Jim Morrison and Control: The Demonization of Natural Instincts

Art piece by Ben G.

During this Winter Break, I found myself seeking a form of escapism from letting my mind wander too much, as that is its natural reaction to having any free time. Jim Morrison’s spirit took over my brain’s right hemisphere, and enticed me to a Dyonisiac dream of imbibing my synapses with mysterious substances and reaching a higher plateau of existence. On the left side, but not daring to enter, sat the corrupting spirit they call the Voice of Reason, His icy stare meant to exorcise the Snake out of my cranial cavity and send it away. I surrendered once more, deciding to resort to picking up a book and letting the author take me into his reality, as I stepped through his own doors of perception[1].

Starting with my Sinterklaas gift, famous Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, called by some an anthropological gem and seen by others as highly biased and even irritating. I cannot be a judge on that since I am neither an expert in anthropology nor have I even finished the book. However, finishing the first part of the book, which both sides seem to agree is a success, made me think about the extraordinary transformations our species has gone through since the beginning of mankind. In the grand scheme, humans have existed for merely a blink of an eye in the history of the universe. In the first part of the book, Harari exhibits the way the first human species lived, how they interacted with each other and how they saw the world. There were obviously massive differences in terms of psychology and cognition, but what struck me the most is the fact that there was no need for self-reflection, no need for self-awareness and no need for self-control. Instincts were lived freely and our survival counted on raw emotion. Thus, I started asking myself where control comes from, which is what I will be exploring in this article.

“I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think. I am not whenever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am where I do not think to think.”

Jacques Lacan

The legend says that English students from all over the world are forever haunted by these words, waking up in pools of sweat after Lacan shows up in their dreams to remind them that their identities will never be complete. This is Lacan’s way of reversing Descartes’ I think therefore I am, thus making the statement that when we think about ourselves we are constructing ourselves, which does not constitute our true identity. Instead, our essence lies in the unconscious, the place where our fears, fetishes and neuroses await before springing up on us. I am drawing a connection between the unconscious and our uncontrollable inner instincts and I find myself agreeing with the Lacanian view that the unconscious, and therefore the uncontrollable, rests at the very nucleus of our identity. I mean to imply that our society is obsessed with covering this central essence up.

An excerpt from Wild Child: Jim Morrison’s Poetic Journeys by Tony Magistrale led me to this quote from my idol (think what you will), the Lizard King[2] himself, from 1969:

“Our society places a supreme value on control, on hiding what you feel.”

 He believed that “it mocks primitive culture and prides itself on the suppression of natural instincts and impulses”. It seems that to Morrison, our suppression of natural instincts through control is merely an act, trying to sweep the primitive under the rug and distract from it with imagined artifacts of human superiority. His ideal was a return to myth and to the inner. He heads straight to the nucleus, thus breaking through any form of outer control.

So how is this outer shield Morrison talks about constructed?

In my experience, control starts out with discipline. As a useless blob unaware of its own identity and completely dependent on the surrounding environment for survival, we are unable to control anything when we are born. Moreover, we are unaware that control exists. We are initiated into the world by people superior to us, we start out as the controlled object, and taught to become the subject able to control. That is achieved first by the people who raise you, the educational system, the law, the state. All these people and institutions force their own realities onto you and in a totalizing way discipline you in what you should control, which emotions you should hide and how. Unfortunately, as you can see, I have a negative experience with control, and throughout my formative years had craved an escape, freedom.

Jim Morrison’s poem “Power”, found in the collection of Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison shows the essence of Morrison’s philosophy.

I can make the earth stop in
its tracks. I made the
blue cars go away.

I can make myself invisible or small.
I can become gigantic & reach the
farthest things. I can change
the course of nature.
I can place myself anywhere in
space or time.
I can summon the dead.
I can perceive events on other worlds,
in my deepest inner mind,
& in the minds of others.

