According to Laplanche, psychoanalysis, by presenting itself as a Naturphilosophie, defends against the vital role that the concept ‘seduction by another’ plays in generation of the unconscious.

In document Illustrated nonsense : ethics and aesthetic practice in the writing of Ludwig Wittgenstein (Page 170-193)

Acknowledging the Unconscious

12 According to Laplanche, psychoanalysis, by presenting itself as a Naturphilosophie, defends against the vital role that the concept ‘seduction by another’ plays in generation of the unconscious.

74 Santner Psychotheology, 35. 75 Santner, Psychotheology, 33.

165 signifiers pertain to the satisfaction of the child’s needs, but they also convey the purely interrogative potential of the messages-and those other messages are sexual. These enigmatic messages set the child the difficult, or even impossible, task of mastery and symbolization and the attempt to perform it inevitably leaves behind unconscious residues.76

Laplanche links sexuality and the advent of human subjectivity to the troubling question of our place in life. For the child this entails the question of its place in the desires of its principal carer. In Laplanche’s primal scene of seduction, the mother’s breast satisfies the child’s need for nourishment, but because it also functions within a symbolic order it gives off further ‘enigmatic messages’ which are sexual and which translates into the troubling question: ‘what does the breast want from me, apart from wanting to suckle me, and, come to that why does it want to suckle me?’77 According to Laplanche the ‘enigmatic messages’ that the child encounters leave behind a certain ‘trauma’ in the mind, an unconscious excess of excitation that the subject cannot work out psychically. In Santner’s words, ‘The mind is left possessed or haunted, under the “ban” of something that profoundly matters without being a full-fledged thought or emotion, that is, anything resembling an orientation in the world.’78

One such ‘enigmatic message,’ described by Wittgenstein in the Investigations, is the picture that sometimes comes before our mind when words are taught. Such a picture, Wittgenstein says in section 6, has as yet no definite meaning or ‘purpose,’ like a ‘break-leaver . . . separated from its support . . . it may be anything, or nothing.’ Nevertheless we often think of meaning in just these terms - as an inner picture symbolised by outer symbols. Imagine, Cavell goes on to suggest, if we were to give the builders an actual picture or sample, a kind of outer manifestation of meaning’s inner picture: ‘[sjuppose the builder holds up his instance of the object he wants, e.g., a slab, and exaggeratedly (that is, for the benefit of the assistant) hugs and kisses it. You can see that this is subject to interpretation, and that it might or might not be interpreted to mean that he wants another object just like the one he is embracing.,79 But in a world where much weight is put on finding labels for things (and the builders may well be a reminder that such a world could be our own) ostensive definitions alone will not express meaning for they can always be interpreted variously. Here a troubling

7fl Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, trans. David Macey (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 130.

77 Laplanche, New Foundations, 128. 78 Santner, Psychotheology, 39.

question emerges: ‘What does the builder want from me?’ Or as Wittgenstein goes on

to ask in the Investigations: what does the ‘elliptical’ order ‘Slab’ ask me to think? 80

[I]f you shout ‘slab!’ you really mean: ‘Bring me a slab.’ - But how do you do this: how do you mean that while you say ‘Slab!’? Do you say the unshortened sentence to yourself? And why should I translate the call ‘Slab!’ into a different expression in order to say what someone means by it? And if they mean the same thing - why should I not say: ‘when he says ‘Slab!’ he means ‘Slab!’’? Again, if you can mean ‘Bring me the slab,’ why should you not be able to mean ‘Slab!’?—But when I call ‘Slab!,’ then what I want is, that he should bring me a slab\—Certainly, but does ‘wanting this’ consist in thinking in some form or other a different sentence from the one you utter? 81

