Psicanálise, Criptografia, Nazis e Peeping Tom: Emergency Island
Mentally the patients complained of the usual symptoms of the acute anxiety state: sleeplessness, terrifying bad dreams, a feeling of inner unrest, and a tendency to be startled at the least noise but particularly at the sound of an aeroplane going overhead or any sound resembling it.
– FREDERICK DILLON, “NEUROSES AMONG COMBATANT TROOPS IN THE GREAT WAR”
Differences are shown in the striking regressions that often follow being oneself, or seeing others, blown up, and in the temporary disturbance to the sense of reality caused by the bizarre effects of high explosive. The most fantastic dreams are suddenly realized, as though by magic, in actual life; and the mind regresses to primitive mechanisms appropriate to the time of life when such fantasies seemed real. . . Or projection mechanisms may come into play, the man believing that every plane is coming specially to punish him.
– GILBERT DEBENHAM, DENIS HILL, WILLIAM SARGANT, AND ELIOT SLATER, “TREATMENT OF WAR NEUROSIS”
For the British side effect of war, Louis Minski counts down the factors leading to shell shock in the wounded. The escape mechanism view won’t hold for those who have the wounds to prove it. Constitutional predispostion is most important. Number three is a direct strike in the object relation, the transferential frame on Emergency Island for processing what’s new in traumatization:
A personal worry is often the final precipitating factor. For example, one patient who was wounded by a flying bomb in Belgium was perfectly all right until he realized that his family was in a part of this country exposed to flying-bomb attacks. He then became anxious and apprehensive.
Air war broke out of the Oedipus complex of in-house research with one’s own children at home alone. Schreber, Freud, Klein, Spielrein, and Piaget were among the many scientists whose research with human subjects often never left home. Powell’s Peeping Tom, in which the serial killer protagonist photographs and kills the women who stand for the stepmother standing in for the mother whose death left him alone with a scientist father forever recording his own son’s visible reactions of fear – and grief – under the uniform lab conditions of traumatic home life, gives the psychoticmediatic rundown of this history of surveillance-survival research.
Although I take Powell’s Peeping Tom as the inside view of, and mascot for, the busy intersection of the genealogies I am unpacking, there turns out to be a World War II specificity to the film’s inception binding psychoanalysis to the making and breaking of codes. Leo Marks, who wrote the screenplay, came up with the idea for Peeping Tom while working in the offices and briefing rooms of the Code Department. His double interest (since childhood) in cryptography and psychoanalysis led him to contemplate the psychic conditions for an “indecipherable,” a coded message from a spy on location behind the enemy front that, because it cannot be decoded at the British end, leads to the request for an often fatal act of retransmission. Two transmissions of the same message in a row, and the enemy knows where you live.
Whenever he was in charge, Marks delayed retransmission while he and his team of four hundred girls worked round the clock to break through to the message. In decoding an encoded message that’s not up to code, it is not surprising that you would make recourse to the unconscious. One example standing in for countless others, but this particular one hailing from the Nazi German side of code cracking: “The solutions took a heavy toll of nervous energy. ‘You must concentrate almost in a nervous trance when working on a code,’ Miss Friedrichs recalled. ‘It is not often done by conscious effort.’ The solution often seems to crop up from the subconscious” (Kahn).
Marks took the unconscious to the briefing room. At the same wartime, he wrote a report entitled “Cyphers, Signals, and Sex,” in which he interrogated the unconscious motives behind mistakes made even by the most reliable coders or behind the failure to bury parachutes when the lives of agents dropping in behind enemy lines depended on the disposal service. Because of the dangers of capture and torture that they faced, and the risk of the enemy obtaining code and security check that was in this face, Marks tried to evaluate and communicate with the agents unconscious to unconscious. “Now, all I had to do during those exercises was to watch them, unobtrusively; to ‘photograph’ them when they were coding. . . . I became convinced that all cryptographers are basically voyeurs. And in my case, I was staring at these agents. I wanted to remember them – in case they sent an indecipherable message back – watching them, probing them, trying to belong to them. And so the idea of a voyeur was born. . . . So Peeping Tom wanted to photograph the impossible, the way I wanted to create the impossible – unbreakable codes” (Rodley). This last analogy seems in turn indecipherable. The clear text suggests that Marks and Mark Lewis (Peeping Tom) both sought through unconscious connection (within a melancholic retention span in Mark’s case) to project a certain transparency onto figures who would precisely never slide into the unsafety zone of indecipherability. For Marks, it was all about getting around or across (trans) the parent with a legacy to bestow.
