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Werbart, A. (2000). Our need of taboo: pictures of violence and mourning difficulties. Free Associations, 8(2):21-48.

(2000). Free Associations, 8(2):21-48

Our need of taboo: pictures of violence and mourning difficulties

Andrzej Werbart

In memory of Lajos Székely

Contemporary pictures of man's violence and sexuality destroy boundaries between “me” and “not-me”, fiction and reality, the portrayal and what is being portrayed, good and evil, living and dead, human and non-human, guarded by ancient taboos. This plays a part in our longing to transgress the ego's boundaries. Descriptions of violence and perversion may lead to traumatising intra-psychic consequences if they penetrate the skin ego or contribute to its dissolution. The presence of an intermediate Narrator, who is responsible for a certain psychic preprocessing, may, on the contrary, contribute to our leaving the role of the passive viewer and becoming an active witness. Such accounts can help us to mourn and to accept the loss of our infantile omnipotence.

Can Everything be Depicted? Where has the boundary been drawn for what is permissible? When is the description of reality no longer ethical? What inner need in man leads to his effort to go repeatedly beyond the boundaries of the permissible, to see all and show all? And what are the consequences for our psyche, for our inner life, of new technical approaches by which pictures of what is happening in various places in the world can be spread so rapidly, without regard to distance? Questions like this are being posed today not only by professional opinion-makers but also by the man in the street, who is confronted by pictures of violence, suffering, death and perversion even in the sanctity of his home. Psychoanalytical experience is not ineffectual in the face of these questions even if it cannot offer firm backing for a pronouncement about how it really is today or how it ought to be.

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