Reflecting back on Augustine’s account of language learning in ‘Notes and Afterthoughts,’ Cavell observes that that ‘[tjhere is . . . a hint of permanence in the child’s isolation, the absoluteness of its initial incapacity to make itself known, in its absolute reliance on its elders’ recognition of its attempts at expression, that is, on their recognition of the grip of its needs as the medium of expression.’ This leads him to ‘understand the child as mad, not exactly deranged, but in the condition of

derangement. ’ 82 But in Cavell’s view the ‘idea of derangement, containing the idea of

undoing . . . a circle or ring, can accordingly mark the turn to the human and its speech as renouncing the unending circle of the animal, the realm of the untalking subjects, of the repetitive cycles of need as satisfaction.’ On such an account, the unconscious

residue produced by the traumatic distortion or ‘perversion’ of the ‘repetitive cycles of

need and satisfaction,’ is also what makes human subjectivity possible. 83 But if the state

of derangement is also the defining moment for humanity, how should we understand Wittgenstein’s promise of therapeutic intervention? What kind of engagement with the unconscious does he make? To respond to these questions I will turn to the account of

the unconscious put forward by Eric Santner in On The Psychotheology o f Everyday


80 Wittgenstein, Investigations, §19.

81 Wittgenstein, Investigations, §19. Wittgenstein’s emphasis.

82 Cavell, ‘Notes and Afterthoughts,’ 170. 83 Cavell, ‘Notes and Afterthoughts,’ 170.

167 The Unconscious

According to Freud the unconscious is the locus for instinctual energy, especially the libidinal drives formed in early childhood which can be understood as ‘a force exercising a “pressure”’ of a sexual nature. 84 By using the German word Treib (coming from Treiben - ‘to push’) Freud distinguishes the pressure entailed by the unconscious from instincts with a determinate aim, such as animal instincts. In The language of Psychoanalysis Jean Laplanche and J B Pontalis observe that Freud’s use of the word ‘Treib,’ ‘draws attention to the irresistible nature of the pressure rather than to the stability of its aim and object. ’ 87 According to Freud, this instinctual pressure does not present itself directly to consciousness but manifests itself in dreams and everyday life through condensation, displacement and through symptoms such as repetition compulsion.

Santner’s account of Freud, which I will outline here, rests heavily on a point first stressed by Jacques Lacan, namely that for Freud ‘symptomatic agency’ or unconscious mental activity operates at the level of signifiers, rather than through fully formed meanings, beliefs, attitudes or propositions. ‘From the Project on,’ Santner writes, ‘Freud emphasized the persistence, within the dynamics of symptom formation, of a non-semantic kernel. ’ 86 Freud’s achievement was to reveal something ‘mechanical’ or

‘nonsensical’ at the core of unconscious mental energy - the ‘persistence of a mindlessness immanent to mindedness. ’ 87 On this Lacanian account, unconscious excitations are an inner strangeness that cannot be fully alleviated by rational explanations, for they are immune to the question: ‘why do you do that?’

Santner warns that the unconscious should not be understood as nonsensical or mindless in a purely physiological sense, like, for example, the beating of a heart. The heart is literally mindless, of course, but this does not mean that its functioning cannot be given a rational explanation. In support of the reading of psychoanalysis I am advocating here we should recall that for Freud the unconscious is not a pre-cultural

84 Jean Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis The Language o f Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith

(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973), 239-40. According to Freud, we often organise this pressure into fantasy formations.

85 Laplanche, The Language o f Psychoanalysis, 214. As Jean Laplanche and J.B.Pontalis write on pages

214 to 215, the unconscious is ‘relatively indeterminate both as regards the behaviour it induces and as regards the satisfying object.’

86 Santner, Psychotheology, 28.

87 In Santner’s reading, Freud shows us that this persistence often generates within the subject a certain

‘pain (or rather pleasure-in-pain)’ which fits with Lacan’s notion of fouissance.' Fantasy, then can be

understood as the particular way in which a subject orders this ‘mindlessness’ or fouissance.'1 Santner,

state (a determinate animal instinct that can be unmasked, for example) but rather an indeterminate pressure that manifests itself through signifiers.88 If the unconscious were nonsensical in a strictly biological sense then, in Santner’s words, the job of psychoanalysis would be ‘the domestication of the primitive, quasi-biological energies of the drives into rational capacities and behaviours, the transmutation of the natural, “pulsationar core of life into flexible emotional orientations in a shared world. Analysis would be, in a word, a form of Bildung, the operator of a developmental narrative of

