Last week, we discussed the state of disembodiment, wherein an individual, walled-up in a state of ‘shutupness’, comes to lose his connection to the world by a process of external dehumanisation. This week, we’ll look at the condition that makes that state possible and provides the environment in which it can grow. That condition is called, ‘ontological insecurity’. What is it? Well, we’re going back to R.D. Laing, of course:
“A firm sense of one’s own autonomous identity is required in order that one may be related as one human being to another. Otherwise, any and every relationship threatens the individual with loss of identity. One form this takes can be called engulfment. In this, the individual dreads relatedness as such, with anyone or anything, or, indeed, even with himself, because his uncertainty about the stability of his autonomy lays him open to the dread lest in any relationship he will lose his autonomy and identity… and the main manoeuvre to preserve identity under pressure from the dread of engulfment is isolation.“
Pretty wordy language, but I think the idea is clear. Ontological insecurity describes the psychological condition of a person whose grasp on the concept of his self and autonomy is so tentative that every and any contact with the outside world threatens that very self with obliteration. The retreat and defence, for the most part, is complete isolation.
My twenties were a particularly rough period of my life. I can look back on it now with renewed insight, and so I try not to be too hard on myself and view those years with some degree of compassion. But, yes, it was a long period of extreme isolation. When I wasn’t indulging in one form of self-harm or another, I was often to be found reading. Wherever I was, I’d be the guy searching for the place with no people, be it the end of a deserted pier, or the side of a mountain, and I’d usually have a book in hand, primed to bury myself in it. I read a lot of spiritual stuff in those days, Buddhist, Zen, whatever, and then I’d come across something like this in the pages: ‘Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.’ And reading it, it would be all the evidence I needed that I was on the right path, doing the right thing, because fuck people, who needs em, they’re all cunts anyway. Right? Well, like I say, I look back now and try to have compassion for that guy, but it’s clear that that was one disturbed individual. Isolation – that was my drug, my refuge. And I can see it quite clearly now, but then I couldn’t see past my own walls.
What the ontologically insecure person does, then, is protect himself from ‘impingement’ from the outside world and other people by depersonalising, or dehumanising, them, something we touched on briefly last week. Let’s defer to The Divided Self once again:
“The risk consists in this: if one experiences the other as a free agent, one is open to the possibility of experiencing oneself as an object of his experience and therefore feeling one’s own subjectivity drained away. One is threatened with the possibility of becoming no more than a thing in the world of the other, without any life for oneself, without any being for oneself. In terms of such anxiety, the very act of experiencing the other as an individual is seen as virtually suicidal.“
Thus, so that the individual can pre-empt destruction of his being by the other, he sets out to destroy the world around him in order to protect his walled kingdom. Pretty messed up, right? To the schizoid individual, destruction is a matter of his own survival. Destruction, however, becomes self-destruction: “The more one attempts to preserve one’s own autonomy and identity by nullifying the specific needs of the other, the more one’s own ontological security is decreased.”
Where am I going with all of this? Well, we started out talking about Meat, and we’re still talking about Meat. In a way. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter ‘Notes from a Cannibalist’:
“I cross the Alps on the meat of a young vagrant in Geneva, a runaway, his body communion to my now ethereal husk, across Switzerland and Italy and down into Croatia he carries me, where in Dubrovnik I kill for the last time, not for need of meat but because the eatin of souls is what now sustains me, for each new soul I consume my own flesh becomes lighter, freer, so that by the time I reach Greece my form blows like a warm Sirocco over the land, fuelled by souls, innumerable souls, and when I drift into Athens I see it, the incontrovertible truth of it, that there is only one salvation: to devour, to savour, to consume.
And ye shall consume, and consumption shall make ye free.”
Un-fucking-canny. For me, at least. Hey, you might be thinking, surely you’re just an author getting kicks outta digging around in your own work, indulging in a spot of self-mythologising and masturbatory academic self-pleasure? Yeah, sure, I’m doing all that. What did I say I was writing this for? For curiosity, for entertainment. Why not? Cause I got nothing better to do with my Sunday and I’m killing a few hours. That’s why.
So, I started out writing this as a way of exploring whether the author can (or should) be found in his or her texts. Have I answered that question? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I’m not done yet. Let’s try to hammer down an answer to the question more clearly next time.
(Read Part Three)
‘Ontological Insecurity’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: all content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.