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Freudian Passions

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Freud's thinking about the unconscious has always been seen to be more about representations than affects. When it came to the passions of the transference and the demands of his hysterical patients, Freud was always more interested, wanted to move the focus away from the transference, and onto dreams. Hidden wishes more than manifest ones were what captured his imagination and style.This book returns to the repressed theory of passions in Freud's own thinking, arguing that the repression, fixation and rhythmic movement of affects make up the roots and branches of psychoanalytic thinking. We can think of Freud's unconscious affects as a tree, with the most passionate and primitive affects that make up the core of our psychic life, moving and branching out into more elaborated emotions and representations. So what moves this tree: the house of our first passions? How we move the tree of our affects, or leave it, is integral to Freud's understanding of sexuality and the Oedipal Complex. Sexuality is the life force of our affects, the flows and the forms that connect us to other people, elaborating our egos. Contrary to many current theories of affect within sociology or psychology, psychoanalysis makes us understand that there is no such thing as affects without form. Or if there were such passions, we could know nothing about them. This is where this books starts, with the premise that affects are always in search of forms, but so often our affects are a return to earlier forms, to the first ones that dressed our passions.

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Chapter One: Passions in Search of Form

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CHAPTER ONE

Passions in search of form

What questions do our passions raise for psychoanalysis? For Freud, passions are our life, and death drives, that unhappy marriage between our affects and representations; the love we can bind and the sexuality we cannot bear or formulate. Our unmanageable passions have a history that predates psychoanalysis. In one sense the very word passion belongs to an older vocabulary that psychoanalysis came along to deconstruct or explain. In Freudian language we have affects which can lean towards biological instincts or rest on their representative qualification in relation to feelings, emotions, moods, and drives. And yet passion evokes that vital capacity which makes us feel alive; makes life worth living. Moreover, passion is always directed towards something. We could call that something an object, but before the object exists, or after it is destroyed or lost, passion is in search of a form in which it can be dressed and carried. Are passions, then, our desires? In some ways, yes, but passion suggests a more passive relation. We suffer our passions, they are something that seems to visit or invade our very being, whereas desire suggests a more active relationship to our wants. Desire, perhaps, involves the ego's participation; we might need to loosen or lose our egos to find our desire, but the ego has not disappeared. Whereas in a blind passion, whether that is in terms of love, lust or hate, we are literally beside ourselves. Passion, here, has driven us to a place beyond the ego and all reason, to the madness that resides at the heart of love. So we could say that passionate affects are the part of our desires that are on the move in search of form. And our desires are the travel of those passionate forms seeking further elaboration.

 

Chapter Two: Unconscious Reading of Mothers and Flowers

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CHAPTER TWO

Unconscious reading of mothers and flowers

To read what was never written. Such reading is the most ancient; reading before all languages, from the entrails, the stars, or dances.

—Benjamin, 1978: p. 336

What does the understanding of a telepathic, unconscious maternal form add to the debates within psychoanalysis? I shall argue in this book that telepathy, intrinsic to the travels of a repressed unconscious within Freud's thinking, is part of an unconscious and receptive unconscious that is located in relation to the earliest relationship with the mother. Grasping the unconscious work of a telepathic receptive unconscious enables us to understand, not just how the dynamic Freudian unconscious works, but also how such a receptive unconscious can be linked to the creation of unconscious lived forms that both create the “self” and shape and give expression to our affects. Unconscious perception goes on all the time in waking life, and is associated with what Freud calls the dream day. We are constantly collecting our unconscious perceptions as we go through life and these join up with unconscious memory and affects. At night, in our dreams, this transference between our unconscious wishes and our perceptions is more intense because the barrier between conscious and unconscious is less rigid.

 

Chapter Three: Rhythms of the Unconscious

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CHAPTER THREE

Rhythms of the unconscious

We all have rhythm. Memories have a rhythm and so has the unconscious. Character is built through rhythm. A rhythm to begin with, is like the dream. Far away, on the horizon of what seems our distant past we perceive this indistinct and shadowy ghost and then, as it suggests itself to us, the memory begins to grow and move closer. We can imagine it and colour it in. As gradually our sensations begin to give this memory body and materiality; a character, a scene, or an event come into view. The rhythm of memory therefore suggests, and we answer mimetically with, an affectual bodily rhythm that brings ourselves to life. The past is always beating in relation to the present, but as a dream other, this history is only sensible, can only become composed as character, when we can carry and remake these dreams in relation to the world.

Dreaming pleasure

We are all aware of those memories, often summoned by evocative objects in everyday life sending us into a kind of reverie and dreaming; bringing to life, like Proust's Madeleine cake, the memories of childhood. Time, here, returns through the image, but it is an image that is brought into being by what we sense and feel, as if our senses can put us back there: into a landscape of what we have forgotten. For me, it is the smell of sandalwood and I am back sitting in what my grandmother used to call her summerhouse, but was in effect just a wooden hut with big windows at the back of her garden. I follow my daydream, dissociate and float in my mind, until the image comes, faint at first and then stronger. There it is: an octagonal shaped white house with a thatched roof, my bedroom with the grey sea-light streaming through slanted windows. Free association and images pan out, cinema-like, to reveal the hill on which my Granny lived, the beautiful curve of Lyme Bay below. And then, another image of me and my brother, swinging legs side by side in the sandalwood shed, or sitting together on the top of a flight of crustacean studded, stone steps that lead down to the beach. Although this is a memory, it is inseparable from the objects that materialise and embody it. Sandalwood reminds me of summer as a child and being with my brother, when we were like twins, exploring the rock pools for sea anemones and crabs. The beach at Lyme also reminds me of my father in a photo holding my hands and laughing as I scowl furiously into the camera. Sea-light is also the grey-blue of my mother's eyes, as she puts up her hand to shield herself from cross children or perhaps the sun's glare.

 

Chapter Four: Symptoms, ‘Sense and Sensibility’

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CHAPTER FOUR

Symptoms, ‘sense and sensibility’

Thus neurotic symptoms have a sense, like parapraxes and dreams, and like them, have a connection with the life of those who produce them.

—Freud, 1917a: p. 257

There is a moment in Freud's essay The Sense of Symptoms where he describes the trivial and futile ceremonies of everyday life that make up the repetitions of the obsessional character, and he exclaims “certainly this is a crazy illness” (Freud, 1917a: p. 259). The obsessive is crazy and yet his symptoms have intelligence, as well as an extreme sensibility. Symptoms for the obsessive are displacements and substitutions, one prohibition after another, one ceremonial and then another. So symptoms for the obsessive person are always far removed from their original form. Like dreams, symptoms are a cover story; they are the melodramatic parts of our character that speak up for our repressed and secret sexuality. Seemingly so immediate and compulsive these symptoms are characters that both hide and carry our desire.

 

Chapter Five: All about Our Mothers: Melodrama's Maternal Form

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CHAPTER FIVE

All about our mothers: melodrama's maternal form

Melodrama and psychoanalysis are both concerned with the dramatisation of affects in search of form. Indeed, if we are to think of Freudian sexuality as this passionate drive in search of forms that are initially derived from another, then we can also see how sexuality begins as both melodramatic passions and non-personal objects or types, which over time become inscribed as a personal identity we call the ego. The next two chapters explore, in their analysis of melodrama and psychoanalysis, how passions and sexuality move between a personal ego and non-personal other. Significantly though, this rhythm is captured through an early maternal form and aesthetic, rather than the naming of language or the paternal signifier. Pre-Oedipal experience is not simply an imaginary entity that is then broken up through a language of the unconscious and notions of the signifier. For me, there is an imaginative as well as a fantasmatic aspect to the imaginary; one which corresponds with our perceptual senses and reality through a lived mimesis with the mother. In this mimesis sameness is returned albeit differently, in relation to her aesthetic and cultural response—her gestural form. It is the mimetic return of maternal gestures that occurs initially through the non-personal (and virtual) form of the mother which both elaborates the child's passions and builds what I have called a painterly home or being for the ego. And yet it is the melodrama of passions in search of old and familiar forms that stages the dramas of our personal and historical pasts. Therefore to really get somewhere new, we have to go back further, beyond the pleasures of the ego and the personal self, to encounter an older relation to a virtual form of being, which is unconsciously perceived and received in association with the early mother. It is this older relation to a virtual non-personal world where we access the unconscious not simply as a private entity but as an historical force.1

