“The capability to overkill and to overburn, and the mental
behavior that goes with it are by-products of the development
of the productive forces within a system of exploitation
and repression; they seem to become more productive
the more comfortable the system becomes to its privileged
“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
“It is precisely this fear of education as a building block for both critically engaged youth and a broader public and for a radical politics that inspires a great deal of fear in the billionaire, anti-public (un)reformers.”
“With neoliberal deterritorialization, no new production of subjectivity takes place. On the other hand, neoliberalism has destroyed previous social relations and their forms of subjectivation.”
Someone once said to me, when I was still very young, that if you believed the exact opposite of both what the government and media said, and what is socially accepted as received wisdom, that you would be far closer to the truth. He said, whatever passes for *common sense* is almost always wrong, and in fact it is exactly the opposite of the truth.
I also remember the one evening I spent with William Burroughs, when I was also still pretty young. The one comment I remember from him was;
“When in doubt, always look for the most banal explanation, it will be closer to fact”.
What has struck me recently is how easily, and gratefully, the American bourgeoisie will choose the fascist alternative. They will choose the authoritarian, the punitive, and the cruel. There is also a growing resentment in the U.S. public having to do with the ‘other’. This is the rising Orientalism in media, for one thing, but its also a return, in starker terms, of that latent Puritanism and institutional spiritual intolerance that founded the country.
Before returning to this, I wanted to digress a little and discuss an idea I raised last posting. The idea of history receding to the point where it effectively has ceased to exist. The above photograph is by Giocomo Brogi, whose work was very popular in 19th century and early 20th century post cards. His work was important to Freud (and I use Mary Bergstein’s very fine book Mirrors of Memory; Freud, Photography and the History of Art for some of this). I was particularly struck by this photograph. There is something in that central figure on the steps, the man in black, walking toward the photographer. One wants to ask who was he? What day was this? Where was he going? And to the 21st century eye, the streets of Rome seem quite empty. In many of Brogi’s photos there is a Di Chirico like quality, a sense of something not being quite right. Now in some of the shots used for post cards there is also an assumption that a bit of touching up had gone on, but that’s not likely the case with this photo. The viewer is haunted, literally, by the all the questions imposed by this image. This is Benjamin’s ‘optical unconscious’. It is also the uncanny, and this is a good part of what Bergstein writes about in her book.
Now, Barthes suggested that the optical unconscious was built up of material and detail unintentionally included in every photograph. But when Bergstein writes that the zoom feature or other enhancing techniques makes this even more pronounced today, I think she is wrong. The material that is unintentionally included is not available through any technical feature. I suspect this was what nagged at Antonioni when he made Blow Up. It’s there, but it’s not there. For Freud, the photographs of ancient ruins, or statues, or archaeological sites was a distilled experience of the passing of time. Or rather, it was a reminder of history, and all that implied. Now, Freud wrote of an experience he had in 1907, in Rome, where a canvas screen was hung from a rooftop and various slides (diapositives) were projected. The images were varied, intentionally, and included many advertisements of the time. The common wisdom here has been to compare the unconscious (Freudian) with a screen. A sort of interior spatial structure on which memories are played as if in a movie. But I think it is wrong to suggest *screen* as if there is only one kind of screen. Today, the experience of sitting before a lap top is very different in it’s effects from, say, looking through a ‘View Master’ or other stereoscopic instruments from fifty years or a hundred years ago. And here it is useful to remember that Freud’s time was also one of microscopes, X-Rays, and other new technologies of the optical. It marked the transformation of the very idea of ‘detail’. The growth of the detective novel coincided (more or less) with this new world of normally unnoticed detail, or clues. The dream state of antiquity, therefore, probably was very different. And this is perhaps one of the reasons why psychoanalysis applied to pre modern characters is usually so unsatisfactory.
The development of medicine paralleled this psychic shift, as a world of microbes and sub-optical causes was being unearthed much as a police detective discovers clues. But the detective finds clues to a *crime*. And this seems important to me. But it also signaled a shift in how space was constructed mentally. It also established a sub-text of criminalized disease. In a sense, as has been noted before, there is a great similarity between Freud and Sherlock Holmes. And the durability of Holmes as a fictional character is probably not an accident. The connoisseur of difference and detail was born. And no doubt something related to reason as an actual idea was lost in this transformation (more on that below). The excavation of memory that is partly the goal of psychoanalysis involves a host of metaphors, and most of them relate to space. As telescopes (per Bergstein) bring distant objects near, the new images of photography were like telescopes into the past, and of course the light of distant suns are in a sense a making close something that is very remote in terms of linear time. The world of new details were also linked to memory in another way, that of what is forgotten. And here it is worth mentioning the effects today of automobiles (and trains, and even in modified ways by planes) where the landscape passes framed by the window.
