There is the famous anecdote about Freud: upon being reminded by a disciple that to smoke cigars is clearly a phallic activity, Freud, cigar in hand, is said to have responded, “Sometimes a good cigar is just a good cigar.” The anecdote demonstrates, it seems to me, a problematic central to psychoanalysis: the discipline which insists on transference and, perhaps even more significantly, on displacement as fundamental principles, ultimately must insist in turn on seeing everything as being “really” something else. Such an ideology of metamorphosis is so much taken for granted that unlike the rest of the world, which generally has difficulty in being convinced that a pipe, for example, is not necessarily a pipe at all, psychoanalysis needs at times to remind itself, in a type of return to an adaequatio, that it is possible for a cigar really to be a cigar. Psychoanalysis, in other words, has not only an economy which is hydraulic (mirroring the nineteenth-century physics from which it springs), but has as well an economy of seepage: each apparent object, whether in dream, literature, or psychic narrative, splashes over onto at least one “something else.” Not only is there always a remainder, but the remainder generally proliferates, multiplies, from more than one quotient, such that the original “thing” in question becomes merely the agent for production. Its status as thing-in-the-world is easily lost.
Such seepage has, of course, appeared almost everywhere. Psychoanalysis has infiltrated such diverse areas as literature (to which it owes its myths), linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, history, feminism, psychology, archeology, neurology, to name some. And it is in the notion of “some,” perhaps, that lies the crux of the problem. For there is in psychoanalysis an overt conviction that it exists as the ultimate totality, of which everything else is a part. Not content to see itself as one in a number of enterprises, the psychoanalytic project has at its foundation a vision of itself as the meaning which will always lie in wait; the truth which lies covered by “the rest.” Jacques Derrida has, of course, pointed to this tendency. Psychoanalysis, he noted, wishes a peculiar logic for itself, one in which “the species would include the genus.”1 Moreover, says Derrida in the same essay, once psychoanalysis has discovered itself, what it then again proceeds to discover around it is always itself.2 What happens, then, is that psychoanalysis becomes a ubiquitous subject, assimilating every object into itself. But it is also a Subject which sees itself as omnipresent, omniscient, and without a center—precisely the terms in which God has been described. It is not then by chance that the unconscious is likened to a divinity: always present but revealing itself only obliquely and at privileged moments, the unconscious takes the place of the Judeo-Christian God. It is within every being, but inaccessible unless it “chooses” to manifest itself. And in a peculiar reversal of the notion of the partitive, psychoanalysis would have the unconscious reveal itself in fleeting moments and fragments, thereby suggesting its fullness and totality; and it would have “other” intellectual enterprises be only apparent totalities which are revealed through psychoanalysis alone to be “really” incomplete because they exist without recognizing the unconscious and its mother, psychoanalysis itself.
1. Jacques Derrida, “Graphesis,” “The Purveyor of Truth,” trans. Willis Dominggo et al., Yale French Studies 52 (1975): 32.
2. See the syllogism with which Derrida opens his “Purveyor of Truth,” p. 31. Part of what I am calling the “syllogism” appears at the beginning of Stephen Melville’s article in the present issue.
The focus of this essay will be on Freud, although my approach is informed by certain aspects of “post-Freudian” analysis. In the works of Freud, however, history in the ordinary sense often seems lost in the shuffle between ontogeny and phylogeny. When Freud, in the latter part of his life, turned to cultural history, he was primarily concerned with showing how the evolution of civilization on a macrological level might be understood through—or even seen as an enactment of—psychoanalytic principles and processes. And he openly acknowledged the speculative nature of his inquiry into prehistory, “archaic” society, and their putative relation to the civilizing process.
One might nonetheless argue that throughout Freud’s work there are theoretical bases and fruitful leads for a more delimited investigation of specific historical processes for which documentation is, to a greater or lesser extent, available. This kind of investigation is, moreover, required to test the pertinence of Freud’s speculative and at times quasi-mythological initiatives. At present one can perhaps do little more than tentatively suggest how such an investigation might proceed and the sorts of issues it might conceivably illuminate. For its elaboration has been relatively underdeveloped in the research of those who looks to Freud for guidance.
