Sunday, September 23, 2012

Directing Treatment: Suggestion and Interpretation in Freud and Lacan

Both Freud and Lacan were constantly trying to differentiate between true psychoanalysis as a science and mere suggestion. Even though Freud began his work with hypnotic suggestion, he would eventually abandon the overt technique, since it does not admit scientific explanation. However, Freud does not deny that suggestion may still help the patient. In “Beginning of the Treatment,” he writes,

Often enough the transference is able to remove the symptoms of the disease by itself, but only for awhile—only for as long as it itself lasts. In this case, the treatment is a treatment by suggestion, and not a psychoanalysis at all. It only deserves the latter name if the intensity of the transference has been utilized for the overcoming of resistances. (377)

But treatment by suggestion is only temporary because it does not get to the root of the problem. Instead of using the transference (i.e. suggestion) in order to move to the more serious task of analytic interpretation, the transference is taken as a cure. This is usually the fault of the analyst rather than the analysand because the analyst is either satisfied that he or she has successfully interpreted the analysand’s problem or, what amounts to the same thing, is a result of the countertransference, which Lacan defines as “the sum total of the analyst’s biases, passions, and difficulties, or even of his inadequate information, at any given moment in the dialectical process” (“Presentation” 183). For instance,  Lacan argues that Freud’s analysis of Dora was unsuccessful because of Freud’s tendency to interpret from the standpoint of Herr K: “It is because he put himself rather too much in Herr K’s shoes that Freud did not succeed in moving the Infernal Regions this time around” (“Presentation” 182). In his “Postscript,” Freud says that Dora’s symptoms had subsided for awhile, but that she relapsed into 6 week case of aphonia later (“Dora” 238).  Thus, it seems that Freud’s analysis of Dora was a ‘failure’ because his analysis ultimately was treatment by suggestion. But, we might then ask, what analysis is not an analysis by suggestion? That is, how can an analyst be sure that the analysis is an “authentic” and “scientific” psychoanalysis? To put it another way, is not suggestion as transference required for a successful analysis?

To me, this question raises the problem of rhetoric, that is, of persuasion. How does rhetoric function in Lacanian and Freudian discourse? Can psychoanalysis be a ‘science’ if it uses persuasion, suggestion, or, dare I say, hypnosis? In her book Inessential Solidarity, Dian Davis claims that Freud’s science of psychoanalysis is founded by trading in “persuasion for interpretation” and “rhetoric as persuasion for rhetoric as trope” (31). We can see that this substitution also holds for Lacan through his text’s use of rhetorical tropes, while constantly denouncing ‘suggestion’ and persuasion.    In the “Rome Discourse,” Lacan argues that the importance of the dream is in its text, “that is, in its rhetoric” (“Function” 221). He then rattles off a litany of tropes that correspond to Freud’s categories of displacement and condensation, moving on to claim that “Freud teaches us to read in them the intentions [. . .] with which the subject modulates his oneiric discourse” (“Function” 222). Thus, in Freud and Lacan, rhetoric is relegated to the analysand’s text rather than to the analytic situation involving the analyst. If this so, what do we make of Lacan’s claim that the analyst function as a rhetorician?  “It [psychoanalysis] is a practice of chat…. The psychoanalyst is a rhetorician…. He does not say what is either true or false. That which is true and that which is false, this is what we call the power of the analyst. And that’s why I say he is a rhetorician” (Lacan qtd. in “What does Lacan say about Rhetoric?”). The commentator who translated this passage interprets Lacan’s position on rhetoric as a function of speaking well rather than its purpose of persuasion:

Could we not interpret Lacan here as simply pointing out the fact that the psychoanalyst does exactly what the rhetorician does: uses words in the most economical way. Without speaking poetically, or even trying to persuade, he communicates a message in a very efficient way, if at all possible by just sending the speaker’s words back to them, allowing them to hear the resonances of their own words.” (What does Lacan say about Rhetoric?”).

Not only does this misunderstand rhetoric as it has been defined since Aristotle (as the available means of persuasion), but it also disregards the function of persuasion and suggestion within the analytic situation. Borsch-Jacobsen, for instance, asks rhetorically, “what is the transference [. . .] if not hypnosis without a hypnotist, persuasion without a rhetorician, since it is produced in the absence of any direct suggestion?” (qtd. in Davis 32). Thus, transference can be understood as a form of hypnotic suggestion, a susceptibility to persuasion which forces the analyst to be constantly attentive to their role.

But as already mentioned, Freud attempted to keep persuasion at bay so as to be able to interpret from a relatively “neutral” position. According to Davis, Freud thought that those who use hypnosuggestion were like the rhetoricians in Plato’s Phaedrus, who do not “know what they are doing” (Davis 31). Freud is careful to lay out the limits of the analyst’s role: “He can supervise the process, further it, remove obstacles in its way, and he can undoubtably vitiate much of it. But on the whole, once begun, it goes its own way and does not allow either the direction it takes or the order in which it picks up its points to be prescribed for it” (“Beginning” 368-69, italics ). Similarly, Lacan maintains that even though the psychoanalyst directs the treatment, the psychoanalyst “must not direct the patient,” particularly with regard to the patient’s conscience or moral standards; such direction on the part of the analyst would lead to the analysand merely taking on the conscious values of the analyst’s ego.  However, the analyst must have some form of knowledge, most notably, when to reveal something: “by giving the patient information at the right time, it shows him the paths along which he should direct those energies” (“Beginning” 377). This idea of intervening at the right time (punctuating the analyst’s discourse) is echoed by Lacan, when he argues that the analysis of resistance is neither pointing out his or her biases that prevent he or she from understanding nor persuading, which leads to suggestion, but rather at every instant of the analytic relation, knowing at what level the answer should be pitched.” (Seminar II, 42-43). But if the analyst punctuates he analysand’s discourse, even if he or she simply speaks the analysand’s discourse back at the analysand, is it not the case that this is a “suggestion” – a suggestion of what the analysand should interpret? Furthermore, isn’t the analyst attempting to persuade the analysand at one and the same time that he or she should continue with analysis?

