Desire and Knowledge: The Dead Seize the Living.
Elements of an organalogy of the libido.
By Bernard Stiegler.
Translated by George Collins and Daniel Ross.
The dead seize the living.
If there is a question that the philosophy of Marx did not address, although he acknowledged its crucial importance, it would have to be the question of the dead and the living.
This dead-end (impasse) of Marxist materialism goes down whole in that brand of popular materialism into which the questions dealing with so-called “cognition” so often issue. As the neuro-sciences made inroads, cognitivism, on top over the past twenty years, has made the understanding of the brain, especially via the work of Daniel Dennett, the heart of the question of knowledge. This theoretical paradigm is based on a series of suppositions that conceive of cognition as, essentially, a process of calculation as computation, with the computer as model.
For 15 years now I have taken pains to show that given the fact that the computer has not been analysed or even seen as a technical prosthesis by cognitivist theory, which, in a diametrically opposed view, refers to Turing in order to define it metaphysically as an “abstract machine,” what has in fact been neglected and repressed by cognitivism, as well as by philosophy as a whole, going back to Plato’s first gesture of thought, is the place of technics in general in life, technics as the condition of life that knows.
The mathematical theory of the abstract machine is a mathematical idealisation that excludes any genetic explanation of knowledge and above all, that excludes the possibility of thinking the machine: there are only concrete machines, that is to say, finite ones.
The brain is not an abstract machine, on the one hand because “abstract machines” do not exist, and on the other, because this organ is in no respect a machine: a machine is not a living organism, and therein lies its force. The brain is a living memory—that is to say a fallible memory, in a permanent process of destruction, constantly under the sway of what I call retentional finitude. This biological living memory is, however, only one memory among others: particularly alive, it is nevertheless nothing outside its inert memories—i.e., its technical memories: the essential point being the relation between what is living in the brain and what is dead in its technics qua memories.
The aim of my talk this afternoon is to focus on this relation between the living and the dead as constitutive of libido as well. This will be one entry into the question of a general organology as a global theory of living and artificial organs as well as of organisations. Within such a global theory, the question of knowledge, from its inception and considered genealogically, will then go down, in Nietzschean style, as a question of desire.
A major philosophical text of Plato, if there is one, must then certainly be The Symposium. Unlike almost all of the other platonic dialogues, this one establishes the question of knowledge as a question of passion. But here I will follow Aristotle’s Peri psukhès: the knowing soul is named noetic, and noesis is a modality of the relation to the prime mover, a relation constitutive of the passion of an emotion imparting motion, the cognitive motion moving the unmovable theos.
This thinking of knowledge as movement and emotion requires in turn a general organology, wherein sense organs, as thought by Aristotle, call for a logical and not only aisthétic organisation, which itself depends on symbolic organs that are also artefacts. This last point is obviously not to be found in Aristotle.
My concept of general organology would be rather the equivalent of Simondon’s mechanology, but in which the living is itself included in the totality of transductive relations. I call transductive relation a relation in which the terms are constituted by the relation. These relations connect the various types of artificial and living organs (including the brain) to social organisations in which they evolve and transform themselves, such transformations constituting processes of psychic and collective individuation in three branches: the psychic individuation, the social individuation, and the technical system as an artificial individuation itself composed of a group of artificial individuals. The study of these transformations is what I call a genealogy of the experience of the sensible. Knowledge is, strictly speaking, the experience of the sensible, which does not involve the animal world: the latter, in my terminology, does not have experience, for experience is what can be transmitted as the experience of the singularity of the sensible, that is to say, to the extent that experience is always itself singular and unexpected.
There is, therefore, a process of a triple psychic, collective, and techno-logical individuation, a recap of which can be found in my On Symbolic Misery: Vol. One: The Hyperindustrial Epoch.
- The I, as a psychic individual, can only be thought in relationship to a we, which is a collective individual: the I is constituted in adopting a collective tradition, which it inherits, and in which a plurality of Is acknowledge each other’s existence.
- This inheritance is an adoption in that I can very well, as the grand-son of a German immigrant, recognise myself in a past that was not the past of my ancestors, but that I can make my own; this process of adoption is thus, structurally factical.
- An I is essentially a process, and not a state, and this process is an in-dividuation (it is a process of psychic individuation) as the tendency to become-one, that is, to become indivisible.
