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Now, the history of depths begins with what is most terrifying: it begins with the theatre of terror whose unforgettable picture Melanie Klein painted. In it, the nursing infant is, beginning with his or her first year, stage, actor, and drama at once. Orality, mouth, and breast are initially bottomless depths. Not only are the breast and the entire body of the mother split apart into good and bad object, but they are aggressively emptied, slashed to pieces, broken into crumbs and alimentary morsels. The introjection of these partial objects into the body of the infant is accompanied by a projection of aggressiveness onto these internal objects, and by a re-projection of these objects into the maternal body. Thus, introjected morsels are like poisonous, persecuting, explosive, and toxic substances threatening the child’s body from within and being endlessly reconstituted inside the mother’s body. The necessity of a perpetual re-introjection is the result of this. The entire system of introjection and projection is a communication of bodies in, and through, depth.[1]

                                                                                                                             Gilles Deleuze.

 

1. Nature, Culture, and Lacan

 According to Lacan a psychoanalysable subject’s drama is an outcome of the conflict between nature and culture. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, this conflict arises from the incest taboo, which is a result of the prohibition of marriage among family members who are tied to one another by blood.

It is modern structuralism that has brought this out best, by showing that it is at the level of matrimonial alliance, as opposed to natural generation, to biological lineal descent—at the level therefore of the signifier—that the fundamental exchanges take place and it is there that we find once again that the most elementary structures of social functioning are inscribed in the terms of a combinatory.[2]

 From the perspective of structuralism the incest taboo produces the cultural family and separates it from the natural family. The incest taboo is the effect and the cause of the conflict between nature and culture.  Oedipus delivers the subject’s role in society and hence gives the subject its cultural and sexual identity. This separates the subject from its non-identity and forms the basis for the conscious desires to flourish. All that is repressed in this process gives birth to the unconscious. But unconscious is not a pool in which the repressed waste material is accumulated; rather, it is a theoretical construct to explain what happens to the repressed material but which nevertheless has discernible effects in everyday life and behaviour.

            For Freud, with the resolution of the Oedipus conflict the period of primary narcissism comes to an end. All that the subject wants is to get back what it had lost upon entry into the symbolic order through Oedipus. The subject loses the sense of omnipotence and is in pursuit of narcissistic sense of oneness. Each time the subject steps it tries to step towards the pleasures of narcissistic satisfaction of the first step, and yet with each step moves further away from it. Lacan’s narcissistic period, the mirror stage, is the period after the period of an unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and it is in the mirror stage that the child identifies himself with his whole image on the mirror to become what his mother wants him to be. Identification with the mother turns into identification with the self’s whole image on the mirror which is assumed to be the object of mother’s desire. Since the child cannot yet make a distinction between the me and the not-me, and sees himself as one, the child is as yet a mere (subject), that is to say a subject that is not a subject of culture.

The child exits the order of nature and enters the order of culture through symbols. It is a symbolic entry to the world of symbols in which a subject becomes the subject. A symbol fills the space in-between the child and the mother and is the third world, the imaginary world between the symbolic and the real, which takes the place of the unmediated relationship between the other two.

            The reflection on the mirror sets in motion the numberless introjective-projective processes that the subject will experience throughout his/her life. Seeing the whole image of self on the mirror helps the subject to develop a self-consciousness as a separate being neither in-itself nor for itself. The awareness of selfness brings with it the awareness of otherness. The subject distinguishes between the me and the not-me. This situation cuts the subject in two halves; one half is the omnipotent exhibitionist and the other half is the object of the gaze of others. Realizing that the subject is not only the observer but also the observed produces a self-conscious consciousness; being conscious of self as that which can never be fully conscious of itself.

The subject is produced in and through language. When the subject says I the symbol becomes the mediator between the internal and the external worlds, which means that language splits the subject and the object as it unites them. Following the mirror stage The Name of the Father completely ends the unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and establishes its own laws and institutions. The symbolic father is he who has what the mother lacks and to whom the mother is subject. The father deprives the mother and the child of their unmediated relationship and deprives the mother of the phallus. For Lacan, the civilizing castration, the castration that turns the human child into a cultural subject, does that by directing the child from being to having. Rather than being the phallus the child begins to want to have the phallus. It is the absence of the phallus that is established rather than the phallus itself. In pursuit of the phallus as a substitute for the unattainable mother, the subject obeys the father’s law. The constitution of the phallus as a lack opens a gap between the subject and the object. It is this gap, this lack, this absence that is the unconscious and renders the conscious subject possible. What man lacks is a mythological totality symbolized by the phallus. And this lack is a condition of the subject. The subject and its unconscious are produced at the same time. Language turns the human child into a non-subject, it gives him his sexual identity, at the same time produces unconscious drives and situates the subject in the symbolic order and induces pain.

