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The Hitlerian superego - an introduction.

The name of Normandy has always had a special meaning for me, for I was born just after the Second World War. When I was still just a little boy, my mother made a point of teaching me how our forebears had exiled themselves from Normandy over three hundred years earlier and settled in the region that had then only recently been given the name of New France. When I was a little older, like all children of my generation, I was plunged into a deluge of films, books, toys, personal accounts and images of every kind inspired by World War II. I remember that for a long time I secretly refused to acknowledge (or perhaps was simply incapable of acknowledging) that the Normandy of my ancestors and that of the Battle of Normandy were one and the same place.

When eventually I visited Normandy for the first time I was already thoroughly grown up. I had had plenty of time to read and form a clear picture of the region. There was no longer any place in my mind, I felt, for the myths and denials of my childhood. And indeed I was not particularly surprised by the look of the Norman interior: the mysterious beauty of the farmland patchwork of hedge and field, the gentle geometry of rolling hills and dales, the depressing aspect of old towns that have had to be rebuilt and now look like anonymous suburbs anywhere - all this corresponded rather well to the image I had formed before setting out.

As for the coast, it seemed at first to hold no greater surprises for me than the countryside, yet as the hours passed I fell prey to a discreet but persistent malaise. Walking along a deserted beach, I realized what the source of this feeling must be. There was, after all, an element of truth in my childhood denial, for a part of the Normandy coast, the site of the Atlantic Wall and the Landings, had never really been restored to Normandy. The French complain that these beaches have simply been abandoned to the hordes of tourists who wander up and down incessantly. This may very well be true, but it is not the real point.

The coast still has the sea and the smell of the sea, the wind and the sand; there are plenty of roads, houses old and new, hotels and cafes, well-maintained military cemeteries, World War II museums, fast-food restaurants and billboards - and all this certainly belongs to Normandy, to what Normandy has become. But there is another dimension here, a dimension to which nobody lays claim. I perceived it first from the beach, epitomized by the nameless concrete-and-rust color of the ruined bunkers that crop up here and there amid the waiving dune grass. These relics simply do not belong to the landscape even though they are there, even though by all reckoning they will probably be there for a long time yet. They belong to no one. They might have been blown up, but were not. Perhaps it was thought that tourists would want to see them. And perhaps the tourists do indeed see them, but what they must see, if they look at them long enough, is that these ruins have no owners: they are neither German, nor Norman, nor American, nor French; they are not even Western. They challenge the very notions of territory, of country, of empire. They are the stuff of Time, not space; of civilization, not history.

I read somewhere recently (whether in a serious book or in a comic strip I cannot recall) that these ruins of the Atlantic Wall, emblems of a certain decline of mankind, are the age's only true testimonial to our civilization. The remark put me sharply in mind of Civilization and Its Discontents.(1) Freud wrote his book while World War II was still in embryo, but it seems to me that the work found its real meaning in the context of kinds of thought and behavior that made their appearance only after the war was over.

Freud's picture of civilization has new, bold, original and even strange features, but these are not immediately apparent. They are not apparent, for instance, when he defines civilization, in thoroughly conventional terms, as "the whole sum of the achievements ... which ... serve ... to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations" (Freud 1930, 89). They are more easily perceptible in less straightforward formulations which, so far from offering a cut-and-dried solution, tend to raise new questions and set up a permanent tension in the mind of the reader. In one such formulation Freud describes civilization as "ein Prozess der uber die Menschheit ablauft" - a "process which unfolds above mankind" (Freud 1930, 96; my rendering differs from that of the S.E.). What are we to make of such a claim so long as we refuse, with Freud, to countenance any appeal to the metaphysical or transcendental? We certainly cannot relapse into a naive humanism or embrace the belief (even though it may at first seem self-evident) that civilization is a product of mankind. We are obliged, rather, to invert the two terms: mankind does not produce civilization, civilization produces mankind. Naturally Freud is not oblivious to the fact that mankind has some part in the emergence of civilization, if only as a conduit, but he does maintain that in the last analysis humanity is determined by civilization and not vice versa. There is indeed a remarkable parallel here between the Freudian concepts of the unconscious and of civilization in that they stand in a comparable relationship to the idea of man. Thus, far from lying within man's sphere of influence, civilization impinges upon man from without: it is alien to man, unheimlich, just as the equally alien and equally "uncanny" unconscious lies at the root of what human beings nevertheless experience as the products of their own mental activity.

