The "real" since Freud: Castoriadis and Lacan on socialization and language.
In the Editor's Note to Freud's seminal paper The Unconscious (1915), Strachey traces the development of the Hebartian concept of the Linconscious which was originally introduced so as to avoid "unintelligible|gaps' in the chain of observable [conscious] phenomena" (Freud 1915, 162). Freud's early theoretical response to this threat of potential unintelligibility of mental processes was represented by his neurobiological Project for Scientific Pyschology, which elaborates the fundamental scientific construct of a "purely physical chain, without any breaks in it . . . [generated] by a manipulation of two material entities - the neuron and |quantity' in a condition of flow" (163), thus avoiding the questionable (at the time) practice of invoking speculative unconscious mental states. In the wake of his later disappointment with the neuronal model, Freud turned to the psychological mode of explanation and introduced the notion of unconscious mental processes, because, as Strachey thought, "much of what Freud had written in the Project in terms of the nervous system turned out to be valid and far more intelligible when tranlated into mental terms" (164). In spite of this radical shift from physical to mental description, a careful reading of both positions shows that at both stages Freud adhered unflinchingly to the rigorous scientific world-view in which intelligibility is identified with tracing of continuous (causal) sequences, and where gaps cannot be tolerated - a world view, in short, where something cannot intelllgibly spring from nothing and which in Freud's later work would be developed into the fundamental methodological tenet of "psychic determinism."
Freud's programmatic position on this issue is clearly outlined in The Unconscious, where, while discussing the validity of "latent states," Freud suggests that the question of whether these states should be treated as
conscious mental states or as physical ones threatens to resolve itself into a verbal dispute ... As far as their physical characteristics are concerned, they are totally inaccessible to us: no physiological concept or chemical process can give us any notion of their nature. On the other hand, we know that they have abundant points of contact with conscious mental states: with the help of a certain amount of work they can be transformed into, or replaced by, conscious mental processes, and all the categories which we employ to describe conscious mental acts, such as ideas, purposes, resolutions and so on, can be applied to them [emphasis added]. (168)
This audacious leap across the metaphysical gap between the physical and mental realms distinguishes the specifically Freudian approach to the problem of unconscious mental life, in which the continuity of the causal physical chains is brought into "abundant points of contact" with intentional mental states. The tension that this leap engenders was subsequently emphasized by many readers of Freud as the source of depth and power of the original psychoanalytic model which has been diminished or lost in many of its revisions. Whether it is "a paradoxical ... refusal to recognize the distinction between explanation [Erklaren] and understanding [Verstehen]" seen by Dews (1987, 47), or the "mixed discourse of force and meaning" emphasized by Ricoeur (1970),(2)the dominant theme is Freud's belief in some dimension of continuity across the whole range of psychic phenomena which would be mastered by a single exhaustive theoretical model.
In spite of its power, the philosophical inconsistencies of this view have continued to haunt the followers of Freud no longer as tensions to be sustained but as explicit incoherences to be resolved. In retrospect, Freud himself has been accused of losing his balance on the metaphysical tightrope, and coming down on one or the other side of the dilemma. It is quite clear from the passage cited above, for instance, that Freud believed that the "latent states" which constitute potential gaps in the causal chain can, in fact, be replaced by conscious mental content. This dimension in Freud's thought was identified by Castoriadis as "reduction to meaning" (278), and we will return to it later.
For now, however, let us trace some of the origins of these potential incoherences in Freud's thought by turning to the early model of the psychic apparatus presented in Chapter Seven of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). In that context, the explicit purpose of the general model was to ground and explain the imagistic mode of dreaming. What are we to make of this model, this "compound instrument," for the crudity of which Freud "see[s] no necessity to apologize?"
Freud offered the most significant observation at the very outset:
The first thing that strikes us is that this apparatus ... has a sense of direction ... [emphasis added]. (Freud 1900, 575)
The direction to which Freud refers is the advancement of "psychical processes" from the perceptual to the motor end of the apparatus - what we generally understand as the directionality of the reflex. As a means of justifying the general form of this model, Freud can only insist that it
... does no more than fulfill a requirement with which we have long been famillar namely that the psychical apparatus must be constructed like a reflex apparatus. (Freud 1900, 576)
The problem with this approach is apparent. Laplanche (1989), for instance, states quite bluntly that this model is not merely untenable but so deeply flawed that it calls out for a consideration of what might have led Freud, who had a sophisticated grasp of neurophysiology, to construct such a "mythology" of reflex action:
The notion of a stimulus and the "pattern of the reflex arc" are supposed then to shed light on the concept of the drive. But the pattern, as described by Freud, is, as I have demonstrated again and again, absolutely erroneous: it is a pattern derived from false physiology, or even puerile physiology. The idea that a stimulus applied to living tissue from outside remains the same when it emerges from that tissue stems from an elementary and indefensible mechanism. (6)
One way of rendering Freud's use of a "crude" mechanical model understandable is to consider that in a metaphorical sense the directionality of the reflex arc (in which afferent and efferent energy flows orient the biophysical system in reference to its external and internal environments) is isomorphic with the directionality of conscious states which are intentionally oriented in relation to their object and, therefore, by "aligning" these systems, the model provides the two descriptions with needed "points of contact." By superimposing mechanical directionality of energy flow along the reflex arc with the phenomenological directedness of mental states as articulated by Brentano, Freud's parallelist view appears to merge the two modes of description into one that is both physical and mental, both quantitative and intentional, both self-contained and externally oriented. Freud's "puerile" introduction of the reflex arc as a model of psychic activity defines (early on) the characteristic style of his thought which wants to embrace mental and physical perspectives, and which reveals an indifference to noticing the inherent incompatibility between these two modes of description. We have already alluded to the observation that it is this mixed discourse that gives Freud's theory its power and depth. At the same time, however, it introduces a potential for incoherence, which in the context of Chapter Seven can be stated as follows: a description of a system in energy terms is essentially non-relational, and when used in physics it is based on an assumption that the system is "closed," i.e., all of its descriptions are intelligible only as local transformations of energy states within the system bound by the principles of conservation, and contain no reference to anything external. In a strict physical sense, then, there is no difference between the perceptual or the motor ends of the organism, as long as both are treated as mere pathways for processes causing quantitative changes in the organism's energy level. Any orientation (e.g., distinction between perception and motor ends) of a closed system involves an external observer, and is not an inherent property of the system itself.
The significance of this point might be missed if we attribute the mechanistic cast of Chapter Seven to Freud's lingering hangover produced by the physiological excesses of The Project. The point, however, is not the mechanical nature of the metaphor in the strict sense, but the more general philosophical problem of drawing a distinction between some hypothetical system and the sphere of conscious mental activity, since the contents of that system would have to be defined as non-intentional, i.e., as quasi-material, which is equivalent to being ontologically self-sufficient and self-contained.(3) The implications of this become clearer when we come to Freud's later redefinition of the unconscious as "id," i.e. as a distinct system in structural rather than grossly mechanical terms, which is defined through its dominant mode of functioning - the pleasure principle.