Oedipal discourse forms the basis for the deliverance of the subject’s sexual identity and is the discourse of the other, the unconscious. For the subject to be able to use language, first he has to acquire language. In the learning process the unconscious manifests itself in and through slips of the tongue, jokes, and dreams. Slips of the tongue, and jokes reveal the real of the speaking subject’s desire. The unconscious is the condition of conscious discourse. 

            For Lacan, language is the condition of the unconscious. The symbolic order constitutes the unconscious drives. That which the subject wants is the unmediated experience of existence lost upon entry into the symbolic order. The rupture between being and non-being opens with language and in the unconscious the symbol of the fullness of being, completeness of the subject is the phallus. And the phallus is that which the subject had lost upon entry into the symbolic order. But since the subject has to use language to attain the lost object, his striving for wholeness is in vain, which renders him tragic and exhilarating. For as I said earlier on, as the subject thinks that he is stepping towards the real of the desired object he is in fact moving further away from it with each word he adds to his vocabulary.

            Here I would like to tell the most known of the Oedipus myths, but at the same time the one that is least known as an Oedipus myth, the story of Adam and Eve. We shall listen to Adam and Eve’s story as though it is our own story. For man perpetually runs after his dreams, and as he does this he moves on through disappointments. I shall therefore stress the significance of disappointment and frustration in psychoanalytic discourse.

            Adam eats the forbidden apple given to him by Eve. Counter to what Genesis and Milton say, I think the relationship between male and female is built on a prohibition. Adam eats the apple. Adam is expelled from paradise for doing that which shouldn’t have been done. He is banned from the heaven on earth (Eden) and is nailed to pain and suffering. And he is promised paradise after death. But why is an apple prohibited in paradise? Because as a cultural fantasy, paradise is the other of something forbidden, it is the product of this forbidding. If the law, the symbolic, is removed from the scene, all symbolic meaning collapses. And since it is law that produces the unlawful, since it is repression that forms the unconscious, there can be no symbolic order without the fantasy supporting it and keeping the unconscious drives at bay.

            It is the sense of primary Narcissism that is the desired object of fantasy, a sense of oneness with the world, omnipotence, and completeness. So life doesn’t end with death, it reaches its most complete form in the womb, it begins with a death. Life is a striving for a death oscillating between a forbidden death and a promised death. Death pulls the subject towards itself with all the attraction of its staticity, or stasis. Eros and Thanatos are twin brothers.

            Expulsion of Narcissism is a condition of cultural life. Narcissus, this beautiful man, falls in love with his own image on the water. His love for himself prevents him from seeing the love presented to him by culture–Echo’s love. Narcissus leans forward to touch his image and leans so much that he falls and drowns in the water, dies in his own image.[3]

            This period of primary Narcissism is what Lacan calls the mirror stage. As I have shown in the previous pages, at this stage there is a conflict between the Ideal-I and the I as the object of the other’s desire. It is this that splits the subject. In other words every individual re-experiences the tragedy of Narcissus at the back of his/her mind throughout life. And it is this regressive re-experiencing that produces and is produced by the real of the subject’s desire.

            The father’s law forbids identification with the mother and promotes identification with the object of mother’s desire. Father’s law is the law of the culture. If the child doesn’t obey the father’s law, that is, when the child refuses to leave the mirror stage behind, the child cannot move on to the next stage and distinguish itself from the others; it resists codification. This is what a schizophrenic is. To be locked in the mirror stage is to be a schizophrenic. Here the subject experiences existence as an illusory reality. He can do nothing to act upon the world for he doesn’t know what use the objects surrounding him have. The schizophrenic who refuses to pass from father’s civilizing castration, is he who escapes cultural codification. And culture locks away the mad into a cell with mirrors on all walls that hide the secrets. A chain of identifications with the objects of others’ desires begin when and if the subject passes through the fantasy world of the mirror stage and becomes rational. It all ends with an idealized war culture, when and if culture is built on and through the Name of the Father.

            We can see this in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The order of culture has two poles: On one pole is the unmediated love, on the other pole is the idealized war. In War and Peace Prince Andrey, although he loves his wife very much—or rather because he loves her so much—chooses to leave her behind and go to war to fight Napoleon’s armies. He follows greater ideals, for the future of Europe, and leaves behind the little world of the females; he chooses to go in search of his Oedipal destiny.

 2. No Replica?

Klein is the first psychoanalyst to analyse a pre-verbal and pre-Oedipal stage of development, that is, before the child starts to hate the father and want to unite with the mother whom he believes to contain the father’s penis. In her Psychoanalysis of Children Klein gives a brief account of how this adaptation to reality takes place. 

