Wednesday, September 30, 2009
How has it split? The Aristotelian problem of semantics understands the sentence as "saying something of something," or declaring something about being, understood already as meaningful and needing clarification or rather elucidation, proclamation. Such a stance recognizes that "real meanings are indirect" because "I attain things only by attributing a meaning to a meaning" (23). Clarification here primarily revolves around circumscribing the possibility for error, for attributing meaning in a false way. But it never presumes error can be overcome: Aristotle says in the Metaphysics that "being is said in several ways" (23). However, it does not directly attempt to take up the complete range of meanings itself. This is the task of the second branch of the hermeneutic tradition. Here, we have the sentence as Scripture, introduced by the Christian community (there is a notable absence of the Rabbinical tradition in Ricoeur's account) and then as text (via the "book of nature"), as something articulated in many ways and only able to be reduced because it unfolds according to specific forms (like allegory and analogy). These must be understood in themselves to allow the sentence to be understood. In this view, the falsity of a sentence becomes not only a covering up of the true, but the creation of a new direction which leads one astray from the truth and back into the plurality of meaning--that is, the replacement of an intelligible text not with a more intelligible text (which is the goal of this criticism), but a less intelligible text. Thus the process of unfolding meaning is an attempt to get past lying and towards the authoritative version of something.
Ricoeur's goal is not, then, to reunite the hermeneutic field through some "general hermeneutics," some "universal canon for exegesis" (27; we might see Gadamer trying something like this), but rather to make this "conflict of interpretations" work for philosophy, or resolve a more total "crisis of reflection"--something I won't really get into now but is quite interesting in itself and ultimately necessary for understanding the whole of this famous distinction between the suspicious and the restorative.
Now, Freud has both the suspicious and the restorative elements in him. He always pushes his theory, though, towards the suspicious. But certain elements escape this. Ricoeur recognizes these elements lie in the connections Freud makes to culture in order to give a the psyche and its mechanisms some recognizably anthropological basis. As far as the psyche is concerned, Freud asserts we can do without them. But in his texts, they function as more than mere hypotheses. Oedipus, for example, isn't just some sort of empty structure that happens to have been represented in literature. Freud has recourse to it because it has enough thickness to give a certain character to the psychic mechanisms.
Ricoeur pushes hard on these "symbols," as he calls them, and the results are amazing: the view of Freud that he comes up with eventually accounts for so much that remains embarrassing and unexplained in early psychoanalysis, and which subsequent theories have had to scramble to make more rigorous (or more confusing). The symbolic (which we should distinguish from the Lacanian symbolic) pops up not just in these "literary" references, but in the most basic elements of the Freudian approach. Ricoeur sees even the move between the economic and the topographical as a negotiation of the symbolic--indeed this is his central concern, since such a move constitutes, for Freud, the dream-work itself, and thus (when it is itself worked upon) the process of the interpretation of dreams.
One can't convey just how novel, and how refreshing, Ricoeur's approach is. The economic/topographical distinction is of immense importance, and is too often bypassed as simply the relationship of two unconnected regions, one of which can always be reduced to the terms of the other. Ricoeur makes the distinction the center of his reading, and by connecting the 1895 "Sketch for a Scientific Psychology" to the Interpretation of Dreams, patiently shows how the solely economic considerations of the former are developed into the topographical considerations in the latter. It is through the notion that the economic constitutes a discourse of force, and the second a discourse of meaning, that we return to the distinction between a hermeneutics of suspicion and restoration. For what Freud does is interpret the second discourse in terms of the first, continually. In other words, meaning will always be seen as having its origin in force, never in another meaning. Or, more accurately, when meaning has its origin in another meaning, this process will always be seen as itself originating in the movement of forces. And it is in this way that the dream work itself will be seen as something in need of unworking, demystifying--in short, will require a hermeneutics of suspicion.
To interpret is to displace the origin of meaning to another region. The topography, at least in its static and properly topographical from, will be the pictorial representation of this movement of interpretation from the apparent meaning towards another locality of meaning. But even at this first level it is impossible to look upon Deutung as a simple relation between ciphered and deciphered discourse; it is not enough to say that the unconscious is another discourse, and unintelligible discourse. In its transposition or distortion (Verstellung) of the manifest content into the latent content, interpretation uncovers another distortion, that of desires into images...
-Freud and Philosophy, 91-2
Thus, we get a mixed discourse, which tends to conceive the unconscious as the proper object of suspicion, even as it forces meaning, the object of a restorative hermeneutic, into its service:
To say that a dream is the fulfillment of a repressed wish is to put together two notions which belong to different orders: fulfillment (Erfüllung), which belongs to the discourse of meaning (as attested by Husserl's use of the term), and repression (Verdrängung), which belongs to the discourse of force. The notion of Verstellung, which combines the two universes of discourse, expresses the fusion of these two concepts, for a disguise is a type of manifestation and, at the same time, a distortion that alters that manifestation: it is the violence done to the meaning. Thus the relation of the hidden to the shown in the notion of disguise requires a deformation, a disfiguration, which can only be stated as a compromise of forces.