As soon as we identify the unconscious with the pleasure principle, the incoherence of the earlier mechanical model returns in its full force. As noted by Laplanche, this difficulty did not escape the father of psychoanalysis:
Freud himself raises the main objection: the organization he is describing is, as we know, reputedly able to hallucinate the fulfillment of its needs; it lives in the state of autarky, like a monad which is a slave to the "pleasure principle" and neglects the reality of the external world. Yet such an organization could not keep itself alive for a moment, and so could not have come into existence at all. (23)
It is significant that Freud's own solution to this theoretical inconsistency was to include "the care the infant receives from its mother" (i.e., the infant's "social world") as part of the model, but as Laplanche points out, ... surely the biological model falls apart if it is expanded to include outside intervention. (23)
It seems clear, then, that the adherence to the radical view of the autonomy and distinctness of the unconscious leads to a theoretical difficulty: how does one conceptualize the agency of an unconscious which is autonomous, yet not completely self-contained and therefore indifferent to external reality. Let us elaborate this fundamental conceptual dilemma by tracing how this issue is taken up by Castoriadis in his theory of the radical imagination, and by Lacan in his project of non-reductionistic yet rigorous critique of consciousness.
The position presented by Castoriadis is illuminating because it embraces the view that autonomy inevitably implies discontinuity and rejects the possibility that this discontinuity within the individual can be bridged through a reduction of psychic agency to some other principle. Castoriadis argues for this position by positing the psychic as a source of radical discontinuity both in reference to the biological and the social, thus introducing, in Whitebook's (1990) words, the general thesis of psychic "autonomy vis-a-vis the real" (350).
By insisting on the discontinuity of "radical imaginary," Castoriadis takes oll not just Freud's aporeia, but also the more general dilemma we have just mentioned: how can any system exhibiting irreducible autonomous principles be capable of recognizing the Other? If, as Castoriadis claims, the psychic is not reducible to either its biological roots or to its social manifestations, how is it possible for the autistic monad to ever engage with its (internal or external) environments?
First of all, Castoriadis rejects the solution offered by Lacan, who tried to resolve this problem by introducing a distinction between biological drives and a specifically human form of desire, thereby moving from "drive pressure" as excess (self-contained mechanical model) to desire as psychic representation of absence (relational linguistic model). Castoriadis points out, however, that this way of bridging the gap between the biological and the psychological is problematic in its own right. He starts out by questioning the manner in which the data of "real" experience enter into the constitution of fantasy or unconscious representation, and argues that the very notion of "hallucination" (as the proto-psychic representation) implies a paradoxical reference to the "real" which, if followed through, again results in incoherence. As Castoriadis observes, both Freud in Chapter Seven and Lacan in his theory of the "mirror stage" describe an originary (primal)
product of imagination [i.e., psychic representation] which, under the pressure of drive (or even of need, as Freud says [in Chapter 7]), covers up a "deficiency" with the reproduction of the representation (posed as equivalent to perception) of a scene of satisfaction which has an antecedent in "real" perception. (284)
The problem stems from the fact that this experience of deficiency (brought on by hunger in Freud's view or by lack of integration in Lacan's (1977) theory of the "mirror stage") occurs prior to the hypothetical institution of the reality principle in which the primacy of the real is established and which, in turn, is required to explain a lived experience of an external non-self (of negation). Thus, the theory of hallucinatory wishfulfillment or of the imaginary identification with the "Gestalt of wholeness" (Lacan 1977, 3) assumes the very psychic representation of external reality which is only established later both in Freud's and Lacan's developmental progressions. This sequential incoherence in the progressive differentiation between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, and the ambiguity of the causal and temporal priority of the two states applies equally to Freud and Lacan, in spite of their diametrically opposed positions in regard to the objective status of the Ego.
As a further critique of the Lacanian solution, Castoriadis pursues the radical implications of Freud's notion of autoeroticism or primary narcissism, by which he understands that the undifferentiated Ego-Id, and the originary psychic subject "is not this or that thing in his fantasy," but rather stands for the "representation of Self that is All" (282). This confronts us with the fact that for Lacan it is the transition from that all-inclusive primordial fantasy to the perception of Self as "lacking" that is crucial, and Castoriadis shows that this transition needs to be understood rather than assumed. In fact, it is the assumption of a coherent, internally consistent transition from all-encompassing self-sufficiency to an intrapsychic representation of absence that Castoriadis identifies as the central false tenet in "psychogenic" theories of the social (287). On this last point, Castorladis claims that at the originary level there can be "no missing object" (or missing self-object in the "mirror stage"), or any "desire," for at this level of the originary, the desire is always fulfilled - "realized before it is able to be articulated as desire"(291).
These principles make up Castoriadis' definition of the originary "magma"-the psychic reallty which "represents everything as self" (293), and for which "it is impossible to distinguish truth from a fiction invested with an affect" (291). This is the realm of the unconscious that is dominated by the pleasure principle, and its most general subjective expression, according to Castorladis, is the manifest structure of protomeaning, which is an
indestructible holding-together, aiming at itself and grounded on itself, the unlimited source of pleasure to which nothing is lacking and which leaves nothing desired. (294)
Now that we have outlined some of the central theoretical points, let us return to the problem of radical autonomy. In a critique of the limitations of Castoriadis's position, Whitebook (1990) expresses the view that the theory of radical imagination is a defense of the notions of "authentically genuine thought and action and genuine historical creation" against reduction to any form of the real - be it biological, economic, or social. Yet at the same time Whitebook argues that in trying to "mitigate the radicalness" of the notion of "largely self-generated" psychic life, Castorladis has to account for how the real can gain a "mooring" in the radical imagination, how can it be registered in it. The self-containment of the imaginary thus cannot be total, but rather must confront the ambiguities of "relative autonomy vis-a-vis the real" (350).
Due to the limited scope of this paper, we will focus on one aspect of the critique of radical autonomy implied in the statement that "if the heterogeneity between psyche and society were as complete [as the monadic formulation suggests]
... the socialization process would not simply be violent, it would be impossible" (353). The key word here is heterogeneity, and the question is: what would justify taking the position of incomplete heterogeneity between the monadic psyche and social reality?
One way of examining the nature of the disjunction between the two is suggested by Whitebook when he says that
... the monadic pole exerts a tendency toward unification over the rest of psychic life which has the most diverse and even contradictory effects, ranging from the complete irrationality of the unconscious to the highest achievements of Reason. (351)
He goes on to add that
.. in the more conscious, socialized strata of the psyche, the unifying intention of the monadic pole is enlisted to synthesize the manifold of contents emanating from the outside into the relative unity of experience. (352)
These ideas suggest that the socialization of the psyche does not have to be seen as a process of violent opposition between incompatible realities, as implied by the formal incompatibility of the "two principles of mental functioning" in Freud's thought or by Habermas's understanding of Castoriadis's view as positing "psyche and society ... in a kind of metaphysical opposition to one another" (Whitebook, 357). One could argue, instead, that if the dynamics of socialization are concretely elaborated, they reveal that Castoriadis's monadic psyche does not stand in "metaphysical opposition" to the structure of social reality: on the contrary, the two domains manifest basic organizing principles common to both. A careful reading of Castoriadis suggests that he might be moving towards that realization himself when he observes that
only the institution of society can bring the psyche out of this originary monadic madness, and what could well exist - and at times actually does, as a madness or two, or three, or more.(307)
Although Castoriadis is clearly aware that the madness of a group can mirror the "originary monadic madness," he treats this as a circumscribed and perhaps pathological phenomenon, a form of folie a deux. However, the "mad" dimension as an essential characteristic of all groups has been recognized and extensively studied in the work of a number of continental psychoanalysts,(4) whose less polarized view of socialization identifies various forms of primitive fantasy at the core of social phenomena. In other words, if extended to its logical conclusion, the notion of the "madness of two, or three, or more" invites a re-conceptualization of the monadic core as a system distinguished by certain unique properties but not necessarily synonymous with the boundary of an individual psyche, suggesting, in turn, a notion of an autistic boundary which may encompass some aspects of social processes. Let us examine (in a highly abbreviated manner) some of the specific principles which characterize the functioning of the monadic core both in its psychical and its social manifestations.
