restricted access 5. After the End: Freud against the Illusion of Psychical Freedom
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131 5 After the End Freud against the Illusion of Psychical Freedom One spends three quarters of one’s life wanting without doing . . . and doing without wanting to. —Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist There is far less freedom and arbitrariness in mental life, however, than we are inclined to assume—there may even be none at all. —Sigmund Freud, “Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva” True hope has become with . . . Freud suspected of being an illusion. —Jacob Taubes, “Religion und die Zukunft der Psychoanalyse” How to Remain a Rationalist? The unconscious does not know time. The same is true for Freud, who somehow managed to make things worse after there was not even nothing anymore, that is, after Hegel. From 1915 to 1917 Freud held the first series of his introductory lectures on psychoanalysis that can be taken as a paradigm of how to make things worst. After he first introduced his students to some of the general issues one faces when attempting to study, teach, or introduce psychoanalysis, he turned to the proverbial Freudian phenomena of parapraxes, raising the question as to why that which seems to be nothing but the “dregs . . . of the world of phenomena” can legitimately play the role of a crucial object 132 · After the End for investigation and extensive study. He answers, “It is more promising in scientific work to attack whatever is immediately before one. . . . Since everything is related to everything, including small things to great, one may gain access even from such unpretentious work to a study of the great problems.” Freud here unknowingly takes up Hegel’s idea that any real science can start only by taking up what is before us, even if this is less than nothing. So, in this sense, Freud repeats Hegel. And he justifies his claim with an interesting argumentative move. He states that although trivial phenomena like a slip of the tongue and the misreading of a word may simply seem to be “small chance events” that deserve no deeper analysis, as soon as one assumes that there are “occurrences, however small, which drop out of the universal concatenation of events— occurrences which might just as well happen as not happen,” this very assumption jeopardizes the very idea of rationalism. The reason for this is simple: if there are things that defy rational explanation, then rationalism is fundamentally limited in scope by those things that exceed rationality. Rationalism is thereby turned into a regional enterprise, and as soon as it loses the (allegedly impossible) possibility of totalizing its scope, it ultimately becomes meaningless. Again, the concept of totality is at stake here. If one presupposes that there are small or large events that defy rational explanation, one “has thrown overboard the whole Weltanschauung of science.”1 Rationalism cannot operate without (at least an attempt at) totalization that drives rationalism to inquire into the rationality even of that which appears irrational, or worse, arational. It is this seemingly trivial claim that marks one of the foundational gestures of psychoanalysis: the idea that everything, however minimal, however contingent it may appear, deserves to be analyzed (and must be taken into account)—a truly nonexclusive universalist stance. Freud therefore came up with the idea that the analyst’s After the End · 133 “evenly suspended attention” (gleichschwebender Aufmerksamkeit) corresponds to the analysand’s “free association,” to which I will return.2 The idea behind the former is that everything matters . Everything is remarkable. This means there is rationality even in alleged epiphenomena regardless of their nature. Methodologically speaking, rationalism needs “an evenly suspended attention,” not shying away from taking excrescences or seemingly rubbish material as its object of inquiry.3 Rationalism thus needs an evenly suspended concept of reason. Within this type of rationalism, rationality itself is an operational concept, which means that it is not substantially or a priori defined.4 It operates instead in such a manner that it does not a priori exclude anything from its realm, even if this strategy may lead to surprising results. But if we presume, in contrast, the possibility of something happening without any determinable reason whatsoever, then we necessarily regionalize and substantialize reason and rationality. This position claims that some things happen for no reason at all, which implies that certain phenomena do not deserve an explanation because they are irrelevant for reason. (This is the substantializing move.) As a result certain phenomena also remain inexplicable, devoid of or even outside of reason. (This is the regionalizing move.) Although...