Table Talk -or- Anatomy of Hate Speech

Georjean, 34 Canadian

We traveled up to my aunt's for my female cousin's birthday. This only took a couple of hours (real time would have taken 12 hours). We got there and all of a sudden we were where they actually live. That was strange. We went into the kitchen to put my baking there and my aunt was with us. We made small talk and cut the baking up into bite size pieces.

The next moment my boyfriend and I (been together for 5 years) were sitting at the table with some of my family (was kinda weird that my mom wasn't there, but then again my mom is not really accepted in my aunt's circle). Arnold was telling some story. He said "I told him to blow it out his ass." My aunt and uncle are very religious and these words are unacceptable in their presence. I looked at Arnold (boyfriend) and glared at him. (This is not the way he talks, he's very respectful to my family; I was mortified.) He said "It's not my fucking fault that it slips out." Again I was in awe of the language he was using.

I asked him if I could talk to him outside. We left the table. We went outside on the balcony (strange, my aunt doesn't have a balcony). We talked a bit about his language inside. He kept swearing. (He doesn't even swear much when it's just us.) I went into the house.

Next thing I know I was in a bedroom with 4 different armoires. I had spilled something on my shirt and was looking for something to wear. I felt confused. Kept looking in the same armoires for something to wear. All the clothes were for someone smaller than me. I felt belittled and really upset. I was crying.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Table Talk -or- On Obscene Words of Hate

"Dirty words as well as dreams are a true way to the unconscious. They provide, like the old roads built by the government, wider and more perfect access to the hidden world."
- Sandor Ferenczi, "On Obscene Words" in "Sex and Psychoanalysis"

Life as Theatre -or- Staging Everyday Life

Theatre is derived from the Greek word "theatron", which refers to a place where spectators sat during a performance. The perspective of life as theatre views everyday life as a "show" (performance) which is "staged"(performed). Theatre as a visual art is an institutionalized space for voyeurism and exhibitionism (seeing and being seen). The need for theatre (theatophilia) has been attributed to a number of other motives such as the desire to imitate, the love of play in children and adults, initiation of religious rituals, the need to tell stories and the actors' and spectators' pleasure in character development.

Dreams, Inner Space and the Theatre of Fantasy

The theatre is a place of projection of thoughts, feelings and sensations via identification, idealization, repression and catharsis (release of tensions). In dreams, fantasies are acted out in an inner space. The stage space of the dream takes on the shape and form of the spectator's and actor's self and desire. An individual's and the community's inner space are bound together in time and space along a continuous thread of desire. The daydream is the individual's and community's conscious stage for acting out unconscious desires.

Dream-work melds the real, the imaginary and the fictive into the Theatre of the Mind. This allows for individuals to call on past experience and create the vision of the present and future. The dramaturgical work of everyday life found in dream-work uses techniques of montage and collage of memory. Communal fantasies such as rumor and gossip are created by the ebb and flow of everyday metaphoric ex-changes and currents.

When you ask Arnold to step outside you are indicating that you wish to speak to him privately away from the watchful eyes and ears of others. In theatre the fourth wall is an imaginary boundary which separates the stage and its actors from the audience. The action the spectators watch unfolds behind a transparent barrier. The audience can then be invited as voyeurs to observe the theatre of everyday life. Teichoscopia is a Greek word which means "seeing through walls." The dream is an instrument which provides the viewer the ability to observe through insight the Theatre of the Mind.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life -or- No Exit

Knowing that the audience can form "bad" impressions, the individual usually becomes driven to avoid shameful and humiliating experiences. Dreams reflect the strategies individuals and groups use to maintain face. The techniques individuals use to master impression anxieties have been researched by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. He writes: "The degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others." In the words of the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre No Exit "Hell is other people."

Table Talk: The Obscene Milieu of Everyday Life

In your dream, your theatrical "mise en scene" move is from the kitchen to a table. Table talk is a form of literary biography, which can include a vast variety of everyday discourse including; sayings, opinions, anecdotes, small talk, chit-chat, gossip, rumor etc. Table-talk is extremely valuable in understanding the nature of formal and informal dialogue and the unpublished and secret histories of an individual and a society. Table talk can be found in the ancient Roman novel "Satyricon", in which the weather, games and education of children is spoken about.

Once at the table, Arnold starts swearing. You state that "it was kinda weird that my mom wasn't there, but then again my mom is not really accepted in my aunt's circle." It might be that the slippage of the tongue (i.e. problem of swearing) of your boyfriend may actually be your mother and/or yourself speaking to your aunt in a disguised fashion, since she (your mother) is not welcome/accepted (she is evidently rejected/hated?/humiliated/repressed) in your aunt's circle!? It could also be your aunt's repressed and censored feelings. Said differently, is Arnold there to speak for someone else, because they are afraid to say anything? The problems that you are experiencing have been investigated by the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing in "Politics of the Family".

The milieu is the set of cultural conditions and determinisms of narratives in/by which we live. Being and narrative cannot be separated from the social environment in which one lives. It is the Milieu determines and influences the movement of the characters and not the movement of the characters that determine the milieu. A single character can, however, help to change a milieu.

When pessimism sets in in the dramaturgical theatre of everyday life, disillusionment is the logical outcome. Resignation, alienation, apathy, mortification and protest are the net result and become acted out "on" and/or "off" the cultural stage. The dream above provides access to understanding the cultural milieu and the obscene dynamics of the theatre of everyday life. If as Ferenczi says; "Dirty words as well as dreams are a true way to the unconscious.", then we can better understand the context of the IIDR dream interpretation of; Nine Dirty Words in Dreams.

