Saturday, December 12, 2015

precisely there where

Though it's not that this hasn't happened, or doesn't happen, at other points, this semester it has felt especially hard to maintain a thinking life that short-circuits the text/class cycle. So everything feeds into the classroom, plays out there, is expended there, with nothing left over--with it feeling like there is nothing left over, like everything expended has also been exhausted. But as I'm describing the feeling that this is a total experience, with nothing left over/left out--in the moment of this very expression--the inadequacy of the formulation also presents itself: I have been thinking about things, in fact, about these very things, about "expression" and in particular the expression of the destructive instinct and how, in Freud's thinking and in those who come after him, the expression of the destructive instinct is never total, or never equal to the primacy of the "death drive," from which it can be seen to arise. So the matter here, the thing that those who pick up and talk about the death drive and aggression discuss, is what happens to after the drive is externalized in the destructive instinct, what happens to that "part" that is internalized post-expression?

Jean Laplanche takes up the problem of the before/beyond of aggressiveness in Life & Death in Psychoanalysis, a book I read many years back in Jonathan Hall's seminar on Laplanche, during a period of relative immersion in his work that I shared with my friend Michelle Cho. I have the feeling that my attempt to work through these problems now was already done at that point, in a different way, and that I have long forgotten any of the conclusions I arrived at then but seek them out now, again. In Chapter 5, "Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism," he writes,

And yet, the essential dimension of the affirmation of a death drive lies neither in the discovery of aggressiveness, or in its theorization, nor even in the fact of hypostatizing it as a biological tendency or a metaphysical universal. It is in the idea that the aggressiveness is first of all directed against the subject and, as it were, stagnant within him, before being deflected toward the outside--"subject" here being understood at every level: the most elementary biological being, a protist or cell, as well as the multicellular biological organism, and, of course, the human individual both in his biological individuality and in his "psychical life." Such is the thesis of "primary masochism," and there appears to be massive evidence leading us to suppose that that thesis is profoundly new, that it emerges only with the positing, in 1920, of the mythical being called the death drive. Nevertheless, without wishing to minimize the novelty of Freud's last theory of drives, we shall attempt to show precisely the tenuous but solid link binding it to the thesis evolved in 1915 from both clinical and dialectical considerations concerning the genesis of sadomasochism. That theory--which is implicit, no doubt imperfectly elaborated by Freud himself, and, above all, quickly covered over--entails, we believe, a double armature: the use of the notion of "propping" or anaclisis in the theory of sadomasochism, and the priority of the masochistic moment in the genesis of the sadomasochistic drive insofar as the latter is a sexual drive (and consequently a drive in the true sense of the Freudian Trieb). (86)

In this passage, it is striking that Laplanche wants both to identify the death drive as "new," as not otherwise formulated by Freud, in his earlier work, and to indicate its earlier form in the idea of sadomasochism (which also, and importantly for Laplanche, expounds the notion of "propping" or anaclisis), as developed in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes." What interests me about this description is the location of aggressiveness in "primary masochism,"which locates or implies the "subject" as being the initial aim or target of aggressiveness. "Propping" or anaclisis is important to this it comes in where masochism threatens to become generalized to characterizing all phenomena. Laplanche writes, "But it remains that the subject is masochistic only insofar as he derives enjoyment precisely there where he suffers, and not insofar as he suffers in one place in order to derive enjoyment in another, as a function of some arithmetic or algebra of pleasure. This may also be formulated as follows: the subject suffers in order to derive enjoyment and not only in order to be able to derive enjoyment (or to pay the "tax" [wonders: is this "tax" like the "incentive bonus" of forepleasure (Vorliebe)] for enjoyment)" (104). What this stress on "precisely there where" does is highlight the extent to which this point of juncture corresponds to the logic of "propping," to the "that leaning of nascent sexuality on nonsexual activities" that Laplanche describes in the chapter on aggressiveness and sadomasochism (88). And this is mirrored in the distinction drawn between aggressiveness (non-sexual) and sadism/masochism (sexual). Propping provides a way of talking about this relation of dependence or emergence that is not actualized as the expression or externalization of an instinct (as in the destructive instinct). Instead, "Sexuality appears as a drive that can be isolated and observed only at the moment at which the nonsexual activity, the vital function, becomes detached from its natural object or loses it." (88). This "movement of anaclisis or propping" (87) yields a "slippage...within the genesis of the sexual drive" and it is this "slippage" that is present even in relations of masochism whose pleasure is "precisely there where" it suffers.

