Freud’s Masterplotting

Section 2
Freud’s Masterplot Revisited

3. "To Speculate on ‘Freud’" and Beyond

The remainder of contingency, something quite other to Freud’s determinist totality, that which haunts any totality, can be thought of as a trauma from which the oedipal totality of Freud’s "racial masterplot" suffers, that which the totality tries to reappropriate by reducing to castration: not something radically other, but the specific absence of the specific order: a mode of binding an otherwise energetics. Concurrent with the development of this masterplot was the first world war, which produced many sufferers from what inescapably seems to be the effects of exogenic and contingent violence on the vesicle. For Freud, the natural opening of the vesicle, the inside of the inside, was always thought of as directed toward the outside of the inside–that is, the opening of the vase-like metaphor was thought of as turned inward. Freud assumed that the "stimulus barrier" between the vesicle and the outside of the outside was greater than the one between the vesicle and the outside of the inside: the vesicle was open and vulnerable to unconscious drives, more vulnerable than it was to external Q.

With what Freud called the "war neuroses" or "traumatic neuroses" (consistently differentiated from "transference neuroses") the contingency of "external reality" would seem to have been more than "mere contingency." When perhaps millions of war veterans returned from the horrors of war, they presented symptoms, such as repeated "traumatic dreams," which threatened at least one of the basic ideas of Freudian theory: the wish-fulfillment of dreams, which for Freud was practically synonymous with the pleasure principle. These repeated dreams suggested that not every dream works as Freud had theorized in The Interpretation of Dreams, where, like the perceptual identity of the primary process, the wish-fulfillment of the dream would constitute the immediate binding of a wish usually associated by Freud with the memory traces of early satisfactions. According to Freud, the dream takes advantage of the sleeping sensors of the ego to enjoy such "primaeval" pleasures and processes without the hindrance of the secondary process and its deferral of satisfaction. The incessant repetition of "traumatic dreams" of so many veterans disrupted Freud’s plotting, creating spaces–not gaps, since gaps follow the logic of lack–of something quite different from the simple absence of the phallic order of Freud’s masterplot.

Following Derrida, I read Beyond the Pleasure Principle as a reaction to this trauma, this trauma to Freud’s masterplot-order of trauma, even a symptom of this trauma’s effects. Beyond … is ultimately amode of binding what is otherwise in order to maintain a specific order. What we find in Beyond … is something similar to the symptoms of the shell-shocked veterans: repetition of what would seem to be something unpleasurable to the order in question, an ego, ego-ideal, or masterplot. Freud always associated psychic health with the individual’s ability to construct a coherent self-narrative. With his so-called "hysterical" patients, he would, attempting to fill the gaps he "found" in their narratives with his caput-Nili plotting, consistently assume he was in possession of the knowledge of the whole narrative. What seems to be at stake is Freud’s mastery, his ability to masterplot, the wholeness of his phallic masterplot, and "Freud," as an identity and the basis of an institutional legacy. "Freud" and the masterplot here are the same. Freud’s relationship to cure had been one of mastery through cure, and, paradoxically, cure through mastery. With Beyond …, Freud seems more interested in re-establishing his own story, his ultimate-causal masterplot, and not with cure and proximate-causal etiologies at all.

All of these themes are at least touched on in Derrida’s "To Speculate–on ‘Freud,’" a reading of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle as an example of what Freud describes there. "Speculate" is a meticulous and extended reading of Beyond …, and Derrida plays with Freud’s identification of himself with his pleasure-principle-based theory–"Freud" and the legacy he hopes it will afford him due to its "transmissibility" (Rand)–via Derrida’s use of the acronym "PP," which, in French, is a homophone for "pépé," or grandfather. Derrida associates Freud as grandfather with both the story of Freud’s grandson’s game, fort/da, and with Freud’s concern with his/psychoanalysis’s legacy. What Freud tells of his grandson, Heinz, playing with a spool, is repeated by Freud with the game he plays with the PP in Beyond…. Throughout "Speculate," Derrida wonders about the "mise en abyme" effects of the relating being an example of what is being related:

The story that is related … seems to put into "abyme" the writing of the relation (let us say the history, Historie, of the relation, and even the history, Geschichte, of the relater relating it). Therefore the related is related to the relating. (304)
Derrida differentiates "fort/da" (with a slash), where there is equivalence between the two sides of the binarism, from "fort:da" (with a colon), where there is "an overlap without equivalence," suggesting that the da of fort:da is always implied by the fort (hence the colon), more a narrative than a binarism. According to Derrida, Freud plays fort:da, rather than fort/da, with the PP in Beyond … (321). Freud dispatches the PP, envoi, only to have it come back to its proper destination: "Freud." The return is immanent in the dispatch: fort:da. Derrida sees in the self-posting, the establishing of the proper, indications of something totally other (why the need to post?), and he calls this the logic of the postal relay. It is in this postal relay of the self-posting that Derrida reads Freud showing us the beyond, not by what he writes, but by what he does. Derrida seems to be arguing that there is something basic about this self-posting with regard to any identity’s relation to what is totally other to identitarian logic. Barratt calls something like self-posting "the act of establishment." Like the unheimlich aspect of "heimlichkeit," there is always a demonic aspect to the double, the double created via the distancing of oneself when one self-posts as one must: the distancing of the dispatch, the necessity of expropriating to reappropriate. The combination of the abyssal effects of Freud’s "related" in Beyond … would then be "related to the relating," and the impropriety of the proper created by the necessary dispatching of self-posting constitutes a significant example of a beyond Derrida "finds" in Beyond….

Less abstractly, Derrida argues that Freud’s fort:da with the PP is played when his "positions" on the Jenseit end up either negated or being left in the form of a hypothesis, making Beyond … an athetic text. At moments in "Speculate," I am left wondering if Derrida admires Freud for not "taking a position" on the beyond, as if Beyond … were some text akin to his own or to Levinas’s speculations on speculating on the Other. The athesis of Freud’s Beyond …, however, is more a product of his game of fort:da than any precursor to Levinasian ethics. Derrida makes clear that even Freud’s hypotheses that seem like they would be a threat to the mastery or totality of the PP end up in some way being in the service of the PP–if not completely a slave to the master, then partially a slave (repetition) or very much of the same logic (the Todestrieb). Freud’s inability to position a beyond to the PP is a product of his desire to treat the PP as a totality: the self-born master who must secure his legacy. The logic of the PP is ultimately totalitarian.

"Speculation" is how Freud obliquely refers to philosophy, and Freud argues strongly that somehow his "abandonment" to speculation in Beyond … is somehow necessary, yet it manages to completely avoid "any contact with philosophy proper" (XVIII 59). Derrida connects speculation to debt, specifically to Freud’s blatantly disavowed debt to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. With regard to genealogy, Derrida suggests, "Freud" is not just about controlling the descendancy, but also the ascendancy: always the legator, never the legatee, an Oedipus with no Laius. Derrida is critical of Freud when Derrida points out that Freud puts the expression "perpetual recurrence of the same thing" (Der87a 269) between quotation marks, but does not cite the stoics or Nietzsche, whose concept of "eternal return" would seem to share a great deal with Freud’s repetition compulsion, if this repetition were indeed something of or from the beyond. It is as if Freud were never a son, his own father, and grandfather–a PP–and as if he had no debt, no inheritance with which he speculates.

Freud’s positioning of the pleasure principle in opposition to a beyond suggests that the PP is that which (he who) constitutes the realm of mastery, that which (he who) establishes the boundaries of what is known and certain. Given that the pleasure principle is the primary principle of the unconscious, the principle almost indistinguishable from the primary process, we find that the unconscious, at least to some degree, no longer constitutes the beyond for the Freud of Beyond…. In fact, the system Ucs. has become that which is known, that which would supposedly itself have a horizon and a beyond: it is indeed a system, it is one of sense, and, therefore, it is not based on a process of mobile cathexes. When Freud asks, what is the beyond of the pleasure principle, he is asking what goes beyond his understanding of the psychic systems, including the system Ucs. Freud’s "racial" masterplot is analogous to t he PP here: it is what is known and certain, it spans all that is known, it is what will insure the proper legacy, and it is what will, surviving this trauma of (war) trauma intact, admit no threatening beyond of radical alterity, just a beyond that reestablishes its position and necessity.

The PP must be considered phylo-"genetically": it spans both phylogeny and ontogeny. The phylo-"genetic" aspects of the masterplot might be considered the beyond of the pleasure principle because it is that which established the PP. Unlike Derrida, however, I consider Freud’s origins as a part of what they inaugurate since they are in some odd way ideal, or outside of time, yet material and "genetic." The beyond Freud seems to be wrestling with in Beyond … has more to do with a masterplot of life in general, the greater context of his masterplot of human life. We could read the title as "beyond the oedipal masterplot." The beyond of the general masterplot would be in harmony with the life/death of this "racial" masterplot since the life/death of the oedipal masterplot is still about a proper detour, but in the terms of castration.