Freud goes further, discerning a problem - a problem, in fact, that is impossible to solve - in the relationship between civilization and mankind. This impossibility is what gives rise to mankind's "discontents" (Unbehagen), for humanity is obliged, despite it, to exist " in der Kultur" - in civilization - and simply cannot escape. In sum, civilization is above humanity and exerts an incessant influence upon humanity, yet in so doing it imposes demands that are impossible for humanity to meet. Inasmuch as Freud characterizes the connection between mankind and civilization as an impossibility, his conception of man itself becomes highly ambiguous. Freudian man is indeed divided: on the one hand programmed and oriented by the demands of civilization, on the other egocentrically dedicated to his own human motivations.

A fairly recent film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, has a similar theme. The film presents a parable: a manufacturer has produced robots with completely human characteristics, including those attributes that make them "conscious," egocentered beings. In accordance with the way the manufacturer has programmed them, however, the robots must fulfill certain requirements. What the manufacturer does not foresee is that the robots, once they have become ego-centered beings, will inevitably experience these requirements as impossible demands.

The parallel can be taken no further, however, because in Blade Runner the demand which it is impossible to meet is death - and this no longer has any relation to Freud's concerns in Civilization and its Discontents. The process of civilization has no essential connection with the foredoomed struggle that man wages against death. Certain aspects of civilization may occasionally join forces with mankind in this struggle, but this is strictly accidental, and in no sense corresponds to any goal of civilization. The process of civilization is blind, machine-like; it is not deliberate. It rests, according to Freud, on a principle of libidinal economy: the uniting of members of the human community into a compatible and uniform mass by means of what he calls "a desexualized libidinal bond." What is involved here is a "modification" experienced by "the vital process" (Freud 1930, 139); the energy that drives the process of civilization is in fact diverted from human sexuality: civilization pillages mankind "as a people or a stratum of its population does which has subjected another one to its exploitation" (Freud 1930, 104). But may we at least say that the process of civilization tends toward what human beings call "progress"? Not necessarily, in Freud's view. Civilization may happen to harmonize with what we consider progress, but it is certainly not animated or guided by any such goal, by any such human "value."

What then is the origin of this "blind" process? Freud admits that "we do not know," - this despite the metapsychological speculations he sets forth in Chapters IV, V, and VII of Civilization and Its Discontents. From the standpoint of his final theory of drives, these speculations might be summed up by evoking an alliance of Eros with Necessity, with the insurmountable Ananke. But Freud acknowledges that it is hard to find any echo of this on the plane of observable phenomena. In the present context, in any case, Freud's chief concern is not with metapsychology; rather, he is at pains to describe, to convey the feeling of, to render perceptible the discontents of humanity under civilization.

Freud returns, therefore, albeit via another route, to the question of civilization's impossible demands upon mankind. He sees the most advanced expression of these demands, and probably the "most recent" version, in the precept "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This injunction, he argues at length, is the most inappropriate, unhuman, and "antipsychological" imaginable, for it runs directly counter to the principle underlying all human sexuality - not just the actual practice of genital and physiological sexuality but also the main ways in which representations are processed in that ego state which Freud, from 1915 on, called the "pleasure-ego." Indeed it sums up the whole diversion of the vital process referred to above. But it is important to note that Freud's charge that this maxim is inhuman amounts in no wise to a critique or a refusal of it on his part: Freud does not reject civilization; he seeks merely to point up the tension and difficulty that attend the relationship between mankind and civilization. And it is precisely here that Freud locates religious feeling, thus once again reversing a conventional view.