Marks’s father owned a famous rare book shop where little Leo spent the first part of every Saturday learning the value of books. As a reward, he spent the second part of the day with his mother at the movies. When his father one morning showed him a first edition of Poe’s The Gold Bug, Leo was just a few heartbeats away from getting the code bug. “I began reading The Gold Bug, and it was about codes – the first time I’d ever heard about codes. And when I looked at the back of the book, I found that Marks and Co. had put the cost of the book in code, which they did at the back of all their books. And as Dad had told me it cost £6.50, I was able to work out their code. I then decided that one day I wanted to understand codes and write a horror story, like Edgar Allan Poe”. He would reject the delegated run of his father’s bookshop and accept the codes on the backs of the books. He needed to keep his relationship safe. What fascinated him so about codes was “the fact that so much depended on their being safe”. Freud came right in and set a spell: “An interest in Freud was almost instinctive, in an only child destined to run a book shop, hooked on codes.” The interest in Freud was instinctive in the father’s heir who would turn down the inheritance given with his name. The price code, the bookstore’s undercover means of maintaining the profit margin, was his way around the conflict. “The greatest code of all was the unconscious, and Freud appeared to have deciphered it”.
Marks embraced the peep show in cinema (with his mother sitting next to him), cryptography, and psychoanalysis, but precisely as impossible desire for self-relation (Mark Lewis’s ultimate fear photo was of himself, by himself). Thus the relationship to the father is underscored, even in its absence, as the opposite of impossible, namely, as necessary. What wasn’t possible back then under wartime pressure was able to emerge in some other place and time in Peeping Tom. But just when you thought it was getting personal, Marks makes a determination that remains cryptic: “There was not time to explore, deal with, or acknowledge the unconscious resistance in a Resistance Movement agent”.
According to the many how-to histories compiled by and for the Anglo- American military psychological establishment, rediscoveries of energy and languistic contamination (or, respectively, of psychotic and neurotic transference) in the course of treating symptomatizing soldiers during World War II could even be made latently or inadvertently. More direct hits of discovery concern group or adolescent psychology. So-called shelter life tested new grounds for therapeutic intervention and support: “The feeling of being together seemed to enable people to withstand the conditions of intensive air raiding better than if they remained relatively isolated in small groups in their own homes”. But what groups release must also be recontained within the family system. R. D. Gillespie gets around the contradiction by treating the wartime access to adolescent populations as a separate issue: “The war may be a blessing in disguise to such children, whose problems may have to be dealt with at an earlier date than would otherwise have been the case”. Not every blessing must come in disguise. But the wound of evacuation, the origin of the science of adolescent psychology, which is neither addressed nor dressed up, becomes the opening up of the borderline in groups and in teens. In this concluding context, Gillespie singles out “security in family relationships” as “one of the most important factors for insurance against” the disturbances encountered both in the population of teen evacuees and down the military ranks. What the family provides at this juncture is a limit to sexual thoughts in groups – recreational or replicational sex – imposed by the thought, language, or energy controls of its reproducing and reducing plans for the future:
Arealistic type of education can contribute toward the rapprochement between the ideas of sex and the ideas about reproduction in the mind of the individual at an early age. At present in the adolescent these ideas are often so intellectually disconnected that they are about as distant emotionally as they were in the case of people so primitive that they did not even guess that a connection existed.
Because her turn to acting out in theory and therapy acts out the relationship to her mother, Melanie Klein, which was peeping hot and hostile, Melitta Schmideberg really gets in to the act of wartime discovery or study of delinquency. On the margin or setting horizon of her 1948 Children in Need, Schmideberg finds that loss in generation gets handed down from the war’s neuroticization of a father to his daughter and all her children:
The main cause of her illness lay in the fact that her father, after being torpedoed in the last war, had developed a severe neurosis and had never received adequate treatment for it. Unless my patient receives treatment, her illness, may, in its turn, mar her marriage and make her children unhappy.
The inheritance or orphanage of the war has left behind 500,000 neglected children:
They are most likely to become neurotics, criminals, or, in general, unsatisfactory individuals, who are potentially as dangerous to the nation as 500,000 Nazi agents.
But the war also introduced benefits. The air pressures of evacuation led to the establishment of special hostels for difficult children:
We all know that the future of the nation depends on the welfare of the children. It was an unparalleled achievement that during the war we succeeded in maintaining and improving their health. Similar efforts and sacrifices are needed to achieve a higher level of mental health of the nation. The family should be helped before the child becomes maladjusted.
