Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy

This initial post about "Freud and Philosophy" is going to be short for two reasons: 1) This book is a beast, and I'd prefer to purposefully leave things out and keep it short than try to cover everything. It clocks in at 550 pages, and there is not much filler (or the whole thing is filler, I can't decide). 2) It was written (or given, really, because it's a collection of lectures) as a follow-up piece to "Symbolism of Evil," and a proper treatment of it should be written with that work, which I have not yet read, fresh in mind.

The Book is split up into three sections: 1) Problematic (wherein Ricoeur lays out Freud's challenge to his own project of developing a hermeneutics of symbols) , 2) Analytic (wherein he reads publicly just about everything Freud ever wrote), 3) Dialectic (wherein he brings philosophy to bear on Freud and answers some questions he raises in the Problematic).

In Part I, the Problematic, Ricoeur introduces points he covered in "Symbolism of Evil:" he defines a symbol as "a double-meaning linguistic expression that requires interpretation," and interpretation as "a work of understanding that aims at deciphering symbols" (9). "Symbolism of Evil," I gathered, explores symbols and interpretation from the side of religion, in terms of the restoration of meaning that we work through when confronted with a kerygma (proclamation) or message. In this kind of "phenomenology of the sacred," we are essentially interested in the religious "truth" of symbols. When we hear "deciphering" and "double-meaning," however, we should also think of its exact opposite, the "hermeneutics of suspicion" that goes along with the "demystification of illusions" one finds in the works of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, the "masters of suspicion." He takes all hermeneutics to be an unwieldy combination of the two, opposing projects, of "a willingness to suspect and a willingness to listen" (27).

I'm not going to talk about Part II, the Analytic, because it's way too long and basically just an explanation of Freud. Philosophical development/work happens in this part, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that Ricoeur was probably just "reading in public," working through alot of Freud's stuff for the first time and preparing himself for a full encounter.

In Chapter 1 of Part III, the Dialectic, Ricoeur distinguishes psy-A from scientifc psychology on the one hand, and phenomenology on the other. Despite "operational reformulations" of psy-A (attempts to make it more scientifc), it will never be so, because the reality that it aims at is interpreted, not observed. The compare and contrast with phenomenology is a bit more interesting. He compares them on 4 points: 1) phenomenology is a reflexive discipline, and psychoanalysis is not (dubious), 2) phenomenology has no real Cs/Pcs/Ucs distinction, only a much less weighty conscious v. "unconscious" distinction, 3) there are infra- and supralinguistic phenomena in psy-A (primal repression, for instance) which do not exist in phenomenology, 4) intersubjectivity in psy-A is defined around the work of transference, a concept absent from phenomenology.

In Chapter 2, "Reflection: An Archaeology of the Subject," Ricoeur says "the philosophical place of analytic discourse is defined by the concept of an archaeology of the subject" (419). This is his first attempt to place psy-A in relation to philosophy. The primary philosophical lesson that psy-A has to offer us is that "the ego is not the master of his own house;" psy-A thus "wounds" and "humiliates" us in uncovering instinctual drives behind supposedly rational processes.

Before developing the consequences of psy-A's reduction to instinct for philosophy, he takes a few moments to confront a philosophical challenge to the theory of instincts, which is that if they are unknowable, how can we say they are at the root of everything? He proposes that we understand that instincts in terms of Kant's divide between empirical realism and transcendental idealism: we can be empirical realists about the knowable instinct representatives and transcendental idealists about the unknowable instincts themselves. He takes it that this "solves" the problem of how we know the instincts.

He then moves on to demonstrating the philosophical benefits of viewing everything in terms of the regressive nature of the instincts: for instance, psy-A demonstrates that the foundation of morality (the victory over the Oedipus complex) bears the archaic marks of fear and thus has the function of both preparing the way for autonomy and blocking it off at an archaic stage (449). In the field of language, psy-A demonstrates the potency of desire in speech. For Ricoeur, the philosophical upshot of the unconscious is to impose a limit on any linguistic transcription that would claim to be without remainder (454). In this sense, Ricoeur disagrees with Lacan: the unconscious is not language but the drive to language, the drive behind expression.

