The internal logic from beginning to end

ONE of the many things that I value about reading the complete works of Freud Standard Edition volumes 1 – 24, which I completed a couple of weeks ago, was the time I spent alone with the physical books, faithful to a line of thought, to the internal logic of an author, saved from the distractions of social media, news stories and gossip.

Yesterday I was reading Lacan’s Seminar on Freud’s Technical Papers and with a pencil in hand underlining significant words and phrases and writing notes in the margin – I find myself more engaged with the text in this way, but I was wondering how differently I might read it the next time around – perhaps in a few months or years I will be more interested by the words that I have left unmarked …

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‘Truth emerges from the mistake’

‘Augustine’s main objection to the inclusion of the domain of truth within the domain of signs is, he says, that very often subjects say things which go much further than what they think, and that they are even capable of owning the truth while not adhering to it. The Epicurean who maintains that the soul is mortal quotes his opponents’ arguments so as to refute them. But those who have their eyes open can see that that is the true speech, and recognise that the soul is immortal.’

Jacques Lacan Freud’s Papers on Technique

The ‘nearest to truth’

Virginia Woolf once wrote that music was “nearest to truth” and in a famous letter of 1940, Woolf wrote that ‘I always think of my books as music before I write them’.

Music may go beyond or precede the explicit meaning of words, but it is still a language in the same way that the unconscious is a language; that they are both structured like a language, both function on different registers at the same time, and have their own unique relationship to topological space, duration and time.

In her 1925 novel ‘A Simple Melody’, Woolf alludes to the correlation between music and psychic space:

“Mr Carslake, at least, thought it very beautiful because, as he stood in the corner where he could see it, it had the power to compose and tranquillise his mind. It seemed to him to bring the rest of his emotions – and how scattered and jumbled they were at a party like this! – into proportion. It was as if a fiddler were playing a perfectly quiet old English song while people gambled and tumbled and swore, picked pockets, rescued the drowning, and did astonishing – but quite unnecessary – feats of skill. He was unable to perform himself.”

… that music had the power to (re)compose and tranquillise his mind, to reform the structure of his thoughts, that this simple melody had an internal logic and proportion; a sense of truth, unperturbed by its jumbled and scattered surroundings.

I imagine this as a possible evocation of Woolf’s own internal world (innenwelt) – and her unconscious phantasy that somewhere there would be a place in a corner in her thoughts where she could be content with a simple melody. Like so many creative people, the Real is sometimes too vivid, too overwhelming to render it simple and normal for the everyday.

MeToo and abuse in general (from guilt to shame and Nachträglichkeit)

Germaine Greer recently criticised the MeToo campaign in these terms, “if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that’.
This is dubious on so many assumed grounds but what about the complexities of abuse and assault in general – I was thinking about abusive behaviour from the point of perceived guilt, where the victim has something in their psychic world at stake with the event, as opposed to a sense of shame where it starts to become more about identifying victims and abusers. Guilt might be felt as part of a social Other that accepts abusive behaviour or the move prevalent prism of shame where there are clearly identifiable victims and abusers. From the position of shame you can identity victims and abusers without, seemingly having a sense of guilt, without having something at stake for oneself, or one could find oneself in a position of guilt where one can only identify with the abuser.
In the real world, behaviour has to be regulated, the law must step and protect citizens. But what about the effect that abuse has on the complex structures of the subject’s psychic world? The thing is that no matter what intellectual gymnastics the victim goes through to make sense of the event, he or she can’t ignore the impact of the trauma and a certain connection that they may continue to hold with that abusive person.
Trauma is experienced after the event, Nachträglichkeit to use Freud’s words. At the time of the abuse, there isn’t a context for what is happening, and sometimes there can be a conflation between initial innocence and retrospective knowledge.
The famous Freudian case of the girl who goes into a shop and immediately runs out because the shop keeper laughs at her. This is because previously, as a young prepubescent girl she went into a different shop, where a shop keeper ‘touched her up’. The problematic part, is that she returned to the same shop innocently and unaware that this was abuse. It wasn’t until she went into another shop as a pubescent girl, that she realised what had been going on, and it was only then that she felt traumatised by the sight of the laughing shop keeper. The laugh triggered the response, because the second event had given a social context and meaning to the first event. On the whole the MeToo campaigners are clearly not prepubescent, but nevertheless the idea that people can know the psychic impact of an event at the moment that it is occurring in the precise moment is rarely the case, and this is one area of understanding where becoming a more evolved society might take place.
The MeToo campaign may be problematic, as is any attempt to implement radical social change, and the pendulum will probably swing too far in the opposite direction but isn’t it about time to draw a line in the sand … perhaps the new Swedish law where you have to sign a contract before having sex with someone just introduces another kind of problem, but at least it’s acknowledging the need for a change in social interaction, irrespective of power and status differences.
Perhaps one day Greer will reflect on how much her position could be adding to the toleration of the old bedroom audition system.

