Monday, February 28, 2011

Ann Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief

Summary: Through pausing on the important psychoanalytical distinction between grief and grievance, Anne Anlin Cheng proposes a vocabulary for the re-theorizing of the terms through which race is represented as well as experienced.

Passage for Close Reading:

The World of theatrical performance is the dynamic struggle between performance and performativity (59).

This passage occurs in the second chapter and has a high resonance of theatricality, staging, and acting out. The latter is carried out in this sentence and throughout the text on a stage characterized by frictions.
Though the structure of the sentence is simple (subject, verb, complement), the complement, “dynamic struggle between performance and performativity,” seems to point to the complex nature of its subject. The subject of the sentence “the world of theatrical performance” points to a stage, which the adjective “dynamic” qualifies as a place where the two objects of the complement of the sentence, performance and performativity, friction. This friction is played at the semantic constitution of performance and performativity. The word “performance”, which, points to the actuality of acting, distances itself from its derivative, performativity, by its embedding in the subject of the sentence and its intrusion in the theatrical world. The repetition or rehearsal of performance as an object complement creates a tension that revives performativity and projects it as it acts out a particular performance. Therefore, perform[ativity] appropriates the action embodied by performance and reclaims it in a way that it echo an activity. The latter is stressed by the double suffix [ati-vity], which points to a state of transformation and becoming. As such, perform[ativity] becomes a narrative activity that was once performance and performative.

In embedding theatrical performance in a stage of narrative where performance and performativity change the place of acting out to a place of acting through, the sentence scenario of articulation indicates that there is not a spatial disjunction between performance and performativity. The friction between performance and performativity creates a visible fissure on the stage of theatrical performance. The fissure causes one to project itself into the other so as to avoid fading in the crack created by the friction. Hence the site of acting out is a site of displacement of narratives, which generates a site of hybridity where different narratives intersect to form a new meaning.

Cheng performs this intersection by performatively reviving Freud so as to articulate the performative act of reading Freudian performance. Cheng’s theory is built on the stage of Freud’s performance; throughout the text she seizes Freud’s character or ghost to perform what looks like a ritual of self-possession. As a piece of performance staged in the theatrical world of Psychoanalysis, Cheng enacts Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia to enable herself to stage racial fantasy into identification. To increase the degree of frictions, Cheng perforates Freud theory with Louis Althusser’s notion of identification as that which combines the individual (psyche) with the social (ideological state apparatus). Locating racial fantasy as the bridge between individual and state allows Cheng to supplement Althusser's theory of interpellation with a needed accommodation of the specificity of racialization.

Cheng is apt in acting out because her performance is frictional, that is her reading or masquerading and parading of Freud, Butler, Spivak, and Bhabha’s theories resist any idea of delineation or boundary making. She examines the various intersections between these works and hers closely, and avoids simply listing them. What is evident, especially in the moments when the space of theatrical performance is implicitly linked to racial subjection, is that Cheng is not merely applying psychoanalysis to perform her own intellectual prowess. Cheng sincerely wants psychoanalytic performance to accommodate any racialized experience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Abraham Nicolas, Maria Torok. The Shell and the Kernel: Renewals of Psychoanalysis


Through their reflection on introjection versus incorporation, women’s “penis envy”, symbol and anasemia, endocryptic identification as well as trauma, Abraham and Torok discuss theoretical axes around the focal point constituted by the authors’ conception of introjection as the human mode of appropriation of the external world, which is crucial to the expansion of the ego through symbolization.

In ”Mourning and melancholia,” Freud describes how the melancholic’s self-reproaches, self-hatred and self-contempt all veil battles of love and hate with a lost object which has been withdrawn from consciousness but is retained through identification, a relational mode which, because of its inherent ambivalence, inevitably includes sadism and hate.

Close reading:

From the psychoanalytic point of view an institution does not emerge, nor does it stay alive, unless it resolves a problem among individuals. In principle the institutional solution brings advantages for the parties involved in relation to their prior situation. Our task is to display the advantages resulting, for both men and women, from the institutional inequality of the sexes, at least as far as this obtains in the area available to psychoanalytic study, that is within the affective realm. (Abraham and Torok, 70).

