The Family as Organism
Like all groups, the family is an organism, with a consciousness of its own independent of its members. Unlike other groups, the strength of the family unit is based on many primal mammalian instincts, and unlike other groups, the family is a small unit, when compared to the corporation, the asylum, the state, or the race.
The family, as a world within the world, must abbreviate. Each member must stand for fifty different roles. In a large factory, a worker can be reduced to a bicep, or a knuckle, stands for a bit of automation that machines aren’t flexible enough to cover. In the same way, the worker, the businessman, the cashier, is an epithet – happy Ruth, spunky Janet, silly Jim, angry John – a sort of mask with a little wiggle room to be “in a mood today” to do the rude but somewhat forgivable act of “bringing his problems to work” and being sad when he’s supposed to be happy. The professional demeanor is to express the moods necessary to optimize the job. The man becomes a function.
Home life is different. Since the family is made of a tight band of intimates, the many aspects of the personality are appreciated, and cannot be avoided. As intimacy is conversation in presence, the family stands for an intimate unit, and it is the unit that allows the greatest amount of affection.
The married couple, the dynamo of the family, whose love and lovemaking not only celebrate the essential expression of life, but also generate further life, are the center of the family. They are the trope fountain for the family, they name each other, they name their children, they choose the home, they are the basis of family, and so erotic love is the basis of the strongest type of group known to man.
Duty is a word groups impose on individuals. It is the binding of Eros. The family unit becomes the unfreedom of the members – love is slavery. Only for love and love’s duties – the dried and hardened edges of love – keep parents living in one house, working and raising children, which without love would be an impossibly difficult job, but with love, hushes the lips from complaint. A duty without love is impossible. And so the upkeep of the house, the taxes, all these things, are for love – ultimately, for erotic love, which is the basis of all other loves between people.
The house is the body of the family organism, and pulses with the movement of its spirit, the family. The communication of the family members is the thinking of the family. Even if the members experience one definite thing apiece when they talk, the Family as individual experiences another between them, and thinks between all of them as one contained mind. The peculiarity of the family is to have a mind amidst so few parts.
The emotional energy of the individuals, as well as the emotional energy of the Family organism, are a doubling upon the same matter, but for different uses. The emotions of each member of the family feel different to the full unit who feels all of them in a different context.
Most large groups have the freedom and obligation to exclude certain members. Perhaps the individual leaves on his own, of his own free will, but the group itself excluded him, though no member felt so. The dynamics of personalities place us in our own place, and this by Unit fiat, though we feel ourselves jostled by that one guy we don’t get along with, or are uncomfortable with a certain arbitrary policy. The inevitable politics of all groups isn’t just the selfish manipulations of the members, but the thinking of the unit as a whole.
A family can’t exclude members in this manner, and so the pull of influence is much stronger. All the threads of violence and sex that tie all of society together, in subtle euphemized registers, in the family are loud and transparent. The stakes are higher. A family is more to its members than is a society.
Every emotion seeks to be enacted. But since most actions require coordination, we must speak them to others. Words are to put our desires into others, but also to put our desires into circulation so that they can come back when the action is ready to be performed. The needs realize themselves as images charged with desire. Initially the desire is very strong, but thinking crystallizes this desire into more images, and speaking furthers the job by making them into words. As thoughts are the relationships between various emotions, words are the relationships between the thoughts of people, the thoughts of the greater unit. The movement of information is itself an emotion.
The needs of each individual are felt as intense emotions, when they are not regulated. But when the are sent out into complete circuits, that come back with the gratifying object, then the person is happy and fulfilled. All the desires, all the emotions, all the personas of a man require their circuit. Many of the desires of a man require friendships and relationships, not only for love, but to extend the individual into the body of the other, so that he can be a second self to the first. Like the system of veins and arteries in the body of the person, words, gestures, and activities are the circuits for the heart of the individual who uses the group as his full body, and again, for every other individual for the group, and finally, for the group as a Unit itself.
Each of the needs, and the emotions they create, must find the circuit of fulfillment. The immediate circuit is in the fantasy of the completed need, but this develops finally into the plan of the need, and ultimately into the words and actions of the person. Once those actions become habitual, the circuit goes on indefinitely.
Every person we meet opens up a chamber of our own soul. And yet some unconsciously draw near because they are the needed person for us to befriend. The first friend we make determines what sort of friend we will seek next, to double him or balance him, to oppose him, to stretch you in other directions. Some relationships are imposed, in that you have joined a group and must cope with the array of its current members. Where such impositions stretch you too much, you must compensate through other friendships, or through isolation, or through some activity which releases you from it.
The family is more intense, for there is less space to distance yourself from others. When parents or siblings make absolute demands upon you, the only way you can hold on to inner integrity, without declaring war, is to fold your mind like an origami.
Thus the grown child’s freely chosen spouse is a reaction to years of intimacy with his parents. At least in part. Perhaps his second girlfriend has all the virtues the first girlfriend so dearly lacked. Or perhaps his group of friends pressed in too much on him and he needed a woman of this sort. Most of these maneuverings are unknown to him, but they are felt to the group body as a whole. To him, it’s love at first sight, he’s just happy with this girl, its mysterious. The fine poetry he composes to measure and meter her graces are part of a large set of parameters between group dynamics. The overwhelming aesthetic sense his soul feels in their love is part of an interplay of forces that the group unit feels as its good digestion.
And so moods travel through a family. The sadness of the daughter is felt as the sadness in the mother. The family feels as one, and even when it feels separately, this separateness is felt too. I can’t fully be happy knowing my brother resents that happiness. As always the emotions are layered, co-occurring, and interlaced with a complex logic. To the group unit, they are all its own feelings, and the antagonism are rather anxieties and tensions within the organism.
As the body of the family is the house, and its organs the possessions, and its nerves the words between the members, its emotions are in the movement of the family members in relation to each other.