The small patient will begin, for instance, to distinguish between his make-believe mother and his real one, or between his toy brother and his live one. He will insist that he only meant to do this or that to his toy brother, and that he loves his real brother very much. Only after very strong and obstinate resistances have been surmounted will he be able to see that his aggressive acts were aimed at the object in the real world. But when he has come to understand this, young as he is, he will have made a very important advance in his adaptation to reality.[4]

Klein analyses the process of adapting to reality in terms of the child’s relation to his mother’s body. In the first year of life it is through introjection of the mother’s body as the embodiment of the external world that the child learns to relate to reality. At this stage the child sees the breast as the representative of the mother. The child projects his own reality onto the external world and believes that the mother’s breast belongs to him. When the flow of milk is interrupted the child becomes aggressive towards the mother and bites the breast. According to Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position characterized by oral sadism.

Klein associates this attitude of the child with the dynamics of an adult schizophrenic mind.  A child who cannot yet make a distinction between the inner reality and the external world is like a psychotic adult who cannot make a distinction between what belongs to his fantasy life and what to the external world. 

A good example to this situation can be selected from the Hollywood horror scene. What we see in the Red Dragon, for instance, is a man who over-identifies with Hannibal Lecter, and becomes what Hannibal Lecter identified with in the first place; a psychotic serial killer who identifies himself with Blake’s Red Dragon.

The psychotic serial killer who believes himself to be constructing a work of art with stories of his murders, sees his criminal acts as the actualization of a prophecy, an incarnation of the myth of Red Dragon. It is through William Blake’s painting, Red Dragon, that the character is familiar with the myth of Red Dragon. Towards the end of the film we see him literally eating, incorporating, Blake’s original painting. That is when his total transformation from bodily existence to a mythological dimension beyond the flesh takes place. Until that point in the film he is governed by the Red Dragon, now he is the Red Dragon, which means that he no longer takes the orders from a force outside of himself. He has introjected the source of power and has become his own master against himself. And perhaps he even believes that his becoming is complete now. 

3. The Significance of Klein’s Fantasies

            It was Klein who emphasized the importance of fantasies and playing in the process of development. Klein brought to light that as humans we perpetually oscillate between paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout life. Klein categorized the death drive as more dominant in the paranoid-schizoid position and life-drive as more dominant in the depressive position. For Klein a successful therapeutic procedure would result in maintaining a contact with the intermediary realm between phantasm and reality. Klein’s importance lies in her acceptance and affirmation of our most primitive drives’ role throughout life. The need for satisfaction of those drives sometimes reaches to such inordinate measures that we become aggressive in the face of reality. Frustrations arise and things get worse, for we don’t know how to turn our frustrations into fuel for the life-drive, and eventually fall victim to the death-drive in search of omnipotence.

            According to Freud, as he puts it in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, drives were governed by the pleasure principle and the object of satisfaction of these drives was not very important. In other words, between the drive and its objects there was no natural tie. But for Klein, who prefers the word instinct instead of drive, from the beginning of life onwards instincts are connected to certain internal objects. From the beginning of life the human subject is in pursuit of object relations in the way of satisfying the instincts such as hunger and thirst.

            Klein’s shifting conceptualisation of the process of subject formation can be clearly observed in her analysis of the relationship between The Early Stages of the Oedipus-Conflict and Super-Ego Formation. Klein takes the beginning of socialization to a pre-Oedipal stage, a pre-verbal if not pre-linguistic stage, to the first year of life. When a baby is born it immediately is in the world of objects. And language, being the extension of the world, that is, being one of the objects surrounding the subject, is immediately at the disposal of the subject just like any other object. We must keep in mind, however, that from language Klein understand not only the words but also the objects such as a toy soldier, or a ball, or any other object. Now, the baby as the subject throws its toy soldier at the mother to get her attention, or to articulate that it is hungry. This action of the baby is similar to someone sending a letter to his/her lover to articulate that he/she has missed him/her and wants to have sex soon. It is in this larger context that we understand language not only as words but also as everything that is at hand.

            According to Freud, Lévi-Strauss, and Lacan, the formation of the subject begins with the appearance of the Name of the Father and his law prohibiting the incest. It is only with the father saying, “No, you shall not desire the mother, but try to be the object of mother’s desire,” that the child experiences his first confrontation with the symbolic order. But in Klein this process is related to the development of object relations in a time where there is imaginary meaning and not symbolic meaning.