Firstly, Castoriadis characterizes the primal unconscious as a locus of originary desire which, unlike its secondary conscious manifestations, "leaves nothing desired:"
In psychic reality all desires are not fulfillable, they are always fulfilled. (296)
Castoriadis's notion of primitive desire as always containing its own object(5) should be carefully distinguished from the more familiar notion of irrational and unlimited infantile desire, and is essentially similar to the view offered by Galbraith (1958) in his discussion of the economic paradoxes of production under late industrial capitalism:
All this becomes intelligible, and in a degree even obvious, when we contemplate the elaborate myth with which we surround the demand for goods. This has enabled us to become persuaded of the dire importance of the goods we have, without our being in the slightest degree concerned about those we do not have. For we have wants at the margin only in so far as they are synthesized. We do not manufacture wants for goods we do not produce. (113)
This insight, which has since been restated by many writers as the thesis of the "construction of needs," points to a deeper and more general truth about the nature of the social, vis. that the social representation of every consensually recognized desire is not just potentially fulfillable, but always already fulfilled. This gratification is deferred and the desire is separated from its object only in the instrumental point of view - i.e. in terms of clock-time or pragmatic obstacles, but not at the level of social representation, where it functions as a source of ego-ideals. To put it somewhat differently, it can be claimed that society never offers a representation of desire for which no gratification is available in principle.
Castoriadis also attaches great importance to the omnipotent and omniscient characteristics of the monadic core, and the profound implications it has for the experience of the self and other:
Even more decisive is the projective constitution of the other on the basis of the schema of all-powerfulness. It seems to me that no one has drawn all the consequences that ensue from the omnipotence the infant imputes to the other, all that it implies concerning the schemata available to the psyche at the moment when the first other is constituted for the psyche. The subject can grasp the other only by means of the sole scheme available then and always to it, since it draws it out of self - the schema of omnipotence. (304-5)
This important insight has been developed and elaborated by the members of the Tavistock Group and by neo-Kleinian social theorists, and by some French analysts, such as D. Anzieu and J. Chasseguet-Smirgel. Bion (1985), for instance, has drawn far-ranging consequences from the centrality of the "schema of omnipotence," when he wrote, for instance, that idealization in the group is a reality-based activity that is essential for the growth of discrimination in the individual. The individual himself must be able to distinguish between himself as an ordinary person and his view that he is omniscient and omnipotent.... Sometimes the separation fails and the group is not only seen to be ideally omnipotent and omniscient but believed to be so in actuality. (130)
In an overview of the work of the French analysts, Kernberg (1985) summarized their view of the unconscious representation of a group, in which the "fusion of individual instinctual needs with a fantastic conception as a primitive ego ideal [is] equated to an all-gratifying primary object" (406). This view enables us to start conceptualizing that mysterious yet very tangible power which marks the individual's experience of her social reality and which Durkheim has introduced as an essential dimension of sociological description:
Chasseguet-Smirgel (1975) ... suggests that ... groups (both small and large) tend to select leadership that represents not the paternal aspects of the prohibitive superego, but a pseudo paternal "merchant of illusion" who provides the group with an ideology ... which confirms the narcissistic aspirations of fusion of individual with the group as a primitive-ego ideal - the all powerful and all-gratifying preodipal mother. Basically, the identification with each other of the members of the small group permits them to experience a primitive narcissistic gratification of greatness and power. (406)
Thus, the confusion between a sense of oneself as an ordinary limited person and as an omnipotent being referred to in these passages, far from being an aberrant or infrequent occurrence, is in fact a fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of social life, expressed in its extreme forms in all kinds of dogmas and cult beliefs, while its more moderate expression grounds the "certainty" of everyday social discourse which, as Wittgenstein (1953) has shown, rests on conventional and interpersonal rather than abstractly rational foundations. This dimension of social reality seems to be overlooked by Castoriadis when he claims that
... the new-born will always have to be torn out of his world, without asking him for the opinion he cannot give, and forced - under pain of psychosis - to renounce his imaginary omnipotence, to recognize the desire of others as equally legitimate with his own. (311)
This exaggeration of incompatibillty between monadic and social states leaves Castoriadis vulnerable to the critique of setting up the condition of "metaphyslcal opposition" between the intrapsychic and the social. If we address the actual experience of socialization, however, it seems equally true that the newborn retains its omnipotence precisely to the extent that it becomes a social being, and if for a time it were to become completely social as, for instance, in an upsweep of mob contagion, its primitive omnipotence would be regained in its original intensity.(311)
The third feature of autistic functioning is described by Castoriadis as being under the sway of the "master of all desires, of total unification, of the abolition of all difference and of distance." This dynamic also gives rise to the "first matrix of meaning," which in this view is synonymous with the "desire for universal cognitive connection":
The sperm of reason is also contained in the complete madness of the initial autism. An essential dimension of religion - this goes without saving - but also an essential dimension of philosophy and science derives from this.(299)
In other words, from this perspective, the totalizing ambition of science or any other organized system of beliefs (public or private) that seeks universal covering laws or rules of conduct is supported by the same dynamic principle of abolition of difference which presides over the constitution of the autistic monad.
Outside of clinical psychoanalysis, the general thesis of social autism was introduced by Schachtel (1959) in his theory of "secondary embeddedness" or "secondary autocentricity," which describes a developmental ontogen that is circular rather than linear, and where the highest expressions of public life refer back to the originary state. Schachtel argues that the "state of protectedness and magical satisfaction of all needs as can be observed in embryonic life and, to a considerable extent, in the life of a neonate" is characterized by two aspects of autocentric perception: close linkage of pleasure-unpleasure with perception and lack of objectification; and negative reaction to any novel stimulus disrupting the stage of protectedness. According to Schachtel, it is the development of language that eventually allows the socialized adult to grow into the state of inattentive familiarity with the world, where labels and stereotypes constitute the civilized "cocoon" protecting the stable organization of the adult psyche from the shock of radical novelty:
The man who lives completely in the cocoon has proceeded from the primary embeddedness in the womb and in the world of mother to the secondary embeddedness in the culture, usually in the subculture of the particular social group to which he belongs. He has proceeded from the primary autocentricity of the infant's perceptual world to the secondary autocentricity of the adult's world of "objects-of-use," in which all objects are reduced to and exhausted by the familiar labels and reactions the culture provides for them.(185)
Again, this insight should not be restricted to our understanding of pathological states.(7) On the contrary, it illuminates a universal aspect of socialization as a process in which the "closure of the social world" eventually leads to the loss of the real. In this view, limitations of the experience of real as concrete being are not due to an ontological Kantian shield separating the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds, where objects grasped through the necessary categories of apperception present us first and foremost with a reflection of our own cognitive self. Rather, these limits represent a more gradual and continuous process of moving between the realm of autism which is socially mediated through the schema of "universal cognitive connection" (i.e., generalization, stereotypes, etc.) and the sphere of the real as concrete particulars - a process where the organizing and categorizing capacity of culture (here manifested through language) forms a protective limit to the experience of the real in its overwhelming alien intensity.
