A (slightly edited) Conversation With a Friend On the Subject of “Gas Lighting”

He: What about this psychological colloquialism called “gas lighting” ?

Me: Why, if somebody is manipulating me and causing me to question my sanity, did I let myself be lured into this trap while others did not? By claiming that there is gas lighting happening isn’t it the case that it renews the initial problem, that is, it displaces the subject? So, I might witness the following inner dialogue: “I must have been insane to fall for gas lighting!”

He: And the person gas lighting the other?


Me: He doesn’t exist. Those who use the phrase “gas lighting” are never the people who supposedly “gas light,” unless, of course, they are the ones gas lighting the gas lighters. So, the person accused of gas lighting might witness the following inner dialogue: “I must have been insane to not have realized that I was gas lighting!” How unfortunate for him that somebody else had to invent the word to describe his condition. In any case, the point is that it is always the person gas lighting who is reduced to an object of the claim.

He: I’m asking what your diagnosis is for somebody who is supposedly gas lighting… or I guess you’re saying they don’t actually exist.


Me: Yes, that’s what I am saying. Only the subject of gas lighting exists. I don’t doubt that people try to manipulate other people and make them feel insane, etc., but I see no reason to call it “gas lighting” as if that is a clinical condition. Those who “gas light” will not tell us anything about the human condition precisely because they never assert themselves as “gas lighters.” Instead, it is the accuser, the subject of the claim, who asserts the concept upon, for example, his or her psychoanalyst! This is important, no doubt, because it is always a supposition, a supposition of the subjet suppose savoir who is, in this case, supposed to know that he is gas lighting his patients.

He: My interest is in the idea that some people, the gas lighters, cannot accept that the other does not submit to their reality. I didn’t think gas lighting was a real thing …

Me: Ah, right. I think you write something interesting though, “submit to their clinical reality.”

He: I was hoping you’d catch that …

Me: The term already introduces a sense of an underlying reality which can be trusted, a foundation, something that organizes the experience. But the question being asked has nothing to do with reality – it has to do with the stories we tell ourselves. So, for example, it doesn’t matter whether or not somebody suffered a trauma, in reality. What matters is the way we experience ourselves vis-a-vis the reality or unreality of the situation. Freud abandoned the seduction theory for this reason: in the unconscious, reality, fact or fiction, doesn’t matter. So, why is the reality important, except, finally, that we can never grasp it and that when we do it is simply too much to bare?

He: True, … which leads to subjectivism…

Me: Here is a thought experiment. Let us suppose that there are two “realities,” two ways of seeing the world. I submit that the only way we can know if they are “two” and not “one” is to show that they are different from one another. If, they are, in fact different, then we can say that they are definitely two. But this raises a new question: how can we show that they are different? We must test them. The surest way to test them is to put them in a war with one another. If they fight to the death then they are on opposite sides in the war, different teams, if they do not fight to the death, then they are capable of sharing a reality, that is, they are, at some level, allies. Good so far?

He: I suppose. But I would contend that it is obvious that we have separate realities.

Me: okay. So, separate realities. Now: do we tolerate them as separate? The liberal answer is usually “yes.” Each should have their own reality, and should be entitled to it, without “gas lighting,” that is, without another person manipulating that other person into doubting their reality or into accepting another reality. Follow so far?

He: Yup.

Me: So I turn to the analogy of war. Let us give each reality its content. Reality #1 says: “Your reality doesn’t deserve to live, so I will kill it now.” Reality #2 says: “no, your reality doesn’t deserve to live, so I will kill it now.” We agreed above, I think, that this is how to properly distinguish between two realities, to ensure that they are not “one.”


So, here we return to the problem: both realities, to prove that they respect the reality of the other, must allow their own reality to die or else they must manipulate or kill the other reality.

He: “Love.”

What did Socrates say, one soul inhabiting two bodies or some shit? Without mutual submission, there is no love?

Me: Not necessarily. Love is giving what you don’t have to somebody who doesn’t want it. That’s what Lacan said. It means that love is embracing the lack of a shared reality, together. Which doesn’t mean embracing the other person’s reality, or one’s own reality. But the lack of reality itself.

I love you bro

He: I love you, man

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