This is all a somewhat roundabout and not yet quite coherent way of getting to the idea that the distinction between paying for the object (precisely there were) vs. paying a "tax" for its future use is relevant to the remainder that is left after the externalization of the death drive in the destructive instinct. In his 1960 essay, "Aggressivity," Daniel Lagache describes this exchange as an abandonment (this is resonant with Laplanche's description of the detachment of the "vital function" from the "natural object" above):
There is a series of actions--scratching, excretion, ejaculation, autotomia--in which the reduction of tension occurs by modifying, destroying, or abandoning a part of the body that was the "source" of an unpleasurable tension and by transforming it into an external thing. It is close to Freud's idea on the constitution of the object by the projection of the unpleasurable. But, it must be noted, this self-mutilation is a sacrifice of the part for the whole. The lizard abandons his tail, but it does not lose its head. In other words, it is only by artificially limiting the field of thought that such reactions can be considered as being favorable to a primary tendency to active self-destruction. ("Aggressivity" (1960) in The Works of Daniel Lagache 1938-1964, 230-231)
With the phrase "limiting the field of thought," Lagache recalls his starting point in the essay, where he stated that "[i]n a limited field, an activity appears to be quite simply an activity. Extend the tempero-spatial field ever so little, and it is enough to look like a fight" (210). These phrases point to the conflict, rather than the harmony, inherent in a the field, and this, in turn, registers the "primary" state (in both "primary masochism" and "primary narcissism") as that "proceeds from the force of things, from circumstances, from a convergence of the child's weakness and the environment's caretaking" (231). From this schema, needs precede wishes, and wishes, in turn, "resort deviously to the demand," and demands go on to become protests when the demand is frustrated. With this chain of relations, Lagache proposes that aggressivity, "the unity of meaning or intention of the world of aggressions," is of greater concern that acts of aggression, for in his view, all actions can become act of aggression. So "aggressivity" thus implies this relation of different impingements: "Aggressivity is mobilized by the endogenous emergence of a need, felt as a threat within the body or, if it is preferred, as an internal frustration. It is logical, in Freudian metapsychology, to consider as secondary the aggressivity with which the wish pursues its aims through the mediation of the demand" (218). Here, we can see that Lagache returns to a point of trying to think the "force of things" but that aggressivity itself still seems to imply some notion of a unity of meaning. Is this the return emergence of the anaclitic relation at the heart of the death drive? Or in the "heart's desire" of the death drive?

picture: Faded Lizard Tail

Monday, November 2, 2015

a scribble-scrabble

Lodged at the side of the many disappointments of the public aspect of "the state of things"--a phrase that is neither precise, nor substantive, nor promising, and gestures not just toward the academic conference of this name but toward a ever more general, ever more exhaustive-because-devouring-intensely public sphere--there was, for me, a smaller disappointment. Maybe it's not a disappointment, maybe it's a quibble, or a scribble-scrabble, or an indelible mark of some sort that then does get moved past, brushed away, contorted into a more realized figure.

I had been prepped for the explicit psychoanalytic content of Jacqueline Rose's October 23 talk, "Feminism and the Abomination of Violence," after noting that someone had commented in this way on a Facebook thread about her recent dialogue at UC Berkeley with Judith Butler: that there was "too much" psychoanalysis. Arriving to a conversation after her talk, this was also the topic: that psychoanalysis is "unnecessary," or that it is merely applied when it seems hardly to be suggested by the "material," that it's even "creepy," to the extent that it engages children coercively in feelings/thoughts/fantasies that are not their own, thoughts that are, instead, often thought to belong to the adult analyst instead. Teaching psychoanalysis in a non-systematic way to undergrads, I've also gotten this reaction: that it's "ridiculous" to attribute fantasies of aggression or the anxiety of castration to the infant or the young child.

If Rose's talk was simply aware of itself as a large, public event (thus necessarily reducing some of the complex or content), she did, then, deliver in popularizing the psychoanalytic content to some extent. This was not necessarily a "bad" thing; her most resonant comment was about the deep desire that the young child has for his/her unconscious to be understood, profoundly, by someone else. In this regard, Melanie Klein's insights into destructiveness and unconscious phantasy are not just supplementary to actually existing reality. They do not just "overlay" what is really there with an interpretive framework; they provide a way for thinking about ambivalence that moves outside of those parameters that we usually accept for thinking about the non-contradictory nature of external (or actually existing) reality. Despite the fact that Rose dwelled on Klein, and Klein's account of her analysis of Richard (a ten-year-old boy), she quickly relegated the significance of psychoanalysis to consciousness, to conscious thought. In so doing, she separated the practice of psychoanalysis, as well as its theory, from its radical potential to deliver, to get to ambivalence. For Richard, she said, the therapeutic encounter gave him a way to keep the line in place between war and peace; he could "think," with psychoanalysis. Thus, joined with Arendt, thinking, or "thought," became the means through which compassion and avoidance of social violence could be achieved.

