August 27, 2014

The Extra-Clinical Potential of Lacan’s Discourse of the Analyst?

As Lacan’s ‘discourse theory’ has become more well known since the English publication of Seminar XVII in 2007, it has not been uncommon to see the analyst’s discourse touted as having great potential for deployment outside the clinic. It is easy enough to understand why such hopes would be expressed, though it seems to me that certain claims being made about it exceed the support that it can offer. Some say it is a revolutionary discourse, others that it is a discourse which “excludes domination” (that phrase is Jacques-Alain Miller’s). Here is Žižek glossing this perspective (note I do not say that he is espousing it), 
(...) the analyst's discourse stands for the emergence of revolutionary-emancipatory subjectivity that resolves the split of university and hysteria. In it, the revolutionary agent - a - addresses the subject from the position of knowledge that occupies the place of truth (i.e., which intervenes at the "symptomal torsion" of the subject's constellation), and the goal is to isolate, get rid of, the master signifier that structured the subject's (ideologico-political) unconscious. 
The snag, or hang-up that emerges for anyone wanting to take this aspiration further (if it is recognized as a snag at all, and often it is not) concerns how to actualize the discourse of the analyst outside the clinic.

Inside the clinical relation, the analyst’s discourse makes possible many things, crucially it aids in establishing the transference, it makes of the analyst a cipher or void or sorts onto which the analysand’s various repetitive ways of responding to the Other might, over time, be made recognizable to them. And with that recognition of what is symptomatic and repetitive in the analysand’s stance vis-a-vis the Other, comes the potential to change (obviously much more could be said about this). I have no qualm with any of this because in that very special setting (that of a psychoanalysis) it seems to me that the analyst’s discourse does facilitate these very things. Note that I wrote facilitate, and no other verb which might imply that it offers any assurance of such an outcome. The analyst’s discourse makes possible, that is all. 
[Here too, and in spite of my conviction, I am moved to note that there may be something about the discourse of analyst which is specific to the clinical work with neurotic analysands, as I have seen suggesting that if working with a psychotic analysand, that the elusive and enigmatic approach is very much not what is clinically called for — if that is true, then does the analyst in the clinic of the psychotic, still operate in the analyst’s discourse? I leave that question aside here as it exceeds the bounds of my topic.]

But again the question of how one can speak from the place of object a (which is to speak from the place of jouissance), that is, how can one be the agent of the analyst’s discourse outside of the clinic in order to advocate for the (revolutionary, emancipatory) desires that others (those who hear) have, but have not or cannot avow as their own? (This being part and parcel of aiding the analysand in grasping their symptom qua symptom, through recognition of their stance toward the Other.) Then, if one can do this effectively outside the clinic in the broader social realm, then per the discourse, the hoped for product would be new S1s, new master signifiers that productively name the addressed subject’s desire— allowing them to own it, to act upon it. 

What those who either make these claims or hope for them seem to be eliding is the radical specificity of the clinical setting and it’s marked difference from nearly any other discursive context one might name. That setting insists upon the fundamental rule of free association. Already here, at the fundamental rule, we are faced with an injunction that is very unique. And while it is not as if we do not, in our many and varied discursive activities, engage with free association — only that nowhere else is it a rule, much less a fundamental one. In the clinic, the analysand (certainly to the extent that he or she has sought out a Lacanian analyst) is unlikely to be consciously expecting answers to their every question, advice or instruction relevant to their life’s problems, even as what they very probably do expect unconsciously might very well be these things. While this setting may be compared with other clinical settings or to what takes place in other sorts of psychotherapy, it is quite difficult to imagine any less formalized, less structured “social setting” being able to maintain even the fundamental rule of free association. 

Let us be comedic for a moment and suppose that you wish to operate only in the analyst’s discourse throughout the course of a day and through one’s various activities (making an appointment to take the cat to the vet, ordering lunch, talking with coworkers around the break room table, sitting in a conference call with other co-workers, unwinding with a friend or spouse after work, etc). How does one speak from the place of jouissance so as to help the other one is addressing to recognize and avow their own desire when ordering lunch? What happens on that conference call if, now and then when you hear an odd stress or slip of the tongue you echo it in the manner of the analyst? How much ‘unwinding’ is possible with friends if you only ever repeat their slips, or highlight the polyvalence and ambiguity of what they say? 

The trouble it seem in each of these scenarios is that they do not conform to the specific agency involved in the clinical use of the analyst’s discourse. Agency in everyday discourse situations requires offering statements, questions, information and much else a great portion of which is expected to be accurately self-referential in nature. The waitron’s question is not “what do I desire for lunch while being unable to avow it to myself” it pertains to you and your demands at the conscious level. We might then think of the analyst’s discourse as one in which the agent involved agency is directed toward enabling the unconscious of the other to be heard. And while, between good friends, where one has a trouble and wants to talk about it, the other may very well be trying to hear in their friend’s many thoughts about whatever they are suffering from, what it is that they desire but cannot put into words, I would argue that even here, where a very similar impulse might be seen, that enough significant differences persist that such a conversation between friends is still not a clear cut example of the analyst’s discourse. 

Having thought about this off and on for a couple of years at this point, I remain at a loss to find any other social setting where the specific constraints that structure the clinical relation are in effect. 

Here are three passages from Lacan which underscore some of the issues already raised;  
For a good analysis to be possible there needs to be an agreement, an understanding between the analyst and the subject analysing himself. 
The routes by which this act of speech proceeds demand a great deal of practice and infinite patience. Psychoanalysis’s tools are patience and moderation. The technique consists of moderating the degree of help that you give to the subject analysing himself.  
Psychoanalysis is a serious matter that concerns, I repeat, a strictly personal relation between two individuals, the subject and the analyst. There is no collective psychoanalysis, just as there are no mass anxieties or neuroses. 
(Lacan in 1974” — emphases are mine) 
Now for more comedy, but not a thought experiment. During my analysis, I became, as I am sure many do, quite attuned to slips of the tongue, both my own and those of others. Once one begins to hear how amazingly frequent these are, it can be hard not to try doing some of what one’s analyst does — or at least this was the case for me. I did this to people all the time! The responses were quite striking. Here are a few in brief;

I’d asked where the men’s shoes were in a department store, the employee said something like “Shoe-shits are over there.” The first word “shoe-shits” was less clear and less distinct than it appears in writing. But that is what I heard, so I blurted out, in my best neither-question nor-assertion tone of analytic ambiguity “shoe shits” with a pause to bring out both words. The employee looked shocked for a split second then started cackling with laughter. This is the only pleasant anecdote about this I have.

The most unpleasant is somewhat complicated and even now I shy away from giving some of the details, but a very short version. I heard a poet reading. He had intended a particular word and said something else, something very neologistic but quite clear (and later I listened bakc to this on an audio recording and it again seemed clear to myself and other I asked that the neologism I heard is what other heard as well). After the reading I mentioned this slip of the tnogue to the poet and he first denied (quite vehemently) that this is what he had said. I didn’t dispute with him only saying that this is what it sounded like to me. The word in question (I am intentionally not giving it for reasons that will be made clear below) included the word “porn” as one of two syllables in the neologism. The poet in question became more angry and said “So you’re saying that I watch porn and there’s something wrong with that?!” I said I had nothing against pornography, and had no insight into the meaning of the slip, and that I thought the word I heard was poetically interesting. He seemed unable to hear any of this and continued in the same vein, getting progressively angrier. I tried to change the subject but he kept circling back. Finally, arriving at his hotel, I said, “What would be so bad about having said that. We all make slips of the tongue all the time.” He replied with “Fuck you” and slammed the car door. Had this been all there was too it, it would be less of a story but the action doesn’t end there. About a week later I was alerted by a friend that several lengthy posts at a blog were violently attacking me by criticizing a piece I had written about a poet (already long deceased at that time). My friend sent me the link and I notice only once I had click on it that the blog it took me to had a one word neologistic title — precisely the same neologism I had heard in this poet’s slip of the tongue. I read through three lengthy pieces of this guys writing which were all intent on demolishing every claim I has made in that piece about the dead poet, and along the way to impugning my poetics, my intelligence, my grasp of logic, my abilities as a reader of literature, and even my grammar! Over the next month or more, additional posts appeared with scathing reviews of my poems as found here and there online and even point by point attacks on posts I had made to a poetry-related listserv more than 5 years earlier. This blog still exists (I just checked), though its author has long since ceased to devote himself to telling the world how terrible everything I think say or write is (and from checking the archives, it seems that he deleted the posts about me at some point in the intervening years — this having happened in 2004). 