In their book Critique of Psychoanalytic Reason, Isabelle Stengers and Leon Chertok ask the key question: “What if the Freudian foundation of psychoanalysis were not a break with the practices of hypnosis and suggestion, which Freud himself used, but the invention of a new way (or manner) of practicing them” (272). They answer that, for Freud, “psychoanalysis was not the opponent of suggestion, but had succeeded rather in ‘putting suggestion in the service of knowledge’ (Stengers and Chertok 272). Indeed, I think it is difficult to deny this conclusion given that Freud, in the above quotation, argues that the transference has to be utilized for overcoming the transfnerence. This is why, for Freud, “So long as the patient’s communications and ideas run on without any obstruction, the theme of transference should be left untouched. One must wait until the transference, which is the most delicate of all procedures has become resistance” (“Beginning” 375).

But when the transference becomes resistance, what is to be done? For Lacan it seems that instead of thematizing the transferece (that is, explicitly pointing out to the patient that the resistance is because of transference), the analyst should use it as a lure to continue the anaylsis: “What then does it mean to interpret transference? Nothing but to fill the emptiness of this stand still with a lure. But even though it is deceptive, this lure serves the purpose by setting the whole process in motion anew” (“Presentation” 184). That is, if the lure is a suggestion or an interpretation, the analyst cannot assume that this is the ‘correct’ and final interpretation. Rather, it should be used to continue the analysis. As Lacan says, “the subject’s resistance, when it opposes suggestion, is but a desire to maintain his desire. As such his desire should be considered a positive transference, since it is desire that maintains the direction for the analysis” ("Direction" 531).

Thus, to return to an earlier question, even though the analyst’s function is not to persuade the patient that a particular interpretation is “correct” in the sense that it corresponds to “the reality” of the situation, the analyst does have an interest in keeping the analysis moving.  This is why Lacan can say that and interpretation that is “inexact” can nevertheless be “true” (“Direction” 499). This is also why we should understand interpretations as “lures” at a “moment of stagnation in the analytic dialectic” ("Presentation" 184). Interpretations help to continue the analysis because even if the patient resists a particular interpretation, this should be read as a positive development because it keeps the analysis going.

But it must be noted that an interpretation is not the same as satisfaction of the analysand’s demand, whether that be for a cure, the analyst’s affections, or the demand to become an analyst. Neither should one interpret the transference in the hopes that once the transference is resolved, the analysis can resume as a confrontation of two equal egos who can communicate and “understand” one another (“Direction” 497). Far from appeasing the analysand’s demands, according to Lacan, the analyst has “created demand” and is the one that “sustains demand [. . .] in order to allow the signifiers with which the latter’s frustration is bound up to reappear” (“Direction” 515, 516). Except when interpretation or punctuating the discourse of the analysand, the analyst is silent, a dummy, a dead man, if you will. That demand and desire (are these two different?) must be sustained is why, perhaps, Freud cautions against speaking to friends about the analysis: “The treatment thus has a lead which lets through precisely what is most valuable. When this happens, the patient must, without much delay, but advised to treat his analysis as a matter between himself and his doctor” (“Beginning” 373). To talk to an initimate friend about what the analyst says or punctuates or what he or she has said in the analysis is to ask for a response that he or she will not receive from the analyst. The relation between friends is vastly different from that of the patient and the analyst, as the former is between two conscious egos, one recollecting (perhaps organizing) that which is supposedly free association and one responding from the position of what Lacan calls the “semblable” rather than the Other.

In conclusion, I want to suggest that there are (at least) two “lures” of psychoanalysis; the lure of an inexact interpretation that provokes the subject or patient to respond as well as—and perhaps this amounts to the same thing—the lure of the “subject supposed to know.” That is, the analysand believes that the analyst knows where the treatment is headed and can provide an answer to his problem, something he or she might understand. But, to paraphrase Lacan, desire is incompatible with speech (“Direction” 535). The subject is demanding something of the analyst, “but he knows very well that it would be but words. And he can get those from whomever he likes [. . .] It’s not these words he’s asking for” (“Direction” 515). Lacan is trying to say here that it is mistake to think that “to understand is an end in itself” and that perhaps it is better to think without understanding, to listen without response, and to engage in “a positive nonaction aiming at the ortho-dramitization of the patient’s subjectivity” (“Presentation” 184).  

Works Cited

Chertok, Léon, and Isabelle Stengers. A Critique of Psychoanalytic Reason: Hypnosis as a Scientific Problem from Lavoisier to Lacan. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1992. Print.

Davis, D. Diane. Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2010. Print.
Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. “Beginning of Treatment.” The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print.
Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora).” The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print.

Lacan, Jacques, Héloïse Fink, and Bruce Fink. Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Today I went to class. We talked about Hansen, Wolfe, and Derrida. Tonight I'm practicing music with a band. I'm in a relatively good mood. Here's a picture of my cat:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Embodying Technesis: Part 1

Chapter 3: From Metaphor to Embodiment: Resisting Technesis

Systems Theory
In a response to a review of the book Embodying Technesis, Mark Hansen agrees that he may have given short shrift to systems theory. His discussion of systems theory, which he sees as a “positivation” of the deconstructive moment takes its departure from William Paulsen’s book that explicitly attempts to show how systems theory can help us to understand literature; from this example, Hansen argues that systems theory is still committed to a “relative exteriority” that ultimately leaves materiality out of the distinction of system and environment. The problem is that Hansen chooses one specific application of systems theory that is committed to explaining how it functions within literature (the domain of representation). Hansen argues that “commitment to representationalism” and the collapsing of literary and techno-scientific systems is the major problem he has with cultural studies’ appropriation of poststructualist theory (and some of the poststructuralist theory itself).

