This is an extract from The Neurotic Turn, a new anthology of writing around neuroses edited by Charles Johns, which is out now. In it, Graham Harman considers the relationship between Deleuze, Freud, and Object-Oriented Ontology.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are often very hard on Sigmund Freud, who would rank as one of the greatest prose writers of the twentieth century even if every scrap of his psychoanalysis turned out to be false. An exemplary case is the second chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, a dozen or so pages of writing entitled “One or Several Wolves?” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). As their title suggests, the famously irreverent duo of French philosophers is concerned primarily with Freud’s case study of the “Wolf-Man”, later revealed to be a wealthy aristocrat named Sergei Konstantinovitch Pankejeff. This young Russian underwent psychoanalysis with Freud and then his followers for many years, though the chief period of analysis covered in Freud’s case study runs from 1910-1914. Deleuze and Guattari are certainly not alone in criticizing Freud’s interpretation of the case; his critics include other psychoanalysts as well as Pankejeff himself. In what follows I am concerned only with Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of Freud’s study, rather than with the broader accusations that Freud misdiagnosed his patient or abused his power with psychological bullying. Yet we will have to include something that Deleuze and Guattari strangely leave unmentioned: the fact that Pankajeff came to Freud because he was suffering from debilitating psychological problems.
Such is Freud’s continuing status in our culture, despite widespread dismissals of his work as unscientific, anti-woman and anti-gay, that his conclusions regarding Pankejeff are known even by many who have not actually read the study in question. As a young child Pankejeff once dreamed of “six or seven” white wolves sitting in a tree staring at him. Terrified by the dream, he woke up screaming. So vivid was the dream imagery that he refused at first to believe it was not reality, and it took his nurse a long time to calm him down so that he could fall asleep again. This experience gave rise to a lifelong neurosis on Pankejeff’s part. Freud interprets the dream in accordance with his usual methods, and concludes — via numerous steps — that it reflects Pankejeff’s horror at accidentally seeing his parents copulate in rear-entry fashion. Later, Freud also considers the possibility that Pankejeff may have seen a case of animal copulation instead. In any event, the supposed copulation scene is merely the centrepiece of a longer interpretation by Freud that involves several other important factors: the prematurely naughty activities of Pankejeff’s sister (who would later commit suicide), a folk tale told by his grandfather, and Pankejeff’s relations with a number of household servants. This interpretation has been mocked by a number of authors, and was rejected as false by Pankejeff himself. It does not follow that we need to participate in such mockery and rejection. Rather than reconstruct the whole of Freud’s interpretation of the case, I will proceed as follows. First, I will summarize the chief objections to Freud’s interpretation made by Deleuze and Guattari. Second, I will cover an important essay by Freud that explains the groundwork for distinguishing between the unconscious and conscious mind and in the process gives a clear theory of repression, neurosis and psychosis. Third and finally, I will reflect briefly on the connections between Freudian psychoanalysis and object-oriented ontology (OOO), a position I have done a great deal to develop in the past two decades. One section is devoted to each topic.
Deleuze and Guattari contra Freud
Deleuze and Guattari consistently take Freud’s “Oedipus” theory of neurosis to be a strategic enemy, given their professed admiration of schizophrenia and their radical ontology of multiplicities, becoming, assemblages, and lines of flight, which they regard as vividly embodied in schizophrenic experience. This ontology has enjoyed especially widespread influence since the mid-1990s, by which time Deleuze (d. 1995) and Guattari (d. 1992) were both freshly deceased. Though “One or Several Wolves?” contains a number of positive philosophical claims, these take the form of a chapter-length polemic against Freud. From this unforgiving critique I have chosen a number of passages of unusual interest, and have been able with only slight arbitrariness to group them into four basic classes:
The basic principle of psychoanalysis is that wishes are often censored or repressed as incompatible with respectable civilized life. This leads accordingly to such phenomena as dreams, parapraxes (such as slips of the tongue or losing various objects), neurosis, hysteria, and the sublimation found in such cultural phenomena as religion and myth. The goal of the analyst is to uncover the deeper meaning hidden behind the surface or latent content of the individual and collective psyches, which is why psychoanalysis was referred to by Jung’s mentor Bleuler as “depth-psychology”. As a rule, Deleuze and Guattari object to the speed with which Freud replaces surface-meanings with hidden ones. For instance: “That day, the Wolf-Man rose from the couch particularly tired […] He knew that Freud knew nothing about wolves, or anuses for that matter. The only thing Freud understood was what a dog is, and a dog’s tail” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 26). The reference here is to Freud’s claim that castration anxiety played a key role in the Wolf-Man’s mental illness, with the tails of the wolves in the dream serving as phallic symbols, as barricades against castration. Another example: “in the Wolf-Man’s case the story about wolves is followed by one about wasps and butterflies, we go from wolves to wasps” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 31). Here Deleuze and Guattari are incredulous that Freud would lump together such different entities as wolves, wasps, and butterflies as symptoms of the same underlying problem. Freud links the Wolf-Man’s terror at the dream of the wolves and the later flapping of a butterfly with his mention during analysis of an Espe, an incorrect version of the German Wespe (wasp). There is also the noteworthy fact that Espe sounds very similar to the German pronunciation of S.P., the initials of his real name: Sergei Pankajeff. Another example: “Freud sees [everything] only as Oedipal substitutes, regressions, and derivatives. Freud sees nothing and understands nothing. He has no idea what a libidinal assemblage is, with all the machineries it brings into play, all the multiple loves” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 37). Here again, Deleuze and Guattari object to the fact that Freud transforms all the various interests of the Wolf-Man into a fairly repetitive expression of a complex family romance: Pankejeff’s unconscious erotic interest at various times in his mother, father, sister, and beloved nurse. Let’s give a final example:
Talk as he might about wolves, howl as he might like a wolf, Freud does not even listen; he glances at his dog and answers, ‘It’s Daddy’ […] The Wolf-Man keeps howling: Six wolves! Seven wolves! Freud says, How’s that? Goats, you say? How interesting. Take away the goats and all you have left is a wolf, so it’s your father… (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 38)
Deleuze and Guattari reject the manner in which Freud weaves a fairy tale about goats into his interpretation of the dream, while ignoring the Wolf-Man’s own literal words about wolves.
