freud's angles

Freud’s couch, upon which his patients would comfortably recline during psychoanalytic sessions, was normally covered by an oriental rug throw. Underneath the throw, it is a plain and simple structure, raised by a scroll and pad at one end, though fully upholstered with springs and  horse hair stuffing. The couch is rather short, so that the patient would not lie horizontally, but with the head quite high, supported by several cushions and pillows. According to Freud’s wife Martha, in an interview  with Princess Marie Bonaparte in 1938, the couch was given to Freud by a grateful patient, a Madame Benvenisti, in about 1890.

—commentary by the Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3 5SX, www. freud.org.uk

Freud’s examination room established a now-famous protocol for the exploration of the unconscious of the subject. A stratagem of ‘voice’, the subject spoke to an invisible analyst who avoided looking at the analysand. Freud himself did not usually take notes but instead gazed at a collection of antique figurines displayed on his desk. After the session, Freud reversed his angle of view, looking at the same figurines from the opposite side as he made notes. Within this economy of angles, turns, and reverses, a ‘topology of study’ specifies not only the conditions but the essential lineaments of a science of the mind.


Freud’s right-angled relation to the patient is also explicitly ‘orthogonal’ in the sense of independent of the analysand’s appearance. The voice is thus ‘dislocated’ (acousmatic) and the view is occupied, in revery, by objects of desire, antique figurines arrayed on the desk. After analysis, Freud made notes on his desk, adopting a ‘reverse angle’ view of the figurines, now occupying his full field of vision, with the couch and its memories of the session in the background.

Analysis reduces the subject (analysand) to a voice ('acousmatic' — Zizek's term), which is then heard 'anamorphically'. The subject lives in networks of symbolic relationships that cannot accommodate the dynamic of the psyche, just as 'space' cannot accommodate 'motion' in Deleuze's assessment of Bergson's first 'cinematic' model of time. Zeno's paradoxes apply: since duration/motion cannot be mapped successfully on to static space, the result is a 'symptom' that allows the subject to adopt.

When the analyst turns 90º from the patient, it is to create an 'orthogonal' relationship to the static impasse of the symptom. Just as Deleuze suggests a 'hinge' relationship between static and dynamic ideas of time in Bergson, the analyst must place the static symptom (static because it is a product of the 'transitive' organization of the networks of symbolic relationships) into a 'new idea of time' that is chiastic and dynamic. Doing this, the analyst moves from being a writer in Roland Barthes' sense of an ecrivant to a writer-as-ecrivain whose 'unreadable' text must be re-written to be understood (Vico's idea of The New Science). Freud switched from his chair beside the couch to his chair facing the figurines on his desk to switch from ecrivant to ecrivain, a 180º shift.


Freud's desk and chair, showing part of his collection of antique figurines

The transformation of the symptom, from out of its relation to static fields of order, corresponds to a 'suture' of the symptom as sinthom into the 'Other' of the analyst, who reconstructs the human psyche as a natural order. The sinthom/symptom acts as a Deleuzian 'demark' — a sign out of place in the networks of symbolic relationships; an object-cause of desire in the a-symbolic structure of the unconscious.

The famous acousmatic basis of analysis has to do with location. In the idea of la voix acousmatique, the source of the voice is unlocatable. This is important for the analysts need to 'relocate' the voice as coming from a more complex location, an a-symbolic source. This also forces a move from projective models, which Freud famously finds inadequate to the development of the psyche (Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930). Topography, especially one that accommodates 'suture' as a quilting or inside-out operation, allows for the 'stereognostic' approach of the analyst who turns, first, 90º and then 180º. Possibly a final 90º turn would 'complete the circle' of analysis if the 'return of the Real' can serve as a complement to the original dislocation of the voice at the beginning of analysis.

Return of the Real is the sinthomatic idea of repetition, presided over, in Freud's case, by the gods of antiquity sitting on his desk. This is Kierkegaard's second, or 'satisfactory' means of visiting the past, funded by Plato's idea of anamnesis, now understandable through stereognosis (knowledge through the 'touch' of angular displacement).

Freud used metaphor to convey both the nature of the psyche and problems encountered in analyzing it. In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he used a striking image of projection to demonstrate the impossibility of 'projecting' the unconscious as spatial. The mind, he argues, is like a city that develops over a long period of time, enduring peaceful modifications as well as natural and man-made disasters. 'If we want to represent historical sequence in spatial terms we can only do it by juxtaposition in space: the same space cannot have two different contents. Our attempt seems to be an idle game. It shows us how far we are from mastering the characteristics of mental life by representing them in pictorial terms.'

Yet, in a lecture delivered at Clarke University in Massachusetts (photo), Freud gave an example of someone who does 'just that' — who sees in some element in the public scene an occasion for a quite unexpected and inexplicable response. Freud used the example of the monument standing in the front of Charing Cross Station in London. Set up to commemorate the burial of the beloved Queen Eleanor as her body was carried to Westminster, its original sentiment is for the most part lost in the bustle of pedestrian and road traffic on the Strand, a busy theater and commercial street.