Today, the technological assistance imposed on nearly everyone, in varying degrees, shape and inform the way people talk and hear, and most significantly, how they see. Social subjection and machinic enslavement, as Lazzarato puts it. And together, looked at in this way, there is a production of subjectivity that is increasingly barren and superficial. Even in the partly radicalized individual, too often I sense this denuded human, an ahistorical organism of basic reflex and almost empty of contemplative imagination. The theories of Guattari, and to a lesser degree Foucault, were largely looking at this idea of the manufacturing of subjectivity. In another sense, however, returning to Freud, and specifically to his dream analysis, something of a more acute sense of history emerges. Psychoanalysis is a theory of history. It is through this theory of history that the analysand is to arrive at some kind of self awareness. The nature of that self awareness is important to examine, but first it is important to revisit exactly what Freud was saying about history. The analysis of dreams was a way to understand the past. First, of course, one had to understand the dream. Or maybe that’s *understand* the dream. The process for analysing dreams first posits, or works from, a spatial model. And it is, I think, hugely important in understanding both aesthetics and contemporary life. Or the destruction of life.
Freud may have wanted to see himself as a scientist, but he was only such in a very limited and narrow sense. Charcot told him to look at things over and over until they opened themselves, or spoke. This mimicked the scientific process. But in fact for Freud there was always, at bottom, an interior landscape made up of relations between signs and symbols, and fragments of narrative, a poetics of space. In this ‘space’ there emerges associations. And it is exactly this; the process of generating associations on which psychoanalysis rests. Freud thought all things had meaning, and that nothing was accidental or coincidence. In fact, he thought all things had multiple meanings. This starts to approach both religion and philosophy, but it also suggests that the mediation today of daily life by a societal system of domination is predicated on disrupting association making, or more, simply quarantining inner life from the self; in other words making the self the sum of exterior behaviors. The idea that we ‘create’ our world is an alibi to avoid saying everything is accidental and nothing has meaning, which mass culture refuses to even discuss as a topic. And when the cynic says, as contrarian, ‘nothing has meaning’, this is a positing of the idea that the passing events of daily life are simply arbitrary. Arbitrary has the sound of the no-nonsense man, while meaningless feels weak and perhaps even feminine.
The hostility today to Freud (less to psychology and therapy) has to do with the fact that a society of control is compelled to deny forces at work that cannot be seen, or often understood. Freud saw society as sick, and hence dreams as a symptom. The illness caused pain, usually acute and debilitating psychic pain. Dreams are made up of things from the material world. The association making process is based on recovering forgotten meanings, or peeling back historical obfuscation. In dreams the details matter, they confer meaning, or reveal clues. And clues are there to help solve mysteries. Except that for Freud the mystery never quite goes away, and that is a part of the pain. The part that can never be resolved. And that resolution itself, the idea of resolution, is connected to the forces of destruction. And to the death instinct. More important however is the historical weight applied to all analysis of dream work. Nothing is universal. Freud is accused, often, of the opposite. But its an error in the reading of his work, for all that is universal is that meaning must be historically situated, or rather interpretation must be. In the end, the pathology is never completely removed. The associations are also always magical. This is the irrational Adorno saw in the heart of the societally manufactured individual. Fascism, the forces of subjugation, are deposits of cruelty sedimented in the psyche. And some of that is long forgotten consciously, but it is also forgotten collectively, or culturally. And if not forgotten, it is repressed. And what is the difference?
The meaning of dreams has to do with the uncovering of the wish embedded as the driving force of dream narrative. Without going into too much detail here, the question raised, really, is what do mean by *wish*? In terms of aesthetics, the wish is there in how the viewer mimetically engages with the artwork. All paintings and photographs — even abstract or medieval or prehistoric are mimetically powerful by virtue of an element that interrupts, or shocks the mimetic narrative that is being carried out silently in our head. Something strange, uncanny, or something that is a reminder of our own past. It is a small surprise. There are some photos by Fred Herzog, of Vancouver in the 1950s, that I find painfully haunting and this is because I can remember that world. That was my childhood, except in Los Angeles, and sometimes it is easy enough to identify what triggers this melancholy; an old wooden house, or the clothes worn by down at the heels men as they walk dejectedly on the sidewalks. Other times it is not at all clear, it is a feeling, a ghost emotion, a sense of some pull, something I should but cannot remember. For me that childhood world is associated with sickness, humiliation, and loneliness. I suspect almost everyone’s memories are melancholy, and for those who say otherwise, well, they probably are the ones who discount Freud, too. Ronald Reagan believed he had a wonderful idyllic childhood. Or that’s what he felt he had to say. But I believe him. I believe he believed that, even though we know his father was an alcoholic. In the paintings of, say, Velasquez, or Watteau, I find certain things that ‘feel’ personal. I don’t know why. I feel less personal relationship to Degas say, or Rubens. I can admire, but not feel pulled. Still, this changes over time. For the individual changes, as society changes. Guattari is correct, I think, when he emphasizes the language of imperialism, the grammar, the semiotic rules that produce a capitalist subjectivity, also produce a hardening of sensitivity to the aesthetics of life. Of course how is it that such grammar has evolved? In another sense, this is the overlap of politics, economics, and aesthetics. Lenin’s ideas on the creation of tools — politically — to shape organizational projects, are possibly the model, or *a* model for intellectual or cultural reorginzation. But first, organize the dreamwork. There is a vague implication of something like this in Lazzarato, but more, it is there in Deleuze and Guattari, too. The problem has been that somehow the intellectual thrust of the 1960s and the two decades following, ended in Zizek. And Zizek is the 400 pound gorilla on the living room sofa. It seems very few intellectuals want to openly admit that he is a farce, a reactionary who is not even a good magazine level thinker.