To return then to the starting point of our discussion, the radical nature of the unconscious (of the "radical imaginary" for Castoriadis) implies its irreducible nature as a concrete reality in its own right, not reducible to other, alternative modalities of the real, either social or biological. Castoriadis's critique of the Freudian "reduction to meaning" should be read as a critique of a wish to deny the unconscious the status of autonomous being, as if
... the being of dreams, or more generally, of unconscious representation, is eliminated by its being interpreted. (278)
Freud's (1900) tendency to make an interpretation into a radically transformative process is apparent when he writes in the Interpretation of Dreams that
"interpreting" a dream implies assigning a "meaning" to it - that is, replacing it by something which fits into the chain of our mental acts as a link having a validity and importance equal to the rest. (128)
This "replacement" of the unconscious by intelligible mental acts is at the heart of Freud's grand therapeutic ambition of establishing "I" where "It" once was, a program where understanding no longer appears to be a dialogue between two realities of "equal dignity" but a territorial struggle in which language becomes a vehicle of reduction, i.e., of denying the reality of the unconscious as concrete being.
This reduction of the unconscious being to conscious meaning becomes the central issue for Lacan, whose return to Freud was initiated in his early theoretical struggle with the status of the unconscious in relation to physical and social phenomena. Dews traced Lacan's very "entry into psycho-analysis" a realization that the issue of the psychogenesis of the social was the "aporia that confronted [Freud's] great mind in the most profound attempt so far to formulate the experience of man in the register of biology (51-52). According to Dews, Lacan saw early on that Freud's original notion of the unconscious cannot reconcile
... a view of a human being as a solipsistic organism, for whom other individuals figure only as sources of gratification and frustration, and an understanding of the dimensions of social meaning inherent in neurosis and psychosis, between a tendency toward biological reductionism and an implicit recognition that the proper object of psychology is the "specific reality of interpersonal relations." (51)
It is this, by now familiar, "incoherence within the Freudian doctrine" that motivated Lacan's reworking of Freud's theory of the unconscious, which Lacan tried to address while preserving the radical moment contained in Freud's biologism against the "shift to surface and cultural psychology" (Jacoby 1975, 46). But as was already pointed out, Lacan could not simply posit the radical imaginary as an autonomous agent without sacrificing the rigorous spirit of Freud's psychology to the scientific unintelligibility of the creative principle.
In rejecting Freud's "implicit biology" and turning to the methods of structural linguistics - the shift from mechanism as a metaphor to metaphor as a mechanism - Lacan's purpose was to reconcile the apparently incompatible self-sufficiency of the organic processes and the relational intentionality of social interactions. Lacan's early efforts at resolving this problem within the
traditional theory of meaning, however, confronted him with its own aporia, which Dews described as a difficult dilemma of finding a balance between "the defense of the autonomy of the domain of social relations of meaning [and] the claims to scientific rigor." The inevitable ambiguity of interpretation as a "grasping of implicit meaning" threatens scientific objectivity which properly can only come from an objective explanation not contaminated by the dangers of "imaginary identification" (Dews, 72).
Dews suggests we understand the significance of Saussurean linguistics for the development of Lacan's thought in the context of this dilemma. Saussure's langue is a concept which offers a way through the theoretical quagmire of conceptualizing relational capacities in an autonomous structure: language is a closed system that is capable of signification, i.e., it is both self-contained and capable of representation. Starting with a finite, closed set of phonemes defined through mutual "articulation" (Weber 1991, 27), it offers a means for constructing any meaningful proposition about the world while also realizing universal structural principles:
Language is thereby rendered an appropriate object of linguistic science: well-defined and self-contained [emphasis added]. (28)
Let us look at the two features which distinguish langue as a structure and make it so essential for Lacan's theory of the unconscious: its capacity to represent and the nature of its elements.
The function of representation in this system is carried by the "arbitrary" relationship between the signifier and the signified first identified by Saussure. This arbitrariness of signification should be contrasted with the naturalistic signification of signs, since these two modes represent radically different types of symbolization:
For what this arbitrariness entails is that there can be no natural, automatic, or self-evident transition from signifier to signified, from language to meaning, or from the human behavior to its "psychological significance" ... For Lacan the sign belongs to a codified system in which meanings have been rigorously specified, or implies a natural or unalterable relation between indicator and indicated, such as exists - for example - between smoke and fire, or such as exemplified by the "language" of the bees.... The signifier .... by contrast, "has no need to justify its existence in terms of any signification whatsoever." (Dews, 73)
The importance of the linkage between the signifier and the signified is essential for Lacan: it is arbitrary yet, at the same time, rigorous. This rigorousness however, is not the "automatic" (mechanical) determinism of natural phenomena that is manifested in signs, where the principle of causality ensures that the same antecedents will always produce the same effects, i.e. its order is not the order of the natural world in which there is "never smoke without a fire." Yet in itself, the signifier is not ambiguous but is differentially articulated - determined - by its relation to other signifiers, i.e. by the way it is grounded within the differential system of langue. This paradoxical juncture of arbitrariness and determination is essential for Lacan because it offers a theoretical framework for rigorous yet non-reductionistic (non-mechanical) critique of consciousness. In the traditional mode of explanation (Erklaren) the tracing of chains of events by the movement of the deductive logic is merely the retracing of the steps taken by determinate events in the causal sequence. If ... then represents both the structure of logical progression and of determinate linear causalitv, and the nature of this progression is such that once the steps of the progression are taken, they can be traversed in either direction. This aspect of determinism is particularlv clear in classical mechanics where all laws are "indifferent" in respect to time (i.e. temporal sequences can be reversed without violating any physical laws).
To clarlfy this point let us compare two ways of reproducing a piece of music: one by musicians performing from a score and one by a hi-fi record player. In the latter case, the translation is made by a mechanical device, which generates a determinate sequence of physical states: the mechanical energy of the stylus is transformed into electromagnetic energy, then into the mechanical motion of loudspeakers, and then into sound. This causal chain, in fact, represents the inverse of the process by which the record came into being - the energy of the sound transforming the physical structure of the microphone, etc. In the context of the previous discussion, the "meaning" of the record (i.e. the piece of music) is fully reducible to the record itself, and in fact it is this reduction that produced the record in the first place. Turning now to a live performance, the reading of the score leads to a rigorous interpretation of the musical piece, where the degree of determination is equal to that of the phonographic reproduction (allowing for subjective difference in the nuances of interpretation which are bracketed here - this is not interpretation of hermeneutic "meaning" but of objective "value"). In this case, however, the progression in the reverse direction which occurs in physical recording does not hold, since the arbitrary linkage between notation and physical sound (between the signifier and the signified) introduces a causal gap, which cannot be bridged in this direction. The piece cannot be reduced to the notation, but is fully determined by it.