Early analysis offers one of the most fruitful fields for psychoanalytic therapy precisely because the child has the ability to represent its unconscious in a direct way, and is thus not only able to experience a far-reaching emotional abreaction but actually to live through the original situation in its analysis, so that with the help of interpretation its fixations can to a considerable extent be resolved.[5]

When a child creates imaginary characters, pretends that they are real and talks with them, this is considered as playing, but when an adult does the same thing he is considered to be a schizophrenic, a subject of psychosis. Schizophrenia is a term coined by Bleuler to designate a set of symptoms such as loss of memory and excessively regressive behaviour usually associated with old age. The schizophrenic experience, as understood by Bleuler, is the reliving of childhood near death in the form of a disorganizaton and loss of the pieces constituting the memory.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[6]

Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward off, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[7] This theme is linked to Klein’s discussion about the dynamic of envy. For Klein, the child, not yet capable of making a distinction between what is inner and what is outer, attacks the source of possible gratification. Envy is a product of a fantasy that the breast is good all the time because it supplies the child with milk whenever he wants. When the milk is denied to the child the child believes that the mother is bad because she is withholding the source of good. The child splits the object into good and bad to save the good breast from possible damage caused by his attacks on the bad breast. Klein goes on to say that it is at this stage that the child develops a sense of external reality by beginning to see the mother as another person, and the breast as a whole object which is good and bad at the same time. This is the depressive position in which the same object has conflicting significations for the child. Understanding that he has been attacking not only the bad breast but also the source of good induces guilt in the child who in turn learns why not to be envious. Klein sees guilt as therapeutic of envy. What appears to be the illness turns out to be the source of good in Klein’s therapeutic procedure. With Klein therapy is reaffirmed as the process of reconciliation through which a rational subject is created.

            4. Klein, Lacan, and Psychosis

            For Lacan there is this solipsistic period of life at the beginning. The subject becomes capable of making a distinction between himself and others after the Narcissistic period of mirror stage. The subject’s ability to interpret and adapt shows signs of progress. Once the mirror stage is passed through and the fantasy is traversed, the subject becomes capable of controlling the unconscious drives and touching reality. The child learns to postpone gratification and finds other ways of satisfying himself. The function of the I shows itself when the child feels the need to act upon the external world and change things in the way of attaining pleasure and satisfaction of desires. When the child gives up desiring his mother and realizes that he has to identify with his father the foundations of the super-ego formation are laid. It is the fear of castration that leads the male child to give up the mother. The sexual desire turns away from the forbidden object and moves towards finding ways of expressing itself in and through metaphors supplied by the predominant culture.

            According to Klein the formation of the super-ego begins in the first year of life. For Klein the “early Oedipus conflict” is at the root of child psychoanalysis. Klein says that Oedipal tendencies of the child start with oral frustrations and this is when the super-ego takes its course of formation. 

These analyses have shown that oral frustrations release the Oedipus impulses and that the super-ego begins to be formed at the same time. […] This is the beginning of that developmental period which is characterized by the distinct demarcation of genital trends and which is known as the early flowering of sexuality and the phase of the Oedipus conflict.[8]    

            It is Klein’s legacy to have taken the beginning of development to a stage earlier than the appearance of the Name of the Father. In this world the castrating father figure doesn’t yet exist. And the child has at least three years ahead to become capable of using language. Klein’s journey into a zone before language, a zone before the child finds itself in the signifying chain, is valuable especially for showing the lack of the role of fantasy and phantasmatic production in Lacan’s story of the formation of the subject. And Gilles Deleuze uses Klein’s insight to make the necessary connections between literature and the unconscious. But before moving on to Deleuze I would like to show from where Klein is coming and hint at the direction she could possibly be heading towards.

            Klein attributes as much importance to the death drive as she does to the life drive. For Klein, already in the first year of life there are object relations and these relations involve expression of libidinal and aggressive impulses.

[…] unfavourable feeding conditions which we may regard as external frustrations, do not seem to be the only cause for the child’s lack of pleasure at the sucking stage. This is seen from the fact that some children have no desire to suck—are ‘lazy feeders’—although they receive sufficient nourishment. Their inability to obtain satisfaction from sucking is, I think, the consequence of an internal frustration and is derived, in my experience, from an abnormally increased oral sadism. To all appearances these phenomena of early development are already the expression of the polarity between the life-instincts and the death-instincts. We may regard the force of the child’s fixation at the oral sucking level as an expression of the force of its libido, and, similarly, the early and powerful emergence of its oral sadism is a sign that its destructive instinctual components tip the balance.[9]

            The child projects his aggressive impulses onto the external world and sees the object (the mother’s breast) as an enemy trying to destroy him. The frustrations that take place in the first year of life cause anxiety and lead the child to express his aggressive impulses through oral sadism (biting the breast). The fantasy that the mother contains the father’s penis leads the child to want to tear apart the mother’s body and introject the object hidden in it through oral sadism. After an oral frustration the attention of the child shifts from the mother’s breast to the father’s penis. The aggression against the father’s penis and the response this aggression gets plays a dominant role in the formation of the super-ego. As it develops the super-ego becomes more and more important in the way the subject handles his relation to the world.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[10]

             An aggressive attitude towards the external world damages the relationship with the external world; the external world is regarded hostile, which leads to aggression, and this aggression in turn provokes hostility against the child. It is this kind of a vicious cycle in which many psychotics and neurotics find themselves. Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward of, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[11] For Klein, the force of aggression as a result of oral frustrations can reach to such levels that the subject feels obliged to project the super-ego ideal onto the external world. The super-ego is terribly ruthless and aggressive. The projection of the super-ego onto the external world turns reality into an enemy. The subject becomes ill and shuts himself up into his fantasy world and detached from reality suffers inordinately. Lacan sees schizophrenia in a similar way; for Lacan what produces schizophrenia is the exclusion of the Name of the Father.                      

