Saturday, March 2, 2013

Der andere Schauplatz

I'm trying to synthesize a few things with this post, perhaps more wildly disparate than will merge in the space of writing this (both temporal and raeumlich), and all of them associatively linked to the convergence of some factors experientially and conceptually. The first is Balibar's notion of "the other scene," which occurred to me as a formulation that could be useful for thinking about alternative functions of the poetic work (alternative to the "task" of political lyric, or the task of lyric to sublimate aggression or combat barbarism). Turning to Balibar, I noted that "the other scene" is a reference taken from Freud (primarily in The Interpretation of Dreams), and further, that Freud develops his ideas about it from the luminous G.T. Fechner, whose Principles of Psycho-Physics is also a primary referent of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. This all only means something to me because in attempting to think about "forepleasure [Vorlust]" as a means for thinking alternatively about the function of tension release in relation to pleasure and displeasure, Freud's references also lead to Fechner, who develops this notion in The Primer of Aesthetics, and here it is the idea of the mutual non-contradiction of factors that allows him to account for otherwise inexplicable effects, such as the feelings of identification and transfer of emotions that occur in experiencing works of art and aesthetic events.

In Politics and the Other Scene, Balibar uses the term to refer to the "differentiation of change," or a "change within change," rather than the "changing of conditions." The idea seems to provide Balibar with a way of conceptualizing the "locality" of such factors, or the coherence of a pattern that is, as he says, one "inverted" from Marx's turning away from the "apparent scene" of politics to reveal the "real scene" of economic processes. Balibar writes, "I have a certain tendency to invert this pattern--not to return to the idea that 'ideas drive history', but to emphasize the fact that 'material' processes are themselves (over- and under-) determined by the processes of the imaginary which have their own very effective materiality and need to be unveiled" (xiii). Balibar qualifies this distinction with the idea that it's not exactly that the political other scene is the scene of the imaginary collective processes and their unconscious determinants, and this qualification perhaps points to the significance of this being originally Fechner's notion. It's been a little while since I've looked more closely at his work, but the Fechner/Freud distinction (which is elaborated by Mai Wegener in "DAS PSYCHOPHYSISCHE UNBEWUSSTE: GUSTAV THEODOR FECHNER UND DER MOND" (Psychoanalytische Perspectiven 23 (2005) 2, 261-282)) often seems to consist of Fechner's greater emphasis upon the preconscious aspects of the unconscious, rather than the unconscious itself. The structure is interesting, however, and resonates with Balibar's above because Fechner's elaboration of the indistinction seems to require the rather more forceful distinction of cs/ucs, as Balibar's inversion seeks also to recombine and relocate the place, or perhaps "moment," of their interaction. This is the point at which, I think, the associative connection with "the other scene" shifts into a conceptualization of "civility" and for a "politics of civility." In the preface, the connection is drawn, although not explicit: "A politics of violence, or a politics of civility (the same thing obversely formulated), is not something that can be pursued solely on the stage of globalization, where processes, motivations and interests are supposed to be visible and manageable" (xii). Balibar explains that it's in order to account for the heterogeneity of the processes of globalization that Freud's concept is so useful, and it's this that Freud attempts to describe as the "essential heterogeneity of psychic processes" (xii). It's possible, therefore, to think about how this notion of the Schauplatz provides a scene for civility, for what is neither, according to Balibar, "transformation" or "emancipation."

Briefly, civility is, for Balibar, "a politics which regulates the conflict of identifications between the impossible (and yet, in a sense, very real) limits of a total and floating identification, 'civility'. Civility in this sense is certainly not a politics which suppresses all violence; but it excludes extremes of violence, so as to create a (public, private) space for politics (emancipation, transformation), and enable violence itself to be historicized. What interests me, here, is not to codify that civility, but to attempt, in conclusion to outline some of its problems" (29-30). "Civility" is not then a model for a politics, but a way of thinking about the problems that are necessarily involved in thinking what precedes political actions, or politics, or what takes place behind the scenes of globalization. And in this sense, "civility" refers to the processes of identification and misidentification (processes involved in the master-slave dynamic and in the notion that fascism is the desire that "desires its own repression") and the destructiveness (tending toward death drivenness) of these processes. These ideas are elaborated in "Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Anthropology" (differences 20 (2009)), and here above I've done little more than outline the argument and ideas, but the link that I'm attempting to draw out between "the other scene" and "civility" relates to the distinction between sleeping and waking.

