Freud makes one explicit appearance in Barbarian Days; a fellow surfer’s suggestion that Finnegan’s board is a kind of phallic object is quickly attributed to the speaker’s being from Argentina — “where psychoanalysis is a kind of middle class religion,” (320) Finnegan notes — and is no sooner mentioned than promptly dismissed.  But if the surfer’s Freudian formulation has anything to offer beyond a clichéd decoding of inflated priapism, its value may be may be in the surf itself, the surf-ace of contact between the (phallic) self that is wished to be real, the history that is putatively known about oneself, and the self of the watery depths, which the surf keeps, just barely, out of reach.  The surf here is a true contact barrier; contact with the downright physical violence of gravity’s interminable drama, barrier from drowning in it. “It is possible to think of the sexual,” Bersani (2009) writes in his pivotal essay, “Is The Rectum A Grave?”,

as, precisely, moving between a hyperbolic sense of self and a loss of all consciousness of self.  But sex as self-hyperbole is perhaps a repression of sex as self-abolition. It inaccurately replicates self-shattering as self-swelling, as psychic tumescence.  If, as these words suggest, men are especially apt to “choose” this version of sexual pleasure, because their sexual equipment appears to invite by analogy, or at least facilitate, the phallicizing of the ego, neither sex has exclusive rights to the practice of sex as self-hyperbolic.  For it is perhaps primarily the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power.  As soon as persons are posited, the war begins. (25)

If Bersani’s ‘relationships’ (which would correspond to Boris’ possessive ‘couples’) doom us to do little more than destroy one another in our panicked struggle to survive, the unanxious company and often wordless conversation of Finnegan’s Barbarian Days de-posit its persons into a plentiful and powerfully familiar configuration, what Laplanche called the “fundamental anthropological situation,” the fascination of human relatedness born of the object of the other’s fascination, the animus of the self being the wonder at the other’s dream, at dreaming it together.  “The apprenticeship for a relationality founded on sameness rather than on difference,” Bersani continues, “must perhaps first of all be a perceptual apprenticeship...in correspondences that participate in a single but vast family of forms in the universe” (44). [Peter Goldberg (2012), following Bléger (1967), has referred to this phenomenon as “sensory symbiosis.”]  To surf, to become ocean, is to recapitulate the precarious reaching and holding of oneself through communal experience, which beckons more pursuit, more devotion. (“Inexorable,” Ross notes, is John Luther Adams’ indication at the top of the score.)  It never ends.  And neither do we, as we become it.

III.  Become Ocean

If some traces of the autocratic pose,
the paternal strictness he distrusted, still
    clung to his utterance and features,
  it was a protective coloration

for one who’d lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
    to us he is no more a person
  now but a whole climate of opinion

under whom we conduct our different lives

W.H. Auden, “In Memoriam of Sigmund Freud” (1939)

Surfing the tide of things oceanic up to the present we arrive on the shores of Southern California where Christopher Breaux has cultivated an oceanic fascination profoundly enough to take its object as his stage name.  When Breaux, better known as Frank Ocean, released his most recent work in 2016, it arrived in three parts: Blonde, the closest element of the triptych to a traditional album (with its lead single, “Nikes”); Endless, which he calls a “visual album,” the music of which was released only as a soundtrack to the hypnotic film it accompanies; and Boys Don’t Cry, an oversize magazine distributed originally for free at four select ‘pop-up’ locations around the world on the day of the albums’ release.  Frank had rocked the Twittersphere several years earlier with a proclamation accompanying his prior album, channel ORANGE (2012), that he had fallen in love with (and had his heart broken by) a male friend, making him the most prominent hip hop figure to declare such feelings to date, and one of the most prominent black figures ever to do so.  

All three works can be understood as a kind of paean to early adolescence — “surprisingly my favorite part of life so far,” he comments in the magazine, which assembles photographs and musings that document Frank’s activities between albums.  (Frank’s actual adolescence was spent primarily in the company of what would become the Los Angeles-based rap collective Odd Future, which included Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt among its members, Frank their lone melodist.) The magazine is the most visually explicit of the bunch in its glorification of male forms — primarily of men and cars, usually together, evoking what Jon Caramanica (2016) described in the New York Times as “the eroticism of the automobile” (and which Frank attributes mysteriously in the magazine’s opening essay to “a deep unconscious straight boy fantasy”) — more a portfolio or Tumblr-style collection of the day’s impressions than its formal largesse might suggest, a qualification which applies to the albums as well.  Those works are not collections of songs as much assemblies of selves, masterful meanderings through psycho-musical material. [Frank has described his music-making as “an extension of my talk therapy” (Caramanica, 2012).] Almost every musical moment feels as if it blossoms, associatively, from the one before it, proceeding less by album structure than by dream logic.  It is as if we, artist and audience, are listening to the same thing, the same otherness, recalling John Ashberry’s famous remark [a favorite of Phillips’ (2012)] “that when you talk to other people they eventually lose interest but that when you talk to yourself people want to listen in” (61).