-Freud and Philosophy, 92
But when Freud looks at things like typical dreams (dreams of being naked, etc.), or when he finds that certain objects or figures typically represent certain desires, he is left confused: he has to express some larger economic principle underlying these symbols. What Ricoeur does is pose the question of why indeed the dream process in its entirety has to be seen as opposed to such symbolic manifestations. For in them, what we find is a sort of relationship to otherness that is opaque and cannot easily be demystified: one has to foist upon them a certain amount of mystification which is ultimately not present in them--merely because they have already been worked upon elsewhere. They can only have their essence specified--this is what the phenomenology of religion does, for example, with symbols. And this is why the latter is a hermeneutic of restoration. It deals with meaning not by seeing in it a distortion of its own real meaning--its own authoritative truth--but rather the expression of a more general plurivocal essence that allows for all sorts of meanings, all sorts of aspects to be grasped (through the fact that their meaning is not manifest, or rather is also present somewhere other than in their manifestation, their immediate meaning). Ricoeur then proposes to reintroduce this dimension within analysis, not to undo the Freudian contribution, but to bend it back to accommodate the full range of possible meanings. I'll have to stop here, but this hopefully can serve at least as a little sketch of the whole project.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Indignor quicquam reprehendi, non quia crasse
Compositum, illepideve putetur, sed quia nuper.
There is nothing which more denotes a great Mind, than the Abhorrence of Envy and Detraction. This Passion reigns more among bad Poets, than among any other Set of Men.
As there are none more ambitious of Fame, than those who are conversant in Poetry, it is very natural for such as have not succeeded in it to depreciate the Works of those who have. For since they cannot raise themselves to the Reputation of their Fellow-Writers, they must endeavour to sink it to their own Pitch, if they would still keep themselves upon a Level with them.
The greatest Wits that ever were produced in one Age, lived together in so good an Understanding, and celebrated one another with so much Generosity, that each of them receives an additional Lustre from his Contemporaries, and is more famous for having lived with Men of so extraordinary a Genius, than if he had himself been the sole Wonder of the Age. I need not tell my Reader, that I here point at the Reign of Augustus, and I believe he will be of my Opinion, that neither Virgil nor Horace would have gained so great a Reputation in the World, had they not been the Friends and Admirers of each other. Indeed all the great Writers of that Age, for whom singly we have so great an Esteem, stand up together as Vouchers for one another's Reputation. But at the same time that Virgil was celebrated by Gallus, Propertius, Horace, Varius, Tucca and Ovid, we know that Bavius and Maevius were his declared Foes and Calumniators.
In our own Country a Man seldom sets up for a Poet, without attacking the Reputation of all his Brothers in the Art. The Ignorance of the Moderns, the Scribblers of the Age, the Decay of Poetry, are the Topicks of Detraction, with which he makes his Entrance into the World: But how much more noble is the Fame that is built on Candour and Ingenuity, according to those beautiful Lines of Sir John Denham, in his Poem on Fletcher's Works!
But whither am I strayed? I need not raise
Trophies to thee from other Mens Dispraise:
Nor is thy Fame on lesser Ruins built,
Nor needs thy juster Title the foul Guilt
Of Eastern Kings, who, to secure their Reign,
Must have their Brothers, Sons, and Kindred slain.
I am sorry to find that an Author, who is very justly esteemed among the best Judges, has admitted some Stroaks of this Nature into a very fine Poem; I mean The Art of Criticism, which was publish'd some Months since, and is a Master-piece in its kind. The Observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical Regularity which would have been requisite in a Prose Author. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the Reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that Elegance and Perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a Light, and illustrated with such apt Allusions, that they have in them all the Graces of Novelty, and make the Reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their Truth and Solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so very well enlarged upon in the Preface to his Works, that Wit and fine Writing doth not consist so much in advancing Things that are new, as in giving Things that are known an agreeable Turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter Ages of the World, to make Observations in Criticism, Morality, or in any Art or Science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us, but to represent the common Sense of Mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon Lights. If a Reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but very few Precepts in it, which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the Poets of the Augustan Age. His Way of expressing and applying them, not his Invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.
For this Reason I think there is nothing in the World so tiresome as the Works of those Criticks who write in a positive Dogmatick Way, without either Language, Genius, or Imagination. If the Reader would see how the best of the Latin Criticks writ, he may find their Manner very beautifully described in the Characters of Horace, Petronius, Quintilian, and Longinus, as they are drawn in the Essay of which I am now speaking.
Since I have mentioned Longinus, who in his Reflections has given us the same kind of Sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them; I cannot but take notice, that our English Author has after the same manner exemplified several of his Precepts in the very Precepts themselves. I shall produce two or three Instances of this Kind. Speaking of the insipid Smoothness which some Readers are so much in Love with, he has the following Verses.
These Equal Syllables alone require,
Tho' oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.
The gaping of the Vowels in the second Line, the Expletive do in the third, and the ten Monosyllables in the fourth, give such a Beauty to this Passage, as would have been very much admired in an Ancient Poet. The Reader may observe the following Lines in the same View. A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow Length along.
'Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense.
Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
The hoarse rough Verse shou'd like the Torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some Rock's vast Weight to throw,
The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o'er th' unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.