The bi-directional movement of mechanical explanation opens the explanandum to the effects of a reduction: it is a path which, once traversed, always remains open to two-way traffic. Dews points out that in Freud's original work the conflict between "organicism and reductionism, and a psychology of comprehension" leads to a "fundamental incoherence" (51). Yet rather than abandon the totalizing ambition of Freudian theory as a scientific anachronism, Lacan reclaims it as the radical core of Freudian thought, insisting that it was the reductionist direction of Freud's scientism which "led Freud ... to open the path which will forever bear his name" (52). Lacan returns to this path, however, free from the "prejudices of psychophysical parallelism": the appropriation of structural linguistics offers him a mode of rigorous explanation which is fundamentally different in that determination in it flows in one direction only - the bar of signification can be traversed from the signifier to the signified but not vice versa:
If the link between language and meaning can be broken for the purposes of analysis ... than it becomes possible to study the structure of the signifier, and consequently the determination of meaning - Lacan's original ambition - without becoming embroiled in the problems and dangers of interpretation. (Dews 75)
In other words, Lacan's unconscious constitutes a "causal gap"" in the path between the biological and the social phenomena, a path whose direction was outlined by Freud's reductionism but which should not be paved with a traditional mode of explanation lest it open the way for a reflux of biological reductionism, and which can now be traversed by arbitrary signification, in which the active determination of the subject by the symbolic order (the Other) does not lead to a mechanical reduction of the subject to the symbolic order." This, it could be argued, constitutes the essential scheme of Lacan's return to Freud's scientific project, a return in which "reduction to meaning" is transformed into "reduction of meaning."
The shift from the Freudian "it" to the Lacanian "it" is thus a shift from mediation by dynamic forces to mediation through linguistic structure: the "it" no longer displaces the subject by acting on him; now "this thing speaks" - and displaces the subject by speaking through him.
The notion of the autonomous signifier which simultaneously bridges and sustains the causal gap at the heart of the Lacanian "it" underscores what for Lacan was a fundamental Freudian insight, namely that dreams are constructed like a rebus. In the original text, this point is problematic, since Freud (1900) insists both that dreams are intelligible, i.e. that they contain meaningful messages, and yet "are not made with the intention to communicate" (377). This restates the basic Freudian dilemma in yet another context: how can the unconscious support meaning and still remain linked to the individual drives, i.e. to an essentially blind and solipsistic organism which is inherently not object-related, i.e. inherently un-communicative. Lacan offers a way out of the dilemma by replacing language as embodied speech with langue which does not depend on the "animating intention" of the speaker because it communicates value and not meaning. This reversal of the primacy of speech over writing produces an individual unconscious which is the "instance of the letter" and which can therefore communicate without "intending" to do so since "writing, unlike speech, has no speaker" (Culler 1982, 91).
This brings us to the consideration of the second feature of langue, which has not yet been emphasized in our discussion, vis. the nature of elementary units produced by the differential structure of the closed system. The important point is that the elements of Saussurean langue (signifiers, letters, phonemes) have no positive content, since their value is not contained within the terms but in the binary differentiation between them, "revealing an identity that is purely relational" (Culler, 101). The insight into the "purely relational" nature of linguistic structure, as Dews points out, is intimately tied to Derrida's thesis concerning the "impossibility of the closing off the differing and the deferral of meaning or, in other words, impossibility of grasping meanings as coherent, unitary and determinately present" (81). However, it is the freedom from positive content that allows Lacan to resolve the paradox of how a closed system with autonomous structure can be capable of signification and intentional relatedness, for as long as a form of the entity is defined by its positive content which is the absolute boundary between itself and not-itself, the question arises of "what the relation can be between two sorts of things having essentially distinct natures" (Staten 1984, 20). However, if we treat the Saussurean signifier as a form without positive content, the nature of the dilemma changes: the mystery is no longer flow the self/other boundary is crossed, but how it is sustained. In other words, the problematic of "difference" is replaced by the problematic of "sameness." This change in the constitution of the boundary between the linguistic and the non-linguistic is emphasized by Derrida who no longer claims that we cannot "get outside of language," but denies instead that "there is any boundary of essence between what we call language and what we think of as non-language" (Staten, 20).
Staten argues that this statement by Derrida could be taken as a general "denial that there is a language" (20). This view undermines the philosophical understanding of language as a distinct and autonomous structure which is so central in Lacan's theory of the unconscious. This view of language as a distinctive system is coeval with Western philosophical tradition, and Husserl's last modern foundational philosophy thoroughly articulates this view. Husserl introduces three hierarchical levels of ideality (as a distinctive linguistic form): ideality of "word-sound;" ideality of "sense;" and ideality of "pure meaning" of abstract logic and mathematics. Staten defines the highest ideality - the "free ideality" - as dependence in principle of meaning from any particular embodiments" (22) and argues that this ideality was traditionally treated as the distinguishing essence (telos) of language. Turning the deconstructive notion of the "constitutive outside" onto language itself and questioning the principle of independence "from any particular embodiments" as the telos of language also opens the principle of the autonomy of the signifier to contamination by its embodiment, whereby words become "things among other things" (24).
The implications of this critique for Lacan's view are profound, because the deconstructed signifier cannot be freed from materiality and therefore inevitably carries some positive content. This implies that "the crucial boundary does not pass between word and thing or between thought and thing, but within each, between form and formlessness" (Staten, 14). Formlessness in this context refers to the "principle of infinite prediction," i.e. concrete embodiment of form in matter, and the boundary between language and nonlanguage is no longer drawn between these traditional metaphysical opposites, but is manifested as an incoherence within the distinction itself, where one discovers the inescapable materiality (non-identity) in the form, and formal structure (sameness) in the material. The "impure" materiality of the signifier violates the essential boundary of language, with the crucial implication that the closed system of langue which is needed to support a rigorous theory of the individual is opened to contamination by the accidental and the contingent.
In a sense this recognition is already anticipated in the original Aristotelian view that matter and form are relative categories of being, and (to employ a more modern wording) the organizing principle at one level can function as a material to be organized at a higher level of abstraction.(10) Lacan's structuralist agenda leads him to argue, however, that the symbolic order is fully autonomous and free-standing in some absolute sense. I would like to turn to an example which shows the limitations of such a view, while also highlighting some psychological implications of the issues we have been discussing.
In The Mind of a Mnemonist - a case-study of a man with a striking capacity to recall past events in prolific (and to most people, trivial) detail, Luria (1968) describes the perceptual experiences of the mnemonist (Mr. S.), which demonstrates the highly idiosyncratic manner in which he experiences sameness and difference. These observations are worth quoting at length. (S.'s own words are in direct quotes.)
