Gifford, James. "Otto Rank and American Imago." Presentation. English 567:
Freud, Lacan & Zizek. 7 Apr 2001. Online. 2 Nov 2001.
http://www.ualberta.ca/~gifford/textszizek.htm. Date you read this page.
Otto Rank and American Imago
Gifford, James. "What is Zizek so Afraid Of? Exemplification Against the Existential Hordes." j_spot: Journal of Social and Political Thought 2.2 (2003): n.pag.
And also in:
---. "Annaud's Enemy at the Gates: 'Die Schreckenspforten, die Not und Tod'." Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness: An Inter-Disciplinary and Multi-Disciplinary Journal 2.1 (2003): n.pag.
Please refer to the more complete version at the site above if you wish to cite this paper.
My presentation will focus on Otto Rank's place in American Imago, as well as the implications of how he is discussed and more importantly, not discussed. After considering Rank's (mis)representation in the journal -- given his role in psychoanalysis and disagreement with several of the more contentious issues that carry across our readings of Freud, Lacan, Zizek and American Imago -- I will be briefly outline the nature of Rank's alternative views on the reality principle and anxiety, as well as theory itself as a 'neurotic' construction of order. This will focus inward on our course readings through a comparison to our Freudian and Zizekian readings on the reality principle and death drive, as well as the alternatives this offers for reading culture. For a common background, I will relate these materials to Zizek's articles "There is No Sexual Relationship" and "Death and the Maiden." While I will not sarcastically claim that Zizek is a Rankian, I do believe Rankian issues are present in his texts. Please voice your (dis)agreements!
Rank, who may be familiar to you from footnotes to Freud's works, was the secretary to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and, with Hans Sachs, the original editor of Imago. His break from Freud with the publication of The Trauma of Birth (1924) was more emotionally shocking to the psychoanalytic community than Freud's earlier break with Jung, and after a temporary reconciliation Rank permanently left mainstream psychoanalysis over differences in regard to anxiety, the client-centred Theory-Therapy conflict and his favouring of the will or ego over instinct models. This break was so bitter that the American Psychoanalytic Association required re-analysis by an orthodox Freudian for all of Rank's analysands. When Rank died in 1939, from heart failure due to medication for a minor throat infection, Ernest Jones published an obituary claiming Rank was mentally ill, and died institutionalized since he could not live after Freud's death. Moreover, since Rank died in the same year as Freud and the first year of the publication of American Imago, he never had an opportunity to publish his challenges to Freudian orthodoxy in this journal. I am making available (given interlibrary loan speediness), in the Salter Reading Room, other examples of his publication of such articles in related journals, such as The Psychoanalytic Review and The International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
My central contention is that the problems Rank articulates in regard to the Freudian sense of anxiety and the reality principle are not addressed in the special issue of American Imago that is dedicated to him, which with the exception of Kainer focuses on his pre-1924 Freudian works. This oversight is common to the entire journal, even when subjects indebted to Rank's earlier works are discussed by other analysts. A secondary problem is the misrepresentation of Rankian material, such as was present in "How We Create 'Fathers' and Make Them 'Sons'" (12.1) that we read a few weeks ago. Returning to our primary course materials, Zizek does not discuss Rankian challenges to the reality principle or death drive. Given the significance of these two concepts to his reading of culture, this oversight seems problematic, and it is made further contentious by Zizek's seemingly willful equating of 'need' with 'must' and the assertive 'will' with instinct or drive. Please feel free to look for these problems in the two articles by Zizek mentioned above, or look for ones I may have missed! Also, do you see these challenges to Zizek as problematizing his reading of culture, and what alternatives do these challenges imply?
Primary Readings (handouts in class, extras in Salter Reading Room):
Supplemental Readings (a brief sampling of how Rank differs from Freud, Lacan & Zizek, so pick anything that catches your eye. All in the Salter Reading Room. I'm placing 3 'free' copies on a first-come first-serve basis, otherwise you'll have to make your own copies):
Text of Presentation
(this is very rough and comprises my notes. I hope to stray from the notes extensively, as discussion leads us)
"Within the overall framework of the orthodox psychoanalytic tradition, Lacanian psychoanalysis is without question 'the worst,' a total catastrophe, but as soon as we compare it one by one with other theories, it appears that none is better" (29). I'm posing the problem them Zizek never allows us to compare within his works, as he suggests here. Against what is Zizek's form of Lacan the 'better'? What if we naïvely ask to be shown? For the master of exemplification, Zizek is oddly silent. I'm hoping to use this problem to frame my survey of Otto Rank's place in American Imago and the turning of this discussion back to our readings of Zizek.
