All you need is… oxytocin

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  • #6267

    007
    Participant

    Last year the Lenkiewicz picture ‘Mrs Dempster with Russell’ was reproduced in a book called Mother & Child Care in Art, published by the Royal Society of Medicine Press. Robert was in good company: Rembrandt and Goya were also featured.normal_album_pic%7E323.jpgAlthough the entire Mental Handicap Project looks on the face of it to be another of those ‘ostracised outsider’ themes, I was always struck by this comment in the 1997 interview from R.O. Lenkiewicz:“…Mental Handicap. I chose that precisely because I thought one should study it as a one-way system – the parent ‘loves’ the child, but can you claim the child ‘loves’ them in return?”So Project 3 was very much part of the Relationship Series, designed to investigate the claims people made for their experience of ‘love’ (try thinking like Robert for long enough and it’s almost impossible not to use inverted commas around the word). That is why he chose mental, not physical, handicap. Of course, the parents of the children Robert painted may have confounded his expectations since they reported that caring for their handicapped children was extremely rewarding and that their feelings were reciprocated by the child in some way.Now, neurochemists have come up with a few ideas about why that is. According to science blog Pharyngula:“The latest issue of BioEssays has an excellent review of the role of the hormone oxytocin in regulating behaviours. It highlights how much biochemistry is a determinant of what we regard as virtues.”Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus. It sends signals into the pituitary gland. In fact, it is the hormone that triggers labor in pregnant women and is also responsible for lactation. But the hormone also exists in males and is almost ubiquitous in the brain: it is found in the hippocampus, amygdala, striatum, and the mid- and hind-brain. What is it doing?Oxytocin is associated with affection and empathy. Experiments in social mammals indicate feedback mechanisms in which ‘virtuous’ social behaviours, like nurturing young, result in oxytocin producing pleasurable rewards in the brain, thus reinforcing such behaviour.Furthermore:“some experiments on other behaviors, which involve intranasal oxytocin (that's right, they're snorting it) show interesting effects. For instance, oxytocin increased trust between men playing an investment game, and also increased the ability to infer the mental status of others, or elevated empathy.”Some studies have found reduced plasma levels of oxytocin in autistic people (autism manifests as impaired ability for empathic social functioning). The jury is out on whether this is a cause or an effect of autism, though transfusions of oxytocin have caused mild reduction in some autistic symptoms.Robert, of course, was fascinated by neuroscience (though this seldom translated into the inclination to collect or read scientific papers) and thought a fuller understanding of human physiology would irrevocably alter our attitudes to ‘the falling in love experience.’ Nevertheless, the key point to note in the above statements is that oxytocin is itself subject to social feedback regulating its production and function. This psychological input is also a key factor in the physiology of addiction — the more that is understood biochemically about all the neurological pathways for drug dependency, the more individual perception and social feedback seem to play a key role in regulating that behaviour. Robert’s hope that the psychological perspective might drop out of the equation of human behaviour still seems some way off.Still, I think it is always worth emphasizing that underneath the Projects which seem to have a social reform agenda there is always a uniquely Lenkiewiczian point of view — it's always about 'love' being something that happens in us, not between two people, and how the torments and joys of our most exalted feelings often lead straight to ruthless exploitation of the object of our affections. We shall have to await the publication of his notes to see what Robert concluded about the relationships of the families who participated in the Mental Handicap Project.Let’s give blogger PZ Myers the last word:“Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to "just chemicals", but I'm not one of them. I find it absolutely wonderful that beautiful human feelings are not the product of ineffable invisible spirits, but are a consequence of our splendidly earthly humanity — hug someone, and little peptides tickle regions of their brains, and they feel good and happy, and they might just hug you back … and that's all right with everyone.”Link to article: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/08/your_mamas_soul_doesnt_love_yo.php#more

    #9274

    Christopher Raven
    Participant

    Jack, your comment that Project 3 was very much part of the Relationship Series is a welcome reminder. What I have always found difficult is the distinction between physiology and psychology, it has never been clear to me – something of a 'chicken and egg' situation.

    #9275

    007
    Participant

    It's worth remembering that the Mental Handicap Project started out as 'Love & Tragedy', part of the first Relationship Series exhibitions along with 'Love & Romance' and 'Love & Mediocrity'.There are two ways to see this: mental handicap was a big social issue akin to vagrancy that Robert wanted to raise public consciousness about. I think that is wrong. I am not aware of any campaigning agenda surrounding this Project. [It would be interesting to see the Project notes]. One assumes Robert would have favoured good palliative and respite care for families visited by mental handicap, and so on, but I think we have to take him at his word and accept that he was looking here at the possibility of love in which one party to the transaction was arguably absent.The Project then takes its place in Robert's exploration of the 'ruthlessness' and 'carnivorous' aspects of love (Death & the Maiden) and its solipsism; that what love is, is an addiction to our own physiology to which the Other contributes very little.

