Tuesday, May 13, 2014


“To describe this hitherto unstudied object relationship with our present terminology would be anything but easy, though not impossible; for instance, by straining a point and using the idea of projective identification. This would explain why the individual should feel that his environment agrees with, and even rewards, his aggressiveness directed against it; but it would not help us to understand the fact that the environment really does so, and still less why this queer object relationship is mutually satisfactory both to the individual and his environment.” 
--Michael Balint, Thrills and Regressions (21-22)
I propose two ways of exploring how projective identification functions to assure that the discourse of human rights continues to reproduce and to safeguard the desires of the European subject: through poetry and psychoanalysis. For example: the poetry of Bosnian writer Ferida Durakovic—in contrast to the narrativistic assumptions of the relationship between human rights and literature—raises questions about the testimonial function of human rights literature. The indeterminacy of the poetic I—which is illuminated by fact that the speaker of the poem and the author “who suffers” are not the same—helps us to see how poetry written under the sign of human rights in the Post-Cold War presents an alternative, a form of poetic “nonintegration,” which returns to questions about the characterization of aggression as ethnic. Ideas of “nonintegration,” theorized in psychoanalysis as related to primary aggression and primary love, can explain things that projective identification cannot; most importantly, it explains not just the fact of Europe’s “attachment” to its others, nor the nature of misrecognition involved in it, but the fundamental destructiveness of this type of relation, in which the desire of the European subject “destroys” only to “create” the others of Europe. 
This can be extended to describe the way that human rights “intervenes” only to create a very specific form of aggression. I like the phrase “only to,” since it remains ambivalent about the intentionality of the European subject, making it seem like the secondary “creation” of the other is both nonvoluntary and voluntary. It should be noted that this secondary “creation” can be thought of as projective identification, so that in relation to this, nonintegration, or primary love, or primary aggression first takes place. In developing this psychoanalytic aspect, I look at the Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint’s theory of “primary love” and British psychoanlayst D.W. Winnicott’s description of a state of “nonintegration,” which involves his ideas about “primary aggression.” Both Balint and Winnicott were postwar object-relations analysts who worked in Britain, and the concepts that I highlight account for their differences from Melanie Klein’s theorization of the primacy of projective identification and of human envy.
My discussion of Post-Cold War poetry aims to show how the idea that consensual processes of "becoming-the-same" extend global capitalism is based on the reparative framework of Euro-American human rights that congealed around ideas of projective identification predominant in postwar psychoanalysis, to the extent that it was also a response to the aggression of wartime. Post-Cold War poetry thus figures the production of this “human” other as an extension of the production of postsocialist or postcolonial space “outside” Europe, but rather than explore this as a projective relation in which the problems of Europe are displaced and externalized, I consider how the gesture of reparation (and the ethical moment it is premised upon) destroys the capacity of this human to be a subject. This reparative gesture is less an act or a recognition of the other, as it is understood in Levianasian (and projective) ethics; rather, it is a rewriting of the environment as a potentially therapeutic space—encapsulated perhaps in the phrase that identified the goal of NATO in Kosovo: “Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back”—that destroys the subject. This process, of creating a potentially therapeutic space, requires that the “environment” can also be seen to “agree with and even reward” aggression, and this process describes the way in which the “Balkans,” as a geographical space, as an environment, is understood through the terms of “ethnic conflict” to be a space that “rejoices” in its destruction. 
I’m not suggesting, of course, that the model of “primary love,” in which only one partner can have interests, desires, and demands, describes Europe’s relation to its others, but I am suggesting that it helps to illuminate the violent, racist, and destructive processes that are not just contingently related to the seeming inevitability of global capitalism, but fundamentally constitutive of its desire. In this, my argument is not new, involving an investigation of those conditions through which society is violently reproduced (as has been the work, for example, of Marxist feminists, Black Marxism, and Afropessimism), but it remains quite astonishing how this violence and aggression remains theorized as a consequence rather than a condition in much of the work that engages with the reproduction of global capitalism. In thinking, therefore, about the role that “consensus” plays in depicting the idea of “becoming-the-same” as an inevitability, it may be helpful to note that while global capitalism and the logic of sameness might be inevitable, the aggression and violence that it enacts is not inevitable, though it is necessarily presented as such. Much more than an explanatory device, psychoanalysis as a field of inquiry and a practice can bring to the surface the difference between inevitable and intentional aggression, which implies the perhaps the modest recognition that every ethical relation includes an element of destructiveness.

No comments: