Tuesday, July 24, 2007

lost lust: before Freud

In Exhausted Modernity, Teresa Brennan notes that though Freud’s pleasure principle might be criticized for its economic (quantitative) aspects, discussion tends far less towards its descriptive characteristics, the type of phenomena that it qualifies. For Brennan, this quality is instant gratification, one that relates to the commodity form. She writes, “[m]oreover, if one reconsiders the desires implicit in commodities, it will be plain that while the pleasure principle accords with the desire for instant gratification that they express, and with their visual presentation in various media, it does not account for the other desires revealed in their design, namely: the desire to be waited upon; the desire to believe one is the source of agency who makes it happen; the desire to dominate and control the other who is active in providing, but whose activity is controlled by a relatively passive director, and the aggressive desire towards the other, if we take pollution as evidence of aggression” (23). Brennan's summary of the forms of latent desire registers the complications of knowing or seeing the factors involved in circulation; these unaccounted for desires or pleasures are what Freud calls “forepleasure,” which he uses to describe the various pleasures of infantile sexuality, jokes, creative, and stage-acting, is “the pleasure that serves to initiate a large release of pleasure.”[1] I want to explore the notion of desires that don’t “count” or can’t be quantified as forms of circulation. One form of this question is how we enter (voluntarily) into circuits that we also suffer from, which is also a question of the translation of passivity (or passions) into activity (or actions). Brennan's observations of latent desires reveal that there is a utility to passions that are not as immediate willful agency. Freud's mentions of preconscious pleasure generally become subsumed in the unconscious, but I would like to extend Brennan’s observations of this affective realm that is “beyond” circulation, exchange, and pleasure by examining the aesthetic principles that are behind these dynamics.

Freud’s citation of these dynamics often refers to the work of G.T. Fechner, whose work on psychophysical phenomena is seen as the basis of Freud’s economic and energetic principle of constancy. Fechner is perhaps less known for his two-volume work, The Primer of Aesthetics, but it here that he develops the notion of “forepleasure”; describing the contribution of multiple factors “without contradiction,” Fechner develops a notion of the aesthetic that comes from this transformation of passive factors into activity. Freud describes this as an aesthetic in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious not he did in Project for a Scientific Psychology as “relating to sensation or perception,” but as “deriving pleasure from its own activity” (emphasis mine). Freud's rough, apologetic definition of the aesthetic presents the possibility that the causes of aesthetic pleasure are obscure, but this autonomy is generally revoked for a more certain, unconscious empirical, one which is easily quantifiable and whose circulation is registered at a conscious level. In this extension, I move to exploring the aesthetic underside of this desire for a scientific basis, places where the aesthetic might betray its scientific intention.

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