Category Archives: psychoanalysis

The banal in psychoanalysis

In Paris overnight, asleep in a hotel room on Rue Daguerre, right next to the cemetery in Montparnasse, I dreamt I was taken to meet de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre himself. I get him to sign an old first edition copy of a book called Ego and Literature. He crosses out an ancient dedication to Anne (my mother’s name) and lectures me on being caught up with all too obvious interpretations. 4:47am 23.6.2012

Žižek sets his own curfews.

zizek.jpgSlavoj Žižek has some funny ticks – I remember him taking three and a half minutes at the end of the Lenin and Philosophy conference in Essen (February 2001) telling us all there were only six minutes left for discussions and we should not make grand statements and we should avoid extravagant declarations … and we only had five minutes before the close…. and we should not say too much and… four minutes… etc etc..

His book of Lenin’s essays is a great contribution, so I was pleased to see him still in fine fettle here on Democracy Now. Especially the first response where, worried about how he comes across on tv, he identifies himself to those who would police such things (himself), as the father of a daughter whom, if some one asked to take her out, he would not let go out to the movies – the movies! – with himself. Its a revealing slip where he accidentally identifies himself as his own daughter. I would not let him go out with me. The perfect slapstick parent-copper-oedipal-narcissistic compound …

…well, read or watch the rest for yourself (last twelve minutes of the Goodman hour). There are the usual witty wind ups about elections, the sixties, Barack… and some sharp points about war crimes, the Soviets, the liberal left and Barack… I can only think this played well in some circles and completely bamboozled Pat Buchanan (hat tip Leila):

Here is the first part:

“AMY GOODMAN: … We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Thank you very much. I am honored to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: When I asked you specifically how to pronounce your name, you said you’re nervous about people who pronounce it correctly.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Yes, because I—no, but this is more a private trauma, like I don’t like to see myself. Whenever I see myself, like there on the screen, I’m tempted to adopt the position of an observer and ask myself, if I were to have a daughter, I would never allow that guy to take me to a movie theater. So—

AMY GOODMAN: But you also said you would be concerned if it was pronounced exactly, that perhaps that person came from the police.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Yeah. Effectively, yeah, because only they really know. You know, this is at least my East European myth, that police are the ones who know…”

Read more here

Panto Rancière

The twin towers have been so often represented that it is barely possible to see them now for the fug and smoke. In a certain sense, and for some critics, the question of representation collapsed for Cultural Studies on that day in September, 2001. Of course everything has already been said about it, and nothing heard. The towers are silent, the lives erased then, and the many more lost since (and the billions in war credits) are also verbosely inarticulate.

In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s film The Last Bolshevik and Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired – see Hutnyk 2000, chapter 1). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).


Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Godard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much? The book “Pantomime Terror” will be an attempt to work with and through these scenes towards something more than the melodrama or melancholy that Rancière diagnoses as innocence become guilty sacred mission (Rancière 2001/2006:186). In a brilliant moment he recognizes that it is what he calls the burlesque body – and what I will call pantomime – that provides us with a ‘dramaturgic machine’ for cutting ‘the link between cause and effect, action and reaction’ by throwing ‘the elements of the moving image into contradiction’ (Rancière 2001/2006:12). It is this secret contradiction that we need to see at work.

The terror for me is this delinking cause and effect. That the image becomes mute, that we become blind, is a problem. These are the terms used by Buck-Morss and Žižek in books that address the events of 2001, and it was the constant refrain of former British Prime Minister Blair in defending British foreign policy in the wake of the July 7 2005 tube and bus bombings in London.

More detail will be needed on this mutation and blindness of representation, but is it enough to note that in his 2008 book Violence Žižek calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek 2008:69) and Buck-Morss, in her book Thinking Past Terror, offers ‘the destruction of September 11 was a mute act. The attackers perished without making demands … They left no note behind … A mute act’ (Buck-Morss 2003:23). It should be said she qualifies this ‘Or did they?’ but the choice of an absent verbal – mute – message is something we should return to, listen closely to, consider again, and not just with our eyes scanning for evidence, but ears as well. In a similar tone, we might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterize the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers indicated a scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, the old psychoanalytic staples are invoked). More details to be added here on the symptomatic eventuality that has to be pathologized via fables and pantomime in order to be dismissed.

More to come…


plastic stuff

“The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly strung propaganda chiefs of the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father berating his children for not rushing joyously downstairs when he comes home from his office. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces, and there is a straight line of development between the gospel of happiness and the construction of camps of extermination so far off in Poland that each of our own countrymen can convince himself that he cannot hear the screams of pain. That is the model of an unhampered capacity for happiness. He who calls it by its name will be told gloatingly by psycho-analysis that it is just his Oedipus complex” (Adorno Minima Moralia p62-3).

This is old Adorno in elegiac grumpy mood. From a great book, redoing his schtick about the camps. I think the same points might be made today perhaps about trinkets, about plastic toy workshops in the South, brought here by container, packaged ready for Christmas, to teach kids to love capitalism.

So, lets talk about why we want to play with plastic. Materialist comprehensions of the commodity, objects, souvenirs or trinkets (these are not the same) are different to those of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics. I know, but…

Plenty of space for a long convoluted discussion of value, labour, circuits, modifications to the formula, etc etc, but we might get locked up for too long in the study. Someone will ask: ‘Why shouldn’t everyone get to shop, get a load of things, trinketize?’ In Australia during the Soviet era, I remember there used to be an advertisement that went something like: “in some countries they don’t have advertising”. A forlorn family sat bored in a spartan room. Indeed, versions of the queues for bread or the wait for a state-manufactured car are still the loaded ideological tropes of anti-communism, as seen in bitter-sweet triumphalist films like “Goodbye Lenin”. In the Grundrisse Marx devotes considerable pages to the impact of money on ‘traditional’ societies (pp145-172) but, again, who is to say that people with feathers should not want to shop? The problem is not scarcity or abundance of things, though this may be a factor, but the distribution thereof, their production for profit, the manufacture of needs (for things) and decisions about what things are made when and where. More than wanting beads and blankets are at stake.

