In Thrall to Regression

Gabrielle de Montmollin , photography.

“The rose is without why; she blossoms because she blossoms. She pays no attention to herself, does not ask if anyone sees her.”
Angelus Silesius

“I never had a memory for myself, but always for others.”
Masha Ivashintsova

“What you didn’t see, don’t say…having seen keep quiet.”
Solon (Apophthegmata)

“The capitalistic order produces modes of human relations even in their unconscious representations…”
Felix Guattari (in conversation)

There is a collective regression to contemporary thinking. Or maybe it is the loss of thinking itself. But overlaying this can be seen a collection of resentments and fears, of desires and identifications with power and aggression. And some of this is being played out in the climate discourse. I continue to refer to Cory Morningstar’s work (Wrong Kind of Green ) where capitalism and class hierarchies are subsumed in a broader generalized (and confused) identification with, on the surface, action against global warming but also, on another perhaps deeper level, with Capital itself. With the ruling class and with authority.

Dagmar Herzog has written several excellent books that serve to both recapture the radical roots of psychoanalysis and to trace the pernicious effects of social and political and sexual conservatism in the U.S. that neutralised the radical nature of early Freudianism. And her work in very pertinent in light of the current mass capitulation to Capitalism (and aggression particularly) in contemporary anti-thinking.

Robert Gotzfried, photography (from his series on bowling alleys in southern Germany).

“Meanwhile companies have to change their business models at least every decade to keep up with a world in which the prices are stagnant or falling and new challengers can pop up to take advantage of cheap financing.{ }Shvets said: “In a world of private sector dominance, clear (and relatively predictable) private sector signals and information gaps, there are significant trading opportunities. This is not the world we inhabit.”
Ben Moshinsky (Greenwich Time, Feb 25th, 2018, Capitalism is Dead)

The global environmental crisis, while real is also being politicized because it offers just what Moshinsky above is referring to. It is the ticket out of stagnation and a way to supplement war as the only means to destroy surplus labor and surplus capital. The point here is that climate projects offer huge benefits for investors and the leaders of western business.

And what is taking place in another register is a populace who no longer think with any degree of autonomy and who, more to the point, identify with Capital — and certainly this is true of liberals in America, but also much of the new faux left.

Richard Lloyd Lewis, photography.

One of Herzog’s best chapters in Cold War Freud is on the legacies of Nazism. And it is hugely useful to the discussions of contemporary American culture. Her observations on the sudden and unexpected popularity that greeted zoologist Konrad Lorenz’ book On Aggression (the English translation of the German title..which read literally as The So Called Evil; The Natural History of Aggression) are to the point here. The book came out in English in 1966, in German, the original, in 1963) . It is interesting that Paul Erhlich’s The Population Bomb came out in 1968, and both books became University campus standards and both were immensely popular with the general public. This marked a sharp course correction for the sixties.

“Both in the Anglo-American and in the West German context, Lorenz’s book on aggression would often be read in conjunction with two further books exploring the animal origins of human behavior published a few years later: the American playwright (and student of behavioral science) Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative (1966) and the British zoologist Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape (1967). One strand of public fascination with these texts clearly had to do with a wave of interest in biological as opposed to sociological explanations of human nature – and not least with a desire to re-secure traditional notions of gender in an era of rapidly changing social roles for men and women. However, there was something distinctively post-Nazi German about the glowing appreciation and fervor with which Lorenz’s specific contribution to the wider project of analogizing from animals to humans was embraced.”
Dagmar Herzog (Cold War Freud)

Esther Bubley, photography, U.S. High School 1945.

The idea of aggression as a force for good has its obvious appeal to a warlike Nation such as the U.S., but the more unfortunate influence that came out of Lorenz’ book (and Morris’ especially) was a simplified and simplistic blueprint for history and society. Aggression then, took its place alongside greed (Ayn Rand and The Virtue of Selfishness 1964) and, yes, selfishness as pseudo scientific theories of human behavior. And this pop faux science text of Lorenz was to establish a certain best sellers litany of hugely influential books that rationalized what were actually the deforming principles of Capitalism — and all of them can trace their logic back to racist and Christian beliefs in white supremacy. This is the reading list of eugenicists and military leaders, of political speech writers and global bureaucrats. Lorenz book can be seen as the great grandfather to Jared Diamond and David Graeber, or Malcolm Gladwell, or Pinker or Stephen Jay Gould. I even like some of the stuff Graeber has written, he can be genuinely amusing. But then I suspect Goebbels could be amusing, too.

The point is that Lorenz book was a watershed in pseudo academics. He was the first real lit phenom for non fiction. Desmond Morris was close behind. And both books carried with them a creepy whiff of eugenics and Nazism. You can draw a straight line from Konrad Lorenz to TED talks.

István Sándorfi

Herzog quotes Max
Horkheimer (from Lessons of Fascism)…“it is no longer the son’s fear of the father that is the typical psychological fact but the father’s secret fear of the son.” This comment came in the context of re-thinking the centrality of Freud’s Oedipus conflict.Herzog later quotes psychoanalyst Paul Parin“Psychoanalysis is not possible without an attack on the status quo; the critique of society is intrinsic to it.” (Psyche 1990) Parin in another essay noted that the story of the history of psychoanalysis is also the story of its deterioration. The radical thrust of the original Vienna circle around Freud (Otto Fenichel in particular) has very consciously been erased.

And I will note, in semi anecdotal fashion, that while Horkheimer was right, and many post Freudian agree, there are two statistics regarding fathers …well three actually….that I find fascinating. I wrote a boxing show for HBO (never produced) and during my research I visited a lot of fight clubs and went to a lot of fights. The Nevada medical examiner was next me front row at a Vegas fight and recently a fighter had died in England. I forget who. But the Doc told me…there have been thirteen ring deaths in Nevada since they began keeping records. And in each case the fighter who died was managed by his father, who in each case was his cornerman. Second …a highly disproportionate number of convicted killers in American prisons are “juniors” (meaning they are named after their father). And third, Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) noted that among the scientists at Berkeley, recruited for the Manhatten Project, a disproportionate number were fatherless.

Rhodes also wrote…“found that scientists think about problems in much the same way artists do. Scientists and artists proved less similar in personality than in cognition, but both groups were similarly different from businessmen.” But then this was still mid century. And on through the early years of NASA, science was still different. And to notice this difference is important, I think.

Arcangelo Ianelli

And there is a kind of triangulation, or Euclidean graph of some sort embedded in 20th century thinking and its relationship to violence and aggression. From Nazi death camps to Hiroshima to Korea to Vietnam, and then later the U.S. anti communist violence in Central America and U.S./NATO aggressions across the Arab world. And as Capital imploded — culminating, in a fashion, in 2008, the ruling elite of international finance were rethinking their earlier strategies. And throughout this short 21st century the role of screen dominated life in the West looms. All of these points could be catalogued in sub groupings; stuff like the fall of the USSR, the dismantling of Yugoslavia (which was, of course, a U.S. and NATO crime) and the escalating recolonizing of Africa. Across this is a populace viewed as mostly disposable. And a populace, and this means the shrinking deracinated bourgeosie, too, that are in flight from reality. The climate crises (imagine scare quotes) has come to the rescue as an emotional and psychological refuge. Advertised as the place of “too late” — an impossible mental country that is built on institutional science. On the IDEA of credibility that white institutional science carries with it. A myth that arose in its current incarnation after WW2.

Ryann Ford, photography (Clines Corners, NM).

Now, this is to be seen quite separately from the real issues of global warming and more acutely, pollution and over fishing and big agriculture etc. No, this is a land where science, a kind of carefully constructed narrative about greenhouse gases and melting ice caps and thawing permafrost. In fact the issues are nearly infinite. And they are there, as both a kind of mental escape story and as a means to obscure the real dangers and problems — most of which have been around for forty, fifty, or eighty years.

The belief in science is not irrational. But there is a constructed picture of second science (per Adorno’s second nature) that one sees most obviously in Hollywood film and TV. Medical shows in which doctors seem to know all specialties and every diagnostic theory ever written, and from memory. Espionage where technology surveils remote Hotels in Burundi or Genoa, where facial recognition works flawlessly and in nano-seconds. Science, technology, and a belief in an idealized future converge in a fantasy that has supplanted reality. In social media one frequently reads angry debates between non scientists who regurgitate statistics and data as if they were themselves graduates of MIT. None of them are but they are deeply invested emotionally in this slowly coalescing narrative of ‘end times’.

So prolonged and ubiquitous are these entertainments that they have come to feel real. And certainly are emotionally real to a majority of people in the West. It is a strategy (of government) that works at chipping away the confidence of the population, the citizenry, to limit hope and optimism, but just not completely.

Ahmad Zakii Anwar

“Ends are ‘deployed.’ This is particularly evident in the popular press, where apocalyptic scenarios are used as a commonplace trope. The end – even if it refers to the last day of a department store sale – is a kind of publicity stunt, an effective means of emotionally intensifying an issue to push special aims and interests. To proclaim an apocalyptic, catastrophic end is to invoke a ‘shock horror’ calamity that will somehow overwhelm and foreclose aspects of our future. In other words, endings are political. They are phenomena of popular discourse and powerful interests.”
Paul Corcoran (Awaiting Apocalypse)

I wrote before about Zombie films and post apocalyptic Hollywood product — both TV and film. The salient point about both these overlapping genres is that they are reconstruction narratives.

“When habitations have been destroyed, people will spontaneously move toward major or safe buildings, such as churches, schools, and hospitals. They will seek one another, forming small groups, of family, friends, or even strangers. These groups are often only temporary but may bring intense involvement. Group identification contributes to the ‘honeymoon’ euphoria and ‘therapeutic community’ effects of this post disaster period.”
Paul Corcoran (ibid)

Ivo Saliger (favorite Nazi Party painter).

The appeal of things being “too late” or “we are doomed” is that it grants one the space to relax. You don’t have your kids tuition for next year? No problem, we are all going to be dying of thirst and eating corpses. Now that may be superficial, but it is also in a simple sense true. The long arc of erosion in western bourgeois entitlements is not hard to track. After 2008 I think the state gave up trying to convince people, any people, about an American Dream. Picket fence houses cost millions of dollars and tens of thousands sit empty across the U.S. Permission to give up is, obviously, attractive psychologically for many on the left. And I continue to see this in communists I know, socialists of all stripes, or and so called progressive liberals. But the white American liberal is entrenched in a belief in the status quo. He still wants to save it, because his real estate office is just now showing a profit, or his new line of men’s underwear is breaking even and he hopes the summer line of speedos can get him out into the black. Or the new personal trainer service has finally got some B list clients. He has submitted to the narrative but aligns with the capitalist solutions.

