The Original Frustration

A printed circuit board inside a mobile phone

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La frustración original (Spanish)

The Original Frustration

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University


There are at least three dreams that were persistent from my childhood: in the first one I would try desperately to say something, but I would open my mouth and the words would not come out; in the second one I would try to walk and even though I would lean exaggeratedly forward my legs would not respond in a coordinated way; in the third one I could talk and walk, but the central theme was an endless flight, a mixture of fear and pleasure from escaping the aggression of a mob of people, probably representatives of the law, who did not understand my arguments of innocence. Looking back, I see that this last theme of the series is also central to my three novels. In all of them there is some kind of enclosed space and someone imagining exits. But now I am interested in outlining the problem of the first dream.

My son just turned one year old and in this time of close living I have been recognizing those obsessive dreams, my first frustrations, in his. By helping him to walk I have re-lived my own frustrated desire to do so harmoniously. Certain vertigo panics, falls, his body exaggeratedly leaning forward to aid in producing a step that is not produced, hands and feet that don’t respond the way we want. But without doubt the greatest frustration for this little one, like my own and – I suppose – like the frustration of women and men throughout history, is the precariousness of communication. During the entire first year of life, a person only has one sign for expressing what is most important: crying. Even with all it possible variations, for two adults who have forgotten that first metaphysical language, it is always the same or almost the same crying. A cry to say that they are hungry, to ask for water, to say that they are ready to sleep, to say that the stomach hurts, or the head, the teeth, or the hands those teeth have bitten, to say that they are hot or cold, to say they have a fever or don’t know what they have. Only one sign to say they are frustrated because only one sign is not sufficient for so much emotional complexity. Little by little laughter is incorporated, first as an expression of joy and later, likely, as a self-interested sign of complicity. The game with a little baseball that the child throws from his crib and bursts with laughter – one of his first belly laughs – when he discovers that he can share with his father or his mother a couple of basic rules, becomes a fact of communication. The ball (the tool, the dendrites and axones) is like a new word that is integrated to a new language, the rules of the game. Mere ludic pleasure cannot explain that shout of satisfaction. That fullness that he did not encounter playing alone, signifies the phenomenon of having created or discovered another form of communication, of liberation from his own limits. What else is culture but the radicalization of this attempt at liberation of the individual that often ends in the oppression of oneself or others? The little one has discovered a secret that he projects beyond the fundamental frustration, suspending it in the game. But in the most intense moments of his life, crying remains the principal sign, like an indiscriminate and simultaneous mixture of all words and all languages. In his adult life, like all of us, he will be obligated to make much use of laughter and smiling. In almost every photograph he will be obligated to smile, to demonstrate that he is happy even though he is not; he will repress the crying and, as in childhood, he will reserve it only for certain intense moments of his life, which we all hope will be as few as possible.

Somehow the child’s communication is produced, but the frustration is a perhaps indelible experience, and perhaps the first of all frustrations in life and the frustration that unleashes all the rest: language, writing, the building of bridges, houses, automobiles, political speeches, crimes of passion, declarations of love. Now, how is this communication anxiety reproduced in society? Does some relationship exist between the development of an individual and the development of history? We can sustain the hypothesis that communication in our global world expresses a need for survival as ancient as the invention of writing in Sumeria or of the signs and myths in the Paleolithic period. But this functional necessity is also the reflection of a psychological fixation, product of the “original frustration” of communication. Most, if not all, religious texts, aside from the particular ideological interests of the moment, in general structure their narration of human history as the consequence of the lack of communication of the Father. Nevertheless, the theological reading of each group in power will interpret this human condition as simple disobedience, not only because this can be a sensible theological interpretation for a God like the Judeo-Islamo-Christian God but rather, above all, because it is a convenient interpretation for those who narrate from within a space of social power. Thus, “wanting to know” and “sin of disobedience” have been linked recurrently from the cosmogonic myths to the most sophisticated political myths.

What proportion of the hours of cellular telephone use, e-mail or any other public activity is strictly necessary in its production and reproduction function? Perhaps a negligible part. Most of the time we dedicate to communicating for the exercise of communication itself. Communication forms part of our “inter-ego,” the we that is never fully achieved. In some cases, as in the present historical moment, it would appear that the main obsession is not rooted so much in communication as a medium but as an end: the frustration resulting from the unspoken word translates into an interminable monologue. On occasions, when two people speak by telephone, in essence they effect the superimposition of two monologues. In the monologue, the individual expects the satisfaction of being listened to and satisfied. Listening is not as important as being listened to; in a blog, in a forum of discussion, reading is not as important as being read, which is demonstrated by the immediate opinion of the reader who didn’t complete the reading of the article under discussion. In any case the attention paid by the alienated individual to the other is a social requirement in order to be listened to, in order to be on display in a progressively narcissistic culture. As with a domestic argument, where communication is equally frustrated, as with the child’s crying: what is important is not to listen but to be listened to, to make one’s own arguments prevail. But both dialectical contestants attempt the same thing, the only mutually shared thing is frustration, if not the illusion of a frustrated communication.

Perhaps this phenomenon is a logical reaction against the previous culture, where for centuries one listened to and read infinitely more of what was written or asserted as anti-establishment opinion. With the new cultural and technological tendency, the proportion has been altered in such a way that one might say, exaggerating slightly, that today more is written than what is read, more opinion is expressed than what is listened to, researched and analyzed. Looking at this model, it would not be absurd to imagine another swing of the pendulum, product of a maturation of a culture that might cease to view the new technologies as toys and begin to see them as tools of its own liberation.

It is likely that we are in a stage of history where we have already learned to speak but not yet to communicate. And our arguments fall into the nothingness, which obliges us to flee endlessly. It is likely that the slogans on the T-shirts, with which we believe we express our social ideas in three or four words – or those thoughts and emotions pre-fabricated by Microsoft – are nothing more than that mute cry that others hear by don’t know how to interpret correctly. Is it likely that the eternal and feverish political and religious proselytism is the fiercest expression of this cry?

If the desire for justice proceeds from this frustration of communication, what role does power play in this relationship? Perhaps silence is the form that social power has – the blind voice of the father, of the older brother –of resolving the lack of communication by force, radicalizing it, alienating individuals in a nature deceptively balanced and in peace. And this reaction, that of imposed silence, is new fuel on the fire of the original frustration of the failed communication and of desire, frequently violent, for justice on the part of the one held incomunicado.


Translated by Bruce Campbell