Those two anecdotes mark the poles, but the most common response to experiment in listening for the unconscious along these lines was “that’s not what I said” but I’ll still note that often it was prefaced by a “fuck you” and that, it often resulted in a fair amount of negative affect being directed at me. Sometimes people simply looked confused momentarily and ignored what I’d repeated from their discourse. Other times someone would turn what I had said into a question for me. Still, overall, the most common affective response to my many experiments with this seemed to be anger, annoyance, confusion or a demand for clarification. These seem to be what emerges when you try to use the analyst’s discourse in social settings which are not structured in such a way as to allow it to do the work that it does in the clinic.

Toward the end of the time when I was doing this I also tried telling people that I was practicing hearing slips of the tongue and that they should feel free to free associate to anything I repeated. This never went anywhere. Either demands were issued for me to explain why I would do this, arguments were made that slips of the tongue mean nothing, or my repetitions were met with a raised eyebrow and ignored. Often people would ask that I stop doing as soon as I said anything.

I conclude form these admittedly anecdotal and personal/subjective experiences that, Freud was right — It speaks!  But (he was right about this too) very few people want to hear what it says or think about what it says and mostly they’re just gonna be pissed off. 

Psychoanalysis, as Lacan says above, “is a strictly personal relation between two individuals” and if, as he also claims, there “is no collective psychoanalysis, just as there are no mass anxieties or neuroses” might the reason for this be that no speaker, no agent of any discourse in the extra-clinical social world, where there are more listeners and speakers involved than we see in an analysis, is able to impose and thereby rely upon the rules which psychoanalysis requires in order for the analyst’s discourse to work as it is does in the clinic.  And while I do assert that it does work in its radically particular setting, saying so is not meant to imply that it always works, or that it works astonishingly well, or anything of the sort. Most of the time it doesn’t work, right? Doesn’t that have to be the case, as even in the clinic the analysand often enough squirms away from many interpretations because they touch upon what is most anxiety-producing about the unconscious, what we in effect do not want to know that we know about ourselves. This is why Lacan stresses above that psychoanalysis requires “infinite patience” and “moderation.” If the analyst’s discourse always worked, little patience would be required. The analyst’s discourse works, but only now and then… hopefully more often as an analysis proceeds within that very specific setting or “social bound” that we call a psychoanalysis. 

Having said all of this, I do not mean to suggest that one cannot operate as Agent of something structurally equivalent to the analyst’s discourse in a social space not founded upon free association and all the rest. I claim that it can and does get used in the day to day world. But that outside of the rules which found the clinical relation it operates somewhat differently, is harder to sustain for long periods (by contrast with the other three discourses in each of which one can blather on for hours at a time seemingly). Also, in non-clinical social space, the fact that the upper level of the graph of the analyst’s discourse is very similar to the matheme of the perverse phantasy [a <> $] is not without significance, because in its extra-clinical functioning it may well be that the best name for it is the discourse of the pervert.  

So, how does this discourse, whether we call it the analyst’s or the pervert’s work? The position of the agent, as discussed above, is one which speaks on behalf of jouissance from the position of the object and it addresses an other in their very character as split, addressing itself to this split that all of their defenses and ego and self-understanding is premised upon denying. It does this with S2 (knowledge) in the position of truth, as such this agent has knowledge of jouissance and it is this which it seeks to locate in the split in the other. And, the product of this discourse is an S1, a new master signifier. To provide an illustration of this pervert’s discourse, I’ll now turn to one of the novels in Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, The Hamlet

Some stage setting will be required here. The Hamlet referred to in this novel is the teensy tiny Frenchman’s Bend, part of Faulkner’s mythic Yoknapatawpha county where the majority of his famous works take place. A new family or clan has taken up residence there, these are the Snopes and they are generally thought of as pretty bad news for a variety of reasons. The important Snopes for this discussion are the patriarch Ab and his son Flem. But Frenchman’s Bend, small though it is, is perhaps not a terrible place when they arrive and rent a nearby farm. The town is run by Will Varner who is the richest man in town, owns the town’s one store, and is the landlord for the majority of the farmland surrounding it. Ab Snopes rented the farm he’s working from Varner’s son Jody who, as head clerk, runs the store for his father. Ab and Flem Snopes, and Jody Varner are the principle characters discussed here, but there is one other who is somewhat important, Ratliff. Ratliff is a travel salesman who passes through Frenchman’s Bend and many other small towns throughout his territory, not only selling his wares, but also acting as new service of sorts. Ratliff knows everyone and seemingly remembers everything as well. So, let’s dive in to the specifics now. 

Ab Snopes, father of Flem, comes into Varner’s store and encounters Jody. Ab, like his son Flem, evinces certain traits which might be read via the discourse of the pervert (analyst), namely his vague and somewhat ambiguous answers and his refusal of the normative flow of conversation and reinforcing eye contact (Faulkner 8). But overall this exchange unfolds as two Masters facing off with one another in the full Hegelian-Kojèvean resonance of that as a “fight to the death for pure prestige” (Kojève 7). But outside of this founding Hegelian myth, in a social world wherein such dominance is not usually obtained through direct violence, determining who 'wins' in such a face off is less clear. Jody does not evince any fear for the security of his own dominant position, he is, after all, the son of Will Varner, the richest and most powerful man in Frenchman's Bend as well as the proprietor of the store which everyone thereabouts depends upon — he has power and knows it, is used to exercising it and to be deferred to on its account. But he does recognize the strangeness of the interaction and the obdurant mastery that Ab presents (Faulkner 9). Moments after Ab Snopes leaves the store, a hanger-on at the Varner store named Tull, tells Jody that Ab is thought to be responsible for burning a barn on a property he’d rented previously (Faulkner 9).  

The narrative shifts next to a discussion between Jody and his father Will that evening in the Varner home. Here Jody tells his father of a plan he has conceived to increase the Varner profits from the Snopes rental. He suggest that they let Ab work the farm until the season is almost over, and only when the crop is ready to harvest, to reveal that they know about the barn burning incident, using this as a means to intimidate and run the Ab and the family off the property. This scheme would net additional profit, from both the rent paid by Ab until that time and then from the entire value of the abandoned crop (Faulkner 13-8) which the Varners could then have harvested and sell. 

The next day, on the road to the Snopes farm to meet Ab and see how things are progressing with the crop, Jody encounters Ratliff and their conversation initiates a shift in Jody’s thinking which is crucial to understanding what follows with Ab to a degree and with Flem most of all. Ratliff tells Jody the story of the bad blood which led up to the barn burning that Ab (with the likely aid of his son Flem) is said to have perpetrated as an act of revenge the landlord whose barn it was. In this scene we see how this barn burning narrative suddenly takes on another function relative to Jody’s plan. No longer a handy and obvious ace-in-the-hole, Jody begins to see the barn burning as far more threatening than he had previously imagined, as his repeated Hell fires, blurted out during the Ratliff’s tale, comically portray (Faulkner 16, 18). Jody's assumption had been that the mere rumor of wrong-doing would undermine Ab's pretensions mastery and insure Jody's dominance of the relationship. In the terms of the graph of the Master’s discourse, Jody’s initial plan to abscond with the literal product (the crops) that Ab as other (as S2, knowledge, in this case specifically knowledge of how to farm and the knowledge of the barn burning incident) conforms nicely to the graph’s dynamics. This aim is precisely mirrored in Lacan's discussion of the how it is that, in his account, the philosopher managed to interest a Master in something more than merely setting slaves to work; reaping the benefits of the knowledge they have, yet cannot or do not articulate (2007, 30). But the effect of Ratliff's narrative is to portray an Ab Snopes who is not in the least troubled by social censure or opinion, an Ab Snopes who is a master that doesn’t limit his strategies are to the socially acceptable. There are more examples of this in Ratliff’s gossip about the Snopes than simply the barn burning and which paint Ab as someone with a prickly refusal of being dominated by others (Faulkner 18). 

Having set out on this road in a complacent sense of his own Mastery, by the time Jody reaches the farm and notices that the gate has not been repaired, something he would normally have used against the tenant, his Mastery has been undermined decisively and he remarks “I don’t even dare to mention it” (Faulkner 18-9). Nothing that he had hoped to accomplish in visiting Ab comes to pass at all, and in his mounting anxiety he finds himself instead offering favors quite out of character (Faulkner, 20-1).

In the discourse of the Analyst as practiced in the clinical setting, one of the expected and indeed necessary effects is that the analysand is hystericized. They generally begin by speaking of their problems as Master’s would, or perhaps from a distance characteristic of the University discourse. But analysis begins to bear fruit only when the analysand’s presumption that the analyst knows the meaning of their symptom or their suffering results in their beginning to shift to an hysterical response, trying with all their might to force the analyst out of the Analyst’s discourse and into that of the Master so as to pronounce the truth of their symptom as an S1. For analysis to proceed the analyst must refuse this, must instead remain ambiguous, noncommittal, must not obey conversational conventions such as offering reinforcing gestures or eye contact – analytic behavior proceeds in this fashion so as to embody the elusive object a for the analysand – that object which they wish to contain, naturalize, and delimit so that the frightful and overwhelming jouisance it manifests can be tamed. 