In her response, Jane Blocker, who took the occasion to speak about the violence that absorbs the life, death, and work of Ana Mendieta (appropos both her book, Where is Ana Mendieta? and the current exhibit of Ana Mendieta's short films at the Nash Gallery right now), raised questions about whether making a distinction between war and peace, or between the violent father and the violated mother was the point to be taken about aggression, psychological, physical, social, or otherwise. Blocker suggested that in Carl André's work Lament for the Children, there is a death that he seeks to grapple with (not Mendieta's (whose fall from their 34th story apartment in NYC, which happened during an argument they had, he was found innocent of)), the death of "knowing." I puzzle over just what this means--the "death of knowing"--in much the same way that i puzzle over how the death drive, the movement toward self-dissolution, continues to operate even after it seems it has exhausted itself, in the expression of a destructive instinct.

To return to an underside of the state of things. "Read her [Arendt] against yourself," Rose said in the Q&A in response to a question about Arendt's "thoughtless" dismissal of Fanonian violence and forms of aggression whose expression as destructiveness may not be their most important aspect. A slip, to read her "against yourself," not against "herself." A slip that marks the difference between psychical aggression that may never get expressed but is always directed "against yourself," and destructiveness that takes place as social violence in a "state of things," against "herself." A slip that reminds us of the ambivalence rather than the distinction between subject/object, between state/thing, an ambivalence--to return again--whose excess lends itself to regulation by those who see it, all things being equal (which of course they are not), as a waste of resources.

picture: a herself/yourself: Imogen's first "figure"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Surge of Silence

What happens when you try to respond to the tone of a letter not written to you? There’s a gap that is akin to the silence in a forest when a tree falls and no one is there to hear it; perhaps it's like what we could imagine remains of the death drive after some destructive instinct has been acted upon, acted out.

This is such a response, a respose to a writing by Commune Editions titled "Dear Simone." The piece by Commune Editions is addressed to Simone White, who asked a number of poets to write about "matters of capital and class" for an issue of The Recluse (a journal of The Poetry Project) that she was editing titled "Capital P." In her introduction, White clarifies that by "capital and class" she means the "systematic dehumanization of the human into laboring factions." The script of the introduction is not apparently the same as the initial phrasing of the request for responses, since Commune Editions invokes several times the phrase "a surge of interest in class (by which some people mean race),” and attributes this phrase to White’s initial request. So when I say I'm responding to "tone," I mean that I'm responding to what lies behind the citation and repetition of this phrase, and to something that begins, and perhaps ends, with the appropriation of this phrase.

Would it matter if we could read Simone White’s initial request? Reading it might give one a sense of the tone of the original phrase, but it's not this that is really at stake--and also not the reality status of it, whether or not Simone White is right or not about this surge, although it's this that is disputed throughout Commune Edition's letter. At stake in this question about the reality of this surge is the organization of a world almost entirely around internal objects, and the extent to which a radical poetic-political project organized in this way can make its hoped-for intervention, its destruction of the world. I find this letter to be mostly about and addressed to internal objects. Internal objects, in contrast to external objects, represent people and events but they involve, as psychoanalyst Paula Heimann writes, "the subject at the same time as her objects." This is significant because in attacking these objects, one is also attacking oneself. Does all the talk about destroying the world in the letter--"the resolute rejection of this world," "the world to be abolished," "in every poem that insists it all has to go"--fold back upon the part that remains as much about the subject as the objects included in this world? If the world includes all struggles worthy of abolition (struggles, Commune defines, aimed at "the unmaking of whiteness, or of gender") but not this capacity to reflect upon the specificity of these struggles in contrast to their inclusion within this totality, might there not be a need to place some pressure upon just what is meant by "the world"?

Reading the letter--its content signalling but never locating, never externalizing, those who've claimed that "the problem is the hubris of purportedly Jacobin militants always going too far"--one gathers some of the referents of these internal objects, if one knows enough of this world. Commune Edition's dispute, for example, with the "surge of interest" is a response to (perhaps other things, too, who knows?) a dossier arranged by Daniel Tiffany for The Boston Review on class. I'm inferring this because I was there in the FB forest when the vitriol about Tiffany's column fell, and it seems likely, given Commune's use of terms "kitsch" and "rhetoric" that Tiffany is an object of critique. Beyond this kind of matching of internal with external objects, one is left feeling like the letter itself, its elliptical response, remains in a world peopled by internal objects, phrases, and discussions whose representation exists almost entirely within the life of the mind. In the letter, the coordinates to external reality cannot be spoken, and one wonders why: Out of tact? Because it's not just a single example, but a set of examples, massified, in this way? Because it's not worth naming these enemies of class, giving this recognition? Because in order to "get" this letter, one should know already, who or what the objects are? To be a reader of this letter, but not the reader, is to be in a forest when the tree fell and not to have heard the noise, to have missed the tone of falling limbs. From this position, a question that is not supported within the discourse arises: how is it that you've come into this place of knowledge?