The beautiful Distich upon Ajax in the foregoing Lines, puts me in mind of a Description in Homer's Odyssey, which none of the Criticks have taken notice of. It is where Sisyphus is represented lifting his Stone up the Hill, which is no sooner carried to the top of it, but it immediately tumbles to the Bottom. This double Motion of the Stone is admirably described in the Numbers of these Verses; As in the four first it is heaved up by several Spondees intermixed with proper Breathing places, and at last trundles down in a continual Line of Dactyls.
Kai mên Sisuphon eiseidon krater' alge' echonta
Laan bastazonta pelôrion amphoterêisin.
Ê toi ho men skêriptomenos chersin te posin te
Laan anô ôtheske poti lophon: all' hote melloi
Akron huperbaleein, tot' apostrepsaske krataiis:
Autis epeita pedonde kulindeto laas anaidês.
It would be endless to quote Verses out of Virgil which have this particular Kind of Beauty in the Numbers; but I may take an Occasion in a future Paper to shew several of them which have escaped the Observation of others.
I cannot conclude this Paper without taking notice that we have three Poems in our Tongue, which are of the same Nature, and each of them a Master-Piece in its Kind; the Essay on Translated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the Essay upon Criticism.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
-T.W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics 161-3
Saturday, September 19, 2009
If we look into the Behaviour of ordinary Partizans, we shall find them far from resembling this disinterested Animal; and rather acting after the Example of the wild Tartars, who are ambitious of destroying a Man of the most extraordinary Parts and Accomplishments, as thinking that upon his Decease the same Talents, whatever Post they qualified him for, enter of course into his Destroyer...
-Addison, Spectator 126
Friday, September 18, 2009
For questioning this absence is really what is going on in transcoding: Jameson is encouraging not only that we relate discourses (as if he were merely endorsing some sort of empty interdisciplinarity) but that in doing so we feel the immense complexities of mediation, which our fear of teleology itself has reduced to a simple passage between where we are and what we already know is right (i.e. what in our judgment must be excised or left out, not negated, from what we know). In short, when we mediate, we see that whatever judgment is indeed present in the process, on whatever basis we need to destroy something in order to bring one discourse into another, we must posit explicitly as coming from the procedure itself--not in order to smuggle it away in that procedure, but to show that such elimination or such selection (for that is what it is, we need not be afraid of it) was necessary in order to produce a certain result.
Indeed, such smuggling-away is precluded by the fact that it is mediation we are involved in: since the focus is on the results, what we do is merely show that such and such a selection is indeed tied to such and such results. But the process as a whole allows these results, then, to be seen together, as an ensemble, which at the same time as it attributes the cause of this ensemble to various selections, does not allow us to get sufficiently worried about selection itself as their origin, or what necessitates their presence on this new level or not: those origins are now viewed in terms of the ensemble, of the new level, such that we can get past sophists who would merely insist that because the object had a cause, its origin is to that extent (and no more) contaminated, because we can see how a selection might have its reasons in the ultimate coherence it gives to its product. In short, what Jameson would make us see is that a certain homogenizing tendency of theory is itself combated precisely through mediation, and thus that overlapping itself is not just the flat relation of two forces in the guise of discourses, but can take place on different levels.
This is because philosophy still has a very, very hard time with reading anything but propositions and arguments. Or, rather, positions. I hold X. He holds Y. Y involves A and B, and I might see eye to eye with him on A, and then maybe be able to see something in Y, but because he holds both A and B together, because he relates A and B so closely, and ultimately can't think A without B (as I might), I hold X. X, then, is perhaps even more open to A than Y... and so on and so on. It would be a mistake even to consider this argument: the latter is a move by other people in the humanities to try and show how philosophical thinking is linguistically based, and ultimately tied to rhetoric. But it isn't as accurate of a characterization of philosophical practice.
I would say this is worse on the Continent than it is in America: here, we have gone pretty far, through emphasis on clarity, not to be clearer (as many people claim) but to write and convey ourselves a bit better. Which makes the effort of reading philosophy closer to something like reading arguments, rather than reading for positions. The American appropriation of the Continental tradition has actually improved this even more. This is why I don't mind many of the new books coming out in America on Derrida: they tend to be actually pretty good.
But still, we're all a long way from reading in a way that would make me comfortably hand over Derrida, once and for all, to philosophy. And this probably is a good thing for philosophy--I think so at least. For I'm not saying a certain type of reading is better for the job generally than another type of reading (and it would be a mistake to think that even one type of reading practice characterizes philosophical work generally). Derrida made that case himself, and I'll let him make it to philosophers (if it can be read). Rather, I'm challenging the notion that philosophy can deal with Derrida quite well without thinking about its reading practices, changing them a little in order to comprehend what he wrote--and especially with the idea that now literary theorists have had their fun with him, philosophy can now be left to do the real understanding, since its reading practices are so thorough.