Dominick LaCapra is GGoldwin Smith Professor of European Intellectual History at Cornell University. His most recent books are “Madame Bovary” on Trial (1982), Rethinking Intellectual History (1983), and History and Criticism (1985). He has just completed a book-length manuscript entitled “History, Politics, and the Novel.”
I have two primary aims in the following paper, aims that are inextricably intertwined. First, I want to raise some historiographical and epistemological issues about how to write the history of psychoanalysis. Although they arise quite generally in the history of science, these issues have a special status and urgency when the domain is the history of psychoanalysis. Second, in light of the epistemological and methodological orientation that I am going to advocate, I want to begin a reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, one whose specificity is a function of my attachment to this orientation, to a particular way of doing the history of psychoanalysis. Despite the enormous number of pages that have been written on Freud’s Three Essays, it is very easy to underestimate the density of this book, a density at once historical, rhetorical, and conceptual. This underestimation stems in part from historiographical presumptions that quite quickly misdirect us away from the fundamental issues.
In raising question about the historiography of the history of science, I obviously cannot begin at the beginning. So let me begin much further along, with the writings of Michel Foucault. I think of the works of Foucault, in conjunction with that of Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem, as exemplifying a very distinctive perspective about how to write the history of science. In the English-speaking world, perhaps only the work of Ian Hacking both shares this perspective and ranks with its French counterparts in terms of originality and quality. No brief summary can avoid eliding the differences between Bachelard, Canguilhem, Hacking, and Foucault; indeed, the summary I am going to produce does not even fully capture Foucault’s perspective, which he called “archaeology.”1 But this sketch will have to do for the purposes I have in mind here, whose ultimate aim is to reorient our approach to the history of psychoanalysis.
1. The sketch that follows reproduces, with some omissions and additions, the beginning of my “Archeology, Genealogy, Ethics,” in Michel Foucault: A Critical Reader, ed. David Hoy (London, 1986), pp. 221-34.
Arnold I. Davidson is assistant professor in the department of philosophy, the Committee on the Conceptual Foundations of Science, and the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He is currently writing a book on the history and epistemology of nineteenth-century psychiatric theories of sexuality.
All disciplines have their histories in addition to their theories. In general, the history of a set of problems is treated separately from the nature of the problems themselves. The axioms of a given discipline may be the object of external inquiry but are not usually subject to historical examination. In this way, psychoanalysis has been investigated, even challenged, by a variety of other disciplines: biology, linguistics, history, philosophy, literature, and so forth. One may ask whether psychoanalysis can also become its own object, effectively distancing itself from itself. Will historical scrutiny provide criticism from within and thereby alter the nature of psychoanalysis?
It has been our observation that the history of the creation of psychoanalysis and of the psychoanalytic movement suggests deficiencies and omissions within psychoanalytic theory. This implies something far beyond the simple idea that no serious examination of theoretical problems can occur without an understanding of their history. Not only the past but the future of psychoanalysis, both as a theory and as a clinical practice, may well depend on the conscious assessment and assimilation of its own history. “The Secret of Psychoanalysis: History Reads Theory” is intended in part as an introduction to Nicolas Abraham’s “Notes on the Phantom” which will, in turn, illuminate the theoretical and practical scope of this essay.
A history of Freudian psychoanalysis could be written based on the voices of dissenting insiders, without including schismatics such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Stekel, and others who eventually developed independent systems of thought. The detailed interpretation of such firsts is already a consecrated approach to psychoanalytic history. But much remains to be learned from the internal criticism of those who have participated in Freud’s movement or have sought sympathetically to understand the birth and progress of Freudian psychoanalysis. Most of the disagreements concern theoretical and clinical issues or the clocked access to documents that are essential to the history assessment of psychoanalysis. This is Ludwig Marcuse’s case as he writes to Ernest Jones on 10 October 1957.1
1. Ludwig Marcuse is the author of Freud und sein Bild vom Menschen [Freud and his image of man] (Frankfurt, 1956).
Nicholas Rand, assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, is completing a book on the notion of hiding in literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. Maria Torok is the author (with Nicholas Abraham) of The Wolf Man’s Magic Word (Le Verbier de L’Homme aux loups), recently published in translation. “The Secret of Psychoanalysis” is part of a book-length study Rand and Torok are writing on Freud and psychoanalytic theory.
