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Somebody dying under the MRI.  

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Life Drive

In our daily lives we create little worlds of our own and invest them with various meanings. These worlds have their own logics, orders repetitively staged every day; this gives us a sense of continuity in time and hence a sense of security. Objects and subjects surrounding us, everything fits in its proper place in this microcosmic self-consciousness of ours.

The thought of being a tiny spot in the middle of nowhere, however, or somewhere in the vast universe is too unbearable to be thought through for many people because it reminds us of death. If one thinks this thought for too long all meaning collapses and life falls apart, the established symbolic order of object relations become disorganized. This is when the journey of the subject towards nothingness begins. If the subject manages to maintain integrity throughout the passage from self-consciousness to an impersonal consciousness reconciliation of self with life and the world takes place. With the advance of this macrocosmic impersonal consciousness in time everything symbolic loses meaning and credibility only to lead to an opening up of a space for the emergence of a new meaning. The new is not independent from the old. But is that which had hitherto been unseen, unrealised, unthought as a new possibility of a progressive movement.

Authentic fidelity is the fidelity to the void itself—to the very act of loss, of abandoning or erasing the object. Why should the dead be the object of attachment in the first place? The name for this fidelity is death drive. In the terms of dealing with the dead, one should, perhaps, against the work of mourning as well as against the melancholic attachment to the dead who return as ghosts, assert the Christian motto “let the dead bury their dead.” The obvious reproach to this motto is, What are we to do when, precisely, the dead do not accept to stay dead, but continue to live in us, haunting us by their spectral presence? One is tempted here to claim that the most radical dimension of the Freudian death drive provides the key to how we are to read the Christian “let the dead bury their dead”: what death drive tries to obliterate is not the biological life but the very afterlife—it endeavours to kill the lost object the second time, not in the sense of mourning (accepting the loss through symbolization) but in a more radical sense of obliterating the very symbolic texture, the letter in which the spirit of the dead survives.[1]

So, neither the work of mourning nor melancholia are progressive. It is the work of death drive to kill death, to cause a loss of loss, to destroy the symbolic texture causing death to take place; death drive is the only weapon against death in life. Rather than symbolizing and then accepting death, the subject as death drive contemplates death as nothingness and fills the space of death within the symbolic with nothing. Zizek points out that there is a great difference between willing nothing and willing nothingness.

What we are implicitly referring to here is, of course, Nietzsche’s classic opposition between ‘wanting nothing’ (in the sense of ‘I don’t want anything’) and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself; following Nietzsche’s path, Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply ‘eat nothing’ – rather, she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire. (The same goes for Ernst Kris’s famous patient who felt guilty of theft, although he did not actually steal anything: what he did steal, again, was the Nothingness itself.) So – along the same lines, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we drink the Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property that is in effect merely an envelope of a void.[2]

The object that takes the place of the Real is what Lacan calls the objet petit a. The objet petit a is that which the master-signifier causes to be signified. There is nothing to signify the objet petit a, it is that signifier itself. The master-signifier signifies the objet petit a as its own signifier. Without the objet petit a the nothingness behind the master-signifier would become manifest. Master signifier generates signs that signify their own autonomous existence. That is, they hide the latent content of the master-signifier which is nothingness.  By manufacturing the illusion of its own non-being the master-signifier signifies itself as the transcendental signified. It does this through signifying the objet petit a as the transcendental sign, (signifier and signified at once). The sublime object which stands in for nothingness behind it is the object of desire of masses who fantasize that they are drinking something good, when in reality they are drinking the void and their own life/death.

One simply cannot conceal from oneself what all the willing that has received its direction from the ascetic ideal actually expresses: this hatred of the human, still more of the animal, still more of the material, this abhorrence of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and of beauty, this longing away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wish, longing itself—all of this means—let us grasp this—a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will!… And, to say again at the end what I said at the beginning: man would much rather will nothingness than not will… [3]

In The Fragile Absolute, Slavoj Zizek gives the example of Diet-Coke as a symptom of will to nothingness inherent in contemporary society.

So, when, some years ago, the advertising slogan for Coke was ‘Coke is it!’, we should note its thorough ambiguity: ‘that’s it’ precisely in so far as that’s never actually it, precisely in so far as every satisfaction opens up a gap of ‘I want more!’. The paradox, therefore, is that Coke is not an ordinary commodity whereby its-use value is transubstantiated into an expression of (or supplemented with) the auratic dimension of pure (exchange) Value, but a commodity whose very peculiar use-value is itself already a direct embodiment of the suprasensible aura of the ineffable spiritual surplus, a commodity whose very material properties are already those of a commodity. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke – why? We drink Coke – or any drink – for two reasons: for its thirst-quenching or nutritional value, and for its taste. In the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, nutritional value is suspended and the caffeine, as the key ingredient of its taste, is also taken away – all that remains is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not true that in this sense, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we almost literally ‘drink nothing in the guise of something’?[4]

By drinking Diet-Coke, the subject, rather than being really healthy, is being merely less ill, since Diet or not, Coke is itself unhealthy.  Coke as we know it is miles away from its medicinal uses for which it was invented in the first place. The measure of health is not Coke without caffeine and sugar. So the Diet-Coke cannot be a sign of healthy living. Worse than being unhealthy, it is death disguised as an object of desire, that object of desire being healthy living. So we can see the process through which the Real of the subject’s desire, which is the death-drive, is turned into desire for healthy living. As the subject thinks he/she is moving towards greater health, he/she is in reality moving towards death. We have to be clear about where exactly the life-drive and the death-drive become separated from themselves and hence their roles are reversed, turning them into their opposites. It is precisely at this point of separation- unification of the life-drive and the death-drive that the conflict-event takes the place of the place itself.

This place is a playground on which this conflict-event between the life-drive and the death-drive is played out as a confrontation between the therapeutic society and critical theory. If the aim of psychotherapy is to adapt the subject to the environment, then it is by definition a normalizing practice. But asks critical theory, what is the definition of health? On which grounds are we talking about health? What are the values that make health? All these questions may lead down to the big question of ontology: “What is the meaning of life?” There is no meaning of life. It is my actions and words that invest my life with a particular meaning. What determines the meaning of objects surrounding me is the use I put them into. In this context, progress in therapeutic procedure is signified by an increase in the subject’s ability to use the objects surrounding him/her.

But critical theory says: you are confusing use-value and exchange-value. You are forgetting the need to remember that in your world the exchange-value preceeds the use-value. You are always already born into the world of objects with their values attached to them, how can you say that you are healing these people by telling lies to them concerning the cause of their desire and the Real of the objects they choose to put to use. Isn’t their choice already determined by the pre-dominant symbolic order?[5]

Critical theory agrees with psychotherapy that it is the use value of the object that is important. But what critical theory wants to say is that what psychotherapy presents the subject with, as the use-value, is already the exchange-value, so psychotherapy is presenting the subject with death disguised as life. It is there that there has been a shift in the gears, where Nietzsche conceived of himself as the stage of confrontation between Christ and Dionysus, as the conflict-event that shifted the gears at a certain moment in history. At this precise moment in time negation and affirmation change roles for the very reason that negating the symbolic order becomes the same as affirming the Real. One creates a fantasy which negates the symbolic and affirms the Real as it is, that is, with all its inconsistencies, internal conflicts, imperfections, and incompleteness. Something in the symbolic order is caused to fail by these interventions of the affirmative subject. Here a question awaits us: Does that mean that for creation to take place destruction is necessary? The answer to this question is a yes and a no at the same time. Because destruction causes a split in the order and yet this split’s consequence depends on the future of the response to it. Destruction is not essential to creation but is an inescapable result of it. [6]  So there may or may not be cases where there is something in the process of being created without anything being destroyed. For when one thinks about it, creation is not a subtraction from nature, but quite the contrary, an addition to it. For subtraction to become creative it should be a subtraction from culture, that is, from knowledge, or from the already existing symbolic order. Badiou’s subtraction opens a void within the already existing symbolic order and through this void a new truth flows. It is only in so far as the mortal human animal chooses fidelity to this truth-event that it becomes a subject, that is, an immortal indifferent to death.

André Kertész     Window, paris     1928

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Death Drive

The creature called human can cease being a passive non-being and become an active being only insofar as it produces love against the negative power of the already existing capitalist law. As we all know, the laws’ negative impositions give birth to the vicious cycle of the life and death drives, which is in turn exploited in the way of more money.

With the domination of nihilist global capitalism all over the world social life has become a masquerade. The silence diminishes and noise pollutes the lives of all. This noise is what Nietzsche calls “the noise of the marketplace.” The subject neither questions its being in itself nor its being for itself. The system provides the subject with innumerable facilities to keep boredom at bay so as to sustain the conditions for the possibility of the non-being of thought to take place. The subject simply does not feel the need to think and in time the subject loses the ability not only to think but also to act consciously. It all becomes an empty and meaningless spectacle to live. Every subject takes on a role, or an identity in accordance with the demands of the show business and hides behind this role turning into a solipsistic monad acting itself out in the way of satisfying the big Other. Just like Judge Schreber who had to endure inordinate measures of suffering to satisfy the demands of those cruel gods he populated himself with… And Schreber, satisfied as he was with the mere pleasure of sharing the high profile mission of satisfying cruel and invisible gods, becomes a madman when in fact he was a woman enduring privation.[7]

In the banality of ordinary social reality the subject forgets to think of its death as its own. Absence of the thought of death brings with it the presence of the thought of being, which means that the subject has lost his/her sense of self/other distinction, and is governed by his/her unconscious drives. This leads to the subject’s ignorance of an external world, or perhaps an unintentional neglect of an external reality other than the one it imagines, for it has itself become exterior to itself.

When death is thought about, this thought never takes place in terms of the death of the self. It is always through the death of the other that the subject thinks of death. It is always a “they” who die. Death is conceived as a symbolic incident. The reason of that reductive attitude towards death is the will to preserve the banality of ordinary reality and sustain the conditions for the possibility of an illusory sense of oneness with the world. All this, of course, is done to keep the Real of the external world at bay.

Global capitalism produces subjects who cannot stand the thought of the outside; they cannot conceive the absence of an external world within them. The fear of death is so strong that with the force of its negativity it totally negates death in life, erases the slash in life/death, and vainly erects statues to attain immortality.

It is a strange subject, however, with no fixed identity, wandering about over the body without organs, but always remaining peripheral to the desiring-machines, being defined by the share of the product it takes for itself, garnering here, there, and everywhere a reward in the form of a becoming an avatar, being born of the states that it consumes and being reborn with each new state. “It’s me, and so it’s mine…” Even suffering, as Marx says, is a form of self-enjoyment.[8]

Today the purpose of life has become keeping the subject busy for the sake of the business of not thinking death. The subject is bombarded by objects of introjection to such extent that it has no time for feeling anxious about its own death. The objects form a transparent sheet between the subject and its death. As inorganic substances the objects fill the space of death within life. What we witness in this time is life turned into a project aiming at erasing the silence necessary for thought; and not only erasing but also replacing it with an unceasing noise causing nausea.

The infinite, then, is within finitude, so in order to think the infinite we have to think the finite, that is, the thought of death. Although the thought of death has a high price which the subject pays by a loss of mental and physical health, it is nevertheless useful in opening up the way to limit experiences. The death drive devastates the predominant conceptualisations of the “good” of civilized progress and the “bad” of barbaric regress. The subject of the death drive situates itself as the traitor on the opposite pole of belief and faith in immortality. In the place of statues representing immortality, it erects nothing. That way it confronts the promised land of total security and harmony with a world governed by the anxiety of the feeling of being surrounded by nothingness. In this world there remains no ground beneath the symbolic order. Death is in the midst of life; it is life that surrounds death.