Frenchman Flat, Nevada, April 1955. Observers for 22 ton kiloton nuclear detonation.

The superficial nihilism of climate warnings is beginning to resemble tabloid stories about Area 51 or the like. A genuine and sincere concern is automatically trivialized. And perhaps surprisingly these trivializations also carry embedded within them qualities of antisemitism and Orientalism. For all reflex dissent is directed toward fascist identification. And this in turn might profitably been viewed in terms of the growing fascist symbology and image increasingly employed in mainstream marketing. There are curious overlaps in all this, I think. Michael Barkun wrote his book A Culture of Conspiracy, about how UFO and alien conspiracies often employ antisemitic tropes.

“Although belief in a New World Order conspiracy assumes the existence of a master plot responsible for many aspects of the world’s evil, conspiracists differ in the arrangement of the conspiratorial hierarchy { }… such superconspiracies tend to be structured in the form of plots nested within plots, each layer more evil,powerful,and inclusive than those beneath. Hence the architects of conspiracy scenarios are free to place Jews at any of a number of points in the hierarchy—at the pinnacle, in a subordinate position, or as victims completely outside the domain of evil. { } Anti-Semitism appears in several forms. Sometimes traditional antiJewish stereotypes are projected onto a world of alien races, so that some extraterrestrials function as surrogate Jews; that is, they receive the physical and behavioral characteristics imputed to Jews in traditional anti-Semitism. This refracted racism can occur even in writers who view Jews themselves as innocent victims.”

There are echoes of Orientalist racism in the UFO abductee narratives. Aliens replace Native American tribes and the frontier is no longer the Western U.S. but some fantasy space locale or hollow earth or whatever. The narrative architecture remains the same.

Candido Portinari

And the need for sexual decontamination remains. Genuine environmental problems, and they are enormous, are re-directed toward that which is click bait and titillating, or, which pander to the new dream of end times. The current rise of fascist sensibility and values is reflected in not just the racism and Islamaphobia that is present in mainstream media (more on that below) but in the curious relationship between a new Puritanism and an embrace of the pornographic.

“Das Schwarze Korps, in short, expressly disavowed exactly the activities in which it was engaged. It did just that which it said it was not doing. Incitement and disavowal were inseparable. { } What is clear is that Der Sturmer’s recurrent detailed descriptions of sexual outrages gave readers crucial moral permission to hate without guilt (since Jews were continually described as aggressing on Germans) even as the ubiquitous declaration that Nazism was battling filth provided a ready excuse to display naked women and keep people’s attention fixed on sex. This manipulation of the discourses of sexual morality was particularly evident at those moments when the regime managed to have things both ways at once: to present itself as the guardian of good taste and pristine morals and to titillate and pander to the pleasures of looking.”
Dagmar Herzog (Sex After Fascism)

Western society today has it both ways all the time. An endless concern for “triggers” at University level courses (truly astounding) and the 24/7 stream of erotic titillation. Nearly every single advertisement is at some level selling the product with sex. At the same time, literally, bad words {sic} are censored out of television. Much of this overlaps with a new (relatively) war on children. Children in the West are quickly (at least poor kids) returning to the state of the early industrial revolution in England.

Moataz Nasr

Now, it is interesting to examine how national identities are fashioned by class elitism, but how they also take on their own curious life and mythology. How in a superficial sort of way the scapegoating mechanism is provided by Nationalistic pride and patriotism. Mexico is the shadow land to the white U.S.A. Austria serves in a way as Germany’s inferior little cousin, Paraguay is Brazil’s Mexico, and Poland is both red headed step child to Germany AND Russia and more recently the Czech Republic. But even Poland has a Mexico in Ukraine. None of these examples are parallel and if you take England and Ireland you see the lack of parallelism. And yet, the very idea of a nation, the very ur-logic of statehood, of citizenship, is entwined with a need for inferiors to abuse and ridicule. The reality is, of course, that Paraguay is among the happiest and most congenial of countries on earth, and Mexico, notwithstanding the abuses suffered at the hands of its northern neighbors, remains a culturally advanced country with a long history of great architects and painters. The stereotyping of nationalism is intwined with resentment and projection. What one individually cannot accomplish is projected toward the inferior other (nation).

Adolf Wissel (Among Hitler’s favorite painters).

The new fascism is also playing upon a kind of incorporation of kitsch multiculturalism and identity politics. One of the characteristics of the realist art loved by Hitler and the Nazis is the blankness of the expressions. The entire representation of the human resembled autism. (see, again, The Skin Ego by Didier Anzieu). There is both a volkish teutonic idealised Aryan form, but one that is without personality. Nobody in Nazi art is ever really *looking* at anything — or rather no women are, and only a few men. That quality has resurfaced in contemporary marketing. And in Hollywood. As a footnote to the approved art of the Nazi Party, one gets the sense that when Heidegger wrote so endlessly about those humble leather shoes of the humble farmer or woodsman, he was writing about the shoes he saw in all those paintings of Wissel and Sepp Hilz, not any shoes he ever saw anywhere in rural Germany. They always did give off a slight oder of kitsch.

The role of power and authority is masked by concentrated capital. And increasingly the modern institution is even more impersonal than ever before. In fact often one cannot reach a single human being that works in any capacity for big institutions.

“In an age in which capitalism is apparently consolidating its global dominance..the concept of reification has largely been replaced in social theory by concepts such as ‘globalization’ and ‘reflexive modernization’- ideas which carry all the trappings that Lukács associates with bourgeois thought: inevitability and inexorability. “
Timothy Bewes (Reification, Anxiety of Late Capitalism)

Bo Bartlett

Lukács is very pertinent to this moment of Capital’s opportunistic cooption of environmentalism.

“Reflexive modernization thus, in a certain sense, presents the reconciliation of subject and object sought by Lukács, but in reverse; rather than the proletariat awakening to its objective historical role, uniting political subjectivity and objective history in the moment of revolution, reflexive modernization accredits the objective world with autonomy and agency -‘subjectivity’. “
Timothy Bewes (ibid)

This is a little like the thrust of much of the new extinction discourse, which samples freely from new age rhetoric. The earth is now personalized. Not just made subjective or metaphorical (though it are often both of those) but customized and individually tailored. One chooses the earth one wants and needs.

“We have already described the characteristic features of this situation several times: man in capitalist society confronts a reality ‘made’ by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself; he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’, his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfilment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. But even while ‘acting’ he remains, in the nature of the case, the object and not the subject of events. The field of his activity thus becomes wholly internalised: it consists on the one hand of the awareness of the laws which he uses and, on the other, of his awareness of his inner reactions to the course taken by events.
This situation generates very important and unavoidable problem-complexes and conceptual ambivalences which are decisive for the way in which bourgeois man understands himself in his relation to the world. Thus the word ‘nature’ becomes highly ambiguous. We have already drawn attention to the idea, formulated most lucidly by Kant but essentially unchanged since Kepler and Galileo, of nature as the “aggregate of systems of the laws” governing what happens. Parallel to this conception whose development out of the economic structures of capitalism has been shown repeatedly, there is another conception of nature, a value concept, wholly different from the first one and embracing a wholly different cluster of meanings.”

Georg Lukacs (The Antinomies of Bourgeois Thought)

Albert Bierstadt

Bewes tries to make the point that the concept of reification is itself reified. The truth is actually that the concept that claims the concept of reification is reified, is what is reified. And this is not an endless stream — I think that is where it stops. Sleight of hand theoretical dealing from the bottom of the deck has a pretty limited shelf life, as it were.

Benjamin, all the way back in Origins of German Tragic Drama, emphasized that different forms of cultural expression arise in different eras in order to express the predominant myth of the time. Gillian Rose observed:

” The myth comprises the history of the significance which the society of the time has given to nature, and, as a myth, presents that significance as eternal. Benjamin calls this Naturgeschichte (the history of nature).” { The Melancholy Science}. Now Adorno in his earlier writings sought to adjust Lukacs idea of nature — meaning that nature was not anything physical but rather the myth, the historical given as it is presented to that era. This is again what Adorno came to call ‘second nature’. The conventions of nature, the fossilised and rigid mythology is presented AS nature. And therein lies the transmission of a mental deadness. Benjamin saw the turgid melodrama of trauerspeil as a vision of fallen nature (and fallen man). Adorno, as Rose points out, saw all history as the story of nature’s fall. Second nature is always melancholy, then. Now without getting into this too deeply here, the germane point is that nature is never free from an inherited mythology. Real actual physical nature is always mythological.

Liang Ban

And for Adorno, all that is mythological is illusion. And here one returns to reification. All of culture reflects how society sees itself (that’s the simple definition). Commodities are part of culture and never more so than today. In fact everything is commodified. The subject is commodified and it is perhaps that final step into self objectification, or self reification, that has precipitated the current developing cult of non thinking. And cross cutting this is just how removed one might want to view the fascist militarism that invades screen life ever more acutely.

As an anecdote, I saw the other day on twitter someone post a map of some global warming, the arctic I believe, in deep purples and red to signify extreme heat and warning. The person posting this wrote that seeing this map made him ‘literally nauseous’. I think it is worth pondering this a moment. This was not a photo of dead children in Gaza or Afghanistan or Iraq. It was not children held in U.S. custody at the border nor was it a graphic description of mass rape by the Cedras junta in Haiti. No, it was a red and purple coloured map. And the personalized pseudo confessional tone of the declaration speaks to the new pop confession — meant to both self chastise somehow, but more, to self congratulate. Was this person made sick by military atrocities or scenes of torture? I doubt it. Where once the final bastion of moral outrage was the child molester, that reservoir of charged moral energy has migrated to climate discourse. But then this is the coalescing of a new second nature — the conventions of climate *end times*. Ok, back to a brief few notes on reification and natural history.

Adorno in letters to Krenk, wrote…

“the causes of human suffering are … glossed over not denounced in the lament over reification.”

Howard Russell Butler

This is very telling, really. Adorno was never happy with reification per se, as a concept. And he chatised Benjamin for his use of it, too. But he went ahead and wrote extensively about it anyway…because, I think, he knew it cannot be escaped. And Adorno in an early essay, The Idea of Natural History, was coming to grips with a coming exterminationist sensibility embedded in capitalism and instrumental logic.

“Heidegger’s philosophy was the philosophical form of mythic terror taken by the disaster of the 1930s. “
Robert Hullot-Kentor (Things Beyond Resemblance)

This is excruciatingly relevant to the contemporary terror of Capital, the rise of genuine fascistic principles. And the climate question is directly representiative of this trend. Allow me two longer quotes here, spliced together, from Hullot-Kentor’s introductory essay on The Idea of Natural History.