The album’s final crest, the lofty (and alt-spelled) “Seigfried,” is structured in four movements.  The first cycles through a four-chord pattern that would not be out of place in harmony or sonority in a quiet, lovelorn pocket of a Pearl Jam record.

A lover’s musings — “The markings of your surface / Your speckled face / Flawed crystals hang from your ears” — turn gradually toward conflicted, belted desperation:  “I’d rather be outside / I’d rather chip my pride than lose my mind out here / I’d rather go to jail.” Without warning, we are then in another sonic terrain, a lush string ensemble swelling in crescendo, like some sign-off from the early days of radio, or the final track of the Beatles’ White Album (written by John for Julian).  An Elliott Smith quotation drifts in unannounced, surfacing like day residue in this musical dream, echoing reverberating reverie about loss, friend-loss.

Now a new Frank is flowing in near-klang tongue-twisters, stoner poetry:

We are at the end of the ocean, the horizon of consciousness.  And then, two vocal lines — two Franks, both two men and one man twice — sing one line four times:

Part of what is so effective (and affecting) here is the compositional ingenuity, the writing of vocal lines: on the word ‘anything,’ both voices go to less likely notes than the melody might more naturally suggest, as if they are wrapping themselves around an absent melody, framing it, until it is sung by a third voice, a response to their choral call.  [This counterpoint, as far as I know, is an original invention, the two vocal lines trading positions, weaving, like surfers, dolphins even, above and below one another in (to use Winnicott’s phrase) quiet union.] This phenomenon, the creative emergence of utter beauty and devotion at the frontier of communicability, is not unfamiliar to those immersed in clinical work; it is often at the edge of this world, that impossible position, “where I can-not,” that creativity takes its hold, that the elaboration of the self proceeds toward its own improvised becoming, its odd future.  The interplay of foregrounded voices recalls the exchanges of analytic conversation, the playful trading of associations, the jam-session, a cooperative surrender to the music being unconsciously arranged not so much between two people as before them, within them, both subjects riding in toward one another and themselves from a distant shore.

Which brings us to what the art historian and Freud scholar Whitney Davis — a specialist in homoeroticism, visuality, and all things Narcissian — has referred to as ‘so-called narcissism.’  But let us first turn back to Laplanche, who took similar aim at what he called the ‘so-called death drive.’ In a paper by that name, and in many other papers like it, Laplanche interrogates and problematizes Freud’s metapsychology by imagining an alternate explanation, a parallel universe in which the seduction theory was not abandoned but rather qualified; that even if not everyone had been sexually attacked by an adult during childhood, recognizing the traumatic effect, to one degree or another, of all contact between the infant and the sexual unconscious of the adult caretaker spares us, at a theoretical level, from having to posit some other explanation for how we become sexual, an endogenous or instinctual sex drive that migrates from one erogenous zone to another before settling into its ultimate procreative purpose.  Laplanche — and according to Laplanche’s scholarship, even Freud — distinguished Instinkt, which is selected and transmitted through evolution and found throughout the animal kingdom, from Trieb or ‘drive’ which is uniquely human, and corresponds to the excess of energy that precipitates the formation of the unconscious in the first place, and which in turn requires a corresponding, human project to meet its challenge: an embodied need to translate the enigmatic sexual messages of the other, to make meaning out of otherwise purely disruptive, untranslated chaos, the so-called death drive.

