Monday, March 28, 2011

Teresa De Lauretis and Freud’s Theory of Drives


Freud’s Drive: Psychoanalysis, Literature and Film
Rereading Freud’s theory of the death drive with fictional narratives, Delauretis, suggests that Freud’s metapsychology creates a figurative language that translates the subject’s unconscious.

In “Desire in Narrative,” De lauretis historicizes the concept of desire and criticizes structuralist model of reading for their inability to disclose the ways in which narrative operates, through the desire it excites and fulfills, to construct the social world as a system of sexual differences.

“What fiction is to literature, fantasy is to psychic reality” (Freud’s Drive, 146).

This sentence occurs in a section entitled “Figures of Translation”, which is in chapter five, “The Order of Memory.” The sentence is striking because of its figure of speech. It is a simile that juxtaposes and even equates two completely different things, literature and psychic reality, fiction and fantasy.  We cannot start our reading without pointing out that De Lauretis repetively uses this figure of speech throughout her analysis. As such, our reading seeks to analyze the rhetorical role of this simile in a section about  “figures of translation.”  How does the simile in this sentence confirm or resist the very idea of translation, transportability, or intertextuality of meaning? What will the sentence reveal about literature and psychoanalysis translation if we rewrite the simile as literature to psychic reality is like fiction to fantasy?
In this sentence, De Lauretis weaves fiction and fantasy together for them to act in defiance to the divide between literature and psychic reality. The comma in the middle of the sentence accompanies the weaving and insists on the process. As such, it carries on working and facilitating the equation of literature to psychic reality. At the same time, the comma also creates a spatial divide as it marks the grouping of two different categories, we want to name episodes. The spatial divide created by the comma, established a place of resistance, which marks the flight of two episodes of the sentence from the equating demands of the simile into the story of difference. The simile can then be read as depicting the desire for, and yet the impossibility of, the perfect weaving of the two parts of the sentence. But the simile itself has pointed out how the comma has an influence on the sentence, so that although the divide is implicitly present, it is absent in the movement of the sentence toward meaning.  At this point, I wonder to what extent can we complicate this reading if we replace meaning by its French equivalent, sens(e)? We may perceive the simile in two ways as sen(se) (bodily feeling and/or perception) and as meaning. For example, though we may sense two different episodes in the sentence (literature to fiction and fantasy to psychic reality), De Lauretis -the subject of the sentence, or as Lacan may call her, the subject of enunciation- is concerned with making us perceive the blurring of boundaries between literature and psychic reality, between fiction and fantasy. The inter- and intratext play of the simile incorporates an eclectic mix of elements from literature and psychoanalysis. The effect of the simile is also its cause, in the sense that it generates the enunciation of the sentence. This circularity makes it difficult, if not impossible to separate the resistance of the simile to a straightforward linear model of cause and effect that can be recognized as an unsettling dynamic throughout the Metamorphoses from literature psychic reality, fiction to fantasy.  Therefore what the simile does not tell us is: it is particularly troublesome when it comes to forging connections between the world depicted by literature and the world outside of it, whether the latter is the world of Psychoanalysis or the reader’s.

Throughout the text, De Lauretis mafinests a compulsion to repeat similes in order to discuss two possible ways of interpreting the sentence that link the process of forging such connections with the judgment made about the final outcome of each metamorphosis. He argues that if the reader chooses to focus on the form of the new shape, the process of metamorphosis is normalized because the fantastical event is subordinated to the familiarity of the end product in the present. De Lauretis concludes her reading of Barnes’ Nightwood with this observation “I tried to show, in my reading, how certain words or phrases revive the sense of another scene, half away between a memory and a sensation, the feeling of something unremembered and yet having occurred, (..) something made active but not made visible” (148). Perceived from De Lauretis’ perception, “What fiction is to literature, fantasy is to psychic reality” perpetuates as well as resists order and stability. If the reader concentrates on its resistance of the metamorphosis, its entire process becomes much more disturbing; each transformation appears less a stage in the structure of the sentence than the shutting down of an individual subject of enunciation, locked in opposition.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bersani Leo, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art


Bersani explores the relationship between literature and Psychoanalysis through detailed readings of literary and Art works that uncover the way in which sexuality ceaselessly works to undo the conventionally narrative strategies of Freudian texts such as Three Essays on Sexuality, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Ego and the Id, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Desire and Death
Through a reading of sadomachism in Baudelaire’s poetry and Freud’s texts, Bersani explores the relationship between desire and destruction.

Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
Extrapolating from his conclusions on perversion, Freud formulates a theory of mind in which sexuality is viewed as central and active from infancy on.

Passage for close reading:

“The moves in Freud which we have been trying to replicate are, I believe, an exceptionally visible model of the moves by which consciousness abolishes this process without being implicated in it – that is, without the description itself being a kind of enfolded, or ‘internalized-within-it’ moving away”(65).

This sentence appears in the third chapter of the book in the middle of a discussion on the deformation of Freud’s thesis in Beyond the Pleasure Principle by what Bersani calls: “a hidden corruptive force” (65). While reading this sentence, I was strike by the connotation of a tension between mobility and immobility. As such, my reading seeks to explore how this trope of mobility and immobility allows Bersani to stay with Freud but at the same time slip out of Freud’s texts and undertake a theoretical expansiveness which effect is a rapprochement of Bersani to his contemporaries.
The sentence bears echoes of deceitful movement. The latter is initiated by the repetition of the word “moves” and the commas enclosing “I believe.” The Commas and the repetition of “moves” in the main clause produce a circumferential expansiveness of the first segment of the sentence while also indicating a shift in the argument being made in the sentence. This shift is indicative of Bersani as well as the consciousness failure to move away from deconstructing what Freud’s moves are creating.  Though Bersani’s project is to how the Freud’s methodology interferes with his own approach of literary criticism and theorization, he fails to do that in this sentence. In the same way as the last section of the sentence “moving away” is distanced from its modifier by the dashes, Bersani moves away from Freud by his failure to “replicate” his methodology.

Unlike Freud moves, Bersani’s moves are not therapeutical, for they do not seek to analyze the ways in which the unconscious of consciousness challenges his enterprise. As such, Bersani’s therapeutic failure reflects a post-Lacanian devaluation of consciousness. Like Julia Kristeva in The Revolution in Poetic Language (1974), he persists in celebrating the semiotic processes. The moves Bersani sets himself is similar to Kristeva’s concern with putting forward a "theory of signification" that will take into account the formation of the subject (Kristeva,78) at the intersection of “corporeal, linguistic and social” forces (Kristeva,15).
The other issue that concerns Bersani in this sentence and that is similar to Kristeva semiotic theorization is the concern with moving from the notion of beginning. If beginning is concerned with a passage from the biological organism to the social, speaking subject. What is at stake here is how we conceive of this passage that renders possible the order within which we live.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman and Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated by C. J.M. Hubback

In Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, Laplanche inquires into the terminological and interpretive consequences of Freud’s text by centering his interest and method on the themes of sexuality, ego, and death instinct.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle sketches Freud’s theory of instinctual drives in which he evokes traumatic neurosis, the death instinct, and the compulsion to repeat.

Sentence for Close Reading:
"At such moments, we are faced with a “terminological” problem that engages the thing itself: in our view, the slippage that Freud allows to occur within conceptual oppositions that he is perfectly aware of and that even serve a the guiding line in his argument is nothing else than the slippage effected, within the genesis of the sexual drive, by movement of anaclisis or propping" (Laplanche: Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism, 87).