- This tendency never accomplishes itself because it runs into a counter-tendency with which it forms a meta-stable equilibrium (it must be pointed out how close this conception of the dynamic of individuation is to the Freudian theory of drives, but also to the thinking of Empedocles and of Nietzsche).
- A we is also such a process (the process of collective individuation); the individuation of the I is always inscribed in that of the we, whereas conversely, the individuation of the we takes place only through those individuations, polemical in nature, of the Is making it up.
- That which links the individuations of the I and the we is a pre-individual milieu possessing positive conditions of effectiveness, belonging to what I have called retentional apparatuses. These retentional apparatuses arise from a technical milieu which is the condition of the encounter of the I and the we: the individuation of the I and the we is in this respect also the individuation of the technical system.
- The technical system is an apparatus which has a specific role (wherein all objects are inserted: a technical object exists only in so far as it is disposed (agencé) within such an apparatus with other technical objects: this is what Simondon calls the technical group): the rifle and more generally the technical becoming with which it is a system are thus the possibility of the emergence of a disciplinary society according to Foucault.
- The technical system is also that which founds the possibility of the constitution of retentional apparatuses, springing from the processes of grammatisation growing out of the process of individuation of the technical system, and these retentional apparatuses are the basis for the dispositions between the individuation of the I and the individuation of the we in a single process of psychic, collective and technical individuation (where grammatisation is a subset of technics) composed of three branches, each branching out into processual groups.
Several points must be added to this list:
- this process of triple individuation is itself inscribed in a vital individuation which must be apprehended by a general organology as the vital individuation of natural organs, the techno-logical individuation of artificial organs, and the psycho-social individuation of organisations linking them together;
- in the process of individuation constitutive of general organology wherein knowledge as such emerges, there are individuations of mnemo-technological sub-systems which over-determine, qua specific organisations of what I call tertiary retentions (I will specify the meaning of this term below), the organisation, the transmission and the elaboration of knowledge stemming from the experience of the sensible.
Techno-logical individuation strictu-sensu implements what Leroi-Gourhan called technical tendencies, in which the technical fact is the expression of a tendency (which the fact represents with more or less accuracy) and which is the result of two evolutive logics: that of the laws of universal physics, and that of the laws of human physiology. This result is not just an addition or conjoining of bio-physical forces: it is a transductive relationship, transforming and in the same stroke constituting the terms it places in relation to one another through the entity which is the ontogenetic product, the technical object: the latter is an interface between the inorganic domain treated by physics, and the organic domain studied in biology; and, in being both inorganic and organised, it is the site, in its morpho-genesis, of the original process of individuation, whose laws of evolution technology (meaning here the object of a science of techniques) aims to establish.
Now, this evolution transforms the human milieu and is in fact that evolution’s driving force. This does not mean that technical becoming determines this evolution, but only that it individuates itself in strict co-individuation with the psycho-social and vital structures themselves issuing from individuation. The concept of the technical system, invented by Bertrand Gille, opens up a thinking of this becoming qua
co-individuation. This concept sets up laws of evolution at the level of technical systems (equivalent to Simondon’s technical groups) within which loops of retroaction can be schematised, as well as diachronic and synchronic processes described, as in Saussurean linguistics, but above all, within which interfaces between the technical system and the other systems making up the total social fact can be conceived. General organology would then be the account of these diverse dynamics as constitutive of the process of global individuation, wherein, as for all dynamics, conflicts are played out, conflics that general organology as praxis
and not only as theoretical model, can tend to solve or to potentialise, especially at moments when the technical systems and the other systems constitutive of the social fact, due mainly to the speeding out of control
of technical individuation, encounter the movement out to their own limits, following the description of this expression by René Passet in L’Economique et le Vivant (The Economic and the Living)
:in a movement to a system’s outer limits, every system undergoes a modification of its mode of functioning:
- the limit of a saturation of needs
- the limit of the reproducibility of a natural resource
- the limit of rhythms of self-disposal.
The defining axioms of the system itself must then be modified. This constitutes what I will call a revolution—meaning here what points to and overcomes that which has run its course.
The brain, here, is an organ used to make decisions, an organ which, from the standpoint of this general organology, with regard to which such decisions can in fact be made, can only be understood as such—which is to say that decisions can be made with this organ only in transductive relation to other organs.
