Search Results for 'hysteria'


man opening curtains in the morning

man opening curtains in the morning

A few days ago I suggested that psychoanalysis poses a fundamental challenge to Epicurean and Spinozist frameworks of ethics.  Some responded by pointing out that perhaps we can establish a consistency between psychoanalysis and Spinoza on the ground of inadequate ideas.  The symptom, says Lacan, is a sort of unknown knowledge.  As he remarks in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, “…it is not certain that knowledge is known…” (30).  The symptom expresses a knowledge that is not known.  Drawing on Freud’s Studies on Hysteria, Jonathan Redmond gives a nice example of this in Ordinary Psychosis and the Body:

in…the case of Fraulein Elizabeth von R. shows how a conflict concerning the emergence of erotic ideas was pivotal in the development of conversion symptoms.  In this particular case, Freud states that Elizabeth’s conversion symptom– a localized pain to her right upper thigh –first developed when a series of ideas concerning her duty to care for her sick father conflicted with an erotic desire for another man.  Her self-reproach became a prelude for repression, which was subsequently the basis for her hysterical pain…  Localization of the hysterical conversion symptom to her right thigh correlates with the place her father would rest his foot when Elizabeth was bandaging his ankle during his convalescence; these memories provided the ‘content’ for the dissimulation of erotic wishes via the construction of the symptom.  (75)

Elizabeth’s symptom, her localized pain in her right thigh, embodied a “knowledge that was not known”.  That knowledge was knowledge of the desire or wish.  Her conscious self was unaware of the wish, but still that knowledge was there in the symptom.  As such, the symptom here is a sort of inadequate knowledge in Spinoza’s terminology.  As she engaged in the work of free association, bringing the knowledge expressed in this symptom to the fore, she gradually developed a more adequate knowledge of her desire.  This, in turn, is accompanied by a disappearance of the symptom.  The signifiers mutely expressed in the conversion symptom of the body are exchanged for signifiers in speech and as a consequence the symptom disappears.

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Over the last week I’ve been intensively reading case studies on psychosis, obsession, and hysteria and it occurs to me that Freud really does change everything.  After Freud, it is no longer possible to be an Epicurean or a Spinozist because of the dimension of the unconscious, desire, and jouissance.  Epicurus and Spinoza are essentially ethicists of the pleasure principle, of need, of homeostasis for the sake of the organism continuing in its being.  Appropriate object choice as in the case of Epicurus with his “natural” desires and “adequate knowledge” are sufficient to set the person on the right path and achieve satisfaction.  With Freud, by contrast, we get jouissance which is a sort of ineradicable excess within the speaking being that it is condemned to pursue and that is often experienced as deeply painful and which also is often bad for the speaking being.

The symptom from which the subject suffers, the repetition that marks and punctuates the subject’s life, is also a form of enjoyment.  Lacan will later say in Seminar 22, there is no subject without a symptom.  It is the symptom that gives the subject ontological consistency.  To make matters worse, there is a knowledge within the subject– “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” –but it is an acephalous knowledge, an unconscious knowledge, that repeats itself like a glitch throughout the life of the subject.  All of this is right there on the surface, right there in plain view, yet the conscious subject isn’t even aware they’re doing it, that these repeated actions are an apparatus of jouissance, a repetition of that primordial fault.

To be sure, symptoms shift over the course of analysis, some of them disappear, and often the pain of jouissance is eased.  The talking cure does change something, speech has effects, and our relationship to jouissance shifts.  Yet the symptom as a function and apparatus of jouissance does not itself disappear, for it is the being of the subject in its non-being.  All of this begs the question of what the good life, what eudaemonia, might look like in a psychoanalytic universe where we are not masters in our own home.   Freud was not optimistic.  He said that psychoanalysis seeks to transform unbearable neurotic misery into ordinary human misery.

51i6Am7vZ9L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_A short post as I attempt to get myself back into the habit of writing here.  I would like to get back to the place where I’m writing here daily or at least a few times a week, though I confess that I’ve become a bit jaded by online writing and what it often brings and that, in terms of time and responsibilities, my life is quite different than when I was writing frequently here.  Right now my New Centre seminar on Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is reading Deleuze’s magnificent study Nietzsche & Philosophy.  The reason for this is two-fold:  First, Nietzsche & Philosophy provides the groundwork for understanding Deleuze’s particular conception of critique and, in particular, his concept of “total” and “immanent” critique, both of which will be important for the project of Anti-Oedipus.  Second, the dynamics of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic that Deleuze develops here provide an important backdrop for understanding the various paralogisms of subjectivity and desire that D&G develop in Anti-Oedipus.