Second, we have Deleuze and Guattari’s related concern about how Freud unjustifiably turns the many into one as he pleases. Here is one example:
No sooner does Freud discover the greatest art of the unconscious, [the] art of molecular multiplicities, than we find him tirelessly at work bringing back molar unities, reverting to his familiar themes of the father, the penis, the vagina, Castration with a Capital C […] (On the verge of discovering a rhizome, Freud always returns to mere roots.) (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 27)
The art of molecular multiplicities refers to the capacity of psychotics for the multiplication of symbols beyond anything known to the neurotic, who can easily take a sock as a substitute for a vagina, but unlike the psychotic cannot treat the many pores in the skin as a field of many vaginas. Deleuze and Guattari also speak in this connection of the surrealist painter and sometimes Freud-admirer Salvador Dali, who
may go on at length about THE rhinoceros horn; he has not for all of that left neurosis behind. But when he starts comparing goosebumps to a field of rhinoceros horns, we get the feeling that the atmosphere has changed and we are now in the presence of madness […] the little bumps ‘become’ horns, and the horns, little penises. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 27)
As for the rhizome, this is Deleuze and Guattari’s way of referring to horizontal connections between multiple things in the manner of mushrooms rather than the root/trunk structure of trees, the favoured metaphor of all the various theories of foundation and origin that they despise. They also reject Freud’s treatment of language:
names are taken in their extensive usage [by Freud], in other words, function as common nouns ensuring the unification of an aggregate they subsume. The proper name can be nothing more than an extreme case of the common noun, containing its already domesticated multiplicity within itself… (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 27)
Against such “domestication”, Deleuze and Guattari insist that the proper name is an intensity added to whatever multiplicity it covers, rather than a unifying term that embraces them. There are other cases where they think Freud is too quick to unify things: “During the first episode [of the Wolf-Man], which Freud declares neurotic, he recounted a dream he had about six or seven wolves in a tree, and drew five. Who is ignorant of the fact that wolves travel in packs? Only Freud. Every child knows it” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 28). Here Deleuze and Guattari seem to take the position that multiplicity is simply multiplicity, with the exact number of wolves being of no importance, whereas Freud insists that every detail in a dream must be accounted for, especially when some of these details contain contradictions. And finally:
The wolves will have to be purged of their multiplicity. This operation is accomplished by associating the dream with the tale, ‘The Wolf and the Seven Kid-Goats’ (only six of which get eaten). We witness Freud’s reductive glee; we literally see multiplicity leave the wolves to take the shape of goats that have absolutely nothing to do with the [Wolf-Man’s dream] story […] Who is Freud trying to fool? (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 28)
This passage is especially striking for its lack of fairness. The fair-minded reader will find no “glee” in Freud’s account of this point, which is recounted in all possible sobriety and slowness; this word is simply a typical polemical device of imputing disreputable emotions to one’s opponent. As for the story of the goats, it is by no means true that it has “nothing to do” with the Wolf-Man, since he is familiar with this story and mentions it at a key point in his analysis.
We have now covered the first two classes of critiques of Freud in “One or Several Wolves?”, which share the common point that Deleuze and Guattari object to Freud failing to take images at their face value, subjecting them to analysis in terms of displacement and condensation: the bread and butter of psychoanalytic interpretation. Despite this, the authors also claim to avoid any traditional opposition between the one and the many:
There is no question […] of establishing a dualist opposition between the two types of multiplicities, molecular machines and molar machines, that would be no better than the dualism between the One and the multiple. There are only multiplicities of multiplicities forming a single assemblage, operating in the same assemblage: packs in masses and masses in packs. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 34)
And what is the positive difference between a pack and a mass? “The leader of the pack or the band plays move by move, must wager everything every hand, whereas the group or mass leader consolidates or capitalizes on past gains” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 33).
The third category of complaints is related to Deleuze and Guattari’s objection to Freud’s account of the difference between neurosis and psychosis. Much of this comes from Guattari’s career-long work with psychotics, who he appreciates on their own terms and does not wish to see personally or intellectually deprecated:
Freud says that hysterics or obsessives are people capable of making a global comparison between a sock and a vagina, a scar and a castration, etc. […] Yet it would never occur to a neurotic to grasp the skin as a multiplicity of pores, little spots, little scars or black holes, or to grasp the sock erotically as a multiplicity of stitches. The psychotic can […] Comparing a sock to a vagina is OK, it’s done all the time, but you’d have to be insane to compare a pure aggregate of stitches to a field of vaginas: that’s what Freud says. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 19)
The implication seems to be that there is a superior imagination, liberation, and even ontological correctness in seeing the world in a manner that Freud regards as psychotic. A further tribute to schizophrenia soon appears:
Freud tried to approach crowd phenomena from the point of view of the unconscious, but he did not see clearly, he did not see that the unconscious itself was fundamentally a crowd. He was myopic and hard of hearing; he mistook crowds for a single person. Schizos, on the other hand, have sharp eyes and ears. They don’t mistake the buzz and shove of the crowd for daddy’s voice. (Deleue and Guattari 1987: 29-30)
Though it is not strictly true that Freud is unaware of multiple currents at work in the unconscious, Deleuze and Guattari’s real claim is that Freud subjects this unconscious to a small number of oedipalizing forces, thereby domesticating their pure multiplicity. Their contempt for such procedures is clear: “People say, After all, schizophrenics have a mother and a father, don’t they? Sorry, no, none as such. They only have a desert with tribes inhabiting it, a full body clinging with multiplicities” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 30).
