Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Adam Phillips, Promises, Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis.

 Through a reflection on the merits of psychoanalysis deployment of literature, Adam Phillips shows that literature and psychoanalysis share the preocupation of interpreting human character through language.

“Just as it became apparent to Freud that sexuality was sexual disorder, we might say something similar about eating. What would it be not to have an eating disorder? Who do we think of as being a normal eater, and what do our criteria, on reflection, seem to be for this reassuring assessment” (288).

This passage occurs in "On Eating, and Preferring Not To” in which Adam Philips return to a critical point of departure via Freud, a return prompted by his work with analysands who refuse to eat. The passage struck me because of its strategic offering of a sophisticated and challenging way of approaching eating and consumption. In asking the question, "What would it be not to have an eating disorder?," Phillips calls our attention to what is an eating disorder and the ways in which we conceive of that disorder. The juxtaposition of these rhetorical questions in the passage implies that we question the notion of disorder itself. The succession of the words, “eating disorder, normal eater, criteria for reassuring assessment” implicitly hint at the existence of an order of eating, a norm whose criteria can be easily identified. Now the question is how do we draw on the potential within this order to first identify, then classify and finally understand the operation of disorder? The possibility of “criteria for reassuring assessment” suggests that there is a code, a repertoire that enables psychoanalysis and the psychoanalyst to understand what is an eating disorder. Is that repertoire characterized what the psychoanalyst knows about the workings of the analysand’s psyche? Or is it constituted of the social, and if so, does is align, first, the appetite for food with curiosity about life itself, an interest or desire that nourishes the subject, and feeds its love of life itself?

Via this route, one may consider the range of life and death stories subjects tell themselves in eating disorder and normal eating.Phillip’s questions call our attention to think about the ways in which analysands who decide not to eat experience themselves emotionally fed or starved within a social repertoire, or narrative of order. By doing so, they enact, or literalize experiences of emotional starvation or satiation through modifying their eating patterns. For Phillips, the love of life is an appetite for nourishment, and that appetite, in turn, provides the grounds for the workings of desire and imagination to create a real life. Here, my use of the adjective "real" is to be understood as a reality created and constructed when subjects work through the dialectic between what they want and what is there (the material conditions of possibility as well as the material constraints). A reality that works with the internal conflicts, psychic and social.

Phillips’s perspective opens up critical questions about the ways different subjects balance and define their wants and limits in economically workable ways so that they create life-stories, as opposed to death-stories (narratives repeating self-destructive patterns) out of the material conditions of their objective reality, life-stories that make that same brute reality meaningful for them. As such, the flawed diagnostic tool of a supposedly "healthy" respect for the distinctness of the domains of art and life loses its cutting edge through Phillips’ s acuity in pointing to the interdependency of imagination and life-stories that enable subjects to have a life in time. Patterns of eating are just as much nutritional as they are metaphoric for Phillips since for him they are corporeal manifestations of the psyche’s embeddings in the social. Eating, understood in all these ways, is a prime mediator in creating a real life in time. Phillips's perspective loosens the hold of habitual thought processes producing both the categories and narratives of “eating disorders” as matters of common sense. Instead, if the categories and narratives of “eating disorders” have critical interest today, the interest lies not in their function as commonsensical answers to our questions, but rather as historical points of departure, or as questions, that in their own turn, now call for critical re-analysis of the historicity of the categories of order and disorder and their supporting narratives. As such, we must question tendencies to naturalize explanatory narratives about eating disorder by looking at its opposite, normal eating or orderly eating.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mladen Dollar, A Voice and Nothing More

Dolar attempts to take our focus away from the observable and empirical voice by reminding us that there is always a negative: that which is not said, not meant, the object voice that point to the other.

“Yet it never appears as such, it always functions as the negative of the voice, its shadow, its reverse, and thus something which can evoke the voice in its pure form” (152).

This passage occurs in the second final chapter of the book (chapter 6: Freud’s Voice) where Dolar turns from the individual threads that had been the focus of the first five chapters back to the questions that deal with the whole cloth, the voice. In fact, Dolar introduces his investigation of the object voice with a series: an epigraph, a joke, and an anecdote. In the rush to dig in to the treatment of the subject, the worst mistake we could make as readers would be to rush past these openings, to dismiss them as mere stylistic decoration. Therefore one could safely say that the significance of the questions and answers that Dolar works through are contained within the series of overtures which function as threads combined to make a piece of cloth. While the threads of Dolar's inquiry are all present in this series, set forth in a manner that preserves their complex inter-relationships, reading them requires that we first pulled them from the cloth and held them up for inspection, we should then reconsider them in terms of their role to hold the cloth together.  As such, my goal in this reading is to repeat the pulling of the threads that Dolar implicitly seems to suggest. I literally perform the act of pulling a thread by separating the sentence from its main clause -“Silence seems to be something extremely simple, where there is nothing to understand or interpret”- to highlights the striking repetition of the predicate nominative pronoun “it” and its possessive form. I will try to demonstrate that there is no such thing as silence in Dolar’s text; the only thing exist is voice presented in different forms.

