Author: StJohn Piano
Published: 2020-08-02
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In 2013, Dr Jordan Peterson gave a presentation at the Na MA Na Cinema film club about the film Mulholland Drive [0], which is essentially an overview of psychoanalytic theory. This article contains a faithful (but not literal) transcription of the presentation.

I'll start by telling you a little bit about psychoanalysis. Now, that's not a very straightforward thing to do, because there are a number of different schools of psychoanalysis, and they don't come to the same conclusions. But I'm going to try to tell you what I think is common and deep among the different schools, and then give credit to the originators of the ideas where that's due.

Psychoanalysis is, I would say, a romantic school of thought, and the reason for that is that, for psychoanalysts, emotion and motivation are far more important than rationality, and I would like to point out that that's true. It's not a theory. We know a lot more about the limitations of rationality now, partly because of our explorations of artificial intelligence, than we did a hundred and twenty years ago, when the psychoanalysts started their theorizing. You can't think without motivation and emotion. In fact, you can't think without a body. And even if you had a body, you couldn't think without the surrounding social world. And so for the psychoanalysts, and this is also true of thinkers like Nietzsche, you make sense out of the world because you're boxed in by society, and then you're boxed in by your body, and then you're boxed in by your motivations and emotions. And then only inside that circumscribed space can your rationality operate. And part of the reason for that is that most of the world is technically uncomputable. If you play chess, here's an example. The fastest supercomputer ever invented cannot calculate all the permutations in a single chess game if it ran from the beginning of time till now. And that's just a chess game. So what happens is that every action you take has consequences, and then those consequences have consequences, and those consequences of the consequences have consequences. You can't compute your way through life. We orient ourselves through life by mechanisms we really don't understand. And the psychoanalysts figured that out from a quasi-scientific perspective before anyone else.

Another way you can think about that is that for centuries, or for thousands of years, or maybe since the beginning of human consciousness, it was accepted as universal wisdom that human beings were the pawns of the gods, we might say. And these were, at minimum, causal forces with personality that operated behind the scenes and whose essential motivations were mysterious to us. Modern people no longer believe that, but the psychoanalysts began their theorizing from that fundamental perspective. Even Freud, who portrayed himself as rationally anti-religious, merely replaced religious notions with notions like the super-ego or the id. Now, he localized them inside, but whether the gods are inside or outside makes very little difference to whether or not there are gods.

What the psychoanalysts offered us, that no other school of psychology has managed so far, is the notion that human beings are basically a loose collection of spirits, instead of entities that are transparent to themselves and primarily rational. For the psychoanalyst, you're like a room full of ghosts, and you, the you that you think you are, might be one ghost among all those ghosts, and it even might think that it's the ghost in charge. But the probability that the part about being in charge is true is zero. It's simply not the case. And one of the other things that the psychoanalysts have to offer, which neither the cognitive scientists nor even the emotional neuroscientists have realized, is that the structures through which we look at the world, and also the structures that motivate us, are actually alive. We don't have mechanical cognition. What we have is... what we are is a sequence of embodiment by different motivated spirits. And you know that perfectly well if you watch yourself behave over a two week period. You're a different person when you're angry, you're a different person when you're afraid, you're a different person when you argue with someone you love, you're a different person when you're confused. You know, you're a different person when you're egotistical, you're a different person when you're wrong, and it takes a tremendous amount of psychological development before there's any coherence across those multiple selves, except the coherence of memory and post hoc rationalization.

One of the most terrifying realizations that the psychoanalysts lead people to is the realization that they are not alone in their heads. You can debate whether or not the space that you inhabit is in your head, because I don't really think that's accurate. But I don't think you can debate the proposition that you are not alone in your being, and it's also very difficult to debate the proposition that you're not the captain of the ship, or if you are, that there's plenty of skeletons below decks.

Freud, for his part, even though he was a nineteenth century rationalist, at least in terms of his formal thinking, was also someone who is painfully aware of the role of fundamental irrationality - romantic irrationality - in people's lives. He basically concentrated on the two elements of existence that were particularly anathema to the Victorians. One of those was sexuality, and the other was aggression. Sexuality was problematic for the Victorians, not merely because they were repressive, but because sexuality is a terrible demon, so to speak. I mean, a large part of the movie that you just watched, is an expression of the idea that sexuality is a terrible demon, and also that it's closely aligned with aggression. I mean, the blonde woman is basically possessed, and she's possessed to the point where she becomes not only murderous but suicidal. And Freud attempted with all his might to point out to the Victorians, especially the aristocratic Victorians, who thought of themselves as rational masters, that they were embodied creatures with an animal nature, and that they were motivated in large part by forces that not only did they not understand, but that they didn't even want to admit existed.