Let me give an example of what I'm talking about. We continually risk taking Derrida's writings in too thematic a way. This is so especially when we begin to talk about particular problems that he has addressed over the years--writing, the institutions, politics, etc., as was popular a couple years ago after his death (as people tried to sum up such a varied career). This notion of the "theme," is already a pretty broad and flexible tool for philosophical reading. But a literary critic, for example, could point out that it is actually quite crude, for numerous reasons (both theoretical and practical) which literary critics and theorists have spent the last fifty years elaborating. No wonder then that certain people with ties to the Continent are growing frustrated with all this "discourse" in philosophy, and wanting to get the hell out of the whole business of critique and interpretation! Critique and interpretation makes us too polemical, they say. Too self-reflexive. Ultimately, too idealist (the worst thing a philosopher has in his vocabulary). Back to positions--they're not polemical at all!
My point is, again, not that philosophy has to become literary criticism in order to read well (see the comments for more on this--I'm not Ricoeur, who wants philosophy to systematically cultivate the equivocal). My point is that in encountering Derrida, philosophy has to think at least about what would be involved in reading differently philosophically, and then be willing to see that Derrida might require a enacting such a practice. What is differance? It is finite infinite difference. But just stating Derrida's position there doesn't tell you why, for example, he would bring up fetishism in a book involving Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Genet. You can see how an approach to Derrida that only brought this insight about differance to bear on Glas would probably not make things clearer.
This is why I usually hold the position that it isn't a bad thing if philosophy leaves Derrida behind, or uses it for very local issues--indeed moves in arguments--though it would be sad if (especially in the Continental work) it turned away from the larger task of interrogating its reading practices. It might be good if literary theory does so too. Critical theory, though, might be a great place for some reading and rereading, as the seminars start to come out.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
-Judith Butler, "Against Proper Objects"
To the question "Has the social—within postmarxism—become equated with the descriptively given," one can only answer yes, and it is Butler's ingenuity both to locate this problem unashamedly within the postmarxist discourse in which she works (not unlike Derrida) and resist it through a notion of power's psyche (involving insubordination through iterability and/or resistance in interpellation: see The Psychic Life of Power for the most breathtaking formulation of all this). The Lacanian and Foucauldian (and Deleuzian, perhaps) orientations only get so far in actually outlining what the social actually is: it is in their interest to displace it into some homogeneous symbolic arena or into the pure play of the social itself, placing a huge gap where the question of agency is left suspended at best, and the possibility of collective action continually deteriorates. There are two possibilities for getting out of this particular bind: I see one in Butler, and the other in Fredric Jameson (who would not do so "within postmarxism")--although the Gramscians perhaps also remain a possibility and I think they might be reconciled somewhat to Butler's position (Jameson, however, is also sympathetic to Gramsci). Both seem to recognize the same location of the problem, however--it is right here...
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Once this is registered, as my response in fact emphasizes, and as I have continually emphasized on this blog, I think what we have to realize next is that we cannot even trade on these popular notions in order to defend what Derrida is doing: that is, disparaging someone like Sokal doesn't do much. It is akin with the ineffectiveness of Derrida's oft repeated objection to his objectors, "you have not read me." That is, when there is misreading out there, what is needed is an exposition that relies on more general, but more accurate characterizations of what Derrida is up to--not the injunction, addressed to the most visible of opponents, to read more and more, without anything else more to say. The latter maneuver risks keeping the misunderstanding in place in order to let us retreat to our self-satisfied knowledge. Obviously my commentator is in no way making these moves. But he does do something else which I would like to resist, and which might link up with these strategies that play on the figure of "misunderstood Derrida." This is to imply that if Derrida brings up or even reads something scientific, it somehow counts as addressing science, and this (even if it is, indeed, in small amounts, which my commentator rightly acknowledges) combats the misunderstanding. My position will be clear from what I say:
It is good to mention the work on François Jacob. This dovetails with the work on Leroi-Gourhan that I mentioned--and there are some more seminars to be published on the topic of life that should make Derrida's interests there clearer, perhaps relating him more to biology. On this theme, there should also be more in these seminars on Nietzsche, who is actually more absent than people might think from the Derridian corpus--though perhaps this is only because of his prolific output, and the fact that his considerations of Nietzsche are already so powerful and interesting. The work on Nietzsche, combined with the recent writings (and seminars) on the animal and Deleuze might make this whole science-related area light up.
But I feel that we have to be clearer here, we can't equivocate. We can't really say that because Derrida occasionally is very interested in one aspect of science (as I'll argue below, agreeing with you, scientificity), and even dips occasionally into scientific discourse, we can count him as really interested in a lot of science, or at least more interested in more of it than the caricatures. While I take the point that he will always be more of whatever the caricatures make him out to be, I'd say that this really is already by definition true, and claim we have to get more precise about what we mean by science and its relation to questions of scientificity.
I think Derrida is interested more in science in terms of its institution, founding, and the policing of its borders--his work on psychoanalysis is a great example of this. I think this is generally pretty plausible--we might indeed all agree that scientificity is actually the main obsession of Derrida. But for me, this means he is precisely not interested in most of science. The occasional dip into data and scientific activity, mixed with his prolonged questioning of institution, doesn't equal what we rightly want from him, which is some way to bring his work into connection most science.
You see I make no real mention here of data, or results--I'm not arguing as an empiricist. I'm just not overusing the power of metonymy.