The fourth category of criticisms of Freud contains those which serve as launching pads into Deleuze and Guattari’s own philosophy, about which I will have less to say in this essay. But it is worth including a sample of them for the light they shed on why the two French thinkers react so badly to the supposed deficiencies of Freud. One reason that Deleuze and Guattari want to preserve the immediacy of the wolves against Freud’s symbolic transformations is their interest in becoming: “Freud obviously knows nothing about the fascination exerted by wolves and the meaning of their silent call, the call to become-wolf” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 28). It is obviously a different becoming if we feel called to become wasp or to become butterfly, and hence it is easy to see why Deleuze and Guattari want to preserve the specificity of each of these creatures against Freud’s attempt to put them all under the same yoke. They continue on a related theme:
This brings us to [another] factor, the nature of these multiplicities and their elements. RHIZOME. One of the essential characteristsics of the dream of multiplicity is that each element ceaselessly varies and alters its distance in relation to the others. On the Wolf-Man’s nose, the elements, determined as pores of little skin, little scars in the pores, little ruts in the scar tissue, ceaselessly dance, grow, and diminish. These variable distances are not extensive qualities divisible by each other; rather, each is indivisible or “relatively indivisible,” in other words, they are not divisible below or above a certain threshold, they cannot increase or decrease without their elements changing in nature. A swarm of bees: here they come as a rumble of soccer players in striped jerseys, or a band of Tuareg. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 30-31)
Presumably the Wolf-Man’s gray zone of indifference between five and seven wolves is taken by Deleuze and Guattari to have the same intensity at all points, with the wolves not changing in nature, and this is why the exact number is said not to matter as much as Freud thinks. A multiplicity is a multiplicity. Along with the networking rhizome, we have that other classic Deleuzo-Guattarian concept, the body without organs:
something plays the role of the full body — the body without organs […] In the Wolf-Man’s dream it is the denuded tree upon which the wolves are perched […] A body without organs is not an empty body stripped of organs, but a body upon which that which serves as organs (wolves, wolf eyes, wolf jaws?) is distributed according to crowd phenomena, in Brownian motion, in the form of molecular multiplicities. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 30)
The body without organs is a term for the resistance of multiplicities to being over-organized, “all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organization” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 30). What arises amidst such a body without falling back into it can be called its intensity, for “the Wolf is the pack […] the multiplicity instantaneously apprehended as such insofar as it approaches or moves away from zero, each distance being nondecomposable. Zero is the body without organs of the Wolf-Man” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 31). This brings us to yet another classic term of these two authors, deterritorialization. In their own words:
Lines of flight or of deterritorialization, becoming-wolf, becoming-inhuman, deterritorialized intensities: that is what multiplicity is. To become wolf or to become hole is to deterritorialize oneself following distinct but entangled lines. A hole is more negative than a wolf. Castration, lack, substitution: a tale told by an overconscious idiot who has no understanding of multiplicities as formations of the unconscious. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 32)
The critique of the “idiot” Freud becomes more concrete when Deleuze and Guattari criticize his inability to handle the social aspects of the Wolf-Man’s dreams, as in his
second dream during his so-called psychotic episode […] Even [the psychoanalyst] Brunswick can’t go wrong […] this time the wolves are Bolsheviks, the revolutionary mass that had emptied the dresser and confiscated the Wolf-Man’s fortune. The wolves, in a metastable state, have gone over to a large-scale social machine. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 35)
Yet psychoanalysis supposedly misses all of this, since for Freud “it all leads back to daddy” though the Wolf-Man’s father was “one of the leaders of the liberal party in Russia”, entangling the supposedly oedipal father in a wider net of social machinery. Exasperated, Deleuze and Guattari conclude sarcastically that after reading Freud, “you’d think that the investments and counterinvestments of the libido had nothing to do with mass disturbances, pack movements, collective signs, and particles of desire” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 35). Having been steeped in so many accusations against Freud, we might forget how powerful an experience it is to read him. In the next section I will make a defence of Freud’s procedures, and in the last and final section will ask how OOO might relate to Freud’s claims.
The Freudian Side of the Story
My first direct encounter with Freud’s writings came in an undergraduate seminar on The Interpretation of Dreams (2015), which must have taken place during my senior year in 1989-90. A few days after I had done the assigned reading, an intelligent classmate named Jason happened to enter my place of part-time employment, and asked what I had thought of it. When I responded positively, he reacted with assertive dismay: “What?! I thought you were a Heideggerian! What does it mean to say that a dream is a wish-fulfillment?” In those days, I was not much of a talker or arguer, and was unsure what to say in response. This scene has occasionally returned to my mind over the ensuing quarter-century, and I am still not entirely sure what Jason meant by his critique. But his reference to Heidegger shows that his criticism of Freud would not have been that of Deleuze and Guattari, who were to some extent fringe figures in the America of 1990, and who Jason had surely not yet read even if he had heard of them. The French authors are bothered primarily by Freud’s appeal to a depth behind any surface-appearance, or beyond “immanence” as Deleuze and Guattari would say. While the man-on-the-street’s vulgar critique says that “Freud reduces everything to sex”, Deleuze and Guattari clearly have no problem with sex per se, as witnessed by their celebrations of desire and their frequently brazen discussions of genitalia. Instead, they are bothered by Freud’s appeal to the Oedipus Complex as the concealed hidden meaning behind everything that should be treated as immanent: “Oedipus, nothing but Oedipus, because it hears nothing and listens to nobody. It flattens everything, masses and packs, molecular and molar machines” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 34).
If Heidegger were to criticize Freud, it certainly would not have anything to do with the depth part of depth-psychology. Heidegger is one of the most prominent philosophers of concealment in the history of the West, and while doubts have often been sown about whether Heideggerian concealment has anything to do with the psychoanalytic sort, we will see that Freud makes an explicit comparison between his own concept of the unconscious and Kant’s notion of the unattainable thing-in-itself. Heidegger’s objection to Freud would lie along a different path. Heidegger is concerned primarily with one relation, and only one: the relation between the always concealed Being and the multitude of visible beings that we encounter either as present-at-hand in consciousness or in the readiness-to-hand of reliable equipment taken for granted until it fails. Any discussion of the transformations between one individual being and another could not be of much interest to Heidegger, who would dismiss such considerations as “ontic” (pertaining to accessible individual beings) rather than “ontological” (pertaining to Being itself). But although Freud will compare the unconscious to the Kantian in-itself, much of his work consists in discovering the displacements and condensations at work in dreams as in everyday life. You may harbour a strong desire for your best friend’s wife Jennifer, but to admit this to oneself, even to dream about it at night, would be unacceptable to the inner censor who helps by transforming it into some other image. Perhaps you dream of sex with another woman named Jennifer for whom you feel no desire at all. Maybe you dream instead of being given flowers by Queen Guinevere from Arthurian legend, whose name is quite close to Jennifer’s. Maybe Jennifer attacks you with a sword in your dream, giving you a good alibi against guilt. Perhaps the dream is of seeing a woman’s wedding ring on a table in your friend’s house, as you place a rigid finger through the centre of it as your friend assures you that it’s a good fit, thereby assuaging your repressed torment. (Though this one might be interpreted, instead, as the homosexual wish to marry one’s friend and enjoy Jennifer’s own passive pleasures.) Or maybe your wish is so forbidden, so laden with regret, that your dream consists of watching through a window as some unknown aggressive man with a sword attacks Jennifer’s sister or friend. This is displacement. Condensation occurs when many things become one. Perhaps you fear your upcoming doctoral defence, and in your dream the thesis committee members take the form of a single incoherently speaking worm crushed beneath your foot. Perhaps you even scream after killing it, as an alibi for your guilt at slaying three professors for your own convenience.
None of this would happen in your dreams if not for the conflict between our often licentious or murderous unconscious impulses and our ego’s conscious need to see ourselves as reliable social beings who would never betray friends or colleagues in such a manner. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1990a), Freud explains how similar things can happen with slips of the tongue, and in Totem and Taboo (1990b) he traces religious ceremonies such as the Eucharist, and myths such as the triumph of Zeus in Greek mythology, to a shared primeval guilt among brothers for slaying the father and eating his body. Most important of all is the myth of Oedipus, the centre of Freud’s work, in which Oedipus kills his father on the road and then marries his mother, without knowing they were his father or mother. Rather than seeing this as just another horrible event on a par with those found in any other tragedy, Freud makes a claim that establishes him as one of the great anti-formalist literary critics. Namely, he insists that the special power of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex is rooted in a shared incestuous desire confronted by children, who all wish to kill the parent of the same sex and thus have the opposite-sex parent for themselves. Civilization requires, of course, that we swiftly overcome such wishes. And though nearly all humans manage to avoid this childish amalgam of parricide and incest, the cost of forbidding ourselves such instinctual pleasures requires some combination of sublimating our desires and forming neurotic or hysterical symptoms. It is these symptoms that psychoanalysis aims to identify and, God willing, treat. Whether or not Freud succeeds in his various diagnoses and treatments has always been a controversial topic, but this does not require that we dismiss the erotic displacements of civilization and neurosis as inherently far-fetched.
