Monday, March 14, 2011

Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman and Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated by C. J.M. Hubback

In Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, Laplanche inquires into the terminological and interpretive consequences of Freud’s text by centering his interest and method on the themes of sexuality, ego, and death instinct.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle sketches Freud’s theory of instinctual drives in which he evokes traumatic neurosis, the death instinct, and the compulsion to repeat.

Sentence for Close Reading:
"At such moments, we are faced with a “terminological” problem that engages the thing itself: in our view, the slippage that Freud allows to occur within conceptual oppositions that he is perfectly aware of and that even serve a the guiding line in his argument is nothing else than the slippage effected, within the genesis of the sexual drive, by movement of anaclisis or propping" (Laplanche: Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism, 87).

This sentence occurs in the third page of chapter five, Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism, in the middle of a long paragraph that poses the problem of providing evidence for the notion of propping in formulating instinctual dualism in the theory of sadomasochism. Laplanche starts with locating his method of interpretation or reading practice of Freud with a marker of time and space (“At such moments, we are faced with”). Through these markers, Laplanche posits the problem of  Freud's terminolgy, which at the same time poses the problem of psychoanalytic derivation of its terminology from linguistic categories . The quotation marks in the adjectif “terminological” encloses the term in Laplanchian terminology. The latter pushes Laplanche's readers to pause on the meaning of the word "terminological" in Laplanche’s text and to wonder whether the "terminological problem of the thing"  implies a vocabulary or language specific to Laplanche's psychoanalyzing of Freud's terminology.

While elucidating the terminological problem of Freud's "thing itself," Laplanche proceeds to define this terminology in a referential way. This "referentiality" causes his terminology to call into question Freud's terminology so that the two distinct terminologies derive from each other. While these terminologies expose a certain conflict, their derivation comes to focus all the reader's attention on their conflict and their opposition, so that their schematic construct displaces the attention from the context of their emergence and their differentiation throughout Laplanche's reading. A certain opposition between the terminologies is constantly reinforced, since it is that very tension that supports Laplanche's method. The colon following the clause, “At such moments, we are faced with a ‘terminological’ problem that engages the thing itself”(which looks like a sentence that could exits on its own), enables Laplanche to linger on the sentence so as to explain and illustrate the terminological ambiguity any reader faces when in contact with Freud’s terminology. Laplanche’s illustration is fully displayed to the reader by the pause resonant in the colon, which along with the comma establishes the agency by which Laplanche reveals and specifies the terminological "referentilality" of Freudian concepts. The opinion marker, “in our view,” enclosed between the colon and the comma, enables Laplanche to establish his agency by going beyond facing Freud text and by touching the language that constructs and structure the concept formulated in the text.  In doing so, he effects a turn into the sentence that allows him to inhabit a place from which he exerts the double action of undoing and redoing Freud’ terminology so as to establish the "referentiality" between his method of interpretation and Freud's terminological procedures. In embedding himself in the sentence through the "objective" expression of his opinion which is illustrated by the possessive personal pronoun “our,” Laplanche chains Freudian terms with his own in conceptual pairs. This binary operation is performed and at the same time destroyed by the colon, which signal an apposition between the two independent clauses of the sentence. As such, the tension orchestrated by the binary operation of the sentence has as its result the effect of erasing the speculative nature of Laplanche's derivation from Freud. The sentence soothes the tension created by its binary structure in the second clause into an economy, where Freud’s controlled and intended “conceptual oppositions” function systematically within the general economy of Freud's works. The structural apposition of the two terms, "thing" and "slippage," resembles and to a certain degree repeats the production of a specific vocabulary, where the placement of the terms determines not only a synchronic dimension, but a diachronic one, as well.

The  italic part of the sentence culminates and renders more precise the methodological tension that have been raised regarding Laplanche's derivation from Freud, as the major axe of the structural system of the sentence. The italic tones the Freud's conceptual oppositions to their function in relation to the slippage of Laplanche method of derivation, by their simultaneous function of movement and support.  Within the terminological derivation engendered by the movement of anaclisis or propping, there seems to be a paradoxical movement. On one hand, the use of a term such as propping, which both structures and moves the derivation, implies that the relation of the two terms while conflictual is not at the same time dialectical. The value of propping seems to lie exactly in its avoidance of a strictly dialectical opposition. The very notion of propping suggests that the leaning of derivation and propping on each other does not constitute a dialectical opposition in the traditional sense. The advantage of using propping, of putting emphasis on it in Freud's text is clearly apparent in the discussion of the genesis of sexuality that is envisaged by Laplanche as a movement of deviation from the instinctual processes. Laplanche's insistence on developing the implications of propping underlying Freud's text gives important results, insofar as it qualifies the derivation of the drive in relation to the vital instincts: "the fact that emergent sexuality attaches itself to and is propped upon another process which is both similar and profoundly divergent: the sexual drive is propped upon a nonsexual, vital function or, as Freud formulates it in terms that defy all additional commentary, upon a 'bodily function essential to life' " (16).

1 comment:

  1. I think the question of propping, in this passage, is an interesting one. Your reading in the last paragraph brings to mind the prospect that Laplanche's treatment of Freud is precisely the kind of propping that he identifies as central to Freud's theory. Certainly your point that the italic part of the sentence foregrounds the methodological crux of the matter is well taken. I'm not quite sure, however, that I follow your reading of the post-colon part of the sentence as an apposition. Rather, it seems to be a refining of the point that there's this "terminlogical" problem. I like your treatment of "terminological" but I wonder why you don't connect it to methodological since the latter comes up at the end of your post. Laplanche is saying that the "terminological" slippage is the very slippage of anaclisis (what might be called "methodological" slippage). So what are we to make of this comparison?