The problem is not the lack of (plastic) things in various sectors of the world, soon to be rectified by the opening of a hyper-mega-super-market chain very close by, but that the abundance and success of capitalism amounts only to this: it presents itself as an immense collection of commodities. If we at all see this as a success, even as we critique it, (‘who wants all this stuff’ – Deleuze and Guattari) we have given ourselves over to commodity fetishism through and through.

It may bore some people to death, but I’m interested again in the coding of flows arguments D&G offer in Anti-Oedipus – the territorial machine and the technical machine need the social machine to activate them – though we have to understand these machines as interrelated, there can be no move in space or technology without the social, without memory, without labour. Flows must be coded through the machine, marked, inscribed – and so perhaps capitalism is this coding, but it is not always the same, it has fashions and trends – history – and is not a ‘haunting’ such that ‘in a sense capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terryfying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes’ (A-O p140). Codes? Trinkets to be calculated, to be inscribed and counted in some way (general equivalent, abstraction, numbers). But with capitalism this inscription-calculus becomes an abstract coded/coding flow of desire, which in a way makes Deleuze and Guattari improbably advocates of a return through Marxism to psychoanalysis.

Was that Teddy A I saw in the sports sction of the department store on saturday? Was he buying golf clubs? A set of tees or balls for xmas then.

When what we might be doing instead is sideways inscribing, perhaps reinscribing, twisting desire and flow elsewhere – like these two likely lads – anti-war protest coppers (go figure!) at May Day last year [they say ‘US-UK Force No to America’ – bad grammar, but the sentiment is clear, no? see pic].


Dave Boothroyd’s book “Culture On Drugs” (2006) is a sound and entertaining read, and is just as much a carefully argued account of the influence of various substances on theory and theorists across a wide field – Freud and Cocaine, Benjamin and Hashish, Sartre and hallucinogens – as it is a commentary on, and plea for, a narco-analytic turn in culture theory. Good. All the way through the book there were important questions raised and important answers offered – and experimental writing is approved here and there (but perhaps not adopted in the text as much as might be anticipated).

All that said however, I think there was something held back…for example, I expected something on Marx and the opium wars: old beardo advocated that the Chinese not prohibit homegrown manufacture of the stuff so as to thereby undermine the East India Company’s efforts to force their trade advantage via Indian producers. So basically Marx comes out in favour of legalising Class As! And while I think I would have preferred – or is it that I fear – an extended treatment of Sartre’s experiences with amphetamine sulphate (those huge books on Flaubert, more on Flaubert than Flaubert wrote himself), I do appreciate Dave’s attempt to cover all the bases in an even handed way. Especially when he works through the Freudian cocaine versions. Freud as experimenter and advocate; Freud as liberated by use; Freud as promoter.

But it was weird to be reading this text just a day after writing out my own notes for a piece on Irma’s injection as mentioned by Slavoj Zizek in his little starter book on Lacan. (on Zizek, see here and here). Irma’s story – Freud’s first dream analysis – is cited in an admittedly perfunctory way by Zizek in order to explain Lacan’s contribution to Freud’s insight that the melancholic is ‘not aware that he has lost the lost object’ as a realization [by Lacan] that it is not an inability to mourn a loss, so much as a loss of desire for an object that he may still possess, but which has lost its efficiency, that governs melancholia.

This might have been a great opportunity to consider Freud’s own melancholia and mourning in relation to the Irma dream. And here there is much more to be said about the figure of Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow [somehow Dave leaves out the second part of his hyphenated surname]. It is this E-v-F-M to whom Freud had recommended the ‘superdrug’ cocaine in large quantities, as a substitute for morphine, which Ernst then took in large intravenous injections and became more dependent upon the marching powder than on the M he was into in the first place. So much into it that he died of related complications of the substitution (or what could be caled a ‘speedball’ syndrome, thanks uncle bill). All so far just a footnote… but what if the guilt Freud exhibits in relation to the faulty diagnosis of Irma’s injection in the dream that founds psychoanalysis (in The Interpretation of Dreams Irma has pride of place) were to be read in relation to the later guilt (some 80 or so pages later) that Freud reports in a footnote in relation to Fleischl-Marxow’s death? We are familiar with displacements in the dream work, so why not here find the symptomatic explanation of Irma in the text of the dream book itself, and Freud’s feelings of responsibility for having introduced his (ten years) older colleague to the drug that would allegedly kill him – though it was more likely to have been a dirty needle, as also noted in relation to the diagnosis of Irma herself. Perhaps I am not expressing this well, but I would be lying if I did not share a little in the melancholia of having read Dave’s book, seen mention of E-v-F-M, and yet not seen the connections laid out as clearly as they so seemed to me when we read (thanks Carrie, Nicola, Atticus, Miriam, Saul) the Interpretation in our reading group back in 2001 (on its 100th anniversary). It could be that Freud’s loss of his colleague is one he can only admit via a displacement in a dream that forces itself down Irma’s neck. Indication – that Irma should be prescribed some of that very same acetate.

So, narco-analysts to be deployed – the deflection of Irma into the text of Lacan deflects once again a forensic investigation that would explain both Freud’s interest in injections and Irma’s throat, and might lay some blame where blame might-maybe-ought to lie. Dirty needles, guilt and melancholia – time perhaps to lift the lid off this (La)Can of worms, and get back to work…