This sentence occurs in the third page of chapter five, Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism, in the middle of a long paragraph that poses the problem of providing evidence for the notion of propping in formulating instinctual dualism in the theory of sadomasochism. Laplanche starts with locating his method of interpretation or reading practice of Freud with a marker of time and space (“At such moments, we are faced with”). Through these markers, Laplanche posits the problem of  Freud's terminolgy, which at the same time poses the problem of psychoanalytic derivation of its terminology from linguistic categories . The quotation marks in the adjectif “terminological” encloses the term in Laplanchian terminology. The latter pushes Laplanche's readers to pause on the meaning of the word "terminological" in Laplanche’s text and to wonder whether the "terminological problem of the thing"  implies a vocabulary or language specific to Laplanche's psychoanalyzing of Freud's terminology.

While elucidating the terminological problem of Freud's "thing itself," Laplanche proceeds to define this terminology in a referential way. This "referentiality" causes his terminology to call into question Freud's terminology so that the two distinct terminologies derive from each other. While these terminologies expose a certain conflict, their derivation comes to focus all the reader's attention on their conflict and their opposition, so that their schematic construct displaces the attention from the context of their emergence and their differentiation throughout Laplanche's reading. A certain opposition between the terminologies is constantly reinforced, since it is that very tension that supports Laplanche's method. The colon following the clause, “At such moments, we are faced with a ‘terminological’ problem that engages the thing itself”(which looks like a sentence that could exits on its own), enables Laplanche to linger on the sentence so as to explain and illustrate the terminological ambiguity any reader faces when in contact with Freud’s terminology. Laplanche’s illustration is fully displayed to the reader by the pause resonant in the colon, which along with the comma establishes the agency by which Laplanche reveals and specifies the terminological "referentilality" of Freudian concepts. The opinion marker, “in our view,” enclosed between the colon and the comma, enables Laplanche to establish his agency by going beyond facing Freud text and by touching the language that constructs and structure the concept formulated in the text.  In doing so, he effects a turn into the sentence that allows him to inhabit a place from which he exerts the double action of undoing and redoing Freud’ terminology so as to establish the "referentiality" between his method of interpretation and Freud's terminological procedures. In embedding himself in the sentence through the "objective" expression of his opinion which is illustrated by the possessive personal pronoun “our,” Laplanche chains Freudian terms with his own in conceptual pairs. This binary operation is performed and at the same time destroyed by the colon, which signal an apposition between the two independent clauses of the sentence. As such, the tension orchestrated by the binary operation of the sentence has as its result the effect of erasing the speculative nature of Laplanche's derivation from Freud. The sentence soothes the tension created by its binary structure in the second clause into an economy, where Freud’s controlled and intended “conceptual oppositions” function systematically within the general economy of Freud's works. The structural apposition of the two terms, "thing" and "slippage," resembles and to a certain degree repeats the production of a specific vocabulary, where the placement of the terms determines not only a synchronic dimension, but a diachronic one, as well.

The  italic part of the sentence culminates and renders more precise the methodological tension that have been raised regarding Laplanche's derivation from Freud, as the major axe of the structural system of the sentence. The italic tones the Freud's conceptual oppositions to their function in relation to the slippage of Laplanche method of derivation, by their simultaneous function of movement and support.  Within the terminological derivation engendered by the movement of anaclisis or propping, there seems to be a paradoxical movement. On one hand, the use of a term such as propping, which both structures and moves the derivation, implies that the relation of the two terms while conflictual is not at the same time dialectical. The value of propping seems to lie exactly in its avoidance of a strictly dialectical opposition. The very notion of propping suggests that the leaning of derivation and propping on each other does not constitute a dialectical opposition in the traditional sense. The advantage of using propping, of putting emphasis on it in Freud's text is clearly apparent in the discussion of the genesis of sexuality that is envisaged by Laplanche as a movement of deviation from the instinctual processes. Laplanche's insistence on developing the implications of propping underlying Freud's text gives important results, insofar as it qualifies the derivation of the drive in relation to the vital instincts: "the fact that emergent sexuality attaches itself to and is propped upon another process which is both similar and profoundly divergent: the sexual drive is propped upon a nonsexual, vital function or, as Freud formulates it in terms that defy all additional commentary, upon a 'bodily function essential to life' " (16).