Hansen argues that systems theory actually isolates the system from environment, but Cary Wolfe’s reading of Luhmann argues that it is only through the closure of the system that the system can connect to the environment. He writes,

This self-referential closure, however, does not indicate solipsism, idealism, or isolation but is instead crucial to understanding a fundamental principle of what I call ‘openness from closure’ [. . .] in the self-referential mode of operation, closure is a form of broadening possible environmental contacts; closure increases, by constituting elements more capable of being determined, the complexity of the environment that is possible for the system (Wolfe 15).
Furthermore, the system that makes a distinction is not limited to human beings, but every system that can “make distinctions.” For instance, a cell makes a distinction between what is and what is not itself – creating an outside environment that is not the system. In contrast to the systems theory approach, Hansen, appears to argue that complexity arises autonomously from systems. He writes, “technology also functions as a key agent in the macroevolution, or complexification of the material world. Whereas technologies are always results of culturally determined processes, they are also privileged vehicles of the natural process of material complexification” (56). For Hansen, then, the rule is that technology is increasing material complexification and that this complexity is “negantropic.” In other words, it seems to me that for Hansen there is a “natural” negentropic force of technology that complexifies our world, a force having little to do with a “relative” exteriority. So even if Hansen maintains that this movement is “non-teleological” there still seems to be a telos: the elimination of entropy.

The question is – who is “positivizing” the deconstructive moment? Does Wolfe “positivize” Derrida when he claims,
Derrida and Luhmann converge on the same point from opposite directions; while Derrida emphasizes the final undecidability of any signifying instance, Luhmann stresses that even so systems must decide, they must selectively process the differences between information and utterance if they are to achieve adaptive resonance with their environment. Thus underneath this apparent divergence is a shared emphasis—against ‘relativism’ and ‘anything goes’ reflexivity—on the determinate specificity of the signifying or communicative instance that must be negotiated, which is precisely why in Limited Inc. Derrida rejects the term ‘indeterminacy’ because it occludes an understanding of the determinate oscillation between possibilities (for examples, of meaning, but also of acts). (23)
I would argue that, no, he does not. Indeed, it is important to see that Hansen is the one using thermodynamic theories of entropy/negentropy in service of his ontological claim of material complexification that results in negentropic force. Luhmann’s distinctions go further than the second-order cybernetic theories Hansen depends on that simply distinguish between information/noise (another distinction critiqued by Hansen).
Indeed, I think that it is important to note that Hansen’s more recent essay, “Media Theory” uses systems-theoretical terms to describe the media’s function in connect system and environment:
The medium, we might say, is implicated in living as essentially technical, in what I elsewhere call ‘technical life’; it is the operation of mediation—and perhaps also the support for the always concrete mediation—between a living being and the environment. In this sense, the medium perhaps names the very transduction between the organism and the environment that constitutes life as essentially technical; thus it is nothing less than a medium for the exteriorization of the living, and correlatively, for the selective actualization of the environment, a demarcation of a world, of an existential domain, from the unmarked environment as such” (300, italics mine).
Taking this quotation as a departure point and translating it into the language I used a minute ago, we might say that the medium (which is basically any exteriorizing medium – language, but, moreover, writing (Derrida) or communication (Luhmann)) helps to make a distinction, actualizing a different relation between system and environment.
Furthermore, I think we should read Hansen’s argument about “medium” as corresponding to the position he ascribes to Derrida in what Hansen calls Derrida’s ‘machine reduction of technology’: “Functionally, technology is limited to the role of material support for the ‘possibilities of the trace’; like writing in the restricted sense, it is merely the means by which differance exteriorizes and expresses itself” (84).Replace “differance” with the “exteriorization of the living” as a selective actualization of the environment and I think you will see why his position corresponds with Derrida’s, except that Derrida uses the “machine” metaphor and Hansen calls this “medium” (which is also what systems theory would call it if we remember Gumbrecht’s quote).
Hansen argues that Derrida and others who put technology into discourse, reducing technology to a text-machine, is “a defense against the threat posed by the radical material alterity of technology: by safely situating technology as the ‘other’ within thought, as the machinery of language integral to thought’s genesis, technesis neutralizes a more formidable ‘other’ that threatens the wholesale dissolution of the much cherished closure of representation” (87). Here, I would argue that the idea that human ‘thought’ or ‘writing’ as communication is integral to ourselves, to any human being – that we are always already “inhuman” would be much more terrifying. Thus, I think Hansen in a sense is defending against this position, which he partially amends in his essay “Media Theory.” Following Bernard Stiegler, Hansen argues that the break of the human from everything is else is also the invention of technics (299).  However, Hansen still maintains that, a bit contrary to his Lyotardian position in Embodying Technesis, that “no matter how cognitively sophisticated these technologies become, they operate only through their coupling with the human” (302). In this way, technology is not an “autonomous,” radically exterior force; rather, technology is only “quasi-autonomous”
The key rhetorical move by which the poststructuralists reduce technology is metalepsis. Hansen defines the term as
a rhetorical figure describing the metonymical substitution of one (figurative) word for another or several others. Most often involving extreme compression and an ensuing obfuscation of the literal sense of the statement, metalepsis also, in certain cases, designates an inversion or conflation of cause and effect (91).
Thus, Hansen argues that metalepsis designates “the triumph of having so stationed technology, in one’s own work, that particular aspects of technology seem to be not preconditions of one’s description, but rather to be caused by one’s own production” (Hansen 92, original italics).
One of the issues with Hansen’s use of the text-machine is that he is reducing the text to an ideal form rather than a material artifact/medium that is one way “writing” happens. He is confusing “text” and “writing” with language, particularly language as representation: “As long as technology is made to derive from language, the postructuralist and constructivist idioms can confidently maintains their enabling conflation of technology’s robust materiality with the relative materiality that it possesses within the theater of representation” (93).