As already mentioned, the most striking omission from Deleuze and Guattari’s account is their failure to mention the Wolf-Man’s obvious psychological problems. For example, he is unable to defecate for long periods of time, and can do so at last only by means of an enema. We learn that his love life is characterized by sudden but short-lasting obsessions, usually with servant girls. Deleuze and Guattari try to portray Freud as a bourgeois snob by referring in scare quotes to “people of inferior station” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 19), missing the obvious fact that for a Russian aristocrat of the pre-WWI era, any romance with a servant girl would surely be a social deadend. Perhaps even worse is this bit from the French authors:
A dentist told the Wolf-Man that he ‘would soon lose all his teeth because of the violence of his bite’ — and that his gums were pocked with pustules and little holes. Jaw as high intensity, teeth as low intensity, and pustular gums as approach to zero. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 31-32)
However original or inspiring it may be to view one’s jaws, teeth, and gums in terms of “intensities”, this sounds like a bona fide dental emergency, and Deleuze and Guattari are not up to the task of even recognizing it, let alone helping with it. It is one thing to draw philosophical conclusions from a study of schizophrenics, but quite another to argue for turning Western medicine into a celebration-without-cure of rhizomes, lines of flight, and the body without organs. Nowhere in their objections to Freud do Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that little Sergei woke up screaming in terror from his dream of the wolves, that he changed afterward from a docile boy into a furious troublemaker, that his sister was later able to horrify him at will with an illustration of a wolf standing erect, that he chased a large butterfly but screamed in terror after seeing it land and flap its wings, that he began to soil his bedding regularly, or even that he voluntarily sought out Freud’s treatment. Only with this complete bracketing of the medical aspect of Pankajeff’s case does it become plausible to view the wolves, wasps, and butterflies simply as poetic calls to become-wolf, become-wasp, become-butterfly.
The dream of the wolves causes obvious problems for young Sergei, and on this basis it seems fair to investigate its meaning. Even if the appearance of wolves rather than foxes or tigers came from some special and innocent passion of Sergei for wolves instead of other animals, Freud would be justified in asking Sergei why it was wolves and attempting, through free-association, to learn what topics in his unconscious are the mental neighbours to these wolves. And Freud would be even more justified in wondering why the wolves in this particular dream inspired such significant terror, more or less ruining Pankajeff’s childhood. Nor does it seem right to object to Freud’s wondering about the vagueness of “six or seven” wolves, coupled with the fact that Pankajeff’s drawing of the dream only shows five of them. Finally, on what basis can we condemn Freud for investigating other appearances of wolves in his childhood, especially in the printed stories and oral folk tales that were available to the child? Psychoanalysis holds that there are no irrelevant details in memories or dreams, and while this is as open to question as any other hypothesis, it does not seem ridiculous a priori. There is also the force of Freud’s own intellect, so immediately evident to anyone who gives him an unprejudiced reading. The writings of this “idiot” who “understands nothing” carry sincerity and conviction in a way not always true of Deleuze and Guattari’s otherwise amusing strings of jokes and swear words.
The two French authors seem especially miffed (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 27) by Freud’s essay “The Unconscious” (1957), where the report of the pores on the Wolf-Man’s nose appears. Here Freud gives an ambitious account of the relation between the unconscious, the preconscious and the conscious mind. It should be noted that the unconscious is a psychological concept rather than a philosophical one. Much of the evidence for it comes from clinical experience, and is thus beyond the realm of strictly philosophical critique. No philosopher could or would have deduced the existence of the unconscious in its Freudian form, any more than they could or would have deduced the finite speed of light or the gravitational curvature of space-time theorized by Einstein. Nonetheless, Freud makes an important philosophical link for us at the end of the first section of his essay:
Just as Kant warned us not to overlook the fact that our perceptions are subjectively conditioned and must not be regarded as identical with what is perceived though unknowable, so psycho-analysis warns us not to equate perceptions by means of consciousness with the unconscious mental processes which are their object. Like the physical, the psychical is not necessarily in reality what it appears to us to be. We shall be glad to learn, however, that the correction of internal perception will turn out not to offer such great difficulties as the correction of external perception — that internal objects are less unknowable than the external world. (Freud 1957: 171)
Like Freud, object-oriented ontology (OOO) basically accepts Kant’s notion of a thing-in-itself. The point is controversial, since German Idealism emerged from Kant largely by reinterpreting the thing outside thought as something immanent to the movement of thought itself, and for this reason many critics of OOO (and of Freud) try to paint this as a form of “naïve realism”. In similar manner, the emergence of Jacques Lacan from Freud owes much to his reinterpretation of the unconscious as something as an immanent gap at the centre of consciousness itself. This striking similarity has enabled Slavoj Žižek to produce his unique synthesis of German Idealism and Lacan. The price Žižek pays for this synthesis is a vociferous anti-realism, neatly concealed behind the alibi of a “materialism” that has nothing of the material at all. This also allows him to draw on the critical resources of traditional Enlightenment-Left materialism despite offering up as exaggerated a theory of the worldless subject as anyone since Berkeley, while also encouraging him to dismiss the present-day realists of OOO as naïve pre-Hegelian dupes (Žižek 2016).
But perhaps it is important to recall briefly where OOO agrees and disagrees with Kant, since it is often falsely presented as a purely anti-Kantian movement. Like Kant (and Freud), OOO agrees with the notion that perceptions must not be regarded as identical with what is real and unknowable. Our main difference from Kant is found in the OOO principle that this lag between the perceived and the real is not some special property of human beings, but arises from the difference between reality and relation, as found in animals, plants and even inanimate matter. This is not (or not yet) an argument in favour of panpsychism, but merely the observation that even in the causal relation between fire and cotton, the fire and cotton make contact with only a limited array of one another’s features. It is simply not the case that physical contact is total, as if only mental contact with reality were limited. While this is the core argument of OOO, it is of no relevance to psychoanalysis, which deals specifically with the psyche rather than reality as a whole. At most, psychoanalysis could debate how the unconscious might function in animals; extending its sphere of inquiry to plants and stones lies far beyond the realm of present-day clinical plausibility, though I have entertained the possibility in print (Harman 2002: 208).