This organ nevertheless plays an especial role of regulation, and not only of decision: it is at one and the same time the seat of processes of regulation of the liver, for example, and the seat from which phenomena proper to consciousness as instigator of rules are constituted; and it is of course the seat of memory and of the unconscious, whence the experience of the sensible and of the singular constitutes itself and, through that experience, desire in turn. Can the brain be the seat of all that all by itself? Certainly not: insofar as the brain is the seat of the unconscious, that is, of desire, it is in a relation to other organs and to partial zones of the body in general through the mediation of technical objects outside the body. Furthermore, this relation to technical objects depends on, or rather is inscribed in, a relationship to social organisations, constituted by the other systems, and in which the rules of a superego inscribe themselves such that the brain has no other choice than to interiorise them without playing a part in their constitution.
The brain is, then, a particular organ in a circuit, which implies the liver for example, a circuit whereby interactions are produced, pleasure and a jouissance of the body—a circuit of desire, therefore, which is itself action, that is, a libidinal economy of affective relationships and instrumental practices under a horizon of technical artefacts and traces, works, etc., which constitute a social horizon of organisations that concretise social organisms themselves individuating a law.
Such a project is comprehensible only from out of an organology of memory as the history of what I have called epiphylogenesis. Briefly recapped, this concept highlights the fact that with the human living being, that is to say, the technical living being, evolution qua negentropic differentiation is no longer played out between only germinal and somatic memories, but is quite literally overturned by the appearance of a third memory, an artificial and objectal one, constituted by the “film” of technical objects, and through which, and only through which, as Leroi-Gourhan puts it, the “interior milieu” of the social-technical “cell” that makes up the human group is able to enter into relations with its “exterior milieu”—and here the reference is to Claude Bernard. I recall this point by way of insisting on the fact that the emergence of this non-living memory is also that which opens onto the Freudian question of the emergence of desire as a defunctionalisation of natural organs, or “organic repression” linked to the conquest of the upright position. As we shall see, the question thus posed is that of the relations between inside and outside—this question remains more than troublesome for Freud throughout his career, because he could not access the concept of epiphylogenesis or the question of what I will later call the group of tertiary retentions.
André Bourguignon and Cyrille Koupernik state that Freud’s initial project was to found a neurological theory of desire which would issue in a neuro-organology qua anatomy. As these authors state, “after Freud gives up on his Project for a Scientific Psychology, he had to give up the aim of localising psychic instances from either the first or second systems, in anatomical sites.” I hold that this abandonment results from Freud’s failure to think the prosthesis and the form of memory it makes possible.
Contemporary reflection in the neurosciences on the central nervous system, of which the brain is the organ, can only sustain itself by adopting the hypothesis of the historicisation of this organ. Freud well understood the necessity of this, but he failed to produce the theory: I will attempt in a moment the isolate the cause of this failure.
Let us begin with what Freud understood, and which is revolutionary although still overlooked. Freud understood, in particular with respect to the organ of olfaction (in his letters to Fliess as well as in Civilisation and its Discontents) that the physiological organology of the human body unceasingly transforms itself throughout the genealogy of what he calls libidinal economy, and whose starting-off point is clearly, for Freud, the conquest of the upright position. The human brain, as well as the human hand, the human foot, the human nose—every human organ—is constantly in a meta-state of functional re-definition. The organ is inscribed in a system which is first and foremost the organological system of the human body. But this organological system exists only within a systemic relationship with another organological level which is that of human prostheses, human artefacts: tools, instruments, techniques of all kinds, all of which become functional only within social functions whose dimensions are those of family, geographical system, system of law, etc., functions which are unified within social organisations: there are, thus, three organological levels. Freud could not have seen this.
The defunctionalisation of the human body and its functional redefinition, which is constantly taking place, is originarily related to the other two organological levels. In other words, the former does not pilot the latter. The defunctionalisation of the human body, which then is always also its re-functionalisation, must however be thought from out of the Freudian theory of the libido.
