A Pot & Kettle Situation


Our theme today is Freud’s charging horses, back at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. They of his hypothetical question, “Would you rather be pulled apart by two horses, or charged by two horses?” To be less Poetic and more Metaligual about it, we’re talking the defense mechanism of projection. Here are some of Ray Corsini’s definitions [in The Dictionary of Psychology, 2002]: “attributing to others what is actually true of the self, often used to justify prejudice…the process by which impulses, wishes, or aspects of the self are imagined to be located in some external object.”

Thus, the premise behind Projective Tests is that the subject will see in ambiguous visual stimuli, unconscious aspects of himself. You may recall from an earlier post that, unlike most “subjects” who think Lili looks like a wolf, a municipal workman thought she looked like a bat. Two more recent “responses” [as they are called on the Rorschach]: this summer a general contractor for the school, taking smoke breaks in a shady passage to the playing fields, would routinely greet Lili with, “There’s my bear!” More bizarrely, a middle school boy, rambling in the woods with his science class to collect leaf specimens, asked “Is that a mountain lion?”

Instead of the deadpan “yes” I gave him, I could have said [in my best Cockney accent], “Oooh! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!” but that archaic expression has long since been shortened to the title idiom. It would have been an obscure joke, anyway, like the recurrent SNL sketch where two dorky Bostonians keep saying, “No, you ah” to each other. But that’s what projection is: saying “No, you ah” to the “charging horse,” rather than owning the “wolfish” aspects of oneself. Remember the middle school retort, to being called something negative [like a bat, or a bear, or a wolf, or a mountain lion]? “Takes one to know one.”

Well, precisely. That was Freud’s point. Well spotted, you middle schoolers and SNLers! Be a detective of human nature with me, and notice, on any given day, who is screaming the loudest imprecations against the “despicable” behavior of his/her foes. Wait one news cycle, and behold the hideous portrait [or skeleton] hidden in said screamer’s own closet.

Less fun, but more to the point, we might ask ourselves why a friend’s or relative’s Highly Inconvenient behavior is Driving Us Howling Mad. Whatever else is “up our nose” about their shenanigans, there might just be a whiff of humiliation, as we grudgingly recognize in our own sweet selves a similar impulse to be beastly.

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