Lyotard, Heidegger, Jews, and “the jews”–#1


Today is the first of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1990; orig. French version 1988).  The use of the scare quotes and the lower case ‘j’ in “the jews” is intentional in the original French work and in its English translation.  By “the jews” Lyotard means the always already rejected, projected, and repressed “Other” of so called Western society.  According to Lyotard, it is only accidental, in a certain sense, that the Jews, meaning some actual, historical group of people, came to be identified with “the jews,” in the sense he has given to that phrase.

The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical  journal on the date indicated.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Years after I first read it, I am currently rereading Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews“.  Since first reading it, my focus has shifted to trauma, and I am reading it this time with an eye to that.  There are some thought-provoking passages, seen from that perspective of the focus on trauma.  One is on pp. 15-16, where Lyotard writes:

Nachträglichkeit [the “belatedness” that, according to Freud, characterizes trauma] thus implies the following:  (1) a double blow that is constitutively asymmetrical, and (2) a temporality that has noting to do with what the phenomenology of consciousness (even that of Saint Augustine) can thematize.

The double blow includes a first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such “force” that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because, in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this shock is not transformed into “objects,” not even inferior ones, objects lodged in  the substratum, in the hell of the soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it. It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without a shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the event:  that there is “comes before” what there is.

This “before” of the quod is also an “after” of the quid. For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the “initial” excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation. . . . This chronologization of a time that is not chronological, this retrieval of a time (the first blow) that is lost because it has not had time and place in the psychic apparatus, that has not been noticed there, fulfills exactly the presumed function of a protective shield that Freud attributes to it in Jenseits [Beyond the Pleasure Principle].

Then, on the next page (17), he uses this to argue that, with regard the idea, in Freud, of “the scene of a seduction perpetrated on the child, in ontogenesis, and in several versions of a phylogenetic event (including the last glaciations), the common motivation of these hypotheses (always fantastic) is nothing else than the unpreparedness [in principle, I would add] of the psychic apparatus for the ‘first shock’. . . . It is in this  fashion that the principle of an originary–I would say ontological–‘seduction’ cannot be eluded (Laplanche), of a ‘duction’ toward the inside of something (of energy) that remains outside of  it.”

These passages, and even more the next one I will cite below, from  pages 26-27, add support to the suspicion I express in my “9/11 Never Happened” piece, about how the proliferation of images of 9/11, as earlier of Vietnam, served  only to cover over and avoid 9/11 and Vietnam.  Geared into that is my growing uneasiness in the face of all use of images of such things as the Holocaust,  9/11, or, in general trauma of whatever sort.

Here are the later passages  (pp. 26-27):  “But to make us forget the crime [of the Holocaust] by representing it is much more appropriate” than even the endeavor to “efface” it by “the criminals disguis[ing] themselves as courageous little shopkeepers [as did Eichman, for the prime example],” or to efface it by “‘denazi[ying]’ them on the spot [as the Allies did, I suppose would be a good example, when they moved to make Germany a central piece in the chess game of the Cold War], or else one opens a lawsuit for a reappraisal of the crime itself (the ‘detail’), [and] one seeks dismissal of the case” (as he discusses on the preceding page, 25).  [Making us forget the crime by representing it is “more appropriate” than any of those ways of trying to “efface” it,]

if it is true that, with ‘the jews,’ it is a question of something like the unconscious affect of which the Occident does not want any knowledge. It cannot be represented without being missed, being forgotten anew, since it defies images and words.  Representing ‘Auschwitz’ in images and words is a way of making us forget this.  I am not thinking here only of bad movies and widely distributed TV series, of bad novels or “eyewitness accounts.”  I am thinking of those very cases that, by their exactitude, their severity, are, or should be, best qualified not to let us forget.  But even they represent what, in order not to be forgotten as that which is forgotten itself, must remain unrepresentable.  Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah is an exception, maybe the only one. . . .

Whenever one represents, one inscribes in memory, and this might seem a good defense against forgetting it.  It is, I believe, just the opposite.  Only that which has been inscribed can, in the current sense of the term, be forgotten, because it could be effaced.  But what is not inscribed, through lack of inscribable surface, of duration and place for the inscription to be situated, . . . cannot be forgotten, does not offer a hold to forgetting, and remains present “only” as an affection that one cannot even qualify, like a state of  death in the life of the spirit.  One must, certainly, inscribe in words, in images.  One cannot escape the necessity of representing.  It would be sin itself to believe oneself safe and sound.  But it is one thing to do it in view of saving the memory and quite another to try to preserve the remainder, the unforgettable forgotten, in writing.

It is to be feared that word representations (books, interviews) and thing representations (films, photographs) of the extermination of the Jews . . . by the Nazis bring back the very thing, . . . in the orbit of secondary repression. . . . It is to be feared that, through representation, it turns into an “ordinary” repression.  One will say, It was a great massacre, how horrible!  Of course, there have been others, “even” in contemporary Europe (the crimes of Stalin).  Finally, one will appeal to human rights, one cries out “never again” and that’s it!  It is taken care of.

I suggest just that same thing in “9/11 Never Happened,” where I argue that the worldwide proliferation via the mass media of video images of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the immediate aftermath, including people jumping to their deaths rather than die in the fires raging in the towers–those video images with which we were globally assaulted even while the attacks themselves were still unfolding in “real time”–may as well have been deliberately designed efforts to gloss over the event, the trauma, itself, to deaden and divert us from it,  to make us forget the unforgettable by remembering little or nothing but those graven and craven images:  an idolatry!

As I also said in a footnote somewhere in “9/11 Never Happened,” about the television coverage of the war in Vietnam:  Far from bringing the war “home” to us,  bringing it into our very “living rooms,” as has often been claimed it did, the televisioning of the Vietnamese war actually did the opposite, burying the war beneath all those images, pushing it back so far as to be beyond recall–or almost!

That is “the horror, the horror.”

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