Our Relationships to the Dead: Some Remarks on Heidegger, Sartre, and Psychoanalysis


Today’s post contain entries, written earlier in my philosophical journal, occasioned by my reading of Colin Davis, Haunted Subjects:  Psychoanalysis and the Return of the Dead (New York:  Pallgrave Macmillan, 2007).  


Friday, May 30, 2008

Davis, p. 34:  “By projecting the violence of society onto an identifiable group of criminals, the forces of order can assure the intelligibility of evil, deny their own responsibility for it, and indulge their inclination to violence in eradicating it.”

That fits to a tee the approach/lack of approach of Bush and his administration to 9/11.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

[He misunderstands both Heidegger and Sartre] on p. 52, on death and the dead, when Davis writes that in Heidegger death is, by Sartre’s critique [which Davis misstates, in my judgment], “too much the property of the individual,” [since] in Heidegger death would never in any sense be said to be any such “property.”  Later on the same page Davis goes on:  “Sartre differs from Heidegger in maintaining that a relation with the other persists beyond death.”  Davis bases that remark on a misunderstanding of Heidegger’s noting that the dead are no longer there “in the world” with the Dasein that remains alive and in the world.  Davis puts that, a few lines earlier, this way:  “For Heidegger, the dead are no longer part of our world.”  So far, okay–but only when properly understood, whereas Davis shows he does not understand it properly by going on:  “For Sartre, on the other hand, the dead are all around us . . .”  That sets up his already cited remark that the issue is whether one can still relate to the dead, once they’re dead.  Well, of course the dead are no longer “part of our world,” but for neither Sartre nor Heidegger does that entail we do not continue to be “in relation” to the dead.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Davis (p. 77) on Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok (of The Shell and the Kernel):  “In their study of the Wolf Man and their treatment of their own patients they came across what appeared to be signs of traumatized behavior which could not be traced back to any event in the life of the patient.  This lead to their most radical contribution to psychoanalytic theory:  the claim that the patient may be the bearer of someone else’s trauma.”

What if those “signs” are read differently, however, as pointing to the “structural” root of all trauma, whether it can be correlated to an “event,” in the relevant sense (i.e., some datable occurrence), or not?  What if trauma is thought as, say, the surfacing of the truth of the lie on which the entire edifice of Lacan’s Symbolic, and all that goes with it, including “sovereignty,” has to build itself?


P. 80, still concerning Abraham  and Torok:  “The dead do not return; what haunts us is the actively known injunction not to know what the dead bequeath us.   What we suffer from are the symptoms left behind by the secrets of others.”  P. 82:  “It is not the repressed which returns to wreck our lives, but the shame of others.”  What this forgets, however, us Heidegger’s lesson that I am myself, at least in my “everydayness,” one of those “others.”  And the model of repression here is still based on tracing repression to  some datable “event,” not to a structural fault.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Davis, P. 89:  “To put it schematically, deconstruction is about learning to live with ghosts, psychoanalysis is about learning to live without them.”  Yet, as his own discussion goes on to indicate, that does not hold of Lacan; so at most it does for Abraham and Torok:  “The Lacanian analysand has to  learn that the ‘subject supposed to know’ in fact knows nothing, the Big Other’s most closely kept secret is that he does not exits.”

I do think, however, his critique of Derrida’s hauntology does have [some] weight.  P. 91:  “Derrida’s reluctance to cancel the debt [to the dead] and to lay the spectre can be traced back to a fear endemic in the post-postmodern world.  More terrifying than the return of ghosts may be the prospect that there is nothing to return, no survival, no resurrection, and no commanding voice from beyond the grave.”  Though the tenor is significantly different, this reminds me of my own refrain, in last fall’s trauma seminar [a seminar I taught at the University of Denver in fall quarter 2007 under the title “Philosophy and 9/11:  Sovereignty in Traumatic Times”], that “the trauma is that there is no trauma.”  His conclusion is good, on p. 92:  “Derrida is the philosophical  equivalent of the Big Brother contestant [on the TV program so named], willing to obey the ghosts’ commands even if he cannot yet quite discern what they might be.  And what returns, with the ghost, is the Big Other, the spectre of authority which we perhaps do not wish to learn to live without.”

A note, though:  the problem is not the idea of a debt to the dead that can never be paid.  Rather, it is the reduction of such indebetedness [to one] still calling to be paid, even if it can never be.  What needs to be abandoned is not the idea of an unpayable debt, but, rather, the idea that one should keep on trying to pay it anyway.