Jody Varner already had installed this idea of barn burning in the chain of his own desire to manipulate and swindle Ab, but after talking to Ratliff and seeing exactly how much he had underestimated the potential consequences of fire as a means of expressing antagonism, it, the signifier "burning" or "fire," has behaved as signifiers generally do, sliding into other relations with other signifiers and signifieds. In "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud" Lacan characterizes the signifying chain as composed of "links by which a necklace firmly hooks onto a link of another necklace made of links" (2006, 41). Both Jody's initial plan and the change in his attitude after talking to Ratliff can be illustrated by this suspended links example. Jody begins by assuming that by revealing his knowledge of the barn burning and threatening Ab with it, that Ab will immediately grasp the many associative vertical substitutions that this allows, marking Ab as criminal, untrustworthy, social outcast, etc. Jody is himself criminal as his plot to run Ab off the farm clearly shows, but Jody's social power and prestige is a consequence of his father, and thus, for he himself to be revealed as untrustworthy, a criminal, etc would be disastrous for what mastery and prestige he has. His mistake is assuming that his own mastery, second order as it is and dependent upon social prestige, is the equal of Ab’s mastery, which is not dependent on the social consensus. After talking to Ratliff, whose story undermines the assumption Jody was depending on, we see how it is that other substitutions equally available to the signifying chain manifest that threat. Having burned on barn, Ab might well burn another. Or, a store, a home or many other piece of property might be into the position of the object to be burned and thus collectively embody a substitutive chain of signifiers hanging suspended from the signifier "barn." The threat is that should such things go up in smoke, Jody’s own needs, demands and desires would be curtailed in a fundamental way as the store above all is the emblem of Jody’s own power. 

On his way home from his dispiriting encounter with Ab, Jody runs into Ab’s son Flem on the road and, perhaps imagining that Flem will be easier to deal with engages him in conversation. If we consider the pages on which this interaction takes place we can see that Jody, like a good analysand, talks a lot. He seeks to extract reassurance, to tame and domesticate his anxiety. But Flem does not provide any assurance, even when asked if his name is Flem he replies with the ever-so analyst-like question “[t]hat so?” instead of with simple agreement (Faulkner 22). 
Unnerved by both Ab's and Flem's persistently perverse ambiguity, Jody tries initially in his conversation with Flem to speak from the discourse of the University, positioning Flem as his object a (what he wishes to control, to domesticate) and attempting to institute a split in him. How does this happen? Jody attempts to sketch a narrative which will make the unspoken signifier “barn burning” its occluded subject and to warn of the dangers facing those who resort to such things, namely that they will run out of places to run away from their own ill repute. This information is delivered not as the commanding nomination of a master who by saying asserts it as truth but as something commonly and socially known, dependent upon obvious knowledge (S2) on whose behalf Jody, as agent, speaks so as to educate Flem. Clearly Jody is hoping to get an assent of some kind from Flem, a recognition that there really are only so many places that a person can run if they do things again and again to make themselves unwelcome and unable to stay where they are. Such an admission on Flem's part would, firstly, link the coordinates of Jody's and Flem's utterances to a common S1 in the position of truth (perhaps nameable as 'social approval' or even 'common sense'). Had Flem agreed to this, and if we assume he did have something to do with the barn burning incident, such an assent to Jody’s claim would have effectively split him between his past criminal actions and his present recognition of the dangers of such actions. 

Flem's response avoids this discursive trap entirely. He replies instead that “[t]here’s a right smart of country” (Faulkner 22). Flem’s manifest meaning here is that there is a lot of country and thus that he doesn’t worry about running out of places to go, and Faulkner chooses this particular idiomatic expression for that thought. The obvious, if submerged threat is clearly there for Jody as we know he is already afraid and now his cautionary narrative has just blown up in his face (i.e., the “truth” or S1 that he was depending upon — ‘social approval’ was not so much refused as simply ignored). And Flem response, in analytic fashion, makes use of signifiers provided by Jody, but in order to produce a signification at odds with the meaning that Jody wanted to be taken.  

And the utterance is ambiguous, is Flem's response directed at the whole of Jody's narrative or only its final comment? What does Flem know? What are Flem’s desires? Jody cannot tell from what is said. He cannot be sure that Flem is even paying very much attention as his “face was as blank as a pan of uncooked dough” and during Jody’s speech he “chewed steadily” (Faulkner 22). 

But what about the specific choice of the word “smart”, a word that did not emerge in Jody’s discourse, but from Flem? The psychoanalyst is not, or so we hope, out to manipulate the analysand, and it is in the service of clinical goals when the analyst offers interpretations or comments to the analysand. I think one can read this word, “smart,” as an interpretation, that is, as a response to the unconscious, latent import of Jody’s prior discussion and not to its manifest content. Were Jody an analysand and asked to free associate on that word in the context of this narrative, might he come in time to consider that he had headed out to see Ab intending to outsmart him (and failed) and that he had just (by means of his little narrative to Flem) hoped to show him a smarter course of action, and thereby outsmart him otherwise, and could the fear that he is now himself being outsmarted already have arisen in his mind? Switching to Flem’s side of this exchange, the analyst is asked to be open to his own unconscious during the clinical encounter, and when sudden signifiers emerge in his own thoughts, to allow them into the discourse. How much of a stretch is it to think that Flem intuits that Jody thinks he is being very smart here and therefore attempting to manipulate him? Flem's use of "smart" accords with Lacan's comment about analytic interpretations, that they are "not designed to be understood [but] to make waves" (qtd. in Fink 81). 

Jody's first self-serving little narrative having failed, he tries another tack, again in conformity with the discourse of the University, stressing that open communication between them is important in order to stave off any untoward problems (i.e., the unspoken signifiers “burning” or "fire") and that to do so would yield a benefit. Flem’s minimal response, the question “[w]hat benefit?” (Faulkner 23), once again fails in to address or in any way acknowledge the occulted significations of the narrative in which Jody is trying to ensnare him. What Flem says can be read to signify a simple request for clarification, as tacit agreement to the implicit deal being offered, or as doubt that any benefit offered would be enough, among other possibilities.

Flem's responses throughout this dialogue mirror another comment by Lacan about analytic interpretation, that "[i]t is only through equivocation that an interpretation operates. There must be something in the signifier that resonates" (qtd. in Fink 92). Here "equivocation" and  "resonance" denote a polyvalence and ambiguity in what the analyst says that attempts to maximize the potential significations of any utterance. When Jody answers that the benefit is “a good farm to work” (Faulkner 23) Flem immediately shoots him down, thus undermining the second of Jody’s attempts to contain, control, split and outsmart him. Jody tries again to gain the advantage by suggesting that in some other line of work, Flem would need the “good will” of others to succeed (the structure of the University discourse is again evident). Flem ignores this, changing the focus, and tightening it upon Jody himself by asking “[y]ou run a store, don’t you?” (Faulkner 23). This question has many effects here. First of all, in light of the manifest content of the last few lines, it says in so many words I don’t want a farm, I want what you’ve got. Additionally, it links the occluded signifier that has been driving this discussion, “burning” to the social emblem of Varner wealth. And finally, somewhat speculatively, Flem asks about the store twice, each iteration includes the words "you" and "run" (the latter term introduced earlier, as we saw, by Jody) and while one might observe that Jody may well wish he could simply run away from this encounter, that the Varner store cannot run, and neither Ab nor Flem seems about to be run off. Flem has repositioned this signifier in the chain of desires contesting here and, as with “smart” above, it has reverberations and "makes waves." As one knows from reading the novel, Flem will indeed come run the store (and the town) in time. 

Two more of Flem’s few comments remain to be mentioned. Jody offers him a cigar, and Flem refuses it saying, “I aint never lit a match to one yet” (Faulkner 23). Here again the previously occluded “burning” is once more reactivated and more explicitly than at any previous moment in their conversation. Jody registers this instantly, saying, as the text specifies, “quietly,” and presumably outside of Flem’s hearing, “[a]nd I just hope to God you and nobody you know ever will" (Faulkner 23). In light of the anxiety that Jody feels about things which might be burned, the offer of a cigar reads as an almost comical attempt to link Flem to both "burning" and something which, if burned, would not be cause for alarm; an attempt to bring closure to the anxiety of "burning" by innocuously punctuating its open-ended threat. Flem's response features both a double negative “aint never” which logically, if not in the vernacular, suggests its inverse and the destablizing word "yet" at the end, making the possibility that he will at some future point "[light] a match to one" explicit. Also, Flem by deploying the shifter "one" in this statement potentially opens up that term's reference beyond one cigar to one barn or one store among other possible “ones.” Jody's sotto voce comment quoted above makes this explicit. 

