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Title: The mourning of lost autonomy : a philosophical and psychoanalytic critique on the objectification of fantasy
Author: Thistlethwaite, Max
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 4313
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2017
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What or who is the modern subject? Are people sovereign, filled with passion, creativity, freedom and autonomy; or are we slaves, robots and automatons forever tied to the chains of civilization? It is very common to critique modernity. From the Frankfurt school to Foucault, many seem to have focused primarily on its negative characteristics including the promotion of narcissism and its contribution to alienation and depression. However, this work arose from my general ambivalence toward how society, and ideology, impacts notions of the self or, more importantly, self-consciousness and autonomy. In this work I tried to offer a framework that not only challenges the tenets of a way of conceptualising the human subject by means of extreme objectivity, which is aligned with notions of cognitivism and stems, I argue, from the worldview of Protestantism, but also its antithesis, extreme subjectivity that manifests itself in intense hubris that can present a very real danger to the very foundations of civilization. Thus, the work takes aim at both the consequence of extreme objectivity i.e. nihilism, inherent within some of the tenets of contemporary capitalism, and extreme subjectivity i.e. relativism. This work provides a historical analysis starting with the Protestant Reformation and ending with Contemporary Capitalism. By doing so, I was able to emphasise a new conceptualisation of the master-slave dialectic into a hierarchal structure beginning with the Absolute Master and ending with the Quinary Master vis-à-vis death to work. What I demonstrated, and reinforced, is the notion that human consciousness is a highly complex hybrid of interacting master-slave dynamics that is fuelled by fantasy, structured by the law, is seized upon by the government and the marketplace and finally put to work. However, the essential core of the subject is a radical void that simply punches a hole through the processes of the unconscious, which is swallowed up by the desire of the other i.e. the desire of these given masters. Depression's genesis I view as the subject yielding too much to the desire of a specific type of societal structure. This reached its peak with the Puritans in England during the 16th and 17th century that aimed to purge any type of transcendent experience, which is characteristic of fantasy and led to widespread misery. On the other hand, the period of Romanticism led to a colossal eruption of the imagination that attempted to bypass established conventions and flooded the world with colour. However, this anarchistic worldview presented an extremely dangerous threat to the very foundation of society and thus had to be brought to heel by an evolved state structure. The overall structure of the work is based on a gradual unfolding of a hierarchical system starting with the very foundations of the subject, through the complexities of ideological influence and ending with the subject under contemporary capitalism. The final two chapters aimed to contemporise the critiques from Romanticism toward the Enlightenment by attacking the tenets of cognitivism as being indicative of a system put forward by thinkers prevalent in the 18th century that abstracted the human condition and tried to objectify the psyche. The scope of the work is large and diverse and hopes to contribute to psychoanalytical and philosophical literature by providing a hierarchical system of the master-slave dialectic in the development of self-consciousness. The work also provides a critique of ideology by highlighting how a certain structure of society can contribute to neurosis by either prohibiting or liberating fantasy. I do not endorse the cliché and wholly hostile view toward capitalism, but support the notion that one should remain ambivalent. That is to say that the work highlights that the free market is indeed innocent but only becomes problematic when it begins to work in collusion with a specific state system. In supporting the argument of Protestantism being closely tied to the development of capitalism, what should be viewed with great precaution is the very definition of what is deemed a beneficial characteristic. This meritocratic worldview is indeed essential to stave off overreach from politics, however, and as Rousseau addressed, the concept of meritocracy can promote a society of selfishness and pride as well as reinforce what I call the standard route via new forms of management, leading to a reduction of autonomy and enhancement of conformity. In attempting to generate this framework, I have utilised multiple philosophical paradigms including ancient Greek, Continental, Romantic, Idealist, Psychoanalysis and more to provide an eclectic approach to this inquiry. What the reader will take away from this project is a unique and new understanding of the individual, how the subject is impacted from engaging with different societal systems and a warning of what can happen if one submits too much to passion or reason.
Supervisor: Nobus, D. ; Vadolas, A. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Depression & Weltschmerz ; Romanticism ; enlightenment ; rationalism ; cognitive science ; Relativism ; nihilism ; Capitalism ; socialism ; communism ; Subjectivity ; objectivity ; consciousness ; identity & self