There is then a process of co-evolution of the brain, through the opening up of the cortical fan, that is to say, as the definition of cortical zones of the human neurological organ on the one hand, and, on the other, technical objects, and in particular, flint tools. This co-evolution is not piloted by biological evolution that would overdetermine or condition technical evolution: it is a co-determination, a reciprocal determination wherein technics nevertheless progressively gains the upper hand in the selection processes constitutive of the struggle for life, and which therefore overdetermine the evolution of the brain. In other words, the conditions of the brain’s evolution are more and more intricately correlated to the conditions of evolution of flint tools, which are themselves artificial organs, up to the point when, cortical evolution finally stabilised, the co-evolution between the technical system and the other social systems is modified. This is the moment of emergence of the socio-ethnic group and, along with it, the typical idiomatisation of psychic and collective individuation, which must be intricately correlated with the explosion of the organological evolution of artefactual technical prostheses. Is this the moment of emergence of the horde? However we answer that question, it is, according to Leroi-Gourhan, the moment of emergence of funereal and esthetic practices. From this moment on, a process of functionalisation of the brain is set in place, which is no longer piloted by the characteristics of the brain itself, and this is the moment when the brain terminates its opening up of the cortical fan and therefore stabilises itself, through the articulation of the brain qua living memory with technical prostheses qua dead memories, which from the Neolithic age onward will become mnemotechnical and calculating prostheses in the strict sense of the term. Thus an exteriorisation occurs, a defunctionalisation of the brain itself, similar to the defunctionalisation of the nose, the hand, and the foot. It is, of course, also a refunctionalisation.
In the process of hominisation, the hand is no longer a motor-function, but becomes a fabricator. As for the foot, it has a motor-function, of course, but now from the upright position, and above all, it now begins to dance. If Leroi-Gourhan can say that everything begins through the feet, Nietzsche adds that one must think with the feet. Many things would have to be addressed here. Suffice it to say that there is a defunctionalisation and a refunctionalisation of the brain that is inscribed in the becoming of technics, and which must be thought in relation to the becoming of social organisation: there is also a defunctionalisation and a refunctionalisation of the social. This is evident, for example, when you study the structure of the family and its evolution. This could be developed in a thousand other respects. Especially for language and beyond language, to all the supports of symbolic exchange. Finally, the historical and political becoming of the human IS this permanent social refunctionalisation, and nothing therein is understandable, in the final analysis, without being conceived as a genealogical apparatus of a libidinal economy. Technics and its translations in social structures constitute memory supports which are not found in the brain and without which the brain is nothing at all. Insofar as the social concretises this transductive relation between the dead and the living, it makes possible, through the constitution of collective secondary retentions, the acquisition of new knowledge which broadens in sweep through cortical connections that take place as interiorisations of these collective secondary retentions: there are neurological translations of these transformations, these enlargenings, these refunctionalisations, in the shape of connections which can very well be analysed from a neurobiological point of view. These operations of the brain are but the consequences, the traces of what is produced in essential and originary relation with the second organological level—technics—itself a system of traces, and the third organological level—the social—which selects among these traces that which is to be interiorised by bodies in the social body (le faire-corps), through what I call retentional apparatuses, and which constitute psychic and collective individuation in the strict sense of the term.
In 1905, several years after the publication of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, Husserl develops his concept of the temporal object in order to understand the temporality of consciousness, this system perception/consciousness—or system PC—of which Beyond the Pleasure Principle will say that it must be studied from the perspective of an unconscious itself atemporal in nature.
This conference represents the development of a conference I gave at the ICA in 1997, when I attempted to show that the Husserlian concept of primary retention could have redeemed Kant’s analysis of the three syntheses of the transcendental imagination, and therefore of the schematism. I would like to show this time that Freud encounters the very same problem. In order to do so, I must recall, briefly, the characteristics of the Husserlian temporal object.
A temporal object—melody, film, radio broadcast, speech—is constituted by the time of its flowing off, which Husserl names a flux. It appears only to disappear: an object passing away. Consciousness as well is temporal in this sense. A temporal object is constituted by the fact that, as the consciousnesses of which it is the shared object, it flows away and disappears after having appeared.
An I is a consciousness
consisting of a temporal flux of what Husserl calls primary retentions:
a primary retention is what a consciousness retains in the now of the flux in which it consists. It is, for example, the note resonating in the present note and the point of passage of a melody, where the preceding note is not absent but present, because it is maintained in and by this “maintaining moment” that in French is the “now.” The passing note constitutes
the following note by entering into a relationship with it, the interval. Another example: the word I have just pronounced primarily retains the preceding sentence so as to constitute the unity of my talk, etc. As phenomena that I receive
as well as phenomena that I produce
(a melody that I play or hear, a sentence that I pronounce or hear, a sequence of gestures or actions that I accomplish or undergo, etc.), my conscious life essentially consists in such retentions
. Now, these retentions are selections
: I cannot retain everything that could be retained
: in the flux of that which appears, consciousness makes selections which are actual retentions—should I listen twice to the same melody, my consciousness of the melody changes. These selections are made through filters that constitute the consistence of secondary retentions
, that is to say, the memories of former primary retentions, conserved in memory and constitutive of experience. The life of consciousness consists in such dispositions of primary retentions, filtered by secondary retentions, while the relations between primary and secondary retentions are over-determined by tertiary
retentions. By tertiary retentions I mean objects as supports of memory and mnemo-techniques, which enable traces to be spatially, materially and technically recorded.
