Lana Del Rey, Laschian conservative
The singer echoes the late academic's distaste for the US's narcissistic culture
Recently, Lana Del Rey, revealed the artwork of her upcoming album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ on her Instagram page, including a black and white cover showing Del Rey and several of her friends seated around a table.
Anticipating blowback from naysayers, presumably for being insufficiently ‘diverse’, the winsome chanteuse proclaimed: “yes there are people of colour on this record’s picture and that’s all I’ll say about that.” In a BBC Radio One interview, she further bolstered her stance: “I got a lot of issues but inclusivity ain’t one of them…I just feel like if that’s really what people are gonna say, I have an answer for them.”
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When the interview moved onto the subject of Trump, Del Rey revealed that she isn’t in total lockstep with the dominant progressive narrative. While progressives saw Trump’s presidency as the recrudescence of fascism, Del Rey, in contrast, viewed it as something that “really needed to happen”. “The Madness of Trump”, in Del Rey’s eyes was a “reflection” of the greatest plague of our world: “not climate change, but sociopathy and narcissism…it’s going to kill the world. It’s not capitalism, it’s narcissism”.
Interestingly, in her momentary fixation on narcissism, Del Rey, wittingly or not, echoed the heterodox social critic Christopher Lasch, whose 1979 magnum opus, The Culture of Narcissism, attempted to investigate the roots of this plague. He argued that the spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of mass culture and consumer capitalism, the acidification of traditional forms of authority and the colonisation of family and communal life by therapy culture had produced psychological deformities that coalesce around the narcissist. Lasch defined the narcissist as, among other things, primarily, “wary of intimate, permanent relationships, which entail dependence” and always obsessed with “consumption of novel sensations”.
Now, ‘Laschian conservative’ isn’t the phrase one would instantly grab to label Del Rey. Her songs are full of lines about getting drunk, doing time in prison and her rosebud tasting of “Pepsi-Cola”. But, paradoxically, there is a conservative sensibility that shoots through her oeuvre. She appropriates the American flag and the iconography as well as nostalgia for vintage America in her art. Her persona shamelessly adopts the trappings of traditional feminine beauty: red lipstick, high heels, diamonds, beehive hair etc, which rankle her progressive and feminist critics for supposedly glamorising the falsehood that is the American Dream and the “myth of beauty”.
Del Rey and Lasch perhaps converge on the importance of family, home and finding tranquillity in romance over profit hunting and upward social mobility.
In ‘Born to Die’, as they walk through the city, she asks her boyfriend if he can “make it like home/if I tell you you’re mine” because she often feels alone. It would be easy to dismiss this as her slavish desperation for a man to ‘provide and protect’ her. But she wants something deeper: a soulmate, a family, a home, a cosy palace, a haven in a heartless world, something more holistic and spiritually satisfying, that seems so elusive in our commercialised age.
She desires exactly the “intimate, permanent relationships, which entail dependence” that Lasch lambasted our narcissistic culture for stifling, to solve the modern riddle that is the pursuit of happiness. It is something many people, young people included, yearn for, but don’t yet have an adequate language to express.
Well perhaps she is capable of at least some thought, which puts her a million miles ahead of all the other singers and actors etc. Funnily enough I read Lasch’s ”The Culture of Narcissim’ just last summer. Like all these books it was too long, but he was obvlously correct and he saw the signs way back in the 1970s. Things are way, way worse now.
I’ve never heard of Lasch, so I don’t really have much to contribute.
I just wanted to say that, to my surprise, I find I really quite enjoy Lana del Ray’s music.
Lasch wrote a quite brilliant book called The Revolt of the Elites nearly 30 years ago which was uncannily prescient both about the division of society into anywheres and somewheres, and the kind of harm it would cause.
For my part, I’ll have to give Lana del Ray’s music a go.
In fact, here’s a quote from that book. 26 years ago he said this;
‘Diversity’ ““ a slogan that looks attractive on the face of it ““ has come to mean the opposite of what it appears to mean. In practice, diversity turns out to legitimize a new dogmatism, in which rival minorities take shelter behind a set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion. The physical segregation of the population in self-enclosed, racially homogeneous enclaves has its counterpart in the balkanization of opinion.
I’ll take a look at the book.
If you like David Lynch-style Americana, then you should probably enjoy Lana del Ray. Her music does not have the disturbing freakiness of Lynch’s films, but it’s very evocative of a melancholic and slightly seedy America, both big-city and small-town.
Thanks for the tip! Any particularly recommended album to start with?
I still remember reading that Lasch book back in the 90’s, one of the few books I’ve read where after finishing it I’ve felt I could see the world more clearly. Hope you enjoy it.
Try a song called Mariner’s Apartment Complex, which is pretty simple but strangely moving, and some hits like Video Games and Shades of Cool.
Thanks, will do!
