Elissa Marder: Knock Knock: Femininity, Fixation, Photography

Elissa Marder: Knock Knock: Femininity, Fixation, Photography

“Ultimately, what I am seeking in the photograph taken of me (the ‘intention’ according to which I look at it) is Death: Death is the eidos of that Photograph. Hence, strangely, the only thing that I tolerate, that I like, that is familiar to me, when I am photographed, is the sound of the camera. For me, the Photographer’s organ is not his eye (which terrifies me) but his finger: what is linked to the trigger of the lens, to the metallic shifting of the plates (when the camera still has such things). I love these mechanical sounds in an almost voluptuous way, as if, in the Photograph, they were the very thing -and the only thing -to which my desire clings, their abrupt click breaking through the mortiferous layer of the Pose. For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches -and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques bf cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were· clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.” – Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

This paper explores how female sexuality both establishes the universal foundations of Freud’s metapsychology and is excluded from it via a reading of one Freud’s strangest and most provocative case presentations. In “A Case of Paranoia Running Counter to the Disease,” the first case history devoted to a woman after Dora, Freud recounts his brief encounter with a woman who is brought to Freud because she is suffering from a (presumably) paranoid delusion that her would-be lover has arranged to have her photographed during their sexual engagements. On the basis of his fictionalized account of this fictive case (the woman never actually enters into treatment with him), Freud establishes a curiously suggestive link between fixation, femininity, and photography and introduces, for the first time, the notion of “primal fantasies.” Moreover, in his analysis of the case, Freud not only associates photography with unconscious images about female sexuality produced by a female patient, but he implicitly assigns the role of unconscious photographer to himself and casts the woman into the place of a camera. By looking at the way femininity and fixation and photography come together in this powerful text, I propose to examine how and why Freud attributes quasi-photographic powers to female sexuality as a means of trying to produce a figure for unseen and un-seeable images that come from a primal and unrecoverable past.

Click here to listen to Elissa Marder’s Das Unbehagen lecture

Post-show highlights from the Unbehagen SalOon listserv

Cecilia Wu’s infrequently asked questions:

1) Attachment is a double edged sword:
Elissa spoke of attachment to the mother as having a prohibiting effect on the sexualization of the nameless paranoid woman in the case of the clicking clit. And yet, emancipation from attachment to the mother, as Freud would have it, leads to the stagnant ‘mature’ sexuality of the 30 year old woman who has transferred her mother love to a heterosexual object. Freud, in Wild Analysis, refers to the necessity for the patient to both achieve a sufficient proximity to the repressed impulse, and form an attachment by way of the transference to the analyst that would be emotionally enabling and allow for ‘fresh flight.’ Attachment, as emphasized by Elissa, has both both a facilitating function, in the sense of pathbreaking frayage or bahnung, and a stifling function, as that which arrests development and buries the phylogenetic hatchet alive in an airtight coffin as stage, snapshot, or inevitable blade of the bloody guillotine that insists that your dream really is your reality. It gives birth to the possible, and it draws the the dead boundary of the impossible. Whether it is having a good or bad day, it perseveres and perseverates, with or without a stimulus, flaunting its incredible work ethic, and performing the labor of bringing to bear and rearing the bastard offspring of its laboratory beakers. Could we see attachment as the alchemical prelude to identification? It already seems to have a path like quality. Perhaps in identification, the path gives way to a looping in the mirror stage, where we see a boomerang between the projection of the specular image (ideal ego) onto a flat plane mirror, and the introjection of this bi-dimensional ideal image, installed as ego ideal, within the fragmentary chaos of the motorially deficient pluri-dimensional subject who salivates for unity. How does twice told attachment tell the tale to pin the tail on the donkey. How might this veer into the tail spin of the U turn of the drive that endlessly circles the nothing?

