The Philosophy of Complaining

The outraged traveller, the disappointed gourmet, the lazy tweeter, the postoffice grouser: there are as many complainer genres as there are varieties of neurosis or flavors of potato chips. Everyone’s a critic, but what possible theory can unite these diverse types? What could carping and griping, lamenting and whining, tell us about subjectivity itself?

InterCcECT welcomes Aaron Schuster to lead a mini-seminar on the art, science, and pleasure of the complaint. We’ll read selections from his book The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis, and his recent essay “Primal Scream, or Why Do Babies Cry? A Theory of Trump,” along with an excerpt from InterCcECTer Adam Kotsko’s book Awkwardness.

Join us Tuesday 18 April, 4:30-6:30pm at Volumes BookCafe 1474 N Milwaukee Ave (Blue Line: Damen). Coffee, booze, and snacks available amid the great indie book selection.

To request the readings, contact us.

Also on our calendar:

11 April “Designing Infrastructure”
13 April Jared Hickman, “Black Prometheus”
21 April Rodolphe Gasche

As always, get in touch to propose events, and follow us on facebook for frequent links and updates.

Notes on Freud’s metapsychological papers

Since September, Stephen Keating and I have been exacerbating each other’s investment in Freud, libidinal or otherwise, on a weekly basis. This weekend, we talked about Gismu’s papers on metapsychology.


What is metapsychology? You might think that it simply means the meta-theory of Freud’s psychology, i.e., a theory that deals with its fundamental assumptions. I think it’s something else, though. I think of it as the meta-theory, not of Freud’s, but rather of his contemporaries’ psychology.

Continue reading “Notes on Freud’s metapsychological papers”

Adventures in Translation: Besetzung

The issues around Strachey’s Standard Edition of Freud’s works are much discussed–Besetzung being an exemplary case. It was rendered “cathexis.” This has several disadvantages, not least of which that most people have no idea what it means. However, finding a suitable alternative is not as simple as pulling out one’s Oxford-Duden. Our reading group is working through Formulierungen über die zwei Pinzipien des psychischen Geschehens and here is our best attempt to make sense of a particularly difficult passage. I’ve put Besetzung in bold:

“An Stelle der Verdrängung, welche einen Teil der auftauchenden Vorstellungen also unlusterzeugend von der Besetzung ausschloß, trat die unparteiische Urteilsfällung, welche entscheiden sollte, ob eine bestimmte Vorstellung wahr oder falsch, das heißt im Einklang mit der Realität sei oder nicht, und durch Vergleichung mit den Erinnerungsspuren der Realität darüber entschied.”

The standard edition has:
“The place of repression, which excluded from cathexis as productive of unpleasure some of the emerging ideas, was taken by an impartial passing of judgement, which had to decide whether a given idea was true or false – that is, whether it was in agreement with reality or not – the decision being determined by making a comparison with the memory-traces of reality.”

Our translation:
“Repression—which works by excluding certain emerging ideas from occupying [the mind], because they would result in unpleasure—was replaced by an impartial act of judgement, which works instead by deciding whether a particular idea is true or false—that is, whether or not it agrees with reality—a decision made by comparing the idea with the memory-traces of reality.”

I believe that the new Penguin translations use investment, but that doesn’t seem to capture the action that Freud is describing in this paper. The solution here was proposed by Simon. What do you think?

Fall Reading Group: Freud’s Psychologie des Unbewußten

71rJO8twa0LI’m eager to undertake a reading project in order to consolidate my German skills and have decided upon Freud’s Psychologie des Unbewußten (Amazon link). There are two potential options for this reading group: Online via Google Hangouts (or some other medium), or somewhere local in Manhattan/Brooklyn. The group would probably meet every other week beginning in September, but we can be flexible based on what the participants decide.

If you’re interested, let me know in the comments.

Living Thought Book Event: Other “Italians”?

Roberto Esposito’s Living Thought is a strange hybrid of a book. On the one hand, it’s an extremely erudite and yet readable history of Italian philosophy, but on the other hand, it’s also a creative and constructive work of philosophy. The burden of the argument is that there is something about the Italian experience of the late and never fully constituted arrival of a nation-state that allowed for the development of a style of thought that sits askew relative to the mainstream discourses of modernity — and that this is the reason for the contemporary success of Italian thought under the conditions of globalized late capital. He proceeds by pointing to a series of distinguishing traits that mark the tradition of Italian thought from its beginnings in Bruno, Vico, and Machiavelli: an ambiguous relationship to the question of “origin,” resulting in a curiously bi-directional concept of history; a mutual “contamination” of philosophy with other discourses and practices; and an emphasis on immanence and life.

Continue reading Living Thought Book Event: Other “Italians”?”

Drives and Drive-Fates

One of the most valuable parts of my summer seminar (which just ended yesterday) was that it gave me a chance to really work through Freud’s key texts on the drives. The one that has stayed with me the most is Triebe und Triebschicksale (Drives and Drive-Fates), which is normally translated “Instincts and their Vicissitudes.” The inappropriateness of “instinct” as a translation for Trieb is widely acknowledged, but what about “vicissitudes” for the puzzling “drive-fates”? As Eric Santner observed, “vicissitudes” has etymological roots in the area of the “vicarious,” and Freud does talk about how drives can substitute for each other, so basically there’s some justification — but at the end of the day, Freud seemingly uses “Schicksal” (in the meta-psychological writings and elsewhere) as a technical term for what one might call the “outcome” of drive-dynamics, and I think that “vicissitude” just doesn’t work for that usage. More importantly, though, really dwelling on the notion of “fate” has helped me to understand better what’s going on with drives, and the English translation, by covering up the systematic usage of “Schicksal,” likely never would have led me to the same insights.

To get at Freud’s concept of fate, we should look to Freud’s own favored point of reference in Greek tragedy: Oedipus Rex. Continue reading “Drives and Drive-Fates”

Ontogeny and phylogeny in Freud

One thing that has jumped out at me in my recent study of Freud is his interest in the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny. He really wants to be able to extrapolate from the personal histories of his patients to the origin of the human race — and in fact, he even attempts to go back to the origin of life itself in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. I had always had the impression that Totem and Taboo was a later work, more or less marginal to his project, but it was actually published in 1913, toward the beginning of his period of greatest theoretical productivity. What’s more, he cites it near-obsessively in the later works.

Sometimes it can seem as though he believes that the fate of drives that was formed after the murder of the primal father is more or less “directly” passed down in some kind of quasi-biological way. The more “sensible” hypothesis would be that the structure is passed along through the process of socialization, yet the inheritance can seem just as unavoidable. And then of course there’s the matter of how the project of Moses and Monotheism fits in here — if all human culture is structured in this way, why can it make a difference that the Jews in particular repeated it in their own particular history?

Consider this an open thread. What do you think is going on with the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny in Freud?