The blonde woman in the initial parts of the movie, when she's seen off by her uncle and aunt, is basically Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She's raised somewhere by loving relatives, and the aunt and the uncle, or the older couple, played that role there. They wish her well in her wonderful adventure into Hollywood, and she naively accepts their benevolence as, you know, an appropriate way of interacting with her. And, of course, it's not appropriate at all. She's naive, right to the bloody core. Whoever really were her parents did an absolutely dismal job of preparing her for reality. They allowed her to nurture naive, princess-like fantasies that are so fractured and sketchy that they have zero adaptive utility, and they basically set her up for catastrophic failure.

From the Freudian perspective, that's an Oedipal story, because the fundamental lesson of Freud's Oedipal theory is "do not let your theoretically benevolent caretakers delude you into naive faith". So, in the Freudian scheme of things, the Oedipal mother, for example, infantilizes her son. Freud read that as a familial pathology, and Jung read that as a mythological pathology, even though Freud did talk about Oedipus as a myth. Freud's basic idea, with regards to the Oedipal complex, was that it's very easy for a mother to entice her son (but, even more broadly, for parents to entice their children) into a false sense of dependent security, by helping them pretend that the world is much more benevolent and simple than it really is. Freud's observation of that was that the reason that the parents did that was two-fold: one was that they were cowardly and unable to look at the world as it really was, and second, that their fundamental aim was to eradicate the independent strivings of their children so that they would never leave home, so that the parents didn't have to suffer from loneliness. So it's an ugly, ugly, ugly story, and this is partly why Freud has been met with so much resistance. There's lots of reasons, but he's absolutely right. I mean, Freud's basic Oedipal theory was that the most difficult thing that a human being has to do is to develop enough independence to break away from the maternal nest, or the familial nest, so that they can live an independent existence, and that there's multiple ways that that could be seriously interfered with, some of which border on incestuous.

And, I mean, I appreciated that when I first read Freud, but once I became a clinical psychologist, I thought, "Well, yeah, that's - that's just exactly how it is". I never have anybody in my therapy practice whose parents made them too independent. That never happens. Never. I have any number of people in my clinical practice whose parents seriously interfered with their children striving towards independence. And Freud believed that was universal. He believed that the reason the Oedipal myth was universal was because it was very difficult for creatures who had as long a history of dependence as human beings, and who were born so helpless, to develop an independent identity, given the need for their protection across, you know, an eighteen-year period. Jung viewed that in a slightly more profound manner in some ways, because he thought of it as a problem that transcended the mere family, because Jung believed that one of the temptations of consciousness itself was to hide from reality, and that you didn't necessarily need any parental interference with your development to hide your head in the sand from the true nature of reality, like someone who was naive. So he believed that that was also an existential problem, and he believed that partly because he was a student of Nietzsche who observed, quite rightly, that much of what passes for morality is, in fact, cowardice.

Of course, this movie picks up on that theme to some tremendous degree, because although Betty is very naive, part of that naivety is merely cowardice. She just doesn't have any life experience at all. And you see very rapidly in the movie that when she's actually presented with temptation, her façade of naive morality is eradicated instantly, the second she's given any temptation. She falls prey to the love affair, she hesitates not at all to break and enter. She ends up hiring a murderer. I mean, she's not a good girl, like the Betty in the Archie Comics. She's not a good girl at all. She's just someone who's so inexperienced and clueless that she lives in an Oedipal dreamworld. And she thinks of Hollywood as a magical fantasy place where dreams come true, like they do for Cinderella. And you see the Cinderella motif the first time she encounters the director and does her scene when she's singing like some princess, and then she has to run out at the last moment. There's a bit of a brief utilization of the myth of Cinderella in there, just like there is utilization of the idea of The Wizard of Oz. Betty is basically Dorothy, and you see the great and wonderful Oz manipulating things behind the scenes. So the psychoanalytic perspective is that people are inhabited by multiple spirits, and they are not clearly the masters in their own houses. And as far as I'm concerned to not believe that is mere naivety. It seems to me, especially as a consequence of thinking of it for so long, that it's self-evidently true and that if people merely meditate on that in their own life for any period of time, they can understand that very rapidly.

The second thing that the psychoanalysts really brought to the forefront, along with their emphasis on irrationality - motivation and emotion, say - was their emphasis on both the unconscious and on dreams. Freud was really the great formalizer of the idea of the unconscious, although there were many precursors to that idea. The archaic idea of the underworld, for example, is a romantic and religious precursor of the idea of the unconscious. The ancients externalized the unconscious and thought about it as the place of gods, whereas by the time we had Freud, we started to believe that most of the unexplained complexity in the world was actually localized inside our head, which is not clearly true. For Freud, and then again, for Jung, the unconscious was the place of either disguised secrets, which would be the Freudian viewpoint, or knowledge that had not yet come to be, which was the Jungian viewpoint. Now, I think Jung wins that argument hands down. Although I have seen people who were compartmentalized in their thinking in exactly the manner that Freud described.