One further remark is needed. In the passage just cited, Freud assures us that “internal objects are less unknowable than the external world”. Now, almost every philosopher short of Berkeley is willing to admit that things and our presentations of things are not identical. When I stare at the flames in a furnace, the flames themselves are dangerously hot, though the flames I see are mere images and do not harm my skin in the least. The question is how to account for this difference. Partisans of absolute knowledge in recent philosophy (ranging from Husserl to Meillassoux) hold that there is no thing-in-itself, since with a bit of effort we can actually come to know the essential or primary qualities of things. What this amounts to is the claim that we can extract those qualities of the thing and bring them into the mind without alteration, while simply leaving their substrate outside the mind. Form is extracted from “dead matter”, as Meillassoux (2012) puts it. But in this way, the completely empty notion of “matter” serves as a mere crutch to prop up the evident difference between fire and the perception of a fire. And more than this, it is assumed that a form can move from one place to another while remaining the same form, so that there is only a material but no formal difference between the two kinds of fire. I have criticized this idea elsewhere. For the moment, it can simply be said that this violates Bruno Latour’s useful principle that “there is no transport without transformation” (Latour 2005: 130), which entails that there must also be a formal difference between the two kinds of fire (Harman 2013a). This might seem to place OOO in disagreement with Freud’s notion that the unconscious is “more knowable” than Kantian things-in-themselves, since knowledge as the direct extraction of forms out of matter is thereby rendered impossible. But Freud is well aware that the unconscious is not directly convertible into knowledge any more than the fish-in-themselves or stars-in-themselves that Kant places forever beyond our reach.
Freud justifies the distinction between conscious and unconscious largely through the observation that “the data of consciousness have a very large number of gaps in them; both in healthy and in sick people psychical acts often occur which can be explained only by presupposing other acts, of which, nevertheless, consciousness affords no evidence” (Freud 1957: 166). Even if we were to reject the whole of his The Interpretation of Dreams, there is strong prima facie evidence for unconscious thoughts in the case of parapraxes such as calling someone by the wrong name or declaring a meeting closed when one was supposed to declare it in session. At any rate, there is nothing in Deleuze and Guattari that would cause us to question this. But Freud immediately faces the ambiguity that not everything that is unconscious is unconscious in the same way. Some thoughts are not currently conscious but are capable of becoming so, while others cannot be made conscious in quite the same way. That is to say, some are “merely latent, temporarily unconscious” while others “such as repressed ones […] if they were to become conscious would be bound to stand out in the crudest contrast to the rest of the conscious processes” (Freud 1957: 172). In order to emphasize that only the latter kind are unconscious in the full-blown psychoanalytic sense, Freud introduces the terminology of “Ucs.” and “Cs.” when speaking of the “systematic” difference between these two realms. This is opposed to the “descriptive” difference that merely announces whether or not something merely happens to be in our mind at the present moment. What is the border control that prevents the Ucs. from bleeding into the Cs.? We have already mentioned it: “a psychical act goes through two phases as regards its state, between which is interposed a kind of testing (censorship)” (Freud 1957: 173). But that which passes the test of the censor might still become latent or pre-conscious (“Pcs.”) rather than conscious. For this reason, there is not yet any topographical difference between Pcs. and Cs., both of which remain united for now in their joint opposition to the Ucs. Whereas the first two have cleared censorship, the last has not. Freud hints coyly that if there turns out to be an additional stage of censorship between Pcs. and Cs., only then can we distinguish between these two topographically as well. I say “coyly” because Freud will in fact discover this additional censor less than twenty pages later.
An additional question now arises, which Freud admits “may appear abstruse” but is nonetheless crucial: What is the relation between the unconscious and conscious forms of one and the same idea? Is it the same content but with two different roles depending on whether it is conscious or not: i.e. a functional separation between the two? Or is the content recorded twice, in two different locations: i.e. a topographical separation between them? Freud inclines initially toward the second view. This is due to his frequent clinical experience that if he suggests an idea to one of his patients that seems to be hidden in his unconscious, “our telling him makes at first no change in his mental condition […] [A]ll that we shall achieve at first will be a fresh rejection of the repressed idea” (Freud 1957: 175). Freud’s allegiance to the so-called “talking cure” does not mean that he thinks that making an idea conscious is enough to dispel its harmful unconscious effects. For “there is no lifting of the repression until the conscious idea, after the resistances have been overcome, has entered into connection with the unconscious memory-trace” (Freud 1957: 175-6). This strongly suggests that it is not just a question of the “same” content in two different places: “To have heard something and to have experienced something are in their psychological nature two quite different things, even though the content of both is the same…” (Freud 1957: 176). Freud hints that he will perhaps find a new, alternative approach, as indeed he does later in the same essay.
A new question now arises. If ideas can exist either in the Ucs. or the Cs., is the same true of instincts and emotions/affects? It is clear to Freud that instincts must always remain in the Ucs., and can pass into Cs. only in the form of ideas. But he holds that the opposite is true of emotions and affects, which are always discharges rather than cathexes (investments of libidinal energy in some object). Since it is of the nature of a discharge to unleash itself in the world rather than to hide in withdrawn concealment, emotions and affects must always belong to the sphere of Pcs./Cs., never to the Ucs. Nevertheless, the suppression of emotion is obviously the immediate aim of repression, and it is hard to see how this can happen if the Ucs. is the sole locus of the repressed. Freud’s solution to this problem is to say that repression occurs at the point where the unconscious idea meets its conscious counterpart. In cases of normal psychological life, the instincts enter unproblematically into conscious emotion. But at least two different kinds of things can go wrong. The former occurs when “the development of affect […] proceed[s] directly from the system Ucs.; in that case the affect always has the character of anxiety, for which all ‘repressed’ affects are exchanged” (Freud 1957: 179). The latter comes about when “the instinctual impulse has to wait until it has found a substitutive idea in the system Cs. The development of affect can then proceed from this conscious substitute, and the nature of that substitute determines the qualitative character of the affect” (Freud 1957: 179). A good example of this is found in the animal phobias of children, quite often directed at animals never or rarely encountered in everyday life. Here it could be that the fear of the father is transformed into a hysterical fear of wolves or butterflies, among other things. Both of these cases can be called “anxiety hysteria”, as opposed to the “conversion hysteria” in which repression is found not in a substitute object, but in some mysterious bodily symptom.
Repression occurs at the point of censorship, which withdraws cathexis from the censored idea. Freud now asks in which system this occurs. Since the repressed idea by definition still exists in the Ucs., the withdrawal of cathexis must occur somewhere else. The libido may withdraw from a cathexis that is actually already conscious, but this occurs most often in the pre-conscious sphere. But given that the cathexis remains at work in the Ucs., why does it not repeatedly try to rise back into the Pcs./Cs., yielding a permanent state of anxiety? Freud declares here that he has no choice but to introduce the notion of an anticathexis, “by means of which the system Pcs. protects itself from the pressure upon it of the unconscious idea” (Freud 1957: 181). In cases of primal repression (Urverdrängung) this has always already happened and the ideas never reach the Pcs. at all, so that no “withdrawal” is necessary. But in cases of “repression proper” (Nachverdrängung), such as the repression of unwelcome ideas, there must also be a withdrawal of the cathexis that did reach the Pcs. Freud briefly summarizes how this works in the various cases of anxiety, phobias, conversion hysteria and obsessional neurosis, noting that conversion hysteria with its bodily symptoms is the most “successful” form of repression, given its relative absence of anti-cathexis in comparison with the others. This fits nicely with Freud’s observation elsewhere that whereas (conversion) hysterics entirely repress all knowledge of the cause of their symptoms, obsessive neurotics are often quite aware of this cause and simply repress their emotional reaction to it.