This passage occurs in Maria Torok’s “The Meaning of ‘Penis Envy’ in Women” after her questioning of women’s acceptance of a dependent position and after her decision to psychoanalyze the question. In the above passage I am interested in understanding how Torok’s re-conception of a psychoanalytic point of view institutes and at the same time reverses a certain type of psychoanalytic reading.

The paragraph starts with the preposition “from” which houses “the psychoanalytic point of view.” The preposition indicate the starting or focal point of Torok’s re-conception activity, at the same time, it has a resonance of indicating a physical separation, a differentiation. In fact, the absence of a comma after the prepositional phrase “from the psychoanalytic point of view” allows Torok to implicitly say when, where and how psychoanalysis cannot institute or house a reading practice solely based on the conflict within and between sexes. Even if the institution tries to “emerge” from Freud’s institutionalization/building of “penis envy,” because of its incapacity to inhabit the solution to women’s penis envy, the institution won’t be able to sustain its establishment. As such, the institution or establishment/ building (Freud’s psychoanalysis and “penis envy per se) as a solution implicitly offers “advantages for the parties involved in relation to their prior situation.” If the latter has been characterized by psychoanalyst male individuals’ hold of the keys to the building of psychoanalysis, it forgets to open the doors to the female inhabitants of the psychoanalytic building.

Without being aware of it, “penis envy” as a steward to the Freudian building, acts as the protector and spokesman of the subordinate inhabitants. He acts as such so as to give form and meaning to such enigmatic messages that emanate from the ignored group of female psychoanalysts. While Freud’s steward sleeps in the front door of the building because of the illusion of the “institutional solution,” Torok and other female psychoanalysts take advantage of the affect the illusion and smuggle the institutions’ keys to open the theoretically closed institution. Hence, their task/our task as female psychoanalysts and critic is “to display the advantages resulting” from a trait of resistance to all doctrinaire tendencies in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. As such, Torok’s task, our task, Psychoanalysis’s task is to explicitly conceptualize a radicalization of psychoanalytic thinking that reverses the authoritarian trading of knowledge of psychoanalytic schools.

Monday, February 14, 2011

“Literature with/or Psychoanalysis”

Literature and Psychoanalysis the Question of Reading: Otherwise. Edited by Shoshana Felman
First published in 1977 Literature and Psychoanalysis is collection of thirteen essays that explore the intertwined relation between literature and psychoanalysis while respecting the position of each one of them.

Shoshana Felman, “To open the Question”
Felman discusses the interconnectedness between literature and psychoanalysis by reflecting on the function of the coordinate conjunction “and” in the title “Literature and Psychoanalysis.”

Jacques Lacan,“Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet”
Lacan deploys his theory of the phallus to show how desire determines the characters interaction in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation”
Felman discusses Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw, to draw attention to the ways in which the meaningless can be made meaningful without closing up the language of the unconscious.

At first glance at the title, Literature and Psychoanalysis the Question of Reading: Otherwise, one may think that the book is an attempt to bring literature and psychoanalysis together. However, in her programmatic introduction, Shoshana Felman warns the reader against the tendency to take one for the other very quickly. She warns us that psychoanalysis involves a linguistic relation between two persons, the analyst and the analysand. She contends that unlike the analysts, the literary critic is in the middle of the two functions, between being tempted to assume the authority of the analyst and being subserviently submissive to the text. Felman comments that:

“Like the psychoanalyst viewed by the patient, the text is viewed by us as a ‘subject presumed to know’- as the very place where meaning, and knowledge of meaning, reside” (07)

