Tuesday, May 17, 2016

preference of paths

Supposing the other letters have not been about love, this one makes its proclamation to the contrary. In a final essay, a student of mine (CC) wrote about the perspective of the object in relation to Margery William’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. It’s easy to see from the very beginning, how inanimateness or deadness is taken as preceding existence or presence in the world, and that also places emphasis on the use of the term “object” in relation to people; what seems to be a metaphor-concept for people is perhaps more than that already. As CC describes, the rabbit emerges as an object through processes of “real” abstraction, which demonstrate the ways in which its being acted upon is a means of its becoming worn, its “fraying,” a term Derrida takes up from Freud in “Freud and the Scene of Writing” (thanks CM for this reference). The difficulty of grasping this process (not just a matter of understanding but of touching/taking hold of/feeling) has a correlate, as CC notes, in Winnicott’s discussion of object relating vs. object use: “Within the context of Winnicott’s understanding of object use there seems to be an implication that object usage is equitable to the love of an object; that the child must destroy the object so that it can love the object, or that in loving the object the child destroys the object. One cannot love an object that they cannot accept is an ‘entity in its own right’ and not simply a ‘bundle of projections,’ for the love of the self-made projected object is simply the love of oneself (Winnicott 118-120).” It’s Williams’s story that adds the terms of love explicitly, and CC’s paper identifies and lingers over these terms.

In thinking about this, I’m interested in how this process of destructiveness “places the object outside,” which is the moment responsible for the object becoming an “entity in its own right,” about which there is an implicit priority. In other scenes, such a placing “outside” is a gesture that is protective or defensive on one side and hallucinatory on the other, part of the distorted perspective of mental abstraction, which registers in complicity’s desire to see oneself there simply so that an “outside” can be experienced or felt as non-illusory. I’m interested in how this constitutive relation detailed in the Winnicottian scene relates to the otherwise protective /defensive gesture. Perhaps, as Balint describes, this indifferentiation accounts for the primacy of primary love, which disregards the object totally. But this prevalence raises a question about the implicit value placed on the “entity in its own right.” If this common work of putting something “outside” brings complicity and love into relation, it’s interesting that love becomes significant because it carries the possibility of feeling that complicity otherwise denies. Love (perhaps here it’s useful to re-invoke preference as Vor-liebe (although below Derrida will cite Freud as using “Bevorzugung)) is able to shore up the inadequacy of complicity not because it is reparative but because it reveals itself (from the perspective of the object) as destructive. This is a possible explanation of how the protective or defensive aspect of complicity also wants to hide from or de-link its destructiveness so that one can continue to love oneself (through others). Maybe that’s much the course of things but I feel radically uninclined in this way.

How to love that which is real about the object, when what is real is the process only of fraying? Derrida writes,
“An equality in resistances to the fraying or an equivalence in the forces fraying would eliminate any preference in choice of itinerary. Memory would be paralysed. It is the difference between frayings which is the real origin of memory and thus of the psyche. Only that difference frees a “preference of path” (Wegbevorzugung): ‘Memory is represented’ (dargestellt) by the differences in the frayings between y-neurones.’ We must then not say that fraying without difference is insufficient for memory; it must be stipulated that there is no pure fraying without difference.”

Memory’s being the “very essence” of the psyche accounts for this imperative. This stipulation turns away, as does Williams’s story, from the Lacanian real as hole or lack. If there is only fraying with difference, we might also say that there is only loving as becoming real, but then how is it that we must also account for so much brokenness, deception, misdirection, errant and irreversible fraying in these processes, when “fraying with difference” seems to displace the insufficiency of conceptualizing “fraying without difference”? Thinking about what is being frayed in this differentiating moment draws me back to CC’s earlier questions about the found/created distinction. Perhaps this is a site of violence (in contrast to destructiveness) where there is played out the demand of this question repeatedly. What if you were to see the processes repeated, the movement of this repetition, even against the seductive appearance of it being for the first time? Is this “entity in its own right” something encountered along the Wegbevorzugung or not, I wonder? And what is the difference between the “preference of path” (Wegbevorzugung) and “fraying” (Bahnung), the “breaking of a path (Bahn)”?