Perhaps one way of thinking about this circumscription of knowledge is to approach one of the most obvious features of the letter-- its attachment to poetry. This attachment comes with an expressed commitment to the question of "the relation between revolutionary politics (which we take to demand a cothinking of race and class among other things) and a poetry which threatens certainty, commitment, didacticism." We might just as well ask, why poetry? What work is being done by poetry? How is the vaunted antagonism or contradiction of destruction and creation, "between absolute political demand and the proper tonalities for poetry" held in place by the law of genre? And what sort of dynamic of sublimation, of the transfer of destructive and creative energies or vice verse, must be imagined in order to achieve this worldview?

To kind of extend this overextended metaphor, we might imagine that the tree that has fallen--producing or not a noise, a sound, a tone--is itself the poem, and insofar, roughly correlates with Commune's example of the pop song. I am drawn to how Commune theorizes the moment of pleasure--"a cross-class pleasure," a "real pleasure--from the pop song, and by extension from the "pop song in the poem." I quote at length from their description of these moments of pleasure, of "negative delight":
But we are also not sure we see the pop song that way. In truth it sounds more true about Eliot; much has changed since then. Here’s our thought: it matters how you see the pop song. We certainly get that, even after the supposed collapse of the hi-lo distinction, turning your nose up at the pop song is still class-marked, a kind of upper-middlebrow Philistinism. Still, it’s a sort of cross-class pleasure, the pop song, isn’t it? A real pleasure. We hope you will not hear irony. We think that a great pop song, and there are a lot of them — Top 40, sing along, solid gold — is sensually thrilling and emotionally powerful. It is one of the finest things (still no irony) that civilization has produced.

But not just any civilization. Its affordances are capitalism itself, its technologies, its circuits of distribution, its reascriptions of race, its microleisures, invention of the world market, the world audience. In this sense the pop song is emblematic of much human making in the last couple-few centuries. We could speak of Hollywood, or Bollywood, or a videochat with a distant friend, or the Hong Kong skyline. Or bicycling out on the path alongside the Bay Bridge and sitting over the water while the birds and porpoises and oily wakes of container ships pass underneath.

This is the thing about even the most resolute rejection of this world. We know also that this world is in many ways an astonishing achievement of human making, with incomparable pleasures, unevenly distributed. This knowledge is always with us, this pleasure and maybe even wonder. It is with us even in the moments when we think of surplus populations in Dhaka and Sao Paulo, when we think of manganese in the Pearl River and Mike Brown’s body moldering in the street in metropolitan St. Louis. And when we say that it has to go, we say that knowing this means forsaking all of these things.

I read these lines as being about the way in which the "pleasure" that is evoked is subsumed within a total system, and about how these moments "sit inside" this larger system. No single moment could be greater or more expansive than the entirety of the system. And yet, in a way, it's just that--the way that the "poetic" destroys by consuming--that David Marriott, via Cesaire, describes in a recent response to The Boston Review's issue, "Race and the Poetic Avant Garde":

Césaire’s immense productivity consists in creating a poetry of events that does not have form or content as its end, but is rather the pursuit of their irremedial alienation. Instead of claiming, as the various European avant-gardes did while reading Marx, say, or Freud, that he was producing a new dialectics (of culture, or meaning), Césaire claimed that poetic production was productive because it consumed knowledge. Or rather–that it was the ‘poetic’ itself that was productive, often against the express conscious and political wishes of the poet.
Marriott emphasizes how for Cesaire the contradiction between the poetic and political does not express an antagonism that becomes about the tension or maintenance or resolution of this contradiction, i.e. its sublimation in written work, but about an “irremedial alienation” that is consumptive, i.e. destructive, in relation to knowledge. Thus knowledge is not a position from which to maintain certainty or perspective, it is a position that is always threatened by poetry's destructive aspect.

And one might wonder, how much would poetry have to consume, in order to destroy? But I wonder, even if it were just a little bit, would there not be less--quite a bit less--to say about how a knowledge of the whole world pertained to this damaged part?

