Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nature’s Ching, Part 2: Humankind’s Fiction

[Continued from last week, which concludes Part 1: Nature’s Fiction, with: “I” “think” “everything” “human” “is” “fiction.”]

That said, let’s take a look at Freud, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari as presented by Wright in Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice, and see how closely they match up with some of my previously formed ideas...

Sigmund Freud:

Freud, to my reading, seems to have believed the methods and mechanisms of the human psyche also function as the apparatus of language, allowing for new meanings to emerge in accordance with the ever-shifting energies and modalities of subconscious desire.

Novel writing (in every sense of the word “novel”) operates as a type of wish fulfillment, personifying the author’s dream in the fictional form of the protagonist by a series of displacements, evolving a child’s projections in the act of play into the writer’s processes and methodology.

Fiction, however, transcends mere childish wish-fulfillment and daydreaming. Freud believed the fictionist relates fantasy to time by using “an occasion in the present to construct, on the pattern of the past, a picture of the future…pleasure…[is] connected with the dynamics of the work of art” (27-8). While the daydreamer’s fantasy succumbs to egocentric opposition, the fictionist devises strategies to transcend mere ego through writing by using the same methods the subconscious uses to subvert egoistic intent.

After Freud, who focused mostly on the idea of the writer as analysand, or patient, ego-psychological criticism shifted attention or energy to the reader, or analyst’s processes and function in what has been termed the “Personally Desiring and Aspiring Reader” (62). However, here the author’s desire for wish-fulfillment is not ignored, but shared with the reader, with whom the author “colludes” to disguise the fantasy in the text’s formal properties as a kind of foreplay to overcome any shared resistance to the textures joining them.

Form as foreplay works in three ways:

*According to the id so guilt and anxiety can be assuaged.
*According to ego, allowing the I/eye to perceive things and thus repress what it deems unseemly.
*According to superego, allowing for the emergence of common perceivable forms that can be shared between the reader and writer, conjoining them as an abstract autonomous entity via the text as reader/writers. Freud would have used the verb “mediate” instead of the post-Freudian “conjoin.”

“The uncanny” is one of the central ideas of Freud’s approach to literature, stressing “the power of the writer to control the return of the repressed and demonstrat[ing], albeit unconsciously, how it is done: in foregrounding the uncanny effects…” (35)

So, by writing/imagining a text in a manner intended to mediate between [conjoin] the subconscious and conscious minds, by nurturing the emergence of a text that serves as a feedback loop esemplasizing the functions of unconscious and conscious into a single entity—much like the post-Freudian ego-psychologists merging of the reader/writer—the writer allows formation of new meanings by making previously unconscious content perceivable. It is the text’s “strangeness” that attracts the reader/writer and brings them together.

An interesting way of conceiving new meanings from Freud’s texts is to read them by his own methods of analysis, as many post-Freudians have done, looking for the ways “his writing reveals or conceals [his] unconscious intention” (137).

According to Wright, one could summarize Freud’s contribution to literary theory by viewing “id-psychology as focusing on the return of the repressed, ego-psychology on the return of repression, and object-relations theory as uneasily trying to reconcile the two” (138).

He also influenced the ideas of Jacques Derrida, Jakob Deleuze and Felix Guattari, whose deconstructive readings of Freud try to show the contradictions and instigated anxieties (i.e.: cognitive dissonances) that disturb the ego’s sensibility and the way it logically categorizes the data it perceives.

One important distinction between Freudian lit theory and that which followed is the way Freud categorized the data he perceived, which reveal:

…a series of hierarchical oppositions: normal/pathological, sanity/insanity, real/imaginary, experience/dream, conscious/unconscious, life/death. In each case the first term was conceived as prior, a plenitude of which the second is a negation or complication. Situated on the margin of the first term, the second term designates an undesirable, dispensable deviation. Freud’s investigations deconstruct these oppositions by identifying what is at stake in our desire to repress the second term and showing that in fact each first term can be seen as a special case of the fundamentals designated by the second term, which in this process is transformed. Understanding the marginal deviant term becomes a condition of understanding the supposed prior term…These deconstructive reversals, which give pride of place to what had been thought marginal, are responsible for much of the revolutionary impact of Freudian Theory. (Culler 1983, pp. 160-161)[137-138].

Harold Bloom postulates that Freud’s writing reveals “a catastrophe theory” of the imagination by way of “The Sublime”—conquering death by being born into it. Bloom believes Freud’s texts on literature describe what occurs when a “poet/self” is born and discovers his function already filled, “the poem already written” (153). The poet/self can thus only become functional by transcending the situation to become, in and of itself, a particular aspect of the poem, adding to it rather than being redundant.