The critic/the analyst, and the text form a relationship built on tree parties. Though the critic may sometimes be assimilated to the analyst under the formula: critic equals analyst divided by text plus narrator(C= A/T+ N), the critic can also assume the divided self of the analysand. The critic assumes that the text implies a hidden knowledge; hence its perception as a subject presumed to reveal” As such, adopting conceptions of the relations between critic/analyst and text drawn from psychoanalysis may cast doubt on the authority of the text. Within this tension, neither the critic nor the text will achieve an assimilatory supremacy over the other; rather, each will serve as a check, as a subversion of the other's desire to attain complete meaning and knowledge. As such, the narrator, the reader and the critic are each drawn into acting out the systematic division of responsibility for the appearance of the unfamiliar that erupts on each text. Attention to the text, as Felman demonstrates it in “Turning the Screw of Interpretation,” drives back to the analyst and critic’s question of how can one decipher and even stitch the holes of discourse in order to make meaning. In psychoanalysis, the analyst would reflect on how to achieve this without closing the holes unconscious’ language, as it is from them that the veiled meaning of the analysand’s discourse will resurge. However, can the literary critic wear the analyst white gown, sit on his or her sofa and uncover the unsaid without closing up the possibility for a multiplicity of meanings? Felman propose that as the literary “critic is viewed by the text a subject presumed to know,” he or she has to act as a “won’t tell.” As such, the text will then hold intact its locus as an object presumed to reveal itself through the punctuation/cuts of its narrative.
My reading of Felman’s sentence goes against her warning as it is bound toward assimilating psychoanalysis to literature based on the simple fact that both of them produce narratives or texts. The consequence is the temptation of treating all texts as subject to the same framework that Freud sketched out for the defenses, and for the course of the treatment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Working and Walking in the Wall of Language: Lacan’s Linguistic Re-conceptualization of Literary Studies.

Ecrits, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.”
Lacan discusses the mirror stage as stage in which the external image of the child’s body reflected in the mirror establishes a relationship between the “I” and its image of itself which is an illusion perceived as an ideal reality toward which the subject will perpetually thrive throughout his or her life.

Ecrits, “Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”
Lacan re-conceptualizes Freud in Linguistic terms to propose a solution to the problems that limits psychoanalysis.

Ecrits, “The Signification of the Phallus”
Lacan moves beyond biological misrepresentations of the phallus and establishes it as a symbol that signifies the desire of the other.

Having read Lacan for the last three weeks, my observation is that his most valuable contribution to the Humanities is his destabilization of the latter. By elucidating the consequences of training a subject supposed to find “concrete” meanings and solutions, Lacan opens up ways that allow the reader to reflect on the issue of language in any given field. In his attempt to revise psychoanalysis, in “Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” Lacan’s emphasis on language does not only rejuvenate psychoanalytic practice, but it also re-grounds the humanist liberal subject, especially the literary critic, to the foundation of her or his field. In his Ecrits, Lacan problematizes the necessity to rethink and re-conceptualize the meaning and role of language is any interpretive practice. He warns the analyst as well as the literary critic that it is their responsibility to move the subject beyond the illusory image of truth that he or she perceives in the mirror or in discourse.

“Here it is a wall of language that blocks speech, and the precautions against verbalism that are a theme of the discourse of “normal” men in our culture merely serve to increase its thickness” (Ecrits, 233).
This sentence is a paragraph that appears in the second section of “Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis.” In this section entitled “Symbol and Language as Structure and Limit of the Psychoanalytic Field,” Lacan discusses the limits of a Psychoanalytic interpretive analysis that is centered on the reality surrounding the subject. In this sense, according to Lacan, “the subject is spoken instead of speaking” (232). Without indulging in the analysis of the section mentioned above to the cost of deciphering the sentence I pointed out, one may ask what constitute the “wall of language?”

The sentence starts with the adverb “here” followed by “It is” to intensify or to point to a condition posed in the previous paragraph. The condition is “if the subject did not rediscover through regression –often taken as far back as the mirror stage [stade]- the inside of a stadium [stade] in which his ego contains his imaginary exploits, there would hardly be any assignable limits to the credulity to which he would have to succumb in this situation” (233).
To push Lacan’s hypothesis further, I ask if the mirror is the stadium/field through and in which the subject admires the performance of its self as a fan and at the same time performer of its favorite game, can the same stadium be the locus that blocks its acting out its performance/acting out?
Lacan plays with the double meaning of the French word “stade,” which may mean stage as a well as stadium. Lacan schematizes how the body is caught in the play of meaning-formation between subjects, and expressive of the subjectivity that “lives” through it, as well as being an objectificable tool for the performance of instrumental activities. Lacan stages his play with words to reiterate that the “cogitation of discourse”(676) through the “ideal I” only points to some parts of the mental apparatus that do not reveal much about the “history” of the subject. As such, it creates a transparent wall similar to the mirror through which the subject misrecognizes itself. As a result one may draw the conclusion that the wall of language is the unified image the subject perceives in the mirror. It only names the body’s motions and identifications with others and “external” objects that insist on his/her conscious control.