Frail Identity

In lieu of my previous post on the ambivalence between demarcating the categories of saint and sinner I thought a psychoanalytic example would further clarify the blurring of complimentary opposites. In psychoanalysis, as in anthropology, it is generally taken for granted that the sacred and the profane are inextricably linked with the establishment of a symbolic system. Necessarily, the logic of prohibition founds the abject and constitutes the social order in a binary logic of proper-clean and improper-dirty. Although this demarcating imperative varies between cultures, the pattern is universal. Once the social has been classified and organized in this way defilement is taken as a threat to one’s own clean self. In other words, “the danger of filth represents for the subject the risk to which the very symbolic order is permanently exposed, to the extent that it is a device of discriminations, of differences” (Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror, 69). Without this differentiation of inner and outer borders the subject is at risk of falling outside the symbolic order. To safeguard from such defiling elements primitive societies would hold rites of purification which would excluded and jettison the danger of filth to the margins of society. Furthermore, this hierarchical establishment was vigorously defended against the threat of “outsiders”.

This social mapping, however, becomes highly problematic when the outside/inside boundary is internal. Just like the Saint/Sinner paradox, the outcome is a frail identity. No longer is the abject foreign or external to the individual but internal to his ego. In sum,

…the non-constitution of the (out-side) object as such renders unstable the ego’s identity, which could not be precisely established without having been differentiated from an other, from its object. The ego of primary narcissism is thus uncertain, fragile, threatened, subjected just as much as its non-object to spatial ambivalence (inside/outside uncertainty) and to ambiguity of perception (pleasure/pain) (Powers of Horror, 62)


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