The subject of the main clause is “silence,” its replacement by the predicate nominative, “it,” freezes its function as the grammatical subject of the sentence and turns the latter into another undetermined but speaking subject that could be read as “silence’s” other voice. Though the speaking subject of the sentence is unspecified, the repetition of “it” creates a sounding that makes the determined subject of the main clause (silence) function and resonate differently, almost as a voice. The juxtaposition of the two sentences-“Silence seems to be something extremely simple, where there is nothing to understand or interpret. Yet it never appears as such, it always functions as the negative of the voice, its shadow, its reverse, and thus something which can evoke the voice in its pure form”- effaces the function of the grammatical subject as the subject of enunciation (sujet enonciateur). As such, the predicate nominative “it” operates as the voice of the other that imposes itself upon the subject of enunciation (silence).  Beneath the enunciation of silence as the grammatical subject of the sentence lies the assumption that it is the speaking subject that voices out what the sentence holds from us. One may wonder about the effect of the absence of a vocal voice in the sentence, it may be that in the silence of presence of the voice, one is left with a subject (silence) and its other (it) whose tie clashes.

In the sentence, the resonance of silence rehabilitates and pursues its aestheticization. I want to pose this aestheticization of the silence against Dolar’s psychoanalysis of the voice. If the danger of aestheticization is the attribution to the aestheticized object of “a meaning beyond any ordinary meanings,” then the process of aestheticization is a suspension apart from meaning. As such, the “aesthetics of voice” is the chapter missing from Dolar’s book, because he dismisses its possibilities too quickly.
I would like to add that I am thinking about blogging as adding a different level to the aesthetic implications of silence in locating the place of the voice. If the voice itself already can be considered as an always in between the medium of silence, the blogging – virtual online speaking – increases the instance of in betweeness. Similar to most of the abilities of modern and mostly digital devices it allows a remark, opinion to come in at a instantaneous and spontaneous level, which so far related most of the time only to a real-time remark, a heard voice. At the same time blog posts and comments connect to the written comment, which traditionally are considered as the captured voice of writing. Finally I would like to make here a connection between the blogging voice and the captured, disembodied voice of the analysand in psychoanalysis. Both bear marks of spontaneity which is much harder to constitute for publication of thoughts which went through the process of self-verification before being expressed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (continuous)

Part 1: The Desiring-Machines The first part subsumes Marx and Freud in the Nietzschian framework that is the desiring production by introducing desire as social and explains that the best way of exploring social desire is through schizophrenia.

Part 2: Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family Extends Freud’s Oedipus complex beyond family and links it to capitalism, which deploys Oedipus to channel desire.

Part 3: Savages, Barbarians, Civilized Men Chapters in this part analyze the social formations that correspond to the historical development of Oedipus (savagery, despotism, and capitalism) through the exploration of notions of production and anti-production, the "body-without-organs" as a template for desiring-production, systems of political and linguistic representation and inscription, the historically changing character of the "socius," and the various investments of desire (social and psychic) that constitute it.

Part 4: Introduction to Schizoanalysis Introduces Deleuze and Guattari’s privileging of desire over power and suggests the use of Schizophrenia to interrogate capitalist production of desire.

Passage for close reading:

“(Writing does not entail but implies a kind of blindness, a loss of vision and the ability to appraise; it is now the eye that suffers, although it also acquires other functions)” (205).

Though parentheses are highly used in Anti- Oedipus, their unusual use in this sentence struck my reading eye. Though I’m claiming to have seen the bizarre construction of the sentence, its content does challenge my ability to see its function. Throughout Anti- Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari caution us against asking the question: what does it mean? (109, 206), they rather suggest that we ask ourselves how does the signifier or the unconscious work? As such, I ask myself how does this sentence enclosed in parenthesis work? What is its use in the overall argument of this part?

This sentence occurs in chapter seven, Barbarian or Imperial representation, in the middle of a paragraph that discusses the crushing of the “magic triangle” of inscription and representation (205). The tone of the paragraph is dramatic as it bears a resonance of chaos. The latter is strongly echoed in the sentence preceding the one i selected: “Then there occurs a crushing of the magic triangle: the voice no longer sings but dictates, decrees, the graphy no longer dances, it ceases to animate bodies, but is set into writing on tablets, stones and books; the eye sets itself to reading” (205). The dramatic tone of this sentence suggests a tragic rupture from a previously valued dynamic of vision and sets the sentence parenthesis as an interlude in the performance of the rupture. The transition from a state of performance (the functionality of the magic triangle) to one of non-performance (the crushed magic triangle) creates a gap, an interval, which the sentence in parentheses fills. Therefore, the previous sentence and the one in parentheses function as a chain of signifiers that acts out the rupture of the magic triangle. As such, both sentences depend on each other, most importantly; the sentence in parenthesis cannot be omitted, as it seems to be the heart of the rupture from vision to blindness and the topic sentence of the paragraph. If the sentence seems to bear the main idea of the paragraph, and if we consider the function of parentheses as introducing an after thought or an explanation in a sentence, why is it that the entire sentence is in parentheses? Are Deleuze and Guattari using parentheses in this sentence as computer scientists to code a specific function or task of writing?