It has been over 15 years since I’ve read this book and in many respects it reads like an entirely new work for me.  However, one of the things that I find striking as I read it is the apparent absence of a causal account of how these types– the man of ressentiment, the man of bad conscience, and the ascetic –come to be.  On the one hand, we get a symptomatology of these types; a description of their features, postures, attitudes, ways of reacting to the world, and behavior.  On the other hand, we get what might be called a “metapsychology” of these types, or how the dynamics of active and reactive forces function to produce these types.  In this regard– and while Deleuze would be careful to distinguish generative/genetic critical philosophies (his own) from transcendental (Kant’s) critical philosophies –Deleuze gives something of a “transcendental” account for the conditions for the possibility of the man of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic.

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PanopticonInstitutions are hybrids of corporeal and incorporeal machines.  Being can be roughly divided into corporeal and incorporeal machines, with further subdivisions on each side and a variety of combinations between them.  The distinction, however, is paradoxical.  Just as Freud said that both hysteria and obsession are subspecies of hysteriaboth corporeal and incorporeal machines are subspecies of corporeal machines.  In short, every incorporeal machines requires a body to exist.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet requires the paper upon which it is printed, the computer data banks within which it is stored, the neurons that retain it, or the sonic-bodies and physical bodies in which the play is realized through the voice of actors and their embodied movements.  What makes an incorporeal machine incorporeal is not that it is without a body, but that it is iterable, or capable of being instantiated in a variety of mediums.  Hamlet can be instantiated on paper, in a film, on stage, on a computer screen, on neurons, etc.  It is still Hamlet in all of these mediums, though the medium, of course, can significantly transform the nature of the play.  Here, for example, we might think of the variations of Beethoven’s Ninth in A Clockwork Orange.  While the score is the Ninth in each of versions, the instruments and technologies that produce these sonic bodies in these instances transform the music in a variety of ways.  There is both an identity and a difference here.  We are affected differently by the synthesizer version of the Ninth than the symphonic version.  The music produces subtly different affective and even signifying responses.

The corporeal dimension of an institution– a school, prison, hospital, government agency, library, etc. –is the architecture, place, or site in which it is housed.  It is literally brick, mortar, glass, wood, and wires configured in a particular way.  One will object that an institution like The New Centre has no building or site because it is online.  Alternatively, one could argue that it is purely incorporeal.  There are two ways of approaching this issue; both of which are valid.  First it can be noted that virtual institutions still need a site to exist.  They must have a web address, links, paths, a website, etc.  This is both an architecture and a geography.  The web design or configuration is its architecture, whereas its placement on the web through links and search engines is its geography.  Neither are without consequence and both generate real constraints and affordances.  We are all familiar with websites that are difficult to navigate and that affectively impact us in a variety of ways.  Script can be too small or large.  Color choices can be hard on the eyes.  Programming can be used that limits the technologies that can access it.  I can’t use About.com on my smart phone because it’s set up in such a way that I’m unable to navigate it.  It’s as if it’s a building without doors or windows.  I see that it’s there.  I can navigate to it.  But once there I can go no further.  I have the wrong key.  The architecture makes a difference.  The geography makes a difference as well.  A website can be a dim object by virtue of being difficult to find due to a paucity of links or a name that is shared by many other websites.  Perhaps there is a website entitled “X-factor” that explores the paradoxes and antinomies that haunt thought.  Whenever one searches for it a variety of porn websites come up and because the website is devoted to a rather specialized philosophical interest it doesn’t appear high in Google searches because few people visit it.  Such a website is like a remote city, beyond a desert, difficult to traverse mountain range, swamp, or turbulent river.

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don_draperIn response to an earlier post, the outstanding blog Attempts at Living writes:

Couldn’t I also say that no one ever experienced vision, though everyone has experienced seeing and not seeing, that no one has ever felt a punch to the guts but that they have felt pain. This is just absolutising the separation of experience of the thing and the thing itself, as if it could ever be possible to experience the source of experience except as an experience. Sure, when I experience tiredness and wakefulness I don’t experience every single part of metabolism, but in order to experience metabolism it isn’t necessary that I experience all of it, only part of it. After all, I have been to Ypres in Belgium, so I experienced Belgium…but it would be ludicrous of me to claim that I experienced all of Belgium in all its possible modes of being experienced. But if I say “I have been to Belgium” or “I enjoyed visiting Belgium” I’m not really making a claim of that order of intensity.