In Commune Edition's lines, knowledge of the pleasures afforded by capitalism is held alongside "thinking" about surplus populations, manganese, and Mike Brown's body. There's quite a bit of assumption already in the way that "pleasures" and "thinking" constitute the antagonism that is then the aesthetico-political. It's a certain universalism that feels tiring. But there is something here worth thinking about, and it's the way in which these moments of "incomparable pleasures" are in a line with complicity. Here, another tone I am deaf to: "But are we not all complicit, none of us pure, all of us benefitting from entanglement with the very thing from which we claim to take absolute distance? No shit." How do we read the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of no shit? Does this mean that "we" have been accused of complicity? Does it mean that the accusation of complicity is to be read as politically irrelevant? Does it mean that even complicity is a concept that sits inside the structure of this system? Or is it an invocation of complicity as a kind of precursor to this "knowledge"?

In psychoanalysis, complicity is perhaps the least evident thing. It refers, even in the most complex form, in its relation to political emotion, to an ambivalence on the level of a distinction between subject and object, but one that is perhaps even more indeterminate, to a non-integrated state that precedes but is not outside of relating. For those independent analysts in the British postwar, including Paula Heimann and D.W. Winnicott, this state was all about the primacy of destruction, and these formulations followed from Freud's ideas about complicity or guilt being a defense against feelings of aggressiveness or destruction. Complicity, because it involves this defensive relation to aggression, sits not too far afield from sublimation, in terms of the function it assumes to redirect instinctive energy.

In a recent post, I described how Paula Heimann recalls an interaction with a patient in which the patient spontaneously recites a poem in analysis. Heimann recounts the patient's deep joy in this recitation and in the phrasing of words. She reads this withdrawal not as an expression of hostility, a turning away from the analyst, not just as destructive of that structure in which it takes place, but as a moment of reprieve, a momentary lifting, a sublimation that is not just about the recovery of a lost object or about the destruction of analytic space but about finding a self that survives the expression of destructiveness. What does Heimann’s discussion of these moments bring to to the moments of pleasure, of negative delight, that Commune describes? Heimann makes visible the fact that the world Commune wishes to destroy is maintained by a fantasy of omnipotence. It’s a wish that is construed politically--admirably, to some extent--but it’s a wish that, because of this relation to fantasy, to internal objects, involuntarily destroys the struggles of others whose experiences become subsumed within this world as well. The militancy of destruction as a political project does indeed involve a hubris about the scope and aims of such a venture. Being willing to ignore how one’s definition of the “world” affects those it claims to include is also an extension of not taking responsibility for the unintended destruction that one enacts by holding knowledge in such an intimate relation, or the damage that is done by reinforcing the knowledge afforded by a poetics of class, by saying for example that poetic struggles for racial justice and against antiblack racism, transphobic violence, gender discrimination, and racial profiling have “played at least as great a role as a poetics of class.” Because what does that mean to qualify this poetry by quantifying its impact--”at least as great a role”--and to hold firm to this worldview?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Muteness Envy

Threading through psychoanalytic writing on aggression in the 50s, 60s, 70s, lines worn where entrenched divisions formed around the existence of the death drive, the primacy of destructiveness, the attribution of envy to infantile experience, the existence of a primary non-integrated state. In particular, I've begun reading the work of Paula Heimann (her essays collected in the volume About Children and Children-No-Longer: Collected Papers 1942-1980, edited by Margret Tonnesmann; The New Library of Psychoanalysis, vol. 10 (London (Tavistock): Routledge, 1989) who is often associated with Melanie Klein, becoming one of Klein's biggest supporters during the 1942-1944 "Controversial Discussions," which split the British Psycho-Analytic Society. Heimann (1899-1980) studied psychiatry in Germany and entered psychoanalytic training in Berlin in the late 1920s; she moved from Berlin to London in 1933 after Hitler came to power, where she encountered Klein and began her own work as an analyst and as a theoretician. Heimann was loyal to Klein and her theories up until Klein's presentation of her essay, "Envy and Gratitude" in Geneva in 1955, but as Pearl King notes in her introductory memoir to Heimann's collected papers, Heimann herself acknowledged a rift that preceded this by several years. Winnicott, too, critiqued what he saw as Klein's over-valuation of envy, in particular her identification of the primacy of this emotional state.