How would our lives change if we were to become capable of imagining ourselves as immortal beings? If we keep in mind that we are always already locked within the vicious cycle of the life and death drives governed by the law of capital, it becomes easier to understand why we need to break this vicious cycle of Capitalism and its governor, liberal-democracy, based on unjust representations, in order to create, produce or present the realm of love beyond the rotary motion of drives. But it must also be kept in mind that when we say beyond, we are talking about a beyond which is always already within the pre-dominant symbolic order and yet not within the reach of mortal beings. It is a beyond only from the perspective of the present state. In our scenario, immortality is not something to be attained, rather, it is a virtual potential or an actual capacity within every mortal being, awaiting to be realised. The realisation of the immortality within us, or the realisation of the infinite potential that life contains, depends on our proper use of our powers of imagination. Let us imagine ourselves as immortal beings then, which we already are, but cannot enact because of the finitude imposed upon us by the already existing symbolic order. Would we need to get out of this order to become immortal? Yes and no. Yes, because the within which we said infinity resides is a within which is exterior only from the point of view of the already existing order. No, because only from within the already existing order can we present an outside of this order, “an outside” in Deleuze’s words apropos of Foucault and Blanchot, “which is closer than any interiority and further away than any exteriority.”

 In his Theoretical Writings Alain Badiou attempts to separate himself from the Romantic understanding of infinity, and the pursuit of immortality. According to Badiou, contemporary mathematics broke with the Romantic idea of infinity by dissolving the Romantic concept of finitude. For Badiou, as it is for mathematics, the infinite is nothing but indifferent multiplicity, whereas for the Romantics it was nothing more than a “historical envelopment of finitude.” Behind all this, of course, is Badiou’s strong opposition to historicism and temporalization of the concept. It is in this context that Badiou can say, “Romantic philosophy localizes the infinite in the temporalization of the concept as a historical envelopment of finitude.”[9]

Mathematics now treats the finite as a special case whose concept is derived from that of the infinite. The infinite is no longer that sacred exception co-ordinating an excess over the finite, or a negation, a sublation of finitude. For contemporary mathematics, it is the infinite that admits of a simple, positive definition, since it represents the ordinary form of multiplicities, while it is the finite that is deduced from the infinite by means of negation or limitation. If one places philosophy under the condition such a mathematics, it becomes impossible to maintain the discourse of the pathos of finitude. ‘We’ are infinite, like every multiple-situation, and the finite is a lacunal abstraction. Death itself merely inscribes us within the natural form of infinite being-multiple, that of the limit ordinal, which punctuates the recapitulation of our infinity in a pure, external ‘dying.’[10]

The political implications of the move from Romantic infinity to mathematical infinity can be observed in Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. In this little book Badiou criticizes the hypocrisy of human rights for reducing being-human to being a mortal animal. Of course Badiou admits that what is called human is indeed a mortal animal, but what he objects to is the exploitation of this state of being. Against this deprecative attitude, Badiou pits the immortal subject, or rather, the subject who is capable of realising his/her immortality.[11]

Badiou says that “being is inconsistent multiplicity.” As an advocate of immanence, unlike Heidegger, he doesn’t think that there is an ontological difference between Being and beings. As a matter of fact, he altogether refuses that there is such a thing as Being transcending the multiple beings, or beings as inconsistent multiplicities. To understand where Badiou is coming from we only need to look at his critique of Heidegger’s equation of being in the world and being towards death. For Badiou there is no such thing as being in the world, because for him there is not one world but multiple worlds and consequently being in the world as being towards death is a rather impoverished idea doomed to result in the mistaken assumption that consciousness of human finitude is self-consciousness. And I agree with Badiou that consciousness of human finitude merely serves to justify a life driven by death.

 I therefore propose a consciousness of infinitude rather than of finitude for a sustenance of the conditions of possibility for an ethical life and for an ethical death. For when you think about it, if we were immortal, that is, if our lives were eternal, we wouldn’t be so destructive of the environment, not so harsh on nature and one another, because no one would want to live in such a hell eternally. Since it is obvious that as humans we have been turning the world into a hell in the name of progress for a while now, and since death has been the end from which we have come to think we have been striving to escape in this progressive process, it is obvious that a forgetting of death, or rather, a remembering to forget our mortality would make us fear an eternal life in hell, rather than a finite life in an illusory heaven.

If we keep in mind that the global capitalist system, as we have tried to explicate, takes its governing force from its exploitation of life and death drives, that it is based on our fear of death and consciousness of finitude, it becomes clearer why a subtraction of death from life not only shakes, but also annihilates the foundations of capitalism.

To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…

Throughout this article I have tried to develop a mode of critique in and through which nothing is excluded and/or determined. This reflective mode of critique itself enabled me to situate myself in the middle of the reflective and the determinative modes of judgment. The critical mode employed in this article is still context-bound to a certain extent, and yet it tries to restrictively dissociate itself from the predetermined context, rather than freely associate within it. A new field is opened, the conditions are created for the possibility of a decision beyond the Law of Militarist Capitalism and the Welfare State driven by and driving the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale.

There is this transcendental field that requires a non-mortal mode of being in the world, neither for nor against it, but engagingly indifferent to it in such a way as to turn its own alienation from mortality into its driving force in its attempt to demolish the faculty of finite judgment and create the conditions of possibility out of the conditions of impossibility for an infinite judgment to take place beyond the subject/object of a Law that is mortal, all too mortal.

A truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but not of it. Fidelity, the commitment to truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns.[12]

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badiou claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming-reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death. For a non-normative and progressive work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation.

It is indeed true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got to, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.

Memory Void-Fallen Leaves By Yellowbagman

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[1] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (London: Routledge, 2004), 13

[2] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000), 23

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, transl. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), 118

[4] Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 22

[5] Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964)

[6] Alain Badiou, InfiniteThought, trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum, 2005), 132

[7] Sigmund Freud, Psycho-analytic Notes On An Autobiogrophical Account Of A Case Of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoids), trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1986)

[8] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), 16

[9] Alain Badiou, Theoretical Writings, trans. Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano, (London: Continuum, 2006), 38

[10] Badiou, 38

[11] Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), 41

[12] Peter Hallward, “Introduction” in Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2002), x

 

According to Melanie 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 to 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.[1]

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.[2]

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.


[1] Melanie Klein, Our adult world and other essays (London: Heinemann, 1975)

[2]Wilfred Bion. “A Theory of Thinking,” Second Thoughts: Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac, 1967)

Derridagate

  

It is only in and through a position of non-mortality within and without mortal life at the same time that the exploitation of mortality can be brought into the spotlight. A critique of the exploitation of mortality inherent in particularly exemplary cultural products will be achieved through putting them in a perspective that analyzes the life death drives in such a way as to expose the exploitation of the fear of death as the driving force inherent in them. The point is that it is indeed necessary to fantasize being what one is not, in our case being non-mortal, to be able to become self-conscious of one’s self-reflexivity in the way of creating an order of signification not caught up in the rotary motion of drives locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism,  but rather one which breaks this vicious cycle and at least attempts to subtract death from life in a counter-act to the post-structuralist idea of life as a process of dying and death as an absent presence in the midst of life. It is only through such a subtraction of the absent presence of death within life that the productive interaction between Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, Foucault’s bio-politics, Badiou’s theory of infinity, and Kant’s reflective mode of judgement give birth to the immortal subject as the womb of a new thought, a new life, and a new mode of being, free of the exploitation of mortality and engagingly indifferent to this mortal, all too mortal life.

1. Freud and Einstein

In 1931 the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation invited certain intellectuals to communicate and think about the solutions to the problems facing the world. The First World War was over but the second one was already knocking on the door. The developments in central Europe were signs of the approaching disaster. Einstein was one of the intellectuals the institute got in touch with, and he proposed Freud as a participant in this collaboration. In 1932 Einstein wrote a letter to Freud and asked him how the tendency of humanity to war, destruction and violence could be overcome, if it could be overcome. Einstein expected Freud to come up with some practical solutions. Einstein wanted revolution, but a great admirer of Darwin, Freud talked about evolution.

Freud responded to Einstein after about a month. Throughout the letter Freud emphasized that he couldn’t do what Einstein expected him to, that it was impossible for him to come up with practical solutions to the problem of aggression inherent in human nature.

In his response to Einstein’s letter Freud interrogated the relation between the aggressive impulse in human nature and the organization of society and concluded that in the organization of social order aggression was unavoidable.

In the second part of his letter Freud mentioned the role played by drives in the inner world of human-beings and summarized his theory of drives. According to Freud the polarity between the forces of attraction and repulsion, which Einstein was familiar with as a physicist, also existed in human psyche. One of these forces was the life drive which aimed at self-preservation and unification, the erotic force represented by Eros. The other force was the death drive which aimed at destruction and splitting, represented by Thanatos.

But we must not be too hasty in introducing ethical judgements of good and evil. Neither of these instincts is any less essential than the other; the phenomena of life arise from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of both. Now it seems as though an instinct of the one sort can scarcely ever operate in isolation; it is always accompanied—or, as we say, alloyed – with a certain quota from the other side, which modifies its aim or is, in some cases, what enables it to achieve that aim. Thus, for instance, the instinct of self-preservation is certainly of an erotic kind, but it must nevertheless have aggressiveness at its disposal if it is to fulfil its purpose. So, too, the instinct of love, when it is directed towards an object, stands in need of some contribution from the instinct for mastery if it is in any way to obtain possession of that object. The difficulty of isolating the two classes of instinct in their actual manifestation is indeed what has so long prevented us from recognizing them.[1]

For Freud the death drive was targeting the living organism, aiming at turning the organic into inorganic. Because of the intervention of the self-preservative force of the life drive, the death drive was turned towards the external world by a psychic operation, so that the self-destruction of the organism was prevented.

It is important to note here that death drive does not correspond to self-destruction. The death drive postpones the self-destruction of the organism by projecting aggression onto the external world and hence can be said to serve self-preservation. The self-destructive impulse turns against itself and manifests itself as violence and aggression against the others. The subject kills the others not to kill itself. “The death instinct turns into the destructive instinct when, with the help of special organs, it is directed outwards, on to objects. The organism preserves its own life, so to say, by destroying an extraneous one.”[2] It is this scenario that makes it possible to say that there is a disjunctive synthesis at work here. A term coined by Gilles Deleuze, disjunctive synthesis defines the operation in and through which the two components of an apparatus, a psychic apparatus in this case, appear to be the two differently conceived constituents of the same thing.  

The influence of Nietzsche’s concepts of the will to nothingness and eternal return are pervasive in Freud’s later work. Freud’s turn towards metapsychology and his consequent creation of the concept of the death drive is rooted in his need for something to fill in the gaps in his scientific and empirically observable theories owing much to Darwin. Freud was uneasy with the concept of the death drive on account of its non-scientific nature, but nevertheless he had to conceptualize the death drive as the counterpart of the life drive in order to be able to go beyond the pleasure principle. Educated as a neuroscientist Freud was aware that he was contradicting himself and perhaps even turning against his earlier attitude towards the human psyche by showing that at the beginning was the death drive and that the life drive was only an outcome, a kind of defense against the death drive.

In his Civilization and Its Discontents Freud talked about the oceanic feeling, a sense of oneness with the world which he admits to have never experienced personally. Perhaps his creation of the highly speculative concept of the death drive was Freud’s attempt to fill the gap opened by the absence of this oceanic feeling for him.  

Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease.[3]

In his An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud had put forward the idea that drives produce affects and so drives are at the root of all actions. I agree with Freud that drives are at the root of all actions at the beginning, but contrary to what Freud says of them, I think affects are not mere manifestations of the drives. Rather, affects emerge as a response to the changes in the level of the intensity of external stimuli. The external stimuli creates affects towards objects and the drives “find” their satisfaction through the affective quality of the objects produced to match the drive. But it is precisely this matching process that produces the desire for the object, so the unconscious drive turns into “conscious” desire. 