S. had often complained that he had a poor memory for faces: "They're so changeable," he had said. "A person's expression depends on his mood and on the circumstances under which you happen to meet him. People's faces are constantly changing; it's the different shades of expression that confuse me and make it so hard to remember faces." (6)
"I frequently have trouble recognizing someone's voice over the phone ... because the person happens to be someone whose voice changes twenty to thirty times in the course of the day. Other people don't notice this, but I do." (25)
S.'s ability to differentiate between experiences which would seem similar to most of us went hand in hand with his reciprocal ability to discover and sustain meaningful identities at the level of perceptual concreteness which most people, again, are unable to do spontaneously:
Presented with a tone pitched at 100 cycles per second and having an amplitude of 86 decibels, he saw a wide strip that appeared to have a reddish-orange hue in the center; from the center outwards the brightness faded with light variations so that edges of the strip appeared pink.
Presented with a tone pitched at 250 cycles per second and having an amplitude of 64 decibels, S. saw a velvet cord with fibers jutting out on all sides. The cord was tinged with a delicate, pleasant pink-orange hue.
... Presented with a tone pitched at 2,000 cycles per second and having an amplitude of 113 decibels, S. said: "It looks something like fireworks tinged with a pink-red hue. The strip of color feels rough and unpleasant, and it has an ugly taste - rather like that of a briny pickle ... You could hurt your hand on that..."
The experiments were repeated during several days and invariably the same stimuli produced identical expressions [emphasis added]. (23-24)
This highly unusual organization of S.'s sensorium resulted in the shifting of the normal balance between the formal and the concrete aspects of the experience, giving rise to organization starting to emerge at a level much "lower" than one normally expects. For instance, individual letters were experienced by S. not as empty of content, but as having stable and complex identities:
A is something white and long: B moves off somewhere and so that you can just sketch it.... (25)
For me 2, 4, 6, 5 are not just numbers. They have forms. 1 is a pointed number - which has nothing to do with the way it is written. It's because it's somehow firm and complete. 2 is flatter, rectangular, whitish in color.... 8 somehow has a naive quality. (26)
It seems, then, that this "primitive" level of sensory organization displaced the boundary between word and thing within language so that for S. it functioned in a highly unconventional way. The overall effect on his experience of meaningful communication was very significant: in Lacanian terms, it undermined the autonomy of the signifier and compromised the highest ideality of language as a principle of non-embodiment:
"When I saw the word doctor, it looked like a round honey cake with bunches of some sort hanging down, and I put this on top of the cane. When a tall, ruddy-looking fellow arrived, I looked him over and thought to myself: "No, he's not the one ..." (88)
After having visualized a type of bread suggested to him by the sound of korzhik [Russian: biscuit], he once ordered it in a restaurant, and when the waiter brought his food, he felt that "it was clear these weren't biscuits, they didn't fit at all ..." (89)
For S., language no longer was a transparent vehicle of meaning: the signifier started to function like a sign, producing meanings which seemed to be determined automatically rather than through arbitrary signification:
"Take for example, the word ekipazh. [Russian: "cab" and "ship's crew"]. This definitely has to be a cab. So how am I to understand right off that it can also mean the crew of a ship; I have to perform quite an operation in my head, to block details that come to mind, if I'm to understand this. What I have to do is to picture to myself not just a driver or a footman in the cab but an entire staff manning it. That's the only way I can make sense of it. (120)
His problem is [that] each word had produced images that distracted him and blocked the meaning of a sentence. (129)
Details which other people would overlook ... took on independent value in his mind, giving rise to images that tended to scatter meaning. (85)
Unlike Humpty-Dumpty, who said that "Words mean what I want them to mean," and unlike modern analytic philosophers who would say "Words mean what we all agree they mean," Mr. S. might have said: "Words mean what they have to mean."
This case demonstrates that the dividing line between signifiers and signs is not absolute: the signifier is never completely free of materiality, and its autonomy and dominance are not complete. Even phonemes, which Lacan assumed to be the ultimate distinctive units, prove to be decomposable under certain conditions, not unlike the "ultimate building blocks" of matter in physics, where elementary particles turned out to be complex entities when the conditions under which they have been studied were changed.
The fact that the signifier is never fully free of materiality undermines the vital Lacanian distinction between signifiers articulated within a closed system of differential relations and signs which signify through causal chains, because, as we have seen before, causal signification opens up the path to reduction, and undermines the autonomy of the unconscious vis-a-vis concrete biological needs. Dews notes that throughout his life Lacan adhered to the fundamental position that
... the phenomena of mental life cannot consist of chains of causally linked events, comparable to processes in nature, since these phenomena reveal an intentional character. (46)
For that reason Lacan's approach is open to Laplanche's characterization of it as a "veritable idealism of the signifier" (44): Lacan's idealism stems from his insistence that there should be no "indication of the body" in the unconscious, since unconscious with a positive material content must function to some extent in accordance with causal, and not symbolic rules. Returning now to our earlier discussion of the "ideality of language," we can see that Lacan's insistence on the primacy of the signifier reflects (and depends on) a view of language as an unembodied relational structure. The difficulty with this classical view which rigidly separates "words" from "things" goes well beyond the particular example of unconventional language use that we just saw. This view was undermined at its foundation by Derrida who showed that this metaphysical opposition between word and its negation could also be traced within the word itself:
Whereas the classical analysis of the sign has split it neatly along a presumed conceptual fault-line between matter and form, with matter as the spread of particulars subordinated to the ideality of their identity. Derda treats the relation between ideality and embodiment, as it were, horizontally. (Staten, 22)
The "horizontal split" that Derrida outlines grows out of the recognition that the identity of a sign is constituted by its "iterability", i.e. its "repeatability in principle in a series of tokens that, as distinct spatiotemporal things, to some extent differ from each other" (23). The identity of a sign as a sign depends in principle on its ability to appear as different things which still function as the same sign. Unlike classical philosophers of language, Derrida elevates the materiality of the sign which allows for the proliferation of the particulars to the "same level of dignity" as its identity across instantiations (23). From this perspective, Lacan's vertical separation of the signifier and the signified and the elevation of the former to the level of hegemonic dominance can be seen as a traditional philosophical attempt to "seal off " the form from contamination by its particular instantiations. In Lacan's view, then, the unconscious is the transindividual structure of language which is the real that speaks (through the) concrete individual and which remains essentially unchanged and unaffected when spoken by the individual."
