Friday, April 8, 2016
"Maybe, I prefer a bit of muddle to the use of a gadget."
This title quote comes from Paula Heimann's essay, "About Children and Children-No-Longer," about which I have been thinking and writing. After making the above statement, she rescinds it, writing, "I must contradict my last sentence. I do not like muddled thinking at all, although I am guilty of it only too often as just now. I meant to express my strong dislike against introducing any gadget into the psychoanalytic relationship. I probably should not be able to handle it correctly" (339). The quick distance Heimann takes from the "muddle"--it's only there to illustrate a kind of option that might represent a state of not having the "gadget" (the "gadget" in question, a tape recorder)--is something I'd like to think about. But the impulse to ask a question about status of the muddle in relation to the gadget also opens immediately into the problem that such a question is, as Winnicott writes, "not to be formulated" (Playing and Reality 17)* and yet: does the renunciation of the muddle take place because it is already too much like a "gadget"--too much of a thing that can be applied to thinking--or because it operates as a kind of fetish, and so threatens to expose a space that might indicate the absence of method in psychoanalysis?
What is interesting to me about Paula Heimann's term "children-no-longer" is that it clearly locates the adult in relation to a state now passed; in contrast, "grown-ups" suggests having one's sites on the movement forward. Philli, the other day, talking about her feeling that it would be "impossible" to grow up, for example, that it "would take so long." The "grown-up" who knows the other side of this feels the pressure to "grow up" in his/her various ways. The pressure to do so is in every place; even when it is not clearly ideological, as in professionalization, or in determining one's identity, it is there, perhaps simply, as time.
The child-no-longer has no better method than anyone else for getting through the day and the way it throws up, at every juncture, something that needs to be gotten through. But since these forms of mediation appear socially, they seem to require a facility with method--with something, I think, that we think of as providing a procedure or process for getting through. It's, I suppose, obvious why "method" is posited here. Or why the question of method is so firmly lodged in the junctures. Conversations in the recent panel I took part in at the ACLA, "From Extraction to Exhaustion" repeated these questions--something like, what if you move backward into rather than forward from/with method? Maybe it's not spatial (backwards) or regressive but one thing to contend with, on the one hand, is the feeling that it is; on the other hand, it registers in the feeling of not being included in the any of the movements are are pushing forward, coming into being. There, the psychotic aspect of the "child-no-longer" comes into play, in the feeling of having hallucinated oneself into the story about how something has come to be.
Today in the bi-weekly installment of a reading group that I've been taking part in on financialization, led by Miranda Joseph, we were joined by Leigh Claire La Berge, who has written about literary aspects of abstraction and representation in relation to finance, and I felt like this conversation somehow took place for me in the above framework, roughly sketched out. Here, the conversation was explicitly about method and interdisciplinarity, proposing the mediation of various dualisms, such as form/content, or abstract/concrete, or representation/reality, as the work to be done (does the child play and not work simply because it is not required to muster the same kind of energy just to keep things going, to maintain the capacity to set things in motion at every instance?).
So I think the question raised for me here--after a day like today, a day that felt like a continuous hallucination of myself into forms of being that no longer count me in, or that have counted me dead, in various ways, which is a very intensely narcissistic thing as well--is why I'm always lingering in these spaces, from which it feels like others have passed on through, or if they haven't, they are aiming to? Or it's this idea of myself as doing so that I can't let go of. But if the insistence on that is not pathological but rather a part of one's being a child-no-longer, does it mean it's a state that you can continue to hold, even though it's dead to others--dead to those who have moved on to other terms, to fields and disciplines where the stakes require justification on other terms? Why, or in what situation, do we see the dead things behind as "everything"--the everything we want to bring along with us--and not the "nothing"? This was a question that arose for me in Michelle Cho's lovely talk, "Genre Worlds," and in the discussion that followed. Here, I lose a sense of what I'm talking about because I'm talking about so many levels, and for much of the time of the talk all I could be aware of was the way that the room like a space of total loss, giving rise to a very acute feeling of suffocation, a form of the feeling of not making it through. That's what it was, anyway.
Winnicott, who discusses the importance it being a "matter of agreement" not to ask and thus decide whether something was found or created, and yet that's always the demand that method makes, to determine this in some way. I wonder if the feeling that going "back" and trying to pick something up is painful comes not so much from one's encounter with reality (i.e. that whatever it is that is being picked up is not "there") but from being compelled to make this choice between what is found and what is created (which is just as unfathomable as the "impossibility" of growing up).
In object relations, this would be the pain associated not with the destruction of the object, but with pain affecting the ego, the "narcissistic hurts" suffered in time. Looking back on this formulation in Heimann's essay, "About Children and Children-No-Longer," it's notable that the description of "narcissistic hurts" comes up when she is talking about the difference between the "regressed" person and the state of original childhood. She writes, "The regressed person, adult or child, suffers from a breakdown of advanced functions, suffers from destructive processes affecting developmental achievements. This implies narcissistic hurts, wounds to self-esteem, shame, a sense of being let down by oneself, failure in many respects" (335). These "hurts" or "wounds" or "shame" seem to point to the vulnerability that the ego must always feel, on the edge of its own destructiveness, as Freud describes, as a border-animal, a Grenstier, whose method, though it might be perceptible to others in this kind of retrospective glance, is nothing other than a kind of hugging to oneself of something--a piece of "time" frozen, an otherwise nothing--about which you have not been compelled to choose, I found it/I created it.
Such was the view out/of the window today in Walter 101: against the backdrop of the fallen classic grandeur of the building of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, which is in the middle of being torn down and so boarded up, an April snow large-flaked and gusty. And there continues to be something about the snow--about the way that I experience it as an enclosure (or the perceptibility of an enclosure) close to the form of an embrace--that seems to lend itself to imagining the afterlife of dead letters, those objects that continue to transmit their messages, as falling down to earth.
*Winnicott's passage reads: "Of the transitional object it can be said that it is a matter of agreement between us and the baby that we will never ask the question: 'Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?' The important point is that no decision on this point is expected. The question is not to be formulated. (Playing and Reality 17; italics in original)
Note: As always, a form of working through with RT. So much also moves from the totally moving series of conversations had around what is found/what is created with RP, CC, and AL in the Spring 2016 course "Psychoanalysis and Lit II"; this, in turn, was found/created in "From Exhaustion to Extraction" and continues to converse there, after the conversing is past.
Picture: Still from Hirokazu Koreeda, After Life (1998).