Oceanic Feeling

'Oceanic Horror' is essentially a reformulation of the idea of oceanic feeling described by Sigmund Freud in his ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’, following a longer exchange with the French novelist and mystic Romain Rolland. In her text ‘Oceanic Feeling and Communist Affect’, Jackie Wang describes the different notions of this oceanic feeling held by Freud and by Rolland: 'Freud describes 'oceanic feeling' as a feeling of limitlessness that marks a return to the infantile, pre-Oedipal mode of being, whereby the infant cannot distinguish itself from its mother. Rolland, however, describes ‘oceanic feeling’ as a mystical feeling that enables one to commune with the universe. For Rolland, the ‘oceanic’ was the affective state underlying all religious experience.' (2004) In opposition to Freud’s notions on oceanic feeling (as well as Julia Kristeva’s who in her book ‘Black Sun’ similarly describes the oceanic as a depressive denial, a form of symbolic suicide), Wang is much more in tune with Rolland and his notion of the oceanic as joyful, connective, and integrative. Wang argues further, for a proposed social potentiality of the oceanic feeling and its potential for experiencing something socially unifying opposed to a more ego-driven mystical feeling. She also argues for possible ways of consciously inflicting this oceanic feeling (that is also related to the experience of trauma) through different techniques including: 'meditation, psychedelic drugs, participating in a riot, sleep-deprivation, tantric sex, BDSM play, grief, experiences of collective euphoria and any number of other activities that push one to a threshold state of consciousness.' (2004)

Depth Mind / Surface Mind
In the text Jackie Wang furthermore asks: ‘Is it inherently bad to “regress” to a childlike state?’ (2004) After describing two very different approaches to the idea of oceanic feeling, one being that it is inherently melancholic and constitutes a regression to an infant state of inertia (Freud and Kristeva), the other, the notion that oceanic feeling can be viewed as constituting an almost religious and joyful experience of connection and integration into a whole (Rolland). Referring to the thinking of psychoanalyst Marion Milner, Wang goes on to propose oceanic feeling and its forms of defencelessness and surrender to the oceanic, as something productive, something not only leading to new forms of community in its connectivity, but also forming a readying mechanism for allowing a creative flow. She writes: ‘Perhaps, rather than thinking of the oceanic as an infantile need to restore a sense of omnipotence in response to feeling helpless, the oceanic can be thought of as a stage in a cycle of creativity where a return to a state of infancy acts to wipe the mind clean (of a certain kind of knowledge) and represents the rebirth of the subject. In the psychoanalysis of creativity, the creative state is often described as a return to the immersive experience of child’s play. Infantile states need not be thought of as immature, defensive, or representative of the subject’s inability to cope with reality, but experimental, restorative, joyous, and enlivening.’ (2004) Milner describes the creative process as a cyclical one, where the subject can be said to descend into an incommunicable world that is then punctuated by states of focused consciousness. Milner refers to these two states as ‘depth mind’ and ‘surface mind’. For Milner the possibility of using the oceanic to make something, is very possible, ‘but in order to transform the oceanic state into an aesthetic object the artist must oscillate between different modes of perception and awareness because the oceanic state, like dream states, resists signification.’ (Wang, 2004) In this way, the artist or writer must submerge in to the oceanic and then come to the surface for air. Wang adds to this that one way that the oceanic state really animates writers and artists has to do with the inexpressible quality of this submergence.

Mourning a Loss
This impossibility of expressing what emerges from the submerged, creates tension and frustration, like awakening from a fantastic dream that when one rises into consciousness is already lost. A certain state of mind that ceases to be, the moment one substitutes it by talking about it in logical terms. However, as Wang suggest through Milner, ‘artistic creation itself can become a way to mourn the lost state (and its attendant feeling of completeness) when the artist succeeds in finding a substitute for that which always eludes the subject.’ (2004) This substitution is painful; a violent separation, where the thing put in the lost thing’s place, somehow never lives up to that lost experience below the surface. In the separation, one has to embrace that pain as part of the expression. ‘If one were to dwell in the oceanic state indefinitely, then one would never experience the wrenching separation that paradoxically may animate signification.’ (Wang, 2004)

Ego Loss
Wang’s assertion, in accord with Rolland, that the oceanic ‘can enhance one’s being toward the world by disappearing the boundaries of the ego’ (2004), leads her to formulate the question whether the self is a construction or a way that we are taught to perceive ourselves as subjects, ‘conditioned by an idea of the “individual” articulated in the discourses of the Enlightenment, psychoanalysis, and liberalism (which locates freedom in individual choice and agency)?’ (2004) She implies here that the connectedness experienced in the infantile state of oceanic feeling is perhaps a more natural way of communal existence, that has been discarded in favour of a more ego driven existence serving an individualistic, and in this sense perhaps more socially regressed, social order. One must now use all means possible to prevent from falling into the ocean of unproductive, illogical thinking and nonprofitable friendship. This ‘surface mind’ is the self as project, and the depths below are for those that fail to be all they can. But the assertion, that one in contrast can enhance oneself towards the world through the oceanic, still needs to account for how to find one another in the ‘depth mind’ of the oceanic. Wang asks this and offers an answer to it as well: ‘What would it mean to socialise (or communise) oceanic feeling? Could the oceanic act as a feeling-in-common that serves as the experiential basis for the co-construction of new worlds? If the experience of ego loss (and the attendant feeling of being cosmically connected to the universe) has the capacity to denaturalise the individual and undo the fiction of the bounded subject, then the oceanic has the potential to open up new socialites.’ (2004)