The last quarter of the century has seen a resurgence of interest in the works of Otto Rank through a variety of channels. Rank is discussed extensively in Anais Nin's diaries, which were not published in an unexpurgated form until well after his death, and Ernest Becker's Denial of Death draws on Rank extensively. Also, Rank's major works have come back into print in English translations, new translations have appeared of both his early and late works, a new biography has been written, and transcripts of his American lectures were published in 1998. Despite this renewed interest, Rank remains marginal to mainstream psychoanalytic discussion and is virtually ignored in American Imago. My suggestion is that Rankian theory asks hard questions of Freudian theory, which are equally applicable to our readings of Zizek. I'll roughly be dividing the discussion into a coverage of Rank's place in American Imago, the basics of Rankian theory that challenge the analysis of culture and the role of the death theme, and lastly I will try to engage the class in discussion regarding how these issues are or are not significant and supplemental to our investigation of Zizek. Moreover, I hope that we will be able to relate this discussion to earlier presentations.
For American Imago, it is important to first point out that Rank was a central figure in the original Imago, co-editing it with Hans Sachs. He published the first literary use of psychoanalysis not written by Freud, and from 1911 on he was the editor for nearly all of Freud's publications and republications until 1924. During this time he was also the editor for Internationale Zeitschrift and in 1919 became the first director for the Verlag, the first psychoanalytic publishing house. Up until 1929, nearly all of Freud's book-form publications in German were printed with added chapters by Rank, and Rank was intimately involved in the extensive revisions to The Interpretation of Dreams. After his break with Freud, these chapters were excised from all further editions, although the editorial notes and collaborative revisions remained. Given this extensive influence, is it not strange to find Rank nearly completely forgotten in the American rebirth of the journal he co-founded? To draw on a Freudian and Rankian theme, I want to ask what aspect of paternity this omission is denying? Moreover, Peter Rudnytsky, who wrote one of the articles we are reading, is one of the long-term editors of American Imago, and reminds us in other publications that Freud claimed "among the strictly scientific applications of analysis to literature Rank's exhaustive work on the theme of incest easily takes the first place" (History 37). Rudnytsky continues to argue as recently as 1992 that "this judgment remains true today. In its encyclopedic erudition, interpretive brilliance, and theoretical cogency The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend is the greatest and most important single work of psychoanalytic literary criticism" ("Introductory Essay" xx). If this is true, is it not then odd that in a journal seemingly dedicated to the analysis of culture and literature in particular, that Rank plays such a marginal role and is so often misrepresented when he does appear?
Peter Rudnytsky "Rank: Beyond Freud?" (41.4) – Perhaps we can begin discussion by individually addressing the articles I gave as readings. For Rudnytsky, the first question I would like to ask concerns the title. If the article is a questioning of Rankian theory and whether or not it moves beyond Freudian theory, where in the article do we gain an insight into just what Rankian theory is and the weight of its disagreement with Freudian orthodoxy? Rudnytsky, who is effusive in his praise of Rank's pre-1924 work in other essays and introductions, stays well away from addressing Rank's later independent work, and relies on biographical details and psychoanalysis of Rank as a person. Is there a problem in this deferral? Also, have we seen this tendency to psychoanalyze the motivation for a challenging of the status quo, rather than actually address it as a challenge? Moreover, while Rudnytsky points out the biased accusations of mental illness that came from Abraham and Jones, he also gives the intimation that Rank experienced "psychological difficulties" (337) and did not undergo analysis. In doing so, he does not address Rank's contention that these types of accusations "say... nothing of the truth or value of" (336) his works. On pages 338-339, Rudnytsky also discusses the subject of Rank's exclusion from discussion in psychoanalysis, describing this as a problem of the "disjunction" of Rank's Freudian and post-Freudian works as well as a situation where if "Rank's thought is inimical to psychoanalysis, the latter cannot be blamed for ceasing to retain an interest in it" (339). Does this argument hold up as reasonable once we have a basic understanding of Rank's critique of psychoanalysis. Rank himself, contrary to Rudnytsky's argument which precedes the recent major biography, continued to publish and lecture on psychoanalysis up to his death, and while he was a harsh critic of Freud, he did not abandon the field as useless, but instead claimed that it simply needed to go further than it had.