Here’s the problem.  The claim is not that we don’t experience effects of our bodies or that consciousness isn’t embodied.  That’s all taken for granted.  The thesis is that consciousness gives us no reliable guide to causes of our lived states.  Let’s recall that phenomenology is a foundationalist discourse that more or less argues that all claims need to be grounded in the evidences of consciousness and experience.  If we find that consciousness is a pretty unreliable guide to its causes, this is a pretty serious problem for it as a methodology.  Before getting to that, I’ll note a couple things:

  1. The value and importance of phenomenological descriptions is not here being contested.  Phenomenology has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of ourselves, our own experience, and so on.  None of that should be abandoned.
  2. Nor am I disputing the thesis that we can’t have good cognitive science or neurology without good phenomenology.  A lot of cognitive science is nonsense on stilts because it has a thoroughly mistaken view of experience and mind arising out of a failure to engage in careful descriptive analysis.
  3. What is being disputed is the sovereign and foundationalist role that phenomenology tries to claim for itself.  Phenomenology might give us insight into what needs to be explained, but it does not explain.

Now back to the issue.  My thesis is that conscious states give no reliable insight into their causes and that therefore we risk completely misconstruing our mental life if we take phenomenological description at face value.  Let’s take an example I discussed on facebook this morning:  Heidegger’s discussion of anxiety.  Heidegger argues that anxiety arises out of our “being-in-the-world”, meaning, being-towards-death, and authenticity.  My state of anxiety, he argues, arises from awareness that only I can die my own death, that no one can die it for me, and leads to an awareness that all of our decisions are our own.  Above all, Heidegger argues that anxiety is a special attunement or affect pertaining to meaning.

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5_fig002I’m often asked how I account for norms within my framework and how I account for freedom, purposiveness, or normativity.  The best I can say is that I’m working on it.  I think these are among the most important questions, but also feel that they have to be answered in the right way.  In my view, modern naturalism, coupled with the discoveries of ethnography, has so fundamentally transformed our conceptual space, that old solutions and answers just aren’t plausible anymore.  My reticence to answer these questions arises from– I hope –humility and a recognition of just how difficult these questions are, not a rejection of their importance.

Let’s start with questions of normativity or those values that ought to govern our actions.  Like anyone else, I have my normative commitments or beliefs about what is better and worse.  The question is one of how we ground our normative commitments.  What are the principles by which 1) we ought to regulate our activity and 2)  how do we demonstrate that they’re true or right?  Moreover, 3) are these principles universal such that they’re binding for all human beings, or are the particular or restricted to particular groups and cultures?

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Before I get to these questions, it should be noted that the things I’ve been writing about under the title of “borromean critical theory” have little to no relationship to Lacanian work with the borromean knot.  There I use the borromean knot merely as an organizational and heuristic device to encourage myself and other like-minded critical theorists to think about the interplay and interrelation of semiotic and discursive phenomena (the symbolic), phenomenological phenomena (the imaginary), and material phenomena (the real).  My thesis is that we’ve done a good job with the first two, but that statistically dominant strains of critical theory have given the third short shrift, even while using the term “materiality”.

borromeanoIn this post, I would like to open a discussion of the borromean knot as it functions in Lacanian psychoanalysis (not the above), and, in particular, how this strange contraption is actually put to work in the clinic.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes people speak up when I write interrogative posts such as this, at other times they just roll down the page without comment.  I hope that doesn’t happen this time.  I would like to emphasize that I’m interested in seeing how this apparatus is linked concretely to the clinic.  In other words, I’m not interested in a series of abstractions about the subject ($) as such, the real, jouissance, and so on that isn’t related back to clinical or worldly examples.  In other words, let’s avoid “Lacanian mumblespeak” or “Planet Borromeo” in our discussions of this.  As an aside, I’m not particularly interested in what other strains of psychoanalysis might contribute to our understanding of the knot.  Before even broaching those questions, I feel we first have to get clear on how this apparatus works within a Lacanian framework.

I’ve been obsessed with the borromean topology for years now, but sadly I’ve yet to encounter anything in the secondary literature that’s really illuminating or that spells things out.  That’s what I want…  Things spelled out.  Before that, why am I even interested in the borromean clinic?  Is it just a re-articulation of Lacan’s earlier teachings prior to 1972-1973?  If so, we could safely dispense with this crazy contraption altogether.  I don’t, however, think this is the case.

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The following is a reworking of part of my talk before the Toronto Lacan Society on Lacan’s Universes of Discourse and the New Symptom.

The virtue of the Lacanian mathemes is two-fold.  First, the mathemes allow us to recognize structural identities and similarities where we might not otherwise discern them.  Take the classical formulation of the Oedipal structure.  A father intervenes in the relationship between the mother and child, prohibiting her as an object of jouissance for the child.  Here the Oedipus is formulated in terms of biologically sexed bodies:  Fathers are male, mothers are female.  When confronted with an analysand in the clinic that grew up under two women, an analyst that thinks in terms of images might jump the gun and conclude early on that this analysand will be psychotic because we conclude that the father is foreclosed in this family structure (or a pervert because the father is disavowed in this family structure) because no father was present.