According to my reading of Wright’s reading of Bloom’s reading of Freud’s writing in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: “The Sublime” isn’t a product of sublimation, as one might think, but of repression, since sexual energies (or the libido, in the sense of a polymorphic sexuality rather than pantheistic one, as some apparently read Freud’s primary focus on sexuality), have not lost their wishful aspects by being sated. Rather, the canny (i.e.: conscious) imagination is what makes poems. Repression is essential to writing poetry because it sets the initial conditions by which it occurs. These initial conditions, of course, are rules that take the form of “rhetorical strategies.”

For the poet, writing poems is a means to relive the primal anxiety of birth, the initial unpleasure of being born—our original experience with angst. This anxiety, in turn, leads to useful or what Bloom calls “enabling fictions” that result in “analysis terminable and interminable.”

It is through these processes of writing and analysis that Freud overcomes the “catastrophe” of the human being’s apparent strange attraction to what it perceives as death (153-4).

Roland Barthes
Language as membrane: The reader/writer affect

Linguistic mechanisms of desire affect reader and writer alike, according to Barthes, who sees reader cooperating with writer to produce textual meaning.

What were once considered two disconnected entities are conjoined into a single reader/writer. The writer reads the text as he writes it; the reader writes as she reads. Therefore, the reader/writer is transformed into the “site of meaning,” where the two modes of the single entity work together to produce meaning from the tangled, contextualizing web/membrane/matrix of signs, which is no longer some static truth frozen into the text but a dynamic, fluid construct evolving over space-time in the thinking mind of the reader/writer (123)[think of procreative fucking—man and woman joined as one in the flesh creating new life…the most sacred aspect of traditional marriage…holy union…I am the word; in this sense, the text, or point of conjoinment, a pestle/mortar copulating…sex itself].

The reader/writer, as the site of meaning, functions as a linguistic membrane, or feedback loop, whereby meaning stabilizes form without freezing it, thus making pleasure possible…

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes signifier in the baby carriage…

Richard Howard, in his introduction to The Pleasure of the Text, describes Barthes as outlining “an erotic poetics of reading” that examines what it is exactly that we enjoy in a text, how to speak that pleasure, that Being=Orgasm and therefore jouissance must be the pleasure of the text.

Consider Barthes himself on the essence of textual pleasure, jouissance, organic bliss:

Sade: the pleasure of reading him clearly proceeds from certain breaks (or certain collisions): antipathetic codes (the noble and the trivial, for example) come into contact; pompous and ridiculous neologisms are created; pornographic messages are embodied in sentences so pure they might be used as grammatical models. As textual theory has it: the language is redistributed. Now, such redistribution is always achieved by cutting. Two edges are created: an obedient, conformist, plagiarizing edge (the language is to be copied in its canonical state, as it has been established by schooling, good usage, literature, culture), and another edge, mobile, blank (ready to assume any contours), which is never anything but the site of its effect: the place where the death of language is glimpsed. These two edges, the compromise they bring about, are necessary. Neither culture nor its destruction is erotic; it is the seam between them, the fault, the flaw, which becomes so. The pleasure of the text is like that untenable, impossible, purely novelistic instant so relished by Sade’s libertine when he manages to be hanged and then to cut the rope at the very moment of his orgasm, his bliss. (Pleasure, 6-7)

In S/Z, Barthes implicates himself with Balzac’s Sarrasine by revealing that reading, writing and criticism are all part of the same continuum, scale or dimension. The first part of the book-length “essay,” which is really more of a novel, a form of what Raymond Federman calls “critifiction,” a self-reflexive, self-conscious, self-analyzing neurosis focusing on the absented mother, the blank page being an empty womb, the words appearing there being a voice in the closet imagining Balzac’s Sarrasine, and how to read and write and seduce her.

Having recently returned to this book after some years away, I noticed on the inner title page, scribbled in my own handwriting under S/Z, the first sentence written in red ink, the second in black: “Nature is, in fact, culture. And both Nature and culture, are thus absurd.” What did I mean by this and how did S/Z bring it about? What is it about the pleasure I derived from reading/writing the text that led me to the Nature/Culture:Reader/Writer construct? And, of course, what was absurd about that pleasure?

