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Thinking the uncommon

In one of the most interesting post I have encountered recently in the blogosphere–Object-Oriented Psychoanalysis and Derridean Deconstruction–Cengiz Erdem argues that the common things of everyday existence are produced out of the depressive position or abnormalities. As the author comments, psychic development is complemented by the death drive. Whereas this relationship is typically represented as a binary opposition in mainstream discourse, it is here presented as a reciprocally determined double-bind. Erdem’s claim, following Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion, is that “for a healthy creative process to take place giving birth to new thought” an antecedent disintegration or fragmentation of common sense is required. In other words, the breakdown of one’s consciousness and knowledge is the necessary condition for the possibility of reintegrating novel ideas and producing creative new thought.

In psychoanalytic terms, this entails the negation or considered dissent of the predominant symbolic order in which one explicates the problems inherent to the structure of society. In this questioning process–given that individuals are necessarily complicit in socio-symbolic acculturation–the subject loses him- or herself, splintering one’s formerly stable and consistent identity. That is to say, since subjects are constituted by symbolic structuring, to interrogate this is to persecute one’s very self. As the author says later on, “The subject of the death drive shakes the foundations upon which is built its own mode of being”. But following the confrontation of the “banalities of symbolic societies” the subject tends towards the reparation, reconciliation, and reconstructing of the symbolic order, albeit in a structure otherwise than before.

This becoming self-consciousness doubtless entails pain and subjective intensity. In the case of Heidegger’s being-towards-death, this process involves hopelessness, despair, and angst. Or in Kierkegaardian terms, it is the anxiety or dizziness of freedom. But rather than focus on escape as the solution, as the existentialists understood Platonic rationalism and Western culture as a whole doing, this interior angst should be valorized as the creative agency constitutive of the subject. As Nietzsche put it, pain, suffering, and horror are prerequisites for the novel becomings of existence because the creation of new thoughts and uncommon individuation requires the destruction of old forms to clear space for the new.

Erdem identifies a similar theme in critical theory: “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”. In Derridean terms, the peripheral meaning of a text internally contradicts the dominant meaning, causing the text to split and collapse on its own accord. In this sense, the creative drive of a text that brings it into being and the destructive drive that causes its ultimate dissolution “are within and without one another at the same time”. In the final analysis, Erdem concludes that Derrida and his deconstruction project are ineffective when it comes to the generative strategy of re-creating objects or texts out of disintegrated ruins, claiming that he “perpetually postpones” effective or affirmative action, a judgment I will let stand as is and let the reader decide on.

Given my own interest in Deleuze, the psychoanalytic notion that creative thought emerges out of meaningless chaos strikes me as very close to Deleuze’s objects of encounter as considered in Difference and Repetition. What engenders thought or what forces us to think, as Deleuze tell us, is an object of encounter, something that is not immediately recognizable to the dogmatic image. That is to say, it is discordant from the vantage point of recognition and identity. It “perplexes” thought and “forces it to pose a problem” (p. 140). In this way the violent encounter of something unthinkable unhinges common sense from its streamline functioning, creating a discord in the faculties of recognition, and compels thought to grasp that which is not immediately intelligible. In a memorial passage Deleuze states the experience of an uncommon object in this way: “It is not a sensible being but the being of the sensible. It is not the given but that by which the given is given. It is therefore in a certain sense the imperceptible” (p. 140).

So while the object of an encounter indeed stumps thought, it can only be said of intensive objects that thought truly begins. In this sense, familiar thoughts and opinions are only ever the product of events in which thought is disturbingly faced with what it does not directly identify as something previously observed. Or to express it in a simple sentence, thought is engendered by introducing aberration into thought. All of this suggests that objects of encounter are the necessary condition for possible new and stable thoughts to emerge. This is, for Deleuze, what it means to think an original, novel or uncommon thought: neglect the common values and sensible concerns of how things stand in society at large. Knowledge is only conditioned by the unidentifiable condition of the uncanny, the imperceptible.

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