            With Klein we learn that the sense of reality is gained through oral frustrations. Lacan, too, thinks that frustrations have a role to play in the constitution of the reality principle. But according to Lacan what’s important is not the natural frustrations themselves, but how they are symbolized, how they are represented in and through language, how they manifest themselves in the form of cultural products. Lacan finds Klein’s theories too biological.

            Dick has a toy train which he repetitively moves to and fro on the floor. Klein says, “I took the big train and put it beside a smaller one and called them ‘Daddy train’ and ‘Dick train.’ Thereupon he picked up the train I called Dick and made it roll [toward the station]… I explained: ‘The station is mummy; Dick is going into mummy.’[12] At the end of this first session of therapy Dick begins to express his feelings. It is after Dick becomes capable of situating himself within the symbolic order in relation to his mother and father that he becomes a human. He begins to play his role given to him by Klein.

            Human reality is a mediated reality. We can see in Dick’s case that the biological turns into cultural through Oedipalisation. Lacan thinks Klein’s therapeutic technique is correct but her theory wrong. What Lacan thinks Klein’s theory lacks is the castrating father figure who says “No.” Lacan complains that the castrating father figure is not given a role in Klein’s scenario. It is true that father is not given a role in the process of subject formation, but Lacan’s assumption that Klein is Oedipalizing the child is wrong. For if the father is excluded from the scene how can the Oedipal triangle be formed. All Klein does is to tell Dick that mummy and daddy copulate. Klein’s world is entirely biological, whereas Lacan is talking about the subjectivation of the individual in and through symbols. For Lacan the unconscious is nothing other than a chain of signifiers. There is nothing before the symptoms manifest themselves in and through metaphors. So metaphors are the products of repression which splits the subject into two separate but contiguous sides; the biological self and the cultural self. Psychoanalysis is about a regressive process which goes back in time through a chain of signifiers and tries to reach the Real of the subject’s desire. A symptom is the manifestation of the Real of the subject’s desire in the form of metaphors.

In advancing this proposition , I find myself in a problematic position—for what have I taught about the unconscious? The unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language. Such a direction seems well fitted to snatch any apprehension of the unconscious from an orientation to reality, other than that of the constitution of the subject.[13]

            Psychosis appears when all the signifiers refer to the same signified. Language and meaning dissolve. Locked in the mirror stage the subject identifies everything as me, and the me as the phallus. But the reality is that the “I” is not the phallus inside the mother’s body. The psychotic is deprived of nostalgia, of the feeling of loss which is constitutive of the subject. Lacking lack the psychotic subject lacks what Lacan calls “lack in being.” And lacking lack in being the subject cannot identify his natural self as being separate from the cultural objects of identification. By entering the symbolic order the narcissistic sense of oneness, “the oceanic feeling,” is lost. And this loss opens a gap within the subject, which the subject tries to fill with the objects of identification presented to it by the predominant culture. Identification is a way of compensating for the emptiness within the subject caused by the loss of sense of oneness. But the unconscious desires can never be satisfied by metaphors. To overcome the frustration caused by the loss of his fantasy world, the subject turns towards symbolic acts in the way of climbing up the social ladder. The subject becomes a doctor, pilot, teacher; all to endure the pain of not being able to satisfy one’s unconscious desires, or the Real of one’s desire. It is in this context that Lacan sees repression as productive of the subject as a split subject. Because the psychotic has lost nothing, lacks nothing, he has no motivations for such pursuits as becoming a doctor, pilot, or teacher. The psychotic has no sense of nostalgia and he is therefore extremely indifferent to the external world. Experiencing no frustrations in the face of the harsh reality of not being one, the psychotic desires nothingness.

5. Klein, Derrida, Deconstruction

According to Klein we all oscillate between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout our lives. This means that none is normal since the world is a place in which all kinds of abnormalities take place all the time and nobody can be a normal person independently of all these abnormalities. One may choose withdrawal and indifference in a Stoic fashion, but who can claim that this is normal? The only thing that is normal is that nothing is normal.