In his 1920 essay Beyond The Pleasure Principle, Freud revised his drive theory and introduced his concept of the death drive. In this revised drive theory Freud conceptualized the life drive as inclusive of both the libidinal impulses and the self-preservative impulses. As for the death drive Freud conceptualized it as the self-destructive impulse. So, at the beginning Freud argued that libidinal impulses contain sadistic elements as well. While in his first drive theory in On Narcissism (1914), Freud suggested that aggression should be included within the life drive, in his second drive theory in Beyond The Pleasure Principle, he says that aggression is the will to return to the inorganic state and is therefore directed against the self and serves self-destruction. According to this picture if adaptation is essential to survival then aggression is against life and is a manifestation of the death drive.

In the face of the present situation I project a few alterations onto Freud’s drive theory in the light of Lacan’s theory of the subject. Since thought is a product of the brain and since most psychoanalysts agree that metaphysical phenomena are composed of psychosomatic events, there is nothing other than a fantasy that fills the space between the soma and the psyche. This fantasy (‘I,) stands in for the nothingness in between them; it unites them as it splits them apart. I disagree with Freud’s theory concerning the source of drives. But I do make a distinction between the conscious desires and the unconscious drives. 

Lacan’s contribution to the field is his realization that the unconscious drives are shaped by the external circumstances and turned into conscious desire. For me Lacan’s theory, however, just like Hobbes’s metaphor of modern power, the Leviathan, remains, to use Donald Winnicott’s terms, a mere transitional object, which helps to situate the psychosomatic events in the context of sociopolitical theory.

I now return to Hobbes through Foucault, whose thoughts on death and its relation to power become relevant to the subject of drives, their source, and their processes of formation.

2. The Void, Drives, Automata 

The most important thing that Hobbes says in Leviathan, which I think is still relevant to a considerable extent, is that death is the absolute master, and the fear of death forces the subjects to adapt to the existing social order. Leviathan feeds on this fear of death, and it is Leviathan itself that instills the fear of death in people. If we keep in mind that in Western societies death is associated with nothing/ness, it becomes clearer why and how Foucault’s use of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon in Discipline and Punish as a metaphor of the modern power structure which has nothing/ness at its centre gains new significance.     

At the periphery, an annular building; at the center, a tower; this tower is pierced with white windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lightning and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.[4]  

            Foucault, without directly referring to him, shows that Hobbes’s monster has become a machine. I argue that this machine is itself in a process of transformation today, and is in the way of taking the form of something that is neither organic nor inorganic, neither visible nor invisible, but felt. This is power as affective force. Power can no more be represented by metaphors. For metaphor is a concept that belongs to the world of metaphysics which exists only as a fantasy world, whereas today power has a more material existence than it has ever had and its materiality splits as it unites the psychosomatic and the sociopolitical realms of experience.

The automatization of power, that is, transformation of power from an organic state, as demonstrated by Hobbes, towards an inorganic state, as demonstrated by Foucault, has been studied in a different way and in a different context by Mark Poster in his Foucault, Marxism, and History. Influenced by Poster’s interpretation of Foucault in relation to Marxism, and in the context of the relationship between discourse and power, I reassert, in a different way and for different reasons, that Foucault’s conceptualization of the Panopticon is useful and yet insufficient in understanding the workings of power today in the face of the recent developments in technology.

In this new situation the subjects know that they are still locked in the Panopticon, but pretend that they are free floating across the Superpanopticon.  This is because they are being locked deeper into the Panopticon; and there finding themselves dismembered, losing themselves in the terrible condition of being pushed further into the hitherto undiscovered corners of one’s own room, in their cells.

A new formulation of Foucault’s concept of bio-power, the Superpanoptic discourse reverses the roles of Eros and Thanatos; abuses our understandings and misunderstandings of the life drive and the death drive, as well as manipulating our inner conflicts and turning us into antagonists. It does this by erasing the necessary boundary between life and death, the organic and the inorganic, so as to create the conditions of possibility for manufacturing an illusory sense of oneness with the world, hence uniting the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation which should remain separate from and/but contiguous to one another for the perpetual transformation and multiplication of life forms to take place at the same time.

Now I will attempt to make a leap forward in the direction of theorizing a practical way of handling the conflict between material production and metaphysical production. In what follows, therefore, I try to show how this conflict arises and how it turns into an antagonism.

It is the projection-introjection mechanism operating within and through the capillaries of the body without organs across the new Earth only to reproduce that which it had attempted to expulse as an organ without a body on the old Earth that produces the two poles of the unhealthy conflict. One being social and the other metaphysical, and being against one another, these two are feeding neither themselves nor the other, but contributing to the production of otherness as negativity, hence taking part in the setting of the very vicious trap in which they find themselves against each other and out of which they both come dismembered. They are locked in an agonizing process, which is destroying both of them. It is impossible for one to survive without the other, and yet they prefer to eat one another. Social production produces exclusion of the other, metaphysical production produces an illusory image of the other. When these two modes of production work together they create the conditions of impossibility for a non-illusory and non-antagonistic mode of being.

We shall add to this, that although the problem is inherent in the projection-introjection mechanism itself we are looking for the source of our maladies outside. We are projecting all our bad qualities onto the others and then accusing them of being negative towards us. In turn we are giving birth to the negativity of the other, or otherness as negativity. The negative within and without us is being created by us since we introject what we have projected and inversely.

 

3. The Subject and Power

The relationship between the subject and power is a theme that has played a significant role in determining the direction of European thought since Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. Both the Frankfurt School thinkers such as Horkheimer and Adorno, and the poststructuralists such as Deleuze and Foucault, took on this subject as one of the objects of their studies in different ways. Although I was deeply influenced by Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution before the beginning of this thesis, I later on turned towards Deleuze and Foucault to find tools for repairing the restrictive implications of the early Frankfurt School thought. I think post-structuralism and critical theory have a lot more to offer to one another that can be used in practical critique of the predominant order in particular and nihilisms in general, than many, such as Habermas, suggest.

Having taken what I wanted from both parties, I asymmetrically placed them into one another’s contexts with the aim of analyzing the relationship not only between post-structuralism and critical theory, but also between theory and practice. I projected these two forms of thought onto one another. My aim was to theorize a practical way of looking at the world which could be turned into action in accordance with the demands of the present. I used practical Kleinian looking glasses and what I saw was and remains uncanny. I found Thomas Hobbes and Michel Foucault in the form of a snake biting its own tail in a cell, with Marcuse standing firm outside the cell as the guardian angel under the guiding hand of Reich and his orgasm theory.  Upon the emergence of this image that in time took shape on the stage of my internal theatre, I finally managed to determine my direction and object of study.

The point of departure of this thesis is the modern discourse on power that emerged with the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. A response to metaphysics and Christian dogmatism, Enlightenment is a system of thought which proclaims itself to be governed by universal reason alone. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment Horkheimer and Adorno situate Marx and Freud, together with themselves, in this tradition. I situate Foucault himself in this same tradition of Enlightenment.

Michel Foucault’s interpretation of the Panopticon, and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan become relevant here precisely because they present us with metaphors representing an idealized model of modern power structure which takes its driving force from the exploitation of the conflict between the psyche and the soma, reason and non-reason, the life drive and the death drive.

This power structure is not only still dominant, but also increasing its dominance as it decreases its visibility.  It does this by making the subjects believe that they are governed by the reality principle when in fact they are governed by the pleasure principle. This situation causes a shift in the subject’s conception of health. I’ll come back to this in the future, but now I have to mention something else which is very closely linked to this shift in the subject’s conception of health.

Enlightenment signifies the secularization of the authority of the Big Other, and erection of instrumental reason in the place of the absolute authority of the Bible. In this light Enlightenment appears to be merely a change of roles between the masters and the slaves; the problem inherent in the metaphysical world of representation remains the same. Walter Benjamin, for instance, warns against this trap set by the panoptic mechanism which creates a Leviathan within the subject. In his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin argues that cinema can turn out to be a fascist propaganda machine if it falls in the wrong hands. Benjamin is not only against the aestheticization of politics but also the politicization of aesthetics. What remains unthought in Benjamin’s essay, though, is the ideology of representational and metaphysical conceptions of non-reason, which is itself the problem inherent in the structure of the system.

Here it is also important to emphasize my difference from Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse considered modern western capitalist societies to be sick. He thought himself as the healthy subject outside a sick society and determined his goal as the healing of this sick society. Marcuse’s political philosophy as therapy is no more sufficient for the increasingly sophisticated problems of today. For power has become more than oppressive/repressive.

4. The Imprisoned Creators of Our Times

If we look at the contemporary electronic music scene we see that the three dimensional sounds created are non-representational to such an extent that it is as though there is a living organism from a completely another dimension making organic noises in the room. I will return to the relevance of electronic music in a little while, but first let me revisit Herbert Marcuse’s theory of how capitalism keeps itself alive by feeding on the death of the counter-subjectivities and the life of the dominant consuming subject governed by the life drive which is itself externally constituted within the subject.

In a nutshell, Marcuse’s theory in One-Dimensional Man was that the one dimensional market society absorbs and turns the counter-cultural products into its own agents, reducing the two-dimensional to the one-dimensional, hence making the forces of resistance serve the purpose of strengthening what they are counter to. Marcuse’s problem was the dissolution of the two-dimensional sphere of counter-cultural production and its domination by the one-dimensional relations. He suggested using mythological imagery  not only to make sense of the pre-dominant social reality, but also to create a counter-social reality which would at the same time be a critique of the existing social reality. What Marcuse said is still relevant to a certain extent, but to be able to use this theory one has to adapt it to the demands of the present situation. What I will attempt to do, therefore, is to ignore the irrelevant parts of Marcuse’s theory and try to find out those parts of it that matter for my concerns. It is true that Marcuse’s theory is no more sufficient in understanding and solving the problems of our Superpanoptic societies. And yet in it there are lots of insights with high potential for development in the service of psychosomatic and sociopolitical progress today.

Today even Madonna’s latest release, Confessions on the Dance Floor, is produced in a DJ’s room in London. The electronic dance music products are mostly produced in people’s bedrooms on a personal computer donated with software especially produced for making electronic music. The recent shift in the gears of electronic dance music, of course, is a cause of the amazing possibilities the digital sound machines present. These machines have no material existence; they are loaded on the computer in the form of digital data. One can have a studio loaded into one’s computer by pressing a few buttons on the keyboard. In this context, making music requires technical knowledge of the tools of production more than the knowledge of the rules of what is called making music. With electronic music the sounds are already there, loaded into the computer; all one needs to do to become a music producer has become putting these sounds together, making them overlap with one another in a positively disordered way and produce something that is neither the one nor the other.

If we imagine for a moment Beethoven making his music after the orchestra plays it, composing the piece after it is materialized, we can see how paradoxical the situation the producer is caught up in inherent in the production process of electronic music is. It is as if Beethoven wrote the notes of his music as he listened to the orchestra play it. We can see that this is in fact exactly the opposite of what Beethoven did. For in the case of Beethoven, unlike the electronic music producer, it is the internal orchestra in the psyche that plays the piece as Beethoven writes it, not an actual orchestra in its material existence. With electronic music that internal orchestra is not in the creator’s mind, but in the computer. 

Some of the more creative and experimentalist logics in this field record the noises coming from within their bodies, or from within other animals’ bodies, load them into the computer, and with the aid of synthesizers and effects units, turn these noises into the basic rhythms and melodies of their music. Heartbeat, for instance, can be used as drum and bass at the same time in some electronic music recordings. It is possible to dub-out, echo, delay, deepen, darken, lighten, slow down, or fasten up the sound of heartbeat with the computer. And after a proper mastering process you get something that sounds neither totally organic, nor totally inorganic.  These products are not only digitally bought and sold on the internet, but also exchanged with similar other products.