    #9276

    Christopher Raven
    Participant

    Could it be said that Project 3 did show that it was possible to love another independently of ones own needs. Or would those needs just have been more oblique?

    #9277

    007
    Participant

    Have you ever wondered why we tend to idealize “to love another independently of ones own needs”?Wouldn't a love that is underpinned by the most rabid self-interest be a love that is guaranteed to last? Isn't that something you could really count on? Perhaps this is what we mean in popular song with the "can't live, if living is without you" scenario.Come to think of it, if a prospective lover made a mix-tape of songs full of sentiments like "I have only your interests at heart" or "I expect to derive nothing from our association" you'd think they were nuts.Robert(and Woody Allen) noticed that these are precisely the sentiments that are expressed when the other is leaving. Hence his favourite Nietzsche quote: "How nicely does doggish lust beg a piece of spirit when a piece of flesh is denied it."

    #9278

    Christopher Raven
    Participant

    The being 'in love' experience with it's inevitable self interest is doomed to fade away. Like a fine evening with fine wines the body will, at some point, become immune. If there is enough of value in the debris, something of 'love' may continue to grow. I consider this to be a different beast.

    #9279

    John
    Participant

    “The Future”Give me back my broken night my mirrored room, my secret life it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture Give me absolute control over every living soul And lie beside me, baby, that's an order! Give me crack and anal sex Take the only tree that's left and stuff it up the hole in your culture Give me back the Berlin wall give me Stalin and St Paul I've seen the future, brother: it is murder. this one? Oh wait this one was supposed to go on the thread about TFL.Fascinating posts here. I never really saw the connection of mental handicap to the relationship series , yet here it is. Can anyone expand on how the Old age project was part of the relationship series? Interesting about the fallen children christopher, maybe a little but tenuous though was this robert's intention?

    #9280

    Francis
    Participant

    Can anyone expand on how the Old age project was part of the relationship series?

    There is a split between projects which deal with personal relationships eg Love and..., Jealousy, Painter with Mary etc) and those which stem from a more sociological angle (Education, Old Age, Death etc). However, these overlap in many ways, so for instance Mental Handicap is concerned with issues about "love" highlighted above, as well as drawing attention to social concerns. Vagrancy isn't all about dossers - melancholy and fool symbolism are intrinsic parts of the theme. There's a potential problem here. It would be easy to cast Lenkiewicz as the do-gooding, philanthropist painter to rehabilitate his work but this would be misleading and take the real guts out of his highly uncomfortable message.

    #9281

    007
    Participant

    In the Old Age theme (strongly influenced by de Beauvoir's book 'Old Age') Robert was at pains to explode the myth that old age is a time of calm and dignified reflection in the winter of our lives. The kind of material he was gathering from the sitters indicated that the passions retained a full measure of force into old age, even if the physical capacity to act on them was waning. Above all, he was interested in the gap between society's expectations of (and prejudices against) the old and their subjective experiences of their own potential. You can read about Robert's Age Concern lecture, disguised as an old man, here http://www.robertlenkiewicz.org/project-11-old-age. However, the interesting story (as told in the book 'R.O. Lenkiewicz') is of the lecture he wasn't permitted to give. Robert claims he had obtained a medical film about sex in old age which was very explicit and quite a revelation to anyone who thought sex stops when you own your first cardigan. He planned to show this to the Age Concern audience, having received the enthusiastic support of the Age Concern director. He had also planned a 'happening' in

    #9282

    Francis
    Participant

    Apparently it's not just the quacks that are cottoning on to Lenkiewicz's theories – the literati are at it too. Sebastian Faulks' new novel Engleby:

    And anyway, since the cells in our body die and are renewed, replaced by different ones, we do in a literal sense become different individuals. The connection I have to the boy I once was is now so fragile that it requires an act of conscious "faith" to maintain that we are in any significant sense the same person.

    Now where did I hear that before? Then I finish that and try Frank Tallis' Vienna Blood:

    What makes one man mad and another a great romantic? What is the difference between real love and insanity?...Professor Freud is of the opinion that all forms of romantic love are - at least to some extent - delusional.

    In a minute someone will put it all together and come with a theory of "aesthetic fascism".

    #9283

    sartre
    Participant

    In a minute someone will put it all together and come with a theory of "aesthetic fascism".

    ...and no doubt accuse Lenkiewicz of plagiarism.

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