Freud now highlights the censorship role of the Pcs. Taken in itself, the Ucs. “consists [solely] of wishful impulses”, “of instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis” (Freud 1957: 186). If some of these impulses are contradictory, they merely seek a compromise. They are capable of displacement or condensation, as we see in dreams and neuroses, in which the “processes of the higher, Pcs., system are set back to an earlier stage by being lowered (by regression)” (Freud 1957: 187). They are not affected at all by time. Perhaps most importantly, they contain no reality principle at all, which is entirely the work of the Pcs. The Ucs. contains even the most absurd impulses, absolutely forbidden by or impracticable in normal social existence. Censorship and reality testing are entirely foreign to the Ucs., and are carried out only by the Pcs., as are all muscular motions other than sheer reflexes. Yet we should not imagine that the Ucs. is simply a primitive vestige, “with the Pcs. casting everything that seems disturbing to it into the abyss of the Ucs” (Freud 1957: 190). For in fact the Ucs. “is accessible to the impressions of life […] constantly influences the Pcs., and is even, for its part, subjected to influences from the Pcs” (Freud 1957: 190). Among other things, if the Ucs. were completely cut off from conscious life then psychoanalytic treatment would be impossible, and Freud’s own experience shows that “though a laborious task, [it] is not impossible” (Freud 1957: 194). Freud also notes that a good part of the Pcs. consists of unconscious “derivatives” that are fully present in the Pcs. but not in the Cs. Thus, “now it becomes probable that there is [an additional] censorship between the Pcs. and the Cs” (Freud 1957: 191). Thus, every transition from a lower state to a higher one involves a fresh censorship, though not in reverse: the Pcs. and Ucs. can directly absorb what Cs. learns through perception. One piece of evidence is that many ego-impulses “remain alien to consciousness” but still belong to the Pcs. rather than to the Ucs. Freud summarizes his three-tiered structure wonderfully:
The Ucs. is turned back on the frontier of the Pcs., by the censorship, but derivatives of the Ucs. can circumvent this censorship, achieve a high degree of organization and reach a certain intensity of cathexis in the Pcs. When, however, this intensity is exceeded and they try to force themselves into consciousness, they are recognized as derivatives of the Ucs. and are repressed afresh at the new frontier of censorship, between the Pcs. and the Cs. Thus the first of these censorships is exercised against the Ucs. itself, and the second against its Pcs. derivatives. (Freud 1957: 193)
This already becomes clear through the psychoanalyst’s ability to have the patient free-associate without any repression, simply saying whatever comes into his or her mind, however vile or irrelevant it may seem. In this way, the patient overcomes the second censorship between Pcs. and Cs., so that “by overthrowing this censorship, we open up the way to abrogating the repression accomplished by the earlier one” (Freud 1957: 193-4). Freud speculates further that consciousness of an idea requires not just a cathexis and certainly not an anti-cathexis, but a hypercathexis. In any case, we see now that the Pcs. plays a crucial mediator’s role between the Ucs. and the Cs., with the Ucs. unable to pass directly into Cs., though perhaps the reverse does happen directly. When too strong a separation occurs between them, when their indirect communication is dammed up or cut off, we have an unfortunate situation: “A complete divergence of their trends, a total severance of the two systems, is what above all characterizes a condition of illness” (Freud 1957: 194).
We now come to the final section of Freud’s essay, the most objectionable part for Deleuze and Guattari, since it is here that Freud offers his own purportedly inadequate theory of schizophrenia. Freud refers to the psychoses as “narcissistic psychoneuroses”, given his view that whereas the neuroses continue to cathect their objects in the Ucs. as well as substitute objects in the Pcs./Cs., in psychosis the object-relation seems to disappear. In schizophrenia (or “dementia praecox”, in Bleuler’s terminology), “the object-cathexes are given up and a primitive objectless condition of narcissism is re-established” (Freud 1957: 196-7). Freud sees this clinically in the inability of the schizophrenic to engage in transference of libido onto the analyst, without which psychoanalytic cure is impossible; he also cites the schizophrenic’s repudiation of the outside world, the hints of a hypercathexis of his or her own ego, leading to an ultimate state of complete apathy. He also notes that “all observers have been struck by the fact that in schizophrenia a great deal is expressed as being conscious which in the transference neuroses can only be shown to be present in the Ucs. by psycho-analysis” (Freud 1957: 198; emph. added). Freud seeks the key to interpretation in the strange speech pattern exhibited by schizophrenics, “which become ‘stilted’ and ‘precious.’ The construction of [the schizophrenic’s] sentences undergoes a peculiar disorganization, making them so incomprehensible to us that his remarks seem nonsensical” (Freud 1957: 198). He summarizes an interesting case from his trusted Viennese colleague Victor Tausk. A girl is brought in after quarreling with her lover. She complains that “her eyes were not right, they were twisted”, which she blames on her boyfriend, though there is obviously nothing wrong with her eyes. While standing in church one day “she felt a jerk; she had to change her position, as though somebody was putting her into a position, as though she was being put in a certain position”. The obvious difference for Freud between schizophrenics and hysterics is that in the latter case there are actual bodily symptoms rather than just words about them:
[A] hysterical woman would, in the first example, have in fact convulsively twisted her eyes, and, in the second, have given actual jerks, instead of having the impulse to do or the sensation of doing so: and in neither example would she have any accompanying conscious thoughts, nor would she have been able to express any such thoughts afterwards. (Freud 1957: 198-9)
These two factors lead Freud to conclude that schizophrenics have the same relation to words that the rest of us have to objects. The work of condensation and displacement that occurs in the dreams of neurotics — and everyone else for that matter, given that dreams themselves have the structure of neurotic symptoms — takes place in psychotics with words, sometimes to the point that “a single word […] takes over the representation of a whole train of thought” (Freud 1957: 199).