Under the new air war conditions of subject or object access, psychoanalysis in Britain refocused its intrapsychic theory and therapy on a new brand of “object relations.” These relations occupied or cathected, at least in their origin as theory, condemned sites of the first developments into which regression evacuated you when the shock of trauma took you all the way back, back down the line of segregation between (and that means inside) the good and bad identifications or objects of earliest childhood. It was the symptom of separation anxiety, the bouncing ball to follow when it came to the traumatic or war neuroses not only of evacuated children but also of soldiers, that first dropped the shadow of its trajectory across intrapsychic space, a war zone Freud had reserved for ego libido, but which the founders of the British object-relations school of psychoanalysis reorganized up and down the line of object rebound. The economic theory of libido was new and improved as the wartime school (or war economy) of relations with good and bad objects moving in place across one line of internal or projected segregation.
The matchmaking of libido that must score good or bad accelerates the violence or identification already under way on the way to the object. In other words, war may be the measure of excess in relations, but that means it’s also a norm. That’s why D. W. Winnicott admitted certain standards of object diplomacy not only for the objectives of war. In “Berlin Walls,” the “line and the segregation of benign and persecutory elements” that Winnicott finds inside “inner psychic reality” at large allow, before marching orders to war are all that’s left to be given, for the projection or export of what’s good along the track of idealization and of what’s bad down the “disposal of dangerous or waste products.” Whether in war or in the piece by piece negotiations of peacetime, the “individual with no line down the middle in the diagram of the person” does not exist except, perhaps, during the full half-life that the emergency relief organization of a “scapegoat mechanism” or “a real or an imagined or a provoked or a delusional persecution” affords us.
The settings brought to us by air war imposed new therapeutic standards of broader applicability even inside analytic understanding. For object-relations analysts D. W. Winnicott, W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, and Wilfred R. Bion, the wartime stress was on the new distinction between rehabilitation and therapy with which they formed a compromise on the way to colonizing psychosis, perversion, and group psychology for psychoanalytic management. In his review of Fairbairn’s work, Winnicott agrees that wartime conditions introduced management and occupation procedures that should be followed first before deep work can begin in cases of acute regression. The therapeutic dimension of management comes up again in his review of Anna Freud’s reflections on her time done down at the Hampstead War Nurseries, in which Winnicott seconds her notion that the prospect of air attack had in fact mobilized in the staff and their charges the group resources of self-healing.
During the war, Winnicott specialized in the treatment of children and adolescents evacuated to the countryside, where they began giving grief to the locals. As documented in his 1947 “Residential Management as Treatment for Difficult Children: The Evolution of a Wartime Hostels Scheme,” the authorities on location had already awarded the children individual psychological treatment while relocating them to facilities where they could stay in the meantime out of trouble. When Winnicott’s team introduced at these facilities “residential management,” it turned out that this intervention “in itself constituted a therapy”. The institution of child care in England, Winnicott reflects, was thus founded only under these emergency conditions.
The problem children of the air war either had no satisfactory home of their own or had already experienced the breakup or the danger of breakup of their home life. That’s why a “primary home experience” is what is needed to lay down a foundation of mental health and thus a working relation to external reality. The creation of a therapeutic home or internal front at the hostels could install an inside-out blender and stabilizer for the child’s destructive and reparative urges. But that’s also what makes the maintenance of such an ambivalence-proof holding pattern so difficult: as they begin to get hope these children first increase their level of being difficult. But it’s just a test that the therapist in attendance is hard-pressed to pass: “The experience subsequent to this state forms the essence of hostel therapeutics”. Winnicott’s basic insight into the hostile auto-therapeutics of delinquent children and adolescents, who remain stuck on the series of before and after pictures to which the shudder or shutter of early deprivation (or, at the psychotic end, privation) reduced their lives of acting out, was thus set on wartime access. Beginning in these zones of evacuation where the fit of juvenile delinquency with group-therapeutic management was first recognized, Winnicott continued to see through the adolescent generation of hostility as the repeater attempt to get back at the present and get back to a past prior to the trauma of deprivation or loss, which is thus the acting-out teen’s disowned but perpetual present tense and tension.