Consider the connotations of this [and remember the chaos game]:

Structurally, the existence of two supposedly different systems—denotation and connotation—enables the text to operate like a game, each system referring to the other according to the requirements of a certain illusion. Ideologically, finally, this game has the advantage of affording the classic text a certain innocence: of the two systems, denotative and connotative, one turns back on itself and indicates its own existence: the system of denotation; denotation is not the first meaning, but pretends to be so, under this illusion it is ultimately no more than the last of the connotations (the one that seems both to establish and close the reading), the superior myth by which the text pretends to return to the nature of language, to language as nature: doesn’t a sentence, whatever meaning it releases, subsequent to its utterance, it would seem, appear to be telling us something simple, literal, primitive: something true, in relation to which all the rest (which comes afterwards, on top) is literature? This is why, if we want to go along with the classic text, we must keep denotation, the old deity, watchful, cunning, theatrical, foreordained to represent the collective innocence of language. (S/Z, 9)

S/Z’s narrator—the “I” of the text—personifies Barthes’ attempt to sensitize the reader/writer to the composition of cultural influences going into producing the text’s meaning. He’s particularly interested in the societal inventions he views as traps for passionate beings.
For Barthes, all love exhibits psychic transference on at least three levels: the imaginary where the lover deals with the missing mother, which Barthes views as a form of healthy play in which the player play’s out his lack before language restricts the possibility; the symbolic level where language castrates the lover by making his love socially acceptable and, by extension, turns the entire text into a fetish made ready for “jouissance,” or organic bliss; the critic composes the third level of transference, both as patient and analyst.

At the critical level of transference, the reader/writer’s love of the text can deform or distort the text’s possible “meaning” while the unsuspecting “self” is caught up in a chain of signifiers.
The writer’s game is to unconsciously entrap the narcissistic reader in a form of collusion that actively sets out to disturb the unsuspecting reader/writer’s transference into writer/reader, allowing meaning to flow beyond ideology rather than settling back into it.

Jacques Derrida
Post-structural psychoanalysis: text as psyche/scene of writing

Many people who consider themselves “westerners,” that is they live in Europe or the Americas and adhere to a monotheistic sky god mythology that is staunchly democratic/capitalist, are ideologues whether they know it or not, are being written by the very text they think they’re reading, according to Derrida, who then goes about examining the ways they’re being composed by external power structures via deconstruction.

Derrida believes the primary cause of this miscomposure [sic] is Western philosophy, which is merely an explanation or grammar for our culture’s dualistic metaphysical tradition, which devalues writing in favor of reading, denotation in favor of connotation, to which I add innocence in favor of corruption, and the Earthling in favor of homo “sapiens.”

Writing, which Derrida relates to “trace,” “differance” and “dissemination,” is a function revealing how the text’s composition [denotation] subverts itself because it’s the unconscious [connotation], not language as Lacan would have it, which is the very condition or situation of language.

Unconscious connotations, those unmodified traces present in every word that are interwoven into the text’s fabric, actively produce meanings through memory by erasing the sign and producing differance, which in turn postpones any temporary obsession with meaning allowing for the fluidity of evolutionary processes.

Derrida asks “what makes a text?” in order to subvert its power over subjects:

…the subject is the subject of writing, both its product (as already written) and its producer (as rewriting the written). In describing the perceptual apparatus in terms which illustrate this double movement, “Freud performs for us the scene of writing” (Derrida 1978, p. 229)

…we proceed toward a configuration of traces which can no longer be presented except by the structure and functioning of writing. (p. 200)

Since the unconscious is actively producing the signifying system, or language, he believes the effects of history on experience must lead the reader/writer’s investigation outside “narrowly physicalist psychology” in recognition of the psyche as a “writing machine” (Wright, 136).

Derrida’s reading of Franz Kafka’s parable Before the Law sees the law as the written text, or connotation. The writing of the text and its reading, its denotation and connotation, are all wound into a single complex within the protagonist’s mind, who fails to exert his freedom through the law [connotation, the uncanny], through language, through reading/writing, through the text despite it’s being there for him. And the movement of meaning away from the protagonist suggests the protagonist is existing at a moment just prior to language, or “before the law,” in the instant preceding the uncanny return of the repressed, and hasn’t the freedom to act yet, or pass the guardian and go through the door, simply because the actual law has yet to occur inside him. He’s something of an anxious, primordial Adam.