Monday, May 9, 2016

wall of clouds

"No one is better than Proust at giving the sense that the true interest of a psyche, a landscape, or indeed a sentence may be actually inexhaustible."
--Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, from "The Weather in Proust"
Sedgwick's suggestion, which aligns psyche, landscape, and sentence, as units, or concept-units measured out by an inexhaustible "true interest," speaks to the problem of state change, of the extent to which change in degree also spans a qualitative realm, and how a shifting of interest may or may not bring into question the "trueness"--here, the aspect, perhaps of being "steady, firm, and dependable in allegiance or devotion to a loved one, friend, leader, group, or cause : not false or perfidious" forms a slight tension in relation to "trueness" as "conformable to fact," or as "conformable to nature, reality, or an original : accurate in delineating or expressing the essential elements." What is there in this connection between "trueness" and a condition of "inexhaustible" interest? Where does the psyche/landscape/sentence stand in relation to this "true interest"? 

State change. Cloud formation. Later: an idea about the sublimation of snow, under conditions of low temperatures, high winds, sun, and low air pressure, snow becomes vapor, passing directly rather than moving through liquidity. A rain shadow wind, a wind whose moisture is expended windward and becomes dry leeward, expending nothing, except itself. The "Chinook Arch," a cloud formation that appears as a gathering storm, a wall of clouds, elevated; below the wall, sky is visible above the horizon. This is one of the few illusions the Minnesotan sky engages in, foreboding (or not) snow. This illusiveness is/appears inexhaustible. Inexhaustible, in the sense of only just barely existing. The sense of having an awareness of something being held up, being held, period, having a sense somewhere that this is false even as, through its continued persistence, it appears, in an aspect, true. 

Sublimation, as state change: the "path of energy of the sex drive or impulse towards nonsexual activities" (Laplanche, "To Situate Sublimation"). Yet, in Loewald, in Heimann, even in Laplanche, the suggestion is otherwise, about the kind of transformation effected. Laplanche: "although sublimation is most often regarded as a transformation of some sexual activity into nonsexual activity, as a 'destined impulse', we find several passages where what is in question is the genesis of objects, of myths or illusions" (9). At the edges of this transformation, then, the production of illusion. Commenting on Freud's reading of Leonardo, Laplanche notes how two subliminatory activities take place--pictorial creation and scientific investigation--so that the questions raised by these different activities allows him to "dwell on this notion, so crucial in psychoanalysis": "of an impossibility of transformation, i.e., the fact that in certain areas the passage from, the conversion of, some site into another, some psychic reality into another, is not possible in both directions" (10). If counting in the idea delineated in the windworks above, of an omitted step--for what reasons we might not know, or know yet--then reasons for the irreversibility of this passage or conversion can be seen as already constitutive of the state change, but in addition to this, can yield the state change as less of a transformation from one thing to another, in response to concern for the existential aspect of the before and after, and more as an elaboration of the integrity of the unit-concept--the psyche, landscape, or sentence. 

Through "To Situate Sublimation," Laplanche makes use of what he calls a "dihedron model" to illustrate the idea of reciprocity (labeled dihedron, between mastery (the drive to know) and sado-masochism; top) against the possibility of "another, non-"mutual" way of understanding the return from sadism toward sublimated activities" (unlabeled dihedron; bottom).

He writes, "For example, we an imagine something that would resemble a refolding of the sexual level back into the level of self-preservation" (15). The level of self-preservation, drawn by Freud as that which takes place in distinction to the sexual (and thus here, on the side of mastery or the drive to know) thus can be seen to hold the same place as that of the sublimated activities, if such reciprocity were to be maintained. In Laplanche's reading, however, the drive to know already "'works with the energy of Schaulust', the drive or desire to see" (15). He writes, 
The activity of seeing is thus considered to consist of two sections, one nonsexual and self-preservative [the other, "the sexual drive to see" forms the other aspect of this "propping movement"]: after all, sight enables each creature endowed with it to orient himself in the world, quite apart from any question of sexual pleasure, and from this point of view Freud links it directly to touch: the act of seeing is an extension of the act of touching. This is linked to the whole Freudian theory of perception, which views perception as consisting of a sending out of feelers, of sensitive tentacles, at rhythmic intervals. Imagine the cilia of a protozoan or the horns of a snail endowed with a kind of in and out movement...indeed, the snail's horns do bear sight organs. That is the image Freud has in mind when he connects sight to touch and compares it to a gathering in of samples from the outside world. The non-sexual activity of seeing, in the propping process, becomes a drive to see as soon as it becomes representative, that is, the interiorization of a scene. (15)
Working across the arrows, then, is this register of a passing through seeing, something which we can glimpse as dislocated from either side. In what sense is this "extension" of touching to seeing an illusive "genesis of objects" even when it appears merely as state change or transformation? 

