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Friday, May 01, 2009

I, Christoph Haitzmann

We come to know him as a man who fails in everything and is therefore trusted by no one. – Freud, A demonic neurosis from the seventeenth century

Ich Christoph Haitzmann unterscheibe mich diesen Herrn als sein leibeigener Sohn auf 9 Jahr. 1669 Jahr” .

I shouldn't entitle this post I, Christoph Haitzmann – although what I should and shouldn't do, what I am tempted to do, and how I fail to resist temptation, can be seen not only in the title but in grain of Haizmann's life itself – since that long dead painter is not going to come to life again under my fingers, nor his shadow, his fiction, his mask. Instead, I’m going to consider Freud’s notion that Christoph Haitzmann could be analyzed as a neurotic. In fact, Freud’s notion – which not only has its place in universal history but depends on the series of equivalents (the savage = the infant, sacred gestures = neurotic personality types) that are the circus figures of universal history – is one of the touchstones of the twentieth century. It puts the discovery of the unconscious in the light of a whig history – a progress. Freud’s most famous remark about history seems, on the surface, extremely un-whiggish. He said that the revolutions of science progressively displaced man – the Copernican revolution displaced the earth from the center of the universe, the Darwinian revolution dissolved the difference between man and animal, and the Freudian revolution displaced the consciousness from the center of the human.

However, all of this displacement, these successive discoveries of human finitude, operate at the same time, in the same project, of humanizing nature, controlling the world, destroying any barrier erected by superstition or belief to man’s enjoyment of the world. Again, as with Foucault, reading backwards helps one see that the positivist version of progress requires an odd division between man, prey to superstition and thus prevented from exerting his knowledge and technique to make himself happy, and man, the object of study, whose cosmic delusions of grandeur must be demystified.

Freud, of course, as we all know, is the supreme inheritor of the alienated marginals of the happiness culture. At the same time, his engagement with universal history is flawless positivist. It is vulgar in Marx’s sense of assuming a relation between the present and the past that is purely quantitative. In the present, we know more. In the past, they knew less. In the present, we can look back and understand what was enacted, what was expressed, how relations were forged, how symbols and images worked, confident that our enlarged knowledge absorbs, without residue, their past and lesser knowledge.
The case of Haizmann came to Freud’s attention in 1922-1923. The painter’s file was discovered by a Dr. Payer-Thurn in the archive of Mariazell. The file consisted of a report of Haizmann’s possession, and a diary of the painter.

Haizmann came to the Mariazell monastery from a nearby town with a letter from the town’s priest, explaining that the painter, who wasn’t resident in the town, had started to convulse within the church. It was soon determined that the convulsions called for an exorcist. It turned out that Haizmann had been tempted by the devil nine times, and had once signed a contract with him in the painter’s own blood. The devil had taken the contract, but – when Haizmann repented – he’d appeared as a great dragon at midnight in the Sacred Chapel on the Eve of the Virgin’s birthday, and returned the contract.

Freud shows less interest in the contract than the devil. The reason why soon becomes obvious. Haizmann’s time of visitation from the devil came after the death of his beloved father. The devil, in fact, visited him in different guises. Some of the guises were painted by Haizmann in his diary, including one in which the devil is “amply” bosomed. Freud lists a few of his dealings with the devil, including one in which the devil accuses him – like some librarian – of having damaged a book on the black arts that the devil gave him.

Freud quickly spots a system of father substitutions here (It should be noted, I’m quoting an English translation that isn’t mine):

“It does indeed sound strange that the Devil should be chosen as a substitute for a loved father. But this is only so at first sight, for we know a good many things which lessen our surprise. To begin with, we know that God is a father-substitute; or, more correctly, that he is an exalted father; or, yet again, that he is a copy of a father as he is seen and experienced in childhood – by individuals in their own childhood and by mankind in its prehistory as the father of the primitive and primal horde. Later on in life the individual sees his father as something different and lesser. But the ideational image belonging to his childhood is preserved and becomes merged with the inherited memory-traces of the primal father to form the individual’s idea of God.” (in Capps, 46)

How do we go from God to the Devil? God, it appears, moves towards an ideal that is incompatible with certain features of the primal father. And there thus ensues a split:

‘We have here an exampleof the process, with which we are familiar, by which an idea that has a contradictory – an ambivalent – content becomes divided into two sharply contrasted opposites. The contradictions in the original nature of God are, however, a reflection of the ambivalence which governs the relation of the individual to his personal father. If the benevolent and righteous God is a substitute for his father, it is not to be wondered at that his hostile attitude to hiss father, too, which is one of hating and fearing him and of making complaints against him, should have come to expression in the creation of Satan.” (47)

One father, two deities. Or rather, one father and a memory trace of a primal father. And yet, this substitute, God, and this substitute, Satan, seem to be defined by some logic beyond the substitution. For why make two figures out of an ambivalence?

Enough for today.

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