Garry Gillard > writing > Supertext > 6

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Freud is the initiator of a continuing investigation which is carried on in what can seen as the post-Freudian canon: in work which will go through a genealogy of people such as Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, Geza Roheim, and so on. The question is to see how this interest is continued in the work of people not usually thought of as employing a psychoanalytic theory.

Freudian psychoanalysis both possesses a theory of the mind and employs a powerful hermeneutic. [note 1] The work of Lévi-Strauss is a hermeneutic without a theory of the mind - or with an undeveloped theory of the mind. And Bateson is largely without a hermeneutic system, except one directed to process and function. What he contributes is a Batesonian way of seeing what may be called the mind-plus-culture system, which is, in a sense, a single system, which I have called 'system MC'.

Though it is not true to say that Bateson had no theory of the mind, it may, however, be asserted that his model is one-dimensional: unlike Freud's it has no unconscious. It is best understood as a system which is capable both of logic and of logical confusion, but it is a given that there is nothing important which cannot be brought to consciousness. For Freud too, systems are usefully explanatory models - although this is more characteristic of the young Freud: he grows less systematic as he grows older. Freud's systems, however, are, from the first, of much greater complexity, and from very early on his mental systems have an unconscious component. So he writes:

Thus a system is best characterized by the fact that at least two reasons can be discovered for each of its products: a reason based upon the premises of the system (a reason, then, which may be delusional) and a concealed reason, which we must judge to be the truly operative and the real one.2

Although Bateson's systems may be deluded in their reasoning, such a system is capable of being corrected by the introduction of an escapement, a regulating mechanism which releases the system from its destructive recursiveness. Freud's 'concealed reason' (for Bateson) is not simply unavailable at a given moment to the system simply by being outside it - yet to be included; on the contrary, it is inside it, but needs to be released from repression by being brought into an appropriate position in the system for more correct functioning. Freud's 'system' is monolithic (albeit divisible), on the model of the individual; Bateson's system is one in a hierarchy of subsystems reaching out to the macrocosm and in to the microcosm. So that whereas Freud tends to think of the structure of the mental system changing through a redistribution of forces, Bateson conceives of change as brought about by the intrusion of a new element from a sub- or supra-system.

For Lévi-Strauss, structure actually precedes function. Whereas Freud always proceeds along the two axes simultaneously (and Bateson fairly consistently ranges along the axis of function), Lévi-Strauss discovers his function from his general theory of structure, which then allows him to 'discover' the structure of a particular object (such as: mind) from these structural-functions. In other words the elaborate process of induction that Lévi-Strauss undergoes turns out to be the middle term of a fallacious syllogism that actually moves directly from hypothesis to deduction. It would of course be overstating the case to say that Lévi-Strauss's œuvre is in this sense basically flawed, but it does seem necessary to assert that his methodology errs too greatly on the side of theory to the neglect of empirical evidence. There is insufficient attention paid to the possibility of falsification.

An effective way to demonstrate the differences and commonalities between the three analysts is to look at their view of the clinical situation. How they see the basic relationship between analyst and patient will be significant, because it will reveal, whether they wish it to or not, their basic attitude to the cultural 'patient', society, and their attitude as cultural critics. This will therefore have important implications for the application of the conclusions of this project.

Freud has given us the notion of transference, which has been useful in relation to all three writers. The transference, as we have previously seen, is not limited to the emotional relationship between analyst and analysand, but increases in importance until it is virtually synonymous with the whole process of analysis. In other words, it is a simulacrum for the relationship between cultural analyst and his larger subject, the culture, and necessarily implicates his whole ideology, including his attitude to the dominant hegemony.

Considering again the relationship of shaman and obstetric patient in Lévi-Strauss's paper, and the part played by transference in that particular clinical relationship, it is clear what kind of transference has taken place, namely, a transfer of power.3 The pregnant woman gives up her understanding of her situation (being not only in pain but also actively involved in the attempt to give birth) in favour of the shaman's: a complicated mythology featuring the shaman himself acting as saviour and hero. The anthropologist's role is to be the apologist for the practitioner: to support the woman patient's reinsertion into the patriarchal structure.

Similarly, Freud, in the case of the obsessive-compulsive and agoraphobic girl I have written about above, supports the person who pays for his time - presumably the father of the 'patient'. In the familiar (and familial) pattern of blaming the victim, Freud sidesteps the father's responsibility for his participation in the game of musical beds played in this family, and finds that the girl is suffering from an obsession about sex, symbolised in her symptomatology. In the transference, if the 'analysis' is successful, the girl will come to see that the doctor - and therefore also the father - are right, and that is is her 'fault', her craziness, that she has to come to terms with.

