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As such observers of the Western "encounter with nothingness" as Barrett (1958) and Steiner (1974) have pointed out, in the course of the present century our secular substitute faith in progress through science and technology has been severely shaken, not only by the evidence of human irrationality provided by the spectacle of two world wars of unparalleled destructiveness and by growing doubt concerning our capacity to control our own inventions, but also by "the encounter with finitude" arising from developments within the most advanced of Western sciences, physics and mathematics, which "have in our time become paradoxical: that is, they have arrived at the state where they breed paradoxes for reason itself" (Barrett, 1958, p.37). Faced with these challenges to our surrogate faith, as well as by the continued socially disintegrating effects of secularization and modernization, the coherent identity, confidence and inner-direction of the bourgeois individual increasingly gives way to the identity diffusion and other-direction characteristic of the contemporary narcissistic or schizoid character and to what Steiner (1974) perceives as a widespread "nostalgia for the absolute." In this perspective, the central psychic difficulty of the postmodern personality is less that of containing the conflicting elements of a structured self than of maintaining any sense of a coherent or integrated identity at all.

The preoccupation with the personal and interpersonal dilemmas of the contemporary disordered self that typifies the work of the American playwright, Sam Shepard, is clearly reflected in the central themes of the film, Paris, Texas.

Directed by Wim Wenders who collaborated with Shepard on the screenplay, the film was awarded the Palme d'Or for 1984 at Cannes.

This essay in comparative psychoanalysis considers this work from the standpoint of each of two contrasting psychoanalytic approaches to the origins of pathological narcissism.

One, employing a broadly oedipal perspective and following certain ideas of Marcuse and Lacan, locates its roots in the breakdown of paternal authority in society and the family.

The other, utilizing various object-relational and self-psychological perspectives, traces it to a failure of the holding or containing function, not merely of the early (maternal and paternal) selfobjects, but of the wider culture as well.

As early as the 1950's, psychoanalysts began to report significant changes in the forms of psychopathology that appear to have emerged in response to a sociocultural situation characterized by Buber (1938) as one of metaphysical homelessness and by Berger (1969) and other sociological descendants of Durkheim (1897) as one of an increasingly pervasive anomie. In contrast to the intrapsychic or neurotic conflicts of the relatively structured personality of an earlier era, the variety of psychic suffering typical of our postmodern condition takes the form of the sense of fragmentation, estrangement and emptiness characteristic of what Lasch (1979) has called "the narcissistic personality of our time." The preoccupation with the personal and interpersonal dilemmas of the contemporary disordered self that typifies the work of the American playwright, Sam Shepard, is clearly reflected in the central themes of Paris, Texas. In the following essay in comparative psychoanalysis, I will view this work from the standpoint of each of two contrasting psychoanalytic approaches to the origins of pathological narcissism: one which, employing a broadly oedipal perspective and following certain ideas of Marcuse (1970) and Lacan (1977), locates its roots in the breakdown of paternal authority in society and the family; and the other which, utilizing various object-relational and self-psychological perspectives, traces it to a failure of the holding (Winnicott, 1965) or containing (Bion, 1962; Meltzer, 1978) function, not merely of the early (maternal and paternal) selfobjects, but of the wider culture as well. Just as some caretakers are more successful than others in enabling children to develop basic trust (Erikson, 1950), ontological security (Laing, 1960), or a cohesive self (Kohut, 1971; 1977), so some societies are better able than others to provide their members with a coherent world-view, a sense of confidence and belonging, and an integrated system of meaning and value as the foundation of both personal identity and social order. Under conditions of rapid social change and resulting widespread sociocultural dislocation and anomie, a society's capacity to integrate, socialize and provide its members with a meaningful identity (that is, its capacity to fulfill a selfobject function) is impaired; in such a situation numbers of individuals are forced to endure a condition of identity diffusion (Erikson, 1959) characterized by a sense of isolation, meaninglessness, fragmentation, diffuse anxiety and emptiness depression. It is a commonplace of that stream of classical social theory summarized, for example, in Nisbet's (1966) The Sociological Tradition, that since the rise of both capitalism and science caused the break-up of the tradition-directed (Riesman et al., 1961) medieval agrarian social order, such large-scale social processes as rationalization of production, industrialization, urbanization and bureaucratization have inexorably undermined the social basis of the religious world-view--Berger's (1969) sacred canopy--which had hitherto provided the foundation of both social integration and personal identity.

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