Greek ontology and the Machine Reduction
I hate to sound snotty, but if Derrida has reduced the machine to a textual metaphor, then Hansen has reduced the supplement to only one of its significations. Hansen quotes Aristotle on the meaning of techne, which contains two specific forms of mimesis: that which “carries to its end what physis is incapable of effecting” and the usual sense of “imitation” (Lacou-Labarthe qtd. in Hansen 95). Hansen argues that Derrida’s description of the supplement “could well be a gloss on Aristotle’s passage: “The supplement adds itself, it is a surplus, a plenitude enriching another plenitude, the fullest measure of presence. It is thus that art, techne, image, representation, convention etc. come as supplements to nature and are rich with this entire cumulating function” (Derrida qtd. in Hansen 95). Then Hansen moves on to say that in this form, the supplement, “retains a basic fidelity to Aristotelian techne” (95).
First, we must contextualize the passage that Hansen tears out of Derrida. The passage stems from the section From/Of Blindness to the Supplement, a section that discusses the function of the supplement in the text of Rousseau. Derrida says many times surrounding this passage quoted from Hansen that he is speaking about the supplement “in the text of Rousseau” (although, it might be worth pointing out that in “Typewriter Ribbon,” Derrida says that in de Man, the text of Rousseau becomes “exemplary of the text in general”)  It is extremely important to the rest of his argument to read what Hansen did not quote. Directly before the passage, Derrida writes,“For the concept of the supplement—which here determines that of the representative image—harbors within itself two significations whose cohabitation is as strange and as necessary” (144).
So, we already know that Hansen has not quoted the second signification. But even before we get there, directly after the passage Hansen quotes, Derrida writes, “This kind of supplementarity determines in a certain way all the conceptual oppositions which Rousseau inscribes the notion of Nature to the extent that it should be self-sufficient” (145). This part is quoted to show that the type of supplement is articulated within the context of the text of Rousseau specifically regarding nature. But let’s see what the other signification is:
substitute, it is not simply added to the positivity of a presence, it produces no relief, its place is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness. Somewhere something can be filled up of itself, can accomplish itself, only by allowing itself to be filled through sign and proxy” (145). More importantly, the next paragraph states, “this second signification of the supplement cannot be separated from the first [. . .] But their common function is shown in this: whether it adds or substitutes itself, the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is super-added, alien to that which, in order to be replaced by it, must be other than it” (145).
Although I am not quite sure what this means, the question is whether or not Hansen can really claim that Derrida’s notion of the supplement is a “gloss” on Aristotle’s concept of “techne” if he erases the context of the passage (Rousseau) and the second signification of the supplement. I think we may find that Derrida does not recuperate the supplement into the domain of thought, as Hansen claims.
Luck and the automatic (pgs 98-101) (some notes and Questions)
Luck—“restricted domain of events, those capable of choosing” (humans)
Automatic—“to animals other than man, objects” etc.
The Difference:
1.)    luck ‘former’ “are for something in a sense that could be determined by their agent (i.e. according to the category of thought), while the latter are for something in a sense that cannot be so determined, that remains-in itself-indeterminate.
2.)    The final cause of an automatic event is external and thus can only make sense if understood by an intentional agent.
Hansen points out that Aristotle does not hold to the radical exteriority of the automatic and assimilates it into the domain of the mind. The automatic is “para physin in the sense that it cannot be tied down to a purpose immediately graspable by and attributable to an agent of thought or to nature. Its efficiency derives from something purely contingent and external in the subject it qualifies” (100). If we look back to Derrida’s description of the supplement, we see that is much more akin to “the automatic” than to Aristotle’s restricted definition of techne.

Chapter 4: Questioning the Machine Basis of Technology: Heidegger on Techne
In Rutsky’s book, he interprets high-tech as technology that reveals in the mode of poesis; For Heidegger and for Rutsky, poesis, as a revealing that brings-forth, puts us in a positive, “science-fictional” relationship with the future. Rutsky writes at the end of his book,
“These ‘other’ futures cannot be represented through rational analysis and predictions; they can only be imagined through a science-fictional process, an imaginative, aesthetic process that is similar to the bringing-forth that Heidegger saw in the Greek techne” (158).
While Rutsky sees this shift as promising and productive, following Heidegger’s lead, Hansen reads Heidegger’s “Question Concerning Technology” as another symptom of technesis, arguing that “Heidegger’s reduction of technology thus functions to insure the domestication of modern technology within the frame of poiesis” (104).
Hansen first reads technology as an ontic supplement that contributes to our “fallenness” and “inauthentic” existence in idle chat and curiosity. The argument is that basically, technology infiltrates the purity of language: “What cybernetic technologies do is present the being of language as mere words cut off from their connection with a [. . .] ‘context of involvements’. In this sense, what Heidegger says of the typewriter is all the more true of the computer” (109).
Hansen argues that Heidegger only considers technologies which “can be thematized in explicit terms” because these are the only ones that can have a direct impact on our lives. He argues that there are two mediated practices which are left out of this category:
1.       Experiences in which there is no breakdown and hence no motivation to cross from the practical to the theoretical domain.
2.       Experience in which technology’s impulse (because it is molecular and diffuse) isi n pricinpel not recuperable through thematization.
I think we need to explore particularly what number 1 could possibly be referring to in terms of concrete technologies that Hansen seems to be referring to here.
In terms of “Question Concerning Technology,” it seems like Hansen comes to the opposite conclusion of Rutsky; namely, that far from the mode of poiesis being able to engage with high-tech, it actually cannot extend to the question of high-tech: “Whereas poiesis could coherently be applied to the forms of production known to the Greeks (“handcraft manufacture,” “artistic and poetical bringing into appearance and concrete imagery,” and physis) it simply cannot be extended to cover the category of modern production” (115). Instead, Hansen argues that “as long as it comprises a mode of poiesis or the revealing of Being, modern technology, in other words, can distinguished solely through its negativity—the way it obscures the meaning of Being” (118).
Given what we said about Rutsky’s tracing of the development of technologies back to an artisan, a producer – that such an origin of production is rare these days (see I, Pencil) I think we would be more apt to agree with Hansen’s critique rather than Rutsky’s affirmation of the Heideggerian poiesis.