It seems, then, that an underlying issue in these readings of Freud is the status of the individual as a real agent and the status of the unconscious as an agent of the real. The question of reduction, in that sense, is fundamentally the question of primacy, since reduction is always a reduction to the real and to the active. However, to the extent that we treat the psyche as the source of unique, original, and authentic experience we are opening our self-understanding to the "flux of particulars," since
to know is always to categorize ... Outside of Logos, says Aristotle, is primary matter, the principle of indefiniteness, pure potentiality, absolute unknowable in itself. Beyond the boundary of eidos with its unitary formulas, unformed matter would bear infinite predication, a limitless spread of particularization, which would be nothing but babble. (Staten, 24)
The recognition of materiality inherent in language confronts us with the impossibility of fully relegating the signifier to the sphere of formal relations, undermining the Lacanian project of rigorous self-understanding. This conflict between the project of universal generalization and the belief in the originary agency of the individual is fully articulated by Castoriadis in his closing critique of the "psychogenic perspective" as a general tendency within psychoanalysis to ignore the mutual irreducibility of the biological, the psychic, and the social dimensions of human nature. He finds that the failure of psychoanalysis to account for the formation of the social individual conceals the will to "reduce the psychical to the biological (or, more recently, to "structure and logic") (289)(12) which is by itself governed by the wish to eliminate the imaginary. This is the crux of his position, because the imaginary for Castoriadis is "the unmasterable origin ... of history in general and of the history of the individual psyche; unmasterable in its actuality, unmasterable by thought" (304). He explains that the same physicality, the same structure of drives can produce depending on minor and external accidents:
sometimes polygamy and sometimes monogamy, sometimes boomerangs and sometimes atomic bombs, sometimes a God-King and sometimes people's assembly, sometimes shamans and sometimes psychoanalysis .... (304)
If we treat these manifestations of social life as legitimately real and different, and insist on explaining them by appealing to some underlying psychic factors, then, according to Castoriadis, in the name of scientific and rigorous mind, one ends up once again with a scientific monstrosity as a consequence: constant factors producing variable effects. (304)
The revealed failure of Reason to master the unconscious echoes Castoriadis's earlier critique of the tendency to reduce being to meaning that is present in Freud. However, Castoriadis also finds in Freud the opposing tendency which treats this reduction as an "incoherent fiction." This tendency is evident in Freud's insistence on the "incompleteness of all interpretation" as a universal and essential feature of all unoderstanding. Freud's acceptance of the inevitability of the "interminable, undetermined, apeiron, the indefinite" is stated clearly, when he writes:
There is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure ... This is the dream's navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown. (Castorladis, 279)
In Freud's (1900) original work the acceptance of the "unplumbable ... [the] navel, that is the point of contact with the unknown" (143), paradoxically co-existed with the belief in psychic determinism. We should recall here again that Lacan took Freud's scientism, the wish for rigorous explanation to be at the heart of Freud's radical legacy. And in Lacan's interpretation, Freud's mark of physical origin, "the navel," the indeterminate "it" is transformed into infinitely prolific manifestations of the "letter" which lack any physical content. However, as Castoriadis observes,
... The abyss that separates the indefiniteness of [psychic] representation from the highest order of mathematical infinity ... is an abyss of being, not a difference in cardinality. (276)
The abyss of being to which Castoriadis refers is also the abyss of Being understood as the embodiment in the infinite predication of particulars, whose unique concrete complexity transcends infinity grasped through mathematical or abstract representation. Lacan's claim that he was restoring psychoanalysis to its place as the "science of the particular" (Felman, 59) stems from his unwillingness to recognize that the mathematical(ly infinite) complexity of signifying relationships produced by the symbolic order is not equivalent to the experience of the particular available to the psyche in the encounter of its concrete individual being. It reflects, perhaps, the unwillingness of reason to accept the unmanageable otherness of embodied existence, where a particular "it" cannot be reduced to its value within a structural framework, no matter how rigorous or extensive.
Lacan's return to Freud, then, seems to be undertaken with a clear appreciation of both sides of Freud's radical position: the insistence on the reality of the unconscious and the belief in the generalizability of the method by which it is mastered. In Lacan's thought, however, this tension, which functions as a source of richness and power in Freud, fragments into the dominance of the method over the object, where the hegemony of the signifier allows Lacan to explain the birth of "self-sufficient organism" into culture and language, and describe the emergence of the "specifically human desire," but at the cost of purging the psyche of its materiality, its particular embodied uniqueness. Lacan has to deny that words are also things, and in that sense his return misses its mark.
Any return, it seems to me, is centrally concerned with the paradox of origin, on which we focused so far as an issue within psychoanalysis but which is also the issue of psychoanalysis. The return to the origins of psychoanalysis confronts us with the thorniest paradox of all: the paradox of self-reference. Freud, the ultimate "barber that shaved himself," both the original analyst and the first analys and, exemplified the one case to whom the dictum of the "science of the particular" advanced by Lacan truly applied: in his self-analysis the theory stood or fell on the merits of a single case. Blurring the distinction between empirical facts and theoretical principles, between concrete and universal, between One and Many, Freud fully exercised the privilege of the Father to make his word into law. Only in Freud's own case would the conflict between universal generalizability and insight into the unique partcular psyche be sustained in its pure form as a tension and not as a contradiction, while all those who came after Freud were confronted with the cultural institution of psychoanalysis which, as all institutions, could never again be measured by its discrepancy with individual experience.(13)
This creative transformation of individual experience into cultural reality brings us back to the question of opposition between the individual and the social, and the apparent affinity between some primitive intrapsychic needs and some dynamic principles of social discourse. Freud's own case reveals to us the blurring of the distinction between the two, where his pioneering effort at mastering the internal world brought forth a brilliant compromise - a rational discourse which also, in Freud's own words, "completely follows the dictates of the unconscious." What, after all, is the "refusal to recognize the distinction" between incompatible modes of explanation if not the refusal to accept the principle of noncontradiction? What is the ambition to be the Father of himself if not the psyche's originary wish to be its own lost object? And what is the claim that "every dream is a wish" if not a desire for "universal cognitive connection," a "wish for total meaning, the universal and unbroken bringing into realization which ... encompass[es] even that which denies it" (Castoriadis, 299)? The science of the concrete is in fact realized in Freud's self-analysis and its extension into a general theory of mind, which reveals - at the core - the fortitude to make a theory out of a single case and thus to re-invent oneself as a social institution.
In a feminist critique of psychoanalysis, Keller (1988) wrote that in Freud's work "the repressed and denied fantasy of symbiotic unity returns in scientific guise" (352). When worded in this way, it seems to imply that there might exist another science, a more mature one, where the desire to master the complexities of the world is not driven by the original infantile wishes. It seems to me, however, that it is the "puerile" indifference to contradiction sustained in Freud's work that brings it into the realm of cultural meaning explored by Winnicott as the ground for a creative integration of binary oppositions given to us in the very structure of language,(14) which is also the realm sustaining the inextricable connection between the content of Freud's discoveries and the style of his thought, between his word instituted as the Name of the Father and a body of discourse which functions as a "pseudopaternal [maternal?] merchant of illusion." This interplay of "the illusion of necessity and the necessity of illusion" comprises the two mirroring sides of Freud's discourse where the reflection precedes the object and the reader is caught in the movement of a paradox that can only be permanently resolved at the cost of losing touch with the real, both inside and outside of ourselves.