2) Synaesthesic Time and the Synchrony of Sublimation:
What is happening in the hatches between the haptic, the aural, and the hieroglyphic? Elissa, citing Roland Barthes, referred to the synaesthetic quality of the camera which becomes a clock for seeing through the noise of the living wood. This synchronic knotting of sensory registers is akin to Lacan’s Borromean knotting of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. A knotting which gives rise to sublimation as the beyond of analysis, when the crossing of the fantasy gives way to the becoming of the drive, as Erik Porge noted at Apres Coup last Friday. According to the Lacanian logic, as presented by Porge, the fading subject falls from idealization to become a passenger in the acephalic car of the drive, which can only become by free wheeling on the lost highway of analysis. There is no prefab drive trailer, fully stocked with your choice of fecal gifts, succulent nipples, petulant phonemes, and nomadic apotropaic eye ball charms. Porge insists that we must not forget that on the other side of this lost highway is the end of analysis, as the impure desire of the analyst. The impurity of the analyst’s desire is absolute difference, the irreducible lawlessness of limitless love. What is love, at the end of analysis, Porge implores. The vicissitudes of the drive weave a simultaneous fabric or synchronic destiny, a phylogenetic madness in the now of sensorial hyperbole. Could we see this moment as an event of sublimation, that is both synaesthetic in Barthes’ sense and knotted in Lacan’s sense? What anchors this event? Could it be what Elissa refers to the as the radical contingency of the external event – the clicking in the real – or what Porge refers to as a heart of darkness of the real, the black spot of the sky reflected in the eye? Is this knocker – this opaque stain – that which raises the object to the dignity or ding nity of Das Ding, as per Lacan’s formula. And yet for Lacan, contra Freud, though Freud is ambiguous on this point and wavers between the prudish narcissism and the sexy the sexy otherness of the alternately rarefied or recrystallized sublime, this Ding-ification is the importation of dirt into an empty place. It is not non-sexual. It is sex. It measures the hole.

3) From Primal Fantasy to Primal Scene, the prolepsis of the tree:
As an example of Freud’s penchant for conceptual retrofitting, Elissa traces a trajectory from primal fantasy to primal scene that maps the clicking clit as the mirror image or photographic negative of the Wolf Man. Perhaps this is a proleptic move, the establishment of the proof in advance as immune booster against the anticipated counter argument. Recently I was wandering in the forest of the Standard Edition and stumbled upon a passage in which the use of the word ‘proof’ stuck out like a contentious middle finger. It turns out the German word gefeit, which is rendered proof in the english SE, more literally translates into immunity. Here is the passage from Freud’s second lecture:

“To put the matter more directly. The investigation of hysterical patients and of other neurotics leads us to the conclusion that their repression of the idea to which the intolerable wish is attached has been a failure. It is true that they have driven it out of consciousness and out of memory and have apparently saved themselves a large amount of unpleasure. But the repressed wishful impulse continues to exist in the unconscious. It is on the look-out for an opportunity of being activated, and when that happens it succeeds in sending into consciousness a disguised and unrecognizable substitute for what had been repressed, and to this there soon become attached the same feelings of unpleasure which it was hoped had been saved by the repression. This substitute for the repressed idea – the symptom – is proof against further attacks from the defensive ego; and in place of the short conflict an ailment now appears which is not brought to an end by the passage of time. Alongside the indication of distortion in the symptom, we can trace in it the remains of some kind of indirect resemblance to the idea that was originally repressed. The paths along which the substitution was effected can be traced in the course of the patient’s psychoanalytic treatment; and in order to bring about recovery, the symptom must be led back along the same paths and once more turned into the repressed idea. If what was repressed is brought back again into conscious mental activity – a process which presupposes the overcoming of considerable resistances – the resulting psychical conflict, which the patient had tried to avoid…”

This passage seems relevant to Elissa’s claim that Freud is giving in to his innately conservative impulses to assimilate female sexuality into a male heteronormative SUV with 4WD. Elissa gives Freud the benefit of a doubt and sees in his crazy runaway train text ambivalent fertilities that invite more radically erotomaniacal re-readings. I might suggest a move from the merely pornographic to the all too pornographic, to be baroquian about, toward an all out porno flickering that doesn’t quite reify into a flick per se.