I'd also say that the Origin of Geometry precisely backs up my point. In that work, the issues there are more detailed, and because they are concerned (rightly) with stressing the (incredible) uniqueness of Husserl's position, on the one hand, and still working out notions of writing, on the other, we get something that is more "internal" to the field, if you like, and can be construed as a detailed analysis of geometry and its scientificity. But I'd wouldn't really consider it like this without significant reservations--I'd say, like the work on Jacob, it is still more interested in institution as more of a general question (which of course bears on each instance of its internal problematic).
Obviously all the terms here, "internal" and "general" are put in question, but I'm pretty adamant about resisting giving into what Derrida does with them here (he's obviously showing scientificity has to bear on each instance "internal" to a field, such that we can't say scientificity is an external, general problem in the sense that I'm using these words--a sense that takes scientificity as somehow prior to the scientific activity of the field), if only because I'm trying to outline another (and I'd argue, more pressing, and in fact the most obsessive) problem he is concerned with, which is the provisionality of his work. Derrida, because he is interested in the problem of institution, becomes less interested in most of science: what we need to do is not act as if he already addressed it in its entire, but take Derrida there using what we have got. This is why I stressed that what he's doing is not at all incompatible with science--and why I lamented he didn't do more with it while he was alive (though the work on Jacob was indeed a very serious consideration).
So while the general popular question of whether Derrida is pro- or anti-science is badly posed, the objection to it is perhaps not adequately outlined either. Though one is right to register how most considerations of Derrida are dishonest, I'd say what this objection that stresses the presence of "scientific" elements in Derrida's texts ends up doing is using Derrida's "obsession," combined with dips into science, to make his work seem like it continually addressed science, like some massive problematic always in the background, when it really didn't. The issue of institutions was such a massive problematic, and it was in fact always right there in the foreground.
In short, what I'm saying is that "science" is a huge term. And indeed one can use this fact to say that Derrida indeed addresses science. But I say what we need to conclude from the wide range of this term is precisely that the occasional dip into science, with a prolonged meditation addressing one aspect of science doesn't mean Derrida addresses even a lot of science. It means his work is specific, it takes a specific turn, and in fact if it doesn't address the majority of science, that's even totally excusable: he was only one man after all! It certainly means that he wasn't hostile to science--but let's not distort what he did in order to counter some inane "popular" objection. We need more objections to whatever misunderstanding are out there put in terms of what Derrida indeed didn't do, is all I'm saying.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, let's not act as if what people want from Derrida when they bring up science is only a consideration of empirical results, even if they are indeed empiricists. Let's not imply that it's the people who want some science for Derrida who are really the wrong ones, because they perhaps have a real limited view of what science actually is. This seems to trade on a misunderstanding of "empiricism" which is even greater than whatever misunderstanding of Derrida is out there. One is right to say that Derrida addressed empiricism in Of Grammatology (and I'm going to do a very close reading of this in a couple days--look out). But I'd argue that this doesn't mean he thereby participates in any way in the "empiricism" mentioned here--which is, given this notion of "empiricism," a good thing. What he says might then have a real future with real empiricism. But more than that, it might have a future with science--since he's not hostile to it at all--a science which is, indeed because of its actual empiricism in certain parts, and the methods as well as practices that emerge around its empiricist core, not just reducible to an uncomplicated, flat, undifferentiated "empiricism."
...So ends my response, but I'll elaborate on one last thing. One can also critique empiricism and not be anti-science. Derrida in fact does this many times, and I don't fault him for it--since it realizes science is such a wide, varying field. Empiricism and especially positivism are very particular things, and Derrrida has very particular objections to each of them. He also has, as was mentioned, very particular arguments in support of the former in Of Grammatology, which wouldn't merely reduce to the proposition that it can be, at times "more radical" than transcendentalism. If everything was judged on the basis of whether it was more or less radical (a word Derrida himself finds puzzling and calls into question in Rogues), as it seems to do at this juncture in critical theory, cultural criticism, and philosophy, we'd find that many things were probably more radical than we expect. But this is what is really being advocated in such a defense of empiricism by way of its "radicality," is it not? That it is only good insofar as it shakes up the metaphysical tradition, and surprises us? Deleuze borders on such a position, as I read him. But such a position might better look to Comte in the first place, who made the dissolution of metaphysics through positivism his very mission, way back in the mid-19th century. Or structuralism (to stay in France), that adventure most "radical" thinkers still disparage quite openly, and which promised--as its very mission--to dissolve philosophy into anthropology and install that within the "sciences of man." It is in fact, against this dissolution that Derrida, continually wrote and in fact worked (that is, in the institutions he was a part of and, eventually, directed)--which is often completely lost on Anglo-American audiences (who are scandalized that Bourdieu can reveal such a radical was really trying to preserve philosophy!). Why are we so suprised that deconstruction, which strives always to resist mere destruction, would insist on the need to reconsider any assured notion of what is "radical," especially if it is used as a measure--doesn't such a measure precisely stabilize radicality? That is, not in order to use it strategically, but to flatten it into what is dismissible in advance?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The study of literature in particular has been susceptible to saying that “the text” changes when different material is researched. The text expands, as it were, to incorporate the form and content of not only the new uncovered material, but also the characteristics of the particular juxtapositions between materials now possible with increasing ease--in short, the functionality of the mode of research as it discovers or unveils the primary documents (attributed, by a reversal, to the juxtaposed material itself). But digitization’s increase of access capabilities to otherwise unreachable material has produced an interesting phenomenon: expanding a notion of textuality looks ridiculous when so much actual text becomes available. Suddenly, we need less text, not more, and we have to somehow confront the mode of research itself as it bears on the textual object.
