Saturday, June 14, 2008

the totalitarian mind

A world turned upside down carries with it the idea that there would be new things to revere. how are these things not salvatory? I'm reading an article by Karl Figlio, "The Absolute State of Mind in Society and the Individual" (Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 2006), which develops a theory of such a mind in terms of Wittgenstein's notion of the difference between certainty and knowledge. Taking into consideration the idea that knowledge is disposed with a certain emotive aspect, Figlio moves on to discuss this phenomenon in terms of pyschoanalysis. He discusses the difference between certainty and knowledge--both strategies for eluding doubt--in terms of the relationship between Melanie Klein's notions of the paranoid-schizoid position and depressive anxiety. Depressive anxiety, a response to the loss of an object of perception, differs from the paranoid-schizoid loss of object of phantasy (and how is this related to mourning/melancholia), and it is this difference that results in the "totalitarian mind." Since the loss on the side of certainty (paranoid-schizoid) is of a phantasized object, it is experienced internally, as a persecution of the self, and thus the response in "reality" is the disparagement of the external world. So according to Figlio. This process is aided by an externalized other, the externalization of the "doubt" from which escape is sought. Figlio announces that this is the point of lapsing into "psychosis." And here, he writes, "the rules are different": "Phantasy is unchecked by perception; indeed perception becomes a vehicle for phantasy. One "sees" clearly and accurately the hidden thoughts and motives of others. One "knows" through conviction rather than through evidence. The slow, straightening lessons that the external world forces upon the reality-oriented ego, do not impinge upon the ego that is identified with the ego-ideal" (128). It is easy enough, from the perspective of my recently described negativity, to imagine this process. But I think that this is also a helpful intervention in Zizek's super-structural ways of schematizing ideology, and for that matter, the largely subject-oriented ways of thinking about ideology. He continues, "In such a state, there is a "collusion of reality," in which events in the external world seem so pressing or so reasonable, that they conceal the phantasy that drives them" (128). Now, I think that conceiving of a phenomenon as "collusion" rather than as "lack" is an interesting idea. In place of "lack," Figlio refers to something like an engraining, or channeling, of this emotive aspect of thinking, as something that once done for the first time functions somewhat like a "template." He writes,

From now on, the perceived object will, in its good qualities, also be attacked, so the good internal object will be in danger of annihilation and loss. This state of "depressive anxiety" at the first loss of an object is the template for all further loss; as such it is a most powerful stimulus either for psychic growth or defence. The ego will always be unfulfilled by any actual object, whether by frustration, inconstancy, frailty or unappeasable anxiety. The psyche reacts to this state of perturbance either with thinking and internal dialogue or with action and narcissistic idealization. (128-129)

The turning upside-down of the world (something that both Bela Grunberger and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel are credited with discussing) results in the idealization of some sort of turned-over object (they take shit, in a "faecalized universe"). Like something that might have the form of an annihilated wish, this object seems to be somewhat like the objects that fill Grunbein's "grayzone" landscapes. Still leaves the question of salvation...
picture: parking lot with flies as streaks of light and a painting of Mary that seems a church in its own right, Echo Park

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