Social Bonds and the Deference System

Maintaining social bonds is a primary human motive. The field of forces which bind (or un-bind) a milieu, group and society together define its social structure. The machinery of an institutional social structure is maintained by conformity to a deference system (system of respect/regard) which regulates the social roles, rules and values (i.e. standards) by which a situation and the community operates. Deference regulates face-to-face communication. Contact with others produces an emotional response to the face, feelings become attached to it. In situations where an individual or group receives gratifying news, the projected face and image/esteem receives emotional reinforcement and one "feels good." Situations where expectations are not fulfilled often become the source of "feeling hurt and bad." Maintaining face and one's appearance in social situations against embarrassment, shame and humiliation (i.e. face saving practices) is a primary human motive. In our society the threats to one's face are labeled faux pas, gaffes and boners. Children are taught to understand the deference system. Members of every social circle are expected to have knowledge of the social code for maintaining face in a group setting.

The Anatomy of Protest: Swearing, Sarcasm and Satire

Swearing is part of our folk-ways which has been transmitted by the general culture of the group through succeeding generations. The cutting remarks of sarcasm are the preferred tool of adolescents in their battle of wits. Refinement is necessary to overcome this raw and crude humor. Satire is a kind of protest, a sublimation and refinement of anger, contempt and indignation. Protest becomes art. Northrop Frye Anatomy of Criticism sees the "anatomy"(a Greek word for "cutting up") of literature as an encyclopaedic, satirical analysis of human behavior, attitudes and beliefs. The Irish satirist Jonathan Swift's famous definition of satire: as "a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own."

Holden Caulfield of "Catcher in the Rye"

The child's saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me" is misinformed. Names do hurt and words can be used as weapons. Compared to bones, the mental wound and the emotional pain they cause often heal much slower, if ever. Stick it up or "blow it out your ass" are contemptuous suggestions surrounding the rejection of the other person and are the moral equivalent of "go fuck yourself". Such gross, vulgar and obscene language can be found in J.D. Salinger's classic Catcher in the Rye whose sarcastic character Holden Caulfield says "If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out half of the 'fuck you' signs in the world."

Freudian Slip: A Symptom Reading of Hate Speech and Obscene Speech

Arnold states to you "it's not my fucking fault that it slips out." When repressed material "leaks out" and gains access to social reality via the "Freudian slip" a medical "symptom reading" becomes possible. Uncovering the buried social problematic (or focal conflict) of "obscene" speech and "hate speech" in dreams is central to the dreams understanding and ending the generational repetition compulsion (of the repressed material) it creates. Another interpretation posted at the IIDR website The Evil Eye -or- The Murderous Gaze provides further insight into the stressful social problem..

Poisonous Pedagogy: Vicious Cycle of Hate and Contempt

Scenes of shame develop when the social bond of face to face communication is threatened. Deference which is non-verbally communicated through eye contact and gaze becomes imbued with various forms of situational anxieties, e.g. failure, shame, exposure, blame, self consciousness, rejection, contempt, humiliation etc.

Social identification (empathy), which begins for the child as a visual process becomes internalized as visual imagery and thought. Affirmation of identity and performance reinforces and integrates the growth of self-esteem and self-mastery, while shame entangles the child in a web of performance anxiety. Shame-based identities usually lead their lives developmentally arrested, alienated and stigmatized. Alice Miller, in "The Prisoners of Childhood", has outlined how the humiliation of the child via "poisonous pedagogy" has led to a "vicious cycle of contempt". Learning to hide, mask and guard one's thoughts, feelings and desires which are perceived as embarrassing is a flight from reality, intimacy and truth.

The Failure of Dream Vision: Anatomy of Hatred

When face-to-face communication fails, gaze aversion and the loss of face which is viewed as an injury to one's sense of self (i.e. wounded pride) is often the net result. The saying "I feel like crawling under a stone and dying" is an apt metaphor, since it represents the wish to disappear from the field of vision. The International Institute for Dream Research has found that many live on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

The aim of hatred is destruction of that which is different, frustrates, rejects, denies or otherwise is perceived as posing a threat to one's self or one's community. Hatreds appear in many forms such as character assassination, scapegoating, prejudices (i.e. racism, sexism, ableism, class), stereotyping (i.e. depersonalization, pornography), phobias (i.e. xeno- and homophobia), suicide (self injury), jealousy, envy, rage, tirade, contempt, sadism, masochism etc. Malignant aggression and hate crimes have come under increasing scrutiny in the United States and in Canada. Our gaze and the unconscious mental structures (i.e. images) which feed our vision of others and the world have been socialized by the politics of discrimination.

These hate systems are transgenerationally reproduced and are readily visible in the Middle East, in the Balkans and in Northern Ireland to name a few places. Most hatred, however, remain repressed from being expressed in the family and community, mainly due to the deference system of "political correctness".

The hatreds are then relegated to the communal dreamscreen where they can gain expression. We then find the anatomy of these hatreds expressed in our dreams such as terrorhate, revenge, abuse, and humiliation.

Literature of interest includes:

  • Elizabeth Young-Bruel, "Anatomy of Prejudice"
  • Erich Fromm, "Anatomy of Destructiveness"
  • Ashley Montagu, "The Anatomy of Swearing"
  • William Ian Miller, "The Anatomy of Disgust" (especially chapter 9 Mutual Contempt and Democracy)
  • Hugh Rawson, "Wicked Words: A treasury of curses, insults, put-downs and other formerly unprintable terms from Anglo-Saxon times to present"
  • Richard Spears, "Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of oaths, insults, sexual slang and metaphor, racial slurs, drug talk, homosexual lingo and related matters"
  • Erving Goffman, "Interaction Ritual"

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.