Chapter 5: The Mechanics of Deconstruction: Derrida on De Man, or Poststructuralism in the Age of Cultural Studies
Hansen claims that Derrida effectively preserves the priority of Heideggerian poiesis, claiming that “privileging the trace as the withdrawl of truth, Derrida retains the very same priority of ontology for which Levinas rebukes Heidegger” (124). And again, on the next page: “by taking the being of what is and making it thoroughly dependent on the metaphysics of the text (and thus on the operation of techne), Derrida simply effaces the very category of radical exteriority and, along with it, all traces of materiality outside the space governed by textuality” (125).
“The functional analogy linking text with machine begins to function ontologically—and hence reductively—from the moment when deconstruction generalizes its claims to technology as such, rather than restricting them to technology in its textual form” (128).
“matter” is reduced to playing “the purely abstract role of that which resists idealization” (129)
We should recall Hansen’s understanding of the supplement, as it is crucial to his argument in this chapter on Derrida as well. Hansen writes, “technology simply supplements thought ith a material basis without which it could not function” and also, on the opposite page, “technology is made wholly coequivalent with the supplement and thus loses its truly radical force as a material obstacle to the onto-phenomenological movement of thought, a threat to thinking itself” (133). I have a hard time thinking how technology isn’t a threat to thinking itself while at the same time being the enabling condition for thought. It’s a threat to the purity of thought or to thought without any mediation – ideal thought.
De Man and Derrida’s ‘materiality’ of the text
Hansen argues that Derrida “ignores de Man’s introduction of the ‘material’—a category, I suggest, holds the relation of radical exteriority with respect to phenomenological thought or consciousness [Erinnerung]” (read pgs 138-`139 for a general summary of Hansen’s argument)
In Psyche: Inventions of the Other 1 Derrida is adamant that de Man’s notion of textual “materiality” is not matter. I will quote a few passages from the essay,  “Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2) (within such limits),” which we would do well to read closely:
The materiality in question—is not a thing; it is not something (sensible or intelligible); it is not even the matter of a body [. . .] this nothing therefore operates, it forces, but as a force of resistance. It resists both beautiful form and matter as substantial and organic totality. This is one of the reasons that de Man never says, it seems to me, matter, but materiality [. . .] I would say that it is a materiality without matter (350)
This force of resistance without material substance derives from the dissociative and inorganic, disorganizing, disarticulating, and even disseminal power that de Man attributes to the letter “ (351)
First of all, the inscription of a textual event—and this will later be one of the traits of the materiality of matter—is a machine like deconstruction of the body proper. This is why I said, using a formulation that is not de Man’s, that materiality becomes a very useful generic name for all that resists appropriation (353).
The materiality of this event as a textual event is what is or makes itself independent of any subject or any desire (357).
On the one hand, we can read these statements as Hansen would – as a reduction of robust materiality into the relative exteriority of the text. However, might we also consider that these passages mean that the world is not a text in the sense that everything is “textualized” (turned into and object for literary hermeneutics). Indeed, in these above formulations, the textual event/world is not appropriable, which means that is not something that is simply “given to thinking.” Or at least, it cannot be subsumed and appropriated by the thinking subject.  Let us now look at how Derrida defines the text in his work:
In his essay “But beyond. . .,” Derrida writes that the text is,
always a field of forces: heterogeneous, differential, open, and so on . . .[Deconstructive readings and writings] are not simply analyses of discourses, such as, for example, the one you propose. They are also effective or active (as one says) interventions, in particular political and institutional interventions that transform contexts without limiting themselves to theoretical or constative utterances even though they must produce such utterances (168).
So the text is metaphorically described as a machine in some essays, but it is also described in other ways. Perhaps we can take this as a sign that Derrida finds the machinic metaphor convenient to describe the disarticulation of the text, but does not restrict technology (in the more “robust material” sense to an object (a text) for thinking. Furthermore, it’s not as though Derrida is unaware of the actual effects of material technology on someone, for instance, being filmed (see my last blog post on Echographies of Television).
Ch. 6: Psyche and Metaphor: Derrida’s Freud
“Through his proposed generalization, technology remains, in its essence, a means of archivation, of information storage; only now, in the postFreudian era, it finds itself spread over global dimensions. Stripped of all hints of autonomy, of a proper materiality, technology—as the materialization of the world’s resemblance to memory—is made to fit within a teleological history of the psyche and its ontogenetic production of thought and memory. Integrated into the textually given play of the world, technology comprises nothing more than a support for the Being-in-the-world of the psyche.” (147)
The question here is whether or not there is something wrong with conceiving of technology as forms of memory; specifically, exteriorizations of memory, as Stiegler puts it, tertiary retentions. In Katherine Hayles essay “Tech-TOC,” she argues that Stiegler’s privileging of tertiary retentions is problematic:
the biological capacity for memory (which can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation to carry the past into the present) is exteriorized, creating the possibility, through technics, for a person to experience through complex temporality something that never was experienced as a first-hand event, a possibility that Stiegler calls tertiary retention. This example, which Stiegler develops at length and to which he gives theoretical priority, should not cause us to lose sight of the more general proposition: that all technics imply, instantiate, and evolve through complex temporalities[JR1] 
It seems that in Hansen’s “Media Theory,” he is following Stiegler, arguing that there is an “essential correlation of storage with life” (301). Even though he seems to follow Stiegler, Hansen seems less concerned with tertiary retention and more with secondary retention. Hansen writes,
As Stiegler has shown, the contemporary culture industries strive to exercise and maintain a stranglehold on cultural memory (secondary memory) by offering pre-programmed, media artifactual memory objects (tertiary memories) that, because of their seduction and their ubiquity work to erode the role of personal consciousness and to displace lived experience as the basis for secondary memory (304). 
The priority of secondary memory for Hansen is because, continuing his project in Embodying Technesis, he wants to still focus on lived experience. According to Hansen, digital technologies
empower personal secondary memory to reassert some control over the production of presencings [. . .] because they allow personal lived consciousness control over the flux of the media artifact that is its surrogate temporal object, they allow consciousness to live time (at least to some extent) according to its own rhythms. In sum, digital technologies restore some sense of agency that personal lived consciousness has (apparently) lost (304).
Hansen wants to create a “politics of presencing” to…supplement?... Stiegler and Derrida’s “politics of memory,” that both refer to in Echographies of Television.
My next blog post will address the Hansen’s last chapter of Embodying Technesis and the distinction Benjamin makes of different kinds of experience/memory and Stiegler’s reading of tertiary and secondary retentions. Is it plausible to see Stiegler’s tertiary retentions as “voluntary memory”? If so, how would this different from Hansen’s current project of a politics of presencing?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing Technologies: Reflections on Echographies of Television

