Tracking the White Rabbit: A Subversive View of Modern Culture

Tracking the White Rabbit: A Subversive View of Modern Culture

Tracking the White Rabbit: A Subversive View of Modern Culture

Tracking the White Rabbit: A Subversive View of Modern Culture


Since its beginning, depth psychology has attempted to change the status quo of individual and cultural life by probing beneath surface appearances.Lyn Cowan explores a number of subjects, considering what possible meanings and implications for change might lie behind the conventional attitudes toward such subjects as:* Abortion* Gender and sexuality* Language* Memory* MelancholyThe author puts forward the argument that, although "psychology" and "subversion" are not usually thought of as belonging together, they should be.Such a view, presented clearly with humour and insight, offers a way to think differently about usual things, and yield fresh meaning to some of the pressing dilemmas of our time and how we as individuals may respond to them.


As a child, I never trusted anything I could see easily and never fully believed anything I was told if it sounded too assured. This unwilling skepticism did not give me a lot of security. But it did nurture a tendency to subversion which I only now, well into middle age, can recognize as the way I've always gotten through life, and still do.

I'm fairly certain I am one of many who are born with a subversive gene. In my case, it must have been lurking at the bottom of the pool, a throwback inclination to ancestors forgotten by the rest of my relatively conventional family. I imagine those ancestors expressed the genetic influence to subversion through rebellion against the Czar, underground guerilla activities in various wars, illegal sexual orientations, and writing inflammatory headlines for labor union newsletters. Next to these brave ancestors, my own subversive activities pale in significance. Only twice in my youth I tried - and then timidly - to change the status quo: once, in 1959, when I refused to sign the loyalty oath required of New York State high school students in order to graduate, which required me to swear that I was not then nor ever had been a member of the Communist Party nor had sought to subvert or overthrow the government of the United States so help me God; and second, when I stopped on a street corner in Manhattan that same year and signed a petition for some cause that seemed worthy, which also gave me a subscription to the Communist or Socialist Party's (I wasn't sure which) Daily Worker. I never received an issue of the newspaper or heard from any member of the party, but I worried for years that the FBI would track me down, throw me in front of the merciless House Un-American Activities Committee, and I would die in prison, too young. I expected to live a short, tragic life, which encouraged my adolescent romantic melancholy.

It took me until I was past forty to discover that I would take a psychological path to express the subversive gene I carried. I found that I was a much better subversive by becoming as much a realist as a romantic, and by doing psychological analysis with real people with as much clarity of vision as possible.

The subversive gene does not confer the courage of conviction. In fact, it has nothing to do with convictions, or courage. The genetic inheritance to subversion merely gives you a compulsion to look through ideas and experiences to the underside, making you something of a psychological snoop. It makes for intolerance of the status quo, whatever the quo is, and thus compels a different vision, a skewed vision, of what appears to be conventional, obvious, usual. Something in the psyche - which I am metaphorically calling the “subversive gene” - wants to subvert whatever is there, turn it under and upside down, examine it from the bottom, find some odd detail that will capsize the accepted view. Issues of political debate, theological doctrines, psychological theories, social norms, everyday speech, usual ideas of sex and emotion - all are grist to the subversive mill, for they make up the cultural assumptions by which we live but which we do not see clearly. Still a romantic at heart, I want nothing less than to change the culture, to make it a psychological, soul-serving culture. But changing the culture can be done in small ways, just as small snapshots may be just as compelling and significant as billboard-size blow-ups.

If a subversive attitude is not inherited, it can be learned. You can learn to cultivate a subversive vision, by which I mean cultivating a psychological perception, seeing down and into and through to whatever is lying just out of sight, in the dark. Though it happened inadvertently, it was a happy mating for me when my subversive tendency joined my love of photography, and helped temper my romanticism with black-and-white reality. A subversive vision takes seriously the old saying that there is more than meets the eye, and a subversive attitude will then try to change, or at least think differently about, whatever the eye meets.

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