“The historical voyage itself has become a natural event. External mimicry of the natural force of the cyclops becomes internal self-identical mimesis, ultimately the order of the ratio, which is itself a structure of the selfsacrifice of particularity to universality. Thus, in its conscious control of nature, the self has triumphed by becoming opaque to its selfreproduction as second nature. { } The rigidified self, structured by internalized sacrifice, pays for its survival by forgetting that it has renounced itself in the process. The nemesis of the ruse of the dialectic of enlightenment is that the control gained over the other amounts to the forfeiture of true self-control.”

Yuken Teruya

In Heidegger there are various strategies employed by neologisms that are trotted out to provide faux depth (and here Freud would enter the question, again, actually). This kitsch mythos is reproduced today by a kind of visual neologism evident in advertising. But the point is that the hollowing out of thought has corresponded with a hollowing out of experience and a hollowing out of the self.

“From the formalism of mythic names and ordinances, which would rule men and history as does nature,there emerges nominalism—or the prototype of bourgeois thinking.”
Adorno & Horkheimer (Dialectic of Enlightenment)

As Hullot-Kentor notes of Odysseus, the flight from mythic nature only reproduces it. The contemporary fetish of pseudo scientific jargon is the continuing attempt to make culture (and history) into nature. There is this anxiety attached to the personalized version of Nature. Not only is Nature personalized but the subject position is personalized, customized and presented as history. History has become second nature. And the transformation of history into Nature was also evident in both Benjamin and Lukács.

Bruno V. Roels, photography.

And this history is today more withered and forgotten — the amnesia of contemporary processes of thought runs throughout contemporary political theatre and throughout the climate discourse. With no longer a memory of nature there is no longer a critique of illusion. We live in the domain of illusion and second nature. Meaning is only the appearance of meaning. And because of the truncated and hollow subjective there is the resort to emotional magnification.

“This is apparent in the phenomenon of the semblance of second nature, which is a semblance because it is the mere appearance of meaning. Although it is historically produced, this semblance appears mythical: that is, as archaic, as emphatically expressive, as an engulfing whirlpool.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (ibid)

The real primary thrust of Adorno’s theory of art has to do with reification. The critique of reification by way of reification, as Hullot-Kentor put it. But the point here is that contemporary discourse has lost the capacity to differentiate semblance and we arrive at a new, or third nature. As obtuse as this may seem it is the kernel of the problem of today’s public conversation. And contemporary consciousness is literally the consciousness of the screen. Third nature is the blank implied infinity of the screen, where the discussion takes one to the insights of Jonathan Beller (in an earlier post). Image condenses history as slavery and domination, racism and colonial logic.

Floris Neususs

Jonathan Bewes quotes Godard from 2 or 3 Things I know About Her…made in 1966.

“Something can make me cry . . . but the reason for those tears is not directly connected with the actual tears that trickle down my cheeks. . . . Everything I do can be described but not necessarily the reasons for which I do it.”

The anthropomorphic notion of Earth is there to feel nauseous about. There are bright colours on a map. And behind every claim on the emotional disfigurement of contemporary consciousness are institutions of power. It is nearly impossible to find science free of U.S. government mediation.

“Anxiety is so prevalent in late capitalist society that it has become a defining quality of that society. Not only is reification inseparable from the anxiety towards it; anxiety is always anxiety about reification.”
Jonathan Bewes (ibid)

And this finally leads one to look at the dream of end-times.

The empty debate on the spectacle — that is, on the activities of the world’s owners — is thus organized by the spectacle itself: everything is said about the extensive means at its disposal, to ensure that nothing is said about their extensive deployment. Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term ‘media.’ And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial professionalism’ would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for passive admiration. For what is communicated are orders; and with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.”
Guy Debord (Comments on Society of the Spectacle)

Masha Ivashintosva, photography (Statue of Seneca).

Marx noted that the commodity “reflects back to human beings the social characteristics of their own labor as objective characteristics of the products of labor themselves, as social natural-qualities of these things.”

” While Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism was indispensable to his conceptualization of social relations, Benjamin is also keen to stress exploitation and the conditions in which labouring occurs. The fashion industry provides, for Benjamin, a ‘dialectical image’ of the deadly social relations of production, illustrating both the reifying effects of the exchange mechanism and the brutal physical conditions that attend work. In Marx’s account, the textile industry is central to the formation of the factory system of exploitation. It was in the cotton mills that women and children were employed en masse, cheaply, and mechanically spinning materials harvested by growing numbers of slaves, born to work and worked to death, in the US slave states. Das Kapital supplies a materialist core for Benjamin’s idea of the fashionable body as, symbolically and concretely, intimate with death. Marx details how ‘the murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion’ are linked to the anarchy of production, where demand cannot be predicted and where gluts lead to starvation. The connections between products and death alert Benjamin to the fact that everything consumed has been produced under conditions that occasioned suffering.”
Esther Leslie (Overpowering Conformism)

Kitty Kraus

Suffering congeals under the rule of progress. It becomes the appearance of history, and of nature both. The commodity form always has implied its fetish character and cannot hide its murderous assault on life. The owners of the world decide what to feel compassion about. Not people, not dead children or torture victims but *earth* itself, an earth that is personal and magical and alive — a Disney cartoon world in which people rarely impinge. It is the regressive return of animism in a sense, which was once eradicated in the project of disenchantment. But returns today as its own inversion. Positivism and instrumental reason have progressed and left magic behind, except when it is an instrumental magic. And anyway, its not really animism — for such is not possible in the realm of hollowed out damaged cognition. The emotional inflation is a reaction to the anxiety of reification itself. There is a silent mental panic that feeds a deep crippling anxiety and that anxiety is expressed in moralistic condemnations, in shaming and stigmatizing. And social media is the perfect digital stocks or pillory.

The violence of Capital, the destruction of the environment, this has all been occurring for a couple hundred years. As Hullot-Kentor put it in his introduction to a volume on Adorno (Things Beyond Resemblance)…’history stands in thrall to regression’. And this because history is stained indelibly with violence and domination. For Americans Nature is claimed and owned — and regression is what is seen in the anti Utopian ethos of the new green capitalist environmentalism. Anti Utopian because the dream of the hollowed mind is one of damage control. And class reflex seems natural itself — let the owners of the earth deal with managing the clean up. Or…let the ruling class and their machinery, both literal and figurative, execute the global triage that is advertised as the ONLY way forward. Forward but back.

“The stubborn belief in progress and trust in a mass base is founded on social democracy’s fetishization of quantitative accumulation in all its forms. This connection between the stubborn belief in progress and faith in a mass base is further identified with the political will for ‘servile inclusion in an uncontrollable apparatus’.”
Esther Leslie (ibid)

Robby Muller, photography. (Poloroids from Paris Texas set).

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  1. Anthony says:

    I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog and it has fed my own thinking a lot ; yet let’s face the fact that you’re not acting accordingly. I’ve been recently checking your activity on the so-called ‘social’ media plateforms (FB and Twitter) and it appears you’re utterly and deeply involved in it. Sharing all kinds of external blog pieces (from other writers) which tend to be lacking in thorough development in contradistinction to what you aim to do here. Which are merely, for most, half-baked, on-the-spot reactions to geopolitics, which fall prey to this click-bait and neurotic speed responses you chastise. And where it gets hilarious is this from July 18 on Twitter : “Twitter sort of sucks anyway. good time to leave maybe”. Indeed, time to move out of this. And then what ? You end up posting more and more a couple of days after. I feel you are as addicted to social media and screens as everyone else you lambast. This comes as a shocking realization to me. It puts everything into perspective. And let me be clear about it : I’m not using either FB or Twitter. Just checked. Well, I would sincerely like to read your thoughts about this cognitive dissonance. I will continue to read the blog, it goes without saying, since here at least you extensively develop something. But all this social media and screen lambasting gets on my nerves since it’s at once too easy and… what about some kind of legitimacy ?

  2. John Steppling says:

    I dont think articles by Kenn Orphan or Stephen Gowans are click bait. Second, I think the rest of your comment doesn’t even make sense. I am resisting the impulse to explain this to you …

  3. Anthony says:

    Well it’s weird, that you resist this impulse to explain. It’s not meant to defile you or anything. I actually sincerely would like to know. And it does make sense. I mean, in this quote from your own twitter, not to mention your own blog posts, you’re aware of it and keep referring to the subject matter.

  4. joshua kampa says:

    Long time (lay) reader here- I’d be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on Morningstar’s writing (and others looking to unmask the astroturfing and corporate environmentalist media campaigns)…

    I was struck by your invocation of a “third nature,” / screen-mediated discourse as I feel it quite accurately describes the sole sanctified space of agency for many in the West… some parallels with Baudrillard’s hyperreal, perhaps… looking about for a technic to turn away from that realm (caged as it is) and wondering if the same Frenchman’s conception of the de-reifying possibilities of seduction hold any sway with you?

    In any case, it’s always a pleasure to read your work. A welder by trade, I welcome the opportunity to dive deep (and by following the references and quotes, deeper yet) into what feels like one of the most essential lines of inquiry and critique possible at this juncture.

  5. Molly Klein says:

    Great. Im reading the Herzog and want to argue about it a little but have to finish. I think tho ultimately she is reinscribing fascisct pseudoanthro. But I should read both books you quoted in their entirety before advancing my objections. Shes going over territory treated by a lot of good thinkers from theweleit whom she badly misrepresents i think mcclintock whom she ignores. She seemsntonsharw with deleuze and arendt and sontag an unwillingness to address rhe fact that its only her own class that digs fascism and that fascism is a relation of that class to a population of antifascists, not an interior state of mind and soul. But ill have somerhing more thought out tobsay later Thanks for that tho and the Bewes whcih is very thought provoking.

    The wholesale idealism now seems to make it impssible for yoots even to grasp the notion of reification because its completely seized their minds.

    This last bit is really staggering and i really want to understand whats going on…is it just that they cant exempt yhemselves from the imaginary world in which clmate change narrayives take place as they do from Syria or Abu Ghraib? Or what?

  6. Dr. Nozomi Chinn says:

    Wow, you cover so much territory, it’s hard to know what to comment about. I’ll just pick one thing: your observation that climate change (can I add pollution, as my favorite one?) being politicized is true, but it wasn’t always that way. I was an environmental chemist years ago, when the government funded investigations in these areas, and we were not censored as to what data we presented. That is no longer true. The Group Speak of the Trump Admin. is controlling the language scientist may us or not use in applying for government research funds. This certainly was not the case in the ’70’s from all I knew and experienced. Shackling and gagging scientists, well, anyone who has data that can stand up to the light of reproducibility and validation is a travesty, and has stopped us from doing what we were educated and trained to do.