Narcissus is the nature of human society now. As a result, human society is becoming progressively more and more aggravated, and fundamentally dissociated from Reality, Truth, and The Beautiful too – leading to an absurd and insane life of competitive conflict for the totality of humankind. And that life of competitive conflict has already negatively affected even the natural systems of the Earth – and it is causing, and will continue to cause terrible suffering everywhere.
The Donald was of course the perfect embodiment of Narcissus, and , while he was President, the leading edge vector of that all-destructive anti-culture.
Meanwhile most/all pop stars embody the “ideal” of Narcissus too – look at me, look at me being the message, especially on their promotional videos. The image featured with this essay is a classic example of a narcissistic pop-star.
Trump was the opposite of the Laschian narcissist in that he believed in Patriotism and Nation first, that duty was first to America, then ones family – and then self. Biden is the narcissist with his open borders where he feels His Liberalism always ‘Trumps’ America, and American needs.
Laschian, memory/nostalgia – one is the log of the past, the other a daydream of an ideal past. This is Liberalism/Conservative, the conservative is a road map for the well being of Nation and Family, Liberalism a daydream of an ideal future for Nation and Family, and one which will lead to wrecking of Nation and Family because it is so utterly based on false premises..
It’s true. The more society gazes at itself in the mirror, the more it comes to resemble Narcissus.
The Liberals stare at the mirror seeing themselves as a wondrous glowing flower, but the entire rest of the landscape as some Dantian hell-scape, and go away full of loathing.
Conservatives see these silly little preening flowers in a landscape of great good and bad, and thus want to fight the bad and promote the good wile ignoring the silly navel gazing flowers.
On SoundCloud, lookup Lana del Rey, Video Games, Joris Voorn Edit. Then, dance.
Some of Lasch’s views on Narcissism are a bit questionable. For example (not sure whether this was in The Culture of Narcissism or The Minimal Self) he dismissed space exploration as form of Narcissism. I guess in his view NASA’s efforts amounted little more than the pursuit of novel sensations!
It is also worth remembering that Lasch’s theories are based on the assumption that Freud’s understanding of human nature could be taken as solid science. These days we are not so sure (to say the least).
Meanwhile, on social media, the accusation Narcissism is starting to become a popular and easy denunciation. Do people really understand what the term means when they use it? It is more than just vanity and selfishness. As Lasch said, Narcissus (of the myth) did not realise that he had fallen in love with his own reflection.
Good point, Satori. I’d add that the current “toting” of children as personal trophies ensures children are raised to be “in love with their own reflection” from such an early age, that they never realize it. Looking down on anyone else just comes naturally to them, with no logic backing such sentiment other than “ah, but he/she can’t compare with what my parents told me I was born to be!”.
The utterly weird modern (white) narcissist, and they compose the mainstream, is they they have this dualism of self love AND the self loathing which they are taught from grade one by the Liberal/Lefty (Franklin School) education and media industries. They are best analogized as an Anorexia Nervosa pathology of self-centered/self-loathing yin/yang.
Self esteem taught in the morning, White guilt/privilege taught in the afternoon. Homework is social media spent on ego boosting and ego crushing exercises. The youth today are an utterly failed experiment.
I’d toss a couple of thoughts into the mix:
1.) Nobody (who knows anything about psychology and psychiatry) really thinks that Freud’s work represented a fully formed and finished view of the ways in which the human psyche functions. Think of it as being more like an early version of celestial mechanics – flawed, gets some things right, and yet marks an important conceptual breakthrough on which others can build.
2.) Freud’s characterisation of some psychological ‘manoeuvres’ may have been inaccurate and incomplete. However, anyone even slightly inclined to reflection and analysis will see that (for example) a construct like projection has a real-world correlate. And, that it has explanatory power.
Pop-psychology often (usually?) bastardises such terms, sometimes to the point of uselessness. And, I can’t quite understand what persuaded me to engage in a discussion about a US pop singer I have never heard of.
Not sure if projection was an idea that Freud originated but it has certainly proven very useful for the bully-boy trolls of social media ““ ie. a ready weapon for deflecting a criticism back onto the critic and calling into question his self-awareness.
Freud’s belief that psychological problems could be understood using supposed universal understanding of human nature revealed in myths of antiquity remains unproven (and probably unprovable). However, it would have appealed to the intelligentsia of his day with the standard background in classical education.
A simple question deserves to be raised:
Do myths, such as those of Narcissuss and Oedipus provide a genuine insight into psychological problems or are they just folk tales providing intriguing puzzles flattering to the refined intellect?
It is notable that Jung first became interested in pschology when he read in Krafft-Ebing that “psychosis is a disease of the personality”.
This could go on a long time if we let it… 🙂
“Freud’s belief that psychological problems could be understood using supposed universal understanding of human nature revealed in myths of antiquity remains unproven (and probably unprovable).”