We automatically associate the idea of loving one's neighbor as oneself with Christianity. And yet, Freud reminds us, Christianity did not invent it: the notion was already implicit in that "recent" type of civilization which had been making itself felt for some time before the advent of Christianity - which simply appropriated it, and was able to give it a lapidary form. Is this observation of Freud's intended to discredit Christianity? Not at all. Freud certainly takes a strong stand against Christianity and against all religions, but he clearly acknowledges that up to now religion has always constituted the most elevated and perfected of human activities. What is religion for Freud? It is at once a feeling, a way of regulating certain kinds of interhuman relationships, and a specific set of activities of which the net effect is to bridge the gulf between mankind and the process of civilization. As such, religion has given rise to unmatched human inventiveness and creativity. The problem is that the entire edifice of religion rests on the psychic mechanism of denial (Verleugnung). The gulf, in other words, is not truly bridged: rather, it is simply denied, and this denial has repercussions (or is realized) for mankind in the denial of human mortality and in all the other distortions that religion inflicts on human thinking. Despite the historical merits with which religion must be credited, its effect on thought is that of a sinister illusion.

Lastly, on another tack, Civilization and Its Discontents brings out the fact that this same mechanism of denial and the illusions which proceed from it have until now been determining factors not only in religious activity but also in the evolution of human history. Indeed we have always understood our own history in terms of the coexistence of different human groups, the successive domination of some by others, and the rise and fall of empires. Our history seems to result from a conviction that takes hold of human groups at particular moments: the conviction that they, the group affected, are themselves the sole promoters, defenders, and messengers of civilization. Freud evokes this idea at the end of Chapter V, when he describes the tendency of communities large and small to treat all outsiders as enemies. I believe that we shall betray neither Freud's thought nor the nature of the facts if we take the view that nothing is more inspiring, nothing is more energizing, that nothing resexualizes a human group more, than believing, consciously or unconsciously, in the identity of its own sphere of existence and the process of civilization. Nothing has more influence on the place that peoples attribute to themselves in history. Nothing is more effective for comforting man in his denial of the gulf existing between himself and civilization. Moreover, so deeply is this way of thinking ingrained in us, in our knowledge, in our vision of events and things, in our way of understanding history, that we assume a correspondence between the periodic dominance of a people and the locus of civilization; the two are synonymous for us, as when we speak of "Egyptian civilization," "Roman civilization," and so on.

Of course there is fuel enough here for a very long debate, for obviously the process of civilization must depend in some respects on human action. And we are just beginning to grasp how ambiguous the idea of civilization remains even in contemporary thought. The last few centuries of the Christian era supply two cases in point of what we have been talking about. The first is the "discovery" of America - that is to say, the invasion by Europe of a hitherto unheard-of continent upon which it was able in the twinkling of an eye to impose its knowledge, its military force, its technology, and its religious faith. There was apparently no doubt in the minds of the invaders as to the legitimacy of their actions, so deep and natural for them, for their egos, was the conviction that they were the bearers of civilization. Indeed they mistakenly conflated the superiority of their technology, knowledge, and military force with civilization itself, and this was a mistake that would lead directly to genocide. At the time of the discovery of America, racism resided only in practice: as yet it had no existence in the realm of ideas, the realm of consciousness.

Some four centuries later Nazism burst upon Europe. This was a true explosion - that is, an unforeseen, instantaneous, cataclysmic, and traumatic event. An inexplicable event too, for something about it, despite the horror and fascination it has aroused, has escaped our understanding. Of all Nazism's baggage, the most incomprehensible thing is undoubtedly the fact that it sought not only to impose its murderous racism in practice - where, as history teaches, it has always existed - but also to force its entry into thought, into ideas, into science, into human reason - and this to the point of applying it in a fastidiously exact technology of extermination. I say "incomprehensible" knowing full well that the word must seem ambiguous and ironic in view of the fact that an immense number of people, not only in Germany but all over the world, were ready to follow Hitler, not on the basis of an idea, of a mental commitment, but rather by virtue of an illusion and all the inspiring and exalting effects that accompany it. An immense number of people believed Hitler when he called himself the defender of both mankind and civilization; believing him, they embraced the idea of racism. In this sense, Nazism was no doubt a sort of paradoxical echo, a delayed repercussion of Europe's invasion of America, a last desperate effort to preserve the illusion of the Christian era, a spastic denial of that rupture between man and civilization of which evidence had emerged not merely in the work of Freud but also, well before, in all the discourses and spontaneous events that laid the groundwork for the modern age.