Seminar X-mass

Reading Seminar X : Anxiety by Jacques Lacan that directly addresses desire and anxiety and the way the two are closely related in relation to the object cause of desire, seems to have mirrored X-mass, for me, this year.

“I desire you, even if I do not know it.”

“If this were sayable, what would I be saying by it? I would be saying to the other that, desiring him without knowing it of course, still without knowing it, I take him as the object unknown to myself of my desire, namely in our conception of desire that I identify him, that I identify you, you to whom I am speaking, you yourself, to the object which is lacking to yourself, namely that by this circuit that I have to take to reach the object of my desire, I accomplish precisely for him what he is looking for. It is indeed in this way that innocently or not, if I take this detour, the other as such, object here ­ you should note ­ of my love, will fall necessarily into my toils.”

The Will of the People

‘The Will of the People’ has become the unary political slogan since the referendum, however it appears to be gradually denied as the will by many on both sides of the divide as the separation process progresses. I always found it an odd expression that immediately evoked Schopenhauer’s concept of the ‘will to life’. Schopenhauer was a big influence on Freud and you can see early resonances with his concept of the trieb (drive). For Schopenhauer (and you can see his partial resonance with Buddhism) the will to life is where mankind finds all his suffering and for Schopenhauer aesthetic pleasures are the only things that can give us momentary escape from this suffering.

You can see the parallel with psychoanalysis, where we have a subject divided between two kinds of motivation. On one side the drive which derives from the body with it’s demands and needs and on the other side the motivation of a sublated ego, where the mind can engage with language and image, imagination and act out in all its psychodramatic varieties, with metaphor and metonymy in different registers. The Will is also, of course linked to a person’s death and for Freud the life drive, or the will to life, is also related to the death drive, the drive to return to the organic stasis from which man originated.


Hearing the word ‘snowflake’ on the Moral Maze a few nights ago and the word coming from the mouth of the person who apparently coined the phrase had me thinking. The context of its use on the Moral Maze was that certain student unions on uni’ campuses were too easily offended and that they were banning particular speakers (this regular BBC guest being one of them) from a platform because they represented a certain way of thinking that the students didn’t, by consensus believe reflected their way of thinking.

The position upheld by this particular guest was familiar and went something like; it is necessary, in order to be a progressive modern citizen to be open to all lines of argument and make rational choices based on listening to all sides – it certainly seemed like a robust argument.

However what about the way arguments are elaborated and formulated at the highest levels – don’t they always rely on a strong element of limitation. A mathematician doesn’t work on all aspects of their field but narrows the spectrum down to something very specific. A philosopher will work within a very specialised area of thought and so on and so on. As the great and charismatic scientist, raconteur, teacher and musician Richard Fynman used to say “I’m happy to not know everything … in fact I find the idea of not knowing everything very exciting.”

And in any case isn’t it delusional to think that because we are exposed to a vast amount of information that we are somehow omni-educated, omni-thinking, omni-political, omni-wise – sitting on our throne of knowledge and regally making and acting on in-formed opinion.

Perhaps rather than being blinded by the information snow, we should be ‘happy not to know everything’ – turn the radio off, turn the TV off, and yes, sometimes perhaps, be a little selective about views expressed on our uni’ platform.24909615_1161332810666986_6115829746110949836_n

Gossip politics

My provocation today comes from thinking about the idea of how politics has now become gossip or rather that gossip has become politicised. If you want to make it in politics you’ve got to be skilful with gossip. Policy now has the form of casual or unconstrained reports about other people(s), typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.

And response to gossip has the character of a dramatisation “Oh, no, really? Can (s)he really have said that?”

Gossip political functions as an economy of pleasure. Pleasure because one person or a group of people can be used to generate a sense of community, of belonging because the enemy or enemies have been identified and we can create bonds formed at the personal expense of other people.

In psychoanalysis most of the work involves gossip. It’s called empty speech, but the empty speech is taken very seriously, as seriously as the full speech which is when the unconscious gets involved, because it is in the empty speech that we find the full speech. But to access the full speech requires a different kind of relationship to language, to the idea of truth and the idea that we function in different registers.

The thing about the gossip political is not that it’s become a part of our lives, but that we are still in denial as to how it really is here. We are aware enough to be able to point the finger at it but we are not aware to the extent that gossip political is using us, how it enunciates who we are.


