(“Banalities” by Brane Mozetič, “Blesok”, Skopje, 2004)
#1 The crucial choice in human existence, the one between life and death, is articulated in the poetry collection „Banalities“ of the distinguished Slovenian poet Brane Mozetič, now available in Macedonian in the excellent translation of Lidija Dimkovska and published by “Blesok”. This articulation of the life instinct expressed in the desperate need to discover the meaning of existence (“And for half a life / I’ve tried to stay alive and maybe discover / the secret of life!”) and the death instinct (“The first thought that comes to your mind / is to cut your wrists, to tie a noose, / or to leap from a building”), determined by alienation (“Friends aren’t friends, / acquaintances aren’t acquaintances, lovers / aren’t lovers, a mother isn’t a mother, / a father isn’t a father, a wife isn’t a wife, the ground isn’t the ground”) results in complete loss of the meaning of existence and pleasure: “Things had become banal: life, writing, / all superfluous.”
Explaining the principle of pleasure in his “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” and “The Ego and the Id”, Freud suggests that this principle automatically regulates the course of psychological processes; it “is invariably set in motion by an unpleasurable tension, and … it takes a direction such that its final outcome coincides with a lowering of that tension – that is, with an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure” (Freud 1984: 253). Freud puts both pleasure and displeasure in relation with the quantity of excitement that is present in the psyche, in such a way that “unpleasure corresponds to an increase in the quantity of excitation and pleasure to a diminution.” This relation is a relation of “any directly proportional ratio; the factor that determines the feeling is probably the amount of increase or diminution in the quantity of excitation in a given period of time”. (ibid: 254).
The pleasure principle is regulating, but it is not dominant at the same time, as it is opposed by other forces and relations. Because of the difficulties of the surrounding world, the pleasure principle is obstructed, or more precisely, replaced, by the reality principle, whose goal is maybe pleasure as well, but first of all endurance, and “it nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction, the abandonment of a number of possibilities of gaining satisfaction and the temporary toleration of unpleasure as a step on the long indirect road to pleasure”. Although it happens, under the influence of, as Freud says, “instincts, which are so hard to ‘educate’,” that the principle of pleasure defeats the principle of reality (ibid: 255), the transformation from the direct fulfillment of certain pleasure, the pleasure in limiting the pleasures, the joy to labor, the receptiveness to production, which in total is a transformation of the principle pf pleasure to principle of reality, is what is needed in the so-called civilized world.
The second source of unpleasure is a consequence of the conflicts in the psyche as well, occurring in the period when “the ego is passing through its development into more highly composite organizations”. Having in mind that the inborn instincts do not reach euqal development phases, some of them, striving to their goals and demands, come to a clash with others that are united in the unity of ego. Then, they “are then split off from this unity by the process of repression, held back at lower levels of psychical development and cut off, to begin with, from the possibility of satisfaction. If they succeed subsequently, … by roundabout paths, to a direct or to a substitutive satisfaction”, and here Freud points at satisfying of suppressed sexual instincts as a frequent example, “that event, which would in other cases have been an opportunity for pleasure, is felt by the ego as unpleasure”, that is, “neurotic unpleasure is of that kind – pleasure that cannot be felt as such” (ibid: 256). Although pleasure and excitement are found in some kind of a bond, one of them (pleasure) still causes disgust with the other (excitement) (ibid: 295).
The principle of pleasure (…) is a tendency that serves the function, whose task is to completely relieve the psychological apparatus of excitement or maintain its excitement at a permanent – as low as possible – level (…). This function would have part in the most general instinct of everything that is alive, that is, in the return to the calm of the inorganic world. We have all felt that the biggest pleasure that we can achieve, the pleasure of the sexual act, is related to a momentary satisfaction of a very strong excitement. The relation of the instinctive strive would be a preparatory function that should prepare the excitement for its end in the pleasure of relief.
The poetic subject of “Banalities” of Mozetič longs for the return of pleasure, for the restoration of the ability to experience it: “Let him use / everything that he knows, everything that he can, / only to bring back, even for a moment, the feeling, / the feeling that I have no more.” Not finding the final fulfillment in anything, the Thanatos instinct becomes even stronger in him, so in “Friday Is the Day When You Think of Death”, he says: “you hope / that morning will never come.”
In his “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” and “The Ego and the Id”, Sigmund Freud also explains the concept of Eros and Thanatos. Presenting them as two opposed instincts1 that are in constant relation, because they are both essentially related to the principle of pleasure, they are established in connection to each other since the earliest phases of the psychological development of the individual. In his book “Eros and Civilization”, Herbert Marcuse mentions that both Eros and Thanatos, both the life instinct and the death instinct, are equally dangerous for the society, and therefore they are equally sanctioned by the social system. He says that “their destructive force derives from the fact that they strive for a gratification which culture cannot grant: gratification as such and as an end in itself, at any moment. The instincts must therefore be deflected from their goal, inhibited in their aim.” According to Marcuse, “civilization begins when the primary objective — namely, integral satisfaction of needs — is effectively renounced” (Marcuse 1985: 23). This unstopped Eros and Thanatos are identified by Marcuse in two personalities of the ancient mythology. He says that Narcissus and Orpheus reconcile the instinct of death and the instinct of life (ibid, 147148).
They bring back to memory the experience of the world that will not be ruled and controlled, but that will be liberated – liberty that will unbind the forces of Eros that are not stopped in the suppressed and petrified shapes of man and nature. These forces are understood not as demolition, but as calm; not as horror, but as beauty. It is enough to list the collected representations in order to define the dimension that they have: redemption of pleasure, end of time, absorbing the death; silence, dream, night, paradise (…)