 

Chapter Six: Sympathies beyond the Self in Daniel Deronda

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CHAPTER SIX

Sympathies beyond the self in Daniel Deronda

In the famous opening lines of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, we are introduced to the question of Gwendolen Harleth's moral virtue:

Was she beautiful or not beautiful? And what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams? Probably the evil; else why was the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm? Why was the wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing to which the whole being consents? (Eliot, 1999: p. 35)

Gwendolen raises these questions in Daniel Deronda's and the reader's mind. And of course, then as now, the question of a women's virtue is a sentiment on which society relies and turns. Are women beautiful, or do they just appear so? And what does being beautiful as a woman, or a man, really mean? In Daniel Deronda, Gwendolen's charm and good looks are surface phenomenon. They are at odds with her rather narrow and personal sense of what exists beyond the self. George Eliot writes dubiously of her supposed heroine:

 

Chapter Seven: Rhythm of Affects and Styles of the Ego, in to the Lighthouse

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Rhythm of affects and styles of the ego, in To the Lighthouse

Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it.

—Woolf, Letters Vol. 3: p. 247

Searching for style means finding your rhythm, and although Woolf is talking here about recapturing a certain style and rhythm of writing, we can equally see therapy as a process where styles of the mind, let's say the ego's style, has to recapture or re-find its lost rhythm of affects. Affects are always uncannily double because they live to a large extent outside of the ego's ability to bind or harness them. Affects are unconscious until they become integrated into the perceptual consciousness of the ego.

So, there are the affects we feel and the ones we remain more unconscious of because we split them off or repress them. If our affects are too unbearable they are externalised and given to somebody else, or we disguise them by attributing to them cover meanings and feelings. Affects, as part of our instinctual being, are our primary animal passions, but they also make up are unknowable unconscious phantasies; as such they constitute the beginning, passage, and the expression of our psychological drives and desires. This means not just that affects move, but they incorporate different qualities and meanings. Affects that begin instinctually become psychological desires through the movement of what Freud called libido or sexual drive. Freud tells us the drives are a borderline concept, halfway between the somatic and the psychical, and so desires move from animal passions to something more intangible and unknowable. And this is because our polymorphous sexuality and our desire are always in excess of any object that can fulfil the fantasy. Richard Boothby speaks most clearly about what is at stake in Freudian drives and phantasies. Because, as he says, phantasy is a character with something to hide, then the unknowable heart of whom we are and what we want, keeps moving us forward, compelling us towards something that is always beyond the reach of the imagination:

 

Chapter Eight: Dreaming Lilies

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Dreaming lilies

What would it mean to think of the psychoanalytic unconscious as an immanent entity; something that exists outside as a virtual, suggestive and impersonal world, until it is brought inside us and elaborated within the internal topographies sketched for us by Freud? In this reading the unconscious would exist as a virtual phenomena; something by definition we cannot know, until it becomes elaborated within the personal self or ego. Outside as the unconscious virtual world we select from, and inside as both a receptive potential of being (the unthought known) and the repressed and unknowable constituent of our being, the Freudian unconscious is both dynamically repressed and also receptively and perceptively communicative in relation to another. If we acknowledge the hidden role of unconscious perception in Freud's writings then we have to accept that our unconscious being extends to a virtual and phenomenological world beyond the ego. As Jean Laplanche notes, A Note Upon “The Mystic Writing Pad” is Freud's most succinct theory of the operation of durational, perceptual time which moves beyond the subject. The world is an excess in this description, from which we selectively retrench, or cut out from, thus establishing a time and subjectivity for ourselves. This time is not restricted to human beings, but encompasses any living being. In rhythm we move backwards and forwards, becoming excited and interrupted by the virtual world and then retreating, as “a periodical shutting down that opposes the continuous action of the ‘not me’” (Laplanche 1999: p. 241).

 

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