Saturday, January 30, 2021

Analerotik and Q


“The fantasy idea that a “child is being beaten” is confessed with surprising frequency by persons who have sought out psychoanalytic treatment either for hysteria or compulsive neurosis”.

Freud’s essay, “ A child is being beaten: contribution to research on the development of sexual  perversion” is from 1919, the metapsychoanalytic years. It has not received the love that, say, the essay on narcissism has, but it seems relevant to the current moment. From the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the nineties to the Q panic of the 2020s, the frequency of a fantasized vision of child abuse at the center of a theory of a vast conspiracy is striking. It is a theory that has become a means of identification in the United States. The child abuse image has a long history in the cycle of moral panics that have modulated American history. Mostly, it is classed with a certain grassroots anxiety not shared by the higher social echelon – but that echelon is certainly capable of being moved by fabricated images of child abuse. In 1990, a public relations firm closely tied to George HW Bush placed a 15 year old named Nayira (who turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, although that was kept secret during her testimony) who claimed to have witnessed Iraqi soldiers tossing newborns out of incubators in order to carry them back to Iraq. The story was a huge fabrication, but the NYT credulously reported it and Amnesty endorsed it (and later, shamefacedly, unendorsed it). This was the same time period in which trials were emerging all over the country of day care owners and  low level police officers, among others, accused of practicing ritual Satanic abuse and slaughtering children in gruesome rituals. The Q variation on this story – of thousands of abused children being used for sex by prominent Democrats and hidden, I believe it is, in caves – is connected to some of the same people – notably, Geraldo Rivera.

What’s up with this recurring fantasy?

This isn’t to say pedophilia is a fantasy. We’ve been through the stories of the Catholic church, we’ve been through Jeffrey Epstein, and here in France we’ve been through a number of individuals who have raped girls or boys and still been in positions of power and influence. But the fantasies are curiously indifferent to this reality. It was Satanists, and not the good fathers of the Christian Brothers, who were supposedly raping six year olds. It was the Democrats, and not the President who had the well publicized habit of popping into the dressing room of Miss Teen World to have a look around, who were the pedophiles operating through pizza parlors. Jeffrey Epstein figures much less in the Q fantasy than Hilary Clinton.

Freud’s essay uses the term Schlag and schlagen, which translates as beat or hit, instead of Klaps, or spank – but I think this is due to the regime of punishment in 1919, where paddling was more extensive. In the end, the central image is of spanking. Freud, as is his wont, begins with certain more social suspects in the development of the fantasy, and then traces it back to the family – as Deleuze and Guattari acidly note, it is always a family scene, always theater with Freud. In the case of this fantasy, the patients usually link it, themselves, to school – for D & G, it is always a collective scene, a school a factory, a place where things are produced. Freud writes something interesting:  that his patients report hearing that “countless children” are being beaten in the school. The children come in multitudes, in the fantasy.  “The influence of school was so clear that the patients in question initially tried to link the beating fantasies exclusively to the school period, after the sixth year.”  That is, first grade.

I think Freud did not linger long enough on what he took to be a screen memory. Freud does not link the beating fantasy to the particular punitive regime undergone by the patients in their infancy – many seem to think that their parents were not spankers, and were, in fact, lenient. We don’t have to go all the way back to the Analerotik to see that school itself operates as a sexual factor- in fact, is pervaded by sexual discipline. And this factor comes into play not as “one child” being beaten, but in countless ones, masses of children. It is a mass symbol that demands a correlate mass. Freud suggests we ask” Who was the beaten child? The fantasized self or the other? Was it always the same child or arbitrarily often another? Who hit the child? An adult?” and so on.

These questions seem eminently pertinent to the psychoanalysis of the extreme right, especially as that right is operating as an identity – a subgroup identity of people who are in the know. The victim/redeemer binary that structures this identity seems, to my mind, a key to the way fantasy is sublimated into extreme right ideology.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

In the beginning was the pun


“I was visiting Kyoto's Fushimi Inari shrine with a friend, who told me that the Japanese word for pun is oyajigyagu, or "old guy gag". Puns are the jokes older men tell. Wordplay does not float free from culture.

This is a quotation from Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft article on puns in the TLS, which manages to avoid both Joyce and Lewis Carroll, but does stroll a bit with Lacan and Hegel. Wurgaft  begins with the audacious hint that the logos itself might have been a pun: in the beginning was the pun. And the theological paradox, here, is that a pun is inconceivable without a language, as well as the world. If the world begins as a pun, then it begins, as Nietzsche claimed, as a point in the eternal return of the same. Its beginning is as fictitious as its ending, and its puns are literal – the literal being  a pun that hasn’t found out about itself yet.  Perhaps we are living in a Finnegans Wake world, as Joyce-ians have long suspected, and causality is just the universe punning.