(1.) The reading of Lacan offered here is based on the following sources: Lacan (1977), Weber (1991), Muller and Richardson (1982), Dews (1987), and Felman (1987). (2.) Freud's "mixed" discourse of "energetics and hermeueutics" is treated in detail in Book II: Analytic. (3.) This issue informed the early debates on the nature of the uticonscious, which has been alternatively conceptualized as a "split-off " consciousness, thus leading to a model of multiple consciousnesses. This was the approach preferred in the French psychiatric tradition of Charcot and Janet, which Freud rejected in favor of an unconscious which would be distinguished from consciousness by having a radically different style of functioning, and not merely a distinct cognitive identity. (4.) The psychodynamic approach to the understanding of social issues has been shaped by the work of Melanie Klein, W. R. Bion, and the British object relations school; a list of essential contributors should also include B. Joseph, I. L. Menzies, and M. Milner. (5.) The same notion of desire containing its own object is foreshadowed in Freud's distinction between "drive aim" and "drive object", where the aim refers to the modality of the drive, i.e. to its internal constitution, while the external object plays a more arbitrary and contingent role. (See Freud 1905, 135-243.) Castoriadis's "object," which is inherent in the drive, in that sense might be similar to Freud's "aim;" this issue arises again in the discussion of the ambiguities of the interaction between "style" and "object" in Freud's thought discussed in the conclusion of this paper. (6.) The propensity for violence which goes along with such socially mediated return to the state of primitive omnipotence is seen by Kernberg (1985) as reflecting "the need to destroy any external reality that interferes with [the] group illusion" (406). This hatred of "reality," defined in this context as that which lies outside of the boundary of autistic phantasy, helps to understand the ubiquitous hostility to the other which is present in all cultures, and the manifestations of which range from indifference of isolationism to conquering zeal to genocidal rage. (7.) The narrowing of external reality to its concrete "usefulness" has been originally described by Goldstein (1964) as the "loss of the abstract attitude" in schizophrenia and organic brain syndromes. Goldstein defines such pathological concreteness as a "way of dealing with situations or things [by} reacting to but one of their properties, which alone is experienced; for instance, reacting to one color or a particular form of the object, or to the practical use to which the object may be put [emphasis added]." Yet this is the very process which is described by Schachtel under the name of "secondary autocentricity" as a universal aspect of participation in cultural, linguistic reality which relies on generalization and abstraction. This ambiguity is essential, and reflects the impossibility of drawing a metaphysical boundary between "abstract" and "concrete" (between "words" and "things"), which is further addressed in the discussion of Lacan. (As a further manifestation of this ambiguity, see Freud 1915, 203-4, where he offers a view that schizophrenics "treat "concrete things as if they were abstract.") (8.) See Felman (1987): "It is no doubt through the particular necessities of our expertise that we have set at the heart of the structure of the unconscious the causal gap ... (S xi.46-47, N46;)" (55). Felman in general emphasizes the importance of this concept in Lacan's theory. (9.) As Dews (1987) points out, "Lacan has ... criticized the deterministic tendency of Levi-Strauss's thought, which led to the transformation of social structure into a kind of |para-animal formation' or machine,' and consequently, to an inability to account for the eccentric position of the speaking subject" (1). (10.) These hierarchically organized levels are familiar to us from modern scientific descriptions as matter, energy, and information. (11.) Because of the limited scope of this paper, discussion will not take up the specific way in which Freud (1915) introduces the distinction between "words" and "things" in The Unconscious; clearly, however, the notion of a thing representation invokes yet again the dilemma of reconciling the language of physical description and the language of representational (intentional) mental states. (12.) Castoriadis makes the same point when he says that Freud's entire work has been distorted (e.g., by La(:ail) to represent the "opposite of what it says by transforming the psychical apparatus into real machinery or by reducing it to logical structure" (274). The identification of "structure" with "mechanism" seems to be characteristic of Castoriadis's reading of Lacan, and it seems to ignore Lacan's expressed wish to avoid deterministic reduction of psychic reality. I argue here that such reading is inaccurate in its claim that the opposite of what "Freudian said" is not a part of what he also said, since it assumes that the Freudian cannon is logically consistent and abides by the principle of the excluded middle. (13.) This point is brought out with particular clarity in Wittgenstein's (1953) discussion of the ambiguity of the distinction between "empirical" and "logical" foundations of epistemology. See, in particular the passage on the interaction between the authority of individual experience and that of "inherited background," where "... the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to be tested by experience, at another as a rule of testing" (15e). (14.) The overall approach and particularly the concluding argument of this paper is deeply, influenced by Winnicott's (1971) notion of transitional or cultural space, which is the "third" which is not given in the identitary logic, but is the realm in which we engage in the life-long task of sustaining psychic relatedness. In his view, a definitive resolution (either psychotic or intellectual) of the paradoxical integration of essential dualities - alternately conceptualized as the internal and the external, discovery and creation, thing and word - is equivalent to a breakdown of essential psychosomatic unity.
Bion, Wilfred. 1985. "Container and Contained." In Group Relations Reader II, (27-33). Washington, D.C.: A.K. Rice Institute. Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1987. The Imaginary Institution of Society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Culler, Jonathan. 1982. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. Dews, Peter. 1987. Logics of Disintegration: Post-Structuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory London: Verso. Felman, Shoshana. 1987. Jacques Lacan and the Adventures of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Freud, Sigmund. 1900 . Interpretation of Dreams., translated by James Strachey. New York: Avon Books. -----. 1905. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. S.E. 7. -----. 1915. The Unconscious. S.E. 14. Galbraith, John. 1958. The Affluent Society. Boston: Houghton Mufflin. Goldstein, Kurt. 1964. "Methodological Approach to the Study of Schizophrenic Thought Disorder." In language and Thought in Schizophrenia, edited by J. S. Kasanin, 17-39. New York: Norton. Jacoby, Russel. 1975. Social Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology, from Adler to Laing. Boston: Beacon. Keller, Evelyn Fox and Flax, Jane. 1988. "Missing Relations in Psychoanalysis: A Feminist Critique of Traditional and Contemporary Accounts of Analytic Theory and Practice." In Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory: Interpretive Perspectives on Personality, Psychotherapy and Psychopatholon, edited by S. Messer, L,. Sass, and R. Woolfolk, 334-66. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Kernberg, Otto. 1985. "The Couch at Sea: Psychoanalytic Study of Groups and Organizational Leadership." In Group Relations Reader II, edited by A. D. Colman and M. H. Geller, 399-411. Washington, D.C.: A.K. Rice Institute. Lacan, Jacques. 1977. Ecrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton. Laplanche, Jean. 1989. New, Foundations for Psychoanalysis. Translated by David Macey. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Luria, Alexandr R. 1968. The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a Vast Memory. Translated by Lynn Solatoroff. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Muller, John, an Richardson, William, 1982. Lacan and Language: A Readers Guide to the Ecrits. New York: International Universities Press. Ricouer, Paul. 1970. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Intepretation. Translated by Denis Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press. Schachtel, Ernest. 1959. Metamorphosis: On the Development of Affect, Perception, Attention, and Memory. New York: Basic Books. Staten, Henry. 1984. Wittigenstein and Derrida. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press. Weber, Samuel. 1991. Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan's Disclocation of Psychoanalysis: Translated by Michael Levine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Whitebook, Joel. 1990. "Intersubjectivity and the Monadic Core on the Psyche: Habermas and Castoriadis on the Unconscious." Praxis International, 9(4), 347-64. Winnicott, Donald W. 197 1. Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock Publications. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1969. On Certainty. Translated by Denis Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Row. -----. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: McMillan.
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|Title Annotation:||Cornelius Castoriadis; Jacques Lacan|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1993|
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