It's not just that "the other scene" refers to this distinction, and in fact becomes a concept that allows for the theorization of the distinction, but it remains very much the case, in Balibar's writings, that this also underlies the parallel (and gain) of the essential heterogeneity of the psychical and the essential heterogeneity of the political.

In her essay, Wegener describes the difference between Freud's and Fechner's notions of "the other scene [anderen Schauplatz] by talking about how Freud fixes the concept as a "synonym of the unconscious itself." (271, translations mine). In contrast, Wegener argues that Fechner's conceptualization of the unconscious is "physical," which is surprising, she notes, for the founder of psychophysics: "Dies ist nicht der Fall [die Zuordnung des Unbewussten zwischen dem Koerperlichen und dem Psychischen], Fechners Unbewusstsein ist unzweitdeutig ein physisches. Die psychophysisiche Taetigkeit wird, wie oben erwaehnt, von ihm als koerperliche gekennzeichnet, sie ist der koerperliche Traeger des Psychischen. Ihre negativen Werte, also das Unbewusste, entsprechen schlicht dem Schlaf [This is not the case [the placement of the unconscious between the bodily and the psychical]; Fechner's unconscious is unambivalently physical. The psychophysical activity becomes, as mentioned above, designated as bodily; it is the bodily carrier of the physical. Its negative value, the unconscious, corresponds simply in sleep]." As Wegener describes, "the other scene" is the expression of a negativity, rather than the expression of an ambivalence between psychical and physical life, as the distinction between waking and sleeping often seems to entail. Fechner articulates this: "Sollte der Schauplatz der psychophysischen Thaetigkeit waehrend des Schlafes und des Wachens derselbe sein, so koennte der Traum meines Erachtens blos eine, auf einem niedern Grade der Intensistaet sich haltende, Forsetzung des wachen Vorstellungsleben sein, und muesste uebrigens dessen Stoff und dessen Form theilen. Aber es verhaelt sich ganz anders [If the scene of psychophysical activity is supposed to be the same during sleep and waking, then the dream, in my opinion, can be merely a continuation, which maintains a lower degree of intensity, of the waking imaginative life and would therefore share this material and form. But it behaves quite differently]." His articulation of this difference between waking and sleeping makes use of the notion of the "threshold [die Schwelle]," which preoccupies the Elements. From this threshold, he derives the notion of negativity that Wegener takes up above: "...die zunehmende Vertiefung des Schlafes unter die Schwelle eben so mit wachsenden negativen Werthen zu bezeichnen, womit sich unsere fruehere Auffassung negativer Bewusstseinswerthe als unbewusster Werthe von der Empfindung auf das Gesammtbewusstsein uebertraegt, und eine Verallgemeinerung und Verstaerkung der frueheren Auffassung zugleich erwaechst [the growing deepening of sleep beneath the threshold indicates the growing negative value, with which our earlier ideas about the negative consciousness value were translated as the unconscious value of the sensation on the entire consciousness and a generalization and strengthening of the earlier ideas simultaneously increase] (441)." This rather figural notion of the negativity and positivity in relation to the threshold thus serves as Fechner's conceptualization of the oscillation that is constitutive of conscious and unconscious value. It's all about the threshold, for Fechner, and how or what its overcoming can be conceived of as. In this conception, "the other scene" is not the unconscious, per se, but the registration of a threshold which can be passed over and under, according to the gradations in the state of sleep.

Note: These associations/convergences latently manifested walking in Boston, with a recounted dream of EB (with Rei Terada and Travis Tanner).