This week, we were treated to a rather bleak polemic on the Medium of Psychoanalysis and the Message of Pain, Suffering, Bleeding and Death. And, when you think about it, good ol’ Sigmund Freud wasn’t all sweetness and light.
Challenging McLuhan’s assertion that language is a medium, and hence, an extension of our self, Carveth suggested that language cannot be regarded as an extension of self, but rather a constitutive of self, that is, that which defines and shapes the self. All distinctions that enable one to recognize self from not-self (I am me; I am not my chair, desk or computer) are distinctions created by, and of, the mind. Hence, language – whether it be verbal of non-verbal – is the means whereby the mind creates the self as a distinct entity.
Realizing that Carveth is, admittedly, not a McLuhan scholar, he is, of course, left with the literal, early-McLuhan reading of the medium is the message, and the notion that medium is an extension, as separate from a constitutive. Regular readers will undoubtedly know that as Carveth described the relationship between language and the self, language is very definitely a medium (in the late-McLuhan, Laws of Media, sense), since it, in no uncertain terms, shapes us even as we shape it.
Psychoanalysis, according to Carveth, is a dialectic process that helps us discover the self as a distinct entity from all that we experience, including, as he puts it, the “pre-verbal self.” It is interesting to observe that this specific characterization – the non-integral, distinct separation of self from the world, and the fragmentation – are all characteristic effects of a hot medium. This should not be surprising, since the discipline of psychoanalysis was invented at the height of the dominance of the Gutenberg era (i.e. just before it began to head into reversal under electric conditions), characterized by industrialization and mechanization that exploded what was integral into fragmented, distinct bits. Carveth used allusions to the separation of the knower from the known, and words being used to distinguish among objects and an objectified self, somehow apart from our experience of self. Of course, to more modern and (I would prejudicially say, enlightened) thinkers, this conception is hugely problematic, and entirely characteristic of a chauvinistic, Eurocentric worldview. Little wonder, then, that Carveth’s remarks headed, from this point, towards oblivion and, well, obsolescence.
Carveth’s riff followed the path of Steiner, noting that we are “language animals,” and as such, able to create both the context of our life (the conceived world), as well as the context and conception of our own demise. Language allows us to transcend our animal nature to sociality, to become human. Through our language, we celebrate death “at the right time,” while death through “psychotic explosion” – violence and whatnot – is the reversal to animality.
Anyone with any knowledge of the social life of “animals” (not to mention their communicative abilities – viz. elephants, dolphins, primates, birds) would know that this line of reasoning is, quite simply, a crock of animal dung.
But Carveth persists: Psychoanalysis emphasizes the “wounds” (the gaps in our language-conceived self) from which emotion arises and flows, that Carveth likens to bleeding. The psychoanalytic process of dis-identification – a form of meditation that negates or sublimates the self – is necessary to understand these flows. He asks, can psychoanalysis and language be compatible? Psychoanalysis requires non-symbolic discourse (hence a variety of therapies have emerged) to break through our language-constructed self. What emerges – the “desymbolized” material – is converted to speech, and thence to self-realization, thereby reconstructing the self, now healed. Psychoanalysis must allow the wounds in the psyche to bleed and not to close, in order to permit the inevitable nihilism of psychosis to move from “death in life” to a life that learns to bear the “death-creating” functions of what is inevitably a slow process of assimilating negative emotions in the inexorable death march of our existence.
Psychoanalysis therefore teaches us how to live and how to die, and how to prepare for it, to bear our wounds (and our “crosses,” with many allusions to the relationship between the Judeo-Christian tradition of imposed and assumed guilt and the psychoanalytic process), and to ultimately accept suffering and death. To truly live, one must truly suffer.
No wonder psychoanalysts all see shrinks...