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"