The affective qualities of these products are extremely high. The producers of the five most developed forms of electronic music, which are Techno, House, Electro, Trance, and Breakbeat, claim that they are the beholders of the threshold between the soma and the psyche, that with their walls of sound they keep them separate and yet contiguous to one another. 

What we witness in this time is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World turning into Rave New World.  A world in which the well known and the so called lines between mind and body, fantasy and reality, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, life and death, are not just blurred, but have completely disappeared. And yet, at the same, these lines are in the process of reappearance.

The recent developments in electronic music present us with a good example of how the inorganic has become, at least in sound, more organic than the organic. With the rapid development of sound producing machines it has become possible to create such sounds that while listening to it one feels like there is a living organism from a strangely familiar realm making noises in the room, or worse still, that the noises are coming from within one’s mind and body. Listening to this kind of music makes the mutual exclusiveness of the somatic and the psychic irrelevant. Especially after the three dimensional medium presented by CDs and DVDs it has become possible to present the sound to masses in a form that sounds more real than the original, live recording.

It would be wrong to assume, as many have done, that this kind of music is in touch with only a few listeners. On the contrary, since not only the listeners but also the producers of this kind of music have started to occupy dominant positions in the advertisement production business, it is not surprising that electronic music, and especially the underground minimalist techno-electro is increasingly being used as the background music surrounding the object advertised in many advertisements on radio and T.V. Based on the erasure of the boundary between the psychic and the somatic, or between the inorganic and organic, the use of minimalist electronic music in the advertisements of today’s hectic life-styles is a very good example to the exploitation of the life/death drives inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture driving and driven by what has almost become transglobal capitalism.  The LG U880 ultra-slim mobile phone advert on T.V. is precisely the hard-core of how this exploitation of the life/death drives takes place. In the advert there is heart beating in the phone. Or, the heart is shown to have a transparent phone surrounding it. And with the minimalist techno at the back, that is, sounds that are neither organic nor inorganic but both at the same time. The beating heart in the phone create the deep and dark bass sound with extremely electronic and yet organic sounding noises coming from within the phone.  It’s as though it is one’s own heart beating in the phone; this phone is you, so it’s yours… If we keep in mind that the transparency of the phone is fleshy, for there are capillaries of the phone, the overall impression created is one of ultra minimalist life reduced to its bare bones when in reality the LG U880 mobile phone is itself the product of exactly the opposite of an ultra minimalist attitude. The message is that this mobile phone is what attaches you to life, when in fact it detaches you from life as it is. The finishing words, “Life is Good,” only confirms my critique of this advertisement, of this marvellous sound-image which is an inorganic object disguised as a living organism. It is obvious that what’s at work here is the exploitation/oppression of the life/death drives, as the inorganic replaces the organic, and the real of death in the midst of life is expelled.

In this situation which I found myself Benjamin’s and Marcuse’s theories are insufficient in that they do not realize that it is precisely the reversing of the roles policy, that is, presentation of something as its opposite, of an inorganic entity as an organic entity for instance, or of that which is inside as if it is outside, that has to be left behind, for Panopticon and Leviathan are within and without the subject at the same time, and a reverse of the roles of the inside and the outside means nothing in this perilous time. 

For the solution of problems posed by the advanced projection-introjection mechanisms of what have become Superpanoptic societies, I attempt to show that post-structuralism and critical theory have never been as mutually exclusive as many suggest, especially in terms of the wrong and right questions that they left unanswered. If we look at Adorno’s and Foucault’s writings we can see that most of their thought is directed towards finding how to reconcile theory and practice. Just as theory and practice, post-structuralism and critical theory, too, are always already reconciled, because they come from Nietzsche, Marx, Freud. They may be always already reconciled but the only way to actualize this reconciliation is to realize their common goal; to put theory in the service of ordinary life, to develop the conditions of existence, and to practice freedom. 

 It will almost sound offensive to say that the new emerges only if some people become traitors and shake the foundations of their own mode of being, or at least undertake opening up spaces so that light can shine among all, or death can manifest itself. But one must take the risk of offending some others, for every situation requires its expression, every problem bears within itself at least half of its own solution. It is all a matter of putting theory and practice in the service of one another. Theory that does not match the truth of its time is for nothing. It is important to theorize practical ways of dealing with the banal accidents of an ordinary life. I think what I have just said is one of the things that both Foucault and Adorno would have agreed on.

5. The Nietzschean Subject

Here I turn to Nietzsche who creates the concept of bad conscience as the generator of illness, which is in turn fed by the illness it generates, giving birth to the man of ressentiment. Nietzsche’s ressentiment is what Klein calls envy. To be able to see the link between envy/ressentiment and the will to nothingness/the life-death drives, I shall start from the beginning, from the first year of life.

The Nietzschean subject is always at the periphery and perpetually in touch with the objects surrounding him. In fact he is not only in touch but also is defined by them. This subject is produced through what it consumes. The subject buys things and those things determine the subjects identity which is a non-identity. The subject becomes what it consumes, it projects what it has introjected. In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society. This paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.

The relation of a subject to the objects surrounding him/her shows us something about the subject’s relation to death. In a world which use value as opposed to the exchange value is important, the subject gets to know the nature of the objects and death more profoundly. But today use value is itself determined by exchange value. The world today is almost exactly the opposite of a world in which nothing is a substitute for another thing.

With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.

Global capitalism indeed appears to have rendered everyone equal in relation to each other. They all have the equal rights to consume but in no way have all the means to do so. This status of the subject as a mere consumer, objectifies the subject as a subject of consumption. The subject is reduced to a consuming-excreting machine(naturally), or a mechanism of introjection-projection(culturally). That makes everyone substitutable by anyone else; they can take on each other’s roles, act themselves out as they are not, as someone else is. In other words rather than become no-one, no-body, imperceptible, they become something exchangeable and expendable. And yet it is only on the condition of feeling oneself as nothing rather than something, feeling of self as nothingness, can one go beyond one’s symbolic life driven by striving for security and omniscience. The subject should start to see the reduction of self to nothingness as a gain when from the perspective of the already existing symbolic order it is a loss of the difference of everything in relation to a subject or an object. In the absence of this kind of a subject who does not want to become an ordinary symbolic person, herd-instinct dominates all subjects. With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.

Now that Nietzsche’s autobiographical book Ecce Homo has become a symptom, an effect of his previous books, the other within of his oeuvre, in most parts of Europe, but especially in the United States of America and Britain, this book is considered to be a  prescription for the predominant way of “healthy living.” It will almost sound offensive to say that the other within of the past has become the self of the present, the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain: 

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?

 Intermediation 1

In the previous chapter I tried to introduce certain Freudian concepts in relation to post-structuralism and critical theory. The importance of this first chapter lies in its attempt to link the concepts of the life drive and the death drive created approximately a century ago to contemporary cultural and critical theory. In the next chapter I will try to frame the context of the disagreement between Klein and Lacan in relation to Freud. The aim of this second chapter is to link the life drive and the death drive to the processes of introjection and projective identification. The chapter also includes an analysis of Derridean deconstruction in relation to the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position in the context of introjection and projective identification. On the whole the following chapter aims at connecting psychoanalytic theory and practice to more philosophical issues concerning creative and critical processes. 

 


[1] Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society, and Religion, trans. Angela Richards (London: Pelican, 1985)

[2] Freud, 357

[3] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1985), 279

[4] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 200

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

1. Passing Across The Dead Zone and Moving Towards The Dread Zone

It is early 1974, “in Washington, Richard Nixon was being pressed slowly into a corner, wrapped in a snarl of magnetic tapes. […] In Room 619 of the Eastern Maine Medical Center, Johnny Smith still slept. He had begun to pull into a fetal shape.”[1]

In Stephen King’s novel The Dead Zone, adapted to cinema by David Cronenberg, the main character Johnny Smith stays in a coma for five years. He wakes up to a cold winter to find himself with a limp, and separated from his girlfriend. Johnny starts to see evil everywhere; he reads the consequences of the evil thoughts in people’s minds across time. A sense for evil, together with an ability to see the past, the present and the future, it becomes impossible for Johnny to bear the burden of being in the world. He comes to realize that what he thought was an extraordinary psychic power is in fact an evil curse which makes life inordinately painful. Willing to escape from this unbearable situation that is turning him into the playground of good and evil, he falls deeper into the trap of a monstrous man, Gregg Stillson, the embodiment of evil in the world, who finds out Johnny’s secret and wants to abuse it. Johnny takes the wrong turn, because he didn’t know that “the dreadful had already happened.” Directed by the monstrous man he “wills nothingness rather than not will,” and dies a tragic death at the end.  

Little by little this brawny young dock-walloper had severed his connections with the world, wasting away, losing his hair, optic nerves degenerating into oatmeal behind his closed eyes, body gradually drawing up into a fetal position as his ligaments shortened. He had reversed time, had become a fetus again, swimming in the placental waters of coma as his brain degenerated. An autopsy following his death had shown that the folds and convolutions of his cerebrum had smoothed out, leaving the frontal and prefrontal lobes almost utterly smooth and blank.[2]           

Johnny’s rearrival, his return from the unconscious to the conscious state, from the land of the dead to the world of the living, with extraordinary psychic powers, a sense of omnipotence which turns out to be the source of death, is described by King in terms of a rebirth, a coming out of the womb after the second (nearer) death experience.

Johnny Smith is at first almost exactly the opposite of a clinical and criminal psychotic. Johnny does not identify, he refuses to believe in other worldly things, there is no struggle between good and evil in his world, in his world there is no evil, no third party. In Johnny’s world there is only him, Sarah, and their “eternal love.”  Living in an illusory heaven, Johnny is unaware of the dangers surrounding him, but in King’s world the evil shall surely show his multiple faces to scare the hell out of those people.

After the tragic and yet banal accident Johnny becomes a clinical but not a criminal psychotic. Johnny identifies himself with Jesus, he refuses to believe in the world as it is, there begins a constant struggle between good and evil in his mind. He has lost Sarah and their eternal love, and the evil forces surrounding their earlier happiness prevailed. Johnny’s illusory heaven becomes an illusory hell. As it usually happens in King’s world the evil shows his multiple faces and scares the hell out of the reader.

King’s novels are cathartic in a very Aristotelian sense of the word. And yet it’s precisely this cathartic effect disguised as subversive and critical of the established order that reproduces the order and produces psychotic replicas. King is a very unique example of how monstrous a unification of the therapeutic and the critical could be. There are two traumatic incidents leaving their traces on his life as Johnny goes along the way towards death. In this novel which is difficult to categorize as “horror” unless that is what horror actually is, Johnny Smith finds himself in an unbearable situation that sends him to an early grave. What seems to him to be a gift of life turns out to be a gift of death. Johnny is cursed by a “second sight” after two banal accidents, one in early childhood, one in adolescence, which submit him to the domination of the “power” of his wounds. And with the already there circumstances, that is, a society dying to believe in “the power of the wound,” “apocalypse,” “return of the living dead,” “transcendental experiences” and so on, Johnny becomes a tragic, Christ-like hero who feels compelled to sacrifice himself for the deliverance of salvation to the people. His mother sees it as an occasion for celebration that Johnny is mortally wounded when they tell her that he is in a coma: “God has put his mark on my Johnny and I rejoice.”[3]            

Choose, something inside whispered. Choose or they’ll choose for you, they’ll rip you out of this place, whatever and wherever it is, like doctors ripping a baby out of it’s mother’s womb by cesarian section.[4]

            And in accordance with the demands of his “inner voice,” Johnny Smith, in The Dead Zone, chooses resurrection. After five years of deep coma Johnny wakes up to a nightmare and finds himself as the one whose destiny it has become after two banal accidents of life to set things right and prevent heaven’s becoming hell. King knows that the reader’s assumption is that there is something inside to be protected from the external threats. The desire of the reader is the desire of the threat as external rather than internal to the self. King satisfies the reader’s desire by giving him/her the most beloved son Johnny as the gift; “the gift of death” as Derrida would have put it. Johnny fulfils the reader’s desire not only for an external threat but also for a saviour hero from within, one of “us.” Johnny emerges from his coma as the embodiment of the Christ-like figure, King’s son, whose mission it is to die and preserve the heaven-like qualities of this small American town in particular, and the universe in general.