In the case of the phantasy of 'Irma' in the specimen dream, Irma is not a psychological patient, nor a real person for that matter, but that only makes her case more interesting, as she is clearly therefore a screen to allow Freud to deal, by these symbolic means, with actual 'neurotics' and real members of the culture. And the striking thing about Irma is that she is not permitted to participate in the culture in the usual way in which we all claim personhood: by speaking. She is prostrate, dependent, silent - in law, an 'infant' - and can therefore be spoken for.

And Bateson, in his analysis of the exchange between the schizophrenogenic mother and her child, seems to be to some extent unaware of the way in which he himself, as passive observer, colludes with the system which maintains the subject position of the restrained patient.

All of these 'analyses' are correct up to a point, and as far as we can tell from the accounts, all may be successful in restoring the status quo. But what is left out of all accounts is a representation of what that status quo is, and how psychoanalysis (and anthropology) are involved with the hegemony. Bateson's analysis of the double bind is probably the most liberatory cultural analysis of the three. Freud shows us 'patients' in double binds, but his ideology leads him to think that it is the patient's problem, and that the 'neurosis' can be cured. From his point of view, homeostasis is desirable. For Bateson, however, homeostasis is problematic; he can see that the 'double-binding' can be a continuing phenomenon. However, given the mixed message each individual is always getting from supertexts - because of the twofold nature of the mental apparatus - it is difficult to become aware of the nature of the system that is maintaining a pathogenic situation.

Although all these men are interested in systems, it is a signal failure on the part of all of them not to consider the economic system in which their processes are embedded: what one might almost want to call the infrastructural, or industrial bases of their analytical procedures. But they are blind also, coming before the feminist revolution, to another kind of analysis which would have had them consider to what extent they are in support of patriarchy. As therapists or physicians, although with the best of intentions, they are merely re-forming their clients to suit the dominant hegemony and sending them back 'cured' to the same, unchanged cultural pattern. What they have to say as cultural critics will also, therefore, be driven by a desire to maintain this status quo.

The Freudian project has been shown to be effective, precisely because it has been possible to use Freud's own methodology to analyse Freud himself in action, and the other two alleged 'post-Freudians', in order to show in what ways they themselves are dominated by the culture of which they set themselves up to be critics. Imbricated in the system MC, our thinkers can see everything about it but their own participation in its maintenance.

What is required is a model which will take account of both microcosm and macrocosm, mind and culture, by describing the nature of the relationship between them, and enabling it to be mapped, while simultaneously doing the same for the relationship between structure and function. It is only in this way that an account of the two kinds of unconscious functions - the repressed and unthinkable in the individual, and the taken-for-granted and unspeakable in the social - will be able to be brought to bear on the conduct of cultural analysis.

The conclusion of this project for Cultural Studies generally, I propose, is summarised by the use of what I hope is the happy invention of the 'System CS,' (once again, by analogy with the Freudian systems Ucs, Pcs, and so on): this time standing for a freshly systematic view of Cultural Studies as the discipline directed towards a system containing aspects which are unconscious. So the question becomes: 'What would a Cultural Studies look like which took account of unconscious processes of any kind?' It must firstly be clarified that the concept of 'the unconscious' - 'das Unbewusste - is less useful than the merely descriptive notion in the late Freud: where, in linguistic terms, the idea is reduced from the nominal to the adjectival. It is neither the dynamic nor the economic meaning that remains at this stage. Secondly, this is no longer an 'unconscious' which is the 'dark, inaccessible part of our personality.' We no longer need to 'approach the id with analogies [such as] chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations.'4 What is now to be understood is that there are unconscious aspects of mental functioning which include not only the 'untamed passions,'5 but also some of the functions of the ego - what we would normally think of as 'consciousness' - and also of the superego - what we would normally think of as 'conscience' (which also implies 'consciousness', being almost the same word), or the moral function of the personality. Freud had of course pointed this out, most clearly perhaps in the 1933 Lectures.

