Why Hegel is not Freud is not Lacan Pt. 2.
Negativity in Psycho-analysis
What is a person according to psycho-analytic theory? The answer, unfortunately, cannot be a neutral one. Just as any technical field of human knowledge requires technical definitions of its objects, tools and techniques psycho-analysis too proceeds through a stage of definitions. But, there is one marked difference in psycho-analytic theory: psycho-analysis is both a tool and a technique, and its object is to achieve or restore an individual’s capacity for affirming life as it really is.
What is life, really? Psycho-analysis cannot answer definitively—and does not purport to—for a variety of reasons. The idea that reality can be apprehended all at once, as naturally given to sense certainty, is anathema to psycho-analysis; yet, psycho-analytic realism is also innately conservative: it describes reality as the situations of life the way they are grasped by the common man, the reasonableness of everyday life and its institutions. This description of life, as that which is not fantasy, depends on a majoritarian index of the reasonable, the normal, the typical and the permissible. Freud allied his conservatism with a hope in the definitive progress of empiricism: the god Logos, he called his brand of reality.
It must be admitted that this description of reality is rather enigmatic; it offers no more clarification than does a myth for its queerness; the reality psycho-analysis appeals to is so wide as to preclude any positive description. To describe a real person from this view of reality would be to approximate a discourse proper to poetry, fiction or prophecy, not science, not philosophy. Accordingly, as a corrective to this tendency towards fantastic descriptions, psycho-analysis begins with scepticism as its first axiom or, as Freud pithily aphorised: “Where the id was the ego shall be”. All reality is a fabrication of instinct, but some ego-cathexes or fabricated realities are more tenable, scientific, and truer than other speculative truths.
The naturalism of Freudianism is eliminative. It describes reality after it has been shorn of delusion, intentional content and affective influence. Then, the vagueness of a consensual definition of reality as seen by society is overcome by psycho-analysis if only by a negative definition of reality committed to scientific verification. What is not scientifically demonstrable is suspect as fantasy, illusion, and pathology. Now, psycho-analysis can define a person: a person is a collection of symptoms that interact with the scientifically verifiable world. Accordingly, a religious person despite his education, occupational status, social capability and intelligence is neurotic because he is religious; a scientist is paranoid-obsessive if his overarching concern is to create a theory-of-everything because he presumes beforehand that such a theory is possible. Rather than be threatened with its rather tenuous descriptive power over a field of normative reality, psycho-analysis reduces the scope of positive description of reality to the range of demonstrable facts. This is both its epistemological merit and limitation.
Psycho-analysis is capable of calling the bluff on unfounded beliefs but cannot posit a positive description of reality. Each successive revision in scientific progress becomes one more ego-cathexis that approximates a total field of what can be called real legitimately. From this perspective psycho-analysis is an archaeology of the existing range of reality. It can explain how some symptoms are oriented towards the past and some symptoms are not compatible with the present situation and thus are gravitated towards a psychical crisis, or real life tragedy. The descriptions of psycho-analysis are essentially negative.
Then, how does psycho-analysis handle the idea of negativity qua negativity?
To conceive of the negative, in view of psycho-analysis, we must return to the idea of the negative in dialectics vis-à-vis psycho-analysis. Dialectics simply begins with the naïve sense certainty of reason that becomes capable of propositions by latching onto binaries of identity and difference, conformity and contradiction; then, by eliminating the non-contiguous or incompatible elements between these objects of consciousness; and, finally, by affirming the sum of what has been negatively described. Thus, the three stages of the Hegelian dialectic are uncanny analogues of the Freudian topographic triad of unconscious, preconscious and conscious. But the nature of this analogy is not determined in a compossible way. This is because psycho-analysis must question the very first instance of sense certainty with which the dialectic takes the liberty to begin a phenomenological account.
In the primary state of sense certainty we are in the domain of preconscious thought, by performing a reduction on sensory data by empirical verification we come to appreciate the gap between our expectations and reality. But, for psycho-analysis this movement has begun too prematurely; sense certainty is always suspect because we find it as a given. This is what Freud drives home using the idea of primary repression. The given sense certainty and our attitude towards it is not indicative of its veridical quality, after all satisfaction with what is perceived as reality is actually only a compromise-formation between the id, the superego and reality. But the suspicion of the psycho-analyst is also suspect for the same reason: it conforms to a knowledge it cannot have by definition. We must recall that there is no escape from the circular grip of Freud’s formulation: where the id was the ego shall be. Thus, we are led to reassess the claim of psycho-analysis against philosophy in light of its own inability to posit a positive description of what is reality without question begging.
If reality is a peculiar cathexis of the libido and the only way to be sure is to verify one’s beliefs scientifically it follows that there is no explicit teleological view in psycho-analysis. It can look behind and not forward because consciousness is redefined along the contours of empirical knowledge. Yet, because psycho-analysis must insist on looking behind it implicitly assumes that there is a reality which tends to escape consciousness; it believes this axiomatically, without empirical evidence. Thus, we have a paradox: the cogito which psycho-analysis calls into question is also constitutive of the psycho-analytical perspective; it cannot question its posited rationality-beyond-fantasy. Because psycho-analysis functions on the basis of suspicion it must believe in its a priori access to an inchoate gestalt of the whole truth.