Freud himself, Laplanche suggests, had made this point clearly in the Three Essays of 1905, in which he distinguishes his present topic, sexuality, from what he calls the “popular view of the sexual instinct” which, Freud writes, “is beautifully reflected in the poetic fable [i.e. that of Aristophanes] which tells how the original human beings were cut up into two halves — man and woman — and how they are always striving to unite again in love (135-6).”  To the extent that this search is imperfect, or goes awry, one’s love becomes discouraged and tainted by the trials, failures, and rejections in pursuit of the other, and returns to the self, battered and bruised, in the form of narcissism. And only after formulating this narcissism does Freud imagine, aprés-coup, a corresponding state before the fall, a primary narcissism — the “limitless narcissism” of which Freud supposed the oceanic feeling must be a reminder, though unable to find such feeling in himself — to which the compromised, injured version is subsequent, ‘secondary.’  It is precisely this narcissism, in fact, that Laplanche believes Freud manages to discover accidentally despite being way off about the death drive.

The point of narcissism is to get from self-love, which “allows a first unification of the sexual instincts,” to other-love, which channels the instincts into a kind of social responsibility to procreate — “in return,” Freud (1914) writes in his eponymous essay on the topic, “for a bonus of pleasure” (78).  But in that essay Freud abruptly swerves from this position, asserting that the original imperative to venture out past narcissism is not in fact about biology nor a responsibility to continue the species, but rather a Project-era problem of having too much energy, enough to make us sick: “we must begin to love in order not to fall ill” (85).  The premise seems to be that auto-erotism is primary, and cathexis its conduit for getting to the other; but using Laplanche’s course correction, the problem shifts from cathecting the other, over there (Copernican), to translating the other's message, which is already (stuck) inside (Ptolemaic); to conducting the charge that is already invested by the other in the body.

But now we must be Laplancheans, and check Freud’s work.  Students of philosophy (or fans of Hedwig and the Angry Inch) may have already noticed that Freud’s account of Aristophanes’ myth, originally related by Plato in the Symposium, has been modified.  In the original myth, what we might now think of as human-pairs — man and woman, but also man and man and woman and woman — were severed with bolts of lightning into two by the gods (“scared of our strength and defiance,” as Hedwig puts it; they cannot risk their authority).  This Greek view of love has nothing to do with instinct — the figures were imagined back to back, hardly suitable for copulative intercourse — and everything to do with Eros, the animus of perceptual and bodily experience from which difference emerges as what Deleuze once called a ‘univocal affirmation’ of difference, in dialectical tension with sexual desire, which disrupts this potentiating continuity and orients us toward reunion and rebinding with other humans, the other bodies from which we were originally unbound by volts of violent electricity, which remain within us in the form of the sexual drive.

The theory of narcissism, therefore, like narcissism itself, is a kind of symptom that Freud develops somewhere between 1905 and 1914, exactly the juncture at which Adam Phillips decided to call it a day with his Freud biography.  Phillips’ story of becoming Freud, like Frank’s story of becoming Ocean, has principally to do with other men, and the life that is generated through the experience of being like one another together, of identification, a story which seems to draw to a close after the Three Essays (though the concept is revisited on several occasions, most notably in Group Psychology, as a product, instaed of a precursor, of narcissism).  Just as the list of excommunicated members of Freud’s psychoanalytic brotherhood, in other words, added Adler and Jung to its melancholic ranks, Freud’s theory of loving fellow men became impossibly convoluted.  (In its detailing of his disagreements of these departed friends, “On Narcissism” becomes Freud’s most narcissistic paper to date.) Both the 1908 study of Leonardo and, as Davis (1996) has meticulously traced, the analysis of the Wolf Man, which began in 1910, document the contortion and devolution of the love of sameness, or homoeroticism, into the embattled and embittered love of oneself, narcissism.  It is in 1910, in fact, according to Laplanche and Pontalis — one year after Freud’s only trip to America, which Cronenberg depicts to foreshadow the break with Jung — that the term ‘narcissism’ first appears in Freud’s work, “when it is called upon,” they write, “to account for object-choice in homosexuals, who ‘take themselves as their sexual object.’”  But Freud had already accounted for this form of object-choice in the Three Essays, an account that rests upon a collection of impressions about the universality of homoerotic and homosexual feelings in order to understand sexuality itself which, as Freud concludes in those essays, is not an expression of instinct but a “soldering” of instinct onto object-choice.  (Laplanche’s general theory of seduction will emphasize the magnetic pull of enigma that ‘leans-on’ biochemical pull of attachment.) The recursions and devolutions of Freud’s thinking about homosexual object-choice is registered in the footnotes with which he updates the Three Essays as he develops his theory of narcissism, culminating in an emphatic recommitment to universal homo-erotism in a footnote from 1915, one year after presenting his clunky theory of narcissism in full.  (Freud wrote to Abraham about that paper, 'The 'Narcissism' had a difficult labour and bears all the marks of a corresponding deformation.")