The institutional structure has become another Imperialism. And the permanent state of schooling a form of erasing dreams. Cultural institutions now appropriate stories from the poor, worldwide, maintain exclusionary practices domestically, and seem to validate only based on market values. But, to return to dreams. Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams was positing a system of perception outside our conscious selves It is a system in which, as I said, material from daily life and history is stored for easy access later to the conscious mind. The third system is the one that has no access code. It is the secret self, the hidden self. But it is also, as Freud alluded to a number of times over the years, the truest part of ourselves. More, it is the true reality. However, there is another part of this psychic structure, and that is censorship.
“We may therefore suppose that dreams are given their shape in individual human beings by the operation of two psychical forces (or we may describe them as currents or systems); and that one of these forces constructs the wish which is expressed by the dream while the other exercises a censorship upon this dream wish and, by the use of censorship, forcibly brings about a distortion in the expression of the wish.”
The nature of the Freudian unconscious is a topic to which an entire library could be devoted. But one thing is clear, in psychoanalytic terms, and that is that censorship is dialectical. Low value symbols replace ones with too high an intensity, only to later, via condensation, to see those tolerated symbols acquire problematic intensity. Everything is subterfuge and everything is a mask. The associations overlap as well, threads of associations jump the tracks. They become part of a new repressed narrative. But as Jose Brunner points out;
“For Freud the transformation of an expression from one mode to another was never simply a matter of translation, transcription, or transfiguration. It always involves antagonistic forces in conflict with one another and leads to a double edged result.”It is safe to say, I think, that Freud saw the political world operating in the exact way that dreamwork did. He even frequently used political metaphors. There was always potential revolution in the psyche. The censoring apparatus is not to be seen crudely as a little man in a government office blacking out forbidden words. The censoring apparatus is fluid, and in the end mysterious. The only certainty, for Freud anyway, was that everyone wears not just one mask, but several. There is a quality of Kafka in Freud’s similes and metaphors. It has always struck me that the large empty halls, the drawing rooms and the various guards one finds in Freudian examples are the stuff of Kafka’s writings. The spatial model of Kafka’s Castle is one remarked upon by Lacan and Benjamin both. Segregation is therefore an immutable quality of Freud’s mental system. There is a dialectical interchange between society and our unconscious. Between our unconscious and the world men have created.
As Brunner put it “…the psyche’s aboriginal population of infantile impulses is banned into the depth of the unconscious, where it remains separated from the subject’s consciousness by an internal police force.” The psyche is almost colonial in the Freudian model, and I think this is often terribly misread. The space of the psyche is interrogated in art. Theatre is perhaps the most obvious medium, but all the qualities of the uncanny, all the emotional tugs that certain rooms, or valleys or empty halls give us are somehow reflecting an unconscious topography. That this topography is historical is obvious, and pivotal. It is at this point exactly where Jung goes awry. Woman and men are born into worlds already with histories, but those histories have been created, and evolve, and this is the dialectics of the unconscious. And, the Oedipal structure is one in which the super ego bases itself. The Father helps form the controller of boundaries. The inner cop. The sense of guilt, or suspicion is the trace element of this formation. All stories are crime stories. There is always a primal crime. Today, as the U.S. leads the western world toward a new global police state, the triumph of the inner cop may well be the consequence of the forces of Capitalism, the psychic legacy of a society bent on on destroying memory and inner life. If one cannot access even the censoring apparatus properly, and if imposed on this attempt are greater and greater penalties in the material world, then those interior mental spaces close their doors, and so to speak, throw away the key. The agencies of authority for the state are now disproportionate to the psychic agencies of authority, or repression. Everything is subterfuge, everyone wears a mask, and nothing is what it seems. This is the basis of all storytelling. But the storytelling has stopped. What happens when it is stopped in the material world? The shriveling of the mimetic can only result in flight into authority — any authority, any father, and the current adoration of the violent warrior cop, or killers in uniform, feels like the lonely exile seeking the last approval on offer.
