Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism 2018. 9. 13.¢  Post-psychoanalysis As regards post-psychoanalysis,

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  • Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism

    Edited by Matt ffytche and Daniel Pick

  • Chapter 17

    Post-psychoanalysis and post-totalitarianism

    Ruth Leys

    Before even considering 110\v \Ve 111ight theorize or historicize the relation­ ~hip between psychoanalysis und totalilarianis111, J \Vant to suggest that we are living today in a post-psychonnalytic and post-totalitarian age. By this I n1e:J11, !irst, that \Vhcrcvcr \VC look \Ve sec either that psychoanalysis has been \Videly rejected - especially in the United States \Vhen:: il flourishes, if at all, only at the 1nnrgins or 1uainstrca111 psychiatry and psychotherapy - or that it's being retooled in biological-1natcrialist teru1s that involve the innrginalizatiorr or aban­ domncnt of its central insights. And second, although 1 think it's fftir to claiin that the ravages of econo1nic inequality have nothing to do \vith totalitarianisn1 but nrc the result of neo-liberalisn1 and global capilalistn, there is a tendency in sections of both the political left and the political right today to regard totali­ tarianis1n as the greatest threat confronting the \Vorld. If hoth of these devel­ optncnts arc true, what i&. their significance? Put slightly differently, \Vhat has ~·one tnissing \Yhcn psychoanalysis is so \Videly discarded and totalitarianisn1 is (still) cast as the central challeuge of our tin1cs? Briefly, I suggest that \Vhat has gone n1issing in an age that is post-psychoanalytic is a concern \Vi th issues of intentionality and n1caning. And I propose that \Vhat has gone inissing in \vhat l n111 calling }Jost-totalitarianis1n is a concern \Vith issues of class and eco­ noinic inequality. My question then, becon1es: what, if anything, links these two develop1nents together?


    As regards post-psychoanalysis, it \Yould not be difficult to sho\v that scholars and theorists of 111a1_1y kinds in the l1uman and social sciences, as vvell as theo­ rists of psychology and e1norion, are bent on thro\ving off 11A1at they vie\v as the straitjacket of psychoanalysis. 1'heir reactions arc 111otivated in part by the idea that the body in its lived n1ateriality has been occluded or neglected by Freudian approaches to subjectivity. The result has been a \videspread post-psychoflnalytic embrace of biology and the neurosciences. 1'his dcvelopn1ent is obvious in tnany don1ains, especially in the recent 'turn to affect'. For exa1nplc, in the field of literary criticisin and theory, the late r;:ve I(osofsky Sedgwick, a pioneer of

  • 240 Ruth Leys ------------------- ··---­ posl!nodernist and queer theory, has been especially i111iuen1ial in her dccisi()n ,": to discard psychoanalysis in her later worlc, and to en1phasize instcHd the value, ofa bio!ogicvisc rrcenl affect theorists in political science and related fields, such as Brian iv1;1ssu111i ;111d \Villiam E. Connolly, \Vho claiin to be influenced by the \\Titings of

  • 242 Ruth Le.ys

    through the in11)act of a cerebral accident of so1ne kind, are so altered, so abso­ lutely cut off fro1n their previous identities, so einptied of 1ne111ory, in!criorily :ind su~jectivity, and so indifferent to others and to the 'vorld, as to be ultogcthcr deprived of feeling of any kind. Alzhehner patients, schizophrenics, uutistics, epileptics, survivors of the concentration ca1nps, patients \Vith \Var neuroses or pClst.-trau111atic stress disorder, and the victitns of natural and political di;;nstcr;; "" all cn1ergc in her account as e111blen1atic of the zero-degree of subjectivity that supposedly characterize;; tlte global form of life in the t.'vcnty-first ecntury. So expansive is Malabou's account of the new 'vounded that she claitns, \Vilh con­ siderable hyperbole, that the post-traumatic condition is one that 'reigns cvcr.v·

    \\'here today' {Malabou, 2012a: 17). Malabou denies that she has created a false an1alga1n by f·using together suelr

    apparently disparate conditions. She c!nin1s rather that the pheno1ncnon of the_ a1nalgan1 is precisely what needs to be discussed today: the heterogeneous 111ix." ture, as she secs it, of nature and politics at work-in all types of violence. this 1nixture \vhere 'politics is annulled as such so that it assutncs the face ofn11tu11.~ and v,:here nature disappears beneath the n1ask of politics-' (Ma\abou. 20l2a: 156). According to her, \Vhat unites Lhc ne\v wounded as a group is- thnt, no. nlatter their different clinical forms, they all suffer tfo1n the san1c aetiology and the san1e e1notional abnonnalities. For Malabott, trauma produces a ccrcbn11 pathology that is identical in all cases and contexts, a pathology that she assen~ resists ~u1y interpretation or assign1nent of n1ea11ing, She introduces the concept of 'cerebrality' to capture her sense of \vhat she calls the 'causal value' of thC datnage done by trau1natic events to U1e emotional brain, regardless of \Vhcthei those events arc acco111panicd by definable cerebral hnpairrncnts (i'vfalabou 2012a: 2). She writes: 'The "nev.· wounded" ... are not 111ercly people \Vilh brain lesions. Cerebrality designates a regin1e of evcntality that recognizes thc­ psychic 'veight of accidents stripped of any signification' (Ma\abou. 201211: ] 0). Traurna thus reveals the 'ability of the subject to survive the senselessness of-its own accidents' (Malabou, 2012a: 5). In Malabou's approach, political and social conflicts bcco1ne as anony1nous and 111eaningless as natural ca!astro· phes and the victin1s of trau1na are e1nptied of all interiority and subjectivity..