Though I've encountered Winnicott's critique, and even recently returned to it as I continue to think about aggression, Heimann's departure from this notion is accompanied by an idea about the relationship between sublimation and the death drive that illuminates the significance of this theoretical difference. In her separate discussions of sublimation and the death drive throughout the course of her early work, when support of Klein's defense of the death drive was at stake, Heimann asserted its conceptual significance as providing a context for the complex relationship that individuals hold in relation to internal objects. Because of her interest in sublimation, which is about the ego's creative activity, Heimann pursues the idea that the state of primary indeterminacy theorized by Balint as "primary love" and by Winnicott as the "unintegrated state," is not restricted to "object-relatedness" ("Some Notes on Sublimation" (1957; 132). Heimann is thus insistent that the internal objects that we experience as damaging or persecutory or destructive are not primarily objects, but also the self. In her essay "A contribution to the problem of sublimation," from 1939, she writes:
But since these defences consist of attacking the persecutors inside the self, they are of no avail as a solution, for they involve the subject at the same time as her objects. The battlefield is in the home country, not on enemy territory. A vicious circle is thus set up and a perpetual warfare ensues which his played out in the subject's internal world--always affecting her external life and often expressed in terms of physical symptoms. (33)
The "perpetual warfare" that sets itself up here does so to the extent that the internal objects are not recognized as subject to a double aggression: first, the attribution of destructiveness to objects represents a defensive externalization of one's feelings of destructiveness and aggression, as is characteristic of splitting and about which Melanie Klein spoke of especially through recourse to "projective identification"; and second, that the ambivalence; but second, that in addition to this destructiveness that achieves externalization in the internal object, there is something of the death drive that is also not realized in this externalization, and this quotient is the difference between the death instinct and the destructive instinct.

Heimann illustrates this in her example of a patient who breaks off into reciting a poem during analysis. Heimann regards this as a moment of "withdrawal" (130) that is motivated "not by hostility or fear" but by "an urge to engage in creative ego activity," in other words, a sublimation. Here, sublimation is linked with aggression because it represents an interpretive choice not to read this moment as a deflected or destructive impulse. In "The theory of the life and death instincts," which is the essay that she wrote in defense of Klein's work and presented in 1942, she describes the muteness of the death instinct in a manner consistent with this reading of withdrawal as sublimation. Because of the difficulty, often noted in psychoanalytic literature, of locating aggression in a "pure" or "unalloyed" state, it's possible to grant that "reading" it may indeed involve scenarios when the other side--object-relatedness, the reparation of lost or destroyed objects, destructiveness displaced onto/into other objects--can also be read. What compels this reading, then? Perhaps the thesis about perpetual warfare, a statement that gathers significance in the present day, requires thinking more profoundly about the damage that is done by reparative work as well. Here, it's not just that destructiveness accompanies reparative work--the narrow dialectic of civilization and barbarism, the exceedingly harsh strictures of the super-ego suggesting that civilization's destructiveness is greater than not--but that missing the destructive aspect of reparative work means that the capacity for sublimation, in the form of creative activity--figured by Heimann as a reprieve, "short-lived," or as "dwelling on certain instances" (126)--becomes impoverished, constrained, inoperable as well.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Enough Is Enough

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, from “The University and the Undercommons”
But for the subversive intellectual, all of this goes on upstairs, in polite company, among the rational men. After all, the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings. And on top of all that, she disappears. She disappears into the underground, the downlow lowdown maroon community of the university, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong. (26) 

In 2014, the Institute for Policy Studies put out a report, titled “The OnePercent at State U: How Public University Presidents Profit from Rising StudentDebt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor.” ^^The report found that the U ranked fourth worst of those 25 public universities with the highest executive salaries (the 1%). President Kaler and the rational men upstairs have promised to reform privatization, including—following a 2012 Wall Street Journal article reporting that the administrative bloat did notfloat—his promise to freeze tuition and his plan to implement measures of “operational excellence,” which he claims would cut administrative costs by $90 million by 2019.

There is the old question, not how the minutes are counted, but of whose minutes are saved (and whose stolen) in a zero sum game that reflects, as Kaler pronounces, no “general trends at the U.” Initially ranked 3rd  worst in the 1% report, Kaler and the Udisputed these findings on the basis of the way that adjunct and contingent workers are counted. How are the low-wage workers of the university—the graduate student workers, the adjuncts, and the contingent laborers—counted? Buried in the ruins of operation excellence, both the number—which ranges from 500 to 5600, depending on how it’s counted—and the category of those “downlow lowdown” workers are obscured. What else is obscured: “the university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings.” What the subversive intellectual bears, carries, births, sustains: the university needs the products of her labor; it ingests these accumulated goods, uses them in the production of profit, and appears to do so efficiently, without waste. There would be much critical work to be done in this vein: exposing, bringing to the surface these conditions, making visible, and so forth, and it’s all necessary. But my interest is on the other side today: what she brings that cannot be borne, what cannot be consumed and so used, that part of the work that yields, that bears, feeds her.  