The belief that the spirits of the dead can return to haunt the living exists either as a tenet or as a marginal conviction in all civilizations, whether ancient or modern. More often than not, the dead do not return to reunite the living with their loved ones but rather to lead them into some dreadful snare, entrapping them with disastrous consequences. To be sure, all the departed may return, but some are predestined to haunt: the dead who have been shamed during their lifetime or those who took unspeakable secrets to the grave. From the brucolacs, the errant sprits of outcasts in ancient Greece, to the ghost of Hamlet’s vengeful father, and on down to the rapping spirits of modern times, the theme of the dead—who, having suffered repression by their family or society, cannot enjoy, even in death, a state of authenticity—appears to be omnipresent (whether overtly expressed or disguised) on the fringes of religions and, failing that, in rational systems. It is a fact that the “phantom,” whatever its form, is nothing but an invention of the living. Yes, an invention in the sense that the phantom is meant to objectify, even if under the guise of individual or collective hallucinations, the gap that the concealment of some part of a loved one’s life produced in us. The phantom is, therefore, also a metapsychological fact. Consequently, what haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.
Because the phantom is not related to the loss of a loved one, it cannot be considered the effect of unsuccessful mourning, as is the case of melancholics or of all those who carry a tomb within themselves. It is the children’s or descendants’ lot to objectify these buried tombs through diverse species of ghosts. What comes back to haunt are the tombs of others. The phantoms of folklore merely objectify a metaphor active within the unconscious: the burial of an unspeakable fact within the loved one.
Here we are in the midst of clinical psychoanalysis and still shrouded in obscurity, an obscurity, however, that the nocturnal being of phantoms (if only in the metapsychological sense) can, paradoxically, be called upon to clarify.
The most recently published book of essays by Nicolas Abraham (1919-75) is Rythmes de l’oeuvre, de la traduction et de la psychanalyse (1985). “Notes on the Phantom” is the preliminary statement of his theory of transgenerational haunting. Nicholas Rand, assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, is the English-language editor of Abraham’s works.
What if Wittgenstein and Popper were right after all? What is psychoanalysis is not “scientific,” not scientific by any contemporary definition—including Adolf Grünbaum’s—but what if it works all the same?1 What if psychoanalysis is all right in practice, but the theory isn’t scientific? Indeed, what if “science” is defined ideologically rather than philosophically? If we so redefine “science,” it is not to dismiss psychoanalysis but to understand its origin and impact, to follow the ideological dialectic between the history of psychiatry, its developing as a medical “science,” and the evolving self-definition of psychoanalysis which parallels this history.
We know that Freud divided psychoanalysis into three quite discrete areas—first, a theory, a “scientific structure”; second, a method of inquiry, a means of exploring and ordering information; and last, but certainly not least, a mode of treatment. Let us, for the moment, follow the actual course of history, at least the course of a history which can be described by sorting out the interrelationship between psychoanalysis and psychiatry, and assume that we can heuristically view the mode of treatment as relatively independent of the other two aspects of psychoanalysis. What if the very claims for a “scientific” basis for psychoanalytic treatment and by extension the role of the psychoanalyst as promulgated by Freud and his early followers were rooted in an ideologically charged historical interpretation of the positivistic nature of science and the definition of the social role of the scientist? This may seem an odd premise to begin an essay on the mutual influence of psychoanalysis and psychiatry, but it is not stranger than the actual historical practice.