 Upon his return to the symbolic order, from the unconscious state of coma, Johnny finds himself surrounded by people who are trying to exploit his extraordinary psychic powers, confronted with what Freud, in On Narcissism, calls “hallucinatory wishful psychosis” on a social level. It’s as though the whole society is in the grip of a paralysis and through their collective hallucination they cling to life. And Johnny becomes not only the thread tying them to their illusions, but also the one who preserves those illusions by sacrificing himself. Since this aspect of Johnny’s melodramatic story is more precisely expressed in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the novel, I now turn to Cronenberg’s film.

Cronenberg emphasizes that Greg Stillson is the man who is the manipulator, the one who creates and sells illusionary images of himself. In Cronenberg’s film Johnny’s visions are placed directly in opposition to Stillson’s fantastic images of self. Towards the end of the film, Johnny, no more able to stand the half-dead life he is living in isolation, decides to put his visions to a good use. He attends one of Stillson’s campaigns and shakes Stillson’s hand to see into him. What Johnny sees is Stillsson as the evil president of the future, who has the fate of the whole world in his control. Johnny sees him pressing the button of a nuclear bomb behind closed doors. Finally Johnny makes up his mind and at a later Stillson campaign, this time in a church, attempts to assassinate Stillson. Sarah is there with her baby, and she notices Johnny just as he is about to pull the trigger. Distracted by Sarah’s cry, Johnny misses the target. Stillson takes Sarah’s baby and holds it up as a shield against Johnny’s bullets. Meanwhile Johnny is being shot by Stillson’s guards. A photographer takes Stillson’s picture while he is using the baby as a shield and this picture becomes the front cover of the Time magazine, not only ending Stillson’s career as a politician but also leading him to suicide.    

In the film the atmosphere is extremely melancholic. Johnny is portrayed as a much more repressed, melodramatic individual who at the same time has a romantic vision of life. The traumatic incident, the time he spends in the dead zone, magnifies his will to transcend his body which he sees as a source of agony. He pushes himself further towards isolation to escape from the increasingly sharpening visions. Remember that Johnny sees in the past, present, and future of other people through touching them. Touching another person is a cause of pain for Johnny. As his visions sharpen and turn into sources of pain he moves away from intersubjectivity and towards introversion. It is one of the characteristics of Romanticism to consider trauma, suffering, pain, disaster as possibilities of transcending the flesh. In Cronenberg’s “romanticism turned against itself” we see exactly the opposite. In Cronenberg after the traumatic incident it is a regressive process that starts taking its course, rather than a progressive movement towards eternal bliss. The problem with Cronenberg’s inversion of romanticism is that he still sees the movement towards eternal bliss, towards jouissance as progressive; the difference between the classical romanticism and Cronenberg’s inverted neo-romanticism is that Cronenberg considers that progress to be impossible.

It is at the sight of their condition, upon the realization of the situation they are caught in, that Cronenberg’s characters recoil in horror. And it is at the sight of this that Cronenberg expects the spectator to recoil in horror in a fashion similar to his characters.

2. Narcissus Revisited 

Narcissus can see his other only through an image of himself. In Narcissus the governor of the self is interior to the self. There is projection and introjection but not identification in Narcissus. However, this is not enough to save Narcissus from an early death. As soon as he identifies himself as his own object of love he kills himself. Narcissus is a-social and at the same time he is afraid of seeing the world through eyes that see the world before identification; he cannot see his eye prior to its reflection on the water. Although he sees not through an external authority, the internal authority thinks itself to be the only authority, becomes an introjection of an absent external authority and eventually takes the place of the external authority. Narcissus should learn to see himself and others as they are before identification, before individuation, before personalization, before the guilt, before the vision of existence created by the absent presence of a panoptic eye. He has to retain sanity in the face of the tragedy that he has been the subject and the object of his desire at once all this time. Narcissus fails in doing this and dies an untimely death.

Narcissus cannot stand the thought that the subject and the object are one. And instead of directing his death drive against this unity of the subject and the object he directs it against himself and dies. This death, however, is a product of the nothingness that Narcissus wills, rather than being an outcome of his preferring not to will at all.

3. The Mantle Twins

With Dead Ringers (1988) Cronenberg shows the consequences of an attempt to get rid of the space between the me and the not me. The illusory absence of difference between Mantle twins Beverly and Elliot is their own creation. They identify with one another so much that they think they are one split soul living one life in two different bodies. When they are discussing the deteriorating condition of Beverly, Claire says to Elliot that he shouldn’t identify with Beverly, distance himself from him, and live his own life separate from Beverly. In response to Claire’s suggestion Elliot says, “But the drugs he takes are running in my veins.” Beverly and Elliot are twice split. They are not only split from their mother by birth, but also from one another. They are divided within and against themselves. Let us start from the beginning to make more sense of what happens in Dead Ringers.

Right at the beginning of the film we see Beverly and Elliot, in childhood, talking about the difference between the copulation of fish and humans. One of them suggests that fish are able to reproduce without having sex, and that if humans were living under the water they wouldn’t need to have sex to copulate. They would simply internalise the water through which they would copulate. At the prospect of copulation without touching, the other twin responds by saying, “I like the idea.” The next scene shows Beverly and Elliot approaching a girl and asking her if she wanted to have sex with them in a bathtub as an experiment. They are aggressively rejected and accused of talking dirty.

 From the very beginning Beverly and Elliot see science as a means to attain sex objects and sex objects as means to carry out their scientific projects. A further hint at their tendency to see the female body as something to be experimented upon is given in the following scene where they are seen operating on a plastic doll pinned down on the table. This is their play. For them the object of desire is at the same time the object of science, and science is a form of play. Their diagnosis concerning the patient is intra ovular surgery.

From the year 1954 we shift to the year 1967. Beverly and Elliot are in the faculty of medicine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We see them applying their surgical instrument, their own invention, on a cadaver in the autopsy room. In stark contrast to the professor’s negative attitude towards their radical new instrument, the next scene shows Elliot receiving a gold plate model of their instrument as a prize for their contribution to gynaecology. At home Beverly is working on their future contributions to the field.

The differences between Beverly and Elliot become more obvious with the entry of Claire to their life. Beverly comes to understand that he is different from his brother through his different way of being in relation to Claire. While Elliot sees Claire as merely an object of play (sex and science), rather than as another person, Beverly is more affectionate and wants to sincerely engage in a profound interaction with Claire. And yet Claire’s sexual identity, that is, her masochistic tendency to occupy a passive and submissive position in the relationship makes it impossible for Beverly to escape from the double bind situation he finds himself in. The whole film is a narrative of how one falls into a double bind situation and why it is impossible to escape from this double bind without having to die. 

In Dead Ringers the Mantle twins are locked in the mirror stage. Death emerges as the only way to escape from this entrapment in an endlessly self-perpetuating process of projective identification. Their minoritarian nature, having been born identical twins, leads them to study the womb as the monster that gave birth to them. The Mantle twins’ fascination with deformed wombs, and the instruments they invent to act upon those deformations reflect their deviant relation to birth, motherhood, and sexuality.    

At the culmination of the historical effort of a society to refuse to recognize that it has any function other than the utilitarian one, and in the anxiety of the individual confronting the ‘concentrational’ form of the social bond that seems to arise to crown this effort, existentialism must be judged by the explanations it gives of the subjective impasses that have indeed resulted from it; a freedom that is never more authentic than when it is within the walls of a prison; a demand for commitment, expressing the impotence of a pure consciousness to master any situation; a voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of the sexual relation; a personality that realizes itself only in suicide; a consciousness of the other than can be satisfied only by Hegelian murder.[5]

In the relationship between Beverly and Elliot, the other consciousness is at the same time the consciousness of the self. Beverly and Elliot think that they are the same and yet different from one another at the same time. An impossible situation is situated in the context of gynaecology and the psychic life of a male gynaecologist’s relation to a female patient is used to show what happens when art-sex-science become one. The “voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of sexual relation” Lacan is talking about is precisely the Mantle twins’ relation to the female body and sex. Because they see themselves as a deviation from the norm, they see their mother as the birth giver of an abnormality. Their fascination with the ill-formed female body thus gains a significance in terms of their relation to their mother and birth.

The very existence of imagination means that you can posit an existence different from the one you’re living. If you are trying to create a repressive society in which people will submit to whatever you give them, then the very fact of them being able to imagine something else—not necessarily better, just different—is a threat. So even on that very simple level, imagination is dangerous. If you accept, at least to some extent, the Freudian dictum that civilization is repression, then imagination—and an unrepressed creativity—is dangerous to civilization. But it’s a complex formula; imagination is also an innate part of civilization. If you destroy it, you might also destroy civilization.[6]

 Cronenberg is a much more Freudian director than he would dare to admit.

 Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease.[7]

Freud says that reality and fantasy, external and internal, the self and the world, the psychic and the material are in conflict and that this conflict is always experienced as pain. To compensate for the pain of this fragmentary existence man writes and tries to form a unity which he believes to have once been present and after which he is destined to strive. In Freud’s vision the subject is always in pursuit of an unattainable sense of wholeness, what he calls the “oceanic feeling.” And yet, Freud says, the subject can turn this negative situation into a positive one by creating works of art and literature in the way of producing at-one-ment with the world, although for Freud, this at-one-ment is impossible to attain, and if literature has any therapeutic effect at all, it is only to the extent of turning indescribable misery into ordinary unhappiness. Freud says, “the substitutive satisfactions, as offered by art, are illusions in contrast with reality, but they are none the less psychically effective, thanks to the role which phantasy has assumed in mental life.”[8]

Freud’s idea that imagination in general and writing in particular is a desperate attempt to return to the womb, to the state of being before birth, is clearly manifest in Dead Ringers. In the womb Beverly/Elliot was one and their choice of profession is a sign of their striving for that long lost oneness within themselves, with each other, and with their mother. What Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, calls the “oceanic feeling,” that is, the security of existence within the womb, tied to the mother with the umbilical cord, and swimming in the placental waters in foetal shape without the danger of drowning, is what Mantle twins are striving for. According to Cronenberg they wish they were fish. Cronenberg sees barbaric regress as an inevitable consequence of progress.

This gives us our indication for therapeutic procedure – to afford opportunity for formless experience, and for creative impulses, motor and sensory, which are the stuff of playing. And on the basis of playing is built the whole of man’s experiential existence. No longer are we either introvert or extrovert. We experience life in the area of transitional phenomena, in the exciting interweave of subjectivity and objective observation, and in an area that is intermediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the world that is external to individuals.[9]

Freud’s and Winnicott’s methods of therapy are based on the pursuit of a lacking sense of unity of self and the world. This form of therapeutic procedure forces the subject to ego formation, normalization, and submissiveness to the existing order of meaning. Freud considers the state of being in harmony with the world as the sign of health and development of the capacity to repress the drives and making sharp distinctions between the internal and external worlds, and between the conscious and the unconscious mind as a sign of progress. Although Winnicott, like Freud, assumes that there is an originary split between the internal and the external worlds, he at the same time differs from Freud in that his therapeutic process involves some kind of a journey that the therapist takes with the patient. In this kind of therapeutic relationship the therapist engages in a spontaneous interaction through playing with the rules of the game itself. In this process the role of the therapist is to render the patient capable of learning to play. In turn the therapist himself learns to relate to the patient through a kind of unconscious communication. 