While Flem makes no request for a job in the store, Jody nonetheless makes an offer of such work to begin “[n]ext fall” and when this results in no response from Flem, he says “[n]ext week then” and once again he tries to rein in this giving away of favors to and to tame the anxiety that the unspoken “burning” provokes by asking for a “guarantee” from Flem. The offers, of cigar and of job, show us Jody in the discourse of the hysteric. If a master is not really a master then this is demonstrated by showing that they need things outside of themselves to be complete in their mastery. Jody as split subject offers a cigar and gets a refusal and an increase in his anxiety, then he offers a job next fall, to no reply, and finally he offers a job next week again without any response, and finally he makes a demand for a guarantee. This demand is essentially that Flem be a master, who can lay down the law with his word, and who can thus be potentially challenged and undermined by further hysterical demands for failing to be equal to that word. Flem, acting as the proper pervert (analyst), addresses Jody not as object a, refusing to grant or even acknowledge what Jody (as analysand) will not make explicit at the level of his speech, the signifier “burning”, by asking Jody in return “[g]uarantee what?” (Faulkner 23).

It is unclear from this scene what S1 might have been produced in Jody, but we can speculate. Jody had begun his day in comfortable assumption of his own social dominance and convinced that he could use it to swindle the Snopes. Through a series of incidents that turn his trump card into the signifier of great threat to himself and everything that sustains his own prestige. Might the signifier “guarantee” itself be the new S1 produced? Heretofore, Jody had not felt any need for a guarantee, he’d grown up without any challenge to his power, and without any need to struggle to attain it— that labor had been accomplished by his father. Offering Flem the job in the store might also be seen as a “guarantee” from Jody’s perspective as it is a position of power, prestige and influence in Frenchman’s Bend — and surely from Jody’s perspective, no one would want to burn the source of their own power, or the supports of their own narcissistic ego. But now Jody appears to recognize that he himself desires a guarantee of his own continuing relevance while before he’d never needed it, and while such a guarantee is hard to imagine as positive outcome for an analysis, as here it’s merely a prop for the ego— Flem’s having subjected Jody to the workings of the discourse of the pervert has brought about a change in Jody’s relation to his own desire, and to his stance vis-a-vis the Other. 
The Discourse of the Pervert
To conclude, as is obvious from what has been said above, my contention is that there is nothing inherent to the discourse of the analyst/pervert which necessitates that it have revolutionary or emancipatory effects on its others. And further, that the positive effects that it has in the clinic are made possible by a carefully regulated setting, with stated rules and expectations which are much more formalized than the majority discursive situations we find ourselves in day to day. Now having said this, I am not ruling out the possibility that operating as the agent in the discourse of the pervert is of necessity manipulative or “bad.” I also believe that this needs to be understood with reference to the other discourse as well. Each discourse can have negative and positive effects, sometimes we need the sort of agency deployed by the master, or the university, the hysteric, or the pervert (analyst) and each of these can be directed at us in ways that intensely problematic. We have to see the discourses as structures without any necessary ethical stakes as those stakes can only be made explicit when we carefully consider what takes the places of S1, S2, the object, and the split subject in a particular case. It will be remembered that Lacan hopes that, in the wake of a successful analysis, and thus “perhaps it’s from the analyst’s discourse that there can emerge another style of master signifier” (2007, 176) and that while of another style than previously, this new S1 would once again circulate within four discourses, that of the master, the university, the hysteric, the pervert… and, conditions permitting, the analyst. 

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. The Hamlet. London: Chatto & Windus, 1964.

Fink, Bruce. Fundamentals of PsychoanalyticTechnique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners. New York: Norton, 2007. 

Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ed. Allan Bloom. Trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U.P., 1969.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2006.
–––. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XVII; The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 2007.

Žižek, Slavoj. “Jacques Lacan’s Four Discourses

March 26, 2013

Positive Incomprehension (& the dissertating subject)

I can't make it cohere.  
~ Pound mournfully mutters to Ginsberg.
   (Good thing too, says me.)

Picking up where I left off yesterday with the slogan (peeps are hearing the Jameson echo there, right?) Always Free Associate!  But specifically in what I am posting below I am interested  in looking not so much at meaning as at knowledge. Where yesterday's post suggested a different model of what counts as meaning — it eschews the One Line Summary approach to that idea and advocates an incessant, generative, production through free association. & so, when working on the dream Freud associates endlessly on every detail that the dream presents (initially at least) not forcing these many scattered details to cohere. 

So this meaning, newly framed is not The Meaning, not definitive, not "The One True…", never final — but simply more, an excess of meaning, a potentially endless proliferation of signification (just what the anti-postmodernist version of the postmodernist is most resolutely against). & ignoring for the moment the "reasonable" or pragmatic question of how such a writing might be contained in a book or even an essay. 

Cixous is here talking about a number of things and I hesitate to either trim this down to "get at" the meaning that is so brightly lit up for me in what she says (as that would be a covert inversion of the approach to meaning that I am advocating). But it should perhaps be mentioned that here Cixous is not talking about "meaning" so much as comprehension (& much else). & with that shift many things realign for me too. Here I cannot escape the framework of Lacan's Discourse of the University, where the agent of the discourse speaks on behalf of S2, knowledge. There can be a variety of unpleasant (alienating) consequences of this discourse as well. Without getting into all of that here, what I like about Cixous' comments below is that — without her using this phrasing — she seems to be arguing for a different sort of knowing (comprehension), one that is not unknowing or "unknowledge" but… perhaps… produces a knowledge that is not equal to S2, or a knowledge that is situated in the beyond, or a knowledge in excess of S2. There is so much more to think about that idea. (& yeah, I can go to Bataille from here, but for now will not)

Here though is Cixous, talking about the shock of the other, and detailing two modes of incomprehension of the other, the negative and positive — the latter of which she aligns with love and "friendship-love". That said, much of this seems to spin more toward romantic love and while that is not uninteresting, my interest in this exceeds its locus in love or friendship-love, I want to extend it into the anti-hermeneutics that Dean (and Laplanche) are interested in (see yesterday's post). 

"To return to the eventual shock with the other, the violence of the other: there is one that happens daily, that is up to us to manage. We are always in a relation with negative incomprehension; not even an incomprehension, but very often a non-comprehension. Simply put: there is no openness. And this spreads out infinitely, in all our relations. But there is also a positive incomprehension. It is perhaps what we discover in love; or in friendship-love: the fact that the other is so very much other. Is so very much not-me. The fact that we can say to each other all the time: here, I am not like you. And this always takes place in the exchange, in the system of reflection where it is the other we look at—we never see ourselves; we are always blind; we see of ourselves what comes back to us through (the difference of) the other. And this is not much. We see much more of the other. Or rather, on the one hand, we see an enormous amount of the other; and on the other hand, at a certain point we do not see. There is a point where the unknown begins. The secret other, the other secret, the other itself. The other that the other does not know. What is beautiful in the relation to the other, what moves us, what overwhelms us the most—that is love—is when we glimpse a part of what is secret to him or her, what is hidden, that the other does not see; as if there were a window by which we see a certain heart beating. And this secret that we take by surprise, we do not speak of it; we keep it. That is to say, we keep it: we do not touch it. We know, for example where the other’s vulnerable heart is situated; and we do not touch it; we leave it intact. This is love.
          But there is also a not seeing because we do not have the means to know any further. There are things that we do not understand because we could never reproduce them: behaviours, decisions that seem foreign to us. This also is love. It is to find one has arrived at the point where the immense foreign territory of the other will begin. We sense the immensity, the reach, the richness of it, this attracts us. This does not mean that we ever discover it. I can imagine that this infinite foreignness could be menacing; disturbing. It also can be quite the opposite: exalting, wonderful, and in the end, of the same species as God: we do not know what it is. It is the biggest; it is far off. At the end of the path of attention, of reception, which is not interrupted but which continues into what little by little becomes the opposite of comprehension. Loving not knowing. Loving: not knowing."

To unravel or unpack (and leave a mess) here are some of my thoughts about this passage…

She claims that the shock, even the violence of the other is something that happens daily. & that it is up to us to manage this shock, this violence. What shock and violence does she mean? Her lowercase o-other makes me think of actual other persons rather than the Other of lacanian thought, but I am far from sure that Cixous is making such a distinction and I rather think not. 