In the above, it's hard not to read the "one nonsexual and self-preservative" as "one nonsexual and one self-preservative," since this highlights the way in which the return appears and is not the same. Laplanche, further: 
Here we have what I was trying to indicate with regard to the dihedron schema, namely, that the plane of self-preservation is so defective that in certain cases it can be almost virtual and cannot be made active other than at the moment when the right-hand plane (sexuality), as it is called, arouses it. Thus we have a propping reinforced or buttressed by something it has itself brought into being. In other words, the notion of propping still holds surprises. (16; italics mine)
I wonder, in relation to some of the point of outset, whether it is the idea of propping itself, or this notion of "still holds surprises" that could be imagined as a condition of inexhaustibility. Is it, instead, not the "true" interest that is inexhaustible, but the defective one? Or, in what aspect must the true appear so as to appear "defective"? There is a later link made between sublimation and repression, which Laplanche describes as the type of propping associated with sublimation, which is, as fitting for sublimation, the "most rarest and most perfect." Here, "the libido stands aloof from representation, it is sublimated from the beginning into the desire to know and reinforces or buttresses the already powerful drive to investigate" (21). Being sublimated "from the beginning," the libido does not stand outside, as an indication of this non-mutual investment; Laplanche notes, "sublimation is not a repression and yet there is still a turning back" (21). But in/of what does the turning back consist? To which: a defective site of an activity of perception on a plane almost virtual, an inexhaustibility that continues to yield a "turning back," a rain shadow wind, a wall of clouds. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

bit by bit

The point being: to forget the object, or the terms of this object, and to pick it up again, after it has acquired a strange familiarity, which is the externality proper to itself. 

Does this psychoanalytical process of abstraction, following the determinations of the Real in object relations, suggest an alternate ontological figure for capitalism, as it's interesting to note that Toscano's reading of "real abstraction" takes the Lacanian real as real: "This ontology of real abstraction--which is inextricably political, historical, and economic--is, in Finelli's view, a dual ontology to the extent that it both affirms concrete reality as a 'specific articulation of differences' and reveals the void at the heart of Capital, as it were, as the fact of the Real of its abstraction--to speak in a Lacanian vein--is its absence of determinations, the fact that it has no historical or cultural content per se" (Toscano, "The Open Secret of Real Abstraction" 276). My reading of object relations permits thinking about a "real" that is not void or absence, though it too appears in this form. For if there it is the object's perspective that is the real--and all of the terms of inaccessibility that go along with this--then abstraction's connection to thought might also not be as Toscano describes in the Marxian schema, where "abstraction precedes thought," and as he qualifies, "More precisely, it is the social activity of abstraction, in its form as commodity exchange, that plays the pivotal role in the analysis of real abstraction" (281). 

Psychoanalysis loses grip of the way that abstraction is a social activity; it seems to immediately dispense with the idea of anything social, about activity. But if this all sits inside of the inaccessibility of the perspective of the object as a form of knowledge, if this is something like psychoanalysis's grounding of "knowledge" in the parameters of the irrational, it might mean something else for abstraction to precede irrational thought, for even if this is implied in the Marxian analysis of real abstraction, lingering in the phantasy world of real abstraction would imply a form of "knowing" somewhere between Winnicott's notions of relating and using. Impossible to sustain this perspective, which includes the "false" separation of psychic interiority from the "world," it is perhaps a way of thinking about the Real not as void, but as a space in which the Real is acquired, and acquired, as it were, bit by bit. 