Klein used the word position as she was creating her concepts to designate moods which one finds oneself in throughout life. It is necessary to underline the word position because the word position is especially chosen to signify psychic conditions rather than stages of a linear course of development. The paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position are complementary situations  of the subject in a non-linear course of development which attaches the death drive, as much important a role as it does to the life drive in the course of development. It is obvious that for Klein the relationship between regress and progress is not in the form of a symmetrical binary opposition.

If we keep in mind that creativity means creating a meaning out of the meaningless chaos we can see how Klein’s theory can be used in the service of a critical theory aiming at destroying the static unities and recreating non-static formations. Influenced by Klein, Wilfred Bion developed a theory of thinking concentrating on what Keats called negative capability. Negative capability is the ability to remain intact in the face of not-knowing throughout the thinking process. While Klein emphasized the negative aspects of the paranoid-schizoid position and gave a more important role to the depressive position in the developmental process, Bion argued that fragmentation of previous theories is as important as the reintegration process for the emergence of new thought. For Bion the subject’s oscillation between the paranoid-schizoid position(splitting) and the depressive position(synthesizing) is necessary for a healthy creative process to take place giving birth to new thought.

Counter to the reparative and reconciliatory tendencies towards reconstructing the pre-dominant symbolic order, the poststructuralist subject of the death drive aims at explicating the problems inherent in the structure of the existing symbolic order. It is a response to the loss of an imagined future and involves a negation of the existing order which is based on negation and in which the subject finds/loses itself. The subject as the death drive is simultaneously the effect and the cause of splitting. The subject as the death drive occupies the other pole of faith. Its domain begins where belief ends. Its domain is a realm where silence and non-being confront the daily banalities of symbolic societies. In this realm nothingness and substance confront each other.

            As the subject’s intensity of self-consciousness increases, so does its pain and anxiety in the face of death. This causes hopelessness and despair which may or may not lead to a total devastation of the project of inverting and putting into the spotlight the nothingness at the centre of the subject. Heidegger repeatedly puts all this down in Being and Time when he says that “being-towards-death is angst.” One cure for expelling anxiety has been to believe in god, any other metaphysical construct, or in some cases it has even taken the form of a materialist system of thought; in all these cases, however, an escape is seen as a solution when in fact it is the problem itself. For our concerns, an escapist attitude, and especially one that tries to go beyond the physical, does not work at all, for what we are looking for is a way of learning to make use of the reality of the death drive as an interior exteriority constitutive of the subject as a creative agent. 

            The self-conscious subject questions itself. With the thought of death the subject gets in touch with the death drive and pushes itself further towards the periphery of the symbolic order and becomes its own persecutor in the service of a critique of the status quo. The subject of the death drive shakes the foundations upon which is built its own mode of being. Its mode of being becomes its movement towards non-being. It is the perceiver and the perceived of its own, the subject and the object of its actions, the persecutor and the persecuted at the same time. Through the death drive one can go beyond one’s symbolic role and become conscious of its time and place in the world. The use of the death drive requires recognition of death as the absolute master. That way one can become reconciled to life as it is.   

In critical theory we usually have to read the text at hand in an unorthodox way so as to create a new meaning out of it. The critical theorist breaks-down the meaning of the text and out of the pieces recreates a new meaning, which is to say that creativity bears within itself destructivity and inversely. It may not be necessary to destroy something intentionally to create something new, but to have destroyed something is usually a consequence of having created something new.  Jacques Derrida’s reading strategy called deconstruction exposes how a text writes and unwrites itself against its dominant meaning and in contrast to common sense perception. I see Derrida’s corpus as an intense meditation on the meaning of meaning itself. First Derrida shows the dominant meaning of the text as perceived by the majority and then he exposes the other within of the text, the minor meaning which contradicts the major meaning. By doing this Derrida makes not only the absolute meaning of the text collapse in on itself but also causes the concept of absolute meaning itself to explode from within. In Kleinian terms what Derrida does is to start from the depressive position and then move to the paranoid-schizoid position and there apply the splitting process peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid position to the text. It can be said that in a way Derrida exposes the paranoid-schizoid position within the depressive position. By doing this Derrida shows that the life drive and the death drive are within and without one another at the same time. This means that for Derrida creation and destruction are one. It is for this reason that I find deconstruction insufficient for effective critique to take place. For without the affirmative recreation of the destroyed text there remains nothing outside the ruins of the past. But that the new is inconceivable from within the pre-dominant context does not mean that it is impossible. What Derrida’s deconstructive practice lacks is the active intervention in the predominant order which would create the conditions of possibility for change, out of the conditions of impossibility. Derrida remains paralyzed in the face of the infinity of possibilities for change by declaring that the chain of signifiers is infinite and therefore nothing is outside the text when in fact nothing is this infinity itself since when there is infinity then everything disappears and nothing conceivable remains within the text. It is true that deconstruction dissolves the transcendental signified but the question remains: What is the price paid when the transcendental signified is deconstructed rather than affirmatively recreated and turned into an immanent sign here and now. In Derrida there is the waiting for the new to arrive but no action is taken in the way of making this arrival possible now. We shall ask why not recreate oneself as the new, why not do it now and give birth to the new here and now, why not be the new in action? In a fashion similar to Hamlet, Derrida perpetually postpones the action by playing with language and ends up locking himself up in an endlessly deferred self-perpetuating, self-consuming, and self-reflexive endgame with no beginning and no end, making it impossible for conscious desire to engage in effective action.