, on


Now Wittgenstein’s concern is also for our ‘shared world,’ but he is critical of the way the developmental narratives (such as Freud’s primal scenes) reduce this world to an originary pattern. As we saw in Chapter 4, rather than limiting dream pieces or dream-like writing to any one interpretation, Wittgenstein emphasises the enigmatic quality of dream signs, their capacity to compel without fully signifying anything.90 ‘One gets the strong impression that these different shapes and arrangements must mean something,’ he writes.91 The affective yet nonsensical quality of dream pieces, is precisely what Santner stresses in his reading of the Freudian unconscious. What psychoanalysis brings to the fore, Santner believes, is that we are ‘always haunted, surrounded by the remainders of lost forms of life, by concepts and signs that had meaning within a form of life that is now gone and so persist, to use Lacan’s telling formulation, as “hieroglyphs in the desert.’” 92 Here the task of therapy, is not the conversion of biological instincts into meaningful propositions, rather it helps us understand how dream-writing, like Lacan’s hieroglyphs or the five spires of the Moscow cathedral that Wittgenstein refers to,93 come to be the hub of affective charge. Indeed as Wittgenstein shows in his discussion of Freud, it is when we lose sight of the

xx More broadly, as Cavell emphasised in his previously quoted reading of Laplanche’s reading of Freud, the unconscious spans 'the “relation” between biological and psychological drive.’

X9 Santner, Psychotheology, 29. Given the importance Freud gives to development narratives throughout his work, Santner admits that it would be possible to read him in these terms. However, for somewhat different reasons, the world Bildung, is also fruitful in the context of Wittgenstein’s work. Bildung suggests both an integrated picture of the world constructed or built out of parts, and the story of an education, and this returns us, of course, to the builders, to the question of what they are building with their bricks and slabs; and also to the child 'playing builders’ and to the progress of their future education. The scene itself is also a ‘Bild,’ a picture, which as the German word suggests, has been built or made and, as such, has a certain power of being towards others that separates it from everyday objects. In Wittgenstein’s work the status of such pictures is precisely what is under question.

90 The capacity of dreams (and dream-like writing) to provoke various interpretations, or by virtue of a certain ‘literality,’ to resist full interpretation entirely is defended by Wittgenstein in his discussions with Rhees about Freud. Dream-writing, with its powerful charge that nevertheless defies translation, resembles, in this regard, the alternate notion of the unconscious I am beginning to develop here. 91 Wittgenstein, ‘Conversations on Freud,’ 45.

92 Santner, Psychotheology, 43.


structural openness of a dream sign, and demand a singular interpretive myth, that the dream sign compels us most powerfully.


Santner’s argument is that fantasy organises the ‘surplus vitality’ of the unconscious ‘into a schema, a distinctive “torsion” or spin that colours/distorts the shape of our

universe [and] how the world is disclosed to us. ’ 94 In effect, fantasy shapes the surplus

vitality of the unconscious into a foundational realm transcending our shared social world - a realm that promises to provide ultimate justification for notions such as intentionality, sovereign authority, reason, knowledge or even inter-subjective meaning. However the ‘symptomatic torsion’ is also ‘what sustains our sense of the consistency

of the world and our place in it. ’ 95 So the phantasmic binding of the unconscious at once

maintains our sense of meaning and order and inaugurates a crisis of legitimation. As the previous reading of the opening of the Investigations suggests, we become subjects by internalising the symbolic order, but this process is fraught for we grasp the force of the order without being able to fully metabolise its meanings. In Santner’s words, the ‘subject of psychoanalysis,’ or the subject with an unconscious does not begin with biological life,

but rather where biological life is am plified and perturbed by the sym bolic dim ension o f relationality at the very heart o f which lie problem s o f authority and authorization. To borrow a term from Giorgio A gam ben, we m ight say that the life that is of concern

to psychoanalysis is b io p o litica l life, life that has been thrown by the enigm a o f its

legitim acy, the question of its place and authorization within a m eaningful order.96

94 Santner, Psychotheology, 39.

95 Santner, Psychotheology, 39.

96 Santner, Psychotheology, 30. (Santner’s emphasis). For Agamben’s account of biopolitical life see

Giorgio Agamben Homo Sacer, 51: ‘[a]ll societies and cultures today’ Agamben argues, ‘have entered

into a legitimation crisis in which law (we mean by this term the entire text of tradition in its regulative

form, whether the Jewish Torah or the Islamic Sharia, Christian dogma or the profane nomos) is in force

as the pure ‘Nothing of Revelation.” This crisis of legitimation takes place, according to Agamben, not because of specific orders and prohibitions issued by the law, but rather because the law is capable of being in force without signifying anything. Integral to the workings of sovereignty, he argues, is the

moment of exception where in order for authority to continue to be in force, the particular details of its

laws and regulations are held pendant. In the wake of September 11 2001, for example, the legal rights of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay were suspended, in the name of preserving the authority of the US state.