But the shock, the violence? Does my recognition that there are others who are radically different, whose thoughts and feelings and beliefs are not simply opposed to mine or unlike mine but beyond what I am able to imagine constitute a shock that I feel daily and am forced to somehow manage or cope with? My answer would be no, that such a recognition — which I do have now and then, whether as a consequence of experience or arrived at intellectually — but I am not aware on a daily basis of this shock, at least not as such, though I may feel overwhelmed by the social, by the experience of others, and thus in need of retreat, of solitude. 

Cixous then implies that the management of this daily happening is managed, in the sense of being routinized and that there are two general modes of such management. There is negative incomprehension — a mode we are always in a relation with, which is perhaps not even "incomprehension" but simply non-comprehension. This non-comprehension, or perhaps better said, this refusal to attempt to comprehend, refusal of comprehension as a valid response to the other would seem painfully common. & her further gloss gets at this "Simply put: there is no openness. And this spreads out infinitely, in all our relations." We are not open to the other in its strangeness, in its particularity, we see it — much as Nietzsche's famous example of the leaf — not as a unique other but as mere type, whose needs and desires are distasteful, whose demands we seek to evade. 

Here I think of an unkindness that I am guilty of now and then when someone approaches to ask for money. I often give money to people but can be very impatient with the demand itself. I don't want to hear the reasons or the rationale, I want them to take the fiver and let me return to my monadic bubble (with earbuds). Surely this is negative incomprehension, in Cixous' terms. 

But there is another model for how we respond to the shock of the other, what she calls positive incomprehension

She gets at this way of responding to the other via love and friendship, and they make a natural fit I think. Difference being what stimulates friendship and love (though this stimulus may not always be unerringly a boon to either relation). Also, while it is not the aspect that I wish to bring into my writing practice, I am interested in the moment where, in looking at the other at a certain point we do not see, this being where the unknown begins. With her invocation of the "secret other, the other secret, the other itself. The other that the other does not know." That is, there is an insight in this passage which I at least feel. I've friends and even acquaintances who I think I know and then see in this way, and I have certainly learned that what I see is not something that should be simply given away, not even to the other in question. To do so is perilous. & so much as she writes I do not touch it; I leave it intact. Where I perhaps differ is that I do not always feel this as love, even as love may be a part of it. Compassion perhaps?

Cixous gets to the phrases that most excite me relative to my own projects of the moment in the second paragraph when she speaks of a not seeing because we do not have the means to know any further. Here then is a recasting of that passage as a means of prospecting for the sort of writing I am seeking…

To write in excess of Knowledge is to arrive at the point where the immense foreign territory of the other begins. The immensity, the reach, the richness of it, this attracts us — we then begin to create, produce, generate… (waste) meaning. This meaning one makes is not the discovery of the other, it remains undiscovered country. We do not know what the other is. The other is vast and far off. At the end of the lengthy path of our attention, of our reception, there is no 'end' but only a continuing into what gradually becomes the opposite of comprehension. Meaning not knowing. Meaning: not knowing.


Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber
Rootprints: Memory and life writing
trans. Eric Prenowitz
Routledge 1997

March 25, 2013

Always Free Associate!

If Robert Frost is a poet, I don't want to be a poet.              ~David Antin
I've written now and then, here and elsewhere about my extant and emerging issues with scholarly writing. Sometimes I approach these issues through Lacan's discussion of the "discourse of the university," at other times in other modes of critique, or (in disregard of my New Years Resolution) complaint. Antin's quote above is but a piece of a longer statement where he also refuses poetry on the model of Robert Lowell, but opines that "If Socrates was a poet, I'll think about it." Involved in his rejection of Frost here is a poetic that wants more than to provide the moral commentary that one finds — everywhere — in Frost. & it is also not a poetic that aspires to platonism, but one that is engaged in the process of thinking, a thinking as talking, or as writing. A poetic that does not present its findings so much as its search — one where findings might be found, but who knows. Let this poetry-inflected opening color what follows, a collection of observations or quotes or thoughts which all seem to lead toward this other way of writing that I am seeking. 

Here is Mari Ruti talking about her sense of the conflict between the writing she aspires to and that which is demanded, a conflict between "professionalization and inspiration," which is bedeviled within the academy in that "we wish to advance knowledge, yet we simultaneously seek to ensure that this 'advancement' takes place according to relatively narrow rules and regulations that govern each discipline". This accounts in her view for the contrast, so often marked, between the American and French styles, where the former are characterized by "meticulous research, exegesis, criticism" and the latter by "confident and far-reaching theories, hypotheses, and lines of questioning" what she characterizes as a "propositional mode" (23). & Ruti is alive to the problem this clash of demands has, particularly on younger scholars — "One of the most frustrating dilemmas of academic work is that it seems commonly acknowledged that the most groundbreaking inquiries often challenge disciplinary boundaries, yet professionalization has made it more and more difficult to engage in such inquiries" (24). 
Rather than building up meaning, the analytic method breaks it down. ~ Tim Dean
To give a global interpretation, one which says this-is-what-it's-all-about, is what "building up" means above, the "analytic method" (i.e., free association) is what "breaks [meaning] down". These terms, up and down, are merely convenient. I could as easily claim that free association, by its productivity, builds up meaning and that the what-it's-all-about interpretation breaks it down, reducing it to a sound byte, to the moral of the story. Free association aligns with productivity, with the generation of more, and thus with excess… excess as a value. 

Dean's line appears as a gloss on Laplanche (who is turn writing about Freud) and the larger context is useful for me here, so;

"Laplanche shows how the original edition of [The Interpretation of Dreams] broke with hermeneutics by outlining a method that refused all syntheses of meaning. It was only in later editions (published after 1900), he suggests, that hermeneutical codes of symbolism and typicality were added to the text, in its burgeoning footnotes, addenda, and interpolations. Laplanche connects this eclipsing of Freud's original insights — by Freud himself" (38). The linchpin of this break with hermeneutics is free association… "the method of free association breaks things down, dispersing attention in multiple, often contradictory directions. The free associative method represents Freud's greatest discovery (…) because it is a method correlative to its object — the unconscious. Laplanche is fascinated by those passages (…) where for pages and pages Freud laboriously traces the associations of discrete components of a single brief dream (such as the famous dream of Irma's injection), without ever gathering together these associations into a final meaning or interpretation. It is Freud's reluctance to specify one-to-one - correspondences — his refusal to say: 'the dream means X' — that permits Laplanche to argue that the associative method represents a break with hermeneutics. Rather than building up meaning, the analytic method breaks it down" (38).

There is much in what Laplanche has to say about Freud that is interesting too and I'll need to go and read him more carefully, but what I am intrigued by here is simply this break with hermeneutics, with a method that "breaks things down, dispersing attention in multiple, often contradictory directions" and with excessive tracing of associations to any and every discrete component "without ever gathering together these associations into a final meaning or interpretation." & here again Ruti has something to add as in her book she seeks "to take the notion of narrativization in a different direction and to align it with psychoanalytic practices of free association and narrative self-constitution which, while granting meaning to the subject, do not aspire to any degree of self-mastery" (10). I am less concerned with narrativization as such than with the generation of meaning and the eschewal of mastery in so doing.

I've used the word excess a couple of times already and so let me also stress the emerging connection therein to Bataille whose notion of expenditure as waste in what he calls a "general economy" (opposed to the "restricted economy" of narrowly utilitarian ends) also appeals to me, even as I am so newly introduced to the idea that I am uncertain yet about how it might affect my desires as stated above. But Bataille's vision of so much of what we might otherwise think of as productivity, or the products thereof, he recodes as waste or excess. So where he writes of potlatch ceremonies and the willful destruction of goods I find myself thinking of the essay that I have been attempting to write about Nina Arsenault since I returned from seeing her OPHELIA/MACHINE show in December. The reason that association is so assertive for me is that the draft of this essay "about" Nina has been written, and deleted, written again and deleted again, something like a dozen times now. It was once over 40 pages in length only to be cut down to a few paragraphs. What is all that labor but sheer waste in Bataille's sense of the term? None of those lost drafts is any longer extant and none of them can be used, can serve any significant utilitarian end. 

Here, as if in illustration of my point, Nina is present but unclear
hidden behind string or lines (of description) and words on paper
which being somewhat clear are so, only by making her a blur.
Precisely the scenario I hope to avoid in the writing to be done.
In fact, Nina (by which I mean both her work and her person) is an exemplary case for the sort of writing that I aspire to do for the very reason that I cannot even pretend to explain her work to anyone. It's challenge and complexity make me painfully cognizant that any "building up" of meaning, or offering of a "global interpretation" of some work of hers will falsify it, reducing it to the limitations of my explanation. In a sense, though I was already struggling not to write of her show under the compulsion of hermeneutic interpretation, many of the blanket deletions that I made of such struggled-over writing was due to recognition that even at the scale of description, that the words we choose imply certain trajectories of meaning, and thus certain narratives and assumptions and again and again, I found these lacking, as not up to the challenge of writing about Nina in a way that does not reduce her.