In Chapter 3, "Dialectic: Archaeology and Teleology," Ricoeur wants to show that a full philosophy can be gathered from psy-A, because every arche implies a telos (459). Freud himself, however, always warned that psy-A is not to be completed by a psycho-synthesis (460). Ricoeur nonetheless believes there is an implicit and unthematized teleology in psy-A (461), and to demonstrate this, he goes to the master of teleology: Hegel. He takes it that the phenomenology of spirit and psy-A could not be more opposed on certain things, but nonetheless uses Hegel's categories to draw out the implicit teleology of Freudianism: 1) analyst and analysand are like master and slave: the point of analysis is a rising of sick consciousness to the level of healthy consciousness, and inasmuch as this is the case, analysis has a goal (something that probably could have been said without Hegel), 2) identification: I'm not sure whether Ricoeur brings in identification (the union of "desire to be like and desire to have" (479)) to say that getting beyond its regressive tendencies constitutes a telos or whether identification itself, in that it allows for the subject's maturation, is itself an end. 3) sublimation, an obvious choice when defining a Freudian telos. Ultimately, Ricoeur says, everything comes down to Freud's basic formula in the Introductory Lectures, "Wo es war, soll Ich werden." The slow conquering of the id is the telos of psy-A.

Chapter 4 of Part III, the last chapter of the book, "Hermeneutics: The Approaches to Symbol," is supposed to be the philosophical payoff of this book, but it reflects the winding and comprehensive nature of the book itself (in other words, know that the following summary is my attempt to tie together something that might not be itself completely tied together).

The domain of symbols is marked by two horizons, one of regression, one of progression, one where faith degenerates into idolatry (object worship), one where the mytho-poetic function renews symbols and keeps culture from being a huge artifact. The work of creation in the symbolic is a work of culture, of sublimation, of the categories of Kantian anthropology (having, power, worth (507)) mixing intersubjectively and producing new relationships to self, other and world (thus new symbols (508)). But in order for that creation to take place, one needs to take out the garbage that is piling up on the other end of the symbolic: this involves a critique (demystification) of idols and illusions. The hermeneutics of suspicion is thus necessary for the health of religious life: "idols must die so that symbols may live."

(Side note: the interpretation of symbols recognizes a wholly other because it takes seriously evil, an impossibility in absolute knowledge. Hermeneutics thus forces us back from Hegel to Kant. I don't know what this means precisely, but Liane, you might be interested in this section (527)).

In this light one can reread and soften Freud's critique of religion: analysis does shed light on the birth of idols, but it has no way of deciding whether idolatry/illusion is all that faith is (533). "Analysis can reveal to religious man his caricature, but it leaves him the task of meditating on the possibility of not resembling his distorted double" (533). All of Freud's figures can be read in two lights: is the founding act of the social the fraternal conciliation or the perpetual repetition of parricide (535)? Is the father figure himself only important insofar as he returns as repressed or can we see him in his creative function, as a name-giver (542)? Is religion just a product of fear or of consolation as well (548)? Is reality (in Freud's sense, not just an observable field but the world of men and thing as they appear as objects of desire) something that one has to resign oneself to (i.e., give up one's pleasure for), or is it also something one can wholly love (550)?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Concept of the Political

Carl Schmitt, 1932
Translation George Schwab. The University of Chicago Press, Expanded Edition.

Main Thesis: “The concept of the state presupposes the category of the political” (19). “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy” (26). OR: The political is defined by the friend-enemy distinction, which is neither metaphorical nor allegorical, but, rather, a fundamental antithesis, like that of good and evil, that invariably divides concrete people in two by creating the possibility of war. Though the political distinction doesn’t invariably lead to war, the enemy is the Other who always presents the possibility of conflict. The state is the political entity, which is to say, the state is the sovereign entity that has the power to declare an enemy. The friend-enemy distinction can never be escaped and constitutes the political as such.