There are three ways out of this problem, as I see it. 1) We theoretically provide a principle of selection, limiting the theoretical notion of textuality. 2) We provide a principle of textual distribution, which accounts for the area in which this expanded text circulates. These first two modes work together: one can see their results in the new (now somewhat aging) historicism, and, via a negative process, in the sociology of literature. Or 3) we look at how literary critical method is forced to change: the local axioms, or protocols, of reading and constructing a reading that may construe the text. This third way was often subsumed into something like "rhetorical reading," which was seen to be theoretically grounded (despite, or rather precisely because of what Paul de Man argued), and so regressed into the first option. But it need not work that way. (I suggest Derrida wanted to register this change in terms of method. For him, method must incorporate a corresponding process of technicalization, of archiving the process of incorporating the archive.)
I'd suggest that what we need is moving 2 into 3, resisting reducing 3 to 1, and continually relating more intimately (via cultural analysis which has gone on for some time now) 1 and 2.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Already, in “Fetishism,” the fetish will have taken place, will have arisen. That is, before we even start reading Freud’s description of fetishism, his Beschreibung des Fetischismus (GW, 316 [see the end of this post for citation information and abbreviations]), the fetish will have come up: there were fetishes, and they dominated a number of men. Freud is sure of this, even though his title (and not just his title, as we shall see) announces that in 1927, and despite even the extended discussion in the Three Essays and other places, it still remains for him to place the fetish clearly in psychoanalytic discourse, to show how the fetish takes place in psychoanalysis. Freud is sure, he announces it, despite this disappointment: "In the last few years I have had the opportunity of studying analytically a number of men whose object-choice was dominated by a fetish" (SE, 152; GW, 311). He has had this opportunity, this chance laid out (Gelegenheit) before him and, somewhere before this essay, has taken it up and studied it. Analytically. That is, in the manner that takes its proper place in the discourse of psychoanalysis, that takes place in the place of psychoanalysis. Surely, Freud announces, the fetish has been studied analytically: there has been no opportunity for him in which the fetish would not have been studied in analysis, studied in a way that is not proper to psychoanalysis, that does not make it come up right inside 19 Berggasse (a place, let us note, that is not too far away from, and thus is next to or beside the Schmerlingplatz—and thus the Rathaus and the Justizpalast). So then, here, the fetish has arisen for him, Freud asserts it, there.
That Freud begins his description asserting he has studied the fetish he has not yet theorized or described—this might seem to us so compelling that we are ready to expect it will come up again. We might almost be sure, in other words, that in the laying out of the Beschreibung, the fetish having taken place will take place again. That, in elaborating this announcement that the fetish has taken place, in the position or place of elaboration, Freud will make it arise again. That he will make this rise up out of his language, from down below or at his side—as if someone did not believe him and he were raising up his weapon in a counter-attack. Or perhaps, to put it in a less forceful way, we might expect Freud will again allow this announcement another chance to arise. That he will lay out the space in which it can appear once more—as if he were summoning or calling it up, compelling it, craftily. That, as if he were some sort of conjurer, one who split up reality with tricks and slight of hand, he will make us believe again that that which we have not seen has, indeed, happened. All this is to say we might expect his psychoanalytic description will have to show us once more that which it is announcing it is certain has taken place. As if Freud both had given into doubt and forsaken belief in what he was saying, and still preserved his belief in it.
And yet, almost in the same space as this expectation, right next to our readiness to expect all this, there is a possibility (we hesitate to call it an expectation as well) that the fetish will not have come up—again, or even, as Freud announces it, already. In other words, we cannot be so ready to expect what we expect, we cannot be so sure, since in expecting the fetish to come up again we are saying precisely that Freud is not so sure about the fetish and its having come up. As if he were expecting what we expect about him, he begins to seem like he always will have said something different, heading us off, oscillating (as he will soon say another man—one of the two brothers who had lost their father, SE, 156; GW, 316—indeed oscillates, schwankte) between the place in which we expect him and another place in which he is saying that the fetish will never come up.