Ever since Plato we have lamented any new technology’s entrance into the public sphere, particularly ubiquitous technology that structures our everyday lives (rather than, say, a space shuttle or some other big discovery or invention in science). I remember when I used to complain that youtube is just a place for people to put their shitty, nonsense videos up. Of course, just because in the beginning these technologies started as a massive distraction from more focused and worthwhile media (at least in my opinion), youtube has since become a way to share a lot of educational material, including hour long lectures or clips from film. “youtube,” although part of the internet, I think, is a technology -- or at least a particular instantiation of the internet as technology. In other words, Youtube is a particular technology (a)part of the internet because of the way its changed “our” (and by ‘our’ I suppose I am using this to describe educators, although this could also probably be extended to internet users with a fast enough connection to display videos) everyday practices. Once youtube became ubiquitous, it linked with facebook, so now youtube videos are shared and circulated as quickly as a link to a blog (which can also harness youtube videos). Youtube has been bought by google, which is now a verb. The list can go on and on.

Although we can sit and argue whether technology x is “good” or “bad” to no avail, many still hold a general opinion about technology as a whole: Either technology will lead to a utopian society or technology will lead to a dystopian disaster. Usually this debate is centered on the technology currently invading our lives, rather than, say, a “pencil” or even something as harmful (according to Plato) as writing (assuming that technology isn’t always writing)! When we discuss whether or not “technology” is a good thing in colloquial discourse, we usually mean the technology sold at Best Buy, a store, by the way, filled with the latest consumer technologies.

Notice also that when we speak of technology we usually think of an object, neglecting to remember that technology can also refer to a “technique” – ways of organizing and acting in the world.  Technological objects may help in performing these techniques or, more importantly, these objects act as interfaces for human (and nonhuman) engagements with the world. Thus, not only objects, but ideas and systems can be considered “technologies” – the scientific method, hermeneutics, heuretics, etc.

The question for me, as I indicated in class, was how a particular technological object actually structures and reorients the world or at least calls for such reorientation. Technological objects, far from simply being a “designation” of a technological idea (see Verbeek) actually influences how our ideas are constructed, distributed, and debated. Intellectual blogs, like this one and, say, Levi Bryant’s calls for (or at least allows for) a wider distribution of academic ideas (in the same way that open access publishing does, except that this is still directed toward an academic audience). For Bryant, moreso than me, given my limited readership (viewership – which one is more accurate?), this also invites him to respond directly to criticisms voiced by anyone from fellow academics to people who maybe just come across his blog. While he is clearly speaking to an academic audience, the blog gives him a way to float ideas and receive feedback instantly without having to go to a conference. Thus, he begins to get risky with some of his ideas (as do I – my blogposts are rarely extensively edited). In other words, the technology of the blog (inextricably linked to several material technologies) have altered the way academic scholarship is not only distributed, but constructed. Or perhaps, it reveals something we already knew about academic scholarship – either way, the technology introduces new ways of seeing part of the world.

Derrida, frequently criticized (see Mark Hansen, Levi Bryant) for his idealism masked by a rhetoric of materialism, in Echographies of Television, a series of interviews with Bernard Stiegler, pays a lot of attention to how the situation of the “interview” (a particular technique or technology -- a genre is a technology, a form, a way of seeing) for television, including the cultural contexts that are required to understand the current event examples they discuss. But more importantly for my argument, Derrida discusses the effect of the camera on his discourse and body. Below I quote a few passages at length:
 I want to stop you a minute. What bothers me and seems so artificial or constraining is not the fact that this apparatus is technical. Technics is everywhere, when I’m writing with a pencil or when I’m chatting around a table, or when I’m sitting at ease in front of a computer. It is this type of technics that I’m not used to with its heaviness, its rigidity, this environment, this rhythm (Echographies 87-88)
. . .I would like to evoke what is happening here when, instead of pursuing the necessary course or relatively interior consequence of a meditation or discussion, as we would if we weren’t surrounded by this technical apparatus, all of a sudden, as if we had been interrupted, we had to start speaking in front of the camera and recording devices. A modification is produced—in any case, in me, and I don’t want to pass over it in silence—which is at once psychological and affective. Another process is set into motion if you like. I don’t speak, I don’t think, I don’t respond in the same way anymore, at the same rhythm as when I’m alone, daydreaming, or reflecting at the wheel of my car or in front of my computer or a blank page, or as when I’m with one of you, as was the case a little while again, as will be the case again a moment ago, as will be the case again in a moment, talking about the same questions but at a another rhythm, with another relation to time and urgency [. . .] the relation to urgency and to rhythm would be different and now it has suddenly been transformed by this system of scenographic and technical devices [. . .] The first thing to do, if what we are doing here has any specificity, would therefore be not to forget, not to subtract, not to neutralize this effect, and to record on tape, to archive the re-marking of this face that we are recording, that I, in any case, am recording with a certain amount of difficult” (70-71, italics mine).
“A minute ago, I wanted to say that what is changing, with all these technical mutations we have been discussing, including those that constrain us, that make us uncomfortable, that oblige us to speak in a rigid and artificial way here, what is happening, and this is not accidental, is really a transformation of the body. This relation to technics is not something to which a given body must yield, adjust, etc. IT is more than anything something which transforms the body. It is not the same body that moves and reacts in front of all these devices. Another body gradually invents itself, modifies itself, conducts its own subtle mutations” (96).