    [n her \Vords:

    The distinction between organic trau1nas and political traun1as bccon1e~ blu1Ted precisely because ofthe type of event that gives rise to thc111 - a brutal event without si"nification. that tends to efface its intentionality in order io

    ' 0 .

    appear as a blow inflicted on any possible hermeneutics in general. (Malabou, 20l2a: 2\4)­

    !vlalabou's definition of tra1una as a pure 'accident' - as a con1plctcly unanticj. vated, ungraspable, unmediated exte1nal event that bears no relation lo :he pa~! and destroys n1eaning - is not ne\v. llather, her proposal needs to be seen tor \Yl1u1 it is - as a reworki11g, that is, as yet another expression of the recent, r a1n tc1nplcd·

    Post-psychoanalysis and post-totalitarianis1n 243

    to say standard, posllnodernist and post-T-Iolocaust e1nphasis on the unspeakable and unrepresentable in trau111a. Indeed, as I have indicated, the smne einphasis on 1rau111a, defined as an accident that unsettles sc1nantic expectations and n1eanings, is basic to the ''-'Ork of Caruth, 'vhose v-.:ork in i-11is rc1n1rd Malabou cites favour" ably (Malabou, 2012a: 201). But Malabou takes the;e by now familiar ideas a step fi.1rlhec Her argun1ent is not just that trau111n is an experience tbat has no significance for the victhn. She suggests that even the perpetrator's dclibcnltc acts of violence lack tneaning and intention. According to her, lTaun1atic events arc incidents that tend to 'n1ask their intentionality', \Vith the co11set1uencc that, as she pu!:> it, 'politics itself is defined by the renunciation ofany hope ofencknving vio­ lence vvith a political sense' (Malabou, 2012a: 155). Trauinatic events t11us appear 'either as perfectly 11111notivated accidents or as the nccessa1y blindness ofnatural laws' (Malabou, 2012a: 11). In both cases, the intentional orientation of the eve1_1t is 'disguised' (J\1alabou, 20-12a: t l). As she puts it:

    The 111CT111ing ofnnncd coutlicts., . is 1nnskcd behind the in1personal and sig­ natureless character of their ntlacks. Bel\veen a car bo1nb and an accidental detonation of a gas tank lhere is both an cnorn1ous difference and no differ­ ence. The sinister lesson ofterroris111 lies in its refusal to fon11ulatc n lesson. Responsibility for attacks is clai1ned less and less. The sih1ation in_ Iraq, for cxa1nple, re1nains illegible. Who perpetrates terrorist attacks today, and \.vhy? The dissin1ulation of U1c reason for the event is the new fo1m of t11e event. The increasingly radical effacerncnt of the distinctio11 bet\-veen accident and crhnc, between disastrous incidents and \Var, the n1ultiforn1 presence of t11c absence of any responsible instances or author, makes the 11atm·al catastrophe ofeonte111porary politics into a daily occurrence.

    (Malabou, 2012a: 155)

    i\.-1alabou tl1us treats terrorist acts as un111otivated by any political reasons the terrorists thc1nsclves inight give for then1 (1v1alabou, 2012: 155) and places the en1phasis instead on the terrorists' en1otional e1npti11ess - as if terrorists are ntcrely helpless carriers of an i1npcrsonal, destrnctivc~ncuronal dealh drive. But it is one thing to say that certain acts of terrorisn1 are illegible to those of us \Vho do not lmow \Vho lhe te1Torists are, do not know their culture, and do not understancl their rnotives; it is anot11er thing to suggest, as Malabou does, that the refusal of terrorists to publicly take responsibility for their acts is not a political s!rntegy for 'vhich they have their reasons but points rather to the absence of ~1ny reasons, intentions, or 1neanings. '[he obliteration of the distinction between perpetrators and victbns - already seen it1 the \Vork ofboth Can1th and Giorgio ,\gamben - could hardly be taken further. ln short, Ma!abou treats terrorists not as intentional agents but as new fon11s of identity - lhe identity of those \Vhose cold indifference n1arks the1n as n1e1nbers of the class of the 'ne\v wounded'. For Malubou, what 1natters is not the terrorists' intentions and belief.~ but shnply •rho the)> are. What is novel i:o; that rather lhnn proposing that terroris