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Escape from One’s Body & the Fantasy of Immortality
Richard A. Koenigsberg
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To escape from one’s body into the life of the nation is to identify with the dream of immortality. One’s own body is in the process of disintegrating. The body of culture, however, seems eternally to renew and replenish itself.
The nation is a projection of one’s body—one’s self—into a double of the self. One “splits off” a part of one’s self in order to identify with a third dimension: the dimension of immortality; that which “lives on.” Fear of separation from culture is fear of separation from the realm of immortality.

The “body of culture”—unlike one’s own body—does not seem subject to decay. It “keeps on keepin’ on.” To project one’s self onto this “higher level” is to identify with the fantasy of eternal self-perpetuation.

To free the self is to “split” from identification with the vast “culture” with which one had equated one’s self. This is the unkindest cut of all: loss of omnipotence. One’s life becomes small, limited, finite since one is no longer part of the system (the dual unity). This shrinkage of the self brings one back to the actuality of existence.

To escape from one’s body into the life of the nation is identification with the dream of immortality, which simultaneously represents a negation of one’s body: refusal to perceive that one is in the process of disintegration. This is what the death instinct is: gradual breakdown of one’s own body. Each of us is in a process of withering away. To escape one’s own body is to identify with culture: a realm that forever replenishes itself.

For Hitler, the principle of decay was split off into the Jew—in an effort to maintain the fantasy of Germany as a perfect, immortal body, lacking defect. The experience of national disintegration is return of the repressed death instinct, perception of one’s own decay now magnified and perceived hysterically as a horrible “disease” within the nation.

All of this is motivated by the wish to deny or escape the actuality of one’s real (disintegrating) body: to project one’s existence into the idea of an immortal body which will not die.

Attachment to the immortal body politic rescues one from symbiosis: liberates the self from bondage to a psychosomatic body (mother contained within the self). One creates a more abstract, symbolic body which, however, functions as if a new symbiotic body. One bleeds for, suffers with, one’s country. One’s own wounds become one’s nation’s wounds. The nation’s wounds enter one’s body.

The dream of the nation is the desire for a perfect, omnipotent body, free of defect, disease and death. However, defect, disease and death exist within the self, and are projected into the nation, leading to the struggle to “rescue the nation”. Rescuing is the primal fantasy of nationalism.

The idea of “out there” is the essence of the fantasy of culture: some thing that is neither self nor other. One imagines that the external world contains what one is longing for. One seeks to unite with Another World: a form of reality that is greater and more significant than one’s actual existence.

One is diminished by the need to connect with ideas of omnipotence (Hitler to his people: “You are nothing; your nation is everything”). Individuality is denied: the self feels small as compared with the idealized, omnipotent objects.

The privatization of life (one’s own private enterprise) means separation from the “big world.” One withdraws libido from the “sacred realm”: the domain in which “immortality” is contained. One cuts oneself off from the dream of the omnipotent culture, fading into one’s small existence.