“It’s not Freudian”

Filed under:Brief arguments — posted by Schizostroller on March 15, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

“Desire is an infinite metonymy. It slides from one object to another. In so far as desire’s ‘natural’ state is thus that of melancholy – the awareness that no positive object is ‘it’, its proper object, that no positive, that no positive object can ever fill its constitutive lack – the ultimate enigma of desire is: how can it be ‘set in motion’ after all? How can the subject – whose ontological status is that of a void, of a pure gap sustained by endless sliding from one signifier to another – nonetheless get hooked on a particular object which thereby starts to function as the object-cause of desire? How can infinite desire focus on a finite object? – Zizek – The Plague of Fantasies.

Take the statement often used to discount certain perspectives, but one that comes across as a voice and nothing more, that we shall isolate as a statement in and of itself: “It is not Freudian”. It comes in as demand, a command, a censorious claim, an attempt at a Master discursive reality from an Othered perspective attempting a knowledge-based Master-Slave dialectic, as an alien acousmatic experience. “It is not Freudian”. It is repeated yet the emotions that were present upon hearing it are complex and as an assemblage different each time it is heard, the thoughts that one is preoccupied with each time vary, although there may be affinities were one to analyse them. We can free associate in a line of flight from this obstructive knowledge claim, elude it, and analyse what is ‘thought’ in the process of fleeing afterwards, and this would be a viable method. But we have options. Gregory Bateson describes a Zen double bind where the Master holds a stick over the students head and says ‘Move and I will hit you, stay still and I will hit you’. It seems the answer is to grasp the stick and stand up and peaceably remove it from over one’s head. So let’s grasp this stick, the mettle of this phrase and analyse the statement itself.

There are different truth claims one can make about Freudian theory. Slightly differing statements might be ‘not everything is Freudian’, this may well be true, what comes immediately to mind for me are Mathematics and Physics. But other things still might be Freudian. So the next sentence is ‘nothing is Freudian’, which is untrue because although tautological and quite possible ensconced in its own hermeneutic circle, Freudian theory is Freudian, so something Freudian exists, this is different from whether the truth claim that Freudian theory accurately describes its object of knowledge, (but even Freudian theory would recognise its own limits there) however outside mathematics and physics this may be a problem of knowledge in general, that it does not fully describe its knowledge object, and may well also be true for many other discursive knowledge bases, but such a claim needs to be challenged at the level of knowledge base, not with a censorious denial, so what we can say here is the statement in itself, ‘nothing is Freudian’, is untrue. There is something that is Freudian and that is Freudian theory. In the article “What is Enlightenment?”Foucault describes ‘founders of discursivity’. Such founders “are unique in that they are not just the authors of their own works. They have produced something else: the possibilities and rules for the formation of other texts” (p.114). For Foucault, Freud was one of these founders.

So we are left with the statement ‘it is not Freudian’. If we return to the Zizek quote above we note that ‘there is no positive object that is ‘it’’. Is this is declaration that Freudian theory has no positive object? As a statement it signifies something, ‘that there is something that is not Freudian’ but the word used is ‘it’. Zizek claims in the introductory quote, ‘it’ has not positive object to point to, to signify, because the word ‘it’ in this context has no reference, other than a claim to what it is not, and therefore it signifies a ‘lack’. Perhaps it is saying “nothing, not even Freudian theory, can fill this lack?” However such a statement would be a Freudian statement, there would be little that is more Freudian than the attempt to castrate any attempt to build a Freudian knowledge base, even if ostensibly the statement is true (that there is something not Freudian). It is still possible to say ‘we may need Freudian theory plus one (or ‘n’) to fill this lack”. In this sense this acousmatic statement is a an undead partial death wish as Zizek calls them in the Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema.

R D Laing described ‘elusion’ thus: imagine the room one is sitting in a room, one imagines or pretends the room is not a real room, having pretended that the room is an imaginary room, one starts pretending the imaginary room is a real room and not imaginary at all. One ends up pretending that the real room is real, rather than perceiving it as real. One entertains the idea of the realty of the room rather than believing it. With a knowledge of physics one can do this by imagining the room as atoms and then returning to our sense perception as reality. So we return to the ‘real’ room and carry on. Before we reach enlightenment we must chop wood and fetch water, after enlightenment we must still chop wood and fetch water. Yet even here we are just attempting to remove a stick, which although we treat as a real statement, means we only attain a partial enlightenment from a partial death wish. We are not trying to ‘prove it’. Here ‘it’ also has no reference. We are acknowledging the lack embodied in ‘it’ and moving on.

It is here we can acknowledge that whilst one may not have read enough psychoanalytical theory yet (if ever), the attempt to deny ‘it’ is a block to progress, and therefore the attempt acknowledges that progress is being made. One thinks of the Knights of Nee in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the absurdity required to pass them. An absurdity that Camus, in the Myth of Sisyphus, describes as ‘to sin without there being a God’. And thus we remove the stick. One is set in motion again. One continues one’s journey.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace