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From Freud To Kafka

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This book takes the reader on a captivating journey leading from an erroneous founding assumption inherited from Freud, to the proposal of a principle better suited to allowing the psychoanalyst to accompany the patient out of his impasse. The founding assumption of the book, already questioned by many analysts among whom Sandor Ferenczi figures as a brilliant forerunner, was the author's starting point in re-examining the basic precepts of psychoanalysis.Reading Kafka made the author conclude that this masterful storyteller describes borderline situations, so familiar to him, better than anyone. An avid reader of Freud, Kafka suggests that the human capacity to bear a paradoxical position between life and death is not given to the child naturally, at birth. Kafka seems to say that giving life is easy, but that giving it the necessary support in the form of the trace of death is more problematic. Moreover, when the child is deprived of this trace, he faces the void and, in a panic, must use emergency measures to construct a substitute for the necessary trace of death; and he can only do so by sacrificing his sexuality, his ability to feel, his initiative or his judgement. When the conditions necessary for primal repression are not provided to the child by others, he creates them himself at great cost. What he gives himself is not life, but life-death, and he pays the price for doing so. When primal repression is destroyed - something which can happen at any age - we speak of "soul murder". At the very instant when it occurs, a new Subject comes into existence, a Subject who pushes back the threat of destruction. The new Subject constructs otherness out of an object or out of a part of himself, a part he sacrifices in order to recover the primal repression destroyed by the trauma.This book will interest not only psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, philosophers and students of literature, but also a wide range of readers with a passion for the complexities of the human soul.

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CHAPTER ONE A misunderstanding between Freud and the man from the country

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CHAPTER ONE

A misunderstanding between Freud and the man from the country

One means that Evil has is the dialogue.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

T

ired of sitting on a stool and counting the lice in the gatekeeper’s fur coat while waiting to be admitted to the law, the man from the country went to see a psychoanalyst.

At the start of his psychoanalysis, he was very enthusiastic. The analyst found that his dreams had meaning, and his interpretation of them seemed irrefutable. The man was particularly grateful for these interpretations since they admitted him into a brotherhood where everyone seemed to know what was meant when notions like “the unconscious” or phrases like “the desire to kill the father” were used. He had to admit that, in truth, his inhibitions were related to a repressed desire to penetrate his mother. The incestuous desires he shared with Oedipus were so powerful that they paralysed him. In addition, he lived in fear of reprisal from his father, a formidable rival after all. In short, the man from the country dreaded the consequences of his desire.

 

Chapter One: A Misunderstanding between Freud and the Man from the Country

ePub

One means that Evil has is the dialogue.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

Tired of sitting on a stool and counting the lice in the gatekeeper's fur coat while waiting to be admitted to the law, the man from the country went to see a psychoanalyst.

At the start of his psychoanalysis, he was very enthusiastic. The analyst found that his dreams had meaning, and his interpretation of them seemed irrefutable. The man was particularly grateful for these interpretations since they admitted him into a brotherhood where everyone seemed to know what was meant when notions like “the unconscious” or phrases like “the desire to kill the father” were used. He had to admit that, in truth, his inhibitions were related to a repressed desire to penetrate his mother. The incestuous desires he shared with Oedipus were so powerful that they paralysed him. In addition, he lived in fear of reprisal from his father, a formidable rival after all. In short, the man from the country dreaded the consequences of his desire.

 

CHAPTER TWO Oedipus’ answer to Freud’s enigma

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CHAPTER TWO

Oedipus’ answer to Freud’s enigma

The thornbush is the old obstacle in the road. It must catch fire if you want to go further.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

T

he Oedipus complex is the founding myth of psychoanalysis.

Starting with The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, Freud placed it at the centre of a field constructed on terrain conquered from both medicine and religion; he was to maintain the central position of this myth until his death. In fact, he would establish the universality of the principle that every child is a budding Oedipus in fantasy—a principle which defies all theoretical restructuring (1900a, p. 263).1 Freud sees Oedipus’ tragedy as consisting of the reaction to the two typical dreams of incest and parricide he considers constitutive of the human psyche. If Oedipus is taken as a model for every child, psychoanalysis becomes a scientific field, a coherent set of concepts and ideas.

