I wish I knew more about “Irma,” thinks the patient. Freud should be read alongside those he treated (like the poet H.D.!), just as André Breton’s Nadja ought to be read alongside the life of the woman on which the Nadja character is based. Nadja, the French Surrealist novel par excellence, is based on Breton’s encounter with a mysterious woman: Leona Camille Ghislane Delacourt, a mad patient of the French psychotherapist Pierre Janet. The Surrealists performed events. They embarked on walks and strolls among the cities of France. Art was for Breton and the other Surrealists a way of life. Guided by the Unconscious, they produced an immensity of objects: films, novels, sculptures, poems. They sought revolutionary change of a sort, attempting a brief alignment with Trotskyism in the 1930s. I wonder if I could include Nadja in my course “Rabbit Holes, Time Machines, and Doors in the Wall.” Might it work? The book begins with a question: “Who am I?” The “I” on the page introduces itself through a proverb, claiming to be a ghost of sorts. The “I” that speaks is a Catholic one, a distinctly French subjectivity organized by Catholicism and Descartes, haunted by images of ghosts and eternal torments. As readers, we’re made to wonder. Breton presents language as a site of self-inquiry: Ego in Search of Premise. After a break, the narrator launches into “university discourse”: the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s term for one of four possible formulations of the symbolic network: “Master, University, Hysteric, and Analyst.” The subject of “university discourse,” claims Lacan, is a castrated subject, barred from knowing the world except as it appears in language. Spacey mood, tonight, folks. Chasing after some occulted master signifier. Lacan remains a language. To converse with him, one must learn his terms. Same with Marx, same with Freud. And one never arrives: revelations promised go unrevealed. With Breton and the Surrealists, however, it’s all “sudden parallels, petrified coincidences…harmonies struck as though on the piano, flashes of light that would make you see, really see, if only they were not so much quicker than all the rest” (19). Breton announces early in Nadja his conviction that “psychoanalysis is not qualified to deal with such phenomena” (24).
As a kind of essayist — one who writes to think, to find out, to endeavor — I often look for meaning, associations, correspondences, in that upon which I gaze. A friend lends a note of caution: some of what we find, he reflects, might be projected, phantasmatic rather than cloud-hidden. Of course, fantasies are not purely illusory. Psychoanalysts encourage us to think of them, rather, as scenes that stage unconscious desires. Lacan reads fantasy as a defensive formation assembled by a subject to veil the enigmatic desire of the Other. Fantasy hastens an answer to what can never be known, like one’s face or the back of one’s head, that which can never enter directly into the field of one’s perception. Fantasy pretends to solve what Lacan calls the mystery of “Che vuoi”: “What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for others?”
Sarah and I raced through the streets a few days ago chasing rainbows at the tail end of an afternoon sunshower. And sure enough, after just a few minutes of searching, we found one, water droplets interacting with sunlight in order to form for those who perceive it a thing of great beauty, a sign of grace arcing downward as if to join with matter, as if to meet the very pavement at our feet. This is a certain kind of intensity. Deliver the good news. Become one with it. We are not “the Individual” of liberal thought. We are Santa Clauses magic-circling the earth in our sleep. It is the subject, as Lacan says, who introduces division into the individual. Our dreams and our relationships to our bodies have social consequences.
Scrubber Fox’s “inserted chip punches (revised),” a composition that uses an Atari Lynx as its primary instrument, recalls for me the beeps, the explosions, the full array of apocalyptic sound-stimuli of my childhood. Clues to the riddle of the ego lie buried, perhaps, in that primal scene. It’s time to complete the analysis.
Petting a neighborhood cat, admiring the color of its coat, rescuing a spider cricket from permanent incarceration in my basement by cupping it in my palms and carrying it outdoors, dancing in my office to the sound of “Nature,” a fast and easy shuffle from a James Brown album released the year of my birth, giggling with Sarah over a children’s book by Remy Charlip: to these and all of the other events from my day I say, “I love you, each and every part.”
The further I advance in Écrits, the more convinced I am of Lacan’s role as “vanishing mediator” in the lineage of my arrival to thought. With my kaleidoscope eyes, I repay the debt I owe him by redoubling my attention. At the heart of my pedagogy is the basic Lacanian belief that, in today’s society, most human subjects are spoken, authored into discourse by a Big Other, instead of being granted time and space with which to think their own liberated parole. And then there’s Lacan’s actual prose, loaded with purloined letters, clues hidden in plain sight. From a page in Écrits, for instance, I’m led to an illustration on my phone depicting a structure from Neolithic times. In this structure, which archaeologists call a “cursus” monument, I recognize a level from Rygar, an NES game I used to play as a child. The imprint from Rygar strikes me now as would a remediated memory from a past life. From these memories, and from the prose that spurs them, rises the potential to form a groupuscule — a community of belief, one as much at variance from hegemonic reality as were the cursus-bounded ceremonial spaces of the ancients.
Sitting in a chair in my backyard, gazing up through a cover of leaves at layers of clouds as they cross the sky, I experience self-tension, part of me a voice commenting live as another part awaits assumption, uplift, acquisition of an as-yet unpossessed knowledge. How do I overcome what Lacan calls the “narcissistic passion” birthed by the mirror-stage? Where am I? What do I want to do? I’m Philip K. Dick’s “electric ant,” a robot trying to seize control of consciousness. By practicing self-analysis, I can “regulate the yield of my ears,” as Lacan would say; I can learn to listen not just to breath and heartbeat but to brainwaves. By these means, one can self-regulate thought’s beats per minute, “in order to pick up what is to be heard” (Écrits, p. 45). These signals might guide one, for instance, to a reimagining of oneself as a “collective head,” a series of singularities slowly acquiring awareness of itself as plural. This head of ours floats atop the “pastoral krautrock” of Smoke Bellow’s ISOLATION 3000 while enrolling itself in a crash course on anamnesis.
I listen to David Van Tieghem’s These Things Happen while reading selections from Lacan’s Écrits. I intuit in the latter an abiding belief that humanity’s primary tormentors are images of aggressivity, or “imagos of fragmented bodies” formed during childhood. My reading leads to an objectification of prior experience via the concept of “autoscopy.” This concept names experiences whereby individuals perceive themselves or their surrounding environment from positions outside their bodies. Isn’t there an element of autoscopy, though, in precisely that “subjectless” discourse that calls itself “Science”? As evidence of the latter’s utter theoretical inadequacy, its insufficiency at the level of the human subject, I’ll just note here that neuroscientists attribute experiences of autoscopy to “abnormal higher-level self-processing at the temperoparietal junction.” Notice how the self-exiled objectivity of the body predominates in that formulation. Notice, too, the normative heavy lifting performed by the unexamined, unjustified labeling of such experiences as “abnormal.” What about me, though? Aren’t there still traces of science woven into the semantics of these trance-scripts? What aggressive intentions, I wonder, might cause me to self-sabotage my attempts to dialogue with others? That’s probably the main question psychoanalysis asks us to register, is it not? In this way, we take consciousness for a ride, we elevate it.