Myself, I am not, like Wurgaft, one for the old guy gag. I like jokes that aren’t quite funny, but that, in the telling, move towards funny – that is, that build up ridiculously towards a punch line, Aristocrats-style. The whole point of the Aristocrats joke is to make a joke of creating a verbal edifice that results in a punchline. It is an avalanche event – determinate chaos, the sorites paradox that determines the events in the story – rather like the end of Portnoy’s Complaint.

A high five to Wurgaft for this short essay in the joke asphilosophy. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Vandalism and the souring of the world


 There is a small subset of historians in France who have mulled the politics of vandalism, starting with James Guillaume’s “Gregoire and vandalism” in 1901. The locus classicus, here, is Abbe Gregoire’s speeches in the Assembly in 1794 against “vandalism”, which he saw as harming both the Republic and Christianity. In his memoirs, Gregoire famously wrote: “I created the world to kill the thing.” This is the type of claim that invites counter-claims, especially by that counter-claiming tribe, the philologists. They love nothing better than to trump the claim to some “first use” of a word by finding previous uses. The cross-breeding between the philologist and the historians of the Revolution – also a notoriously bickering tribe – has created marginal firefights for more than a century.

Gabriel Springarth’s article in Annales historiques de la revoluition francaise from 1980 is entitled: On revolutionary vandalism (1792-1794). It is an important summing up of the political imagery associated with the vandal. In the last four years, the political use and misuse of the vandalism charge has suddenly become pertinent both in France and the U.S. When the Gilets Jaunes came to Paris from out there in the fields – or, actually, out there in the suburbs, and from the 20th arrondissement, where one can still barely afford to live, etc. – the Macronic reaction focused very much on smashed glass and the grafitti on the arc de triomphe – as well as some of the small pickaxe work on said monument to French victory. In the U.S., about the same time, there was, firstly, the battle of the Confederate monuments, followed up by the extreme right’s trampling through the Capitol with Confederate flags fluttering.

  : «... to destroy the statues is not, as they claim, to destroy despotism: it means destroying monuments erected by the arts, and which do honor to the arts. Let me remind you that artists of all nations have have studied their art before the statues of Caligula and Nero which were wrested from the hands of the Goths and the Vandals.”

This touches on the whole field in which politics, symbol, art and history are interconnected.  Springarth connects Reboul’s discourse with the Enlightenment program, which posed itself against “barbarism”, quoting Diderot from 1754: By barbarism, I mean ... that dark disposition which renders a person insensible to the charms of nature and art, and to the sweetness [douceurs] of society. In fact, how else do we call those who mutilate statues which have been saved from the ruins of ancient Rome other than as barbarians?”

The sweetness of society – a major theme for Roberto Calasso in his maddeningly charming book, The Ruin of Karsch, which stages an encounter between the ancien regime and the genocide in Cambodia – the latter taken as the endpoint of one kind of dialectic of the Enlightenment. In his chapter, The Origins of Sweetness, he begins with an anecdote about sacrifice from Frazer. In one ritual that Frazer describes, pieces of cake are put in a hat. One piece is blackened with charcoal. The pieces are drawn out of the hat by a select number of persons in an order, and the one who gets the blackened slice is sacrificed to Baal.

Wittgenstein commented on this passage that the use of cake – of sweetness – to convey a sentence of death is “particularly terrible (almost like betrayal by a kiss)”. One of Calasso’s questions, which may seem different in Italian, where Dolce vita is still a living phrase, is how sweetness fell out of our social order. It was, as per the citation from Diderot, a way of talking about what the good life was about in that moment in the ancien regime in which it was suspected, on a large scale, that God was dead.

“After the Revolution, progress forgets sweetness. Its heart does not want it, since it is there that the demon of indefinite process dwells. Its reason does not want it, since reason now claims to be based on the Revolution, hence on the moment when sweetness was killed. And according to reason’s immense fallacy, the sacrificial victim was to be seen as the Enemy. Even its legacy could be contagious. When the very memory of sweetness is eliminated, when all history becomes son et lumiere and no longer cohabitation with protective shadows, then certain well-mening, distressing expressions begin to appear (“leisure time”, “quality of life”), just as people began to talk about “landscape” after nature had already been disfigured.”

Calasso’s thought springs from the roots of reaction. It is not wrong for all of that, although it ignores another Enlightenment theme, which found the roots of sweetness – sugar – and its production to be the imposition of the least sweet of all things, slavery, on a goodly portion of humanity – dark shadows indeed. The transposition from honey cakes to sugar cakes has been perpetually caught in the Middle Passage. It is, even now.

Still, there is something to the idea that sweetness, the sweetness of our compact, or lack of it, is in question when we talk about the politics of vandalism and we ask: who are the vandals? In the case of the Gilets Jaunes, I think the vandals clearly sit on the throne – or in the president’s house – and have sat there for decades. The neoliberal turn is a form of higher vandalism, in which monuments are judged as tourist attractions, and art is a matter of “thought leaders” giving Ted talks. The sweetness is drained form the social compact. And the two forms of diagonal protest, one reactionary, one revolutionary, have emerged around the wound, around a certain fatal sourness in our social arrangements. 






  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...