Symbolic authority, as Slavoj Zizek has suggested, can be understood as ‘a certain call which cannot effectively force us into anything, and yet, by a kind of inner compulsion, we feel obliged to follow it unconditionally. ' 97 In this sense, it generates a split within the subject - between self and other, between the part that internalises the command, and the part of the subject which accepts the command. 98 Santner’s suggestion is that the unconscious names ‘the procedures - and impasses of symbolic investiture and legitimation. ’ 99 His central idea is that: ‘[ e]very call to order addressed to a human subject - and a symbolic investiture is such a call - secretes a “surplus value” a psychic excitation that, as it were, bears the burden, holds the place, of the missing foundation of the institutional authority that issued the call. ’ 100 The unconscious, in this view, is this “‘surplus value” of psychic excitation,’ a surplus that can never be fully dispelled for, paradoxically, it is also the ‘citation of a lack,’ a citation of the missing foundations of the authority. 101

Santner’s account transposes, into psychoanalytic terms, the analysis of symbolic authority made by Derrida in ‘Force of Law and the “Mystical Foundations of Authority.’” Drawing on Walter Benjamin's notion that the tautological assertion ‘The Law is the Law!’ has come to stand in for the law’s missing foundations, Derrida proposes that the performative utterances which enable us to assume new identities within a social order are maintained by a violent compulsion to repeat. ' 02

A performative utterance is a speech act that brings about its own propositional content, a form of symbolic investiture. As J. L. Austin points out in How To Do things

With Words, a performative speech act does not simply say something, it performs an action. For example, when a person is declared a citizen by a representative of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, she or he becomes an Australian citizen. The process of symbolic investiture operates at two levels, on the one hand it simply affirms that the candidate already had the qualifications necessary for their new title, but on the other it confers upon them the title, converting, for example, the ‘attributes’ of

97 Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, (London: Routledge, 1992), 94-95.

9X In ‘Addressing the Crisis of Meaning: Towards a ‘psychotheological’ reading of the unconscious,’ Practical Philosophy (Autumn 2004): 40-45, Fiona Jenkins argues that is authority’s call produces a division in the subject, an indigestible surplus vitality that corresponds to the unconscious.

99 Santner Psychotheology, 27. UK) Santner, Psychotheology, 50-51. 101 Santner, Psychotheology, 50.

102 Santner, Psychotheology, 57. As Santner points out, Agamben’s ‘state of exception’ is closely tied to the moment, described by Benjamin in ‘Critique of Violence,’ when a violent compulsion to repeat stands in for the tautological assertion ‘The law is the law!’ See Walter Benjamin, ‘Critique of Violence’ Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken, 1986).

171 citizenship into the ‘attribution’ of citizenship. 103 This second level of linguistic effectivity is in some sense ‘magical’ for it ‘adds no further attribute except the crucial one of title or name. ’ 104 For the magic of performative speech acts to work, for the performative to be meaningful within a symbolic order, it must take place within the context of a complex network of interconnected performatives. For example, in order for the official to perform her task, Commonwealth authority must not only establish his or her credentials but also symbolically invest the relevant authority on him or her. At a certain point, however, there is inevitably a gap in the network of interconnected performatives. What Benjamin’s work brings to the fore, according to Derrida, is that a dimension of violence, a compulsion to repeat, stands in for the missing foundations of symbolic authority. Symbolic authority is maintained by an excess of force over meaning such that ‘the very resources of legitimacy’ become ‘linked to a power of suspension and disruption. ’ 105

In Santner’s psychoanalytic terms a ‘surplus excitation . . . organized in fantasy, supplements and sustains the force of juridical normativity in ways that can be paralysing. ’ 106 The repetitive, zombie-like existence described by Wittgenstein in the scene of the builders testifies to the internal compulsion to repeat that sustains acts of symbolic investiture. According to Santner, by virtue of living within a symbolic

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