Psychoanalysis originated not in the psychiatric clinic but in the laboratories of neurology in Vienna and Paris.2 Its point of origin was not nineteenth-century psychiatry but rather nineteenth-century neurology. That origin points to a major difference between the traditional practice of nineteenth-century psychiatry and modern clinical psychiatry in our post-positivistic age. Psychiatry in nineteenth-century Europe, in Vienna as well as in Paris, was an adjunct to the world of the asylum. Indeed, the second great battle (after Pinel’s restructuring of the asylum) which nineteenth-century psychiatry waged was the creation of the “alienist” as a new medical specialty. The alienist was the medical doctor in administrative charge of the asylum, rather than a medical adjunct to the lay asylum director as had earlier, in the age of “moral treatment,” been the practice.
Sander L. Gilman is professor of human studies in the departments of German literature and Near Eastern studies, Cornell University, and professor of psychiatry (history) at the Cornell Medical College. He is the author of numerous books on intellectual and literary history. His most recent study is Jewish Self-Hatred (1986). Forthcoming is his study Oscar Wilde’s London and the English edition of his Conversations with Nietzsche. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry is “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature” (Autumn 1985).
In the early seventies, American feminist literary criticism had little patience for psychoanalytic interpretation, dismissing it along with other forms of what Mary Ellmann called “phallic criticism.”1 Not that psychoanalytic literary criticism was a specific target of feminist critics, but Freud and his science were viewed by feminism in general as prime perpetrators of patriarchy. If we take Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics2 as the first book of modern feminist criticism, let us remark that she devotes ample space and energy to attacking Freud, not of course as the forerunner of any school of literary criticism, but as a master discourse of our, which it to say masculinist, culture. But, although Freud may generally have been a target for feminism, feminist literary critics of the early seventies expended more of their energy in the attack on New Criticism. The era was, after all, hardly a heyday for American psychoanalytic criticism; formalist modes of reading enjoyed a hegemony in the literary academy in contrast with which psychoanalytic interpretation was a rather weak arm of patriarchy.
Since then, there have been two changes in this picture. In the last decade, psychoanalytic criticism has grown in prestige and influence, and a phenomenon we can call psychoanalytic feminist criticism has arisen.3 I would venture that two major factors have contributed to this boom in American psychoanalytic criticism. First, the rise of feminist criticism, in its revolt against formalism, has rehabilitated thematic and psychological criticism, the traditional mainstays of psychoanalytic interpretation. Because feminism has assured the link between psychosexuality and the socio-historical realm, psychoanalysis now linked to major political and cultural questions. Glistening on the horizon of sociopolitical connection, feminism promises to save psychoanalysis from its ahistorical and apolitical doldrums.
The second factor that makes psychoanalytic reading a growth industry in the United States is certainly more widely recognized: it is the impact of French post-structuralist thought on the American literary academy. There is, of course, the direct influence of Lacanian psychoanalysis which promotes language to a principal role in the psychoanalytic drama and so naturally offers fertile ground for crossing psychoanalytic and literary concerns. Yet I think, in fact, the wider effect in this country has come from Derridean deconstruction. Although deconstruction is not strictly psychoanalytic, Freud’s prominent place in Derridean associative networks promises a criticism that is, finally, respectably textual and still, in some recognizable way, Freudian. Although this second, foreign factor in the growth of American psychoanalytic criticism seems far away from the realm of homespun feminist criticism, I would content that there is a powerful if indirect connection between the two. I would speculate that the phenomenal spread of deconstruction in American departments of English is in actuality a response to the growth of feminist criticism. At a moment when it was no longer possible to ignore feminist criticism’s challenge to the critical establishment, deconstruction appeared offering a perspective that was not in opposition to but rather beyond feminism, offering to sublate feminism into something supposedly “more radical.”
See also: Jane Gallop, Resisting Reasonableness
Jane Gallop, professor of humanities at Rice University, is the author of Intersections: A Reading of Sade with Bataille, Blanchot, and Klossowski (1981), The Daughter’s Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis (1982), and Reading Lacan (1985). She wrote the present essay while awaiting the birth of her first child.
