Naturalization of the Psychoanalytic
If there is a split between the interior world and the expressive one in the shared model of the contemporary psyche (mirrored in the subtext of modern theater), how then to apply this framework to the reading of a romantic relationship like George and Marta's? In "Sex and Talk," Candace Vogler explores this meta-discursively, writing about the relationship transaction in which a couple "processes" its problems. Vogler points out that talking about problems is mistakenly labeled "intimate," when in fact such talk can lead to increased estrangement in couples who are in struggle, rather than the cooperative, peaceful, loving, and sexual relatedness they purportedly desire. According to Vogler, the contemporary couple is locked in a kind of dysfunctional feedback loop in which the supposedly desirable outcome (a sense of equanimity, love, and passion) is defeated by engaging in relationship talk (mislabeled "intimate" behavior) that leads to increasing conflict, less love (See Diagram 1).
The assumed equivalence between talking and intimacy suggests that the relationship between these two logically separate states has been naturalized and therefore made invisible to many. Vogler dethrones this valorized body of psychological common knowledge, and in so doing, tears up the shared map to relationship well-being. But without such a map, how to proceed? Vogler offers up the goal of a more loosely held image of the other in relationship as well as a more flexible self-image. She sees the verbal "processing" of a romantic relationship as often counterproductive because it tends to reinforce and solidify these images which in turn hold steady the struggle that the couple experiences. She is arguing for a more open and porous narrative of coupledom, one that has previously unforeseen outcomes, where "one can forget who one is... 'liberated from the fetters of selfhood, to be allowed to stop being true to their various ideas of self''" (Roy Baumeister as quoted in Vogler 51).
Vogler's critique informs the contemporary thread of this theaterwork (the George and Marta scenes) set against the Emperor-Nightingale relationship of the Andersen fable which has been staged with an intensified focus on the nature of the relationship between the Nightingale and the Emperor. Setting up this correspondence between a contemporary relationship and a fictional one that predates psychoanalysis has the potential to tease out the psychological assumptions about contemporary romantic relationships. To show the historical relationship devoid of this same paradigm, "talk = intimacy" can't be taken as a universally applicable equivalence.