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This editorial appeared in Volume 11(1) of The Semiotic Review of Books.

Editorial: The Spell

by Gary Genosko

If I have one regret from my graduate studies, from which I now have sufficient distance, it is that I devoted far too much time to the study of psychoanalysis. It was not so much the critical attitude of the time - reading Freud against Freud -- that consumed me in the name of the endless practice of a clever literary criticism, but that many of my colleagues were under the spell of the clinical version, which they wielded as if they held in their hands the truth against my unlived textual extravagances. Analysis was, for too many, an intellectual lifestyle subsidized by the state and successfully promoted within the university as a pursuit into which only the best and the brightest would be permitted to enter.

An excellent text by Todd Dufresne, Tales From The Freudian Crypt (2000), is a current example of Freud-bashing, and the work is annointed with the names of its leading figures, Frederick Crews and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. The latter's candid "Foreword" alerts us to the fundamental issue at stake in Dufresne's argument: criticising psychoanalysis is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline -- it actually feeds and keeps it alive; or, to use the death talk that Dufresne prefers, and aficionados of horror films will appreciate: if it's [always] already dead, you can't expect to kill it. Borch-Jacobsen puts it this way: "Dufresne is right: let's leave him [Freud] alone." (xi) Sure, psychoanalysis is one unforgettable fire (captured beautifully in Jean-Paul Sartre's [1985] screenplay The Freud Scenario with its steady series of struck matches, soot and cigar smoke), but if we just leave it alone it will eventually go out, or away, or as Dufresne will reveal, remain dead.

In what is part Monty Python sketch and part forensic hermeneutics, Dufresne goes about the business of bringing out the Freudian dead. His short first chapter, "Twilight of the Idols," investigates the phenomenon of psychoanalytic followership and transference onto the big names, especially Jacques Lacan. Key contemporary figures in French psychoanalysis such as François Roustang have come to ask themselves: "Why did we follow him [Lacan] for so long? (4) Dufresne touches upon all the central issues -- the innovations of Lacanism (theoretical and clinical), institutional struggles, and the split between the deep French Freud and lite American ego psychology, an inheritance of Freud's contempt for America. Dufresne relates a horror story in which Lacan's displacement of the ego from the core of the subject, making it an imaginary function that lacks the clarity and distinctiveness characteristically assigned to the ego in the Cartesian tradition, but perfectly in line with Freud's self-proclaimed Copernican revolution decentering, not man, but the core of his being, entails a gaping hole in the person of the analyst: "According to Lacan, the silent analyst signifies to the patient an empty void, lack, death, the Real." (10) The analyst is a cadaver! Transference onto such a lack is impossible and mastery is a "hollow fiction." This is where things really get ugly. It was on the shoulders of this discovery that Lacan founded his authority and those who followed him fell into the abyss of the master himself in an infinite transference that turned many into "intolerant disciples," binding free spirits and turning former Leftist radicals into "ultraconformist bureaucrats." Psychoanalysis, Dufresne is telling us, brings out the worst in everyone.

Dufresne's central strategy is to provide a detailed historical and theoretical accounting of Freud's controversial and enormously influential late work Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920; henceforth, BPP). Dufresne's Chapter 2, "The Heterogeneous 'Beyond': An Introduction to the Dead and Dying," (13-144) provides a "review and reconstruction, an archaeology of BPP in general, and of the theory of the death drive in particular." (13-14) There are, it seems, many Beyonds. Dufresne begins by reviewing biographical material and commentaries on Freud's disruption of his own invention, his own revisionism, actually, with the late addition of the non plus ultra of psychoanalysis, the death drive. Freud himself often expressed ambivalence about this speculative essay, and this also describes how it was received; some finding it simply bizarre, others aligning it with the despair of Viennese culture, or explaining it as a humanistic inheritance of German romanticism (or 19th century biological speculations), perhaps reading the essay through the backhanded or overstated praise it contained or failed to contain for those from whom Freud apparently got the idea in the first place (this list is long). All of this history of ideas seems a bit like a George Romero movie in which a corpse -- here in the guise of several young suicides of the psychoanalytic movement, Victor Tausk and Wilhelm Stekel -- thrust its fist through the ground, drags itself from the grave, and takes revenge on those who drove it into the ground in the first place, namely, Freud and the psychoanalytic establishment. If this seems melodramatic, Dufresne reminds us that psychoanalysis has a long list of suicides within its ranks with which to contend (32); and, according to the radically anti-sociological nature of the death drive, suicide is an inauthentic act, a bit of Eros, a force of sociality that intrudes on the path of biology that one's life is destined to follow. Even Freud thought this was "extreme." (32)