To think the relationships which exist between Marxism and psychoanalysis obliges one to reflect upon the intersections between two theoretical fields, each composed independently of the other and whose possible forms of mutual reference do not merge into any obvious system of translation. For example, it is impossible to affirm—though it has often been done—that psychoanalysis adds a theory of subjectivity to the field of historical materialism, given that the latter has been constituted, by and large, as a negation of the validity and the pertinence of any theory of subjectivity (although certainly not of the category of “subject”). Thus, no simple model of supplement or articulations is of the slightest use. The problem is rather that of finding an index of comparison between two different theoretical fields, but that, in turn, implies the construction of a new field, within which the comparison would make sense.
This new field is one which may be characterized as “post-Marxist” and is the result of a multitude of theoretico-political interventions whose cumulative effect in relation to the categories of classical Marxism is similar to what Heidegger called a “de-struction of the history of ontology.” For Heidegger, this “de-struction” did not signify the purely negative operation of rejecting a tradition, but exactly the opposite: it is by means of a radical questioning which is situated beyond this tradition—but which is only possible in relation to it—that the originary meaning of the categories of this tradition (which have long since become stale and trivialized) may be recovered. In this sense, effecting a “de-struction” of the history of Marxism implies going beyond the deceptive evidence of concepts such as “class,” “capital,” and so on, and re-creating the meaning of the originary synthesis that such concepts aspired to establish, the total system of theoretical alternatives in regard to which they represented only limited options, and the ambiguities inherent in their constitution itself—the “hymen” in the Derridean sense—which, although violently repressed, rise up here and there in diverse discursive surfaces. It is the systematic and genealogical outline of these nuclei of ambiguity which initially allows for a destruction of the history of Marxism and which constitutes post-Marxism as the field of our current political reflection. But it is precisely in these surfaces of discursive ambiguity that it is possible to detect the presence of logics of the political which allows for the establishment of a true dialogue, without complacent metaphorization, between Marxism and psychoanalytic theory. I would like to highlight two points, which I consider fundamental, concerning these discursive surfaces.
Ernesto Laclau is a lecturer in the Department of Government and director of the Graduate Program in Ideology and Discourse Analysis at the University of Essex. He is the author of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) and, with Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (1985). Amy G. Reiter-McIntosh is a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago.
Psychoanalytic literary criticism has always been something of an embarrassment. One resists labeling as a “psychoanalytic critic” because the kind of criticism evoked by the term mostly deserves the bad name it largely has made for itself. Thus I have been worrying about the status of some of my own uses of psychoanalysis in the study of narrative, in my attempt to find dynamic models that might move us beyond the static formalism of structuralist and semiotic narratology. And in general, I think we need to worry about the legitimacy and force that psychoanalysis may claim when imported into the study of literary texts. If versions of psychoanalytic criticism have been with us at least since 1908, when Freud published his essay on “Creative Writers and Day-dreaming,” and if the enterprise has recently been renewed in subtle ways by post-structuralist versions of reading, a malaise persists, a sense that whatever the promises of their union, literature and psychoanalysis remain mismatched bedfellows—or perhaps I should say playmates.