The point of quoting Derrida at length is to make it clear that Derrida understands that there is an impacts and an effect that occurs with current recording technologies that is not there (or at least is different) in, say, the writing situation. Thus, although all technologies, we might say, could be considered “writing” (even ‘thought’ is writing rather than pure presence to self, remember) these recording technologies write the subject at a different speed and a different rhythm. This is not to say, I think, that these technologies are only a faster in the sense of a measurable degree because speeds and different temporalities create different structural effects. It is hard to determine what these are, given that Derrida admits that maybe people who are on television all the time are not “uncomfortable” but the way a body and a discourse is transformed by the technology, I think, has to have, if not a universal structure, at least invite certain modes of interaction and relation. We might see this acknowledgment as an implicit critique of Stiegler’s claim that life is already cinema (that life operates on a kind of cinematic principle). There is a difference, of course, between the television interviews and cinema. For one, as Derrida says, he would need 20 hours to really get into Heidegger’s Being and Time, but television doesn’t operate on that principle. For one, that might even fly in the face of what we usually expect an “interview” to be. How many people could sit through 20 hours of back and forth with close readings of Heidegger? (I might be one of the few in this world). Would the interview be totally uncut? Furthermore, would there be as many references to particular issues in France.
There is more than one technology being used in these interviews – the interview, the camera, the cable channel that is able to broadcast it. All of these contexts, and how they influence an expected audience, must be taken into consideration – and yet they can be taken into consideration easier if Derrida were writing. He says in the interview (which I am now reading):

“Excuse me, I’m going to interrupt you again for a second. When I write, I often say to myself: “Good. . . You are paying so much attention to this sentence, you are working the breath and the syntax, you are paying attention to the rhythm, etc.” And then, depending on where it is going to be read—and this is even more the case when I rework something for an interview that is going to appear in a magazine or newspaper, which does happen, even if only rarely—I know that this going to be read very quickly; I then try to integrate into my calculation the fact that this is going to be read in this way at another speed. But this “televised” – for the televised is everywhere – is a very difficult and even impossible operation, all the more so in that there is not one reader or one readership which is homogeneous in its experience or in its culture of “reading” or “listening,” “seeing,” “having a look”

For one, I think we should note that I’m surprised Derrida is talking about the television as not having “one reader” or “one readership which is homogenous” when he is usually (but again, not under the pressure of the televisual apparatus) to say that one is never sure where the address/post/letter is going to end up – who one’s addressee is. But of course, here we have Derrida speaking “practically,” as a writer. Of course he is going to anticipate contexts of readers or listeners; This is one thing that is sometimes annoying about reading late “essays” that were really pre-written addresses to conferences. Although perhaps I shouldn’t say this is annoying, but rather, fortunate, that Derrida makes sure that should someone read his text he or she understands on what occasion Derrida is presenting his text.

Because these interviews were televised and relatively “improvised,” I don’t feel like it’s fair of me to point at Derrida’s line about the “homogeneity” readership as showing that Derrida does not practice what he preaches, as he is talking about what all of us as writers try and do – anticipate our readers. His point is that he cannot do that “as much” (although, here again, we’re stuck with measuring quantitatively) when he is recorded ‘live’ as it were. Derrida identifies this paradox:

“When we watch television, we have the impression that something is happening, only once: this is not going to happened again, we think, it is “living,” live, real time, whereas we also know, on the other hand, it is being produced by the strongest, the most sophisticated repetition machines. This apparently contradictory trait distances these machines—I don’t know what generic name to give them – from the book, for example, where you are of course also dealing with a certain iterability or with reproducibility, and even with the televised, but which in a sense presents itself as such, and which says to you in advance: ‘You can go back to the first page, or you must do it, you must reread. . .” we have, here, two experiences of repetition and of the televised that are very far apart, if not heterogeneous.”

Later, Derrida and Stiegler call the effect of the mimicry of living flux (and its “exactitude” as Stiegler puts it). Stiegler says,

It should be added that at issue here is the exactitude of recording. What you just said, in point up the shortcomings of this Barthesian point of view, is legitimate, and doubtless Barthes himself would have agreed: the reality effect in no way guarantees the authenticity of what is captured. But it nonetheless remains the case that it elicits and authentification effect for the person who looks [. . .] Hence a certain mode of accumulation, in an “exact” form, producing a sense of exactitude and of authenticity, that is to say, of presence, would be the condition of a certain form of intelligibility” (107-108).

Stiegler is trying to get Derrida to admit that these technologies yield other forms of “intelligibility,” which can lead to other technologies (where they be ‘ideal’ or ‘material’ in nature – though this distinction is increasingly hard to maintain). Stiegler thinks that these recording technologies, there exactitude, allows us to gain a new “intelligibility.” Derrida responds, using the word “meaning” instead of “intelligibility,” saying to Stiegler that all we have is “exappropriation,” “this double movement in which I head toward meaning while trying to appropriate it, but while knowing at the same time that it remains – and while desiring, whether I realize it or not, that it remains – foreign, transcendent, other, that it stay where there is alterity” (111).