>      Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, again: 
The moment of teaching for food is therefore often mistakenly taken to be a stage, as if eventually one should not teach for food. If the stage persists, there is a social pathology in the university. But if the teaching is successfully passed on, the stage is surpassed, and teaching is consigned to those who are known to remain in the stage, the sociopathological labor of the university. (27)

I’d like to begin, then, with the question: what is there to be said about the value of teaching for food?

The other-value of food, that which is not fed back into the meaning-affirmative circuit of exchange and use, tends toward that which is destructive in love, a destructiveness, a desire, that is brought but not born into material relations that are always, on the surface, about reparation and resources, about that which provides the “real” sustenance. Moten and Harney’s phrase implies that “teaching for food” means “teaching to live,” means subsistence, but I read it as is already ambivalent: it’s a thing only insofar as it’s a stage to be passed. The phrase, “teaching for food” is already ironic, a term lifted from the DSM, on the list of “symptoms” under the category “sociopathological labor of the university.”

One has the suspicion, however, that this stage is not so much a diagnosis as it is a prescription, one that suggests that food functions not just as an index of the minimum requirement to sustain life, but that it has another value—the other-value of food: a sustenance that allows us to “get to” feelings of destructiveness that we otherwise locate in the world. We find a model of this use for food in objects-relations psychoanalysis, where, for example, ^^DW Winnicott describes the continuous destroying that is at work in “object constancy,” in the very maintenance of an object as outside oneself: “The object is always being destroyed. This destruction becomes the unconscious backcloth for love of a real object; that is, an object outside the area of the subject’s omnipotent control…In this way a world of shared reality is created which the subject can use and which can feed back other-than-me substance into the subject” (126, emphasis mine).[1] Winnicott’s key move is to show us that what appears to be a closed circuit of exchange and use contains a sequence of psychical equations or relations that must be passed through. While he tends to assume not that this always happens, but that it has the capacity to, a full account of the ambiguity of the prescriptive/diagnostic aspect raises questions, again, about the value of surpassing stages. 

In “On Eating, and Preferring Not To” Adam Phillips writes,

The person who refuses to eat can do something so devastating to the environment—the parents, the therapists, the hospital staff—that they often need to dissociate parts of themselves to manage it. The food refuser, often unconsciously, engineers the possibility of a dissociation in the people who try and help. At first the boss takes it for granted, in a commonsensical way, that Bartleby will do the work demanded of him; just as, in a commonsensical way, one might assume that people will eat, simply in order to live, or feel well; as though food only has a use-value, and not an exchange-value as well. The boss assumes, in other words, that there is a kind of natural (or contractual) order in the office, that people are there because they have agreed to play the game...In this essay, it is the parents and/or the therapist being browbeaten in some unprecedented and violently unreasonable way that I want to consider; just what this preferring-not-to does to the people addressed. Do they, we, begin to stagger in our own plainest faith (in our therapeutic beliefs)? Are we able to experience, to find useful words for, what I want to call the aesthetics of defiance, and Melville calls the vague surmise that all the justice and all the reason is on the other side? (283-285)

In the phrase—“as though food only has a use-value and not an exchange-value as well”—the contrast between use-value and exchange-value seems to misname exchange-value, since it’s not that the exchange value of food was forgotten, but rather that, in addition to the circuit of use and exchange value, there is an “other” value of food—the 0ther-value of food—and its value is as an “other-than-me substance,” which can be “f[e]d back…into the subject” (Winnicott 126).

Phillips shifts the terrain of voluntary/involuntary activity; he proposes that “what are called symptoms—of which refusing to eat and being unable to stop eating are often stark and frightening examples—are experiments in living” (287). These “experiments in living” are not experiments in reparation but experiments in destructiveness, since it is destructiveness and not reparation that is the aim of the reparative mode.[2]

Is the point to create others-in-dissociation out of institutional procedures that usually confront the subject like any other object? Phillips points to how the patient (as subject) might feel confused about the “willingness to suffer” exhibited by parents/therapists who do the work of “surviving”—“accepting projections, containing them and, as it were, feeding them back” (293). This is not a motive or a cause for experimenting, but Phillips suggests that the experimentation that is the other aspect of the symptom leads to the question, “what kind of people will I have on my hands if I prefer not to eat?” It is this that leads to a “necessary” dissociation on the part of the therapist/parent/family/neoliberal university (with its familial classifications of labor), who, like the narrator-lawyer in Bartleby, “begins to stagger in his own plainest faith” (284). The latent insurgency of Moten and Harney’s “subversive intellectual” involves the conceptualization of a reparative moment that persists in drawing this relation of dependence into question: why is it that what she is bringing is too much to bear? An off rhyme: What is the value of teaching for food, teaching for good?