Along these lines, the lines about forgetting the object, this is the very first post I made to this blog, back on Thursday May 3, 2007: 
where does a strange silence begin? some have suggested that it is in the forest, the sound that a falling tree makes when no one is around to hear. at times, for brecht, it's the talked-about tree that is the strange silence. A Strange Silence is the title of the project, my dissertation, the thing that everything here is a footnote to, especially the poems, since they are the leaves, what is left over.
from 4/4/07//:

and the green fall to unsafe water:welcome to the 21st century let not many other things be spared--save your happiness; this was Brecht's nightmare.Humanity, the human dog, wants to let go to forget, dismiss, judge, pee wherever it wants.a condition remiss, or a saying unheard.in the woods, we are all quiet; it is solace.and save to other things, too, save to find yourself alone. the distance is unmarked. cross-hatches are what i saw in the desert and didn't draw.the things nightmares are made of leave you with the distance of their unmarkings. becky's dreams are about writing (ask me how i felt when my mom died. it's a feeling i can't think of). i watch her grow.communism is short-lived. the brown notebooks are filled. you are always thinking of brecht. his return is unsettling, a time when autonomy in writing is needed.

picture: smoke-covered Minneapolis, with winds shifting downward from the wildfire in Alberta. 
Question posed by RT: "To what extent is it missing from psychoanalysis or occluded in the general category of mourning--the sociology or ethnography of objects and the real abstractions that make them?" Question abstracted and taken up in both "Psychoanalysis and Lit II" and "Poetry as Cultural Critique," classes which have now come to an end. I don't think I've ever said this seriously before, either, least of all to a class, but "it's been real."

Friday, May 6, 2016

counting in silence

What does it mean to draw attention to Brecht's poetry--to poetry in general--without redeploying the terms of genre, without, for example, deriving from the contrast of his poetic work and his dramatic, a distinction that matters, as genre distinction? At the end of this semester's poetry class, it seems three conclusions were reached: 1) as David Lloyd suggests in "A White Song," that poetry is a condition of "endless readability"; 2) that poetry is something that is an experience of feeling language; and 3) that poetry represents the perspective of the object. Potentially, each of these involves a certain "unrealizability topos," a term Christopher Nealon uses to describe the non-closure of language in the world it discloses. Is it simply that "poetry" names the space for talking about these things--always these things--at the expense of other things?

In reading Brecht, I am drawn to the spaces of non-closure, those spaces that also mark or play at something like the entanglement of illusive appearance and reality in Marx, their nearly impossible extricability from one another. Where is the desire for this extrication? (would be one place to start). Seen in another way, the scene of this extrication takes place only opposite to another no-less real scene--that of the absence, lack, or hole of the Real. Thus Lacanian psychoanaysis and Hegelian dialectics allow for the fantasy of locating oneself on one side or another and develop from the resultant dynamism a sense of the governance by convention of these spaces, as genre. Staying with the impossibility of this extrication is not the equivalent of saying there is no outside; it is a matter of saying there is nothing, outside--of counting in silence, of literally "counting in" silence, as a positive, substantive form of omission. Brecht's lines from "To Those Born After":
Ah, what kind of times are these, where
a conversation about trees is almost a crime
because it includes a silence about so much injustice! 
Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschliesst!
On first reading, these lines register an experience of civilian guilt, a feeling or acknowledgment of one's complicity in the injustice of the world. This complicity, while both implicating the individual and registering the injustice in the world, also holds a place for oneself outside of that imagined world. If the trees could not be imagined as standing outside of the injustice of the world--fantasized as not included--then the terms being spoken about would not even be of human conversation about trees, but about the trees speaking themselves. Complicity then registers this kind of fantastic activity of hallucinating oneself into a scene so that one actually comes to stand outside of it. This is the entire mode in which Brecht's poetry--and the problem of civilian guilt that I also come to describe through the illusiveness and indeterminacy of the poetic speaker--toils. The inadequacy or failing of this mode is a way of thinking about how "silence," a term that is meant to signal the unrealizability of a gest(ure) that is not properly social or symbolic, is not just about what is left out of conversation, the merely "mental abstraction" of reality that retains the rights to perspective, but also consists of something, or has substance as such.

In what sense would this kind of silence be (almost) criminal? The crime here would not be one's guilt or complicity in injustice, as is implied in the first reading; to count in silence, to speak poetically (i.e. in a conversation about trees) would be a crime on the basis of the constraints on speaking in "times, where" saying nothing is already saying too much. This kind of silence would not be inadequacy; it would already be too much. Counting oneself in in order to count oneself out--the defensive move that Brecht's work manifests--defends against the world, and in doing so, speaks to the limitation of the mode of complicity as moving toward the kind of political, socialized realization that Brecht imagines possible.

picture: the North Shore (from my first trip there). Poetry questions, thanks to the members of "Poetry as Cultural Critique." All other things are very old and the effort is to see what remains to maintain.