Tertiary retentions are that which, like an alphabet, enables access to the preindividual stock of all psychic and collective individuation. They (the tertiary retentions) exist in all human societies: the aborigines’ churinga and mythograms in general are examples of tertiary retention, as are books and the web, which all condition individuation as symbolic sharing and distinction, made possible by the exteriorisation of individual experience in traces and as transmission.
This brief recap of Husserl’s theory indicates what has become the center of my work, because I believe that it was in his failure to understand the stakes of the discovery of primary retention that Freud got muddled, in his second system, in an inadequate comprehension of the relations holding between what he calls interior and exterior. Also, Freud cannot think the role of the technical prosthesis in the constitution of desire and the unconscious, and as the Wirklichkeit of libidinal economy, as that which may lead to this discontent at the heart of culture, that is to say, in epiphylogenesis, a motif that so worried him, and rightly, at the end of his life.
Primary retentions can modify the organisation of secondary retentions on the rebound from the primary selections in which they consist, and which take place following the criteria of already-constituted secondary retentions. A primary retention of course will eventually become a secondary retention. And in becoming one, it can either insert itself in the system of already existing secondary retentions—and in this case the former reinforces the latter, or it can upset the disposition of the latter: in this case a potential of individuation is unleashed in the existing secondary retentions but which has hitherto been repressed; in this case we are dealing with what I will call traumatypical secondary reflections. This corresponds, by the way, to Freud’s description, in Studies on Hysteria, of traces “concentrically set out around the pathogenic kernel.”
Secondary retentions can therefore be modified on the rebound by being themselves selected during conscious perception in two manners:
- Either as a re-inforcement of pre-existing expectations, virtually contained in the secondary retentions, and as protentions, the reinforcement consolidating the stereotyping of these expectations which become less and less liable to be surprised by the proto-expectations and arch-expectations of which they are, however, an echo. The latter being, then, what the standard expectations mask: they are then screen expectations, lure expectations—in short censoring screens, masking the relation to the drives embedded in the ego in traumatypical retentional forms.
- Or, precisely, by the integration on the rebound of the expression of the traumatypes through the primary selection taking place as primary retention, which leads to a upheaval of the organisation of the entire system of secondary retentions. These traumatypes are the positive echoes of the drive apparatuses and, as such, they cannot be incorporated by the PC system nor even by what Freud sometimes calls the pre-conscious. They can only be integrated providing they are trans-formed. This transformation is produced by a primary retention/selection, when it produces a significance, that is to say, the sur-prise of something unexpected affecting consciousness in such a way as to have it individuate itself, breaching a gap that Simondon calls a quantic leap. But this “unexpected” something was in fact expected: it was, but it was repressed. The freeing of the unexpected is therefore the freeing of a repressed expectation.
In the first case (repression and reinforcement), there is an accentuation of the power of synchronisation of consciousness, and in the second case, there is on the contrary diachronisation, that is to say, the experience of the schize. Here is where Deleuze and Guattari would have entered in opposition to Freud. But failing a thinking of retention, I do not consider that they succeeded in offering a convincing critique.
Within memory, the traumatypes are outlined, encircled, con-cernés (as we can say in French—let’s say implicated in English), and thereby contained by the stereotypical secondary retentions. There is a contention in retention, a content in what is retained, of which the traumatypical “kernel” is literally detained: placed in secrecy or solitary confinement. The stereotypical secondary retentions thus form a first kind of secondary retention; the second type is constituted in the traumatypical secondary retentions: the latter result, not from a re-inforcement of existing expectations—I call this comprehension—but from a sur-prehension of these expectations. Comprehension is the reduction to the identical, and the sur-prehension is the experience of the other—that is, the experience of the singularity of the sensible.