You can see, incidentally, that we are in a position to attribute to the id characteristics other than that of its being unconscious, and you can recognize the possibility of portions of the ego and super-ego being unconscious without possessing the same primitive and irrational characteristics.6

In thinking of this division of the personality into an ego, a super-ego and an id, you will not, of course, have pictured sharp frontiers like the artificial ones drawn in political geography ... but rather by areas of colour melting into one another ...7

But this was in a sort of psychoanalytic vacuum, and perhaps only really attended to by serious students of Freud's writing as such, and most people are still in receipt of the standard view of Freud's model of the mental apparatus as containing 'an unconscious' which is something like Freud's 'cauldron full of seething excitations.' What is needed is an adaptation of the later and more flexible version of the model for the practical purposes of disciplines like Cultural Studies. And this is what the present project has attempted, by the combination of the Freudian theory and a notion of textuality. The use of the concept of supertext, particularly, has permitted the establishment of a functional model enabling a fresh analysis of the subject's interpellation by the culture, with regard to its moral function.

The reason why the function of conscience is in fact a deeply unconscious one is accounted for in Freud by one of his stories of ontogenesis.

Nor must it be forgotten that a child has a different estimate of its parents at different periods of its life. At the time at which the Œdipus complex gives place to the super-ego they are something quite magnificent; but later they lose much of this. Identifications then come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego, which has been determined by the earliest parental imagos.8 64

I suggest that this might be read as a metaphor - almost a myth - rather than literally. The temporal function of the story might be taken seriously, though, to make the point that the deepest identification with the culture (for that is how I interpret the text, rather than understand an identification only with particular parents as such) actually occurs quite early in life, and that the constructs which come under the ¾gis of 'ethics', for example, are later rationalisations of the early tendency to control some of one's drives and desires. Freud's account of identification is a neat and concrete way of making the point that the earliest and deepest inculcations of morality are embedded in a different part of the mental apparatus, as it were. The 'as it were' is necessary partly for the non-psychoanalytic reader, but also because Freud himself wants to have the concreteness of this particular cake, but eat it too, in the looseness of the topography with which he also works: in the blurred distinctions between the location and function of these solid-seeming entities, and between the extent to which they are conscious or unconscious. Although it might seem at first as though the latter difference were firmly fixed, it turns out to be fruitful for both Freud and for the present project that, for example, we can simultaneously hold a view of the superego in its conscience function as being available at all times through introspection to consciousness - while at the same time being aware, uncomfortably perhaps, that there are profound drives to take up certain moral attitudes (nationalism, for example), which are not under the control of the conscious mind, of the ego, and may, in fact, be quite difficult, if not impossible, to justify in a rational way. I believe this is why 'human beings fall ill of a conflict between the claims of instinctual life and the resistance which arises within them against itÊ...,'9 why 'double binds' are so effective in tying us in knots, and why we erect such gigantic panoplies of mythologies in an attempt to make sense of these simple, basic conflicts.

The simple implication for Cultural Studies, as for others of the human sciences, is that some elements of mental functioning cannot be simply, readily, available to consciousness. Whether we believe or not in the Freudian theory of ontogenesis, there is still ample evidence that aspects of mental functioning can only be recovered with some difficulty. We need to be aware not only of the basic drives (such as sexuality) that propel us with such energy towards often ill-defined goals, but also of the contrary mechanisms which force us either to curtail our negative desires or else send us in what may appear to be a positive direction, and with perhaps too great velocity.

Though we cannot get a culture on the couch as easily as an individual, cultural psychoanalysts can employ some of the same techniques as the clinician; and those techniques will mainly have to do with what turns out to be textual analysis, as this project has demonstrated. In the same way that analysts listen to patients' dreams, attend to the verbal slips they make, get them to provide 'free associations' to verbal stimuli, induce in them altered states of consciousness (through drugs or hypnosis), and observe their behaviour, in order to discover what, beneath the surface, drives them forward - so may cultural psychoanalysts analyse the texts that cultures produce - whether stories, signs, errors, or behaviours - to identify some of the obscure drives that produce the confused cultural semiosis.


referring to the Bibliography

1 Fredric Jameson in fact thinks that psychoanalysis '... may indeed lay claim to the distinction of being the only really new and original hermeneutic developed since the great patristic and medieval system of the four senses of scripture.' (Jameson 1981: 61)
2 1912-13, SE 13: 95-6.
3 Lévi-Strauss 1972: 186-205.
4 1933a, SE 22: 73.
5 1933a, SE 22: 76.
6 1933a, SE 22: 75.
7 1933a, SE 22: 79.
8 1933a, SE 22: 64.
9 1933a, SE 22: 57.

New: 8 August, 1996 | Now: 22 January, 2018