Schmitt begins by interrogating traditional definitions of the state, which usually make reference to a geographically isolated group of people. The footnote suggests - and this seems logical - that Schmitt has in mind here the relatively modern nation states, and not the Greek polis or the feudal states. The political, he claims, is a word we tend not to define clearly in itself. Typically, we use it for polemical purposes, as part of some sort of binary (the political and economy, the political and morality, etc). While such usage may clarify the matter at hand, it does little to explain what the political is in and of itself. Indeed, if we do push a little farther in that direction, the closest we come is to the idea that the political is something that pertains to the state, why the state is something political. Needless to say, Schmitt finds this a useless tautology. (Is a ‘useless tautology’ a tautology?) Similarly, most juridic literature eschews defining the political, conceiving it as an adjective that functions within the stable framework of a state.

The instant that the state and society begin to commingle, so that previously neutral regions of culture, such as religion, become affairs of the state, and the affairs of the state become integrated into culture, the naive equation of politics to the state becomes hopelessly useless and deceptive. Schmitt is thinking particularly here of the ‘total ‘(i.e. Totalitarian) state (22).

Here Schmitt in the Expanded Edition inserts a helpful note. His analysis, it turns out, takes as its backdrop a progression from the absolute state of the 18th century, to the noninterventionist (bourgeois) state of the 19th, to the total state of the 20th. Political theory for him in the 19th century is a gradual process of collapsing the state into culture, which had originally been held distinct. This book, I think, ought to be read as Schmitt’s polemic against the classical liberalism of the preceding era, specifically with its privileging of the bourgeois/private sphere. The desire to be a ‘private citizen,’ to shield oneself from political decisions and the reality that the political consists necessarily of the friend-enemy distinction, which is to say, the possibility of war against a concrete set of individuals, is for him deplorable naivete.

At its base, the political depends on the friend-enemy distinction. As it can’t be reduced any further or traced back to other distinctions, it holds the same status as other couple, such as good-evil, beautiful-ugly. That is to say, the enemy doesn’t need to be defined in any of these other categories as ugly or evil or so on, though he frequently is, of course. The category of the enemy is autonomous. He has his own ontological status. He is, “the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible” (27).

The possibility or necessity of conflict with an enemy can never be decided by a neutral, third-party observer, or by some external norm. Only the participants can decide if the enemy intends to negate his way of life and, whether or not, as a consequence, the enemy must be attacked.

Schmitt goes on to stress the concrete, existential meaning of the friend-enemy distinction. It is not an allegory or a metaphor, he’s disinterested in moral or normative evaluations of the concept, and refuses to engage with the utopian hope that such a distinction might disappear. He’s interested in the pragmatic, and this pragmatic truth is that the enemy is only ever public. The enemy is hostis, not inimicus. (I have a sense that this is an important distinction when reading Schmitt scholarship). Thus, in Latin, “love your enemy” is “diligite inimicos vestros,” not “diligite hostes vestos” (29). Loving your enemies only makes sense in a private sphere, when talking about a relatively circumscribed notion of the enemy. The Bible, Schmitt claims, never suggested that we should love our political enemies.

“The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping” (29). The state, then, is the entity that decides on the friend-enemy distinction. Party politics are political insofar as they weaken the unity and identification with the state.

Inherent in the notion of the enemy is the possibility of combat. “War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy” (33). That is not to say, Schmitt argues, that the political can be reduced to war, or the existence of an enemy demands his annihilation. No particular policy necessarily follows from the friend-enemy distinction; neither pacifism, nor imperialism, nor militarism. War is not “the continuation of politics by other means,” but war does always presuppose that the decision has been made about who counts as the enemy.

Enemies don’t have to be eternal; alliances may shift, bringing together different combinations of tensions. A world without the possibility of war would be a world without the friend-enemy distinction and, hence, a world without the political. That’s not to say that there might not be other tensions, but only the friend-enemy antithesis has the meaning and power that requires men to kill and be killed.

Other antitheses - religious, moral, economic, ethical, and so on - may become political if it’s a sufficiently strong distinction that allows the grouping of humans according to the friend-enemy distinction. Thus, religious persecution is no longer simply religious; it’s political. All other antitheses are always subordinate to the friend-enemy distinction of politics. The political distinction, by its nature, is always the most extreme distinction. If a political entity exists at all, it is always the “decisive entity.” It is “sovereign in the sense that the decision about the critical situation, even if it is the exception, must always necessarily reside there” (38).

