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)?

No comments:

Post a Comment