Applying Procedural Analysis Theory

Neurotic Suspension

Simon Sheppard

Development of the concept

A notable incident during the ideation of neurotic suspension was the distribution of a leaflet in Amsterdam’s informal Squat Headquarters, located on the Spuistraat. The place was a fruitful setting for the observation of overt behaviours. For instance, a good example of Displacement of Cost came out of here. Nowadays incidentally, BIGBAR3’s schedule of functions seems to be dominated by “Queer Nights.”

The following events are more fully described in TOA. In December 1992 the leaflet was handed to people entering, with an English version helpfully provided a couple of nights later. Amid lots of huff and puff, the leaflet included this:

Women who don’t feel at ease here, because of men amusing themselves with unwelcome advances towards them, whether touching or staring, are encouraged to say something about it to the people on the door.

Author guilty

I confess, I had stared myself, but I don’t think I had at this place. The usual response to a sustained, fixed stare was a deliberate and exaggerated grimace. This is what had happened during the incident I best remember, which took place in the bar-restaurant of the huge squat on the Ij, the Silo (referred to in TOA as BAR1). It is an interesting example, because it demonstrates that the staring is not necessarily due to a particular sexual attraction, which I am sure many females believe. On this occasion I became locked in gaze at a sister of one of the residents. It was her resemblance to her brother which had initially intrigued me, and once I started staring I was unable to stop.

What was notable was that the leaflet provided third-party confirmation of this staring, that it was happening widely. The source of the neurosis in my own BAR1 incident was indefinite, and I would say that it was the result of societal (i.e. general or disseminated) neurosis in males.

Needless to say, this neurotic atmosphere placed an enormous burden on males. It was this adverse environment which was the main reason I returned to Britain, to preserve my sanity.

Bystanders to a drowning

A rather more significant incident occurred in Rotterdam on 21 August 1993. A young Moroccan-immigrant girl fell out of a boat and noisily drowned in a shallow, man-made boating lake while a couple of hundred people looked on. There was much soppy self-recrimination about it in the Dutch press in the days subsequently.

The event is a far better example of ‘bystander apathy’ or the ‘bystander effect’ than the textbook Kitty Genovese case. Following the newspaper reports I wrote: “The ‘Bystander Effect,’ as it was termed, appears to be a collective, and thus strong, expression of Neurotic Suspension.” That was written in 1993, although TOA was not published until 2002.

An aside: Response Displacement

Also apparently symptomatic of generalised neurosis in males is Response Displacement. It is comparable, but a fixation of a different kind takes place. Then the activity being performed becomes entrenched, with augmented, often intense, concentration. Typical male RD is reading a book or magazine with superjacent concentration in response to a female’s Lingering Signal. A typical female expression is entering into enlivened conversation with a friend, or some neutral third party, rather than engage (even by Direct Look) with a prospective target.

Returning to neurotic suspension, how might it be expressed in other contexts? We could be dealing with neurotic suspension any time remarks are made like “He just stood there looking at it” or “I don’t know what happened, I just froze.”

Compulsively staring at road accidents

A behaviour which bears comparison with this arrestation, characteristically involving a fixed stare, is the “rubber-necking” which occurs at car crashes (car wrecks). I am not aware of any psychological studies of this effect, though probably some exist. The presence of emergency vehicles probably intensifies the attraction, because they advertise its severity. The compulsive stares of motorists passing a scene of carnage are so pronounced that often more accidents occur, due to drivers being distracted. This compulsive staring seems to fit the template for neurotic suspension.

There is obviously suspension, and in this case the origin of the neurosis is fairly evident. Putatively, it is a conflict between:

  1. Fear, of what can happen to me if I’m careless or unlucky;
  2. Relief, that it has not happened to me but to someone else.

In conclusion, the morbid fascination of people passing a road accident is proposed as a particular, perhaps elementary, expression of neurotic suspension.

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