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