It is thus in light of these varied ideas; of a prospective writing that is unafraid to offer far-reaching hypotheses; of a freely associative writing that that is not delivering an interpretation that wraps its object up in paper and bow, but one that loses itself in them, letting them send it wherever; a writing that embraces excess and the "breaking down"— which is to say the proliferation — of meanings rather than their reduction to the answer-to-all-questions. What then would such a writing be like? Where would it start, how would it progress, how would it (and could it) ever end? How might it be received in an academic space where the global interpretation, even if obviously inadequate, is given more props than a reading which stresses the inadequacy of such? How will it answer to the demands of utility (given that I wish it to be counted as a dissertation after all) and to the questions of readers, such as the pedestrian but unavoidable "What's it about?" 
Wait, is this an ironic comment or somehow illustrative?

My thought, in the last day or so is that I might model a mode of writing on Freud's repeated traces of associations and that just as in analysis, such chains of association are interrupted or link up suddenly with other clusters of ideas and so on… that I would allow this too. With such a model for how the writing would emerge, I would then simply keep writing, finding the links between all the areas that I wish to write about and when the link goes there, so do I. The link has the precise looseness that it has for my own unconscious or for Monty Pythons' Flying Circus. The link need not be judged as such, simply followed. Given this, might the dissertation unfold in whatever fashion so long as it links the many clusters of interest that I have in a way that is revealing of connections, allows for the making of arguments, and does much of the same work as a more predictable text but without the lock-step aspects and need to demolish all counter positions along the way? That is, I am attracted to the non-utility of Bataille's economy and yet, I am not averse to certain ends being reached.

Here then are some clusters of thought (I am leaving many aside for the moment) — sometimes discrete ideas, other times specific cases/arguments that I could flesh out in a pinch or perhaps just stuff I want to talk about. 
This lattice is not a very adequate map of the totality, and it even neglects some obvious connections
that should be made here, but one could read it as a map of a single attempt to talk my way through
the topics here and thus as something which could have been connected otherwise any other time
I made such an attempt.


Dean, Tim
"Art as Symptom: Žižek and the Ethics of Psychoanalytic Criticism"
Diacritics (Nov 2002) 32:2 (21-41)

Ruti, Mari
Reinventing the Soul; Posthumanist Theory and Psychic Life
Other Press 2006

November 04, 2012

When you stare long enough at the text...

Nina Arsenault
Nina Arsenault

...the text stares back. — This is not yet n/a that will come later. Now it's just tease, no application, no answer.

I just found something, a gestation period and a parallel. & this is all put here because of a little bell ringing in the meat of my head. 
Salome, Ree & Nietzsche
As one of her admirers put it, 'Lou would form a passionate attachment to a man and nine months later the man gave birth to a book!' The first of these literary births was Nietzsche's; exactly nine months after meeting Lou Salomé, he produced part I of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.*
In mid-January of this year, I found something — someone fascinating — and an idea appeared, mine — an idea spawning many connected ideas in all directions —  and at a tangent, and to begin, they were liquid, barely yet approaching any solidity. Nine months later (14 Sept, 2012) I had this "vision" (not to be shared here) that rebounded upon that idea, since much grown and now kicking.

Pace Nietzsche's thoughts about artists as mothers, creativity as feminine, etc & this found passage's positing of Lou Andreas-Salomé as the father of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I'm taken with the thought that I've discovered the paternity of Rock Paper Scissor.

*Neitzsche on Gender: Beyond Man and Woman by Frances Nesbitt Oppel, p.121. 

October 13, 2012

Arnold I. Davidson's "How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" from _The Emergence of Sexuality; Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts_

Arnold I. Davidson
The Emergence of Sexuality; Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts
Harvard UP 2001

Chapter Three:
How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Early on Davidson quotes Foucault saying that "'Truth' is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements" (qtd 67). If one has read my previous two posts about David's book, this shouldn't surprise. A bit further on, discussing the status of the rules and formal exclusions that typify a discourse he writes "These rules are, however, never formulated by the participants in the discursive practice; they are not available to their consciousness but constitute what Foucault once called the 'positive unconscious of knowledge'"(67).

Foucalt's "positive unconscious of knowledge" sounds a lot like Lacan's Symbolic order to me (just as, elsewhere, while Foucault famously abjured 'desire' as a concept, when he speaks about pleasure it sounds a lot less like the vernacular sense of the term and a lot more like jouissance, as such. Whether this suggests any way to bring Foucault and Lacan together in a useful way, I am not sure - I cannot be the first to have noted these things).

Davidson refers back to an earlier chapter (which I covered heredrawing out the ways that this earlier chapter adapts Foucault's archeological method to describe the psychiatric style of reasoning. "An epistemologically central constituent of a style of reasoning, as I interpret it, is a set of concepts linked together by specifiable rules that // determine what statements can and cannot be made with the concepts. (…) Thus I have urged that we need a conceptual history of sexuality, without which we cannot know what was being talked about when the domain of psychiatric discourse became fixated on sexuality" (68-9).

He acknowledges that some may find an approach such as his counter-intuitive for the study of psychoanalysis, "a thoroughgoing skepticism about its usefulness for writing the history of psychoanalysis might well persist. Since psychoanalysis is so completely intertwined withe the name of Sigmund Freud, it is natural to object that writing its history without his name would not be to write its history at all. (…) …no matter what one takes to be the last word in psychoanalysis, its first and second words are always the words of Freud"(69).

Davidson nonetheless wants to "operate at a level distinct from individual biography and psychology. In writing the history of psychoanalysis, I want to preserve this level, one whose articulation requires a history of a structurally related system of concepts, a conceptual space, that lies below, or behind, the work of any particular author, even great works of great authors"(70).

He sketches out a pair of "competing myths" that are common in discussions of Freud. "The first myth, that of official psychoanalysis, depicts Freud as a lonely genius, isolated and ostracized by his colleagues, fashioning psychoanalysis single-handedly and in perpetual struggle with the world at large" this is then "the story of Freud as triumphant revolutionary"(70). Davidson dispels this myth with "ex nihilo nihil fit" [nothing comes from nothing] (70). 

"The second, opposing myth pictures Freud as getting all of his ideas from someone else (…) This is the myth of the career discontents", one which issues in "the story of Freud as demagogue, usurper, and megalomaniac"(70). "When applied to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, this myth proceeds by showing that, for example, Richard von Krafft-Ebing employed the idea of libido and Ellis the idea of autoeroticism, that Fleiss made central use of the notion of bisexuality, that Moll discovered infantile sexuality years before Freud, that Iwan Bloch talked about erotogenic zones, and so on, ad infinitum. Since Freud was fully aware of these writ-//ings, the story continues, how could he by anything other than a usurper, with a kingdom made of stolen materials?"(70-1).

Davidson finds this approach misguided, in that it depends "on an inappropriate invocation of his name"(71). Instead, what is needed per Davidson, is "a history of the concepts used in psychoanalysis, and account of their historical origins and transformations, their rules of combination, and their employment in a mode of reasoning. This task presumes, first, that we can isolate the distinctive concepts of nineteenth-century psychiatry, articulate their rules of combination, and thereby determine the limits of the possible. We must then undertake the very same enterprise for Freud's work, which, with sufficient detail, should enable us to see more clearly whether Freud's conceptual space continues or breaks with that of his predecessors"(71).

He notes that he is really only attending to the 1st essay (which is everyone's favorite, no?) and that "In order to do even that, I will have to start before Freud, with the prevailing concept of sexual perversion in the literature of nineteenth-century psychiatry"(72). Davidson replays here the discussion of the idea of the functional disease, and how for that notion to apply to sexuality that the notion of the sexual instinct is required (all discussed in "Closing Up The Corpses"). He points to the thoughts of Moreau, Krafft-Ebing and Charcot (who preferred the term "sens genital") and writes, "The genital sense is just the sexual instinct, masquerading in different words. Its characterization as a sixth sense was a useful analogy. Just as one could become blind, or have acute vision, or be able to discriminate only a part of the color spectrum, and just as one might go deaf, or have abnormally sensitive hearing, or be able to hear only certain pitches, so too this sixth sense might be diminished, augmented, or perverted"(73). Davidson also repeats the earliest use of "perversion" as found in the OED (1842). "The notions of perversion and function are inextricably connected. Once one offers a functional characterization of the sexual instinct, perversions become a natural class of diseases; without this characterization there is really no conceptual room for this kind of disease"(73).

