"Tell me a *good* story!" was: Re: Freud is dead but sexy with it (was: Re: Wobble Wobble)

From: Michael M. Butler (butler@comp-lib.org)
Date: Sun Jan 30 2000 - 00:26:44 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> At 11:28 PM 29/01/00 -0500, Bob Owen wrote:
> >I will restrict myself here to one observation, and wait a bit
> >to see if someone else might not do a much better job than
> >I can in addressing your subtle question.
> My question has subtle implications, but as MMB notes, it was an axe-blow.

I was thinking more of an Alexandrian sword, but hey.
> But when the doubtful aspects of the `Oedipal' story are
> cleared away, we seem to be left with what may be important pointers to the
> development of the infant in respect of its own body and its early adult
> figures.

Indeed, it may be so that Freud was <more nearly> right _for some humans
but not for all_. Claiming that he was simply projecting is a cheap
shot. But OTOH, "Before I tell you if the glass is half empty or half
full, *you* tell *me* what's in the glass..."

> [Evidence
> suggests] that the human being may function in the ways outlined by the
> mechanisms of repression and displacement [but] that the theory of dreams
> and symbolism will not do, and only contains a part of the truth.

Cf. Lakoff & Johnson's _Philosophy in the Flesh_. If most reasoning
overloads (in the software sense) the hunter-gatherer brain in a way
resembling what L&J are suggesting, it stands to reason that there might
be some useful coincidence that is _not happenstance_ but is nonetheless
not "founded" on what is, in all likelihood, just another set of
metaphors Freud's hunter-gatherer brain seized upon. "Right, but for the
wrong reason." It's just a story. And we are evolved to like stories a
lot as long as they hang together.

> he gives only one chapter (though his tape-transcribed case studies from
> the consulting room of the psychiatrist Turquet are certainly corrosive:
> `the material is perspective-dependent; and it is self-confirmatory and
> therefore method-dependent to some degree, and hence artefact-infected').

A ROAF (Relative of a Friend) was working on a PhD thesis (as far as I
know, abandoned) and I never managed to get a copy of the draft. It
might be salient. If I have it right, this fellow was intent upon
attacking Milgram among others (the famed "Milgram's Eleven" obedient
"experimenters" "shocking" "subjects" into "unconsciousness")--claiming
that they couldn't even determine what a _result_ was, let alone what it
"meant"--because what they expected would color what they would perceive
as behaviors, and motivations, hence as results. The pile of
presuppositions is too narrow to support its own weight. Damn, I wish
he'd published it.

> discourse is in a deep sense unintelligible unless we
> accept that language has

Insert a variable labeled ...<something going on that's unsaid> right
here, almost certainly true.

> an unconscious, and that psychoanalytic methods
> are the most valuable known for `interrogating' that unconscious
> speech/writing.

I agree that this formulation is highly questionable. I suspect this is
just appeal to authority, with Freud taking the place of Aristotle (as
in the old chestnut "All Philosophy is merely footnotes to..."). And it
does seem to be done with very much of an air of "It goes without

> As individuals we are interpellated and produced by the
> text, and the text of the world, as we produce it (but there is no `we',
> only subject-positions).
> But can `language', an abstraction as remote from ontological
> instantiation as `the unconscious', `have' anything of the sort? Thought
> and speech and writing, in whatever order we chose to list them or place
> them in hierarchy, no doubt function at varying levels of accessibility: it
> is misleading to reify this truth. Consider a typical poststructural
> formulation, the most famous gnome of Lacan's: the unconscious is
> structured like a language. Two objections are evident. Firstly, the
> entire structuralist project from which Lacan's work springboards was
> founded in the grand analogy of all the human sciences with linguistics, in
> its Saussurean recension. If by hypothesis everything human is structured
> like a language it is hardly informative to be told that the unconscious,
> too, is among their number. More precisely, though, it is likely that the
> hypothesis is based on a dubious figure. The surmise that the unconscious,
> conceived as the source of language, is structured like its manifest output
> draws upon such images of isomorphism as stamp and wax or (at the level of
> DNA coding) egg and chicken. But there are many quite important ways in
> which, for example, an ice-cream machine is not like an ice-cream. That
> this analogical step is so readily taken in the absence of compelling
> evidence in its favour bespeaks the imposition of authority and power, even
> if these are embodied in hegemonically oppositional figures and texts.

Well, the brain and language(s) are very likely part and counterpart--of
course the shape of one coevolved with the shape of the other. And the
stuff in our brains that processes verbish stuff ("live/happening stuff
I can identify and track") and more-nounish stuff ("dead/standing-still
stuff, ditto, plus I can grab it") probably drives the entire engine of
categorization without which ratiocination (even if it's just
rearranging one's prejudices--which is widely given out to be sneered at
but not at all useless) would--well, it'd be very different if it
happened at all. But the axiomaticity of a specific Freudian unconscious
is still far from a done deal.

> `Say it's Oedipus,' in Deleuze and Guattari's parodic demystification, `or
> you'll get a slap in the face.'

Yep. Watch that last step, it's a doozy.

> A major difficulty for anyone from the `scientific' side of Snow's `two
> cultures' dichotomy is the disdain which poststructural psychoanalysis
> appears to evince for empirical (and in some cases, as we have seen,
> logical) considerations. Consider that notable - and quite central -
> theoretical construct of Lacanian thought, the `mirror stage' of infantile
> development. Raymond Tallis, in the passage below, points up what is
> surely a fairly obvious pragmatic self-refutation (unless the `stage' is
> meant to be taken so loosely as to be no more than a metaphoric heuristic,
> and a misleading one); that this kind of debunking analysis has evidently
> had no effect whatsoever on Lacanians I see as paradigmatic of the failure
> of debate between important current theoretical positions:
> As Lemaire expresses it `The Mirror Stage is the advent of coenaesthetic
> subjectivity preceded by the feeling that one's own body is in pieces. The
> reflection of the body, then, is salutary in that it is unitary and
> localised in time and space.' Is the reflection of the body that infants
> receive in the mirror thus unified? Is not the image very often only
> fragmentary, consisting of part of the body - usually face plus or minus
> the neck and shoulders? How often does the child see the whole of its body
> in the mirror?...
> If epistemological maturation and the formation of a world picture were
> dependent upon catching sight of oneself in a mirror, then the theory would
> predict that congenitally blind individuals would lack selfhood and be
> unable to enter language, society or the world at large. There is no
> evidence whatsoever that this implausible consequence of the theory is
> borne out in practice.

There is, I am told, an old Polish expression, which I think might
"...making a shawl out of an old sock."


Nice ratiocinating with you...

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