What we have both in the Mantle twins and Freud and Winnicott then, is a will to transcend the material world through material tools. Mantle twins’ aim is to go beyond the material world and unite with one another in a dimension where the psychic and the material, the self and the other become one. The surgical instruments Beverly invents after Claire goes away for two weeks, are parallel to his mental deterioration. As he turns against himself, so do the surgical instruments turn into weapons against the patients. The sharp and pointed instruments represent Beverly’s regressive movement towards aggressive barbarism. The Mantle Retractor is replaced by objects to dig into the body.  These instruments are a result of Beverly’s attempt to externalise the illusionary space created by loss of the object of love. By digging holes he thinks he will have restored himself. The instruments he creates eventually turn against him and his brother, destroying both in the process.

It is a recurrent theme of Cronenberg films that what the subject himself created turns against the subject and becomes the very cause of the subject’s death. In Videdodrome (1982) for instance we see Max, the victim of a video program which is inserted into the subject’s body and possessed, the subject acts unconsciously in the service of the monstrous forces behind the screen. All Videodrome tapes do is to bring out what’s already in the subject. That is, make the subject’s unconscious fantasies appear on the surface of the screen. In other words it turns the subject into a projection-introjection mechanism. At the end of the movie we see Max’s hand turning into the gun he was holding. He is seeing himself on the screen killing himself, and in the next scene he is killing himself in front of the screen onto which he had already projected the scenario of his own death. He introjects what he himself projects, and what he projects is already an effect of what he had introjected. What we have here is a deconstruction of the relationship between the screen and the mirror.  Not only the screen is a mirror, but also the mirror is a screen. The Videodrome tapes are the partial-objects which when united through the subject’s body, take over the body and manifest themselves in the actions of the subject. The subject becomes, in a way, an object of violence against itself and others.

 4. Consequences of Messing With Nature

With the aim of changing the past, an impossible thing to do, the subject messes with nature, and his intrusion causes the very event which he was trying to prevent from happening. Just like Oedipus’s father who, in escape from a prophecy, falls victim to his choice of way to escape, and becomes the victim of his own choice. And his choice is, in the first place, to believe in the prophecy. It is as soon as he puts his belief into action that he prepares the grounds of his subjection to an external force. His own construct, that external force, governs his actions independently of his intentions. There still is a governor but this governor is an internally constituted external force.

What Lacan calls the unconscious is the dead zone in-between the subject and the signifier. Or the state of non-being in the space between the state of being governed by drives and the entry into the symbolic order. The unconscious understood as the dead zone in between the subject and language, is at the same time the gap between being and becoming. Entry into the symbolic is associated with a passage from the state of being, through non-being and into the symbolic order of becoming.

Melanie Klein takes the beginning of becoming to as early as the first months of life. In her analysis of the “Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict and of Super-ego Formation,” Klein looks for the causes of aggression and sadistic impulses in the normal development of the child.

The child also has phantasies in which his parents destroy each other by means of their genitals and excrements which are felt to be dangerous weapons. These phantasies have important effects and are very numerous, containing such ideas as that the penis is, incorporated in the mother, turns into a dangerous animal or into weapons loaded with explosive substances; or that her vagina, too, is transformed into a dangerous animal or some instrument of death, as, for instance, a poisoned mouse-trap. Since such phantasies are wish phantasies, the child has a sense of guilt about the injuries which, in his phantasy, his parents inflict on each other.[10]     

Creativity going wrong and producing weapons rather than surgical tools is a recurrent theme in Cronenberg films. What we see in Dead Ringers and Videodrome is the same process of degeneration, a worstward movement of the experiment undertaken, in different fields of knowledge. Just as Max’s sadistic fantasies turn against him, the Mantle twins’ surgical instruments turn into sharp edged weapons which they direct against themselves at the end. What is portrayed is the characters’ inability to pass from the state of being governed by the unconscious drives, to conscious desiring. The passage from death drive to the desiring production is never achieved in Cronenberg’s films. As we have seen in eXistenZ the subjects only become capable of desiring when they are in the virtual world of the game, attached to an organic bio-port with an umbilical cord. In escape from the realists Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hides in her own game. At the end of the film we learn that even her escape from the realists was part of the game, a construct of her own psyche, her own creation. We also learn that eXistenZ is only a game within another game called transCendenZ and that the realists trying to annihilate the project turn out to be Allegra Geller and her security guard (Jude Law). As it was in Videodrome so too it is in eXistenZ; what the virtual world of another reality does is to sustain the subject with the environment in which he/she can act out his/her fantasies in a virtual realm beyond the flesh. Within the game Allegra and the security guard can make love, outside it they have a purpose; they have to free desire from the confines of virtuality and restore it to its true place, that place being the material world.

When Jude Law refuses to undergo the operation of being penetrated by what looks like a big machine gun, so that the bio-port can be plugged into him, Allegra Geller says, “this is it, you see! This is the cage of your own making. Which keeps you trapped and pacing about in the smallest space possible. Break out of the cage of your own, break out now.” Allegra Geller sees the physical world as limiting and unsatisfying. To go beyond this limited existence she creates an illusory time-space in which the player is in the service of his/her unconscious drives which are themselves represented in material objects. When the bio-port is plugged into the subject the subject’s five senses are governed by the sensual effects the game creates on the subject. The illusion of safety and security is the result of the depersonalization of experience; it is the Other that plays the game through me. A fantasy world which keeps death at bay, an impersonal consciousness that thinks through me, and a body that never dies. What the game eXistenZ does, then, is to promise immortality in a spiritual realm beyond the flesh. And yet it does this through stimulating the centres of reception in the body which activate the five senses. When Jude Law licks Allegra Geller’s bio-port hole she immediately withdraws and asks, “what was that?” Surprised at his own act, Jude Law says, “That wasn’t me, it was my game character. I couldn’t have done that!” After a very brief silence they realize that since they are in the game they can’t be held responsible for their actions and start kissing passionately.

            The umbilical cords in eXistenZ, which seem to connect the subject with a world beyond the physical, in which there is no guilt, no responsibility, and no death, turn out to be the chain of negativity chaining the subject to a detached, meaningless, inauthentic existence. It was Hegel who pointed out that freedom without society is meaningless and not freedom as such. For freedom to become freedom it should be situated in a historical context and hence gain its meaning in relation to time. What Heidegger borrows from Hegel is this idea of the necessity of the social for any meaningful activity to take place. Heidegger’s attitude is very different from the Romantic understanding of freedom as something that can only be experienced in isolation, where, detached from his social environment, the subject bonds in a more profound way with nature, and unite with all the forces of nature in a state of euphoria.

This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage, still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject.[11]

Lacan’s Mirror Stage describes the child’s first confrontation with its image of itself on the mirror. Lacan says that the child is not as unified as it sees itself on the mirror. But the child needs this illusion of unity to be able to see itself as a being in the world. This is when the sense of omnipotence begins in the child.

The primary process—which is simply what I have tried to define for you in my last few lectures in the form of the unconscious—must once again, be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness, in that non-temporal locus, I said, which forces us to posit what Freud calls, in homage to Fechner, die Idee anderer Lokalitat, the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between perception and consciousness.[12]

If we keep in mind that the primary process is the death-drive then we can see that Lacan’s shift is away from Cartesian dualisms of subject and object, mind and body, nature and culture. In Lacan there is an opposition to a Heideggerian attitude towards the world and its relation to the self. A third world is introduced in addition to the imaginary and the real. And this third world is the symbolic. For Lacan, between the illusory sense of omnipotence and the symbolic loss of self with the acquisition of language, there is a dead zone, a space in-between, a gap between the symbolic and the imaginary. That space is the Lacanian Unconscious, the Real which refers to what Descartes called Cogito, Freud Ego, and Heidegger non-being. 

What Descartes and to some extent Freud presuppose is that there is a cogito before anything else, that there is an ego that says “I.”  There can be no self in relation to an external world before language. There is nothing before the subject says “I.” For the ego to begin to exist and develop it has to acquire language and say “I” first. The real entry into the symbolic takes place when the subject is sufficiently equipped with language and capable of realizing that “I” is an illusion, that the self who is to say “I” is lost upon entry into the realm of language. This illusion, however, this imaginary self who says “I,” should be preserved at least to a minimal extent, otherwise the Real slips through and life becomes painful. It is a necessary illusion, the subject, if one wants to be able to do things. Fantasies are illusions we need to keep the Real of our desire at bay.

Is it not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassimilable in it—in the form of the trauma, determining all that follows, and imposing on it an apparently accidental origin? We are now at the heart of what may enable us to understand the radical character of the conflictual notion introduced by the opposition of the pleasure principle and the reality principle—which is why we cannot conceive the reality principle as having, by virtue of its ascendancy, the last word. [13]

So the Real is in-between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. The conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle takes place when and if the subject falls victim to the drives and the pleasure principle by letting himself be governed by the unconscious drives.

For Lacan progress takes place when and if the subject passes from the state of being governed by unconscious drives to becoming capable of desiring and being desired. Since for Lacan desire is the desire of the Other, desire is essentially social and symbolic, which means that it is the drive that is prior to the symbolic, and the imaginary is the support of the reality principle, without which the Real would enter the scene and destroy the subject.  Lacan forgets that death-drive is the cause of conflict as well as being its effect. The death-drive preceeds and proceeds the conflict at the same time. But with the traumatic incident the subject’s relation to the Real changes. The direction of this change may lead to destruction as much as it may lead to creation. It is a matter of becoming capable of using the unconscious drives in the way of producing new forms of life.

 5. Naked Lunch and The Body Without Organs

The Naked Lunch I am concerned with here is David Cronenberg’s film about William Burroughs’ writing process of Naked Lunch. The film, rather than being a direct adaptation of the novel, is a distillation of Burroughs’s life as he strives to write himself out of the past. We see Burroughs progressively deteriorating to the level of a dumb beast as he tries to make sense of his sufferings in and through writing. In the introduction he wrote for the 1985 edition of his earlier novel Queer, the writing of which dates back to 1953 following the two years period of depression, guilt, and anxiety ridden self-hatred after his accidental shooting of his wife Joan in September 1951, Burroughs, in an almost confessional manner, explicates the sources of his compulsion to write. Writing, for Burroughs, represents his lifelong pursuit of getting out of consciousness and reaching the area between fantasy and reality.   

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.[14]

The death of Joan creates a space within Burroughs into which he escapes, and attempts to fill with his writings. Cronenberg explicates what Burroughs had already implied in his introduction to Queer. In the film writing in particular and creativity in general is shown to be a response to a traumatic incident, that is, production of fantasies to compensate for the horrors of life. As the film proceeds so does the mental deterioration of Bill Lee who represents Burroughs in the movie. The first signs of Lee’s split come when he is arrested by two policemen for “the possession of dangerous substances.” What they are talking about is the bug-powder which, Lee, who was given up writing to become a bug exterminator, uses to kill insects. The two policemen ask him to demonstrate his profession. One of them puts an insect the size of a hand on a pile of bug powder to see if the insect will die. As the insect begins moving its wings, arms, and legs they leave the room and Lee with the insect. As soon as they leave the room the insect tells Lee through a mouth-anus at its back that it has instructions for him, that it comes from the Interzone, that his wife Joan is not actually human and that he has to kill her. The insect asks Lee if he could put some bug powder on its mouth-anus upon the application of which it starts to make noises and movements as if in an orgy. In the next scene we are in reality and Joan is asking Lee to put some bug powder on her lips. As wee see a few scenes later that mouth-anus turns out to be the abyss, the bottomless depth, or the space in-between fantasy and reality in which Lee loses himself and shoots his wife.

