Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Atmospheric Feeling

Freud, referring to his Christian friend Oskar Pfister, talked about what he called 'the oceanic feeling'; 'a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of eternity, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded--as it were, oceanic ... one may rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone' [Civilisation and its Discontents, 251-2]. He adds, perhaps mournfully, 'I cannot discover this "oceanic" feeling in myself.' John Schad (whose Queer Fish quotes this passage) thinks that there is something fishy about Freud for all that: his first scientific work was studying the nervous system of fish, 'and' (says Schad) 'in a sense he never stops studying nervous fish. For, as Freud reminds us, we are all fish of a kind.' [Schad, 71].

But surely a fish is the entity least well-placed to experience an oceanic feeling? If the ocean is your entire idiom, then the oceanic feeling is simply the feeling, and as a feeling parses the ordinary in a way incompatible with the transcendent apprehension Freud is yearning for. For a fish, the equivalent would surely be 'the atmospheric feeling' ...

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