In the same way that the Monty Python troupe made light of the Black Death with a growing pile of bodies on a cart pulled through a medieval street, Dufresne heaps together all of the Beyonds -- all the versions of BPP from the Denied, Biographical, Biological, Clinical, Philosophical, and Deconstructive -- demonstrating, in the process, the great pile that is psychoanalysis and its literatures, all of which is "perhaps a great heap of nonsense." (27) Perhaps. For Dufresne here and there hedges his bets, reasserting biographical history against theoretical fancies (28), paying great care to the most tendentious of claims, especially concerning the reversal of causality concerning Freud's cancer and his later texts, especially BPP which was evidence of a sort that he had cancer before it was diagnosed a few years later. While Dufresne lets David Bakan sound less ridiculous than Wilhelm Reich on this point, he ultimately observes the "cancerous absurdity that sometimes claims interpretation." (38) Sometimes. While Dufresne may complain about the absence of biographical history in psychoanalytically-inspired theory, he will later lament, in an inspired section on completely delirious interpretations of psychoanalysis (39-43), that "the history of psychoanalysis is an abyss from which there is no recourse." (43) Neither history nor theory are positive options.

Fans of Monty Python often know every word uttered in a given sketch and are only too happy to rehearse them, with accents and gestures. Fans of psychoanalysis are only too happy to run through a concept or work and its literature with the same giddy assurance. When Dufresne runs through the metabiological musings and embarassments of BPP, brilliantly linking Freud's early metapsychology with his later metabiology, bringing out the connnection between death, constancy (quantifiable energy bound and discharged) and pleasure, his goal is to move toward this logical conclusion: "the ideal of constancy signified for Freud the ultimate pleasure of death, that is, the orgasmic release from self." (51) Dufresne carefully investigates all of Freud's significant debts to 19th century psychology and biology, pointing out the problematic psychoanalytic interpretations along the way, with a view to exposing the Freudian view that life is encircled by death: one is not only already dead, but always becoming-dead. (57) Life is a catastrophe or, better, it is framed by two catastrophes: birth and death. (61) Not even a funny accent can lighten up these proceedings.

While Dufresne is entertaining his readers as he runs through these matters in the manner of a Python fan running through the skits, he is not playing for laughs: the result is a clear picture of the nihilism of a bioanalytically reworked psychoanalysis dominated by the death drive. Even last ditch efforts by Sandor Ferenczi to put a little love back in the psychoanalytic heart were, as Dufresne puts it, "too little, too late." (65)

By the time we get to Melanie Klein's therapeutically ambitious entry into the "untapped field" of child analysis -- paternalistically and patronizingly dubbed "women's work" by male analysts -- the death drive is interpreted through "its representative, the destructive impulse." (69) In this vision, analysis of the destructive impulse acquires prophylactic power: apparently, child analysis can prevent the development of later neuroses. Dufresne simultaneously exposes the "twisted" lineage of Freud's metabiology and Klein's theory of unconscious phantasy and the "disturbing" fact that child analysis actually sacrificed children for the sake of "the trauma called psychoanalysis" on the altar of the death drive. (79) Psychoanalysis is, then, a lose-lose proposition. Anyone who points to its clinical triumphs is hiding a great deal about the unsavory practices of major figures in the field like Klein, not to mention the founding father himself. There is nothing more extravagant, Dufresne is revealing, than the practice of psychoanalysis.

Dufresne's Tales From The Freudian Crypt owes a great deal to the comic book Tales From the Crypt, from which he borrowed the title. For psychoanalysis in Dufresne's hands reads like a comic book concerned with horror, a thanatographic delight written not so much for adolescent boys but for philosophers. The great chain of thanatography in which BPP belongs leads us into the "Philosophical 'Beyonds'" of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; and then into the thanatopraxis of dialecticians such as Marcuse and Reich whose "correction" of psychoanalysis made it liberatory, in polymorphous and strictly genital terms, respectively. (92) Using the BPP as a measure, however, does not allow Dufresne to fully open the rich field of Freudo-Marxism; indeed, passing references to Lenin and Trotsky (92) only beg the question: well, where are Gramsci (on this point see especially Stone 1984) and Althusser? Even Deleuze and Guattari get short shrift here, subsumed under variants of sex politics, a Lacanized Reich.