  7. John Steppling says:

    @Dr Chinn…..yes, that sounds right. I think (and i may have said this in one recent post) that the 80s were a watershed for so much stuff. It was the regrouped state in the wake of vietnam. Now its so deeply corrupt that its often hard to know how to unpack any of it.

    @joshua….thanks and i think baudrillard looms here, its true. Very few theorists today write anything substantial without a reference to him.

    @molly….Im not going to argue regards herzog…i dont disagree totally. She is very sharp about the legacy of nazism , the style codes, the way the U.S. in particular embraced fascist science and culture. And thats rarely talked about. And that she grasps the radical socialist nature of early Freudians. I appreciate that. She is a lot more problematic when we get to her takes on recent events. But I’ll wait till i hear more from you, but I dont think we will argue too much. I think she is valuable, though.

  8. Molly R Klein says:

    Yeah I think Herzog finally is a clever Nazi apologist. She does some smooth versions of Zizekian moves to revive Lorenz and reaffirm is as “more radical” and a more radical and truer Freudianism. But the whole thing is a Zizekian mobius strip. She begins with a classic propagandistic question: why is humanity attracted to fascism? (the question is wrong, of course. But that’s her question) and then answers it with a restatement of the wrong assumption: “because they/we like it!”

    Here’s a longish quote from Cold War Freud:

    The pivotal point here is that under the very specific circumstances of a culture only a quarter- century away from (what had been at the time an exceedingly popular) mass- murderous dictatorship, the claim seemed, to many people, not just wrong, but emphatically and menacingly so –
    even if not all commentators critical of Lorenz invoked the Holocaust, but rather pointed to current events unfolding in their present. Der Spiegel surmised at one point in 1972 that “The heatedness of the debate about this is most likely explained by the fact that people use the Freudian teaching of an inborn drive- potential in order to deduce a kind of legitimation of war.”42 Indeed, some of Lorenz’s fiercest critics put their case in these terms: “The talk of an aggression- drive is perilous; it encourages the further spread of aggressive behavioral tendencies and heightens the danger of war in international relations.43 Critics also took issue with what was perceived as Lorenz’s endorsement of a society based on constant competition and striving for higher status in the social pecking order.44 Meanwhile, Erich Fromm joined the conversation from abroad in his The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973) to explain the appeal of Lorenz’s “simplistic” “instinctivism” by suggesting it must be “welcome to people who are frightened and feel impotent to change the course leading to destruction.” He added that a more “serious study of the causes of destructiveness” would force a “questioning of the basic premises of current ideology.” In other words, it would force an analysis of “the irrationality of our social system and … the taboos hiding behind dignified words, such as ‘defense,’ ‘honor,’ and ‘patriotism.’ ” Nothing short of an analysis in depth of our social system can disclose the reasons for the increase in destructiveness, or suggest ways and means of reducing it. The instinctivist theory offers to relieve us of the hard task of making such an analysis.” As perceptive as these observations are about the possible political implications of Lorenz’s work, it is nonetheless telling with regard to Lorenz’s role in bringing Freud more fully into international conversation that Fromm, early on in the book, in tracing a history of “instinctivist” theories (all the way back to William James and William McDougall), expressly paired with each other the “ ‘neo- instinctivists’ Sigmund Freud and Konrad Lorenz.”45 In fact, however, there was even more to it. Many of Lorenz’s critics on the left were convinced his entire purpose was to provide exoneration for the elder generation of Germans. A group around the

    young psychologist Herbert Selg explained – as Der Spiegel summarized it – the “great public resonance” of Lorenz’s book in West Germany by the way it “seems to exculpate all those ‘whose slate did not stay completely clean,’ in accordance with the motto: ‘If we have an aggression drive and this drive must be expressed, then we actually can’t really help ourselves, that …’ ” (the ellipsis was in the original).46 This was a clear gesture back to the past of the Third Reich. Already in 1966, the philosopher Rolf Denker had bluntly proposed as a reason for Lorenz’s “bestseller” status “no doubt, for one thing, the ongoing discussion of the gruesome deeds of the Third Reich … One looks for an answer to the question, how something like that was possible.” However,
    “”the way the book has been discussed until now will not galvanize people to actions against aggression or for its more sensible channeling, but rather is more likely to lead to disposing of the topic in a trivializing and affirmative way. For many the expositions will have a reassuring effect … Who knows how many aging, publicly unknown fascists who received this book as a Christmas present have acquired a relieved conscience from reading it.47″”
    Along related lines – summing up the tone of the debates retrospectively in 1978 – the New Left literary and cultural critic Klaus Theweleit, in his massive two- volume work on proto- fascist and fascist patterns in German history, Männerphantasien (Male Fantasies), meditated on “the immense popularity of theories of human beings as intrinsically aggressive.” Theweleit strove to discredit those theories further by deliberately associating them with the self- exculpatory maneuvers of the high- ranking Nazi Hermann Göring, who from his Nuremberg prison cell in 1946 had fatuously and self- servingly informed the American psychologist G. M. Gilbert that “there is a curse on humanity. It is dominated by the hunger for power and the pleasure of aggression.”48 Psychoanalyst Paula Heimann was more careful, and made no presumptions about Lorenz’s motivations. But she was at pains to emphasize the profound noncomparability of Lorenz’s findings about animals, in which intraspecies aggression could serve “the preservation of the species, for which the preconditions are the possession of territory, food, mating, brood- behavior, and which is limited in its ferocity by innate inhibitory mechanisms,” and the kind of brutalities that were
    unique to humans. What distinguished the human from the animal was twofold: on the one hand, “the feeling of pleasure that is derived from the tormenting and destruction per se” and, on the other, the human being’s tendency to rationalize that pleasure in cruelty and “to invent noble goals with whose help he disguises and implements his delight in destruction.” As she pointedly added: “Our memory of the human concept of ‘Lebensraum’ is still fresh; and with it the sluices to unlimited and calculated cruelty were opened wide.”49 It was precisely the example of the Third Reich that provided the clearest evidence of the difference between human and other animals.
    Cruelty as Work
    One of Mitscherlich’s most characteristic moves was to declare the insolubility of the puzzle of whether or not aggression was innate. Already in The Inability to Mourn, the Mitscherlichs announced that “we do not know for certain whether there is such a thing as primary destructivity (a genuine ‘death drive’) or whether the natural pleasure of aggression is transformed into the pleasure of inflicting pain only by experiences of impotence, humiliation, and loss of self- esteem.”50 Similarly, in 1969, in Die Idee des Friedens, Mitscherlich included a footnote repeating a point he had already made in his earliest Psyche essays on aggression (reprinted here with slight modifications), which summarily remarked that “the difficult drive- theoretical question about a primary drive- pair (Eros- Destrudo) or a reactive origin of aggressivity can hardly be answered on the basis of our current knowledge.”51 Nonetheless, Mitscherlich undermined this agnostic stance at other points, frankly expressing his commitment to Freud’s concept of a “death drive,” acting dismissively toward what he (interchangeably) referred to as the “behaviorist counter- theory” or “frustration theory,” voicing objection to “the doctrine that man’s hostility is simply a reaction to the disappointments and the suffering which society has meted out to him,” and distancing himself specifically from the idea he ascribed to Wilhelm Reich – that aggression and destruction derived from “inhibited urges.”52

    So right off the bat there is disingenuous disavowed propagandizing: the “popular” Nazi regime was in fact so unpopular that they had to abolish elections and rule the country by terror, making war on their opponents in the open and famously sending a large portion of the citizenry to gas chambers and slave labour. And the entire world practically united against them and the leaders ended up swinging from ropes or blowing their own brains out and poisoning their own children. Really there are few cases in hitsoyr of less loved regimes, outside their fanatical minority followings. This is the place to begin an inquiry into Nazism, and the ones Nazi apology always cover over in this manner. Everyone in the US academy used to know Nazis were brutal and oppressive, widely disliked and ended badly. Somehow here in the text no longer knows that Nazi regime was terroristic repressive and short-lived. She’s a specialist on Nazism and her stated position, following D&G is “there is no such thing as ideology.” We know there is a fad (started by Zizek) to dissipate blame for fascism by using D&G and defining Nazism as an assemblage and say Auschwitz as an assembage of desiring machines in which all is equal…the SS tortures for profit and the prisoner’s desire not to be tortured being all merely equivalent varieties of wish-machine production, mindless operations of a single flux of energy or flow, meeting random stoppages. (Zizek has a whole lecture about this at Birkbeck, the one where he compares Mengele to “an innocent country doctor” and declared him “not as guilty as we think.” The pleasure of the torturer and the pain f the tortured are just variations on a single life theme. And this is how we see the pseudomaterialism of D&G which starts out seeming hyper materialist, like Sade was for the neoNietzscheans, its all blood and shit and drives, is revealed as really a formalism: there is no content only this abstracted outline of reality. In sum I think she’s kinda suss.

  9. John Steppling says:

    Well…ok, I guess we will argue a little after all. I am not sure I read her as suggesting the Nazis were popular with the majority of germans. But they were in fact popular, for a brief window. And in that sense, when she says, well, Lorenz was popular because it popularized an alibi for at some point defending and voting for the Nazi party. So she may be confused but I am not sure at all that she is apologizing for nazis…certainly I doubt she thinks she is. The ideology thing is, yes, faddish and sort of what Verso Books and Jacobin trot out a lot. (Bewes is very good but he does suffer in more than a few places with that same infection). But her take on Lorenz i liked because I see how that book came along with Rand and Erhlich and helped put an end to the sixties. I mean it really did. And herzog is certainly not Zizek. And yes, that is NOT what Theweleit is doing. But Theweleit IS a Freudian it should be noted. The question of why are people attracted to fascism is wrong….but the question of why anyone is attracted to fascism is not wrong. I mean all the frankfurt thinkers asked that and worried about its return. And it IS returning..or HAS returned. And its not just the threat of physical harm that causes that. And part of the long game of killing off antifascism includes Konrad Lorenz…who is, as she notes, rather a nazi.

    Now I got some shit today about including SJ Gould along with Pinker et al. And i will stand by that inclusion. (write a 5000 plus word essay and have to answer about Gould…one sentence….a bit like, other than that mary, how did you like the play?). Gould is not a nazi like Pinker but he is representative of a certain register of writing, a kind of middle brow disguised as intellectual for the lay reader. And that stuff is deadly because it simplifies and by necessity then deforms the message but then the message isn’t the point anyway. Its the form for lack of a better word. Its the mass market paperback as real book. And it leads to the TED phenomenon . Its of little consequence that Gould was actually smart of a good paleontologist. I mean who cares. He didn’t write books that did more than pander to a certain class of ersatz educated bourgeois clerk.