[Added 1915:] Psycho-analytic research is most decidedly opposed to any attempt at separating off homosexuals from the rest of mankind as a group of a special character. By studying sexual excitations other than those that are manifestly displayed, it has found that all human beings are capable of making a homosexual object-choice and have in fact made one in their unconscious. Indeed, libidinal attachments to persons of the same sex play no less a part as factors in normal mental life, and a greater part as a motive force for illness, than do similar attachments to the opposite sex. On the contrary, psycho-analysis considers that a choice of an object independently of its sex freedom to range equally over male and female objects as it is found in childhood, in primitive states of society and early periods of history, is the original basis from which, as a result of restriction in one direction or the other, both the normal and the inverted types develop. Thus from the point of view of psycho-analysis the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is also a problem that needs elucidating and is not a self-evident fact based upon an attraction that is ultimately of a chemical nature…

This is Freud’s truly Aristophanic position, all but buried by what comes after it, or rather by an overvaluation of what came immediately before.  Laplanche, in death-drive paper, expresses concern that Freud's definition of Eros subsumes sexuality as simply "part of the eternal hymn of universal love," as opposed to the opposite and arguably more pressing concern: that Eros has been subsumed in service of the sexual drive, as opposed to retaining its status equiprimordial force in becoming human.  

One could call this the secret history of homosexuality in psychoanalysis, though of course it is not a secret — its history has been traced many times, but in a way that always seems to obscure as much as it elucidates, swinging from radical pathologizing to radical acceptance, never thinking its way from one to the other.  Much of this valuable history comes from scholars outside the clinical community, and psychoanalytic scholarship has tended toward fascinated appreciation of their contributions more than full integration of their implications for therapeutic practice. For at least the last 25 years, psychoanalysis has asserted a reversal of its attitude toward homosexuality without reconciling into its consciousness any account of where exactly Freud went wrong (let alone where he might have been onto something); without asking, in other words, what happened to this object-choice, an object who has disappeared and been replaced by the self.  Freud replaces homo-erotism, retroactively, with auto-erotism, substituting, to paraphrase Michel de m’Uzan, the same with the identical, the fellow with the self; as Ferenczi predicted, losing the love of friends.  (Who wouldn’t feel sick? That would be a true, and more contemporary, form of illness.) In Laplanche’s sense, what Freud calls the auto-erotism of primary narcissism corresponds properly to the allo-erotism, the sexuality, of the adult caregiver, whose hyperbolic estimation of the infant Freud famously characterizes in “On Narcissism” as ‘His Majesty the Baby’; it is this excess that is translated, after the fact, as a ‘limitless’ valuation of the self.  Primary narcissism is therefore, to use Winnicott’s formulation, a deep phenomenon, as opposed to an early one; actual infancy of course involves substantial suffering alongside periodic relief and satisfaction, producing a desperate need for ways to conduct oneself in such a way as to diminish excessive disturbance and optimize relief, which places a premium on the mode of mimetic education that human beings have developed to transmit their best practices of living a good life.  To lose either of one’s parents as a source of identification is to be further left at the mercy of one’s parents as sources of overstimulation. And without a socially ratified way of thinking about this loss, or at least cultural institutions to commemorate and mitigate it — perhaps it was not primary narcissism, as Laplanche thought, but mourning that Freud managed to get right despite going-astray, in more than one way, from his original discoveries about sexuality — the self is left to subsist on its own reflection to try to heal its gaping wound, a state of true narcissistic collapse, having become the object which merely and only indirectly recalls the qualities of one’s objects as a kind of echo.  This is indeed a homosexual problem, or at least a homoerotic one. It is the illness that results from homoerotic failure, from not-good-enough Eros.