This brings Freud to the unpleasant case of the Wolf-Man’s face, on which he had squeezed out many blackheads. Under analysis Freud determines that this squeezing is a substitute for masturbation, and that the castration anxiety often associated with penis-related activity in boys (a maid had once threatened to cut it off after he urinated on the floor in her presence) is ratified by the remaining holes in his face after the blackheads have been squeezed. Whereas a hysteric is able to treat almost any hollow object as a vaginal substitute in his or her symptoms, no hysteric (Freud claims) would treat such a multiplicity of tiny holes as a field of vaginas: the vagina of fantasy life is normally just one, and we would also expect that hollow objects would need to reach a feasible minimum size before the relation with a vagina would be suggested. We recall Deleuze and Guattari’s sarcastic words about this passage of Freud: “Comparing a sock to a vagina is OK, it’s done all the time, but you’d have to be insane to compare a pure aggregate of stitches to a field of vaginas: that’s what Freud says” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 19). Freud’s case might seem to come down to a question of greater and lesser resemblance, though he actually reaches a somewhat different conclusion:
As far as the thing goes, there is only a very slight similarity between squeezing out a blackhead and an emission from the penis, and still less similarity between the innumerable shallow pores of the skin and the vagina; but in the former case there is, in both instances, a ‘spurting out,’ while in the latter the cynical saying ‘a hole is a hole’ is true verbally. What has dictated the substitution [in the latter case?] is not the resemblance between the things denoted but the sameness of the word used to express them. Where the two — word and thing — do not coincide, the formation of substitutes in schizophrenia deviates from that in the transference neuroses. (Freud: 200-1)
The bracketed phrase above that I inserted in the form of a question points to a grammatical ambiguity in this passage, in which the final two sentences do not flow naturally from what precedes them. We understand Freud’s view that whereas the neurotic deals with objects, the psychotic deals with words. But whereas the earlier part of the passage suggests only a difference of degree between “squeezing a blackhead = ejaculation” and “pores in the face = field of vaginas”, since the first is called “a very slight similarity” and the second “still less similarity”, the conclusion of the passage makes it sound as if there is a crucial difference in kind between the two cases.
Here it is necessary to bring up a crucial point in the theory of metaphor, which I have dealt with extensively elsewhere (Harman 2016: 101-4). It is obvious that metaphors cannot work unless they avoid the extremes of comparing objects that have nothing in common and those that have too much in common. “Memphis is like the Pacific Ocean” has no immediate metaphorical effect at all, though perhaps some great poet could provide the context for this to take place. “Memphis is like Louisville” fails for the opposite reason, since the similarity is too literal, or at least is claimed as such by the speaker. Though a skeptic might quickly point to the vast cultural differences between the two cities, the comparison does have some things going for it: both are mid-South river cities with roughly 600,000 inhabitants. For a metaphor to work, it needs to hit a vague bullseye somewhere between these two extremes. Luckily, my graduate school roommate Paul Schafer is a Memphis native, and once shared a good metaphorical description of his home city: “Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, but Memphis is the capital of Mississippi”. In order to understand this, one only needs to know a bit of American geography and a bit about the varying flavour of the two cities. Both are located literally in the state of Tennessee, and Nashville is the actual state capital. Hence the first part of the sentence “Nashville is the capital of Tennessee” expresses a literal truth containing no metaphorical effect whatsoever, unless retroactively after the second part is heard. The real metaphorical work occurs in the second part of the sentence, “Memphis is the capital of Mississippi”. This statement is an obvious falsehood, as is known even to ten-year-olds in America, and the impossibility of accepting it at face value forces the mind along a different path: Memphis is the most relevant urban centre for at least the northern half of Mississippi, and Memphis also has more of a Mississippian Deep South atmosphere than does relatively clean-cut Nashville. Though Jacques Derrida makes a concerted effort to downplay the literal/metaphorical distinction (Derrida 1982), the OOO theory of metaphor (Harman 2005: 101-24) sees the basis for an absolute distinction between them, even if two people may disagree about which is which in particular cases. Whereas a literal statement compares two things (correctly or incorrectly) in terms of their purportedly similar properties, and a fanciful statement — Memphis/Pacific Ocean — does this in immediately unconvincing fashion, a metaphorical statement works by transferring the characteristics of one object to another. In this case, Memphis acquires Mississippi traits through the metaphor. This leads to a further observation on Freud’s distinction between neurosis and psychosis. The “very slight similarity” between squeezing a blackhead and masturbating to the point of ejaculation seems no more “slight” than that which occurs in any metaphor. It is true that the first case of slight similarity has a repulsive ugliness that will — one hopes — bar it forever from the realm of aesthetics (“Squeezing a blackhead is like…”). Beyond this, however, the main difference between symptom and metaphor is as follows. In the blackhead/penis case one object is unconsciously substituted for another, so that the blackhead is conscious and the role of the penis is repressed. In metaphor, by contrast, Memphis is not repressed: it is foregrounded as a vague object orbited by the properties of Mississippi and of a capital city, though in reality neither of these is accurate. But we might imagine a reversal of the two cases, in which a disgusting poem calling the penis “that blackhead of the loins” or the blackhead “that penis of the cheeks” is conjoined with the Nashville-abhorring delusion that Memphis is the real capital of Tennessee, with the existence of Nashville thereby repressed — at least temporarily — into the unconscious. Note that however wild this delusion sounds, it would still be a neurosis rather than a psychosis in Freudian terms, since we would still be dealing with objects rather than words. On that note, we move directly to the final pages of his essay.
The strangeness of schizophrenia, Freud concludes, comes from “the predominance of what has to to do with words over what has to do with things”. Though the observation remains in force that the schizophrenic abandons cathexes of the object, the cathexes of words are retained all the more. This has direct implications for two issues already raised earlier. The first has to do with the exact nature of the relation between the Ucs. and the Pcs./Cs.:
We now seem to know all at once what the difference is between a conscious and an unconscious presentation. The two are not, as we supposed, different registrations of the same content in different psychical localities, nor yet different functional states of cathexis in the same locality; but the conscious presentation comprises the presentation of the thing plus the presentation of the word belonging to it, while the unconscious presentation is the presentation of the thing alone. (Freud 1957: 201)
Two pages later Freud clarifies that the association of thing and word actually belongs to the pre-conscious rather than the conscious realm, since “being linked with word-presentations is not yet the same thing as becoming conscious, but only makes it possible to become so”. The second issue clarified by Freud’s distinction between object and word is the nature of neurotic repression. For as he puts it: “Now, too, we are in a position to state precisely that what repression denies to the rejected presentation is translation into words, or a psychical act which is not hypercathected, but remains thereafeter in the Ucs. in a state of repression” (Freud 1957: 202). We must remember, however, that Freud told us earlier that putting something into explict words does not free it from repression, since to state something explicitly is not yet to make a connection between the conscious and unconscious realms. But this raises the question of what repression is in the case of psychosis rather than neurosis. We saw that for the neurotic, repression happens at the gateway between Ucs. and Pcs. For the psychotic, no such thing can happen, assuming Freud is right that psychosis is the negation of both unconscious and conscious object-cathexes in favour of a narcissistic withdrawal into the mind. This withdrawal is actually more than a simple flight away from the world, since it simultaneously takes the form of a hypercathexis of words. Freud concludes the essay with a fascinating question and an equally fascinating result. Given the detachment between objects and words in schizophrenia, it seems strange that the words should be the element that is retained, given that we usually see the reverse: for it is usually Pcs. material that is repressed, even as everything still remains at play in the Ucs. Freud’s imaginative solution to this puzzle is as follows: “It turns out that the cathexis of the word-presentation is not part of the act of repression, but represents the first of the attempts at recovery or cure which so conspicuously dominate the clinical picture of schizophrenia” (Freud 1957: 202-3). In an attempt to regain the lost object, the schizophrenic “may well […] set off on a path that leads to the object via the verbal part of it”. This leads him to remark that “when we think in abstractions… the expression and content of our philosophizing then begins to acquire an unwelcome resemblance to the mode of operation of schizophrenics” (Freud 1957: 204).