R.G.K. Kainer "Art and the Canvas of the Self" (41.4) – Kainer's article begins turning to the problems that Rankian theory poses to Freudian orthodoxy, especially surrounding the issue of the reality principle and anxiety over death (death-fear). The most salient points of difference argues by Kainer are -1- "the removal of creativity from the domination of the sexual drive" (359), -2- "the removal of 'self' from the domination of destructiveness inherent in Freud's death instinct" (359) and -3- the relationship of both of the above to "the need of the human spirit to conquer the knowledge of the necessity of death" (359) through what may be termed 'immortality' or 'causa-sui' projects.
Ernest Becker "Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard" – Becker presents the rich notion, developed by Rank in the final chapter of his posthumous Beyond Psychology, that for Freud psychoanalysis was so effective in replacing immortality pursuits (culture, civilization, religion, the love object, etc...) for the very reason that it is itself Freud's immortality pursuit. Rank argues, and Becker quotes, "Just as [Freud] himself could so easily confess his agnosticism while he had created for himself a private religion" such that his "psychological system, which was supposed to be the result of scientific empiricism, has been received and taken up as an ideology fought for and against with a zeal only comparable to that shown in religious wars" (Beyond 272). This concept is very closely linked to Rank's division between therapy and theory, involving the adamant view of theory as essentially suppositional; echoing Nietzsche's dictum on the ego in The Will to Power, Rank stated "there are no facts. The 'facts' are interpretations, and it is with those that we have to deal" (American 246). Becker also clearly outlines the aspect of Rankian theory, intimated in the Kainer article, concerned with fear rather than sexuality. I won't elaborate this, since I think Becker states it very clearly, but do want to address any questions that I am capable of answering. Moreover, the end of the article turns to the question of religion as a response to mortality. What is not explained by Becker, in this chapter, is that Rank had begun working on this relationship between religion and the ability to cope with the pain and finitude of existence in 1929 with his work Psychology and the Soul, which may be more accurately translated as "Soul-Belief." The premise of the work is the wordplay between 'psyche' and 'soul,' which are the same word in German. Essential to the conceptualization of the mind, here, is the placing of it outside of corporeality, and it is this conflict between corporeal existence and the human being as a symbolizing animal that Rank focuses on as a primary problem. As Becker colourfully terms this problem, man is an angel who shits. The end of the article points more toward Marcuse's notion that "the brute fact of death denies once and for all the reality of a non-repressive existence" (Eros 231), rather than an actual religious agenda, as may be read as implied. Convenient to this reading is the fact that Becker had met with Marcuse at Simon Fraser University not long before his death, and even though Marcuse does not appear in Denial of Death (1974), he is referenced on this exact subject in Escape From Evil, which was left incomplete at the time of Becker's death. Perhaps to add some poignancy, I should mention that Becker was dying of cancer at the time he wrote both books, and openly acknowledged their role to him as an immortality project.
To further elaborate this questioning of the possibility of reading a religious agenda in Becker, and likewise in Rank (or Becker's description of Rank's works), I'll draw on Camus' assertion that "to fight against death amounts to claiming that life has a meaning, to fighting for order and for unity. (Camus 100). This is more accurately the situation that Becker outlines in his complete work, where such order and unity is not only anxiety-allaying, but is a needed construction of a reason to resist what one fears. This is aligned to the quotation of Rank borrowing Nietzsche's dictum on facts versus interpretations, such that the creature is given a state of fear, and how can one make sense of resisting the force that one fears without constructing a reason to resist it. The ties to existential philosophy become more prominent here, but are somewhat outside my focus.
Given this outlining of Rank's theories and historical place in psychoanalysis, what is interesting about his placement in American Imago, both in how his work is described and how it is not taken up in discussions where I personally think it is highly relevant?