Under the conditions of total air war, open therapy was the password that introduced analysis into new frontiers of psychopathological and institutional resistance. And this brand-new access to patient populations or object relations brought about a shift inside psychoanalysis away from the allegorical split between theoretical shorthand and the transference toward total therapeutic functionalism that, even in theory, stays with the material relationality of the analytic setting. This mobilization of the therapeutic setting (of world war) hit the rock bottom line of the neurotic outbreak of internal war and worked regression close to the borderline, along which group protection takes over where negative transferences leave off. Problem children, juvenile delinquents, and incapacitated soldiers were all in the same kind of misrelation to a lost object that, as the symptom-building trauma center of group psychology, calls for a brand of therapy designed for group-level intervention. Group therapy was seen to open, isolate, and protect access ways for treatment even all the way down those one-way tracks of severe regression. Air pressure released the peer pressures of socialization, maintenance, and reeducation with which the group experience automatically comes complete, and which opened and kept open the transferential lines of communication otherwise psychotically foreclosed in one-on-one relations, including the Big One of individual therapy or psychoanalysis.
As documented in his 1943 “Intra-group Tensions in Therapy: Their Study as the Task of the Group,” when Bion took charge of the training wing of a military psychiatric hospital during the war, he soon determined that if, in the treatment of the individual, neurosis is displayed as a problem of the individual, then in the treatment of groups it must be displayed as a group problem. Although the men were already in units and thus, he concluded, already in therapeutic formation, the greater discipline of the war effort, organized around a common danger and a common aim, was just what the doctor ordered.
The common danger in the training wing was the existence of neurosis as a disability of the community. I was now back at my starting-point—the need, in the treatment of a group, for displaying neurosis as a problem of the group. But, thanks to my excursion into the problem of discipline, I had come back with two additions. Neurosis needs to be displayed as a danger to the group: and its display must somehow be made the common aim of the group.
Group psychologization, Bion came to realize, was as much an intrapsychic fact of modern life as industrialization or technologization. Bion designed group therapy to catch and treat group-psychological symptoms (or symptoms of group psychologization) where they breed. Bion thus subsumes couplification (of sex, repression, and transference) as coming under group experience where it represents the “pairing assumption” of one-onone relations, which alternates with the other two, “fight or flight” and “dependency.” Indeed, psychoanalysis, when it has a single mind to promote and track the transference alone, is elaborating its own symptom of overidentification with only one out of three assumption groups.
Freud was handicapped by having to deduce group situations from his study of the transference. . . Indeed, it is in the group situation that we can most easily find the source of both the prominence of sexual elements in psychoanalysis and the suspicions and accusations of the opponents of Freud that psychoanalysis was “sexual.” (Bion, “Experiences IV,” 226)
All symptoms are group symptoms, which “arise precisely from the nature of the group itself”. The emotional experiences patients introduce into group therapy as their own symptoms “are really derived from their being at one with other members of the emotionally reinforced group, and their conflict both with themselves and the group” (Bion, “Experiences V,” 4). Group development is the goal of being in groups, but it’s also the focus of greatest resistance (even the usual worries about the time, about when to begin, express resistance to this goal of development).
Bion’s system not only puts the psychoanalytic couple in its place but also, through absorption and expansion of the transference, interrogates medical science’s segregation of somatic from psychosomatic disorders. The group matrix extends to a phase of symptom formation “where physical and mental are undifferentiated”. From his treatment of soldiers who were no longer able to be at ease, Bion first picked up the application for monitoring all aspects of what he sets in our type-face as “dis-ease.” By getting with his system, one can thus exercise vigilance precisely where personality changes prior to the appearance of tubercular lesions, for example, traditionally led “to suggestion that the patient was malingering” . The Bionic system is modeled ultimately on the evidence of war neurosis: the symptoms of shell shock, which pop up and linger or malinger in zones of nondifferentiation between the physical and psychical, turn on receptions of real trauma (or disease) that were all along staying tuned to primal time programming. The intrapsychic dimension is back where you least expect to find it: in the psychology of groups, which Bion first encountered when he tracked the ultimate location of shell shock’s absorption of disturbance, and then continued to follow out throughout an era he saw as characterized by a new double body of knowledge: the “mechanics” involved in flying airplanes and in managing groups.
*Nazi Psychoanalysis: Crypto-fetishism – Laurence A. Rickels
- Brian DePalma Film Club Special Field Trip: Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (abbottgran.wordpress.com)
- More thoughts on Peeping Tom: fathers, sons, and the maternal gaze (abbottgran.wordpress.com)