  10. Molly R Klein says:

    also to middlebrow: the book Mismeasure of Man was addressing people like school principles and teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, politicians and social workers and journalists and lawyers to arm them for confrontations over this resurgent pseudoscience and over the Reaganite policies it would inspire and I think it was really effective. and frankly, I took several years of math including statistics in university as well social science and I didn’t find it grossly beneath my education or oversimplified or whatever would de-class it intellectually. I’ve read also a couple of his popular science books and they seem equally good and importantly anti-woo and anti-occult and materialist, tho obviously not as politically urgent as MoM. I think the vanishing of such books, of real science for lay readers, is part of the catastrophe.

  11. John Steppling says:

    yeah i think we disagree. For me its quite the opposite…the catastrophe.

  12. Molly R Klein says:

    I concede you’re right she’s not a Nazi apologist, though her conclusions end conveniently for fascist anthro. She’s a christian really of some sort; there’s a devil finally at work in human affairs and psychic affairs.

    As intellectual history, it’s a worthwhile read tho I think of the important thinkers she treats, she misrepresents those I am familiar with consistently and she is hostile to contextual historicism and very hostile to Marxism and class analyses. She makes some classically pomo idealist moves, Zizekian moves, like when in the interview she says “Psychoanalysis is a holocaust survivor — traumatized but desperate to fit in,” It’s glib, i know its kind of a joke, but as an explanation for the tendencies in the US psychoanalytic school post-war, it’s plainly just a way of diverting from the really obvious class politics of psychiatry and even more importantly Hollywood which was the real influential Freudian industry, which made Freudianism the anthropology and core iconography of American culture with a status as dominant as Christian iconongraphy and anthropolgy in Renaissance Rome. But finally I think, to bring the SJG issue in her meaningfully, she is idealist and (compassionately) irrationalist and mystical, a religious thinker, but also a symptom of the conditions, the catastrophe — i think this magic thinking is the catastrophe — in that after doing intellectual history she feels she can advance scientific claims with no scientific argument, no evidence, just innuendo, analogy, post hoc propter hoc, storytelling, and the play of brand-triggered emotions. It’s not 1900 and the proposal of the existence of drives present in embryo needs to be accompanied by the results of real scientific inquiry. Otherwise it should be admitted they’re mystical concepts or metaphors for persistent mysteries, the way people do who want to practice seriously responsible healing but describe and understand their work through ancient ideas like chakras or chi

    The dialectical materialist approach recognizes “drive” as a reification, like phlogiston or the devil. A marxist psychology and anthropolgy warns against turning capacities into pseudo-biological or pseudo-divine forces. (Foucault is I guess the most important reactionary against the marxisant consensus in human/social sciences, reifying “power” as fairy force.)

    This problem of mysticism, religion and ideology masquerading as natural science is the kind of thing that SJG held the line against and after his death Reaganism accelerated the destruction of the rational consensus all the more easily. It was SJG who took the time and trouble to destroy every popular mainstream attempt to revive eugenics and raciology and determinism and all pseudoscience, meticulously and thoroughly, debunking their pseudo history, naming the interests behind them, but also painstakingly dismantling the bogus methodology and the bad math and the absurd mysticism (“g” itself). Since his death we have witnessed the complete restoration of all these practices one couldn’t get away with in his lifetime — obviously it was not him alone but he was the exemplary practitioner of this task of the socialist public intellectual. Now public intellectual product even on the natural sciences, and of course extremely in the social sciences and arts, it’s a Nietzschean free for all of storytelling and “personal opinions.”

    I’d argue, as you know I will, that she is skewing Freud’s own work to downplay the reactionary aspects the medical tortures of women patients worthy of Torquemada, the dismissal of all the sexual abuse evidence as the active and quasi diabolical female imagination (because that was more financially convenient) giving rise to the psychoanalytic power play of “epistemic invalidation” whereby Authority can routinely invalidate all expression and statements of the powerless with reference to the unconscious and subconscious to which Authority has access and to which subject subjects are presumed and in all instances by definition blind. I think much of the reactionary character of Freudian psychoanalysis (I contrast with similar musings on a multichamber psyche before or contemporary with Freud, the mesmerists and people like Janet — that whole strain of socialistic thinking of psyche was defeated in competition for bourgeois patronage by the Freudian individualist alternative) comes from Freud’s own “neurotic” individualism and a consequent ruling out of the possibility of dialectical relations to reality, the perception of which he treats as a neurotic symptom and kind of atavism, which he is pretty forthright about:

    A famous passage from Civilization and Its Discontents:
    It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false
    standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for
    themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of
    true value in life. And yet, in making any general judgement of this sort, we are
    in danger of forgetting how variegated the human world and its mental life are.
    There are a few men from whom their contemporaries do not withhold
    admiration, although their greatness rests on attributes and achievements which
    are completely foreign to the aims and ideals of the multitude. One might easily
    be inclined to suppose that it is after all only a minority which appreciates these
    great men, while the large majority cares nothing for them. But things are
    probably not as simple as that, thanks to the discrepancies between people’s
    thoughts and their actions, and to the diversity of their wishful impulses.
    One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had
    sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion [The Future of an Illusion
    (1927)], and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon
    religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of
    religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he
    himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which
    he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would
    like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless,
    unbounded — as it were, ‘oceanic’. This feeling, he adds, is a purely subjective
    fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality,
    but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various
    Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and
    doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself
    religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every
    belief and every illusion.
    The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honour, and who himself
    once praised the magic of illusion in a poem, caused me no small difficulty. I
    cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself. It is not easy to deal scientifically
    with feelings. One can attempt to describe their physiological signs. Where this is
    not possible — and I am afraid that the oceanic feeling too will defy this kind of
    characterization — nothing remains but to fall back on the ideational content
    which is most readily associated with the feeling. If I have understood my friend
    rightly, he means the same thing by it as the consolation offered by an original
    and somewhat eccentric dramatist to his hero who is facing a self-inflicted death.
    ‘We cannot fall out of this world.’ That is to say, it is a feeling of an indissoluble
    bond, of being one with the external world as a whole. I may remark that to me
    this seems something rather in the nature of an intellectual perception, which is
    not, it is true, without an accompanying feeling-tone, but only such as would be
    present with any other act of thought of equal range. From my own experience I
    could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives
    me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is
    whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as
    the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.
    I have nothing to suggest which could have a decisive influence on the solution
    of this problem. The idea of men’s receiving an intimation of their connection
    with the world around them through an immediate feeling which is from the
    outset directed to that purpose sounds so strange and fits in so badly with the
    fabric of our psychology that one is justified in attempting to discover a psychoanalytic — that is, a genetic-explanation of such a feeling. The following line of
    thought suggests itself. Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain
    than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears to us as something
    autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. That such
    an appearance is deceptive, and that on the contrary the ego is continued
    inwards, without any sharp delimitation, into an unconscious mental entity
    which we designate as the id and for which it serves as a kind of facade — this
    was a discovery first made by psycho-analytic research, which should still have
    much more to tell us about the relation pf the ego to the id. But towards the
    outside, at any rate, the ego seems to maintain clear and sharp lines of
    demarcation. There is only one state — admittedly an unusual state, but not one
    that can be stigmatized as pathological — in which it does not do this. At the
    height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt
    away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is; in love declares that
    ‘I’ and ‘you’ are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact. What can be
    temporarily done away with by a physiological [i.e., normal] function must also,
    of course, be liable to be disturbed by pathological processes. Pathology has
    made us acquainted with a great number of states in which the boundary lines
    between the ego and the external world become uncertain or in which they are
    actually drawn incorrectly. There are cases in which parts of a person’s own
    body, even portions of his own mental life — his perceptions, thoughts and
    feelings — appear alien to him and as not belonging to his ego; there are other
    cases in which he ascribes to the external world things that clearly originate in
    his own ego and that ought to be acknowledged by it. Thus even the feeling of
    our own ego is subject to disturbances and the boundaries of the ego are not
    Further reflection tells us that the adult’s ego-feeling cannot have been the same
    from the beginning. It must have gone through a process of development, which
    cannot, of course, be demonstrated but which admits of being constructed with a
    fair degree of probability. An infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his
    ego from the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him.
    He gradually learns to do so, in response to various promptings. He must be
    very strongly impressed by the fact that some sources of excitation, which he will
    later recognize as his own bodily organs, can provide him with sensations at any
    moment, whereas other sources evade him from time to time — among them
    what he desires most of all, his mother’s breast — and only reappear as a result
    of his screaming for help. In this way there is for the first time set over against
    the ego an ‘object’, in the form of something which exists ‘outside’ and which is
    only forced to appear by a special action.
    A further incentive to a disengagement of the ego from the general mass of
    sensations — that is, to the recognition of an ‘outside’, an external world — is
    provided by the frequent, manifold and unavoidable sensations of pain and
    unpleasure the removal and avoidance of which is enjoined by the pleasure
    principle, in the exercise of its unrestricted domination. A tendency arises to
    separate from the ego everything that can become a source of such unpleasure, to
    throw it outside and to create a pure pleasure-ego which is confronted by a
    strange and threatening ‘outside’. The boundaries of this primitive pleasure-ego
    cannot escape rectification through experience. Some of the things that one is
    unwilling to give up, because they give pleasure, are nevertheless not ego but
    object; and some sufferings that one seeks to expel turn out to be inseparable
    from the ego in virtue of their internal origin. One comes to learn a procedure by
    which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through
    suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal — what
    belongs to the ego — and what is external — what emanates from the outer
    world. In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality
    principle which is to dominate future development.