Harold Feldman "How We Create 'Fathers' and Make Them 'Sons" American Imago 12.1 (1955), 71-86 – This is not one of our 'assigned' readings, but was part of Myrl's presentation. If we all remember the article, to what extent does the use of Rank as an antithesis to Freud's Totem and Taboo work in the context of Rank's works that we are now forming? Moreover, does the aligning of Rank to Carl Jung seem reasonable? Feldman calls Jung "[Rank's] predecessor" (76). Lastly, Feldman's argument relies on a supposed opposition between his reading of the succession from son to father and back to son, as opposed to the 'Rankian' son alone. This Rankian son-focus is contradictory to my reading of Rank; however, given the material in the Becker and Kainer articles, how might we reread Feldman's description of Christ "in the form of the Triune God,... becom[ing] the Father God himself by playing the part of the inseparable son contained within the father" (77) who must then be punished? I am going to suggest that this is much like the issue of self-authorship that Rank saw as behind the incest theme, and a psychological means to overcoming the mortal 'bodilyness' described in Becker.
Jay Watson "Guys and Dolls" American Imago 52.4 (1995), 463-503 – Remembering back to our reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Jay Watson takes up this work in a reexamination of the fort/da game played by the child. Watson suggests that this game of Gone/There may be read as doubling an assertive "Be Gone/Be There" and re-enacts the birth scene, with the toy representing the child and the child representing the mother; the two tied together by an umbilical string. By placing the game within the crib – where "translucent tissues, and hidden chambers offer a symbolic topography of the female body, and in particular the body of the mother, whose own inner chamber houses a tenant" – the child is reenacting his own birth, and gaining mastery over it. That which is technically outside his control, like the departure of the mother, becomes symbolically 'chosen' and therefore within the compass of the will, hence birth, physicality and the departure of the mother are no longer agency-denying, since they are willed traumas.
Watson also clearly aligns the mother's body and the birth act as "the subject's first conscious intimation of mortality" (488), especially emphasizing the absence of the mother implicit in the fort/da game and the physical fact of birth separation. In this context, "fort/da figures an ambivalent process of submitting to and resisting death" (488). In this, the mother is privelaged as "trope for death" (488).
This leads Watson to argue "these shifting representations, which signal the advent of cultural and symbolic behavior in the infant subject, allow the ego to evolve mature responses to the psychic trauma of mortality while dealing with that trauma at several removes. The emerging self can thus proceed with the business of living without being paralyzed by the fear of dying" (488). I will add that this process of signification acts in this repression/domination of death anxiety (first encountered as the separation of birth) within a context of agency through the game, hence the symbolic order. Watson seems to argue that this symbolic order is developed as a denial of the paralyzing fear of death, which is first encountered through the trauma of birth. This is precisely the theoretical agenda forwarded by Rank in The Trauma of Birth in 1923, but Rank is not mentioned anywhere in this paper. Given that the article was published in 1995, and Watson's citation of Elizabeth Bronfen and Norman O. Brown, it is unlikely that he is not familiar with this challenge to Freudian anxiety and the death drive, first raised by Rank.
Watson also rewrites Freudian theory along the divide between Rank and Freud, turning Freud into a Rankian, oddly enough. He writes "the Freud of the death instinct... recognizes that all human gestures of mastery and will, including his own, are at best stall tactics, destined to play themselves out beneath the shadow of the unmasterable fact of death. This Freud is more willing than at any earlier point in his career to acknowledge the central place of helplessness and indeterminacy in the human condition" (498). As the history of psychoanalysis tells us, Rank was ejected from the womb-like shelter of the psychoanalytic movement for these very thoughts: the role of object-relations in the centrality of the mother, the primacy of fear (of death) over libido and dominance of the pleasure principle in motivating a 'stall tactic' against death. >The second aspect that I would point out is that the "unmasterable fact of death" and the active will as a "stall tactic" (498) are both simplifications problematized in our reading of Zizek on the subject of suicide, where I will argue that active willing is not a stall tactic, and that by encompassing death, the will symbolically masters it.
Madelon Sprengnether "Reading Freud's Life" American Imago 52.1 (1995), 9-54 - mentions On The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement and the breaks from Freudian orthodoxy, but does not mention Rank. Is this because of a lingering resentment, which seems unlikely, or because the initial counter-reaction was so strong that he is no longer considered or known? Moreover, the article states "If, however, we assume with Lacan that no one, including the exemplary Freud, can pretend to unmediated self-knowledge, then a host of habitual responses in regard to both theory and biography comes into question" (24). This contention was a part of the break between Freud and Rank, but was deepended by Rank's vehemence "that human knowledge is the product of subjective understanding, which eventually led him to challenge a deterministic point of view in psychology" (Barbre 251). Moreover, in regard to therapy, "truth is not static nor is it the expression of universal absolutes; nor can it be confined to a given tenet except momentarily. Following Nietzsche, Rank stressed that truth is as variable as the infinite variety of individuals who strive to express and perpetuate themselves creatively through the psychological birth of innumerable unique selves; and this striving dynamic emanates from the force of life itself, the will." (Barbre 252).
Furthermore, Sprengnether argues "Both [Jones & Gay], for instance, regard the death of Freud's father as the precipitating (and determining) event in the profound psychic labor that issued in the formulation of the Oedipus complex. While this explanation appears to be satisfying on an emotional level, it does not make sense at every step. It is not clear, for instance, why feelings of jealous rivalry and hostility should be the only ones to suggest themselves through the process of mourning, nor why their discovery should provide significant relief." (26). What can we read here from Rank's theory of mortality and the creation of ordered systems to appease anxiety over death?
Paul Ferris Dr. Freud: A Life (1997) – Ferris' recent biography on Freud mentions Rank only in passing; however, it is troubling that these references are similar to those made by Ernest Jones and come without citations to the source. In referring to the management of the Verlag, he overlooks Rank's direction of the publishing house and instead describes "operating details, left... to... mainly Jones and Rank" (340). The extent of the internal break of the committee surrounding Rank is summarized in the sentence "Jones... allegedly call[ed] Rank (thought not to his face) 'a swindling Jew'" (345). This is compounded by a story that when Freud's cancer was finally revealed, Rank burst into a parapraxis of laughter when Freud's name was first mentioned; however, this does not hold to Lieberman's biography which cites letters from Schur to Rank – Freud's secretary and doctor, respectively, at the time – revealing the cancer days before Freud was even informed of it. In the primary discussion of Rank, under the title 'Defections,' Rank is summarized as "calmly announc[ing] that what lay behind neurosis was the shock of being born and the consequent fantasy of returning to the womb, the lost paradise. Therapy should be directed accordingly. Without the need to rake through memories, a sharp dose of analysis lasting a few months would do the trick" (347). I'll first ask if this seems to be in agreement to the readings that we have done, and secondly ask whether the assertion of a birth trauma, not shock, as a theoretical concept behind therapy is different from the Freudian insistence on revealing the Oedipal conflict? The last mention of Rank in the biography states "Rank had a manic-depressive psychosis. 'We have to bury him,' said Freud, and the movement vilified him for decades" (348).
A last note should be made to the rumours, which have even appeared in the introduction to the diaries of Anaïs Nin, that Rank had instructed her to sleep with her father. While Nin did seduce her father, the pianist, this occurred before she first met Rank in Paris. Moreover, it is 'common-knowledge' in all the biographies that I have cited, that Rank and Nin had an affair while she was under analysis by him; however, this again has a faulty timeline. The affair Nin describes in her diaries occurred after analysis had ceased, and Nin is unreliable in her reportage, which is a combination of biography and fiction. She describes them occupying the same boat on a trip to America, but they in fact were on different voyages, separated by weeks. While Rank did analyze Nin, the affair is not mentioned in his own works. Nin also worked as his secretary, but apparently did not analyze his patients, as her diary claims.
My suggestion regarding Rank in American Imago is that he occupies a marginal position due to the challenging nature of his works, and that a large part of the overlooking of even his Freudian work is due to the tendency not to cite 'defectors.' If we reinscribed Rank's questioning of the role of fear, anxiety and sexuality, where does this lead us in our considerations of culture?
Rank places anxiety as the 'kernproblem,' beginning at parturition and developing into the awareness of mortality. In our readings, Becker answers this question of reanalyzing culture succinctly. He argues that great anxiety resides in the child's "discover[y] that he has a fallible body, [and contemporaneously] he is learning that there is a whole cultural world-view that will permit him to triumph over it" (Denial 164). This is the function and purpose of culture, to overcome this anxiety surrounding the lack of agency in separation, corporeality and mortality. He makes a similar statement more plainly in his posthumous Escape From Evil, where he claims "culture itself... embodies the transcendence of death in some form or other" (4), and hence is a means to overcoming anxiety or fear, but this "self transcendence via culture does not give man a simple and straightforward solution to the problem of death; the terror of death still rumbles underneath the cultural repression" (5). Within this Rankian framework of culture and the formation of a symbolic order to evade the fear of death, what can we make of culture and our reading of culture through Zizek? What are we inclined to think of the traumatic kernel and the mucous-like, fleshy 'Real'? Why do the most graphic aspects of the fact of corporeality fit this 'Real' so effectively as an image?