The first problem, and the most basic, may be that psychoanalysis in literary study has over and over again mistaken the object of analysis, with the result that whatever insights it has produced tell us precious little about the structure and rhetoric of literary texts. Traditional psychoanalytic criticism tends to fall into three general categories, depending on the object of analysis: the author, the reader, or the fictive persons of the text. The first of these constituted the classical locus of psychoanalytic interest. It is now apparently the most discredited, though also perhaps the most difficult to extirpate, since if the disappearance of the author has been repeatedly announced, authorial mutants ceaselessly reappear, as, for instance, in Harold Bloom’s psychomachia of literary history. Like the author, the fictive character has been deconstructed into an effect of textual codes, a kind of thematic mirage, and the psychoanalytic study of the putative unconscious of characters in fiction has also fallen into disrepute. Here again, however, the impulse resurfaces, for instance in some of the moves of a feminist criticism that needs to show how the represented female psyche (particularly of course as created by women authors) refuses and problematizes the dominant concepts of male psychological doctrine. Feminist criticism has in fact largely contributed to a new variant of the psychoanalytic study of fictive characters, a variant one might label the “situational-thematic”: studies of Oedipal triangles in fiction, their permutations and evolution, of the roles of mothers and daughters, of situations of nurture and bonding, and so forth. It is work often full of interest, but nonetheless methodologically disquieting in its use of Freudian analytic tools in a wholly thematic way, as if the identification and labeling of human relations in a psychoanalytic vocabulary were the task of criticism. The third traditional field of psychoanalytic literary study, the reader, continues to flourish in ever-renewed versions, since the role of the reader in the creation of textual meaning is very much on our minds at present, and since the psychoanalytic study of readers’ responses willingly brackets the impossible notion of author in favor of the acceptable and also verifiable notion of reader. The psychoanalytic study of the reader may concern real readers (as in Norman Holland’s Five Readers Reading) or the reader as psychological everyman (as in Simon O. Lesser’s Fiction and the Unconscious). But like the other traditional psychoanalytic approaches, it displaces the object of analysis from the text to some person, some other psychodynamic structure—a displacement I wish to avoid since, as I hope to make clear as I go along, I think psychoanalytic criticism can and should be textual and rhetorical.
Peter Brooks is the Tripp Professor of the Humanities at Yale University, where he is also director of the Whitney Humanities Center and chairman of the French department. His most recent book is Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative, which has recently been reissued in paperback. His work in progress concerns psychoanalysis and story-telling.
Psychoanalysis has, in the very nature of its object, an interest in and difficulty with the concept of place as well as an interest in and difficulty with the logic of place, topology. The Unconscious can thus seem to give rise to a certain prospect of mathesis or formalization; and such formalization, achieved, would offer a ground for the psychoanalytic claim to scientific knowledge relatively independent of empirical questions and approaching the condition of mathematics. This might then seem to have been Lacan’s wager in organizing the researches of his école around works of theoretical elaboration rather than clinical study; certainly some such notion must underlie Miller’s claim to be “axiomatic.”1
In this paper I want to explore some of Lacan’s formalizations as they are unfolded in the seminar Encore. (I will also draw some material from the interview transcript Télévision and Lacan’s appearances at Yale University in 1975.)2 I will in effect be looking at the place of place or places in psychoanalysis—in particular, I will be looking at the place of jouissance in Lacan’s psychoanalysis and at the places of what Lacan punningly calls jouis-sens. The joint problematic here might be called one of “enjoymeant,” combining the logic of pleasure with the pleasure of logic. For Lacan, questions of jouissance, however punned, are questions of unity and selfhood, so in examining the reciprocal play of pleasure and sense I will be examining how Lacanian psychoanalysis secures itself in place. This last topic touches implicitly in Encore on questions of legacy and inheritance, so in the end I will also have something to say about the limits Lacan’s formalizations would impose on our enjoyment of Freud. I should note in advance that Encore, Lacan’s seminar of 1972-73, is an extraordinarily compact and involuted text, even by his standards, and of a corresponding richness, weaving sustained meditations on such figures as Georges Bataille, Roman Jakobson, Kierkegaard, and Aquinas with “mathemystical” digressions on sexuality, discourse, Borromean knots, and the like. The reading offered here is perforce schematic.
1. By and large the evidences of the Lacanian clinic are closed to us in consequence of Lacan’s insistence on theoretical elaboration. But it should not go unremarked that much of the work of Lacan’s school seems to have focused on areas traditionally recalcitrant to psychoanalytic treatment—alcoholism, retardation, and psychosis—and that such an emphasis is responsive to traditional empirically minded critiques of the limits of psychoanalysis.
2. It should perhaps be noted in this context that the project of a genuinely public presentation of Lacan’s seminars seems to have been abandoned in favor of the more circumscribed circulation of texts through the Lacanian journal Ornicar?
See also: Stephen Melville, “Allô? Allô?”