But this is not all; it may be only the most visible, the most admissible, aspect of the matter. I am put in mind of a film: Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, directed by Hans-Jurgen Syberberg. Not the entire film, of course - for this is a monumental work, one of the most beautiful cinematic reflections I know, operating on many levels and using a palette of great subtlety. Syberberg has said that he "tried to put everything in this film," that he wanted to make it "something as ambitious as Dante's Divine Comedy or Milton's Paradise Lost" (Daney and Lardeau 1978). Whether he realized these ambitions I must leave to the judgement of posterity. In any case, this is not the sort of film which psychoanalysts can "interpret," nor does it offer the fables and analogies that they so love to reduce to cliches and use as an excuse for theory. For once, the opposite is true, for here is a film that shakes psychoanalysis to its foundations, pushes it beyond its self-defined boundaries and forces it to confront a different language.

Syberberg and Freud do have something in common, however. A theme that runs through the film from start to finish is that of melancholy. The theme is a complex one, consisting in a slow and systematic cinematographic dissection of the Durer engraving entitled Melancholy. Durer portrays the Devil, a very human Devil, very modern for the time, a Devil complete with compass, scale, balance who is tormented by nostalgia for an impossible return to a paradise lost - and by the knowledge that he is himself responsible for that loss. In the film, the Devil, or rather his component parts, are brought into conjunction with the "specter of Hitler" that haunts contemporary consciousness: not Hitler as he really was, but the Hitler who, according to Syberberg, still remains within us. This is the film's leitmotif: "Hitler is within us" - like a foreign body, like that bizarre concrete on the Normandy coast, like the nightmare of our own propensity towards systematic murder, towards ideals that can give birth to horror.

This reference to melancholy, to melancholy's intimate relationship with incorporation ("Hitler is within us") and with the constitution of the superego, closely echoes the concluding thoughts of Civilization and Its Discontents. The discourses of Freud and Syberberg, which, as events, are so very different, parallel each other on this particular point. The Freudian thesis is that there is a resemblance between the process of civilization and the development of the ego-centered individual. That within the civilized mass, the portion of the life process that has been transformed into the process of civilization also generates something like a superego - an entity whose influence presides over cultural development. In the spirit of his analogy, Freud proposes calling this formation the Kultur-Uber-Ich: "The superego of an epoch of civilization has an origin similar to that of an individual. It is based on the impression left behind by the personalities of great leaders - men of overwhelming force of mind or men in whom one of the human impulsions has found its strongest and purest, and therefore often its most one-sided, expression" (Freud 1930, 141). In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud takes the Christian era as his object of study (just as, later, in Moses and Monotheism, he would examine the Judaic tradition). Logically enough, he proposes that Jesus Christ is the figure that has inspired the Kultur-Uber-Ich of this era. The irony employed by Freud in this text points up in admirably clear fashion the ambiguity of this figure. For while it is certainly true that Jesus adopted the maxim "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and made this uniquely civilizing precept his own, the fact remains that history, by bringing Christ's person and myth under the sway of religious denial, elevated the illusion of a civilizing human mission, and the denial of the fundamental irreconcilability of mankind and civilization, to unprecedented heights.

The hypothesis of the Kultur-Uber-Ich (literally, the civilization superego) constitutes a true frontier of Freudian thought. This notion indeed makes it possible for Freud to theorize the relationship between man and civilization as an imbrication of the individual superego with the Kultur-Uber-Ich (he uses the verb "verklebt" in this connection, a word with connotations of agglutination, sticking, the adhesion of one body to another [Freud 1930, G.W., 502]). It is by virtue of this imbrication, then, that mankind becomes "civilized." But this also means in effect that there is a "weak point" in this link, for the juncture is assured solely by the implantation in human beings of a sense of guilt; a guilt, moreover, that is not an explicable one, arising from acts that an individual actually commits in the course of his life, but rather a fundamental, original basic guilt that fills him with a permanent anxiety whose source is not known to him. The predictable result, which Freud deplores in the last pages of his book, is that all progress of civilization is predicated on increasing neurosis in the civilized mass of people. On this point Freud always demonstrated a measure of disillusionment: it was as if, when it came to the link between mankind and civilization, he despaired of the possibility of "conscious thought" ever being able to surmount the aberrations of neurosis.