Schmitt concedes that the theory of the omnipotence of the state is transparently a secularization of theological concepts about the sovereignty of God, but goes on to argue that none of that matters - genealogy, in effect, has no use for critique. The question is always this: is there a group capable of deciding who is the enemy and, by extension, if we are to go to war with him? If so, that is the political entity, and all other distinctions are subordinate to it. Pluralism or federalism, in effect, is a way of eliding the reality of the sovereignty of the political entity. This political entity is, typically, the state. The state, then, is the one with the power to declare war.

Moreover, the state has the capability to declare an internal enemy, and every state, in addition to naming an external enemy must declare an internal enemy during times of crisis in order to survive. Think of this as the capacity of the state to charge someone with treason or, in cases of civil war, to combat internal dissidents. Families can also declare enemies, but in a narrower sense, not that of hostis. Such internal feuds, though, like that of warring clans, must be subordinate to the political conflict in times of war.

War can only ever be justified by the claim that it is being fought against an enemy. As Schmitt argues, “To demand seriously of human beings that they kill others and be prepared to die themselves so that trade and industry may flourish for the survivors or that the purchasing power of grandchildren may grow is sinister and crazy. It is manifest fraud to condemn war as homicide and then demand of men that they wage war, kill and be killed, so there will never again be war. War, the readiness of combatants to die, the physical killing of human beings who belong on the side of the enemy - all this has no normative meaning, but an existential meaning only, particularly in a real combat situation with a real enemy” (49).

Any treaty that claims to make war illegal always implicitly contains exceptions regarding the eventuality of being attacked. These exceptions are what give the treaty meaning. It’s impossible for private citizens to ever disown the state’s declaration of the friend-enemy distinction. To claim that one has no enemies does not dissolve the distinction; rather, it simply places the private citizen outside of the state, as an enemy.

It would be “ludicrous,” Schmitt thinks, to believe that a defenseless people somehow has only friends. If a people lacks the strength or will to defend itself, it cannot count on its enemies disappearing or somehow being touched. Nor can a people hope to bring about a utopia by evading the political decision. Politics will never vanish; “only a weak people will disappear” (53). (A disturbing paragraph).

The political entity always presupposes other political entities. Humanity can’t have a political enemy, because it includes the totality of all men. To declare a group an “enemy of humanity,” then, is a rhetorical move, designed to declare the enemy a universal outlaw and to deprive him the possibility of being a human.

Schmitt is also skeptical of the League of Nations, thinking that it, in practice, simply transfer the right to declare war from a state to an alliance. He also argues that all political theory presupposes an anthropology that designates man as evil and dangerous. Because the political always starts form the possibility of the enemy - i.e., the possibility of war with a dangerous Other - it would be nonsensical to believe that any theory of the political could start from an anthropological optimism. In this, Schmitt sees a connection to theology. A man, he thinks, ceases to be a theologian the instant he stops thinking of man in need of redemption.

Concepts such as justice and freedom, Schmitt argues, are mainly forms of propaganda, used to legitimate one’s position vis a vis the enemy. The canny observer of politics will, however, always be able to recognize the true friend-enemy distinction beneath any such rhetoric, and, in turn, realize that when combatants reproach him for cynicism for saying as much, that those combatants are merely employing their rhetoric and reproaches as one of the tools of the political.

The end of a people is always presaged by the unwillingness or inability to recognize the enemy. Thus, the aristocrats in the French revolution, right up until the end, propounded a sentimental view of the peasant as “by nature good.”

Schmitt basically ends with a critique of liberalism - which wants to depoliticize the political - by reemphasizing his major point: “State and politics cannot be exterminated” (78). He claims to be living in a time when liberal rhetoric, that terms the enemy a “disturber of the peace,” has come to dominate. We no longer want to name the enemy as such. Nonetheless, as always, groupings - economic and otherwise - continually emerge that have the possibility of becoming friend-enemy groupings. There will always be an enemy and nothing can escape the logic of the political.