Thus, in almost the same place as his first sentence (in the next two, three, or four sentences, depending on the German or English version we are reading) Freud seems to expect us, and hints the fetish is something that we should not expect to come up in analysis. “There is no need to expect that these people came to analysis on account of their fetish,” he says (SE, 152; GW, 311). He means, in short, that we need not expect that analysis will directly address the patient and his fetish. This is so not only because the fetish will have readily up in analysis, as Freud might confidently assert, but that, precisely as he indeed asserts this, uncertain and unsure, he also asserts that the fetish will only be indirectly or incidentally addressed by analysis—such that in analysis we cannot clearly say if it came up. To assert this a little more forcefully (though merely to repeat Freud’s language): Freud says that we really need not expect fetishists will be, insofar as they are fetishists, patients—and thus we need not expect that the fetish will come up in analysis. Indeed, though these people, these Männern, these Personen have obviously been patients in analysis, Freud seems uncertain about this and never throughout the entire Beschreibung actually calls them patients, Kranken or Patienten. So in almost same space as his assertion that the fetish will surely come up in analysis, he is also marking them as mere adherents, as devotees (hangers-on, Anhängern) of the fetish, and saying that they have not come to analysis for what analysis is for, like a patient would. For, he continues, these people—Freud has studied this, no doubt, es wird wohl—are not feeling the fetish as a symptom of suffering, as a Leidenssymptom, even though they recognize the fetish as an abnormality. And he thereby announces that, for the purposes of our Beschreibung here, analysis is first and foremost something for dealing with suffering patients:
There is no need to expect that these people [Personen] came to analysis on account of their fetish. For though no doubt a fetish is recognized [der Fetisch wird wohl … erkannt] by its adherents [Anhängern] as an abnormality, it is seldom felt by them as the symptom of an ailment accompanied by suffering [ein Leidenssymptom] (SE, 152; GW, 311).
Analysis is for what analysis addresses—namely, suffering—and these men will be patients insofar as analysis will address their suffering. But this means that insofar as these men will not have come to analysis for their Leidenssymptom—specifically insofar as they have come to analysis feeling happy or satisfied (zufrieden) about their fetish—analysis proper will not, except incidentally or in a subsidiary way, have provided the space in which it came up. So Freud continues:
…it is seldom felt by them as the symptom of an ailment accompanied by suffering. Usually they are quite satisfied with it, or even praise the way in which it eases their erotic life. As a rule, therefore, the fetish made its appearance […] as a subsidiary finding [eines Nebenbefundes] (SE, 152; GW, 311).
The fetish will have been a subsidiary finding—something that came to light incidentally, as another translator renders eines Nebenbefundes (F 95). Insofar as analysis addresses the fetish, the taking place of the fetish will only be an incident of analysis, a chance happening next to or beside (neben) its work of addressing suffering. And therefore the fetish will perhaps not arise, will not take place, as all English translations of Freud have added to the German, in analysis: “As a rule, therefore, the fetish made its appearance in analysis as a subsidiary finding,” the Standard Edition says (SE, 152, which merely copies Riviere [R, 204]; so too Frankland [F, 95]: “As a rule, then, their fetish came to light only incidentally during analysis,” which admits more of our stress on the incidental, but still interpolates “analysis” unnecessarily, still trying to show where the incident occurred). These are sentences that, attentive to Freud’s oscillations, we cannot yet cite wholly—translations between two places to which we cannot lend much credence. For we are seeing that in question in Freud’s words—where “in analysis” does not appear or, perhaps, even play a part, as we will see momentarily: Der Fetisch spielte also in der Regel die Rolle eines Nebenbefundes (SE, 152; GW, 311)—in question in these words is precisely the place where the fetish takes place: the subsidiary finding seems to be, precisely because it is subsidiary, exactly that which analysis did not address, something that perhaps takes place when analysis occurs but only takes place beside its proper place and proper concerns (even if analysis tries to address this place, to take place in its place). Both beside and besides analysis, can we then make Freud say that the fetish arises in analysis? Can we make this arise, when we might hear him differently? Perhaps we are seeing another reason why there is no need to expect that these people came to analysis on account of their fetish? Perhaps Freud is saying, not that we need not expect what will surely take place in analysis (despite what it usually addresses), but that, because the fetish will take place only beside analysis, only next to it, incidentally, we need not expect what will never take place? Namely, that that these people, insofar as they are fetishists, will ever come to analysis properly, will ever take their place in analysis properly, such that their fetish could properly arise? There is no need to expect—man braucht nicht zu erwarten: but, Freud makes us ask, who needed to expect this other than those who expected that the fetish would take place or arise again in analysis?
To be continued...Note: This is from a paper I wrote for a class on Freud, taught by Diana Fuss. I’m citing the three English translations of this essay (by Joan Riviere, James Strachey [in a revised version of Riviere’s work], and the New Penguin version by Graham Frankland) while following the Standard Edition as close as possible, as well as the German. I use the following abbreviations: GW, “Fetischismus” in Gesammelte Werke. Bd. XIV, Werke aus den Jahren 1925-1931. Frankfurt: Fischer Verlag, 1991. p. 311-317; R, “Fetishism,” tr. Joan Riviere. In Sexuality and the Psyhology of Love. ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. 204-209; SE, “Fetishism,” ed. and tr. James Strachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI. London: Hogarth, 1961. p. 153-7; F, “Fetishism,” tr. Graham Frankland. in The Unconscious. ed. Adam Phillips. London: Penguin, 2002. 93-100. I’ll also be more freely quoting from “The Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense,” in the Standard Edition (cited above), Volume XXIII, 271-278, and “Die Ichspaltung im Abwehrvorgang,” in Gesammelte Werke, (cited above) Bd. XVII, 59-62.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The criticisms (whether they come from phenomenologists, post-structuralists, or post-post-structuralists) claim that this simplifies the thing in question, and ultimately just projects upon the thing the very terms in which it is being analyzed.
The concern is legitimate, as I said, because it wonders at an analogy being taken so seriously and worked out to the fantastic length and intricacy involved in structural interpretations like those of Lévi-Strauss. But what it fails to understand is that the main term in the analogy, language, has to be understood differently if the analogy is to make any sense.