My analogy of the form of the sentence to computer science which brought about explosive developments facilitates the explanation of the parentheses, the central instrument of the sentence, which becomes disembodied by the sound encyclopedic description of writing, thrown out of the magic triangle through the presence of materiality, and isolated by the excessive textualization of the sentence content. The crush of the magic triangle creates a space where consumption is the rule. Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge the chaos that originates from the crush but they also want to reduce its damages by delineating the space of the rupture in the paragraph with parentheses.

Deleuze and Guattari know that the perpetuation of society through specific modes of production depends, in large part, on the effects of discourse. How the discourse of and about a given mode of production is produced and circulated determines the form and evolution of that particular mode of production. Of course, this relationship between production and reproduction must be operative in reading and writing. By understanding the modalities of these practices, by asking who produces them, with what support, and, we can better appreciate their scope and can therefore discover their forms of oppression, that is, the pivotal places where resistance can anchor to promote change.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Deterritorializing "Deterritorialization": From the "Anti-Oedipus" to "A Thousand Plateaus"
Deleuze and Guattari theoretically and politically destroy psychoanalysis and its basic foundation and propose that the way out of the Oedipus complex is to be found in the schizophrenic who challenges the attempt to be placed into a familistic isolation.

Passage for close reading:

We no longer believe in the dull gray outlines of a dreary, colorless dialectic of evolution, aimed at forming a harmonious whole out of heterogeneous bits by rounding off their rough edges. We believe only in totalities that are peripheral. And if we discover such a totality alongside various separate parts, it is a whole of these particular parts but does not totalize them; it is a unity of all of these particular parts but does not unify them; rather, it is added to them as a new part fabricated separately. (42)
This passage bears resonance of a temporal and spatial rupture with the repetition of the verb “believe” accompanied with the adverbs “no longer” and “only’. The first sentence marks this temporal and spatial disjunction by its use of the attenuating adverb of negation, “no longer.” The combination of the adverbs “no longer” and “only,” along with the combative echo of the adjectives “dull gray, dreary, colorless” create a playful and combative language that warns us against any exclusive disjunction.  The adverbs create a connective synthesis that lays out the cartography of Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptualization of multiplicity and flux in the second sentence. The latter playfully anticipates the juxtaposition of “totality” and “whole” to suggest an open-ended series of inclusive disjunctions that pay attention to circumferences.  The third sentence does a set of multiplication with the terms “totality, a whole of particular parts, a unity of all these particular parts.” One may wonder what is the effect of these combinations in this passage?

 The temporal and spatial opposition between the first two sentences of the passage along with the deceitful juxtaposition of synonyms (whole, unity of, totality) performs the fundamental opposition between the Anti- Oedipus-paranoia and schizophrenia. The opposition is re-located in the passage and had its own way of undermining the binary opposition between paranoia and schizophrenia. As such, the passage performs a mode of discourse that is paranoid and schizophrenic at the same time. As such, I suggest that we read this passage about multiplicity and flux as a condensation of the gap between paranoia and schizophrenia.  One can think of condensation in Freudian term where two elements that occupy opposite ends in the libidinal spectrum designate the freeing of desire. The condensation of the “w/hole of these particular parts of totalities” produces a kind of revolutionary unified field for the passage, while at the same time the "schizophrenic tendencies" of the language reduces such an apparently all-encompassing reading to a set of playful signifiers from which it is difficult if not impossible to draw any definitive conclusions. This characteristic of the passage echoes one of my main questions while reading Anti-Oedipus as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s implied question in the following quote: “It is often thought that Oedipus is an easy subject to deal with, something perfectly obvious, a “given” that is there from the very beginning. But that is not so at all: Oedipus presupposes a fantastic repression of desiring-machines (3). The implicit questions raised in this quote and the accompanying footnote is: How did Freud appropriate the authority of the Greek tragedy to legitimize his psychoanalytic concepts? How does this relate to the second chapter's critique of the institution of psychoanalysis as a new secular religion set up by the followers of Freud and institutionalized by the industrial-military complex? I also wonder whether Deleuze and Guattari’s appropriation of Freud’s Oedipus complex is a condensation or a displacement of Freud to fulfill their wish for social theory of desire?