Derrida, I think, views Kafka’s parable as tragic, revealing the necessity to resist logical fixations upon signifieds. In other words, a picture of an apple is not an apple, but how many otherwise alert people when asked what it is you’re showing them when you hold up the picture will say “an apple?” By perceiving only what the signifier is signifying and not the signifier, the perceiver ignores the power structure mediating between the subject and object in the given situation. The audience forgets the photograph of the apple is mediated by the photographer, unless the photographer’s an artist and distorts the apple signifier in some way that it enters the realm of universal connotation.

I digress a bit, but Kafka’s protagonist perceived the gatekeeper and doorway as the law, as the text, rather than mere signifiers of the law and text. What was there to aid hindered because of the protagonist’s crisis of perception. It is this system of signifiers, these doorways and guards, that Derrida wants to discharge of their ideological power via deconstruction. He doesn’t want anyone to be Kafka’s hapless outlander before the law, but to recognize these illusions for the maya they are, and enter the realm of connotation.

Writing’s movement in this process is two-fold and oppositional, since it is the primary mode of repression but also the method by which denotation is subverted. Literature, that realm in which the symbolic is transformed into metaphor, where literal speech becomes figurative, is a powerful weapon against authority when wielded deconstructively against the smorgasbord of canonical texts whose meanings are presumed fixed by the culture. So, to perhaps oversimplify, when the boss tells you to jump, you don’t ask how high, but examine the connotations of the command and ask why? Hitler and Stalin would’ve been shit slingers if human beings were this way in general, rather than just in particular. Totalitarianism and authoritarianism would be impossible.

Reading/writing establishes the oppressed reader/writer’s means of channeling desire in terms of Freud’s polymorphic sexuality, which is really a will to power via conquest, which might be considered the theme, method and content of Derrida’s deconstruction: It is the reader/writer’s attempt to harness reality for the Self in its struggles against systems of power that would restrict its autonomy. (133-137)

Therefore, text is psyche—the scene of reader/writing…literature is being.

Michel Foucault
Psychoanalysis as a discourse: sexuality and power

According to Foucault, a type of “cultural unconscious” is subject to continuous instability and alteration, to discontinuity rather than permanence, and therefore serves as something of an unconscious archive of exclusionary rules, or grammars. This set of linguistic practices generates social and cultural activity, governed by rules that are unformulated and characteristically unrecognized by the speakers concerned. From this view, “history [is] a discourse” (Wright, 159).

Foucault believes the fluidity of knowledge is motivated by a “will to power” (curiously, no one ever seems to mention Adler, only his “idea”) in the historical, public sphere. Recognizing the unavoidability of the given culture’s power matrix, Foucault analyzes how the strategies of social and political-economic power have a double effect by leading to strategies of evasion and subversion.

Domination necessarily evolves the means for insurrection: “…there is no relationship of power without the means of escape and possible flight.’ (Foucault 1982, p.225) The token exercise of power is always an insurrection of some type.

As a “discourse of power,” Foucault claims that psychoanalysis reveals sexuality’s central importance in Western culture since the Renaissance of the sixteenth century, when with the codes of chivalry sexuality and gender became increasingly the ego’s sole signifier, and the key element to personal identity. I must say, however, that I have profound doubts about this when I think of those Paleolithic Venus figurines which anthropologists theorize were created to function as primal fertility totems. I believe pornography was the first art form, but I’ve digressed once again. Back to the fiction.

Foucault believes, and I agree, that sexuality has not only dominated our historical discourse of the last five centuries, but has evolved over time to dominate our institutions and customs.
The era of psychoanalysis brought about what Foucault calls the “surveillance” of the body, a textualization of confessions and self-revelations of analysts and patients alike. From all this new data emerged new understandings of the power relations between the individual psyche and the external world it’s perceiving, how the body enables a sensualization of power.

Foucault knows the power of witnessing a taboo being broken, the pleasure that creates in the voyeur. Literature, he believes, bears witness to the “productiveness” of this type of jouissance, this perverse pleasure, because it is only the power structures that make the taboo, make the breaking of it and the reader’s voyeurism perverse, and that the act of witnessing, of reading/writing, subverts power, dilutes it, and disassembles its structure. And proves, I believe, that all token acts of power are insurrections of some type. From this aspect, the elite are exacting an insurrection against the rights of an individual psyche…an insurrection against inalienable human rights to maintain the status quo, in which the elite alone exercise power and full personal autonomy in the social and cultural spheres.