The connection between Deleuze and Guattari and Marcuse is significant since the idea of liberation in each begins with the liberation of Freud from himself and later from the neo-Freudians. Dufresne provides us with this methodological attitude through Marcuse even if the interpretive road doesn't extend to Deleuze and Guattari, and Lyotard, for that matter. But he does incorporate Lacan in this manner, noting: "the situation with Lacan is similar to Marcuse: both were trying to save Freud from his greatest problems, from his own limitations as a theorist, even as they piled their own pet theories onto his own." (118) Dufresne is ever attentive to this piling operation: it is his own principle of constancy, his own neatly sorted stack of Tales from the Crypt comic books. For his object of study (BPP) is, as he says so often, "messy" and this puts him in the camp of Ricoeur whose neatness he admires. (123) Slowly, then, Dufresne is rewriting the classic Monty Python skit: no longer are the bodies simply heaped onto the cart; rather, they are washed and readied for examination. But no matter how much he appreciates Ricoeur's efforts at bringing out the creative dimension of the death drive, he still thinks Ricoeur's work on Freud was "already dated" when it was first published. (126) Dated, that is, like the yellow pages of brittle keepsakes one would never throw away, but lovingly "unpack" once and awhile.

If, for Dufresne, Ricoeur is too neat, then Derrida is a master of slippage, confusion, and uncertainty, which makes his moments of clarity quite interesting by contrast, especially when they are directed as criticisms of others like Lacan, yet apply just as easily to himself. (127) Using the hackneyed philosophical metaphor of "unpacking," then, Dufresne's Derrida appropriates a Freud whose typically logocentric metaphysics had a tendency to break out at key moments and defy closure: "Freud's 'originality' is that he was almost deconstructve in his thinking." (133) This is the Derridean variation on the "liberatory" thesis: Freud "is and is not metaphysical." (135) What does Derrida see in BPP? A crypt that reveals "Freud is his own best (or only?) example of the compulsive repetition that he describes in BPP, and imputes to others (e.g., children, soldiers, patients)." (137) BPP is a "self-implicating" text and Freud does precisely what little Ernst does with his string and spool: throw it out -- fort -- and pull it back -- da. Except, of course, Freud is playing a game of provisional loss of authority and regaining mastery with speculation through a strategy of deferral that goes nowhere. A paralysis in which "life is the detour, the deferral, of death." (140) The lesson of the deconstructive fort/da is that Freud was sending messages to himself, to paraphrase Dufresne, sending himself off, deferring an untimely death, and giving himself a proper death. (140) But in Dufresne's striking critical insight, we learn that this is precisely what Derrida does with Freud: "Derrida writes 'Freud' in order to find (him)self; he sends himself on the detour called Freud-psychoanalysis in order to establish himself, deconstruction." (142) And this, Derrida believes, is a duty; but it is ultimately self-serving: "a fine example of having one's cake and eating it too." (142) The only kind of desserts in which Dufresne has any interest are the sort qualified by just. To this end he wonders if deconstruction will ever be as dead as psychoanalysis, which walks the earth like a zombie: "I doubt deconstruction will be so (un)lucky." (144)

In Chapter 3, "The Other 'Beyond'," Dufresne's Freud has arisen. What is at stake is the demonstration of Freud's radically anti-sociological and wildly biological theory, pursued through the combination of the group psychology and metapsychology. Dufresne objects to the orthodox instructions of James Strachey, editor of the Standard Edition, among others, for whom the Group Psychology and BPP have "little connection." (146) Dufresne "hinges" the two works by means of the principles of Eros and Thanatos, exposing Freud's "essential biologism."