I can

I am

What this poem is telling us in relation to control is the simple fact that you can only be in control if you have enough power. When you become a subject that controls, that is, when you reach the legal age, when you move out or acquire other achievements that signify your emergence into adulthood, and into gaining control of your own existence. However, control is a hierarchical structure, and a never-ending one at that. There will always be chains you cannot break and things you cannot control. However, the poem continues in a striking way, emphasizing Jim’s idealist nature by encouraging the world to believe in the power of their minds. The deepest inner mind, which I read as Lacan’s idea of the centrality of the subconscious, is where control operates. We all have the power to construct or deconstruct thoughts, thoughts of concepts, social constructs, institutions, etc. To Jim, this is where change is born.

This brings me to the central question of this article: Why are we so obsessed with controlling our realities? Why did Freud bless us with a whole theory on a mind-machine whose sole purpose is repressing whatever we cannot control? Why is society based on rules and regulations and why you need to allow yourself to be boxed in to be an acceptable member of said society?

One thing that human beings share is death. None of us will escape it. Also, none of us can ever be sure of anything. We are constantly surrounded by questions and uncertainty, walking around aimlessly and blindfolded by our own perceptions. It is no surprise to me that we construct these imagined realities in order to shield us from the existential desperation waiting around the corner, “amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching Beast in the Jungle”[3]. Personally, I envy people who have religion or spirituality to hold on to for answers, which I see as a form of control, just like any other myth or superstition one might cling to. I knock on wood whenever I think of death, some other people cross themselves, but to me these are different actions born out of the same sentiments.

Men who go out on ships
To escape sin & the mire of cities`
watch the placenta of evening stars
from the deck, on their backs
& cross the equator
& perform rituals to exhume the dead
dangerous initiations
To mark passage to new levels

To feel on the verge of an exorcism
a rite of passage
To wait, or seek manhood
enlightenment in a gun

To kill childhood, innocence
in an instant

— Jim Morrison, “Wilderness”

The way I see it, this poem is an exploration of the human struggle to gain control, and an exhibition of the habits humans take on in order to pass from the fragmented, unstable and powerless existence of childhood to the free, colonizing, armed existence of manhood. All these endeavors are meant to create the illusion of control, the illusion of enlightenment in a gun. They are meant to create the reverse of the idea that the universe is unlimited, that we are specks of dust floating through endless darkness. It turns the universe in the man’s placenta of evening stars, his and only for his consumption, entitled to its gifts. Although my reading of this poem is a critique of humanity’s compensation for its insecurity, Jim Morrison had a truly enlightening view on death. In his Wild Child: Jim Morrison’s Poetic Journeys, Tony Magistrale states:

“The search for a new order, for some system of personal faith, more pagan than it ever was Christian, is also present in his writing: “Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths of the ages. Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests” … various examinations of death are often associated with these themes; it remains a mysterious perimeter in Morrison’s poems and songs, but never a final one . . . Death is merely a door separating states of being, ultimately leading to something else, to another form of creation.”

Morrison’s revolutionary idea delivers us from the toxicity of running away from death, as it teaches us to embrace its uncertainty and let it renew us. He encourages us to let go of control. As he states at the end of a self-interview that dates from 1969-1971:

“If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.”

As a hedonist trapped in the identity of a to-do list lover, I think we have a lot to learn from Jim Morrison’s philosophy and definitely from his poetry. Perhaps that humanity’s split between morality and natural instincts creates a painful existence, or that the need to control and the toxic ways human beings go about trying to reach this control are just a symptom of this condition. Or maybe a more hopeful truth: that we can step back and change the way we view our actions into a more light-hearted self-ridicule rather than totalitarian rigidity. Most of all, Jim Morrison teaches us that poetry has an intrinsic power, that if you dive deep enough, it’s there.

[1]If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Words of William Blake, which inspired the name of the band, The Doors.

[2] Jim, duh!

[3] From Henry James’ Beast in the Jungle


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