Stephen Melville is assistant professor of English at Syracuse University. He is the author of Philosophy Beside Itself: On Deconstruction and Modernism (1986) and is currently completing a series of essays on postmodern art and criticism.
Literature is open to psychoanalysis as is any other form of expression—this much is obvious. Less so is the relevancy of analysis to the specificity of literary texts, to what differentiates them from other linguistic utterances; in short, the literariness of literature.
The analyst cannot avoid this problem of focus. If he did, he would treat verbal art as a document for purposes other than an understanding of its defining difference. He would simply be seeking one more set of clues to the workings of the human mind, as the sociologist or historian exploits literature to explore periods or societies through their reflection in its mirror.
The only approach to the proper focus must be consistent both with the analyst’s method and with the natural reader’s practice. The analyst requires free association on the part of the analysand, and he matches this free flow of information with an attention equally open to all that is said. It is only after a passive stage of “evenly-hovering attention,” or, as the French nicely call it, écoute flottante, that he seizes upon clues to build a model of interpretation. These clues are revealed to him by anomalies such as parapraxes and repetitions or deviant representations, as well as formal coincidences between what he hears and the corpus of observations on linguistic behavior accumulated since Freud. The reader, on the other hand, is faced with a text that is strongly organized, overdetermined by aesthetic, generic, and teleological constraints, and in which whatever survives of free association is marshaled toward certain effects. The reader himself is far from passive, since he starts reacting to the text as soon as his own way of thinking, and of conceiving representation, is either confirmed or challenged. The text tends therefore not to be interpreted for what it is, but for what is selected from it by the reader’s individual reactions. A segmentation of the text into units of significance thus occurs, and it is the task of the critic to verify the validity of this process. In pursuing this goal he must restrict himself to a segmentation that can be proven as being dictated by textual features rather than by the reader’s idiosyncrasies, by those elements the perceptions of which does not depend on the latter and that resist erasure when they are in conflict with such individual quirks. The analyst’s advantage in identifying such features is that he is trained to recognize the above-mentioned anomalies and to explain them by repression and displacement, that is, by the traces left in the surface of the text by the conflict between its descriptive and narrative structures and the lexicon and grammar that we call the unconscious.
See also: Michael Riffaterre, Syllepsis
Michael Riffaterre, University Professor at Columbia University and a senior fellow of the School of Criticism and Theory, is the editor of Romantic Review. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Syllepsis” (Summer 1980) and “Intertextual Representation: On Mimesis as Interpretive Discourse” (September 1984).
Other of my intellectual debts remain fully outstanding, that to Freud’s work before all. A beholdenness to Sigmund Freud’s intervention in Western culture is hardly something for concealment, but I have until now left my commitment to it fairly implicit. This has been not merely out of intellectual terror at Freud’s achievement but in service of an idea and in compensation for a dissatisfaction I might formulate as follows: psychoanalytic interpretations of the arts in American culture have, until quite recently, on the whole been content to permit the texts under analysis not to challenge the concepts of analysis being applied to them, and this seemed to me to do injustice both to psychoanalysis and to literature (the art that has attracted most psychoanalytic criticism). My response was to make a virtue of this defect by trying, in my readings of film as well as of literature and of philosophy, to recapitulate what I understood by Freud’s saying that he had been preceded in his insights by the creative writes of his tradition; that is, I tried to arrive at a sense for each text I encountered (it was my private touchstone for when an interpretation had gone far enough to leave for the moment) that psychoanalysis had become called for, as if called for in the history of knowledge, as if each psychoanalytic reading were charged with rediscovering the reality of psychoanalysis. This still does not seem to me an irrelevant ambition, but it is also no longer a sufficient response in our altered environment. Some of the most interesting and useful criticism and literary theory currently being produced is decisively psychoanalytic in inspiration, an alteration initiated for us most prominently by the past two or so decades of work in Paris and represented in this country by—to pick examples from which I have profited in recent months—Neil Hertz on the Dora case, Shoshana Felman on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick on homophobia in Our Mutual Friend.1 And now my problem has become that I am unsure whether I understand the constitution of the discourses in which this material is presented in relation to what I take philosophy to be, a constitution to which, such as it is, I am also committed. So some siting of this relation is no longer mine to postpone.
1. See Neil Hertz, “Dora’s Secrets, Freud’s Techniques,” in In Dora’s Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism, ed. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane (New York, 1985), pp. 221-42; Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation,” Yale French Studies 55/56 (1977): 94-207; and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Homophobia, Misogyny, and Capital: The Example of Our Mutual Friend,” Raritan 2 (Winter 1983): 126-51.
See also: Stanley Cavell, Excerpts from Memory
Stanley Cavell, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, is the author of many works, including Must We Mean What We Say?, The Senses of “Walden,” The Claim of Reason, and, most recently, Themes Out of School. He spent last spring at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies. His most recent contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Politics as Opposed to What?” (September 1982) and “The Division of Talent” (June 1985).
It is doubtless appropriate to read The Interpretation of Dreams according to the image of the journey which Sigmund Freud describes in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess:
The whole thing is planned on the model of an imaginary walk. First comes the dark wood of the authorities (who cannot see the trees), where there is no clear view and it is easy to go astray. Then there is a cavernous defile through which I lead my readers—my specimen dream with its peculiarities, its details, its indiscretions and its bad jokes—and then, all at once, the high ground and the open prospect and the question: “Which way do you want to go?”1
This walk has nothing of the nonchalant about it. Rather, it is strewn with tests and trials, as is usually the case in the “myth of the hero” or of the “conquistador,” which we know played a major role in Freud’s thought and in that of his disciples. The progress, in epic poetry, moves toward a discovery, the founding of a city, by means of difficult stages and combats. Every “discourse” capable of attaining a goal distant from its prolegomena finds its appropriate metaphor in the hero’s progress, or in the voyage of initiation. Discursivity then becomes the intellectual equivalent of the epic’s trajectory. At the time of its publication, Freud found his book insufficiently probing, and imperfect in its discursivity. He criticized himself for having failed to link properly his arguments (Beweisführung). Doubt was momentarily cast on the achievement of the main goal…. But such severity was not to persist.
But one can also read the work by discerning its framing devices. Several authors mentioned in the first chapter reappear at the work’s conclusion. Such a return is far from fortuitous; it is the result of an extremely well-calculated strategy. Another framing system which has been noticed by many readers is the one, shortly before the end of the book, which returns to a line from Virgil that Freud had placed as an epigraph on the title page: Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo. This line, because of its repetition at two crucial points in the book, traces its message in the form of an emblem. When it breaks in, it makes explicit that the dream mechanism is the return of the repressed:
In waking life the suppressed material in the mind is prevented from finding expression and is cut off from internal perception owing to the fact that the contradictions present in it are eliminated—one side being disposed of in favor of the other; but during the night, under the sway of an impetus towards the construction of compromises, this suppressed material finds methods and means of forcing its way into consciousness.
Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.2
1. Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 6 Aug. 1899, Freud, The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes, 1887-1902, ed. Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris, trans. James Strachey (New York, 1954), p. 290.
2. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, ed. and trans. Strachey (New York, 1965), p. 647; my emphasis. The Latin is translated in n. 1 on that page of Freud’s text: “If I cannot bend the High Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions.” All further references to this work, abbreviated I, will be included in the text. Another framing device is created by the theme of the prophetic dream, discussed at the outset of the first chapters and taken up again, with the ambivalence of denial and concession, in the final paragraph of the book.
Jean Starobinski, professor emeritus at the University of Geneva, has devoted studies to Montaigne, Diderot, Rousseau, Saussure, and modern French poets. As an M.D., he is familiar with psychoanalysis and participates in the editorial board of La Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse (Paris). Some of his recent research deals with the history of melancholia; his most recent books are Montaigne in Motion (1985) and Rousseau (forthcoming). He was awarded the Balzan Prize in 1984.