Oedipus first appeared in the correspondence between Freud and

 

Chapter Two: Oedipus’ Answer to Freud's Enigma

ePub

The thornbush is the old obstacle in the road. It must catch fire if you want to go further.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

The Oedipus complex is the founding myth of psychoanalysis. Starting with The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, Freud placed it at the centre of a field constructed on terrain conquered from both medicine and religion; he was to maintain the central position of this myth until his death. In fact, he would establish the universality of the principle that every child is a budding Oedipus in fantasy—a principle which defies all theoretical restructuring (1900a, p. 263).1 Freud sees Oedipus’ tragedy as consisting of the reaction to the two typical dreams of incest and parricide he considers constitutive of the human psyche. If Oedipus is taken as a model for every child, psychoanalysis becomes a scientific field, a coherent set of concepts and ideas.

Oedipus first appeared in the correspondence between Freud and Fliess in September 1897 (Masson, 1985, p. 15). Up until then, psychoanalytic technique was being created, symptoms were given meaning, but no theory of normal psychic activity had been elaborated. That year, Freud made a decisive founding gesture by asserting that the origin of psychic life is not to be found in material or spiritual determinism, but rather in the tension created in the child by language and its ensuing cohort of questions, and most of all questions related to differences between the sexes and between generations.

 

Chapter Three: A Presumed Paradoxical Endowment

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Tragic reversal is truth emptied out and least united.

—Hölderlin, “Remarks on Oedipus” (1803)

In Oedipus Rex, two opposed action principles confront each other and lead the tragedy to a point of balance where all meaning is abolished (Hölderlin, 1803, pp. 64–72).1 This balance between “that which holds man in its grip and that which is the object of his interest” is an anti-rhythmic caesura Hölderlin considers characteristic of tragedy. This model also applies to human existence, since “[T]he most dangerous moment in the course of a day [that is, a life] or of a work of art is when the spirit of time and of nature [which oppose each other], that which is divine, which holds man in its grip, and the object of his interest confront each other in the fiercest manner…”

“That which holds man in its grip” is to be understood as the words that convey his place in the order of generations and of the difference between the sexes. “That which holds man in its grip” is the term which designates a particular place, excluding him from all places not his and leading him to separation. Hölderlin assigns this term to the sphere of the divine. “The object of his interest”, refers to that which man “possesses” that is, everything he places under the heading “my parents”, “my children”, “my property”, and which Hölderlin assigns to the sphere of human concerns, of the mundane.

 

CHAPTER THREE A presumed paradoxical endowment

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CHAPTER THREE

A presumed paradoxical endowment

Tragic reversal is truth emptied out and least united.

—Hölderlin, “Remarks on Oedipus” (1803)

I

n Oedipus Rex, two opposed action principles confront each other and lead the tragedy to a point of balance where all meaning is abolished (Hölderlin, 1803, pp. 64–72).1 This balance between “that which holds man in its grip and that which is the object of his interest” is an anti-rhythmic caesura Hölderlin considers characteristic of tragedy. This model also applies to human existence, since “[T]he most dangerous moment in the course of a day [that is, a life] or of a work of art is when the spirit of time and of nature [which oppose each other], that which is divine, which holds man in its grip, and the object of his interest confront each other in the fiercest manner …”

“That which holds man in its grip” is to be understood as the words that convey his place in the order of generations and of the difference between the sexes. “That which holds man in its grip” is the term which designates a particular place, excluding him from all places not his and leading him to separation. Hölderlin assigns this term to the sphere of the divine. “The object of his interest”, refers to that which

15

 

CHAPTER FOUR Sketches of the paradoxical system in Freud’s work

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CHAPTER FOUR

Sketches of the paradoxical system in Freud’s work

He asked me several things, but I couldn’t answer, indeed I didn’t even understand his questions. So I said: “Perhaps you are sorry now that you invited me, so I better go” and I was about to get up.

But he stretched his hand out over the table and pressed me down:

“Stay,” he said, “that was only a test. He who does not answer the questions has passed the test.”