Again, Becker answers this question most succinctly. If the "definition of culture... is that it continues the causa sui project of the transcendence of death... [then] man helps secure his own domination... because of his fears" (Escape 126). Returning to the Feldman article from Myrl's presentation, the father-son succession is itself another aspect of this causa sui project, and therein explains the submission to punishment in order to preserve this cultural immortal self. Moreover, turning to an issue familiar from Zizek, while drawing on Rank, Becker argues that scapegoating is one part of this heroic system against death, either through projection of a threat to the death-denying cultural system onto the scapegoat, or where transference is a "reflex of the fatality of the human condition" (Escape 127) to invest oneself in a 'higher' object that transcends the individual limitations. Moreover, this attaches itself to Zizek's contention that "the true enigma of the sacrifice does not reside in the magic efficiency of scapegoating, of sacrificing a substitute other, but rather in the readiness of the subject effectively to sacrifice himself/herself for the cause" ("There is No" 194). This cultural cause to which the subject is ready to sacrifice themselves is a form of cultural transcendence for the Self that has been constructed as incorporeal, and to which the corporeal sacrifice is a bargain.
Before progressing directly to a rereading of Zizek, I would like to specifically ask how this reconsideration of transference, anxiety and culture influences our understanding of the reality principle?
Bakker, in the Journal of Social History argues that "Freud was challenged to treat fear by the publication of Rank's The Trauma of Birth (1923), but that fear as a concept was never integrated into orthodox psychoanalysis. Freud criticized Rank's challenge in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926) and a decade later in Analysis, Terminable and Interminable" (Bakker "Meaning of Fear" 383), but doesn't solve the problem. Bakker further argues that it is now other fields that have explored fear to a more useful degree.
Scapegoating is herein seen as an aspect of projection, whereby the threat to the cultural immortality project is projected onto the scapegoat, who is sacrificed. In the etimology of the word, the scapegoat was the sacrifice on behalf of the community for the expiation of sin. If we are reading religious systems as a means to denying the fact of death, which corporeality brings home so effectively, then sin equates to the susceptibility to death, which the scapegoat prevents. In addition to this defense of the cultural transcendence against the controllable threat of the scapegoat (the scapegoat is always something manageable that stands in for the true threat), the scapegoat may also be read as a personification of death itself, who is then controlled and destroyed. In a Rankian description of war, not only is one destroying the threat to the death-denying cultural system, but one may also kill death itself in the same act.
If we are also to consider sexuality in the context of a challenge to the assertion of incorporeality, as the reading from Becker does, how does the reality principle become reworked in the repression of sexuality and punishment of the body? If the body is the region of death, and one must maintain that the self is not subject to death, then the self is not of the body, and likewise sex is not of the self. Moreover, in controlling or repressing sex, what do we then read as being the real repression? Death? Can this be a refutation of the primacy of the pleasure principle by another instinctual level, or is it a subtle movement between the instinctual pleasure principle and consciousness-centred anxiety? In the same vein, flagellation, sadism and masochism can be seen as the denial of the finitude that the body represents, just as the tendency to repeat becomes a willful mastery. In Rankian terms, anxiety over death-consciousness is the Kern-problem that is denied, while death itself is mastered through aspects of projection, transference as an attachment of the self onto that which is symbolically beyond death, and the creative willing of the inevitable so that it is symbolically within one's control rather than denying one's agency.
Out of curiosity, how could we read misogyny in this model? If 'Woman' is the container for male physical fantasy, then what does she come to represent that must be contained, controlled or even destroyed? Is she, in this context, a mixture of fantasy and anxiety to be worked on and worked over?
We may not all agree on the 'correctness' of these assertions, although my intention is not to state their truth (if such a thing can be discussed in theory), but rather to stir up debate over the assumptions in the texts. These challenges are not clearly addressed by Zizek in our readings, or at least not that I have detected. Moreover, I will assert that Zizek himself makes statements that imply these aspects of Rankian theory, but he does not expand on them or work them into his general claims. More specifically, he manipulates such statements into support for his project through suspicious synonyms and examples.