  13. Molly R Klein says:

    What about this. What’s going on here:


    Overlooking the role of the Holocaust’s aftermath in the history of PTSD means that we have also missed just how multifaceted –
    indeed contradictory – would be the invocations and uses of the psychoanalytic tradition within the convoluted transnational interactions among psychiatrists which eventually shaped the specific form which the diagnostic category of PTSD was to take. One main aim of Spitzer’s reorganization of the DSM was not only to jettison psychoanalytic approaches in general, a shift which had already assisted in the removal of homosexuality as a category of mental disorder, and which would also lead to the complete disappearance from the DSM of the distinctively psychoanalytic notion of “neurosis” (even as new categories such as “borderline personality disorder” were incorporated). Spitzer was additionally intent on removing any need, or even any opportunity, for speculation about the etiology – that is, theorization of the causes – of psychological conditions. Instead of conjecture about the sources of a particular disorder, DSM- iii introduced the phenomenological (and, at the time, it was felt, infinitely more objective) concept of a checklist of measurable symptoms.5 The redirection of attention away from puzzles about the past – and therefore about causation – and toward the (ideally clearer- to- determine) manifestations of emotional or mental disease in the patient’s present was designed to put psychiatry on a more secure scientific footing and make it more comparable to other medical subspecialties. The sole exception to the rule, the only condition for which causation would continue to matter in the DSM- iii of 1980 (and up to the present), even as a checklist of symptoms for it was presented as well, would be PTSD. Psychoanalysis, however, was to figure also in other ways in the impassioned controversies surrounding Holocaust survival. For one thing, the very idea of taking seriously adult, as opposed to childhood, trauma meant a departure not only from mainstream psychiatry but also from the mainstream tradition of psychoanalysis, which with few exceptions tended to the opinion that everything determining a person’s later character and behavior had its roots either in an individual’s inborn constitution or in early intrafamilial dynamics. For another, many psychoanalysts, particularly those inclined toward ego psychology, were prone toward skepticism that external conditions rather than unconscious motivations drove the production of symptoms, and they often took note of the “secondary gain” patients might be acquiring via their sickness (whether a gain in solicitous attention or a particular balance of power in a relationship or an excuse for not changing their habits). Above all: numerous analysts in the USA and elsewhere had, on principle and in practice, left the real world outside the consulting room. To treat real- world events as consequential for psychic life was anathema.6 Grappling with the possibility that experiences in flight, hiding, and/ or imprisonment in Nazi camps caused psychic damage challenged psychoanalysts’ isolation from extrapsychic events. The real world broke in with a vengeance. But it did so only after a delay of many years. Oddly and ironically, but significantly, it was not initially the sympathetic doctors who alluded to Freud or to psychoanalysis, but rather the rejecting physicians who did so. Their provocative and canny appropriation of psychoanalysis to dismiss the claims of survivors and to put sympathizing doctors on the defensive was strikingly effective. It took time for sympathetic doctors who were also analysts to use their engagement with post- Holocaust and other kinds of trauma as an opportunity also to reinvigorate the psychoanalytic project – which was, after all, entering a phase of deep crisis in the USA during the precise period, from the early 1970s on, when the DSM was being reformulated. Two further noteworthy themes emerge from revisiting the conflicts over mental health damages to survivors. One is the importance of context for the evolution of theory. In this case, the context was the toxic postfascist climate filled with resentment against the survivors in which the (at once medical, legal, and moral) battle over mental health damages was first fought through and in which in general truth was up for grabs. A second theme has to do with the problem of scientific objectivity and the predicaments of bias. The anti- reparations doctors regularly attacked the more sympathetic doctors for being (purportedly) unobjective and unscientific. In turn, the sympathizing doctors struggled to bring into view and coherence the multi- symptom phenomenon that they first called “survivor syndrome” and “massive psychic trauma” and which eventually, by historical contingency but also by engaged activism – as the doctors working with and on behalf of survivors of Nazi persecutions and camps joined forces with physicians pressing for attention to the emotional difficulties experienced by many veterans of the Vietnam War – came to be called PTSD. On the one hand, this turned out to be a historical instance in which politics (specifically and preeminently, international Jewish organizations’ political pressure) literally moved the science forward. But no less significant is a countervailing and complicating point: The sympathizing doctors were acutely aware of the extreme messiness of their evidence. It has been argued that the rejecting doctors were simply caught in the traditional medical orthodoxy.7 According to the inherited doctrine, individuals with a previously normal constitution were by definition robust and should recover rapidly from stress; if mental problems continued, there were only two possible explanations. Either there must be a somatic, physiological explanation, or the individual must have been emotionally unstable before. Certainly, these traditionalist arguments were used by psychiatrists to deny effective care not only to concentration camp survivors but also to disturbed German soldiers returning from Soviet POW camps.8 Reviewing the medical disputes over concentration camp survival, however, reveals that on this subject the rejecters were no innocent traditionalists. The
    minute the topic of mental health damages to camp survivors entered the medical journals – which it did already by 1957– 1958 – the rejecting doctors knew full well what they were doing, and self- consciously used every rhetorical strategy at their disposal to refute their critics and justify their decisions.9 Yet the sympathizing physicians were not easy heroes, but rather often maddeningly imperfect. They were caught not only in the binds created by their opponents, but also in their own assumptions about human nature and therapeutic process. Eventually, however, first incrementally and then with ever greater success, their efforts helped to generate a paradigm shift with momentous consequences. In subsequent decades and into the twenty- first century, PTSD has become the diagnostic category of choice for addressing emotional turmoil in our apparently ever- proliferating array of disaster zones of both human and natural making. That these consequences have since in turn had numerous more ambiguous ramifications is the ever- evolving end of the story within which we still live. For finally, as it turned out, the achievement of the sympathizers remained an ambivalent one, fraught with unanticipated complexities.

    Is this on the up and up? It seems iagoesque to me.

  14. Molly R Klein says:

    Okay I’m onto the Nazi book now and frankly I feel like I’m going to have a stroke reading this.

    For example:

    “What is difficult to grasp is the double
    truth of, on the one hand, the hideous hubris and scientific uselessness of
    so many of the so-called reproductive experiments conducted under Nazism (with due attention to those physicians who utilized the concentration and death camps to transfer their research focus from chicken, rabbits, and mice to humans) and, on the other, the often conspicuously
    protopostmodern “successes” achieved by German physicians in such
    areas as artificial vagina construction, the use of (recently discovered) hormones to treat erectile dysfunction, as well as such decidedly more ambiguous ventures as the treatment of nonnormative orientations or the attempt to establish the efficacy of female orgasm for the likelihood of
    conception (by determining how far sperm had traveled past the cervix
    three minutes after coitus).2
    What is clear, however, is that all the manifestly brutal aspects of Nazi
    sexual politics were not embedded in a broader antisexual attitude but,
    rather, coexisted with injunctions and encouragements to the majority of
    Germans to seek and experience sexual pleasure. Yet this assessment is
    not the prevailing view. Scholars continue to presume that the Third Reich
    was marked by pervasive sexual repression.”

    This is a really interesting passage for being almost unimaginable to me, it just stole my breath. I read it twenty times to make sure I am not losing my mind, But it’s apparently quite acceptable now to note that there’s nothing sexually repressive about defining people of color or gays as monstrous perverse and defective and needing sterilization and extermination, and vivisecting people and turning others into breeding mares and enforcing insane racial concepts and eugenics practises to try to realize them; neither are the defective monsters being subject to sexual repression nor are those “Aryans” who love or desire these monstrous folk sexually being subject to such repression, It’s staggering. What happened? When did this re-Nazification of the common sense in the concept of generality and humanity occur? It’s sort of like saying there’s a myth that Nazism was opposed to equality, when in fact in Auschwitz itself Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss felt himself the equal of any King.

    This sort of amazing passage is accomplished by the same kind of hyperreality and de-realizing de-materializing abstraction that the screendamage fosters. I have to remind myself, as I read, that she is talking about real history not a movie, because everything in the prose is suggesting she is reading the canon of Hollycausterie concerning only flickering illusions of metaphoric figures. I remember this: my friend’s mother survived camps and managed to protect her niece because she was an extraordinarily beautiful teenage girl thought more valuable alive than dead by the SS. Höss came upon her cleaning his office one day and he said ‘Rose? Is that you? What are you doing here? I thought you’d gone up in smoke already.’ How can the Nazi regime be characterized as the absence of a pervasive sexual repressiveness? What does “sexuality” have to mean to see Nazism as “pro-sex”?

  15. Molly R Klein says:

    The section in Cold War Freud on the Chilean shrinks is largely unobjectionable (tho she is just summarizing David Becker’s paper) but fails to be integrated into her contentions and again its completely abdicating responsibility for an historical and class account of the politics and the trauma, and it curiously treats these cases (fascism in Europe fascism in Latin America) as disparate incidents for comparison instead of an ongoing ruling class programme that learns and evolves. She proceeds with this dubious process of “irony” discoveries.

  16. Molly R Klein says:

    she very glibly dismisses the whole immense bibliography of debunking of death drive theories and just says it’s apodictic that there is a death drive, because there is death basically, and the most anyone could say is to quibble trivially that drive is not the right term. It’s simply dogma. And then she is covering up the complete dogmaticism of her assertion with a kind of contemptuous gesture. And this all harmonizes with the ahistorical pseudohistoricist Foucaultian approach to intellectual history

  17. Molly R Klein says:

    last thing. This is really aoc-style and crabapple style woke-ry It’s a snack; her account finally is “storytelling” (in a void) and these are “takes.”

  18. Molly R Klein says:

    just look at the inflection and the body language of the “admissions.”
    it’s like max blumenthal admitting “the US _did_ kill a lot of people in North Korea.” the way she “concedes” things as dismissals of the importance of those things, as trivial and regrettable, and infusing the very concession with a dubiousness and controversial scent..”yeah its true they _did_ pass the nuremberg laws [she is evoking an invisible denier of even this] but…they were really all about happy sex and fun! Mainly it was liberatory!” And like finger quotes “of course for straight aryan non disabled who were the majority…” the majority of what? she’s up to something very odd here, I think she may be a very canny Nazi symp. And in her book she does this fusion of Nazism and what she repeatedly and without sarcasm calls “the Jewish Science” of psychoanalysis, concluding that Konrad Lorenz returned the Jewish science to West Germany, and her implication as that perhaps the Jewish Science was at the root of Nazism in the first place (with this healthy liberatory sexual program embrcing eros and this equally zealous embrace of the death drive)

  19. John Steppling says:

    @Molly…. let me work back …now the idea of sex positive nazis would have shocked reich , thats for sure. But I sort of get her point — I think. Its the pornographic alibi or something, the busty blond statues etc. There is a sort of valid idea lurking somewhere in there….but like the quote you use its extended into some very strange space. Now I did quote the ‘having it both ways…’ paragraph because I think it parallels the post Reagan American marketing dream. And for the record neither she nor you have the right definition (at all) about the death drive (which ive written about before on this blog…somewhere)..not here but this is relevant i think //// anyway….the PTSD stuff Im taking a mulligan on right now, but I did think something good was , again, lurking in there. Herzog is very sharp and her radio interviews are telling. Might she be a christian? yeah…or something like a christian…a substitute christian or some weird new age Jew thing….not sure.

  20. John Steppling says:

    again, the death drive has not been debunked. didnt we have this debate years ago? The death drive is not about wanting to die….sigh. I know we did. I will find my posting on it.

  21. John Steppling says:
  22. Alexis Viera says:

    Missing is the connection between the rise of Fascism and Capitalism. Fascism not as an aberrant form but a stop-gap response to the crisis, as a general form of organizing society that at the individual level expresses a psychic/social deformation whose roots lie in the mode of socialization specific to capitalism which is organized on the basis of commodity relations ie. alienation. There was no necessity for the Nazis that the whole population should become Nazis, but that they conform to the general material and social reality that had been created politically by the crushing of all opposition and economically by an increased industrial development which concealed at the beginning the creation of a war economy and which lessened the catastrophic conditions of the global economic crisis( the depression)on the general population.