Most interesting, perhaps, is that Foucault, like Freud, “located sex as a strategy of power and knowledge…sexuality has become the secret which leads to the truth of man’s being, a truth not on the side of freedom, but on that of power, the authority installed in the psyche…” (159-162). Here, I might add, that sex is the projection of the Earthling’s survival instinct. As the primary, fundamental “being,” it is the Earthling’s will to power—the full exercise of Its personal autonomy—via sexuality, in other words the general procreative drive of the Living Planet that is experienced as an insurrection against the same innate will of its constituent organisms. A general horniness produces types of horniness that it dominates, and these types produce token horninesses that feel repressed by their “types,” and so on. At least in my opinion.

So it seems “love,” or the socially acceptable forms of it in the West, according to Freud and Foucault, functions socially, politically, economically, culturally and individually as an apparatus of slavery, because the power structure defines what forms of love are acceptable instead of the individual lover (or, perhaps, because of The Individual Lover).

Jacob Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Schizoanalysis and Kafka

By providing a method that zeroes in on images and motifs, situating the author as a function relating to the literary discourse system as a whole, Deleuze and Guattari, in Wright’s terms, “explod[ed] the whole oedipal apparatus” that Freud constructed, offering instead what they called the “schizoanalysis” of texts (162).

As in Kafka’s Before the Law, some of us believe what the law, the denoted power, tells us that we will not marry our mother or kill our father or vice versa, and think that’s what we must really want [sic] because there’s a law against it. Too much emphasis on denotative language makes one docile and prone to act against their enlightened self-interest.

Schizoanalysis rejects the Oedipus complex since it does not recognize the self as being a singular or decent thing. “The unconscious is an orphan,” say D/G, emergent from physical processes that are inescapable from Nature’s processes, indeed, are part of Nature’s processes, needing other bodies the way other bodies need them. Desire is a “flow” of libido before language, prior to the law.

Seeing that libido is fluid and able to direct itself into everchanging modes of movement, D/G focused on the general liberation of desire by constructing an unconscious using schizoanalytic methods, reconstructing a self deformed by Freudian psychoanalysis, which had characterized desire as a want or lacking of something, a “capitalist ploy” that profited from the deficiency and need of its subjects.

Freud’s unconscious, according to D/G, is an ideological structure, an internalized set of power-relations being the effect of a psychic subjugation fabricated for capitalism by good old fashioned family values, and is, therefore, something to rebel against.

The psychic or mental revolution begins with their idea of the subconscious being a part of the volatility that escapes language’s power constructs. It is a textured current that organic systems continuously bifurcate into objective phenomena.

Literature, like schizophrenia, frees itself from the normative grammars adhering to language’s power structures, which are also referred to here as the “law.” Thus D/G say a “desire-liberating reader, a schizoanalyst, whose task it is to convert the text into a desiring-machine, or better still, into a revolutionary machine,” is necessary for oppression to be overcome and true autonomy, the liberation of desire, to be attained. Since marginal literature must always be composed using the language of the majority marginalizing it, D/G rebuff the dominion over “subjugated” and/or marginalized groups via a group–dream, national mythology and patriotic propaganda of all kinds, what Guy DeBord called “the spectacle.”

D/G theorize that desire exists coincidentally in two forms: a “paranoiac transcendental law” signified by the oedipal system; and an “immanent schizo-law” shaping subconscious desire that ends up revealing the ineffable. In every situation the schizo-law is taking apart and subverting the paranoiac law, its method of writing deconstructing the systems of language, the universal control compositions.

D/G long to evoke the pre-linguistic incident when one’s subconscious speculations on sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touching all aroused one’s opposition to repression in favor of the liberation of one’s desire, to experience Life for one’s self unmitigated by those who claim authority over you. D/G reveal the ways that one’s narrow, oedipal investments of desire are transcended by unconscious investment in the social field of so-called “higher intensities.” Desire is essentially and primarily a social production.

They too see Kafka’s work as being utterly revolutionary, since their schizoanalysis reveals Kafka’s subconscious libidinous ventures as more powerful than those provoked by the state-system. In schizoanalysis, aspiration does not link itself with token symbols of power. Desire repudiates its concluding epithet in some exacting power-machine, composed by some ideological apparatus. Eros will always find a way out. Kafka’s way out was to write.

D/G’s work is “an attempt to make reading into a revolutionary political activity,” says Wright, “discovering omissions, non-sequiturs, mismatch[es] between style and purpose in texts and patients…The revolutionary writer/reader conducts experiments, trying to find a way out of the given representation…” (162-171) ... to freedom and greater autonomy, toward the absolute liberation of desire, libido, sexuality…

To be continued...

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