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).
Awaiting a therapy session with a gestalt psychologist, I reflect upon psychoanalysis. Coleridge imports the Unconscious into English after study of German philosophy. Freud sets this concept at the center of his project, his newly-founded science, psychoanalysis. The latter attempts a secular-scientific grasping of the Unconscious. Freud had a practice. He was a therapist. He was paid by clients. He treated patients. Psychoanalysis is a technology of the self. The therapist is one who applies a treatment, a cure for individuals suffering new illnesses of modernity: neuroses and psychoses. Before psychoanalysis, treatment of mental illness was a duty performed by clergy, or by “madhouses,” institutions invented by the State. Freud’s “talking cure” is an attempt to heal individuals who, in other times, would have been handed one-way tickets to board Ships of Fools or subjected to some other means of solitude and confinement. Psychoanalysis happened: it was put to use as a state apparatus, it was absorbed into institutions, it became part of the technocratic machinery of Western modernity. The mid-twentieth century was the age of psychoanalysis. The latter shaped the way the century thought itself. Freud fed into the development of public relations and advertising, especially through the influence of his nephew, Edward Bernays. According to French Marxist Louis Althusser, however, these uses were all betrayals of Freud’s revolutionary discovery. “The fall into ideology,” he writes, “began…with the fall of psycho-analysis into biologism, psychologism, and sociologism” (“Freud and Lacan,” p. 191).
There are rhythms of thought that sing to us, patterns formed of rituals we perform with others. These hours of sitting are part of one such ritual: “the time during which I write.” Activity in phenomenological reality is built of these rhythms. The day is a music we co-create with others. Cook up a meal to celebrate: “NO MORE TRUMP.” Soon there will be garden beds. Let us learn and do as we teach. Expanses opening on the backs of our eyelids. Encourage students to admit to having had weird experiences — “altered states” — the cause of the alteration of less importance than the state itself. Present these as symptoms of an outside or an unconscious beyond the physics and logic of everyday experience. Invite by these means a partial suspension of disbelief, an openness to what the texts speak in sum.
Who stormed the reality studio? What did Burroughs have in mind when he wrote that? How and why would one want to “retake the universe,” and from whom? The phrases appear in Burroughs’s 1964 novel Nova Express, a book stored in a box. We could go chasing / for this Thing, / or we can take note of our surroundings. Listen. Receive. Toyscapes, object-scapes, portals, desire-machines, time-machines. Witness them in the space of the now. To be a Marxist in late capitalism is to be a detective. And detective work’s a drag — unless you’re a beat detective: gonzo, amateur, freelance, “for the People.” The Academy needn’t be that Academy — the one starring Steve Guttenberg. In Burroughs, it’s a battle between Mob and Police for control of the Unconscious. Hassan i Sabbah’s in there, too.
Foreknowledge enabled by weed weirds me out, burns me bad as I hear a metaphor I trance-scribed Sunday night, one I thought my inner voice invented, echoed the following evening in an episode of Atlanta. Perhaps the voice that speaks to me is merely a friendly neighborhood Poltergeist. The unconscious behaves uncannily. I find it helpful in such situations to think on my feet. I discover a profound moral fear stimulated by love of another. I am awestruck by its power. The belief in the concept of the “unconscious wish” is a terrible responsibility to bear, because the moment the unconscious spends time around pain, it evolves intricate panics, fearful blind alleyways of thought. But the desire to remain centered as a person also awakens in this moment — the moment one encounters paranoia. The bad trip is to be shown one’s greatest fear, and it inevitably leads toward panic. Reason takes over in this instant. One feels an intense need to search for it, to posit it. Find it in oneself: the experience of self-confidence and self-love — and through these, the capacity to love others. I need to be able to trust myself. Ride this out and we will go back to normal. Between guns and roses, I say to myself, I choose roses. Between “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” I choose “Paradise City.” Better yet, I choose the goddess in the garden.