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Monday, May 28, 2012

Excursus: Psychoanalysis as a Paranoid Theory of Antiphilosophy

From my research notes on “Trauma & Event”

Psychoanalysis has a paranoid substrate in its discourse …
not because it points to specific entities, things or even processes but because it believes that things and events are connected, that they have meaning, that they are discoverable and analyzable, as Freud says. Furthermore, psychoanalysis holds that there is a traumatic origin and core to symptoms. As a result of all this, psychoanalysis believes that anything and everything that happens inside or outside of therapy is “grist for the mill”—meaning discoverable, analyzable and connected.

Psychoanalysis has no theory of contingency.
This has many consequences, both for its capacity to account for daily life and reality and its capacity to account for change in the shape of non-deterministic events.

Psychoanalysis cannot have a theory of the Event:
it is a hermetic universe, filled at best with hermeneutic possibilities
but these interpretations do not—pace catharsis, insight, mentalization and other such processes—actually open possibilities, only give meaning to what is already there, in a deterministic and rather closed way.

This is why psychoanalysis is and must perforce remain a theory of trauma, the closing down of possibilities laid by early processes, Anna Freud’s (1936) “developmental lines,” the drive and its defenses, and the whole infrastructure that this produces.

It is not accidental that Lacan’s reading, rereading and reformulation of Freud is antiphilosophical and that Badiou has been snared in a decades-long entanglement with Lacan.

Lacan is Badiou’s “Tar Baby,” like the Uncle Remus tale … once you get your paws stuck on it, there is no changing the nature of tar, it sticks to anything!

Lacan in fact goes much further than Freud in locating paranoia at the heart of human development, arguing that the ego is structured on a paranoiac basis and that human knowledge operates on a paranoiac principle (see Freedman, 1984, p. 17).

It is not only paranoia which is totalizing and hermeneutic but psychoanalysis itself.
This explains to me Freud’s investment in the Schreber case: the foundations of psychoanalysis were at stake in his making of this case both meaningful (as opposed to random, contingent) and canonical (emblematic, paradigmatic).

This project was bound to fail, above all because it is, in Freud’s own terms, overdetermined.


In his essay on Philip K. Dick, Freedman elaborates a theory of paranoia …

“But not only is the paranoiac an interpreter: he or she is one of an especially systematic and ambitious type. In the essay ‘On Narcissism,’ Freud explicitly links paranoia with the formation of speculative systems (XIV: 96), and in the reading of Schreber he notes a profound affinity between paranoia and megalomaniacal delusions of world catastrophe (XII:68-71). The paranoiac is not only someone for whom every detail is meaningful - for whom nothing can be left uninterpreted or taken for granted – but someone who holds a conception of meaning that is both totalizing and hermeneutic. The paranoiac is the most rigorous of metaphysicians. The typical paranoid outlook is thoroughgoing, internally logical, never trivializing, and capable of explaining the multitude of observed phenomena as aspects of a symmetrical and expressive totality. No particular of empirical reality is so contingent or heterogeneous that the paranoiac cannot, by a straightforward process of point-for-point correspondence, interpret its meaning within the framework of his or her own grand system. The totalizing closure of paranoia is, in fact, noted as lucidly by Dick as by Freud: in ‘Shell Game’ (one of Dick’s finest stories and the germ of ‘Clans of the Alphane Moon’ [19641]), the massive frustration of attempting to break down such closure is powerfully recorded, and the basic problem is clearly stated. ‘The paranoid is totally rigid,’ says one of the characters. ‘He logically weaves all events, all persons, all chance remarks and happenings, into his system’ (Dick, 1977, p. 181). (My italics)

Carl Freedman (1984). Towards a Theory of Paranoia: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Science Fiction Studies, 11: 15-24.

Philip K. Dick (1977). The Turning Wheel and Other Stories. London: Coronet Books.

Vincenzo Di Nicola


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