That’s all very well and good – we cannot ever completely appropriate meaning, but I think that Stiegler’s point is less a matter of intelligibility than practices that enable new kinds of self-reflexivity; Derrida maintains there is no meaning for an existence in general, but Stiegler wants to find some way to orient society at large toward a meaning (or several meanings, but one that structures institutional practices). Perhaps this is what Derrida means when he says that “the field of meaning itself – on the scale you have called the ‘discrete’, the spacing of the discrete—only by multiplying the conditions of this very discreteness, in other words, spacing , non-sense, the blank, the interval, everything that bounds sense and non-sense as it were, exceeds or splits it” (108). To attempt a simplified translation of this complex sentence, might we say that the only way we can increase the field of meaning is to write with these technologies – to cut, edit, paste, crop, color, distort – discrete practices that transform the consumer, the addressee, into an addressee that can respond in kind with his or her own writing?

This is a question of access, but not just access to certain technologies, but access to how the technologies “work” or at least how to use them  to produce and participate rather than simply use them in the way the corporate apparatus (or the State) wants them to be used. This seems to be one of the explicit arguments forwarded by both Derrida and Stiegler in these interviews. Derrida seems generally concerned about the possibility of technologies facilitating (at one and the same time) “globalatinization” (see “Faith and Knowledge”), but also is optimistic that this might help us to get beyond the nation-state. He says, “You will be less and less able to convince citizens that they should be content with national production once they have access to global production from the outset by themselves” (53). Why not produce things (which includes things in the virtual realm) that can be circulated and distributed that do not necessarily only benefit the nation’s economy?

But the ability of a given “citizen” to produce rather than simply consume media is still a question of using technology. But technology, as a “writing” and just as a “language” can never be fully appropriated: fully used by the masterful human being. Derrida says,

“We have come back, here, to the question of instrumentalization. None of this [selecticity, a critique of a politics of memory, etc.] could be done without instrumentalization and without a culture of instrumentality. But at the same time – the question of language alerts us to this – there is a point at which technique does not mean instrument. “Mastery of language” does not simply signify a relation of objectivity nor objectifiable. We might say that there is always already the technical or the instrumental and at the same time, that not every technique can be instrumentalized [. . .] The practitioner of language, whether it be everday language, political language, scientific language, or poetic language, and poetic language more than any other, is not in a relation of user in the instrumental sense. There is always already a technique, but this technique is not totally instrumentalizable” (64).
This is an important distinction that I think bears more comment. Derrida’s example of “language” I think is appropriate, since we can never fully appropriate language (just like we can never fully appropriate ‘meaning’ in general) – we have to translate and negotiate and we have to participate “in” language, but language is never “ours.” We never just “use” language as if it were some neutral technology that we then put into rhetoric; no, as Burke and Derrida both have shown, language already has baggage – coming from the history of its uses, its traces. Language is always already “technical” but it is not instrumentalizable, absolutely appropriable (Language is not the House of (human) Being). Similarly, any kind of writing is not “ours” and if material technologies are various ways of writing (as well as being “writing” themselves) than we should expect that we, as human beings, are not the only ones who “write.”

We have finally arrived to the problem of “writing.” As we have already discussed in class, “writing” can mean alphabetic writing, image writing, objects (as writing). But although we can call that all “writing,” as Greg Ulmer has argued, citing Eric Havelock, alphabetic writing – interacting with the page-- inaugurated the “self” of literacy. Furthermore, alphabetic writing allows us to see patterns of repeating signifiers. It is true that this history eschews the more material history of “proto-writing” of various other cultures and is, honestly, a bit ethnocentric, but we might not be able to show through those fragments that a certain kind of ‘self-reflexivity’ was created. Ulmer says that Electracy, our current age, is characterized by the “middle voice” –a speaking to the self who is also another and who might also be another other. The task is not to simply assimilate electracy to literacy (its just “writing” – its all “writing”) but to thematize the types of self-reflexivity that this logic gives rise to (prefigured, for Ulmer, in the Modernist avant-garde and poststructuralist theory). The “individual self” is replaced by a collective subject that we are trying to form without erasing the singularity of an individual’s experience and traces. Ulmer writes that we should not try to “adapt digital technology to literacy (anyway, that is happening as a matter of course) but to discover and crate an institution and its practices capable of supporting the full potential of the new technology” (29). The institution that he (and others) are trying to create is the EmerAgency – an electrate collective working to make visible the sacrifices we make as citizens (global and local) for another particular value. The EmerAgency uses “flash reason” or “image-reason” rather than deliberative reason, which takes too much time. Can we get everyone in the world to be part of this collective subject as the EmerAgency? Maybe not – probably not – but Ulmer calls on Humanities scholars to begin to take up this task.

To me, Ulmer’s experimental pedagogy, theoretical apparatus, and internet collective might be the closest concrete response to Stiegler’s (and to some extent, Derrida’s) call for an exploration of new technologies opening up new modes of reflexivity and practice. Stiegler asks Derrida, “Do you mean to suggest [. . .] that “political” community—in quotes since the word “political” is itself affected by the question—would have to become something like the thinking of a community of networks, or a technological community?” (65)
Derrida responds that he would avoid “community,” agreeing that it is necessary “to try to train and to educate as many people as possible (I say “people,” vaguely, in order to avoid determining them as subjects or as citzens), to train them to be vigilant, to respond, and on occasion to fight, but without presupposing or assigning an obligatory identification or reidentification” (67). Derrida wants to preserve the idiom, the singularity, without advocating a kind of self-interested egoism. One mode of singularity (or “model”) is “nationalism,” but Derrida sees this mode of singularity becoming extinct. We are global citizens and though the West has definitely set the terms of globalization, it may also usher in new modes of individuation not reliant on the nation-state – if we can come to terms that globalization has also threatened to erase idiom at the same time that it allows contact with others. He says,

“Perhaps it is this extinction (of the models for desires for singularities) that we would have to ‘negotiate’ without for all that having to give up singularity, idiom and even a certain at-home, this at home which, I will say again, can project an image of closedness, of selfish and impoverishing and even lethal isolation, but which is also the condition of openness, of hospitality, of the door” (81).