In “Crazy in Love,” an essay written for The New Inquiry, Hannah Black describes the conflict she experiences in caring for/about her brother, through his repeated episodes of psychosis: “As for me, I could not deal with the day-to-day maintenance of B; I found ways to avoid him, told myself lies about tough love and so on. But my love for him followed me everywhere.” My love for him followed me everywhere. The love Black describes “gets to” its own destructiveness, to that which is incapable of loving in love. Like “teaching for food,” modes of identification that don’t keep pace—modes that are about the maintenance of maintenance—become pathological, not merely as an attribute of the system (the university) but as an attribute of an identity within the system. The sociopathological adjunct lecturer teaching specialists contingent.

As 1970s Marxist feminism has shown, and as the text “A Love Letter to Radical Graduate Students Past, Present, andFuture,” by Nick Mitchell, aka low end theory also notes, choices, in particular about objects of love, are always also coercions. I keep dwelling on this insight, now outdated—perhaps too outdated to explain love now, but also, I suspect, not—in thinking about the close residence of love and hate and the role of destructiveness in love. For as much as Black writes against "love," she also gets that the joke about overattachment is not that funny: "One side of the joke — that a woman would have to be crazy to long for entry into a couple — is negated by the other — that a woman who can’t negotiate her way into a couple is crazy." Put otherwise: One side of the joke—that a PhD has to be crazy to long for entry into academia—is negated by the other—that a PhD who can't negotiate her way into academia is crazy.

For the Tenure-Track Professor and the White Family (and with the understanding that these are not social categories but upheld and often invisible ideals), there is no longer a reason to feel ambivalent about love, or perhaps better, there's always another reason to feel ambivalent about love, but perhaps there's no longer a reason to feel ambivalent about one's love objects. In addition to the fact that this is "too bad," and not “for good,” the loss of such ambivalence, of a relation to a loved object that does not involve the capacity to hold one's destructiveness, is a profound but perhaps less apparent price to be paid for professionalism.

it’s all life’s all
thrills and regression
flowering cowering
and all the in between

the good and the bad
as if not linking were |not|
an option.

trilling water
the next smallest drop

unentangle desire
entangled estates

pluming is apposite
projecting, providing cover
for the operation
that produces
the other as negative in order to
produce this negativity
as an inhering substance

unentangle this

from thrall

this is the white problem:
of destroying mores
killing the dead child
(the child you were you never were)
again and again and again
and every day

the who you are
in your eyes
who you never were

attenuated swings
around to the outset

we have | no access
to dustings of green flowering trees
in early spring
to the wear and tear
of a (linguistic) phenomenon
winter, with all its wear and tear, is forgotten
without giving it
some kind of
role in this quantum qualia, this
figurative representation

writ of access

the that which is effaced

the child sashays around to the front
again, foxglove, long days,
rain pixilating, little coming out

so if now you
can be proposed—
propositioned as above—
does that mean
I am no more?

I my bitterness insufflated
nesting dolls and centrifugitivity
an object within a similar object
always comes to rest

there is always | that
nesting | that
more than less than | that
explains all dynamic

and still, we can want
something more
even if there’s nothing,
about you that,  about | that
we can be sure

a blocked parent has come to
some part of her his child | that
still hurts. it’s the bitterroot wound
an object within a similar object

bears fault: bears, assumes, repairs
to come to something other than | this

you all is object | this
proposition: I don't understand
why we can't—all of us who feel | this
way—just do | this

[1] Unlike Graham and Thrift’s “continuous dying,” the subject is the agent of processes of destruction.
[2] One of the outcomes of criticism of “administrative bloat” at the University of Minnesota, as at many other institutions, has been the implementation of “Operational Excellence,” a business model that advocates for “continuous improvement.” In discussions and disputes over this model in the business world, the term “continuous” versus “continual” is given some attention. Reforms and improvements should be both endless (continual) and discrete (continuous), infinite and measurable. Both “continuous dying” and “continuousness improvement” posit the chaotic or entropic tendency of the social organization of life. Seeing this “humble earthworm” from the right perspective—something recently advocated by Eric Hayot, as a way of “seeing others” in a cosmological sense —involves a dissatisfying resolution of the paradox of “destructive love,” the resolution of contradiction rather than the maintenance of indeterminacy.

***presented at the University of Minnesota Graduate Student Colloquium, Inter|Diction on April 3, 2015 (convened by Mikkel Vad, with Kai Bosworth, Emily Fedoruk, and Tom Pepper).