Freud believed that fantasies, in some sense - and you could include this movie as an example of fantasies like that - were essentially wish fulfillments, and that what they fulfilled were unconscious wishes, and unconscious wishes were often wishes that were generated by parts of the psyche that had either not been allowed to manifest themselves properly - let's say, in the case of id-generated fantasies - or that had been actively repressed. The ability to distinguish between what's merely underdeveloped and what's actively repressed - that's not such an easy distinction to make. And it's conceivable that it's valid, especially in situations that are like the Freudian Oedipal situation, where people are raised in situations where all sorts of things are merely not allowed to exist, which is Betty's state of mind when she naively encounters Hollywood. For Jung, the situation was more complex. Jung had a dream once that he was excavating a basement with Freud, which is, of course, essentially what he was doing, and that he dug underneath what Freud was digging, was excavating, and he found an immense cellar, basement, mansion with thousands and thousands of rooms, and I think that's exactly right. I think that is what Jung did in relation to Freud. It was in some ways as if Freud opened the door and Jung stepped through it. And it was very hard on Freud because there were limits to the places that he was willing to go, even though he was a very courageous person.

Jung believed that dreams could be revelatory, and he has a very, very, very sophisticated theory about how that might come about. So for Jung, the dream was - and you can include in the dream all genuine art, all genuine literature, all the elements of human creativity that we would consider fine arts or humanities-based. Anything that's like that (that's not ideological) would fall for Jung under the rubric of compensatory fantasy. Jung's idea was that the ego basically attempted to impose a coherent and somewhat simplified perspective on the world, which would be like Betty's initial viewpoint, and that the fantasy world did everything it could to account for what that system could not account for, and then to try to start making sense out of it. And the reason it used fantasy, and dreams, and artistic productions and so on, even rituals, is because the non-understood reality has to be acted out and presented in image before it can be understood in any articulated manner. So for Jung, it was also a theory of the progression of knowledge. For Jung, the intellect, and articulated knowledge, occupied a very limited and circumscribed space. And then, outside of that area, there was the dream world, which included all of artistic production. And then, outside of that, was the unknown itself. And the way the unknown was transmitted to the conscious, articulated mind was through a lengthy process of dreamlike representation. And every time you go see a movie, or every time you read a book of fiction, or every time you have a fantasy or a dream, you're participating in the process by which what's truly unknown is transformed through the dream into articulated knowledge. And any genuine artist does that.

This is part of the place where I have some trouble with David Lynch. Because Lynch is clearly a post-Freudian, he's like Salvador Dali. And psychoanalytic thought can easily become ideological. It happened very frequently with Freud's followers. It happened in the case of artists like Salvador Dali too, who would take Freud's excavation of symbolic language and then use it consciously in a manner that aped or mimicked true, spontaneous, symbolic revelation. I could never escape the deep suspicion that Lynch is doing exactly the same thing. He's a little too calculated for me, you know, and because the film, for example, could be laid out in a linear structure. But it's as if he laid it out in a linear structure and then randomized it, which I think is a rather cheap trick. And the film lacks, I think, what you see in truly deep symbolic movies, which is the revelation of something beyond understanding. What Lynch attempts to make the audience feel, as far as I'm concerned is that he is revealing something that's not yet understood. But I think Lynch understands too well what he's doing, and he's playing a Freudian game with the audience, just like Salvador Dali did. That doesn't mean he isn't creative because he is, and the film is fascinating to watch. But there's something about it that... there's a lack of spontaneity about what he's doing, that to me makes him into a quasi-Freudian ideologue. And that sort of thing is generally not that helpful.

A real artist is someone who is... isn't using symbols to express what they're attempting to express. A real artist is attempting to express what has not yet been expressed, and has no choice other than to use imagistic or symbolic representations because there isn't anything else yet. And you can really see this when you read someone like Nietzsche. But even more so in the case of Jung, because Jung is quite obscure. But the reason he's obscure is because the things he was writing about are way more obscure than Jung. You can see this especially in his writings about alchemy. I mean, alchemy is so obscure that it's basically incomprehensible and Jung's writings on alchemy are almost understandable, and that actually constitutes a move forward. But Jung is not trying to be obscure. He's trying to be as clear as he possibly can. Whereas with Lynch, I feel... every time I watch a Lynch movie, I feel uneasy and as if I'm being manipulated, because the complexity is more than the information demands. He's playing a game, and I think that that's a pseudo-intellectual move, because what someone who's genuinely exploring is trying to do is to lay out something complex as simply as possible. It still may be incredibly complex, but the complexity isn't added for the point of mystification, and - Lynch plays so many games. And I think I see most of his films where I just can't suppress the notion that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark.

