It was no surprise to be told of Bertie’s encounter with a toddler on Hampstead Heath.
With implacable resolve the little boy held onto his ball while the dog waited eagerly, panting with expectation. The adults in turn went through the usual repertoire of child manipulation: encouragement, exhortation, reasoning and subtle threats, ‘Go on Jack’ they said, ‘Throw the ball for Bertie’. ‘Be a good boy, Jack’, ‘If you throw the ball, Bertie will fetch it’, and so on.
But it is Jack’s ball and he is not giving it up without a struggle. The ball feels part of him, and his main impulse may be to put it into his own mouth. Under the benign gaze of the grown-ups he stands in a developmental no-man’s-land looking puzzled and distressed: put the ball in his mouth, or throw it in order to play?
The same look of bewilderment crosses the face of Renee Zellweger as the heroine of Bridget Jones’s Diary. In the real world you have to give something up to form a relationship. You have to give up part of your egoism. But in the fantasy world of film it is the adult regression to babyhood that can be celebrated. The alcoholic, chain-smoking, solipsistic Bridget Jones, 21st century icon, can have it all and be loved ‘just as she is’.
In the story, as in so many fairy tales, reality itself becomes an all loving and all forgiving parent. Completely incompetent in your work? Don’t worry, you can show off your knickers and become an overnight star! The world magically follows the contours of our heroine’s desire and gives her everything she ever wanted with no cost to herself, like the ‘unconditional’ love we think we once had as babies.
The infantile nature of this depiction reveals the contradictory nature of all relationships. In forming a relationship we have to find space in our minds for the recognition of someone else. It takes something away from us. Or in the language of Freudian psychoanalysis, we have to transfer ‘narcissistic libido’ into ‘object libido’. In doing so we not only relinquish something of ourselves, but we experience the possibility of loss.
One would hardly think it necessary to state that ‘love’ is difficult and relationships are full of conflict. We need no ghost come from the past to tell us that, even if Freud more than most was adept at stating the obvious. But developments associated with the ‘object relations school’ and ‘attachment theory’ in psychoanalysis have lost the sense of tragedy which is such an essential part of Freud’s vision. Tragedy because, for Freud, the human species is subject to a fatal flaw which expresses itself in our behaviour and the inevitable contradictions of being human.
We want to relate but we want to be independent, we want to be the same as others and we want to be different, we want to be loved and we want to have power. At every turn we find forces pushing first one way and then the other.
In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926) Freud asks why human beings are so prone to neuroses. Because we are divided into an ego, id and superego he answers. In other words because we are human: ‘bio-social individuals’ in which due weight should be given to each complex term of that expression.