But what should we think of a Londoner who paused to-day in deep melancholy before the memorial of Queen Eleanor's funeral instead of going about his business in the hurry that modern working conditions demand or instead of feeling joy over the youthful queen of his own heart? Or again what should we think of a Londoner who shed tears before the Monument that commemorates the reduction of his beloved metropolis to ashes although it has long since risen again in far greater brilliance? Yet every single hysteric and neurotic behaves like these two unpractical Londoners. Not only do they remember painful experiences of the remote past, but they still cling to them emotionally; they cannot get free of the past and for its sake they neglect what is real and immediate.

Sigmund Freud: Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci and Other Works, Vol. XI.

The contrast is between the 'impossibility' of pictorial representation and the 'impossible-Real' of the hysteric, who does just what projection forbids: an anamorphic reading of empirical reality. The identification of reality with 'projective imagination' is helpful, in the sense that anamorphosis requires just this foil to create a 'topological' alternative through a symptomatic response. In turn, the analyst makes a phylogenetic 'sinthom' out of the 'ontogenetic' symptom, a Theory of Mind out of a subject's particular and seemingly accidental, eccentric mind.

The contrast between projective representation and topological knowledge points in the direction of stereognosis ('knowledge through touch') and its counterpart, 'propriocept' (the mind's awareness of the body). In Freud's particularly topological staging of analysis, the subject's visual presence is subtracted to purposefully dislocate the origin of the voice, the basis of analysis. Dis-location is not corollary to an acoustic technique; it is the prerequisite to the idea of an acousmatic location-less voice, whose lack of location idealizes the 'stochastic resonance' of effect that voice will have in the matter of signification.

A more general model:

Freudian analysis is a sub-case of the more generic model of humanistic discovery put forth in more complete form by Vico, as a project of writing that begins by seeing symptoms of the individual as 'sinthoms' of the human being in general. The 'f' involving Hermetic concealment has to do both with the origins of consciousness in the 'thunder' perceived by the first humans as the voice of the indeterminate Jove as well as the philosopher's stratagem of writing double: as a flawed 'ecrivant' who gets things wrong and repeats himself, and as a revelatory, unreadable (because the text must be re-written) 'ecrivain' who creates, out of the text, a cosmic 'body' of the psyche knowable through the 'touch' of the angular topography.


Note on James Joyce

Roland Barthes distinguished between ecrivants (classic writers) and ecrivains, 'authors' who produced difficult avant-garde works — Brecht, Robbes-Grillet. In the case of James Joyce, we have, as Umberto Eco has noted in his book on post-modernism, the case of an ecrivant and an ecrivain in one person. Portrait of an Artist is a classical work firmly in the modernist tradition, while Finnegans Wake is thoroughly avant-garde, being 'permanently unreadable' in the sense that every reading creates new meaning.

Whether a text is 'readerly' (lisable), favoring the interests of the reader as do classical texts, or 'writerly' (scriptible) uses the screen as a metaphor for the text which, like Freud's desk, can be viewed from two different directions. Vico had already used this technique in writing The New Science, referring to its own unreadibility (except through an act of re-writing). Vico's reference to reading and writing is a key to the 'scholarly universal' that, like the imaginative universal of myth, begins with the 'acousmatic' destruction of meaning by the thunder of Jove, which in the scholar's case is more like the Joycean thunder that initiates Finnegans Wake — a 'polyglot' juxtaposition of 'all possible syllables', a kind of maximized disorder that is at the same time a perfect order in the sense of a quantum physics where probability opens up all universes running in parallel. In fact, one might in retrospect compare Ulysses to relativity theory, good for very large, heavy objects, to Finnegans Wake's quantum approach to the micro-world of syllables. Bridging them is the idea of the fractal, the self-referential recursive form that collapses the idea of large and small, a kind of 'string theory' for boundary study.

The world of Ulysses is projective (Dublin, June 16, 1904). The world of Finnegans Wake is, in contrast, timeless, its space a universalized space of cosmic creation. The screen of Ulysses keeps the reader on the same side of its illusions, while Finnegans Wake constantly reverse the angle of view, moving unpredictably between 'representation' and 'artifact'. Finnegans Wake has its predecessors, notably Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605), Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760), and also portions of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851). The whole genre of German literature known as 'romantic irony' might be considered a paradigm exemplar of this unpredictable, scriptible writing.

The concepts of stereognosis and propriocept bring these projects together with Freud's consulting room model, if only because they suggest the circle of desire, a <360º curve interrupted by 'a' — the petit objet a to be precise, the 'small object' or 'object-cause' of desire. Lacan expanded this notion to include things made by artists to structure pleasure through jouissance, whose degree-zero is solitary sex. As a model for the arts, this gives us both models of time developed, according to Gilles Deleuze, by Henri Bergson. The first is the attempt to model time on space, yielding the Zenonian paradox of impossible motion. The second is the dynamic sense of time initiated by the 'demark', the return to a 'timeless time' of durée, a 'new sense of time', or in Vichian terms, a 'new science of time'.

Taken at all scales, this gives the demark, the object taken out of its natural order, a central role. Such a role is played by the figurines on Freud's desk, the lighter in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, the errant chestnut in Tristram Shandy. All are small, fractal demarks capable of structuring jouissance by shifting the audience's point of view from reader to writer.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved