Tag Archives: psychoanalysis

Secondary Woolf

Abel on Woolf (1989)

“Narrative…getting on from lunch to dinner,” but in Woolf, characters do live in time, it’s just complicated.

The “tunneling process” as a way of achieving temporal depth–that is, offsetting narrative by means of incorporating the past vertically


On Dalloway

Bourton is a pastoral enclave that, within the countries of Clarissa’s psyche, excludes the courtship that would lead to marriage. And even Peter’s courting of her is filtered mostly though Peter’s consciousness and memory.

When Clarissa hears of Septimus’ death, she mourns her loss…this is emblematic of how various characters are used as structural devices for refracting the divided consciousness/history of Clarissa: Sally, Rezia, Septimus, etc.

Dalloway takes the form of a developmental narrative as a way out of mourning/melancholia. Clarissa learns to accept adulthood as a rough compromise with a pre-Oedipal fantasy that can never be inhabited again.


To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse widens out the scope, and replaces the developmental narrative with a family romance. So Lily, a surrogate daughter, can recover the image of Mrs. Ramsay, which James represses in his developmental accession to his father’s forms of rationality and which Cam can only access by telling a narrative that runs through the father, disclosing her enclosure within masculinist narratives. Also, the ambiguity of the central character…is it mister or Mrs. Ramsay?…opens up questions of definition and orientation.

Mr. Ramsay’s “speculative philosophy” depends upon the erasure of matter/mater, the purging of the signified that conditions the emergence of the pure, anorexic sign. James follows Mr. Ramsay into this linguistic terrain.

Liliy Briscoe marks out an alternative narrative of painting as process. Importantly, this not a static painting that emerges in a  moment of inspiration, eternal and changeless, but a canvas that bears the mark of its history. She forms a relationship  of intimacy with Ramsay that is silent: “Who knows what we are, what we feel?” We see her a curling into the self that refrains from a linguistic register. The painting also refuses the determinacy of an abstract realms of signification, as toggles between separation and synthesis…the activity of the vertical line is itself a knife edge marking out what is gained and lost in the process of memory formation.  Further, this intersects with the strange timing of her vision: “She had her vision” positions somehow in the past tense, presence removed, etc. This another way of describing a phenomenology of rupture, interruption, etc.


Between the Acts

Abel concludes with a very curious reading of Between the Acts and moses and Monotheism. The latter picks up the story of civilization’s emergence by complicating the strict paternal narrative of that early work. The worship of the mother enters between the death of the primal father and the worship of the mosaic God. Civilization emerges when intellectuality wins out over sensuality. [Talk about this in terms of the ban on touching as the conditioned for worshipping…denigration of the body of matter/mater, etc.]

Between the Acts represents a frayed social fabric [Isa saying that we are all dispersed, etc.] and morns the lack of a mothering culture that could act as an alternative: this gives way to a full on fear of paternalism in the shape of Nazism and Fascism [Giles seems eerily like the Nazis he condemns, etc.]

La Trobe tries to convey ten minus of “present time reality” whose absolute dryness is then “douched” by a supernatural rain that returns a (false) sense of collectivity to the crowd that just witnessed that radical fragmentation, etc. Abel argues that this fragmentation finds in answer in the heterosexual eroticism of the closing scene between Giles and Isa…it points forward to pro-creation as the dawn of a new era.


Rebecca West – The Return of the Soldier (1915)

Chris suffers from shell-shock and when he returns to his wife and cousin (Kitty and Jenny) he can can’t remember the last 15 years of his life. Instead, he is living as if he is still in love with the lower class Margaret with whom he had a brief but intense relationship before he met his wife. Him and Margaret reconnect, ecstatically, but eventually a psychoanalyst intervenes and they “cure” him (by reminding him of his son that died when a child), which entails both the re-shattering of his youthful dreams and his incipient return to Flanders.

Talk about how the war pentrates domestic space. Not unlike the domestic space described in David Jones In Parenthesis or in Cummings The Enormous Room. Talk about how Fussel recounts the forceful making of English gardens in the trenches, etc…flowers that do not have nutritive purpose…the desire to create a domestic sphere that is impervious to war finds expression in the mirror image: real domestic spaces that are penetrated.

Talk about memory and its relation to trauma. The curing of Chris consonant with the death of love–the death of the object of desire itself. Interpretation in some sense kills that third term (talk about Laplanche)

The world that we thought the war killed is in fact simple another reality that has replaced an existence that was someone even more ideal than the England we thought we had lost, etc.

Talk about Hardy in reverse. In Hardy, his attempt o get into the melancholic modd reveals the impossibility of telling the difference between his current state of loss and the the loss that was always-already a part of his relationship with his wife. here, when the soldier returns (no longer a cause for mourning), the two companions realize that they were only ever substitutes for a love that already been lost. This can in turn be connected to Joyce’s “The Dead.”

The end of Chris’s life is the last day he can remember. Link this to Bergsonian notions of time, memory and durée.

Rather than read the trauma as a stark break with a past life, we can fact read it as revealing a thread of loss that was otherwise repressed. Chris as a young man had a sense of the “imminence of the improbable,” which shell-shock in some ways allows to occur–namely the rebirth of a prehistory that was otherwise consigned to wither away.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus (1980)

“How do you make yourself a body without organs?”

The BwO is the field immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether is be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it in. (154)

The chapter alternates between descriptions of extreme sadistic and masochistic violence and descriptions of “courtly love” and the “caress.” The idea here is to level out desire, so it is no longer defined in terms of lack and fulfillment, but in terms of intensity. Thus, “the slightest caress may be as strong as an orgasm; an orgasm is a mere fact, a rather deplorable one, in relation to desire in pursuit of its principle” (156). Systems that would constrict desire are associated with the “organism,” which is the real enemy of the body, not organs. The body si opposed the organization of its organs called the organism, which Deleuze associates with significance and subjectification.

Yet Deleuze also calls for an economy of “practice”:

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of significance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, person, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. (160)

The BwO always risks suicide if deterritorializing flows go too far, resulting in too severe destratification of the body.  It is necessary to experiment, test, try–it is necessary to “taste.” The danger is not so much in the quality of objective mediation, but in  its quantity. Going too far risks becoming a negative line of flight, destroying the subject. Keeping “small rations of subjectivity” is a form of respect, of ethics.

“The BwO is desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires” (165). This connects with Levinas’s work on “proximity” and the elemental. Both are overturning psychoanalytic systems of signification that constrict the flows of desire.


“Becoming-Intense, Becoming Animal, Becoming imperceptible…”

This chapter attempts to answer this question: How can we grant reality to a becoming that never fully “becomes”?

Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here? For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not ‘really’ become an animal any more than the animal ‘really’ becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.

The chapter makes the claim that bodies should be defined in terms of their affective capacity–which is directly linked to the process of becoming:

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in oter words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body. (257)

Interesting in terms of the “bottom” limit of affect–that which precedes the subject’s formation: not a subject that can “affect,” but a cross-section of affects that constitutes. Becoming-animal is affect itself.

This leads into a very interesting section on secrets–the secret’s mode of becoming is from the internal form of concealment, a finite secret, to an infinite form of the secret that secretes in public. “The more the secret is made into a structuring, organizing form, the thinner and more ubiquitous it becomes” (289). This could be used to conceptualize forms of reading (and of writing, and of subject formation) that seek to maintain the secretiveness of the secret, rather than transform it into public knowledge. The secret that is not content to take the form of it container, but attempts to make its own form. Henry James accomplishes this, according to D and G.


Sigmund Freud – “On Narcissism” (1913-14)

Whereas formerly, Freud (and others) thought of ego-libido and object-libido as separate drives, and of the human as carrying on a twofold existence–“one to serve his own purposes and the other as a link in a chain, which he serves against his will, or at least involuntarily” (549) ( Similar division can be found in Darwin, Mill, and Nietzsche, to name only a few)–the essay “On Narcissism” attempts to theorize a single force behind both pleasure and self-preservation. In the post-war writings, Freud will “solve” this problem in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Here, Freud suggests that Narcissism might not be a “perversion,” but rather “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation, a measure of which may justifiably be attributed to every living creature” (546).

Thus Freud notes, “The first autoerotic sexual satisfactions are experiences in connection with vital functions which serve the purpose of self-preservation.” This initial self-directed relationship, under the first topography, gets directed outward into objects; but in the second topography, Freud beings to conceive of an “ego-ideal” that is set up as “the substitute for the lost narcissism of his childhood in which he was his own ideal” (558). Thus Freud argues,

The formation of the ego-ideal is often confused with the sublimation of instinct, to the detriment of our understanding of the facts…As we have learnt, the formation of an ideal heightens the demands of the ego and is the most powerful factor favoring repression; sublimation is a way out, a way by which those demands can be met without involving repression.

Thus instinct, the drive for self-preservation, is preserved in the very act of satisfying the pleasure principle.

Freud offers will become only a provisional “single-drive” theory—a distinctively optimistic, pre-war outlook: “The return of the object-libido to the ego and its transformation into narcissism represents, as it were, a happy love once morel and, on the other hand, it is also true that a real happy love corresponds to the primal condition in which object-libido and ego-libido cannot be distinguished” (561). In terms of taste and food, aesthetics and nutritive consumption, this amounts to a convergence of the realms of freedom and necessity.


“On Narcissism,” from The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay (1989).