It is impossible to ignore Freud's claim that life's aim is death. This fundamental belief, Dufresne shows, entails that the growth of the human organism results from external stimuli against which the psychic apparatus protects itself by forming a "crust"; or, as Dufresne puts it in a delightful formulation the accessibility of which is its major strength: "one must be pinched, so to speak, in order to stay awake and grow." (148)

The anti-sociological implications of Freud's metapsychology are first seen in relation to the mother, who turns out to be an agent of Eros, the "abstract force" of society against biology, working against the child's death drive. Society interferes with narcissism: Eros is a group subjectification interfering with the individual's id-driven narcissism. (152) This is the revenge of the group psychology. Further, the mother, like everyone and thing external, is secondary and a force: others are external stimuli, not necessarily subjects at all, part of the collective energy known as Eros that restricts the organism's narcissism. Dufresne summarizes the Freudian view in this way: "Death is the essence of an authentic individuality that is denied under the compulsion or threat of a society that demands for every subject a group identity to wit, a life." (158) This is what makes psychoanalysis, driven by its metapsychology, extreme. The only therapy true to psychoanalysis is, Dufrense concludes, euthanasia. (159) Traditional psychoanalytic therapy merely plays at death and this makes it a miserable "piece of sociality." (164) But even this is shown by Dufresne in his analysis of the positive "love" transference to be inhabited by the death drive " latent, metapsychologically determined hostility toward the self." (177)

The strength of Dufresne's analysis of Freud's metapsychology (he also stages the same argument with regard to the problem of suggestion and the analysand's creation of false memories through the analyst's "bad technique"; 167ff) is that it reveals precisely why it is necessary to leave psychoanalysis alone: its critics are like external energy stimulating its growth, without which it would simply choke on its own waste: "This is a wicked irony for critics who thereby become the greatest propelling force in an ever-expanding economy of psychoanalytic desires." (165) Critics, patients, pupils, everybody, in short, except the father himself, Herr Freud, interferes with the unassailable position of the one absolute narcissist.

In the end, Dufresne honestly counts himself among the critics the bashers, "we" -- whose works have contributed to new growths on a method that has never been open to critique. Still, the last word is that "psychoanalysis is dead," (186) each new book on the subject is a "grim parody" of the compulsion to repeat, and patients in analysis are making a "grave mistake" because the method never worked and never will work.

These are strong sentiments, indeed. But to what end? The proverbial stake in the heart that finally kills the undead monster is delivered by Dufresne with a gusto and verve not normally found in academic books on psychoanalysis. Dufresne is the vampire slayer of the Freud-bashers. And his demonstrations of the anti-sociological character of psychoanalysis would have us exhume a few intellectual bodies and give them a "proper" burial. Dufresne's argument may be applied to the work of Félix Guattari, for instance. Guattari staked a claim throughout his psychoanalytic career on Eros, on Eros the great enforcer and preserver which coerces narcissist individuals into group relations; after all, Guattari was the French guru of group subjectivity, group Eros, and he used the conceptual tool of transverality in his later work to eliminate the death drive from his brand of analysis (Guattari 1989: 55-6).

Finally, once his tale is told, does Dufresne throw himself on the heap of dead bodies that is psychoanalysis? Unless he wishes to wallow in sociality, take refuge in the group, or break off his courtship of the witch, metapsychology, he, too, must stretch out on the slab. Is his version of psychoanalysis extreme enough? It is not, if we take Jean Baudrillard's (1993: 148-54) approach to the matter. In a few pages devoted to a critique of the death drive, Baudrillard argues that the BPP merely repeats the scientific separation between life and death; in this way, the death drive "domesticates death." Death, Baudrillard (1993: 154) argues, "has no need of the mirror" [of psychoanalysis] and "must be wrested from psychoanalysis and turned against it," eliminating the aforementioned separation and thus invalidating the death drive. Dufresne would undoubtedly respond that this is just another 'beyond' that really ends up asserting Eros over Thanatos in the name of an allegedly authentic social relation. Although he does not explicitly engage with this view in his lively text, he can account for it. And this, ultimately, is the strength of the book: it has a long reach, like the bony fingers of the undead on the pages of Tales from the Crypt and Creepy magazines, beckoning us to join them.

Gary Genosko, Sociology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Baudrillard, Jean (1993) Symbolic Exchange and Death, Iain Hamilton Grant (trans.), London: Sage.

Todd Dufresne (2000), Tales From The Freudian Crypt: The Death Drive In Text And Context, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Guattari, Félix (1989) Les trois écologies, Paris: Galilée.

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1985) The Freud Scenario, J.-B. Pontalis (ed.) and Quinton Hoare (trans.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stone, Jennifer (1984) "Italian Freud: Gramsci, Giulia Schuct, and Wild Analysis," October 28: 105-24

Dr. Gary Genosko is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. His publication include: Baudrillard and Signs (1994); The Guattari Reader (1996); Undisciplined Theory (1998); Contest: Essays on Sports, Culture and Politics (1999); McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion (1999).


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