Ocean of Pure Horror
Where the oceanic above is described as something evading the logic of surface mind, into a more dreamlike submerged state, a new ocean has seemed to open out around me. One in which the contemporary hyper-connectivity of the individuals engaged in the realisation of the self as project, forms a new form of submergence and regression towards what freud describes as a limitlessness that marks a return to the infantile; the kind of pre-Oedipal mode of being where the infant cannot distinguish itself from the mother; or in this case where the subject as free to be all it can under absolute capitalism, cannot distinguish itself from the absolutist nature of it. In this configuration the oceanic does not really constitute an escape from, or an alternate being challenging the logics of, surface mind, be it melancholic, regressive, symbolically suicidal or not, but rather, the ocean forms the premise of all imagined being under absolute capitalism. Where the feeling that Jackie Wang, together with Romain Rolland, highlights may be one of a mystical feeling that enables one to commune with the universe, the one that forms in this new ocean is one of being unable to commune with anything else than the substance already engulfing you. All the connectivity amounts to solitude; all the possibilities leading to inertia; all the ‘freedom’ leading to depression and anxiety. No alternative, no imagination, no hope. Pure horror.

Oceanic Horror
Pairing Jackie Wang’s ideas of oceanic feeling, as something communisable, with Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s notions on the quasi-event, as a breaking with the predisposition for the event, led me to think of the oceanic as a different kind of politically potential body of water. In an attempt to hold onto Jackie Wang’s potentiality of communisability in the fluid dreamlike connectivity of the oceanic, I have proposed the term ‘Oceanic Horror’, as a state that both acknowledges the complete absoluteness of capitalism and its hold on our imagination, as well as the potential of communism to emerge in the sharing of a resulting oceanic feeling of horror. To reiterate from the introduction to this research project: Oceanic Horror is imagined as the feeling of not being able to place oneself and hence you float, drift, meander. Everything and everyone overwhelmingly interconnected, to a degree where there really is nothing to latch onto, save from disconnected floating objects that spin in the water as you try to hold on to them. This emotional state might resemble melancholia but really has nothing to do with black bile. It is not some liquid one individually contains but rather a relation to a liquid environment to navigate in.

How to Survive the Night in the Haunted Mansion of Absolute Capitalism
If Oceanic Horror can be said to constitute a shared experience, then it also inherently holds the potential of a coming together over this shared experience. It is communisable. Yet in order to arrive at this communism, one must first realise that the subjugation of neoliberal psycho-politics in the guise of the self as project and the auto-exploitating pursuit of freedom, hides in the pretence of barring us from horror; the horror of stupidity or of not being all we can. In reality, the fear of succumbing to this horror, is what holds us from freeing ourselves from the restrains that absolute capitalism holds over our imagination and from here experience an openness towards an unwritten future. One must take the chance and lean back into the Oceanic Horror, sink into its all-encompassing deep, face its horrors and in this moment realise that one is not alone in experiencing this and that facing the horror straight on, together, is the only way to survive the night in the haunted mansion of absolute capitalism.

Towards Oceanic Horror
Horror is the only language geared for speaking about our present situation.
Horror is about nowness. If science fiction tells us where we’re possibly going, horror will tell us how it feels to get there.
In horror a certain temporal condition may unfold taking the form of a prolonged now.
The quasi-evental is what is at stake in the prolonged now. How to gather politically around the quasi-event, is the question.
Oceanic Horror is a term that seeks to pair the possible communism of Oceanic Feeling with the survival strategies of Horror and the potentials of counter-being in the prolonged now .
Oceanic Horror proposes an intentional submergence into the horror condition unfolded by absolute capitalism and the potential of forming new networks herein that can collectively counter its effects.
Cinema is a collective experience upholding a delicate anatomy of political potential in the bringing together of bodies. In the same way the nonlinearity, temporally and architecturally, of the video installation also offers the bringing together of bodies, here left to drift and meander in the dark gaps between islands of screens and narrative; finding ways to meet and communise in an ocean of potential and paradoxical invitations to co-create.
Oceanic Horror emerged out of a need to describe a new possible topology that would prompt the turning away from encircled artistic, research-based and socio-political explorations of limited archipelagos. If you turn your back to an island you are inevitably met by an ocean.
Oceanic Horror forms a point of arrival for this artistic research project and simultaneously forms a departure point for future artistic, research-based and socio-political explorations.
Horror wants to do things with the body. Oceanic Horror wants to do things with bodies as well.