There is a sense in which the ‘correctness’ of a particular understanding matters less in general or absolute terms, but rather only in terms of the ability of the model to serve a specific function. In the world of clinical psychology, it matters less whether the construct (e.g. narcissism) is valid [an accurate reflection of what exist in the ‘real world’] and more whether it is useful. I believe it can be useful and invalid (and, the search for more valid models should still continue).
Myths are used in two ways, I think:
One is simply as convenient labels for psychological constructs that are structurally analagous to the principles illustrated in the myth.
The other is that the myth can be illustrative – instructive – of the possible consequences of certain behaviours.
These are quite different uses, it seems to me – and they are often confused.
The statement attributed to Krafft-Ebing (that “psychosis is a disease of the personality”) is largely unusable, in that (to borrow a legal term) it has no probative value.
No probative value?! Jung took Krafft-Ebing’s statement as the original inspiration which sparked his interest in the psychology as a study of the human mind. Prior to that he had seen psychology as a rather unappealing branch of medicine.
You have a distinct tendency to cloak simple ideas in over-elaborate verbiage. Are you simply trying to tell me that the myths provide practically useful analogies ““ but expressing it in such a way as to give the impression of in-depth knowledge and expertise? Perhaps (as hinted in your first line) you are trying to persuade me that I should shut up because you know better!
Anyway, consider the possibility that analogies can lead as well as illustrate and instruct.
“Perhaps (as hinted in your first line) you are trying to persuade me that I should shut up because you know better!” Certainly not that! I have no reason to assume I know more than you about this – I am just interested…
My point about the Kraft-Ebing line is that it could mean so many things, depending on the definitions of “psychosis” and “personality” used. I could probably construct two true(ish) and two false versions of the statement that would entirely turn upon definitions. So, to say that “psychosis is a disease of personality” does not in any way help you to treat psychosis, or to understand its neuroscientific origins.
Let me try again. Let’s take a psychological mechanism like projection. It clearly exists – it is a behavior people exhibit. It would seem to me to be perfectly reasonable to call upon a myth which entails a key character exhibiting projection and use it to label project the “Eudemon phenomenon” (I just made that name up; I know of no such myth). It does not make the myth explanatory in any way.
Then we can take a myth (say, like Oedipus) and use it both as a label (per above) and to illustrate potential consequences of certain kinds of pathologies in family dynamics. It does not mean that “the Oedipal Complex” is a real phenomenon in the way (say) blood pressure of a brain tumours are real.
The Krafft-Ebing line is significant when you consider Jung’s later development. He pursued what might be termed the quasi-spiritual in his later studies. Once he sensed that the study of psychology offered more than mere medical management of the insane he saw his destiny was to explore the depths of the human mind.
This how Jung himself defined that event in his autobiography ““ no need to puzzle over conflicting definitions of psychosis and personality. Later, his pursuit of depth psychology (as it is sometimes called) was given a major boost when he discovered Freud.
The myths explored by both Freud and Jung were taken to have arisen from the unconscious (Jung) or subconscious (Freud) and to be a fundamental aspect of human nature. They were not simply applied as labels or deployed as illustrations. They were “discovered” within Freud and Jung’s patients. Jung, in particular, with his theory of Archetypes, believed that powerful yet archaic forces existed in the unconscious and appeared in myths and folktales in the form of certain recognisable characters.
Anyway, back to Christopher Lasch. In the two books I mentioned in my first comment he does reference Freud as providing authoritive explanations of the human condition.
I gave up reading this pseudo intellectual nonsense fairly quickly.
By this I suppose you mean it went over your head, or that you just are against the message.
Did you mean to use ‘pseudo’ and ‘intellectual’ as separate adjectives?
I very much enjoy this piece. I’ve listened to a number of Ms. del Rey’s songs on WFUV-FM, here in NYC. It’s nice to know that there is at least one recording artist who isn’t afraid to say things that ‘progressives’ don’t agree with.
She has always been a joy to listen to. I don’t agree with many of her statements/ opinions, however, she has always been thoughtful and honest in her music. She stands out amongst a pop culture of laziness, propoganda, and neglect for nuance.
Interesting point Lana’s making about “the madness of Trump” being something that “needed to happen” – seeing Trump as the product of a deeply neurotic society, reflecting back its obsessions for all to see.
When people say ‘Trump wasn’t really a proper conservative’ they are not usually this clear about why.
The atomization of societies driven by liberalism/capitalism, by obliterating all other modes of connection (as described by Uncle Karl in his Communist Manifesto) surely leads to a culture of narcissism, because under it only the self remains valid and real in the self’s world, either to love or admire or hate. Projecting the self into a myth-figure like the nation simply expands the problem. Hence Trump, a poster-child for narcissism, flirted with White Nationalism, to the delight of much of the American population who are similarly afflicted. If Lana del Rey is concerned about Home (that is, the connection with others) she’s very far from the Trumpoid ideal.
I discovered Lana’s lovely singing early last year, and after reading this article I shall certainly play her more often this.
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