So... all right, so what's the basic theme? And then I'll stop. What's the basic theme? Well, the basic theme to me is the terrible gap between naive and motivated innocence (overprotected fantasizing) and the cataclysmic sexual and aggressive nature of reality. And Lynch weaves together a narrative of an innocent and naive - not innocent, naive, they're not the same thing - a naive girl who has unrealistic expectations, both of the world and of herself, and her absolutely traumatic encounter with the subterranean realities of the L. A. C. Now, we do know, just so you know, that if you want to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which is sort of what happens to the girl in this movie, the best way to do that is to be really, really naive and then go somewhere horrible, and that'll do it. So... There's the myth, the fantasy. It's not even a myth. It's a naive fantasy. And then there's the actuality. I mean, L. A. is a fascinating place, partly because it contains so many contradictions. But, you know, it's definitely the place where dreams go to die. And that's certainly what's portrayed, at least in part in this movie. So, that's all I have to say about that.

[start of notes]

- Title: Jordan Peterson Explains Psychoanalytic Theory
- Channel: We Plants Are Happy Plants
- Date published: Oct 12, 2017
- Link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PC8FNfMIIhg
- Description: "Jordan B. Peterson provides a brief history of psychoanalysis, mentioning the giants of 20th century thinking such as Freud and Jung, while using the theory to interpret David Lynch's movie Mulholland Drive."

I downloaded the source video using

After some searching, I found a longer version.

Source 2:
- Title: Jordan Peterson Discusses David Lynch's Mulholland Drive
- Channel: Davie Addison
- Date published: Oct 21, 2016
- Link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqi9_1TTW8U
- Description: "Audio gets bad and cuts out towards the end. English subs are available. Originally posted at https://vimeo.com/62563783"

The link in Source 2's description leads to Source 3.

Source 3:
- Title: Presentation by Dr. Jordan Peterson about Mulholland Drive
- Channel: Namanacinemaa
- Date published: March 24, 2013
- Link: http://vimeo.com/62563783
- Description: {

Biography: Dr. Jordan Peterson is a Professor at University of Toronto and have been since 1998. He is also a clinical psychologist, and sees clients on a regular basis. Before that he was a professor at Harvard from 1993-1998. And before that, he was a graduate student and post-doc at McGill. His research interests include self-deception, mythology, religion, narrative, neuroscience, personality, deception, creativity, intelligence and motivation. He is one of the three professors listed in the Arts & Science Students Union's Anti-Calendar (an annual survey of course ratings by students) still teaching at U of T described as "life-changing" by students.

Having him in our movie club, was an honor and also a life-changing event for Na MA Na Cinema.


Source 3 provides details about the original talk.

In sources 2 & 3, the audio begins to degrade at about 24:10. It improves at about 31:30.

Due to the audio problems in sources 2 & 3, I decided to use the edited version in source 1. In this version, the section between 23:50 and 31:39 has been removed. In the transcription, this lies between
"the best way to do that is to be really, really naive and then go somewhere horrible, and that'll do it."
"So... There's the myth, the fantasy. It's not even a myth.".

I used
to convert the video file into an audio-only file.

ffmpeg -i Jordan_Peterson_Explains_Psychoanalytic_Theory.mp4 psychoanalytic_theory.mp3

I used Amazon Transcribe to produce a first-pass transcription of the audio file.

I hired Georgia Piano to do a professional transcription, starting from the first-pass text.

Here are her work notes:

### GOAL

Create a faithful transcription of Jordan Peterson's talk on psychoanalytic theory.


I listened to the recording of the talk three times and followed along with the transcript available to me.

I did a first pass, correcting spelling, spacing, and grammatical mistakes of the Amazon transcription service, and separating the block of text into rough paragraphs for ease of reading and correcting.

Second pass: I corrected my own spelling, spacing, and grammatical mistakes, and separated the paragraphs more according to the flow of ideas. My aim was to make it easy to read and follow what Peterson is saying, essentially making a new paragraph when he switches topic or jumps to a new idea. I also removed filler words and phrases that I considered unnecessary when in written format, and altogether obstacles to understanding the material. However, I made sure not to remove words in this vein that I found to be useful for moving on to the next idea or that fit in with the flow of speech.

Third pass: I double-checked everything.

Small notes:

1) L. A. C. - I figured this was a company in L.A. or the L.A. sea but was unable to verify.

2) I removed repetitions such as 'I think, I think, I think...' when he took time to figure out what he was going to say next.

Total time taken: 2 hrs 15 mins

I did a final pass/edit myself, to be sure that I was happy with the result.

After some searching, I think that "L A C" stands for "Los Angeles County".

[end of notes]

[start of footnotes]

Year: 2001
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
Source: www.imdb.com/title/tt0166924

[return to main text]

[end of footnotes]