The ‘black hole’ as an enigmatic signifier
In contemporary philosophical as well as analytic discourses the ‘black hole’ is used as a signifier for an indescribable ‘nothing’ that, paradoxically, is both the origin of the subject and the immaterial font of creativity and freedom (Daly 2004). Its ‘negativity’ creates a space for renewed consciousness and imagination. ‘Black hole’ conjures other emotionally potent signifiers such as abyss, vortex, void, lack and emptiness. It is a sign that emerges when we are ‘stopped short’ by a failure to ‘language’ experience in our usual language. Appearing in gaps and lacunae in discourse, it may evoke the new events of possible, but as yet unrealized, meaning that we call ‘imagination’ and ‘consciousness’ (Castoriadis 1998, p. 3; Chandler 2003, pp. 74–7; Davis 1989, pp. 8–33). In a similar way, Stanton Marlan (2005, p. 190) describes the Black Sun and the other ‘black spots’ in alchemy as connected to a ‘continuous deconstructive activity . . . necessary for psychological change’.1
1Marlan appropriately cautions against seeing the alchemical blackness as merely a ‘stage’ in a ‘process of transformation’. When viewed within a system such as alchemy, there is always the danger that the particular experience is subsumed to some ‘larger whole’. Although transformations may occur at the edges of experience, stuckness, chronic paranoia, destruction and death are also real possibilities. There is always real risk.
In psychoanalytic discourse, ‘black hole’ imagery has been depicted as pointing towards possibilities for becoming that are not yet represented (Stern 1997), or due to a deficiency of internal self-object relations (Tustin 1990; Green 2001; Hopper 1991; Kinston & Cohen 1986), or ultimately due to the unrepresentable (Barnard 2002, p. 160–81; Dyess 2000; Nobus 1999, p. 171).
The ‘deficiency’ model has many permutations. One of the more common describes ‘holes’ in the psyche that are due to ‘primal repression’ resulting from early trauma. This is different from the ‘secondary’ repression that occurs after psychic structure has developed, leading to the impression of elements as yet unformulated, but relatively accessible. In contrast, ‘Primal repression . . . is the site of catastrophic, unthinkable, past-but-ever-present trauma and associated confusion and terror, hopelessness and loss of self-preservative function; while it can serve as the “frail bud of psychic structure” . . . from which growth occurs’ (Kinston & Cohen 1986, p. 340). All these dimensions often manifest themselves during full analyses (ibid., p. 337).
The evocations of the ‘black hole’ tend to have a spatial significance, but there is no final, essential ‘something’ that they signify. In their various ways, they refer to gaps in experience that cannot be conceived, a lack of ‘somethingness’ (Hauke 2000, pp. 191–222). Therefore they often convey a negation of familiar discourses, accompanied by intense affects and disturbing currents of the uncanny. The sense of terror, loss and grief may open a space for the creation of new signifying elements and an enriched presence in the world (Colman 2006, p. 21; Kristeva 1980, pp. 16–17).
Traumatic and premature exposure to the experience of such ‘black holes’ may cause chronic and severe psychological conditions. One must be aware of the dangers involved in such clinical phenomena. On the other hand, therapies that are mainly ego-and symptom-focused are in danger of cutting off the flow of life. Experiences at the edges of the ‘known’ seem to be at the basis of consciousness and creativity, and intensive suppression or denial of the ‘black hole’ experience in order to treat symptoms may result in ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’, and result in a way of life that is sterile and contrived.