This presentation of fantasy and reality side by side occurs throughout the film. It is when the gap between fantasy and reality disappears that the Unconscious manifests itself. In the case of Bill Lee the undesired event is pushed back into the unconscious in turn causing an accumulation of sadistic impulses in him. These sadistic impulses are then externalized in and through writing. For Burroughs writing was cathartic in that it liberated the untamed drives and prevented the manifestation of aggression in the external world. In Cronenberg what we see is almost the opposite of this attitude to writing. As we know from Dead Ringers, Videodrome, and eXistenZ, for Cronenberg writing and creativity have destructive rather than therapeutic effects on the writer. In the film Bill Lee emerges as the culmination of these two opposing views on not only the creative process but also the relationship between the creator and the creation, the subject and the object, mind and body. As the arena of this conflict Bill Lee’s world is that of the one in-between the internal and the external worlds, the Interzone, or in psychoanalytic terms the Unconscious, the Real, where there is no self or not self.     

     Interzone is Tangiers on the North African coast where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in 1953. In those days it was a place of escape for the self-exiled artists and artisans. At Interzone everyone has their own particular universality in one big universal cesspool and that cesspool is Lee’s fantasy world. The Real, or the Unconscious is impossible to represent and all those monsters, bug-typewriters, and disgusting images are only the creations of Lee’s hallucinating mind. In it every universality is surrounded by many other universalities and each universality is a body without organs. Upon arrival at the Interzone Lee starts to see his typewriter as an insect resembling the one which he had first encountered in the interrogation room at the police station. The bug-typewriter becomes the mouth-anus mechanism, the partial object opening a gap through language in-between the body without organs and the organ without a body.

Orality is naturally prolonged in cannibalism and anality in the case of which partial objects are excreta, capable of exploding the mother’s body, as well as the body of the infant. The bits of one are always the persecutors of the other, and, in this abominable mixture which constitutes the Passion of the nursing infant, persecutor and persecuted are always the same. In this system of mouth-anus or aliment-excrement, bodies burst and cause other bodies to burst in a universal cesspool.[15]

Here Deleuze is referring to Melanie Klein’s Psychoanalysis of Children. The state of being which Deleuze summarizes is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child, the world of simulacra. At this stage, which preceeds Lacan’s mirror stage, the child is not yet capable of identification. There is an introjection-projection mechanism going on but the objects, internal and external, are experienced as bad objects. The conception of goodness has not yet developed in the child. Since there is no good object for the child to identify with there is no condition of possibility for the identificatory process with a good or a bad object, there is no self or not self.  

The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position in which identification with a good object takes place. The passage from paranoid-schizoid introjection-projection to manic-depressive identification is the process of passing through the Interzone, or in Lacan’s words “traversing the fantasy.” In Deleuze’s terms this process is the hovering of an impersonal consciousness over the transcendental field of partial objects. The bug-typewriter is Lee’s impersonal consciousness manifesting itself in the form of a paranoid fantasy through the bug-typewriter, a body without organs which is pretending to be an organ without a body. In fact it is neither a body without organs nor an organ without a body and yet it is both at the same time. It is a becoming in between being and non-being.

Cronenberg’s move is away from Burroughs’s Kafkaesque understanding of the body as metaphor and towards a Deleuzean narrative of the metamorphosis of the body in a literal sense. All those self-destructive creators are inverted into the spotlight in and through Croneberg’s films and this enables Cronenberg to contemplate on the creative process as an inversion of destructive process and fill the film with this contemplation. What we see in Naked Lunch is the death drive in conflict with the life drive.

In Deleuze the body without organs is the metaphor of death-drive. And since the death drive is a response to the fragmentation of the self, it can only take the form of a paranoid fantasy projected onto the Real. The body without organs is the partial objects brought together in a totalizing way, in a way that deprives them of their partialities.

What the schizoid position opposes to bad partial objects—introjected and projected, toxic and excremental, oral and anal—is not a good object, even if it were partial. What is opposed is rather an organism without parts, a body without organs, with neither mouth nor anus, having given up all introjection or projection, and being complete, at this price.[16]

The body without organs, then, is the absence of a connection between the subject’s inside and outside. The subject, in a state of total negation, neither eats nor excretes. It eats nothingness itself and becomes the catatonic (w)hole. It is not out of the body without organs that the subject is born but from the paranoid-schizoid position which consists of a not yet formed consciousness, an impersonal consciousness violently attacking the external world and splitting the given unities. As opposed to the body without organs it consists of projection and introjection of the partial objects surrounding the subject to create fantasies such as an illusionary ego, and learns to keep the body without organs, or the Real at bay. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position which corresponds to the formation of the super-ego and the sustenance of a balance between id, ego, and super-ego.

Burroughs’s cut-up technique is a result of his search for a way of desymbolizing the paranoid symbolic world he had constructed and projected onto the external world. Burroughs thought resymbolization was therapeutic in that it gave voice to the evil within in the way of expelling it. Cut-up technique aims at desymbolizing the totalitarian system surrounding the subject and was a defense against the totalitarian nature of this resymbolization. Burroughs himself admits in a letter written to Kerouac shortly after beginning to use the cut-up and fold-in techniques that “writing now causes me an almost unendurable pain.”[17] In Naked Lunch the movie the theme of the materiality of language recurs through the encounters between the bug-typewriter and Bill Lee. Bill Lee creates an insect within, projects it onto his typewriter, and talks with it.  His creations have taken on lives of their own and are doing and saying things mostly against him.

In Nova Express, Burroughs’s 1964 text, The Invisible Man says, “These colourless sheets are what flesh is made from—Becomes flesh when it has colour and writing—That is Word and Image write the message that is you on colourless sheets determine all flesh.”[18] Burroughs had a strong sense of the materiality of language. When he has The Invisible Man say “becomes flesh when it has colour and writing” he is in a way referring to the Unconscious as the invisible man who is striving to become visible to himself and to others in and through language.

 Foucault’s interpretation of Bentham’s Panoptic mechanism becomes relevant here. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault presents the Panopticon as a metaphor of how power operates within modern western society. A revolutionary apparatus for its time (19th century), Panopticon was more than just a model of prison for Foucault, it was a mechanism to keep an absent eye on the prisoner, to keep them under control at all times.

The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.[19]

The formulation of the concept of Panopticon involves not only seeing without being seen, but also a mechanism that imposes both their differences and their resemblances upon the subjects. So the subject’s difference from other subjects is itself externally constituted, but is also internal to the subject. The subject is the product of the mechanism in which the subject finds/loses itself, and participates in the setting of the trap. Some subjects are produced in such a way as to act on an illusory sense of consciousness, that they are in control of their lives and events surrounding them, that they are freely choosing their destiny, when in fact all the rules and possibilities of action are always already set. In a panoptic mechanism taking on passive and submissive roles bring wealth, love, health, and even happiness. In a panoptic mechanism everyone is a slave, but some are less so than the others. In a panoptic mechanism submissiveness brings power. The system is such that the subject, to feel secure, takes on a passive role. In return the subject is recognized as worthy of a higher step on the social ladder, which brings an illusionary sense of security. The efficiency of the panoptic mechanism depends on its ability to produce submissive/adaptive/rational subjects.  

Burroughs’s mind works exactly like a panoptic mechanism. And I think this has been one of the major concerns of Cronenberg throughout the shooting of the Naked Lunch. What we have in the movie is a man who has been caught up in a trap that he himself set. Bill Lee projects the construct of his psyche onto the external world and it is by doing this that he finds/loses himself in the trap, dismembered. The paranoid fantasy he constructs becomes so powerful that it engulfs him causing his detachment from the external world and leading to the eventual loss of the gap between fantasy and reality. It as this point that the real slips through and tears him apart. He, in his mind, literally becomes a slashed monster, sees himself thus, as he is not, and becomes other than himself. His becoming-other, however, is in the wrong direction, or rather results in a confusion concerning the relationship between the subject and the object.

Burroughs believed that literature gives birth to action. He also saw writing itself as an action. At the end of the film we see Bill Lee at the border on his way back to Annexia from the Interzone. Two guards ask him what his occupation is. He says he is a writer. They want him to demonstrate. He takes out the gun from his pocket. Joan is at the back of the car. It’s time for their William Tell routine. Joan puts a glass on her head. Lee misses the glass and shoots Joan on the head. The guards are satisfied. The spectator witnesses this crime and remembers the person irrelevantly looking out of the window when they were slaughtering Kafka’s K. at the end of The Trial. Who was that person? Was it God? Was it a single man? Was it all of humanity?

 6. The Evil Spirit and The Spiritual Automaton

It is a recurrent theme in science-fiction-thriller movies that in time humanity turns into the slave of its own creation, namely of machines. It is precisely because of this fear of being replaced that humanity attempts to get out of time, out of the physical, and eventually falls on the side of what it was attempting to escape from; be that which they fall in the direction of metaphysics or pure-physics, in both cases their thought itself becomes machinic.

The Panopticon may even provide an apparatus for supervising its own mechanisms. In this central tower, the director may spy on all the employees that he has under his orders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders […] and it will even be possible to observe the director himself. An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the center of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the director’s own fate entirely bound up with it?[20]

Panopticon, then, is a mechanism that disperses power as it produces submissive subjects. The transparency of the building makes it a model for the exercise of power by society as a whole. The subject becomes one with the mechanism surrounding it and so becomes the effect and the functionary at the same time. In short, the subject starts operating like and feeling itself as a machine. The body is not replaced by a machine but starts to work like the machine it is connected to. This is the contamination of the subject by the object.

Slavoj Zizek points out Deleuze’s emphasis on the passage from metaphor and towards metamorphosis in terms of the difference between “machines replacing humans” and the “becoming-machine” of a man.

The problem is not how to reduce mind to neuronal “material” processes (to replace the language of mind by the language of brain processes, to translate the first one into the second one) but, rather, to grasp how mind can emerge only by being embedded in the network of social relations and material supplements. In other words, the true problem is not “How, if at all, could machines imitate the human mind?” but “How does the very identity of human mind rely on external mechanical supplements? How does it incorporate machines?”[21]

In Cronenberg’s films we see the theme of machines replacing humans in the process of being replaced by the theme of humans connected to machines, or machines as extensions of humans providing them with another realm beyond and yet still within the material world; the psychic and the material horizontally situated next to each other. In eXistenZ, for instance, we have seen how the game-pod is plugged into the subject’s spine through a bio-port and becomes an extension of the body. In Naked Lunch the typewriter becomes Lee’s extension. In Burroughs’s the obsession was still with the machine taking over the body. In Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs the obsession is with body and machine acting upon one another. What Burroughs experienced with his body but was unable to express becomes possible to express with the film. As we know from his writings on his routines Burroughs himself was becoming-machine internally, he was incorporating the dualistic and mechanical vision of the world surrounding him, but he thought his body was being attacked by external forces and the space he occupied was being invaded by forces that belonged to an altogether different realm, an external world. In Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch we see Bill Lee becoming a spiritual automaton to keep the Evil Spirit within at bay. The paradox is that the Evil Spirit is itself his own construction which in turn constructs him as a spiritual automaton constructing an external Evil Spirit.

In what follows I will attempt to show that Cronenberg’s films are caught in a vicious cycle, that they are self-deconstructive, and that if one thinks too much about them they not only turn back on themselves but also collapse in on themselves. This is because they are shut up in themselves in a highly solipsistic fashion and are the victims of the way they attack what they consider to be dangerous for humanity. In short I will try to show how Cronenberg’s films deconstruct themselves and invalidate their own stance before what they criticize, and this turns them into suicidal rituals before which the spectator is expected to recoil in horror.

One example of what I have said concerning the self-deconstruction inherent in Cronenberg’s films is in the middle of Naked Lunch where Tom Frost, also a writer, who appears to be Joan’s husband in Interzone, tells Bill Lee that he has been killing his wife everyday for years.

Tom: There are no accidents. For example, I have been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years.

Lee: What?

Tom: Well, not intentionally, of course. On the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous.

Lee: But you do consciously know it. You just said it. We’re discussing it.