In the shift from an erotics that leans on instinct, which requires the complementarity of heterosexuality to relieve one’s carnal, species-bound duties, an erotics based on relief from the traumatic excess of sexual otherness shifts the problem to how to conduct oneself, how to work this thing, how to live musically through one’s psyche-soma, how to become ocean, how to comport oneself as a member of a vast system that is epically beyond oneself.  If both male and female objects are available for object choice, they are at the same time both available as objects of identification. Anyone who seems to know what they’re doing, any sane adult, anyone who seems to be enjoying themselves despite having been around for a while, who seems to be in some sort of groove, who seems to be able to surf, is a potential mentor.   And perhaps what is most essentially conferred through this apprenticeship is a fascination with the world, including other objects, reinforcing one’s direct responses to other humans with a collective sense of audience membership. The result, the true help, for this situation of Hilflosigkeit or helplessness is direct identification with the most consistently available humans in one’s life, identification of and with a way in which to handle oneself sufficiently to cultivate interest in other people alongside a direct situation of provision which begets the need for one’s own object in the traditional Oedipal configuration. (In this sense the “negative” Oedipal may be repurposed to describe the situation more consistent with what the phrase actually sounds like it describes: the “negative,” in Andre Green’s sense, the traumatic overstimulation of sexuality which diverts the infant from each of his parents back toward the other one.)  This is all laid out clearly in 1905 and underscored in 1915, but its key claim for an erotics constituted by sameness vanishes, unannounced, only to return as narcissism, a “deformation,” de-formed by repression, the work of the negative, tragedy unborn.

There was yet an earlier going-astray that predated both the foreclosure of homoerotic love and the abandonment of the seduction theory, which was of course the abandonment of hypnosis, and the men who taught Freud about it.  (As early as 1885, Phillips magically unearths, Freud wrote, rather narcissistically, to his then-fiancee, Martha Bernays, that he looked forward to his future biographers’ attempts to recount this history, and “watching them go-astray.”  So the feeling is mutual — shared, even.) In the five to ten years after writing the Three Essays, Freud produces a symptom, which he calls narcissism, the etiology of which lies in the 5-10 years before the essays were written, when he was forced to abandon the seduction theory; but 15 years after the 1905 essays, in Group Psychology (and for the rest of his career), Freud is forced to reckon with the abandonment of hypnosis some 15 years before they were written, a spiraling, temporal topography of discovery and repression, seeing and not seeing.  By Civilization and Its Discontents in 1930, the battle has long been lost.  The wave formation of energy, the oscillogram, as for Become Ocean, would be symmetrical, a palindrome.

The cost of this dis-aster is profound, both at the level of individual suffering, in which communal and mimetic forms of living are ignored or sacrificed in favor of panicked self-interest and tenuous individuality, but also as living creatures on this planet:  “Life on this earth,” Adams writes in the liner notes, “first emerged from the sea. Today, as the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans face the prospect that we may once again, quite literally, become ocean.” (Even Narcissus was not only staring at his reflection; he was also looking at the water.)  But as psychoanalytic practitioners are well aware, disasters are never corrected by mere undoing.  (In his collection Queer Beauty (2010), Davis distinguishes between queering beauty, restoring to its rightful place in social consensus a previously foreclosed homoeroticism, a return of the repressed, with queer beauty, in which homoeroticism never left the scene, but remained hidden, or not, in plain sight.)  Forms of sociality that foster a sense of both human and planetary membership — in the case of surfing, simultaneously — founded on biophilic identification with one another may orient the psychoanalytic project toward forms of movement, ways of being in time, barbarian days, which catalyze conduction of the electricity, beginning with Zeus’ first lightning bolt, charging each untranslated message — in some cases, for the first time.  The emphasis in this approach is not on any particular meaning, but on ways of being in the world that increase sustainability of one’s translational capacities in an ever-increasing onslaught of psychosensory stimulation. Even in the best of circumstances, in conditions of optimal conduction, the complexity of experience increases until it can no longer be apprehended purely as a succession of meaningful messages, but may be perceptible as an ocean of music, each swell of enigmatic tension breaking into a wave of meaningful relaxation, a phasic quality that Freud (1915) attributed [and later contradicted (1920)] to sexuality itself.