The idea of a Hitlerian superego, which Syberberg conjures up, can be understood on more than one level: it opens up different perspectives depending on one's angle of approach. At a first level, our rational mind prompts the idea of substitution or annulation. We think: Syberberg is proposing that a new version of the Kultur-Uber-Ich has taken the place of the old. Alternatively, we may imagine (and the film indeed evokes such an analogy) that the Hitlerian superego is the negative of the Christian superego: it responds to the same ambiguity as the Christian superego even as it annuls that ambiguity. Hitler preached racism and extermination in the name of man, and the contrast produced in people's minds by this imprecation against the very principle of "Love thy neighbor as thyself" has inserted a guilty awareness into contemporary consciousness that is reminiscent of the malaise I experienced on the Normandy coast: a recognition that for a thousand years Christian ideology has coexisted with the fact of extermination. If we accept this account, then the "Hitler within us" may be said to have added another twist to the spiral of Western guilt: a sort of finishing touch to the Christian superego - an extra feature specifically designed to neutralize the hegemonic and exterminatory reflex in human individuals and groups.

As a matter of fact all sorts of readings of present-day events - even mutually contradictory ones - seem founded on this line of thought. There are those, for example, who - sometimes with an irritating insistence - claim to see evidence of a universalizing pacifist trend, and tout the imminent advent of "civilized masses" on a worldwide scale. Others, by contrast, see even these interpretations themselves as symptoms of an irremediable softening of Western cultures - cultures whose naive guilt feelings merely pave the way for their own annihilation. All of which, of course, is grist to the mill of the theorists of postmodernism, ever on the lookout for any signs, in current events and discourses, of the demise of our conception of man.

If we pass now to another level, however, we shall see that the subject of Syberberg's film is something rather different. The film does not in fact offer any thesis, political, sociological or philosophical, concerning present-day reality. Rather, Syberberg asserts tirelessly that he had only one goal in making the film: to "defeat" Hitler. Not the historical Hitler, of course, who was defeated long ago, nor even whatever "Hitlerian" attitudes survive in our collective behavior, but rather the "Hitler within us" - the Hitlerian supergo. Syberberg puts this in other terms too: "I look upon my film as a possible tool for settling scores with the problem of guilt" (Daney and Lardeau, 1978).

In this sense, Syberberg's film constitutes a meditation on the realm of the superego, on the way in which the superego affects human existence, and on what conditions might make its transcendence possible. But why address these questions in a film rather than in writing or in some other medium? The simplest and most direct answer to this question is to be found in the title of the film, Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland. The clear implication is that Hitler himself was, literally, a film.

This notion contains a reference, in the first place, to the Nazi regime's boundless passion for the techniques of the cinema. Until the end, the chief Nazi ideologues dreamed of competing with Hollywood. Seen in this light, Hitler, the figure of Hitler, the idealization to which he was subject, the psychological terror he was able to exert - even, for that matter, the disparagement and disgust he inspired after his death - were all cinematographic phenomena.

Here Syberberg echoes (and transforms) some old ideas of Andre Bazin's and Walter Benjamin's. Bazin spoke of the "ontological burglary" represented by Hitler's theft of Charlie Chaplin's moustache; when Chaplin made The Great Dictator, he was merely "reclaiming what was his" (Bazin, 91). Benjamin, for his part, showed how the art of the cinema ("the art of automatic motion") coincided for the Nazis with the automatization of the masses, with state stage management, with politics as art. On this subject, Syberberg merely picked up where his predecessors had left off: "My thesis is in fact that Hitler approached politics as an art, that for him political activity was artistic activity, and that basically he conducted the entire war as consequent upon the fact that he had already started the show with Leni Riefenstahl, at the Olympics, and thus had to wage a war in order to watch it in the shape of newsreel footage. There is plenty of evidence showing that many things were done and organized just so that Leni Riefenstahl could film them that way. Hitler wanted to build walls that would last thousands of years, even as ruins. Now his true monument exists only on film . . ." (Daney and Lardeau 1978).