In "Death and the Maiden," Zizek claims that in the film Leaving Las Vegas, Ben's decision to end his life through an endless drinking binge is not a surrender to his instinctual rebellion against life, but is the manifestation of his "liberating act of decision" ("Death" 209), which I read as taking willful control of his inevitable addiction and demise through the positive act of willing it. As with the child, patient or war neurotic who repeats a prior experience of unpleasure for the sake of gaining mastery over it, Ben is gaining mastery over the inevitability of his death and the uncontrollability of his addiction through the active willing of it as a "liberating act of decision" ("Death" 209); hence transposing him from a passive participant in his own destruction to an active master of it. For Otto Rank, this move is described as the transition from creature to creator and is the means to accepting the inevitable without being crushed by its agency-denying and ego-denying nature.
Zizek has described the reality principle via Freud, claiming "For Freud, the death drive is not merely a decadent reactive formation - a secondary self-denial of the originally assertive will to power, the weakness of the will, its escape from life, disguised as heroism - but the innermost radical possibility of a human being" ("There is No" 190). Herein, he shows his affinity for viewing the self-destructive turn as utterly separate from the desire of the ego, the individual will and the pleasure principle; however, this 'radical possibility' may be read alternatively in the sense of rebellion. The concept of the death drive as a rebellion or the "innermost radical possibility of a human being" ("There is No" 190) is contradicted by the possibility of viewing such an act (self-destruction or flagellation) as a manifestation of the will to power over these inevitabilities of the human condition.
We need to distinguish between the two possible contingencies where the death drive is either a true instinctual drive to destruction or alternatively a willed choice against the inevitable. The need for this distinction is also dominant in the article from which the above quotation is taken, "There is No Sexual Relationship," and this problem parallels that which is seen in Ben's suicidal will. Not only is the will to power--in Ben's case manifested as the will to mastery over his inevitable finitude and addiction--precisely not a rebellion against the 'normative' condition of the pleasure principle, it is exactly the opposite of the "innermost radical possibility of a human being" ("There is No" 190). It is a completely conventional behaviour and conformity to the human drive for mastery over his circumstances, such as exemplified in the pleasure principle.
How then, can we turn these conclusions back to our discussion of Zizek's equating of the inevitable with the necessary and the issue of the death drive in his readings of the three films in "Death and the Maiden"? For the answer, I will turn back to a second article: "There is No Sexual Relationship," where Zizek discusses Wagner. He claims:
'This is everything we have to learn from the history of mankind: to will the inevitable and to carry it out oneself.' Wagner's precise formation is to be taken literally, in all its paradoxicality - if something is already in itself inevitable, why should we then actively will it and work towards its occurrence, one might ask? This paradox, central to the symbolic order, is the obverse of the paradox of prohibiting something impossible (incest, for example), which can be discerned in Wittgenstein's famous 'What one cannot speak about, thereof one should be silent' - if it is in any case impossible to say anything about it, why add the superfluous prohibition? The fear that one would nevertheless say something about it is strictly homologous to the fear that what is necessary will not occur without our active assistance. ("There is No" 192; quoting Cord 125)
What subtle manipulation is the reader led through here? We begin discussing death and the active willing of it, which we have earlier discussed as Freud's primary difficulty in addressing the reality principle in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where he claimed this issue must be confronted before the tendency to repeat could be properly understood as not an aspect of the will, but of instinct. Zizek's mention of the will in Wagner is also derivative of the unmentioned Nietzsche and the under-mentioned Schopenhauer. From this point, Zizek closes further questioning of the death drive itself by claiming that prohibiting the impossible is done in order to allay the fear that the inevitable (which is again somehow synonymous with the 'necessary') might not occur. Fearing that what one needs will not be provided is a much different situation from fearing that the destructive inevitable will occur, and that one has no control over it. We can draw a closer distinction between these conceptualizations by acknowledging the 'desire' connotation of 'need' and the more commonly accepted fear of the inevitable. Is it correct to read Zizek here as meaning we will our deaths out of fear that we may not die? This would seem to be a willful misreading of Wagner and Nietzsche concerning the nature of the will, and the ego's realization of its limitation, resulting in the overcoming of this ego-denying (destroying) inevitability through the active willing of this destruction, thereby asserting the power of the individual and ego. Zizek will not address the problems raised by willing the inevitable (not the necessary), so as to have a measure of power over it. In this way, willing allows one to 'colonize' and 'know' the inevitable, rather than succumb to it, and it soothingly affirms the agency of the individual ego, rather than agonizingly denying it.