Of this whole mode of thought Davidson remarks "one must first believe that there is a natural function of the sexual instinct and then believe that this function is quite determinate. We might think that questions as momentous as these would have received extensive discussion during the heyday of perversion in the nineteenth century. But, remarkably enough, no such discussion appears. There is virtually unargued unanimity both on the fact that this instinct does have a natural function and on what that function is"(74). [He then quotes Krafft-Ebing for a representative view (74) and shows how a superficially different account by Moll is at this level of analysis "quite literally interchangeable" (75).]

"Nineteenth-century psychiatry silently adopted this conception of the function of the sexual instinct. It was often taken as so natural as not to // need explicit statement since it was the only conception that made sense of psychiatric practice. It is not at all obvious why sadism, masochism, fetishism, and homosexuality should be treated as species of the same disease, for they appear to have no essential features in common"(76).

Moll goes so far as to state that "we ought to consider the absence of heterosexual desires morbid even when the possibility of practicing normal coition exists"(qtd 76). To which I can add only YIKES!

"Had anyone denied either that the sexual instinct has a natural function or that this function is procreation, diseases of perversion, as they were actually understood, would not have entered psychiatric nosology"(76).

With a picture of this milieu and its assumptions in place - assumptions shared by Krafft-Ebing and Magnus Hirschfeld (though he is not discussed at this moment) and common amongst the emerging movement for greater justice for homosexuals - Davidson then turns at last to the first of Freud's Three Essays, called "The Sexual Aberrations".  He quotes Freud's first two paragraphs;
The fact of the existence of sexual needs in human beings and animals is expressed in biology by the assumption of a "sexual instinct," on the analogy of the instinct of nutrition, that is of hunger. Everyday language possesses no counterpart to the word "hunger," but science makes use of the word "libido" for that purpose.
Popular opinion has quite definite ideas about the nature and characteristics of this sexual instinct. It is generally understood to be absent in childhood, to set in at the time of puberty in connection with the process of coming to maturity and to be revealed in the manifestations of an irresistible attraction exercised by one sex upon the other; while its aim is supposed to be sexual union, or at all events actions leading in that direction. We have every reason to believe, however, that these views give a // very false picture of the true situation. If we look into them more closely we shall find that they contain a number of errors, inaccuracies and hasty conclusions.(qtd. 76-7) 
Davidson: "If the argument of Freud's first essay is that these views 'give a very false picture of the true situation,' then we can expect Freud's conclusions to place him in opposition to both popular and, more important, medical opinion. The problem is how precisely to characterize this opposition"(77).

Davidson goes on to discuss Freud's positing of two terms, sexual object and sexual aim, the former being the sorts that one desires sexually and the latter term referring to the sorts of acts that one is hoping to get going with that desired other. Davidson notes that "these are precisely the two conceptually basic kinds of deviations we should expect of those writers who subscribed to the popular conception of the sexual instinct. Deviations with respect to sexual object are deviations from the natural attraction exercised by one sex upon the other; deviations with respect to sexual aim are deviations from the natural goal of sexual union"(77). & then, surprisingly to many superficial readers or those who come in thinking that they know already what Freud thought about everything (and that it must be wrong), Davidson continues, "The remainder of the first essay is structured around this distinction between sexual object and sexual aim, and the central role of this distinction is itself firmly dependent on the view of the sexual instinct that Freud will argue is false. I emphasize this point because one must recognize that Freud's opposition to the shared opinion concerning the sexual instinct is an opposition from within (…) Freud's opposition, let me say in anticipation, participates in the mentality that it criticizes"(77). Davidson characterizes Freud's procedure as "immanent criticism"(78).

We then look at the 1st sections where Freud, after a few other topics turns to inversion/homosexuality - Davidson, "the deviation to which nineteenth-century psychiatrists had themselves devoted the most attention"(78) - dropping in… "Freud argues that inversion should not be regarded as an innate indication of nervous degeneracy - an assessment which was widespread, even if not universal, in the nineteenth century. (…) Freud insisted that choice between claiming inversion to be innate and claiming it to be acquired is a false one, since neither explanation by itself gives an adequate explanation of the nature of inversion"(78) 

Davidson sums on Freud RE bisexuality "his remarks in this section become more and more puzzling the more carefully they are studied"(78). [I'll be getting to that soon enough - though not in this post.]

But we're back to the action when Freud turns to "the characteristics of the sexual object and sexual aims of inverts" and comes to a conclusion that Davidson sees as "more innovative, even revolutionary, than I suspect he was able to recognize"(78).

Freud ~ "It has been brought to our notice that we have been in the habit of regarding the connection between the sexual instinct and the sexual object as more intimate than it in fact is. Experience of the cases that are considered abnormal has shown us that in them the sexual instinct and the sexual object are merely soldered together—a fact which we have been in danger of overlooking in consequence of the uniformity of the normal picture, where the object appears to form part and parcel of the instinct. We are thus warned to loosen the bond that exists in our thought be//tween instinct and object. It seems probable that the sexual instinct is in the first instance independent of its object; nor is its object likely to be due to its objects attractions." (78-9)

Davidson writes, "By claiming, in effect, that there is no natural object of the sexual instinct, that the sexual object and sexual instinct are merely soldered together, Freud dealt a conceptually devastating blow to the entire structure of nineteenth-century theories of sexual psychopathy. (…) If the object in not internal to the instinct, then there can be no intrinsic clinico-pathological meaning to the fact that the instinct can become attached to an inverted object. The distinction between normal and inverted object will not then coincide with the division between the natural and the unnatural, itself a devision between the normal and the pathological. Since the nature of the instinct, according to Freud, has no special bond with any particular kind of object, we seemed forced to conclude that the supposed deviation of inversion is no more than a mere difference. (…) cases of inversion can no longer be considered pathologically abnormal"(79).

Now I want to work over that passage from Freud a bit more…
"It has been brought to our notice that we have been in the habit of regarding the connection between the sexual instinct and the sexual object as more intimate than it in fact is." 
There are hints already of his position—the suddenness of 'brought to our notice' suggestive of an error or mistake realized—the evocation of 'habit' and thus a non-reflective or routinized relation to the issue—I'm uncertain how much to make of "intimate" here—should consult the German.
"Experience of the cases that are considered abnormal has shown us that in them the sexual instinct and the sexual object are merely soldered together—a fact which we have been in danger of overlooking in consequence of the uniformity of the normal picture, where the object appears to form part and parcel of the instinct."
& again, I'm curious about the German ("soldered together" is what auf Deutsch?)—but the basic thrust is that aim and object are contingently connected regardless of what sort of object does the trick (I choose this phrase in hopes of avoiding the word "choice" as it seems to reflect so poorly how many people feel what is also called sexual "orientation", and to simultaneously avoid making the person in question powerless in the face of their desire, while recognizing that some people do choose and others feel powerless—what does the trick is intended to try to refer, open-endedly, across the board, but of course it fails with asexuality immediately, oops). Davidson will place stress on the "considered abnormal"(79) in this sentence to show that Freud is disputing the common assumption—true enough, and he might also have stressed "where the object appears to form part and parcel of the instinct" so as to balance the qualifications. Not only is the object chosen by the 'invert' merely 'soldered' to their sexual aim, but the relation of aim to object for the 'normal picture' (i.e., that of heterosexuals as tritely & reproductively conceived) is no less contingent. & because of these lazy habits and assumptions…
"We are thus warned to loosen the bond that exists in our thought between instinct and object."
One might ask we are asked to loosen and not simply to break any such 'bond' found in our thought? Perhaps this is because Freud feels that those with a sexual aim will also direct this toward an object, so that it is not the assumption that there will be an object that is problematic, what is problematic is assuming that this object is somehow 'hardwired' to the aim and predictable in advance. Freud continues
"(i) It seems probable that the sexual instinct is in the first instance independent of its object; (ii) nor is its object likely to be due to its object's attractions."
In the i. section of this, we have the clearest expression of what is most radical about Freud's thinking here - and what distinguishes him from all of those that he surveys in Three Essays (and who Davidson has been talking about in this article)… that the sexual instinct (or, let us upgrade to a lacanian reading of the terms perhaps?)… that the drive toward jouissance, while it has a conceptual object (objet a), that any object actually found will be a semblance of that one, a thoroughly contingent object that comes to seem to embody the a-object. So then, in ii. where Freud cautions us against thinking that it is something inherent in the object chosen by some sexual being which determines their desire for it, though he does not spell out where from - if not from the object - though it would have to fall on the side of the subject / the desiring person with a sexual aim. This final clause sort of bugs me tho and I tend more to think that whatever will do the trick for a subject, whatever will be able to occupy the place of the a-object, will have been formed through interaction with the desire of the Other, and thus it becomes difficult to say either that what objects do the trick for this subject is determined by their own intrinsic qualities OR that they derive from something about the subject's drive as such, the distinction itself doesn't seem to hold (after "desire is the desire of the Other")—though, Lacan never suggests that 'drive is the drive of the Other' and the drive does embody something of what might be called the subjects singularity, that aspect of the real which marks them.