This is the experience of significance, in which the experimented, as a temporal phenomenon undergone by the perception/consciousness system, all of a sudden explodes the expectations held together by the stereotypical secondary retentions, and opens a path, for example as a joke, but more generally as all works of spirit. With the advent of this path, the traumatypical power of the repressed secondary retentions can resurface, in the form of what Proust calls an anamnesis: the return of a former traumatype which, returning as a ghost, as a spirit, for example in the form of a joke, itself echoes the arche-protentions and arche-retentions (originary phantasms and primal scenes) that constitute the apparatus of drives, as it took on singular form in the singularity of the traumatypes of a particular ego.
However, this traumatypical “resurfacing,” which also comes out of firstly a pre-individual stock belonging to the ego (proto-protentions and proto-retentions) and lived by it, and secondly, out of a stock shared by all desiring living beings, but which has not been lived by them (arch-protentions and arch-retentions of what Freud’s second system calls the id—but this is also what Levinas calls the absolute past as the past which has never been present). Such a resurfacing can only happen providing the presence of conditions made possible by the historic state of tertiary retentions, that is to say, both the defunctionalisations and refunctionalisations presupposed and empowered by tertiary retention. Thus Hitchcock can inscribe a cinema of quite powerful, original and popular protentions.
Therefore, we can have two possible experiences of primary retention understood as primary selection effected following the criteria formed in secondary retentions: this results in either the reinforcement of dominant stereotypes, or their being called into question by the traumatypes present in the ego, in the form in these traumatypical secondary retentions hidden by the stereotypes, and which are activated by the temporal phenomenon which happens to the PC system and by the cathartic stroke of genius of retentional organisations in which it consists. It can also happen that this cathartic stroke of genius only takes place in deferred time, due to another phenomenon: this is the case of Proust’s madeleine, of involuntary memory, but also, I believe, of platonic anamnesis.
It is from the perspective of this retentional upheaval that Freud’s sentence can now be highlighted:
We describe as “traumatic” any excitations from outside which are powerful enough to break through the protective shield. It seems to me that the concept of trauma necessarily implies a connection of this kind with a breach in an otherwise efficacious barrier against stimuli. (“Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Standard Edition, vol. 18, page 29.)
Now all of this, that is, the traumatic which would appear to come from the exterior as a means of defense which would be on the interior, can only be constituted by secondary retentional apparatuses. The traumatism of the exterior is but the basis for the projection of a traumatype conserved in the interior but embedded in it and prevented from becoming conscious by the stereotypes, except when a pre-textuality causing primary retentional processes allows for the sudden freeing of the process of projection. Freud cannot see this: he is unable (just as Kant is unable) to distinguish between primary retentions and secondary ones. He must therefore oppose the inside and the outside.
Freud once again, on page 24-25 of the Standard Edition:
All excitatory processes that occur in the other systems leave permanent traces behind them which form the foundation of memory. Such memory-traces, then, have nothing to do with the fact of becoming conscious.
However, the Freudian definition of the system PC, which should be described as the site of constitution of the primary retentions that the primary selections are and as the depository in the other systems of new secondary retentions, runs here into the same problems as those of the Project for a Scientific Psychology. The system is unable to retain them. That means in this case that the system effaces them as they occur, which implies that the system PC is a temporal system. For those of us who have read Husserl, however, this means that its functioning consists precisely and necessarily in an aggregation of primary retentions that become secondary as they are produced, that is to say, they disappear in memory, passing into another system. This is why Freud adds:
The excitatory process becomes conscious in the system C. But leaves no permanent trace behind there; but that the excitation is transmitted to the systems lying next within and that it is in them that its traces are left. (ibid. p. 25.)
This downward direction of the system C toward neighbouring interior systems is very metaphysically unilateral:Freud does not see the horizon of expectation constituted by the secondary retentions in a state in which, charged traumatypically, they engage a dynamic that picks and chooses in the primary retentions of system C (depicted, as Freud specifies, in the schema shown in the speculative section of his The Interpretation of Dreams). Here we meet once again with the question of the evanescence of the flux, that is to say, the aporia of primary retention, which is an aporia only as long as one cannot distinguish primary from secondary retention in a process in which it passes from primary to secondary:
The system Cs. is characterised by the peculiarity that in it (in contrast to what happens in the other psychic systems) excitatory processes do not leave behind any permanent change in its elements but expire, as it were, in the phenomenon of becoming conscious.
Freud adds then a description of traumatypical secondary retentions:
[such memory traces] are often most powerful and most enduring when the process which left them behind was one that never entered consciousness. (page 25.)
