Saturday, 7 June 2008

Baudrillard: Symbolic Exchange and Death

Theorist Jean Baudrillard writes:

Our entire culture is full of this haunting of the seperated double, even in its most subtle form, as Freud gave it in 'Das Unheimliche' ('The Uncanny': 'Disturbing Strangeness' or 'Distubring Familiarity'): the anxiety that wells up around the most familiar things. Here the vertigo of seperation builds up to its greatest intensity, since this is its simplest form. There comes a moment, in fact, when the things closest to us, such as our own bodies, the body itself, our voice and our appearance, are seperated from us to the precise extent that we internalise the soul (or any other equivalent agency or abstraction) as the ideal principle of subjectivity. This is what kills off the proliferation of doubles and spirits, consigning them once again to the spectral, embryonic corridors of unconscious folklore, like the ancient gods that Christianity verteufelt, that is, transformed into demons.

By a final ruse of spirituality, this internalisation also psychologises doubles. In fact it is interpretation in terms of an archaic psychical apparatus that is the very last form of the Verteufelung, the demonic corruption and elimination of the primitive double: projection of the guilt attached to the phantasmatic murder of the other (the close relative) in accordance with the magic of the omnipotence of ideas (Allmacht der Gedanken), the return of the repressed, etc. In 'The Uncanny', Freud writes:

Our analysis of instances of the uncanny has led us back to the old, animistic conecption of the universe. This was characterised by the idea that the world was peopled with the spirits of human beings; by the subject's narcissistic overvaluation of his own mental processes; by the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts and the technique of magic based on that belief; by the attribution to various outside persons and things of carefully graded magical powers, or 'mana'; as well as by all the other creations with the help of which man, in the unrestricted narcissism of that stage of development, strove to fend off the manifest prohibitions of reality. It seems as if each one of us has been through a phase of individual development corresponding to the animistic stage in primitive men, that none of us has passed through it without preserving certain residues and traces of it which are still capable of manifesting themselves, and that everything which now strikes us as 'uncanny' fulfils the condition of touching those residues of animistic mental activity within us and bringing them back to expression.
Freud, Sigmund p.240-1 The Uncanny in Standard Edition Vol.17

This is how psychology, our authority in the depths, our own 'next world', this omnipotence, magical narcissism, fear of the dead, this animisim or primitive psychical apparatus, is quietly palmed off on the savages in order then to recuperate them for ourselves as 'archaic traces'. Freud does not think this is what he said in speaking of 'narcissistic overvaluation of ... mental processes'. If there is such an overvaluation of one's own mental processes (to the point of exporting this theory, as we have done with our morality and techniques, to the core of every culture), then it is Freud's overvaluation, along with our whole psychologistic culture. The jurisdiction of the psychological discourse over all symbolic practices (such as the dazzling practices of of the savages, death, the double and magic; but also over our current symbolic practices) is even more dangerous than that of the economistic discourse: it is of the same order as the repressive jurisdiction of the soul and consciousness over the body's entire symbolic potential. Psychoanalysis's reinterpretation of the symbolic is a reductive operation. Since we live under the unconscious (but is this the case? Isn't it our own myth, marking out and even participating in repression: a repressed thought of repression?), we believe that we are justified in extending the jurisdiction of psychical history as we used to do with history itself, to every possible configuration. The unconscious, and the psychical order in general, becomes the insurmountable agency, giving the feudal right of trespass over every previous individual and social formation. This imaginary also spreads into the future, however: if the unconscious is our modern myth, and psychoanalysis its prophet, the liberation of the unconscious (Desiring-Revolution) is its millenial heresy.

Baudrillard, Jean pp.142-143 Political Economy and Death in Symbolic Exchange and Death

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