  23. Molly Klein says:

    There has yet to be any description of the death drive . Its just posited dogmatically. But there is an enormous bibliography of critiques of mysterious or divine forces as explanations for imperial crimes

  24. Molly Klein says:

    But nazis were famous for flooding the world with porn. But her hiatory is wrong. She keeps saying Nazis expelled psychoanlaysis . Its not true. the psychoanalysic institute functioned throughout the nazi run by a psychoanalyst who was a cousin of Herman Goering. It was the first institution to to carry out its own dejudaization, organized hy ernest jones. The oddest thing about her is how little she says about anythi g. She parades index card like collages of facts and fictions, much of it racy much of it ghoulish, and they add up to pseudohistory

  25. John Steppling says:

    @molly…..come on, there are volumes devoted to the death drive…including pages and pages of definitions. So do stand down on that. You may not like any of it or accept any of it …but it exists. As for Nazi s and psychoanlysis…..the Jewish psychoanalysts…not coincidentally the socialsts and radically minded, were expelled. What remained could hardly be described in any was as legitimate. Asperger did continue to experiment on kids though, only later to find acceptance in the U.S. Russell Jacoby has written the best history and here…reviews another book on subject

    but The Repression of Psychoanalysis is excellent on this subject.-

  26. John Steppling says:

    @alexis …..yes to all that. Western capital, obviously, never had any moral or even ideological problems with hitler. Until Hitler just became too big a problem and too ambitious I guess. But yes..and look, the bourgeosie always collaborates with the system. They have a vested interest in the status quo.

    @molly… death drive
    Benjamin Fong…Death and Mastery
    Ester Sanchez Pardo… Cultures of the Death Drive (On Kleinian version)
    M. Andrew Holowchak ; Repetition, the Compulsion to Repeat, and the Death Drive: An Examination of Freud’s Doctrines (Dialog-on-Freud)

    and I know serge Leclaire wrote a book on it..sort of ….. its on narcissism…..

    and this which i havent read….

    but the point is that of course there are definitions. You just reject psychoanalysis except when you dont (Male Fantasies).

  27. @molly, FYI as regards Zizek, I uploaded his 1983 ‘Le stalinisme: un savoir décapitonné’ (in it Zizek discusses the Dreyfus affair) here:

    Click the link in my handle for a list of my translations and uploads (such as Ukrainian Marxist Vladimir Jurinetz’s 1924 critique of Freudianism, unfortunately not in English: Psychoanalyse und Marxismus).

  28. Molly R Klein says:

    “including pages and pages of definitions. ” i honestly never saw a scientific definition. happy to be corrected if you can point me to one.

  29. Molly R Klein says:

    oh ok sorry i missed link i will look in those books

  30. Molly R Klein says:

    on the very first page of that book i]there’s an admission that it’s a unevidenced inference:

    “Many analysts regard it [freud’s “concept” of the death drive] as
    ungrounded, as too speculative, or, simply, as too pessimistic.”

    this is not possible if it’s evidenced , not in fact speculative, and grounded. why would pessimistic have anything to do with a scientific claim. there canr be an argument about whether it exists. its like saying many medical doctors think theres no such thing as cholesterol (as opposed to what the effects are)

  31. Molly R Klein says:

    ” Ever since Freud introduced the concept of the death drive 1 in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in 1920, it has been the subject of intense and impassioned debate among psychoanalysts. No other Freudian concept has been as controversially disputed as the idea of a fundamental force of destructiveness and dissolution. Many analysts regard it as ungrounded, as too speculative, or, simply, as too pessimistic. However, for many other analysts the death drive is an indispensable reference point for thinking about destructive and deadening phenomena encountered in the consulting room and beyond”

    it’s a “reference point for thinking”

  32. Molly Klein says:

    I dont reject a. The existence of the psyche or b. the possibility of theorizing about it l: i reject most of Freuds theories and i reject the claim that any of these theories have been substantiated . Theweleits book is all hypotheses. If facts of death and destruction are all the evidence of death drive tgen how can freud posit babies want to kill their fathers when they never do but rather often kill their mothers? its just an irratiional inference. termites or fungus or viruses that are deadly to us might seem like they must be all death drive but how can this be distinguished from eros at all? And the eros of sone vegetable bevomes the thanatos when swallowed by someone allergic to it

  33. Molly R Klein says:

    we have so few cave paintings that we have to resist the temptation to treat them as typical, yet we have them separated by tens of thousands of years and there is no sign of this human nature that Freud posited it them. When you consider the importance that must have been place on choice of subject matter for these endeavors, it’s remarkable there is none of this violence and possessiveness is anywhere to be seen. And that there continues to be none of this in the fetish objects of the earliest artworks; all the human figures are represented as alive and fertile; no figures that have had violence inflicted on them, no degradation, no dismemberment, none of the things that are supposed to have been the eternal objects of desire of the creators. NONE. and this is across the planet, a species producing art and objects for thousands of years (no torture instruments, but hunting weapons, jewelry and medicine bags) thats supposed to be constantly fantasizing and committing sadistic violence from the moment of its conception in the womb. there are a lot of things that need explaining when you posit this drive, above all the survival of the species itself . which is so helpless in infancy. The proportion of skeletons found should be hugely hugely hugely more dominated by helpless infant skeletons victims of murder; there should be lots of infant skulls puncture or crushed — how could any really survive years of defenselessness when surrounded by naturally murderous adults — but also the character of everything our species produced in the many many many generations before the — recent — appearance of class and property. If someone is advancing the claim of the existence of this drive they should make a serous case that explains these heaps of phenomena that are incommensurate which such a force,

  34. Molly R Klein says:

    The author doesn’t attempt a definition but begins his treatment by discussing what phenomena can be attributed to “the death drive”: ” Lastly, a growing scepticism or, more accurately, realism, regarding the powers and limitations of psychoanalytic treatment is thought to have been one of the decisive factors leading Freud to postulate an innate and fundamental force opposing psychic growth and improvement. [That is, author claims Freud thought up this force and named it the real cause of his failure to cure anyone: that failure was explained, in classic psychoanalytic fashion, not a evidence of the inadequacy of Freud’s treatment but as the work of a mysterious force in the patients resisting him out of self-destructiveness.] Turning to the characteristics of this new force, we find in the death drive the expression of the fundamental tendency of every living being to return to the inorganic state: “ the aim of all life is death ” ( Freud, 1920 , p. 38, emphasis as in original). The death drive aims at the reduction of all tension of life, at unbinding and dissolution. Freud saw the death drive as primarily directed towards the subject itself, its principal aim being self-destruction. The task of Eros, the great antagonist of the death drive, is to mitigate the auto-destructive potential of the death drive.
    ‘T he libido has the task of making the destroying instinct innocuous, and it fulfils the task by diverting that instinct to a great extent outwards – soon with the help of a special organic system, the muscular apparatus – towards objects in the external world. The instinct is then called the destructive instinct, the instinct for mastery, or the will to power. ‘ ( Freud, 1924 , p. 163) T o comprehend some of the controversies arising from the introduction of this drive, it is essential to note that the work of the death drive is not readily observable; it remains mute and by its very nature conceals its own activity. Only when it has been diverted outwards and fused with the life drives does it become discernible in the form of striking and loud phenomena, such as aggression and sadism. In the course of Freud’s later writings a shift takes place; he increasingly pays more attention to the aggressive phenomena associated with the death drive instead of the more subtle and mute aspects originally addressed in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” In this sense, he formulated in 1930: “This aggressive instinct is the derivative and the main representative of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it” ( Freud, 1930 , p. 122). Nevertheless, he always conceptually differentiated between the death drive per se and aggression as one of its “derivatives” or “representatives.” This distinction was to become repeatedly blurred by many later analysts who referred to the notion. Penot (2017 ) recently addressed this conceptual tension and argued that the Freudian death drive condenses two separate processes, which cannot be easily integrated under the umbrella of one concept alone, namely, the process of unbinding and dissolution on the one hand, and on the other hand open aggression and destructivity. ”

    why this drive would explain why someone becomes a brownshirt instead of everything else they could do in life, which could also and equally be read as expressions of the same — taking a bath, brushing one’s hair, killing a communist — is never clear it’s just advanced often, and because it is, it reveals that something else is really meant, and this is a case of disavowing a rather old conservative ideas about the fallen human nature and original sin, susceptibility to the diabolical influence,

  35. John Steppling says:

    if you are looking for scientific (in quotes) definitions then you won’t find them. But you know this. Do you find such definitions in any philosophy? No. I think only the most obtuse of readers think of Freud as a scientist. But it makes for great snappy gotcha comments, right?

  36. John Steppling says:

    oh do stop. You pick one sentence…..look, I listed places for you to get up to speed. Honestly….read Eros and Civilization, Marcuse. Just that would help. or Amy Buzby….”Critical theory has shared these urgent political aims from the time that Max Horkheimer took over the Institute for Social Research. The scholars
    of the Frankfurt School, indeed, were among the first to discern and deploy
    the radical content of psychoanalysis. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, critical theory drew on this current extensively and productively. During this time, psychoanalysis was correctly understood as an ally in the effort to create a general theory of a society that would exist for man. Critical theory, from the very beginning, utilized psychoanalysis as a key resource in developing a functional theory of society. When asked about the role of psychoanalysis in critical theory, indeed, Horkheimer responded, “We really are deeply indebted to Freud and his first collaborators. His thought is one of the Bildungsmachte [foundation stones] without which our own philoso- phy would not be what it is.”1 In the postwar era, however, the timbre of critical theory’s discussion of psychoanalysis shifted, and Freud became an important signifier of the systemic adaptation to domination for many criti- cal theorists. The mobilizing effect of antifascism and socialist revolution faded into the horror of the death camps and the thermidor of Cold War realism. Hope for revolution reached its apogee, betrayed in the seamless one-dimensionality of advanced industrial capitalism. As the world assumed the conformist dimensions of mid-century modernism, the cultural projection of an already desiccated future, pessimism colored critical theory’s ability to speak to effective practice. Critical theory, in other words, lost much of its anticipatory quality when confronted with a social order that seemed to absorb any resistance and subsume all hope for change. In the present, where the contradictions of capital seem once again to surge to the surface, critical theorists cannot afford to remain bound to this atrophied standpoint. In occupied spaces and politicized times, we require a critical theory that operates in the real world, fearlessly.”