From Freud to Pink Floyd


This classic piece of BBC TV from 1967 –  Hans Keller interviewing Pink Floyd is so great.

Keller “The music is so loud, it is so repetitive, it requires an audience, I obviously don’t get it.” “I grew up with the string quartet.”

Floyd “Well we didn’t grow up with the string quartet and we like the loud sound”

Keller “Well a lot of people haven’t grown up with the string quartet but don’t play so loud”

Keller “Well it’s like a regression to youth, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.”

Hans Keller was great for making an intervention into the known, questioning preconceived notions and passionately upheld the importance of the individual soul. He escaped Nazi Vienna and was always haunted by the memory of the religious Jews’ resolve against the aggression of the Nazi followers and legalised thugs who would beat up Jews on the street. He took that memory capture as a model for his own life.

With Pink Floyd he must have been confronted by the swagger and youthful libido of these privileged British lads, who could play loud for no other reason than they liked it. But maybe he also appreciated their bold stance against the establishment.

Kellers passion for Freud (apparently he had read and knew it all) led to what he described as a ‘self-analysis’ – which consisted for him of sitting down everyday for five years and writing a free association; of whatever came into his mind and he applied his discoveries to his understanding of classical music.

In a way Keller was making interventions in the way an analyst would. Picking out inconsistencies, excesses that stuck out of the consistent ideological material, loudness, repetition, audience, context, music form, patterns, meaning …

Psychoanalysis teaches us that Negation after all is also an affirmation of something. The loudness affirms quietness, repetition accentuates singularity, large halls long for small chambers, individuality only exists in the context of the crowd, politics manifests the personal, the strict forms of classical music manifest the radical revolution of Beethoven, the tight class system the eruption of a rock band.

Perhaps when Keller was talking of a regression to youth he might also be alluding to the trauma of birth and before that to the womb where the loudness for the foetus inside the womb of the repetitive heartbeat the comforting muffled sound of the mother’s voice which the foetus has been shown to respond toFloyd and Freud

Happiness as Decoy

The Office for National Statistics have announced that England is happier since the referendum vote. I don’t know how they think that you can measure happiness but some people obviously think that you can. I wonder whether happiness/depression and pleasure/anxiety have become conflated?

In any case it is great that mental health has been brought out into the open especially as one can imagine that there are certain occupations and work environments where it simply isn’t easy to talk about. All very well for writers or people in the entertainment industry to open up about their problems in getting from one end of the day to the other but what about people in the construction industry or road builders … “mate, I’m just not feeling it today…”

The current argument seems to be around whether mental health should be less prioritised than physical l health or placed on an equal basis?

One thing is for sure, our psychic world seems to have been gradually degraded over a period of time and replaced by a ‘biocomputer model’ where functionality can be measured; ability to process useful applications, move seamlessly between standby and full operation, procreate perfect new models, communicate with ease, manage work flow without too many surges and so on and so on. Isn’t the whole idea of mental health based on whether the individual fits into the biocomputer model?

Psychoanalysis has become unpopular in part because it doesn’t fit into this set of assumptions. Analysis used to be available on the NHS, not just 6 sessions but several times a week for several years. Apart from the issue of time and money that dominates every area of life today, psychoanalysis became unpopular because it was fundamentally subversive.

Freud said that people present neurotic symptoms not because they can’t cope with the system but because the system that they have been moulded into, generates the symptoms. The process of adaptation to the system involves the repression of infantile pleasure and trauma into socially acceptable and useful activities.

Happiness and depression simply aren’t addressed in the 40 years of Freud’s work and writing. It’s a modern phenomenon and fuelled by the pharmaceutical industry.

Psychoanalysis is more interested in anxiety and pleasure and how they are related and bound together. For Freud anxiety split into automatic anxiety – the kind of anxiety that is triggered by say suddenly realising that you’ve lost your mobile and signal anxiety – the anxiety which is triggered by a response to an archaic trauma, and it was this signal anxiety that he started to use in his analysis of neurotic patients. This kernel of anxiety marked the place of a trauma that the analysand felt a compulsion to explore and at the same time a resistance to enter with equal measure.

This is why in psychoanalysis, signal-anxiety is considered the most profound affect or emotion, because it says most about our psychic construction. The problem with the happy/depressed economy is that it creates a decoy – it gives in to our resistances. The truth is that our resistances are a part of our neurotic symptom.

In light of this isn’t happiness just a conformist category exploited by governments to keep a workforce ignorant to what they perceive to be our miserable lives?23316810_1142614212538846_6269075066603733186_n