Tom: Not consciously. This is all happening telephatically. Non-consciously.[close-up of Tom’s mouth, his lips moving in disharmony with what he is actually saying] If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else. I’m not actually telling you about the several ways I’m gradually murdering Joan. About the housekeeper Fadela whom I’ve hired to make Joan deathly ill by witchcraft. About the medicines and drugs I’ve given her. About the nibbling away at her self-esteem and sanity that I’ve managed, without being at all obvious about it. [the movement of his lips become harmonious with what he is saying] Wheras Joanie finds that she simply cannot be as obsessively precise as she wants to be unless she writes everything in longhand.

We have to keep in mind before engaging in analysis that all this is happening in Lee’s mind, that Interzone is a construct of his psyche, that he is actually in New York, that he is hallucinating all this Interzone business, and that the year is 1953. What we have here is the loss of the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious mind. However, this is not a real loss of the boundary because we, the spectators, are informed beforehand that all this is happening in Lee’s mind. There is only the inside of Lee’s mind, and if there is anything lost it is the reality of the external world. Lee only hears the echoes of his projections. The murder of Joan has had such an impact on Lee that he is hearing nothing that the other says and he is replacing this nothing with his own scenarios concerning what’s actually going on outside.

            What does the disintegration between Tom’s words and actions signify? It signifies the double-bind situation in which Cronenberg’s films are caught in. In other words he is unconsciously communicating that which he thinks he is not saying. He is unconsciously doing what he thinks he is arguing against; that creativity brings with it destruction, that progress and regress are complementary. In Naked Lunch writing is identified with killing one’s wife. To keep the actual killing of the wife at bay, Lee writes not to rationalize the murder but to irrationalize not-killing one’s wife, and we know this from the fact that Tom Frost’s words are only projections of Lee’s psyche.

This scene also explicates Cronenberg’s attitude towards the recurring theme of a psyche-soma split in his films. But more importantly, since Naked Lunch is mainly concerned with the activity of writing and what happens to someone who is in the process of creating something, this scene deals with the relationship between body and language. Here I will leave aside the exhausted subject of mind-body split who cannot make a distinction between appearance and reality and move towards the more recent theme of the relationship between bodies and languages, with the hope of opening up a field across which one passes and in the process of this passage becomes the embodiment of a new possibility of signification, another sign, neither within nor without the old mode of signification. For this a third dualism is required, and that third dualism, being that of language and Event, has already been worked through by Deleuze.         

7. From Metaphor and Towards Metamorphosis

With Deleuze the Cartesian mind-body dualism has been replaced by body-language dualism. Without being too insistent about it at this stage I would like to hint at where the relationship between these dualisms is heading. I propose, therefore, what Deleuze has already pointed out, namely a new possibility of analysing the nature of dialectics in the context of the relationship between language and its affective quality, what he calls the sense-event. As he puts it in his Time-Image, Deleuze thinks that neither the grounds of mind-body dualism nor those of body-language dualism are sufficient to theorize a progressive movement towards a new mode of signification.

These are no longer grounds for talking about a real or possible extension capable of constituting an external world: we have ceased to believe in it, and the image is cut off from the external world. But the internalisation or integration in a whole as consciousness of self has no less disappeared.[22]

 There is no longer any movement of internalisation or externalization, integration or differentiation, but a confrontation of outside and an inside independent of distance, this thought outside itself and this un-thought within thought.[23]

Deleuze invites exploration of a text in the way of explicating a progressive potential within the text which had hitherto been consciously or unconsciously ignored or neglected, or even repressed. This theme is linked to Deleuze’s life-long concern with Nietzsche’s thought of eternal recurrence and difference qua repetition. The emergence of the unthought within thought requires an encounter with the already thought in such a way as to expose its inner dynamics and hence show what’s inside it as its outside. That is, what the thought seems to be excluding as its other constitutes its subject as self-identical. It is through the exclusion of the other that the subject becomes itself. If we apply this to subject-object relations it becomes obvious that the split between the subject and the object is itself a construct, but nevertheless a necessary construct for the subject’s subsistence. In-between the subject and the object, then, there is an unfillable gap that is constitutive of both the subject and the object.

[…]thought, as power which has not always existed, is born from an outside more distant than any external world, and, as power which does not yet exist, confronts an inside, an unthinkable or un-thought, deeper than any internal world […][24]

For Deleuze new thought can only emerge as a curious absurdity, as in the Beckett case. That is because the new thought, although it comes from within the old thought, is beyond the interiority and the exteriority to a context in its primary emergence. This means that new thought always appears to be a non-sense, for no thought can be meaningful without a context. But non-sense is not the absence of sense. It is, rather, sense with its own particular context which it creates in the process of emergence from out of the old context. Being without the predominant context makes the thought seem absurd, non-sense, but not meaningless, for meaningless means absence of thought.

What is a transcendental field? It can be distinguished from experience in that it doesn’t refer to an object or belong to a subject (empirical representation). It appears therefore as stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self. It may seem curious that the transcendental be defined by such immediate givens: we will speak of a transcendental empiricism in contrast to everything that makes up the world of the subject and the object.[25]

Joe Bosquet must be called Stoic. He apprehends the wound that he bears deep within his body in its eternal truth as a pure event. To the extent that events are actualised in us, they wait for us and invite us in. They signal us: “My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it.” It is a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us; of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us, the Operator: of producing surfaces and linings in which the event is reflected, finds itself again in incorporeal and manifests in us the neutral splendour which it possesses in itself in its impersonal and pre-individual nature, beyond the general and the particular, the collective and the private. It is a question of becoming a citizen of the world.[26]

In this light we now see more clearly what Deleuze is aiming at with his disjunctive synthesis of transcendence and immanence leading to his transcendental empiricism. Empiricism starts from the material world rather than from the metaphysical world which it sees only as a product of the representations of experience through language. In fact, it knows no world other than the material world, and even if it does it prioritizes the physical world over the metaphysical world. Experience of the world before subjectivation is what Deleuze is trying to access. Since reaching the pre-subjective field of partial objects is possible only through language, and he knows that, he says that we have to produce that pre-subjective field which is called the transcendental field of immanence.

The event considered as non-actualized (indefinite) is lacking in nothing. It suffices to put it in relation to its concomitants: a transcendental field, a plane of immanence, a life, singularities.[27]

What we encounter with Deleuze is therefore a replacement not only of body-mind dualism with body-language dualism, but also a beyond of both, a triplicity; body-language-event. The event is the sense-event. It is the emergence of new sense not out of non-sense but out of the old sense, that is, a simultaneous explication of a new sense within the old sense. The new sense always appears in the form of an absurdity at first, but in time, through repetition and persistence this absurdity starts to appear in a new light and becomes new sense. Absurd is not the same as non-sense or absence of sense, but explicates the non-sense inherent in sense, and hence is in-between non-sense and sense. Through the absurd the unconscious manifests itself revealing another realm of consciousness which goes beyond the subject and the object and yet that is at the same time in-between them. This consciousness is the becoming of being. Being is a whole in process, that is, being is its own becoming whole, therefore it is always incomplete and yet whole. Being is an incomplete idea of wholeness which is in the process of becoming present. Since presence can only be at present, and since time is only at present, the pre-subjective impersonal consciousness is in between past and present, that is, in-between non-being and being. The event is the emergence of being out of becoming, what Deleuze calls a static genesis. This emergence, however, has neither a beginning nor an end, and therefore being is the becoming of an impersonal consciousness; “I am all the names in history,” says Nietzsche.

This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be one to another, but only between-times, between-moments; it doesn’t just come about or come after but offers the immensity of an empty time where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.[28]

At this moment in time, and in this place all the wounds of humanity of the past are incarnated. One has to feel the pain of all the past times, empathize with all those sufferings and learn from them for progress to take place. It is not the individual sufferings of a single person that Hegel, Nietzsche, or Deleuze talk about. Theory, cinema, and literature are not personal affairs. What is at stake is the “presence” of all the already dead bodies that have to be turned into fertilizers. How to make use of the already dead bodies in the service of progress as opposed to the one’s who kill in the service of  progress? Suffering and pain indeed weaken the subject and yet there is no way other than turning this weakness, this impoverishment of thought into an affirmative will to power beyond the life/death drive. Perhaps a more than banal accident of life but just like Bosquet “my wound existed before me.” I am always already injured and if there are many more wounds awaiting to be embodied by me, well then, this indeed signifies that it has always been, still is, and will never cease becoming a time of passage from homo sapiens across homo historia and it appears to be towards homo tantum.  

Conclusion of Part II

The unconscious of the subject is a product of the cultural products such as advertisements, films, and books. Since the unconscious is itself a cultural product, giving free rein to the unconscious to express itself serves the reproduction of the cultural context in which the unconscious is itself produced. To be able to create difference without having to die the subject has to turn the unconscious into a void within the symbolic out of which a new way of looking at the world can manifest itself. A subject is he/she who actively submits to the unknown in such a way as to create the condition of possibility out of a condition of impossibility for the creation of a new beginning.

In a world which the subject loses itself surrounded by lies and illusions it is very difficult for one to become a subject since a subject is nothing but a void lost upon entry into the symbolic. Finding of itself of a subject means finding itself of a subject as a void, that is, a pre-symbolic hole, or a hole within the symbolic. This means that finding itself of a subject is its losing itself as a symbolic being. And this means that what is found by regressing to the pre-symbolic is nothing. So a subject is that which cannot be found, it can only be created in and through the destruction of its symbolic self. In this context becoming a subject refers to the process of creation of a self-conscious consciousness out of the void.

We must keep in mind that the pre-symbolic void is not actually before the symbolic but beneath it. Opening a hole within the symbolic through cont(r)action creates the condition of possibility for the contact between the known and the unknown, between the subject and its a-subjective self, between the conscious desiring and the unconscious drives.

This may sound strange but the death drive and the life drive are both of the symbolic world. They are symbolic constructs, results of a will to reduce life to a mechanistic dualism. It is the conscious desiring that is capable of clearing a space for the emergence of the new.

Creativity and destructivity are not mutually exclusive. For the creation of something new one must destroy something that already exists. This destruction of something that already exists should simultaneously be a creation of nothing that already exists. Since negation is a process that necessarily depends on that which is negated, it is impossible for negation to create something completely new. The negated contaminates the negator. It is the affirmative recreation of that which already exists that truly destroys it. But what exactly is affirmative recreation? Affirmative recreation is the exposition of the negating quality of that which already exists. By exposing the transcendence oriented negating quality of that which already exists, affirmative recreation exposes the fictionality of knowledge; hence affirms knowledge as it is and opens a gap between knowledge and truth. This gap is also a gap between the the past and the present; a space between the known and the unknown out of which a future generates itself.

 


[1] Stephen King, The Dead Zone, (London: TimeWarner, 1979),100

[2] King, 82

[3] King, The Dead Zone, 71

[4]King, 111

[5] Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, 7

[6] David Cronenberg, Croneberg on Cronenberg, ed. Chris Rodley (London; Faber and Faber, 191992), 169

[7] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1985), 279

[8] Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 262

[9] Donald Winnicott, Playing and Reality, (London: Tavistock, 1971), 64

[10] Melanie Klein, Psychoanalysis of Children, 132

[11] Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, 2

[12] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 56

[13] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts, 55

[14] William Burroughs, Queer (New York: Penguin, 1985)

[15] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 187

[16] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 188

[17] William Burroughs, Letters, 286

[18] William Burroughs, Nova Express, 30

[19] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 204

[20] Foucault, 204

[21] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies, 16

[22] Gilles Deleuze, Time-Image, 277

[23] Gilles Deleuze, Time-Image, 363

[24] Deleuze, 273

[25] Gilles Deleuze, Immanence: A Life, 25

[26] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 148

[27] Deleuze, 31-2

[28] Deleuze, 29

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