Kant avec Freud

October 17, 2016

We know that Freud especially stresses the rule of so-called ‘freely floating attention’ which the analyst is to observe with respect to the patient.  It consists in according the same attention to every element of the sentences proffered by the analysand, however tiny and futile it may appear.  Basically, the rule states: do not prejudge, suspend judgement, give the same attention to everything that happens as it happens.  On his or her side the patient must respect the symmetrical rule; let speech run, give free rein to all the ‘idea;s’, figures, scenes,names, sentences, as they come onto the tongue and the body, in their ‘disorder,’ without selection or repression.  A rule of this sort obliges the mind to be patient, in a new sense; no longer that of passively and repetitively enduring the same ancient and actual passion, but of applying its own passibility, a same respondent or ‘respons’ to everything that comes upon the mind, to give itself as a passage to the events which come to it from a something that it does not know.  Freud calls this attitude ‘free association.’  All it is is a way of linking one sentence with another without regard for the logical, ethical or aesthetic value of the link.

In working through, the only guiding thread at one’s disposal consists in sentiment, or better, in listening to a sentiment.  A fragment of a sentence, a scrap of information, a word, come along.  They are immediately linked with another ‘unit.’  No reasoning, no argument, no mediation.  By proceeding in this way, one slowly approaches a scene, the scene of something.  One describes it.  One does not know what it is.  One is sure only that it refers to some past, both furthest and nearest past, both one’s own past and others’ past.  This lost time is not represented like in a picture, an impossible picture.  Rewriting means registering these elements.

It is clear that this rewriting provides no knowledge of the past.   This is what Freud thinks too.  Analysis is not subject to knowledge, but to ‘technique,’ art.  The result is not the definition of a past element.  On the contrary, it presupposes that the past itself is the actor or agent that gives to the mind the elements with which the scene will be constructed.  But this scene in its turn in no way claims faithfully to represent the supposed ‘primal scene.’  It is ‘new’ in so far as it is felt as new.  One can say of what has gone that it is there, alive, lively.  Not present like an object, if an object can ever be present, but present like an aura, a gentle breeze, an allusion.  Proust’s Recherche, Benjamin’s One-way Street,or Berlin Childhood operate according to this same techne (obviously without being reducible to it).  And at risk of seeming weird, I’d add that the procedure of freely and equally floating attention is what is at work in Montaigne’s Essais

Three observations, by way of an impossible conclusion. First, even if Freud did come to think that this technique was an art, as the Greek techne says, he nonetheless did not lose sight of the fact that is was inscribed as a constitutive element in a process of emancipation.  Thanks to it, the point is to deconstruct the rhetoric of the unconscious, the preorganized sets of signifiers that constitute the neurotic or psychotic set-up and which organize the subject’s life as a destiny  This does not seem to me to be the right hypothesis.  In describing very briefly what I meant by rewriting, I had in mind an idea I cannot develop here.  I shall simply point out how close that description of rewriting is to Kant’s analysis of the work of the imagination in taste, in the pleasure in the beautiful.  Both give the same importance to the freedom with which the elements provided by sensibility are treated and both insist on the fact that the forms in play in pure aesthetic pleasure or in free association and listening are as independent as can be from any empirical or cognitive interest.  The beauty of the phenomenon is in proportion to its fluidity, its mobility and its evanescence.  Kant illustrates this with two metaphors, that of the ungraspable flame of a flaring in the hearth, and that of the evanescent design traced by the running water of a stream.  And Kant comes round to concluding that the imagination gives the mind a lot to think, a lot more than does the conceptual work of the understanding.  You see that this thesis is related to the question of time I posed at the beginning — the aesthetic grasp of forms is only possible if one gives us all pretence to master time through a conceptual synthesis.  For what is in play here is no the ‘recognition’ of the given, as Kant says, but the ability to let things come as they present themselves.  Following that sort of attitude, every moment, every now is an ‘opening oneself to.’  I’d like to invoke Theodor Adorno or Ernst Bloch, and in particular the latter’s Traces.  At the end of Negative Dialectics, and also in the unfinished Aesthetic Theory, Adorno lets it be understood that indeed we must rewrite modernity, that modernity is, moreover, its own rewriting, but that one can only rewrite it in the form of what he calls ‘micrologies’, which is not unrelated to Benjamin’s ‘passages’.

I have just stressed the features common to the free play of the aesthetic imagination and the free association or attention in play in the analytic relation.  Of course we must also point out the heterogeneity…

It would be false to imagine that the cure could end on a reconciliation of consciousness with the unconscious.  It is interminable because the dispossession of the subject, its subjection to a heteronomy, is constitutive for it.  What there is of the infans in it, unsuited to proferring, is irreducible.  By contrast, aesthetic pleasure, the pleasure in the beautiful is, as Stendhal and Adorno write, a promise of happiness, or as Kant puts it, the promise of a sentimental community, sensus communis, of the subject with itself and also others.


from The Inhuman: Reflections on Time

from the Desk of the Unconscious

Aesthetics Automatism Dialectic of Conscious and Unconscious Freud Philosophy