From the foregoing discussion Davidson concludes that though many point to Freud's use of trieb and not instinkt and the sloppy translation of Strachey and co., Davidson notes that Krafft-Ebing also used the word 'trieb' and as such this alone is rather insignificant, what is extremely significant is that Freud's notion of the "Sexualtrieb" is fundamentally unlike the notions of sexual instinct found in Moll, Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, Hirschfeld, etc. All of those thinkers, even the homosexuals among them, accepted the link between aim and object on the heterosexual model and sought to argue for the inverts not being degenerates or in need of prosecution etc in spite of their deviation from the 'natural' object of the instinct. Freud agreed with the political aspirations of this movement (as is well-documented by Robert May and discussed herebut he refused to mark off homosexuals off as a separate type of human being unlike the rest of the population.

Davidson discusses Iwan Bloch - who Freud also mentions - as providing an instance of a certain attitude that Freud would adopt and further. Bloch had written about sexuality from an "anthropologic-ethnologic" point of view (qtd 81). Basically, Bloch saw the charge of pathology as misplaced and recognized a great deal of variability in sexual activity and was loath to designate this or that practice as a perversion (80-2). Davidson discusses a milder way that Freud might have grafted Bloch's attitude to a less challenging (more socially palatable) position but notes that "rather than drawing this limited, though significant, conclusion, Freud when to the core of the matter and decisively replaced the concept of sexual instinct with that of sexual drive 'in the first instance independent of its object'"(82).

& here we begin to see one of Davidson's strokes of brilliance - and one that Tim Dean will pick up and capitalize on (applying it to Lacan). That is, Davidson is alert to the ways that Freud himself is unable to fully integrate the radical consequences of his idea in a thorough-going way. Davidson discusses his use of 'perversion' later in the text when, as a concept, it had already been undermined earlier (82-3). He also draws attention to Freud's notion (also in Three Essays) of the 'component [drive(s)]' - basically the idea that the sexual drive is not a unitary and singular thing but that it has component parts, contingently soldered together. As Freud puts it "the sexual [drive] itself must be something put together from various factors, and that in the perversions it falls apart, into its components" (qtd 84). [I'm bringing the 'drive' substitution from here on out]. Davidson dos not remark upon this assumption of Freud's that the perversions show the component drives as disaggregated, or more negatively as 'fallen apart'—it would seem to me that this description again poses perversions as outcomes that are somehow F'd up.

"Freud's argument, his structure of concepts, leads to the claim that neither the erotogenic zone of the genitals nor the aim of copulation bears any privileged connection to the sexual [drive]. The 'normal' aim of the sexual instinct [as discussed before Freud, etc], is not part of the content of the [drive]…"(85)

"We ought to conclude from what Freud says here that there are no true perversions. The conceptual space within which the concept if perversion functions and has a stable role has been thoroughly displaced—and displaced in a way that requires a new set of concepts for understanding sexuality and a new mode of reasoning about it"(85).

As Freud does mention both disgust and shame in connection with the perversions, Davidson recognizes that some might be inclined to use those affects as indexes of perversion, but he points out that Freud clearly was not saying this. Rather Freud says such responses as "often purely conventional" and compares them to the disgust one might feel at "the idea of using someone else's toothbrush" (qtd 86). 

Davidson then writes that "Even if Freud's conclusions in effect overturn the conceptual apparatus of perversion, it is well known that he did not embrace these conclusions unambiguously or unhesitatingly. The language of Freud's discussion sometimes reads as if he is unaware of the conceptual innovations he has wrought, as if nineteenth-century theories of sexual psychopathology can remain secure in their conceptual underpinnings"(86).

He highlights a contradictory moment in Freud's writings where, later in Three Essays, Freud suggests that something is deemed pathological when a perverse object takes the place of all others and the subject is fixated wholly upon it. But of course, in the so-called 'normal picture' of heterosexual psychosexuality that Freud has effectively undermined, this fixation (of men on women with the goal of penis-in-vagina sex) would be just such a fixation, and thus, perverse (87).

Davidson also underscores the way that more frequently early on but less so as the book progresses, Freud places words like normal, pathological and perversion in scare quotes, distancing himself from the common and medical understandings of them.

"But once Freud recon//ceived the sexual instinct as having no natural operation, once any specific aim and object of the drive were thought to be merely soldered to it, the genital zone lost the conceptual primacy that was a precondition of its principled identification with the instinct itself"(88-9). 
… or Goodbye "Sexual Instinct" and Hello Drive(s)

"Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality provided the resources to overturn this conceptual space [that is nineteenth-century psychiatry] by fundamentally altering the rules of combination for concepts such as sexual instinct, sexual object, sexual aim—with the consequence that these shared concepts, among others, were destroyed. The conclusion forced upon us is that perversion is no longer a legitimate concept, that the conceptual preconditions for its employment no longer exist in Freud's text. So that if Freud, despite himself, said that such and such phenomena were perversions, he could not have meant what Krafft-Ebing, or Moll, or Charcot had meant. We will not be able to arrive at this conclusion if we focus simply on whom Freud read, on who before him used what words in which contexts"(90). …I have a few uncertainties here. Given that Davidson shows that Freud himself, a victim of his own mentality, was unable to completely wipe the older way of thinking out of his own work—even just in Three Essays—what sense does it make to say that the older concepts and all their problematic baggage "were destroyed"? & while I agree that, when Freud persists in using the term 'perversion' that he cannot by that term mean to revert to what Moll or Krafft-Ebing had meant by the term, it is also not quite clear what he does mean either. Are we to assume that somewhere in any use he puts these words to there is an aspect of this revolutionary idea of the drives and their contingent objects, and echo of this demotion of the "normal picture" and all the rest? That might be useful, in terms of furthering Freud's project (by which I mean one's own) but it would seem that every instance would have to be examined in detail.

Bringing up Bloch's attitude once again, Davidson writes, "This notion of attitude (…) is one component of the concept of mentalité, a concept that has been put to extraor//dinarily fertile use by recent historians, especially in France. A mentality includes, among other constituents, a set of mental habits or automatisms that characterize the collective understandings and representations of a population. (…) But this displacement [of the old by the new] could only be partial, and one was always in danger of falling back into the old mentality, precisely because there was no conceptual backing for this change of attitude"(91).

Then comes the long passage that Dean is fond of and which I'll undoubtedly be using in my dissertation somehow;

"Freud's genius consisted not simply in appropriating this attitude but in seizing and exploiting it. He provided a conceptual foundation for the newly emerging mentality that made it possible, once and for all, for us to change decisively our old mental habits. So why, one wonders, did Freud himself not so change his own mental habits, why did he exhibit an attitude no less ambiguous and unstable than Bloch's. Any answer to this question is bound to be complicated, so in lieu of an answer let me provide the structure for what I take this answer to consist in. Automatisms of attitude have a durability, a slow temporality, which does not match the sometimes rapid change of conceptual mutation. Mental habits have a tendency to inertia, and these habits resist change that, in retrospect, seems conceptually required. Such resistance can take place not only in a scientific community but even in the individual who is most responsible for the conceptual innovation. Freud was a product of the old mentality that regarded perversions as pathological, a mentality whose first real signs of disintegration can be found at the beginning of the twentieth century. Freud's Three Essays ought to have stabilized the new mentality, speeding up its entrenchment by providing it with a conceptual authorization. But given the divergent temporality of the emergence of new concepts and the formation of new mentalities, it is no surprise that Freud's mental habits never quite caught up with his conceptual articulations. The attitudes that comprise a mentality are sufficiently impervious to recognition, so much like natural dispositions, that many decades may intervene before habit and concept are aligned. However, without some appropriate conceptual backdrop, it is very unlikely that a new scientific mentality can genuinely // displace an old one, since concepts, especially in science, are on fundamentally habit-forming force, one force which, even if over a long span of time, makes possible a stable set of firm mental habits. Although social. cultural, institutional, and psychological factors may all delay the definitive formation of these new habits, it is conceptual innovation of the kind Freud produced that marks one place of genius. But we must remember that genius too has its habits, its inert tendencies, that create a form of friction between what could be said and what is said, so that genius is always ahead of itself"(91-2).