The orthodox reading of Beyond … positions the Todestrieb and the repetition compulsion as two possible beyonds of the pleasure principle. When Freud theorizes trauma, however, repetition serves the PP and the ego by being the process of reconstituting structure: repetition allows for the binding of the unbound energy that had disrupted the structures. In this case repetition would not necessarily be a beyond, but part of the Bemächtigungstrieb, or drive/instinct to master. Freud, however, does not embrace this possible beyond of Bemächtigungstrieb by making it a thesis or a position. Derrida points out that this same possibility of Bemächtigungstrieb can be logically deduced from Freud’s vague positioning regarding the Todestrieb. Derrida begins "Speculate" by pointing out that "Speculate" is an extraction from a seminar entitled, "la vie la mort," or life death (259). Derrida sees life and death as inseparable in the logic of Freud’s Beyond …, and as another disavowed debt of Freud’s to Nietzsche, who, according to Derrida, "said that life is a very rare species of death" (355). The (eternal) return to the deathly state of inactivity, the destination of all detours–prefigured in the Project as the principle of inertia and later as the Nirvana principle–establishes death, the zero state, as primary, and life as an extension or detour of it. Derrida argues that, for Freud, the path this detour takes, however, is far from arbitrary or contingent:

The component drives are destined to insure that the organism dies of its own death, that it follows its own, proper path toward death. That it arrives by its own step at death (eigenen Todesweg). That are kept far from it (weg! we might say, fernzuhalten he says) all the possibilities of a return to the inorganic which would not be "immanent" to it. The step must occur within it, from it to it, between it and itself. Therefore one must send away the non-proper, reappropriate oneself, make oneself come back [revenir] (da!) until death. Send oneself [s’envoyer] the message of one’s own death. (ibid.)
Here we see a repetition of the self-post, the postal relay. When one sends "oneself the message of one’s own death," one is sending oneself the "sense of an ending" (Kermode) of the narrative that gives one’s life a context for meaning. Derrida calls this drive to die one’s own death, that which determines the proper life and makes it a proper aspect of death, "the drive of the proper":
The drive of the proper would be stronger than life and than death…. neither living nor dead, its force does not qualify it otherwise than by its own, proper drivenness, and this drivenness would be the strange relation to oneself that is called the relation to the proper: the most driven drive is the drive of the proper, in other words the one that tends to reappropriate itself…. Life death are no longer opposed in it. (356-57)
Behind the instability of Freud’s life/death opposition is Freud’s reliance on a drive of the proper, a form of self-posting that can only mean the impropriety of the proper, and a beyond of this drive of something radically other. Derrida shows that hidden behind what Freud does (his fort:da of the PP, his self-posting) and what he writes (the (op)positionality of life/death, and the drive of the proper assumed with the drive toward a proper death) is the irreducible division of any totalizing move, self-post, or drive of the proper. We could even simply say "drive" if drive is understood à la Derrida’s passage above: the drivenness of any drive implies an Other.

Such an Other is not a dualism of Same/Other: an Other cannot be accounted for, it is beyond calculability. Any (op)positionality is essentially a monism: for example, castration-truth establishes the transcendental phallus, and castration is its absence. Freud’s life/death is also a form of a monism of the proper, of "castration-truth" and Oedipus. Freud would criticize Jung for his monism and the mysticism of what became the collective unconscious and the Principle of Synchronicity. But Freud’s monism was also a mysticism of a Negative Concord, as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy argued about Lacan in The Title of the Letter: "the ultimate effect of Lacanian strategy thus turns out to be a surprising but vigorous repetition of negative theology" (Nan92 xxvii). This monism is what sets up the destinational postal relay of a totality sending itself to itself, and, as Derrida argues, any such self-posting, any such attempt at totality, only becomes more indicative of something totally other. But this is not acknowledged by Freud; in fact, the possibility of something radically other to the masterplot is dissimulated in myriad ways, as is any debt he has to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer with respect to eternal return, mastery, or power. As Derrida points out, Freud’s monism can also be described as a Hegelian Aufhebung, where the opposition is preserved in an ideal whole: life-death. Hegel’s speculations regarding the Aufhebung would therefore constitute another unacknowledged debt for Freud with respect to philosophy.

Derrida shows how through the mastery of binding, the Bemächtigung, Freud’s "fort:da of Nietzsche" is played out with both hypothetical beyonds of the pleasure principle: the compulsion to repeat and the drive of the proper. According to Derrida’s reading of Beyond …, "[b]eyond the pleasure principle–power" (405). But Derrida puts power-mastery beyond the pleasure principle because he puts binding before the PP: quoting Freud, "binding (Bindung) is a prepatory act which introduces and assures (einleitet und sichert) the dominance of the pleasure principle" (XVIII 62). For Derrida, binding as a "prepatory act (vorbereitender Akt)" means that, as such, "it is not yet the PP" (Der87a 395). We should read Freud’s "introduce" as making this binding a part of the pleasure principle, and given the significance of phylogeny in Freud’s work at this time, the identity established with this "prepatory act" would have been determined, prepared for, prior to the origin of the ontogenetic pleasure principle: the "original experience of satisfaction." So instead of "beyond the pleasure principle–power," I would argue that Freud’s text never avows anything beyond the mastery of the PP–that power, mastery, binding, the proper and its drive, life-death and repetition all serve the PP, and that the PP is better understood as the Negative Concord and "castration-truth" of the phylo-"genetically" based masterplot. "Freud," and the masterplot that "introduces and assures" this identity, the PP, his/its non-ascendancy and its descendancy, his/its speculation without inheritance, without debt, have all recovered from the trauma of the war, the trauma of trauma, through the repetitive pas de marche, his trauma symptom, his fort:da of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Phylo-"genetics" would constitute a (phylo-"genetically") bound "before" to (ontogenetic) binding: the transcendental PP.