Of course the War and the bombing were real, the concentration camps and the extermination did take place - and Syberberg in no way contests these realities. But this is how he frames his basic idea: Hitler as a superego figure has entered into us after the fashion of a movie character, manufactured according to a specific mode of representation; in a manner comparable to that in which the figure of Christ used once to enter into us, for Christ was an equally manufactured character, even if the manufacturing process called for different rites, for another kind of mise-en-scene. On this precise point Syberberg's view is exactly congruent with Freud's. As early as The Ego and the Id, Freud had firmly established that the superego is essentially a matter of "Reprasentanz" (Freud 1923, G.W., 264), a term which it is hard to translate into French or English, but which may perhaps be rendered periphrastically as "that which is of the order of the representative, of the action of representing." The superego exerts its influence over human beings only thanks to a specific relationship to the sphere of "representation." This relationship constitutes our "manner of being" as humans (or at least as humans of a given period), and it is a relationship to which we are subject from the very first. Syberberg has understood this, which is why "defeating" Hitler cinematographically for the film's seven-hour running time means putting in question the relationship to representation which gives the realm of the superego its weight; it also cntails the gradual modification of the contract of belief that binds us as spectators to the cinematic system.

I shall discuss only one of the avenues explored by Syberberg. In the first part of the film all the cinema's paraphernalia of make-believe - moveable backgrounds, painted drops, pasteboard, smoke machines - is exposed as mere trompe-l'oeil. Then, once we are no longer able to suspend disbelief, just as we have begun comfortably to contemplate what we recognize as an artificial world populated by stick figures, flesh-and-blood actors gradually start coming to life amid the genuine mummery. The fiction, the representation that has been unfolding before us, is now suddenly no longer organized according to the idiom of resemblance, which is a fetishistic principle based on the discontinuity that classical reason has taught us to perceive between imaginary and real. We now proceed instead in accordance with the principle of dissimilarity. Thought henceforward is no longer obliged to rely on the gossamer veil of resemblance casting illusion over the alleged rift between the two systems. Rather, thought can lend form to the gap itself, to that rift which brings into relationship two systems which, though irreconcilable, are in fact coextensive.

Things should by now be a little clearer: the relationship between mankind and civilization coincides with the relationship between the imaginary and reality in that what Freud calls "reality-testing" refers precisely to mankind's obligation to order its representational world in accordance with the exigencies of civilization, so removing that world from the exclusive, ego-centered rule of the "original pleasure-ego" (Freud 1925, 237). Future historians who concern themselves with psychoanalysis will doubtless be amazed at how long it took psychoanalysts to accept this. Lacan is indeed the only one to have taken a direct interest in this problem and to have undertaken a critique of the "principle of misapprehension (meconnaissance)" which is the basis of a use of representation governed solely by resemblance. In the first place, Lacan sought to address this issue by evoking the three "registers" of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real (this last not to be confused with what Freud meant by "reality"). But above all Lacan pursued the issue of topology (which is the mathematical study of continuity) in order to develop a way of thinking about whatever elements present themselves in psychoanalysis as irreconcilable; the problem of mankind's relationship to civilization is one example here, but Lacan's net extends to all the problems of a comparable kind that emerge in the properly clinical sphere.

I cannot examine the validity and productiveness of Lacan's approach here. I do not assume that that approach has the solution, nor do I wish to suggest that Lacan's thinking is perfectly in harmony with what I am saying. But I do want to make the point that the vast majority of psychoanalysts - including, curiously enough, not a few who call themselves "Lacanians" - have persistently turned their back on any examination of our notion of representation. It is as though there were a frontier here, protected by an extremely violent interdiction, the effect of which was to deprive all these psychoanalysts of any mobility of thought, any ability to leap over this mental barrier, and confine them to the repetition of the same old commonplaces. Some of them, for example, simply cannot divest themselves of the conviction that the sphere of affect is irremediably distinct from that of speech (whereas the reality is that affect is undoubtedly the most intimate strand of speech, the element most closely bound up with it from the organic standpoint); similarly, there are those who persist in using the word "drive" in such a way as to invoke an imperceptible and invisible reality, thus failing to understand that by so doing they are making a mental illusion out of what is, in reality, a pure concept.