In other words, the critics of structuralism think they know what language is when they hear the phrase, x can be understood like a language. But the structuralist emphasizes that language, when considered as a structure, looks nothing like what they are imagining.
Language for the structuralist is more like a logic ("structure" is the name for this type of logic, or rather logic working in this way), and as such already doesn't have to be made up of words used in speech, or even something like a grammar (insofar as we think we know what "words," "speech," and "grammar" are when considered independently of the logic in which, according to the structuralist, they are merely minimal units or relations between of these units). So you can't object to a structuralist by saying that x or y doesn't exhibit any features of a language--by saying that it isn't something, for example, that is determined by a culture, or exhibiting conscious organization. For if it involves something like a logic, it will have already worked something like a language.
That is, if the thing has a logic in the way that it also participates, say, in dialectic, it will have worked like a language. "Logic," in other words, is helpfully understood in a pseudo-Hegelian way here. Lévi-Strauss himself articulates the commensurability between structure and dialectic in the famous last chapter of The Savage Mind, in a hugely influential attack on Sartre's fascinating (and too neglected) Critique of Dialectical Reason. In doing so, he is making the case that structural logic is immanent to the being of things in the way Sartre (rightly) says it it is in Hegel and Marx.
It is only after this that he overturns Sartre's notion of dialectical reason, grounding it in what Sartre calls analytic reason, ultimately leading him to conclusions which are more familiar, and which involves further qualifying the way this logic or structure works. Sartre says:
[Scientific, Analytic] Reason is the mind as an empty unifier... Dialectical Reason transcends the level of methodology; it states what a sector of the universe, or, perhaps, the whole universe is. It does not merely direct research, or even pre-judge the mode of appearance of objects. Dialectical Reason legislates, it defines what the world (human or total) must be like for dialectical knowledge to be possible; it simultaneously elucidates the movement of the real and that of our thoughts, and it elucidates the one by the other... It is therefore, both a type of rationality and the transcendence of all types of rationality. The certainty of always being able to transcend replaces the empty detachment of formal rationality: the ever present possibility of unifying becomes the permanent necessity for man of totalising and being totalised, and for the world of being an ever broader, developing totalisation.
-Critique of Dialectical Reason, 20
In short, dialectical reason does not remain one-sided: it is speculative, and therefore not a function of the understanding. Lévi-Strauss replies simply that:
all reason is dialectical... since dialectical reason seems to me like analytical reason in action; but then the distinction between the two forms of reason which is the basis of Sartre's enterprise would become pointless.
-The Savage Mind, 251
If we understand the logic established by dialectical reason's "legislation," or, in Sartre's terms, the totalizations, as the crucial thing, it does seem legitimate to say that analytical reason can establish them just as much as dialectical reason, if we add something to the former.
This is the other crucial aspect of structure, which is that it is not a logic that can be taken over by consciousness:
Linguistics thus presents us with a dialectical and totalizing entity but one outside (or beneath) consciousness and will. Language, and unreflecting totalization, is human reason which has its reasons and of which man knows nothing.
-The Savage Mind, 252
This, then, is the usual claim which we recognize in structuralism, and to which the objections usually are directed, since it makes the subject a mere function of "language." Thus, Levi-Strauss' immediate response:
And if it is is objected that it is so only for a subject who internalizes it on the basis of linguistic theory, my reply is that this way out must be refused, for this subject is one who speaks: for the same light which reveals the nature of language to him also reveals to him that it was so when he did not know it, for he already made himself understood, and that it will remain so tomorrow without since his discourse never was and never will be the result of a conscious totalization of linguistic laws.
-Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, 252
But notice that such claims about language only make sense when we understand the more basic claim that "language" here is fundamentally like a logic. Thus the structure gets its non-internalized character because it is a logic immanent to things, not just because it is so determining (which is nearly always read as constraining) of the subject's role. The fact that the subject is a function of language here does not have to do with how determining the structure is, but how language is a logic. It is only in this sense that we can really understand why such a language resists internalization: for even if it were internalized, made conscious, it would still only be operative or produce effects because it was a logic. In short, making it conscious doesn't matter. The logic matters. And it is in this sense that the analytic reason can, when active, produce dialectic effects of totalization, because in that instance this only means what is always the case is indeed the case: the logic, the structure, is producing effects.
Let me just say that this fact complicates dismissals of poststructuralism as well as structuralism which rely upon the fact that, in absence of a deconstruction of something, one falls back upon structures and thereby remains within a certain cultural, linguistic sphere, or just involves deconstructing "cultural" structures--as if all taint of structuralism had to be removed. Such things are said of Foucault, Derrida, and even Lacan (leading to a move away from the tensions between the symbolic and the imaginary and a sole focus on the symbolic and the real). All of this is complicated if the critic understands that in each case language as a structure means something different than language--especially if we take language in its Heideggerian sense. By this I don't just mean that it is made up of binaries, either (though of course this is involved). I mean that it is a logic in the sense I explained earlier, and one which Lévi-Strauss is not so quick to immediately call "cultural" (that is, unless we reconsider our notion of that latter term).