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Discourse 25.1&2 (2003) 231-247



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The Inarticulate Affect:
Lyotard and Psychoanalytic Testimony

Claire Nouvet


Philosophy rarely, if ever, engages psychoanalysis. It is then all the more noteworthy when a philosopher takes the risk of such an engagement. Jean-François Lyotard took this chance repeatedly and in different modes. While his American fame is largely based on his coinage of the term "postmodern," his early works were devoted to Freud's "libidinal economy," the title of one of his books. In the texts that appeared after The Differend—"his book of philosophy" as he called it—the task of philosophical thinking nevertheless changed. Philosophical thought was now asked to confront that monster which scandalizes the very rules of philosophical cognition: not libido, but affect.

What happens when philosophy encounters psychoanalysis at this specific site: the affect? How does this encounter affect both philosophy and psychoanalysis? And psychoanalysis in its clinical dimension?

While one can find in Lyotard a precise description of the impact of psychoanalysis on philosophy, the impact of philosophy on psychoanalysis is strangely downplayed. At the end of "Emma," Lyotard's reading of Freud's famous case study, he bluntly asserts: "I am convinced that the 'phraseology' you just read does not bring anything to the psychoanalyst that he does not already know or that he can use. Its interest, if it has one, is philosophical" (Misère de la philosophie 94). 1 Here is a philosopher who, for once, lets [End Page 231] go of the typical philosophical arrogance. Philosophy renounces its claim to hegemony and bows, as it were, in front of the analyst. It has nothing to teach the psychoanalyst.

Modestly, then, philosophy claims to echo psychoanalysis. This is a modest echo indeed, since it does not even claim to echo psychoanalysis back to itself, but merely to propagate the turbulence of the psychoanalytic insight within the philosophical field. And still, I will argue, something worth listening to might be sent back to psychoanalysis by the philosophical echo. Philosophy reiterates psychoanalysis but with a different inflection which underlines with a specific intensity some aspects of the well-known psychoanalytic material. This intensification gives rise to questions that are addressed not only to the clinic and to the specific art that, for Lyotard, analytic listening is, and must acknowledge itself to be, but also to analytical writing.

Lyotard's emphasis on analytical listening as an art is not, of course, a repudiation of psychoanalysis as fiction, although a third discipline no doubt makes itself heard at this point: literature. Paradoxically enough, it may have taken a philosopher to open psychoanalysis to literature, to offer a positive evaluation of the proximity of psychoanalysis to literature, and a reading of psychoanalytic literature precisely as literature. All of which occurs through a philosopher's attempt to think what philosophy has long resisted thinking, but with which psychoanalysis and literature must constantly deal: affect. It is, therefore, through this philosophical articulation of the affect that I will attempt to address some literary questions to psychoanalysis. They will focus on the muteness of affect, its radical heterogeneity to articulation, its tonal imprint on articulated discourse, and its transmission. Through these different problems, one overarching question in fact tries to articulate itself: what is owed to the testimony that the affect is according to Lyotard? And how does one acquit oneself of this debt: in a tone, a susceptibility to transmission, an intractable resistance, a work, be it analytical or literary?

As he listens to the psychoanalytical affect which comes to him from Freud, Lyotard claims to speak "as a philosopher," that is "without any (clinical) authority on the question of excitation." To speak "as a philosopher" also means that one does not relinquish the philosophical pretension "to articulate in an intelligible fashion." What, paradoxically enough, will be rigorously articulated is the radical inarticulateness of the affect.

First, the affect is reframed within the pragmatic of phrases that Lyotard elaborated in The Differend. Lyotard's reading of Emma is indeed directed by the "philosophical intuition" that the [End Page 232] affect must and can be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-1810
Print ISSN
1522-5321
Pages
pp. 231-247
Launched on MUSE
2004-02-11
Open Access
No
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