    Buzby (Subterranean Politics and Freud’s Legacy)

    Substantiated is a pretty loose term. You like Theweleit (and others)….but you reserve this position of rejecting the entirety of freud./ Ok, so why are we talking about it? I mean Ive said this before….if you reject it then you should have little interest in anything i write. But you continue to try to define the death drive in your own curious way….which has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH freud’s death drive. You dont understand it and I doubt youve read much about it , so this becomes utterly silly. I think reading people such as buzby or rob weatherill…who is an odd ball but a great reader of freud, or samuel weber, or jonathan lear or Paul Ricour …..who is a terrific reader of freud. But hey….as i say, freud looms in everything i write…so…

  37. John Steppling says:

    “why this drive would explain why someone becomes a brownshirt instead of everything else they could do in life, which could also and equally be read as expressions of the same — taking a bath, brushing one’s hair, killing a communist —….”

    its not meant to do that. And such silliness betrays your lack of reading on this topic. Again…how do you reconcile this sort of remark with Theweleit?

  38. John Steppling says:

    I was going to quote from Weatherill and todd mcgowan here…but hell….the whole posting touches on the death drive….

  39. John Steppling says:

    I think its hard to talk in sweeping statements about Freud. Amy Buzby is the best in terms of political clarity, but weatherill and weber are good. Russell Jacoby is excellent covering a lot of what Herzog does….sort of. Jacoby is really neglected, actually. I think the turn away from people like norman o brown or the marcuse of E&C is representative of a certain kind of instrumental thinking. But I find bourgeois science as a topic really interesting and somehow not written about. Its as if Foucault staked a claim to that subject and history and that was that. And Foucault is pretty reactionary himself and in places simply very wrong. Which is why I think the radical nature of early psychoanalysis is so significant. its simply been scrubbed from the records, however. Fenichel’s work on communism is no longer even available….certainly not in english.

  40. Molly Klein says:

    WHY would someone cut a woman’s clitoris off _to cure her_ of a mental distess if he did not think he was a doctor . Are you going to call that what? Philosophy?

  41. Molly R Klein says:

    literary criticism or whatever artsy thing you think freud imagined he was doing doesn’t involve amputing parts of people’s bodies

  42. Molly R Klein says:

    theweleit on freud and death drive:

    “e. In this sense, an analysis of fascism becomes necessary for reasons above and beyond its hideous political effects. We need to understand and combat fascism not because so many fell victim to it, not because it stands in the way of the triumph of socialism, not even because it might “return again,” but primarily because, as a form of reality production that is constantly present and possible under determinate conditions, it can, and does, become our production. The crudest examples of this are to be seen in the relations that have been the focus of this first chapter, male-female relations, which are also relations of production. Under certain conditions, this particular relation of production yields fascist reality; it creates life-destroying structures. I think that has become apparent, just as it becomes apparent that fascism is a current reality whenever we try to establish what kinds of reality present-day male-female relations produce. (Even the authors of school textbooks, who have taken it upon themselves to extol the virtues of freedom in this land, see the family as the “germ-cell of the state,” not as a site for producing living life.) Freud circumvented this problematic, as we noted, when he formulated his second theory of the psychic apparatus. He secured his retreat by inventing the notion of the “death drive,”43 according to which human aggressiveness no longer appears to be a specific mode of reality production, but a biological given of the species. In my opinion, however, he had evaded the “problem of fascism” far more effectively beforehand. How did he come to develop his theories, as a rule, on the basis of male children? Simply because he himself was a man? What was he really saying when he “openly” confessed, late in life, that he didn’t know much about “female sexuality”?44 To my thinking, that is less a “comment” on “female sexuality” than on the fact that he viewed “female” and “male” sexuality as two separate phenomena. As if the nature of “male” or “female” sexuality had any real significance, as opposed to the relationship existing between them. Relations between the sexes are socially organized and controlled, the object of laws. They are not simply “sexual.” A man doesn’t have “this” sexuality and a woman “that” one. If it seems possible today to make empirical distinctions between male and female sexuality, that only proves that male-female relations of production in our culture have experienced so little real change for such a long time that structures have arisen whose all-pervasiveness tempts us into regarding them as specific to sex. But if male-female relations of production under patriarchy are relations of oppression, it is appropriate to understand the sexuality created by, and active within, those relations as a sexuality of the oppressor and the oppressed. If the social nature of such “gender-distinctions” isn’t expressly emphasized, it seems grievously wrong to distinguish these sexualities according to the categories “male” and “female.” The sexuality of the patriarch is less “male” than it is deadly, just as that of the subjected women is not so much “female” as suppressed, devivified—though, sustaining less damage from its own work of suppression, it also contains the more beautiful possibilities for the future. In perceiving sexuality more as an attribute of sex than as a relationship between the sexes, Freud once again substituted an expressive force for a productive one. He hit upon Oedipus as an expression of “male” sexuality under patriarchy. How exclusive an expression of that one, “male” sexuality Oedipus is, and how little Oedipus characterizes the mode of production of human sexuality per se, are things that Freud himself was indirectly forced to concede when he couldn’t manage to locate such a structure among even the youngest of his girl patients. Yet the model was (tentatively) put forward as one that applied to all of humanity. “

  43. Molly R Klein says:


    This criticizing of specific features of Freudian psychoanalysis makes me rather uncomfortable. I really hadn’t planned on taking up a position (a very fashionable one by and large) on the anti-Freudian front. An antiFreudian bent, of the kind found in the two authors quoted above, didn’t rise up within me until I began a closer reading of the texts under discussion. More and more, I realized that where our male subjects were concerned, the Freudian categories criticized here were fanning the air.* The same thing applies in part to Wilhelm Reich, since in his theoretical and systematic formulations he generally moves on the terrain of Freudian categories. Reich’s incessant Oedipalization of his clinical material is especially conspicuous in Character Analysis; he tries to force the tight manacles of the late-Freudian ego/id/superego topography onto behavioral modes that clearly break the Oedipal mold.45 And when we read how Reich defines the “phallic-narcissictic character type”—a category he coined and into which (according to the Reichian definition) the men in question would predominantly fit—it becomes obvious that this concept is totally inadequate for the phenomena he is trying to describe. He lumps together so many different things, in the end, that the “phallic-narcissistic” formulation becomes not only arbitrary, but downright nonsensical:
    ‘Almost all forms of active male and female homosexuality, most cases of so-called moral insanity, and, moreover, many cases of erythrophobia and manifestly sadistic male perverts, belong to the phallic-narcissistic character type. Productive women very often fall under this category.46’
    Many an astrologer is surely more scientific than that. It seems clear to me that concepts from the psychoanalysis of the “basic fault” might have enabled Reich to carry his observations and experiences through to their theoretical conclusions, yet these were not available to him. Even his vehement attack on Freud’s death-drive hypothesis, for instance, struck only at the construction of the “death drive” in isolation, ignoring the ego/id/superego topography on which something like a “death drive” would have to depend.47 After all, the ego/id/superego topography implicitly exalts the value of “external reality,” which helps create the “ego” (positive concept: “reality principle”), while devaluating the unconscious, which becomes the site of chaos, of forbidden desires whose realization is not only impossible, but undesirable as well.48 In this system, human destructive potential no longer comes from “external” reality, but much more from within humans themselves. Something of the order of the death drive is therefore inherent within the Freudian ego/id/superego topography, and the role of the social frustration of desire in causing destructive behavior is considerably reduced. But as we noted, Reich attacked only the “death drive,” while appropriating the Freudian “ego” concept in its entirety for his character analysis. Although I’m not in a position to offer extensive proof at this point, I think that Wilhelm Reich’s psychoanalytic terminology was basically outmoded or, more specifically, always off-target because of its internal inconsistency. The inconsistency comes from the fact that, in many respects, Reich had ventured for from Freud in his conception of human psychic processes, without reflecting that distance in the concepts he used, which were consistently borrowed from Freud.49 For instance, in the debate previously outlined as to whether the “libido” (i.e., the “productive force of the unconscious”) turns toward all of reality immediately, or only after successfully renouncing familial objects, Reich assumes a counter-Freudian stance precisely corresponding to the one we’ve seen in Deleuze and Guattari: Sexual desires naturally urge a person to enter into all kinds of relations with the world, to enter into close contact with it in a vast variety of forms. If they are suppressed, they have but one possibility: to vent themselves within the narrow framework of the family. Sexual inhibition is the basis of the familial encapsulation of the individual as well as the basis of individual selfconsciousness.50 Once again, Reich fails to draw the inevitable conclusion that he should question the concept of incest as an unconscious desire. His basic findings break through the Freudian framework in every case

  44. Molly R Klein says:

    i found a fenichel on neurosis but thats all i could find maybe i will look in french

  45. Molly R Klein says:

    Anna Freud to Ernest Jones when the Nazis came to power:

    “Here we are all prepared to take risks for psychoanalysis but not for Reich’s ideas,
    with which nobody is in agreement. My father’s opinion on this matter is: If
    psychoanalysis is to be prohibited, it should be prohibited for what it is, and not for
    the mixture of politics and psychoanalysis
    which Reich represents. My father can’t
    wait to get rid of him inasmuch as he attaches himself to psychoanalysis; what my
    father finds offensive in Reich is the fact that he has forced psychoanalysis to become
    political; psychoanalysis has no part in politics. “

  46. John Steppling says:

    if you find it let me know. I think they unlocked some of it in german but Ive had different info on that.

  47. John Steppling says:

    none of any of this is exactly persuasive. I mean there are jillions of words written and you reduce it to these examples. Yeah Freud was wrong on a lot of shit. So? Doesnt exactly mean he was wrong on everything. Marx was wrong a lot too. You have this agenda on freud, i get it. But its not convincing. And as I say, why read me at all then? Im pretty Freudian.

    You simply cannot quote these fragments and expect that to function as an argument. Ive linked several pieces i wrote….5000 words roughly. And there are five years of this stuff here. So if you find psychoanalysis just poetic mumbo jumbo….then ok. And Theweleit’s take on Reich is interesting. Not unrelated to ernst bloch actually. But these are very big topics. Not stuff you can “win” on a comment thread.

  48. John Steppling says:

    its weird theweleit never wrote anything else worth reading though. And honestly the above is interesting but highly questionable as regards freud. Im going to retract my opinion Theweleit was a freudian. He wasn’t. Or he only partially was. I dont know what he was. He wrote one great book though.

  49. John Steppling says:

    a final note. The remarks about fathers suggests Freud was on to something. Throughout my life I have continually been confronted with rather obvious unconscious impulses in myself and others. Looking back its very very very hard if not impossible to deny this.

  50. Great comment thread. John you should check out “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” by Gould if you got the time, otherwise you’re really commenting on him more as a public figure than as a scientist or serious author of scientific work.

  51. John Steppling says:


    yeah, you may be right….partially. Or rather, what you call a public figure is still entwined with his work. That’s the tricky part. But he sure has defenders.

    I remain, not one of them.

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