Derrida’s Freud in "Speculate" is not as totalitarian as my Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. His Freud potentially avows a beyond of the PP in the form of a before of binding. As the basic difference between my reading of Freud and Derrida’s, I see Derrida’s positioning of binding before the PP as an extension of his reading of Freud’s primary process that privileges mobile cathexes or "rebelliousness" over identity, and of his neglect of Freud’s phylogenesis and the effect it has on the concept of the primary process. Derrida, like the other readers of psychoanalysis here, allows for the possibility that the pleasure principle ("PP") is something different from the primary process ("pp"), its opposite rather than identical to it: the PP as something identitarian to the pp’s something otherwise. Looking at Freudian theory as whole, the primary process could be read as an undecidable between perceptual identities and mobile cathexes, whether it is "essentially rebellious" (Der87a 344) or essentially essentialist. Evidence of Derrida’s (non)decisions can be "found" in his oxymoronic description here, and in his other description of the primary process as "paradoxically disbanded" (ibid.). Derrida’s (non)decision becomes a simple decision with respect to his reading of the pleasure principle as the PP, as essentially an identity, and his (op)postioning of the primary process with respect to this identity:

The speculative hypothesis of the repetition compulsion and the death drive does not work without unleashing, without the very principle of that which unbinds from all contracture: in this context it is named free, unleashed, unbound, paradoxically disbanded energy, the pp, or the primary process. Binding always will occur in the service of the PP whose mastery, thus, will tend to make an essentially rebellious pp submit to itself. (Der87a 343-44)
I agree that these hypotheses do not work without this "unleashing," but Freud’s unleashing, as I have argued, is always reduced to the absence of the structure and, at the same time, the absence that centers the structure–or, as with how I have described the primary process, it has a "memory" or tendency to return to the original position of full presence. For Freud, "unleashing" is never free, chaotic, contingent, or something truly "otherwise." As in Lacanian psychoanalysis, the detour circles around "das Ding" and properly returns. Derrida’s decision about the PP as an identity, and then his (op)positioning of the primary process with respect to the PP, belies that they are both pp’s: they both have an identical origin of identity, and both have the "paradoxical disbanding" which I describe above as the absence of full presence, and as never one of contingency or différance. Despite Derrida’s oxymoronic description of the primary process as "essentially rebellious," "Speculate" can be read as deciding the PP as identity and the pp as rebellious, and opposing them rather than identifying them–as Freud often does (Freud would never have admitted that the PP is simply an identity). The result of Derrida’s decision is a Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle that potentially avows, if not posits, a beyond of the PP. I would add that if the primary process of the Project and The Interpretation of Dreams were undecidable, this indeterminacy could be attributed solely to the fact that a simple ontogenetic origin had not been established, could not have been established without Oedipus firmly in his place, which would leave the early Freud with the potential of a (non)origin of repetition. With phylogeny, Oedipus is secured, lack has its place, and an "origin of origin" of identity was established: an identity of "trauma"-structure and (op)positionality, which would allow the ontogenetic origin to be a repetition of the phylo-"genetic" (ideal) origin. I have tried to extend Derrida’s argument that Freud never posits such a beyond by arguing that Freud moves away from any such avowal in the form of a "before" by taking seriously Freud’s phylo-"genetics" as a transcendental Before, an "always already." Again, the "genetics" of "phylogenetics" here should be in quotes because there is no temporal progression or evolution with this idealist process: it is a transcendental structure, a Symbolic.

What is at stake here is to what degree do we read Freud as a totalizing theorist. Derrida is right to criticize Freud for his active forgetting with respect to his debt to certain philosophers, to their "speculations," and to deconstruct Beyond the Pleasure Principle by showing how Freud’s attempt at a totality via the avoidance of a beyond to the PP, Nietzschean or otherwise, is always already divided. I will extend this argument in the next chapter by showing how Freud’s masterplotting is ultimately divided with regard to the question of woman.

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Copyright 2000 by Eric W. Anders