—Franz Kafka, “The Test”, 1936b

I

n “A Project for a Scientific Psychology” (not published until 1950), in the very early stages of his research, in order to formulate a description of mental functioning, Freud imagined a mechanism characterised by two tendencies: the tendency to discharge and the tendency to restraint. Is this a paradoxical system? Not quite, since in such a system two heterogeneous elements are tied together by a copula. When we speak of the tendency to discharge and of the tendency to restraint, we dissociate the two components, which can enter into conflict but which do not form a paradoxical system. Such a polarity forms a paradoxical system when the tendency to discharge is inseparable from the tendency to restraint, when one cannot be described without the other.

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Chapter Four: Sketches of the Paradoxical System in Freud's Work

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He asked me several things, but I couldn't answer, indeed I didn't even understand his questions. So I said: “Perhaps you are sorry now that you invited me, so I better go” and I was about to get up. But he stretched his hand out over the table and pressed me down: “Stay,” he said, “that was only a test. He who does not answer the questions has passed the test.”

—Franz Kafka, “The Test”, 1936b

In “A Project for a Scientific Psychology” (not published until 1950), in the very early stages of his research, in order to formulate a description of mental functioning, Freud imagined a mechanism characterised by two tendencies: the tendency to discharge and the tendency to restraint. Is this a paradoxical system? Not quite, since in such a system two heterogeneous elements are tied together by a copula. When we speak of the tendency to discharge and of the tendency to restraint, we dissociate the two components, which can enter into conflict but which do not form a paradoxical system. Such a polarity forms a paradoxical system when the tendency to discharge is inseparable from the tendency to restraint, when one cannot be described without the other. The system is then characterised by the tendency to discharge and to restraint, and can justifiably be called paradoxical.1

 

Chapter Five: A Transitional Psychic Matrix

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Breath, you poem beyond all seeing!
Pure and ceaseless demi-urge
in counterpoise with our own being.
Interchange in which I rhythmically emerge.

—Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (1922)

When Circe warned him of the danger of the call of the Sirens for his sailors, Ulysses had their ears filled with wax and had himself tightly bound to the mast of his ship. Still following Circe's advice, Ulysses enjoined his mate to tighten his bonds when, under the spell of the monstrous creatures, he would beg to be untied. In this situation, Ulysses is at once seduced by the song of the Sirens, and kept tied to the mast by his mate. Circe who restrains and the Sirens who attract illustrate a paradoxical system in which the hero is both seduced and restrained. The important element of this system is the copula that separates and unites attraction and restraint. In this light, Ulysses is not subjected to seduction and restraint, but is, rather, an element of a paradoxical system that carries him beyond the point of absolute danger. In this position, he is torn but he escapes and is carried beyond (literally, in Greek, metapherein) the place where death awaits him.

 

CHAPTER FIVE A transitional psychic matrix

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CHAPTER FIVE

A transitional psychic matrix

Breath, you poem beyond all seeing!

Pure and ceaseless demi-urge in counterpoise with our own being.

Interchange in which I rhythmically emerge.

—Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (1922)

W

hen Circe warned him of the danger of the call of the Sirens for his sailors, Ulysses had their ears filled with wax and had himself tightly bound to the mast of his ship. Still following Circe’s advice, Ulysses enjoined his mate to tighten his bonds when, under the spell of the monstrous creatures, he would beg to be untied. In this situation, Ulysses is at once seduced by the song of the

Sirens, and kept tied to the mast by his mate. Circe who restrains and the Sirens who attract illustrate a paradoxical system in which the hero is both seduced and restrained. The important element of this system is the copula that separates and unites attraction and restraint. In this light, Ulysses is not subjected to seduction and restraint, but is, rather, an element of a paradoxical system that carries him beyond the point of absolute danger. In this position, he is torn but he escapes and is

35

 

CHAPTER SIX An origin between absorption and expulsion

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CHAPTER SIX

An origin between absorption and expulsion

He who seeks does not find, but he who does not seek will be found.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

O

nce Freud had adopted the idea that sexual fantasies triggered by endogenous drives were traumatic in themselves, the question of why they were more traumatic for some individuals than for others was swept away by the tidal wave of natural philosophy. From then on, the ability to repress the Oedipus complex was considered to depend in part on the strength of endogenous drives, seen as variable from one person to another. This concession to the theory of individual constitution was to leave future generations of psychoanalysts with the task of reducing the role of a notion inherited from the nineteenth century. They would have to try to humanise these individual differences by identifying, with Winnicott, that which concerns the maternal context and, with Ferenczi, Nicolas Abraham, and Jacques

 

Chapter Six: An Origin between Absorption and Expulsion

ePub

He who seeks does not find, but he who does not seek will be found.