But the system PC cannot conserve such remains, for if it could
they would very soon set limits to the system’s aptitude for receiving fresh excitations.
Impossible not to agree. But there are, nevertheless, primary retentions, and tertiary ones, and given that the secondary retentions must be identified as either stereotypical or traumatypical, the question of projection must be entirely rethought, and the opposition between interior and exterior destroyed: this is what I am attempting in this review of the question of libidinal economy with regard to a general organalogy.
Freud, who sets the system PC off from the rest of the psychic apparatus, situates it between an “interior” and an “exterior” as the surface of the system, and he postulates that
such an event as an external trauma is bound to provoke a disturbance on a large scale in the functioning of the organism’s energy and to set in motion every possible defensive measure. (ibid. page 29.)
Now, the organism cannot be affected by an exterior traumatism except when it is expected, except when, being protentially charged, it is touchable, affectable by this exterior traumatism that is already within it, and that is thus not totally exterior. Otherwise, either it would not be affected by it, or it would be simply destroyed. Freud nevertheless continues his description of what I consider constitutive of the incorporation of traumatic primary retentions/protentions (produced by the traumatypical secondary retentions) following a scheme Derrida described with the term différance, but which constitutes for me what Simondon described as the process of internal resonance in which consists the process of individuation:
There is no longer any possibility of preventing the mental apparatus from being flooded with large amounts of stimulus, and another problem arises instead—the problem of mastering the amounts of stimulus which have broken in and of binding them, in the psychic sense, so that they can then be disposed of.
In my own terms, the question becomes that of the way in which the psychic system, as a process of individuation, will tend to synchronise itself in a struggle against its own diachronicity, which occurs in the event of a pretextuality of the outside. What Freud cannot see is, as Aristotle says, that the act of the sensible is also the act of whom is sensible (à reprendre): the “outside” is produced by the “inside.”
Mallarmé thought, wrote and poeticised:
For the mediate, without traces, becomes evanescent.
If the brain can be placed in a vat, the question is one of the vat’s fracture. There are all manner of vats, and the brain, via the body, has always been in a kind of vat. The body of that whereby the brain is interfaced with this vat, and the vat is that which configures the organisations and apparatuses in which a libidinal energy flows, whose organisations and apparatuses making up the vat, and forming its bottom and sides, or the more or less fluid milieu, are not simply means, but actual constituting elements, tensors and transductors, in the guise of retentional apparatuses whereby the psychic, the social and the techno-logical co-individuate through their transductive relations.
As for the Freudian topographical system, it suggests that the unconscious must be localised, for example in a sub-cortical area, which is totally absurd. The unconscious is nowhere else than consciousness: it is a mode of being in a network, an organisation of networks which constitute the unconscious as so many metastable equilibriums, that is, equilibriums precariously established around these knots(organisation qui fait que dans ce reseau il y a des rets qui constituent de l’inconscient selon des équilibres métastables, c’est à dire précaires, établis autour de noyaux). And as for the inherited material basis binding these knots together, which Freud will later call the it/id (Et quant au fonds hérité que Freud nommera ensuite le çà, et qui relie ces noyaux), this is not only a biological apparatus, despite what we are led to believe in the Outline of Psychoanalysis: it is a retentional apparatus, one part of which is living (the brain), but this part is, however, nothing without the dead part—which Lacan names the name of the father, killed by the knife of the primal horde risen up against him, so that he may then return as a spirit.
This last point receives particular attention in Technics and Time, vol. 4
. Symbols and Diaboles, or the War of the Spirits
, forthcoming from Galilée.
René Passet, L’Economique et le Vivant
, Economica, 1996, pp. X-XII.
Primary retentions enter into relations. For example, in a melody, notes in arpeggios forming interval or chords, or, in a sentence, semantic and syntactic links.
Freud then picks up again his analyses in Project for a Scientific Psychology
, but in a certain state of confusion: “the elements of the system Cs. would carry no bound energy but only energy capable of free discharge. It seems best, however, to express oneself as cautiously as possible on these points.” Caution is indeed necessary here, because Freud is making a serious error. He does not realize that, primary retentions being also primary selections, they always already encounter tensions and pressures that are constituted by protentions formed by the secondary retentions qua
horizon of expectation. Freud does not see this at all.
I believe Freud is wrong in presupposing that “the pleasure principle is for the moment put out of action.”