The topography Freud detailed increasingly took on qualities of the theatre. It became more Shakespearean in fact. The mind’s stage is where the narrative begins, and is acted out. The stuff of this play is found in the material world. Even the dialogue. The off-stage is being cemented over, the exits shut and locked. The compulsive repetitive expressions of violence and cruelty are all that is left. There are, of course, a number of secondary aspects to this sort of reductive model. One is the effects of, today and for the last century anyway, photography and film. But also mechanical travel. The film became identified with as similar, perhaps, to the constant passing images and symbols of the unconscious. The cunning unconscious. The primal crime was now being investigated. Clues were found, clues were disguised, and the temporality of cinema increasingly became the default setting for self evaluation. Everyone lives in a movie today. It is interesting that this cannot be said, ever, of theatre. And really not of photography. It was in moving pictures that dream work found its double. The Private Detective always solves the crime, and hence we are always guilty, even if we didn’t do it, and we never do it.
An added note on Clint Eastwood’s new film American Sniper. It may be the most psychotic piece of American filmmaking ever. I think that in years to come when looking back at Eastwood’s career, this is going to seem the logical conclusion to his madness. All the lurking sadism, the misogyny, the jingoism has reached completion. All the personal issues that were always half hidden, the abuse of wives and girlfriends that was hinted at, the strange perverse relationship to animals and children, all of it is now unveiled, unmediated, stark naked insanity. Its an ugly experience. It is soul deadening and I had a hard time washing it out of my head. From the almost murder of a dog to the murder of a child, and a mother, and later an an almost second child murder. To the curious and total lack of context for the story. Bradley Cooper has always been a limited actor, a sort of beefy not very intelligent presence that in one way is perfect casting for this. At least in terms of what Eastwood is doing. For Eastwood questions nothing about this narrative. Nothing. It is as if this were the political world view of the WWF crossed out with Oliver North. There is no moral complexity, there is only a shocking hatred for Muslims, a cartoon U.S. military machine, and even that cartoon lacks depth. It is a truly depraved film. It has all the value of a snuff film. Its really the zenith of white supremacism and disregard for the lives of all others. The end of the film, after 120 some minutes of this shit, the end of Chris Kyle arrives. But Eastwood shows it off screen. Why? Presumably because it is, for him, a sacred moment. Too hard to film. How can we do justice to such a horror. Sniper head shots of children …well, thats OK. Showing the ‘War God Kyle’ meeting his banal but rather karmic end at the hand of another psycho vet is sacrosanct. As a footnote of sorts, the real Chris Kyle was a racist sadistic killer who enjoyed death. He was a not very smart and very unpleasant man, exactly the sort of figure Eastwood lusts for. The erotic sub text to this film is as unwholesome as is the rest of it. It resides within a camera that is forever seeking out the manliness of Cooper’s ‘Kyle’. Rarely has such fetishizing of the male body been filmed as if a dirty secret. There is no nudity, little skin really, there is only a constant nervous camera that wants more of Cooper, that seems more alive after killing. The accumulative affect is a bit like watching someone’s unspoken lusting for a nun. Or a killer nurse. I am struggling with exactly what simile might be most appropriate. Eastwood is shooting a lot of this film as if he were channeling John Ford. Cooper is framed over and over as Ford framed John Wayne. Excpet Cooper is not Wayne. Cooper is the fifth generation dupe of Wayne. But his faux epic framing serves only to underscore all that is actually missing in this narrative. The constant return to these straight on shots of Cooper are very odd. Cooper is looking past the cinematographer, he is looking back at Eastwood. It is awkward. It is sexually ambivalent. And it is finally, flaccid. The erection is found only in the gun, the ejactulation is the exploding head, or the hole in someone’s chest. One hopes Eastwood stops now. Enough. For I don’t want to contemplate what might follow.
But this is a film with uniformally good, if not great, reviews. The liberal (sic) Hollywood press cant line up their praise quickly enough. The bourgeoisie wants to love the Chris Kyle’s of the world. They want what Kyle wanted. If American Sniper wins best film I would not be surprised. It will certainly continue to be lavished with praise. And its useful to remember this is an acutely racist film. An Orientalist film, and the few Arabs with actual speaking parts are treated much like Eastwood treats the animals and women in the film.