 Conclusion of Part I

Barbaric Regress and Civilised Progress contra Deconstruction and Affirmative Recreation

            In Homer’s Odyssey the call of the sirens is a sign addressed to men who can only survive this seductive call by turning a deaf ear to it, by ignoring, not acknowledging and repressing their desire for it. If the desire is of a visual object then you can turn a blind eye on it, or you may prefer not to close your eyes and just look at the object of desire; you can be a voyeur or an innocent witness if you wish. But the sexual sign that targets the ear is much more dangerous. The ears don’t have lids. And the voyeurism by ears, in contrast to normal voyeurism, can only give pain rather than pleasure. In Leonard Cohen’s song, Paper Thin Hotel the man’s pain listening to the sexual intercourse next door is immeasurable; but if there was a hole on the wall, things could have been otherwise.

Odysseus’ way of protecting himself from the call of the sirens is different from his companions’. He doesn’t stop his ears with wax; quite the contrary, he is more than willing to hear the call. But against the danger of following the call he has himself tied on the mast. The oarsmen’s stopping their ears to the call, and Odysseus’ having himself tied to the mast so as not to follow the call are the two different versions of resisting the sirens. While the former is a measure taken by the ego against the object of desire, the latter is that of the super-ego. In stopping one’s ears with wax what’s at stake is a will not to hear, pretending as though the object of desire didn’t exist, the desire is repressed, and the object is forgotten. Whereas by having oneself tied to the mast one hears the sirens, the desire is accepted but not pursued; the object is consciously resisted. But what is this thing that is so forcefully prohibited, which when adhered to leads to death, and when ignored makes life so boring and existence so banal? To this question there are two answers which in the end become one.

The first answer is Lacanian: the call of the sirens represents the desire for the mother. This desire for the mother is neither totally instinctive, nor totally sexual. It belongs to a period where the instinctive and the sexual are one. This desire is prohibited by the father. And the acceptance of the impossibility of uniting with the mother causes growth. Every child desires the whole of the mother, not just parts of her. The mother, however, is fragmentary from the beginning; in Adam Phillips’ words, the mother is promiscuous. So there is the tragedy: On one hand there is the obsessive attachment, and on the other hand there is the paranoid reaction.

There is an abundance of texts depicting the tragedy born of the tension between promiscuous women who are openly open to other relationships at all times and obsessively in love men who are hypocritically monogamic throughout the history of literature. The femme fatale is nothing but the archetype of the unsatisfied desire for the mother.

With the law of the father the desire for the mother becomes a real call of the sirens. If the child obeys the call, the result is death, or a psychotic existence signifying death. In psychosis the subject builds his life on an obsession for the unattainable mother, and his every act will be in the way of attaining the warmth, security, and protective environment of the womb. Not to become a psychotic the child chooses another way; he chooses to close his ears to the call and obey the law of the father; but then he becomes an ordinary neurotic. Perhaps the best way to choose is to face and accept the desire for the mother, acknowledge the call of the sirens, but not to follow it.

The second answer to what the sirens signify is Freudian. Following Freud’s later work one can say that the call of the sirens represents the death drive. If the oarsemen of Odysseus hadn’t stopped their ears with wax, the voyage would have ended in death. The bee that is seduced by the colourful flower which feeds on insects flies to its death. Following Freud, Herbert Marcuse says that the drive to reproduce the species, the life drive, and the drive to destroy, the death drive, are both for and against one another, that is, the life drive and the death drive are within and without one another at the same time.

There are many forms in which the death drive manifests itself. These vary from melancholia to aggression, from self-destruction to paranoia. What is common to all these form of appearance is a kind of revolt against having been born. The death drive wants jouissance, a condition in which infinite satisfaction is possible and in which repression and release, pain and pleasure do not exist. Freud explains this obsessive and neurotic desire with the concept of the compulsion to repeat; a desire to return to a previous state of being in the history of being. And needless to say, this is a desire to return to the womb, to the state of being before birth. So we can see that the death drive and the desire for the mother signify and are signified by the same will; the will to nothingness. The refusal to accept having been detached from the mother, the will to reunite with her, and the will to return to the womb, signify and are signified by the same desire. Unless accounts are settled with the will to nothingness the subject remains trapped somewhere between paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive neurosis and cannot reach the point zero which is where the real love and affirmation of life flourish.