—Franz Kafka, “The Third Notebook” (1917)

Once Freud had adopted the idea that sexual fantasies triggered by endogenous drives were traumatic in themselves, the question of why they were more traumatic for some individuals than for others was swept away by the tidal wave of natural philosophy. From then on, the ability to repress the Oedipus complex was considered to depend in part on the strength of endogenous drives, seen as variable from one person to another. This concession to the theory of individual constitution was to leave future generations of psychoanalysts with the task of reducing the role of a notion inherited from the nineteenth century. They would have to try to humanise these individual differences by identifying, with Winnicott, that which concerns the maternal context and, with Ferenczi, Nicolas Abraham, and Jacques Lacan, the non-elaborated pain of previous generations.

The idea of psychic trauma was the first means used to contest Freud's newly formulated fantasy theory. War traumas provided Ferenczi with the clinical opportunity to review the initial version of the doctrine. Freud himself participated in this review. In 1920, Beyond the Pleasure Principle allowed clinical theory to take a big step forward thanks to the discovery that living beings tend to repeat a situation that has not yet had a satisfactory resolution. But at the very moment when he provided clinical practice with a decisive opening, Freud forfeited the theoretical contribution associated with it: for the sake of common sense, he abandoned the idea of a single death-and-life instinct, and returned to the instinctual duality composed of a life instinct and a death instinct, or of sexual instincts and ego instincts.

 

Chapter Seven: Destruction of the Paradoxical System: Murder of the Other in the Self

ePub

Speak—
But don't split off No from Yes.
Give your say this meaning too:
Give it the shadow.

—Paul Celan, Speak, You Too (2001)

On a deserted street of a deserted city, a man and a woman are strolling with their four-year-old son. Suddenly, without a word, they decide to hide while the child is busy with a toy. When he looks up, they have disappeared. As if struck in full flight, the child does not cry, does not call out. The blood drains from his face. The trees, the birds, even the wind, are suddenly still, momentarily suspended, waiting for the child to start breathing. The parents come out of hiding.

“It was a game, you big silly.

“Look how he's shaking. He was really frightened!

“You know we wouldn't do that to you…”

The attack just perpetrated is an almost perfect crime. The aggressors see the game only as confirmation of the child's love for them, and the child only registers the experience of coming back to life. The parents, who unknowingly enjoyed the child's terror, are anxious to come to his rescue. For his part, the child sees on their faces the pleasure they take in reanimating him. They have come back as his saviours, and he has no way to avoid considering himself the crime he just lived through, without knowing it took place.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN Destruction of the paradoxical system: murder of the other in the self

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Destruction of the paradoxical system: murder of the other in the self

Speak—

But don’t split off No from Yes.

Give your say this meaning too:

Give it the shadow.

—Paul Celan, Speak, You Too (2001)

O

n a deserted street of a deserted city, a man and a woman are strolling with their four-year-old son. Suddenly, without a word, they decide to hide while the child is busy with a toy.

When he looks up, they have disappeared. As if struck in full flight, the child does not cry, does not call out. The blood drains from his face.

The trees, the birds, even the wind, are suddenly still, momentarily suspended, waiting for the child to start breathing. The parents come out of hiding.

“It was a game, you big silly.

“Look how he’s shaking. He was really frightened!

“You know we wouldn’t do that to you …”

The attack just perpetrated is an almost perfect crime. The aggressors see the game only as confirmation of the child’s love for them, and the

55

 

CHAPTER EIGHT Failure of the paradoxical system (1): before the Law

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Failure of the paradoxical system (1): before the Law

He has discovered the Archimedean principle, but has turned it against himself; evidently, it was only on this condition that he was permitted to discover it.

—Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms of

Franz Kafka (2006)

T

he soul murder that occurred on the deserted city street is a perfect crime. There were no witnesses and the victim has no choice but to become an accomplice, like it or not, to the crime committed against him. Such an event finds no psychic place of inscription that could testify to it, does not have the right to exist, and cannot be recognised. In certain familial configurations—as illustrated by the case of Daniel Paul Schreber1—the child cannot turn to either parent because they form what Melanie Klein so aptly calls a “combined parent.”2

Kafka is the writer who describes most accurately, and in the most colourful terms, the feat that has to be performed by a person who must maintain the symptom serving as a vicarious paradoxical foundation, a foundation he himself constructed without knowing it. Kafka shows what exploits such a person has to accomplish in order to hold

67

 

Chapter Eight: Failure of the Paradoxical System (1): Before the Law

ePub

He has discovered the Archimedean principle, but has turned it against himself; evidently, it was only on this condition that he was permitted to discover it.

—Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka (2006)

The soul murder that occurred on the deserted city street is a perfect crime. There were no witnesses and the victim has no choice but to become an accomplice, like it or not, to the crime committed against him. Such an event finds no psychic place of inscription that could testify to it, does not have the right to exist, and cannot be recognised. In certain familial configurations—as illustrated by the case of Daniel Paul Schreber1—the child cannot turn to either parent because they form what Melanie Klein so aptly calls a “combined parent.”2

Kafka is the writer who describes most accurately, and in the most colourful terms, the feat that has to be performed by a person who must maintain the symptom serving as a vicarious paradoxical foundation, a foundation he himself constructed without knowing it. Kafka shows what exploits such a person has to accomplish in order to hold together the blend of positivity and negativity he himself created out of dire necessity, how such a person exhausts himself living an existence whose conditions he must simultaneously set in place.

 

Chapter Nine: Failure of the Paradoxical System (2): The Silence of the Sirens and Josephine the Singer

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It is dreadful to have another person's life attached to one's own, like carrying a bomb which one cannot let go of without committing a crime.

—Marcel Proust, The Prisoner (1923)

Kafka's journal contains an alternative version of the story of the Sirens, that the editor of his posthumous work chose to call “The Silence of the Sirens” (1931c). In this story, Ulysses is no longer the captain who has his sailors’ ears filled with wax, but rather a solitary sailor who plugs his own ears with wax in order not to hear the fatal song.

To protect himself from the Sirens, Ulysses stopped his ears with wax and had himself bound to the mast of his ship. Naturally any and every traveller before him could have done the same, except those whom the Sirens allured even from a greater distance; but it was known to all the world that such things were of no help whatever. The song of the Sirens could pierce through everything, and the longing of those they seduced would have broken stronger bonds than chains and masts. But Ulysses did not think of that. He trusted absolutely to his handful of wax and his fathom of chain, and in innocent elation over his little stratagem sailed out to meet the Sirens.

 

CHAPTER NINE Failure of the paradoxical system (2): The Silence of the Sirens and Josephine the Singer

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CHAPTER NINE

Failure of the paradoxical system (2):

The Silence of the Sirens and Josephine the Singer

It is dreadful to have another person’s life attached to one’s own, like carrying a bomb which one cannot let go of without committing a crime.

—Marcel Proust, The Prisoner (1923)

K

afka’s journal contains an alternative version of the story of the Sirens, that the editor of his posthumous work chose to call

“The Silence of the Sirens” (1931c). In this story, Ulysses is no longer the captain who has his sailors’ ears filled with wax, but rather a solitary sailor who plugs his own ears with wax in order not to hear the fatal song.

To protect himself from the Sirens, Ulysses stopped his ears with wax and had himself bound to the mast of his ship. Naturally any and every traveller before him could have done the same, except those whom the Sirens allured even from a greater distance; but it was known to all the world that such things were of no help whatever. The song of the Sirens could pierce through everything, and the longing of those they seduced would have broken stronger

 

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