Back to Freud, here, the symptom serves as a preemptive protection or prophylactic against the failure of the repression to secure the intolerable wish which lies in wait for an opportunity to ambush. The symptom is a response to a perceived, anticipated threat. It responds by bulking up the bulwark, through the wielding of a substitution. Curiously in the german, substitute is rendered as Ersatzbildung, literally spare of fake education. One of the preconditions for efficacy of the substitute is that the education of the symptom must be able to reverse itself. The undoing of the education must lead back to the original symptom by way of an isomorphic track. The inbound must recapitulate the outbound. By the same token, in accordance with this geometry of a total undoing without the slightest odor of a crime, running counter to the disease is merely a way of articulating the inverse case of running with the pathological wolves of the Wolf Man. And yet the Wolf Man’s wolves are anchored to the tree. What, if anything, is fundamental or primal about the fantasy, and how are these ur urges channeled into a scene whereby they are rendered visible and legible. How did the wolves get into the tree, out there. Did they start out inside of the photographic apparatus that began as a uterus leading to the exit strategy of a clicking clit?

4) On the name. What does it hoist, what do we hang on it?
Elissa illuminated for us the fact that after Dora, all of Freud’s female patients remain scattered in arrays of nameless antibodies, such that we are doomed to refer to these other women, some of which are penultimately minimally succulent, some of which embody the crusty telos of a bygone sexuality, ‘the rest’, via the laundry lines of his fancifully wrought case presentations.

And yet, in Wild Analysis, Freud recuperates the proper name of the individual physician in the service of circumscribing a group of legitimate physicians dutifully harboring a psycho-analytic point of view, to safe guard psycho-analysis from those who fail to grasp the technical rules and scientific theories that gird it. How is Freud using names to pair his haplessly hollow socks? Would he consider the doubling of the rim if a stray sock should suddenly dream itself inside out?

5) Knock Knock Knocking on heaven’s door:
First as tragedy, second as farce, third as…
The second time establishes the repetition as the mis education. If we refrain from allowing the third time to be the re education of the phallus, what could this third be, if not the pinning together of an isosceles triangle, however protuberant its elongated axis of asymptotic pining for still life relief from oceanic music might purport to be? How is an asymptote with out symptom? I might guess that Freud still hears the ocean, in spite of his hydrophobia of the wanderlust of the oceanic.

Evan Malater’s response to Cecilia Wu:

When did psycho-analysis become psychoanalysis anyway? Cecilia asks us to consider the essence of naming in its relation to diagnosis, its power as magical spell. The punctuations, hyphens and scare quotes of psychoanalysis form another history, not the history of a train ride but now the history of the hyphen and primordial rebranding. Another example: Ralph Greenson wrote an article on analysis called That “Impossible” Profession but no one noticed that by and by the quotes were removed and we were self-diagnosed as purely impossible, no quotation marks.

Psychoanalysis is nothing other than the history of what marks have been left and what marks have been removed, often without notice or comment. Cecilia returns our hyphens and scare quotes. Elissa Marder shows that the word “fixation” can be a fixation, the instantaneous magic of a word that becomes a diagnosis or as Cecilia writes, “we must beware of the ease with which the critical function gives way to the diagnostic function.”

Cecilia asks: What would it mean to write the body in a way that would allow the porno gram to circulate independently of context?

Here I read a commentary on the “Wild” Analysis paper. If the woman with the clicking clitoris is paranoid that she is being photographed, Freud in this report is equally alarmed to find his message distorted into casual pornography as self-help. He knows all too well that he is destined to be a sound bite that says: lady, you just need to get laid. But Cecilia asks what it means to create a theory and thinking that is free from paranoid damage control maneuvers? Her answer is a kind of writing of the body in fragments, giving up the quest for unity under one genital drive, a writing of the porno body. The surrealists tried, I think and for their trouble were diagnosed nutcases by Freud, though Dali’s celebration of an art of paranoia was somehow given higher marks by Herr doktor.

At stake in what Cecilia evokes would be a writing that for once is not a trial or a detective story. Instead the pure dissemination on other train tracks. For once, as in our experimental case desire, we might find something other to do than correct, diagnose or serve sentence upon each other.

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