In the clinic, the mathemes help us to avoid this hasty judgment.  Rather than referring to fathers and mothers which invite thinking in terms of images, Lacan instead articulates the Oedipal structure in terms of a series of algebraic symbols, represented on the left-hand side of the diagram above under the heading “Homme”.  The upper line “∃x~Φx” can be read as “there exists a being that is not castrated or alienated in language”.  The second line “∀xΦx can be read as “all beings are castrated or alienated in language”.  Taken together, the upper line articulates the father-function as a being that hasn’t sacrificed jouissance and that lays down the law, while the lower proposition articulates the subject that is subjected to the law or that has had to sacrifice jouissance to enter the symbolic order.

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discourse-of-the-capitalistIn late March I’ll be giving a talk before the Lacanian psychoanalysts in Toronto where I discuss what Lacan called “the discourse of the capitalist” and what analysts have been calling “the new symptom”.  As usual, I’m a nervous wreck about this because I think the analysts– real practicing analysts –know a thing or two and am always frightened of making a mess of things.  Nonetheless, I plod on.

The “new symptom” refers to symptoms such as addiction, anorexia, bulimia, cutting, depression, anxiety disorders, and so on.  We might even be able to add things such as hoarding and compulsive shopping.  While many of these symptoms existed in earlier eras, they are appearing in the clinic with greater and greater frequency.  My suggestion, is that these symptoms indicate a fundamental mutation in how the symbolic order is structured.  What is unique about these symptoms compared to those that dominated the clinic in Freud and Lacan’s time (hysteria, obsession, phobia) is that 1) these symptoms do not seem to signify, 2) that they are therefore not a veiled demand addressed to the Other, and 3) that they are a sort of immediate jouissance that doesn’t pass through the battery of signifiers (S2).  This comes out most clearly, I think, in the case of addiction.  Where the traditional neurotic symptom is one that is addressed to the Other and requires the support of the Other for the jouissance it attains, addiction seems to be a symptom in which the subject attempts to cut the Other as mediator of jouissance out of the picture.  The addict attempts to refuse passing through the Other as a detour to jouissance, instead relating to an object or activity (alcohol, internet porn) as a way of attaining jouissance.  Where the neurotic symptom signifies or is a sort of cypher, the new symptom is a direct jouissance without signification.  Indeed, there’s a sense in which it attempts to repress signification altogether.

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Over on Twitter, sdv_duras, joepdx and I have been having an interesting discussion about OOO and human emancipation. For me, my interest in OOO revolves around what I believe to be its potential for social and political thought. Thus, while OOO is a posthumanist ontology that seeks to decenter the primacy of humans and, especially, the place that correlationism or the subject-object correlate enjoys in theory, this posthumanism aims not at the banishment or exclusion of humans, but out of a reflection on the very practical inadequacies of correlationist social and political thought. On the one hand, I believe that correlationist social and political thought (ideology critique, cultural Marxism, discursive and semiotic constructivism) is inadequate to explain why social systems hold together as they do and therefore to effectively strategies ways of changing oppressive regimes. In my view, the failure to take nonhuman agencies into account as part of the glue that holds social systems together dooms us to ineffectual critique and practice. The point is not that semiotic and ideological elements aren’t part of that glue, but that they don’t exhaust the glue that accounts for why social systems hold together as they do. On the other hand, I want an account of being that is robust enough to make room for a viril ecological theory. The tendency of much cultural theory over the last sixty years –and there are notable exceptions among folks like Deleuze, Latour, Haraway, Barad, Bennett, certain Marxists, Serres, the Whiteheadians, etc; yet they have, overall, enjoyed rather marginal status in discussions –has been to treat the things of the world as mere screens upon which humans project their meanings. In other words, there’s a tendency to treat nonhuman entities as contributing nothing save their status as vehicles for the transport of human meanings, intentions, aims, goals, signs, etc. Just as the value of the dollar bill resides nowhere in the paper and ink of that dollar bill, but is rather projected by us, just as there’s nothing intrinsic to the “Mens Room” and the “Ladies Room that makes it a mens room or a ladies room, but rather it is our language that diacritically produces this difference in things, much of the project of “critical theory” (broadly construed) has consisted in following Feuerbach and Marx in showing how the “sortals” of the world are really our work and not from amongst the things themselves. In my view, a robust eco-theory and politics cannot rest content with this thesis, but must also recognize the agency and independence of all manner of nonhuman entities.

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