The negativity of dialectical philosophy works by eliminating the contradictory contents of cognition and thereby effects a newer, more complete, synthesis. This movement of knowledge is akin to the development of science: hypotheses work as sense certainties extended into the realm of what is considered to be possible, or probable by the scientific community; then, conflicting evidence is understood to re-define the earlier assumptions; and, finally, new knowledge emerges as a new perspective on an earlier problem within the scientific community. This understanding of negativity cannot be taken as identical to the one espoused by psycho-analysis. For psycho-analysis the movement of scientific knowledge into the future by way of hypothesis is still a neurotic approximation of consciousness to an imagined reality, or ego-cathexis. Accordingly, the negative moment which separates facts from hypotheses in scientific practice become positive moments of ego-cathexis to the psycho-analytic theorist. Rather than look at the predictive value of hypotheses in the present moment the analyst must rely on his a priori suspicion to measure present hypotheses within older contexts of knowledge, and find them lacking in integrity until proven otherwise in the future. But this is absurd, for didn’t Freud profess the process of scientific illumination [Logos] to be the object of mature desire?
It is helpful, now, to remind ourselves of the peculiar nature of the Freudian reality principle. It is not just the influx and interpretation of stimuli available to consciousness, rather it is “…the truth of a personal history in a concrete situation” in relation to its fantastical elements. In this sense, it is not really the objective externality as it seems to the subject which is put to test against the id, the superego and the reality principle but it is the adaptation of the constitutive fantasy in accordance with the subject’s lived history. What this means is that we cannot look at the contingent developments of knowledge from a perspective that doesn’t take earlier historical developments in the state of this knowledge into account. Reality becomes, psycho-analytically speaking, the sum total of past facts of experience and the radical gap between what is now known, and what one subsequently hopes to do with this knowledge.
Reality is no less than a feedback-loop propelled by instincts and examined in hindsight, continually changing itself by self-reference and self-positing. Accordingly, what is conventionally thought of as the negative in the phenomenological perspective is no longer self-identical as the negative in the psycho-analytic scheme. Since the analytical gaze of the psycho-analytic session is situated in the present but derives its impetus and coherence from raking up the analysand’s past, the dialectical view of negativity is recast as a positive determination when seen from the analyst’s perspective. Therefore, the psycho-analytic notion of negativity involves a redefining of the present symptom, or facts of observation, into a meaningfully cohesive unity with the symptomatic past of the analysand. Simply speaking, the negative in psycho-analysis consists of positive descriptions of the present moment as they relate to the intentions of the subject in light of his previous adaptations to reality; the traumatic remainder between past experience and present action is psycho-analytic negativity. Rather than the speculative moment’s projective impetus which is available to the idea of the negative in phenomenology, in psycho-analysis the idea of the negative is determined in the subject’s relation to the aleatory contingency of his previous actions which have conditioned the present horizons of his reality.
To be continued.
Akhtar, Salman. (2009). Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac Books.
Beiser, Frederick, C. Ed. (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Ihde, Done. (2004). The Conflict of Interpretations. London, UK: Continuum.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. (2008). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd.
 “…[R]eality is first of all the opposite of fantasy—it is facts, such as the normal man sees them; it is the opposite of dreams, of hallucination”. Freud’s crypto-philosophy offers to call reality a god; the god Logos. This move is nothing but Freud inserting “…a bit of irony…in an ad hominem argument”. Available from <http://skepoet.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/psychoanalysis-psycho-dialectics-or-psycho-synthesis-or-why-hegel-is-not-freud-is-not-lacan/>.
 Beiser, Frederick, C. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
 “Phenomenology begins by with an epochȇ of objects given to consciousness as sense certainty, in the first stage of the dialectic. Psychoanalysis begins by putting this givenness of consciousness and its objects and the epochȇ of the conscious thinker into doubt. “…[T]he true situation of consciousness is discovered” to be the motivating principle Eros and its instincts which clamour for satisfaction through feelings and intuitions in the analytical movement of Psychoanalysis. But, the synthetic movement of the dialectic takes the absence of visibly motivating instincts in feeling and intuition to be a proof for reason’s right to “…self-determination”. The suspicion of psychoanalysis and phenomenology is directed towards entirely different aspects of conscious thought”. Available from < http://skepoet. WordPress.com/2013/03/01/psychoanalysis-psycho-dialectics-or-psycho-synthesis-or-why-hegel-is-not-freud-is-not-lacan/>.
 Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. (2008). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd.
 Akhtar, Salman. (2009). Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac Books. p. 52.
 Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Ihde, Done. (2004). The Conflict of Interpretations. London, UK: Continuum.
 Ibid. p. 184.
Posted on March 21, 2013, in anti-dialectics, conservatism, Ethics, History, Humanism, Logic, Psychoanalysis, Reviews, Skepticism, Uncategorized and tagged Aleatory, Fantasy, Freud, Hegel, Hermeneutics, Lacan, Negation, Paul, Psycho-analysis, Reality, Ricoeur, Sigmund, Speculative, Sublimation, Zizek. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.