This is why I said earlier that psychoanalysis cannot possibly claim to "interpret" a film such as Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, and that, to the contrary, this is a film that puts into question and even deconstructs the cliches of psychoanalysis. Following Freud, I have spoken up to now of a "bond," a "relationship" - even of a "gulf" - between mankind and civilization, but these terms are inappropriate inasmuch as they evoke the idea of a discontinuity. The fact is that there are simply not two worlds: mankind and civilization, belong to one and the same world. Syberberg intended that his film should testify to this continuity within irreconcilability, and it is for the same reason that he borrowed a term from modern mathematics, namely "irrational."

We certainly cannot take the exact measure of the field thus opened up. I shall confine myself to a few brief observations which may perhaps serve as an introduction to a later discussion. In mathematics the term "irrational" refers to a particular type of break between two sets. A rational (or "plausible") break interrupts continuity because it always forms part of one or other of the two sets that it separates; the end of the one marks the beginning or the predominance of the other, and vice versa. By contrast an irrational break is part of neither set. It distinguishes between the two without interrupting their continuity. For two sets in an irrational relation to each other, it is not the end or limit of the one that marks the beginning or predominance of the other; their relationship is not one of sequence, nor one of superimposition, nor yet one of subordination. One could say that they have a strict relationship of thought. Indeed thought derives neither from reality nor from the imaginary, but from the interstice that governs both of them. This is why we speak, in the case of an irrational break, of an interstitial relationship: the break does not lie at the extremity of either of the two irreconcilable sets, but rather in the interstice which emancipates thought from the constraints of resemblance.

"I seem to have been mistaken," wrote Freud in The Ego and the Id, "in ascribing the function of |reality-testing' to [the] super-ego" (Freud 1923, 28n). The fact is that it had taken him a long time to realize that the superego is the guarantor of no reality whatsoever. On the contrary, the superego can sustain itself only by virtue of an aberration in the relationship between real and imaginary, between civilization and mankind. Very late - in 1932, to be exact, in the thirty-first introductory lecture - Freud issued a program for psychoanalysis which, it seems to me, has not as yet been carried out. Admittedly, Freud never indicated, nor doubtless ever imagined, how this program might be put into practice. Here it is: the work of analysis, said Freud, ought to strive to release human beings from their aberrant relationship to the sphere of representation and render that relationship "independent of the super-ego." For emancipation from the superego constitutes man's only possible genuine encounter with civilization; it is in fact the prototype of the work of civilization - "not unlike the draining of the Zuider Zee" (Freud 1933, 80).

In conclusion let us return briefly to the events of the present period. In the matter of racism, to speak only of that, is it not true to say that the former one-way racism, leveled by the strong against the weak - the only racism, in fact, that anyone could conceive until very recently - has now given way to a multidirectional, multifocal racism of which we are allowed to glimpse

only the very tip, thanks to the hypocrisy of our media and our governments? A good moment to recall a few words written by Heidegger: "We are not thinking yet." This is also what such anti-monuments as those ruined bunkers on the Normandy coast have to tell us: we are not thinking yet.


(1.) Some people feel that the German word "Kultur" in the title of Freud's book should be rendered by the more literal "culture." If only on account of the way in which "civilization" has generally been used for over fifty years, however, and considering all the connotations attending that use, I feel certain that in the interests of clarity "civilization" is a far better word.


Bazin, Andre. 1975. Qu'est-ce que, le. cinema? Vol. 1. Paris: Editions du Cerf. Daney, Serge and Yann Lardeau. 1978. "Interview." Cashiers du Cinema, no. 292. Freud, Sigmund. 1923. Ego and the ld. S.E. 19 (G.W. 13). _____. 1925. "Negation," S.E. 19. _____. 1930. Civilization and its Discontents. S.E. (G.W. 14). _____. 1933. New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. S.E. 22.
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Title Annotation:issue title: 'Psychoanalysis in Left Field'
Author:Imbeault, Jean; Nicholson-Smith, D.; Rublowska, M.N.
Publication:American Imago
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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