Is disavowal repressing something unbearable, or at least sublimating it something more palatable and socially acceptable? What often arises is the concept of innocence, a byproduct of this process of disavowal and reluctance to own up and acknowledge what one already is conscious of or thinks they are which is pertinent to the American notion of an innocent nation, a new world unencumbered by the past and part of the package of exceptionalism which profoundly influences questions of national identity. Norman Rockwell is the epitomy of this unconscious decision to idealize the world or create an idealized world where a kind of sentimental, kitschy banality that denies the intensity of human emotion channeling real tragedy into pleasant sadness and humorous problems, a kicking of the proverbial can down the country mile to escape the pain of real life. This Americanized break with the past found its avant-garde equivalent in Dadaism and Duchamp; both creating worlds of the ready-made, conceptual archetypes engaged in a disavowal of the past….
Halperin: I put the word “adults” in scare quotes because one so rarely meets a real adult nowadays. Most people one encounters are rather overgrown children, fully ensconced in a manufactured innocence that real children would have no difficulty seeing through. “Adults” love Norman Rockwell because he allows them to bathe themselves in innocence, and because his work seems to lack all the ambiguities, complexities, and problems that might otherwise induce such stressful conditions as thinking or self-examination or informing oneself about the world. There is no overt sex in Norman Rockwell’s paintings, no violence, no real or insoluble unhappiness, no poverty or serious illness or crime, and, until late in his career, no black people except for the occasional porter. (Rockwell, it should be said, had long wanted to depict African Americans but was forbidden to do so by his editors at the Saturday Evening Post, who feared that the mere sight of them might upset most of their readers, and who were, moreover, probably right.)…
…Of course, people who like Rockwell—and I count myself passionately among them—will respond that they perfectly well know these things already. Obviously Rockwell’s world isn’t the “real world,” or at least not the whole of that world. That’s the point. His illustrations offer a pleasant respite from the pressures and tensions of life. And what’s so wrong with that? Nothing, really—unless one’s whole life is an elaborate and extended respite from those things. For that is what innocence is—an ingrained habit of denying what one knows but doesn’t want to know….
…He takes at least some responsibility even for what he does not know, because he understands that our decisions not to know are at least partly volitional. Innocence is a choice not to know something, and therefore a lie, since the very choice must be based on some presentiment, some suspicion, some tiny bit of knowledge (or even a good deal more than a tiny bit) we already possess. Innocence is a pretense of ignorance, a pretense staged not so much for others as for ourselves. This is what Nietzsche rails against in my epigraph—people who can’t tell good “honest” lies because they don’t have the courage to face what is true and false in themselves. They cannot choose to lie because they lie incessantly and unconsciously to themselves. In the 1950s, Jean-Paul Sartre would elaborate Nietzsche’s insight into the concept of mauvaise foi or bad faith….
…For Freud, disavowal is one among several ways of suppressing something unbearable. Repression, another of those ways, banishes unwanted knowledge or desires to the unconscious, where they are no longer available to us. Disavowal, by contrast, involves a “splitting” of the self, so that we simultaneously know and don’t know something….
…While Freud would not approve, I want to propose an ethical distinction between repression and disavowal. In repression, the conscious mind finds something so objectionable (though also desirable) that it simply expels it and will have no more to do with it. Repression therefore involves, for better or worse, a genuine renunciation….Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/314405.htmla