So here's another Freud-life, inspired by the life that Phillips traces, the life that Freud shared with other men, a kind of surfing life.  In this story, Freud's life as a writer is animated by the feelings he had about these men. Freud might have needed a way to think about these feelings in the wake of a newly constituted category called homosexuality, which had emerged not only as a new kind of social possibility (and corresponding liability) but as a new medical category, precisely during the 1870s, the years of Freud's training as a physician.  After completing university and his hospital-based residency, Freud is inducted into the brotherhood of hypnosis; composing the eulogy for their fallen leader births Freud as a writer, as a genius. By that point Freud's membership in the cohort of hypnotists had shifted, devolved perhaps, into two primary male partnerships (alongside several others). One gave us Studies in Hysteria; the other, a collection of letters.  Freud's correspondence with Fleiss — which might have been, by his own standards, his first and only true analysis — is reduplicated in the form of an auto-analysis, which takes the self as its object, an aprés-coup fantasy of self-creation, of interpreting one's own dreams.  But this hardly puts the matter to rest. Freud's next most significant work organizes an entire theory of sexuality around the question of homoeroticism, never questioning what we would now call the ‘obviousness’ of both its substantial frequency and effect in human culture and, less convincingly, its irreconcilability with what Freud would have called our instinct.  (The Three Essays literally begins with an unambiguous assertion that homosexual object choice is not a form of illness; the last paragraph is devoted to "prevention of inversion.")  In 1910, having recently published his case study of Leonardo (and begun his first major treatment of a patient, the Wolf Man, whose sexual and symptomatic life was manifestly constituted primarily with another man), he reinfuses the Three Essays with his newfound theory of narcissism; but in 1915, after shifting narcissism to the epicenter of his metapsychology, he affirms more clearly than ever the essential role of homo-erotism or homosexual object choice (which he never sufficiently distinguished) in the full constitution of sexual life.  And in 1920, the same year as he reorganizes his metapsychology again with respect to his newly termed 'death drive,' Freud refinds the homoerotic object in the form of the group bond, whose heavily recursed love for the leader — itself a projection of the ego ideal, related to the collection of impressions retained in primary narcissism, backformed from the secondary narcissism of the lost object, wounded in its effort to escape auto-erotism, which was imagined as an original state of endogenous self-interest (following the dis-astrous abandonment of the seduction theory), etc. — as the "work in common" with unites group members in libidinal bondedness, "sublimated, desexualized homosexual love for other men" (103) among which, Freud comments, "homosexual love is far more compatible with group ties, even when it takes the shape of uninhibited sexual impulsions — a remarkably fact, the explanation of which might carry us far" (141).

Carry us far it certainly has — and still might, especially if we can trace it back to its original going-astray, the dis-aster point at which, winding the clock back, narcissism becomes ocean.  What Freud protested too much in his assertion that he could not find the oceanic feeling in himself is equal to throwing his most precious baby, his discovery of the laws of the unconscious (Matte-Blanco, 1975), out with the oceanic bathwater.  Freud, in other words, was always in the ocean, which may be why he didn’t know it. Freud may have discovered the unconscious through the analysis of his own dream, but even his solitary dream-analysis became a collaborative psycho-analysis — the man Sigmund becoming history’s Freud — only in the reporting of it, as a new dream, to his friend Fleiss:  A marble plaque announcing the landmark discovery of the secret of dreams, the place where he discovered them. There is no self for Freud — or anyone else, Freud discovered — except the self that we tell to others (including the Other-ness in oneself), the self that is seen together. The recursiveness of selfhood, which Lacan (1949) called asymptotic, is, in other words, at least as infinite as the oceanic feeling, as identification with an Other; in the Lacanian topography, they are equal, both infinities, or two aspects of the same one.  For Lacan, what eventually gets called a self was only ever an identification with an image of selfhood, a seductively coherent version of the broken, barely assimilable bursts of experience, the cloud of data points, that is best fit by the curve of subjectivity, the mirror image being a reflection of unity that is approximated but never achieved through living, reaching back toward our first experiences of both being gratified by others — namely, our parents — and identifying with them.

Finnegan’s parents figure prominently in his memoir, and nowhere is his hydraulically-fueled capacity for deep relatedness — which is to say, in the Freudian system, deep mourning — as evident as in the final pages of Barbarian Days, just after Finnegan’s mother has died.  A single, devastating sentence appears mid-page as its own paragraph:  “You have to hate how the world goes on” (435). To write a life is to write one’s longing, to go-on-being in the world less hatefully than if one remains unwritten, unaccounted for to an-other.  If biographies, as Phillips suggests, reveal nothing so much as the desire of the biographer, we could imagine, as psychoanalysis does, the same going for all life-writing, for all free speech. When I began writing about psychoanalysis and music, my own analysis shifted to themes of competition and envy, victories and retaliation.  Was I gaining on him? I asked aloud. Would my need for his powers soon be in excess of their magnitude? Would he, retaliating, put me in my place? He responded after a while that he could tell we were running somewhere, and that perhaps it was easier to imagine gaining on or passing one another up in the race than the experience of running it together.  With many waves behind us, and who knows how many in the waters ahead, we look backward and forward, awestruck, and raise a fist.

References

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