As a philosopher, I am of course in no position to mediate a clinical debate between Freud and Guattari as to what schizophrenia really is. But in both cases certain philosophical notions are brought into play, and here the philosopher is fully justified in offering affirmations and objections. Moreover, we have now seen Freud’s careful attempt to describe the interrelation of the Ucs., Pcs., and Cs. and how this interrelation generates various illnesses. For this reason we are inoculated against any of the more frivolous objections to Freud into which Deleuze and Guattari too often lapse. “It’s all Daddy!” is a fun comic parody of Freud, but it must be wondered how many of Deleuze and Guattari’s fans take it merely as a parody. There is nothing counterintuitive about Freud’s procedure here, even if he is as vulnerable to being proven wrong as anyone else. The father and mother are awesomely powerful, perhaps godlike figures in the eyes of the infant. Sexuality can be confusing enough for adults, and all the more so for small children making their first researches in this area. Many boys can probably still remember their first discovery that their sister or girl cousin or mother did not have penis, or can remember their archaic theories that babies are born from the mother’s bottom. Thus castration anxiety is at least a plausible hypothesis, as is the notion of the bottom serving as the locus of gifts in the form of feces, babies and (following conversion) money. The Oedipus hypothesis also has some innate plausibility, given the quite believable theory that the infant desires the death of the same-sex parent and marriage with the one of the opposite sex. Yes, Freud can be made to look ridiculous if we portray him as jumping directly from wolves in a tree to parents having sex. But any multi-step process can be made to look equally ridiculous if we cut out the middle terms. To borrow an example from Bruno Latour, what if we poured Saudi crude oil directly into the gas tank of a vehicle, without the middle stages of refinement? (See Latour’s wonderful “industrial” model of truth: Latour 1999: 137.) Or what if we removed the power cord between the lamp and the wall socket? In that case, we would be just as clown-like as those who choose to mock Freud by jumping instantly from the staring wolves to the copulating parents. What must be judged is simply the quality of translations between each step, and here Freud can fail like anyone else, without his psychoanalysis becoming a mere laughing-stock.
Some Thoughts on OOO and Psychonalysis
I have mentioned that Freud’s work is psychology, not ontology. He only tries to clarify the workings of the human mind, barely speaking even about animals, and with little to teach us about the structure of inanimate objects. Nonetheless, there are obvious points of contact with OOO. Perhaps the most obvious is found in Freud’s analogy between his own procedure and that of Kant when introducing the thing-in-itself. With OOO, as with Freud, the better part of reality lies beneath the accessible surface, as everyone knows in the proverbial case of the iceberg. However, this happens for completely different reasons in the two cases. For OOO, the withdrawal of objects occurs due to the inherent difference between reality and relation. A tree is not identical with its effects, since the tree can have different effects at different times, and even if it could have all of its possible effects simultaneously, this grand total of effects would still not be a tree. For Freud, however, the concealment of the unconscious happens for a specific reason that may well be limited to human beings alone: the existence of two layers of censors. Though the fire does not make contact with all aspects of the cotton, but only with those on which the fire is capable of acting, this is not because the fire has some inner censor that represses aspects of the cotton that are too terrifying for it to admit. The uniqueness of human beings has often been linked to our possession of language, a claim that seems less plausible with every new study of animal communication. A more plausible claim about what makes humans special comes from F.W.J. Schelling, who thinks it is history, of which there are few if any traces in the animal kingdom. But Freud’s theory suggests that repression, which he calls the very cornerstone of psychoanalysis, may be what makes us unique. Without censorship, no humanity. If this is the case, then it challenges the notion of Deleuze and Guattari that psychosis is a more fundamental layer of experience than neurosis and hysteria. Psychosis would instead be lost in an anti-unconscious incapable of grasping the metaphorical beneath the literal.
We turn now to a different point. The followers of Deleuze and Guattari might claim (though I have never heard them do so) that they are better potential allies for OOO than is Freud. Though they would willingly concede that Freud provides tools for discussing concealment that cuts against the grain of Deleuzo-Guattarian “immanence”, Freud is nonetheless too reductive to be a reliable ally for OOO. After all, OOO insists on the irreducible character of objects, which cannot be explained away by reducing objects to their sources or parts (undermining), their effects (overmining), or both procedures simultaneously (duomining) (Harman 2013b). But this would not be quite to the point. OOO’s claim is only that a horse is more than horse parts and less than horse-actions, horse-effects, or horse-events. By no means do we claim that the translation between these realms is impossible; indeed, such translation is the very heart of the matter. Objects are not just isolated from their possible upward and downward reductions, but are in fact entangled in such reductions. But we need to keep in mind that each translation is by the same token a distortion or caricature. Thus there is no problem in thinking that a sock might be the translation of a vagina or the Christian Eucharist the translation of primeval cannibal guilt. We simply cannot assume that such translations exhaust the meaning of any of these symbols. But on this point, paradoxically, we come into partial agreement with Deleuze and Guattari, who are also right that a wolf, a wasp and a butterfly are not the same, and that these differing entities might well receive different libidinal energies rather than all being mere recursions to a traumatic primal scene of infancy.
Finally, there is some convergence on the question of metaphor. Earlier I doubted that repression can have a truly metaphorical character, since for OOO the metaphor requires the vague presence of the object that disappears (e.g. Memphis) even as it is forced to bear properties normally foreign to it (e.g. capital-qualities, Mississippi-qualities), whereas the hysteric — at least — completely represses the vagina when he or she develops a phobia of socks. Yet we must admit that there is a metaphorical flavour to Freud’s “dream-work”, which we all know is sometimes capable of something like high art. After all, if the dream did not hint vaguely at that which is repressed behind its manifest content, no connection between the Pcs. and Ucs. would be possible. Not only would psychoanalysis become impossible with such a total cutting-off of the Ucs., but the dream could never work as a wish-fulfillment as Freud requires. The image of wolves in a dream would be nothing but a wish to become-wolf, and would thus never give rise to anxiety in the very moment of fulfilling the wish of the Ucs. Elsewhere I have suggested that this indirect access to the repressed lies at the root even of the mere causal relations between objects such as cotton and fire. But this would take us beyond Freud, who confines himself to the underworld that is ruled by a censor.
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