In Looking Awry, Zizek claims that "far from being a sign of 'madness,' the barrier separating the real from reality is therefore the very condition of a minimum of 'normalcy': 'madness' (psychosis) sets in when this barrier is torn down, when the real overflows reality [ie: social constructs] (as in autistic breakdown) or when it is included in reality" (20). My question here is 'what have we invested in reality, the social symbolic system, that causes madness and psychosis when we reveal its superficial veneer-like nature?' Is repression via the social or symbolic order a means to affirming the metaphysical (incorporeal) denial of death through the placing of the self within the incorporeal symbolic order? If so, is not the formulation of 'instinct' itself a disembodying of what is essentially corporeal, and the theorizing of the death drive is a way of knowing and colonizing the other of death and separation?
In describing The Night of the Living Dead, Zizek neither discusses the fear of death nor the extreme corporeality of the dead zombies. Most importantly, he does not discuss the mainstream film analysis given of Romero, where the focus is on the nature of our defenses against the living dead: guns, malls and the nuclear family. All of these defenses are riddled with the dead, who storm into the mall, cannot be killed by guns even while we are shot by the living, and the dead are members of our own nuclear family. Most importantly, for my reading of the film, within the context of these social defenses against the dead, or the cognizance of death, the walking dead eat our brains, arms and gory intestines, revealing our repressed corporeality. The dead embody the knowledge that we are nothing but body and could be well described as self-conscious food for someone else.
Finally, when discussing The Empire of the Sun, Zizek claims that "when the barrier falls down... [Jim] invert[s] his utter impotence into omnipotence, to conceive himself as radically responsible for the intrusion of the real" (Looking 29) in the form of a deadly explosion caused by enemy warships. My question here is how does responsibility equate to omnipotence? Like the 'need' and 'must' problem earlier, is it not clearer and perhaps more accurate to read this through Nietzsche's (retroactive) willing of the inevitable in order to master it? This problem is not so far from Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and forms one of the central arguments of Rank's works. Moreover, this willing would more accurately fit the impotence to omnipotence transition, rather than mere responsibility, which Zizek is quick to switch his terminology to.
Zizek further claims "The same enthusiastic feeling of omnipotence erupts later, in the prison camp, when an English lady dies. Jim desperately massages her and when the woman, although dead, opens her eyes for a moment because of the stimulation of her blood circulation, Jim is thrown into ecstasy, convinced that he is capable of reviving the dead" (Looking 30). Again, my challenge is that Jim symbolically conquers death at the time when his own mortal vulnerability is so prominent and heavy in his mind, being in a concentration camp. As earlier, isn't this a symbolic mastery of the cause of anxiety and the real, not 'responsibility'?
For Rank, the active 'Willing' of the inevitable death, or realization of its inevitability, is essential to individuation as a discovery of self and to creative action, hence this parallels the orthodox sense of the death drive as being generative or creative, but in a much different way. In Rank's view, we are not held together by the erotic sublimation of our aggression toward ourselves and our externalized or projected aggression toward our neighbor; we are held together socially as a creative bond that allays our anxiety over the inevitability of death and as a way of creatively realizing our struggle against it (ie: Willing it, or encompassing it within our sphere of willful control). This does not mean that civilization is not neurotic, since it functions to allay anxiety through the repression or sublimation of that which reminds us of this anxiety, much akin to Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, and in doing so civilization acts as an immortality project or pursuit after an unattainable goal that entails repression. The goal of cheating death has a peculiar aim, in that the function is a repression or denial of the anxiety surrounding the cognizance of death, such that we may read this as a drive to deny the Real, rather than a drive to live or a drive to death. Moreover, this active Willing is not necessarily suicide (although Rank used this concept to replace the reality principle and drive theory). It is the point where the patient/person undergoes "a psychological rebirth that occurs when one moves from creature to creator, not passively accepting the gift and burden of life [functioning within the reactive drives,] but taking it up actively, refusing suicide, and adopting oneself [in a consciousness model, rather than a drive model]. This is psychopoesis, soul-making" ("Translator's Introduction" xv).
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