In contemporary nihilism a mentally healthy person is defined thus: the one who has managed to repress the death drive, who has attained inner harmony and who has been able to project this inner harmony onto the external world in the way of healthy social life, in other words, one who has established a perfect balance between the ego, the id, and the superego, and who knows how to control the destructive impulses and even direct these impulses to professional life. This healthy subject has become capable of reconciling himself with life and with others, who has become a part of the world of goodness. This is the typical healthy subject as defined by the pre-dominant discourse of contemporary nihilism.

From the perspective of contemporary nihilism the exact opposite of this type of a healthy individual would be from the world of badness. Someone whose ego cannot be reconciled to the external world, and who is undergoing a fragmentation. His death drive has become so dominant that he has become aggressively destructive of both the self and the other. He is at a loss. His emotional ties with the external world have been cut. He has no sense of value, truth, meaning. He feels nothing for the world of goodness. Eventually the death drive produces the most aggressive response imaginable to the conflict between civilized progress and barbaric regress constitutive of contemporary nihilism. But that the response of the death drive is the most aggressive one does not mean that it is destructive, on the contrary, it gives aggression a new form. It is not aggression that is bad in-itself, rather, what’s important is the form aggression takes.

Unfortunately today many forms of critical attitude towards global capitalism take on a nihilistic, reactive, and slavish role, rather than an affirmative and active response, and fall victim to their own ressentiment, or what Klein would have called envy. I think a critical attitude towards this nihilism produced by the conditions of global capitalism should be in the way of developing a practical theory of theoretical practice for change, driven by and driving an interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation — a cont(r)action —  rather than total negation leading to barbaric regress and violence.

It wills now not exactly what occurs, but something in that which occurs, something yet to come which would be consistent with what occurs, in accordance with the laws of an obscure, humorous conformity: the Event. It is in this sense that the amor fati is one with the struggle of free man. My misfortune is present in all events, but also a splendor and brightness which dry up misfortune and which bring about that the event, once willed, is actualized on its most contracted point, on the cutting edge of an operation. All this is the effect of the static genesis and of the immaculate conception.[14]

That at the root of every progressive movement there is a traumatic incident, war, destruction, suffering, pain, is as yet a commonly held opinion. What we see through the opposition between “civilized progress” and “barbaric regress” is that both these attitudes, these two differently conceived forms of nihilism, have at their core the life drive disguised as the death drive and inversely: they are towards totalitarianism and stasis rather than dynamism and multiplicity. Both ignore the foundational question which is how to be and let the other be rather than to be or not to be. The problem today is to know how to become what one is without confining the other into the realm of non-being. How to create the self in such a way as not to be destructive of the other and itself at the same time?


[1] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003), 187

[2] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, The For Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 150

[3] Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of The Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (The University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1995), 126-27-28 “The Greek myths do not, generally, say anything; they are seductive because of a concealed, oracular wisdom which elicits the infinite process of divining. What we call meaning, or indeed sign, is foreign to them: they signal without signifying; they show, or they hide, but they always are clear, for they always speak the transparent mystery, the mystery of transparence. Thus all commentary is ponderous and uselessly verbose—all the more so if it employs the narrative mode, and expands the mysterious story intelligently into explanatory episodes which in turn imply a fleeting clarity. If Ovid, perhaps prolonging a tradition, introduces into the fable of Narcissus the fate—which one might call telling—of the nymph Echo, it is surely in order to tempt us to discover there a lesson about language which we ourselves add, after the fact. Nevertheless, the following is instructive: since it is said that Echo loves Narcissus by staying out of sight, we might suppose that Narcissus is summoned to encounter a voice without body, a voice condemned always to repeat the last word and nothing else—a sort of nondialogue: not the language whence the Other would have approached him, but only the mimetic, rhyming alliteration of a semblance of language. Narcissus is said to be solitary, but it is not because he is excessively present to itself; it is rather because he lacks, by decree (you shall not see yourself), that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured. He is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself. And this voice is narcissistic precisely in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love. Such is the fate of the child one thinks is repeating the last words spoken, when in fact he belongs to the rustling murmur which is not language, but enchantment. And such is the fate of lovers who touch each other with words, whose contact with each other is made of words, and who can thus repeat themselves without end, marvelling at the utterly banal, because their speech is not a language but an idiom they share with no other, and because each gazes at himself in the other’s gaze in a redoubling which goes from mirage to admiration.”

[4] Melanie Klein, Psychoanalysis of Children, 11

[5] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1975),9

[6] Klein, 143-4

[7] Klein, 144

[8] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 123

[9] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 124

[10] Klein, 143-4

[11] Klein, 144

[12] Melanie Klein, quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, 45

[13] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 149

[14] Deleuze, 149

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